Note: This short story takes place right after the first novel Sins of the Soul – available at www.shatteredheaven.com (Ebook coming late February 2012), and is a lead in story to the upcoming movie Midnight Twilight.
Peace and tranquility were not words often used to describe the world in its current state. But for the moment, it was adequate. The beach on the coast of the Atlantic brimmed with bustling chatter and ignorance. Ignorance attributed to the overall situation of the gripes between nations. And yet, none of that mattered, people continued to move on with their lives. Going to work, making a living in hopes of supporting their families, to some, the war didn’t matter; it didn’t affect them according to the mindset they had adopted. It was the Hamptons after all; the vibrant lifestyle of the wealthy, the men and women who lived in their own augmented reality. They didn’t need to concern themselves with the chaotic reality of everyone else. The ocean waves continued to swoon over the enriched sands of the coast while people continued to swim and play in its embrace. Nothing mattered to any of them except for the present moment in time as to them, the war had yet to reach them.
“You know, I could get used to this,” Mario Liberalis, an Alliance soldier muttered to himself as he stretched his arms as far above his body as they could. Reclining on his chair, embracing the sun in all of its glory he wanted to enjoy every moment of his freedom that he could muster.
“Don’t get too comfortable, our leave will only last so long. It’s only a matter of time before we’re sent back,” Stephen Novus replied just has he placed down their drinks from the bar. Mario chuckled at the notion of having to go back into the midst of all of the chaos and stress. Since being picked up by Stephen months ago there had been little time to just enjoy life. Everything was a fast paced struggle and it wasn’t something he was thrilled to return to. Stephen didn’t show it often but Mario could tell he wasn’t looking forward to it either. He was getting just as comfortable on the beachfront as he was. The two comfortably sat underneath the awning of the hotel, holding onto their drinks they proceeded to enjoy the radiant scenery the beach and the pristine sky continued to provide.
“Not that I want to question this little leave of absence of ours but…”
“You’re wondering why they sent us on this all expenses paid trip to one of the most expensive areas in the country.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to thinking about it myself.”
“You think it has something to do with us knowing the truth about what happened?”
“I’m not entirely sure to be honest. I thought about it.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just get rid of us? We know the Chimera wasn’t an EAP weapon. And right now the Government is using that card to justify conflict with the Eastern nations. If we said anything or revealed what really happened then…” Stephen merely looked back to Mario, his eyes told the story. He wasn’t sure what was going on, or why things had played out the way they did.
“If we were to say anything no one would believe us anyway so there’s no point. And after that incident our unit has sort of achieved a level of popularity within the Alliance. They’re billing us as heroes. They won’t risk that type of support by suddenly making us disappear.”
“Heroes huh? I like the sound of that!”
“Don’t make it sound so glamorous. We’re being used to justify a war out in the open. But…” Stephen paused for a moment in order to retrieve a computer tablet from his bag. “It’ll be much easier for us to gather some crucial Intel on what’s really going on. Here, take a look at this.”
“You sneaky son of a bitch. What is it?”
“Documents and schematics for potential production model Frames utilizing materials recently discovered in EAP territory on Mars. I’m not completely sure what’s going on but it’s worth looking into.”
“Interesting. Now, how about we deal with this when we’re out of leave? I’d like to enjoy the rest of my vacation…oooh…if you’ll excuse me for a minute,” Mario rose from his seat without saying another word. His eyes peering at the voluptuous girl who had just recently made her way to the outside bar on the deck near the in ground pool, Stephen sighed and took back his tablet, once again reading over the information he had collected.
Mario made his approach to the bar, rubbing his hands in anticipation. He watched the bartender closely as he conversed with the young female, trying to analyze her drink of choice but to his dismay, the man tending the bar had moved to the opposite side of the area. He shrugged it off and continued to make his way forward. Still awe struck by her ravishing charcoal hair and hourglass shaped body he nearly lost his composure. Upon his approach she turned around as if alerted by a sixth sense of perception. She smiled slightly back to him before perching onto the barstool in front of her. Wasting no time Mario leaned forward placing his forearms directly onto the polyurethane wood finish of the bar. Not saying a word the woman quietly chuckled under her breath; batting her eyelashes she turned to face the hopeful suitor.
“You’re rather stunning you know.”
“Really? You flatter me.”
“Flattery is such a trite concept don’t you agree. Someone as beautiful as you has to be aware of it. Why not just be confident in it? Let’s skip the formalities.”
“You’re rather forward aren’t you?”
“I know what I want.”
“What a coincidence. So do I.”
“Well then, how about we head back to my room?”
“It’s barely even 3 pm.”
