In the Mean Time

In the Mean Time

We count for nothing

We are prone to anyone’s impulse to violence

Whether they wear a badge or watch the community….

In the Mean Time

We are hated for things that have nothing to do with

who

we are (not just a skin color)

In the Mean Time

We are shot like rabid dogs

regardless of guilt or innocence

In the Mean Time

Are our prayers even heard?

Is our suffering even

moving the hearts

of

anyone,

anywhere?

In the Mean Time,

we must go on

and strive to exist,

and fight to survive

and struggle to live

in hostile territory

surrounded by

enemies

shouting

curses and untruths

behind their walls

of

hate and fear.

 

In the Mean Time

We must continue to

Love

one another

and

our enemy,

even as we

contend with his ignorance.

In the Mean Time

Life for us here is hard,

but it can and will

get worse

if we

give up

in the

Mean Time.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

2015

Choose Them Wisely, Guard Them Well (continued)

“Dr.Chen?

She was startled out of her reverie.

I have to stay focused. Caroline is the mission now.

She did, however, have some questions for the General.

“Yes, Lieutenant.”

“I just heard that…”

“Yes, it’s true.”

“Do you–?”

“No, no. There was nothing to be done for it.”

She looked around, then back at Harris. “For any of it, really.”

He nodded. “Are you all packed?”

“I’m ready to go, yes.”

“Follow me, please. I know you know the way, but there are clearances that  you don’t have. They seem pointless, now, I know, but everyone seems determined to embrace the comfortable until the end.”

“I understand.”

She followed him.

************************

General Williams was waiting at the dock.

“Teri, I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you, General.” She straightened her shoulders. “I do have a question: if I’d requested my family be evacuated and brought here, was there anything that could have been done?”

Williams didn’t hesitate, and his own eyes clouded a bit as he shook his head.

“Nothing is going to be done for any of us. I won’t see my family again. My grandkids…”

“Oh.” She looked down, and her voice sounded small and far away. Of course others have family that are not going to see them before they go; at least you got to see yours, and you know what happened, and when, and why. There are so many others who will never have those questions answered.

He continued. “And to what end, doctor? You said it yourself, destruction is imminent. Make peace with it, Teri. With yourself, too. We’re going to need you now more than ever.

She lifted her eyes to his. “I will complete the mission, sir.”

Williams smiled. “Unfortunately, we’ll never see the outcome, but I have every faith in you.”

A faint tremor vibrated the floor beneath them.

Voices were raised, and the mood instantly grew more somber and intense, and not a little fearful.

“Time to launch, sir.” said Harris.

“Thank you, captain obvious.”

They all laughed.

“Teri?” Williams extended his arm expansively, inviting her to go aboard, as if he were the captain of a cruise ship, and not the doomed general of yet another science facility that wandered too far from its walls.

“Kyro’s already strapped in,” Harris said, extending his hand. “It’s been an honor, Teri.”

She watched him closely, but his face betrayed nothing but fondness, and a trace of sadness they would no longer be working together. Beyond that, there was nothing she could decipher. Either Kyro really wasn’t his son, or he was gifted at deceiving.

She took the proffered hand. “Same here, Ken.”

She released his hand, and turned to board. Glancing over at Kyro, his head had lolled to the side, so he was already asleep. Good, she didn’t feel like engaging an assassin. She looked out at the black, weightless expanse of dotted with white fire.

*****************************

No family. No longer a wife. No longer a mother. Just these children now. And Caroline, who will cause no end of grief on the new colony.

If it weren’t for her, I would’ve been able to join them,  see them, hold them…but she has given me a life devoid of meaning. With no one to share with, to spend time off with, to do anything with; I’m going alone.

Her evil intentions mean nothing to me, but because of her, I’m forced to go on, when all I want to do is die.

So I will stop her. I will make her pay for what she’s done to me; every day I stay alive, I will make her pay. Every memory, she will pay.

The stars blurred, and she realized she was crying. This time, she didn’t bother fighting it.

“….three….two….one….we are launched. All automated systems are functioning normally.”

“Safe journey, Dr. Chen.”

“Goodbye.”

Her voice came out more than a whisper, less than a sob; it was not just meant for her colleagues. It was to everything that had made her up to this moment.  She wasn’t just on her way to a new colony, but on her way to becoming something else.

Chapter 3:

The tremors were becoming more violent. Williams and Harris could’ve enlisted the help of others, but they’d either left or were trying to find a place to exit, though where they’d go if the ground was crumbling, Harris had no idea.

“The Naissance is ready, General.”

“Thanks, Harris. Caroline?”

“She’s in her pod.”

“Is there any way to extract her covertly?”

Harris gave him a grim smile. “She changed all the protocols, sir. You said it yourself, she’s ten steps ahead of us.”

“What I want to know is when did she have time to do all this, and if someone helped her. Have security run video from the last thirty days on all the bay doors.”

