Lost in Time

The morning sun bathes the plain with a golden light. The herds visible at the end of the alluvial valley moves slowly away from us, their dark hides circulating in a Brownian motion as they idly graze on the spiky sagebrush. It’s easy to miscalculate their distance since the scale is wrong. The animals are wooly mammoths, averaging 12 to 13 feet at the shoulder, and would tower over a man.

The bull mammoth was giving me a wary eye as I stand under a tree scanning the bestiary before me. Along with the mammoths, but almost hidden among their immense bodies, were small horses (our zoologist says they’re North America Horse, which went extinct in North America almost 11,000 years ago), and huge sloths, weighing at least 400 pounds, lumbering among the mammoth and eating the sage and other flowering shrubs. There was no grass, as it had yet to make its appearance on this continent.

I look over at Barbara, our zoologist, and gesture towards the herd.

“This will be the last chance if you want a sample of any of these. They’re headed out, and we won’t be able to catch up with them after today.”

Barbara continues to examine the herd with her binoculars, but her voice carries easily to me.

“No, you’re not going get to shoot anything else today.”

I’m used to her disdain – it’s been on full display since she found out I had been a guide in South Africa, hunting elephant, leopard, and lion in the great Wildlife Parks. A background that made me uniquely useful on a safari back to a world that did not know man, but anathema to her vocation.

I let it roll off me, like so many other thoughtless and malicious comments and slights that my clients directed towards me. It doesn’t matter, even putting up with the ones who despised me the most, as long as I got to spend time in the bush.

I hefted my rifle, a Springfield M1A in .308, and headed back to our campsite at the top of the slight hill, and away from Mz (and don’t forget it!) Barbara Hertz, and away from whatever further insult she was waiting to fling my way.

At the campsite, I plop down beside Jack Harper, our astronomer. The transportation device (I have a hard time saying “time machine”) is not exactly accurate – the only way we know exactly how far back we are is by photographing stars. That’s actually one of the mission objectives – the scientists are hoping to increase their ability to accurately place in time when we insert a party. We know where we are geographically (more than time-wise, at least), but part of our mission was to verify positively the time in which we’ve arrived. As if in response to my thinking about Jack’s equipment, the selsyn pointing the camera gave out a rare click, as it moved the camera and telescope assembly infinitesimally along its programmed track.

“Any ideas how far back we are?”

“Figures from last night are showing we’re within a millennium of the 50,000 year mark, which means Dr. Wilkenson is better with his hypothesis than he originally thought.”

Jack leans forward and checks the meat sizzling in the pan on the fire.

“This is the last of the prairie chicken. If we want more meat, we’re going to have to shoot something.”

“I’ll take care of it. I’ll head down towards the stream north of us. I saw a flock of something similar yesterday. And it just happens to be the opposite direction of Mz Hertz.”

“Ah, don’t let her get to you. She’s just upset that we’re back here with all these species that have never been seen or hypothesized, and you’re shooting them. It goes against her grain, even though it’s the only way to gather samples for us to take back.”

I pick up the shotgun, and put my rifle in my tent. I grab the bandolier loaded with shotgun shells, break open the action, and load both barrels with birdshot. The prairie chicken looking bird we’ve been shooting for the pot is relatively small. Calling it a prairie chicken drives Barbara up the wall, since it’s an undiscovered (and un-named) type of fossil bird that no longer exists. As much as she hates us using the name, she hates that we’re using it for food even more. Although I’ve noticed that she’s not been shy about eating it once served.

I walk along the game trail that leads to the stream. There’s a series of large boulders deposited along the shoreline of the stream, left by the last glacier that receded from this site within the last few thousand years. There’s a geological name for this, but it escapes me as I wander towards the hardwoods growing near the stream. My path brings me close to a large boulder that towers over my head.

I hear a scream and instinctively drop to my knees while raising the shotgun. A huge tawny shadow glides over my head, hits the ground 15 feet from me, and runs towards Barbara, who had been following me towards the river.

I know that my birdshot will have no effect on the ten-foot long Smilodon lunging towards Barbara, but I fire both barrels anyways, hoping to scare the big cat. I know this is a forlorn hope, as animals in this time have no knowledge of man, or of his tools.

As the saber-tooth lion reaches Barbara, I hear her scream and hear it abruptly cut off. I run toward the lion, struggling to reload the shotgun. I only have birdshot in the bandolier, and I know it’s not going to be enough to save her.

A shot rings out from the edge of the woods. It’s Jack, with my rifle. I turn to see the lion shiver then lie still.

I run to the scene, as Jack reaches it from the other side. We both struggle to shift the 500 lb dead weight off Barb’s inert form and pull her to the side of the great beast.

“I wasn’t thinking – this place fooled me. It’s so familiar I forgot that nothing here fears man. We’re just something else to hunt and eat. That thing was about to pounce on me, but Barb distracted it, and I wasn’t prepared.”

“I just happened to head down to see if there was something in the stream I could use to add some variety for tonight. Is she…?”

