The beginning of Thrash…unedited, incomplete…

It was the absolute worst of times, a time of war, of sorrow and regret, of wounded and dying, and I stood amid it all. A lone man caught up in the razing of his countrymen, killing those who opposed their government, and ransacking the corpses of those who dared to think for themselves. To my friends and enemies I am known as “The Corpse Eater.”

“Let go of what you can’t control,” my father had said. “There are things that’s not yours to handle.” I hadn’t listened then, and I wasn’t listening now. 

The whine of bullets passing overhead, along with rocket fire and incoming mortar rounds brought me out of my daze. 

“Get behind cover, idiota!”

Behind me, a line of bullets impacted against the portion of wall left standing after the air force had bombed these new ‘bad guys’ into oblivion. Granted, our new enemies were American citizens, those who refused to bow to the incessant demands of our ‘betters.’ 

“Buy this, do that, don’t say that, hate these people,” it wouldn’t stop. The media played the narrative until people believed the lie, and then, they sicced these rabid dogs upon their own, all while they cannibalized the remains of those they despised.

The media kept the lies churning, unrelenting in their quest for complete and total domination of those they hated. Until this moment, I had believed in the ‘righteousness’ of the cause. America had need of its sons and daughters to stand firm in the belief that censorship and government rule was needed. 

We the people are too stupid to figure out what is best for our lives, therefore, we need the government to rule over us.

I had believed that with such fervency the radicals thought me a fanatic. ‘A true believer, that one,’ an old man had said before I shot him between the eyes. Then, I shot his wife, kids, their kids, and even their dog.

There was no room for dissension. No room for freedom of expression, unless of course you agreed with the majority. If you disagreed or refused to have your life upended for no reason, then you had to die. 

Years passed, and I became disillusioned with the game. My dreams of blood, of the taut, wide-eyed rebels we had hunted until we broke the back of the rebellion, never ended. Their screams echoed throughout my mind constantly. My sleep schedule broken, my hallucinations occurred with frequency, and my mind and body neared a complete breakdown. 

One rebel had dared speak to me, and he had asked, “what is your name?” 

“Thrash,” I responded, and then I shot him in the head.  At the time, I thought nothing of it. He was a rebel, and I was hired to kill rebels. Still, his question had lingered in my mind for a while after killing him. Now, I saw him everywhere I looked. 

I had never told anyone my name before. As far as I knew, I had no last name. No one had ever asked me for my name. My mom had told me when I turned six years old, “Trash, keep your name to yourself. Names have power. Remember son, you’re one letter away from Trash.”

Both my parents were rebels. I turned them in when I was nine years old. An old man, Tank, made me watch as he killed my parents.

“This is how you kill those who’d stand against us. Watch, boy.”

Tank pulled a Ka-Bar knife from its sheath and slit the throats of my rebellious parents. After disposing of my parents, Tank handed me the knife. “A bullet is to clean of a death for traitors, boy. From now on, you do your own killing.”

I’d been killing since then. Tank taught me the fine art of blade work, how to prolong the suffering of traitors, how to clean and keep my kit in top-shelf condition, Tank became a father figure to me. Right up until he started a new rebellion.  That’s why we’re here. The Government homed in on Tank’s Headquarters and sent me along with a platoon of hardened killers, to root out the rebellion once and for all. 

Welcome to the Suck.

A snippet from Rianna’s Chalice…unedited…

While we moved on toward our goal, Schimel was regaining the use of his scorched vocal cords. His speech had improved in clarity, for a few sentences, and his eyes had begun to form anew. Jasmine cleaned his remaining burns, and she smiled when she noticed the first few sprigs of hair that peppered his burnt head. 

He was getting better every day, and soon they would be able to leave this cave in search of his heart’s desire.

Schimel had gathered enough strength to sit up. His epidermis had healed enough, and his internal organs had recovered enough functionality that he could sit for an hour at a time. He still needed rest, but he felt like he was growing stronger. Soon, he and Jasmine would leave Sylvania’s Tomb. The hunt for the Chalice continued. 

