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The Alpha Syndicate: The Shifting Sands

the alpha syndicate the shifting sands


Estimated reading time — 36 minutes

Money talks. Always has. That’s what brought me to the Syndicate after all. I was fresh off the force, facing eviction, just sort of wandering without direction. I had applied to any job I figured a guy like me could get my hands on. Security guard for a bank, bodyguard for some unappreciative twenty-year-old man child. Hell, I had even thought about getting my bail bondsman license. All were met with conceited sighs and “Sorry we’re not hiring. Try again later in the year.” That’s really easy to say when you’re not worried about putting food on the table or if you can even make rent.

I made the decision to do what anyone with little money would do in my situation and went to wash my sorrows away at the local dive bar. Figured a few bottles of feel good could take my mind off the situation for a couple of hours at least. It was there in that small town shithole, leaning on a sticky weathered bar top, that I met Mr. Beck.

“Rough day?” I looked around and saw the place was pretty much dead, except for one man. He wasn’t just talking to thin air.

“That easy to tell huh?” I said, draining the last drops from my fourth beer.

He chuckled. A greasy, almost weasel-like laugh.

“Always can tell a man down on his luck. That’s how I make a living.” He sauntered over, plopping on the stool next to mine and outstretching his hand.

“Wilson Beck. Talent Scout.”

“Markus Kent. Not interested in your pyramid scheme.”

Again, I heard the same weasel-like laughter.

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“You misunderstand me Mr. Kent. I’m not in that line of business.” He reached inside the lining of his suit and retrieved a nondescript black business card, sliding it across the bar in my direction.

“Alpha Syndicate Consolidation Services.” He spoke almost in a whisper. Turning over the front of the card revealed the same jet black background with embossed gold lettering. Its logo was simple, the Roman symbol for Alpha entwined with the Omega symbol arching above. The card was void of a phone number or email. Hell, there wasn’t even a website. Just simple coordinates. One of my eyebrows cocked up in confusion as I looked back at the man.

“Is this a joke?” I asked.

He chuckled cooly and shook his head.

“Not a joke at all my good sir, but an interview. A chance for a new exciting world of employment and the opportunity to make more money than you could ever spend.” He made the classic gesture of rubbing his thumb against his fingers.

“I see. Any particular reason you’re peddling the pitch to me? I’m not a banker or stock trader or… whatever it is you do.” A small smirk graced his face.

“We have no use for bankers, brokers, or businessmen. What we require is men and women who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. People who live to feel that rush of adrenaline as they dive into the great unknown. An aptitude with firearms doesn’t hurt either, and judging by the haircut and build, in a town full of farmers and fishermen, I’d bet that you were either law enforcement or recently separated from the military. Either way is a big bonus with our hiring manager.”

My eyes went wide. This guy was good. Either that or just lucky. I turned the card around in my hands and looked over at him. I was desperate. I doubted this opportunity would present itself twice, no matter how shady it seemed.

“What do I need to do?”

***

I had no idea what to expect on the long drive up the trail to the facility. The driver weaved in between the pines of the Tennessee wilderness, heading up a steep embankment, nearly vertical. I was awestruck by the view. Pine trees peeking above dense fog as far as the eye could see. There was nothing manmade for miles around. No telephone or power lines. No radio towers or even fire watch stations. Completely bare and untouched by man.

“We’ve arrived Sir.” The posh driver looked at me through the rearview mirror. I nodded and stepped out of the vehicle. Our final destination was a huge black complex complete with office windows and a revolving door. A testament to corporate America, sitting in the middle of nowhere. I started to wonder if I belonged to this place, but there seemed to be no turning back. Soon enough, I heard the Jeep and driver speed off down the mountain side. I supposed there was nowhere to go now but in.

Orientation was a blur. Lots of medical screenings, standard gear assignment, and numerous powerpoints about policy and standards. All this information yet I still didn’t know what I was actually doing. Those questions were soon answered after lunch when I was led into a small briefing room. Before me sat five people. All were decked out in the newest tactical gear, and everyone seemed less than enthused upon seeing me.

“Doc, what’s the deal with the new guy?” A blonde haired man stuck his thumb in my direction. His face was dirty and tan except for around the eyes. The baseball cap pulled backwards hid his shaggy mane.

“He’s covering down as the fifth man since we lost Garcia,” an older gentleman said. His long gray hair tied back in a ponytail gave some sense of professionalism, yet his beard could have belonged to your standard mountain man.

The blonde haired man piped up again.

“So first Garcia goes and croaks, putting us down a guy. NOW we have to babysit some new blood who hasn’t even been in the field?”

“Yes,” the old man retorted. “And you will sit down, shut up, and deal with it or you can stay your ass here. I don’t have a problem finding two replacements in one day.”

There was a moment of silence as the old man narrowed his eyes at the blonde. Suddenly, with a clearing of the throat, he stood up and faced me.

“Nice to meet you. Markus right?”

I nodded, trying not to fumble my words.

“Erm yes. Nice to meet you.” I stretched my hand in an attempt to shake his, though he just looked at it and back to me.

“Good to have you man. Name’s Trevor, but feel free to call me Doc. I’m the resident medic and squad leader here. Welcome to Whiskey team.” He pointed to an empty chair and then to the other people in the room.

“This here is Paige.” He pointed to a slightly older woman with long dark hair and brown eyes. It was hard to place her origin but she gave off a slightly Central American vibe. “Lead engineer and second in command. You need something and can’t find me, you go to her.”

She gave me a wave. Trevor jerked his thumb to the end of the table to a large black gentleman with thick glasses.

“That’s Wade. Heavy weapons specialist.”

“Good to meet ya man,” Wade growled out.

“Likewise.”

Trevor concluded with a heavy sigh. “And this is Eric. He’s-”

“The best shot in this place.” Eric chimed in. A scowl came across Trevor’s face.

“Eric is our marksman and scout. You will be filling the role as pointman in the outfit.”

“Pointman? But what is it we actually do?” I said, a bit exasperated.

A chuckle broke out from the group

“Well that answers the question as to what they tell the new joins.” He grabbed a remote and pointed it to a small television on the wall opposite mine.

“What we do is this.”

He clicked the remote.

