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Kiraling – Part 01 (Chapter 01-03)

Written by anonxyzus :: [Friday, 28 February 2014 19:41] Last updated by :: [Friday, 26 August 2016 10:26]

Kiraling is set in a variation of Shadar’s Aurora Universe, and borrows characters created by Shadar.

Kiraling is a story of a wounded, and in some ways broken, human being who finds himself involved with three super women, and explores that relationship from his point of view.

Thanks to Shadar for his advice and counsel, and not a little bit of editing.

Chapter 1

I was hiking and camping in the North Cascades, near Mt. Shuksan, on Baker Lake. It was just a long weekend trip. I liked hiking in the back country. The scenery was great, and I didn’t have to be around people. And when I wasn’t around people it was safe for me to go off my meds. You see, in town, around people, it was really hard for me to cope if I wasn’t taking my medication. And when I was on the meds I couldn’t talk to Dixon and Johnson. Besides that, hiking was a good way to get my body back into shape. I’d had so many surgeries and spent so much time in a hospital bed that my fitness level just wasn’t up to what it had been before I was medevaced out of Afghanistan.

I suppose I should tell you why I had to be medevaced out of anywhere. I was a senior in high school the day the Twin Towers came down. Like a lot of other young men, I was shocked and angry and wanted to strike back at the enemy. So shortly after graduation I joined the army. My folks had planned for me to go to college, and so had I, but after that day, it just seemed that I had to do something now. So I asked them to keep the college savings available for me, for the day I came home, and went off to war.

I thought that I was going to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but the president had different priorities, and so after boot camp, AIT, and a trip to the NTC in the Mojave, I was off to Iraq. Dixon and Johnson were in my squad. We’d been together since boot camp and became the best of friends. And in combat, we had each other’s back. We were really lucky during that first deployment. We all came home with Purple Hearts, for minor wounds. What none of us really knew, but I think sensed, was that something else had happened to us. Something that affected how we thought, how we acted, and how we related to civilians when we came home.

By the end of that first tour all three of us were close to the end of our enlistments. The army dangled a big bonus in front of us, and while the last place we ever wanted to be again was in Iraq, we all signed up for another six years. Funny, looking back on it now, $10,000 doesn’t seem like enough money to get me back into a war zone, but at the time it looked pretty good.

Our second deployment didn’t go as well as the first. Well, it didn’t for me. Dixon and Johnson came out of it without a scratch. I came out of it with a Bronze Star, another purple heart, and my first surgery. But I healed fast and was back with my unit and Dixon and Johnson shortly after they rotated home.

Our third deployment was where the shit really hit the fan. By this time we were all E-5’s with our own squads, but we were in the same company and stayed close. We were in southern Kandahar province in Afghanistan. According to the briefings we were given, that area was the birthplace of the Taliban, and I can tell you from experience that they really wanted it back. I was riding in a convoy, in an MRAP when the lead vehicle hit an IED, on a road that was supposed to have been cleared, and we came under attack. They hit us hard, we hit back even harder, and by the end of the day the Taliban were gone and we had a lot of casualties and a bunch of wrecked vehicles. I was written up for a Silver Star for that battle, I’ll come back to that later. I had a couple of wounds. They needed treatment but I considered myself very lucky to be among the walking wounded that day.

Darkness was approaching so HQ sent out another convoy to pick us up and bring us back to base. Humvees. And son-of-bitch, if we didn’t hit another IED on the way back. On a road that we had just come up on that morning. MRAPs can take an IED hit and protect the men inside pretty well. Humvees can’t. I was blown out of the vehicle, through an opening that hadn’t existed a few seconds earlier, and ended up with injuries to both my legs, my arms, burns on my torso and, worst of all, burns to my face and head. By the time I was on this camping trip, I’d had more plastic surgeries than I could remember, and my face still frightened children and drew stares from adults. Anyway, I was the only survivor in that Humvee, and a helicopter was called in to take me out. And son-of-a-bitch, that helicopter, with me in it, was about a hundred feet off the ground when it took an RPG hit. Somehow the pilot was able to crash land the ship without getting us all killed, but the crash injured my back and killed three other wounded soldiers from my squad.

