This is an excerpt from a novel I’m currently working on. I’d love to hear people’s thoughts, suggestions, critiques, and all that jazz. Where do you think the story should go? What do you think of what’s happened so far? Let’s hear the input!
The South American jungles were never quiet, and that was a good thing. Anyone who knew what they where doing could easily move within ten feet of an unsuspecting guard and eliminate him before the man even knew what was happening, and if anyone knew what they were doing, it was Joshua. At the age of twenty seven, there were a total of 3 human beings who could hope to match his skill in marksmanship and hand to hand combat. Of those three, he had been defeated by only one in their final training mission, and that was simply by luck. That was a month ago.
Since then, Joshua had traveled most of the world preparing for his first official operation. Not that it was really much of an operation at all. Granted, spending a week and a half in the jungle wasn’t exactly a relaxing experience, but it was a small inconvenience compared to some of the rigorous conditioning him and his fellow trainees had undergone in their six years at the facility. Odd that he had no recollection of where the training facility was, but that, he had been assured, didn’t matter. He had been trained, and trained well. Nothing else made much of a difference when it was that training that determined whether you would live or die.
The last week had been spent on reconnaissance and preparing for his entry to the wall-and-razor-wire surrounded compound. According to his contact, it should be an easy in and out mission. Get in, grab the documents in the lower level safe and the briefcase of samples that were stored in an air-tight glass container in the underground lab. Fifteen guards on duty at all times, more on reserve. Joshua would only have to deal with two of them, if things went as planned, which they would. They always did.
Small explosives with enough blasting force to tear a good chunk out of the two foot thick brick wall had been placed inches beneath the dirt in seven places around the fortress, concentrated mostly on the west wall of the compound. He had spent nearly the entire week preparing and placing those little fireworks. It could have been done in two nights, but he knew it was that patience and careful planning that created victories far more often than swiftness and haphazard attempts, and patience was something that had been hammered into his skull over and over and over again. When you spend twenty four hours sitting completely still for fear of being found and beaten by your fellow trainees, who were at that moment your enemies, a person learns a kind of patience that few human beings ever even attempt to master.
He would enter over the east wall when the detonators set off the bombs at 2:35 AM. Thirteen minutes to go. The night around him was alive with the noise of a hundred thousand animals all vying for their voices to be heard. Somewhere to his right a monkey skittered across the branch of a tree above his head, stopping to chatter at something that had offended it.
Joshua checked his gear for the fifth time that night, a habit that all students at the facility had been instilled with thanks to the massive German combat instructor’s way of sabotaging student’s equipment just before training sessions and practice missions. The tall African man that everyone called Kiru had had his arm blown off when one of the grenades that he had forgotten to check went off thanks to a loosened pin. The German had sworn and punched Kiru in the head, screaming at him for his idiocy. Kiru had died, or so Joshua assumed. No one had seen him after he had been carried away to the medical center.
Time passed slowly here, sitting in the shadows of the green bushes that coated the jungle floor. The moon had sunk beneath the trees by now, and no light other than the stars and the never-dimming lights from inside the barricade could be seen.
It would begin soon.
And then it did. On the opposite side of the facility, the barricade of cement and steal exploded with the first of the charges.
Finishing his equipment inspection half a second later, Joshua pulled on the night vision goggles, jogged the twenty yards to the wall, grappled his way over, easily avoiding the razor wire along the top of the barricade and dropping behind a stack of steel I-beams.
There was guard leaning in the shadows of the wall on the opposite side of the pile, the orange glow of a cigarette lighting his European facial features.
No one could die. Those were the orders he had received. In preparation for this, he had brought a number of quick acting sedatives, one of which he slipped from a small pack on his right thigh, removing the cap from the needle as he did so. Slipping around the I-beams, Joshua swiftly drove the needle home into the guard’s neck. The man dropped into Joshua’s arms, and he set it down silently onto the sand ground, tying the guards hands around one of the beams and gagging him with the man’s own shirt.
Time to move.
Slipping the needle back into the pocket, he bounded across the walkway and ran up the wall of the small concrete building, catching a hold of the roof and pulling himself up to crouch and take stock of the situation.
The compound was nothing to stand in awe of on the surface, just a small group of plain cement buildings surrounded by an equally plain cement wall, accentuated occasionally by the traditional bamboo huts.
As planned, the guards and most of the people in the compound where running and creating a ruckus at the opposite end of the wall, but the fact that one of the guards had stayed behind at this wall had alerted him to the fact that they were better prepared than he had though. Then, there was always the chance that this guard had just been one that was especially lazy and was taking the chance to relax during the chaos at the other end of the buildings. In the end, it didn’t matter. Joshua could take care of any guards that got in his way, though it would slow him down considerably.