On screen I saw a recording of armed gunmen assaulting a building. They breached the door, moving in tactically, sweeping the halls, scanning every inch of the area. They walked in step, their footsteps echoing down the corridor, yet that wasn’t the only noise I was able to hear. A sick suckling sound permeated the air. Sounds of gluttonous chewing and swallowing over and over. The men crept closer and I heard other sounds. The sounds of people screaming. Begging against everything for something to stop. Bones snapping like twigs. The gushing of liquids being splattered against the walls. The men stepped forward even quieter than before and stacked up on a door slightly ajar as they got ready to go in. The last thing I heard in the video was what sounded like a woman. She was weeping, bawling uncontrollably, and from what I could discern, praying.

“Lord forgive us for we know not what we do.”

A boot kicked open the door, all weapons pointing in the same direction, and then I was able to see it.

The figure before me on the screen was something so twisted, so horrible that I wouldn’t be able to dream it up in my worst nightmare. It was sickly green, its body covered in gangrenous pus-filled sacks. Its legs were twisted and gnarled, longer than any creature I had ever seen. The arms looked broken and irregular as it gripped a man, lifting him effortlessly in the air. The deep indentations leading up the creature’s neck opened, revealing a large gaping maw filled with razor sharp teeth. It devoured the man whole, chewing him. The sickening sounds of bones breaking and grinding on skin mixed with his last dying gasp as he was pushed down into the creature’s swollen belly. It turned to look at the men. Its black soulless husks of eyes stared at the soldiers lifelessly. With a cracking of the concrete floors, it burst forward to them.

“Put it down,” I heard a familiar voice say through the radio. Machine guns erupted. After a few seconds the smoke cleared and the creature lay still, its body riddled with bullet holes as the men stepped further in the room. They scanned the area. It looked to be some sort of lab, complete with test equipment and chemistry stations. Blood and viscera covered the room as well as bodies. Some were slashed and gutted. Some were half eaten, organs strewn through the floor.

“Secure the package and burn the body.” The voice chirped out again and the camera turned to see a woman. Her eyes were wide and shaking, the mascara that was once there now running down her face. The person behind the camera grabbed her, causing her to let out a blood curdling scream.

“Package secure,” a gruff British voice radioed back as the camera turned. Two men covered the creature in kerosene and struck a match, lighting his body ablaze.

“Roger. Prep for Exfil.” The men left the room as the video cut to black.

I sat there in silence. So many thoughts came to my head. I would have asked if the footage was a hoax or something. Finally the words came out as straightforward as they could be.

“What the fuck was that?!” I shouted. “Who were they? Was that real?” I was standing now, talking a mile a minute. “That can’t be real, what the hell -” I stopped as I noticed everyone was smirking.

“Awww I love this part. When they’re all scared and nervous. Never gets old.” Eric laughed and gave me a contemptuous look.“Buckle up buttercup. Cause it gets way worse than that.”

Trevor came over and put a hand on my shoulder. I could tell he was trying to handle this conversation with a bit of tact.

“That,” he began, “is what happens when a pharmaceutical non-profit uses herbs found from a Mayan tomb in hopes of synthesizing a drug to help cure sterility, and injects it into a test subject. Needless to say… it didn’t go over too well. We, as well as the government, were notified of the outbreak seventy-two hours before insertion. A senator’s daughter was working there at the time. He paid for her safe extraction and elimination of threat if able. That was what you saw.”

He narrowed his eyes.

“That’s what we do, Markus. We bite back at the things that go bump in the night and make a killing cleaning up the messes of the paranormal and occult. So you have a choice. Walk out that door now and forget about everything you’ve witnessed today. It’s not like anyone would believe you. Or…” He tightened his grip on my shoulder. “Stay and become wealthy beyond your wildest dreams.”

“Or option C,” Eric chimed in. “Get merked by some cosmic horror and let us take your cut.”

“Shut it Eric,” Trevor replied sternly. “So… what will it be?”

A few hours later I found myself sitting in a dimly lit briefing room. After agreeing to take the spot on the team, I was whisked away to the supply area and fitted with my new attire; in this case, cargo pants, a long sleeve black shirt, a plate carrier able to better protect my chest and back from any unfriendly fire, boots, and a boonie hat. I was then issued my Beretta pistol and a M-4, short and sturdy. They wanted to issue me weapons that would feel familiar to me based on prior experience.Trevor and Paige worked perfectly in sync tossing rifles back and forth loading them and checking the sights. Wade grunted in the corner as he hefted a massive belt fed monster up onto his shoulders. Eric was holding his bolt-action rifle like a father would hold a child as he gently oiled the bolt carrier group.

We were then ushered into a small classroom with a projector pointed toward the board. Everyone took their places, each taking their own desk. Five minutes later, a small, stubby woman walked in through the door. She wore a green pantsuit and expensive diamond earrings which tried and failed at distracting from her odd bowl style haircut. Apparently there was no time for introductions as she grabbed the remote to the projector and clicked it, revealing a rather tall man with short graying hair. His face looked weathered and leathery, with eyeglasses from a different era hanging low off of his broken nose.

“This is Rojer Anderson.” The woman broke the silence of the room with a low monotone droll.
“A known archeologist from London specializing in the Egyptian Dynasties.”

She clicked the remote again, pulling up a satellite image of a desert with several red circles drawn around a few entrances to what seemed like caves.

“Mr. Anderson has been on an expedition for the past few months in the Wadi Hitan National Park, west of Faiyum, trying to discern the significance of the people’s worship of the god known as Sobek. He sought to extract his knowledge from some of the few recently unearthed tombs along the area. His expected arrival back to London was supposed to be January twelfth… six days ago.” The woman paused.

“His estate seemed rather worried as Mr. Anderson has never missed a deadline before. Their first thought was to contact Egyptian law enforcement to send a search party. That was until yesterday, when we received this audio transmission.” She clicked the remote.

“H-h-hello.” A male British accent came over the speaker. Short raspy breaths came over the audio. He sounded out of breath and manic. “F-found coin. World shattering… m-m-masterpiece. Can’t s-sleep. STAY AWAY!” His once calm voice went wild. He shouted incoherently and babbled before finding his composure. “P-please h-help me. F-Find the V-valley. Beware the Nile.” Then the audio stopped.

The woman looked unfazed. “Naturally, this audio found its way to us. Mr. Anderson’s estate has paid the sum of 750,000 dollars in order for his safe return and delivery of whatever item he seems to have found. Planned departure from a private hangar in Nashville International Airport will take place in three hours. Grab your briefings on the way out.” She shut off the presentation and walked back out of the room.

Eric was the first to speak as the lights came up. “Well it’s good to see Susan in such a chipper mood.”

