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A Thesis
Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the
University of South Alabama
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts/Science
Department of English
Joseph Rider
B.A., University of South Alabama, 2008
May 2010
UMI Number: 1484488
All rights reserved
The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript
and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed,
a note will indicate the deletion.
Dissertation Publishing
UMI 1484488
Copyright 2010 by ProQuest LLC.
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unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.
ProQuest LLC
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Joseph Rider
A Thesis
Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the
University of South Alabama
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Department of English
May 2010
Chair of Thesis Committees C
Member of Committee: Nicole E.
Member of Committee: Becl/yR.
in, Ph.D.
d .
Member of Committee:
Chair of Department: J. Pi
Director of Graduate SAidiesPs
Dean of the Graduate School: B. Keith Harrison, Ph.D.
v />
Ellen, for helping me make it through.
July 17, 2006
August 2, 2006
Now .
December 10, 2006
October 15,
16, 2006
December 9, 2006
Rider, Joseph, M.A., University of South Alabama, May 2010.
Sons of the Next War. Chair of Committee: Carolyn E.
Haines, M.A.
Sons of the Next War is a science-fiction action
thriller adventure that explores identity and loyalty while
experimenting with elements such as time and form.
Conceived in a cinematic style, it examines the human
psyche in regards to war and severe injuries as well as
psychoses involving one's self image compared to how they
actually are.
Set in 2009 New York City, the story follows
its protagonist as he struggles to learn about his
mysterious past while trying to find a place in the world
he finds himself in.
The novel focuses on Gabriel Jackman,
a reluctant super-soldier, and his hunt for answers
regarding his past as he tries to find his place in the
world while his life hangs in the balance.
His quest is
challenged by his creators, the Remiel Initiative, and the
head scientist, the Professor, who wants to re-assimilate
Gabriel into his fold of brainless, easily controllable
Sons of the Next War is a science fiction action
Basically, it is one step above a Michael Bay
movie: a blend of action, thriller, and adventure that is
cinematic in style and structure.
The sci-fi action genre
is what I read and watch on a regular basis.
characters from the comics and graphic novels I love are
derived from some scientific background: Spider-Man was
bitten by a radioactive spider that got caught up in a
scientific experiment; Captain America, Deadpool, and
Wolverine were altered and "enhanced" in labs; and Hulk was
irradiated by gamma particles at a nuclear testing site.
draw heavily from the Cap/Pool/Wolverine origins in
creating Gabriel, a normal man turned into a superhuman
killing machine against his will.
The thriller aspect is prevalent because of the unknowns
about Gabriel.
As he searches to find the truth, he is
unaware that his creators hunt for him.
Furthermore, the
antagonist, the Architect, is a brilliant man who has
Gabriel caught in his web; the more he struggles against
it, the tighter the Architect's grasp becomes.
There are
also several twists and turns that keep the reader guessing
until the end.
This approach is something I took from a
movie called Red Belt.
The film was referred to as a
"Twister" because of all of the twists and turns in the
Critics saw the film as an experimentation with
The primary focus is not the characters or the plot,
but the constant changes in direction and plot twists that
keep presenting themselves.
While Sons will not be as
twist-heavy as Red Belt, a few major twists and turns are
vital to the story.
In this work, I use all of the elements I love in
comics and movies to create something unique and
I have always felt the graphic genre does not
get a fair shake when it comes to being regarded as a
worthwhile medium.
People view it as something for kids,
and adults who read them are labeled as either nerds or
However, this genre has produced great stories
and characters with depth and purpose as well as--most
Popular characters such as Spider-
Man and Iron Man have it; they have flaws and imperfections
and are capable of mistakes, yet are still heroes, despite
or because of their humanity (a contrast to characters like
Superman, who is more god than man).
These are the
characters I strive to create: individuals who are human
beings first and superhuman second.
These are individuals
who have the ability to take over the w o r l d — o r one of the
five Burroughs in New York, yet do good.
By juxtaposing
Gabriel with non-powered people like Gabriel and other
meta-humans, I can explore the different motivations for
using such amazing gifts for different purposes.
I also want to examine the plight of the soldier
returning from war.
This is fascinating to me because
there rarely are stories that show men and women coming
home from war and having to reassimilate into society.
humans progress with technology, they find more inventive
ways of killing each other.
These means have gone from the
simple but effective club and spear, the spear to the
sword, and the revolver to rocket-powered grenades;
moreover, mass killing instruments like nuclear bombs,
missiles, and chemical agents increase the destruction in a
fraction of the time.
It seems the more technologically
advanced we become, the more gruesome and horrific the
results of war become.
While the physical ramifications
are easily seen and commented on (missing limbs and eyes),
the psychological effects are often left unaddressed.
results of these neglected issues can lead to substance
abuse and violence.
My goal is to explore these issues
through fiction and the framework of the story.
Finally, I want to explore bodily mutilation and
augmentation as it relates to a person's identity.
one of my graduate courses, I read an article by Carl
Elliot titled "A New Way to be Mad."
The piece discusses
apotemnophilia, or the attraction to the idea of being an
These apotemnophiliacs do not feel whole; they
feel their limbs are a hindrance to their happiness.
of these individuals go to extreme lengths to mutilate
themselves in order to reach their own mental image of
When posing the question of why someone would
willingly become an amputee, Elliot reflected on the
possibility that people become enamored at an early age
with prosthetics, such as hook hands and rod legs, and aids
like wheelchairs.
I want to explore the individuals who
feel they are complete as human beings by replacing their
limbs with artificial ones.
While the concept has been
done before (the Reavers in Ultimate Spider-Man), I will
juxtapose Gabriel, who was "modified" against his will,
against those who willingly signed up for the project
because they always wanted to reach their ideal, feeling
held back by their traditional arms and legs.
The elements infused into this story are typical of
the genre, but enhance the story as a whole.
implement is action.
One element I
I have a hyper-visual style of
writing where I use strong, concrete descriptions to create
crystal clear images of what is occurring on the page, thus
making it easy for the audience to follow and envision.
This approach is seen in the action/fight scenes where such
depictions are designed to generate excitement,
anticipation, and anxiety.
Through this approach, I have
learned there is more than one way to skin a cat (or
decapitate a robot).
Time is also an important element in the story
structure as I play with the timeline.
I utilize several
flashbacks in order to help flesh out characters, fill in
back-story, and create parallels between the characters'
past and present.
I got the idea from J. J. Abram's Lost
where flashbacks--and the concept of time itself--are vital
to the story.
Flashbacks can make the timeline murky and
the story hard to follow.
In order to combat confusion
with the timeline, I have made it a point to state when the
action is occurring.
I clarify the points in time in three
ways: first, just like in comic books, I denote when the
chapter is occurring with a caption at the top showing the
date; second, I use time-specific references that ground
the story in that setting, such as referencing football
games and movies that were important at that given time;
and finally, I play with form by altering verb tenses
during flashbacks and current time.
Going back and forth between past and present tense in
order to denote when something is occurring really
fascinates me.
Not only is it a different approach, but it
also challenges me as a writer to both utilize and stay
within the boundaries of these two verb forms.
approach is a lot like Walter Abish's Alphabetical
where he wrote the book by descending, then ascending, the
alphabetic scale.
While my story will not be as ambitious
as his, playing with form adds depth and style to Sons of
the Next War.
Ultimately, this story is the culmination of my love
of superheroes, science-fiction, and cinema.
I hope that
those who read this will come to appreciate some of my
influences and seek out these authors and materials as well
as have a newfound respect for the aforementioned genres.
Wind's changing.
concrete towers.
catch you.
Picking up.
Keep moving.
Whipping around
Don't stop.
Don't let them
Don't let them take you away.
A lone silhouette sprints across a rooftop, looking
behind him.
Rain begins to fall on the cold, unforgiving
A car horn sounds.
Tires squeal.
A police siren wails towards the large crystal ball
above the giant red glowing 2009, peering down on the
Empire State.
The sounds of Metropolis.
Nothing out of
the ordinary.
Nothing except for the man leaping from
rooftop to rooftop, heading east.
Can't stop.
Rain cleanses.
Lungs burn.
Can't stop moving.
Eyes sting.
Acid rain.
Have to
Not going back.
Lightning flashes, streaking across the sky.
Stretching its electric fingers as far as it can before it
disappears into the oblivion marked by the earth-rattling
growl of thunder.
For this brief second, the entire world
is illuminated by a light brighter than a thousand suns.
Shadows cease to exist.
Every flaw and pockmark, every
scratch and scar in Manhattan is violently presented for
all to see.
The silhouette becomes a man, blood splattered
on his tattered clothes.
Cuts and abrasions cover his face
with long, deep gashes running across his chest.
look like a Rottweiler's chew toy.
His legs
Blood emanates from
cuts and scrapes that glisten through the holes in his
He stops for a second and looks around.
No one.
The sky plunges back into darkness.
Storm's coming.
The big one.
The end one.
They're coming to take me back.
An iron-grey sky envelops the island.
The clock in
Time Square, illuminated with a red ring of light, shows
Past midnight.
There is no night in a place like
The city never sleeps.
It's a living, breathing
thing with its pulse kept by the rhythm of the hordes
hustling and bustling through its streets, its veins.
and women leaving shows, entering clubs, bars and cars,
meeting friends and looking for sin, unaware of the drama
unfolding in the heavens above.
The man continues to run, an enraged terror burning in
his eyes, the look of a wounded animal backed in a corner:
a primal, savage fear.
He leaps into the air, clearing the
alleyway several stories below with ease.
His foot catches
a pipe, sending him sprawling on top of the roof.
ass up.
The storm.
Gonna catch me.
Get moving.
Get up.
Get your
Get the hell outta here!
As he spits blood and gravel out of his mouth, the man
desperately surveys his surroundings.
Lightning flashes.
Darkness ensues.
Thunder roars.
Still time.
Still can find shelter.
Can escape the
Can escape the...
"Boy, you're making this way too hard on yourself.
You and your stupid fuckin' hero complex."
He gets to one knee and stares at the ground.
he raises his head.
There is no one there.
July 17, 2006
The backseat of the Hummer was searing in the Iraq
summer heat as 1st Lieutenant Gabriel Jackman sat sandwiched
between two of his squad-mates while patrolling the
outskirts of Baghdad.
The vehicle smelled of sweat and
musk, and Gabe's fatigues were drenched with sweat.
"So, this must be the sauna," Gabe joked.
"I used one
to cut weight when I wrestled, but I don't think I have any
weight left to cut."
Fellow 1st Lieutenant Will Poole, sitting in the
passenger seat, turned to him.
"You're telling me.
sweating so fucking much I feel like I'm turning into the
goddamn Aquaman!"
Adjusting his aviator sunglasses, Major O'Neal, the
driver, jaw protruded and lips clenched to hold in his dip,
"Lieutenant Poole, I do not appreciate your
pathetic attempts at humor.
If you do not desist, I will
remove you from the cab with a bullet in the base of your
motherfucking skull.
Do you understand me, maggot?"
The men in the Hummer fell silent.
Major C. Percival O'Neal was a dick.
By all accounts,
Will often compared
him to "the guy from Full Metal Jacket with a redwood up
his ass."
A complete and total kiss-ass, once O'Neal
completed his time at the United States Military Academy,
he proceeded to brown-nose every higher-up he had access to
in order to climb the ranks faster.
Moreover, he had a
strong air of entitlement because his father was the Senior
Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
O'Neal looked down on all those he felt were
beneath him, which was everyone at or below his ranking.
He was also an ineffective leader.
There was nothing to
like about him.
Davis and Williams, two large black men who sandwiched
Gabe in the back, bumped fists.
"Burn!" they whispered.
"Goddamnit," Poole growled, "it's too fucking hot to
be funny."
"I think we all can agree on that," Gabe said, coming
to the aid of his friend and bunkmate.
Gabe and Will met during Orientation at West Point.
From then on, they were inseparable.
Upon graduation, both
were sent to Fort Bragg before finally being deployed to
Afghanistan as part of the 1st Special Forces Operational
Detachment-Delta: the Delta Force, a versatile special-ops
squad specializing in counter-terrorism.
the best soldiers in the Army.
It consisted of
Other than acknowledging
its actual existence, the military kept all information
about the regiment classified.
Will referred to it as
"what would happen if Chuck Norris and James Bond had a
Will always joked with Gabe, telling him, "I think the
higher-ups suspect something going on between us.
why they keep us together."
"For the last time, I'm not gay," Gabe replied.
if I was, I wouldn't go for someone whose idea of a good
time is tattooing a picture of Rosie 0'Donnell on his
"It's Elvis!"
Riggs cried.
"And, I was drunk."
Gabe and Will were often referred to as the "Dynamic
Poole made Gabe laugh, and Gabe made sure Poole
didn't get himself killed.
Gabe felt the unspoken
arrangement equaled out.
"West Point tells you about this shit with the
shootings and the bombings," Poole said, undaunted by the
jokes and death threats, "but they never tell you about the
"Does reminding us every two minutes about how fucking
hot it is make you shitheads feel better?"
Major O'Neal
demanded, agitated by the constant reminders of the
furnace-like heat.
He pulled his 9mm out, shoving the
business end inches from Will's face.
"Damn right," Davis and Williams chimed in unison.
O'Neal turned around with the type of stern look saved
only for children misbehaving in the back seat.
darted back and forth between them.
The barrel
"Would you two
grabasstic pieces of amphibian shit wanna join Lieutenant
Riggs in an unmarked grave?"
"The safety's on," Gabe said to O'Neal.
O'Neal pulled the gun close to his face, examining the
It clearly was not.
"Shut the fuck up, boy scout.
No one fucking asked y--"
An explosion went off in front of the Hummer, causing
O'Neal to jerk the steering wheel to try and avert the
gaping hole now in the road.
He didn't react fast enough
as the car hit the edge of it and began to roll off the
"We're being ambushed!" yelled O'Neal as the car kept
"Way to state the obvious, ass-hat!" screamed Poole,
clutching the roll-bars for dear life.
The men inside tossed around inside the rolling
vehicle before the Hummer landed right-side-up.
On either
side of them were huge sand dune hills.
Thirty insurgents, armed with AK-47s and RPG
launchers, popped up at the top of the dunes and opened
"What are we gonna do, what are we gonna do, what are
we gonna fuckin' do!?" O'Neal cried, blood rushing down the
side of his face from a large gash above his temple.
"The Hummer will be able to take the attack for a
little while," Gabe roared over the gunfire and explosions.
"But, if we don't get help, we'll end up on a granite wall
in D.C."
Poole grabbed the radio.
taken out our comms."
"The roll must have
"Should we return fire?" Gabe asked O'Neal
sardonically, clutching his assault rifle in his left hand
and extra rounds in his right.
"Where'n the fuck do you wanna shoot?"
"With all that shit they're throwin' down at us,
it's a fuckin' sandstorm.
"Neither can they."
We can't see shit!"
Gabe looked in the enclosed bed
of the Hummer.
"What the fuck are you doing?"
Will demanded.
"Going to get our asses out of this mess.
right with you, sugar-lumps?"
