The Raid

The Raid

By Geoffrey C Porter
I knew it was time. A few hours earlier, I ate my last package of Kahiki Chicken Fried Rice. I knew it was time for a trip to the frozen foods section of my favorite grocery store. The Kahiki Chicken Fried Rice was pivotal to my diet, yet I feared that the grocery store would be sold out as was often the case.

I drove across town passing by two inferior grocers on the way. I was on a mission, and I would not fail. The clock struck 2 A.M. as I stepped into the store.

I ditched and dodged past the sale displays of snack cakes and peanut butter cookies. I reached the frozen food section and cardboard boxes were stacked in front of the doors. I was closer to a brand I didn’t enjoy as much as Kahiki, so I pushed the boxes out of the way of the door and grabbed a variety of the inferior brand. I would eat just Kahiki, but variety is the spice of life.

I made my way to the section storing the Kahiki. Again boxes sat in my way to get into the freezer doors. I started moving the boxes out of the way. I didn’t see any General Tsos or Chicken Fried Rice, and I sighed. How will I survive?

Then my eyes wandered to the cardboard boxes.

I looked around. I was alone.

I ripped the tape off the top box and looked inside: Kahiki Sweet and Sour Chicken. I set that box off to the side. I opened the next box. I laughed maniacally, for the second box contained Kahiki Chicken Fried Rice. I stashed three packages in my basket. I moved the cardboard box to the side and opened the next box. I smiled when I read the label: General Tso’s.

I grabbed two packages and put them in my basket.

A voice snarled from behind me, “What do you think you’re doing?”

I turned to look. A tall Amazon with perky breasts and short brown hair stared at me with her hands on her hips. I have always fancied tall women. Well, in truth there were very few categories of women I didn’t fancy, but the tall ones were special to me.

I said, “What do you mean?”

“You’ve ruined my whole system!”

She had brown eyes and the cutest frown complete with dimples.

“I needed my Kahiki,” I said, with an attempt at a friendly smile.

“This is going to set me back hours! I’m going to have to stay late off the clock!”

I showed off my teeth. “I like you.”

“What?”

“I think you’re good looking…”

She glared at me. I moved a little closer to her. She didn’t back away. I was like, what the hell, so I kissed her.

She slapped me, which has been known to happen when you kiss strange girls.

She said, “I’m calling the cops!”

“What?”

“Yes, I’m calling the cops.”

“Why!”

“You just assaulted me!”

I smiled. “I could do it again.”

Her eyes opened wide, and she pulled a cell phone out of her pocket.

I took off in a run dropping my precious stockpile of frozen meals.

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The Pixie

The Pixie
By Geoffrey C Porter
The snake reached out to me with its forked tongue. It had black scales all along its back, but green scales adorned its underside. It seemed to shake its head and then twist and turn into the tall grass. I wondered what would come by next. That damn pixie cast some spell on me, and all I can do is sit here. Then I tried moving. It worked. I pushed myself to my feet, and a tingling sensation coursed through my feet and ankles, but it evaporated as the sun finished setting.

The autumn wind rustled through the trees, causing dead brown leaves to whisper to the ground here and there. I hadn’t eaten in ages, and I kept my eyes peeled for any sort of berry or fruit, edible or not.

I started hunting for dandelions. The pixie demanded two handfuls, claiming she needed it for wine. I found one yellow flower after another and kept at it until my pockets were full. After walking back to the ancient oak tree, I knocked on the trunk.

The tiniest little creature you could imagine maybe two inches tall with clear wings stepped out from behind the tree trunk. She had kind of pointy little breasts and wide hips. Her long and black hair was neatly arranged in a bow. She wore a well-tailored moleskin dress and high heeled boots. In a high pitched, loud voice, she screeched, “Did you get the dandelions?”

“Don’t hurt me!”

The creature glared. “I won’t if you do as I ask.”

“I did what you said. I got the dandelions.”

“Show me,” she said.

I started pulling the flowers out of my pockets in a great mass.

“Hand them to me one at a time, you idiot!”

I held out one flower. The pixie flew off the limb and grabbed it. She slid through a hinged door and came back out. She started to tap her foot. I shrugged.

“I need more than one!” She howled.

“Oh.” I held out another dandelion. She snatched it and went back through the door. She came back out. I held out another blossom.

This went on for some time. I handed over the last flower. She came back out of the door, and I started to back away. She flew up to my face and tapped me on the nose with her wand. I transformed into a rock.

Being a rock wasn’t so bad. I waited. Birds liked to perch on me, and of course inevitably, the birds didn’t seem to mind pooping on their perch. So I spent some time as a rock. It was very spiritual.

One day, the pixie returned, and tapped me again with her wand.

I morphed back into a human shape. Although I might not be human, mum always said my father was a goat, but that’s another story.

I looked at the pixie. She looked at me and smiled. She had stark white, pointy teeth, and a tanned complexion. I ran. The pixie was faster though and flew ahead of me and threatened me with the wand. I stopped running and started crying. “Please don’t hurt me! I’ve done everything you’ve asked!”

She shook her head. “You haven’t done enough! I need hawk eggshells.”

I wept. She kicked me in the eye.

“What was that for!” I yelled.

“If you’re going to cry,” she said, “I’ll give you something to cry about!”

I did my best back away routine.

She waved her wand. “Oh no you don’t.” She pulled out a little pipe, stuffed it with something, and lit it with a flintlock lighter. “You’ll get me some hatched hawk eggs first.”

“Then you’ll let me go?”

She rubbed at her chin.

“I’ll get you the hawk eggs, if you promise to let me go…”

“No deal. Get the eggs first then we talk.”

So, I started climbing trees and soon got pretty good at it, too. I found some hatched bird eggs. Not knowing if they were hawk eggs, I put them in a pouch anyway and lowered them by rope to the forest floor. I stumbled upon an apple tree and climbed until I found some ripe apples. My stomach was full for the first time in what seemed like years.

I went to the pixie’s tree and knocked. She answered with a wide smile on her face.

She selected one of the egg shells and went inside. She came back out with a yellow liquid in the shell. “Drink it!”

“I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me! Let me go!”

“Drink it, now!” She shouted.

“I went inside the volcano for ash. I found you newt claws. I did everything!”

“What I’ve done to you so far is nothing compared to what I’ll do to you, if you don’t drink the wine.”

I took the egg shell and chugged it. It tasted good. I started to shrink until I was no bigger than a pixie. I felt compelled to check on the size of my manhood, but then I realized I was in public with birds and chipmunks watching.

The pixie grabbed my hand. “Now we can get married.”

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Turtles & Rabbits

Turtles & Rabbits (by Geoffrey C Porter)

A version of this story was originally published by Bards and Sages Quarterly.

The ancient but timeless snapping turtle sat on a tree stump lecturing on the proper application of technique in writing. I sat listening and nodding, wondering if I would be allowed to speak anytime soon. The turtle went on to claim that he was a third generation linguistics expert, and his policies regarding technique were taught in all the best universities. My attention span for such things is limited, and I interrupted, “But, can’t I simply put pen to paper and etch the words out as they come to me?”

