The Mr. Nightcrawler Trilogy: Book I

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by Nightcrawler, Mar 2, 2007.

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  1. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone
    Okay, folks. Everyone's been patient enough. I finished the Welcome Back Story in, what, August? It's March now. Six months have passed. You guys were so supportive that it's time to show you that I've not been resting on my laurels.

    So here's the deal. As of today, I'm 28,000+ words into the Prequel, that is, Trilogy, Part One. I'm going to try to finish it this weekend; it's about three-quarters done, I think.

    After that's completed, I'm going to begin the rewrite of the Welcome Back story. When it's finished, Corriea and I will work a way to re-post that. It might seem odd to repost the entire story for posterity, but there are going to be quite a few not-insignificant changes to it, now that we have a coherent plot and actually know where it's all going to go.

    When that's all finished, we'll go into Part Three. I'm not giving anything about Part Three away, other than that it's going to be epic.

    Now, I told everyone before that there was going to be a .PDF file, and I've gotten about a hundred e-mail addresses collected. This remains in effect; however, I'm going to wait until the Trilogy is finished, then send out the whole completed thing. But wait, there's more! The .PDF will contain, I kid you not, bonus materials! Artwork, character bios, things like that. This is turning into quite the project for me, and I've got help on it.

    Correia isn't co-authoring the prequel with me. It's all me. Though, in case it isn't clear, chapters in italics are flashback sequences. These aren't necessarily arranged in chronological order. The present-tense parts of the story take place in the fall of 2003. And yes, I did actually attend the University described in the story, for three years. (By the way, Michigan Tech? Your football team sucks. Nyah! :neener: ) No, I didn't actually do any of the other stuff described in the story. Every word of this is fiction, and any semblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, except where it's deliberate, and those people know who they are. :D

    As I've said, I'm not quite finished with the Part One. But as I post the story, I'm only going to put up a chapter every few days. No more than three times a week, probably only twice, just to...well, to drag it out, to give me enough time to finish. :D

    So THR, to show my gratitude for how much fun you made writing the last story, I present Trilogy: Part One.

    Oh...all of these works are Copyright 2007, The Nightcrawler Group, and may not be copied in part or in full without the express written consent of the author. Offer not available in Alaska and Hawaii. Additional roaming charges may apply when outside of your network area. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Yadda yadda yadda. Don't rip off my stuff, please. It's free anyway!
  2. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone
    I stood there watching, unable to move. The huge yacht was burning as it sank. Bodies floated in the water amongst the oil and debris. I don’t know how many people had died that night, but looking down at the detonator in my hand, I did know that I had killed them.

    What have I done?

    Decker appeared at my side then. He clapped me on the shoulder, told me I’d done a good job rigging the explosives. He said that we only had one more job to do, and then we’d all be very rich. I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the burning wreckage. The dock that the yacht had been anchored to was ablaze now, though the vessel itself had slipped beneath the water. I wanted to look away, but the limp bodies floating in the black water had me mesmerized. I heard Triana’s voice, but she sounded far away.

    “Hopper, what did you do?” I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t do anything.

    My eyes snapped open at the horrid electronic screeching now filling my room. My hand fumbled for my alarm clock, trying to turn it off, but I succeeded only in knocking it off of the desk and onto the floor. Grumbling, I rolled out of bed, turned off the alarm, and yawned. It was cold, so I moved to the window and turned on the heater underneath it. I pulled back the blinds and gazed out over the parking lot.

    It was another pale Upper Michigan morning. Pretty typical for this time of year, the sky was overcast, and it was chilly. It was the middle of October, and we’d have snow soon. Well, more snow. It’d already snowed a couple of times, but it usually didn’t stick until November. Everyone was saying that this was going to be a bad winter; I wasn’t looking forward to it.

    I moved to my desk and checked my email. Not having received any, I yawned again, and made my way into the bathroom to take a shower. My neighbor, whom I shared the bathroom with, spent more time than not living in his girlfriend’s dorm room down on the first floor, so it was rare that I had to wait.

    It must seem like a terribly mundane existence, I’m sure. That was kind of the idea, actually. I suppose some introductions are in order.

    My name is Michael Valentine. I’m a Sophomore at Northern Michigan University, in Marquette, Michigan. My major is Political Science. I’m also a professional killer. A retired killer, actually. Valentine isn’t my real name, but it’s the one I go by now. In the three years between when I graduated from high school and when I started college, I killed many people and was paid vast sums of money to do it.

    I never wanted that life, never wanted to be a killer. But God forgive me, I’m good at it.

    1: Higher Education

    The life of a college student is generally uneventful. You go to class, go to work if you have a job, party, take exams. It can be stressful, but only if you let it. I took Political Science because it interested me, and didn’t require a lot of math. Math was always my weakest subject, so I wanted to avoid it.

    I didn’t have to go to college. I had enough money put away that I was pretty much set for life. That wasn’t the point. I didn’t particularly care about higher education. I just wanted some semblance of normalcy in my life.

    Deep inside, sometimes I’d doubt my choice. It’s hard to leave behind what you really are. But memories of the past, of the blood on my hands, kept me awake at night. I’d sworn that I’d live my life quietly and in peace.

    I don’t know why I picked Northern Michigan University. It was close to where I’d grown up, but not terribly so. I just wanted to be near home, I guess. I couldn’t bear to actually go home, but I wanted to be close. Besides that, it was peaceful and comparatively isolated. It was a perfect place for a quiet exile.

    There had been a few interesting moments. At least once that I can recall, someone I went to high school with recognized me. That made for an awkward moment, for as far as anyone knew, I’d simply disappeared without a trace the day after we graduated. They’d found my mother’s body in my house, but I hadn’t been heard from since.

    I looked different than I did back then, though. Different glasses, different hairstyle, different way of carrying myself. Plus, I had plenty of identification to verify that I was, in fact, Michael Valentine. Besides, by the time my Sophomore year had come around, people that I recognized from the past had become quite rare. There was one time that I had to drop a class that I’d wanted to take because someone I went to high school with was in it, but that had only happened once.

    But today, the 16th of October, was a day like any other. It was the fall of my second year at Northern, and it was a typical gray morning. After getting out of the shower I dressed myself and collected the things I’d need for class. I put my books and my laptop computer into my backpack and zipped it up. A water bottle went in the pouch on one side, and my cell phone went into a pouch on the other. I reached underneath my mattress and removed a small revolver, a Smith & Wesson Model 642. It was a tiny five-shot .38, with a barrel less than two inches long. Loaded, it weighed less than twenty ounces, and was handy to pack around. It went into my left jeans pocket in a small nylon holster.

    It was, of course, against both university policy and state law for me to have this gun on campus, much less carry it concealed. But living the life I had, gun laws meant exactly nothing to me, and I never went anywhere unarmed. Besides, if they really busted me, the fact that they’d slap me with a weapons violation charge would be the least of my worries.

    Ready to go, I stepped out of my dorm room and into the hall. I lived on the third floor of Spanner Hall, room 306. Spanner Hall was kind of the grown-up dorm. It cost more, but you got a room to yourself, and it was much quieter and more laid back than the Freshman dorms. I closed and locked my door, and walked across the hall. I stopped in front of room 303 and banged on the door. It opened a moment later.

    “You ready?” I asked my friend.