Is that all
Gabe fumbled around until he
found what he was searching for:
a sand-camo shield made
of a special alloy so strong it could handle a cannon
blast--point blank--without a scratch.
Latching the shield to his left arm, he slid over
Williams to get to the door, turning to both him and Davis.
"Tweedledee and Tweedledum, I need some suppression fire."
They nodded.
"Poole, Major, you two try and get that radio up and
"Get your ass back in here, soldier,"
"That's an order!"
"Just do it!"
Major O'Neal
Gabe pulled his goggles over his eyes and jumped out
of the cab into the maelstrom, crouching low to the ground
with the shield overhead.
Bullets and RPGs repelled off it
like lethal fragments of hail.
Sand swirled all around,
stinging his face and impairing his view.
"We're not in
Kansas anymore."
Davis and Williams opened fire, wounding one of the
Gabe listened intently, tuning out the whirling sand
and gunshots, zoning in on exactly where the scream
emanated from.
Eight feet west-north-west.
It was right
in front of him.
Holding his assault rifle in his left hand, he pulled
out his bayonet and charged up the dune hill.
When he
reached the scream's point of origin, he found the wounded
insurgent doubled-up on the ground, clutching his abdomen.
Gabe ended the man's suffering with a quick slash across
his throat.
No one saw him; they were too engaged in the
prospect of killing the trapped American soldiers.
Gabe quickly unlatched his shield and stripped the
dead insurgent of his long-sleeved cloak and put it on.
kicked the corpse down the dune towards the sandstorm that
engulfed the Hummer.
After taking position where the
cloak's former owner was, he began to open fire on the
surrounding insurgents.
This tactic, along with Davis and
Williams's help, quelled the ambush.
One last insurgent spotted Gabe and ran to confront
him, screaming obscenities in Arabic.
Gabe grabbed the
shield lying next to him and covered himself as the enraged
rebel opened fire.
After running out of ammunition, he
charged Gabe, wielding a scimitar.
Gabe hurled the shield
like a Frisbee and knocked insurgent's legs out from under
him, sending him barreling toward Gabe.
Gabe pulled his
9mm handgun from his holster and aimed it between the
insurgent's eyes.
"I don't want to kill you," he said.
The insurgent produced a grenade and bit down on the
pin in order to pull it out.
Blood erupted from the exit wound in the insurgent's
temple as he fell to the ground.
to his head, pin un-pulled.
emanated from.
The grenade rolled next
Gabe turned to where the shot
It was Poole, running up the hill towards
"Did I get 'em?" he asked.
Gabe walked over to his shield and picked it up.
"Does it look like he's going anywhere?"
"Yeah, well..."
Poole trailed off, inspecting his
kill with a disgusted, yet curious, look on his face.
finished, he ran over to Gabe and patted him on the back.
"We managed to get the radio going.
We'll have some people
out here in a minute or so."
Gabe's solemn expression didn't change.
His thoughts
were on other things.
"What the hell is this?" Poole held up the scimitar
the insurgent was holding.
"When did these guys raid the
prop room from Aladdin?"
"Aladdin was a cartoon," Gabe responded blankly.
"Aladdin on Ice?"
A smile curled at the edge of Gabe's lips as he let a
rush of air out of his nose--partly due to Poole's ability
to make him laugh and partly because of the new beach in
his sinus cavities.
"You know," Poole continued, "that was some pretty
crazy shit.
Like Rambo or something.
You're straight-
arrow scared us to death."
Gabe turned his head and spat, "Sorry about that."
"No worries.
But, dude, you might win some high-
profile medal or something.
That was some pretty amazing
I mean, you could've gotten killed... well, you could
have gotten killed sitting in there with us...but, you went
all 'above and beyond' on this.
I don't think I can ever
pay you back for what you did."
Gabe closed his eyes, his ears picking up the faint
whoop of helicopter propellers.
"Don't worry about it.
You would've done the same for me."
"Yeah, but dude!"
Poole exclaimed. "You ran out into
a fucking firing squad, killed all the bastards, and came
back without a scratch.
You should be—"
Gabe and Poole looked back at the banged-up Hummer to
find Major O'Neal charging up the dune, screaming at the
top of his lungs.
"You stupid, reckless sonuvabitch!
I should put my
boot in your ass and a bullet in your skull!"
Poole leaned over to Gabe. "Sounds like a typical
Saturday night for him."
"Shut the fuck up, you numbnut motherfucker!" O'Neal
cried before turning his attention to Gabe.
"You could've gotten me killed with your stupid little
Did you think about that?
I'm worth thirty of both
you and your fanny-bandit friend."
O'Neal got right in Gabe's face, his finger slamming
into his chest, sand and spittle flying from his mouth.
"You and your stupid fuckin' hero complex.
back, I'm gonna run your ass up a flagpole.
Do you hear me?
When I get
I'm gonna make your life a
living he—ACK\"
O'Neal stiffened up and convulsed before falling to
the ground in an epileptic fit.
back attached to a wire.
There was something in his
Gabe's eyes followed the wire
from O'Neal to its source: a black box in Poole's hand.
"Oh, so that's what happens when I push the button
that says
tase.' Who'da thunk it?"
Poole smiled.
like I was saying before Captain Baby-Puncher interrupted,
you should be dead."
Gabe looked down at the shield strapped to his arm
then looked up at Will with a smile.
"Cheating death is
what I do best."
They're here.
They've come to get me.
Gabe staggers to his feet, eyes darting around.
Despite what he's told himself, there is no one standing
around him.
Storm's here.
No use running anymore.
to face it.
He is only answered by the cacophony of the city.
"I know you're here.
I know what you want.
Let's end
No one.
No one.
"You're a dumb son of a bitch."
That voice again.
burning red beacon.
That voice resonating from a
The beacon a part of a body.
A body
standing before Gabe.
"You run, run, run, run.
Now, you stop and make a
Stupid fucking hero complex.
able to beat us.
You know you won't be
Even if you were in better condition,
we'd still kill you.
Look at you.
What makes you think
you're going to survive now?"
The m a n — a large, muscular figure with a long, jagged
scar running down the right side of his face and a glowing
red light where his eye used to b e — i s flanked by two
others of slightly smaller but equally opposing stature,
each wielding a staff with a long, broad blade at the top.
Slivers of red, green, and blue dance on the tips as the
cold steel eerily reflect the fluorescent lights
illuminating the streets below.
Two are nameless, faceless mercenaries; the man with
the glowing red eye isn't.
"HQ says to bring you back unharmed.
But, after what
you did to my eye," pointing to the crimson orb, "well, you
better hope your warranty hasn't run out."
Storm's raging.
Have to survive.
Make it through.
Gabe reaches behind him and pulls out something that
shouldn't be there.
He examines: darts.
He lets
his hand fall to his side, darts fall to the ground.
"That explains the Shatner-does-Lear monologue."
The faceless mercenaries attack.
Gabe leaps back,
just missing the downward slash of their weapons.
lunge again.
Gabe jumps between the living buzzsaws,
planting his foot firmly into one of the mere's face.
lands away from his attackers, looking back to survey the
The one he kicked in the face gathers himself,
shaking his head to clear out the cobwebs, his weapon a few
feet away.
Gabe dives for the bladed staff, grabbing it
mid-roll, kips up to his feet, and drives the blade through
the dazed mere's neck.
He spins around just as the other
assailant takes his swing.
The bodiless head falls to the ground, sparks and
electric arcs spewing from where the neck once attached to
the torso.
The attacking mere kicks Gabe underneath his rib cage,
sending him into the leg of the building's water tower
several feet away.
to catch his breath.
normal man in half.
Gabe coughs and wheezes in an attempt
A shot like that would have broken a
He wonders how he was able to take it.
He does not wonder too long as the mere presses his
attack, leaping into the air with the bladed staff cocked
behind him for a powerful downward slash.
Gabe dives out of the way a fraction of a second
before terminal impact, flips to his feet, and throws a
hard roundhouse kick toward the mechanical mercenary's
The mere's head barely moves from the powerful blow.
Gabe's shin throbs with pain.
It was as if he tried to
break a steel beam in half, and yet his leg did not break.
The pain and confusion are only distractions as the
machine drives its shoulder into Gabe's stomach, lifts him
into the air, and plants him into the concrete rooftop.
Cracks spread out from the impact.
Gabe wraps his legs
around the mere's waist and grabs its head to control its
body while he catches his breath.
His opponent slams its fists into the side of his
torso in order to loosen Gabe's control over its body.
Gabe clenches tighter.
While the blows feel like a
jackhammer shattering concrete, they do not faze him.
is actually holding the machine down.
Gabe bites down on its ear and tears it off. "Stop
hitting me," he barks.
The machine is unfazed.
Wires and
a green, gel-like substance seep out of the hole where its
ear once was.
While Gabe knows he can control the
mechanical mere, he also knows it won't tire out.
There is
also a red-eyed bastard watching all this who sicced these
monstrosities on him that seems to know him, and Gabe seems
to recognize the bastard.
Finally, there is the big
question of why Gabe seems to be more superman than man.
He needs to finish this fight now.
While still controlling the machine, Gabe throws his
left leg up to the back of its head and wraps his right
wrist around it.
He plants his right foot into the hip of
his attacker and pushes off as hard as he can while pulling
himself around its body in a clockwise motion.
Gabe swings
around and grabs hold of its waist with his left arm while
grapevining his legs around the right arm of the mercenary
to further control him.
Noticing a bayonet attached to the
mere's ankle, Gabe grabs it with his right hand and plunges
it into his attacker's head.
Sparks fly from the impact and a loud boom sounds from
inside its head.
Smoke pours from its mouth.
The machine
is no more.
"You and your fancy-smancy Jiu-Jitsu!" the familiar
voice mocks.
"Just a bunch of queers grab-assing each
other if you ask me."
Crouching on the ground next to the fallen mere, Gabe
slowly reaches for the bladed staff.
"But, if you ask me," the man with the red-eye
continues, pointing his extended arm towards Gabe, "I like
a more direct approach."
Bullets pour out of O'Neal's arm like a Gatling gun.
Gabe grabs the bladed staff and dives behind a brick
enclosure with large warning signs on it discussing the
dangers of electrocution if the contents are in any way
The firing stops.
Gabe catches his breath behind the
powder keg that is serving as sanctuary.
He feels a severe
burning sensation on the side of his leg.
He looks down to
see four bleeding streaks where bullets grazed him.
"Boy, they must have done a number on you," the voice
"We pumped enough drugs in you to put down a
rhinoceros and you still manage to run from us and take out
two cybor-soldiers.
What makes you so special that you get
the super-metabolism and I don't?
I mean, sure, I get the
next-gen tech and the artillery appendages.
"What are you talking about?"
But you?"
Gabe screams,
completely bewildered by the man with the gun for an arm.
"Who are you?"
"They must've sunk a lot of money into you.
probably why I was hired to bring you back in.
They told
me, 'We need someone with existing knowledge of the target.
Someone who knows where he'll go and what he'll do.'
they told me who the target was, I jumped at the chance.
It's not every day that you get to bring down the
grabasstic piece of amphibian shit who took your eye."
Gabe's mind explodes, giving him the migraine to end
all migraines.
Fragments of memories flood his
consciousness as he remembers...
August 2, 2006
Gabe and Will sat on a couch in the rec. center on
base, laughing off the short-term and long-term
ramifications of what they call "the Insurgent Incident."
"I can just imagine it," Will laughed in between sips
from his bottle of coke.
"Gabriel Jackman served his
country in Iraq and Afganistan, earning the Congressional
Medal of Muthafuckin' Honor.
Percival Douchebag?
saving his ass!
And where was Senator C.
Crying for his mama while Jackman was
Is that the type of jerk-wad you want to
lead this country?
Vote Jackman-Clinton 2028!"
Gabe sipped his Gatorade and shook his head.
says I'll run as a democrat?"
"Dude," Will continued, "Only C. Percival pansy-ass
pricks are republicans."
Will looked around to see the
entire room staring daggers into his back.
"Or, at least,
that's the type that gives republicans like the good gunloving ladies and gentlemen in this fine establishment a
bad name!
Am I right?"
Will finished by slapping Gabe on
the back and announcing to the room, "Drinks on Captain
America over here."
The people around them chuckled and
went on about their business.
Though at times he might rival Nancy Grace in terms of
being a loud-mouthed nuisance no one wants to hear, William
James Poole was a friend to all.
He could make a lump of
coal smile--something that Will did when he handed Gabe a
piece of charcoal with a bright yellow smiley-face sticker
on the side of it.
However, Will was not only a hack
comedian, but a good and loyal friend who could be trusted
with a man or woman's life.
Because of this, people gave
him a lot of leeway when he would spout off because they
knew he was a genuinely good guy...and Gabe would kick
their asses if they tried to hurt his buddy.
"And I suppose you'll be benefiting from my
presidency." Gabe smirked, knowing Will had his whole
future mapped out in this fantasy about Gabe.
You can make me the Secretary of the
Interior of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt!"
Gabe looked at his unhinged friend with a sneer.
"That's sick.
She's, what, three months old?
borderline pedophilia!"
"No it's not," Will replied.
"It's forecasting.
see, in 2028, she'll be in her early twenties and ripe for
the picking.
Boom, baby!"
"You don't even know what she'll look like."
"Have you seen her parents?"
"How are you gonna pick her up?"
Will's eyes lit as if Gabe had said the Word of the
He climbed from the couch, composed himself, took a
sip of his Coke and held up his other hand in order to
command the entire rec. center's attention.
"I'll go up to
her, grab me a handful of that potentially sweet ass, and
say 'Hey, Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, wanna see my purple heart?'"
The entire room erupted into laughter, then roaring
applause, not because what he said was funny, but because
they knew, if given the chance, he'd probably do it.
"You're a crazy son of a bitch," Gabe said.
"Yeah, but you still love me."
The room continued to talk about Will's antics when
Major O'Neal barged into the room, reeking of whiskey.
When O'Neal became stressed--which was very often--he
drowned his worries with multiple bottles of hard liquor.
No one knew he got the whiskey on base since alcohol on a
foreign base of operations was expressly forbidden.
angry, violent drunk, the only reason he hadn't been
punished was because of who his father was.
O'Neal was
untouchable, and he knew it.
All fell silent.
All, except for Will.
"And I'll tell you another thing.
If C. Percival
0'Pencil-Dick even threatens to punish you for saving our
asses, I'll press charges against him for sexual
O'Neal walked up behind Will who was still oblivious
to the Major's presence.
Gabe's face was frozen in terror
for what might happen to his friend, not to mention what he
might have to do to protect him.
"He's always talking about sticking stuff up people's
He leaned over to Gabe and cupped his hand around
the side of his mouth and said in a not-so-whisper-like
whisper, "I think he's got a fetish or something."
A vein on O'Neal's already beet-red face grew larger
and larger, and his tiny bloodshot eyes seemed to vibrate
in their sockets.
His nostrils flared, and his teeth
gnashed together.
Gabe looked on in horror as Will
"He looks like the type of guy who would go through a
perfectly fine whorehouse to get to a fat boy's ass.
