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 Chapter 1

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Jayde
Warlord
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Posts : 107
Join date : 2010-05-30
Age : 42
Location : Wintermist

PostSubject: Chapter 1   Mon Jun 28, 2010 2:31 pm

A 1997, Light Tundra colored, Ford Crown Victoria raced down a seemingly forgotten two lane highway on a chilly night. To anyone watching, it may have given the impression that the driver was panicked and desperately trying to reach his destination, the car straining at the limits of its ability. However, Captain James Carpenter was not panicked nor out of control. He wasn't even late. The car he was driving was neither at its limits nor, for that matter, even near them and most importantly, there was no one around to see them.

At 6'2" Carpenters tall frame was relaxed in his seat, his right hand holding the steering wheel in the 12 o-clock position, while his left arm leaned casually on the door rest. His face was in repose and had an almost sleepy look, although his steel grey eyes were alert and focused on the road ahead. He was not a traditionally handsome man, his features a little too harsh, too square, his dark hair cut military short in a flat top, but women seemed to like the look, for he had never had a problem picking one up.

Carpenter had not been obeying the speed limit since entering government property. From his past visits to this post he knew that there would be no MP's to pull him over, since military activity was played down for the benefit of the local residents. Not that there were any within a 150 mile radius of the actual facility, however, any who might feel curious and enter the government owned land would come to the conclusion that the camp was abandoned, or at least, barely maintained. Carpenter was driving at a speed that he was comfortable with. He enjoyed driving the family styled Crown Vics, as they were so very deceptive in appearance.

It was a car so ugly that only the cheapest old man, getting a great deal at a used car dealership or, the United States Government, would buy it. Despite its lack of good looks, under the hood was a powerful engine. The vehicle had conventional rear-wheel drive and supercharged V8 power, which was currently running smoothly and efficiently. It was kept this way with police driving techniques in mind, which Carpenter was very familiar with. It was also one of the few remaining passenger cars with body-on-frame construction, which made it rugged, and enabled repairs after minor accidents without the need to straighten the chassis. This "Light Tundra" colored auto, which Carpenter always associated with the color of Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, wasn't distressed at all with its heavy footed pilot.

The same could not be said for the passenger of the vehicle. Lieutenant Louis Davis sat with his right hand on the handle above his head and his left on the seatbelt, his slight 5'10" frame held rigidly, his dark brown eyes fixed ahead. He was very uncomfortable with the speed at which he and his recently acquainted, superior officer, were driving.

Tonight, in military terms, the two men had left from nowhere, were driving through the middle of somewhere and were on their way to no place. Simplified this vehicle and the men in it were on a classified mission. Despite the ominous sound and appearance of the late night, mobile relocation, the occupants were not off to kill a foreign minister or hide a UFO. The two men in the car were chaplains, assigned to bring spiritual enlightenment to a platoon of Rangers training in a small, remote training base in Montana. The Military did an excellent job of ensuring that its finest killers always had the opportunity to reach out to God and speak with men of the cloth in case some last minute message needed to be passed on to the Almighty.

They were scheduled to arrive just prior to the troop's last major, live fire, test. This was done in an effort to let the men refill their spiritual cups of faith, as well as to give them a small dose of fear. When preparing to shoot real bullets on a training exercise, trainers frequently tell horror stories in which young troopers are shoot because they failed to pay attention or do what they had been told. The trainers will then tell the troops that this is why the Chaplains had arrived, just in case someone wanted one last confession or prayer.