He stood and sprinted across the roof in a crouch, soft soled shoes padding on the concrete. Then in the air, easily clearing the twelve foot gap between the two buildings.
Now for the fun part.
Three more buildings later, he crouched behind a skylight and breathed lightly. There had been no more guards in his way so far, and it was beginning to look as if this mission was going to be even easier than his first training attempts at the academy.
With that thought, Joshua ripped off the night vision goggles, stuffed them in his pack, stood, and pull on a black micro-fiber mask, and deftly cut through the glass of the skylight, creating a hole he could easily enter through.
Reaching into one of the many pockets on his black vest, Joshua withdrew a copy of the building schematics. As he had remembered, the pens and cells were two floors down on this end. Living quarters were one more level down, and on the opposite end of the building was the lab, sitting safely beneath the jungle floor. Safe was always a relative term.
After giving himself thirty seconds for his eyes to adjust to the light pouring from the glass hole in the roof, Joshua dropped down to the white tile floor nine feet below. No sign of anyone, as expected. The abrupt change from the hot, humid, and noisy South American jungle left his ears with a light ringing, and he was acutely aware of the gentle hum of the air conditioning system, trying its best to keep the facility at a placid seventy-something degrees.
As the doors whooshed open fifteen seconds later and three floors lower, Joshua stepped out into a copy of the hallway he had just exited. Déjà vu. The white-lab sterility made him think of the medical rooms back at the training center. Out of any of the places there, the medical wing had been the place he hated the most. It was were those who were hurt went and disappeared, and where the people who were weak went and came back demonically strong. After one of the two students who were older than him had gone in for “rehabilitation” and returned to scream through his sleep every night, Joshua had sworn to himself never to see the inside of that building. He had kept that vow, patching his own wounds and gritting his teeth. The worst had been the deep calf wound he had received one sweltering morning when Range and Keren had gotten into a fight. Range made the mistake of pulling a gun on the more agile Keren, who had easily knocked it from his hands before he had even had the chance to raise it. The bullet had launched from the gun and stuck Joshua, leaving him squirming in the dirt as his blood pooled until Isaac, the only one of the trainees that had ever shown anything akin to friendliness, had came and wrapped the wound with a towel. It had taken nearly half a year for his calf to heal fully, and it wasn’t until he finally trained his mind to completely block out the pain that he was able to really sleep.
But he had made it through alive, and he would live for as long as this life let him. Then he would kill whatever came to make him die, and go on living some more. That was the way of it, wasn’t it? Those who could conquer would conquer and would go on conquering and living until they came up against something that was bigger than themselves. That was another lesson he had learned in those years of training; if you ever come up with something stronger or bigger than yourself you either run like hell or find some way to outsmart whatever or whoever it was. If you couldn’t outsmart it or outrun it, well, you where dead. Thus far he had yet to come up against anything that he couldn’t both outsmart and outrun, and a only very few things that could over power him.
The lights in the hall flickered, dropping Joshua back into the reality of his surroundings. He drew his gun, a gun that he himself had designed and had made for this mission. Really, it was more of a gun-powder powered version of the blowguns that the natives out in the surrounding jungles used than an actual gun. A long tube containing an aerodynamic syringe full of a mix of drugs strong enough to knock a 300 pound man out for several hours and leave him wondering what happened for three days afterwards. Not that he would have a chance to use the thing. It was more of a just-in-case-everything-goes-wrong toy.
Joshua strode off down the hallway, a black snake in the white background of the lab. Second left, fifty feet, and third door on the right. The twelve digit key code worked, as he knew it would, and the door to the lab slid open with a ghostlike whoosh. Again the lights in the hallway flickered, and this time the hair on the back of Joshua’s neck pricked. He smoothed the momentary thrill of emotion with the ease that the German beat his students into submission. A slight smile spread beneath his black mask. Time to get the goods and get out.
Stepping forward into the dark of lab, Joshua felt a second slither of fear, this time like the undeniable pull of an ocean’s undertow. Again he beat it back, but this time it wouldn’t go so easily. A chill rolled down his spine, and he realized that this was the first time he had been afraid in four years.
Behind him, the door slid shut.
Something wasn’t right.
The lab was dark, only a couple lights from the usual Exit signs and blinking equipment. His eyes darted in and out of each shadow, trying to drag out something that might be hiding there. Each of his muscles were tense, shaking in anticipation of a fight. It felt like the first time he had been dragged out into the middle of the ring to face the German one on one. Fear.