    “Yeah,” Austin replied, stepping into the hall and locking his door. Austin was a good friend of mine with an unpronounceable Polish last name. I’d met him on a Model United Nations trip to Toronto during my Freshman year, and we became fast friends. (Getting lost together in a labyrinthine Canadian city in the middle of the night can bring people together.) He was a film student, and had a weird and offbeat sense of humor. Aside from that, we had very little in common, but I was happy to have made a friend.

    Together we made our way down the stairs and out of the building. The University Center, containing a cafeteria, was just across the street from Spanner Hall, so it was a short walk. Our breath was smoky in the chilly morning, but neither of us considered it cold. In Upper Michigan, if it isn’t snowing, it isn’t cold.

    Austin didn’t know that I had a gun on me, nor did he need to. Who I was, what I was, was my secret, and I told no one. It bothered me sometimes, because I had some insane stories to tell. It was hard sticking to my story year after year, living a lie, making up reasons why I never went “home”. Indeed I lived in the dorms year round, not having a home to go to. I just told people that my parents had died and I had no family. That much, at least, was true.

    Besides. I was afraid that if I told any of my friends the truth, then they wouldn’t be my friends anymore. Worse, I worried that they might call the cops or the FBI or something. I’m sure it sounds almost childish, but it was a legitimate concern. Regular people tend not to react well when you tell them you’re a professional killer, however retired you may be. The fact that most of the people that I’d killed had probably deserved it would mean almost nothing.

    It didn’t take us long to reach the University Center. We made our way inside, up the stairs, and into the cafeteria. Grabbing trays, we took our place in line. A few moments later, trays laden with food of questionable origin, we sat down at a table by the huge floor-to-ceiling windows and put our laptops on the table. We had more than an hour before class, and the cafeteria had wireless internet access. My computer was a school-issue IBM Thinkpad (suckpad to most of us), his was one of the fruity Apple Powerbooks that the Art & Design department got.

    As we ate our breakfasts, we talked about nothing in particular; the weather, class, the incessant media coverage of the Presidential race, the war in Iraq. He showed me a short film he’d made for one of his classes, a bizarre piece about the Amish’s sinister plans to take over the world, and it made me laugh out loud. It was time to get going, though, so we put our jackets back on and headed off to class.

    The class was one of my favorites, and the discussions were always interesting. I found it difficult to concentrate, though. Sitting not far from me was a girl named Blythe. She was tall, beautiful, confident, and despite the cooling weather was wearing a pretty short skirt. Austin noticed me staring at her legs and elbowed me in the ribs. He laughed when I blushed.

    “Just ask her out!” Rebecca whispered, with a mischievous grin on her face. She was Austin’s girlfriend and had the class with us. He sat to my right in the crowded classroom, and she sat just behind him.

    “Look,” I said, trying to keep my voice down, “I can’t just walk up to her and…hell, she probably has a boyfriend anyway.”

    “No she doesn’t,” Rebecca replied, eyes twinkling. The professor apparently noticed our hissed conversation.

    “And what do you think, Mr. Valentine?” he asked, eyes gleaming beneath his bushy white eyebrows.

    “Well,” I said, louder so the entire class could hear, “I think their arguments are ridiculous. The electoral college exists for a reason. If we move to a popular vote for the President, then the large cities will dominate and less populous states won’t even matter. I’m sure the people in the big cities think that’d be just ducky, since their candidates would always win, but, you know, Wyoming and Utah are states in the Union just as much as California and New York are. This is supposed to be a Federal Republic, and every state is supposed to have equal standing. The last thing we need is some European-style unitary democracy.”

    “Good answer, Mr. Valentine! Does anybody disagree with him?” He was grinning. He thought he’d had me, but I always more or less paid attention.

    I did end up asking Blythe out after class. I tried to, at least. As I was stammering something at her, some tall young hockey player came up and put his arm around her. He was a classic college pretty boy. Apparently Rebecca had been wrong. I headed back to my dorm room, moping as I went.

    So that’s how it was. My old life felt like nothing more than a bad dream, and I told myself that if I tried hard enough, I could just be a regular guy. Hell, I almost believed it.


    I felt like I was flying. Butterflies raced around in my stomach, and in the back of my mind I knew that this couldn’t be happening, that I’d mess it up. Regardless, Mary leaned forward and kissed me.

    We were sitting on a park bench, away from the others. It was a beautiful spring night, and the moon and stars could be seen clearly. Tonight was the night we’d graduated from High school, and I felt like I was on top of the world.

    The school had arranged an overnight party for us at a park, followed by breakfast at an inn that was popular with tourists. The idea was that we’d be supervised and wouldn’t go off and get wasted. So far so good, it seemed, and despite the fact that everyone was sober, everyone seemed to be having a good time. As I looked into Mary’s deep brown eyes and felt my heart pounding, I knew that I was.

    “I…I…that was…wow,” I stammered. She giggled.

    “I’m glad you thought so.”

    “Why now?” She just shrugged.

    “Seemed like the right time, I guess.”

    “Felt right to me.” Holy hell. It took me a second to realize that two people had plopped down on either side of us.

    “How’s it going, love-birds?” Katrina asked, grinning ear to ear.

    “Congratulations!” Matthew said, punching me on the arm.

    “Where did you guys come from?” I asked, face flushed. Mary giggled again, and squeezed my hand. “So,” I said, straightening the awful dorky glasses I wore back then, “you guys having fun?”

    “Clearly not as much as you,” Katrina said, laughing as I flushed once more. She and Mary exchanged a knowing glance; I wondered how long they’d been collaborating on this. Women…

    I couldn’t remember being so happy. I had my arm around the girl I’d had a crush on since the eighth grade, and my best friends were with me. There had been a lot of rough times in my life. My parents’ messy divorce a few years earlier, and my father’s death not three months prior. But at that moment, on the night of my high school graduation, I could honestly say that I was happy. Looking back, I can’t remember what that feels like.
  3. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone
    2: Blacklight

    Later that night, I sat alone in my dorm room. It was a Thursday, the last day of class for the week for the majority of students and professors, and was as such a big party night. It was only eight in the evening, though, so the night was still young. I had been tapped to be the designated driver for a few people from my dorm. They were going out to a little club called The Matrix with plans to get hammered. I don’t drink and I had a car, so I was about perfect for the DD role.

    That wasn’t going to be until about eleven, though. In the meantime I had about three hours to kill. The TV was on in my room, but it was muted. I was sitting at my desk, surfing the internet, when my computer chimed at me.

    I opened my email box. There were two messages, actually. One was trying to tell me that my penis was too small and that I needed to buy their product to remedy the situation. I deleted that one, but read the other. At first, I thought it was junk mail too. It was from an email address I didn’t recognize, but had gotten past my filter. There was an attachment, which appeared to be nothing more than a picture of a sunset somewhere. Several lines of text advertised some kind of bargain vacation package. I would have deleted it out of hand, worrying that it was a virus, if not for a single word of text at the end of the email: blacklight.

    I froze for a second. I hadn’t gotten an email like this in quite awhile. Blacklight is a code word. It means that the attached picture is in fact an encrypted dossier or mission packet. I had a program to open the document saved in a hidden file on my computer, so I got to work.

    Like I said, at this point I was happily retired. I still kept my ear to the ground, though. I had some contacts and some friends from the old days that kept their ears closer still. It gave me an early warning system in case I needed to bug out, and let me know what was going on in the world. These kinds of encrypted communications were the only way I kept in touch with my former teammates. We’d all scattered, and most of us had assumed new identities, just to be on the safe side. Communicating through encrypted channels only gave us an extra layer of security in case one of us was compromised. In this business, compromised is usually a euphemism for dead.