The lion had taken most of her from her groin to her breasts – I could see her spine, which was the only thing connecting her head to her lower body.

“She’s most definitely gone – that thing took most of her middle with a single bite. Would have probably finished her in 3 bites.”

“I think we’ve done all we can do here. I think it’s time to head back.”

Nodding my head, I wordlessly take my rifle, and check that it’s loaded. I’ve just gotten that feeling I used to get in leopard country – where you know the leopard is hunting you.

“I think these things hunt in pairs. This one’s mate is probably out there, sizing us up. I’ve got my jacket – let’s bundle up what’s left of Barb, and haul butt out of here.”

Jack takes my jacket as I shrug out of it, and we fold Barbara into it. I nod to Jack to take the jacket (which now only weighs about half of Barb’s original weight) and head back to the displacement vehicle.

I walk backward following Jack, rifle on my shoulder. As we walk into the woods which shelter the vehicle, I see a tawny flash near the rocks. The male lion walks to his mate, lying on the ground. He sniffs her body, then lifts his head and screams.

A large flock of birds explodes from the trees around us, and I know we’ve got very little time.

“Jack, leave everything – head straight to the displacement vehicle, and step on it!”

“I’m going – I heard him, too.”

As we reach the displacement vehicle, Jack immediately clambers up the metal ramp to the raised platform. The design is simple – a circular, closed interior, surrounded by a ring of metal floor plates, with a railing to keep passengers from walking off the edge. There’s a single ramp that leads to the decking, and the whole vehicle is suspended from several girders that raise it 10 foot above its surroundings.

I kneel at the base of the ramp, waiting for Jack to make it up. When I hear him on the decking above, I start walking backward up the ramp, rifle still raised and waiting.

At the edge of the clearing, I can see two green eyes with deep ebony pupils. They watch as I make it to the decking, and pull the pin that releases the ramp, which crashes to the soil below.

“Hit it, Jack!” I yell just as the lion explodes from the treeline. My last sight of him as the bright light of transit wipes everything from my vision was 15 feet of raw fury launching himself at the vehicle.

We arrive back in the research bunker. As the transit blindness fades, I look around and see Jack crying beside the pathetically small shape of Barbara’s remains beside him.

I carefully remove the magazine from my rifle, work the bolt to unload the weapon completely and sit down with my back resting on the vehicle’s center cylinder.

Dr. Wilkenson looks up at me from the research bunker’s floor.

“Rough trip?”

“We just weren’t prepared.”

“Based on the results from this excursion, we think we’d like to send another team back after we recharge the capacitor bank. That will take about a week. Do you think that’s enough time to prepare?”

I nod my head, and I realize that I’m looking forward to another trip to the past.

But I owe it to Barbara to make sure next time, I’ll be ready.

Retirement Plan

This is an older story, and it shows. It’s not very polished, but I enjoyed writing this one, so I thought I’d share.

————————————————————————————

I’ve always hated doctor’s offices. The antiseptic décor, almost aggressively saccharine, and the soothing pastels on the walls set my teeth on edge. Doctor Greaves’ office was no different. We sat in his comfortable chairs, awaiting the results of the search for a suitable donor for my wife’s malfunctioning body.

Becca needed a bone marrow transplant and the doctor advised us that our best bet was a close family member. Consequently, all of us – myself, both of our sons, and our daughter – had been sampled for a possible “best” match. Becca wasn’t considered a really good candidate, not because of her health, but because of her age. She and I weren’t spring chickens anymore. She had just turned 64, and I recently hit 65. We had been considering our retirement, planned for when I reached 66, but the discovery of her leukemia had put a crimp in that.

Both Becca – that’s Rebecca Marie Augustine née Ball – and myself were still quite active. Becca spent most of her time with her church group and church activities; visiting the sick and invalids of the congregation, baking cookies and cakes for the interminable bake sales, and bible study occupied the majority of her time.

I still worked full time, although the last few months I’ve been spreading the load on the junior engineers – and who am I kidding, at 65 they’re all junior engineers to me. Truth be told, I was on the way out, and I liked it that way – no more late nights, no more business trips, and a nice, steady 50-hour work week that felt more like a vacation after decades of 80+ hour weeks. This had opened up a considerable amount of spare time, which I’m still struggling to fill – golf fails to hold my interest, gardening is boring, and it’s expensive to indulge my true passion, skeet shooting. Of course, the 6 tenement houses we bought as an investment are starting to consume a lot of my time – it’s amazing how much can go wrong with a house, and how little a renter is willing to do to maintain his residence. We had used a management company in the past, but I had thought to take it over since it was to be our passive income stream once I retired.

Doctor Greaves walks in and greets us both as we rise to shake his hand. He’s friendly enough, but there’s something almost furtive about his mannerism. I start to dread the news he’s about to share with us.

“Becca, you’ll be happy to hear that your daughter is a very close match – in fact, she’s the only match that I can recommend,” he tells us, a happy smile on his face. His eyes won’t rest on me, and I can’t reconcile the happy news with his demeanor.

