The stone walls reverberate with the thrum of the crowd just above the gate tunnel he stands in.
They are already in a frenzy with anticipation, the first eleven combatants having been introduced. Up ahead the twelfth and final contestant argues with the tournament organizers, but Artinaz cannot hear what is being said over the roar in the arena. He looks up from his mop, (he always had to come down here to mop up after the participants entered, in case any fluids got left behind on the brick) and steals a glance.
The tall, willowy Spaesalnean gestures with his top arms while his lower arms sit perched on his hips with indignation. The officials in their flowing robes and chest sashes point at their scrolls and tablets, make reference to the thundering walls around them, wave their hands at the closed gate door. None of it seems to make any difference. The Spaesalnean is having none of it. When one of the officials gestures to the nearest arena guard, who dutifully steps next to the official, the tall being cocks an eyebrow. His arms lash out, the suddenness of the move making Artinaz and the officials alike jump in surprise. The bottom hands pin the gate guards’ arms to his torso, while the top left arm seizes control of the guard’s spear. The Spaesalnean draws one of the broad daggers he wears strapped to his leather jerkin and plunges it into the guard’s neck in violent, driving blows that come down in quick succession, one after another. The guard convulses from the piercings, his larynx severed so fast that all he can emit is a faint squeak mixed with the gurgle of his own blood. The four armed attacker keeps up his relentless mutilation even as the man oscillates into death and goes slack. The stabbings send blood spatters onto the walls, the floors, and the officials who recoil in utter disgust and horror. The Spaesalnean continues his butchery as the body slides down to the brick pavers. There he finishes it off with a few more stabs, his pace finally slowing. In grand spectacle the willowy being stands, wiping blood from his face with the back of a hand while returning his broad dagger to its sheath.
The command post is packed with the junior leadership teams from both Bravo companies.
That’s how the higher ups had decided to match them for the duration of the transition period, by their phonetic alphabet designators. So Alpha Company of this battalion matched with Alpha of that battalion, and so on and so forth, until the entire 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd Infantry Division had counterparts with which they would learn from over the next four weeks.
Four weeks. Incredibly close and impossibly far. Now is when the nerves reemerge. He can see it, and if he can’t see it he can sense it amongst his men. His fellow platoon leader’s men. Everyone who had been on Forward Operating Base War Eagle for the last eleven months. Hell, he felt them. Four weeks left until their one year deployment was over. Thirty days and a wake up until they could catch that big, beautiful bitch (also known as a civilian airliner) home to the states. More specifically, home to Texas. The land of Shiner Bock. Twelve hour smoked brisket. All the blonde hair, blue eyed University of Texas coeds one could hope for packed onto a little strip of debauchery known as Austin’s Sixth Street. He can’t wait to get there. He also can’t stand the thought of buying the farm now when they are so close. It keeps him up almost every night, or at least on the nights that sheer exhaustion doesn’t force him to sleep. He lies awake praying, no begging God to let the men of Bandit Company, himself included, get home alive and unharmed. Just four weeks to go.
Stay Under the Overhang
1981. His Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme backfires as it pulls into the employee lot outside of the Control Building. Upon graduating the academy, he (along with practically every other male graduate) was assigned to the Housing Detention for Men, shortened to HDM by both employees and occupants of the building. Finished in 1933, it is the eldest of the jails on New York City’s own Australia, Riker’s Island. Happy that the car managed to make the journey from his native Massapequa, a sinking feeling now grips his stomach. If it weren’t for the June heat he would have broken out in a cold sweat, of that he is sure, but since his beat up Cutlass wouldn’t survive if he used the A/C, he left if off and the windows down for the drive. Stepping out and reaching behind his seat, he grabs a frameless rucksack, one of his relics from active duty, and then unhooks the garment bag containing his new uniforms. Slinging it over his shoulder and clutching the rucksack, he gives the heavy door a prod with his knee to close it. A few cars over a group of four Corrections Officers stand around an open trunk. He tries to head in but one of them calls out before he can even take two steps towards the building.
“Hey rookie, get over here!” Continue reading