His eyes and mouth had fully formed, and he could issue orders to the Shunned Dwarves. He’d called a meeting with the remnant left and he’d given them a choice. 

“Join forces with me or die like Bloodhammer.”

Jasmine had smiled at the directness. None of the remnants had turned away his hand of friendship. Even now, the dwarves began to build armor, weapons, and prepared to march in service to their liege. 

Soon, the Chosen and whomever sided with them would be given the same ultimatum. 

Join or die.

An update on Rianna’s Chalice…unedited…

The fantasy novel is going well. I crossed 21,000 words this morning. Jayce Wellspring and his companions are on the road to high adventure. Literally. They find themselves in Bhal Dahrim.

It’s strange how this story has come together. I hope to share the completed draft with you all soon. Who knew drafting a futuristic novel was such fun? I’m trying to add as much fun into the story as I can, and I am borrowing from years of gaming experience to complete it.

Take care and be safe out there.

Freeman

NaNoWriMo July Camp…Project: Rhianna’s Chalice…unedited…

Good afternoon.

I am trying to prepare myself for NaNoWriMo’s July Camp. As usual, I am behind on my preparations. This time, I figure I will work on Rhianna’s Chalice, since I did not complete it last year.

There is something strange about the story, and it hinders me from completing it. For a guy that posts ‘inspirational’ posts on Instagram, and writes ‘motivational’ posts on his blog, I give up in a hurry sometimes.

So, I figured, why not write this, and talk it out with you all.

The Shunned Dwarves are um, looters, criminals, and outcasts. They can sell goods to the Righteous Dwarves but are unable to enter the cities. All items sold are made outside of the city in an ‘open air’ type of market. The Shunned are allowed no contact with their Righteous family members.

The Righteous Dwarves are snobs. They live in the underground cities of Bal Dahrim, Vernruhm, and Hil Wohrum. Bal Dahrim is governed by Brynja of Clan Lonvari. Vernruhm by Brewmaul of Clan Salmumin Flaskview. Hil Wohrum by Galina of Clan Hokul Cavebender. Renowned for their craftsmanship, they share power with The Elven. They are one-half of The Council. The Righteous Dwarves oversee the economics of Planet Fargard.

The Elven are humanoid type creatures capable of magic. They share power with the Righteous Dwarves and make up the second half of the Council. They are elitist snobs and consider themselves superior to all other races. The Elven are advisors, councilors, politicians, and share status and rank in the military with only The Righteous Dwarves.

Rhianna’s Chalice is the mythical flagon which contains the tears of the universe. Once filled, it overflows causing a catastrophic event which ends life as we know it. It is prophesied only ‘The Chosen’ can save the universe from complete annihilation.

Jayce Wellspring is a monster hunter and prophesied ‘Chosen One’ to save the universe from decimation. Except, he doesn’t give a crap about what happens to the universe, or to the people that corrupt it.

So, as you can see, I have my work cut out for me. I’m not a ‘fantasy’ writer by any stretch of the imagination, although, I’m looking forward to working on it. A month is a long time, and I am sure to learn something.

I’m open to all sorts of advice, so if you have any, drop me a line at lfj7371@rantsandravingsbyamadman.blog. I look forward to hearing from you.

Freeman

P.S. Don’t be shy. I don’t bite…hard…or often…

Clown World: Book Two. The beginning of Chapter 2…unedited…

Chapter Two: Camp Charlie

Isaac Smith and Jayson Rodriguez stood guard in Tower 6. The tower stood a lonely vigil on the southernmost point of the camp. Two hundred yards of open terrain ended with a sheer rockface of a cliff.

Higher-ups had decided multiple towers would waste resources needed elsewhere for such a destitute area. No guard ever had seen a Lurker when in Tower 6. It was a boring assignment, and everyone knew it. 

Isaac Smith stood behind the 240-B machine gun and kept an eye out for hostiles. He knew none came this far south. Where would they go? Lurkers could not climb the sheer face of the cliff before the bullets from the machine gun ripped them in half. 