“Oh no,” the turtle said, “you must be inspired to plot out a great picture in the reader’s mind. You must paint a vivid canvas of colors and imagery. You cannot simply put down ideas and concepts. The writing must flow from word to word. You must assume your first draft is atrocious, and write a second draft, and finally a third draft. Some even go as far as to write a fourth or fifth draft.”

I had to interrupt again, “But, what if I’m careful, and I get it right the first time?”

The turtle cracked a wide smile, and there were bits of food stuck in his teeth. “You won’t get it right the first time. Nobody gets it right the first time. I’ve seen your first drafts, and you manage almost fifty errors per page.”

“But you’ve said in the past that the difference between a first draft and a second draft equates to improving the plot.”

“Yes, but would it hurt to fix the errors?”

“Publishers have armies of editors.”

“Will a publisher read past the first error?”

I paused at that. Would they?

The rabbit next to me whispered in my ear, “I got sex right the first time.”

“Sex and writing are two very different things!” The turtle said with a raised, high-pitched voice.

“For the reader, are they that different?” I asked. “I mean, you derive pleasure from both. Both should have a climax.”

“Writing is a skill that works like a muscle,” the turtle said. “There are countless exercises that will build up that muscle, and you must practice them everyday.”

I shook my head back and forth, thinking what kind of maroon does exercises? “But I want to write a new story every day. Isn’t that exercise enough?”

The turtle shot lasers out of his eyes at me and howled. “No! The exercises are more important than any story.”

I sighed. I had heard the turtle talk about exercises before, and those talks bored me to tears. I often wondered if I was interested in this writing class, but it was the only writing class in the forest.

The turtle’s eyes shifted from me to the other pupils. “Don’t aspire to be as good a writer as I am. Be content if you can write one decent story in your life. Someday, you might have a great epiphany and become a great writer, but until then, you must practice and revise.”

“But… I don’t want to revise old stories. I want to write new stories.”

The turtle turned back to face me and simultaneously slumped his shoulders down low. “I have read your old stories, and they aren’t very good. You need to apply the technique of imagery and detail to each one. You need to give your characters thoughts and emotions. It’s not good enough to create a solid plot or a bit of action. You must write each story as if a blind rabbit were reading it. You must detail every image and character.”

“But, if I’m writing for a blind turtle, it seems the imagery would matter less, for a blind man has never seen a blond haired, blue eyed wench. He doesn’t need to know what she looks like. My characters are defined by their actions.”

The turtle laughed a happy little chuckle. “That’s the key to the imagery and sensory detail, for you must make a blind person see. You’ll have arrived as a writer when you can make a blind man see and a hard man cry.”

My eyes opened wide enough that they almost fell out. They almost did. “I’m a simple rabbit. I don’t want to make a blind man see, or a hard man cry; that is the work of miracles.”

“You will never be a writer.”

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The Bracelet

The Bracelet

By Geoffrey C Porter

This story was originally published in Breath & Shadow.

I took to wearing long sleeve shirts on my fourteenth birthday. Two years before, I received my bracelet, and the restrictions started. I was born with the sugar disease, and ever since I have been on insulin. The insulin doesn’t matter, for it lives in a simple little pump I wear around my bicep. I replaced the cartridges of medicine with fresh ones and watched the battery charge. I could charge it with any one of my other devices, so that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was the stinking bracelet.

It was worse for some of my friends at that age. One boy I knew had failing kidneys, and he couldn’t even walk up to a drinking fountain and take a drink of water if he was over the limit his doctor prescribed. The damn bracelets controlled everything. If I walked up to a vending machine, 82.3% (I did the math) of the selections would flash red and be locked out by black screens. If I walked up to the counter in a restaurant and tried to order a large milkshake, well they aren’t really milk shakes of course, a resounding alarm will sound if the equipment is in place. The equipment wasn’t always functioning or on, so it was worth it to wear long sleeve shirts and tempt fate on some of my crueler days.

It wasn’t illegal to try and ask for things I wasn’t allowed. They have talked about it in Congress, but you know how they talk and talk and talk. One of my friends made the mistake of asking for a beer when he was 16, and they called the cops. The cops just laughed and hit him a few times with their clubs. Only two or three times, not like they would if he had done something truly heinous like playing his car stereo too loud.

I turned 18, and I moved on to college. The equipment was everywhere. I met a guy without a bracelet, and he offered to sell me a Snickers bar for two dollars. I asked him, “What do they cost from the vending machine?”

He smiled. “You’ll never know, will you?”

Having never tried a Snickers bar, I still relished in the commercials. They did make sugar free Snickers, yes, but that is beside the point. I gave Bob his two dollars, and he handed over an ice cold Snickers bar. I was in heaven. I ate it so patiently. Of course, I threw it up later. My stomach simply twisted itself in knots until I went to the bathroom and encouraged it with my will to empty its contents.

The machines and cafeteria barely allowed me enough food to survive. I weighed in at 130 lbs. I told myself countless times standing on the scale, ‘130 lbs is unhealthy…’ I was hungry all the time. They let me have all the celery, carrots, and plain lettuce that I wanted. Oh, and vinegar, if I wanted to put vinegar on the lettuce, that was allowed. I craved a satisfying meal. At least I could get meat, when I wanted it. Mostly. The guys with kidney disease could get a thin slice of ham with breakfast, or a cheeseburger at lunch with the smallest slice of ground beef you’d ever seen.

I could get cheeseburgers, with no ketchup. I could get a steak, but they were costly. It’s like the government wanted me to live forever. But it was like that for everyone. I heard stories about the bracelets they give the elderly: how they cause doors to lock when you’re near, so you can’t even go outside to enjoy the fresh air.

I met this girl, and she was nice. She did the most wonderful things to me. She wore no bracelet though. She used to buy these chewy, little sweet candies called Bit-O-Honey. I even tried one. It was like bliss. Not the same kind of bliss being with her was like, but definitely sensory bliss in the form of taste. And the ice cream, she loved ice cream. She would buy pints of the best flavors and always offer to share with me. I couldn’t stand it. Better to starve, I said, and I broke up with her. It wasn’t the best decision I ever made in hindsight, but I was going through three insulin cartridges a week! I was back down to one cartridge a week in no time.

I grew a little older. I took on a job jumping through hoops for a big company.

I couldn’t get food. I had to eat every last calorie worth of food I purchased, or I would truly have withered away. I woke up in the nights with heavy shakes, and I would eat a four gram glucose tablet, of which I was allowed three per day. My doctor kept me on an 1800 calorie a day diet even though I begged and begged for more. He would quote the law and offer me no other choice than to live in anguish with bitter lows constantly assailing my physique.

I still wore long sleeve shirts, and I found myself wandering the streets seeking out a store without equipment. I saw a strange sign in my quest. It read, ‘One liter water, $2. M&Ms, small bag, $2.’

The sign hung next to a wooden door. I knocked. Inside someone shouted, “Come in!”

I stepped through the doorway.

A short, tan-skinned fellow with jet black hair and piercing brown eyes sat behind a counter. The lights were dim. Four coolers sat against walls. A rack of assorted candies leaned against one wall. They had other groceries available too, various nuts, cereals, rice, very common stuff. The short man smiled. “Cash only.”