    Occasionally, I got contract offers. Though my real identity was a closely guarded secret, my former team, SWITCHBLADE, was quite well known in certain circles. In our heyday, we’d been hard to find, hard to track, and had cost a lot of money, but we got the job done. Kind of like the A-Team, except we hit the people we shot at. SWITCHBLADE didn’t really exist anymore, but with Decker’s death I’d assumed de facto command and kept some channels open.

    The message had been forwarded to me via my friend Jeff, who now lived in California. He remained the frontman for SWITCHBLADE, and inquiries were directed through him. He had numerous contacts out there, as well as on the far side of the Pacific, so he was usually first to know when something was up. The message was brief and to the point.

    //SWITCHBLADE 6: Rumor has it you are now in northernmost Michigan. Your location is why you were contacted. Event taking place soon, not far from you, need your help. Human cargo likely being transferred near you, we must intercept. Request your assistance. If we are successful we can filter them through the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. You will be well compensated. Regards, EXODUS.//

    I leaned back in my chair and blinked. EXODUS. I’d heard of them, but you probably haven’t. They only rarely operate in the United States and maintain a low profile when they do. But in many parts of the world EXODUS is regarded as a terrorist group. They are essentially modern day radical abolitionists. They use force of arms, coercion, and violence to combat the global slave trade. They’re not above assassination, extortion, and destruction of property, either. As you might imagine, they’re pretty high on the INTERPOL **** list, and many nations’ governments want them too. They operate primarily in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, where the human slave trade was the heaviest. Rumor has it they suffer high casualty rates on their operations, but for every one that is killed, two more freed slaves are willing to take up arms and replace them.

    So why do they need my help?

    I have no use for human traffickers. As far as I’m concerned, slavers belong at the end of a rope. On the other hand, working with EXODUS is always a risky proposition. Like I said, they have high casualty rates. Worse, a lot of people, backed by a lot of money, want them dead. Especially after a 1999 operation in West Africa. They staged an armed assault on a huge human trafficking hub, liberated several hundred captives, and executed every last slaver and guard on site.

    I closed my eyes, took off my glasses, and pinched the bridge of my nose. I was going to have to think this one over. On one hand, it was dangerous. Moreover, I was supposed to be retired. If something like this went south it could ruin everything, and I’d have to disappear again. (Which, by the way, becomes more difficult each time you do it.) On the other hand, I’m a greedy son of a bitch. But there was more to it than that. Like I said, I’ve no use for slavers. I’ve seen the human slave trade, in all of its ugliness, first hand. I wondered if this wasn’t my chance to do some good, to do something right. And…well, despite my constantly telling myself that I was happy, I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and I knew it. There were times when I missed the old run and gun.

    On the other hand, it might be a chance to get sucked back into everything I wanted to leave behind. The old run and gun is fine until you start burying your friends. Damn it. Yeah, I was going to have to think this one over. It could wait until morning, though. In the meantime, I had some drunks to wrangle. It’d do me some good to get out anyway. I backed away from the computer and headed for the shower.

    A few hours later, I found myself sitting at the end of the bar in The Matrix. Loud hip-hop club music thumped in my ears. I swear, they must’ve only had one CD with about a dozen songs on it, because no matter what night you went, they were always playing the same crap.

    My friends were lost in the crowd, dancing, getting drinks, and having a good time. I was relegated to the bar, somewhat bored, exiled with all of the other DDs. Sipping my Coke, I noticed a gorgeous young woman sit down next to me. She was wearing those really tight hot-pants that girls wear these days, and a backless, low-cut shirt. She didn’t order a drink, only sat there and lit up a cigarette. Swallowing hard, I leaned over to her.

    “Can I buy you a drink?” I practically yelled. It was so loud in there you couldn’t hold a conversation. She leaned over towards me.


    “CAN I BUY YOU A DRINK?” I repeated, louder. She leaned away from me, and the expression on her face changed. She shook her head side to side, looking bemused. Without another word, she got up and left. Smooth, Mike. I sighed and took another sip of my crappy, watered down bar-Coke.

    So this is the life you’re so terrified of leaving behind, huh? EXODUS’ offer seemed more interesting when I thought about it like that.
  4. Brian Williams

    Brian Williams Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 22, 2002
    Kampong Cham, Cambodia
    Yeeeeee Hawwwww!!!!!, Here we go again....

    Some More nice work Keep it going.

    NC mentions it but this is the prequel or part 1

    part 2 is in this thread
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2007
  5. Oleg Volk

    Oleg Volk Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 19, 2002
    Nashville, TN
    Thanks for keeping this up.
  6. RockRifle

    RockRifle Member

    Dec 21, 2006
    Eastern Oregon

    And so it begins... The waiting for the for the next chapter... pacing the floor, glancing across the room at the clock on the desk.:uhoh:
    I know he hasn't posted yet... the angst of waiting eating at me from the inside out. I just can't wait!:eek:

    Cudos 'Crawler! Ya still got it!!:D :D

    Bring it! :cool: We'll Wait!!
  7. kjeff50cal

    kjeff50cal Member

    Oct 13, 2005
    Houston, Texas
    [Oliver Twist] Please sir can I have some more? [Oliver Twist/]:D :D :D
  8. CK

    CK Member

    Jun 12, 2006
    Asia and North of US.
  9. Legionnaire
    • Contributing Member

    Legionnaire Member

    Dec 24, 2002

    Excellent thus far ... and from past experience, we're in for a good 'un!
  10. fiVe

    fiVe Member

    Jan 7, 2003
    West Florida Panhandle
    NC!! Glad you're back! Really lookin' forward to this!!
  11. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone

    I'd like to give thanks to a bunch of people. First of all, to our own Oleg Volk. Becuase of him letting me use his forum for my writing, my abilities have improved dramatically.

    Secondly, to Correia. He, PvtPyle, and the FBMG crew have made me feel at home here in Utah. Plus, he's one hell of a writer himself. Everyone look for his book, Monster Hunter International, which should be available soon. Every single High Roader in Utah needs to visit FBMG, also. :cool:

    I'd like to thank icylic, Dr. Rob, and springmom for helping with the project, proofreading, technical assistance, etc. I'd like to than sm for reading these stories to my favorite readers, the kids he helps take care of.

    This is dedicated to Hawk. The real one, I mean, the old gunslinger that taught me sixguns.

    Finally...since people bugged me about it before, and were then very generous, I'm going to put out the tip jar again. All of my Crawlerverse stories are, and always will be, free, but I'll gratefully accept any donations. My PayPal address is my old (no longer primary, in case you want to send me hate mail or viruses) email address, [email protected].

    Thank you all again. I hope you enjoy everything.

    EDIT: I could post another update, but I don't want to burn through the whole story in two days. Next chapter up on Monday. :) In the meantime, everybody go read Halfast's story. :D

    And since everyone talks about soundtracks, THIS SONG is Valentine's "theme song". The music video is disappointing in that it doesn't seem to actually have a .45 anywhere in it...
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2007
  12. crashresidue

    crashresidue Member

    Dec 27, 2004
    Maui HI
    Cheers Nightcrawler,

    Could you, at some time in your schedule, find the time to find "LawDag" - and kick him in the A** to finish "Pink Gorrilla Suit" (sp. on gorilla?) Part III?

    Like your stories - you should have them published - like I'm the first to suggest this!!!! DAAHHH!