“Is that a problem?”
“No actually, I think that’s just perfect.”
“Well allow me to lead the way. I’m Mario…”
“Mario Liberalis, I know who you are.”
“Oh really? Word of my exploits has spread already? I have to say I’m impressed and don’t worry about feeling overwhelmed with anxiety in my presence, it’s an effect I have on all women.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore. I’m from the Alliance; I’m special operative Alex Marks.”
“So I take it this isn’t a personal introduction…”
“Sorry no. But I’ll give you extra points for trying. I need your help.”
“Sorry lady, I’m on vacation. If you’re only interested in official business then I’m going to have to take a pass.”
“You’re really going to skip out on an opportunity to help a pretty lady in need?”
“You’re just an operative. Manipulation is your game and I’m not about to be manipulated.”
Mario turned his attention back to the bar, sitting back down he waved over the bartender. He could suddenly feel the chilling sensation of Alex’s fingers gliding slowly down the center of his back, cringing he tried to keep his composure in check. He knew what she was, an S.O. for the Alliance, an agent that specializes in espionage and all sorts of spy games and he wasn’t about to fall for what would be a technique she’s come to master over time. Who knew how many men had spilled tons of integral information due to her appearance and fiery charm.
“Bartender…I’ll have a Long Island Iced…Tea…” His words were sparse and choppy, Alex slowly pressed her body against his bare back, and he could feel her chest caressing the back of his shoulder and her lips just grazing the outer area of his ears.
“I’ll make it worth your wild. And I always keep my word.”
“I’m…not…going to fall for this….”
“From the looks of things it seems like your body isn’t as resistant. So you’ll help me or what?”
“Oh come on, that’s just not fair. You’re cheating!”
“Will you shut up already, there isn’t much time anymore!”
Alex’s hands clutched firmly onto his shoulders forcing him to face her directly once again. Mario remained shocked as her eyes were glazed over with what appeared to be tears slowly beginning to form. His demeanor suddenly began to change, for the first time he saw what appeared to be a real person and not some honey pot for the S.O. unit in the military.
“I can’t believe this…and on my vacation…Let’s go back to my room; you can tell me and the rest of my team what’s going on.”
“Are you even paying attention to me?”
“Huh?” Adam Novus abruptly turned his head to see Sharon Amare glaring back at him. The two were leaning against the concrete side of the in ground pool for their hotel when he was beginning to daze out of reality. He rubbed his head with embarrassment, he knew that look before, it was the same glare she gave him when he came back from the battle with the Chimera a few months prior. It was their vacation, a time to sit back and really take the break he was due and yet he was still unable to completely let things go. Before she could say another word Adam wrapped his right arm around her shoulder, bringing her in close. He whispered to her an apology to which she merely smiled, placing her head to rest against his chest. The subtle breeze of fresh air was what they needed and the heated settings on the pool added to the relaxation.
“You’re at least enjoying yourself right?”
“Yeah, I am. As much as can be expected I guess,” Adam tried to grin widely as he replied back to her but she wasn’t buying it, Sharon always had a way of knowing when he was full of shit, this time was no different.
“You’re not fooling me, but I’ll let this one slide. Bringing me out here definitely earns you some leeway.”
Adam chuckled back; it still amazed him at how easily she could captivate him with such little effort. It was the little things that did it, just being around her made dealing with all of his stress and regret that much easier. Their eyes began to close in the comfort of the mood, the gentle waves of the ocean colliding with the rocks and dunes of the beach, even the congested chatter from the hundreds of people in the area all contributed to the soothing sounds of their vacation. Sharon leaned forward wrapping her arms around him as if to not let him go, it was the first time in a long while that they had actually been able to enjoy each other’s company without any interruptions. It was a moment they both planned to treasure for as long as they possibly could.
“Do you really have to go back?” Sharon broke the silence.
“Why? Didn’t you already do enough? My dad’s getting a grant to work on some new energy surplus equipment, I’m going to be assisting him, and you should come back to Genesis and help out. That way we’ll be able to enjoy moments like this without the long absence between.”
“You know I can’t do that. Not after what happened.”
“Did you ever think that maybe it was a mistake? Maybe it was like the Alliance said…that the EAP was behind the Chimera the entire time? Maybe…” Adam abruptly stood up from his seated position startling Sharon.
“No. Don’t tell me you’re starting to believe the bullshit they’re feeding the media. I can understand the rest of the public, but you? You saw everything that happened first hand. This isn’t a mistake. The last thing I’m going to do is go back and work for them. Once this leave is over Stephen and I are going to finish what we started. We’re going to look into Nick and the Chimera and prove that Genesis is manipulating everything.”