They did what they could for me in Afghanistan, and then I was flown out to Germany for surgery and further treatment, before being sent back to the states. It was on the flight back to the U.S., where I was lightly sedated due to my newly acquired fear of flying, that Dixon and Johnson showed up and started talking to me. Now you’d think that would be great, being reunited with my buddies and all. But I was pissed with them because neither one of them made any effort to come and see me while I was in the hospital in Germany. I was bitching to them about that when one of the nurses on the flight asked me who I was yelling at, and said she was going to up my sedative. I told her I was talking to two first class assholes and I didn’t need any more sedation because I really wanted to give it to these guys. She smiled at me and told me to relax; she’d give me something that would make them go away. She did, and they did.

Back in the states I was in the hospital for plastic surgery and physical therapy to recover as much use of my legs as I could. Let me tell you, I worked harder and sweat more during physical therapy than anything I was ever put through during boot camp, and I’m convinced the physical therapists were all former drill instructors who washed out for lack of compassion. The work paid off though; by the time I was on my camping trip I was able to hike pretty well with the help of a walking stick. I wish that had been the end of it, but while in the hospital someone noticed that I was often having conversations with people who weren’t there, and there was a little issue of picking fights occasionally and throwing things at nurses and orderlies, so they did some more scans and lots of tests and determined that I was suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. They also told me I was suffering from survival guilt. You see, I was the only one in my squad who survived the attack, the Humvee ride, and then the attack on the helicopter. So between physical therapy sessions I got to go see a psychologist.

I’m not an idiot. In between deployments I saw how soldiers who were diagnosed with PTSD and brain injuries were treated, both by the army and civilians, and I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. So I stopped talking to Dixon and Johnson when medical staff was around, and I soft pedaled that with the psychologist, telling her that only happened when I was waking up from surgery, and the dust ups with the nurses and orderlies were really only minor arguments, hardly worth talking about. Turns out she wasn’t an idiot either and she gave me a prescription that she said would help me cope and would make the delusions go away. And the medication worked. When I was on my meds the nightmares stopped and I slept all night long, and I didn’t get irritated easily. Or at all actually. But I was always just a bit fuzzy and it seemed that there were things that should have bothered me, but didn’t. But I didn’t see Dixon and Johnson and I could tolerate being around other people, so the docs thought I was making good progress and after awhile started lowering the dosage of my meds. With the lower dosage, the fuzziness got better, but never did go away. And I really missed Dixon and Johnson. I didn’t tell the docs about this, but I had tried several times to commit suicide. Dixon and Johnson always intervened and talked me out of it. When I was on my meds the thoughts of suicide went away though, so I decided that I could live with them when I had to be around people, but would go off them when I was alone, so I could talk to Dixon and Johnson.

After awhile I was discharged from Walter Reed and sent to Joint Base Lewis McChord and assigned to army doctors and psychologists at Madigan Army Medical Center. I had actually asked to be assigned there, to be near my family. That didn’t work out so well though, as my mom and dad were killed in a traffic accident shortly after I arrived. Being the only child of only children meant that I was left with no family at all. Mom and Dad did have wills, and I inherited their house, which I lived in when I had to be close to JBLM, a car, their savings, including enough money to pay for four years of college, a couple of IRAs, and a pretty well funded 401(k). Also, a cabin on Lake Whatcom outside of Bellingham, which I moved into and called home when I wasn’t required to be on base or at the hospital.

Growing up we spent most of our vacation time at that cabin, going on hikes, maintaining the cabin, going swimming, remodeling the cabin, or just chilling out in between doing cabin remodeling and maintenance. As a result the cabin was actually in pretty good condition and had all the modern conveniences. Somehow dad had gotten around county permit limitations and had a huge propane tank installed and filled. It held enough propane to run our cabin and probably ten more like it for five years. But, of course, it had to be maintained, which meant painting it. That was what I was doing on this trip, priming the tank for painting, hiking, and doing some overnight camping in the mountains.