Smith took the first four hours of their eight-hour shift and stood guard. Rodriguez swapped positions with him at noon and pulled the next four hours. Both Smith and Rodriguez were veterans of this apocalyptic wasteland. They’d fought during the push-back.

At four p.m. the next crew arrived. Smith and Rodriguez would return at midnight. For the next eight hours all seemed normal. Smith and Rodriguez returned. At 0300, Smith peered through the thermal scope toward the base of the cliff face. 

“Rod, do you see what I see?”

“Is it a Lurker?”

“I don’t know, man. It’s moving, and I think there’s more than one of them.” 

Rodriguez stood and moved behind the weapon. He squinted and looked where Smith directed him.

“Holy crap, bro. That’s a Lurker.”

“What do we do? Kill it?”

“Nah, man. We can report it in the morning. Let it go.”

Smith took over at the weapon and yawned. He squinted and looked again. The Lurker had disappeared. Then, it popped up closer to the tower. He pulled the weapon into his shoulder and fired a ten-round burst. The bullets slammed into the Lurker ripping it to shreds. Rodriguez was leaned against the flimsy wall sound asleep when Smith opened fire. He fell from the tower and crashed into the ground next to the wall.

“What the…”

Smith heard an inhuman scream and turned. Lurkers had tunneled from the outside into the camp. Rodriguez screamed as he tried to fight them off, clawing for his sidearm. 

“No,” Smith yelled. “God, no!” 

He opened fire with the 240-B. It roared as he shed lead into the horde of mutants. Unheard behind him was the Alpha. The beast opened his mouth and roared. Smith turned, his face white with fear, his mouth agape, and his last thought frozen for all time in his mind.

Dear God, please help me.

Clown World: Book Two…unedited…

Welcome to Clown World.

        The Lurkers are winning. Humanity has gone from being the sole inhabitants of Planet Earth, to a remnant of 174,000 souls left from complete annihilation. We, those who remain, face eternal sleep.

To add to our many troubles, the Lurkers have poisoned the air, an issue we must rectify, if we hope to not only survive-but thrive-and our scientists can’t figure out how to repair it.

 I am Jake Mika Tate. Former daredevil and stuntman, now scout, hunter, gatherer, and protector of my family. My wife Emily, former Hollywood princess and media darling, now mother of two-year-old Akers Tate, warrior princess and counselor to the remnant, follows and encourages me when I succumb to depression.

It wasn’t always like this. Way before the pink-haired, gender-neutral Millennial and the turd brown van with the biological package, things weren’t half bad. Life went on. Sure, we had troubles but none of it consisted of mutated humans with a hunger for flesh.

Even after the biological disaster that spread across the globe and lessened the human population, it wasn’t all bad. Our first encounters with the Lurkers taught us about our enemy. I’d lost my best friend, Ted, in a prolonged skirmish against the beasts, and the human misfits who tracked us down and killed him. 

We learned the habits of our enemies, and we could avoid them for the most part. 

Now, the Lurkers had evolved. They no longer were mindless beasts. Alpha-type Lurkers led them now. I called them Chieftains. These behemoths had an unusual ability to think, strategize, and ambush their prey. 

In the past, Lurkers swarmed their target. They would begin by attacking, slashing, biting, whatever they needed to do to bring down their prey. These Chieftains changed all of that. Instead of a swarm, Lurkers attacked in a controlled pattern. The Chieftains remained in the back, unmoved by the chaos and violence, watching…waiting. 

When the attack ended, the Alphas ate first. The Beta-Lurkers, workers, drones, whatever you want to call them, would back up from their meal and allowed their betters to have first taste. These mutated humans, these vile deformities, they controlled the chaos.

It’s too bad millions of humans died before we figured this out. It began on 01 April 2023, when the Lurkers set off a nuclear weapon on the East Coast. With one press of a button, the Lurkers reduced our numbers by millions overnight. Strong winds pushed the radioactive cloud across our country. More people lost their lives. Fear set in, and rumors began to circulate concerning ‘Lurkers that could think.’