Sharon grabbed hold of him, pulling them closer together as tears were beginning to swell. Adam’s heart rate began to decrease, his nerves loosened as he just held her tight.
“I know…I just can’t do anything else right now.”
“If you’re going to be a stubborn ass then just be careful.”
“Why are you saying this now? We still have another two weeks of leave time. It’s like…”
“She’s right. Something came up.” Adam cringed at the sound of Caleb’s voice from behind. The two slowly let one another go in order to greet Caleb. Already fully clothed, he stood reading off his tablet and preceded to hand Adam the information. Reluctantly Adam obliged taking the data in hand. With a slight nod Caleb began to head towards a corner section on the deck overlooking the coast line and away from the rest of the public and the bar.
“What’s going on?”
“Mario was approached by someone claiming to be a Special Operative for the Alliance. She has a job for us.”
“Someone just came out and said they were a Special Operative for the military and he just believed her?” Adam covered his forehead with his palm in disappointment as he turned away from Caleb and the data.
“She was pretty.”
“I know I’ve only met him a few times but…is he really that shallow?” Sharon began to chuckle at the thought.
Both Adam and Caleb glanced back at one another for a quick second and sighed. To them, Mario always was the type of person to have a soft spot for attractive women.
“Yeah, he really is. Is there any way to verify her identity?”
“Nothing through official channels. S.O.’s tend to not exist on a paper or even digital scale. Your brother is trying to contact General Copiare to see if he can look into it. Until then, we’re on our own.”
“So your leave is being cut short? What about me?”
“Sorry, seems that way. We still have two weeks here so you can enjoy them.”
“That’s it? Just enjoy them? You’re not even the least bit concerned that some attractive guy might hit on me?”
“Nah, not really. You’re a bit much to handle, so you’d probably scare them away anyway.”
“What was that?”
Caleb merely patted Adam on the back wishing him luck. It was the first time Adam saw a smile or at least what he thought was a smile on the face of his teammate.
“You really aren’t any good with women are you? Take your time but be back in the hotel before 5.”
“And where are you going?”
“You think I’m going to stay around and watch you get your ass kicked by your girl? Sorry, I have more important things to check up on. Good luck though.”
“My ass kicked?” Before he could finish Sharon smacked the backside of Adam’s head. The impact of the hit echoed loudly through the air causing Caleb to laugh a little even taking himself by surprise.
“What the hell did you mean I’m too much to handle? And just what do you think you are?”
“Oww…I don’t know, I mean I’m being labeled as a hero in the Alliance, so that’s gotta give me a few points.”
“You’re an idiot. You know that right?”
“You tell me all the time. Do you want me to worry?”
“Well no, but don’t just insult me like I’m not attractive.”
“You missed the point. Ugh never mind, I can tell already I’m just going to dig my own grave so I’ll tell you what, you win.” Sharon quickly grabbed hold of his arm preventing him from advancing any further.
“I’m sorry. I’m just not thrilled that you’re leaving so soon. I thought we’d have more time.”
“Be careful. I know. This won’t take long.”
“You said that last time and you almost died remember?”
“It won’t be like that. I was going to head back eventually anyway. It’s just a little quicker than we anticipated. Trust me, it’s probably nothing. Mario just gets in over his head when it comes to women so he’ll probably be doing most of the dangerous stuff anyway. “
“You say that, but I have a feeling you’ll do some pretty stupid things too.”
“I can’t promise that I won’t.”
“Fine. Just…I wish I could help more.”
“I know…but you just being there helps more than you know. Why don’t you come with me and stick around for this debriefing thing, will that put your mind at ease?”
“You sure it’s ok?”
“Yeah, anything to get you to stop worrying.”
“You really are an idiot.”
“I still can’t believe you,” Stephen scoffed in disappointed just as Mario leaped onto the cushions of his Queen sized bed. He brushed off the remark and grabbed hold of the remote control for the flat panel television mounted onto the lavishly designed interior wall. Stephen winced at news channel that had begun to play once the screen lit on. They were still covering the Chimera and the damage that Manhattan had incurred from its rampage a few months ago. It was a reminder of what he was trying to forget, at least for the moment.
“They just won’t let it go will they?” Mario laughed finally breaking his silence since entering the room.
“Are you going to explain why you decided to help this person? You know absolutely nothing about her.”
“You’re still going on about that? What does it matter? She’s part of the Alliance and…”
“And she’s a pretty girl. Only you would place your trust based on how she looks in a swimsuit.”