Chapter 2

I’d been working at the cabin, putting a coat of primer on the propane tank, when Friday rolled around and I decided to do some camping and hiking. So I loaded up my car with camping supplies and drove off into the North Cascades. I told you earlier that I was camping and hiking near Baker Lake, near Shuksan, just enjoying the scenery and what wildlife I could see. It was late summer and there were black bears in the area, so I was packing my dad’s Ruger SP101, loaded with .357s. 38’s are just too small when you are dealing with a bear. I’m not sure a 357 fired out of a 2 inch barrel would stop one, but I think it would give the bear something to think about. Washington is an open carry state, and as I didn’t have a concealed pistol license, and am not sure, given my diagnoses of mental issues, that I could get one, I carried it in a holster on my right hip.

I was on a very old and overgrown trail when I saw in the distance, below me, what looked like a man carrying something over his shoulder. I pulled out my binoculars to get a better look, and I saw that it was a man carrying a woman. A naked woman, as far as I could tell. The man disappeared from view, then reappeared going back the way he came without the woman. Now this is where it gets strange. The man was walking out into a clearing when he suddenly disappeared, out of thin air. Like there he was walking, and then he just disappeared. A moment later he reappeared, out of thin air, carrying another naked woman. This was just strange, and despite Dixon and Johnson yelling at me to turn around and get the hell out of there I decided this needed more investigation.

I made my way down a slope into the clearing and looked over to where the man had appeared and disappeared. There wasn’t anything there, except some vegetation that looked like something big had flattened it against the ground. I turned around to look the other way and saw the opening of a cave or tunnel into the side of the hill. That didn’t surprise me. In the 19th century there was a fair amount of mining activity in this area. In fact, there was a short lived gold rush, and some silver had been found. I thought this must be where that guy carried the naked women.

The cave or tunnel opening was about eight feet high and about five feet wide. I walked up to the opening and looked around and tried to peer into the darkness. Dixon said we should leave, something about there being no point in me surviving three combat tours and then getting killed on home soil. Johnson reminded me that we hadn’t entered a dark tunnel without first throwing in flash bangs or frags since that first time outside the wire in Iraq. I said, “Roger that,” and drew the Ruger. My hands were shaking, my bowels wanted to empty themselves and suddenly I leaned over and puked up my lunch. It occurred to me that Dixon might be right, that the only sane thing to do was to turn and get out of there as fast as I could. Then I thought of those women being carried in there, took a deep breath, whispered, “Hoo rah,” and stepped forward into the tunnel.

As I walked in I could see a dim light emanating from somewhere further down, and I didn’t need my flashlight. About twenty feet in the tunnel made a sharp right turn and opened up into a larger cavern, about thirty feet wide and with a fifteen foot ceiling. The whole thing, tunnel and cavern, was reinforced with what I assumed were steel beams, with a few light bulbs hung from the beams. At the end of the cavern, about forty feet from the entrance tunnel, was another opening about the same size as the opening I’d come through. This one appeared to have a section of boarding on the floor that spanned a pit or a chasm. I heard a noise off to my right and just about jumped out of my skin, then turned to investigate and what I saw would have made me lose my lunch if I hadn’t just lost it.

I’d seen a lot of bad stuff during my deployments. Bodies torn apart, heads blown off, and this looked like the worst of it. There was a corpse laying on the floor of the cavern in pieces. The torso was there, and above that a head, which had been torn off the torso, and legs and arms stacked beside it. Someone had been completely dismembered. There was a lot of blood pooling on the floor, so I assumed the dismemberment must have happened there, on the spot, and fairly recently. Dixon suggested, again, that we leave. I was really getting annoyed with him. You know how you get with someone whose advice you are ignoring, even though you know they are right? That kind of annoyed.

I heard a noise again, this time it sounded like a sob, and wheeled around and brought the Ruger up. I looked over where the sound came from, it was darker and dimmer there, and made out four more bodies. I went over to them; there were four naked blondes, trussed up with what looked like bent steal bars. Like someone had taken some rebar and used it to bind their hands and feet. They all had what looked like gold colored chains around their necks. Three of them were women, and they had obviously been beaten up. They had bruises everywhere as far as I could see, and they were filthy dirty, like whoever beat them up had done it here in the cavern. The fourth one, a man, looked far worse. I didn’t see any broken skin, but his arms and legs were bent in such a way that it was obvious that all four of them had been broken. His face was a puffy mass of flesh and his eyes were swollen shut. I shuddered to think who could have done this to him, because the guy was built. He had muscles on muscles and even in his shape his six pack was obvious. And my God, this dude was hung. I mean seriously hung. I’d never seen anything like it. Dixon and Johnson were freaking out, telling me to get the hell out of there. I told them to shut up, and then one of the women, the one on the end who had been sobbing, looked up at me. I don’t think she’d seen me before.

