Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The First Mission, part one

Hey'a, everyone! It seems I've been neglecting my blog of late, and for that, I apologize. I think that posts will be a bit more frequent this week and in the coming weeks, especially since the creative writing class I'm taking requires that I write at least one new story every week! I'll be posting the first of these stories today through Friday, and I also hope to post some book reviews sometime in the near future as well. These book reviews will be a slightly different format than the reviews I used to do on this blog, and there will also be more of them per post. I have no idea how long I'll keep doing these reviews, but I'd like to be able to release a book review post every few weeks this summer.

In the meantime, however, enjoy part one of "The First Mission", one of my latest short stories!

The First Mission

When Mikayla Alave received her first official mission, she was in the middle of hand-to-hand combat training, trying very hard to not wallop her opponent and getting rather walloped herself for her efforts. She didn’t have anything against the young man; in fact, she thought he seemed like a rather decent fellow. But lately, every one of her punches seemed to move faster and contain more force than it ought.

She sensed, rather than saw, her opponent’s punch headed for her gut. She dodged and instinctively started to try to kick his legs out from under him, but stopped herself just before her foot could hit. Slower. Slower. Go easy.

Her opponent’s fist hit her nose squarely. Off-balance from stopping her kick, she fell back and hit the ground. She shut her eyes and bit back a groan. Beaten again. What’s wrong with me?

“Cat! Night! Enough!” Her trainer’s sharp voice broke through Mikayla’s thoughts. A hand closed on her shoulder and jerked her to her feet. “What’s the rule when you’re beaten but aren’t seriously injured, Night?”
Mikayla forced her eyes open and looked her trainer in the eye, as she’d been taught. “Get back up again immediately, ma’am.”

Her trainer nodded. “And why is that the rule, Night?”

“Because if you don’t get up immediately, you’re likely to get killed,” Mikayla mumbled. She wished her trainer would let her be just this once. Couldn’t she understand that sometimes, even if you weren’t seriously injured, you didn’t quite feel like you could get up again?

“Correct, Night.” The trainer crossed her arms, switching her steel-grey gaze from Mikayla to her opponent. “Cat. You did well. Take a breather and I’ll be with you in a moment so we can talk about how you can do better.”

The young man nodded and sprinted off towards the benches lining the training room. Mikayla watched him go, fighting a sense of envy. She knew what was coming.

Sure enough, her trainer looked down at her once more. “What’s wrong with you, Night?”

Mikayla struggled to think of an answer that would satisfy both of them. “I was reacting too slow, ma’am?”
“Worse.” The trainer shook her head. “You weren’t reacting at all, Night, except to dodge. I’m sure your mother taught you to turn the other cheek, but if you want to be a Silver Bullet, you’re going to have to hit back.”

Mikayla nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” She tensed, praying that she’d be permitted to go now.

She wasn’t. Her trainer went on, “But there’s something else, Night. Until a week ago, you weren’t having this problem. You were one of my best students. And then suddenly you seemed to decide that you didn’t want to fight anymore; you just wanted to dodge. When you did hit back, you did it much harder than you needed to far too many times. So, what’s wrong?”

Mikayla started to drop her gaze and corrected herself at the last moment. “You wouldn’t understand, ma’am.”

The trainer raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t?”

Mikayla shook her head. “No. You wouldn’t. May I go now?”

“Yes. Dismissed. For the day. There’s someone outside who wants you.” Her trainer shook her head and placed a hand on Mikayla’s shoulder. “You’d be surprised what some of us can understand, Night. When you’re ready to talk about what’s wrong, come find me. That’s what I’m here for.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Mikayla shrugged the trainer’s hand off her shoulder and walked quickly to the door. It opened before her, releasing her from the warm, humid air of a training room filled with people into the cool hallway.

A man dressed in the dark blue of the Silver Bullet administrative staff was waiting for her in the hallway. “You’re Night?”

Mikayla nodded, knowing the question was rhetorical. “Yes.” She wondered what this man wanted with her. If she was going to be pushed back to a lower class in her training, her trainer would’ve told her, wouldn’t she?

“You’re to come with me.” The man turned and started trotting down the hall without waiting to see if Mikayla was following him.

Mikayla walked after him, keeping pace easily. She knew better than to ask him questions; he wouldn’t answer. That was the way of things with the Silver Bullet. Generally, no one was told more than they needed to know. That way, should they be captured, the information they could reveal was at a minimum. That was the reason for the code names as well. No one in the Silver Bullet called anyone else by their real name unless they were related, and even family members were ordered not to use others’ real names in public.

The man led Mikayla through the halls, down a flight of stairs, and along more hallways. Mikayla’s nervousness spiked, and she had to struggle to ride the wave rather than letting it drown her. Though not as unheard-of as being called down to the administrative level, three floors beneath the surface, trainees were rarely permitted on the second level down. In general, it was reserved for official Silver Bullet agents, and there were only two reasons Mikayla could ever remember trainees being allowed down here: she was in very big trouble, or she was to be given a mission.