Trevor let out a heavy sigh. He stood and grabbed a manila folder, thumbing through the paperwork. “Yeah… I don’t think I’ve ever seen the woman smile. Regardless. We’ve got a job to do so be happy about that I suppose.” He looked in my direction.

“Don’t worry man. Simple snatch and grab. We go in, get the guy and whatever shit he shouldn’t be messing with and get him back to the Queen. We’ll be back home before you know it and you’ll be a hundred grand richer.”

He said it in such a casual manner it seemed impossible to believe.

“I’m sorry, did you say a hundred grand? As in a hundred thousand dollars?”

“Well… technically 135,000,” Paige chimed in. I looked over and saw her rolling a few cigarettes for the journey. “750,000 minus the ten percent the company takes off and then divided by five for the team.” She looked up and smiled at me. “Not the most lucrative job we’ve pulled but a decent one to get you started, ya know?”

I stood there in shock for a moment. I never considered that I could ever earn so much at one time in my life. A folder hitting my chest broke me from my daydreaming as Trevor looked at me sternly.

“Focus up. You got the job, now make sure you stay alive to enjoy the payday. Read the report. Get familiar with what we’re doing, and be ready to hit the ground running once we touch down.” He looked around the room. “Grab your shit and get to the car park. We leave in ten.”

The drive to the airport was fairly uneventful. I sat in the front passenger seat listening to the local top one hundred as I thumbed through the report. Anderson seemed like a normal guy. Eccentric maybe but nothing out of the ordinary. He made his fortune in the early 90s, bringing back a treasure trove of ancient religious relics. His claim to fame, however, was his theories of mummification. Files upon files dissecting his claim that certain rites were conducted, not in an attempt to preserve the body for the great beyond, but to appease something that resided here on earth. He went on and on arguing that once the internal organs were removed, there was evidence that a ritualistic offering took place beneath certain temples, though for what reason he didn’t say.

“Good to see you studying,” Trevor said.

“Trying to anyway. Sure hate to run into something like y’all did in that video.”

“Oh that? Kid I’m not scared of things that can be brought down with enough lead. It’s the shit that gets back up after emptying a mag that scares me.”

The car grew quiet again for a while. Before I knew it we had pulled onto the tarmac and came to a stop. “Alright,” Trevor said. “Everyone on.”

The jet was pretty ritzy. Dark tinted windows and enough space for us all to get some rest before landing, complete with a small kitchen and fridge for all we could need. I had honestly nearly forgotten what I was doing here as I leaned my chair back into a makeshift bed and watched as we took off.

The excitement must have worn me out, because I nodded off and didn’t wake up until I felt the rumble of the aircraft as we touched down. The cabin lights came on as Trevor walked the aisle, rousing each of us. He was already in full tactical gear with his rifle slung across his chest. “Rise and shine team! Early bird gets the worm and what not. Grab your gear, clean up your trash, and get the hell off. Locals will be meeting us with trucks in about thirty minutes. I want to get into the desert before I start getting sunburned!”

Groans of protest echoed throughout the cabin. Particularly with Eric, who managed to grumble out “five more minutes” before being jerked up by Trevor, who handed him his bags. I quickly cleaned my area, grabbed my rifle, and set off to see the landscape.

Holy shit. That was all I could think once my eyes adjusted to the pink dawn sky. Looked like something out of a postcard. Sunken ancient buildings. The wind cutting through the deep brown sand on the massive dunes in the distance. This was an ancient place. Holy and peaceful.

“First time in Egypt?” Paige nudged my arm, yelling in order to speak over the turbines.

“First time out of Tennessee.” I gave her a half smile. “Always wanted to leave. Just… didn’t.”

She smiled widely and let out a small laugh. “Get used to it, rookie. Honestly, we rarely pull jobs in the states.” She hiked her bag up her shoulder and made her way down the stairs.

“That’s odd. Figure with all the Indian graveyards and shit like Salem we’d have something there.”

She sucked in through her teeth and shuddered. “God no, that’s bruja stuff. Spirits and witchcraft. We handle the more… tangible side of the occult. Doesn’t really do us any good if we can’t shoot something now, does it?”

I nodded. Watching her take her pack and throw it to the ground, I followed her lead, facing towards the soon-to-be-rising sun. “Question: where are we? I figured we’d be in Cairo or something. Like an actual airport. Why are we in the middle of nowhere?” I looked over at her, catching her as she quickly closed a locket and pushed it underneath her vest.

“Syndicate aircraft are piloted by some of the best in the world,” she continued. “The jets themselves also are designed for vertical take off and landing. Put it all together and it’s usually routine to land closer to site, then hoof it on foot or by car from there. Saves us a few hours on mission time.”

“Just a shame they have height and weight limits.”Wade’s deep voice grumbled out, suddenly next to me. He sounded like a rottweiler if it could talk. Deep and dangerous. “Wasted my time getting a pilot’s license only to be told I was too big for their seats.” He slung his bag down the same as Paige and in one fluid motion pulled his machine gun from his shoulders, planting the stock in the ground, cracking the desert floor.

I cocked an eyebrow at his comment. I must have looked a little skeptical as he returned the same expression.

“What?”

“You were a pilot? I dunno, you don’t really seem like the type.”

He answered with a shrug.

“I also went to seminary school. Wouldn’t believe that either, would ya?” Half his face curled in a grin while he pulled a book from his pocket.

“Yep! Wade’s full of surprises, newbie.” Eric came around his side, fighting off a yawn. “Stick around long enough, he may even tell you where he’s from.” This brought a round of laughter from the rest of the team, even Wade.

“I… I don’t get it. What’s so funny?”

Wade shook his head. “Nothing man. Just sort of an inside joke. You’ll find out soon enough.”

“Hopefully, anyway,” Eric chimed in, putting a hand-rolled cigarette between his lips.

I caught Paige rolling her eyes. “You’re gonna be fine, rookie. Just remember the golden rule: always trust-“

“Cut the chatter.” Trevor’s voice came from behind us. It wasn’t quite a yell, but it commanded the same respect.We all turned back to look at him as he pointed east. “They’re here.”

The locals that dropped the trucks off were friendly enough. They seemed a bit on edge. Just really twitchy and constantly looking around. Honestly, their body language was the only thing about them that stood out. They wore white ponchos draping down to their waists, with matching white pants tied off at the shins. Some black leather sandals lashed up their legs. The only things that looked odd were the black bandanas they wore with the golden symbol of the Syndicate stenciled on the fabric under the left eye. Well, that and the .45s holstered to their hips.