I nodded. I knew if they had no equipment they’d only take cash. I stepped up to a rack of fruit and grabbed both an orange and an apple. I walked up to the candy selection and grabbed a box of Nerds, because I could make those last, and a Bit-O-Honey in homage to my first girlfriend. Oh, there had been a few others, of course.

The man took my dollars and smiled. He put everything in a thick paper bag, and I began to walk home. I went back to that store almost every day for a month. No more hunger for me. I even gained one pound.

It started across the Internet. New laws were being debated about increasing the strictness of the dietary management system they claimed was so effective and necessary. The laws passed of course. Thousands protested, but the laws passed.

I lasted for a week and a half before I found myself out of food credits and half starved with bad shakes and a twisted stomach. I walked to the store, expecting to find equipment for scanning bracelets. I poked my head inside. The short, dark haired fellow smiled at me. The cash register was there. The food was there. I didn’t see any equipment to scan a bracelet.

I grabbed a banana, a package of beans & rice, and a chocolate bar.

The man took my cash, and I smiled. I peeled the banana as soon as I stepped out of the doorway. I started walking while enjoying the fruit.

Sirens howled. I walked casually stuffing the half eaten banana in my paper sack. A cop car with blaring sirens and screeching tires pulled to a stop next to me. The cops approached me. “Halt!”

“Eh?” I said and stopped.

The cops had their clubs out. One said, “What do you have in the bag?”

“Essential supplies.”

The other cop said, “Show us.”

I showed them the food.

They laughed. Then they scanned my bracelet.

They arrested me. I sit now awaiting trial.

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The Machine

The Machine

By Geoffrey C Porter

The machine decided it was time to quit smoking. The machine is that force of will inside my head that drives me to both the brink of insanity and the crux of success. I must obey the machine, and today it spoke with a clear metallic voice: quit.

It has been there with me at every one of my darkest turns of fate, controlling me and guiding my actions and words. It calculates with a cold, blinding, murderous precision unmatched by any man-made device.

Perhaps my machine is man-made, though. People have definitely added pieces to it over the years: mother, father, sibling, and best friends. The machine rarely speaks, but when it speaks, I obey. When I am tired, I let it drive me forward. When all is lost, it builds a warm fire for my heart and destiny. When I am caged, the machine still runs free.

It lifts my spirit on lonely days like a quick jolt from a more powerful drug than any dealer sells. I don’t talk about the machine. It told me not to long ago. I think deep down that the machine is a killer. Not just a killer of my fellow man, but the destroyer of dreams and hopes. The machine drives me forward when nothing else will.

I have tried to quit smoking a thousand times in the past, but never with the undivided will of the machine. It sends a flux of ecstasy racing through my tingling veins as I write this. It’s these blasts it triggers that remind me perhaps not everyone has a machine as refined and well oiled as mine. At times, it has been alive in me, coursing precious endorphins through my body multiple times in the day.

The machine is only quieted by the darkest and strongest of modern medicines. Still, I take the medicine, for the machine is truly broken and will spin out of control at the simplest of turns in the path. I wonder sometimes where it would have taken me if I were born 3,000 years ago, before the advent of medicines with the sole design of caging the machine.  Would it have driven me to be a great conqueror? Would I have been truly crippled without medicines?  Would I have lived in the woods and briars of ancient man like an animal?

Today, I am truly crippled by the machine. It is a great boon to possess a machine, but mine breaks. And it’s not so much the breaking that bothers me, but the plagues of darkness and visions that assault me when the machine does break.

It talks, often saying gibberish like, “It doesn’t matter how much firepower you have,” or “Harkonen Battle Group.” I just ignore it. I’ve gotten good at both allowing the machine to drive me and to ignore its rambling. Sometimes it comes up with a new thought or phrase to assault my brain with; sometimes I have to quiet my mind with simple mantras which I will choose not to share. Over time the machine has become quiet as if biding its time for some great cataclysm.  The machine keeps me safe when I drive. Yes. The machine is a big fan of driving, and it is a very safe driver.

I ask myself sometimes if I am alone, and it is imaginary, then nothing, but in a day or a week, it will send a shiver through my body, reminding me of its presence. It decided today was the day to quit, and I obey. No one believes I will quit today. Only I feel the power of the machine, and know I will pay dearly if I don’t quit.

The machine has proven time and again it is capable of waging war, and I know it will beat me, even if it tries to destroy me. It controls my actions and will, moreso than I ever could. It decides when it is time to work. It lets me play when I want, thankfully, but when it’s time to work, I must punch the clock attached to the machine.

It is a hard, diligent worker, but fickle in what it will work on. I can accomplish things without the machine, but I produce wonders with it. The machine is on. It has been years since the machine was on. I have to hope it doesn’t drive me to the abyss, but surely I must embrace its power and let it drive my actions. My hopes and prayers lie in the myriad of anti-psychotic medicines coursing through my veins. The drugs have kept the machine quiet for perhaps too long, and I have a dire feeling that it’s angry and seeking redemption. In the morning, I shall begin to finish an old task, and I am hoping the machine is with me. With the machine, I will make leaps and strides in my work, and without the machine, I will simply putter along at a snail’s pace. The machine was alive today, so I expect it will be with me tomorrow.

The medicines are said to stop working ever so slowly over the years, and I wonder if the machine is finally breaking free of the last of its holds. I dare not share this story with my doctor to see if he wants to prescribe a new medicine. I do not want a new medicine. I want the machine to pulse with life driving my destiny to new heights.

It has been a long time since I’ve used tobacco.  It was a great battle, but in the process, have I lost the machine?  It no longer sends pulses through my neural system.  It no longer keeps me warm on cold nights.  It no longer whispers insanities.  I miss it.

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Codename: RedCat

Codename: RedCat

By Geoffrey C Porter

I looked down at the piss coming out of my dick. Pink, maybe even a little red. My step dad took it too far with his last drunken beating. Hitting me all over with a leather belt. Who hits a kid in the kidneys?

I knew enough to know I had to get away. I’d be dead before I reached eighteen. It started real slow like, a smack here and a smack there, but a twenty minute beating as hard as he could over a B in school?

Somebody banged on the bathroom door. “Are you about finished in there? Are you in there wanking?”

My older step brother, obviously. I zipped up and opened the door. The step brother was allowed to hit me, too.

I ducked under his swing. He was slow and clumsy, and at this time, seemed more interested in using the bathroom for the night than giving chase. I crawled into bed, but I refused to let myself fall asleep. Nobody came to tuck me in or say goodnight.

I had good ears, and in that house, having good ears was a penalty. The last grunts and moans from down the hall quieted, and I knew the house would be asleep soon.

I waited for snoring, and it soon followed. My feet reached out to the floor. No way was I turning a light on. Dumped my backpack out on the bed. I had a stolen box of granola bars, and those plus two pair of underwear, socks, and a pair of pants, plus an extra shirt all went in the bag. I had twenty dollars too, a present from my real dad. Not that he gave a rat’s ass about me either, but at least I had the twenty.