They were all gagged. I holstered the Ruger and removed her gag, the one who was sobbing, and she asked, “How many of you are there?”

Just me,” I said, “Who are you and what the hell’s going on here?”

You were talking to someone else,” she said, “I heard you tell them to be quiet.”

No, it’s just me. What’s going on?”

Get this gold off of me and hurry,” she said.

I said, “Gold, that’s gold? Lady, I need to get that rebar off you and get you and your friends out of here.”

She looked at me, hard, and said, “Get this gold off me now!”

I recognized that tone of voice. That was the voice of authority. The last person to talk to me that way was a command sergeant major. I knew I had to get the gold off her. Dixon and Johnson agreed, telling me to hurry. I gave them a nasty look; I mean just a minute ago they had been telling me to get out of there.

I looked around for a tool I could use and I was in luck. This place must have been a tool shop at one time and there were some old shears on a bench. I grabbed the shears and went over to naked blonde #1 and knelt down next to her to start cutting the gold when she looked past me and shouted, “Run!”

Next thing I knew I was flying through the air and landed about ten feet away. I looked up and there was this big guy, I mean a really big guy; examining the gold chains around the woman I had been talking to and replacing her gag.

I drew my Ruger and yelled, “Step away from her!”

He turned to look at me, and I swear, he smiled and laughed. And then he started walking towards me. When you’ve spent as much time in a combat zone getting shot at as I have you get really good at identifying friend and foe. This guy definitely was a foe. So I aimed at his chest and fired off a round. I hit him, I had to have hit him, I saw a hole in his uniform top where I had aimed, but he just kept coming closer. I fired off another round, hitting him squarely in the chest, and saw the bullet bounce back towards me onto the floor. The guy was laughing at me now. I fired another round and this time heard it ricochet off one of the walls, and then he was on me, picking me up in a bear hug. My hands and arms were free, so I raised my gun to his head and fired. He dropped me and cried out in pain and his hands went up to the left side of his head. There should have been a gaping hole there and he should have been on the ground bleeding out. From what I could see, I must have fired at an angle to his head, and there was a long gash over his ear and he was bleeding.

I started to get up and raise my weapon at him again when he lunged at me, knocked the gun out of my hand and picked me up and started squeezing. He squeezed the breath out of me and I thought, well, this is the end, finally, the end. And then Dixon and Johnson were yelling at me to fight back, to save the women and the man. And I thought, “guys, can’t you just let me die?” No, they wouldn’t. They kept telling me to fight back, to be a man, to save these people.

I started flailing around and felt a rib crack, and Jesus Christ if I could have I would have screamed! It hurt like a son-of-a-bitch! I flailed around some more and felt what I thought was a side arm on the big guy’s hip. I pulled it out of its holster, found the trigger, stuck the barrel end against his ribs and pulled the trigger. There was a flash of light, the guy dropped me, and the cavern wall behind him partially collapsed. The big guy was on the ground, and his body had been cut in two. I looked at the weapon and heard Dixon say, “Man, if I was still alive I’d have to get me one of those.”

I went over to naked blonde #1 and took her gag off.

Start working on the gold,” she said.

I started to pick up my shears when I saw her eyes get big again. I turned around and there was another big guy coming from the other end of the cavern walking across the boards over the pit. I picked up the weapon, the ray gun, and pointed it at his chest and pulled the trigger. There was a flash, his uniform flared up and burned off at the point of impact, and he faltered and stepped back a bit, then started coming at me again. I pulled the trigger again, same results. Naked blonde #1 yelled, “Shoot his eyes!”

I raised my aim and shot at his head, and this time he was knocked back a couple of feet and put his hands up to his face. I fired again, same results, but he wasn’t going down. Then I got an idea. I lowered my aim to the boards he was walking on and pulled the trigger. The boards practically disintegrated, the guy fell into the pit, and the back wall collapsed, burying him.