They never spoke. Not once. Just nodded at Trevor who returned the gesture. Two trucks, two sets of keys. Trevor and Eric took lead while I rode with Paige, Wade at the wheel. Soon as the doors shut, Wade reached over from the driver seat and popped open the glove compartment. Inside lay three black pieces of plastic, each shaped like a small crescent moon. He handed one to me before tossing the second to Paige and pushing the plastic over his ear, hooking it in place.

“Comm channel. Lets us keep in contact. Put it in.”

I looked down at the plastic. Pretty unassuming. Hooking it in however I heard the crackle of the audio, vibrating against my ear. Trevor’s voice came over shortly after.

“Alright this is Whiskey One. Give me a comm check. Let me know everything’s working.”

“Whiskey Two online,” Paige responded matter-of-factly.

“Whiskey Three good to go,” Wade growled.

“Why do you need me to say anything I’m right here-” The sound of a smack came through, followed by Eric’s cry of pain. “Ow! Fuck man… Whiskey Four filing an HR complaint.”

“Whiskey Five online,” I said, stifling my laughter.

“Roger. We’re about 80 klicks out from location. We’ll be there within the hour.” With that, I heard the audio crackle one last time before phasing out as we drove into the dunes.

While Wade was busy getting one of the trucks up a steep embankment of sand, and Paige rested her head against the window, I took the time to once again check over all my equipment. The Syndicate definitely made sure we had the top of the line with anything we needed. Nothing was repurposed, reused, or secondhand. My rifle still had a fresh out-of-the-box smell to it. It was hard not to feel excited to use the thousands of dollars of gear strapped to my body or clutched in my hands. Almost enough to make me forget that I could be shit out of some Frankenstein’s monster by the end of the night.

Fuck it, I thought. I laid my head back against the rest, watching the dunes rise and fall as the trucks cut through the sand. That’s a problem for future me.

The sharp jolt of skidding brakes made my eyes snap open. It took me a moment to get my bearings. The ride over was only supposed to be an hour; when did it get so dark? It was only when I looked out the other window that I realized the sun was still shining, high and hot. The difference was that my window looked out into the mouth of a massive cavern. It would have easily swallowed a good-sized mall. Flanked on the sides by two massive sandstone pillars, the inside lit by a bevy of torches. I was beginning to understand the scope of this hellhole we were about to walk into.

“Shit…” I muttered as I stepped out of the truck, my foot crunching softly against the compacted desert floor.

“Who you telling?” Wade came around, eyes still glued to the cave. “Doc, you got a map for the inside I hope?” he shouted. Trevor was leaning against his truck, finishing off a cigarette. He nodded, flicking the embers and walking over.

“Radioed ahead to request an escort inside. They’re on the way out now. They seem pretty skittish though. I didn’t think guarding a jumpy little Brit would be all too difficult, but apparently they can’t wait to get the hell out of here. Something about bad dreams I think. My Arabic is pretty rusty though, so they may just need to take a piss.”

We all laughed and kept looking around, studying the entrance. I had to turn to get a good look at its entirety. Something about it seemed off. I can’t really explain but it felt like it wasn’t supposed to be here. The more I looked the more I felt wrong with it. It gave me the chills. Like this wasn’t a cave that we were going into, but the mouth of a monster. I stiffened up when I felt a hand clasp my shoulder.

“Easy killer. It’s just me,” Trevor said. He pulled out another smoke, lighting it in one swift motion, and took a drag. “Just checking to make sure you ain’t having any second thoughts.”

I smirked and gestured for my own cigarette. He obliged and offered a lighter. I took a drag, letting the fresh smoke hit my lungs. “Not yet, but I’ll let you know when I do.”

He nodded and faced the mouth of the cave. “Man, I’ll tell ya. You definitely lucked out on your first op.”

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?”

“I remember my first job. Running through the Appalachians, hunting skinwalkers, tripping through trees and falling in stagnant lakes in the middle of the night. Can’t do much better than bright and sunny.”

“I thought we didn’t pull jobs in the states,” I said, cocking an eyebrow.

“Ah, we used to. Seems that most of the baddies don’t like being hunted in their own backyard, so they migrated elsewhere. So we really haven’t seen much in the past fifteen years.”

I almost dropped the cigarette in shock. “You do all these jobs and you’re still working after more than a decade?”

“Two decades.” Trevor exhaled smoke through his nose, looking over at me out of the corner of his eye. “Got a problem with that?”

“Not really. Just… why not retire?”

“I’ll quit when they do,” he answered. He jutted his chin forward to point at the man hustling out of the cave. “Time to go to work.”

Despite Trevor’s earlier claims to be rusty in the guard’s native language, he was able to converse with him fairly well. The guard was a short man, same apparel as the ones who dropped off the trucks, though this guy was nowhere near as composed as the other two. He ran up to us, clutching at Trevor and excitedly telling him… something. Physically, he looked rough to say the least. His face was greasy and covered in sweat, his beard broken off into twists. His eyes, though… they looked like the ones you’d see in a picture of someone coming back from World War 2. Like he had aged years in such a short time. He squinted through his already swollen eyes, so I could barely see the glassy whites. Whatever had happened to him, he was worse off for it.

“All right,” Trevor said, turning to us. “Aten here is going to lead us back to Mr. Anderson. Once there, we will be extracting himself and his co-worker. Anderson will be in our care till we touch down in the UK, then we hand the lunatic off, say thank you for the cash and fuck off back stateside. Good to go?” He paused, scanning our faces. We nodded in agreement.

“Good. Watch your step inside. Even though we have a lit path, I’m sure there’s bound to be places to get lost on the way in. Eric, you’ll be in the back providing security and picking up any stragglers you find. Wade will be back there as well for support. Paige with me. Markus…” He looked over at me. “You’ll be on point with Aten. Time to shine kid. Try not to get us lost.”

Whatever we thought of the cave from the outside was eclipsed by how deep it was on the inside. We must have walked for the better part of an hour, squeezing ourselves through narrow damp fissures, crawling through holes that no one could even remotely call stable, and holding on for dear life as we tiptoed along narrow ledges, praying we wouldn’t fall into the darkness below. It was only when my feet hit solid ground and we moved into the next chamber, however, that I wished we could go back.