One scientist disagreed. “No Lurker possesses the ability to think,” he raged. We listened to him, why wouldn’t we? He’d attended a prestigious Ivy League school that no longer existed. “They’re dumb animals, former humans with the IQ of a potato! If they did this horrible act, it was not done on purpose-purely accidental.”

We listened because he was much more educated than we all, and he wasted no time in launching into diatribes about how intelligent he was, whether we wanted to hear it or not.

Shortly after his speech, he was mauled and eaten by the Lurkers. They tore him from limb to limb. His last words were: “I can reason with them. I have a degree in ethnics and communication…”

Emily held Akers in her arms, looked at me and said, “Those degrees didn’t help much, did they?”

“Nope, he should have learned to shoot, move, and communicate.”

“Boom, boom,” Akers said. Or he would have if he’d known the words. I wasn’t a mathematician, but I knew we could minus one from our numbers tonight, and it could be chalked up to 21st Century stupidity.

What a time to be alive.

The world had changed overnight, and yet, for all intents and purposes, certain things remained the same. As an example, vile, dishonest humans still walked the earth. The released biological agent which started this had wiped out most of Hollywood in a weekend, and still somehow managed to miss some of the worst humanity had to offer. Well, it had removed several of the absolute worst Hollywood had to offer, but some remained.

Those who had survived until now, had no idea how to live among the common rabble. Emily was once like that, but she learned to adapt. Now, when we encountered the tofu eating, avocado toast munching, race-baiting, empty-headed wahoos from the land of sexual perversion and ‘do as I say, not as I do’ types, we laughed at their uselessness.

“Go on,” I’d yell to them. “Y’all go perform for the Lurkers. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the entertainment.” 

Back when 388 million people lived in this country, they could slack off. Now, everyone pulled double and triple shifts. Slackness wasn’t allowed. If you didn’t pull your weight, we sent you packing.

In Clown World, no political figure would stand on a soapbox and feign sympathy for your imagined oppression. No one would slap a ‘Care’ emoji on your social media post and pretend to care about how tough you had it in the Land of the Free.

Here, you had a choice. You could shut up and fight, or you could take your chances with the Lurkers.

We banded together, and it surprised me how well it worked. Tough times don’t last, tough people do. We pushed the Lurkers back and secured five bases for our people. Safe behind the walls, we had a chance to step down from the heightened operation tempo and take stock of issues that needed immediate attention. Without missing a beat, we launched into making repairs to our equipment, shoring up our defenses, and checking on the survivors.

It was all going so well, until last night.

The Ragtag Ruffians and The Jester King…unedited, incomplete…

“So, there we stood, four friends in the courtroom of the Jester King. He sat there on his throne scowling at us with all the powers of his dementia. He glowered at us like we were pond scum clinging to the bottom of his boots, an unwanted turd clinging to his knickers, mucking up the works…”

The eyes of the children followed me as I marched to and fro in front of them. My eyes stayed on the paper as I tried to find the words to put on that dirty piece of parchment.

“Um, Freeman. Um, this is America, and we don’t have a king here,” a tiny-voiced girl squeaked at me.

I turned to confront the voice, and the kids all laughed at me. Their suntanned faces all beamed with excitement, and I found myself laughing with them.

“And do you know why we don’t have a king?”

The booming voice of my friend Dev filled the room. He stood in the entrance to the room. His dark skin coupled with a quick smile set the kids at ease. He sat in the circle of children, and they all nodded excitedly.

“Yes, Uncle Dev. You and Freeman, and all your friends fought against the Jester King and won.”

“We fought them, yeah, but nobody won,” I whispered.

Dev gave high-fives to the group and nodded his head, his thick black hair hung to the center of his back and moved with every motion he made.

“Yeah, that’s right we tore into ‘em like they were made of steak…chewed ‘em up good…”

“…and if you ever wonder why the world is an unending dumpster fire of bad things you can blame us for it,” I added. The words wouldn’t come. “Screw Shakespeare and his vocabulary of 54,000 words,” I muttered walking away from Dev and the children.

Dev pointed at me and whispered to the kids, “somebody is a grumpy gut.” The children laughed and giggled, and Dev climbed to his feet and walked over to me.

“You can’t sleep?”