However, the passenger in the car had different things on his minds than hearing the last scared confessions of Rangers in training. Despite the hours of traveling, Louis was still mentally struggling over his recent departure from his mother. This, combined with the speed in which they were traveling, made him sick to his stomach, causing him some discomfort despite the continuous downing of indigestion tablets. But then a lot of things caused Louis discomfort. At the top of his list was anything remotely involved with his health or, God forbid, his death. He had, in fact, a rather bizarre fixation with dying. His earliest memories where of himself kneeling with his mother as she prayed for his soul, exhorting him to beware of the devil and his minions who resided in hell, a place he would go after he died if he was not good. When he had asked where hell was, she told him below their feet and he had for many years believed that the entrance to it was through their basement. The thought of dying and going to such as place had traumatized his childhood. As he grew older he realized that her religious outlook made his life hell on earth and was causing his fears. However, knowing what caused his phobia and overcoming it were two different things. Consequently, he had devoted his time at being overly cautious and taking things slowly and carefully and never doing anything that could be construed as being 'bad'. Joining the Army and going through Basic Training was the most dangerous thing he had done in his entire life. He would never have attempted it but for his desperation to get away from his mother and her religious furor.

He had just graduated from Fort Jackson, South Carolina where he had been made a Lieutenant in the Army Chaplain Corp. He had requested to be immediately assigned to his unit, but his request had been denied. So, against his better judgment, he had returned to his home of record, the small town of Two Guns in Arizona, for two weeks mandatory leave. He had been told it was for, "the betterment of the Army" and that he would be picked up from that location and taken to his next assignment. As he had expected, from the moment of his arrival home, until the day Carpenter had picked him, he had been embattled with his mother.

The conclusion of the miserable two weeks leave had been a turbulent and embarrassing screaming display provided by his mother, who reviled him for joining the army, even as a chaplain, calling him devil's spawn and exhorting him to come back into the fold. He had loaded his duffle bag into the Crown Victoria's trunk then quickly got into the passenger seat, sitting stiffly, eyes front.

He knew that their trip would take almost 16 hours and dreaded spending so much time with a stranger. He was not good with small talk and was awkward around people, no matter how hard he tried to fit in. The thought that his superior might start asking questions about his relationship with his mother, or about his life in general had, prior to Carpenter's arrival, sent him shuddering to the toilet. However, since the time Carpenter had picked him up the day before, there had been little conversation between them. With the exception of small exchanges about stopping for gas and food, they had been driving almost non stop and in perfect, glorious, stress free silence.

So he surprised himself by breaking the silence. He had been so distracted and embarrassed his mother's hysterical farewell, it had literally taken him hours to notice the assortment of medals that adorned the Captain's uniform. Despite his best efforts not to stare Louis found himself continuously glancing over to get a better view of them. Although fresh out of basic training, he was pretty sure that he knew what all the awards were. He just had problems believing them. Jump Wings with a gold star, signifying parachuting into combat, Combat Infantryman's Badge which denoted the wearer had been in a small arms fire fight, a Purple Heart marking a wound during combat, a Bronze Star with a V, the V representing "Valor in combat", a Ranger tab and combat patch, combat stripes, Air Assault, Path Finder. The more he looked the more the uniform told of accomplishments under fire, topped off with a Silver Star, one of the highest awards a combat soldier could get, short of a Congressional Medal of Honor. Despite the array of awards Louis' eyes kept straying to the man's collar insignia. It was so difficult to believe that the uniform of such a decorated warrior was also carry the religious cross, the symbol that showed he was a Chaplain. These awards simply didn't fit with a man of God image that Louis was accustomed to.

Carpenter turned suddenly and caught him staring. Louis, feeling sheepish, dropped his gaze, reddening slightly, an annoying habit he would love to get rid of, not just because it clashed with his red hair, but gave away what he considered his naiveté.

"It took you a while." Carpenter said softly.

"Hunh?" Louis replied trying to understand the frame of reference.

"I know how it can be dealing with a tough home life. I didn't want to disturb you while you figured things out. I was wondering if we were going to speak at all on this trip. Although I did expect some curiosity about our assignment," Carpenter said calmly. One of his abilities was to read a person, and he could hardly miss, from this young man's stance, that the boy had been very uncomfortable over his mother's outburst in front of a stranger. He tried a couple of times, early on in the journey, to draw the boy out, however, he quickly realized that Louis needed some space to work out his problem.