    Gentle winds,
  13. Mandirigma

    Mandirigma Member

    Jul 24, 2006
    Lucidity, Texas
    /runs through the checklist.

    Thread Subscription....check!


    Dr Pepper....check!

    Keyboard cover (anti Dr Pepper guard)....check!

    ...digs through box....recent keyboard receipt w/ warranty info (because keyboard cover needs to actually be on to work)....... CHECK!

    ok, Green Light!
  14. gyp_c2

    gyp_c2 Member

    Mar 24, 2004
    Colorado Springs
    ...hey you!

    ...welcome back Nightcrawler...
    Glad 'yer backatit... rauch06.gif
  15. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone
    Ah hell. One more. Next update on Tuesday then.

    3: Arrangements

    “You son of a bitch!” I yelled. Decker looked as collected as ever. “We killed all those people!”

    “Hopper, you need to calm down,” he replied coolly. “It’s too bad all those people got caught in the crossfire, but these things happen. Collateral damage that can’t be avoided.”

    “It wasn’t a ****ing crossfire!” Triana almost screamed. “You
    blew them up! Hopper, why did you fire? What the **** were you thinking?”

    “I couldn’t see the ****ing boat from my position!”

    “A real good story, Hopper, a real…” I cut her off.

    “Shut the ****
    up, Tri!” I turned back to Decker. “We could’ve waited until the party ended! The yacht wasn’t going anywhere! Jesus Christ, we could’ve waited. We didn’t have to kill all those people!”

    “You think they were all innocent?” Decker replied coldly. “No one that associates with Federov is innocent, you naïve
    child! We couldn’t risk him getting away! That yacht could’ve pulled up anchor at any time, and Christ only knows when we’d get another chance! For the money we’re being paid for this one, we can’t afford to be sentimental and **** it up!”

    I looked around. We were on top of an abandoned multi-story parking deck that overlooked the harbor. Below us, several hundred yards distant was a private dock owned by Federov, now engulfed in flames. Triana stood silently next to the van, but she looked like she’d shoot me dead at any time. Corwin looked shocked, and was staring at Decker. Decker was glaring at me, and it took everything in me not to flinch.

    “Listen to me, Hopper,” Decker continued. “We can work this out later. We need to go now.” He was right; we had to get going. Police were already arriving at the docks below us, and the military would have the city locked down in a few hours. None of us wanted to end up in a South American prison.

    “I’m not going anywhere with you!” Triana screamed again. She’d been increasingly dissatisfied with our work for weeks. Our travels through South America had been as bloody as they’d been profitable, and I guessed that the yacht had been the last straw for her.

    "I’ve had enough,” Decker said, and drew his USP 9mm from its holster. “I will not tolerate insubordination. We’re getting out of here now. Triana, when we get back, you’re done. Hopper, one more word out of you and you’re done too, is that clear?”

    “Hey, I…” Triana started to speak again, but froze when Decker pointed his pistol at her and thumbed the hammer back.

    “I’m not going to warn you again, Tri-“ He halted when he realized that Corwin had drawn his Beretta and was pointing it at him. Everything happened so fast then, but seemed to happen in slow motion. I realized that Corwin’s pistol still had the safety on. As Decker turned to level his gun at Corwin, I began to draw my Colt .45. Corwin then realized that his safety was on and began to thumb it off.

    Decker was on him before he could fire. His shot went low, the bullet plunging into Corwin’s abdomen. Corwin grimaced and stumbled back as a blood began to stream out of the wound.

    “DECKER!” I screamed. He froze and looked at me. I held my pistol out, sights aligned, and shot him through the heart. He stumbled back, dropped his pistol, and collapsed to the ground.

    “Triana, help Corwin!” I yelled. “TRIANA!” She looked at me then. She was slipping into shock. “Help Corwin!” I repeated. I looked around, my heart pounding so hard I could hear it in my ears. I could hear Jeff on the radio, repeatedly asking what was going on.

    Without holstering my pistol, I walked over to Corwin. He was laying on the pavement, cursing and swearing as Triana dressed his wound. She looked at me wide-eyed when I approached, but continued bandaging.

    “God damn it, Matthew,” I said, using his given name for the first time in ages. “You gonna be alright?” He managed half a grin and told me he needed a cigarette. I grinned back at him, and stood up again. Triana watched me, fire in her eyes, as I walked over to the wounded SWITCHBLADE 6.

    Decker’s wound had caused a large puddle of blood to pool around him, and he would be dead soon. I looked down at him.

    “Collateral damage,” I said, so quietly that no one else could hear, and leveled my pistol at his face.

    “G…go on, boy,” he managed, sounding weak, blood gurgling in his throat. “Finish it.” His gaze was intense. My blood ran cold.

    “My mother is dead because of you,” I said. Triana jumped at the noise as my pistol barked. It suddenly seemed very quiet; I could hear the brass case hit the pavement as clear as day. Triana’s face was white; anger burned in her dark eyes. Corwin had lost blood and was going into shock. Personally, I felt detached and cold, as if ice water were flowing through my veins. With my right hand, I reached to my belt and grabbed my radio.

    “Attention all SWITCHBLADE elements. This is Hopper. Decker is dead. I’m taking command…radio check.”


    I awoke with a start late the next morning. Since I was off, I hadn’t set my alarm, but I’d been having nightmares again. They were less frequent than they’d been previously, but they never went away. I rubbed my eyes, put on my glasses, and pulled myself out of bed. Once again turning on the heater to chase away the morning chill, I pulled my blanket off of the bed and wrapped it around me as I plopped down in front of my computer.

    Upon checking my email I discovered that there was another message with blacklight hidden in it. I once again decoded the attached picture. It contained only a brief message from Jeff. He said that EXODUS was getting antsy, and were imploring us to hurry. Thinking it over one last time, I sent him an encrypted reply, telling him I wanted to contact them directly. One of their representatives had to come to me for the actual meeting, though. I had a quiz on Monday and couldn’t travel.

    Shortly after I clicked ‘send’, there was a knock on my door. I stood up, moved across the room, and opened it.

    “Hey,” Austin said, “Food?” Rebecca was with him.

    “Yeah, c’mon in, lemme get my coat,” I said, turning back around. I pulled my jacket out and put it on.

    “Hey, what’s this?” Rebecca asked.

    “What’s what?” I replied, turning around. My heart leapt into my throat when I saw what she was pointing at. Sitting on my shelf was a long suppressor for my .45 automatic. I had taken it apart to clean it, reassembled it, and forgotten to stash it again. Getting sloppy, Mike.

    “It’s…um…you know, just some pipe. I found it.”

    “It looks like a silencer for a gun,” Austin said.

    “Yeah! Heh! Kinda does…hey, you guys hungry?”

    “Uh…yeah, c’mon,” Austin replied.

    “Okay then, let’s go get some food!” I hustled my friends out the door and locked it behind me, heart racing. I was mad at myself for being so careless. The longer things go smoothly the softer you get, it seems. I told myself I’d have to brush up on my tradecraft before I ****ed up too badly.

    We crossed the street and headed back over to the cafeteria in the University Center. We shuffled through line, collected our food, and found a table by the window.

    “There’s a party tomorrow night,” Rebecca said.

    “You going?” I asked, biting into my fish sandwich.

    “Yeah. You wanna come?”


    “We kind of need a driver,” Austin said, a little sheepishly. I chuckled.

    “Naturally. Where’s it at?”

    “It’s at a house way over on East Prospect.”

