FreeForm: Resumed – the newest addition to the Saga of the Dandelion Expansion and is now available on Amazon.
How about a little taste before you click over to grab your copy?
The vibration and rocking of the helicopter combined with the moonless night sky to lull Sergeant Todd John Jacobs into a semi-trance. So much had happened in the past six months since graduating from Ranger school, most of which he still didn’t fully understand. The mysterious man who’d met him as he left the graduation stage turned out to be Lieutenant Phillip Ackerson, or Jersey as he preferred to be called. Jersey, an Army officer assigned to special duty with the CIA, had all but hogtied him. He claimed he was there to offer Todd his next assignment per their commander in chief, the President of the United States. That job had turned out to be six more months of rigorous training and intel briefings that had eventually led to tonight’s mission somewhere in the vicinity of Fallujah, Iraq.
He shook himself awake as he heard the order on his headset, “Five minutes till drop off. Get ready.” As Todd looked around, he could just make out James, the pilot, and his co-pilot whose name Todd couldn’t remember in front with the crew chief and a door gunner seated behind them. Farther to his right, he saw the outline of Jersey. He knew the other two men assigned to the mission were seated behind the Lieutenant on the opposite side of the helicopter. Jasper Mullins was a good ole boy from the south, so Todd found they had a natural affinity for each other. He found the shorter man, Dewey Stalins, more abrasive and eager to start a fight, so he’d made it a point to stay out of Dewey’s way.
Todd rubbed the smooth metal of his M4 weapon sitting in his lap. He found it comforting and hoped the silencer would allow them an easy in and out if he ended up needing to use it. The weight of the backpack on his shoulders meant it was time for action—the part of military life he loved. Jersey reached over and gave a thumbs up. Todd returned the gesture. The second the aircraft hit the ground they would be running.
Todd felt the aircraft flare, settle, and the doors opened. He jumped out into the pitch blackness of a moonless night, ran about fifty feet and dropped to the ground. The helicopter departed without ever coming to a full stop. Todd stood up, adjusting his night vision goggles even though he didn’t need them and looked around. It was important to play the role that he was just like the other soldiers. Three other figures also stood up. The one nearest to him pointed in a direction to the south and started off in a fast jog. The other two moved to his sides and matched stride, with Todd taking up the rear. They ran like this for what Todd calculated to be three-quarters of a mile, putting them a quarter mile from the village that was just over the rise in front of them.
Jersey, in the lead, signaled to stop and then kneeled. Todd, Jasper, and Dewey caught up and kneeled beside him. “Damn, this is getting harder every mission,” Jersey whispered even though he didn’t appear to be at all winded. “I need to get out of this business. All right guys, you know the drill. Refresh if needed and check your weapons and gear. Let’s get in there as planned, snatch the package, and get out without anyone knowing what hit them. Any questions?”
Todd looked around. No one had any. Jersey nodded and moved off in the direction of the village. Everyone else walked up to a line position and spread out. As they got closer to the village, Todd could see the wall around it and the doorway of the building they were to go through. According to their intel, the door would be unlocked for them, and someone would lead them to the location of the package.
As the team approached the building, Todd noticed some lights in the distance to the west of their position but decided they were probably just goat herders. As he drew nearer to their target, he started having tremors of an odd, yet vaguely familiar feeling which grew stronger the closer he got to the building. What the hell was going on? He’d never felt anything like this on his previous training missions. Maybe those lights weren’t goat herders after all.
The creaking of the door cut through the silence of the night as Jersey pushed it open, but before he could enter through it, a man dressed in traditional Arab garb stepped out from the darkness and started firing, hitting Jersey and Dewey. Todd jumped forward and struck the man in the head with the butt of his gun. He yelled for Jasper to secure the area and bolted through the door. Sensing two men on the other side of the door, he cut them both down before they had a chance to react.
Todd paused a moment leaning against one wall, allowing his heightened senses to scan the area. Detecting no one else close by, he signaled for Jasper to bring in their fallen team members. Glancing at Dewey’s bloody pulp of a head, Todd knew he couldn’t be helped. He started to turn his attention to Jersey who’d been hit in the side, but Jasper was already applying pressure to the wound. Todd grabbed the unconscious Arab and slapped his face several times to revive him. The man’s eyes shot open. Apparently, he’d only been pretending to be unconscious.
Todd forced the barrel of the M4 into the man’s mouth. “What the hell happened? Why did you shoot at us?” he screamed. The man glared back, defiantly refusing to talk. “So, that’s the way you want to play this?” Todd said between clenched teeth. He yanked the gun barrel from the man’s mouth and shot off the big toe of his left foot. The man screamed, his eyes growing wide with pain and fear.
“Let’s try that again,” Todd said. “Why are you shooting at us? You were supposed to help.” The man shook his head and spat at him. Todd shrugged, pointed his weapon at the other foot and shot off the other big toe. The man screamed even louder this time. “Okay, one last chance,” Todd said as he pointed the gun at the man’s crotch. That did the trick.
“Please, no more. I’ll talk…please,” the man pleaded with a thick accent. After another moment, he continued. “We got the word you were coming. We were ordered to set a trap. Please, I was only following orders.”
“That’s what they always say,” Todd replied. He thought about smacking his captive in the head again but paused to assess the situation first. “Damn, now what do we do?”
“Todd, we have to get out of here,” Jersey answered him from where he was lying on the floor, a pool of blood beginning to form despite Jasper’s pressure.
“The hell with that. We haven’t completed our mission yet. We’re not leaving until we’ve recovered the package, dead or alive.”
“We’ve obviously been made,” Jersey said, wincing in pain. “It’s time to scrub the mission.”