Am I right?"
Will turned around to raise his coke bottle
for approval and bumped into the seething man behind him,
spilling his drink all over O'Neal's pants.
O'Neal, have you been starin' at Murdock's ass again?
one wants to see how you soiled yourself."
O'Neal reared back and threw a wild, looping fist at
Will's head.
Will covered his face with his forearms and
braced for an impact which never came.
He opened his eyes
to find Gabe standing between him and O'Neal with O'Neal's
fist in his hand.
"Get out of here and sober up, O'Neal," Gabe said in
cold, commanding voice.
"I am your superior, boy," O'Neal answered, ripping
his fist from Gabe's grasp, "and you will address me as
"Okay, 'Major,' get out of here and sober up, 'Major,
or I will remove you from the establishment myself."
"Oh yeah," O'Neal snorted, "You'd dare lay your hands
on me?
Do you know who I am?"
"The guy whose ass I saved from being gutted by
O'Neal screamed and tried to tackle Gabe, only to be
tossed aside.
Gabe was an accomplished collegiate wrestle
and kickboxer at West Point, as well as a purple belt in
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
O'Neal was an angry drunk with an
inferiority complex.
O'Neal didn't stand a chance in an
actual fight.
"Kick his ass, Gabe!" Will cried.
Gabe turned to him.
"Shut up, you're making t h i s — "
Distracted by Will, Gabe did not notice O'Neal
collecting himself for another attack or the uppercut
targeting his genitalia before it was too late.
He fell on
the floor in the fetal position as O'Neal began to rain
down soccer kicks and stomps to Gabe's body.
Will climbed
on top of the bar and dived on his friend's attacker.
While the two men jostled on the floor, Gabe pulled
himself up with a chair while trying to recover from the
reverberation pains in his lower abdomen that always
accompany a shot to the groin.
He called to the people in
the room to break up the fight, and they responded, pulling
Will and O'Neal off of each other and to opposite ends of
the bar.
Once separated, Will immediately went to check on
O'Neal, however, wasn't so forgetful.
He wrenched
himself free of the men holding him, smashed the glass Coke
bottle, and charged at Will and Gabe with the glass shards
Seeing this, Gabe pushed Will out of the way of
the attack and parried the downward slash of the bottle on
a table, slamming O'Neal's head onto it.
O'Neal fell to the floor screaming, hands covering his
Several of the people in the room rushed to check on
the fallen Major.
When they moved his hands, they saw what
he was crying about: shards from the shattered Coke bottle
had firmly embedded in his eye as a result of the header he
took into the table.
"Call a medic," Gabe demanded to those around him.
picked Will off the floor and left.
Shortly after the rec. center incident, Major O'Neal-having lost his eye--was shipped back to the states.
Nothing happened to Will or Gabe since it was considered an
accident, and O'Neal was the aggressor.
That was the last anyone heard from Major C. Percival
"O'Neal?" Gabe asks, the searing pain behind his eyes
finally subsiding.
"So you remember who I am," he replies. "I guess I
didn't make the impression on you that you made on me."
"What have you done to yourself?"
"I've merely made myself all that I can be.
Just like
Gabe sits confused, "What are you talking about?"
"Don't play coy with me, Jackman.
you went and got yourself an upgrade.
enough to be a war hero.
You and I both know
It just wasn't
You had to become some sort of
Well, so did I.
"When I was sent home after our little brawl, I became
a sad, pathetic drunk.
One day, when I was shaking off a
hangover at the family home, I came across a bunch of
papers in my dad's office about a special project that
turns people into war machines.
When I found out about
this, I had my dad put me in that program and fast-track me
to the front of the line.
"Now look at me.
I'm the ultimate weapon.
I don't
eat, I don't sleep, I don't get tired, and I have all sorts
of neat little gadgets and gizmos.
My personal favorite is
being able to fire heat-seeking ballistic missiles from my
The hairs on the back of Gabe's neck stand at full
He hears a slight whine, like a wasp, on both
sides of him.
He turns around and sees what looks like two
bottle-rockets coming at him.
top of the brick enclosure.
He reaches up and grabs the
The rockets charge closer and
closer and Gabe's heartbeats become faster and faster.
Without thinking, Gabe pulls himself over the brick
enclosure as the two mini-warheads collide, causing a loud
explosion that rocks the entire building.
Gabe flips clear and crouches several feet away from
You took out the building's
Something in O'Neal's arm turns and locks.
He opens fire, and Gabe ducks and dodges the
He spins the bladed staff so fast that he can no
longer see it.
The bullets bounce off the shaft, flying in
all directions.
"You might not get tired," Gabe yells over the sound
of gunfire, "but you'll damn sure run out of bullets."
"Die! Die! Die!" O'Neal cries, his voice stressed.
Gabe charges towards O'Neal, staff spinning like a
hurricane of steel, spitting bullets out from it like
lethal hail.
The sound of machine gun fire mixes with the
feral cries of the cyborg until-CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. CLICK.
"Oh s h — "
Gabe leaps in the air and slams the bladed end of the
staff into the shoulder of the gun arm, severing it from
O'Neal's torso.
He spins around and severs his legs from
the rest of his body.
O'Neal lifts his other arm holding
an Uzi only to have that hand join his other extremities
detached from his body.
Gabe drives the bladed staff
through O'Neal's stomach and places his foot on the side of
his head.
"Now, let's talk," Gabe says, grinding O'Neal's skull
into the ground.
"Why are you trying to kill me?"
"You're not getting anything out of me!"
Gabe grabs the Uzi and points it at O'Neal's glowing
red eye.
"It's a retrieval mission!
It's a retrieval mission!"
"For whom?"
Please don't kill me!
I want to
"Who's Remiel?"
"You know who they are.
And, if you don't, you'll
find out soon enough."
Gabe fires a round into one of his leg stubs.
You son of a bitch!
You know who they are!"
You know who they are!
"How'd you find me?"
O'Neal does not answer.
Instead, he smiles.
smile turns into to a chuckle, and his chuckle evolves into
a maniacal laugh.
Gabe shoots him in his other leg stub.
"Answer the question!"
"I...I knew if we kept an eye on your pal Poole that
you'd show up.
Just a...just a matter of time."
Gabe staggers back and starts to run.
would be there shortly.
He does not know.
with the broken down cyborg thing.
needs answers.
Nothing is right.
Not with the world.
his mind that he cannot explain.
They can deal
He finds a fire escape
and slides down it as fast as he can.
Not with himself.
Maybe the cops
There is a hole in
It drives him onward.
He needs to know why he doesn't remember.
He needs to know why he is so different.
But, right now, he needs a friend.
"Just a...ZZAKT...matter of time."
The enormous screen freezes and pixilates. The shortcircuiting electrical system powering the O'Neal's tech
interrupts the transmission from the camera where his eye
is used to be.
It is only a matter of time before he
In a dark, windowless room buried deep within a
compound buried even deeper within the Colorado Rockies, a
lone, lithe figure sits and watches what one would refer to
as a scene out of a Bruce Lee movie; except, the fighting
is not choreographed.
The man stands before a large panel
of switches, knobs, monitors, and levers.
In the
iridescent glow of the wall-sized screen, the he reaches
towards a red blinking button.
Glancing up at the screen,
he exhales from his nose.
He gently tugs on the long, thick
patch of hair gathered on his chin as he examines the
monitor tracking the O'Neal's heart-rate.
After pressing the button, a computerized female voice
breaks the silence:
"Proceed with termination of Subject
22538: Orion?"
The figure reaches out to give the affirmative
"I did good?" O'Neal asks. "I did good?
Right, boss?"
His hand hesitates above the verification button.
"You did what was required, Orion," the man replies.
found and engaged the target as instructed."
"So I did good?
You're going to come and get me?"
O'Neal asks, fear creeping into his voice.
"Of course, Orion," the man says reassuringly, "you
did a marvelous job.
I was very impressed with your
improvisational skills.
By claiming you were a part of a
retrieval mission, have made the target feel free of his
pursuers for the time being."
"He will try to make his trail go cold before
contacting his 'friend.'"
"We'll give him this moment.
his roots.
Let him reconnect with
"'But' what, Orion?" the man roars, angered by
O'Neal's constant interruptions.
"We were on a retrieval mission," O'Neal almost
"So you were."
The man punches the affirmative command for the
termination and watches the monitor as O'Neal's vitals
spike before flatlining.
He presses a button on the
control panel.
"Memitus here, over," a gravelly voice responds.
"Mikhail," the man replies, "Major O'Neal is no longer
in our employ.
I need you and the Pale Riders to recover
his body and bring him in for scavenging along with we sent him out with."
"I told you to let me bring Jackman in," Mikhail
"Duly noted," the man replies, oblivious to the ire in
Mikhail's outburst. "Meet back at base and wait for
Something's not right.
As much as O'Neal had a
vendetta against our man, he and the two mercedrones would
not have done the damage you would have."
"Anything else, sir?" Mikhail growls.
"That will be all," the man replies, quickly shutting
off the comm feed.
He glances up at the screen replaying the conversation
between O'Neal and the target.
He pauses it on a clear
shot of his target's face, bruised and battered from the
onslaught of the strike force he sent out.
He is surprised
how well Jackman handled himself, especially after the
trauma he suffered eight months prior.
He stands up and walks to the screen, placing his hand
on the face frozen in time.
He looks at its expression.
The face of a hunted animal.
The man smiles.
"Welcome back, Theopotis.
My greatest creation.
will be my crowning jewel--my legacy.
From your blood will
rise an army that even the Roman pantheon would tremble
All for the glory of the United States of
December 10, 2006
"Run, you son of a bitch, run!" Will screamed at the
three-inch Reggie Bush slashing and dashing through the
Dallas Cowboy defense on the television in his parents'
home in Virginia.
Bush crossed the goal line, punctuating
his 60-yard touchdown with a cross between a samba and the
Mexican hat dance.
Falling back onto the couch, Will swigged his beer,
satisfied that the Cowboys were down 28-10.
"You can't
teach that," he said.
He grabbed a large bowl filled with Cheetos, scooped
out a handful, and stuffed them into his mouth.
Half of
them rolled down his chin and back into the bowl, leaving
several long, dusty orange trails.
He picked up his
enormous Over the Hedge cup filled with Red Bull.
Gulping down the hyper-caffeinated liquid, he let out
a glass-shaking belch.
"Hey!" Will cried after stuffing his mouth with
another handful of Cheetos.
No one answered.
"Someone gonna get that?"
He remembered that his parents had
gone to watch An Inconvenient Truth to, according to his
mom, "see what all the hubbub is all about."
"Goddammit," he sighed.
Resigned to his fate as phone
answerer, he picked up the receiver and pushed the blinking
green button.
"Poole residence, William the war hero speaking."
"Are you really calling yourself a war hero?"
"Davis?" Will's voice perked up. "How the hell are ya,
"I'm great," Davis replied. "Just got back in the
states a week ago.
After being paraded through the
relatives and city officials, I decided to call an old
"Yeah," Will grimaced, "I had to do the same shit,
At first it was really cool, you know.
talking to you, buying you drinks, interviewing you for the
local news."
"It's pretty cool until you realize they're all asking
the same fucking questions."
"I swear to little baby Jesus if I hear 'Did you ever
kill a terrorist?' one more time, I'm gonna break him, her,
or him/her in half."
"You been hanging around the tranny bar again?"
"That's not right," Will retorted. "Pat's finally got
the money for the operation."
They both laughed.
"You know something," Davis said,
"I actually missed your dumb ass."
"That's a first."
"Hey, have you heard from 'Captain America' since
you've been back?"
"Gabe called me when I got back.
"Same here.
He sounded good."
"As good as someone meeting the President of the
United States does."
Will grabbed another hand full of
Cheetos and stuffed them into his mouth.
"Dick Cheney?"
"I was gonna say Karl Rove," Will replied, "but W's
got so many puppet-masters I wouldn't be surprised if the
dog had a string."
"You going to the ceremony?"
"I kinda feel obligated since I was there for what
earned him the Congressional Medal of Motherfuckin' Honor."
"Why do you do that?" Davis asked.
"Do what?"
"'Medal of Motherfuckin' Honor'?
think all of us black people talk like that?
Do you
Do you really
think you're Sam Jackson?"
"Shit yeah!"
"You're not even black."
"Neither are you."
"Fuck you!"
"I'm blacker than you are."
"When I see you again, I'm gonna kill your ass."
"I thought you said you missed me?"
"I changed my mind."
Both men chuckled and fell into silence.
"You going to the ceremony?" Will asked.
"Yep," Davis replied. "I guess the government needs
the token black guy.
Plus, I was there, too."
"Do you think O'Neal will be there?"
"I haven't heard from him since the rec. room brawl,"
Davis said with a hint of concern in his voice. "But, if I
had to guess, I'd say no."
"Aw, come on," Will chided. "You don't think he blames
me for it.
I mean, he started it."
"He looks like the type who would hold a grudge.
dude did lose his eye."
"I felt bad about that," Will said, shaking his head
and wiping the Cheeto dust off his chin.
"I hated the
prick, but nobody deserves to lose an eye."
"I talked to Williams—boo-BEEP--said he's gonna make
the trip—boo-BEEP."
"Hold on a second," Will said, annoyed. "I got a call
coming in."
Will held the phone out to see which button to push.
While he was deployed, his parents bought a new telephone.
Although he was very tech-literate, he wasn't quite sure
which button changed lines.
"I hope this works," he said as he pushed the talk
"Poole residence, William speaking."
"Hey, pumpkin," a loud, shrill voice piped through the
"Goddamn!" Will said, pulling the phone away from his
He put a finger in it and shook it around in an
attempt to get rid of the ringing.
"Pumpkin?" the shrill voice asked.
Will hit a button with an arrow on it.
cycled through the last call list.
The phone
It was his mom's cell
"Hold on, Mom," he said in an elevated voice, his
hearing still slightly impaired.
He tried another button.
A triangular display appeared, shrinking in smaller and
smaller increments under the heading "Volume."
"Are you okay, pumpkin?"
"I'm fine, Mom," he said. "Just a little deaf."
"That's because you always have the volume of your
iPod so loud," she chided.
"Yeah, yeah," he rolled his eyes.
"I'd love to
continue this conversation, but I got a war buddy on the
other line and I haven't talked to him in a while."
"Okay, sweetie," she replied. "We just got out of the
movie and wanted to know if we needed milk."
Will turned around, stretching his neck to peer into
the kitchen.
The refrigerator door was closed.
"We're fine."
"All right, honey, tell your friend I said hello."
"I will."
on-hold limbo.
Will hit the talk button to save Davis from
"Sorry about that.
My mom."
"No biggie," Davis replied.
lot, too.
"Mama's been calling me a
The only difference is I don't live with mine."
"Hey!" Will sat up in his seat.
Poole's baby boy.
"I'm still Mrs.
And as long as I can milk that moniker,
I'm not going anywhere."
"Yeah, well, hold on.
There's another call coming
Will confidently pushed the talk button.
Dead speaking."