“Yes, sir.”

“If Teri can’t get to her, maybe one of the others will do us all a favor and stab her in the back.”

Harris looked away.

“I’m sorry, Harris. That was out of line.”

“What was, sir?”

Williams smiled.

Another tremor boomed, and the building swayed like an empty swing in a storm wind.

Both men lost their footing, and when the tremor subsided, they pushed themselves up along the walls behind them, the portion that remained intact. As they were in the northernmost station, it could only mean that now the entire planet was all but consumed from within.

No one knew if it would be another hour, or another day, but they all knew they were living on borrowed time now.

“General?”

Williams had gained his feet, and helped Harris up the rest of the way.

“I’m listening.”

“We still control the launch, sir. We don’t have to send them.”

“I’ve thought of that, but to kill all for the sake of one…as I said, they may do it for us, and we’ve already programmed them as well.”

“Just an option, sir. Still on the table as long as we don’t–”

An alarm blared through the station, but there was no tremor.

“What in the hell–?” WIlliams blustered.

“Naissance has pre-launched. Repeat, repeat, Naissance has pre-launched!”

Williams and Harris found the nearest com station; the young attendant was punching keys but coming up empty.

“Onscreen, young lady!”

“Trying, sir! Please give me a minute…”

Harris put up a restraining hand, and Williams backed away.

The screen flickered, went out, flickered again, and flared to life, stabilizing.

The ship came into view, and the shot of its interior showed the floor was empty.

They watched as the ship sailed over the station below, the shadow blocking out the starlight glittering like strewn gems spilled in ink.across the top,

“Retractors?”

“Offline, sir. Damaged.”

“We’re going to lose it.” The ship was past the station, clearing the harbor.

A hologram of Caroline sitting in the captain’s chair filled the screen.

“Hello, General Williams. I managed to gain access to the ship’s computers days ago, when the tremors first started.

“I programmed the ship to override the safety protocols and release the locks if the magnitude went above four-point-five. If you’re seeing this, then the ship is already loose and on its way.”

All three of them shook their heads in wonder; they’d badly underestimated her intelligence; in no way they measured it was she able to pull this off.

“I had no idea, of course, if it would actually work, but I guess I’ll know if I wake up dead,” she smiled at the weak joke,  “or if we’re still in that hellhole you call a station. And if the magnitude of the tremors is beyond that, then the creature is about to tear the place apart.

“I hope it doesn’t come after us, General, but so be it if it does. Either way, I won’t be able to send those reports I promised you.

“Farewell, sir. I’ll never forgive you for what you did to my father.”

She leaned forward, and the camera zoomed in on those dark, glittery eyes.

“Never.”

The com went blank again.

“Shoot it down, sir?”

Williams said nothing.

“Sir?”

“Check the weapons.”

The young attendant pushed more buttons.

“Nothing, sir. Offline.”

Williams felt his shoulders slumping yet again.

Outwitted by a thirteen year old girl…

Not for the first time, he wondered if he’d been wrong to sign up all those years ago.

A loud rumbling filled the hall, and things began to sway and rattle and fall and slide.

The floor bucked beneath him, and he flipped over backward, catching the corner of a moving desk, the corner cracking a hole in his skull; he could see the blood running from under his head as his vision began to fade.

I thought it was the right thing to do. ran through his mind as he passed into oblivion.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.    2015

Choose Them Wisely, Guard Them Well

“Are you sure, Dr. Chen?”

“Yes, General. All signs point to imminent destruction. We’ve done all we can to stop it, but it keeps finding ways to advance; either it keeps attacking the structures we’ve already managed to put in place, or it finds a weak spot, or it grows something to get around and find a new path.

“Those concern us most, because we can’t keep pace, and it advances most quickly when it’s unobstructed. It’s infiltrated too much of the planet, and when it pulls itself into the core, it will push outward.”

“What happens then?”

“It will be nearly double in size, but then it won’t be able to sustain itself with the depleted energy from the core, and it will push the planet’s hemispheres to either side, ripping it in half. Then it will move on to the next planet it deems edible.”

“And then?”

Dr. Chen shrugged. “It’s been an honor to work with you, sir.”

He sighed. “You as well, Teri.”

They shook hands, and he walked away, as Chen turned back to what remained of her duties, more to fill the time until the end than have any real hope of stopping the creature that was leeching on their planet’s core from the inside.

“General Williams,” Lieutenant Harris said in greeting. “They’re ready, sir.”

“And the maternal units?”

“Ready as well.”

“Hunters?”

“All of them, sir. Every facet, every child has been pre-programmed to fulfill their duties on the new colony.”

Williams nodded. “Well done, Harris. I want Teri to go with them, too. Is there room?”

“Dr. Chen, sir?”

“Yes.”

“With all due respect sir, may I ask why?”

“With all respect taken, lieutenant, you can ask away,” Williams smiled. “The need for formality is somewhat moot at this point, Harris.”