    “Friends of yours?”

    “Yeah,” Austin replied. “A lot of people from Art & Design.”

    “Super.” I crammed an onion ring into my mouth.

    “Will you take us?” Rebecca asked. “C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

    “So you’re asking me to sully my good name by being a complicit with your illicit under-aged drinking?

    “Um…yes. Yes we are,” Austin said, grinning.

    “Fine. As long as that’s clear.” I laughed. What the hell, I thought. I usually didn’t like parties. I don’t drink, and often I’m the only one not drinking. That’s kind of a drag, when everyone else is wasted and you don’t have anyone to talk to. Still, though. I needed to get out and socialize more, I told myself. As it was, I was getting laid rarely enough to make it a statistical anomaly, and that situation definitely needed rectifying.
    When I returned to my dorm room, I found another blacklight email waiting for me. The message was very short, stating only that EXODUS wanted to talk and giving me a number to call.

    Perfect, I thought to myself. Later that evening, I ran to the store and bought a pre-paid phone card. On the way home, I stopped at a pay phone outside of a gas station, and dialed the number I’d been given.

    “Yes?” The voice sounded tinny, almost artificial.

    “This Is Hopper,” I said.

    “This is EXODUS. It is a pleasure. We would like for you to meet face to face with our operative to discuss the terms of this contract.”

    “That’s fine. He’ll have to come to me, though.”

    “You’re not worried about revealing your location?”

    “Seems to me you prettymuch figured it out for yourselves. Besides, I sincerely doubt you guys’ll go running to the FBI on me.” The voice laughed, which sounded very strange.

    “You are correct about that, Mr. Hopper. Tuesday the 21st?”

    “That’s fine. Now…” We spoke for a few minutes longer, setting up the location and time. I had one final thing to say to EXODUS, though. My demeanor instantly went from affable to icy.

    “You’d better be on the level. You **** with me and all you get back is your operative’s head wrapped in foil. Do you understand me?” There was a long pause.

    “Yes, Mr. Hopper. We understand.”

    “Good. Tuesday, then.” I hung up.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2007
  16. Silvanus

    Silvanus Member

    Mar 12, 2006
    Great work again! I love your stories:)
  17. Glock22

    Glock22 Member

    Jul 29, 2006
    Bravo Nightcrawler!!!!:D :D :D
  18. Davo

    Davo Member

    May 23, 2005
    Riverside County, California
    Good read so far...

    Nightcrawler do you have a compilation of your stories that I can purchase?
  19. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone

    Absolutely not. All of the Crawlerverse stories are free and will be on THR. If you email me with a valid email address, I'll put you on my list of people to get a compiled .PDF version of this trilogy whenever it's complete. It'll be a while, as Correia and I haven't started on Book 3 yet, but I'll do my best to make it worth the wait.
  20. hankdatank1362

    hankdatank1362 Member

    Aug 5, 2006
    Myrtle Beach
    This is the first story of yours I have actually taken the time to actually read.

    Very well done! Generally, I can't get into fiction, but yours is very believable.
  21. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone
    4: Party

    “Get up and do it AGAIN!” Decker yelled. Breathing hard, I pushed myself up off of the mat. I was shaky but I got to my feet. Aryeh stood there, patiently waiting for me to get my bearings. It was very polite of him to be so considerate while issuing his beatings.

    Taking a deep breath, I nodded and Aryeh came at me again. He was, of course, holding back, but I was having difficulty in mastering this move. Corwin had picked it up handily, and even Triana seemed to be doing better in hand to hand combat than I. I’d never been in a fist-fight in my life, and was ill-prepared for this sort of thing.

    Aryeh swung his fist out, a violent right hook. I moved, and everything happened in slow motion. As his fist came around, I dodged to the right, grabbed his arm, and flipped him over my shoulder. He landed on the mat with a loud FWAP sound and looked up at me with a toothy grin.

    “Very good, Hopper,” he said. “I knew you’d get it. Now I slowed down to make it easier for you, so next time I’ll go just a bit faster, okay? The trick is to be fluid. This isn’t about strength and aggression, though those are assets.” He stood up, straightening his protective headgear. “It’s about flexibility. You use the other man’s strength against him, let him waste it trying to hit you. Then you surprise him with speed and violence. Also remember that you are a very big young man. When I’m finished with you you’ll be as strong as an ox, and you have body mass on your side. Use it. Smaller opponents may be faster and more agile than you, but you can use your size to absorb their attacks and overpower them.”

    Aryeh was a former Israeli commando and Mossad agent. He made a lot more money in the mercenary business, though. Apparently he and Decker went way back, though neither of them talked about the past much.

    What Aryeh did talk about was hand to hand combat. He’d been an instructor for the Israeli Special Forces and really knew his stuff. He was used to teaching out of shape kids how to kill with their bare hands, and I was doing my best to learn. It was a frustratingly slow process for me, though. Decker absolutely insisted that all of us become as lethal as possible. Even Triana, who served as our tech geek and rarely went on operations, had to learn how to shoot and how to fight.

    I was a big kid, clumsy and awkward to boot. As such I presented a special challenge to Aryeh, but he seemed to revel in it. He kept pushing me to try harder and never let me quit. To emphasize that last point, if I whined about wanting to quit I’d have to move fast to dodge a boot to the gut. He was a harsh instructor, but even I was making progress under his tutelage.

    I’d done much better with firearms. Hawk was an excellent instructor, even considering that before this, I’d never fired anything bigger than a .22 in my life. I’d progressed rapidly with handgun, rifle, and shotgun, and Hawk told me he was impressed. He chided me for my choice of pistol, a 9mm CZ-85B, but I liked the Czech gun and it shot well. I did okay with Decker’s CAR-15, though I really preferred the powerful .308-caliber carbine that Hawk used. Mostly, though, I shot the Chinese AK-47 they’d given me. It wasn’t nearly as nice as Hawk’s carbine or as slick as Decker’s CAR, but it was easy to use and was always reliable.

    I loved the shooting. Hawk wanted me to try his revolvers, and I was looking forward to that. I wasn’t so sure about the martial arts, though. It seemed like little more than an excuse for them to pummel me, and I honestly wondered when I’d ever have cause to use what I was learning.


    I found myself thinking that all of these college house parties were the same. I looked around at my surroundings; people had had formed into small groups and were chatting loudly. The air stank of cigarette smoke and booze, and the place was littered with brown bottles and those ubiquitous red plastic cups.

    Austin, Rebecca, and I sat with a couple of their geeky friends from the Art & Design Department. Rebecca had had more to drink than Austin and was giggling loudly at everything. Austin had become incessantly chatty, and the drunker he got the more he talked. With us were two of their friends, a big guy with a buzzed head and a stubbly beard, and another kid with long sideburns and a funny little goatee. Also sitting with us was a skinny girl whose name I didn’t know. Rebecca kept looking at me and grinning. It seemed like the more this girl had to drink (her name was Trisha, I think) the closer to me she’d sit.

    Holy crap, I thought to myself. I’m making time. With a girl. I was going to have to thank Becky for this later.

    Our little cluster of chairs was in a corner, with a coffee table in the middle, away from the rest of the crowd. We discussed nothing of importance, but were having a good time. I didn’t know Austin’s friends, but they were a hoot. I was having a ball just listening to them go back and forth with each other.

