Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sosimo's Ambush

Winterborn Second Class Janus Balin did not have anything even remotely close to a good feeling about this deployment. There had been no secret that he was to be ambushed. The Strategoi had predicted that there was less than a five percent chance that the Colombian Government would actually send the allotted number of troops to present themselves openly as had been demanded in the call to sortie; they'd been a nation of leftist guerrilla combatants far too long for that. So here stood Janus, in the middle of a God-forsaken plot of land on the border between the rainforest and pasture, waiting for what was sure to come.

He'd been chosen for several reasons, of course. He was the recipient of several experimental combat implants recently approved by the Special Medicine Corps; in fact, he'd adapted to them so well he'd been asked to donate genetic material to the eugenics department for further investigation. It seemed that he was one of the one in a million whose immune system tolerated medical augmentation without the nightmare symptoms of rejection and migration. There were members of his unit who needed constant medical procedures to retain their implants, and rumors within the divisions were rife of individuals with any number of complications: ossic filaments that migrated out through the skin, ocular implants that projected slowly out of the skull, cyber-ganglia that went missing and were later found on chest x-rays, and the pervasive complaints of dissociative disorders. Janus never showed any grave complications, even with the highly visible transdermal elements, and because of this he and others like him been chosen as shock-troops to be sent to nations that were termed less technologically advanced. Specifically he'd been chosen for his extensive training in resisting interrogation. In a situation where it was near certain that he'd be taken by surprise, there was no question of taking risks of another nation reverse-engineering a Winterborn.

As he made his way to the clearing marked as the rendezvous point, his ocular GPS leading him to within a meter of the exact coordinate, he reflected on all these details. He'd barely muted his Wearman (one of the perks of his specialization) when two men emerged from the underbrush, artificial foliage covering their clothes, and assault rifles projecting from under their arms.

"No further, amigo. There are others around who see you too." Halting, Janus stood impassive. This was the moment he'd been prepared for. These men would surely try to take him captive as quickly and easily as possible.

As the two advanced on him with zip-tie manacles, he took a deep breath and tried to calm the surge of fear inside him. His eyes shut, he recalled back to his earliest days of training, imagining himself in that refuge he'd been trained to cultivate…

Little Janus was standing just at the edge of his uncle's pool, knees bent; poised to take his dive into the clear, deep water. From the first time he'd seen it, he'd thought his uncle's pool was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. Uncle Claudius had done well in day-trading, and could afford not only a half-olympic pool, but a solar-powered filtration station that let him keep it without any chemical additives. The water was so clear you could see straight to the bottom, even in the fifteen-foot deep end. Year after year, even after they'd thought surely he'd outgrow it, he begged his parents to let him stay with Uncle Claudius for a month each summer. Claudius had taught him to swim at age six, and from the age of eight on, he'd taught Janus to dive. Nothing made Janus happier than preparing himself, poising himself perfectly, and then leaping to submerge himself completely in the cool, clear water.

He often imagined himself to be a dolphin, an animal that needed air only to breathe, but who truly belonged beneath the surface of the waves, nestled in those depths that at the same time muted all the sounds of the outside world and amplified all the noises of the aquatic world.

Taking a deep breath, reminding himself that he'd have to breathe out just a little from his nose as soon as he hit the water, Janus closed his eyes and leapt in after his Uncle's dime. Under the water, he usually opened his eyes to see the coin and retrieve it, but this time he kept them clenched shut. Somewhere far away, he had the sense that something terrible was happening, and if he opened his eyes, that terrible thing would be just before his eyes. For some reason, it didn't seem like he was dropping toward the pool's floor at all any more. That sense that something awful was all around him had sunk deeper into him, into his gut, as surely as he'd descended toward the pool's blue-painted abyss. Try as he may, he couldn't shake the feeling off, to open his eyes, to find the shining dime his Uncle had tossed into the pool, but somehow he just couldn't. He knew that soon Uncle Claudius would begin to wonder what had happened, would be worried. Probably he was already frantically unbuttoning his linen shirt, running toward the edge to follow the young boy. Janus knew if he didn't do something, if he didn't kick up toward the surface, he'd begin to drown, but his muscles weren't his own, his arms and legs wouldn't respond. The panic rose in him, and blindly, he willed every fiber of his body up toward the surface, the tiny coin forgotten, he HAD to come up for air, and soon.