Harris visibly relaxed.

“The children are going to need a physician; she’s a medical biologist, a pioneer in genetics, and she’s got a family of her own that she won’t be able to get back in time to see. She’s resigned herself, but I don’t see the need to waste her talents and abilities. There are things she can train the children to do medically that may be needed later on.”

“I understand. But she’ll be the only adult.”

“Who said that? What about the others we were sending down to build the structures, and provide for the children until their pods were safe?”

“It’s a little hard to explain, General.”

“Then try hard, lieutenant.”

“Caroline said she didn’t want any adults, sir.”

“Caroline? She’s thirteen years old! She’s–”

“She’s going to be the planet’s ruler, sir. She’s light years ahead of the others in intellect, in potential, in physical superiority. Her father–”

“Messed with her genetics, I remember. It’s why Teri replaced him.”

“It’s also why she’s…resentful…of anything you recommend.”

“Let me talk to her.”

*****************************

The com flared to life.

Caroline’s face filled the screen. Everything about her was dark, as if an aura sculpted her form. Raven curls draped over her shoulder, caramel colored skin, exotic, dark eyes that glittered with intelligence, and something of amused condescension in her attitude toward the General.

“General Williams. It’s an honor, sir.”

“What the hell are you doing, kid?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Don’t call me that again. That will be your only warning.”

Williams sighed. ” You’re going to need those people, Caroline. They’re going to build your homes, your roads, and provide whatever else you need.”

“We need nothing these men will provide, General. They are symbols of the old world, and simply have no place in the new.”

“How are you going to fend for yourselves?”

“Let me worry about that; the others will fall into line.”

“You’ll all be asleep.”

She laughed. “Oh, General Williams. You’re adorable.”

He heated at the tone of her voice.

“What have you done?”

“I reprogrammed my pod, sir. I will be the first to awaken, by a day, at least. I’ll report my findings to you as I go. Keep you in the loop; it’s a courtesy of course, and temporary. As the others awake, I’ll have already established myself.”

“Dr.-”

Off camera, Harris quickly shook his head.

“What?”

“Dr. Chen said you’re all ready.”

“We are, sir. I will miss Dr. Chen. And General, please don’t send them down after us.”

“Why would you think–?”

“You’ve read my file, General?”

“I have.”

“I’ve read yours as well. Never mind how.” Again, the condescending smile and tone. “If you send them, I will have them killed.”

General Williams’ shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry we elected to send you, Caroline. We really should have killed you.”

“You should have, but like I said, sir, I read your file. You’re much too ambitious. You were foolish to think you were going to get the credit for producing a prodigy like me. Now, it’s come to nothing, and you’ve given me the opportunity to thrive.

“For that much, at least, I thank you.” Her eyes scanned the ship’s systems, then she looked back at Williams. “The time is near, General, and I don’t think we’ve anything left to say, other than good-bye.”

“Good bye, Caroline. I hope your pod is the first to burn.”

She laughed again, with no mirth, her eyes never leaving his, a light in them that struck a spark of fear in his spine, and the com went blank.

**************************

“Why did you keep me from telling her about Teri?”

“We’ll have to send her down separately, sir. Caroline can’t know she’s there. Teri has to deprogram her.”

“How’s she going to do that? Caroline is about ten steps ahead of us.”

“I have someone else in mind to send, who can bring her close enough; with his help, they can isolate Caroline, and if they can’t deprogram her…”

“He’ll kill her.”

Harris nodded.

“See it done, Harris.”

“Right away, sir.”

************************

“I’m going?”

“They’re going to need a doctor, and we need you to  reprogram Caroline’s genetics. She’s growing unstable, arrogant.”

“I thought that might happen; she was exhibiting, but part of that was also being thirteen.”

“She’s only thirteen physically. Mentally, she’s beyond genius, and even physically, she trounces the kids in activities, even some of the boys.”

“That’s a shame; had she stayed within parameters, we could have had something great there.”

“It’s not over yet, Dr. Chen.” Harris said. “Our last shot to salvage her…is you.”

Dr. Chen nodded. “Understood.”

“But you won’t be going alone.”

“You’re sending an assassin in case the new genetics don’t take…”

“How did you know?”

“I haven’t been working here all this time with my head stuck in a test tube, Lieutenant.”

Harris smiled. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“You didn’t. Let’s meet him.”

The door slid open, and a young boy of thirteen entered.

“Dr. Chen, this is  Kyro.”

“Kyro,” she stuck out her hand. Kyro took it.

“Dr. Chen.”

She looked at Lieutenant Harris. “He’s a little young to be an assassin, isn’t he?”

“I thought you didn’t have your head stuck in a test tube, Teri. Kyro’s been programmed with the methods and weapons knowledge of the world’s elite assassins from the last fifty years. His options are limitless, his methods impeccable. Blades, poisons, bombs, guns, mines….”