    The rest of the party seemed to be dying, though. It was about that time, nearly three in the morning. Quite a few people had passed out already, though a few still shuttled back and forth up and down the stairs. Upstairs, of course, there were rooms for having sex or smoking marijuana (or possibly some combination thereof). So yeah, it was a pretty typical college party, and I was sure I was the only one there drinking a Mountain Dew. I hate Mountain Dew.

    There was one other group of people at the party that were being loud, though. That is to say, one member of the group was being loud.

    “Who the **** is that?” I asked of my group, looking over at him. He was a lean, short, pretty-boy with an obnoxious voice. He was loudly discussing white water rafting or something to a group of drunk freshman girls, and he had them utterly captivated. He smoked a tiny cigar of some kind and laughed at all of his own jokes.

    “That’s Cory Walker,” one of Austin’s friends said.

    “Yeah,” Austin agreed, “he’s a rich kid. His dad is like some big shot lawyer down state. He has all kinds of money.”

    “So what the ****’s he doing at Northern?” I asked. A fair question. NMU isn’t exactly Ivy League.

    “He’s too stupid to get into Tech,” Rebecca said with a red faced giggle.

    “And State won’t take him,” Austin’s other friend agreed. We all laughed.

    “So he’s an Art major?” I asked.

    “Sort of,” Austin said. “He does metal sculptures. It’s bad. Really, really bad.” His friends laughed again.

    “He does get the girls, though,” someone said.

    “I see that,” I replied, watching him. There were four girls sitting around him, red cups in hand, giggling at his lame jokes and hanging off of every word. He continued to blather on about kayaking, rock climbing, and how freaking awesome he thought he was. I rolled my eyes.

    “He’s a ****ing *******,” Rebecca said suddenly. We all looked at her in surprise.

    Language, young lady,” I said, laughing. It wasn’t like Becky to swear quite so loudly.

    “He wouldn’t stop hitting on me,” she went on. “I finally told him just to leave me alone, and he called me a bitch, and…”

    “He what? When the ****…?” Austin cut in.

    “Okay, settle down kids,” I said. “**** ‘im anyway, he’s an asshat.” I gestured at him with my thumb as I said this. That proved to be a mistake, as he was looking in our direction as I did so.

    “Hey!” he yelled. I ignored him and continued sipping my Mountain Dew. I wasn’t going to get into it with this guy.

    “HEY! You!” He yelled again, louder this time. The room began to quiet down as everyone sensed the disturbance. I continued to ignore him.

    “HEY! I’m talking to you! Yeah, you! With the glasses! You got a ****in’ problem with me?” Everyone was quiet now, and all eyes were on me.

    God damn it, I thought. I honestly didn’t know what to say to him. I was never good at situations like this. As I came of age, I had two methods of dealing with people: ignore them or kill them. I know that sounds terrible, but that’s the life of a professional bag man, and that’s the environment I grew up in. Your only friends were your comrades on your team. Everyone else was either a target, a client, or someone that would sing to the cops. So you learned to keep to yourself, and social situations were often a little awkward for me.

    Cory approached, striding towards us confidently. You can tell a lot about a man from the way he carries himself, and Cory moved with an arrogant air. It was more than self-confidence; it was ego, undoubtedly bolstered by a lifetime of getting everything he wanted. He seemed self-conscious about his height, though, and tried to puff himself up. One of his girls moved with him, hanging off his arm and loudly chewing on gum. She was obviously amused by the entire situation.

    “So what’s the problem big guy?” Cory said, standing over me. Big guy. I was quickly losing patience with him, and everyone in the room was still staring at me. Still, the best thing to do would be to swallow my pride and walk away, I thought to myself. I didn’t need any kind of exposure, and I sure as hell didn’t need to talk to the Marquette Police. Punching this ****** bag in his loud mouth was not the best way to resolve this, however tempting it seemed. I didn’t stand up.

    “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he said with an arrogant gleam in his eye. “You just keep your mouth shut. I’m wearing the daddy pants here.” As if to prove his masculine prowess, he took the girl in his arm and sloppily French-kissed her while grabbing her butt. A black thong was showing from the tops of her low-rider jeans, and he snapped her waistband as he came up for air. She laughed out loud at this.

    “You ****ing skank!” someone yelled from across the room. All eyes shot to an inebriated young woman who had just come down the stairs. Her blond hair was mussed, and her short skirt was wrinkled. She stormed over towards Cory, wobbling on her high heeled clogs. She wasn’t focused on him, though.

    “Lisa how could you do this to me?” she said loudly to the girl Cory had just kissed. She put her hands on her hips and glared at her (former?) friend. If looks could kill…

    “Vanessa, I…” her friend started, but Vanessa wasn’t having any of it.

    “You slut! And you,” she said, looking over at Cory at last.

    “Who’s that?” I asked, leaning over towards Rebecca.

    “Vanessa Tyler,” Rebecca replied. “Cory’s girlfriend. They were upstairs doing it earlier. I guess she passed out again.”

    “Former girlfriend?” I asked. She was a hottie.

    “I doubt it,” Rebecca said. “They do this like twice a month.” Vanessa continued to bitch Cory out, and everyone was staring at them. People were starting to laugh, and Cory was obviously embarrassed. The problem is, when people like Cory get embarrassed, they feel the need to reinforce to everyone how tough they are. I saw it coming before it actually happened, and sure enough…

    “Shut UP, bitch!” Cory yelled finally. Vanessa slapped him across the mouth. The audible smack resonated through the room, and afterwards you could’ve heard a pin drop. Cory visibly fumed for a moment, then with both hands shoved Vanessa roughly. She stumbled to the floor, and my heart dropped into my stomach. Oh hell, I thought. This is gonna be a long night. I stood up.

    “Mike…” Austin warned. I ignored him. I felt the sudden anger subside, replaced by the calm. I strode over to Cory, though he didn’t notice me. He was glaring at Vanessa, who sat on the floor, sobbing now.

    I tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned to me, I violently cracked him upside the head with my left fist. He spun around and fell to the floor, and I stood there looking down at him. He was shocked, but his shock turned to anger when he touched his nose and found the trickle of blood there. I waited for him to get up.

    He swung at me with a punch of his own. It was slow and clumsy in his intoxicated state, though, and I dodged it easily. As his arm swung past me, I grabbed with my left hand. I grabbed his left shoulder with my right hand, and used his momentum to flip him around. I brought his left arm up behind his back, bending it at an unnatural angle, and slammed Cory against the wall. I moved my right hand to the back of his head, grabbing his hair, and slammed his face against the cheap, 70s-vintage wood paneling several times.

    “Calm down,” I said into his ear. He struggled some more, but all I had to do was pull on his arm and he quieted down. “I can break your shoulder or I can snap your wrist. Now you calm the **** down.” He was wide-eyed with exasperation and surprise. I held him there for a moment, and the room was dead silent, save for Vanessa’s sobbing.

    “Holy ****,” someone whispered.

    “This is ****in’ awesome,” someone else said.

    “My dad’s a lawyer,” Cory managed weakly.

    “I think you should leave,” I heard someone say. I looked over to my right. I didn’t know who the young woman was, but she sported jeans, a tie-dyed t-shirt, horn-rimmed glasses, and some kind of weird dreadlocks. “Get out before I call the cops. You need to leave.” Taking a deep breath, I let Cory go.

    “I think you’re right. I don’t know about calling the cops, what with all the underage drinking and pot smoking going on. Austin, you ‘bout ready, or you wanna walk?”