“Dev, if I could sleep, I wouldn’t have an empty sheet of paper in my hand and be searching for words to describe the evil we’ve done.”

“Evil, come on man, cut yourself some slack. We did what we thought was right.”

“We set a nuke off in our own country. God only knows the damage we inflicted on our own people.”

Dev shoved me against the wall, the humor in his eyes gone. He leaned close; his lips pulled back revealing his white teeth.

“Those people tried to kill us, brother. Don’t forget that little detail. The Jester King sent them to end us.”

“And we set off a nuke and burned them all to ash.”

“You’re missing the big picture, brother.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that Dev?”

“The Jester King is still out there, Freeman. He wants us to die now more than ever before. Now, we have these kids to think about, and our numbers are dwindling.”

I watched as Dev walked away, and the children had gone on to play somewhere deeper in our cave. Their tiny voices faded away. I was alone with my thoughts, such as they were.

On my dirty piece of parchment, I finally wrote: It wasn’t always like this.

Wolves…unedited…incomplete…

Seventeen names were on the paper, each name typed in black ink and beside each name was their address, place of employment, job title, and family members. 

Everything an assassin needed to plot a plan to excise the target, or to provide options should the mission go bad. 

For an average assassin, this was a treasure trove of information, but I found it excessive. 

“I do not target family members,” was another of my rules. If the target had done something to get on a client’s bad side, I had no problem ending them. But that’s where I drew the line. Too much attention got drawn on the client and his hire when things got personal. 

I’d plot for every eventuality, plot a back-up plan, and then execute my mission. In and out, no muss-no fuss.

Of the names on the list, I chose Harry Boatswain. 

My first priority though was to get Janice settled. After meeting with Sanderson and our return home, I had shown her around my small cabin, and told her to use the second guestroom. 

I whipped up an ice pack and handed it to her. She applied gingerly to her face and leaned back against the pillows. Under the bed was a heating pad, and I plugged it in and pushed it under her lower back and ribs. 

Janice groaned and closed her eyes. I turned off the lights and shut the door. She would need time to heal from her injuries, and I needed to pick a target.

First though, I needed to report in.

I waited until Janice was snoring softly before I walked into my room. Underneath the desk was a trapdoor that led into the tunnels that ran under my house. My office was down one-third of the tunnel. A small circular mirror sat on the desk, along with a shortwave radio, a laptop, and a laser printer. 

Judging from what was in the office, one would assume I used the shortwave to contact my superiors. They were wrong. I tapped the base of the mirror, and a figure wearing a dark robe appeared.

The Voiceless did not speak. I explained what had occurred, detailed my meeting with General Sanderson and Colonel Brander. The figure nodded and the mirror clicked off. 

I followed the tunnel out and came out above the river that ran below my cabin. Then, I walked seven miles in the opposite direction, then returned to my cabin. 

You could never be too careful these days.

After taking the long way home, I checked on Janice. She still snored, so I let her rest. It would take a day or two for me to hear from The Voiceless. Or so I thought. 

I did some digging into Harry Boatswain. He was a former soldier and had earned many awards during his time in the military. He retired, and then became an arms dealer. Both he and Sanderson served together, with Sanderson the higher ranking. 

Some opined that Boatswain was part of the dirty money that kept Sanderson in power. Others said he retired so that he and Sanderson could carry out a private war on those who dared cross Sanderson.

Whatever the case, Sanderson wanted Boatswain gone. Boatswain was a good place to start. 

The next morning, I woke to find Janice cooking breakfast and an unopened package on the counter.

“That was on the porch. Do you like scrambled eggs?”

“I do my own cooking. Thanks though.”

“You think I’m trying to kill you.”

“No. I think I do my own cooking. Don’t bring anymore packages in the house.”

I took the package into my room and opened it. Inside was a black card with white lettering. It read: Do the mission. Add Sanderson and Brander to the list.

Inside the box was a thin veil that covered the card, besides that there was nothing else in it. I tore the box in shreds, put the card in my drawer, and threw my trash away.