We stood on a plateau, overlooking what could only be described as a massive underground sea. It was quiet, but I could still hear that settling sound that lakes make when there’s nothing around to drown it out. I couldn’t even see the walls that surrounded the cliff we were on except for the one behind me. I had to grab onto it to steady myself from getting vertigo. Then I felt something, this overwhelming urge to look behind me, and turned my attention to the wall. It was carved with ancient symbols and hieroglyphics. They started off insignificant. A single line here, a symbol or two there. Yet as we approached the far wall, where the torches were gathered, the symbols seemed to open and flood the landscape. Hell, there was even writing along the ceiling. All indecipherable and strange, yet they seemed to originate from one source: the open stone mouth of a giant block crocodile.

The statue towered over us. Standing close to thirty feet tall, you could impale someone on the giant meat hooks of its teeth. Below its gaping mouth sat a massive stone table, anciently ornate and arcane. This wasn’t something you’d ever find in a history book. This place wasn’t hidden by the people of the time. It had been banished. Left to rot away so that no one would have to bear the sight of it.

I felt the familiar touch of Trevor’s hand on my shoulder, causing me to jump.

“Game face on,” he whispered into my ear. “Don’t let anyone, least of all the customer, know how freaked out you are. You’re the heavy artillery here. Mercs aren’t afraid of the dark kid. Take a breath, grit your teeth, and get your bearings. Wait for the guys and meet us up there. You’re doing fine.”

I nodded as he looked at me, his eyes steely. He returned the gesture and then looked at Paige. They walked on, scanning the area with every step.

It wasn’t too much longer, maybe twenty minutes, when Wade’s hulking mass stomped into the dim torchlight. Eric pulled up the rear, his wiry frame looking even skinner compared to the bigger man.

“How’s it hanging, newbie? Piss yourself yet?” Eric smirked as he slung his rifle onto his shoulders.

“Happy to disappoint. What took y’all so long?”

“Sandstorm,” Wade said, looking around, taking everything in fully. “Had to cover the trucks. I’m not sure how long it’ll last, but it looks bad.”

“Murphy’s law right?” Eric’s smile seemed a bit more genuine as he gave my chest a firm slap. “Cmon, let’s join the others.”

***

To say that Rojer Anderson was a bit more off kilter since we had heard the recording back at the complex would have been an understatement. The once stoic and proud-looking Brit in the photographs was now an unhinged nutcase caked in grime, glasses cracked, greasy hair flowing down to his shoulders, and more concerned with how rocks tasted than the five new people that stood around him.

“Well… look on the bright side,” Eric said, looking around the man. The floor was littered in old books, candy bar wrappers, and what I hoped was mud. “They only said bring him back alive.”

“ALIVE.” The old man jumped up. He grabbed Eric by his vest, shaking him vigorously. He was pretty strong for an old crazy guy. “One life. Many lives. Your life. All just simple puppets in a show put on by the gods, this beast forever scorned as th-the villian!” He blinked rapidly, like he was trying to think of the next verse to his sermon. “Erm… who are you again?”

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“Your rescue party…” Eric said, shoving him back on his ass. “And this had better not be what I think it is!” he shouted, wiping a brown smudge off his shirt.

“Oh yes. Quite. My rescuers. You are to rescue me from whom exactly?”

“Mr. Anderson.” Trevor stepped forward, taking a knee next to him. “We’re from the Alpha Syndicate. You may call me Trevor. My team and I were contracted by your estate to bring you back safe and sound.”

“Safe, at least,” Eric muttered.

Trevor shot back a “shut the fuck up” glare.

“As I was saying. We were also told to bring a relic of some kind? Some sort of coin?”

“Ah yes! Yes, the coin. The Holy Lens of the Nile God, the Jewel of Faiyum! Tossers, the lot of my employ, but th-they are correct.”

“Indeed,” Trevor said, standing back as the archaeologist jumped spryly to his feet. “May I ask what’s so special about this piece?”

“Ask? ASK?” Rojer crossed over to Trevor in two quick steps. I heard the sound of a safety being switched and looked to see Paige raising her rifle from the darkness, the muzzle of the weapon pointed at Anderson.

“My good man, I’d be insulted if you didn’t!” He laughed heartily and put a hand on Trevor’s shoulder. “Please come! Th-this way!”

I breathed an audible sigh of relief as the safety clicked again and the muzzle disappeared back into the darkness.

“This,” Anderson said as we crowded around a torch underneath the massive stone monster, “is the Coin of Sobek.” He opened his hand to reveal a tiny circular glass disk half full of a deep purple liquid.

“That’s not a coin though,” I muttered to Paige, who nudged me to shut up.

“Sobek was a god you see. Said to be born from these very lands. He was a god of c-creation, the Lord of the Waters, and a defender of balance, allying himself with both the forces of order as well as c-chaos. Or so the story goes.” He clasped his hands back around the piece.

“He was worshiped for centuries. They would even mummify c-crocodiles with the pharaohs in hopes of protecting them in the afterlife.”

“That’s all well and good sir,” Trevor said, eying him carefully. “But what does that have to do with this place?”

“Ah, but that’s just what I said, yes?”

We all looked at each other, confused.

“At least I did say that right? I’m not th-thinking what I’m saying or saying what I’m th-thinking again? It’s a lot easier to do the latter, don’t you think?”

“Sir!” Trevor said a little louder. “Where. Are. We?”

The man stood there for a second longer. He touched his finger tips together muttering to himself.

“Rojer!”

“I don’t know!” Anderson yelled back. Both their voices reverberated off the walls of the stone tomb. He gave a sigh and placed a hand to his head, rubbing his temples with his finger and thumb.

“I don’t know…” He walked back to the table, stacking his books. “Not one word, not one word of this temple anywhere in history. This place isn’t even on a map. It was simply stumbled upon by a hiker taking a trek through the park.”

We slowly made our way over silently as he continued to explain.

“Th-the only thing I can figure out is the tale of the coin. Now to find it.” He sounded a bit frantic as he flipped through the dusty tomes, finally settling on a page, written in ancient Egyptian. The text was translated on a post-it note on the next page.

Wade reached and took the book, reading aloud for the rest of us. “And rejoice, he who drinks the dark waters. Your cup shall fill and will be filled for all time. Take to task your prayers to the son of Neith. Allow his will to flow through your blood like the Nile of the old kingdom. Rejoice, dear brothers, in the union of your mortal flesh to that of the Lord of the Waters. Rejoice in his dark sea. Allow his path from the underworld to join your path to dreams. Rejoice, dear brothers, and heed our call of brotherhood. Heed the call of the Dark River God.”

“So the coin is filled with a never ending supply of drinking water?” Paige asked skeptically.

“Either that or lizard steroids,” Eric threw in.