"Is that a Silver Star?" Louis blurted out, his mind still fixated on the medals. He again blushed a furious red as he realized how demanding he sounded, ducking his head to hide his embarrassment.

There was a moment's hesitation before Carpenter replied. "Now that was a question I wasn't expecting. I was thinking you were going to asked where are we? Or where are we going? Or what is our mission?" Carpenter laughed a bit to himself, at least the kid was talking, he shouldn't knock it. "Yeah, it's a Silver Star".

"But you're a chaplain." Louis stated the obvious, his tone incredulous.

"Yes, yes I am. You're really good at this observation business lieutenant. Was it the big cross on my uniform that gave it away or the bible on the dash. Perhaps we can get you on a game show or something with talents like that. Is there anything else blatantly obvious you would like to point out?" Carpenter returned, his words sarcastic, but his tone amused.

Louis thought that his face could not get any redder as he apologized. "I'm sorry sir. I just assumed that Chaplains didn't do those things."

"I wasn't always a Chaplain, Lieutenant." Carpenter answered calmly. He glanced over and noted that Louis appeared to be aware of his surroundings for the first time since getting into the vehicle. He wanted to put the boy at his ease, since they would be working together for the coming year and an open passageway of communication would be necessary between them. He was prepared to give a brief history of his tour of duty in the hopes of forming a bond and achieving this goal. He was about to start speaking when his attention was caught by a bright flash in the sky. He ducked his head forward, looking through the windshield for a better look.

"Hey, look at that," he exclaimed, removing his arm from the rest to point up where a huge shooting star with a blazing tail was descending across the sky towards the horizon.

"Wow, a shooting star. I have never seen one that big before," Louis exclaimed, leaning forward himself.

"No, nor burn that long….good lord…that thing is going to hit." Carpenter continued, as the bright light continued its descent, moving almost lazily across the sky until it dropped below the tree line and out of site.

"That was incredible. I have never seen anything like that in my life." Louis exclaimed, almost childlike in his enthusiasm.

"Yeah, that was a long burn, they usually disappear when they hit the atmosphere," Carpenter commented, settling back into his seat. The night sky held both men's attention for some time and it was several minutes before Carpenter started to speak again..

"Just so you know we're heading to a small Ranger Training Facility. It's mostly for Rangers to do live fire drills in a forest type environment. It's actually a lot of fun. We go up and offer religious services, talk about death and dying and all that …it scares the heck out of the newbies." Carpenter chuckle.

Louise turned towards him, unsure if Carpenter had been joking or not. There had been no joking in his upbringing and he was not sure how to take this latest remark.

"So, uh….you said you were not always a Chaplain," he said, returning to his original train of thought.

"Yes, that's correct." Carpenter responded easily. "You can ask me questions Lieutenant. After all, we should get to know each other. You are assigned to me for the next year. And I can assure you that I am not going to go crazy and kill you. The docs said the chances of that happening again are really slim." The humor in Carpenter's voice was lost on Louis whose eyes grew larger as he looks askew at the man.

"It's a joke son, relax". Carpenter took a cigarette out of a pack that in his shirt pocket and lit it with the Zippo lighter, showing his years of smoking experience by slipping it open and lighting the smoke with one hand. He inwardly grimaced, boy, he thought, this kid had no idea how to take a joke. No doubt over the coming year he would learn!

"Eh, I guess, sorry sir." Louis replied, feeling foolish. He searched feverishly around his brain for something to say to get over his awkwardness. Carpenter, seeing the look of frustration on his face, took pity on him.

"I was a grunt for 12 years before I changed my MOS (Military Occupation Specialty)." Carpenter said, having correctly guessed at least one of his young passenger's questions from the looks the boy had been giving his combat medals. "I can tell you when I was a kid, becoming a chaplain was the last thing I thought I would ever do." He stopped to take a drag then tapped the ash into the ashtray.

"How many people have you killed." Louis asked, his eyes now fix on his companion.