“I get it, Lieutenant. He’s a buffet of death.”

“That’s a rather colorful way to put it, but yes.”

“I’ll go pack,” she said.

She looked back over her shoulder, saw Harris and Kyro conferring, heads close, eyes locked, but just before the door closed, she thought she saw Harris say the word ‘son.’

She went to a computer, punched in Kyro’s name, but nothing came up.

“Of course, he doesn’t exist.”

Chapter 2:

The country was in upheaval, her husband said. Buildings were already falling to the south. It was just a matter of time.

He didn’t cry, and neither did she.

“Let me see the kids,” she said.

He put them on the com; their faces were afraid, but resigned.

“There’s nothing you can do, right mommy?”

“If I could, you know I’d kill this thing to protect you.”

“We know, mom, ” her daughter, the oldest, said. “Dad’s kept us safe so far.”

“I wish we could join you, ” her husband said, “but I know they won’t send anything.”

“I could try.”

“I won’t lie to you, Teri: we’re terrified. If they can send anything, then you should try.”

The picture on the com wavered, rocked.

Her husband gave her a wan smile. “Never mind.”

“I love you,” she said. Her vision blurred and her eyes grew hot, “I love you all.”

She put her hand on the screen, and they all placed theirs on it, and they stayed that way for a moment or two, and then the picture rocked again, more violently, and her family fell away from view, her husband’s strong arms still around the kids as they crashed to the floor, and the com went blank.

She didn’t remember the rest of the day.

I didn’t do all I could to save them….kept running through her mind.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015

Open Season

It was always Open Season.

It started in Africa, and spread across the world.

The Middle Passage was Open Season, as was the slave auction block, the noose, the burning crosses, the beatings, the framings, the looking away, the destruction of prosperous black towns.

It’s been Open Season.

It was Open Season on Dr. King. Dogs, hoses, jailing, beatings, and finally, a bullet.

It was Open Season on Malcolm X (well, his was ‘friendly’ fire, but he scared ya’ll for awhile, didn’t he?).

It was Open Season on the Black Panthers, but not on the Klan.

It was Open Season on Jackie Robinson, and Hank Aaron.

It’s been Open Season on our daughters and sisters and mothers and wives, bearing up under the indignity of laying in beds that weren’t their husbands’, and watching their children destroyed before their eyes.

Some walked to the edges of cliffs and rivers voluntarily, and some dropped in the master’s child; some dropped in themselves, and still others made it a package deal.

Black girls with white dolls, black women with bleached skin.

It’s been Open Season on the first black President: met a wave of incredible backlash and resistance. Desires for his death requested, hinted at, and plainly stated. His wife, just another angry black bitch with a big booty. His daughters called classless by a white reporter who boozed it up in her own ‘heyday.’ Oh wait. His daughters don’t drink.  His crimes: Tan suits, Marines holding umbrellas, coffee cups. his feet on the desk…Oh, wait, there are pictures of other Presidents doing the same thing.

So what’s different this time? No, really. What?

Oh yeah, it’s Open Season.

It’s been Open Season on black neighborhoods: ‘gentrification’. A gentle sounding word to describe the economic herding of poor people out of established neighborhoods so the demographics can be more ‘attractive’ to tourists and businesses, and former suburbanites  can save on property taxes by moving back into the city they abandoned decades ago to get away from ‘those people.’

It’s been Open Season on the streets:  the police began shooting young black men and women like dogs, regardless of the severity of the crime, regardless of guilt or innocence. Yet white guys with multiple guns shooting children in movie theaters and schools get apprehended alive, unless they shoot themselves.

Obey and Respect the law? Let’s see…

Black men are just now getting out of prison because of DNA evidence overturning wrongful convictions, after losing decades of their lives. “We just need someone to take the fall. We don’t care who, as long as it’s a black guy.”

“You fit the description…”

“Why are you driving that kind of car, and what are you doing in this neighborhood?”

“A black man did it,” and a community gets rousted, but it’s the mother who drove the car into the water after all, it’s the husband, it’s the….well, it’s not a black guy (this time…)

All white juries. Peers?

Mobs breaking into jail cells while sheriffs and officers look the other way.

Those same officers and sheriffs taking pictures in Klan robes, smiling….

Heck, these days even community watchmen get a free pass after being told by the real cops to let them deal with the little Skittle-eatin’ n*r. (How many times did that community watchman, pillar of the community, get arrested since then? But you see, the kid was a criminal, an unarmed, walking home having a snack criminal… ok)

Cops and citizens who kill black thugs (which covers crimes from robberies to unpaid parking fines, and whether they reached for the gun or ran away, or knocked on a door at 3 in the morning, or played their music loud at a gas station) become network tv spokesmen and motivational speakers, overnight millionaires.

Whistle blowers are, let’s say, discouraged….

It’s been Open Season in the military: Black soldiers segregated, denied medals of honor for brave deeds done, now gathered posthumously, if at all.

