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C H A P T E R  E L E V E N



 3 MARCH, 1984     07:00


        Davy’s Casio dinned in shrill beats of two, telling him the hour had turned over. He stopped tuning his rifle’s scope to watch the alarm flash. The digitized seconds danced beneath the watch’s sapphire glass face to the rhythm of the buzzing whine. 

        The watch sat on the inside of his wrist where he could both monitor the time and remain entwined with his .50 caliber Model 500 Haskins rifle–courtesy of Lochte and the midnight-shift quartermaster, ‘Sergeant’ Dunn. 

        She was pretty–the rifle. 

        He’d made a comfortable nest for the two of them beneath a desert tarp, its edges tucked between blocks of sandstone to either side. The rifle he dressed in strips of cloth sliced from a spare set of fatigues to conceal the barrel poking out from under the covering. As for himself, Davy had exchanged his sooty blacks for a standard-issue Javelin desert uniform. 

        Jagged rocks and brush stuck at him from all directions. It was as cozy as it was going to get. The only real annoyance was shutting off the damn alarm every hour.

        To avoid disturbing his meticulous position, Davy made it easiest to shut off the alarm with his teeth. He raised the small, rubber-cased square to his mouth, shifting it over his molars until he found the sweet spot and bit down. The alarm died.

        Davy frowned as he put his hand back on the rifle. A layer of humid breath obscured the watch’s face. 


        He shook his head. Thankfully, he had been watching the minutes tick by to know it was exactly seven o’clock, which also meant he’d been awake for nearly twenty-four hours.

        10 minutes ‘til arrival–if they kept on schedule.

        Davy had been in position for two hours, though he’d been on site for about five. Instructions were to arrive before either party of the prisoner transfer–much earlier should either group turn up earlier than the agreed time. 

        He had met with Lochte and the quartermaster an hour after midnight and was supplied with no more than he could carry in his hands. That meant the rifle, tarp, a spare shirt and trousers, and a freeze-dried beef patty MRE for the road. ‘Sergeant’ Dunn gave him the keys to an FAV patrol buggy, a squat, triangular vehicle that Javelin happened to have the pleasure of testing out for Army use. Dunn had pressed him for a report on its handling when he got back, his voice droll with his usual night-time enthusiasm. 

        The buggy looked more like a boy scout's half-finished pinewood derby car–but it was quick, Davy noted. It ripped over the sand for the border in minutes, leaving Vanguard Joint Operations Base in a dark cloud of dust. 

        Before heading to the exchange point, Davy had to make a fifteen minute detour farther north. A dead drop location just a few miles into Afghan territory had stored one of the critical parts to the plan.

Javelin maintained a hundred or so supply and weapon caches throughout Afghanistan that supplied Mujahideen contacts and special operatives–Davy’s team was most often responsible for keeping them stocked. Rebel shepherds frequented this particular locale to smuggle supplies under the wool of their sheep.

        The dead drop was a single shack sitting in the remnants of an old kishlak. Sun-bleached trees sat around like the petrified remains of the family one leaves behind for a better life–waiting endlessly for their boy to come home. Each had been given nicknames by his men–Ma, Uncle Elvis–a few others Davy hadn’t bothered to remember.

        The reason for his detour had been a Russian Moskvich pickup. The vehicle was shared between Javelin and the local rebels as part of one of many deals made between them. When not in use by the Mujahideen, it made for an excellent undercover vehicle. The last check-in confirmed it was there, giving him the go-ahead on the plan.

        Javelin maintained a temperate understanding with the rebels. They regularly shared equipment in exchange for bonus intel or access to off-limits zones not typically included in the brokered alliance initiated by the United States government. 

        So, in case the previous driver hadn’t filled up, Davy had the FAV fitted with an extra two gallons of gas. That would get him as far as he needed.

        The pickup built on the character he would play. Should Nolan or the CIA see a Soviet vehicle fleeing the scene, neither should sweat blaming the shot on a Soviet sniper. More fuel for their fire anyway.

        A chase was doubtful, too. Lochte assured him that Nolan’s escort would be driven by a single truck–a heavy personnel carrier–too slow to give pursuit. The CIA, however, was an area of concern. Javelin had no intel on their transport, but it was assumed they would fly in for quick extraction. To avoid suspicion, neither Lochte nor Davy asked for further details on the exchange. This was Nolan’s thing after all–out of their jurisdiction.

        Still, Davy was confident in his plan to disengage. No salaried CIA pilot was going to fly into enemy skies and alert the Soviets over the death of some kid. He expected nothing more than a few retaliation shots–easy to avoid on the backside of the ridge. He would then vanish north, hop back in the FAV, and head home.