"Uh...I'm looking for 1 st Lieutenant William James
Poole," an unsure voice at the other end of the line said.
"You got 'em," Will replied, flipping through the
hundreds of channels on his TV.
"Lieutenant Poole, my name is Colonel Francis Griffin.
I'm calling to tell you the ceremony has been postponed."
Will was confused.
"Do you know when it's
going to be rescheduled?"
"No, son," Colonel Griffin said.
"Arrangements won't
be made until after the funeral."
"What funeral?"
"For Lieutenant Jackman."
Will froze, jaw hanging agape.
He didn't breathe.
cold shiver slowly crawled down his spine.
"Uh... hello?" Colonel Griffin unsurely asked.
Will shook his head to regain some semblance of
He hadn't heard properly.
"C-could...could you r-run that by me again, sir?"
Will asked.
"Plans for the medal ceremony will be made after
Lieutenant Jackman is laid to rest."
for a month.
Will barked. "What rest?
Gabe's been home
Why would he be laid to rest?"
Silence encapsulated Will, freezing him in time and
He felt as though he was in an alternate universe
where nothing was the way it was supposed to be.
Jackman, his best friend, was alive and flying to
Washington D.C. to receive the Medal of Motherfucking Honor
before God, Country, and the Girl.
They were
going to have beers after the big to-do before Will would
slink off with Miss Girl and do things that would later end
up chronicled in Penthouse Letters, the nudie magazine of
How in the hell could Captain America be dead?
was in America, not Iraq or Afghanistan; he was home.
wasn't possible.
It made no sense.
The sound of General Griffin clearing his throat broke
the silence and the hurricane of anguish raging in Will's
"Please let that be the Cheetos, beer, and Red Bull,"
he thought of the queasy feeling.
"Son," Colonel Griffin said in a solemn voice,
"Lieutenant Jackman died today at 1:08 P.M. when his plane
crashed in North Carolina."
Tears gathered at the cusp of Will's eyes.
the TV remote and turned the channel to CNN.
He grabbed
What he heard
caused his brain to shut down:
"That's right, Heidi.
The FAA has just confirmed that
one-hundred and fifty-three people died when Del Rey Flight
108, an MD-88 out of Tampa, Florida, crashed in the North
Carolina countryside, some eighty miles from Charlotte.
"While names of the victims have yet to be released
until their families are contacted, we did discover one of
the passengers was on his way to a major event.
three-year-old war hero Gabriel Jackman who was set to
arrive in Washington D.C. with his family to receive the
Congressional Medal of Honor during a ceremony held
tomorrow at the Capitol.
"However, what we don't know is exactly how the plane
actually we"—BLIP.
Lieutenant Poole?" Colonel Griffin's voice
called out from the orange dust-covered phone at Will's
Will slowly pulled it up to his ear.
"I... I didn't know."
"I'm sorry, son," Colonel Griffin said in a comforting
tone. "It's a goddamn tragedy.
that plane.
His whole family was on
I'm sorry you had to hear it from me first."
"Better you than Bill O'Reilly."
"Listen, I've got to let the others know about the
change in plans, Lieutenants Davis and Williams.
If there
is anything we can do, just let us know."
Will wiped his eyes.
"Let me tell them."
"You sure, son?"
Will hung up and sat in silence in the dark Virginia
His heartbeat reverberated through his entire body.
A tear slipped down his face.
He bit his lip.
Face buried
in his palms, he took a deep breath, trying to calm the
tempest within.
He cupped his hands around his mouth.
"No!" Will cried out like a savage animal, scoring his
throat like razorblades.
He grabbed the bowl of Cheetos
and threw it against the wall, a cloud of orange dust and
ceramic shrapnel exploding.
He hurled the ringing
telephone through the TV and flipped the coffee table in
front of him over.
the couch.
Standing, he turned his attention to
He kicked it over and stomped on it, wood
cracking, springs popping, and fabric tearing.
He picked
it up and flung it against another wall, causing a large
crater in the plaster.
through the window.
He snatched a lamp and threw it
Shattered glass fell from the window
Dizzy and delirious, he collapsed in the middle of the
floor, sobbing.
He rolled to his hands and knees, forehead
pressed to the ground, and repeatedly slammed his fist into
the floor.
"No, no, no, no!" he roared every time his fist fell
upon the plush carpet.
Finally exhausted and numb, Will crawled to his feet
and staggered to his parent's room.
He sat on the bed and
picked up the phone from the nightstand.
Bringing up the
call registry, he found the number Davis called him from
and dialed it.
Davis answered.
"What the hell happened?
I thought
you forgot about my ass."
"Gabe's dead."
"What?" Davis said, shocked and confused.
"He died in a plane crash flying to D.C."
"Are you fucking kidding me?"
Will paused.
"I wish I was."
"Fuck you, Lebron!" Will leaps from his mezzanine seat
and screams after Lebron James posterizes three New York
Knick players with a monstrous windmill dunk that causes
the sold-out crowd in Madison Square Garden to erupt in
The Knicks' coach calls a time out as Lebron
receives a standing ovation from the fans and a high-five
from long-time Knicks fan Spike Lee.
"Fuck you, you worthless piece of shit!
would own your ass!"
Kobe Bryant
Will does not like King James.
doesn't like Kobe Bryant, either.
He is just reacting the
way a normal fan would when the hometown team was made to
look like amateurs.
Apparently, considering the Knicks'
record of eight wins and fifty-six losses and destined for
the Draft Lottery, beggars can be choosers.
Will sits down, picks up his box of popcorn, and turns
to his date seated next to him.
The only problem is somewhere between the profanitylaced tirade about Lebron and the profanity-laced tirade
about the Knicks' shooting woes, his date stepped out to
the ladies' room, never to return.
"Serves her right," he says to no one in particular.
"She's missing out.
I'm everything a woman could want.
I'm a goddamn war hero, for Christ sakes!"
"Really?" a sexy Latin voice purrs behind him.
"A war
Will turns around to see a raven-haired bombshell
looking at him with the biggest pair of green eyes he has
ever seen.
He doesn't mind the other "biggest pair,"
"Well, yeah baby," he continues, erasing thoughts of
his date from his mind.
"I served with the Delta Force in
Iraq and Afghanistan."
"That sounds dangerous," the woman says, leaning over
to listen to Will.
"What did you do in these places?"
Will faces front and crosses his arms.
classified, sugar."
"You can trust me," she continues prodding.
I'll never tell."
Will turns to the empty seat where date had previously
occupied to find his new fan filling its vacancy.
already limited vocabulary shrinks to only one word:
She is the most beautiful thing he has seen that week.
She is wearing a tight black tank top proclaiming "I V NY"
in rhinestones and a skirt that crawls up her upper thighs
as she sits with her long, slender caramel legs crossed,
leaning over to Will.
Her pouting lips and smoky emerald
eyes implore him to confide in her.
"Well, since you put it that way, I'm Will."
She holds out her hand and Will takes it.
"Soft," he says.
Kailara smiles.
"So, tell me about your time at war."
Will launches into basics of what he did.
He wasn't
kidding when he told her his time at war was classified;
seventy-five-percent of his platoon's actions were.
However, he does have a few stories he likes to tell that
are more than okay to relate to civilians.
"As a matter of fact," Will continues, "I'm the proud
recipient of the Silver Star."
"Really?" Kailara says, her eyes lighting up.
you get it?"
"Well, what I did wasn't really a big deal," he says,
acting modest as he rubs the back of his neck.
"A few of
my buddies were shot up pretty bad during an insurgent
attack, and I dragged them to safety while helping quell
the conflict before anyone else got hurt."
"You are so brave," she says, rubbing his arm.
your friends make it?"
"Yeah, but not by much.
would have bled to death.
other, though.
A few more minutes and they
One was in worse shape than the
The doctors said he would have been
paralyzed if they hadn't gotten to him in time."
"That is the most amazing thing I have ever heard."
Will chuckles nervously, becoming uncomfortable at
this remark.
While he shamelessly uses his war stories to
pick up chicks, he never likes it when people respond to
his tales with such amazement.
He knows there are braver
men and women who gave their lives.
He also knows about a
man who saved him and three others from certain death.
"Baby, that's nothing."
The final horn sounds and the game is over.
125, Knicks 80.
Lebron scored a rare quadruple-double with
41 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks.
King stays out on the court to shake hands with the
celebrities court-side and poses for pictures for his
All in attendance stay to cheer on the Chosen
All except for Will and Kailara.
They walk a few blocks to Hell's Kitchen before
crashing at a bar that mostly serves locals.
After getting
a nice and cozy corner booth, Will enthralls Kailara with
the tale of the Iraqi Summer Ambush and how 1st Lieutenant
Gabriel Jackman single-handedly took out a group of
insurgents from an exposed position.
He speaks with pride
about how his best friend charged out into a storm of sand
and bullets and things blowing up to save the lives of a
Hummer full of men scared to death.
He even adds how Major
O'Neal popped a gasket after it was all over because Gabe
had "shown up the sniveling little bastard."
"And because of his 'going above and beyond the call
of duty and gallantry in action,' my good friend was
awarded with the Congressional Medal of Honor."
"That is an amazing story," she says after Will
"Your friend is a brave man."
"Was," Will says, taking a big swig of his beer.
"Was?" Kailara asks, confused.
"I thought you said no one died?"
Will sits for a second to collect his thoughts.
has been three years since the last time he saw his friend.
"No one did," he says, subdued.
"Gabe saved us.
After the attack, we had to give accounts of what happened
to these government types.
worthy for the award.
That's when they deemed him
After that, he was asked to join
some super-special Special Forces group that no one had
ever heard of."
"Who were they?" Kailara inquires.
"Gabe never told me," Will continues.
"He turned them
down and asked for some time off to spend with his family.
"Considering the way the War on Terror had turned in
the eye of public opinion, having honest to God war heroes
to champion was a good way to rally people to continue to
support the troops.
They granted him a three-month leave
on the condition that he would do a ton of press--like the
Today Show or 60 Minutes--to
help put a good spin on what
we were doing overseas."
I've never heard anything about your friend,"
Kailara says, her hand resting on top of his.
"That's kind of surprising," Will says.
"He and his
family died in a plane crash a day before he was to receive
the Medal of Honor.
I was gonna be there with one of the
other dudes he saved."
He falls silent and lets his head droop, eyes focusing
on the puddle of condensation collecting at the bottom of
his bottle of Heineken.
about Gabe.
In three years, he's never talked
All the emotions he has repressed creep back
into his consciousness, gnawing at his gut and wrapping
around his chest like a python.
He is having a hard time
processing it.
"I'm sorry," Kailara says, moving from across the
table to sit beside Will and resting her head on his
"It wasn't supposed to happen like that," Will says,
"After all the shit we survived together--RPGs,
machine gun fire, suicide bombers--a fucking flock of geese
in a goddamn plane engine kills him."
He stares at the mouth of his bottle of Heineken.
vision blurs from the salty solution forming in the corner
of his eyes.
He grabs the beer and chugs down the
remaining half of it, slamming the empty, emerald bottle
down on the table.
Kailara slowly rubs his back, trying her best to
console him.
"And you know what the worst part about all of it
"What, sweetie?" she says softly.
"There wasn't even a body," Will says, his knuckles
turn pale white from his clinched fists.
"He was
They identified him by using dental records."
The grip of the anger and rage he's repressed grows
tighter and tighter.
Will cannot breathe.
though his chest will explode.
He feels as
He reaches for the bottle
and squeezes it as hard as he can, gnashing his teeth as
his breathing becomes more labored.
The gnawing grows into
a fury, like a school of piranhas is tearing away the flesh
from his soul.
His clutch on the bottle intensifies until
the bottle shatters in his hand, glass shards impaling his
Blood drips from the wounds onto the table, mixing
with the water and beer.
pulls the pieces out.
Kailara pries his hand open and
She grabs a cloth napkin and wraps
his hand to stop the bleeding.
"It's okay," she says.
"I know you loved your friend.
I lost my brother when a suicide bomber blew up a mosque in
No one ever sees such things coming.
ever prepares you for something so sudden like that."
"I never got to say goodbye," Will says, soberly.
"Me neither," she says.
"It's not fair."
"I know, baby."
Kailara lifts Will's head.
face is streaked with mascara.
Her eyes are red and her
A wave of relief rushes
over him as if a heavy burden has been washed away.
Handling the war stuff is easy; people get hurt and die.
It's a part of the job description.
death are different.
But things like Gabe's
Men and women like Gabe should not
die in such a meaningless, random way; they die as warriors
on the battlefield for a cause bigger than themselves.
Kailara understands this.
She's just like him, he thinks
to himself: a kindred spirit in a capricious and vindictive
She is helping him confront his dormant feelings
and allowing him to finally begin the healing process.
"I'm sorry," he says.
"I didn't mean to upset you."
"It's okay," she replies.
"I was real close to my
It took me a couple of years before I could even
grasp that he was gone.
He was always off in other parts
of the world, so I pretended he was just deployed to
another place.
That he'd come back."
"Death sucks," Will says.
"It does," she replies, slowly inching closer to him.
"But it's easier to handle with someone there."
She kisses him softly.
He reciprocates.
intensity between them increases until Will looks up and
realizes he is still in a bar in Hell's Kitchen.
"You wanna come back to my place?"
"Where do you live?"
"I have a hotel room on Broadway."
Will smiles.
"That'll work, too."
He throws down a couple of twenties to pay for drinks
and the two head out into the concrete jungle.
A huge
storm churns out rain like it's monsoon season in the
Lightning flashes and thunder roars close behind.
"You wanna get a cab?" Will asks.
"No," Kailara says.
know a shortcut."
"I love the rain.
Besides, I
She takes him by the hand.
"Follow me."
She pulls him across 8th street and goes two blocks
south before turning into a narrow alleyway.
"This will
take us right to the hotel."
"What floor is the room on?" Will asks, curious about
where he will wake in the morning.
"It's a penthouse suite overlooking Times Square."
That must have cost a fortune.
What do you do
for a living?"
Suddenly, three men spring out in front of them.
where do you think you're going?"
Will grabs Kailara and spins around.
Two more men
block the exit.
"Your money. Now!" One of the five muggers demands,
pulling out a handgun.
Will pulls out his wallet when one of the men behind
him whacks him in the head with some form of clubbing
"Will!" Kailara screams.
knees, still conscious.
He falls to his hands and
The two men behind him each grab
an arm and pull him to his feet.
The one with the gun
picks up Will's wallet off the ground.
"Forty dollars?" he asks.
He opens it.
"Out of all the people in
the whole fucking Garden, you pick the cheapest fuck there.
He doesn't have any plastic!"
" W h a — " Will asks before a hard right hand crashes
down on his jaw.
"You whiny little bitch," a familiar voice chides.
Will looks up to see Kailara standing next to the
mugger with the gun.
"To answer your question about what I do for a living,
I lure unsuspecting tourists to my little crew here so we
can take their money.
Obviously, you weren't worth it."
"But, your brother..."
"Is pointing a gun at your head."