Janice sat at the counter eating her breakfast. She cut her eyes to me, and watched me cook bacon, eggs, and a small piece of toast.

“Why did you save me?”

I salted my food, pulled up a chair to the counter and sat across from Janice. 

“Eat your food. I don’t like to waste it.”

We ate in silence. While we ate, I looked at Janice’s bruised cheeks. The bruising had turned a yellowish purple.  I pointed at her bruise and said, “you need to keep ice on that. It’s gonna hurt.”

“Okay,” said Janice. 

Eating seemed to pain her, and I ate the remaining piece of my toast. “Give me your plate,” I said, extending my hand toward it. She shook her head no.

“I’ll eat it. You don’t like to waste food.”

“You look like you are in pain. Give me the plate.”

She pushed it to me. I wrapped it with saran wrap and put it in the fridge.

“If you get hungry you know where it is.”

She nodded her head but said nothing. I put on a light coat that would conceal my sidearm and KA-BAR fighting knife. Janice still sat at the counter, so I walked back in front of her.

“Let me explain something to you, Janice. I freed you last night. If you decide to run away from here, I’m not coming for you. Sanderson will kill you. Brander will kill you. Just like they killed your sister. You understand.”

“Yes.”

“Okay. I have things to do, so I’ll see you later.”

Then, I walked out to my vehicle and drove into town. Prior to the end of the 21st Century, back when the world was still divided into countries, nation-states, continents, etc. America decided to lift all laws and established a citizen-enforced system of justice. 

The politicians of the day modeled it based on a sense of family punishment utilized in more primal cultures. No formal military was used. War became a private industry and professional mercenaries fought for whomever had the most money. 

Assassins, such as I, worked for the government and did the work that others refused to do, or in certain cases, when diplomacy failed. 

Until The Voiceless retired us. Sure, we got called back into action from time to time, but it went undiscovered by the ‘government.’

Boatswain Enterprises, sat in the center of town on the edge of the main town square. People swarmed the area night or day. I chose a bench and sat down across from it. 

I pulled out a book titled, Introductory Applied Physics and opened it. A middle-aged woman with a plump face and wild hair looked at me, while she smoked her cigarette. 

“Are you a scientist, or an aspiring one?”

“Of a sort,” I responded. 

“What does that mean?”

“It means that I sometimes use science in my job.”

“Ah. Well, your text is a bit outdated.”

“Yeah. Well, the old ways are sometimes better.”

She finished her smoke and walked away. From where I sat, I had an unhindered view of the door and front desk. I watched as the plump woman walked into the building and sat behind the front desk. 

The day passed swiftly. At noon, Harry Boatswain walked out and got into an armored limo. Half an hour later, he returned.

While he was away, I walked into a hotel across from Boatswain Enterprises, climbed into an elevator, and rode it to the top floor of the hotel.

From there I got a good look of the surrounding area. It’s where I saw Harry Boatswain return. 

I went home and considered what I had seen. Janice had cooked her dinner and was eating it, while watching some show about singers from the 21st Century.

“There were many talented people in the last century,” said Janice, spooning a piece of pork cutlet into her mouth. I nodded. “I would’ve made you dinner, but you don’t trust me.”

For dinner, I made a turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato. Then, I sat down next to her and watched her program. 

The textbook fell out, and Janice picked it up. She looked at it and opened it to where I had a bookmarker set. Then, she sniffed it.

“Mmm, I love that old book smell.”

“Do you read?”

“Of course. Jade had a library in her house. Did you know that?”

“No.”

“When Brander and Sanderson found out what she was doing, they took me. Then, Sanderson sent Brander to kill her.”

I finished my sandwich and took my plate, plus Janice’s, into the kitchen. I washed them and put them away. 

Then, I went into my room and shut my door. I could hear Janice sobbing in the living room, as I stretched out on my bed.

Wolves…Chapter Two…unedited…

General Ryan Sanderson VI waited for Colonel Jason Brander to report. When he’d heard that Brander had seen the assassin known as Freeman, he told him to apprehend him and bring him in for a debriefing.