“Oh, thank you, Doctor Greaves, you don’t know how worried I’ve been. I’m sure Cathy will be more than happy to know she’s my match!” Becca exclaims ecstatically.  Becca and Cathy, our youngest child, are very close. I’ve always thought it was a “girls against the guys” thing, since, before Cathy, there was a distinct excess of testosterone in the house. Cathy had been a surprise, and we had very nearly lost her – she was born at 7 ½ months, a product of my Navy days – she had been conceived upon my return from a six-month deployment, during the days when we couldn’t keep our hands off one another. Of course that only happened right after I got back from sea – the honeymoon period only lasted a few days, and rapidly returned to our usual “birthdays and Valentines” routine. When I retired from the service, it had almost killed our marriage – neither of us was used to being together all the time, and it was only after several months of marriage counseling that we were able to salvage our relationship. But that was years in the past. Cathy was in her twenties, now, and the boys within touching distance of thirty.

“Mr. Augustine, would you mind if we spoke privately for just a moment?” Dr. Greaves asks. “There was an oddity with your blood test I would like to discuss.”

“Sure,” I tell the Doctor. That sinking feeling is starting again, as the doctor’s earlier evasiveness is explained. “Becca, why don’t you call Cathy out in the lobby and share the news, while I speak with the Doctor.”

“OK, dear – I hope it’s not serious, Doctor?” Becca asks, but it’s obvious that her attention is on her cell phone, as she walks towards the door.

“Of course not, Mrs. Augustine, but I need to explain it to Mr. Augustine,” the doctor clarifies.

“I’ll be in the lobby, dear,” Becca states as she walks out the door. The phone is already ensconced on her ear, and I hear a tinny “hello?” as the door closes behind her.

“Ok, Doctor, spill it,” I growl, as I lean back in my chair.

“Mr. Augustine, I had debated sharing this with you, but finally decided that you should know. Biologically, Cathy is not your daughter.”

“What!” I exclaim. This was certainly a shot out of left field!

“Mr. Augustine, there is no doubt. There is 0% chance that Cathy is your daughter. You share no common ancestors to the accuracy of the test. The DNA testing is conclusive. I don’t know what else to tell you.” Doctor Greaves leans back in his chair, his eyes pensive. “After 35 years of marriage, I thought it best that the record was set straight,” he continues.

I’m still sitting in shock, my whole body numb. My only thought is “7 ½ months premature baby, who came home with her mother.” I’ve been so blind, or, more honestly, didn’t want to believe. But I knew.

With this fresh evidence in front of my face, the years of self-doubt, and self-duplicity come crashing down. I didn’t want to believe it – but with this, I can no longer lie to myself.

I’ve known for decades. I had just refused to believe it.

“Thank you, doctor,” I say expressionlessly. I stand and walk slowly towards the door, my face a frozen mask.

“What are you going to do?” the doctor asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I just don’t know.”

Becca is still in the lobby, chattering animatedly with Cathy, and I gather her with my eyes and we walk to the car. The drive home is made with Becca’s ear wedded to the phone, still talking with Cathy. This is not unusual, and Becca does not note my distractedness.

We arrive at home, and we walk to the house. Becca is filling me in on the latest doings at our daughter’s home, and how excited Cathy is to be the donor. I nod distractedly at the appropriate points. Becca again fails to note my preoccupation.

As Becca heads to the kitchen to begin dinner, I walk to my study and punch in the combination for the gun safe. The lock beeps, I open the door, enjoying, as always, the scent of steel and lubricant that rolls from it. I select a beautiful Walnut stocked Winchester over-under shotgun, break the action and load both barrels with double-ought buckshot. The stereo is softly playing Seals and Crofts’ “Summer Breeze”, and I hum along to the song as I walk slowly to the kitchen.

A jogger is running in front of the house and is startled by a loud bang, followed by another within a few seconds. As he stops and listens, the sound is not repeated. He shrugs and continues along the sidewalk, his arms pumping rhythmically as he rounds the corner.

*          *          *

In Guayaquil, Ecuador, a man once known as George Augustine sits in the bright morning sunlight drinking coffee, the street busy before the small café that fronts the hotel in which he now resides. A beautiful young senorita in a brightly colored dress slows as she walks by, and he winks at her. She smiles a warm smile and heads to his table. She is a professional, of course, but here, she costs less than his daily Starbucks back in Oregon, and he was never one to deny himself his Starbucks.

He was fortunate to get most of his liquid assets out of the states, and into a country that does not have an extradition agreement with the United States. He has enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life. As a retirement plan, he couldn’t think of a better one.

He offers the beautiful young lady his hand, he tucks hers under his as he rises from the table, and they walk arm and arm into the hotel.

Company Man

Another short story I had written for class. It was near Halloween, and the prompt was “monsters.” I took it literally, and the story below is the result.

* * *

In the end, a man is either a coward or a killer. It’s what I tell myself late at night when I dream about the things that I’ve done. Dreams that end with me waking up, soaking in sweat, throat sore from the desperate screams to hold back the monsters.