    “Yeah…” Austin said, staring at Cory, who was slumped against the wall. Two of his freshman fan club immediately came to his aid. One of them called me an *******, and I smiled at her. I walked over to Vanessa. She looked up at me as I extended a hand down to her. There were thick streaks of mascara running down her face, and her nose was red. She took my hand and I pulled her to her feet.

    “You alright?” I asked. She sniffled and nodded her head in the affirmative. “Okay,” I said. “C’mon, I’ll give you a ride home.”

    “Get out of my house,” the hippie girl said, more forcefully this time. Ignoring her, I led Vanessa out the door with Austin and Rebecca in tow. So there I was, driving home early Sunday morning. Rebecca and Austin sat in the back seat in awkward silence. Vanessa sat in my passenger’s seat, sobbing once more, the victim of a volatile cocktail of alcohol and estrogen. Why do I always have to be the dad? I sighed heavily and looked at my friends in the rear-view mirror.

    “I don’t know about you guys, but I had a great time.”
  22. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone
    Don't worry guys. I know it starts off kind of slow. I put more character development into it, so it doesn't translate quite as well to episodic format. It picks up soon. :cool:

    FWIW, the aforementioned chapter is an amalgamation of several things that took place back when I was in school. I miss college. :D
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2007
  23. Correia

    Correia Moderator Emeritus

    Dec 19, 2002
    Nightcrawler's back. :)

    This will be Part I. The Welcome Back thread was Part II. And then we will be doing Part III.

    Yes, we have many evil things planned.
  24. Nightcrawler

    Nightcrawler Member

    Dec 24, 2002
    Utah, inside the Terraformed Zone
    5: The Operative

    “Hey Mike,” Matthew said.



    “Call me Hopper. My name’s Hopper now…Corwin.” He grinned at me.

    “Okay, fine, Hopper. Have they started yet?”

    “You can hear the radio as well as I can, dude. I don’t think so.” We were crouched behind the ruins of a stone wall, about thirty meters from the back door of the warehouse. I sniffed the air; the scent of dust and garbage filled my nostrils.

    “Mexico stinks.”

    “Yeah,” Matthew/Corwin agreed. “I can’t believe we’re really doing this.”

    “Yeah…it’s weird, isn’t it? I keep thinking that this isn’t real. It doesn’t feel real.” I looked down at the Kalashnikov rifle in my hands. I pulled the charging handle back slightly, confirming yet again that there was still a round in the chamber. I was nervous. I leaned to my left and peeked out from behind the wall. The warehouse was still quiet.

    “What the hell are they waiting for?” I asked aloud.

    “Who knows?” Corwin said. He shifted again. I could tell he was as restless as I was. We were both wearing black body armor vests with steel plates front and back, as well as load-bearing vests over that. Mine was green, Corwin’s was black, and had a built-in holster on the left side that held his Beretta 92FS pistol. I took off my glasses and wiped my brow again. It was ridiculously hot for September, at least by my standards. It was probably normal for Mexico, though. Mainly we were just nervous.

    “EXECUTE EXECUTE EXECUTE!” Decker’s command sounded harsh over the radio, and the quiet of the night was shattered as gunfire erupted from the warehouse. I leaned back over, trying to keep most of my body behind the cover of the wall, and leveled my rifle at the back door of the building.

    I couldn’t see much of anything, and aside from muffled gunshots from inside the building, I couldn’t hear anything either. But I knew what was happening. Decker and Hawk entered from one side of the building while Aryeh, Ramirez, and Doc entered from the other. They both tossed flash-bangs in after they breached the doors, and were clearing out the building. Corwin and I were providing rear guard, since this was our first time out, while Triana stayed in the van monitoring police channels.

    Triana, I thought to myself as I aimed my rifle, trying to use the sights in the darkness. The beautiful young computer hacker was interesting, to say the least. Her real name was Melinda, but like most of us, she’d given up her name. She was kind of Goth, I guess, and kept her hair dyed purple with black ribbons in it. I didn’t know where Decker had found her, but she was there the first time Matthew and I were introduced to SWITCHBLADE. Apparently she was some kind of genius, but she didn’t talk to us much. I don’t know if it was because she was shy, or if maybe it was because being the only girl on the team was weird, but she kept to herself. Corwin had a huge crush on her, though. I didn’t know. There was something different about her, but I couldn’t…

    My thoughts were interrupted when the back door of the warehouse burst open, and three armed men came running out. I didn’t even realize it, but I’d moved my rifle’s selector switch two clicks down to the semiauto position.

    “CONTACT!” I yelled as I squeezed the trigger. The rifle barked loudly, and my hearing was shot. I was aiming at the first man out the door, who was running right at me. I fired a second shot, and then a third, and he fell to the dirt. The man behind him froze, and began to raise his weapon, but I kept firing. Four, five, six, then seven shots, and he went down as well. I had no idea how many of those actually hit him. The third man darted back behind the warehouse door frame and fired at us with his Uzi. I ducked back behind the wall and clenched my teeth as bullets impacted it and the dirt near my feet.

    Suddenly, Corwin stood up, shifted his MP5 submachine gun to his left shoulder, and leaned out from behind the wall. He fired off a long burst, probably ten rounds, then two shorter bursts. I was pelted with hot brass as he did so, and swore aloud when one of them went down my collar. He ducked back down and tapped me on the shoulder.

    “I got him! He’s down!” A moment later, as I was trying to dig a burning cartridge casing out from under the collar of my body armor, our radios crackled to life.

    “CLEAR! ALL CLEAR!” It was Decker again. “Hopper, Corwin, safe your weapons and get in here, we’ve got work to do and we don’t have much time.” I squeezed the microphone clipped to the right shoulder of my vest and replied.

    “Roger!” I looked over at Corwin. “C’mon, Matthew, let’s go!”



    “My name is Corwin now, remember…Hopper?” He was grinning, and I grinned back at him. I put my rifle on SAFE but kept it held at the low-ready as we moved towards the building. My ears were still ringing, and I could hear my own breathing as well as I could hear anything else.

    I paused as I approached the first man that had come out of the door. He was Mexican, wearing a dirty t-shirt and blue jeans, and on the ground next to him was the folding-stock Kalashnikov he’d been carrying. He was laying face down in a pool of blood, and two exit wounds were apparent on his back. One was low and on his left side, the other was higher and right in the middle. I looked like it had gone through his spine.

    The other man was on his side, with only one hole in him. The bullet had entered right where his collarbone was and had exited out his right shoulder. His eyes were wide and his jaw was slack. Looking ahead, I could see the third man just inside the door, laying in a pool of his own blood. I looked up at Corwin, who looked over at me. I realized then that I had just killed two men. I didn’t see what the big deal was.

    As we entered the warehouse, I noticed that my hands were shaking. I didn’t make it five steps in the door before I threw up.


    I pulled into the parking lot under a dark, gunmetal sky. Parking my car at the far end of the lot, I got out and observed my surroundings. Nothing unusual, though the place seemed a bit crowded for a Tuesday. Nothing to do but wait for my contact to arrive, I thought to myself. I leaned against my car and pulled out my cell phone, pretending to play with it while I watched the parking lot.

    I didn’t have to wait long. A black sedan pulled into the space next to mine. Considering there were plenty of empty spaces closer to the door, I assumed that this was my guy. Still, I didn’t look at him, but continued to study my phone. Right on time, at any rate.

    “Hot enough for you?” I asked, my breath smoking in the chill air.