It’s been Open Season on generational wealth building: Towns of black prosperity burned, their citizens murdered: men, women, children, to rise again from the ashes, until a new generation came.

The apartment is taken. Someone came by in the half hour since we spoke and gave a deposit.

The position is filled.

Keisha’s a ghetto name. How’d she attend Harvard with a name like Keisha? Toss it…

Code the applications with the letter N….Why do you people abuse food stamps? Why can’t you do better for yourselves?

It’s been Open Season in education: until Black history month, our history in the US began and ended with slavery. We learned nothing of the kings of Africa, of its wealth, of its culture. We did learn of it’s colonization, but not what it cost.

We learned nothing of black patriots who helped build this country; (not entirely true: we learned nothing of Crispus Attucks except he was the first to die)  Did YOU know? Paul Revere did not ride alone…

Hallway conversation in an inner city middle school: “We pass the kids because they’re not going to be successful anyway…”

Open Season?

Keep. Moving. Forward.

One of us has gotta make it through

because

Open Season

is

never closed.

Sleep, children. ( dedicated to the innocent victims of madmen)

Sleep, children.
The cowards who’ve stolen your childhood will pay.

Sleep, children.
For now with your friends you will no longer play.

Sleep, children.
Your parents must carry your bodies away.

Sleep, children.
Tomorrow for you will not be a new day.

Sleep, children.
And know that you will always

be loved.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.
December 17th, 2014
Sleep, children.
All rights reserved

“Colored” Signs and White Robes (No, I Will Not…a poem for Black youth)

Don’t tell me to ‘get over it’ because it makes YOU uncomfortable,

The founding of a nation on blood and chains should make you uncomfortable!

And though the institutions no longer exist, the attitudes of slavemasters yet prevail, 

Freely and proudly expressed!

So be it, but let this be too: the history of my ancestry DOES NOT BEGIN with bondage,

but the history of my ancestry HERE does, and so I will celebrate the TRIUMPH of their SURVIVAL, so that

I might sit here today and use this machine to type these words:

You will no longer brand me ‘animal’

or grind my dignity under your heel.

You will have no access to my joy

And I reject your invective as the source of my sorrows.

I do not seek your approval to grow and thrive and be.

I have no master in you, and you have no servant in me.

I will be free, in spite of, not because of, your documents that proclaim the very liberty for all men 

you’ve revealed to be a lie. 

You don’t get to define me, if you don’t want to know me.

You don’t get to classify me, when you don’t want to live next to me.

You don’t get to objectify me, because I am not here to amuse you.

You don’t get to nullify me, and say I shouldn’t be here: WE are the nation’s only IMPORTED immigrant.

I will not get over the chains I’ve never worn,  not get over the whippings, lynchings, beatings, rapes, torture, castrations, hunting hounds and K9 cops, bombings, hoses, “Colored” signs, white robes, shotguns, fires, burning crosses, burning bodies hanging from trees and bridges and tossed in rivers, broken and dismembered, and soil soaked in blood and lost years behind bars from false accusations I’ve never experienced, because I stand on the remains of all the rubble and remains of those lives; they are yet a part of me, and whether or not you “understand” it, it is nevertheless so.

And so I say again: I am FREE

but I, and my children, and their children

will not EVER

‘get over it.’

Waiting on the World to Change

A few years ago, I heard a song by John Mayer called Waiting on the World to Change, a song about idealistic and virtuous youth waiting for the corrupt and evil aged to die off. The song’s most telling lyric went as follows:

“It’s not that we don’t care, we just know that the fight ain’t fair,

So we keep on waiting for the world to change.”

I thought it rather lightweight  for a protest song. I also thought it was the most naive thing I’d ever heard from a young man who’d traveled the world several times over.

Why would you wait?

Still, it will be interesting to see what unfolds while you do. Here’s why:

The ‘love your brother’ and ‘equality for all’ generation, when they began to experience true competition for resources as a result of their policies to ensure that equality in the 60’s, became the ‘angry white men’ of the 90’s and began working to repeal the very laws they enacted, becoming, in the process, worse sell-outs and hypocrites than they accused their corporate fathers of being in the 50’s.

And the computer, an invention of the Boomer generation which Mr. Mayer is waiting to go the way of the dinosaur, has upped the ante considerably, and taken things globally in an instant.

Today, a segment of the 60’s generation of love, peace, equality and freedom throws rocks at immigrant children, repeals voting laws, advances the aims of the very corporations they once vehemently denounced, and seeks to distance themselves from those who they were once like in the past;  the other segment is permissive and apathetic in their adult responsibilities to the point of letting the country fall into anarchy.

So no, dear young people, you can’t afford to wait on the world to change. You are going to have to wade into the American wasteland, and get blood on your clothes, and get in peoples’ faces, and make unpleasant sacrifices, and make your voices heard. There is seldom a birth of a new thing without some labor pains being involved, and getting stoned like your grandfathers did for most of their first thirty years is not the way to go about it.