"Well once I hit a 1000, they made me become a Chaplain. The Army told me I had sent so many men to God that I was an expert in the field." Carpenter paused waiting to see if his joke would get the kid to smile. It did not. "O for 2 on the jokes. Ok. I should explain to you, young lieutenant, that real grunts don't like that question. It's not polite". He smiled to take the sting out of his words. Although he had no real inhibitions about talking of his own experiences, he knew that others were not so easy with it.

Louis didn't know where to look. He did not take chastisement well, even when given in such a light manner. He squirmed on his seat. "I'm sorry, sir, I am just trying to understand…" his words trailed off as he was not sure how to finish. There was a moment's awkward silence which he hurried to fill. "How did you get to where you are?"

Carpenter smile widened. He was an extravert and enjoyed talking. He had no hang-ups when it came to telling people about himself, or his problems, since talking about his problems was how he dealt with them.

"Well, now, where do I begin," he said, "Let's see, I grew up in the heart of LA. Gangs, crime, slums, I saw it all. I was one of 5 white kids in my school. I stood out like a sore thumb. And when you stand out, you get picked on. So, I learned to fight. I fought so many people that they eventually started to leave me alone, which was just what I wanted."

"Didn't you get kicked out of school for fighting?" Louis interjected.

"Not then," Carpenter paused, "but I sure as hell spent a lot of time in detention." He pausing thoughtfully, then continued in a quiet tone. "When you do that much fighting, it tends to numb you to other things. My parents didn't have much control and I ended up doing all the things you pray your own kids won't do, drugs, petty theft." He stopped, a reflective look on his face, then glanced at his companion. The boy sat quietly, watching him, his eyes now curiously blank. My god, Carpenter thought, was I ever that young. At least the lost, sad and discouraged look which the boy had worn since being picked up had been replaced by what looked like genuine interest.

"Did you ever get caught?" Louis asked.

"By the cops? No" Carpentered answered, "but I was plenty messed up. My beliefs of what were right and wrong became twisted. My parents tried pretty much everything, but nothing worked. My whole world came crashing down my senior year. I got onto the football team and I was good. Not just good, I was damn good. My coach was this great old guy who was trying to put me on the straight and narrow. He talked to me, and listened, really listened, you know. I stopped skipping class, stopped the fighting. I stopped staying out late at night, because I wanted to play well the next day." He huffed though his nose and laughed softly at himself, shaking his head at how young and idealistic he had been.

Louis, leaned slightly forward, better to watch Carpenter's face, obviously impatient at the delay. "What happened then?

"The team lost to a cross town rival. Badly. Players began to point fingers and blame each other. In the locker room arguments broke out and." He paused then said softly "much worse." He took another deep drag of his cigarette and flicked the now rather large ash onto the floor of the car.

"I was in the shower trying to forget about how poorly I thought I had played. In retrospect I realized I had played to the best of my ability, but we had been beaten by a better team. I don't know how it got started, but I was suddenly singled out by several, seriously pissed off, team members. Shouting turned into pushing, pushing turned into punching. I was taking a pretty bad beating, but my stubborn ass just wouldn't go down. I just kept swinging and swinging."

He rubbed a hand over his face and let out a sigh. "Suddenly no one was around me. They had all stopped hitting me and had backed up and were all staring at the floor."

Carpenter took another deep drag of his cigarette, exhaling the smoke slowly, allowing the silence to mark the moment.

"What was on the floor? Louis said, intense curiosity in his voice.

Carpenter didn't reply immediately, he took another pull at his smoke before continuing. "On the floor of the shower was the coach. One of the punches I had thrown had hit this guy just right and laid him flat. I hadn't even noticed." Carpenter shook his head at the memory, his class ring, of which he had been so proud, had cut the man's head and blood had poured down his face. "Damn, he was the only man who had ever tried to do anything for me." He shook his head again, disgusted at himself.

"Did you get kicked out?