Sanderson knew Brander would accomplish his task, of that there was no doubt. The man had a stubborn streak a mile wide and was hungry for the promotion that would make him a general officer.

The general knew Brander would do anything or kill anyone to achieve his goals. He pressed the button that summoned his secretary into his office.

She crawled in on her knees and stopped at his feet. Her enormous brown eyes looked up at him, and he felt the thrill of dominance rise in him.

He slapped her across the face and shouted, “is there any word on Colonel Brander and his mission?”

“Yes,” she answered timidly, “he is on his way in. The target gave them no trouble and came along peaceably.”

Sanderson slapped her twice, and then soccer kicked her in the side. She crumbled to the ground wheezing for breath. 

He grabbed a handful of hair and lifted her head from the ground. His round face and bulbous eyes filled her vision. 

“You best learn what I want quickly, girlie. Or you’re not gonna last. Don’t make me wait for a report again.”

The girl didn’t fight as Sanderson grabbed her by the throat and dragged her from his office. She didn’t resist when he slammed right and left hooks into her ribs. As she passed into unconsciousness, she hoped with all her being that this was the last time she’d wake up a slave to the man called Toad.

Brander walked past Sanderson’s slave, and into the office. Sanderson watched as Brander closed the distance between the door and his desk.

“You get off beating on that helpless girl, don’t you?”

Sanderson grinned broadly, the gelatinous rolls of fat adding weight to his already impressive girth. He nodded, and Brander felt waves of nausea wash over him. 

“She could fight back, but then I’d kill her. I like my women docile.”

“You’re disgusting,” Brander thought, “and you should do the world a favor and kill yourself.”

“Where is the assassin?”

“My team is bringing him up, sir. He’s in chains, so there’s no need to worry.”

“He came willingly. Are you sure he’s not playing you Brander?”

Brander blushed red with indignation, and rose to defend his actions, when I was pushed into the room. 

“General Sanderson, this is the assassin named Freeman,” Brander growled. 

“I can see that, Colonel Brander. Welcome to my headquarters, Freeman.”

“Thank you, general.”

Sanderson motioned to an empty chair, and one of the black-clad soldiers shoved me toward it. I sat and waited. 

“A real-life assassin,” Sanderson squealed. “I can’t tell you how stoked I am to meet you,” he shouted, gleefully rubbing his hands together. 

“Well, thanks. I appreciate the sentiment.”

“What does a retired assassin do?”

“Whatever he wants, sir.”

Sanderson laughed and laughed, until it became a cough. He cleared his throat, swallowed, and started laughing again. The general bent over and slapped his knees.

“He’s got a sense of humor, Brander. Look at that face, he isn’t sweating this at all.”

Brander grinned coldly and nodded. His eyes met mine, and we locked gazes. Sanderson stood and walked over to me. He leaned his enormous buttocks against the desk and crossed his fatty arms. 

“Consider yourself returned to active service, assassin. I have a list of targets I want purged.”

“You don’t have the authority to activate me, sir. That comes from the Council of The Voiceless. Last I checked, they vanquished us assassins, and demanded we put aside our weapons and live in peace.”

Sanderson’s visage paled, if that’s even possible, and sweat poured from his pores. He shook with anger, clenching and unclenching his fist, as if he was torn between striking me or striking Brander. 

“You refuse to honor my request?”

I leaned back and wiped his spittle from my chin and gave him my best smile in return. 

“You didn’t request my help, sir. As a matter of fact, I’d say you expected me to cower in fear, or in some weird reverence to your status. I’m not the terrified little girl on her knees outside.”

Brander chuckled, and Sanderson flushed red. He gnawed on his bottom lip until blood seeped from the wound. His bulbous eyes enlarged further. 

“What would it take for you to work for me?”

“I’m an assassin, I demand payment. If I’m going to defy the Council of The Voiceless, it’s gonna cost you everything. To get started, I want the slave girl outside that you terrorized.”

“Fine, take her. I want a target eliminated.”

“Give me the list. I’ll contact you when the job is done.”

Sanderson guffawed and leaned toward me. “That’s not how this works,” he bellowed at me. I shrugged. 