    “Yes, but it is a dry heat,” answered a clear soprano in accented English. I quickly looked up from my phone, and laid eyes on the EXODUS operative for the first time. She smiled at me.

    “My name is Ling, Mr. Hopper,” she said, extending her hand. I shook it gently as she considered me with dark eyes. She was beautiful; tall, probably five foot nine, and slender. She had night-black hair and looked Chinese, or maybe a Chinese-American mix. She was obviously in very good physical condition, and her smile was warm. Her eyes were not.

    Hmph, I grumbled, getting ahold of myself. This wasn’t the first time that a potential client had sent a beautiful woman as a negotiator; it was an old trick, meant to soften me up. Hell, I thought. Depending on how attractive they want to make the deal, she may offer to sleep with me. It wasn’t unheard of. I chuckled to myself. Honestly, I had expected better of EXODUS. All the same, I had business to conduct.

    “Let’s go inside,” I said. “It’s starting to rain.” As if to drive the point home, thunder rumbled in the distance. Ling smiled at me again and headed for the door, leaving me behind. Her clothes were well tailored, with tight-fitting charcoal colored pants and a black leather jacket. Attractive, but nothing that would draw too much attention to her. I figured that she was either completely unaware of the way she moved, how her hips swayed when she walked, or (more likely) that she was totally working it for my benefit. I smiled to myself and followed along.

    “Hi! Welcome to Applebees! Just two tonight? Would you like smoking or non?”


    “Non smoking, please,” Ling replied, cutting me off. The hostess nodded and led us to our table, a booth in the back corner of the restaurant. Ling took off her jacket, revealing a tight white turtleneck and a stainless steel Russian Orthodox cross hanging from a chain around her neck.

    You’re probably wondering why I wanted to meet the EXODUS operative at an Applebees, of all places. It’s true that meeting in public guarantees that people will see you; however, I didn’t think it’d be a problem. I ate at this restaurant all the time; the only difference here was that I was with a girl (which, admittedly, was rare enough). On the other hand, a crowded place like an Applebees was noisy enough that it was maddeningly difficult to bug, and public enough that most professionals would shy away from trying anything treacherous. I can’t tell you how foolish it is to meet with someone down at the docks or in a warehouse, like you see in all the movies, especially if you’re supposed to be giving them something. The only thing standing between you and them shooting you is their sense of decency, and that’s nothing you should bet your life on.

    Besides that, I was hungry, and ordered a bacon cheeseburger when our excessively perky waitress appeared. Ling asked for only a glass of water.

    “So what can I do for you, Ms. Ling?” I asked, sipping my soda. She smiled at me again, but her eyes considered me carefully.

    “There is a shipment of human cargo coming through here on Saturday. A tractor-trailer full of slaves, crossing over from Canada at Sault Ste. Marie. It will be crossing through Michigan into Wisconsin. We do not usually operate in the United States, much less an unlikely place such as this. It was our good fortune that you happened to be living in exile here. Will you help us?”

    “There’s a lot of road between here and the Soo,” I said. “How do you know which way it’s going?”

    “We…extracted that information from one of their receiving clerks,” she replied, contempt dripping in her voice. “He was very helpful. There is a distribution center of sorts in Des Moines, and from there they’re sent to their final destinations.”

    “I can’t believe that this goes on here and you never hear about it,” I said skeptically.

    “They don’t operate in large numbers in America. Slave labor is cheap here. Drug addicts and illegal immigrants provide the vast majority of the manpower, whether they’re prostitutes on the street or workers in a sweat shop. These slaves are different, though.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “They’re all girls, Mr. Hopper, the oldest being fifteen. They’re extremely valuable in the American market as sex slaves. They were never officially in the country, so they can’t very well be reported missing, can they? They’re smuggled into the underground system, and from there to rich pedophiles, black-market porn rings, and high-end child prostitution rings.”

    “Jesus,” I said, looking down at my burger. You hear about this stuff happening in the third world, but you’d never think it’d happen here in the States. It never ceases to amaze me how sick people can be.

    “Will you help us?”

    “What is it that you want me to do?”

    “I was not able to assemble my usual team,” Ling replied casually. “We’re down three. I can’t very well stage an assault with just three of us.”

    “Wait a minute,” I said. “Your team? You’re one of their shooters?”

    “Yes, Mr. Hopper. I am a small unit leader. This surprises you?”

    “A bit.”

    “Because I am a woman?” she asked, an edge in her voice.

    “No, because usually the negotiator isn’t a trigger-puller. It’s poor operational security.”

    “Perhaps, but EXODUS is an old organization, and we do cling to our traditions. It gets tiresome sometimes, but it helps keep us grounded.”

    “Just how old is EXODUS? And why bring in an outsider?”

    “The organization was founded in eighteen thirty-six. We had a larger presence in the United States in the old days, working with American abolitionists. As for your second question…that’s complicated. It’s primarily because we don’t have a lot of people to spare right now. There are other things going on. It’s not the best operational security, as you say, but we’ve studied you quite intensely.”

    “I’m disturbed by how easily you located me.”

    “Don’t be. Our intelligence is very good. Better than many countries’, actually.”

    “Is it true that you kill every slaver you catch?”

    “It’s no less than they deserve.” Ling’s eyes could’ve bored holes in me.

    “You seem…committed…” I replied carefully. I was wondering if she actually bought into all of this, or if it was just her sales pitch. Ling surprised me by rolling up her left sleeve. Tattooed on her forearm was an eight-digit number.

    “I was once a slave, Mr. Hopper. Committed doesn’t begin to describe my feelings in this matter. Will you help us or not?” I looked down into my soda, thinking hard.

    “Ten thousand.”

    “Done,” she replied, unhesitatingly. “Lower than I expected, actually. How many men will you be providing?”

    “You’re looking at ‘em,” I said casually.

    “I don’t understand,” she said, her voice softening again.

    “I tried to explain this to your contact on the phone. SWITCHBLADE effectively ceased to exist almost two years ago. What you see is what you get.”

    “I…see. So that is why your fee is so low.”

    “Yeah. Ten thousand is more than enough for a day’s work, I think.”

    “I agree, but…” she hesitated. “I do not know if it’ll be enough. As I said my team is short. Two couldn’t make it, and one was…one was killed last month. Can you replace three men?”

    “I can’t guarantee that, but how much resistance are you expecting?”

    “Not much. I just prefer to be cautious.”

    “Then I’m your guy. Listen to me. I know my way around here, and if worse comes to worse I’ve got safe places to hide and contacts get us out of trouble. I’m your best bet.”

    “You have a deal, Mr. Hopper,” she said, smiling again. For the first time, her dark eyes softened, though not by much.

    “Please. My name is Michael. Besides, I don’t go by ‘Hopper’ anymore. Now, let’s figure this out…” We spent the next half hour making arrangements before leaving the restaurant. As she got into her car, though, Ling had one last thing to tell me.

    “The slavery ring we’re dealing with is large and powerful. They service many wealthy and influential customers, and these people have a vested interest in keeping their secrets. They’re willing to pay vast sums of money and do anything to ensure that. We have reason to believe that agents of this slavery ring may be onto us,” she said bluntly. “Please be careful, Michael. They can be ruthless. I’ll be in touch.” With that, she rolled up her car window and drove off, leaving me standing in the rain. I sighed.

  25. dracphelan

    dracphelan Member

    Oct 15, 2005
    Garland, TX
    Nightcrawler, I'm really enjoying this so far. As an aside, I know how your character feels. I'm am usually the only sober one at the party.
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