“Both great ideas,” Anderson said, in a much calmer tone. “As far as I can surmise this place was a secret temple to Sobek. As to why here… well, as you heard, they believed this to be the entrance to his world. The underworld to be exact.”

“That would explain the whole ‘Dark God’ bit.” I said.I gripped my rifle a little bit firmer.

“Regardless of what it is,” Trevor said, breaking me from my thoughts, “I don’t want to spend any longer in this place than I have to. Get your shit, sir, and keep a tight hold on the relic. We’re leaving.”

“Yeah… about that, boss,” Eric said. “Hate to be the bearer of bad news. But we can’t go anywhere till the storm outside lets up. Nearly swept me and the big man away.”

“Of course there’s a storm. Alright, new plan: let’s make our way back to the entrance. We’ll survey the scene and make our decision on what to do next.”

“Oh, if you require guidance, I can make a great guide to the cave mouth. Let me find my spectacles please.”

“Sir, they’re on your face,” Paige said in exasperation.

“Oh. Yes, I see.” Anderson pulled off his glasses and rubbed the smudges off.

“Kid, you’re on point. Get us out of here.” Trevor rubbed his temples.

With a nod, I took to the task. The way back was a bit more manageable the second time. I didn’t mind the journey so much as long as it got me the hell out of there.

I heard the storm before I saw it. The rushing wind coming off the dunes sounded like I was behind a plane getting ready for take off. I felt the sand grate on my teeth and sting my nose as much as I felt that familiar crunch beneath my feet. On top of that, the torchlight was almost completely swallowed by that dull dark brown shade. Just my fucking luck.

“Well shit. Looks like we’re gonna be here a bit longer than expected,” Trevor exclaimed, seeing the thick wall of swirling sand that surrounded our exit.

“Told ya boss,” Eric said, defeated. “Nothing we can do but let it pass.”

“I guess so. Wade! Break out the camping gear. We’re gonna ride it out as comfortably as we can.”

“On it.” Wade’s voice echoed from the back as he sat his pack down and began rummaging through it. He pulled out the contents: two tents, a hotplate, a small mess kit with a cooking pot, and ten cans of soup.

“Check your bag kid. Headquarters should have issued a field kit in case of emergency situations like these.”

Inside I found a mess kit similar to Wade’s, packed with canned stew, a small first aid kit, some spare ammunition, a sleeping bag, and a few flares. Pretty soon we had a nice little set up. We made use of rocks for makeshift chairs while Trevor made a pot of soup for us. All the creature comforts. Save for heat, water, and not being trapped in a creepy abandoned temple.

“We’ll work in shifts,” Trevor said after finishing his bowl. “Four hour posts till the morning. Storm shouldn’t last more than a few hours, but at the very least it’ll give y’all some rest. Plus with the sun blacked out by the sand, you can get some shut eye in case we need to move in the night. I know we haven’t seen anything abnormal yet. Well… abnormal for us at least. Nevertheless I need you all on top of shit. The fact we haven’t seen anything is more unsettling than the norm.”

“Are you forgetting the giant stone lizard and endless ocean covered in blackness and evil?” Eric said, reaching for a second helping.

“Mot evil per se. When you think about it, what is the modern religion if not successful c-cults?”

“True. But I don’t think I’m going to a creepy ass cave for a baptist revival” Eric retorted, giving Trevor a very non-discrete eye roll.

We all tried to stifle our laughter before Trevor cleared his throat.

“Congrats Eric, you pulled the first watch. Paige will take second, followed by myself, the kid, and Wade will be our early bird.”

“Works for me.” I said, scarfing down the rest of the food. “I better hit the sack.”

Trevor nodded. “We all should. Try to rest as much as you can. We’ll be out of here faster than you can say Cairo.”

“Cairo,” Eric called out.

“Say it slower.” Paige yelled back. “Mr. Anderson, feel free to try to rest by us if it makes you feel better. We’ll wake you if we need to. Otherwise we’ll see you in the morning.”

“As you say my dear. Hopefully together th-the dreams won’t be such an issue.”

“Right. You and your group were having trouble sleeping. I almost forgot.”

“Th-the same dream every time. I found myself swimming. A pool of black water with no land in sight. Suddenly mighty jaws sprang up and devoured me. Tearing and rending my flesh from my body. Dragging me down under th-the depths. Th-the last thing I saw before waking were two red eyes the size of houses glaring at me.”

“Well…” Paige said, sounding a bit unsettled. “That sounds like a lovely image to see before bed.”

“Indeed. Perhaps the farther away I am, th-the lesser the severity will be.”

“Let’s hope so, sir,” Trevor said. He crawled onto a bare spot on the floor, pulling his pack behind his head to use as a pillow. “I’d hate to have you go from slumbering to unconscious, but if you have an episode and put my team in danger, I won’t think twice about helping you go back to sleep.”

“Y-yes. Of course,” Anderson said. Again, he made the gesture of touching his fingertips and looking down at the ground as placed his back to the wall next to me. The man looked like a kid who’d broken a window and was waiting for punishment. I felt a little bad for the guy. It wasn’t too long before he and the rest of the team were out.

I’m not sure when it was when I finally drifted off. With the hard floor and ever blowing wind it seemed like I never would. Somehow I managed. I must have been sleeping lighter than I thought, seeing that when I woke up, it was seemingly for no reason. I sat up, rubbing my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The storm must have finally stopped since I could feel myself think again. No more rushing wind or sand particles slapped my face. Something else had replaced it though. A low, buzzing ring crept up my spine and settled behind my ear drums. Like when you stop listening to something loud. It was an itch I couldn’t scratch no matter how much I tugged at my ears. I think it got louder to be honest.

My eyes finally adjusted, moving to the torchlight that illuminated our little camp. Trevor was sitting on a rock with his back to me. He was rigid and on edge.

“Kid. Do not make a sound, do not panic, and listen to me very carefully…”

With those words my body went on high alert. My hand stiffened around the grip of my rifle. The ringing seemed to turn up a notch. All the ambient sounds faded away, so that I could barely hear Trevor’s voice.

“Something’s not right. I want you to slowly, very slowly, inch towards the cave mouth. Look outside and tell me what you see.”

Whether it was the comfort of knowing Trevor was there or sheer muscle memory, my legs worked. I carefully tiptoed off to the mouth. Making my way, I realized something else: every torch was out. Not just the ones that were at the mouth during the storm, but everywhere, even heading back inside. The only illumination came from Trevor’s lighter and the light outside.

