The rattling of the window panes in their frames was a dull frequency that grated at his nerves enough to tell him he should be up and out of there. The darkened room was illuminated by the lifted rail line lights and a burning pink neon sign outside, blinking away Hotel Morrison
Hotel. He sneered to himself. It didn’t help that half of the evening had washed itself away in a black haze. His stomach rolled maliciously, and pin pricks struck him behind the eyes. The hell did she give me? He asked himself as he groped around on the side table for the cold bottle. Even looking at it, the scratchy script escaped him. He wanted to blame it on the darkness of the room, but it very well could be whatever was in the pipe next to the bottle. Morning is going to come way too soon. He grouched to himself as he put the bottle back on the night stand. He scrounged around, trying to feel the texture of his shirt before it clasped around cold silk. Nope. He tossed aside the bra he had grasped.
The woman next to him had started to snore. my face soured. What possessed me to take her on? He finally found his shirt, the rough texture of the uniform rubbing at his nerves. How long have I worn this infernal thing? His sense of time was dashing away from him. At the moment he could blame that on whatever was giving him his hangover.
He heaved himself out of the red satin travesty that called itself a bed. He glanced at the mirror on the vanity table that occupied a small corner of the already tiny room, hoping he had woken up as someone else for once. His brassy red hair was due for another cut. There were bite marks across his chest. He turned to find nail marks along his back. Well, at least it looks like she had a good time, even if I can’t remember jack.
He pulled on his field jacket and trousers. They were wrinkled, and a strange yellowish stain was visible at the back of my collar. He sighed, annoyed that he’d have to deal with that later. It took him a while to find his khaki beret. The felt had found its way under a pair of stockings and garter. He stashed it in his trouser pocket and straightened out his tie as best as he could.
He was still wobbly. At least it was dark enough outside that he’d be able to get back to barracks without too much pain. Before stepping out the door he pulled a couple of bills from his wallet and shoved them in a tray on a tiny table next to the door. Zephyr can rail at me later, I’m not doing this again. He mumbled to himself.
The door clicked behind him as he eased himself out. The hallway was dimly lit with pink bulbs that flickered eerily. At least it wasn’t making his hangover worse. He trudged my way down the hall before staring at the stairs. He approached the first tread and made the precarious descent.
At the lobby level, a portly woman in too much make up met him at the desk. “Was your stay to your satisfaction, sir?” She asked all too happily.
“As much as to be expected. I left the notes with her, sorry,” he mumbled, his head throbbing harder. Leaving the bills with the woman ment the madam wouldn’t take an undue cut.
“That’s perfectly fine, sir. I hope you’ll remember us again when you have need.” Her face soured momentarily before she was able to plaster a salacious smirk back it. She waved him out the door. He returned the motion dismissively as the bell at the door rang and he disappeared into the dark street.
A half hour later he had, miraculously without puking, made it back to the barracks. Stevenson had let him in through the back entrance so that no one would notice my condition. By the time he found his dorm, he had sobered up enough to straighten out his uniform. Maybe he’d be able to get a few minutes of deliriously peaceful sleep. You can only wish. He told himself as he slid, uniform and all, into his bunk.
The dreams came to him in fits. Massive, grey tentacles reached out to him. Barbed suckers grasped at a burning sulphuric blue sky. A shuddering noise, almost a roar permeated his subconscious, bringing him awake with a start. His bunk mate’s alarm clock was going off. He laid his head back on his pillow and worked at convincing his heart that it didn’t need to run away. That same damn dream. Every night… he stared at the dark grey metal underpinnings of the bunk above him and counted the ticking of the clock.
It had not been more than two hours since he had laid down in his bunk, but it was already time that he got up for call. He rolled out of his bunk and found his exercise uniform. A dash through the shower and shaving had him looking a little more crisp. His deep blue eyes had cleared from the night before. Just maybe, if I can keep it together, I’d be able to keep Zephyr from noticing. Not like he’d care anyway. He’d probably laugh it off and encourage me to go find some more trouble to get into. “Find happiness, for the good of us all.” It’s what Zephyr had told him over and over again. Happiness, heh, what does anyone know of happiness? He told himself snidely as he trudged out to the training field.
Just his luck. Thinking about the bright cheery disposition was liable to bring the man trotting out onto the field. He stifled himself from rolling my eyes at the lithe man with raven’s wing black hair and black eyes. “Chief Warrant Officer, good morning,” he greeted the bounding man.
“Anson, so glad to see you joined the land of the living this morning,” Zephyr let loose a toothy, gleaming grin.
“Zephyr, be gentle on me today,” he begged.
“Oh, now Fane, have heart. We’ve got a man from New Punjab in scouting,” Zephyr soothed.
“What’d he be scouting here for? We’re a bunch a’ measly sots that haven’t even seen the broadside of the Zagros,” Fane whined.
“Lucky us.” Zephyr slapped him on the shoulder. “But wasn’t last night the best? I saw that woman you had with you. What was her name? Marissa? Where have you been hiding her, cause she seemed perfect for you,” Zephyr followed Fane around the track at a light jog.
