Hector Ross, current soldier of Project Myrmidon, loved his country. He’d grown up in a town you’ve never heard of in Kansas, and on his eighteenth birthday had “borrowed” his father’s car, which the old man never drove anymore after the third DUI had resulted in a permanent loss of his license. He had driven the hour and half to Wichita, marched himself to the recruiter’s office, and two hours later was enlisted in the US Marines. He’d returned home to drop off the car, and hadn’t been home since.
Since then, the Marines had been his family. As far as he was concerned, he would have been a drunk like his old man if not for them, he would have probably knocked up some girl by nineteen who would have abandoned him with a kid he couldn’t take care of by twenty-one, and he would have taken over the pathetically rickety house when his old man finally kicked the bucket. He probably would have worked at the gas station in town, the one near the highway that did almost fifty percent of its business with people driving across the state to get to the more interesting sites in Colorado, Nevada, or California.
He would have lived an unremarkable life, would have died an unremarkable man, and would have left behind an unremarkable brat to carry on the cycle.
So when the Marines were looking for people for a highly dangerous, top secret, and experimental program, he’d volunteered in a heartbeat. He owed them everything, so he was willing to give everything. And when it turned him into someone with the power to fight demons claiming to be gods, well, as far as Hector Ross was concerned, that just meant he owed the Marines even more.
Then they’d gone to Ghana, and the two demons there – the actual Antichrist and some pagan African god – had torn the squad of four apart like they were nothing. If Roger hadn’t been so quick on his feet, Hector didn’t doubt the four of them would have died there.
Hector had failed the Marines, the Navy, and the United States of America. So when Ryan Smith had popped back up on everyone’s radar, heading to his sister’s like a complete idiot (it baffled Hector that the Antichrist would overlook the possibility they’d be watching the place, but maybe this was God giving them another chance to take him out), Hector had volunteered for the new experimental harness – one that was smaller and better insulated – to go take him out. They didn’t have time to make more, so they’d strapped the experimental one on Hector and sent him in alone.
The rest of the squad was nearby to provide fire support if things spilled out into the open, but Hector had been the one to walk up to the door, knock on it, and come face to face with Ryan Smith himself.
He admitted to himself that the “Goodbye, Mr. Smith” was a conceit that could have gotten him killed, an action-movie one-liner that should have been beneath him. And Ryan’s head had twisted up and to the side before Hector had finished pulling the trigger of his M-16, a three-round burst straight to the face. The first bullet had torn a hole in the side of his target’s face, and the second had removed the nose. He couldn’t see the hole the third one had left, buried under his hair, but Hector was certain he’d put it directly in Ryan Smith’s temple.
I didn’t think it’d be that easy, he reflected, somewhat bemused, as the man who would have ended the world lay unbreathing on the floor. He reached over to his shoulder and hit a button. “Primary target down. I repeat, Primary target down. Civilian still presumed in domicile – requesting orders? Over.”
“Proceed to eliminate all targets,” the voice of Admiral Bridges replied after a moment. “Cannot risk the sister inheriting powers after death of primary target.” A pause, followed by a simple message. “Well done. Over.”
Although Hector Ross didn’t like the idea of killing a woman whose only crime had been having the wrong brother, his chest swelled at those last two words. “Roger, sir. And thank you. Proceeding to eliminate. Over.” He stepped carefully over the unmoving corpse.
He’d heard a scream from the bedroom when he’d opened fire. This would be easy, and Hector promised himself he’d make it quick.
Then a hand grabbed his ankle, and Hector realized he had celebrated too soon.
Ryan was in agony. The first bullet had, miraculously, missed anything vital – as he’d twisted his head, he’d opened his mouth to scream a reflexive warning to Isabel, and the bullet had passed through one cheek and out the other. His jaw hung limply open, and Ryan could only imagine how that – plus the missing nose from the second bullet and the strip atop his skull where the third bullet had grazed him, causing blood to come pouring out – looked.
He hadn’t been trying to snowball Hector. He’d just been in too much shock from the pain to move. But part of his brain had registered that this soldier, this man, this monster was about to go kill his sister, and the surge of panic at that had overcome the shock. He found himself grabbing the soldier’s ankle in an iron grip.
“Not. My. Sister.” He said. Or he tried to say. What came out was something along the lines of “Ooot Eye Isssstah.” He couldn’t seem to get his jaw to close all the way. He didn’t think Hector could understand him, but something in his eyes registered with the man on an emotional level. He went white, and brought up his gun towards Ryan’s skull.
Maybe if he had fired as he was pulling it up, instead of making sure he had a good aim, he could have killed Ryan. But he took that moment to aim, and that gave Ryan time to twist reality.
The first twist heated the gun to 2000 degrees Kelvin, more heat than Ryan had ever done in a single equation. The bullets went off explosively from the heat, spraying molten metal into Hector’s face. The second twist, as Hector screamed and clawed at the burns, increased the strength of gravity on the soldier by a factor of ten. He fell to the ground next to Ryan, struggling to rise. Ryan saw Hector reach out, trying to twist reality to save himself.
He was going to kill your sister. Just for being your sister. No mercy. The rage Ryan felt was even deeper than when he had seen that decadent lump of an emperor sitting on the throne of the Empire, claiming to speak in Ryan’s name.
Ryan reached out and grabbed the hand before Hector could finish his equation. “This is mine now,” he hissed, unsure of how well the words came out.
Hector Ross gave him a pleading look, one of terror and hate, and Ryan twisted reality. A guillotine of air formed above Hector’s shoulder and sliced that arm clean off.
Hector screamed, and Ryan formed another guillotine above his head, and with a gesture, Ryan allowed Hector Ross to give his life for his country.
The rage kept Ryan from passing out from the pain. He stood there, shaking, realizing he was bleeding still. He normalized the pull of gravity before Hector’s corpse went crashing through the floor. What do I do now?
“Oh. My. God.” Ryan glanced over, his jaw still hanging open. Isabel had come out of her room, a handgun raised, and the bloody mess in her entranceway had her transfixed. “Ryan?”
Ryan just nodded, the gesture sending lances of agony through his head. “There. May be. More. Get away from. Windows. Crystal. Hopefully here. Soon.”
Isabel took a deep breath, nearly heaved, got herself under control, and nodded. “Bathroom. Come on. I have a first aid kit in the sink. Jesus. You look like…Jesus wept, Ryan. Come on.”
And, his face a mess of bloody agony, Ryan followed, hoping with all his might Crystal would arrive before the rest of the God Soldiers realized they’d lost one of their teammates.