It’s 3:24 AM, and I’m sitting at my kitchen table with a cigarette and a drink in the vague hope that the alcohol will help me sleep. I don’t really want to go back to bed; I know what’s waiting for me. I take another sip, feeling the burn of the whiskey as it slides down my throat and my phone dings with an incoming email.

I read the short message. Another job, in another town so small I’ll have to Google to find it. I reply, knowing that my response at this time of the morning won’t raise any eyebrows, and head into the bedroom to get ready for the day. My step has a noticeable spring to it – I may hate my dreams, but I love my job.

* * *

The sign reads Welcome to Royal, Iowa and boasts a population of 446. This thriving metropolis is large enough to host its own traffic signal, which obligingly turns red as we approach the town’s single intersection. I glance at my partner, a hulking 300-pound mountain of muscle that dwarfs the driver’s seat of the rental car. He returns my glance with a grin. The gold capping his front teeth wink in the sunlight. Jerry has been with me for three years and has never let me down. A good man to have by your side in a bad place.

“I thought we’d check into the hotel before we met with the town council.”

“There isn’t a hotel in this town,” I growl.

“I’m not going to ask the obvious question. I’m just going to state that we should rest up after the flight and drive. You weren’t planning on doing this today, were you?”

I return Jerry’s glare, but I know he’s right. After the long flight into Sioux City and the drive out to the middle of nowhere, neither of us are at the top of our game. Going up against the monsters while tired is just another way to commit suicide.

“Fine, we’ll meet with the town’s people, then head to the hotel. We’ll finish scouting the area today, and do the operation tomorrow morning. We can catch a flight out of Sioux City in the evening.”

“Weapon and equipment delivery?”

“Today in Spencer, at the hotel. So says HQ.”

“Good. I’m feeling a little naked this close to ground zero without a weapon.”

Jerry is only voicing my own feelings. After years of walking around armed at all times, I also feel decidedly uncomfortable without so much as a blade on my person. Headquarters is still trying to get our group US Marshall status so we can fly armed, but there’s a lot of pushback, mostly from the FBI. They used to do what we’re doing, but after the fiasco in ’01, the whole operation was outsourced – which is where we come in.

We’re monster hunters. Yes, Virginia, monsters do exist, but everyone has a vested interest in keeping this knowledge from the public. The monsters themselves don’t want people to know, and our government takes every step it can to make sure the general public doesn’t know. An encounter with the supernatural in the United States will, if you survive, invite an encounter with a couple of very stern men with Government ID who will impress upon you the importance of keeping this information private. The incontinent of mouth will find themselves buried in a shallow grave if the meeting fails to create an appropriate result. The Government is serious about keeping this information out of the public eye.

Survivors are the people who are then recruited by my company. Monster hunting was once done by the government – specifically, the previously mentioned FBI – but is now outsourced to a firm that has no name, and steep entry requirements for its operators. People like me and Jerry.

Jerry came face to face with a werewolf while hunting in the backwoods of Tennessee. Jerry made it out, the wounds that even today scar his face, arms and back didn’t result in an infection (contrary to popular belief, it’s actually hard to get infected by a werewolf bite), and after he recovered, Jerry was privately asked if he’d like to join the team. That was three years ago, and he and I have been teamed since his first day operational.

I’ve been hunting monsters since 2005, when I came into contact with a vampire. Fortunately for me, it was a baby, having been turned only weeks before; otherwise, I wouldn’t have survived. As it was, I spent a year in rehab learning to walk again.

People in my line of work can’t get life insurance. The average lifespan once you join a team is less than a year, but if you make it through that first year, it jumps to five years. That puts Jerry on the statistical track to die in the next two years, and I’m the anomaly that skews the curve.

This town noticed its young people kept turning up dead – killed in a way that made it remarkable — bodies drained of blood, with some part of an extremity looking like a pit bull’s chew toy. Vampire bites aren’t the nice little punctures made by sparkly gentleman popularized in today’s media – they’re more like what a shark in a feeding frenzy would leave. Vampires tend to damage their food, usually in a fashion immediately identifiable. Which leads to a pair of bad men like Jerry and me paying a visit to your town.

The conversation with the town council and local law enforcement went like I expected. No one is going to come out and say vampires, but the subtext is there. We were looking for unusual activity somewhere out of the way, somewhere that hadn’t been used in a long time, which unfortunately describes a large swath of the middle United States. The economy hasn’t been particularly forgiving for Small Town, USA, and populations were dropping as the young left to find a job, any job that wasn’t here, leaving their parents and grandparents to wither in the not-so-slowly declining towns across the country. Deserted houses were becoming commonplace in these areas, and this is exactly the type of place preferred by our current prey.

After our short meeting with town officials, we drive past the suspected house. Once. Without slowing, or showing the least sign of interest, other than a video camera with the lens just above the window of the car door. Vampires employ a lot of sophisticated devices that warn them of surveillance, and we have a vested interest in not alerting them to the fact that their lair has been discovered.