The window in my room opened easily enough, and I pushed the bag through first. There I was, on the roof, a good eight or nine feet off the ground. I strapped the bag on, and climbed down to my stomach. My whole plan was to hang from my fingers and just drop a few feet down, but I scraped my belly on the shingles and slipped.

I landed on my side, but compared to some things I’d been through, it wasn’t that bad. I really didn’t mind the pain, but pissing blood? The principle of the matter, who wants to live in terror their whole lives? The whole concept that it started real slow, and just kept getting worse and worse. I had enough.

I ran through our little town. A national park bordered the other side, and on the other side of that, another town, another county. If I could make it through the park, avoid bears, I’d be golden.

I crossed a dirt road and ran through the woods. The moon set, and I curled up on the ground to sleep. Best sleep I ever had in my life, and the sun woke me up. My stomach growled, but I needed to save my resources. Six twin-packs of granola bars, and it’s at least a five day journey through that park.

I took a leak and realized a thing I forgot was toilet paper. Screw it, I needed to poop, and I did.

I got my bearings and ran. Almost stepped on a damn rattler too, but the thing paid me no mind. I didn’t stop running. Free at last. I had no plan, but I knew there had to be something better out there somewhere.

When the sun set, I ripped open a pack of the granola bars. I drank from a stream. My backpack made a fine pillow, and damn if I did not dream of conquest and fury.

Somebody said, “Wake up, kid.”

Dear god, it was all a dream?

I opened my eyes. The moist forest floor tickled my back. There were two park rangers there. I was lightning, grabbing my pack and taking off in a run.

These were grown men though. One shouted, “Don’t run or we’ll taze you!”

They’re not going to tazer a kid, and I was distancing them.

I felt a prick on my back, and bam, lightning raged in my body, and I fell.

They zip tied my hands behind my back, and one of them threw me over his shoulder. The other one picked up my bag and looked through it.

I cried. They put me in the back of their patrol car.

The driver hit a red button on his radio and started the car.

“You can’t make me go back,” I said.

The officer in the passenger side said, “A runaway.”

“If somebody beat you like they beat me, you’d run away, too.”

The driver turned down the road, but not in the direction of my little town, in the direction of the town on the other side of the national park.

“How often did they hit you?” The driver asked. “What did you do?”

I didn’t want to talk to these men. The passenger said, “You have to talk to us. We can file charges.”

Charges won’t do me any good. “Last time I was pissing blood, over a B in school.”

“They hit you on the kidneys?”

“They hit me all over. All over.”

The radio spoke for the first time. “We’ll take him.”

The driver reached down and pushed the same red button on the radio.

The passenger said, “What’s your name?”

“Jim.”

“Happy Birthday! It’s a good thing you’re 14 now.”

“I’m 13. My birthday was last month.”

The driver pulled into a diner. “You look like you could use a meal, and since it’s your birthday, they’re having a special on pancakes.”

“I’m 13.”

The passenger turned to smile at me. “You need to trust us that you’re 14. If you’re 14, you have choices in life. If you’re 13, you’re heading off to a foster home.”

Choices? What choices? But both of these officers were staring at me with huge grins.

I said the words real slow like. “I’m 14. Today is my birthday.”

“Now you’re talking, kid,” the driver said. “Let’s get some pancakes.”

One of them let me out of the car, and undid the tie on my wrists. He said, “Don’t run. We’re not going to make you go home.”

I nodded. We went in the restaurant, and I ordered a plate of silver dollar pancakes.

The officer sitting to my left said, “Double that order, and throw in two sides of bacon.”

I looked up at the waitress. “If it’s going to be two plates of meat, make it one bacon, and one sausage links.”

Both of the men with me laughed.

I ate all that food. It made me kind of groggy, too.

One of the officers started talking. “Now that you’re 14, you can choose to go to a foster home, or you can choose to go with some friends of ours.”

“Friends?” I asked.

“They’re law enforcement. Just a different breed than us.”

My eyes started drooping, and I wanted to lie down.

“That bench is awfully comfy,” the left officer said. “You can sleep. You have time.”

I was down on that bench in a heartbeat. A great thundering woke me, and I looked outside. A helicopter was landing in the parking lot. Two men climbed out. They were dressed the same in tan slacks, leather shoes, white button up shirts, and leather jackets, with bulges under their left armpits.

The two men walked up to our table and smiled at me. The officer on my left said, “Go with them, Jim. They’re good guys.”

I stood up. The left man in the jacket said, “I’m Mathew, my companion is Jeffrey.”

Both men were big in the shoulders and legs, with a narrow waist.

Jeffrey waved at the waitress. “Two to go coffees, and a ham sandwich for the kid.”

I just had two plates of pancakes. “I don’t need a ham sandwich.”

Mathew pointed at my chest. “As little as you are, you need a sandwich. You’re 14?”

“I’m 14!”

The waitress came out with two coffees and a plastic box containing a sandwich.

Jeffrey and Mathew took the coffee, and I grabbed the plastic box.

We walked to the helicopter. How could I be that important to these men to justify picking me up in a helicopter?

Jeffrey said, “Ride in front.”

I climbed in the front, and we were off. As loud as the chopper was when it landed, it was nearly silent as we flew.

“This helicopter is Chor-Tan made,” Mathew said.

“Chor-Tan?” I asked.

“Aliens who are trying to help us.”

Aliens? “Like at Roswell?”

Mathew and Jeffrey chuckled. “You really think a species capable of interstellar travel would crash land?” Mathew asked.

“Well, I never thought about it like that.”

There was a pause. I looked around. The ground was just a blur, sliding by below us.

“The problem is, even though the Chor-Tan are helping us, the Razdoran are trying to assimilate us,” Mathew said. “If they can pull that off, by dismantling our governments, mankind will just be their slaves.”

That did not sound good.

“How do I fit into all of this?” I asked.

“There’s a man who is helping the Razdorans,” Mathew said. “His name’s Centurian. He’s the biggest crime lord the Earth has ever known. You’re going to be his end.”

I don’t think I can do that. Wait. Maybe I could? I could bloody try. “I’m in!”

“We knew you would be. Eat that sandwich.”

I ate the sandwich. After a while, we landed on top of a parking garage surrounded by desert. An older woman in her forties was waiting. She smiled at me.

“I’m Nancy. I’m in charge of this training facility.”

They should call it Home.

“Are you sure he’s 14?” Nancy asked.

“His birthday was today,” Jeffrey said.

“Parents?”

“There was a fire. Burned up his birth certificate, too.”

“Convenient,” Nancy said. “Let’s look him up in the database. Where were you born?”

“I forget,” I said. “I never thought it would be important.”

“The auditors are going to have a field day. Especially as little as he is.”

I looked from one adult to the next.

“You said we needed new recruits, and we got you one,” Jeffrey said.

“Yes, now get me ten more. Just make sure they’re bigger than this one,” Nancy said.

“He just needs a sandwich or two.”

I just had a damn sandwich.

She looked me in the eyes. “Your name’s RedCat now, forget Jim.”

Huh?

“You’ll work. Study. Exercise. Train. Follow orders no matter what,” Nancy said. “Is all that clear?”