They stopped before a door identical to nearly all the others they’d passed. The man pressed his hand to the lockscreen and the door swung open. “Go in.”

Mikayla obeyed. The door whooshed shut behind her as she looked around. The room she’d entered was plainly furnished. A dozen chairs were set around a black table with a spherical holograph projector in the center. A black screen adorned the far wall.

There were four other people in the room, all sitting around the table. The first, seated directly in front of the screen, was a short, lean man wearing the uniform of a Mission Tactician, one of the administrative staff in charge of planning missions of all kinds. The second was another man, this one of average height and build, dressed in the standard black of a Silver Bullet general agent, one who had no specialized skills but was considered at least competent in most areas. Of course, what was called competent by Silver Bullet terms would be called quite skilled by any normal person. The final two, a man and a woman, were also average in terms of physique, but their more fitted uniforms and the faint smudges of paint on their faces revealed them to be Shadow Agents, agents who specialized in stealth and spying.

Having decided that there seemed to be no reason for her to remain standing, Mikayla walked to the table and sat down. Only then did the others seem to notice her, though she knew that the Tactician and the adult agent, at least, had both been aware of her from the moment she entered the room. The Tactician cleared his throat. “You are all here. We will begin.”

Mikayla nodded, and saw the others do the same.

The Tactician pulled out a remote and pointed it at the screen. It flashed to life, displaying several images: a sticklike man with an equally thin salt-and-pepper beard, a low, black building that seemed to have an oddly reflective surface, an half-finished schematic for an unfamiliar device, and an insignia that Mikayla recognized instantly: a black and white motif of two hands, one grasping a knife, the other clasped around a bolt of lightning. Her grip on the arms of the chair tightened. I thought I was done with that world.

With the press of a button, the Tactician enlarged the insignia. “You all know of the Brotherhood.”
It was not a question. Every member of the Silver Bullets knew of the Brotherhood, along with the other numerous people and organizations that had surfaced after the third World War ended just over twenty years ago, leaving the nations ruined and much of the leadership shattered. Since then, it seemed that anyone with any weapons or power left had been trying to take over everything they could. That was why the Silver Bullets existed: to protect the people caught in the middle of the power grabs.

The Tactician pressed another button. The insignia shrank and the image of the man enlarged itself. “This man is Darius Antollae. For some time, he has been working in concert with us, using his power, influence, and resources to provide a refuge for those wishing to escape groups like the Brotherhood. Eight days ago, he was captured by the Brotherhood. He must be rescued.”

Next the Tactician brought up the schematic. “Also, we have received intelligence indicating that the Brotherhood has developed a new superweapon, one far more deadly than any of the nuclear weapons created to date. However, we were not able to get the full plans for this weapon. This information must be taken from the Brotherhood vault.”

The schematic was replaced by the image of the building. “Your mission is to infiltrate Brotherhood headquarters, rescue Darius Antollae, and retrieve the plans from the vault.” The Tactician pointed the remote at the holograph generator. A 3-D diagram of the Brotherhood headquarters appeared, revolving slowly in midair. “Both the vault and the cells are located in the lowest level of the building. Your route there, along with two alternate routes, have been planned.” Red lines appeared through the diagram. “Maps showing these routes will be delivered to you, along with your other supplies for this mission. As always, memorize these routes before the mission.”

The holograph disappeared. The Tactician looked over the group. “You have been chosen because all of you have had previous interaction with the Brotherhood and, we believe, came out of it on top. Blade, you led the last strike against the Brotherhood, just as you will be leading this mission.”

The general agent nodded, his face remaining a blank mask.

The Tactician went on. “Hawk and Raven, you were recently sent to infiltrate and gather intelligence on several of the Brotherhood outposts. Due to your efforts, successful strikes have been made against two of these outposts.”

The Stealth Agents also nodded. The female’s eyes sparkled with pride and excitement.

The Tactician finally looked to Mikayla. “Night, you have not been with us long, but you have proved yourself to have extraordinary skills. Also, you spent much of your life before joining us living among the Brotherhood. You know them better than any of us. And so you will join Blade, Hawk, and Raven.”

Mikayla forced herself to nod and unclench her fists from the chair arms. She cringed at the dents she’d left. “Sir, if I may ask, are you sure that sending me is wise?”

The Tactician eyed her. “What grounds do you have for doubt?”

She hesitated, trying to find the right words. “I have not been doing as well lately as I should be. Ask my trainers.”

“Your trainers have informed me of your issues of late, Night,” he replied. “Nonetheless, we have decided that you will come.” He rose to his feet. “Supplies for your mission will be delivered to your quarters. You will meet at the South Exit to depart at fifteen-hundred hours. Dismissed.”