        Implications of his situation aside, it’d be an easy day. When out in the field, Davy had learned to flip a switch inside himself. The risks, the fears, the anxiety–it turned off. All of that fell into place as the job unfolded. So right now–the radiation, the welfare of his team, the possible treason he planned to commit on behalf of Lochte–none of it mattered. None of those worries existed until he pulled the trigger.

        Thinking this way helped him catch a couple hours of rest when he got to the ridgeline. He had time to kill before setting up, and after being awake for as long as he had, some sleep would help keep his trigger finger steady. Under the arm of the Milky Way, Davy had tucked in beside his rifle in the back of the truck, images of the previous day shifting under his eyelids.

        Davy blinked.

        A swirl of dust kicked up in the distance. The transport was approaching.

        He rechecked the rifle’s scope, inspected the magazine and chamber, and wiped the moisture from the face of his watch. Everything was set. He breathed out evenly, letting his muscles sink down and apart. He popped his knuckles methodically with his thumb to the metronome in his head. All tension bled from him.

        The truck gradually appeared beneath a great cloud of sand stirring around it. The grumble of its engine reached him as a low hum, gradually growing louder. It rumbled over the unmarked terrain, coming to a stop in near perfect alignment with Davy’s position. He shifted only slightly to adjust the scope–checking its focus again.

        One by one, Javelin grunts hopped out from the canvas-covered truck bed. They formed a square as the last few filed out. Davy caught a glimpse of his target. The kid’s ashy appearance bobbed out of the truck into the blockade of men. Poor bastard.

        He looked ready for the grave, slumping nearly in half between the two men walking him into the group. They might as well have carried him. Davy exhaled, sympathizing; they both could use a rest.

        As he expected, he’d have to wait for the right moment to take the shot. Between the line of men, the prisoner hobbled on his feet like a drunk. Taking this kind of shot would be like threading a moving needle, and Davy wouldn’t chance friendly fire. He’d wait for a clear opening.

        Some time passed with no sight of the second party. A man with a distinctly upright posture stepped out in front of the men–Nolan. Davy narrowed on him through his scope. He looked disgruntled. Nolan always stood as if he were giving a presentation to the board. Sucks to have your boss come late to his own meeting, huh? 

        Davy pulled away from the scope, squinting his eyes over the horizon. Distant rivers sliced in front of winding mountain ranges, both carving into the pale valley. Sand clawed up their sides, coated with dots of shrubs and Kair trees. Beyond that the wildlands eventually turned to civilization–

        Then he saw it.

        A helicopter sped across the landscape from the south, flying low. Its blades flicked with the sun in dashing light. In minutes, a heavy Sikorsky came whirling over Nolan’s position, smattering waves of dust and wind down on them. 

        Davy was grateful for his distance. Any closer and the gusts could have whipped up his cover and exposed him.

        The bird landed just ahead of the cluster of soldiers. Davy scrunched his brow as four armed men in black exited. They looked like special operations–not what he was expecting of the States to send for pick-up. Some level of precaution made sense–the prisoner was notably volatile, but such heavy kits to collect this kid seemed excessive.

        A fifth man exited the chopper then.

        Davy tuned his scope on him. He’d anticipated jeans, dusty t-shirts, and aviators–not a kill squad. This man, who had to be Nolan’s contact, did not fit the expectations he had, either. A black suit… Shoulder-length hair? Like a mod straight out of London.

        Nolan moved into frame. There was a look on his face–off-putting. He moved nervously, too. The two exchanged some chatter, shook hands–then an opening came. Davy inhaled. No more time for bird watching.

        The Javelin soldiers moved aside. The prisoner stood in the open–moving a step forward, then another. Davy realigned himself, setting his scope’s crosshairs appropriately; he adjusted for drop–noted a low breeze.

        There was a moment that seemed to linger as his entire body synchronized. The kid stood in his sights, head raised, body angled diagonally from his position. His expression was just like before–bitter and terrified.

        Davy exhaled and pulled the trigger.

        The rifle belched fire, erupting in his ears. Sand scattered from the rocks and his teeth vibrated. The earth hummed.

        Confirm it.

        Davy swung the scope back down, searching for confirmation. A body lay in the sand, chest torn from the shot. It lay limp, tossed several feet from where it once stood.

        That’s a thumbs-up, he thought.

        Beside the body, unfocused images of soldiers spun in search of the attacker. Gunshots cracked. 

        Another body fell beside the prisoner’s.

        Davy snapped from his scope. His jaw dropped–stunned. The four gunmen in black open fire against Nolan’s men. 

        What the hell?

        He snatched himself to the rifle again, swinging his aim around. Nolan’s contact sprinted, half-toppling into the helicopter’s open hatch as the gunmen continued to fire. Davy snapped the crosshairs of his rifle onto the nearest gunman, pulling the trigger. 