I just stood there looking when I heard naked blonde #1 yell, “Get this damn gold off me!”

That woke me up, and I hobbled back to her, picked up the shears, and started working on the gold. Gold is soft. Did you know that? I didn’t, but it is, and it’s a good thing, because my cracked rib was slowing me down, but I was able to cut through the chains. Just as the ends of the last chain fell away there was an explosion of sparks, I swear, between her nipples, and she jumped up pulling the rebar that had bound her hands and feet apart like taffy. “Free the others,” she said and she disappeared in a blur down into the pit.

I didn’t know what was going on, or what to think. The other women were agitating and making whatever sound they could through their gags and Dixon and Johnson were yelling at me to free them. I went to work on naked blonde #2’s gold chains and when they were freed the same thing happened. A riot of sparks between her nipples and she jumped up and freed herself from the rebar, then yanked the gold off naked blonde #3, which resulted in another riot of sparks and broken rebar, and she headed down into the pit.

I went to the man and cut his chains off of him. There were no sparks, he just took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh and didn’t move.

The room suddenly became just a little bit darker, and I looked around and realized that something was blocking the sunlight coming through the entrance. I limped over to see if someone was coming and saw three more big guys coming down the entrance tunnel. I raised the ray gun and shot the first one, and this time he was blown in two, like that first guy. I shot the second one, killed him, and looked to the third one who was raising his ray gun at me. I realized that he was going to get a shot off first and jumped to the side when suddenly a blur passed me heading towards that last guy. His shot hit the blur and had no effect at all and then the blur hit him and his body just exploded, and then I saw that it was naked blonde #2, turning back towards me. Just then, from the pit behind me, there was an explosion and the roof of the cavern started to collapse. The next thing I knew I was on my back with naked blonde #2 just above me and a pain in my left leg that I recognized meant it was broken. My head didn’t feel very good either; I must have hit it pretty hard when I went down.

Then I noticed something funny. The woman was above me, about three inches, in a spread eagle position, and she wasn’t touching me. There was a space between me and her, like she was hovering above me. And there were beams and rocks all around us and on top of her. She smiled down at me and said, “My name is Sharon. What’s yours?”

Joe,” I answered.

Just then I heard a blood curdling scream. Sharon looked up before I could ask and said, “That would be Kara and Xara getting revenge on the Arions for Eric’s murder.”

Aryans?” I asked, “Like Nazis?”

Not too different,” she answered, and then added, “You have just made four very powerful lifelong friends Joe.” And then she looked back down at me and asked, “What happened to you Joe?”

I knew what she was asking about, and I guess this is just as good a time as any to describe what she was seeing. I had burns over most of my body from that IED that hit the Humvee I was riding in. By the time I’d come across the naked blondes I’d had a number of plastic surgeries, but I still looked pretty bad. I had scar tissue all over my face and head. My torso too, but she wasn’t looking at that. My ears were just two burnt nubs. I only had one eyebrow over my left eye, the right one was permanently burned off. My nose looked like it had been smashed into my face. One eye looked smaller than the other and was lower on my face. My mouth was crooked. I had no hair on my head, only scarring. I was pretty ugly.

I answered her question by saying, “War happened to me.” Then I passed out.

When I came to all three of the women were kneeling beside me, looking at me. They were still naked and dirty but somehow looked different. Then I realized their bruises were gone. Naked blonde #1, the one who told me to take the gold off, smiled at me and said, “We’re going to get you to a hospital Kiraling, and you’re going to be fine. It’s very important that you tell anyone who asks that you were in an automobile accident. If anyone asks for details, tell them you don’t remember.”

I started to tell her that my name isn’t Kiraling, it’s Joe, when my left leg exploded in pain and I passed out again. When I woke up I was in a hospital bed with a cast around my injured leg, a bandage around my head and a wrapping around my chest.


Chapter 3

I knew I was in a hospital, when you’ve spent as much time as I have in them you recognize them pretty quickly. I tried to raise my head to look around but that caused intense pain so I just laid there looking up at the ceiling. Dixon and Johnson weren’t there, so I knew they must have given me something. Just then a nurse walked in and said, “Oh, you’re awake. I’ll be right back with a doctor.” She didn’t come right back, it was at least twenty minutes before she came in with a doctor. He started to examine me and explained that I had a concussion and a broken leg and that they had set my leg and put it in a cast. I also had a broken rib, and they wrapped my chest.