"Yeah," her brother interjects, "you got played,
"However," Kailara continues, "this really is an
accomplishment of sorts.
We pulled this on a 'goddamn war
"Is that right?" her brother asks, pressing the barrel
of the gun against Will's forehead.
Kailara pulls his military ID out of his wallet.
Right here:
William James Poole, United States
Even says he's Delta Forces."
"If I waste this fucker," her brother says, "I'd be
made for life."
"Made?" Will smirks in between spitting out blood.
"Where'd they find you?
Hoods R' Us?"
"What did you say, you little bitch?" the brother
says, driving the gun barrel hard into the side of Will's
"Let me rephrase that," Will looks up a Kailara.
it Retarded Cliche Day down at Ryker's?
Was it 'Buy one
Dumbfuck Thug, Get the Other for Free?'"
"I'm gonna put a bullet through your head, you jarhead
motherfucker!" her brother says through clenched teeth.
Kailara puts her hand on the gun's shaft.
"Let me guess," Will continues, "kindergarten drop
Julito cocks his arm back and slams the butt of the
handgun into the side of Will's head.
Will goes limp and
the two men holding him let him go, allowing him to fall on
his back.
"That'll teach yo' ass to talk back to me, bitch."
Will gathers himself and staggers to his feet.
time, follow through."
"I'm sick and tired of this fool," Julito cries,
looking at Kailara.
"Fine," she says.
"Make it quick."
Julito levels the gun on Will.
"Best news I've heard
all night."
Will turns away, waiting for the explosion of the
bullet from the chamber and seeing his Grandma Sally in
white robes talking to Frank Sinatra.
Instead, he hears
ribs breaking and men crying out in terror and pain.
He opens his eyes to see a large, powerful figure
taking out the five men like something out of Enter the
His movements are effortless, seamless.
elbows, knees, and shins flow together, creating a
beautifully savage ballet of violence.
Julito staggers to his feet and targets the
The man, seeming to sense the mugger's bad
intentions, grabs the lid of a trash can and hurls it into
his face with a sickening KRACK. His head violently snaps
Kailara frantically checks on her brother.
The force
of the flying trashcan saucer not only shattered his nose,
but broke his neck.
He is dead.
"Julito, no!"
The dark figure does not care.
He finishes the final
thug before turning his attention to Kailara.
She is
holding the gun and has it trained on the man.
"You killed my brother, you son of a--"
Will smashes an empty beer bottle over her head.
"Join the club."
Will's savior bends down to pick up his wallet and
military ID that lay on the ground.
He stands up to return
it to him when he freezes.
"Wow," Will says.
stuff back there.
"That was some bad ass Jackie Chan
I owe you one."
He tries to take the
wallet, but the man will not let go.
"Fine," Will says, somewhat annoyed, "I'll give you a
He gives his wallet another tug.
doesn't let it go.
The man still
"Listen, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Jackass, if you think
I'm gonna let you take my money after having those little
punks try to rip me off, you've got another thing coming.
I saw what you did to that guy.
I'll have no problem going
to the cops."
The man lets go.
Will pockets his wallet.
more like it."
"W-W-Will?" the man asks.
Will freezes.
A cold chill shoots down his back.
"What did you say?"
Is it you?"
"Who are you?"
The figure shrouded in the shadows of a narrow
alleyway in New York City steps forward.
"Will, it's me.
It's Gabe."
Will's legs go limp and darkness shoots from the
periphery to swallow his vision.
He passes out.
Gabe shakes the unconscious body of his best
friend. "Now would be a great time for you to wake up."
Will reclines against the wall on the second floor of
an empty, dilapidated building, once a furniture shop on
Canal Street, across the street from a Starbucks--one of
the innumerable legion that have taken over the city.
found this place when he first arrived in New York, drawn
to it by the large "For Rent" sign.
However, considering
the storefront looks like it is about to crumble--coupled
with the high price on the lease--no one ever comes by.
It's a great place to stay while on the run from guys made
up of gadgets and gizmos from a Best Buy catalog.
Gabe grabs a bottle of water, slashes the top with a
shard of glass, and aims it at Will.
"I hope this works," he says before crushing the
bottle with all of his strength.
The water bursts out of
its cheap plastic prison like a geyser, spraying its target
in the face.
Will coils up in ball, turning his back to the Dasani
He wipes his eyes.
"What happened?" he mumbles.
He looks around.
am I?"
"Good," Gabe smiles. "You're back amongst the living."
Will looks at Gabe, his eyes widening and his lip
He screams.
Gabe lunges and covers his mouth.
"Keep it down, buddy," he says.
"I'm not exactly here
legally, and I don't want to explain myself to Sergeant
Will pushes and punches and kicks, struggling to get
free of his captor.
Gabe is too strong.
"I know this all seems strange," Gabe says. "I don't
even understand it all.
But I'll explain it the best I
I just need you to calm down."
Will bites into Gabe's hand with every fiber of his
"Yeeeoooww!" Gabe cries out, clutching his hand,
temporarily freeing Will.
Will hops to his feet and grabs an old, dusty hat
Gabe looks up only to see its wooden base making a
b-line towards his skull.
cover his head.
He holds up his forearms to
The hat rack explodes.
Wood splinters
dressed in dust and cobwebs dance in the air, twirling end
over end like a gymnast on the uneven bars.
With Gabe distracted from the hat rack, Will thrusts
his foot into Gabe's face.
Gabe, seeing the attack,
catches his foot and pushes it straight up, sending Will
end over end before landing on his stomach with a loud
THUNK, knocking the breath out of him.
"Will," Gabe says, slightly annoyed.
"I need you to
calm down."
Will coughs.
"Fuck you, Night of the Living Douche!"
Gabe stands, eyebrow raised.
Will hops to his feet and charges at Gabe, tackling
He raises up and rains down fists upon Gabe's face.
"You're...not...HERE!" he cries.
Gabe slips one of the punches, wraps his arm over it,
shrimps his hips out, and tosses his leg over Will's face.
With his free hand, he grabs the back of Will's leg and
sweeps him to his back.
Pulling himself on top of Will's
chest, Gabe pushes his shin into his neck.
"Don't make me put you out again."
"GAFf--who a r e — K A F F — y o u ? "
Will asks through a nearly
crushed larynx.
"Gabriel Jackman.
Your friend.
Why do you keep
asking me this?"
Gabe is puzzled.
"I'm not dead.
I'm right here."
He moves his shin from Will's throat and stands up.
Will grimaces as he rubs his throat.
"You don't say."
"Why do you keep saying I'm dead?" Gabe asks, taking a
step towards Will.
"Because you are," he replies, moving away from him.
Gabe lets out a sigh and shakes his head, realizing
things will keep going in circles if the "I'm not dead,"
"Yes you are," "No I'm not," exchange persists.
"Let's try this," he says, sitting down in an old,
beat-up recliner the movers forgot. "You tell me how I
died, and I'll tell you what I know."
"Wait a damn minute," Will protests. "Even if you are
who you say you are, how do I know it's really you?"
"You have a tattoo of Elvis on you penis," Gabe
"Everyone knows that," Will replies.
Gabe rolls his eyes.
"It was supposed to be the Lucky
Charms leprechaun, but you were drunk and the tattoo girl
misheard you."
The dark, dank room was quiet.
the floor.
Will stares down at
A few seconds turn into a few minutes, all of
which made the man who had supposedly risen from the dead
Gabe was the only person with him when he got the
They made a bet during the 2005 Notre Dame-
Michigan State football game, and Will lost.
He was so
certain the Irish would win that he said, "If they don't
win, I'll tattoo the Lucky Charms Leprechaun right on the
side of my wang!"
The game was extremely close.
Will started to get nervous.
more he drank.
As the game progressed,
The more nervous he got, the
By the time 3rd quarter hit, with ND down
38-24, he was plastered.
However, Notre Dame scored two
touchdowns in the fourth to knot it up 38-38 going into
Will had stopped drinking by this point.
He was
ranting and raving about how awesome Notre Dame was and how
great it was going to be to have clean fatigues.
Notre Dame had the ball first and scored a field goal.
This had Will jumping up and dancing like he had scored the
game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Gabe smiled at him and said, "It's not over yet."
And he was right.
nineteen yards and a touchdown later, Will's penis had
a date with a tattoo parlor.
However, Gabe was willing to
let his buddy out of the bet.
"You really don't have to do this," he said, hoping
Will would listen.
"No," Will slurred, taking up drinking shortly after
the game-winning touchdown run.
and I'm gonna do it.
"I said what I would do,
I gave my word.
Alls a man's got in
this world is his word."
That night, they went to a tattoo parlor close to
Will was so inebriated that Gabe had to carry him
in and set him down in the tattoo artist's chair.
A woman
who looked like she came out of a Rob Zombie music video
picked up the tattoo gun and asked Will what he wanted.
tried to explain the circumstances around the special
inking, but Will struggled forming coherent sentences.
Finally, Will blurted, "I want...I want something Elvish."
However, the woman heard "Elvis."
As a result, she
put a portrait of the King—the fat, mutton chopped K i n g on the right side of his member.
After coming to terms with his mistake and realizing
the pain of removing it from such a sensitive area, Will
became proud of his Elvis tattoo, even using it while
picking up girls--it was one hell of a conversation
No one knew what the tattoo was supposed to be except
Gabe and Will.
Will stands up and slowly walks towards Gabe.
gets to his feet as well.
Will stops in front of him and
"Uh...buddy?" Gabe asks.
Tears stream down Will's face as he throws his arms
around his long-lost friend, sobbing as he squeezes tight.
"Oh my God!
I thought I lost you!" he cries.
"It's okay," Gabe says, hugging him back.
"I'm here
It's all going to be okay."
They stay this way for a few minutes.
been so happy to see anyone in his life.
tear up.
Gabe has never
He lets himself
Three years of his life are missing, but in this
moment, he feels he has reconnected with the world.
They disengage from the embrace.
Will starts spouting
questions in rapid-fire succession.
"Where've you been?
come you're not dead?
Why didn't you ever call?
I saw the whole thing on TV.
was a crash in a field and dental records and black boxes
and birds in the engine and..."
"Whoa," Gabe says, holding his hands up in order to
stop his friend's barrage of queries.
"One at a time."
"Okay," Will says, collecting his thoughts. "Why
aren't you dead?"
"I didn't realize I was supposed to be dead," he
A cold chill ran down his spine.
"In that case," Will says walking towards a door,
"I've got something to show you."
Will's apartment is Spartan to say the least.
for a television and a recliner, there really isn't much in
the hole-in-the-wall matchbox to make it feel like a home.
"I've been in New York for a few months," he says,
returning from his bedroom with his laptop.
"After being
found, 'unsuitable for active military duty,' they stuck my
ass here to do some recruiting."
"'Unsuitable'?" Gabe probes, putting on a fresh pair
of jeans and a hooded sweatshirt with "Army" emblazoned
across the chest.
He examines the places where O'Neal and
his Cybor-Soldiers cut him a few hours ago.
wounds or scars.
There are no
There is no physical evidence that the
fight ever happened.
"Things changed a lot after the Iraq Incident," Will
"Everything got really weird.
I got shipped to
Qatar to work communications while Davis and Williams were
thrown deeper into the shit.
I got a call from Davis a few
months back telling me Williams got blown to hell by an
Gabe's gaze falls to the floor.
The four of them were
a very tight-knit crew while serving in Iraq.
They had to
be, considering who their field commander was.
"How's his family taking the loss?" he says solemnly.
"Oh, Williams survived," Will says with a tinge of
"He's paralyzed from the neck down and blind in
one eye.
Last I heard, he was in VA hospital in Virginia,
one that specializes in treating traumatic brain injuries."
Gabe shakes his head.
"And stranger still," he continues.
heard from Major O'Neal again.
"No one ever
It was like he vanished off
the face of the Earth."
"Yeah," Gabe replies, looking out the only window in
the apartment.
The rain thuds against the glass.
The thunder and
lightning from earlier in the night have passed.
All that
is left is a steady downpour that fills the small room with
the sound of a waterfall.
Neither Will nor Gabe speak,
both men lost in thoughts of the way things were.
Gabe breaks the silence.
"How did I die?"
"That's what I wanted to show you," Will replies,
opening a folder on his computer entitled "R.I.P."
are dozens of files and links about Gabe's death, from the
official FAA report to President Bush's statement the day
after the crash.
Will brings up a New York Times article.
"The plane you were on crashed in North Carolina," he
"The FAA did not release the names until all of the
families were informed; but, since you were a little more
high profile, the media got hold of your name well before
the others were released."
Will chuckles to himself.
know, this is the second time I've told this story
"Yeah," Gabe says, studying the article, "what was all
"Oh, you know, just some big-tittied siren leading a
poor schmuck to his impending doom/mugging."
"You need to be more careful," Gabe replies.
"You're one to talk," Will says, referring to the cuts
and bruises that previously covering his friend.
were there well before you got into it with Danny Trejo and
He grabs Gabe's arm and examines where the
cuts had been.
where'd they go?
He realizes there is nothing.
You looked like you were run through a
meat grinder."
"I know," Gabe says.
He changes the subject.
flock of geese took out the engines?"
Will looks at Gabe with a raised brow.
"That's what
the black box said."
"'Identified by dental records?'"
"Yep," Will says.
"So you can understand why I
freaked out a little when I found my superhero ninja was in
fact my long-lost-friend-turned-zombie."
"Will," Gabe says, "I don't remember anything from
that day."
"Nothing?" Will asks.
"What was the date?"
"December 10, 2006.
You were supposed to receive the
Medal of Honor the next day."
Gabe walks away from the computer screen clutching his
"I know, I know," he repeats.
He tries thinking
back to that day, but there are nothing but blanks--just
like the last three years of his life.
As a matter of
fact, the last day he remembers before the huge black hole
is the day before he was supposed to leave to receive the
Medal of Honor.
August 15, 2006
Gabe sat at a cold, steel table in an even colder
room, fluorescent ceiling lamps illuminating it.
The walls
were covered in a dark grey tile, save for the black
glass--a one-way window--to the right of him, showing back
his profile, and a black door with no knob.
He was in an interrogation room.
Gabe had been called in to Central Command
headquarters two hours earlier and led through the bowels
of the complex; he had never seen an elevator go through so
many numbers while going down.
"Where are you taking me?" he asked.
"That information is on a need-to-know basis," a
large, grim man said standing next to him. "And you don't
need to know."
After being led through several security checkpoints
by six men in finely tailored business suits, he was thrown
into the room where he sat for a very long time.
Frozen air rushed over him as the door slid open.
men in suits: a thin, balding white man and a large,
hulking black man.
The colossal one carried a briefcase.
Gabe thought about standing at attention, but, since he had
no idea what was going on and who these people were, he
decided to stay put.
The follicly-challenged man sat down at the table
across from Gabe while the other stood between them, facing
the mirrored window.
"Lieutenant Jackman," the seated man began.
"My name
is Special Agent Lee and this is Special Agent Menendez of
"The Syndicate of Advanced Battalions for Resistance
and Enforcement," Menendez explained.
"I've never heard of it," Gabe said.