        A second boom pounded into the air. The man ripped into a spiral before crashing into the earth. The gunman beside him saw, signaling to the others. They moved into a coordinated triangle formation. Two laid suppressive fire in front while the third dragged the wounded in a retreat to the helicopter, its wheels hovering inches from the sand. 

        His stomach twisted. 

        Davy threw the tarp from him, yanking the rifle from its place. He dashed on his heel, throwing himself into a slide down a wedge of sand in the rock to his awaiting escape vehicle.

        That wasn’t the fucking CIA.

        Davy had no radio, no means to contact Lochte or Nolan–provided he was unharmed. Nolan may have even been involved in what just happened. Javelin’s men, the gunmen–these were professionals, but someone fucked up. Someone expected a fight–pulled the trigger after getting spooked. Davy broke their cover, he realized.

        There wasn’t a man over the ridge he could trust. He needed to get back, to get to Lochte before they got there first.

        Davy dropped the rifle in the back of the truck as he made for the door. He could hear the thunder of the chopper’s blades. A pursuit might happen after all. 

        Without a second to look, Davy jumped into the driver’s seat, throttling the engine to life and smashing his foot on the gas. The pickup spun in a semi-circle in the sand before catching on a layer of rock. It then lurched forward.

        The truck bounced over the shallow dunes while Davy searched for the helicopter in his rear-view mirror. The view in the reflection shook wildly up and down, making it impossible to see. He set his jaw, spurring the pickup on.

        He caught a glimpse of it just as he whirled the truck away from colliding into a dead tree. Cursing, he brought the vehicle back under control as the ground began to even out ahead. The fluttering shape of the helicopter steadied in the mirror. It was flying away–heading south.

        Davy hit the brakes. His door opened and slammed with a painful clatter as he marched out onto the makeshift road. The chopper was growing more distant in the sky. Disbelief hung in his chest. 

        Puzzle pieces all strung together helplessly in his head, unable to form a picture of what had just unfolded. Something stuck with him, though–some sick feeling.

        Davy spat, his eyes lingering on the shrinking bird as he got back in the pickup. The tires spun as he set off. A new anxiety crept in. He couldn’t shut it off, it was all unraveling in the moment. The job was changing before his eyes and he could feel that he just stepped into something much worse than the picture that Lochte had painted hours ago.

        Davy found the FAV where he’d left it at the dead drop. He parked beside it, snatching the rifle out from the back and setting it in the buggy. He’d left the tarp back on the ridge, he noted–bullet casings too. 

        To hell with it.

        Plopping into the FAV’s bucket seat, he tossed the keys to the pickup into the sand. His bewilderment had already cost him precious time. He’d flipped the switch inside him, but the tingle in his chest still hummed. 

        That’s what gets you killed, George. 

        He struck his palm against the wheel, then punched the gas flat with his boot. The buggy tore through the sand back toward HQ. 

        As he rolled through the security checkpoints, he spotted a commotion forming in the center courtyard.         Soldiers and off-duty contractors in pit-stained shirts huddled and ran between one another. Medical personnel slipped through the bustle carrying men on stretchers. Nolan’s transport truck sat right in the middle of it all.


        Davy spun the wheel of the buggy, skirting around the chaos. Members of the transfer team were already helping those who were less seriously injured down from the truck. Davy shot glances over each of them, looking to see who might have been hurt. He saw Nolan, a pinkening bandage wrapped over his arm, steadying a limping man as they walked toward the other wounded.

        Davy must have gotten there just a minute shy of their arrival. From what he saw, only one or two soldiers were being carried off to Medical. The rest sat against a line of concrete Jersey barriers as doctors and the medical staff jogged from across the street to them.  

        Six. Seven. Davy accounted for most of the men he saw from the ridge. Eight–

        The buggy screeched to a stop. Davy leapt over the FAV’s low door, striding over the pavement. Some of the men looked up, noticing him. 

        “Davy?” Nolan’s voice called. “The hell are you doing here?”

        He marched toward a circle of armed soldiers, shoving them aside. A soldier retorted with a “Hey!” but faltered when he saw Davy’s face. The rest of them took a step back.

        Handcuffed, leaning against the barrier, was John–clear as day–alive. 

        Davy froze. He’d made the shot, he saw the aftermath. He was dead.

        I killed him.

        He did not screw this job.

        Davy crouched, his nose wrinkled, his mouth curling down harshly. The boy looked up at him, dazed, looking high as a damn gull in the clouds. 

        “Get back!” Nolan yelled. Some men shuffled in place, but it was clear they all were as shocked as he was. 