I’ve heard the saying: “These kids live in a different world.”

No you don’t; you live in a different time.

Yes, it is a scary, parasitic, greedy, lustful, materialistic, and intimidating time enhanced by constant connections and distractions, and things baying at you for your attention and money, but you are not in a different world; you’re on the same planet, and as far as we know, it’s the only where you can live outside of a clunky spacesuit, and without devices that will keep you from becoming a runaway hot air balloon.

So let me ask you, Mr. Mayer and company:

Can you really afford to spend it waiting?

Will you?

Making Warr (Excerpt 1)

My name is Warren, an unassuming name, but you’d be wrong to make assumptions: They call me Warr, because it’s all I’m good at making. And I’m really, really good.

1: The room was stifling, rank with the scent of tangy sweat. Flies crawled through my blood, biting, sipping, itching, but I couldn’t scratch with my hands tied behind my back. My lips and nose were swollen from the blows, and it was hard to breathe around the stifling, stinking gag to get air through my mouth.

The goon had his fingernails pressing into a leg wound, and I snarled, muffling through the gag, tensing against the bonds. “Tell us.” The goon pressed harder. I couldn’t help it, and cried out in pain. He let up, and the relative relief was welcome. We all sat breathing for a time. Sweat trickled into the wounds they’d inflicted, burning.

Telling began to seem like a good idea, but if I did, my squad was all dead, and I was hard pressed to believe these guys would really let me go. Goon took the gag off, looked in my eyes, and grabbed me by the neck, not squeezing, just holding it in his meaty, sweaty hand like a set of keys. The thin man sitting in the chair behind him cleaned his glasses on his tie, looking at me.

“I will ask you one more time. Your life is forfeit if you remain silent, and we will find your squad and kill them all the same.” Somehow, I managed to find a bubble of saliva to help me speak.

“Then why do you need me to tell you?” My voice croaked from my dry throat.

“To save us the time of searching, of course.” “Go to hell.” “You first.” The goon looked in my eyes and head butted me. The stars were beautiful, but the room went dark and I saw them fade like a child’s innocence.

2: When I woke up, the goon and the mastermind were on the floor, surrounded by areolas of blood, and in the chair sat the most lethal, beautiful woman I ever met, trimming her nails, expertly, with the point of a really big knife. Lliya, at times my nemesis, at others, my lover, and sometimes both simultaneously. I had no idea which one was going to kill me, and sometimes, I didn’t think I’d care.

The gag was out, but I was still tied up.

“Good morning, handsome.”

“Is it?”

“Interesting. I thought you’d say ‘Thank you, gorgeous.’”

“Really?”

She stood, walked over to me; I actually felt a little sliver of fear. Looking into my eyes, she put her hand with cool fingers and light pressure, capable of anything, on my swollen cheek

“Say it.”

“Thank you, gorgeous.”

She slinked behind me, untied my wrists, knelt, untied my ankles, her mouth close to my crotch, with a small smile on her lips.

“Having fun?”

She smiled up at me, undoing the last of the knots. Her smile dazzled, her eyes sparkled with erotic mischief.

“My dear Warr, you know I only keep you alive so I can kill you myself. But not like this. Not sporting, and all that crap.” “I agree.” She rubbed my wrists, bringing the stinging tingle of circulation back, then I took care of my ankles.

“Get up, darling.”

I did.

She wrinkled her nose. “You stink.”

“Yes, but not at my job.”

She looked back at the dead goon and the mastermind, then back at me, the point of her knife slowly twirling at the corner of her smirking mouth.

“You sure?”

Ouch.

3: It took some time for the swelling to go down. Lliya tried to stay, but that was too volatile a situation. I still remember the kiss she gave me when she left.

Captain Kriley and some of the guys came to see me, debrief me over what the squad accomplished without me, and razzed me hard for getting caught, but praised me for not cracking under the beating I took.

“We’re gonna beat your ass for getting caught, but we’ll wait til you heal.”

“You had to go the bathroom again, didn’t you?”

“Your face still looks like a catcher’s mitt.”

And on it went. I tried not to laugh, because it hurt my ribs, but they had no mercy. Soon, Kriley dismissed them all, sat across from me all serious like.

“Lliya?”

I nodded.

“Yeah.” He sat back, steepled his hands, “I’m beginning to wonder if we should’ve recruited her instead.”

“Me too. She said I stunk at my job.”

“You did get caught.”

“First time, Captain.”

He unsteepled his hands, put them in his lap. “True, but sometimes, once is all you need. There’s guys don’t come back from once. You know that. So what should we do now?”

“Let me go after her.”

“What does she know, you need to go after her?”

“Nothing. I like the curve of her backside.”

“You can go all puppy-dog about it on your time. I’m not asking again.”

“She knows who’s behind the killing.”

“She does?”