"Not surprising," Lee said.
"S.A.B.R.E. is a special
American-based military organization that works closely
with intelligence agencies worldwide.
with us but didn't know it.
You've had run-ins
We are here to discuss the
events of a few weeks ago."
"I'm confused," Gabe said.
"I was told there was not
going to be any further investigation into the incident."
"We've been," Menendez paused, "gathering
"Quite right," Lee continued. "My esteemed colleague
and I have been looking into it for a while now and, well,
here we are."
Gabe sat up in his chair, feeling a slight tinge of
dread. "What events are we talking about exactly?"
"All of them," Lee answered.
"You see, in all
honesty, we've been watching you for a long time."
snapped his fingers.
Menendez popped open the briefcase and produced a
laptop adorned with an emblem depicting a sword on a large
ring with wings coming off of it, S.A.B.R.E. etched across
the ring.
Both men produced small flashcards and plugged
them into the computer simultaneously.
After a few key
strokes, Lee spoke.
"Let's see.
First Lieutenant Gabriel Leonidas
Jackman," he said before pausing and looking up at Gabe.
"Family name?"
"My dad was a colonel in the army who taught military
tactics and history at the University of South Florida
after he retired from the military.
involved the Battle of Thermopylae."
His favorite lesson
We were already privy to most of that
information but not where the name came from."
back through the information before him.
Lee went
"Born July 7,
1982, to Mary and Colonel Richard Jackman at Rheine-Main
Airbase in Frankfurt, Germany.
"Moved around a lot.
father retired in 1992.
Came to stop in Tampa after your
You were heavily involved in
organized sports—baseball, basketball, football,
wrestling--as well as martial arts.
"In high school, you were an Ail-American strong
safety and wrestler, heavily recruited by all the D-I heavy
hitters in both sports: Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma,
You turned them down and went to West Point
where you excelled in all your classes and training before
graduating in 2004 with a 4.0 and a national wrestling
"This is all very impressive.
But, I have to know:
why did you turn down a full ride to all these football
"It wasn't what I wanted to do," Gabe replied.
"You or your dad?" Lee prodded.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Gabe asked,
unnerbed at the insinuations being made by someone he
didn't even know.
"Just curious," Lee said passively.
reading from the file.
He continued
"After graduation, you were trained
for Delta in Colorado before being deployed in Afghanistan
and Iraq.
of duty.
Accommodations for bravery and valor in the line
Shut down a few A1 Qaeda cells.
Then, the
Superman act with the insurgents."
Lee paused and closed the laptop, taking a deep
No wonder we've had an eye on you.
surprised there's nothing about you walking on water."
"That must be in my other file," Gabe quipped.
"Cute," Lee said without emotion.
happened with Major O'Neal.
"We know what
We know why it happened.
know that you know you and your little buddy should have
been chest-deep in investigations and red tape that you
probably would have been sent packing from this man's
"The United States government frowns upon assaulting
commanding officers," Menendez said, his voice deep and
Gabe put his hands on the edge of the table and pushed
I told the investigators, the MPs, and the
colonel on base that he attacked us.
his eye?
Do I regret he lost
But I acted in self defense."
"Again," Lee said, "we know.
We just want you to
understand what normally happens when these incidents occur
and why none of it did."
"And why is that?" Gabe asked.
"Because S.A.B.R.E. is interested in you," Lee
"We know exactly what happened.
We know O'Neal
was a sycophant who had all the right connections.
We made
sure all of the legalese got fast-tracked so you can go and
focus on serving your country to the best of your ability."
"I'm assuming this wasn't done out of the kindness of
S.A.B.R.E.'s heart?"
"We like to call it establishing a good rapport," Lee
"Okay," Gabe said, "I just want to make sure we're on
the same page.
You take me from my barracks right before
lights and stuff me into a van.
After a three hour trip,
you take me underground and stuff me in a room for several
more hours.
Then, you come in here and pry into my life,
asking if my dad forced me to go into the military.
when I am asked why I am going through all of this, all I
get is 'it's on a need-to-know basis, and you don't need to
Gabe stood up from the table.
"If that is your
idea of 'establishing a good rapport,' then you guys suck."
Menendez darted from his spot between Gabe and Lee and
clamped his hands down on Gabe.
Bright hot pain shot from
the death grip on his shoulders and Gabe buckled.
"Sit down, Lieutenant."
"I'd listen to Agent Menendez," Lee said.
Gabe forced himself to his feet, gripping the back of
the chair as he fought off the paralyzing sensation causing
his right side to go numb.
"Fuck you," he growled.
"Enough!" roared a new voice into the fray.
Menendez released his grasp of Gabe, leaving him to
slump to the floor.
The numbness subsided, but he still felt the intense
pressure of Menendez's vice grip.
As soon as he could move
his neck, he looked up to survey the scene.
Menendez and
Lee were standing at attention for a bald, black man in a
long, black coat and shiny loafers.
The man walked over to Gabe and extended his hand.
"I'm sorry about that," he said, calm and friendly.
help is so hard to find."
"With all due respect, sir," Lee stammered, conversely
indignant and scared out of his wits.
"Lieutenant Jackman
was being hostile."
"I would be too if I was being badgered by you and
Lurch over there."
He helped Gabe to his feet and dusted off his
"Are you okay, son?
Soft drink?
Can I get you anything?
Ice for your shoulder?"
"How about finally telling me who you are and what you
want with me?" Gabe grimaced.
"I can do that."
The man in the coat snapped his fingers and pointed
towards the door.
The door opened slid open for Lee and
Menendez and walked out.
"My name is General Ulysses Stone, director of
Beavis and Butthead work for me.
Perhaps that
should be in the past tense."
"Are you looking for me to replace them?" Gabe said,
rubbing his neck.
General Stone walked over to the computer and brought
up a new file.
"Have you ever heard of the Sickle of Azrael?"
"Yeah," Gabe said.
"A little."
"They are a highly trained, highly classified
terrorist organization that runs black-ops all over the
They have targeted several U.S. and coalition bases
and targets in the Middle East.
Based on the information
we have gathered in conjunction with the FBI, CIA, and
Interpol, the SA are the driving force behind almost all of
the unrest in the region dating back hundreds of years.
"We've tried to fight them on the up and up, but we
haven't been able to put a dent in their operations."
"What does that have to do with me?"
Gabe asked.
"I'm starting up something--the Remiel Initiative--and
I need someone to lead it.
in the face of adversity.
"I don't know.
Someone who will be unflinching
Someone like you."
I mean, what can you tell me about
this Initiative?"
"Only that you will be serving your country in the
most significant way since World War II by spearheading a
group that will bring about the end of the War on Terror."
"Anything else?"
"Anything else is classified," Stone said.
Gabe sat down in the chair and lightly bit the inside
of his lip.
He thought about what was being asked of him
and the deal he made a few days prior with the army after
finding out he was going to be awarded the Medal of Honor:
he would spend the next six months on a press junket,
talking to the media all over the United States before
writing a book and doing a book tour.
He would spend the
next two-and-a-half years going around the nation, talking
to students and encouraging recruitment while coaching
wrestling at West Point.
"What you've offered sounds really tempting," he said,
mulling over the choices placed before him.
of this life.
"But I'm tired
I'm tired of going from desert outpost to
desert outpost, getting shot at and blown up.
given an opportunity to do things stateside.
I've been
I can't pass
something like that."
"I understand," Stone said.
would be hard to walk away from.
"Something like that
You can go home a hero,
start up a family, and serve your country at the same time.
But you are a soldier--a damn good soldier.
You would be
doing something loftier, something greater, than you could
ever come close to doing in America."
"You're asking me to return to the rank and file?"
Gabe asked.
"I'm asking you to become a legend, "Stone replied.
"Years from now, when all this is said and done, your name
will be synonymous with Washington, Grant, and Patton."
Gabe thought for a second.
"I appreciate what you are
offering, but I'm ready to go home.
I'm ready to do
something else with my life."
Stone looked hard into Gabe's eyes.
Gabe realized the
General wasn't the type of person who is told "no" very
After a few moments of tension, the General relaxed
his gaze.
"You've lived and breathed the military all your life
and you want a break.
I can understand that; I can respect
Here's what I want you to do: I want you to go home
and do the things you agreed to do for the United States
Get your medal, coach wrestling, go on The Late
But I want you to think about my offer, really think
about what I'm asking you to do.
in a couple of months.
Then, I'll come see you
We can talk about it."
"Okay," Gabe said, thinking there was no way in hell
he would want to get back in.
"That sounds good."
October 16, 2006
"Gabriel," a loud nasally voice shrilled from the
kitchen, "can you run to the store and pick up some milk?"
"I thought I picked up some already," Gabe said,
"Well, there isn't any."
A head with perfectly coifed hair peeked around the
corner from the kitchen.
"Apparently, someone's been using
it all for his protein shakes."
"Sorry, mom," Gabe said.
7:30 AM.
He looked at his watch.
"I'll go to the Dollar Store and grab some."
"Thank you, Pookie," she replied.
"Love you."
"Love you, too," Gabe answered as he grabbed his keys
from a wicker basket in the living room and stepped
The air was warm and sticky as Gabe surveyed
Falconer Street.
The sprinkler system throughout the
Eagle's Nest Subdivision finished its last sprits, leaving
the grass with liquid beads reflecting the morning sun.
woman in Nike running shorts and USF tank top jogged along
the sidewalk, bobbing her head to the beat of whatever song
that currently played on her iPod.
Gabe and smiled.
She glanced over to
"Hey, Gabriel."
"Hey, Kitty."
Since returning home to Clearwater in August, Gabe had
been on a whirlwind.
Beginning with the national media, he
appeared on The Tonight Show, The Daily Show, Today, Live
with Regis and Kelly, Dateline, and elimiDATE.
was all over the St. Petersburg Gazette.
Locally, he
He threw out the
first pitch at a Devil Rays game and was an honorary
captain for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season opener against
the Baltimore Ravens.
There had even been talks of him
dropping the puck at the first game for the Lightning, but
there was a conflict in scheduling due to Gabe's talk with
the Boy Scouts of America.
On top of the media coverage, Gabe coached wrestling
at a local high school and helped with the ROTC program at
He continued his training in jiu-jitsu and kickboxing
at Gracie Tampa, where he excelled.
In his first amateur
mixed martial arts fight, he knocked out his opponent with
a flying knee.
The second fight ended with a flying knee
Living at home with his parents and with no bills to
pay, life was good for the soon-to-be Medal of Honor
Gabe hopped into his car, a 2001 Toyota Corolla, and
ran down to the local Dollar General a few minutes away.
The first time Will came home with him, he was astonished
at how many of the discount stores there were all around
the city, referring to Dollar General as "the Starbucks of
the South."
After getting the milk and talking to the cashier, a
girl he'd gone to high school with, he returned to his
vehicle to find someone leaning on the side of it, eating
"You've got to be kidding me."
That someone was a tall, well-built black man with a
bald head and a grey "Army" t-shirt.
General Ulysses
"Shouldn't you be wearing one of your super-secret
group's shirts?"
Gabe quipped.
"Then it wouldn't be so super-secret, now would it?"
Stone replied with a wry smile.
"Actually, before I got up
with S.A.B.R.E., I was a general in the army.
Served in
Vietnam and Desert Storm."
Gabe looked at him confused.
his mid-to-late forties.
Stone looked to be in
If he was that old, there was no
way he could have fought in Vietman.
"How old are you?"
General Stone laughed.
"Kid, you don't want to know."
They stood in silence.
Gabe wanted to go home, put up
the milk, and get away from his mysterious stalker.
wanted... well, Gabe didn't know what Stone wanted, but he
had a good guess.
"You want to go for a ride?" Stone asked.
"You driving?"
"Funny, kid."
General Stone tossed his empty yogurt cup into an
empty buggy and walked around to the passenger side.
pushed the unlock button on the keyless remote.
opened the door and got in.
Gabe shook his head. "Looks like I'm driving."
climbed in and started up the Corolla.
After a few minutes of listening to the hum of the
engine and smack of bugs into the windshield, Stone spoke.
"Saw your interview with Matt Lauer.
Good stuff."
"I thought you guys were too busy saving the world to
watch TV," Gabe replied.
"Like I told you before, we keep an eye on persons of
Gabe stopped at a red light.
traffic was sparse.
It was 8:00 a.m. and
There was no one in the other lanes;
there was no reason for a red light.
unwanted passenger.
He turned to his
Stone smugly held up what looked like
a garage door opener.
"Normally, people don't want to catch red lights."
"Normally, people don't leave amazing opportunities at
the door for fifteen minutes of fame."
"I told you," Gabe said, glaring at Stone, "I'm done
being a soldier.
I've lived and breathed the military life
since I was a kid.
I'll do what the army wants me to do
here at home, but that's it.
I'm done."
General Stone pushed his garage opener/traffic light
button and the light turned green.
into the parking lot up here.
"Take a right and pull
I've got something to show
Following his instructions, Gabe pulled into an empty
office complex.
General Stone produced a silver coaster-
looking device and placed it on the dash.
"Bring up file SA-7876."
Little red diodes sprang to life, shooting tiny red
streaks of light to the ceiling.
The center of the device
began to glow blue as two orbs of light rose from the
platform, spinning faster and faster until it created a
hurricane of luminosity engulfed the vehicle.
the light collapsed into a tiny little point.
Gabe raised his eyebrow and looked at Stone.
show up out of the blue at eight o'clock on a Saturday
morning to show me your laser-light show?"
"If you liked that," Stone smirked, "you should see
the Berry Construct."
The tiny red lasers surrounding the white-blue dot in
space descended upon it.
At the point of contact, a
supernova of light exploded, followed by a woman's voice.
"File SA-787 6: 'Kabul.'"
The supernova became a three-dimensional scene of
death and destruction that news stations show for a few
seconds before cutting to a talking head to describe the
horrors of war; however, for Gabe, this was a Tuesday
afternoon overseas.
Blood and lifeless, dismembered bodies
lay strewn about along with rubble, fire, and dust.
Screams rattled the windows as a partially shrouded woman
with half her skull exposed cried over the body of a small
boy in Arabic.
"Enlarge on X-33."
The scene pixilated before redefining itself with two
men wearing black masks waving the severed head of a marine
high in the air, screaming things in Arabic.
"Rewind 10 seconds and switch on translator."
The 3D images pixilated as it went in reverse, playing
again once it reached the mark Stone called.
When it
recommenced playing, the two men in ski masks spoke in
"Death to the American pigs!
The Sickle of Azrael
will strike you from this world!"
The scene returned to its tiny point of origin before
the holographic projector went on standby.
General Stone
cleared his throat and continued.
"This was a part of a simultaneous assault all around
Kabul to throw the city into chaos, and thirty-three
marines lost their lives because of it, not to mention
hundreds of civilians.
Next, we have the religious heads
of the city, as well as the Middle East, blame the entire
fiasco on the Western World, especially America."
"That sounds about right," Gabe commented.