“Except the RedCat thing, can’t I get a cool name like, Scorpion or Snake or something?”

“No, you’re RedCat!”

I shrugged.

Nancy said, “This way.”

I followed her. She led me to a door in a hallway. “These are your quarters. Your schedule’s on the computer. Today you can relax, but tomorrow you’ll work.”

I wanted to hug her. And before I realized it, I was hugging her. She patted me on the back, then pushed me off her. “Try and make friends.”

I nodded.

“And eat something, please.”

I laughed. She left me alone, and I read up on agency history. Ate at meal time with a big crew of other teenagers, and I was littlest by far. Two sandwiches went in my belly at dinner.

I lay awake that night. What have I gotten into plagued my thoughts. Since when have aliens been in contact with us? I started reading more agency history on the terminal.

A messenger window popped up on my screen, from somebody named Thomas.

“If you’re not going to sleep, let’s do something. Meet me at the range, and I’ll get you checked out on our 9mm.”

Checked out on a Nine? I pulled up a map of the complex and started looking for range. I sent a message back to Thomas. “I’ll be there.”

The lights in the hallways must have been on some kind of motion detectors, because it was lit up where I stepped into the hallway, but in each direction was darkness. I ran to the right, and the lights above me lit up just ahead of my steps. Behind me was more pitch black. I tried to run faster than the motion detectors in the lights, but they were always one step ahead of me.

Thomas was a bulky fellow who obviously worked out a lot. He was in his thirties and thin as hell. He had kind of an ugly mug though, like his face was originally a typical brick or something. He smiled at me. “RedCat?”

“Jim,” I said.

“No, you’re RedCat now.”

I shrugged.

We stepped into the range proper. There were 15 stations, plus a control panel. Thomas typed some stuff into the panel, and a slot opened to reveal two boxes of ammo, and a Beretta 9mm pistol that I had seen on TV a hundred times.

Thomas dropped the magazine out of the pistol and showed me how to insert a round into it. Then he gave me the box of bullets, and said, “You can load.”

He smelled very strongly of marijuana, and I was a bit surprised. “You smoke pot?”

“It’s allowed. It helps me relax.”

I started feeding shells into the magazine. No more would fit, so I stopped.

“You don’t have to slam it in, just push until it clicks.” He handed me the pistol.

“Don’t point it at anybody unless you intend to shoot them,” he said. “At the range, keep it pointed down range.”

I pointed it down range.

He moved to one of the stations and punched a few buttons. A target materialized about fifteen feet away. He looked at me. “Pull the top of the gun backwards and let go to chamber a round. Line the sites up and squeeze the trigger like you’re trying to crush a soda can.”

I lined things up. Squeezed the gun together. Bam! It jumped in my hands, but I held on tight.

Thomas clapped. “Good for a 13 year old.”

I stopped. “I’m 14, man”

“You had better be. And you had better remember your story when the auditors come. Plus you are too damn little, start growing!”

I stood up on my tippy toes.

Thomas laughed, but I wasn’t sure if it was because I did something funny, or he was just that stoned.

“Empty that pistol,” he said.

I did not need further encouragement.

Journal note: Auditors questioned me eight months later, but I was six inches and twenty pounds heavier. I kept my story straight. They raised a few eyebrows, but there were no further investigations.

Buy Codename: Bear on Amazon, a fun secret agent story.

Codename: Archangel

By Geoffrey C Porter

Ben turned the corner onto his street after a long run and found two men in brown leather jackets, white shirts, and tan pants standing around outside of his apartment. One was black skinned the other white. As Ben got closer, he noticed two things: the men had bulges under their armpits that surely implied they were armed, and a black sedan was parked in the lot with government plates he didn’t recognize.

Being a nineteen year old black man in a mostly white neighborhood, Ben suspected the worst. His fears were soon realized when one of the men said, “Benjamin Meyers?”

Ben looked these men in the eyes. Neither man was frowning or mad, rather they seemed happy. “What can I do for you?” Ben asked.

The left man, the black guy, said, “We’d like you to meet somebody.”

The other man said, “We want to offer you a golden opportunity.”

“Sounds like crap,” Ben said. “I got shit to do.”

“You do have things you need to do, very important things. Please come with us.”

“Hell no. I plan to fill a kiddie pool with jello and get naked.”

“We’re not going to hurt you or force you into anything,” the black guy said. “We just want you to meet our boss. She’s a real nice lady.”

“What are your names?” Ben asked.

The white guy said, “Jon.”

“Mohammad,” the black guy said.

Is he lying? Is he Muslim? “You are Muslim?”

Mohammad laughed. “You were born with a Christian name, but you were adopted by a Muslim couple. Do you pray?”

How did he know so much! “I don’t pray. In my heart, Islam is the best religion, that’s all.”

“How do you feel about women?” Jon asked.

“Women are our equals in many ways.”

“Great,” Mohammad said. “We can’t use you if you believe in Sharia Law. We employ a lot of women.”

A lot of women? Maybe he should go with these men.

The men looked at Ben with questions in their eyes. Ben nodded. “How far is it?”

“The facility is on the outskirts of downtown,” Mohammad said. “On the East side.”

“My mom is going to need dinner and a shot in two hours.”

“It’s a fifteen minute drive. On my honor, you’ll be back to take care of your mom.”

Ben moved to the back door of the government sedan. Jon said, “Ride in front. I like being able to stretch out.”

Dammit, that was Ben’s entire plan. He climbed in the front. Mohammad drove. He drove very carefully, focusing on the road. Jon seemed to be trying to nap. They were there in fifteen minutes.

They parked in an underground garage and rode an elevator up three floors. An older woman was waiting, with mostly gray hair, and thick glasses. She wore a neat and tidy combination of a jacket over a white shirt, with a blue skirt on. Ben’s instinct was to bow to her, and he did.

“You’re so big, and healthy,” the older woman said. “What do you think about heavy weapons assignment?”

“I don’t even know what this is about,” Ben said. “I don’t know your name.”

“My name is Nancy. You’ll report directly to me if you enlist. We only recruit orphans. We’re a crime fighting agency, and we face off against the most notorious of criminals. A man named Centurian, who has ties to off world aliens.”

Ben stopped dead in his tracks. Off world? Off world! “What?”

“Aliens have been in contact with us for a long time, Archangel. Some help us, some want to enslave us.”

“Did you just call me Archangel?” Ben asked.

“That’s your new name,” Nancy said. “Forget Ben.”

Archangel?

“I like it,” he said.

Wait, aliens? Interstellar travel? “Advanced technology?”

“Would you like to meet our martial arts bot?” Nancy asked. “I think that is likely the most interesting technology we use in training.”

“Show me.”

“You’re interested in a heavy weapons assignment?”

“Yes, yes, that’s fine.”

Nancy smiled a big grandmotherly smile. She turned down the hallway, pressed a few buttons on a control panel, and said, “It’s on level 20. Step inside, hit the bot like you’re trying to kill it. They won’t do more than bruise you, but this is the highest level. This is the heavy weapons beginning.”