Screw no casualties.
Joshua wrenched the knife from its sheath at his side and held it ready like he had in the hundreds of knife fights he had taken part in over his lifetime. His hand found a switch to the right of the door and he flipped it. The lights did nothing. He took two steps forward. The lights flickered on, then off again, giving his brains just enough time to take in a hulking shape in the middle of the room that he hadn’t seen or felt seconds earlier.
The fear become a living thing, writhing and flailing inside of him, choking his windpipe. There was a quiet roll of guttural laughter that sounded more like flesh being torn, and his mind seizured. The iron taste of blood pooled in his mouth. Behind him, Joshua heard the distant whoosh of the door opening, and turned to meet it. Before his could rotate halfway around, he fell to the floor, blood dribbling from his mouth onto the immaculate white floor, pulling him down into a pool of unconsciousness.
The last things his mind registered was a crushing weight pressing on his side, like someone piling a brick wall on him, and three sets of feet walking in from the blinding lights in the hallway.
It didn’t take much to set her off, not after a week like this one. Not that the cashier at the small gas station deserved her angry tirade, but the combined stress of school, work, caring for her aging grandmother, and dealing with her boyfriend who seemed to be becoming more and more lazy all wore on her, leaving emotions on edge. This morning had been particularly rough, with two end of the year assignments due and one of the other employees at the bank calling in sick, leaving her to deal with the Friday rush of people depositing their checks and cashing out for some weekend fun as she looked forward to a long evening of homework. Considering all that, it wasn’t much of a surprise that the gas station teller’s refusal to let her use the phone behind the counter had snapped the barriers that keep the normal person’s emotions in check while in public.
“Fine! Be an arrogant prick. I’ll just have to walk home.” She yelled angrily before storming out the door and walking around the corner, past where her car sat with a flat tire and no spare. Thankfully, it was only several blocks to her apartment, but it wasn’t a walk she relished taking. It would be dark in a few hours, and in this neighborhood attractive 25 year old women didn’t walk around alone on a Friday night unless they wanted to meet up with the kind of guy that she had had more than enough of. The kind of guy that maybe looked upstanding enough but didn’t care about much more than what a woman could do for him. The kind of guy that played gentle and loving until just after he had enough of a woman’s heart to make her dance like a puppet on a string. Just like her current boyfriend. And the one before that. And the one before that. And the guy she had nearly married five years ago who had just up and left her. At least with the other ones she had had some say in how things had ended.
Dana’s mind ran through the crash and burn moments of the last few years, and she felt her anger tumble down into that deep aching sadness that she’d felt so frequently since Alexander had disappeared. It had been two months before they were supposed to be married after what had been the happiest two years of her life.
Her and Alex had grown up together, going to the same schools all except for two years when his parents had tried homeschooling him and given up due to the uproar he caused. They had lived across the road from each other for most of their lives and done everything from build sandcastles to watch cheesy horror movies to sneaking out of their respective houses on Saturday nights to meet a few other kids at the park a few blocks away to try some of the beer that Derrick had snuck from his dad. Alex had hated the stuff and so had she, but they both pretended to like it because everyone else seemed to. She had liked him even more than she already had when he admitted that to her as they walked back home.
It wasn’t until she was a junior in high school and he a senior about to graduate that they had official started dating. Alex had covered the seats of her car with three dozen roses and left a note asking her to meet him at the park a few miles from the high school, beneath the willow trees where they often went to sit and talk while they watched the people meandering along the trails that threaded through the woods that made up the rest of the park. She had never been so nervous. Her heart had been beating at a frantic beat as she rounded the corner on the path that led to where Alex was waiting, looking just anxious as she felt. He had seen her and smiled, stepped towards her, thought better of it, stopped, and stepped forward one more step before taking a deep breath and planting his feet and staring straight at her as she closed the fifteen foot gap between the two of them. Oh, how she wished he would kiss her!
He had taken her hand for what was only the second time in the last two years when she finally got close to him, glancing off across the lake as if he would find words to say written on the far shore. “Emily, would you do me the honor of, well…would you be my girlfriend?” The serious with which he said it felt as if it was more of a marriage proposal than something as small as being boyfriend and girlfriend, but she ignored it.
“Of course!” She’d replied, squeezing his hand.
His eyes had locked with hers then, bright green in the mottled shadows cast by the late afternoon sun trickling through the willow branches, and she knew that for him this was something very, very serious. The seriousness in those eyes had flashed deeper for a moment, then they lit up with a brightness she had never seen before. He’d grabbed her, picked her up and spun her around, smiling wide and kissing her for the first time, just like she had hoped he would.