“Yes.”

“And you know this how? She told you?”

“She set it up.”

“And you know this how?”

“The little man in the wide tie told me. Somehow, she knew we were here, tipped him. I was blindsided,” I touched the swelling behind my ear, “and they got me. The rest of the squad went on without me.”

“Your feelings hurt?”

“Captain, I’m just running the facts by you.”

“Sorry. No more busting your chops. But those aren’t facts. Yet.”

I nodded. “If she knew we were here, how come she didn’t know where we went? She could’ve followed us herself and taken care of it. We never would’ve saw her, or known she was there.”

“Part of the reason I want to go after her.”

“She’s long gone, and we got better things to do.”

He let that sink in, then got up to leave. “Leave it alone, Warr. She’ll mess you up in the head, if she hasn’t already.”

That ship had sailed a long time ago, but I didn’t bother telling him that.

“Feel better,” he said, and walked out.

Maybe I should start at the beginning.

4: Flash! I remember glass breaking and the sound of copters, keen and fast, flying low over the neighborhood, and the sound of rapid shooting. Flash! My wife ran to the window to see what was happening.

Flash! In an instant she became a pile of molten skin, boiling blood, and bone shards, her head plopping on the bed beside me, looking at me with a question in her bloody, sightless eyes.

Flash! Men in black uniforms and helmets with black visors hitting me with sticks and boots and fists.

Flash!    They carried me out, but as I was losing consciousness, I registered it all. People were screaming and running. The confusion was deliberate, and unnecessary. I would have gone quietly had they knocked. Women and children were lying prone in the streets, bleeding out, their husbands’ bodies vainly over them in a futile gesture of protection, family blood mingling in eternal rivulets of unison.

Flash! Tubes in and out, fluids flowing to and fro, in me, out of me, cycling through again, and men in white robes, outside of the plexiglass tank that contained me, talking in hushed tones about what I was to become. I heard them. Every word, but I never told them.

Flash! Tests, chemicals, more tests, more chemicals, straining against tight bonds, pushing, pushing, until they ripped free, and more men in black with sticks came for me. They say seven of them died before they found the tranquilizer that saw me behind thicker plexiglass. I had no idea where I was, or why. I had no clue why they wanted to turn me into a killing machine, but in the end now, it doesn’t matter. Now, they are the ones I hunt.

5: I’d lived in a quiet neighborhood, with good neighbors (mostly), and a good wife. We had no children, because I was mostly on the move, and never knew if I was coming home. I wouldn’t have liked it if Candace left, but I would have understood. She didn’t, and I loved her all the more for it.

We often went to the countryside on weekends, to a cabin I’d built there for us, our little hideaway, where we let ourselves air out the tensions of the week, and left our inhibitions in the car. I liked the mountains that took the sunset into their valleys, liked the silent, circling hawks, majestic in their flying, lethal in their descent. I liked the way the grass rippled like green water when the wind blew across it. I liked that Candace wanted to share it with me. I liked to think that we were happy, before she died.

And then, I didn’t think anymore, about anything that wasn’t my mission: find the insufferable bastards that blew her head off, or die trying.

*******************

Back on the job, still a little bruised up, but I was gonna hurt someone if I didn’t get out of that hospital bed. It was nothing a ballerina couldn’t endure. I was debriefed: we did not find what we were looking for, so we had to keep looking, except now it would involve traveling, which we all hated, so everyone was gonna have an attitude about finding it.

Kriley suspected that Llya tipped them off, but I knew it wasn’t the kind of thing she’d do, even though she lived to destroy us. Sometimes, even your enemies had codes of honor they wouldn’t break. And that meant that it was somewhere here, on the squad, working close, with access to plans and supplies, maps and computers, spy equipment, and weaponry.

It was shaping up to be a fun time.

I sighed, sipped coffee, looked at the clock, put the double frame pictures of Candice in the top drawer, sipped some more coffee, watched the clock some more, turning it over. Who could it be? Why would they do it? Money? Too simple, but simple may have been enough.

Revenge? Ambition? Jealousy? Too many questions would lead to me getting paranoid and shifty, and if someone else was thinking about this, I might be the one under scrutiny. I breathed deep to slow everything down, and reviewed what I knew of these guys in my head.

Kriley was by the book, and only by the book. His frustration with the job we did was mostly tied to the fact that everyone else, me included, was only loosely affiliated with the book. We cut corners and took shortcuts and risks, even when it came back to bite us. There wasn’t always time for the book, though Captain Kriley always insisted there was.

Colanto was stand-up too, but too eager to get home to his live-in girlfriend. If she was hoping for wife-hood, she’d be waiting forever. He tended to ditch overtime, and wouldn’t volunteer or take on extra if it wasn’t a direct order. He was a great shot though, and you could rely on him to take it when he needed to, and sometimes when he didn’t, just to expedite things. He was the obvious choice, and in this job, you never overlook the obvious, because very often, that’s what they wanted you to overlook.