Afterwards, we drive to the hotel to gather our equipment, rest, and plan our assault for the next day. After stowing the gear – and strapping on my favorite Colt .45 pistol – we settle down for the evening. No one hunts vampires at night. It’s not survivable. A vampire can bench press a truck without any trouble, moves faster than a striking snake, and nothing but decapitation will even slow him down. During the day, they’re still strong, but move slowly if at all, and will incinerate under strong UV light. Daytime attacks on vampire nests are possible, barely. There isn’t a single recorded instance of a successful nighttime attack.

The master came for us after midnight. At night, a vampire’s power is at its peak, which makes it almost indestructible. A master vampire is indestructible at night, and the only thing to do is run away, run away fast.

My first inkling something was wrong was when the vampire started dismembering Jerry. Only the fact that he was taking his time, making sure that Jerry knew what was happening, and could experience the pain he was inflicting, saved me. I rolled out of bed and took off running. I made it to the rental car, which still had the key in the ignition, and speed away as fast as the car would go.

I’m not proud that my first instinct was to run. I’m not proud that I left Jerry to suffer in indescribable agony at the hands of the master. I know that I’ll be re-living those moments in my dreams, for as many nights as I have left.

I also know that I’m going back to that small town. And I’m bringing company.

Frank and Nancy

I wrote this story during a creative writing course where the prompt was to be as descriptive as possible — which explains the overtly explicit details. I still liked it enough to post it here.

___________________________

I hear the phone ringing while still five foot from the surface, the sound tinny and attenuated from underwater. I follow my last breath to the top, the bubble from my exhalation swirling around me as I spit out my regulator and swim to the ladder on the side of the boat. My cell phone cuts off as I throw my fins over the transom, and slowly climb up and over the side of the 45-foot ketch. As I drop the BC and tank, my phone starts ringing again.

I pull the top down on my wetsuit as I walk over to the cockpit towards the phone. I shiver in the sudden temperature change as the warm water from the suit trickles down my back. This caller is certainly persistent. Hardly any have my number; the only people who ever call me are family and the few friends I have left, and most know that I rarely answer.

“Hello, this is Frank.”

“We have your sister. Bring five million dollars in used bills to a location that will be provided by text tomorrow morning at 9 AM, or we will kill her.”

“WHAT! Who is this? What do you mean you’ve got Nancy?”

“Be in your car at 9 AM tomorrow, and proceed to the destination we will text you, or you’ll never see your sister again.”

The phone disconnects, leaving me listening to dead air as I stand with the phone still at my ear. Then my brain catches up. I pull up a number from my contact list, and press Connect.

“Smitty. They’ve kidnapped Nancy. No idea, and it doesn’t really matter. Can you pull a location from my cell for the most recent phone call? Thanks, man. Send it to me. If I need you, I’ll call.

My phone dings as it receives an incoming email. I glance at it quickly, and then head down to the safe hidden in the keel. There’s a few things I’ll be needing.

The kidnappers have made a terrible mistake. I’m not a trust-fund baby gallivanting around the Gulf on my expensive sailboat. This sailboat was a gift from the US Government for “services rendered,” and they’re about to find out what “services” those were.

I don’t expect them to survive the introduction.

***

Two hours later finds me stowing an arsenal in my rental car. I need to wait until it’s full dark to head over to the location of the phone call, so I’m arranging everything in order of anticipated use. Old habits are hard to break, and handling the weapons and explosives helps me deal with the rage that is threatening to boil over at any moment.

They’ve taken Nancy! That tattoo beats in my head as I load magazines with bullets. They’re all going to die! The refrain repeats in my ears as I stuff the now loaded magazines into a load-bearing vest. I stuff a ruck with blocks of C4 and handfuls of detonators, explosives safety thrown out the window under the overbearing need to do something! I know that I’m close to panic, but my mind is whirling, and I struggle to compose myself to the icy calm with which I conducted my operations for the government.

Preparations complete, I drive towards the hills surrounding the bay as darkness descends across the town. As I exit the city and start the climbing ascent up the foothills, night has fully engulfed me.

At two miles from the target, I stop the car at a barely discovered cul-de-sac. I pull deep into the woods, ensuring that the car will remain undiscovered, and move to the trunk to gear up. I’ve got a full LBE rig with a large ruck holding explosives, detonators, and remote triggers. I was also able to scrounge a couple of claymores and stuff them in the ruck. My main weapon is an old FN-FAL. It looks deformed as the suppressor rides over half of the receiver, and extends the ungainly weapon another foot in length from the muzzle. It looks like hell, but it’ll send a subsonic .308 bullet out to 100 yards with barely a cough. Substituting standard rounds will increase that to over 500 yards, but the supersonic crack is unmistakable. Sometimes, you just need to be able to reach out and touch someone.