"Yeah. The coach hit his head on the shower floor and cracked his skull. He was rushed to hospital. I tried to apologize, but he wouldn't accept my explanation. He later told the principal I was too violent to stay. I was so angry I wanted to kill something, I ended up busting two of my fingers punching out a wall. Sitting in the ER gave me plenty of time to think. I figured the best thing for me was to get away and, since I had no money or job skills, the military seemed the perfect answer. So I joined up. I Spent five years in the straight leg infantry, which is were I learned that the Army does not want kind and gentle people on its front line. I was the perfect grunt; young and angry. I got through a lot of firefights by releasing the anger within."

His voice had held regret when he spoke about his coach, now it was lighter, tinged with sardonic amusement.

"So were you in Desert Storm? How much combat have you see?" Louis said, wondering what it was that had turned Carpenter towards God.

"Yeah, I was in Storm. I've seen too much combat kid, but it didn't stop me from re-uping and going to the next level. I spent the next five years in a Ranger bat. It was the same thing, day in and day out. Party every night I wasn't deployed. Then a few weeks here and there on some real life disaster the government needed us to look into. I was starting to think there was nothing else to life. However, as they say, when the pupil is ready, the teacher appears". The Captain paused, took a final drag of his cigarette and put the butt out in the ashtray.

"You were ready and God appeared?"

"Well, in my case, I don't know how ready I was, but someone sure appeared," said Carpenter, stretching his shoulders back to ease the ache in his neck.

"Someone, who, an angel, God?" Louis demanded, wanting a definitive answer.

"Father Hector Ortega"

"Who?" The puzzled lieutenant questioned, disappointment in his voice.

"I was down in South America" Carpenter continued, "and we were changing our defensive posture." A low chuckle passed his lips as he past a fast glance at the puzzled lieutenant. "That means I was running like hell from some serious bad people. It was a mission gone really, really, bad, one of those missions that Oliver Stone makes movies about. In a wicked fire fight, I had been separated from the main body of my team. I ended up in this small village, but I was pretty much surrounded. They didn't know exactly were I was and I wanted to keep it that way. I was rounding a corner when one of them stepped through a doorway without any warning and we collided, our weapons went flying. We both pulled knives and were all over the place. I ended up going backward through a church window with the enemy on top of me." He paused again, a bleak expression on his face.

"You killed him in a church," Louis breathed aghast.

"And I pray every day God will forgive me for it," Carpenter collaborated. "I wish I could tell you that it was somehow humane or that it was fast, but in truth it was bloody and nightmarish. We were pretty fairly matched and cut each other up good." He paused, brought his hand up to his lips, then realized he had put his cigarette out. "I was exhausted and could barely move. I knew I should start running again as it was only a matter of time before his comrades found me, but I was spent. All I could manage was to crawl to a corner behind a column, bring my knees to my chest and my hands to my face." He stopped again, his eyes briefly closing, as he remembered the absolute horror at feeling so physically weak, unable even to summon the strength to save himself. Had the enemy appeared at that given moment of time, he would have offered his chest for the killing blow.

"What happened then, Louis prompted.

Carpenter gave another huff of sarcastic amusement. "I just sat there. I was cut up and bleeding from a dozen places. It was really bizarre. I heard the enemy pass the church several times, calling to each other, checking out each and every hut in the village. There is no way I should have gotten out alive. After a time I began to get some strength back and my survival training kicked in and I was beginning to panic. I had been there way too long. They were should have had me surrounded by then. When I finally heard a door to the church open I moved behind the alter, leaving a trail of blood.. I figured this was the end. They would come in with their guns blazing and I would die. My heart was pounding so loud that I thought I might die from a heart attack before they had a chance to killed me."

"But you killed them instead," said Louis.

"Who's telling this story, kid. You want to take over," Carpenter retorted, amused that the kid was so hung up on his story. Louis sat back chastened, whispering a brief "sorry".