“Okay. Do it yourself.”

“Now, hold on,” Sanderson shouted. “I choose the targets…”

“No. These are your enemies, yes?”

“Yes!”

“Then, I choose who to hit, when to hit, and you sit back and wait to confirm it.”

“There’s a deadline…”

“No there’s not,” I said, cutting him off. “I don’t work according to your deadline. I will do what you want, but I do it my way.”

Brander sat quietly in his chair, but his expression more than verbalized his thoughts. His pale blue eyes seemed light, and his tight smile had softened. He seemed to enjoy watching his boss get shoved around. 

“Here’s the list. Get it done,” Sanderson shouted at me. I picked it up and shoved it into my pocket. Then, I turned to Brander and asked, “do you mind giving me a lift home?”

“I’ll have one of my team members return you.”

“Thank you.”

Neither Sanderson nor Brander said anything to me. I walked out and took the slave girl by the arm and pulled her to her feet.

“Come with me,” I said coldly.

She followed me out to the vehicle, and one of Branders goon squad drove us back to my cabin. Me and the girl watched until the dark Charger rumbled away before I opened the door.

I opened the door and motioned for the girl to follow me. She did so, wordlessly. I waved at the couch, and she sat down.

“My name is Freeman. From this day forth, you’re not a slave. Do you understand what I said?”

She nodded but stayed silent.

“What is your name?”

“Janice. My sister was…”

“Jade. My neighbor.”

“Yes. She was working to set me free.”

“Help me,” I heard Jade whisper from my subconscious. “Help me.”

I had no trouble believing that Jade was her sister, she was an exact copy of her. Younger, but still an exact replica of Jade.

“Okay,” I whispered to myself. “I’ll help you.”

Wolves…the conclusion to Chapter One…unedited, incomplete…

I shoved gear into my bugout bag when I heard a shot and the sound of a body crashing to the floor of my front porch. “Jade is no more,” I muttered. There was no point in me completing my tasks.

The obnoxiously loud engine informed me to the goon squad’s location. I walked out and sat in my rocker at the end of my porch. Jade’s lifeless eyes stared at me from where I had shoved her out. Blood pooled from the wound, already dry in this wicked heat.

Brander got out of the vehicle and stretched. His eyes wandered to Jade’s corpse, then over to where I was seated.

“Dang, that girl has some skill,” he remarked, as he climbed onto my porch and looked at Jade’s new hole in her forehead.

“You believe she was a mile away? Had the sun in her eyes, and pow, bullet right through the gourd.”

I nodded in agreement. He walked over to where I was and motioned at a rocker not far from mine.

“Do you mind?”

“Not at all, Colonel. Please, have a seat.”

He leaned back into the seat and a small smile crept across his face. “This is a great rocker.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Sorry about the corpse on your porch. She was upsetting some powerful people, and they wanted her gone.”

I feigned a smile and nodded. Jade was my neighbor, but her loss didn’t cause me any discomfort. I didn’t know her.

Brander smiled at me and wagged his finger at me playfully. He cleared his throat and said, “you cost me some money, high speed.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I made a bet with my sniper that as soon as she snuffed that dissident, you’d rush out of your house. Then, she’d bag two instead of one.”

“Hmm.”

“The fact you didn’t respond naturally tells me you’ve had training. We pulled up your records. You don’t mind, do you?”

“I don’t mind, no. Besides, you’ve already checked.”

“True enough, but you didn’t mention that you’re a retired assassin.”

“It’s not a great conversation starter, Colonel.”

Brander laughed. He smiled, his teeth so white they seemed fake, and his laughed sounded like the dying gurgle of a man with his throat cut.

“I don’t suppose it is. Still, you should have told me.”

“Hmm. Okay. I’ll make a note of it.”

“My superiors want to see you,” he said coldly. His blue eyes suddenly cold and hard, his smile a hard line that gave the impression that he’d book no disagreement. 

The military had chosen well. Colonel Jason Brander was a man of high conviction, and he’d do whatever was necessary to get the result they wanted.

Even if he had to slay an entire village of innocent people to accomplish it.