Mikayla and the others stood. One by one, they departed the room. Mikayla returned to the room she shared with three other trainee agents, all of whom were still training. Once there, she walked slowly to her bed and sat down. “Why’d they have to choose me?” she muttered. “I don’t want to go back there.”

Memories scurried to the surface. Her mother and father, arguing and shouting while she hid in her room and pretending she couldn’t hear. Her fists hitting a punching bag over and over while voices screamed at her to hit harder, to move faster, to prove she’d inherited her father’s powers. Her father, telling her why he still wasn’t satisfied and trying to mold her into the daughter who’d succeed him. And finally, her mother, whispering forbidden songs to comfort Mikayla, encouraging her no matter what, praying with her every night, making plans to flee with her children before her husband went too far, and screaming out in pain when the Brotherhood caught them just a half-mile from the Silver Bullet outpost.

Mikayla cringed. She’d been the only one to make it to that outpost. Even at fifteen, long before her abilities so suddenly grew, she’d been fast, and fear had burned like fire behind her, driving her on faster than she’d ever gone before. But she’d left behind her mother and her little brother, and she hadn’t seen them since. She didn’t even know if they were still alive.

The door opened. A young female trainee limped into the room without a word and set a black cloth bundle on Mikayla’s bed. She turned and started back towards the door.

Mikayla rose to her feet. “Thank you.”

The girl glanced back, nodded, and walked out the door. Mikayla picked up the bundle and inspected it. It was secured by a thin silver cable that extended from a small black box. The free end of the cable was hooked to the opposite side of the box. She unhooked it and the cable swiftly retracted into the box. Mikayla set it aside and unrolled the cloth, which proved to be a new black version of her uniform. Of course. Agents always wear black on missions, unless it’s an undercover mission. Wrapped in the uniform were her other supplies: a folded paper map, a lightweight charge pistol, extra powerpacks for the pistol, a small, rectangular object wrapped in paper, and a Video and Audio Jammer, VAAJam for short, a wristwatch-like device which emitted a signal that would jam the feeds of any security cameras within fifteen feet. Unwrapping the paper around the unidentified object revealed an unmarked ScanChip. It appeared to be just like any other ScanChip: silver-grey metallic surface on one wide side and the thin edges and glossy black with electric green lines on the remaining side, which was where data was exchanged with the chip and the computer. Writing on the paper revealed this particular ScanChip’s purpose: it had been equipped with a program that, when loaded into the computer, would hack past its security and download any files containing information on the superweapon. Once one agent on the team had received the information, they were to copy the information to the ScanChip of at least one other agent.

Mikayla swiftly changed into her new uniform. She clipped the pistol and the box containing the cable to her belt and slid the extra powerpacks and ScanChip into her pockets. Then she unfolded the map and studied it carefully. She could tell this would not be an easy mission. In order to get to the cells or the vault, they’d have to go to all the way to the lowest level, and she remembered quite well that the lower you went in the Brotherhood headquarters, the higher the security became. She couldn’t help but wonder how much help she’d actually be; of the five belowground levels, she’d only gone past level three once. That one time had been the day after her fifteenth birthday, when her father had taken her down to the vault and shown her just how much power, just how much control the Brotherhood had. He’d told her that, one day, if she did as he said, she could, like him, be one of those who controlled that power. She hadn’t dared tell him that she never wanted to be anything like him. She’d hoped for a long time that she wouldn’t be. That she wouldn’t have inherited anything more from him than her dark hair and one or two other lesser parts of her appearance. But she knew now that it had been a false hope; at least a portion of his darker abilities had been passed to her as well. Now she simply prayed that this unnatural strength and speed would be all he’d given her.

Mikayla shook her head slightly and forced herself to focus on memorizing the routes outlined on the map. Still, the thoughts and memories remained, hovering at the edge of her mind like dark shadows waiting for the lights to be turned off so they could spread over everything. Once she had finished memorizing the routes, she slipped the paper in a pocket and looked at the clock. 14:39. Still a bit of time. She slid off the bed and knelt. Bowing her head, she whispered, “God, I’ve prayed to You for safety a hundred times in my life, and since I’m still alive, I suppose You must be protecting me. Please, keep protecting me, and protect my team as well. Give us success and bring us all back out of the Brotherhood alive. Most of all, God, please, give me courage for this mission, because I’m scared of what’ll happen if we’re discovered. And give me strength to keep going no matter what and, if I’m discovered, to resist, to not become like him, because however strong I am, I don’t think I’m strong enough. Amen.”

There was no reply. Mikayla had never in her life heard a reply, though her mother had said that God still spoke to those willing to listen. Still, she felt a tiny bit less frightened now. She rose to her feet and walked to the door. It swung open before her with a whoosh. She stepped out and set off down the hall to the South Exit, moving as quickly as she could. She was stuck with this mission; she’d better not be late.


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