"Dios Mio." The Colombian sniper was fighting back every reflex in his body, telling him to disgorge the contents of his stomach onto the thick carpet of leaves and rich soil below him.

Everything had gone horribly wrong.

Since he first joined the Fuerza de Despliegue Rapida almost ten years earlier, he'd never seen anything like this. One moment Lino and Velasco had been stepping in toward the man, restraints in hand, and the next, their throats had been spraying their very life on the trunks of the trees all around them. Three of the other men among them had rushed in immediately, and in a movement that was almost a ballet, the monster there on the ground had thrown one of them back into the brush with awful celerity, and more horrifying, kicked a hole in the other. Truly, the third had stopped straight in his tracks, dropping his rifle at his feet, unable to do anything but gape at his comrade falling to the ground with a gaping wound through his abdomen, as that horrifying whirlwind dressed in black had descended then on him. There were muted reports as the two other snipers had fired on the Winterborn, one falling wide, and the other catching him in the leg, spinning him violently to one side. Incredibly, there had been no slowing his mad frenzy of violence, and the whites of the fellow rifleman's eyes had been clearly visible as the fighter had flexed his legs deeply, steel visible through the flesh of his torn thigh, and leapt almost six meters full-on into the sniper, dragging him from view in the branches. Barely a second later, the sound of the silenced rifle barked again, and the second shooter fell from his perch. Sosimo, the sniper, hadn't made a single sound since his whispered invocation to God, and he prayed with all his heart that the blood-smeared horror in uniform below hadn't spotted him in his heavy camouflage, but even as he swore to God that he would never touch another weapon in all his days if only he was spared, his devout sentiments turned to dread as the Winterborn stepped back into the clearing, dripping with the remains of Sosimo's fellows, and leveled his gaze straight at the sniper; but in that instant, God had intervened.

Gasping, Janus fell to his knees on the hot concrete beside the pool, and the world swam around him. There was a sickening moment of disorientation, as his boy-self coughed water from his lungs and his man-self took in the green of the forest all in one moment. Looking down at himself, it was just as it always was: There was blood on his boots, blood up to his elbows, he even tasted blood in the back of his throat. As his artificial and organic ligaments relaxed, the wire-thin titanium filaments retracting back under his fingernails, that same compelling force that had driven him only seconds ago lifted his eyes to a clump of leaves resting on a heavy bough above him, and all at once, the Winterborn found his voice.

"You are to go back where you came from. You are to tell your superiors everything you saw here. You know what i can do; if you fire at me while i leave, i can make sure that you go back to your barracks less than a man. Go and report."

And as the sobs welled up in both men, Janus turned his face away, and began his slow, agonizing trudge back to his extraction point, Sosimo's tear-choked Ave Maria fading behind him.

5 Comments:

Blogger Third said...

By the way, if Sony ever patents the name "Wearman," i hope credit gets paid to whatever cyberpunk author i first heard it from...

7:44 AM  
Blogger the Razorclown said...

I found myself thinking of Metallica's "Of Wolf and Man."

I find this character particularly intriguing. What kind of loyalty must he have, to do work that affects him thus?

8:20 AM  
Blogger Third said...

well after all, loyalty is the first and foremost trait of the Winterborn.

6:17 PM  
Blogger Lenny said...

From my understanding of your favorite literary devices as well as the significance of the name Janus I look forward to seeing what this character does in future stories. Oh and keep up the good work.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Third said...

Actually, not only the name Janus but also the family name Balin are both significant.

8:04 PM  

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