Archangel stepped into the room. A man appeared in a set of dirty coveralls. Except a second ago, the room was empty. The man threw a punch. Archangel knocked it out of the way at the wrist. Another punch, harder. Nancy spoke across the intercom, “It’s artificial, smash it.”

The figure became kind of pixelated for a moment, then rematerialized. Archangel clobbered it in the face, and it disintegrated into nothing more than a pile of dots. Another man appeared. Archangel was quick to smash this one. The third man to appear was Asian, and he dodged Archangel’s clumsy blow. Then the bot clocked him on the side of the neck. Pain danced for a moment, and he threw a solid punch with more precision than before.

The Asian bot drifted to nothingness, and two new opponents appeared.

Archangel said, “No fair.” But he smiled wide and went to work.

The machine in him kicked on, and he defeated the bots.

Nancy clapped her hands. Jon and Mohammad had disappeared.

“We need to get you home,” Nancy said.

“Yes.”

“Can you drive a motorcycle? We have helmets that should fit you.”

“I’d been planning to get one,” Archangel said. “I know how to ride it.”

“Then I don’t see any reason why we can’t send you home on a motorcycle. You need to be able to get to and from our facility at least twice a day.”

He wanted to kiss Nancy in the worst way.

“If it’s raining, we’ll send a car to fetch you.”

This was southern Cali, and it never rains. She showed him to the garage, the helmets, and the bike. The bike was an 1100, and Archangel couldn’t have been happier.

He climbed on, and the machine purred to life. The helmet fit, and Archangel was off for home. How was he going to explain this to Mom? Maybe she wouldn’t notice the bike, but if he went in, to what? The agency? Did they call it that or was he calling it that? He didn’t know. He had seen a sign maybe. A GPS panel came to life on the bike, but he switched it off. He knew his way home.

He walked into their apartment. Mom was parked on the couch in front of the TV. She spoke in a raspy voice, “You never came home from your run. What happened?”

“I need to start dinner, and you need your morphine.”

She pointed her clawed right hand at him. “Answer my question first. Did you meet a girl?”

He couldn’t lie to her. “I’m really not sure what happened to me today.” It all might as well have been a dream, but he had a helmet in his hands.

“Did you get a bike?”

“I did, Mom, I did.”

“Is it nice?”

“I’m not sure that I can afford to keep it, but it’s what I want.”

He went into the kitchen. It looked like a good night for a frozen pizza, so he turned the oven on. He went back in the living room. His mom was looking out the window. “That’s a brand new bike. How?”

“It’s really complex, Mom. I promise it’s nothing illegal.”

“It’s something wrong though.”

“No, Mom.”

She got real quiet, and Archangel knew that meant she was getting angry. They ate pizza in silence. He gave her a shot of morphine for the cancer. Their phone rang, which was odd. Mom was closer, and she got to it first. She said, “Mmmmhmmm…” several times, then handed the phone to Archangel.

Nancy’s voice came through, “You made it home ok? In time?”

“What did you tell my mother?”

“I explained that I’m the source for your new bike, and that we’re a government agency through and through. You’re signed up for three classes, and two of them are starting tonight. You can come back down, yes?”

Archangel knew the way. Mom would be good until late in the evening. He had no reason to say no. “I’ll be there.”

He hung up the phone. Mom looked at him with a smile. “This new job is important?”

“Very. I’ll be home later.”

“Make me proud.”

He went back down to the bike and started it. Nancy was waiting for him with a sheet of paper and a tablet computer. “The paper is your training schedule. The tablet has all your textbooks on it.” The motorcycle had saddle bags, so he could transport the tablet. Perfect.

He looked at the paper. “Long range rifles and Gremlins tonight?”

“Heavy weapons classes. In the morning, you exercise. Afternoon is driving, martial arts, and the range. Evening is danger room and classes.”

The gremlins class was first. The woman teaching it pushed a button and a life sized monster appeared above a table. It wore brown pants over otherwise green and black skin. It wasn’t especially muscular, but it has claws and teeth that shined like metal. Looked like Titanium.

“They breathe Nitrogen. We’re not sure what they exhale. They do poop, but it’s not like Earth poop. We don’t think they pee. Their idea of fats, protein, and carbohydrates is our idea of dirt, wood, and metal.”

The teacher let all that sink in.

“We’ve only captured them a couple of times, and our containment efforts have never been successful. They absorb metal and hard plastics through their skin. Every cage we’ve built for them has been a waste.”

Archangel looked at the other two members of the class. One was a big black guy, easily six four and well built. The other guy was Spanish, and constructed like a brick tank.

The teacher smiled at them. “I’m sorry, in my haste, I forgot to introduce everyone. Stand and state your name.”

The black guy stood up. “Tank is my name.”

The Spanish guy went next. “I’m Jesus.” He pronounced it Hay-Soos.

Archangel stood up. “I’m Archangel. Why are gremlins so important to heavy weapons? Where do they come from?”

“Their favorite food is ammunition. Gunpowder and explosives,” the teacher said. “They come from a mineral rich planet about sixty light years from us. We really don’t know how intelligent they are, or how they got here, but they’re here.”

“How do you kill them?” Tank asked.

“They can be smashed, or shot, or knifed. They can bleed out, but their skeletons, their bones, are made of metal, whatever metals they grew up around. Titanium are the most dangerous. Gremlins born in our desert regions on Earth are mostly silicon from the sand.”

Jesus said, “So they’re aliens?”

“Very much so.”

“Can they talk?” Archangel said.

“Yes and no,” the teacher said. “When they make noise, they broadcast on radio frequencies. It’ll really throw your cell phones for a loop. Other gremlins miles away seem to be able to understand them. One reason they seem to like our deserts is a lack of radio stations. Gremlins hate it inside our cities. Too much noise.”

Archangel looked at Jesus and Tank. The two seemed content.

The teacher pushed a few buttons. “You now have a quiz to take in your tablets. After that we will review everything again.”

Boring! Still the men got the quizzes right; hell they had just gone over this stuff. Then the teacher reviewed everything again. After that class, Archangel made his way to a second classroom. Tank and Jesus followed him. The long range rifles class was just the three of them again.

They talked about, guess what, long range rifles. Taking down a target at 500m was their discussion. They talked about fifty caliber rifles and what kind of damage that could do, as well as different kinds of bullets ranging from Teflon to Tungsten and explosive tips. There was no quiz, no review afterwards. Archangel headed back to the garage.

Tank shouted after him. “Have a beer with us!”

“I have to go home,” Archangel said with a sigh.

Jesus said, “Do you have interstellar law tomorrow until eight?”

It was nine-thirty now. Archangel said, “Yes.”

“Beer, tomorrow!” Tank said.

“I’ll have a beer with you, tomorrow.”

Wait, he was only 19. “I’m only 19.”

Tank and Jesus laughed. “Heavy weapons is special rules,” Tank said. “We have the most dangerous job in the game, and we can get beer.”

Archangel rode the bike home. There was an envelope taped to his door. He opened it. Prepaid credit card with a note attached to it, $500. A membership card to a gym eight kilometers away. A hand written note, “Run to the gym tomorrow. Don’t take the bike. Lift your ass off. The card is in case you have any expenses. Nancy.”