He asked me my name and I told him. He said good, that matched what they found on my dog tags. He said they found evidence of a lot of old injuries when they examined me and asked if I got them in combat. I said yes, that was the case, and that Madigan would have all my records. Then I asked him where I was and he said I was in St. Joseph’s hospital in Bellingham. He asked me what had happened. I was quiet for a few seconds while I thought about it. Given my history, any stories I told about naked blondes and ray guns would probably be attributed to my brain injury and maybe even get me an extended stay at Madigan. Or worse, Western State. So I decided to go along with what naked blonde #1 told me and said the last thing I remembered was getting into my car. He was satisfied with that and said a police officer would be in to see me soon. He finished up his exam and said I would probably be able to go home in two or three days, depending on how I was recovering. He said the leg broke very cleanly and shouldn’t be a problem, that the people who found me had used a piece of rebar to make a splint. He also said the docs at Madigan would have to do their own exam to determine my course of treatment and recovery.

Another twenty minutes, and a Bellingham Police officer walked into the room and started asking me questions. I told him the last thing I remembered was getting into my car at the cabin, and I asked him what happened. He said I was caught in a slide on Chukanut Drive (Chukanut Drive!?) and that some good Samaritans pulled me out of the car and brought me to the hospital. He said my car was totaled and had me sign a police report, and then he left.

If you are reading this on a computer, bring up Google earth or Map Quest and find Shannon Creek Campground. It’s on Baker Lake. Now look up Chukanut Drive. They are easily an hour and a half away from each other by car. How did my car get to Chukanut Drive and how was it totaled? Were the naked blondes responsible for this?

I was in a room with three other occupied beds. That evening an orderly came in and said I was being transferred to a private room. I asked him why, he said my family requested it. My family? I don’t have any family. By this time whatever they had given me was wearing off, and Dixon leaned down and told me to just go with it, and I thought that was pretty good advice, so I kept my mouth shut.

The next morning my head was hurting a lot less and I was able to sit up and have breakfast. By this time I was off the pain killers and since I didn’t have any of my meds with me I was having a great time reminiscing with Dixon and Johnson. I asked them if they knew how I got from Baker Lake to Chukanut drive. They said they had no idea.

At about 11:00 there was a knock on my door and four people walked in. It was the blondes! They weren’t naked anymore; they were all wearing jeans and t-shirts or blouses. The one that I recognized as naked blonde #1 came up to me and shook my hand and said, “My name is Kara, Joseph.”

She stepped aside and then the one I recognized as naked blonde #3 took my hand and said, “My name is Xara.”

Then #2 shook my hand and said, “I’m Sharon. We’ve already met.” The man, the huge muscled man, stood back and just looked at the floor; he wasn’t making eye contact with anyone.

You know how you can walk into a room and instantly identify the person in charge? Well, it was obvious to me that Kara was the leader of this group, and the man was at the bottom of the pecking order. Kara pulled up a chair close to the bed and looked at me. I looked back, and now I have tell you a little bit more about these people before I continue the story.

When I was in the cavern and they were tied up, I couldn’t tell too much about them, physically, except for the man and his huge dick. But now that I could see them in good light, cleaned up, they were absolutely gorgeous. The women all had the most beautiful blonde hair and the most amazing blue eyes that I had ever seen. When I looked at them, it looked like they could see right through me. They all looked like they could pose for the Swimsuit issue. Very fit, flat tummies, as near as I could tell, and quite well developed in the bust. Good gentlemanly manners compel me to stop here, but Dixon and Johnson were whistling at them and talking about their major big boobs. And they were all tall. Taller than me anyway. I’m 5’10”, they were all easily 6’, and the man must have been 6’6”, at least. And he had those rugged looks that women in bars were always looking for when they were looking away from me. And their hair. The women’s hair was beautiful and as Kara sat close to me I could detect the most wonderful scent coming from her hair. It reminded me of honey and wild flowers, like the wild flowers in the meadows of Mt. Rainier, that kind of odor.