“Left her in her rental where I found her,” Fane answered grumpily. Zephyr hung back a second at my tone. “So, not your girlfriend?” he asked.
Fane didn’t lose a step, “nope.”
Zephyr dashed after him. “Fane, you ain’t giving me any hope today.”
“Well, you were the one told me to go find something that’d make me happy. Still working on that part,” Fane snapped. “No thanks to you that blunt you made me try gave me a blank spot in my memory. Got enough of that as it is. Keep that shit away from me.”
They had made it halfway around the track. A group of other testers piled up in the primary field to stretch out before a five kilometer run and rope drills.
“So, no happiness found inside a red room, I take it?” Zephyr asked as they made their way back to the front of the track.
“For it being a first, it probably wasn’t bad,” Fane studied the purple dawn setting the misty field in frosted haze.
“What do you mean ‘probably’?” Zephyr stumbled, sending up a spray of dew from the grass. “Wait, what do you mean first?” he yelled after the escaping red head.
“You really are dense, Chief Warrant Officer,” Fane kept a steady tempo Zephyr was struggling to replicate.
“And you, Fane Anson are deprived.” Zephyr caught up with him, breathing hard.
“I’ll take that as a compliment, then.” Fane broke away to join the rest of the troops warming up in the field. Zephyr, flabbergasted, jogged to the head of the field to wait for his assistant and the scout. He checked his watch. The read out was two minutes to o-five hundred when he spotted his assistant and the scout rounding the end of the mess hall.
Fane lined up with the other men to await their orders. Today was their physical assessment test. Why they had a scout here from New Punjab was anyone’s know-how. The assistant handed Zephyr a clipboard for roll. In the rising sun, Fane’s eyes fell on the scout. Glowing platinum hair, back lit by streaks of red and purple, framed fair skin and light amber eyes.
Fane’s throat went dry and his heart stuttered at an unnatural rhythm. A deafening roar as that of a train crashed through his ear drums. His chest constricted, and a clench of pain ran straight through his left side. Suddenly, he was not so stable.
Zephyr, ever an eye on Fane, waited as his assistant ran roll call. “Here, sir.” Fane saluted Zephyr, though the pain in his side zipped into his shoulder when he finally got his hand high enough for a proper greeting.
“Are you all right, Anson?” the assistant asked.
Fane, maintaining his salute was poorly masked cringe, wishing the assistant would finish roll call. “Yes, sir.” He gasped, failing to hide the pain anymore.
A lilting tenor Indian-British accent carried across the field to call him out. “Step out of line, Sergeant.” Fane flinched at the derisive tone in the New Punjabi scout’s voice. He snapped his eyes to Zephyr, pulling in a struggling breath through gritted teeth. The Chief Warrant Officer cast a curious glance at the scout and nodded slightly to Fane.
“Sir!” Fane eased himself out of his column and proceeded to the front to stand behind Zephyr while the rest of roll was called. With roll call finished, Zephyr signalled the assistant to follow the men off to start their timed run.
Zephyr turned to Fane and slapped his hand against his forehead. “Dude, you’re burning up!” Zephyr whispered fiercely at his soldier.
“I’m fine, Chief.” Fane brushed Zephyr’s hand from his forehead.
The New Punjabi scout approached Fane and Zephyr. “What seems to be the problem, sir?” he demanded, eyeing Fane like a rotting piece of meat. The redhead withered under the man’s relentless gaze.
Zephyr, oblivious to the Punjab scout’s influence on Fane, responded, “Don’t worry yourself, Orlov, Anson here has a fever. I’ll see him to the infirmary and come back to continue with the test.”
The blond man grabbed Fane by the chin. Fane found himself pinned under amber eyes and a foreboding glance of dismissal. His cheeks burned when the man’s gaze fell to his lips, and his palms grew moist. Orlov, directing his comment to Zephyr, never took his eyes off of Fane. “It would do your Sergeant some good to come to work sober.” The scout let go of him roughly and walked away to the field to watch the other troops continue with their exercises.
“Damn it.” Fane gripped his fingers tight in trembling fists. He was embarrassed, and still in pain. He’d end up missing the assessment too, which meant he’d have to make it up over the weekend; six days away.
Zephyr clapped him on the shoulder and steered him away from the hill. He directed the short redhead to a building beyond the mess hall. “I take it you did more than your woman last night?” he asked in a more serious tone. Fane hunched forward, his stomach searing.
Alarms blared and strobes flashed in a nauseating cacophony. “What’s going on with the subject?” a rough voice called into the packed room. Lab coats were fluttering this way and that, collecting reams of paper spewing from various machines.
“A transpiration notice has been issued, General. Subject 15 has began the countdown,” a lab tech announced, excitedly pouring over the papers coming out of a machine.
“Does anyone know the triggering mechanism?” the General requested.
“Nothing verified yet sir, but we will have answers soon,” a different tech answered.
“When you find it, let me know immediately. I will have my channel open for receiving you night or day,” the General announced as he left the room.
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*this ebook includes personal illustrations such as