Archangel gave his mom a shot of painkillers and kissed her on the forehead for goodnight. The cards for the gym and money went into his wallet.

He lay awake all night. By sunup he began to doubt his sanity. Everything seemed as real as the day before. He cooked up a batch of oatmeal for them. He put on his shorts and a shirt.

Running to the gym was no problem. Jesus and Tank showed up at the same time. All three of them were sweating and grinning. Tank spoke first, “Are we going to see who’s strongest?”

“It’s not my heavy day. I did a heavy day two days ago,” Jesus said. “Eight to twelve reps for me today.”

“I haven’t been in a gym in long time,” Archangel said.

“But you’re so damn big!”

“I have some gear at home. I lift.”

“I bet I’m stronger,” Tank said.

Archangel still wasn’t sure if all this was real. Just one long, incredibly real dream. Maybe he was dead or in a coma somewhere. “That’s ok with me if you are.”

“You’ll do a heavy day?”

“I never do heavy days. I never have a spotter.”

Tank started jumping up and down. “You’ve got a spotter today! Let’s see how much you can lift.”

They hit the weights. Archangel was strongest at curls, but Tank could out bench him by a lot. Hard to do benches with no spotter.

They took off running in opposite directions. Archangel floated home. He stopped at a grocer and picked up cooked shrimp with cocktail sauce. The credit card worked fine, but he was careful to save the receipt. He surprised Mom with the shrimp.

“I’m not even hungry,” she said.

“You’re going to eat a few, no matter. You’re wasting away. Your body needs fuel to fight the cancer.”

She frowned. “There’s no fighting this cancer, you know that. I’m on borrowed time.”

Archangel wanted to cry, but he’d cried himself to sleep enough times since the diagnosis. All people must die. “Please eat. I got them special, thinking they were your favorite.”

“They are.” She started eating, and once she started, she ate a lot. It made Archangel happy. They destroyed a half kilo of shrimp between them.

Archangel took the bike down to the Agency. Jon and Mohammad, from the previous day, greeted him in the garage. Mohammad said, “Nancy had to fly home last night. You got the credit card? Jesus and Tank reported that you showed up at the gym.”

“I have the money,” Archangel said.

“Good. There are limits, but let us know if you need us to refill it.”

“Your schedule is simple,” Jon said, “three hours a week at the firing range, four hours a week driving, six hours a week on the martial arts bot, and four hours in our danger room. We only have a skeleton group of trainees here, so the equipment is mostly free all the time.”

No teachers?

Mohammad must have recognized the look on his face. “You have coaches, first Jon and me, but there will be other teachers too. Some of it, like the driving, you simply need to play with the simulator. It needs to become muscle memory. The danger room, you need to schedule with Jesus and Tank. They’re full time students, so they should have no problems accommodating your schedule.”

Archangel decided the driving simulator was most appealing. The device looked like a racing video game. Driving it was out of this world. G-Forces pulled on him through every curve. Jon watched, and repeated a chant, “Drive faster. Drive faster. The clock is ticking.”

Archangel biked home to fix dinner. Simple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but after the first one, Mom said she wanted a second, and he smiled wide. She was thin as rail, and that couldn’t be good.

He attended a rather lengthy discussion group on interstellar law back at the agency. It seemed like the laws were set up far more in favor of the tyrannical Razdorans than Humans or Chor’Tan. It was clear from their discussion of history that the Razdorans harvest worlds for their natural resources, and they had their eye on Earth. Chor’Tan were doing everything within the law to help humankind, but there were limits. Why the Chor’Tan were helping wasn’t made entirely clear in the lecture, enough that they were helping.

Razdorans stood three to four meters tall, and had two sets of arms, one that had evolved as super strong appendages for smashing enemies, and another pair that had fine delicate hands. They considered creatures with four limbs to be less intelligent than them, and often times were considered food.

The lecture ended, and Archangel was assigned chapters to read. Tank patted him on the back. “Time to drink!”

“I’ll drink with you,” Archangel said, “but I’ll be drinking root beer. Islam forbids alcohol.”

Jesus put his hands on his hips. “If you’re drinking root beer, I’ll drink a nice lemon lime soda.”

“Cola for me,” Tank said. “I could use some calories after today.”

Archangel looked from one to the other and realized they were being serious. When was he going to wake up? This dream had to come crashing down. How long could it last?

They drank their sodas and talked for an hour. Archangel had to get home to take care of his mother. He curled up in a ball on his bed and drifted off to the most blessed sleep he’d ever known. He woke up with the Sun. The credit card was still in his wallet. The bike sat in the parking lot, waiting on him.

Oatmeal for breakfast again, then a run to the gym for a leg workout. He talked to Jesus and Tank, and they agreed: it was time for a danger room session that afternoon. Neither would tell Archangel what happens in a danger room session.

The room was easy to find. It was on the lowest level of the building, below the parking garage, and it was essentially just one huge room with padded walls, ceiling, and floor. It spanned the whole complex. Mohammad was waiting for them. He spoke in a quiet tone. “You’ll be firing blanks. Keep moving. Standing still will get you killed.”

Easy enough. The three young men grabbed pistols and extra magazines, making sure the rounds were crimped over instead of a bullet. Tank pointed at Archangel. “You can go first.”

“I’ve never done this before,” Archangel replied.

“It’s easy. Shoot everybody. There are no friendlies except me and Jesus.”

Archangel ran headfirst into the danger room. A pixelated man appeared, and Archangel put a round in his chest. Blood flowed, but it was clearly a computer animation. They raced through room after room, gunning down opponents. It really wasn’t that hard, but the three young men had fast reflexes trained by countless hours at video game consoles.

They reached the end, and Mohammad clapped a bit for them. “Next time a higher difficulty level.”

“Turn it all the way up,” Tank said. “We’re ready!”

Jesus chimed in. “Yeah.”

“I’m not ready,” Archangel said.

Mohammad said, “Go to the range.”

They went and shot their pistols for an hour. Then they watched a video on how to disassemble them and clean them. They did as they were told. The powder solvent and oil smelled good to Archangel. Smelled like home.

Days passed into weeks. Archangel was focused like never before. Cook meals, morphine injections for Mom, bike to the agency for training or exercise. No time for a woman if he could even find one to marry. He got Sundays off from agency work.

One Friday morning, his mother didn’t wake up. He called an ambulance and wept. They buried her on Monday. Jon, Mohammad, Nancy, Jesus, and Tank all attended the funeral. Some of Mom’s friends and family attended too. Archangel wore a black suit and tie. Tears streamed down his face as they lowered the casket into the ground.

Archangel trained like never before. He buried himself in it. A few months passed, and Nancy summoned him to his office. Jesus and Tank were there.

Nancy offered them coffee which they declined. “We need to relocate you three to Phoenix.”

“What’s in Phoenix?” Tank asked.

“It’s our main training facility. There are three active teams there, and each one needs a heavy weapons expert. You’re those experts.”

“I feel like I’m still a noob,” Archangel said.

“You’ve all beaten the danger room simulations to the highest levels. You’re ready.”