        Davy shot a hand out, pressing his fingers against John’s throat. He huffed, fuming. The boy’s head rocked back against the barrier.

        A pulse struck against his fingers.

        I did not. fucking. miss.

        Davy snagged the boy’s shirt in his fists and tore it wide apart. Beneath the shredded cloth was a layer of gray tissue, formed like a plaster over his chest. Davy breathed out, baffled.

        “Stand down–” Nolan barked, his voice drawing near.

        The kid’s skin–his ribs–he had seen it all blown to bits, strewn across the sand in jagged red shards. The blood loss alone should have killed him, but a pinkish tone was already filling his skin. His ribs all rested under his skin too, albeit somewhat deformed. Davy placed a hand on the boy’s side. As he did, he felt one of the ribs move suddenly–popping into place on its own. John’s breathing seemed to ease after it did. Davy’s hand recoiled. 

        “Someone–here, I’ll fucking do it–” 

        Davy felt a hand snag his bicep and yank up. He turned, raising to his feet. 

        “Where were you just now, Captain?” Nolan demanded. “Huh?”

        Davy remained silent. His head began to spin.

        “I’ve got six casualties–two in critical condition–I swear to God, George… Where were you?”

        Davy stood over him, thoughts blurring together. The fatigue and confusion welled up inside him now, turning to vile irritation. Nolan needed to step off–

        “You were asked a question, Captain.” Nolan was in his face now. The armed soldiers at Nolan’s side grew uneasy, angling their rifles against their chest. A circle formed around Davy, all looking at him. He saw the trouble he was in now.

        “Mr. Horne, Captain,” a voice beckoned. 

        They both turned. Lochte stood beyond the crowd, hands in his pockets. “Commander Harper would like a word.”



        George sat slumped in one of the dozen or so scratchy tweed rolling chairs that lined the perimeter of the boardroom’s long table, far enough away from the others that he could succumb to his growing headache in relative privacy as Commander Harper and Lochte weathered the brunt of Hurricane Nolan. 

        There seemed to have been some sort of unspoken understanding that the first one to take a seat would forfeit their case and any reasoning attached to it, so for the past two hours everyone had stubbornly remained in the same position in the vicinity of the door. George, however, had no intention of passing up on an opportunity to get off his feet, and had made a beeline for a chair as soon as one had been offered to him.         With everyone’s backs turned to him, he would have already started to doze off by now if every aggravated hiss of an “S” and titter of a “T” that fell from Nolan’s tongue hadn’t incessantly twitched him back to the land of the living.

        George’s thumb and forefinger were pressed firmly into his eyesockets in an attempt to stay the dull throb that emanated from behind them. Colors swirled under his eyelids in chase of the slow, circular motions his fingertips pressed into them. They were still raw from the neverending barrage of sun, sand, and smoke.

        It just kept going on, and on, and on.

        He hadn’t even begun to process what he had seen, which was why he was particularly annoyed that he had been called upon to bear witness to this dispute for what seemed like no reason at all; he intended to be able to catch up on sleep before his subconscious started pecking at him to think about the day’s events further, but now to hope for even that much felt futile. In the frayed edges of his mind, the image of the boy’s innards splayed out over the sand began to beg for his attention.

        He had seen what he thought he had, hadn’t he?

        He pushed the thought back down as if he were swallowing a rising tide of bile. 

        Not now.

        “This is the only way we can come out on top of this,” Commander Harper’s voice rumbled from the opposite end of the room. “Make the damn call, Nolan.”


        George’s eyes flickered open, eager to witness the commander’s reaction to Nolan’s insolence.

        Harper was planted firmly by the head of the table like a great gnarled oak, his arms crossed tightly against his chest. Javelin’s commander–and it’s founder–was a man of about mid-forties, slightly grizzled and well on the way to gray. He stood tall, but a decade of pushing papers and minor noise-induced hearing loss–though he always denied it–gave him the tendency to crane toward whomever he was speaking to at the moment, which really only cemented his eminent stature in the eyes of anyone not accustomed to talking to him face-to-face. Even Nolan’s rebuff, harsh and perhaps even honorable as it was, withered quickly in the heat of the tense air surrounding him. Seeming to be well aware of the influence Harper’s presence had upon the power structure of a conversation at any given time, Pascal hung back contentedly behind him, half-leaning against the edge of the table with his hands tucked in his pockets. All eyes were fixed on Nolan, who lingered by the door like a cornered animal.

