Sand swirled everywhere as the helicopter lifted off. The desert grit engulfed the storage containers scattered about the compound. Little tornados of dust and debris flew, settled briefly and then flew again pelting everything in it’s path from supplies and vehicles to the bodies of the Russian commandos. Through the cloud of dirt Jack saw a figure leap effortlessly to the top of one of the shipping containers, a huge metal box some twelve feet high. The creature was some sort of hybrid of man and wolf. Jack watched it as the helicopter lifted higher and faster. The werewolf crouched as it if it was going to leap and pull the craft from the sky, a task Jack thought impossible even for this creature. Instead it lifted its immense head and howled with supernatural force. The sound cut through the noise and swirling sand and hit Jack with what felt like physical force. He swayed slightly for a brief moment in the doorway of the helicopter.
“What the fuck is that thing?” yelled the waist gunner to Jack’s left. He had almost forgotten the man was there in their desperation to get away. Jack turned to see the gunner sitting behind his M-60 hanging from its sling in the open doorway. He didn’t fire the weapon. Instead he stared at the creature with what Jack could only assume was a mixture of astonishment and fear.
Jack understood that fear.
The helicopter banked and swung right, up and over the camp. Jack turned his head to follow the abomination below them. In turn it swung it’s grotesque head around to follow them. Its bright yellow eyes pierced the cloud of sand as it swirled between them. Jack couldn’t help but feel as though those eyes were staring directly at him, following his every move. The investigator in him wanted to stare back and take in every detail: its inhuman musculature, twisted human features and overall viciousness. He wanted to watch it and remember. But there was something overwhelming in that stare. The evil in those huge yellowy eyes.
He turned his gaze away to the rest of the compound as it spun away below them. Four werewolf bodies lay on the ground beneath them, disappearing amidst the swirling sand. They had appeared at first as Russian Spetnaz. The team quickly learned they were lycanthropes. Now they were dead. Or at least hey appeared dead. But in his time at Hoffman Jack had learned some important things. The first was that supernatural creatures did exist. He had fought the notion for a long time. Years, in fact. But now his reality had been fractured too many times. He knew those things were real. And worse yet, he had also learned that things are rarely what they seemed. Those creatures were probably dead. Hopefully dead.
But one never knew anymore.
Jack did know that they were safely away from whatever danger lay below them. Thankfully, their new contact, “Smith” had been able to call on some former military associates to pull them out of the fire. But as he and the gunner listened to the werewolf’s howl cut though the dust and noise around them he realized that this one was the Alpha. And it wasn’t dead. Worse yet, he had no idea what that meant.
“Seriously, man!” the gunner yelled at him. “What the fuck was that thing?”
Jack slouched back against the doorway of the helicopter. He suddenly felt exhausted. It was as though he had been running for days and just now realized it. His right foot rested on the helicopter’s strut and his left was curled up underneath him as he sat on the floor. The gunner looked pale as he looked at him.
“No fucking clue. I have no idea.”
“You ever see anything like that before, man? That’s the craziest shit I ever seen. And I seen some crazy shit here in Afghanistan.”
“Never,” Jack replied. "Can’t help you with that.’
“Well it’s a good thing we were around to save your civvy asses then cuz you fuckers would have been seriously fucked. That was serious FUBAR.”
He paused and looked back to the gunner. “Thanks for the ride,” he said flatly.
“Yeah, man. If Danielson didn’t call for us to come get you guys out of the shit you’d be nuts in that thing’s turds. Seriously fucked, man. Serious.”
Jack shook his head in frustration. He gritted his teeth and tried to resist the urge to grab the gunner and throw him out the door. “Who the hell is Danielson?”
The gunner looked at him in stunned silence for a moment. “Danielson. You don’t know who Danielson is? Jesus fuckin’ Christ, man! He’s the guy who called us? How do you not know who he is? He got on the goddamned helo with ya!”. He laughed and turned his head back into the helicopter. “Hey Danielson, this fucker doesn’t even know who you are!” He turned back to Jack, still laughing. Jerking his thumb back over his shoulder as he yelled, “Danielson is sitting right fuckin’ there, man. Seriously.”