Arlo was older, more settled, had seen his share of firefights, and knew what it took to survive. He was still rugged and broad, if a little more gray, but that only gave him more of an aura of authority, which he was not shy about wielding. I would be the most disappointed if it was Arlo who leaked.

Duncan, “Dark Horse” we called him, the quiet one, was the least likely. He never said much, didn’t seem to have a blink reflex, and had an unnerving intensity to be absolutely still, settling in like a big cat on the hunt, seemingly lifeless, blending in, until he was ready to strike.

The results were always lethal, and none of it fazed him. If it was him, he’d give me the most trouble, only because he was such an ex factor.

Lastly there was Eberdine, affectionately called Ed, the lone female on the squad.

She had cinnamon skin, sea-green eyes, and a body that promised heaven, and could send you there in a heartbeat with a blow, a blade, or a bullet to the temple.

She was the smallest, and perhaps, skill for skill, the most covert among us, hiding in places you wouldn’t think to look, coming back to you with information you swore was confidential, and knew there were no witnesses. She enjoyed it. “Keeps me sharp,” she always said. If she was the leak,

I was going to have a hard time catching her, and who knew how long that would take.

Tonight, He said, one of you will betray me. I learned that somewhere. It was heavy with foreshadow, simple and fearful, with a heartfelt agony of broken trust behind it, a sense of inevitability, and unmatched bravery in the way the victim stayed the course.  

6:  The conference room was big, manfully appointed, and too cold from the canned air that blew threw the inconspicuous vents overhead. The large monitor in the front of the room held the image of man with his face in deep shadow, track lighting glinting off the silver letters on the marbled black granite wall behind him:

STEELE INDUSTRIES       

“Were we compromised?” Shadow-face asked. “No sir,” Kriley answered. “Commander Warren didn’t break, but we didn’t find what we were looking for.”

He didn’t exactly throw me under the bus, he just kind of tossed me underhand. “Commander Warren. What have you to say for yourself?”

“I’m….sorry?” The squad chuckled, but Shadow-face wasn’t amused.

“Yes,” he said, “you are.”

That brought an even bigger chuckle; first Lliya, now Shadow-face. I had to learn not set myself up.

“The mission, sir?” Kriley said, mercifully switching the conversation back to its original purpose.

Shadow-face sat silently for a moment or two. “You will proceed to Nanjasi, sans Commander Warren.”

“Sir?”

“He is suspended, effective immediately. He compromised the safety of the squad, and has become a liability.”

“But sir,” said Kriley, “he’s one of our best all around tactics operatives; I could really use him in the field. Would you reconsider, sir?”

“I already have,” said Shadow-face. “I was going to fire him, effective immediately. Meeting adjourned, Captain. You and the rest of the squad will leave for Nanjasi first light. Sans Commander Warren. “Am I clear?”

Kriley’s jaw twitched with the unsaid.

“Crystal, sir.”

The monitor winked out. He looked at me. “You’re on vacation. Where will you go?”

“I’ve always wanted to see…Nanjasi.”

“You think this guy was born yesterday? He’s probably already got tails on you.” Kriley was right.

“And no,” he said, “you will not spot them, and no again, you will not shake them.” Right again.

“You done with your vote of confidence?”

“I am.”

I left, but I didn’t go home. Not right away. Not for awhile. I went to find Lliya, but I didn’t go after her. Not directly.

“Ed, where would a woman go if she didn’t want to be found?”

“Well, certainly not the bedroom.”

I flashed a phony smile, nodded. “Good. Now where?”

“Shopping, a chick flick, lesbo book store, feminist AA meeting. Why do you wanna know?”

“I’m looking for a woman.”

Ahem.”

“Not in that way.” “Well, now I’m insulted.”

“Hey, you said not the bedroom…”

She arched a playful eyebrow:  “It’s not the only room…”

“Come on, now.” I pleaded, chuckling.

“Okay, okay,” she was smiling herself. “She doesn’t want to be found?”

I nodded.

“Women don’t disappear not to be found; they wouldn’t go off to a cabin somewhere in East Loserville to get away from the Mister. They go somewhere to think, to calm down, to get past the emotions.”

“Where would that be?”

“A park, a coffee shop, somewhere public where she could be alone among people, because she’s afraid she’ll act out if she’s wrong upstairs. So there’s someone there to call for help.

“With me?”

“Yes. Learning.”

“Indeed,” she said. “Glad to hear it. Know where to start?”

I thought about it.“No.”

“Should I come with? I’ll ditch you when we’ve found her.”

“Sure. Thanks. Why’s your name so damn weird?”

“I changed it to Eberdine. It was actually weirder.”

She laughed at my expression. “Let’s go find your killer girlfriend.”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

We walked, arm in arm, off to start my vacation, looking for a woman that didn’t want to be found.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

March 3rd

2014 All rights reserved