"We managed to regain control of the city," Stone
"But we couldn't get anyone from SA.
because of that, attacks like this will happen again and
And, every time that happens--every goddamn time--
this great nation is going to be blamed for it.
"I don't have to tell you we're fighting an unpopular
I don't have to tell you that, because of 9/11 and
the call to action by the people of this great nation, we
are in the middle of a difficult situation, to say the
The Iraqis are nowhere near ready to run the show.
They will be, but we will never be able to complete the
transfer of power if we can't have some modicum of peace
and stability in that region.
I'm telling you right now,
if we shut down the Sickle of Azrael, and I mean burn it
down and salt the earth so that they can never regroup, the
transfer will occur.
We will finally defuse the powder keg
in that region of the world."
"So you do have a plan," Gabe chided.
"I am going to ask you one more time.
more innocent blood to be spilt?
Do you want
Do you want more of our
boys to be brought home in coffins or horribly scarred and
unable to function in society?
Do you want all of this
pointless death and destruction to end?"
Gabe sat in silence, staring down at the steering
He mulled over what General Stone told him and
weighed his options.
Stone put a firm hand on his shoulder.
"I told you in
August I need someone strong and tough like you to be a
part of the Remiel Initiative.
I need you.
But I'm not
the only one."
Stone ordered the holographic projector to bring up
another file.
"He needs you...or, needed you."
Lance Corporal Andre Reid, age 23, filled the screen.
"You remember the head those assholes were waving
That's him.
He left behind a wife and four-year-
old child."
"Why are you telling me all this?" Gabe asked.
"Because you can help end all of this.
You can keep
men like Reid from having to leave his wife a widow and his
son fatherless."
"Why me?
Why do you keep asking me?" Gabe demanded.
"Isn't there someone else you can bring in?"
"No one like you," Stone replied.
"You have to
understand, we've had our eyes on you for years.
We know
the type of soldier you are and, more importantly, we know
the type of man you are.
Initiative needs.
You are exactly what the
You are the missing piece.
Can't you
see that?"
Gabe looked out the window.
Across from the parking
lot was an open field with lush green grass still sparkling
from the morning dew.
A silver car pulled up beside the field.
The doors opened
and a small boy and a man hopped out, the boy holding a
soccer ball.
The boy ran onto the field and threw the
soccer ball in front of him.
The man sauntered over to
where the boy was, stretching his arms into the air and
arching his back.
the man.
The boy jumped up and down and called to
The man jogged to the soccer ball and kicked it
ahead of the boy, who leapt into action and sent it back.
The man stopped the ball and gave the boy a high-five.
"About a year ago we were on patrol in Fallujah," Gabe
"There were two squads, mine and one other.
knew each other and were good friends with them.
We all
You kind
of have to be when you're in a life or death situation
We were on a charity run, taking soccer balls to
some kids at a field on the outskirts of the city.
"When we got there, there were hundreds of kids
waiting for the balls.
You'd a thought it was Christmas or
something, the way they were looking at us.
They swarmed
us, hands stretched out, joy and excitement in their little
"I saw something like that on SportsCenter," Stone
"What's the program called?
Oh yeah.
for All."
"It took about ten minutes to get all the balls out.
Only half the kids got something, but all of them broke out
into little games all around us.
We had some time left, so
we decided to join in.
"We were having a good time hanging out with the kids.
There was a photographer with us chronicling the whole
I guess the higher-ups thought it would be good
P.R. or some shit like that.
Something to put on the news
to show the good we were doing over there."
"Like I told you," Stone interjected.
an unpopular war.
"We're fighting
Any little bit of positive news helps."
"I remember this kid sitting off by himself, crying
like he'd lost his best friend.
A crying kid doesn't
really inspire the warm and fuzzy feelings the photographer
was looking for, so he went over to try and--as he said--
'turn that frown upside-down.'
starts talking to him.
He goes over there and
Obviously, nothing works.
A couple
of guys from the other squad knew a little bit of Arabic,
so they tried to help out.
"Turns out the boy wasn't sad.
was clutching his stomach.
some form of explosive.
He was in pain.
Apparently someone made him eat
I didn't think that was even
possible, but the next thing I know my ears are ringing and
I'm covered in blood and gore.
I don't know how much was
in that boy or what it was, but two-thirds of the kids were
dead or close to it.
The squad with us was dead.
my crew was dinged up and deaf.
Most of
O'Neal wasn't, though.
didn't want to get his hands dirty dealing with the kids,
so he was too busy bitching to someone about why he had
been sent there."
"I met that kid's father," Stone said while shaking
his head.
"He was a spineless piece of shit, too.
I guess
it must run in the family."
"Really?" Gabe asked, nodding his head.
His mind
still filled with images of death and destruction.
continued his story.
"Williams was the most banged up.
The blast was so powerful it threw him headfirst into a
truck thirty feet from where he was standing.
surprised he survived it, but he walked away with a sore
neck and concussion."
"Sad story," Stone said, unmoved.
"What does that
have to do with anything?"
"Being a soldier in a hotspot like that," Gabe said,
"you see things.
Horrible things.
understand, can't fathom.
Most people don't
You know what I'm saying?"
"I do."
"I saw a child explode.
of their skulls.
I saw children missing parts
There was blood all over the field.
the worst thing that happened was a little boy, missing an
arm and leg and half his face, dragging himself over to me,
begging for help.
I was still shaking the cobwebs out of
my head, so I wasn't all there, but I will never forget the
look on that boy's face.
It was like he was asking, 'why
did this happen?' and, for the first time ever, I couldn't
think of an answer.
I couldn't think of anything that
could justify such random violence.
we were there.
I couldn't justify why
I couldn't do anything."
"If you're in the shit long enough," Stone said,
"you'll come across something like this."
"Every day--every single day," Gabe continued.
"I see
that boy's mangled face.
about the war.
And, every day, I stopped caring
I lost the will to be a soldier.
So, I
told myself that if I ever got the chance to get out, I'd
take it.
And that's what I did.
"Now, you come here and ask me for a second time to go
back into it?
I can't do it.
They sat in silence.
I just can't do it."
Gabe was numb.
He felt empty,
but free, as if the weight of the world had been lifted
from his shoulders.
This was the first time he'd told
anyone about the bombing.
He exhaled, finally feeling at
General Stone grabbed the holographic projector
slipped it into his pocket.
Looking at Gabe, he smiled.
"Son, I understand exactly what you're going through.
You know what that tells me?
You're human.
You care.
it were under any other circumstance, I would say okay and
wish you luck with the rest of your life.
desperate times.
But these are
I need you for this program, and I can't
accept no for an answer."
"Which leaves us at a crossroads," Gabe said.
"So it does," Stone replied.
going to do."
"But here's what I am
He pulled a card out of his pocket.
going through a lot of shit right now, and I know you think
you're a tough son of a bitch, but there's a lot of stuff
going on up there that's swirling around."
Gabe examined the card Stone placed in his hand.
Dr. Tatiana Grey, Ph.D.
- War/Combat
"A psychiatrist?" Gabe asked.
"A damn good one," Stone replied.
what you're going through.
"She specializes in
She'll help you."
"She's not going to try and convince me to join your
S.A.B.R.E., is she?"
"I'm going to leave that to you," Stone said, opening
the door of the car.
"Get your head together.
In a few
months, I'll get in touch with you, see how you're doing.
If you want to join by then?
He climbed out of the car.
If not?
No worries."
Gabe fumbled the card
around in his hand, thinking about the nightmares that
haunted him every night and the horrific images that
flashed in his mind's eye at random times.
"Get your mind right," Stone said before shutting the
Gabe looked up from the card.
Stone was nowhere to be found.
iYj i^TJ
December 9, 2 006
"How does that make you feel?" Dr. Grey asked, her
faint Spanish accent discernable in her inflection.
"I don't know.
Angry, I guess.
It drives me insane
that there's no one to talk to about the things I've gone
through, you know.
Not the traumatic things, but the
normal, run of the mill stuff that all soldiers deal with.
The early mornings, the patrols, the standing guard and
ten-hour lookout shifts.
No one knows."
"Why do you feel angry?"
"Because I always have to put the things I say in
I can't just say Muring this one patrol this
happened' because they have to know what we were patrolling
for and why we went to these places and did we kill anyone.
They really like to ask about that."
Dr. Grey crossed her legs and resituated the legal pad
in her lap.
She wrote a few things down and turned to
"Do you talk to anyone who served with you over there?
Do you talk to Will?"
"Once or twice.
I've tried to keep myself busy doing
tons of different things to keep my mind occupied.
more stuff I do, the less I think about what went on over
"When you talk to your friend, does it bring back all
the memories you're trying to suppress?"
Gabe paused, working out what he was going to say.
"No, it's not that.
I just go, go, go so by the time I
stop, I basically collapse."
Dr. Grey's eyebrows lifted.
I like talking to Will.
He's my best
I feel better after I talk to him.
But he's not
I guess I'm just busy trying to live my life."
"Are you saying there's no room for your friend in the
life you have created for yourself?"
"No, not at all.
would be different.
If he was around all the time, it
It would be like it used to be when we
were joined at the hip.
But things are different now."
"Different in your lives, or different between you
Long-distance relationships are very hard to
Gabe laughed.
"You make it sound like he's my
boyfriend or something."
Dr. Grey smiled.
sexual or otherwise.
"Relationships are the same, whether
They need to be worked on in order to
If they're neglected, then they die."
Gabe looked down at the floor.
"I guess."
She looked at the clock on the wall.
"It seems that
time is once again upon us."
Gabe stood up.
"You should be proud of yourself," Dr. Grey said.
"You've made a lot of progress since we started back in
Gabe smiled.
Dr. Grey walked to the door.
"Are you excited about
going to Washington tomorrow to receive your medal?"
"Yeah," he replied, "you could say that."
"Will you see your friends?"
"Will and Davis will be there.
VA hospital in Virginia.
Williams is still in a
I might go see him before I head
"Well, have a safe trip.
Gabe held out his hand.
I'll see you next week."
Dr. Grey pushed it away and
gave him a hug.
"Do I have to pay extra for that?" he asked.
"No," she replied, "you just looked like you needed a
Besides, someone else is footing the bill."
Dr. Grey opened the door of her office and Gabe walked
to his car.
After his last meeting with General Stone, he
decided to try the good doctor.
He expected her to be some
old shrew that spent her time reading stacks of journal
articles while writing criticisms about the psyche of a
soldier at war, explaining what was really going on in his
or her mind while not having the slightest experience
herself of what went on in battle.
Instead, she was a gorgeous, witty woman who was only
five or six years older than Gabe.
She'd spent four years
in the Middle East studying and treating soldiers suffering
from traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress
She was one of the psychologists who helped his
friend Williams after his head trauma following the soccerfield massacre.
Gabe began seeing her shortly unbeknownst to his
family and friends.
He felt awkward going to a
psychologist, but he realized it was something he had to
Lately, the nightmares and flashbacks had grown more
intense, which caused him stress and restless nights.
Seeing Dr. Grey helped him come to terms with the war as
well as find peace.
The memories would always be there,
but they didn't have to control him.
Gabe walked out into the golden, mid-afternoon
It was a perfect day: 75 degrees, low humidity,
with a slight breeze.
He never wanted to leave Florida.
The weather was good, everyone was tanned, the sports teams
were decent, and there was always great food to be had.
Aside from the hurricanes, this place was his Nirvana.
"Lt. Jackman..."
Gabe turned around.
Behind him stood a diminutive man with pale skin and
teashade sunglasses with mirrored lenses. He wore a grey
suit with a black tie, making him stand out against the
kaleidoscope of color that is South Florida.
"Can I help you?" Gabe asked.
"My name is Dr. Gottart von Ravensbrook, head of the
Remiel Initiative."
"I thought General Stone was head of that program."
The lithe monochrome man smirked.
However, I am the one running it.
"It was his idea.
Be that as it may,
General Stone has been removed from his post."
"What happened?" Gabe asked.
"That information is classified."
"Good to know," Gabe replied, continuing the path to
his car.
Dr. Ravensbrook cleared his throat.
"Lt. Jackman, I
know you and General Stone had a previous relationship."
"I wouldn't call it a relationship," Gabe responded.
"Regardless," Dr. Ravensbrook continued, "he was
actively recruiting you for the Initiative before his
"And you want me to join your little group," Gabe
replied, annoyed.
"I can assure you, the Remiel Initiative is no 'little
group,' Lt. Jackman," Dr. Ravensbrook spoke crisply.
are a group of dedicated soldiers on the cutting edge of
technology and human performance capable of bringing an end
to any conflict that arises."
"That sounds great, but my answer is still no," Gabe
"Lt. Jackman, please.
Be reasonable.
Initiative needs someone like you.
The Remiel
Someone ... special."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Gabe replied.
"I'm just a guy who got really lucky that I wasn't blown to
bits halfway across the world.
Special's got nothing to do
with that."
"Lt. Jackman, I'm a scientist.
my intelligence.
Do not underestimate
There is no such thing as luck or divine
intervention or any other sort of supernatural mumbo jumbo.
You survived those things because you have a unique set of
skills and abilities that would make you a vital part of
the Remiel Initiative.
Your talents set you apart from the
rest of the people in the world."
I'm some sort of superman.
The next thing
you're going to tell me is that I can shoot lasers out of
my ass and talk to fish."
"Nothing of the sort.
However, consider Michael
Jordan," Ravensbrook continued. "He was far superior to
those he played against, but he's as human as the man
sitting in the stands watching.
With your inherent
abilities combined with what the Initiative can offer, you
will be part of the evolution of war: the perfect warrior."
Gabe rolled his eyes.
He was sick of being recruited
and sick of being used by nameless, faceless men who had
their own agendas.
He had finally come to grips with
himself and his past life, and he refused to be a part of
it again.
"I'm done being a soldier.
consider his offer.
I told Stone I would
I have no such arrangement with you.
Now, leave me alone."
Gabe walked away, relieved he had finally freed
himself from his life as a soldier.
After receiving the
Congressional Medal of Honor, he could finally close that
chapter of his life and put it on a shelf.
"I'm sorry," said Dr. Ravensbrook icily.
"But you
leave me no choice."
Gabe ignored the doctor.
Gabe's body stiffened like he had been hit by a taser.
He tried to move, but he could not.
It was as if he were
He fell backwards, but he did not hit the concrete
ground beneath him.
back at him.
He looked up to find Dr. Grey gazing
She stroked his cheek.
"Don't worry, Gabriel," she said.
"You won't remember
this ever happened."
"Quite right," Dr. Ravensbrook concurred.
that you will be the perfect warrior.
Stone lied to you.
However, General
You never had a choice."
"I told you
"So the hot doctor did the whole mental conditioning
thing?" Will asks.
"That sucks."
"Tell me something I don't know," Gabe replies.
Gabe and Will step out of a cab in front of an
apartment complex in Queens.
After discussing how
expansive such a cover-up could be, they decide to seek out
a poker buddy of Will's, a computer hacker named Yorick.
"If anyone can help us figure this out," Will says
before they leave his apartment, "it's that guy."
Will hits the buzzer on the front step.
"Yeah?" a gruff voice answers back.