Todd leaned over him and tore the fabric away from the shoulder of his shirt where the bullet had entered. “It’s just a flesh wound. Trust me. I can handle this. It’s what I’ve been made for,” Todd said. He turned to Jasper. “Take care of him. Keep pressure on the wound and stay alert. There may be others around. Contact me on the headset if things change.”
“Will do,” Jasper replied, not questioning Todd’s self-proclaimed authority.
“This asshole and I are going to take a walk…” He looked down at the man’s bloody feet. “Well, I’ll walk. He’ll crawl.”
Todd kicked his captive out the door and into the middle of the compound. “Where is he?” he growled to the man who pointed to a doorway two buildings down the street. “Are you sure?”
The man nodded vigorously.
“Good enough,” Todd replied as he brought the butt of the gun down on the man’s head. The answer had matched his assessment. As he slowly approached the building, he felt the strange feeling wash over him again. This time he remembered when he’d felt it before. It had been years ago when, as a young kid, he’d run away from home the first time. It felt almost like déjà vu.
Todd crept up to the door and stopped. His senses detected someone on the other side of the door and several others nearby. He could feel the tenseness in them and could hear their elevated heart rates, all except for the person on the other side of the door who remained calm, but why? No time like the present to find out.
Todd lowered his shoulder and smashed through the door. As he burst into the room, the man sitting by a small fireplace put his hands out to his sides and stood up. “Hello, TJ. Man, how you’ve grown. I thought I felt you out there, but couldn’t believe it at first.”
Todd stared at the strange man who somehow felt familiar, but unrecognizable at the same time. The man stood over six feet tall, dressed in a long flowing robe. Todd estimated his age to be in his mid to late forties.
“Ahhh, you don’t remember me, do you?”
Todd slowly shook his head.
“Well, we met only briefly at the hunting reserve before the Americans tried to wipe us out.” Todd continued to stare at the man, racking his brain in an effort to remember his face. “I have often wondered when another of my brothers would show up,” the man continued.
“Your brothers?” Todd asked, a confused look on his face. What in hell was he talking about, and why hadn’t anyone bothered to tell him during those hours of briefings that the package might know him?
“Yes.” the stranger replied. “Most have been killed or captured, but I’ve eluded capture. Hopefully, others have as well. What are you doing here, anyway?”
“I’m here to bring you in,” Todd replied, but even as he said it, his brain was busy sorting out what he’d just heard. The man had just said they’d met at a hunting reserve, and he’d called him TJ. It had been quite a while since anyone had called him by that name, and the only hunting reserve he’d ever been at…Homlin’s! Holy shit. This guy must have been one of Homlin’s flunkies. The pieces were finally falling into place.
“Nah, how can that be?” the man said. “You’re one of us.”
“One of us?” Todd repeated, trying out the term in his mouth. He remembered hoping that might be the case years ago, but he’d found out soon enough he hadn’t belonged at the hunting reserve. Homlin had been up to no good. Todd still had nightmares from watching Homlin almost kill Pat Vogt, his father’s girlfriend, and his sorta stepmother, before she finally turned around and killed Homlin instead.
“I’m not your brother,” Todd finally said. “I don’t know what I am, but I do know I’m not one of you. I’m here to do a job, so put your hands behind your head.” As the man started to comply, he suddenly moved with incredible speed, reaching inside his robes for something. Todd moved just as quickly, firing a short burst from his M4 into the man’s chest. As the man slumped to the floor, a pistol fell from his hand onto the dirt floor.
“You’re making a mistake,” the man whispered before dying. Todd stood silently in the room still trying to make sense of it all. His senses alerted him to the presence of several people approaching from outside.
Todd silently moved to the wall nearest to the door and waited. A second or two later, a dark-skinned man poked his head in through the broken door. “Lenny, are you all right?” he said just before Todd shoved his dagger up into the man’s throat and his brain. He used the dagger handle to hold the man up as he pulled his body into the room. He then stepped into the doorway and shot the two other men waiting there. Todd walked over to the man who’d called him a brother. He grabbed him by his robe and started dragging him back to where he’d left Jersey and Jasper.
As he reached the building where they’d been ambushed, everything went to hell. Guns started firing, and men yelled in Arabic outside the wall. “Shit,” Todd cursed as he yanked the dead man’s body through the door and into the room. “What the hell is going on?” he shouted.
“There are a bunch of crazy Arabs outside in the field firing at us. We can’t get out,” Jasper yelled as he fired off several rounds from the doorway. Now I’m getting pissed, Todd thought. He was growing tired of so many people trying to kill him and his friends. “Hold them off for a few minutes, Todd said. “I have a plan.”
“What the hell are you going to do?” Jasper asked.
Todd looked down at Jersey who looked pale and only semi-conscious. “We need to get him to a hospital,” he replied. “Call James and get that helicopter back here.”
“And if it gets shot down, what do we do then?” Jasper asked as he switched his headset on to contact the helicopter.
“Leave that to me,” Todd replied, as he slipped out the back door. Todd looked around and ran to another building against the wall and vaulted to the roof. I thought I was pissed before. Now I’m really POed, Todd thought. As he started removing his clothes, his body started changing, looking like a much bulkier and darker version of himself except this one had a nasty set of claws and long teeth. Let’s see how they handle my alter ego, Todd thought, as he leaped to the ground and began running full speed at the flashes of light of the firestorm. Todd ran full speed at the first man, taking his head off with a single vicious swipe, then turned on the second man who looked on in horror.
A short time later, Todd returned to where Jasper and Jersey were held up. “I hear the helicopter,” he said to Jasper. “Get him up and let’s get out of here.”
“What happened out there? Where are the men that were firing at us?” Jasper asked as he picked Jersey up.
“Let’s just say they won’t be giving us any more trouble,” Todd replied, as he paused to dig the last remnant of dried blood from his fingernails.