There’s also a pistol-stocked shotgun riding the side of the ruck. Another older weapon, it’s a standard 18-inch barreled 12-guage Remington 1100, although I’ve extended the tubular magazine so that it now holds 8 rounds of buckshot. It’s nice to unload a literal wall of metal, as the semi-auto shotgun can cycle all 8 rounds in under a second and a half. For “just-in-case,” the first three rounds are breaching rounds, with six more breaching rounds riding in a side-saddle shell holder on the side of the shotgun. I don’t like doors standing between me and where I want to be.

Side arms include a Glock 18 in 9mm with a 33-round magazine riding in a thigh holster on my right leg, additional 33-round magazines riding in another thigh rig on my left leg. The Glock is a fully automatic pistol that can unload the entire 33-round magazine in less than 2 seconds of sustained fury. You might not hit where you’re aiming, but nobody in their right mind is going to not be hiding when you unleash that little monster.

My final pistol is a Smith and Wesson M22, which is the Navy SEAL version of the M39 in 9mm with an attached silencer. SEALs call these little pistols “hush puppies,” as that was their most common task – silencing dogs. You can fire one of these pistols and the only sound you hear is the metal hammer click on the firing pin. Mine has the slide-lock (which keeps the pistol from cycling, and greatly improves its sound suppressing ability), the high-profile slide sights (for use while the suppressor is attached), and the modification to allow it to use 13-round Browning Hi-Power magazines, instead of the standard 8-round magazine. It’s attached to the front of my LBE vest in a Molle holster, close at hand.

I don a pair of Night Vision Goggles, and the night around me turns to bright shades of green. It’s a bit of an art form navigating rough terrain with NVGs, but I’ve got years of experience, and I move out at a steady pace towards the target.

This target is the place the phone call to me originated. Odds are that Nancy is not being held at this location – but someone there will know where she is, or they’ll know the next link in the chain. I’m sure I can coerce them to provide me this information.

I can be very persuasive.

As I close on the target site, I pause at the military crest of the small rise in front of me. I crawl to the crest and peer over, taking care to expose as little of my body as possible. It’s just a couple of ramshackle huts in the small clearing below, a dog digging through a garbage heap behind one of the huts the only movement. The dog looks up as it catches my scent on the breeze. I pull the M22, check the silencer is on tight, the slide-lock is engaged, and line up on the hound as it opens its mouth to bark.

A muted click is the only sound as the dog collapses next to the garbage pile. I cycle the action and holster the pistol.

I flip the NVGs to the top of my helmet and pull out a thermal imager. Using the imager reveals that there are two people in the hut closest to me, and no other people anywhere within the clearing. One of the persons is either a woman or a very small man, and s/he is under the larger one. Three guesses what they’re doing, and the first two don’t count.

I make my way to the front of the occupied hut, and put my ear next to the door. Rhythmic groaning and an occasional moan confirm that the occupants are occupied, so I crack the door and toss in a flash-bang. I step to the side as the flash-bang goes off, blowing the door open with a crack. Instantly, I’m inside the hut, sliding flex cuffs on both of the occupants’ hands and feet. The man was obviously closer to the blast, as he’s bleeding from his ears and is unconscious.

The woman is young, no more than 15 years old. She’s crying and hysterically shaking her head. She’s just a sex slave this guy was using, and of no value to me. One smooth stroke with the rifle butt to the head and I remove her from the equation.

I pull the man around so that he’s sitting, facing me. I slap his face until he starts to track, then sit back on my heels until I’m sure he’s recovered.

“The phone call about the gringo girl who was kidnapped? It was from here. I want to know where she is. You’re going to tell me, or I’m going to hurt you. I’ll continue to hurt you until you tell me what I want to know.”

Pah! Puto! I know you’re going to kill me. Why should I tell you anything?”

“You know, you’re right. I really don’t have time for this.”

I reach into my first aid kit, and pull out a self-injecting ampoule. I carefully check the label as the man eyes me furtively.

Eh, Gringo, what’s that?”

“Some people call this a truth-serum. It’s not, not really, but it works in over 90% of the population, and it’s the closest thing we have. It’s not a pleasant experience, or so I’ve been told.”

As I was speaking the last sentence, I inject him with the narcosynthetic solution. This was one of the new ones, based on Sodium Pentothal and amobarbital, with some new twists made by our own pet mad scientists, and its effect is almost instantaneous. His eyes roll back in his head, his whole body relaxes, and he starts to giggle quietly as he stares at the ceiling.

“Tell me about the girl. Where is she?”

“The little gringa is a bruja, a witch! She injured three men when we captured her, and she’s hurt two others who were tying her to the chair when we got her to the silo, the warehouse. That’s where she is, she’s in the warehouse.”

“Where is the warehouse?”

“Corner of Peron and Juarez streets, large white building. She’s on the second floor, in the back.”

“How many men are guarding her?”

“Five.”

“How are they armed?”

Que?

“What types of guns do they have?”

“AK-47s and AK-74s.”

“Thank you, my friend. I wish you better luck in the next life.”