Wait a second… where was the fucking moon? Where were the stars? There was nothing there. I don’t mean it was so overcast the moon was blocked, I mean there was NOTHING. Just a deep purple backdrop that seemed… well, it seemed to move. It vibrated and twisted, casting a damp glow on the sand in front of us.

The sand. The ever-growing range of dunes that seemed to go on endlessly. Sand, rocks, and dust, but… no trucks. No tarps, no trash, hell, there weren’t even footprints or tracks in ANY direction. And the sand, it wasn’t brown. It was pitch black. Like God grated coal from the heavens, a massive ocean of black as far as the eye could see.

“I don’t think we’re in Egypt anymore kid,” Trevor said a few feet behind me. It was hard to hear him. It was hard to hear anything. The ringing increased enough to make my knees shake. I kept my balance and tried to concentrate.

“W-Where…”

“I don’t know. I can’t even remember when the storm stopped. It was there when I took it from Paige and then it just stopped, like that.” He snapped his fingers.

I lost my sense. I thought I might lose my dinner. I didn’t know what to say. I could feel myself starting to hyperventilate.

“Easy kid. We’re not where we were, but we’re alive. I woke the team. Let’s get a plan-” His voice cut out. The ringing wouldn’t let me hear. It seeped into my brain and I could feel my skull vibrate. I dropped to my knees, clutching my head in my hands, and I screamed. Even though I couldn’t hear it, I felt my mouth contort, my jaw popping and my vocal cords shaking. Eventually I heard something else. It wasn’t the ambience. It wasn’t Trevor or the others shaking me, their mouths yelling but silent. It was something deep and primordial. Guttural and angry. A voice that traveled from the very earth up my body where I felt it grip my soul and work my mouth like I was a puppet. I heard it in my mind as the others heard it from me.

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“RETURN IT.”

My body trembled. The air left me. I felt violated and worked over, but at least the ringing had stopped. I looked up at them. The looks on their faces flashed between fear, to concern, settling on Trevor’s solemn grimace.

“Kid… Markus, can you hear me?”

I looked at him and nodded.

“Stand up,” he said, reaching a hand out and pulling me up. I felt a hand on my back and looked to see Paige, still eyeing me with concern. She had the eyes of a mother. Someone who didn’t want to see you hurt. Who wanted to bear the weight of your pain. I hadn’t seen that side of her before. Trevor’s voice snapped us both back to the situation.

“Look guys, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who took the lights out or who decided to play ventriloquist with the kid. All I know is we’re here, and whether it’s a ghost or a god throwing a bitch fit, we have to figure out a way to get the fuck out of dodge. Now look alive. We don’t know what’s out there.”

A gunshot rang out: the sound that comes from a high-powered rifle. Eric was kneeling down and firing out into the sand.

“I think I have a pretty good idea, boss!” he shouted.

We all turned to see what he was talking about. The sand was moving. The black crystals flew away like the wake from a boat. Something was swimming underneath, something massive. And it was heading right for us.

“Make a kill zone! Eric, keep peppering the waves, lead your shots. Paige, Markus, find cover and alternate bursts. Wade, break open the tripod and put the pig on cyclic! LET’S GO!”

We all flew into action. Eric’s rifle barked again as he aimed in. The barrel of Wade’s machine gun glowed as he held the trigger down, his tracer rounds lighting up the night. It was so disorienting – everything was happening so fast – but Paige grabbed me and slammed me against a nearby wall. She let a burst of rounds fly, while Trevor mirrored us on the far side. But the thing kept coming.

It was nearing in on us, strafing side to side, almost surfing the dunes. It was fast. Paige and I alternated every other burst, but if the amount of fire power we were throwing at it didn’t slow it down, what were we going to do when it decided to pop out?

“Paige, now!” Trevor shouted. Paige stepped forward and opened the bottom of her rifle, loading a grenade. With the pull of the trigger, the grenade flew out, lighting the sand in front of us on fire.

Please kill it, I thought. I prayed to god. To anyone with power to listen. Please kill this fucking thing.

My heart sank lower than I thought it could as the creature plowed right through, extinguishing the flames in its wake. It was almost here, and it was getting faster.

The sounds of a rifle stopped, ringing out among the volley of lead. Eric stood and backpedaled quickly, trying to get his mag out.

“Trevor! I’m dry, I gotta-” That’s all he got out. Then a large black mouth filled with gargantuan teeth opened up from underneath him and ripped him in two. The beast dove out of the sand to stand on its back legs. It was as tall as a bus and twice as wide. Its body was coated a deep black that gave off an unnatural glow, its red eyes widening in glee. A giant black crocodile. Its gaping maw snapped down on Eric again, spraying chunks of bone and viscera across the cave floor. His arm still dangled from the beast’s tooth.

I heard Wade yell, turning his weapon on the croc and firing again. In one swift motion, the creature dipped down and reached the man in the blink of an eye. The firing stopped as it picked Wade up with his massive hands, and grabbed Wade by both sides.

Then it pulled. Wade popped like a cork. His intestines spilled from him to the floor as he screamed. The scream of immeasurable pain, mixed with fear and the truth of certain death. His cries were drowned out as the creature spoke, projecting his voice to all of us.

“RETURN THAT WHICH YOU STOLE.”

With a meaty thwack, the beast hurled Wade’s body against the wall, painting it with blood.

“More! There’s more!” Paige screamed out.

The entire desert, this ocean of blackness. The sands of hell were churning. More wakes came. More creatures, coming to us.

I heard the scream of the one person I couldn’t bear to hear. I looked over to see the creature had grabbed onto Trevor and was hanging him upside down, lowering him to its throat. Trevor was yelling. He emptied his magazine into the creature. Yet nothing seemed to work. It was unfazed, like he was shooting him with a spitball.

“TREV!” Paige screamed out as she rushed to save him. It was too late. The creature’s jaws came down again, crushing Trevor’s head like a grape. She stopped screaming. She stopped running. She turned. She looked at me with the same mother-like eyes, now filled with tears. Then a second beast slammed into her, turning her body into a pink mist.

They were dead. Everyone was dead. Trevor, Eric, Wade, Paige. I backed up against the wall. I could do nothing but stand there and watch as my team was turned into a grinder. Another beast landed in front of me, standing back as it towered above me. I don’t want to die like this. Like them. I grabbed my pistol. I raised it and pointed it to my head. I heard the voice again.

“RETURN THE WATERS OF THE RIVER GOD.”

I fired.