Jack’s looked past the gunner to the rest of his team. Nat was sitting on the floor facing him. She was leaning back against the seat behind her. She appeared to be none the worse for where. She was cradling Sal’s head in her lap. He was lying splayed out on the floor. He was on his back and bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds. Nat was telling him to relax and breath easy. Mya knelt over him with her hands on his chest. Jack watched as Mya’s hands lit up with whatever power it was that helped her heal even the most terrible wounds. Sal looked bad. But as bad as it was Jack knew those wounds weren’t immediately fatal. He had 30 minutes most likely. That was more than enough time for Mya. Sal was definitely in a great deal of pain. But Mya had handled much worse. Nat would help make him comfortable and Mya would save his life.
Jack turned his attention to Dickie who lay across the seat opposite Nat. He was also shot up pretty well. But for whatever reason, Dickie was able to heal at an unnatural pace. If you didn’t cut his head off he was most likely going to survive. It had something to do with nanites he said he had in his blood. Jack didn’t care. He didn’t know what nanites were. But he knew he didn’t like Dickie. No, Dickie wasn’t going to die today. And as much as it pained Jack to admit it, that left him somewhat disappointed.
Jack swung his gaze across the helicopter to “Smith”. Or Danielson, as he was being told by his newfound savior. He sat leaning forward in the seat across from Dickie. Between his sunglasses and “native” beard his face was almost obscured. He seemed to be monitoring Mya’s progress with Sal. Or at least Jack thought so. His face was pointed in the right direction. But as Jack watched him he mindlessly wiped off the knife he carried with a bandana before checking the blade and putting it back in the sheath at his waist. He went back to watching his new teammates on the floor. As Jack watched “Smith” turned his head and looked at Jack. He flashed a half smile and gave Jack an up nod. “You good?”
“Yeah,” Jack said absently. Who was this guy? Hoffman had dropped them in Afghanistan two weeks earlier with no equipment and no instruction other than they had two people to find. The pair were Hoffman operatives that had gone missing. The FBI was somehow involved. Anna was nervous. She told Jack flat out she had a bad feeling about the mission. She almost begged him to be careful. She was scared and he didn’t know exactly why. All he really knew was that they were supposed to meet “Smith” and he was going to get them what they needed and guide them through this backward shit show excuse for a country. Jack wasn’t sure what to think of him. He seemed arrogant and maybe a little bloodthirsty. He also couldn’t escape the feeling that somehow he was going to be sticking around.
Whatever. Jack had endured Dickie. He’d put up with Professor Meister and his complete lack of firearm safety. Good God, he’d made it through working with Luke Sterling for fuck’s sake. How much worse could the new guy be?
“Hey man,” the gunner was barking at him again. Jack snapped out of his own thoughts and looked at him. “Seriously, man. Are you fucking out of it or something? I thought you were gonna fall out there for a second. Dude, you gotta pay attention up here else you’re gonna fall out and hit the sand 500 feet down. Then the desert just fuckin swallows you up and no one will ever find you. Buckle up. man. Seriously.”
He moved over to Jack to help him buckle into the belt harness behind him. “You fuckin’ civvies don’t know shit out here. Seriously.” He leaned across and reached behind Jack to grab the harness. Jack fought the suddenly impulse to grab him and toss him out the door. No one was looking. He could have gotten away with it. He really wanted to quite badly.
The gunner was talking again in his ear this time. “Man, you gotta take this part here and run it around your back like…” Suddenly he stopped and scuttled backwards away from Jack. His eyes were wide and his mouth was open. Jack looked at him with surprise.
No response. The gunner just sat back and stared wide eyed at him.
“What?” Jack was angry now. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
The guy slowly raised a finger and pointed to Jacks’s left side. “Is that a bite mark?”
Jack turned his head quickly and looked down to his left. There was a small pool of blood on the floor behind him. He reached across his body with his right hand but could get it far enough behind him. Frantically he leaned forward and reached up and behind him with his left hand. His body armor was torn. Underneath it he felt his shirt was torn.
And then he felt the blood.
As if to convince himself of what he already knew he pulled his hand forward and looked at it. Blood covered his fingers and palm.
“Shit,” he said aloud.
“Fuckin’ A, man,” the gunner said. Jack looked up at him still holding his hand up where both of them could easily see it.
The gunner just stared and slowly shook his head.
“Seriously,” he said