"It's me," Will replies.
"Come on up."
The front door opens and they walk in.
"There is still one thing I don't get," Will says.
"What's that?" Gabe asks as they pile into an
"I'm confused about what you remember."
Gabe and Will watch the numbers above the elevator
doors ascend to their destination.
Gabe sighs.
"I don't remember the last three years of my life.
Before that, there are certain points where things get
Like, last week, I didn't remember anything about
O'Neal losing his eye or being brought down by a Triple
Word Score."
"What's the first thing you remember after the blackout?"
Gabe stares down at the floor and bites the inside of
his lower lip. His mind wanders back to that first memory.
or something.
I was cold.
I was in the middle of a blizzard
I was naked, covered in blood and cuts and
there were tubes and needles stuck in me.
of my neck.
It was six inches deep.
I ripped one out
I felt a white-hot
flash of pain, and then I passed out.
"The next thing I remember, I was in a homeless
There was a small television in the corner
showing a Denver Broncos game, but I didn't recognize half
the players.
I mean, who in the hell is Knowshon Moreno?
I looked at a calendar and it said 2009.
but I was in Colorado.
Not only that,
"How does someone go from Tampa in 2006 to Colorado in
2009 with no memories of anything in between?"
"Time travel?" Will replies.
The elevator bell rings, announcing Gabe and Will's
arrival on the twenty-fifth floor.
They step out and begin
their trek to room 2533.
"You never answered my question," Gabe says.
were you considered unfit for duty?"
"Actually, it was 'unsuitable for active military
duty,'" Will corrects.
"You'd think with the new abilities
you have that your hearing would improve."
"Just answer the question," Gabe says.
"After we're done here.
It's a long story.
I'm more
concerned about you, personally."
"What do you mean?" Gabe asks.
"You just found out your parents died in a horrific
plane crash.
You haven't cried or mentioned it," Will
Gabe exhaled heavily.
"I will deal with it when
there's time to properly do so.
figure this out."
"Good to know."
Right now, I need to
They reach Yorick's door.
Will knocks.
No answer.
"It's Will.
Open up."
Still no answer.
Gabe looks at Will with a raised eyebrow.
Will digs
into his pants pocket and produces a ring of keys.
for us, I've got a key."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Gabe asks.
barging in unannounced?"
"He invited us up, didn't he?"
Will forces the key into the hole and turns it.
opens the door.
A strong odor rushes out of the apartment like
thoroughbreds out of a starting gate.
He takes a step backward.
It hits Gabe hard.
Will looks at Gabe.
"Are you coming in or not?"
"You don't smell that?" Gabe asks.
"Smell what?"
"Copper and gunpowder," Gabe replied.
"Like a
"Along with the half-eaten Thai food from three months
ago?" Will retorts, "He's a crazy computer hacker.
the time he smells like piss and vegetable oil."
Gabe shakes his head to clear it, but the smell
remains lodged in his sinus cavities, wreaking havoc on his
olfactory senses.
They walk into the apartment.
The room looks like the city dump.
Empty energy drink
and ravioli cans, pizza and Chinese takeout boxes, beer
bottles, Taco Bell and miscellaneous candy wrappers are
piled high on the floor.
Various reading materials and DVD
boxes are strewn about, as well, ranging from the New York
Times and The Pianist to Hustler and Hardcore Honeyz 16.
Everything is covered in a thin layer of dust.
"How can someone live like this?" Gabe asks.
"That's why we never have poker night here," Will
"How'd you meet this guy?" Gabe steps over a mound of
cereal boxes and Cheeto bags.
After you left," Will answers, trudging
through the trash blizzard.
library on base.
"Met him while I was in the
He was using its Internet to surf for
"What a shock," Gabe deadpans.
"He's a nice guy," Will replies, defending his friend.
"He's just a little ... off-center."
"Where is he?"
"Rick?" Will calls out.
"Where are you, you crazy son
of a bitch?"
No answer.
Gabe looks at Will.
"Maybe he's in the bathroom," Will says.
"You go do that," Gabe replies.
Gabe told Will back
at his apartment that he did not want to come, but Will
kept insisting, saying it will help answer all of the
questions he had about the last three years.
According to
Will, Yorick Vaughn was recruited by the CIA for his
computer skills after he successfully hacked into their
Instead of locking him away in a secret government
facility or killing him, they gave him a job.
From there,
Yorick used his exceptional abilities to get highly
sensitive information from countries like North Korea,
Iran, and Afghanistan.
However, his issues with authority
and addiction to pornography caused him to become a
The CIA sent him back to the states as a
computer analyst for the Department of Homeland Security.
When Will first came out to New York, he stayed with Yorick
for a month before getting his apartment in Brooklyn.
Will believes Yorick can hack into the S.A.B.R.E.'s
mainframe and find something about Gabe and the last three
years of his life.
he has no leads.
While Gabe doesn't trust Will's friend,
He has no choice.
"Gabe!" Will cries.
Gabe runs.
In Yorick's bathroom, Will stands, skin
pale and mouth agape, over the tub where a body lies
covered in blood with its chest cavity torn open.
"What the hell?" Gabe says.
"It's Yorick," Will replies hysterically.
"He's been
gutted like a..."
"Fish?" A deep, growling Russian voice completes
Will's statement.
They both turn to see a man standing by an open
Wearing fatigues akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger in
Predator, he has a body builder's physique: boulder-like
shoulders, broad chest, thick, powerful thighs, and strong,
mountain-like arms.
He has jet black hair closely cropped
to his head and a long, jagged scar running down the right
side of his face.
His goateed chin looks to be chiseled
out of granite, and his iron-grey eyes are as cold and
vicious as a wolf's.
He pulls a long, sharp machete from behind him.
light from the window gives its edge a silver glint.
lifts his powerful arm, leveling the blade's tip on Gabe.
His head turns to Will.
"Run along, little Poole.
to attend to."
Jackman and I have business
"Who are you?" Gabe asks the man with the long, sharp
machete pointing at him.
He pushes Will behind him.
The man fixes his gaze on Gabe and smiles like a
j ackal.
"You don't remember me?" he taunts.
can't say that I'm surprised.
"I'm hurt.
But I
You must have a hard time
remembering a lot these days."
Will taps Gabe's shoulder.
"You know this guy?"
"Now's not the time for stating the obvious, Will,"
Gabe retorts.
before him.
His full attention is focused on the man
"What business do we have that's so
"You are going to come with me," the man answers.
"How you come depends on you.
We can make this easy, or we
can make it hard."
The man hurls the machete at Will like a hundred-mileper-hour fastball.
Will stands frozen in place, unable to
react, awaiting the terminal impact that never comes.
Gabe catches the blade by the handle a few inches from
Will's face.
He lunges towards the attacker and slashes at
The man leaps back and pulls out another machete.
"Hard it is!" he roars triumphantly.
"I'm going to
enjoy this."
Both spring into the air, their blades colliding with
a resounding PANG.
The impact sends the two combatants
After landing, the mysterious juggernaut
charges Gabe.
Gabe raises his machete to block the
oncoming onslaught, the force of which throws him through a
wall into the bedroom.
"You still didn't say who you are," Gabe yells while
pulling glass out of his back from a bong he landed on.
"You wouldn't remember if I told you," the man snarls.
"Try me."
"I am Remiel operative 15234, codename: Memitus."
Gabe drops to his knees.
His mind explodes, giving
him the worse headache he has ever had.
Bright colors
flood his consciousness, overflowing his senses.
"Told you," Memitus chuckles as he blasts Gabe's chin
with a powerful kick, hurling Gabe's body through several
walls before landing on a sofa where a young couple are
snuggled up, watching a movie.
"What the hell, man?" the boy cries.
"Do you know how
much that--"
A geyser of blood erupts, sending the boy's head
twirling skyward before it lands and rolls to Gabe's feet.
The body falls to the floor.
Memitus wipes the blood off
his machete as the girl screams and runs out of the
"The boss knew it would get messy," he says.
"But I
get results."
"Over my comatose body!" Will jumps on Memitus's back
and wraps his arm around his neck.
He locks in the choke
and squeezes as hard as he can.
"What are you doing?" Memitus asks, unfazed by Will's
attempt to strangle him.
He reaches back, grabs Will by
the neck, and slams him on the floor.
Will's throat.
He puts his foot on
"This is between me and your friend.
out of this or I will break you."
Gabe launches another attack.
re-engages Gabe.
Memitus leaves Will and
He hacks at him relentlessly as downward
slash after downward slash hammer Gabe's defenses, pushing
him back as the blows reverberate through his body.
As Memitus lifts his machete for another assault, Gabe
shoots for his attacker's legs and takes him down.
Memitus's legs wrapped around him, Gabe rises up and
readies a final blow with his machete.
Memitus releases
his legs, places his feet on Gabe's chest, and kicks him
through two more walls, landing in a room filled with glass
dragons and porcelain unicorns.
Memitus walks towards Gabe as he staggers to reach his
"I forgot how quick you are," Memitus says.
"I was so
focused on taking you out that I didn't protect myself from
a simple takedown.
I can assure you that will never happen
Gabe throws a wild, looping haymaker.
Memitus blocks
it and throws a straight right that smashes into Gabe's
He feels the bones in his face crack from the force
of the blow.
He falls to the floor.
He climbs to his
As Memitus approaches, Gabe lunges and throws a
fast uppercut.
Memitus slips the uppercut and knees Gabe
in the abdomen before slamming an elbow into the base of
his neck.
Gabe collapses to the ground again.
The taste of
copper and mucous fills his mouth as he lies semi-conscious
on the hardwood floor.
Mouth agape, blood pools next to
He watches the thick, crimson liquid crawl over the
He exhales and sees the blood ripple like a lake
on a breezy day.
His mind drifts to a lake in Virginia where he and
Will had gone fishing during summer break while they were
at West Point.
The vibrant green blades of grass dance as
a cool breeze sweeps by. They bask in the warmth of the sun
that keeps the dark clouds on the horizon at bay with its
mighty solar rays, giving the lazuli skyscape a chance to
A grasshopper flies through the atmosphere like a tiny
green Superman, leaping tall weeds in a single bound
towards the shade of an oak tree.
Gabe slowly reels his
fishing lure in as he takes in his glorious surroundings.
He turns to Will and smiles.
"This is the most beautiful place I've ever seen," he
Will looks at him and nods.
"I want gut you right
here, right now."
A cold chill runs down Gabe's spine.
"I said..." Will's voice becomes deep, feral, and
seething with rage.
He punches Gabe in the face.
vision goes black, but the voice stays.
"...if I had my way, I would kill you, right here,
right now."
His sight returns to find himself being held by the
throat against a wall by Memitus, whose clenched fist is
covered with Gabe's blood.
"You escaped us once, Jackman," he says as his grip
tightens around Gabe's throat.
he should let you go.
"I told the Professor that
I am stronger, faster, more
You are weak and pathetic.
I should kill you
now and tell the Professor I acted in self defense.
knows better.
But he
He knows I want to tear the flesh from your
bone and rip your heart out with my teeth before you have a
chance to heal."
"R...R...R..." Gabe gasps.
His head goes light and
his eyes roll to the back of his head.
"What's that, comrade?"
Memitus mocks.
"You want to
Do you have something to say before you descend
back into the darkness?"
He eases the vice grip on Gabe's throat.
for air before going into a coughing fit.
Gabe gasps
He looks Memitus
in the eye.
You're with Remiel," he forces out.
"Ah, he remembers," Memitus says, surprised.
thought the Professor wiped your mind clean before your
Tell me, Jackman, what else do you remember?
you remember what you did when you were a part of us?
you remember your name?
That stupid name you were given."
Gabe mumbles and goes limp.
"Speak up, Jackman.
Tell me your name."
Gabe mumbles again.
Memitus loosens his grip from Gabe's throat.
"Tell me
your name!" he roars.
"Fuck you!" Gabe replies.
Memitus's face.
A loud crack echoes throughout the
decimated apartment complex.
He slams his head into
Blood pours from Memitus's
He turns away from Gabe.
Gabe picks up a broken
metal beam from the floor and cracks it over Memitus's head
with the force of a jackhammer, dropping his adversary.
Gabe presses his attack and kicks Memitus in the left
side of his ribcage.
Memitus lets out a groan and falls to
his hands and knees.
Gabe jumps on his back, locks his
legs around Memitus's waist, wraps his right arm around his
powerful neck, grabs his left bicep, and squeezes with
every fiber of his being.
Memitus gurgles and grunts under the anaconda squeeze
locked around his throat.
He tries to stand up, but Gabe
slips his legs between Memitus's and straightens them out
while he violently arches his back, causing his attacker to
crash the floor.
He struggles against the choke and tries
to speak.
Memitus goes limp.
Gabe continues to squeeze.
feels a hand pulling on his shoulder, trying to loosen the
death grip around the fallen hulk's neck.
"Gabe!" Will pleads.
"It's over.
Let him go.
We got
to get out of here before the cops come!"
Gabe lets go and staggers to his feet.
Will looks at
him and grabs him by the arm as sirens wail in the
"We've got to get the fuck outta here!"
The beaten and battered men run to the stairwell and
begin to climb up the steps.
At the top, they find a
ladder that takes them to the roof.
"What are we supposed to do now?" Will asks Gabe.
"We jump to the next roof."
"Are you fucking crazy?" Will cries.
twenty feet away.
That roof is
Do I look like a goddamn long jumper to
"Well, do you have another suggestion?" Gabe demands.
"I've got one."
Will and Gabe turn to find a sultry woman wearing
black spandex with a utility belt and goggles.
Her long,
sable hair dances in the wind.
"Hello, Gabriel.
Come with me if you and your friend
want to leave."
"Hold on, Bat-Ho," Will replies.
"We're not going
We've already come across one crazy-looking
motherfucker tonight and now we got the cops on our asses."
He looks at Gabe.
"So, how 'bout that super free-running
"I know how you ended up in Colorado," the woman says.
"I know why three years of your life are missing.
all of the answers you seek.
I have
Come with me, and I'll tell
you everything you want to know, Theopotis."
"Theoctopus?" Will questions.
"Power of God," she says to Gabe.
"The name you were
given when you were a part of the Remiel Initiative.
have the answers you seek."
Will leans over to Gabe, "You're not going to listen
to her, are you?"
Gabe looks at the woman.
In her eyes he finds
something familiar, something comforting.
Gabe knows her.
At some level,
At some level buried deep within him, he
trusts her.
"Okay," he says.
"Show us the way."
Elliot, Carl. "A New Way to be Mad." The Atlantic.
December 2000. Web. 27 Oct. 2009.
Lee, Stan and Steve Ditko.
York: Marvel, 1963.
The Amazing Spider-Man.
Joseph Rider was born in Fairhope, Alabama, on July 8,
He graduated from the University of South Alabama,
Mobile, Alabama, cum laude with a B.S. in English in 2008.
A graduate assistantship was awarded to Joseph during him
first year at the University of South Alabama, as well a
teaching assistantship during his second year.
his MA in English in the Spring of 2010.
He received
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