Jesus clapped his hands together once. “When do we leave?”

Nancy pushed a few buttons on her keyboard. “Tomorrow morning. You don’t need to bring a lot of clothes, bring only what you truly need. The agency will provide clothes.”

Archangel went home. He went through the picture albums and decided he needed all the pictures. He hated to leave everything else behind, but the apartment just reminded him of his mother. Pots and pans, furniture, none of it mattered. All that mattered was the pictures.

He stowed those in his backpack and slept. He was up with the sun, and he biked down to the agency. The flight to Phoenix was quick, and the sun was bright stepping out of the plane. Jesus and Tank both had duffel bags. A new man, Simon, drove them to the agency facility. The place was huge. Four meter tall walls with weapon nests on every corner. Multiple buildings, and a running track around the inside of the wall.

Simon pulled the car into a parking garage. Nancy was there. She said, “There is one final test you must achieve before becoming true heavy weapons experts.”

“Name it,” Tank said.

“Archangel will go first. You must navigate twelve kilometers of desert, take out two human sized targets, and destroy two targets with rockets. You’ll have to take water, extra rockets, a 50 caliber sniper rifle, and a double barreled shotgun in case of snakes.”

“Snakes?” Archangel asked.

Nancy nodded. “There might be snakes.”

“Yes, Archangel can go first,” Jesus said.

“I’m ready,” Archangel said. “Do I get a GPS phone?”

Nancy reached in her pocket and pulled out a phone. “The target location and this facility are marked in the GPS already. Your gear is waiting by the gate.”

Archangel handed his backpack to Tank. “Don’t lose my bag.”

“Don’t lose your life,” Tank said. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“Don’t even start. A little run in the desert.”

Nancy said, “Let’s go.”

They went to the main entrance. A 50 caliber rifle was waiting, plus a canteen, 4 rockets in a backpack, a sawed off double barrel shotgun, plus a belt with shotgun shells in it. Archangel started putting everything on. They gave him 20 shotgun shells, 2 extra magazines of 50 caliber ammo, four rockets, and three liters of water. He held the cellphone in his left hand. His other hand fingered the stock of the shotgun in the holster on his right.

Archangel took off in a run into the desert.

He had never before really been in a desert, and he jogged past rock outcroppings and cacti. Some of the cacti looked more dangerous than other varieties, but he figured all of them would do damage. He came across a dried out streambed and checked his phone. Although not a direct route, the streambed would bring him close to his target zone. He followed the route, dodging scorpions and big tarantulas. The spiders were bigger than anything he had seen before. He watched carefully for rattlers and other potentially poisonous snakes. Off to the side, one of the snakes slithered up the side of the streambed, but Archangel simply ran past.

The sun baked him, and he stopped for water and to check the cell. He was two kilometers or so from the targets. He drank a full liter of water and upped his pace. The sweat evaporated off his skin almost the instant it formed. If he was short on water, he wouldn’t have done it, but he stopped to take a leak. He peed right on an ant hill. Karma will get him for that later he was sure.

According to the satellite mapping on his cell, there should be a rock outcropping on his left soon, and there it was. He turned out of the streambed and jogged in a straight line. There was a wooden structure that had signs. Two silhouettes were set up 500 meters away, and two burned out husks of vehicles were 200 meters away on the right and left.

Archangel unslung his rifle and chambered a round. One shot to the heart on the left target. Then he worked the bolt action, then a shot to the heart on the right. One shot one kill. Perfect.

He pulled a two-part rocket assembly out of his backpack. One part was a tube with a shoulder rest, and he stuck the rocket in the end of that. He lined the device up on the first burned out vehicle and squeezed the trigger. Swooosh… Boom! One happy Archangel. A strange beeping sounded, but he wasn’t sure where it was coming from. He attached the second rocket to the launcher, and swoosh, boom. Archangel did a quick heel-toe dance move that would surely get him laid if a woman saw.

He checked his phone. It was what was beeping, and it showed only static.

Movement caught his eye. Short, 1/8th meter tall figure, covered in green and black skin, with sharp metal claws and teeth. Hell no. Gremlins. Archangel started jogging. Three of the little bastards were in front of him. He pulled his double barrel and blasted the right one, then the center one. The left one leapt at him before he could reload. The gremlin slashed at the strap holding his rifle in place, and the claws cut into Archangel’s gut. The rifle fell to the ground, and the gremlin fled with it.

“A flesh wound,” Archangel said as he slid two new shells into the breach.

He looked around. Three gremlins were staring him down. He ran for home. He ran fast. Two more gremlins dodged in front of him. Archangel blasted them with the shotgun, and slipped two more shells into the gun as he ran.

Must conserve ammo, raced through his mind. He reached the streambed and followed it. In a heartbeat, a gremlin was in front of him. He didn’t shoot it. He intended to simply run past it. The thing reached out and clawed Archangel’s leg on the calf. The wound on his front had stopped bleeding, but now he was bleeding on his leg, and every step he took hurt.

He looked behind him. There was distance in the way, but there was a small army of sharply clawed, green and black skinned monsters.

While running, he pulled his backpack off, and readied a rocket. He turned and launched it at the closest gremlins. Body parts flew, but there were too many of them. He dumped all the water bottles out of the backpack and ran on.

Another pair of sharp-toothed monsters dodged in front of him. Archangel blasted them with the shotgun. He dropped one shell as he was reloading. No going back for that. He ran at his best pace. His mind drifted above the pain in his calf, above the thirst in his throat. The only thing that mattered was keeping away from those gremlins.

The agency complex shimmered in the distance. Archangel looked back. He had distanced those little bastards. Then one poked its head around a bend, then an army.

He ran with all his strength at the gate. He shouted, “Open up!”

The gates slid out of the way. He jumped inside and shouted, “Close the gate!”

Some asshole said, “What’s the rush?”

“Gremlins!”

“Oh shit!”

Two of the little bastards made it through the gate, and both met up with the business end of Archangel’s twelve gauge.

Nancy came walking out of the complex, with Jesus and Tank.

The 50 caliber machine gun nests above the gate cranked to life spitting fire and hot lead at the army of gremlins.

“You brought ammo back?” Nancy asked.

“One rocket,” Archangel said, “two 50 caliber magazines, and a couple of shotgun shells.”

“You’re supposed to dump the ammo when the gremlins show up.”

That had never occurred to Archangel. To drop the ammo when faced with an enemy. It made no sense.

“We need to get you to medical,” Nancy said. “You’re now heavy weapons, full blooded.”

“You know you ran that course in record time?” Jesus said.

“I’m going to do it faster,” Tank said, “but I’m not bringing any ammo home.”

Archangel examined the cuts on him. “Yeah, yeah.”

They stitched him up at medical. Nancy showed him three pictures, two males, and one female. “This is Bear. The guy with the red hair is RedCat, and the female is Zen.”

“This is my new team?”

“We could have a formal introduction, or you could join them for a meal tomorrow. Tell them you’re their new sniper.”

Archangel grinned. “I’m their new sniper?”

“You are.”

“I’ll look for them in the cafeteria.”

Grab Codename: Bear on Amazon, a fun secret agent story.