        “Face it, Nolan,” Harper said. “The CIA is compromised–We don’t know the extent, but we can assume from this point forward that we do not have a secure line of communication with them. We have to use this to our advantage until Langley can patch the leak–”

        “No. No–enough!" Nolan punctuated his interruption by slicing his hand through the space in front of him. He painfully sucked air through his teeth as he was reminded of the wound on his arm, and let it drop to his side once more as he rolled his shoulder back tenderly. “I took an oath,” he continued, his teeth still clenched. “Do any of you even know what that means? I don’t care if you think you’re so right that you put Jesus, Mary and Joseph to shame. If you saw what I saw–Do you have any idea what the consequences could be if we just swept it all under the rug? Do we–Do we even know what he is?”

        George had never seen Nolan so disheveled. His dark hair straggled loose over his sweat-streaked forehead in damp spikes, and his jaw was marked with smears of blood and dirt. The ill-fitting fatigues he still wore were rumpled, bloody, and untucked, a far cry from his usual sleek attire. For once, he actually looked like he belonged here.

        George was all too familiar with the wild look that glistened in Nolan’s eyes as they ticked back and forth between Lochte and Harper with feral intensity. He had seen the look before, in Tanzania–twice. The first time, it was Whitaker. He had mistaken the look for fear in the moment–it was easy to pass it off as such when she was staring down the barrel of his gun. But the second time he saw it, the eyes that stared feverishly at him from the chipped glass of a rundown petrol station’s grimy restroom mirror were his own, and he knew with certainty that it was something entirely different. Desperate, shell-shocked, in the throes of a crisis of sanity. No amount of cold water could wash it away. Nolan was practically pleading for an explanation for what he had seen.

        George almost pitied him.

        “This is precisely why we need to hold on to him,” Pascal spoke up, “and why it’s best that the CIA goes on believing that he’s dead–for the time being, at the very least. When they’ve rooted out Saether and whoever’s working with him, we can turn him over. Until then, though, this is the most secure place to keep him… Surely you can agree with that.”

        Nolan rocked his jaw back and forth, perhaps finally weighing the words that had been thrown at him over the course of the past few hours.

        “Nolan,” Harper began, seeming to sense that they were nearing a tipping point, “This doesn’t work without all of us on the same page. All I’m asking is for you to wait. If you have to go back to Langley to help them sort it out faster–”

        “Oh, you’d like that,” Nolan said, his eyes flashing. “No, no. I’m not going anywhere. Everything that happens here from this point forward is going directly in the report that I will personally hand to the deputy director when this is all over.”

        George couldn’t help but scoff under his breath. 

        He wasn’t quiet enough, because Nolan quickly jabbed his finger through the air in his direction.

        “And keep your fucking dog on a tight leash,” Nolan spat. “The DOD will–at a minimum–charge him with interfering in government operations, and I’m sure they’re willing to get creative if he crosses another line.”

        George sniffed, trying to keep the corners of his mouth from twitching upwards.

        Look at him, hurling stones from a glass house.

        “Fine, Nolan,” Harper said dismissively, corralling him toward the door with an extended hand. “Now–For Christ’s sake, get yourself to Medical and have Gambin look you over. Have a drink, call the wife, I don’t care. Just do something other than crawl up my ass.” He reached behind Nolan and opened the door.

        Nolan shot one last seething look at the room’s occupants, letting his glare linger and sour upon George. Finally, he turned on his heel and disappeared.

        George let his head bounce back against the chair as he exhaled deeply and closed his eyes once more, sliding an extra measure into the snug upholstered embrace of the chair. He could fall asleep here. Easily. His thoughts drifted to the prospect of tucking into a hot meal, taking a cool shower, and–

        The door clicked shut. George opened his eyes to see Lochte and Harper watching him expectantly. 


        George huffed as he placed his palms on the armrests of his chair and reluctantly pushed himself up and out of his state of placidity, stretching out his aching back as he rose to his feet. 

        “Good work today,” Pascal said, straightening up as George met them at the head of the table. “I must say, I’m curious to read your report for this one–See to it that you get it to my office before you turn in later.”

        “Of course.” George eyed Harper, whose looming presence had begun to descend upon him.

        Harper cleared his throat and shifted his weight between his feet.

        Was that all?

        Lochte turned, facing the smudged dry-erase board that hung upon the wall behind them. 

        “There’s one more thing...” He cocked his head to the side as he spotted a streak of color that seemed to have been missed in someone’s haste to wipe the board clean. Lochte extended his thumb and ran it along the line, methodically eradicating the blemish. “So I’ll get straight to the point,” he continued. “We’re integrating John into your team–once he’s cleared by Medical, of course.”

        George’s brow folded.


        Lochte turned back to George and drew a breath to elaborate.