I take my Hush Puppy from the holster, and shoot him in the face as he stares guilelessly at me, deep in the narcotic’s grip. Brains spray across the wall behind him, and he slumps to the floor. I cycle the action on my pistol, re-holster it, grab my rifle and head for the car at a dead run.

I make the two miles in fifteen minutes flat, not bad for a 35-year-old with a 60-pound ruck on his back. I slide my weapons in the back seat, and head to the warehouse.

A block from my destination, I find a secluded parking spot, and gear up. I have to stay in the shadows, as a man with a long rifle is rather obvious and will get a lot of phone calls from “concerned citizens.” That the cops are in the employ of whomever kidnapped my sister, and are probably taking a cut of the action, is a foregone conclusion. Kidnapping is a time-honored Latin American tradition, and a quick way to raise money from the gringos. Usually quick, and almost always the hostage returns unharmed. No one wants to kill the golden goose. I would have never gone on this foolish quest if I had had the money – but I don’t, so I’m left with this barely palatable option.

At the corner, I see the first sentry. He’s stationary, standing in the lee of the building smoking a cigarette. I examine him with my binoculars. He doesn’t seem to have any communications gear, and my scanner isn’t picking up any broadcasts. I decide to even the odds a bit.

I ready the FN-FAL, assume a kneeling position, and send one round. At a range of 80 yards, the big 165-grain jacketed hollow point expands exactly the way it was designed, and the target falls where he stood with most of the back of his skull missing.

I wait for a full minute, but no alarm is raised. I proceed to the other side of the warehouse, and take out the second outside guard in the same fashion.

I skulk to the back door, but it’s locked. It’s not a very good lock, however, and I break out my lock picking tool kit. Within 30 seconds, the door clicks open. I push inside, every sense at high alert.

I let my rifle rest on the single-point sling, moving it towards my back and out of the way. This calls for stealth, so I pull my silenced pistol, release the slide-lock, and unsheathe my knife with my left hand.

Knife barely describes the big combat bowie – it’s almost a short sword. Completely black except for the glittering edges, it can easily defeat body armor, and has the reach to penetrate deep enough to disable even the largest person.

I hear a TV playing loudly upstairs, Spanish language drowned out by the roaring of a large crowd. Sounds like a soccer game is in progress. I slowly ascend the stairs, alert for any movement, the TV covering any slight sounds I might make.

As my head clears the top of the stairs, I see the remaining three guards all intently watching the game, sitting side-by-side on the couch in front of the TV. I line up the pistol, and fire three quick rounds, the click-clack of the slide cycling hidden by the noise from the game. All three men are hit, one falling to the floor, the other two held up by the couch’s arms. I stride into the room, my head on a swivel as I check for anyone I may have missed.

I put an additional round into each man’s head as I stand over them. I don’t like surprises; insurance is cheap, and this will make sure that the dead men stay dead.

I replace the magazine on the pistol with a fully loaded one, and move to the back of the warehouse.

“Nancy! Nancy! Can you hear me?”

“Frank! Frank, I knew you’d come!”

I find the door into the room from which her voice came, and pull the shotgun. The breaching rounds blow the hinges off without sending any deadly fragments into the room on the other side. A final round blows the latch, and I kick the door which promptly falls into the room.

Through the swirls of smoke from the breacher rounds, I see Nancy on the bed. She’s still in the clothes she had on this morning, hands tied behind her back. I cut the rope binding her, and she throws her arms around me, crying hysterically.

As I lead her from the warehouse towards the car, I make a promise. After I get Nancy to the states, I’m coming back to clean up this cesspool. No one should have to go through what she has.

And I’m just the guy that can do it.

Just Another Day

Jake heaves the yellow scuba tank over the side of the surging boat, carefully timing it to minimize how far he has to lift the 25-pound steel cylinder. He grunts as the tank clinks into its slot on the side of the boat.

Melanie grins as she watches this evolution.

“You should really let the crew do all the lifting,” she says with a smile.

“I don’t like anybody touching my stuff.”

He pulls his shirt off, turning his back to Melanie as he starts to roll his wetsuit up over his body. Melanie gasps as she sees the tracery of scars across his back and shoulders. Jake looks back over his shoulder when he hears her and sadly shakes his head.

“Sorry, I didn’t think. I’m usually better about keeping that out of view, but I just wasn’t thinking.”

“What the hell happened to you?”

Jake’s eyes glaze as his mind travels back five years ago, to a place as far from this idyllic ocean scene as is possible.

###

No one ever thinks about being hot and sweating on a boat submerged deep under water, but that’s exactly the condition that Jake finds himself. A simple drill to train the new guys gone wrong, in more than one way, and suddenly, it’s a crisis.

The SCRAM drill should have been simplicity itself — open the SCRAM breaker, causing the reactor to do an emergency shutdown, watch the newbies take their immediate actions, and then a quick recovery, over in 10 minutes. Unfortunately, things went wrong right from the start.