"Yeah, well….. anyway. I peaked around the edge of the alter and saw it wasn't the enemy it was a priest. My military mind was not prepared for someone I didn't need to kill or who wasn't going to kill me. So I did what any good grunt would do when he is confronted with something totally unexpected" he paused for effect, "Nothing".

Carpenter turned to Louis with a smile, looking into the boy's eyes for a moment before continuing, "So this priest walks in and I notice that he is actually blind, using a stick to get around. He walks toward the front of the church. Now picture this, here was this blind priest walking into his church thinking everything is just fine and dandy, but actually here was this bloody American hiding behind his alter, a shattered stain glass window and a dead body. It was surreal. It was so unrealistic to me that I had to restrain myself from laughing. So there I sat, listening to him walk forward and he just walks right up to me as if he knew I was there. He stopped in front of me and for some reason the only thing that came to my lips was, 'My bad'".

Carpenter paused again, momentarily reliving that moment. "Now, I am telling you, I should have died that day. There were hostiles all over that town and not a single one of them came into that church. Several times I heard them pass by the doors, but they never came inside. I sat there in front of that priest for what seemed like forever and finally he speaks to me."

'The lion kills not because he hates, but it is what god intended him to do. Some people are put on this earth for a reason that only god knows. You are a warrior as god has intended you to be and he will forgive you. Make your peace with him here and he will continue to guide your course '

"With that, he just up and leaves. I assumed he was going to get someone and the end would come pretty quickly". He slowly shook his head in disbelief. "I sat in that church for hours not really thinking about what the priest had said, just waiting for soldiers to come charging in to kill me. I mean, it was unreal, where were they? My 80 year old grandmother could have tracked the trail me and the dead guy made. After hours, I began feeling real peaceful, the blood loss had been pretty bad. I assumed I would just bleed out from the knife wounds. I then began thinking about what this priest had said. So, there in that church, I made a deal with God. I asked God to show me. To show me something, because I had never seen anything from him. If I was truly his instrument, he needed to show me, just once. If he could show me that he was listening even in the slightest I would change my life and begin to help doing his work. Now, I know this will sound bizarre, but the second, I mean the very second I made this deal with God, I felt calm. For some reason, I just knew, things were going to be ok. The next thing I know is that I am waking up in an Army Medical Black Hawk with some medic telling me I am gonna be ok. Now maybe for some people it is a coincidence that I was picked up at the exact time I needed to be. For me, however, I am a soldier and my word is golden. I made a deal with God and as far as I am concerned he kept his part of it so now I am keeping mine."

Carpenter glanced at the young man by his side. He could see that Louis was still digesting what he had told him. He sighed, the boy obviously didn't know what to say. No, he had never been this young and socially inept. "Alright LT, now it's your turn. What about you? What got you into the Chaplain Corp?"

Louis swallowed painfully, his prominent Adam's apple bobbing in his throat. He really, really didn't want to go here, but after what the Captain had told him, how could he not. He stumbled a bit as he started, "I, well, um, I didn't do anything like grow up in LA. In fact, far from it. I grew up in the same small town you picked me up in. Two Guns, Arizona." Louis began to speak a little easier, "For me the choice was almost picked for me. My mother is…religious," his voice hitched over the word, before he continued, "what most people would call a bible thumping nut. She takes everything to the extreme. I went to church 7 days a week and the only social life I had was with God." He dropped his head, his embarrassment obvious. His voice was barely audible as he continued. "You saw what she was like." He swallowed audibly before going on. " My senior year in high school an army recruiter came in and it seemed to be the most obvious way to get as far away from Two Guns as quickly as possible and being a chaplain seemed the obvious job. I mean, the way my mom used to jam the bible down my throat I probably know it better than anyone on the planet and I figured I would never have to see combat as a Chaplain." He flushed, realizing that he may have insulted Carpenter.

Carpenter smiled wryly, then broaden his smile encouragingly, briefly flicking his eyes to his passenger before looking back at the road. He knew that they were coming up on the base's guard post and, in fact, he picked out the light about ½ a mile ahead. However, as he stared at it a puzzled frown formed on his face, then he felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention. He realized that Louis was talking, however, his entire attention was on the road ahead. He held up a hand indicating to the young man to stop taling.