Kara said …

Oh my god, that voice! It had an accent to it, like Swedish or Norwegian, with a bit of French? I’m not sure, but I could get lost in that voice and those eyes so easily.

Kara said, “You saved us Joseph, and we will never forget that. We are your friends forever and if there is ever anything you need let us know.”

I asked, “How did my car get to Chukanut Drive? What happened?”

Kara said, “All in good time Joseph. Just concentrate on getting well.”

Kara got up and Sharon sat down and said, “Thank you Joseph.” And she squeezed my hand very gently. I asked her, “Who were those guys in the cavern?” And, like Kara, she avoided the question saying, “Someday we’ll tell you.” She had the same accent Kara had.

Then Xara sat down, took my hand, and just said, “Thank you,” and got up. She sounded like she was from Southern California. Very different from the other two.

Then Kara turned to the man, and said something to him, very sharply and angrily, in a language that I’d never heard before. He looked at me and said something, in that same language, but in a very contrite tone of voice. Kara turned to me and said, “This worm pledges his undying loyalty to you for as long as you both may live, and thanks you for saving his worthless life.”

I just looked at her, and she said, with undeniable condemnation in her voice, “When this mighty Messenger had the opportunity to fight the Arions he tried to flee. His cowardice compared to the bravery of you, a Terran, shames him, and his superiors will hear of it.” She turned and said something to the man again, and he winced. Unbelievable. This Greek God of a man was totally cowed by this smaller woman.

Then she came back over to me, leaned over and kissed me on my forehead and said, “We will be in touch Joseph.”

I asked her, “That man, the one who was dismembered in front of you, who was he?”

She looked at me sadly and said, “My husband. Xara’s stepfather.”

And then she got up and the four of them filed out of the room. Just before she walked through the door Xara turned to me and said, “If anyone asks, we’re your cousins. That’s what we told the nurses.” Then they were gone.

If Kara hadn’t told me who the man, Eric, was, I wouldn’t have any idea of the women’s ages. I still didn’t really. I knew that Xara must be Kara’s daughter, and so Xara must be younger, but honestly, all three of the women looked like they could be in their early twenties.

About ten minutes after they left I started getting visits from all the male nurses and doctors on the floor, asking me about my cousins, where they lived, were they single, were they seeing anyone, that kind of thing. And the female staff was just as bad, asking about the man and making comments to each other about his obvious “package”. I just made up answers off the top of my head while Dixon and Johnson were practically rolling on the floor laughing.

That afternoon a physical therapist came to see me. He brought a pair of crutches with him, which he adjusted to my height, and then started to show me how to use them to get out of bed and get to the bathroom. I say he started to show me. I knew how to do this; I’d had plenty of practice since I was first wounded back in Iraq.

The next morning they announced that I could go home. A nurse brought in some clean clothes that my “cousins” had delivered to the hospital. Jeans, underwear, shoes, socks, a shirt, and they all fit perfectly. I asked about calling a cab and the nurse said I didn’t need to; my cousins had sent a car for me.

Sure enough, when they rolled me out the front door there was a limo waiting for me. The driver opened the door for me and took my crutches and put them in the trunk and got behind the wheel and started to drive out into traffic. I started to say, “My address is …” when he interrupted and said he already had the car’s GPS programmed with my address. So I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

When we arrived at the cabin the driver got the crutches out of the trunk and opened the door and asked, “Mr. Ricci, would you like me to help you into the house?” I said no thanks, I can do it myself. I worked my way up to the porch and unlocked the door and went in. When I closed the door behind me the driver left. And that is when it hit me. I probably didn’t have anything to eat in the place except for some MREs I’d “liberated” from the army. I was about to call a cab for a ride to the grocery store when I noticed a set of keys on the kitchen table on top of some papers, with my Ruger. I picked the keys up and looked at the papers. They were a bill of sale. For a Toyota Prius. A fully paid for Toyota Prius. And the papers were signed by me, with my signature. A note said, “Look in the garage,” and it was signed K. So I opened the door into the garage and there was a brand new Prius!

I hobbled into the garage and almost tripped over my painting supplies, which I had left under the propane tank. I was going to paint it after the primer dried. I looked out the garage window at the tank and lo and behold, it was painted. I checked the garage door and it was locked from the inside. I checked the door from the garage to the yard and it was locked and bolted.