        “Believe it or not,” Harper said with a sigh, beating Lochte to the punch as he hung his hands upon his belt, “there was a grain of truth to what we just had to get Nolan on board with. This kid is an asset in Javelin’s deck of cards now, at least ‘til we have to give him up. As such, we have to keep him low-profile. Anyone after him–which is unlikely, because he’s technically dead–will be looking for someone in custody, not someone on the payroll.”

        “Purely a formality, of course,” Pascal interjected, trying with trademark subtlety to chase Harper’s shot of Moskovskaya with something that went down a little easier before George had a chance to object. “But you’ve seen firsthand why we have to take… unique measures in his particular case.”

        Unique measures. George was certain that resigning himself to the role of custodian had to be the very last resort. 

        He ran a hand through his hair, turning to Harper. “Sir, with all due respect, I don’t think my men will–”

        “In case it wasn’t clear, we’re not asking you, Captain,” Harper said solidly. “Pascal tells me that your unit is the best-suited for the task. The kid doesn’t need to get along with ‘em. You don’t even need to hand him a gun. Just keep him busy, keep him secure. Who knows… Maybe he’ll even open up a little.”

        A peripheral glance in Pascal’s direction told George all he needed to know. His piercing gaze burned into the side of George’s skull expectantly, watching every twitch in his expression. Pascal wanted to get in this kid’s head, to learn who he was–what he was.

        Get in line.

        Regardless, George was in no place to object; he knew his superiors’ favor hung in the balance of how willingly he responded to this strange request.

        He straightened his posture.

        “How do you want to do this?”

        “Well,” Pascal said as he steepled his fingers on the table, his chipper demeanor resurfacing on a dime, “as I had mentioned, Gambin needs to clear him before he can even leave Medical. I’ll press Whitaker for her expertise on the subject of caela radiation this afternoon, and she can coordinate with Gambin from there–I think she trusts him well enough to help him remedy this little hiccup–” he dipped his chin down at George. “Your unit is fine, by the way–exhibiting no symptoms of any kind–but I’ve given them the weekend, just in case... I’m sure there will be no complaints.”

        George nodded as relief washed over him. One less thing to worry about.

        Pascal flicked his wrist around to look down at the face of his watch. “I need to make a call to some friends in Japan.”

        George’s eyebrow arched. He wasn’t aware that Lochte’s arm of influence extended that far east. 

        “Commander,” Lochte added, almost as an afterthought, as he turned to Harper. “We’ll need to look into freeing up some funds. I suspect our new head of R&D will want to spread her wings a bit, so let’s give her the space to do so.”

        Harper replied with a dismissive wave of his hand and an indistinct grumble, then tilted his attention back to George. 

        “You know how it goes. Treat him like any other grunt. No one’s ever as special as they think they are, anyways, heh.” A man of few words. He clapped a hand down on George’s shoulder with enough force to sway him slightly, walking alongside him to the door. “Depending on how this goes, I’ve been eyeing some opportunities for you, in the event that we expand operations. Give that some thought.”

        Already have.

        Clawing his way out of the mud of trivial tasks and odd jobs–out of the mire of mundaneness and mediocrity–as he fought to earn the trust of those around him… It was like a drug to George. He prided himself in his ability to start over from scratch and rise as far as he could, again and again—however many times he had to. It was all too easy, and easier still now that he had learned the very valuable lesson of not growing attached to things–to people–beyond the scope of his professional responsibility. Flipping the switch had never failed to get him where he needed to be.

        And because of it, Commander Harper had his eye on him for something greater.

        “Yes, sir,” George said simply.

        “Good.” Harper opened the door, and with another clap on George’s shoulder, sent him through.

        “Oh–” George said, catching the doorframe in his hand and turning back to face Lochte. “You said we have the weekend?”

        “You’ve certainly earned it,” he replied smoothly with a chuckle, his white incisors flashing under the fluorescents. “I’ll meet with you on Monday.”

        George gave a firm nod and reminded himself to keep his cool as he rounded the corner into the hallway. Only when he was confident that he was out of the bosses’ line of sight did he allow himself a satisfied smile. A couple days of doing absolutely nothing, George had come to realize, made most problems a little easier to tackle.

        The sentiment carried him a little lighter on his feet as he made his way down the Command building’s long linoleum hallway. 

        Command was always full of life this time of day, aflutter with the shuffling of papers, ringing of telephones, clicking of typewriters, the occasional raised voice or two… He and his team had been on somewhat of a graveyard rotation the past few weeks, so it had been a while since he had seen it this busy. Usually his visits consisted of popping in for only a minute or two to drop off a report–most of the time he would just pass the task off to German, his first squad leader. The suits that buzzed from room to room weren’t always fond of being reminded of the more unsavory side of Javelin’s business, so George and his men were encouraged to clean up and play nice when setting foot in the holy halls of the administrative promised land.