“I’ll have you know it wasn’t a swimsuit, it was a bikini. A rather suggestive one.”
“And that makes this ok?” Stephen sighed, he knew he wasn’t going to get anywhere at the rate they had been going. Sitting down at the corner desk in the room he began to pull up all the files he had been collecting as of late. His eyes peered at all the pieces trying, hoping to be able to connect all the dots together.
“She knew my name Stephen. That was proof enough for me.”
“She could be playing you.”
“I’m a big boy, I can handle myself.”
“Sometimes I wonder about that.” Caleb suddenly entered the room holding a bundle of folders. “No, don’t get up; I’m fine carrying all of this.”
“That was fast, anything of use?” Stephen inquired as he grabbed some of the folders from the top of the bundle preventing them from falling to the ground.
“Maybe, nothing particularly stood out to me.”
“It’s a start. Thanks.”
“When is the honeypot showing up?”
“She’s not a honeypot…seriously guys,” Mario exclaimed with frustration.
“If you say so, she’s a spy, a beautiful spy and she got you to help her how?”
“I liked you better when you were quiet Caleb.”
“Let’s focus for a moment. We have about an hour before she shows up here will all of her information. Let’s try to prepare for the worst-case scenario until then. Caleb managed to collect satellite photos and email correspondence between the Alliance’s S.O. unit and what appears to be an unknown benefactor on Mars. We can’t be sure as to what this is, but it should give us an idea as to what they’re doing.”
Stephen revealed the photos from the folder and began to spread them across the bed in which Mario was laying on. Images revealed heat signatures congregating in areas near the Alliance and EAP border near the continent Terrenus. They were blurry and it was difficult to make any precise conclusions on what the situation was. Mario’s eyes began to squint while picking up one of the photos closest to his legs. His expression slowly faded to a paler tone than its usual luster, it had been years but to everyone in the room it was obvious Mario made some sort of connection. For the first time in a while he remained quiet and collected, he paused to take a deep breath before rising from the cushions of the mattress. Slowly he placed the image back onto the bed while his right hand reached deep into his pocket. Stephen and Caleb remained silent and observed, waiting for Mario to reveal his own revelation, whatever it may have been. Pulling out his cell phone he began to scroll through his photo gallery before tossing the touch display to Stephen.
“I used to be stationed at that facility when I was working for the EAP. I recognized it instantly.”
“How can you be so sure? The image quality isn’t the greatest…” before he could finish Caleb was silenced when Stephen shared the image on Mario’s screen. “…Oh…never mind then.”
“It’s an experimental facility. Testing out new minerals and resources that are found on the Martian surface, I don’t know much more than that, but I do know that they’re working on things even the EAP’s Government isn’t aware of. There were always rumors of human test subjects as well, although they were never confirmed. It was one of the reasons I requested to be transferred.”
“So what does this all mean then? You think it’s a botched black ops mission?” Caleb questioned.
“We won’t know until this Alex person fills us in on what she wants. Til then, everything we come up with is mere speculation. Mario, are you sure you want to go through with this?”
“Yeah…she is a pretty lady after all.”
Adam remained silent as he walked through the lobby of the hotel with Sharon not too far behind. Being busy for the season the main hall was crowded with tourists from all over the country making maneuvering a little difficult and at times, frustrating. He tried often to keep his mind from racing with curiosity over what had suddenly become an issue. He could tell by the look Sharon was giving him that she was more than a little displeased with the recent turn of events and he couldn’t blame her; it was supposed to be their vacation. The expressions of the ignorant poked at him with each passing moment, the smiles that lit their faces, showcasing their joy and bliss. He could only wonder if he made the right decision to give all that up, to force his growth by joining the military. It was a question he had asked himself time and time again, pondering if it was his decision that ultimately led to the gruesome deaths of those he cared about. In a sudden moment he could feel his focus drowning into the cynicism of his reality. Sharon held tightly onto his arm the minute she sensed something was amiss.
Snapping back from his trance Adam meagerly smiled and nodded back. His poor attempt at a refreshing and believable smile was ill welcomed and not bought.
“You can’t lie to me, so why even try?”
“Huh? I didn’t even say anything.”
“Your face. It’s why you’re horrible at poker.”
“It was only one game and I said I’d win it back. Mario just got lucky…”
“You’re missing the point, as usual.”
“Maybe I’m trying to avoid it.”
“Excuse me. I was wondering if I could borrow him for a moment.” The suave voice pulled both Adam and Sharon’s attention away from one another. Adam remained shocked as he turned around to see a businessman standing before him, one he recognized.
“Adam Novus, it’s been a while.”
“That it has…Lucius Malum…”