Opening the breaker scrammed the plant, but the new Reactor Operator immediately misread the control rod positions, thinks they’re abnormal, and full scrams the plant before anyone could catch him. That was strike one. As the fast scram recovery becomes a fast recovery startup, the diving officer of the watch can’t control the ship’s buoyancy, the ship can’t come to periscope depth, and continues to sink out — strike two. Now the battery is handling all ship’s power, and it’s starting to fail, which looks like strike three, and we’re all out, just like the Thresher back in ’63.

The way things are supposed to work, the ship should proceed to near periscope depth once a scram is reported, so it can raise the snorkel mast and get the diesel generator running. That will take the load off the battery, which, with the reactor shutdown, is supplying the ship with all electrical power. We’re still sucking residual heat from the power plant, and using it to give us minimal headway, trying to drive the boat to the surface, but the ship is so heavy we’re still sinking, albeit now with a noticeable up bubble — which only makes maneuvering around the ship harder.

Sailors are starting to filter back to the engine room, and the reactor startup is beginning. It’s hot and sweaty because even with the reactor shutdown, there’s still steam being generated, but the air conditioning plants are all off, as is every other “non-essential” electrical load, like fans and precipitators, to reduce load on the battery so it will last as long as possible. The air is hot and heavy with moisture from venting steam, and getting hazy with oil from the myriad oil leaks for which the 688-class is infamous. It’ll only get hotter and hazier until we can get the reactor back online.

Jake is the Engineering Watch Supervisor, the senior enlisted watch stander, and is the boss outside of maneuvering, where the official watch team leader (the Engineering Officer of the Watch) sits and tries to direct the show. In actuality, the EWS is the one with the most experience, since the EOOW is a junior officer fresh out of Nuclear Power School, still trying to qualify as Officer of the Watch.

Jake is in Engine Room Forward, where the feed pumps are. The Main Feed Pumps are large electrical pumps that inject feed water into the Steam Generators, and they’re currently off since they’re large electrical loads on the “non-essential” busses. It’s a fine line to tread — no feed water to the Steam Generators, which are still boiling water into steam to drive the propeller, and the steam generator water levels continue to drop. If the steam generators drop below a certain critical level, then they stop providing steam, and, more importantly, they stop removing heat from the reactor, which is still generating enormous amounts of heat, even when shutdown.

Always assuming, of course, that they can get control of ship’s depth, otherwise, it won’t really matter once they pass crush depth, and the ship crumples into herself, incinerating everyone inside, with a side order of drowning for any survivors.

Over the 2MC, which is the engineering spaces communication circuit, the word is passed, “The reactor is critical.” That’s good news, now they just have to take it to the Point of Adding Heat, where it will actually do some good.

“Take manual control of the Steam Generator Water Levels, and start the feed pumps smartly when Maneuvering gives the word,” Jake briefs the feed station watch. With that duty covered, he heads to Engine Room Upper Level to co-ordinate the starting of the Electrical Generators (in ship’s parlance, the SSTG’s, or Ships Steam Turbine Generators). Electrical power is going to be the highest priority once the reactor is producing heat again.

“The reactor is at the Point of Adding Heat,” is announced over the 2MC.

Jake hears the Main Engines roar rise as increased propeller turns are ordered by the Conn, who’ll use raw power and speed to overcome the severe loss of depth control. The lights flicker and the Turbine Generator whine rises as the large feed pump load is added, and this is a signal that Jake has been anticipating.

As Jake turns to take the ladder back to the lower levels of the ship, the sub heels over to starboard and takes a heavy down angle of at least 40 degrees. Tool boxes, coffee cups and anything else not secured tumble towards the front of the ship, including at least two men that Jake could see, one of whom grabs a railing and yelps as his arm breaks with an audible snap, the other hitting a bulkhead and ominously silent.

The main engines roar to life as immense amounts of steam are poured into them. The throttleman is trying to keep the ship from plunging to the ocean bottom by going to Emergency Back Full, using the engines to pull the ship back from its precipitous dive.

“Jam Dive, Jam Dive!” echoes over the ship as the 1MC (ship’s general announcing system) blares the problem.

Jake turns and starts to crawl up the ship, towards shaft alley, the very tail end of the sub. More than likely, whatever has jammed the stern planes will be found there.

Jake scrambles down the ladder to shaft alley, the shaft now slowing as the ship slowly rights herself. It’s clear what the cause is, as the stern planes hydraulic ram, a ten-foot silver shaft two foot in diameter, is fully extended and jacked to the right, locking the stern planes into full dive.

Jake turns to yell up the ladder for a come-along and chains, just as the overloaded hydraulic plant explodes, spraying ultra-high pressure hydraulic oil throughout the space and peppering his entire back with steel from the plant and pumps acting like shrapnel.

He blessedly loses consciousness, and wakes almost three days later, face down in a hospital bed in Yokosuka. They were fortunate to be able to airlift him off the sub. It takes the ship another six days to make the transit with the damage it had sustained.

###

Jake’s eyes clear, and he looks back to Melanie.

“It was just another day, back when I was in the Navy.”