I sprang awake with a scream. Awake. Not dead. Not in heaven. Still in this brown shithole on earth. This brown, well-lit shithole with a sandstorm roaring outside. Had this all been a dream? I looked around, and my suspicions were confirmed, as everyone was still out. But they were in one piece and breathing. They also looked to be having the worst dreams of their lives. Everyone was twitching and spasming, their eyes moving rapidly under their eyelids. I saw Eric knocked out against the wall. We must have never made it out of the first watch.

Fuck it. I didn’t care, I knew what I needed to do. I steeled myself as I opened my pack and grabbed my flares. Anderson was only a few feet away. Ironically, he was the only one who seemed to sleep soundly. Snoring like a sawmill with the coin laying plainly on his chest, its once dark waters now glowing a deep, blood red color.

I grabbed the coin. I took it and ran back inside. The torches here were still lit, so I didn’t have to use the flares yet. I quickly found myself on the ramp leading into the sanctum. Where the other torches had stayed lit, the room itself had snuffed any light that was there when we left. I lit one of my flares and made a break for the table.

The second I entered, I felt watched. A million eyes, all watching me, all staring in delight as I sprinted and stood on the table. I must have nearly tripped twice in trying to get there. My hand clasped at the coin as I wrenched it from my pocket and placed it back in the stone croc’s mouth.

But it wasn’t stone. It didn’t feel like stone. It felt warm and wet. I felt a tongue that curled and gently lifted the coin from my fingertips. I heard that voice chill my veins again, not in my head but in my ear. Right next to me.

“Good boy.”

My flare went out. I stumbled and crawled away, trying to orient myself in the dark. That was when I heard the laughter. The deep, guttural, sickly laughter of a hellish crowd, erupting from the sea below, seeping up through the walls and burrowing into my brain.

I didn’t think as I grabbed another flare, stood up, and ran to the exit, trying not to shit myself. I tried not to pay attention to the shadows on the walls. Every time I looked at them, they smiled a toothy cheshire grin.

“Wake up!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. I didn’t hear the howling wind anymore, didn’t taste the sand. Reaching the entrance, I saw the storm was gone and the skies were clear. The normal sky. I screamed again as Trevor’s body shot up, pointing a pistol around.

“What is it kid? What’s going on?” he said through half-closed eyes.

“Look, I know you’re gonna think I’m crazy but-”

“WHERE IS IT?” Anderson’s cries cut me off. “Where is the c-coin?” He was searching everywhere, pulling packs open and tearing at his pockets.

Trevor looked at me with a raised eyebrow. “Kid… what did you do?”

“I just saved our asses, now can we please leave?”

“N-not w-without the c-coin! Y-you ingrate!” Anderson was in my face now, his cheeks flushed with rage as he poked my chest.

“I have s-spent half my life chasing a f-find like this! N-no m-mercenary is g-going to f-fuck-” He couldn’t finish. My fist connected with his jaw and hit his snooze button.

“Markus, what the hell is going on?” I heard Paige from behind me.

“Yeah rookie, what the fuck?” Eric said with a yawn.

I grabbed my hair and pulled, letting out a yell of frustration. Halfway through I felt Trevor grab my wrist. Not hard, but enough to tell me to look at him. His eyes met mine and he understood. With a nod, he turned.

“Pack up team. Let’s get the hell out of here. Storm’s over, should be smooth riding back home.”

All protests stopped at once. Everyone looked at me, then at each other. They quickly began to pack up. Within minutes we were speeding away from the cave, on our way back to civilization.

* * *

“So that’s it?” James Silva, the head of Syndicate HR, sat in front of me, scribbling his notes down on a piece of yellow office paper. He was a tall middle-aged guy. His once-black hair, now streaked with some silver, was slicked back with a shitload of pomade and I’m sure every other product under the sun. The bright blue suit and shiny gold Rolex completed his “used-car salesman” getup.

“Yes sir, that’s it. We made it to transport, exfilled to London, then landed here three days ago.”

We’d been given a couple of days to rest up after getting back. I’d gotten a call a few hours ago that I needed to come in for a performance evaluation. Before I knew it, a black SUV with tinted windows pulled up in front of my apartment building, and I was strongly encouraged to go for a ride.

“Thank you Mr. Kent.”

“Sir, can I ask why I’m here?”

“Of course you can, Mr. Kent.” Silva flashed a toothy grin and sat his paper on the table, leaning forward to give me his full attention.

“50 percent of a job well done is 100 percent failure in management’s opinion. We don’t have time for half-assed contracts in our line of work. Now, seeing as you are new to the company, certain… faults are understandable. So don’t worry, you still have employment with us.” He paused briefly, like he wanted to make sure I understood fully what he was saying.

“Fifty percent?” I scoffed. “We got Anderson out safe!”

“Yes you did, Mr. Kent. But you also just admitted to returning the coin. The other half of the job.”

“But I-”

He waved his hand with a smile. Nice corporate way of saying “shut the fuck up.”

“While management IS frustrated, we understand that certain mishaps will happen during a training period. That coupled with your performance review from your supervisor who saw you in a more… shall we say, favorable light.”

“My supervisor?”

“That would be me, kid.” Trevor’s voice came behind me as the door opened, bringing some natural light into this dingy fluorescent shithole. “You done with him, Silva? Got a briefing in five.”

“Hmmm.” Silva looked over all his notes again. “Everything here is in order. I’ll update contract number 26043 accordingly.” He turned to me. “You’re free to go, Mr. Kent.”

We left in a hurry, power walking through the corridors and cubicles. I looked over to see Trevor light a cigarette as we passed the last row of office drones to the door at the back of the complex. “Thanks man.”

“For what, kid?” He blew a plume of smoke out and turned to look at me.

“Well. For saving my ass with that report.”

He gave out a laugh and shook his head. “Kid, you saved all our asses back in Egypt. Those dreams. What I saw, what we all saw. I wouldn’t have woken up. Least I can do.”

“You trusted my judgment.” I couldn’t help but crack a smile.

“Didn’t Paige tell you? Golden rule kid: always trust your team. These guys…” He pointed to the complex. “They find people like us. People that don’t have anyone. Loners, drifters, runaways, you get the picture. They put a gun in our hands and use us to turn a profit. What family do we have out in the world, if not the ones beside us when the shit hits the fan? I know you trust me. I know everyone in the team does. I also need to trust you all as well.”

I nodded as my smile widened.

“Now,” he said, before taking a long pull and puffing the cigarette down to the filter, “get your game face on, kid. Time to go to work.”

Credit: Pine Moon Poet

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