        Not today, I guess, George mused as he strut past a man in business attire who acknowledged the captain’s presence with a protruding frown. Loose flecks of sand jumped from between George’s bootlaces, littering the freshly-waxed floor. Command and Medical were the only buildings anyone bothered to keep well-maintained, and everyone knew it was more about appearances than it was about anything else.

        Money, money, money. 


        A hollow clacking resonated from behind George, and he turned to see Javelin’s registrar approaching at a determined trot.

        Jeanie Carlo–a short, chippy fireball of a woman–had served as Harper’s administrative assistant for almost two years. In that span of time she had apparently gotten divorced, gotten married, had a very messy fling with a HUMINT coordinator–Nolan hadn’t been particularly pleased about that–and gotten divorced again. Even George wasn’t entirely sure how she still maintained a post at the base, given her propensity for misconduct, but she certainly seemed to run a tight ship, and that was probably all that mattered to Harper.

        Jeanie’s bosom twisted and leapt animatedly as she walked, the buttons on her blouse holding on for dear life. It almost felt wrong to watch her approach.

        “Dear God,” she muttered with rounded New Jersey diction as she finally reached George, shaking her hairsprayed shell of a hairdo in disapproval as she took in the state of his appearance. “Pascal wants you to–”

        “Uh-huh, we talked.”

        “Well, alright, honey. I’m only saying because I know you kinda took your sweet time writing the report last time.” 

        George inhaled deeply through his nose, trying with all his might to keep his eyes from flitting too far toward the ceiling. He passed the reflex off as a glance at someone behind her. 

        “Yeah. I know.

        “Might as well take this with you so you don’t have to come back for it, hm?” she said. In her ruby red claws she clutched a typewritten form, which, in a flourish, she waved up towards his face–along with the overwhelming scent of imported perfume and cigarettes. “Harper wants you to be sure to include these particular details–Here, here, and here–and be sure to omit any mention of these.” She emphasized each line with a tap of her nail.

        “Thank you, Jeanie,” George droned automatically, plucking the paper from her grasp. Then he remembered his civility. “Oh–Uh, Jeanie...”

        Her eyebrow rolled into an arch, accentuating the creases in the makeup on her forehead.

        “You don’t happen to have your Marlboros on you, do you?” George flashed a sheepish grin.

        Her lips smacked open in incredulation for a moment, then she pursed them together. She reached into the pocket of her pencil skirt, withdrawing a carton.

        “Lucky for you, I’m trying to quit,” she said, pressing it into his outstretched hand.


        “Thanks,” George said, tucking them into his breastpocket. “You really saved the day.”

        “Yeah, yeah,” she said, waving her lacquered nails. “The report, honey. Don’t forget it.”

        George tossed a lazy wave in his wake as he started back towards the doors, tucking the paper and the cigarettes into his breast pocket.

        “And take the fucking desert with you,” Jeanie yammered from behind. “We just had the floors cleaned.”

        George pushed through the main doors before she could fire any more complaints in his direction.

        By simply passing through the aluminum threshold of the main entrance, he was instantly transported from a stateside bureaucratic nightmare back to his familiar scorching sandbox where nothing was bound by typewritten fine print and anything could happen.

        He liked this side better.

        George squinted up at the sky. The sun hadn’t even reached its peak yet. As his gaze dropped back to the earth, it came to rest on the Medical building across the road. 

        His feet cemented themselves, urging him to weigh his options.

        He could swing over to Mess and grab a bite to eat before the lunchtime horde descended upon today’s selection–it had been quite some time since he’d had anything other than the lukewarm pickings Javelin’s Army friends left behind. He could even wait to eat and just hit the bunk instead. Nothing sounded better than a dark room and a cold pillow. Besides, he had two days.

        Shades of crimson plucked at the tethers that kept his thoughts from unraveling.

        Hell. What was another ten minutes.

        George moved to cross the road, stopping as another unit jogged past in their PT formation, their sweaty faces red as tomatoes under the sweltering heat of the midday sun. George couldn’t help but cast a glance of judgment upon their captain as he passed.

        Little late in the day for PT, isn’t it?

        With a subtle shake of his head he continued across, dipping into the stretching shadow of the Medical building. 

        George didn’t particularly like visiting the place. As soon as the cool AC hit him, so did the smell of bleach, and so followed the memories of the fever he carried with him from Tanzania. 

        George found a nurse and inquired about John’s location.

        Second floor. Fifth door on the left.