I needed a beer! I remembered that I still had one in the refrigerator, so I hobbled into the kitchen and opened the fridge and saw that it was fully stocked. Milk, eggs, beer, soda, tomatoes, carrots, ground beef, apples, oranges, pretty much everything you could imagine. I opened the freezer and saw ice cream and a roast.

I closed the refrigerator door and checked all the doors and windows. They were all locked. From the inside. There was no way anyone could have gotten in. And yet I had a brand new car in my garage, a fully stocked refrigerator, and, when I looked, a fully stocked pantry. I was set.

I called Madigan and explained my situation. They had already gotten the records from St. Joe’s and told me I didn’t have to return until after the doc at St. Joe’s had taken off my cast which was going to be in about three weeks. So I went out to the garage and sat in my new car. There was a remote control clipped to the visor above me. I took it down and pushed the button and the garage door opened. “Cool,” I thought, because until now I didn’t have a garage door opener. So I backed out of the garage and took my new car for a spin.

About ten days later I was contemplating a trip to the grocery store when there was a knock at the door. I opened it and there was a kid on the porch with several bags. He was wearing an Albertson’s name tag and the name said Bill. Bill said, “I have a delivery for Joe Ricci.”

I said, “I’m Joe, but I didn’t order these, and since when does Albertson’s deliver?”

Bill said, “Well, someone ordered these for you, and we don’t usually deliver, but someone talked the store manager into it.”

I asked, “Was that someone a tall blonde?”

With a killer body, yep,” he said.

So I let him in and he put the groceries on the counter. I offered him a tip but he refused, apparently the blonde with the killer body had already taken care of that, and also arranged for another delivery in another ten days.

After another ten days or so, and another grocery delivery, it was time to go back to the hospital to have my cast removed. They took my cast off, examined my leg, and pronounced me Madigan’s problem again. They gave me a bunch of papers to give to the docs at Madigan and I went out to the car and opened the glove compartment to stuff the papers in there. This was the first time I’d opened the glove compartment. I just assumed the owner’s manual was in there, and really, if you’ve driven one Toyota you’ve driven them all, so I never bothered to look. But when I opened the glove compartment I saw a plastic card with a sticky note attached. The card was a Chevron-Texaco gas card, and the note said $500. Cool. $500 worth of gas, which in a Prius would last me quite a while.

I went back to the cabin to close it up. I packed all the groceries into boxes or coolers and packed them into the car, then headed off to my parents house in Federal Way. I’d spend the night there and then check in at Madigan the next day. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting to find when I got to my parents house, but whatever it was, it wasn’t there. No fully stocked pantry. No fully stocked refrigerator. No brand new car in the garage. It looked like my life was going back to normal.

The next morning I put on my ACUs and checked into Madigan. Due to the concussion I suffered in my “automobile accident” they wanted to do another brain scan, and they hooked me up with a physical therapist to check out the leg. And they gave me some appointments to see the psychologist. I had gone back on my meds the last few days, so Dixon and Johnson weren’t there, and I just took everything in stride, though I thought if it wasn’t for the meds I’d be antsy and want to get out of there. I still wanted to get out of there. I just wasn’t antsy.

To: Arion High Command

From: Near Earth Command

Subject: Capture team assumed KIA

The capture team sent to Terra has disappeared. In his last communication Lieutenant Akro’n reported his team had successfully subdued and captured two Protectors and had sighted one Scribe. The Protectors were to be transported to NEC for rape, torture, interrogation and execution. The Scribe was ignored as a non-combatant per standard protocols.

Shortly after lieutenant Akro’n missed a scheduled communication an energy signature consistent with that of a self-destructing cloaked scout ship was sighted near the Terran sun.

A team sent to the capture team’s base of operations on Terra discovered that the base had been destroyed. There was evidence that the team’s scout ship had been in the area, but the ship itself could not be found.

It is NEC’s opinion that the Scribe that was sighted by the capture team interfered with the operation, resulting in the freeing of the two Protectors and the loss of Lieutenant Akro’n, his team, their ship and all other assigned assets.


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