        You’re lucky, Gambin had told George again and again. At the time, George certainly hadn’t felt lucky as he swam in his own sweat for days on end–he could feel his cells dying, pieces of him wasting away, bit by bit. Clouded by the fog of fever, the only thing he saw was a horned face, glowing eyes. Memory melded with malaise, and dreams that shook him awake became the jagged pieces of something he no longer remembered. He had shrugged it all off and left it behind–here–when he was finally deemed fit enough to leave, and now the repressed, forgotten whispers and visions that had since taken up residence here began to push against each closed door that he passed. 

        George could tell which door was John’s merely by the presence of the two Javelin soldiers standing outside of it. They were fitted with respirators, their bug-like countenances turning in unison as George approached.

        “Gonna need a mask if you wanna go in there, Captain,” one of them warned. “He’s sick or something.”

        George dismissed him with a wave of his hand. 

        “I won’t be in there long.”

        The soldiers exchanged a glance, then the one who had spoken finally shrugged, reaching to turn the handle.

        “No more than five minutes.”

        “Got it,” George said, pushing through the door.

        Due to its position on the south side of the building, the room was awash with the day’s light. George realized he hadn’t been in one of these rooms since they had been renovated and re-outfitted. The walls were painted a pristine, crisp white–no longer coated in peeling wallpaper and mysterious sickly smears. State-of-the-art machinery that George didn’t even know the purpose of whirred around the room’s single bed, and upon it was the boy.

        His hands were bound to either side of the bed with padded handcuffs–two sets each–and his upper half was propped up slightly by a stack of stiff pillows. His dark eyelashes fluttered apart as George entered, and his gaze tracked his visitor from under dark brows as George dragged a chair from its position against a wall, bringing it to rest next to the bed.

        George lowered himself onto his seat with a sigh, narrowing his eyes as he studied this enigma in front of him. 

        Although his cheeks had fully regained their color, his skin was pale, sapped of color by too many years hidden away from the sun–from the outside world. This was no soldier. His hair was shaggily–but perhaps lovingly–cut by an untrained hand, his once freshly-shaved face already sprouting the patchy, youthful beginnings of facial hair. His lips were wind-chapped and shut tighter than a clam.

        The kid was trying his best to match the intensity of George’s stare, but he seemed to be fighting heavy eyelids, unable to keep his pupils from unfocusing.

        “You’re tired, so I’m not gonna take up more than a minute or two of your time,” George said finally, leaning back into the chair. He reached into his breast pocket, withdrawing the carton of cigarettes. “I thought it would be best to introduce myself–properly, that is–Oh–” he gave the carton a shake in the kid’s direction. “Smoke?”

        John said nothing, made no effort to accept George’s offer.

        George shrugged. His loss. He withdrew a cigarette for himself, twirling it against his lip for a moment as he thought.

        “I’m Captain Davy–your captain, actually, as luck would have it… Can you believe that?” He pulled a lighter from his fatigue jacket and lit the end of his cigarette. “What made you want to join up, anyways? The pay? The girls? Of which there really aren’t any, by the way.”

        His sarcasm was lost on the boy, whose brow slowly knit in confusion. Still, though, he said nothing.

        George blew a trail of smoke, displeased with how his attempt at a wisecrack had festered and died in the air between them. He supposed it wasn’t really all that long ago that he had blown a hole through the kid’s chest. Perhaps it was a little too soon. He pressed his thumb against his temple tiredly, abandoning any attempt at further amity.

        “Look,” George said, returning the cigarette to his lips. “You’re being placed in my unit. I don’t really know why–I can’t say that I really understand the reasoning–but all I know is that if you make this whole thing easy for me, I’m gonna make it easy for you.”

        The boy suddenly turned his head away, his eyes darting around the room as if he were looking for an escape.


        His eyes flicked back to George.

        “You make this easy for me, and maybe–just maybe–I can get you answers, find out why Dr. Nikolaev was killed–who ordered it.” George opened his palms toward him with the offer. John slowly tucked his chin toward his chest, his eyes still trained on George. He seemed to have the kid’s full attention now. “But I can’t do anything to help you if you make things difficult for me, or for anyone here. Okay?”

        John blinked, his jaw clenching and unclenching.

        “By all means, no need to be so eager to decide. I think you’ll have some time to think about it,” George said, placing his hands on his knees and rising to his feet. “And I do think it would be in your best interest to think about it.” He raised his eyebrows to emphasize his point.

        Say something. Jesus.

        George stood there for a moment, puffing on his cigarette as he studied John. He could usually predict how easily someone could be swayed. There was always a tell. Everyone was a book, some harder to read than others, but readable nonetheless.

        This kid was fucking indecipherable. And George hated unpredictability. He still had the hardest time believing that this boy was capable of taking a life, let alone several.

        George huffed, a cloud of swirling smoke settling over John’s head. Finally he turned, making his way back to the door. His hand lingered on the handle.

        “Think about it,” he repeated, then left.

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