"What in the world…" He exclaimed, leaning forward, his eyes squinting, trying to see better. The base used a minimal amount of night lighting, but certainly more than the one light he could see and, as they approached, he could see if was the one just inside the compound by the guard shack.

"That light is not usually on. It's an emergency light….and it's pointing the wrong way. Something is not right." Carpenter said, his voice sharp and decisive, an entirely new tone that Louis had not heard before.

Louis strained to look past the headlights to see what Carpenter was talking about. All he could see was what appeared to be a small light way ahead, close to the ground. Louis' forehead pulled into a frown. "…..maybe they had a power failure and turned on the emergency lights, then moved it. Sir." He offered in explanation.

"No, it's pointing into the sky, not onto the street. That's a fixed light, mounted on a pole and it can't be moved.…and there are no lights on in the compound." Carpenter continued. He turned off the headlights and took his foot of the gas pedal, allowing the car's momentum to slow.

"Maybe they turn them off at night?" it was the only thing Louis could thing to say.

"No, Lieutenant, they don't turn them off at night," Carpenter snapped, this time the sarcasm in his voice hard and cold. "Can you see anything up there?" He asked, thinking Louis' younger eyes might see something he had missed.

"Well...." Louis desperately strained to see anything "....no"

"Yeah, me either. It's a small base and due to the type of training they do here there is usually very few lights on anyway; but I don't see anything at all." Carpenter was running scenarios through his head, "If the power went out the emergency generator would have kicked on. In fact I remember that happened once I was here, the compound flood lights kick on automatically when the power goes out and it doesn't light things up very will, but you would definitely be able to see them. So that's not it." Carpenter could not come to terms with why he was only seeing the main gate emergency light and nothing else.

"Maybe a fuse blew?" Louis offered, a shiver running down his back. This situation was beginning to freak him out.

"Yeah, maybe." Carpenter said while continuing to scan forward. "But why didn't someone trip the fuse again. I know the emergency generator reset is in the guard shack. The gate guards would have done that immediately.

As they got closer it was obvious that not only was the powerful spot light aimed in the wrong direction, focused up into the branches of the trees and leaving the ground under it barely lit by ambient light, but the metal pole which held it was twisted and bent almost in half. Carpenter could now see that the camp gates were wide open. He also noticed, that the lights pole standard had not only been twisted, but was broken, being held upright only by the tightened electrical wires inside. He turned the engine of the car off, allowing it to coast forward under its own momentum, the only sound the slight shush of the tires on the asphalt.

"Why do you have your lights off? Shouldn't we have them on?" Louis blurted out uneasy with the darkness and silence that seemed to press in on them.

"No", Carpenter said coldly. "If it's dark, keep it dark."

"What...? Why? I don't understand why you would do that?" Louis said, a light edge of panic in his voice.

The captain continued to allow the car to roll slowly up to the darkened guard house, attempting to peer inside as they passed. It looked deserted.

"Where are the gate guards, sir?"

"Quiet" Carpenter demanded. He rolled down his window and brought the car to a complete stop directly under the light. He sat motionless for sometimes, with only his head moving to scan in all directions. After a few moments Carpenter began taking his class "A" jacket off.

"What are you doing. Are you hot?" Louis queried, his voice sounding loud in the stillness.

"Keep your voice down, sound carries out here at night." Carpenter said softly, ignoring Louis' query. He had pulled out his cell phone, then closed it with a disgusted sigh. No signal this far out from civilization. He unfastened his seatbelt and, with a deft twist of his body, climbed out onto the roof. Louis tried to look out his own window to see what was going on but found himself looking directly into the light that was over them. Although it was turned the wrong way it was still blinding. He tried to shade his eyes and attempt to see what Carpenter was doing. However before his eyes could adjust the light appeared to blink out. Now, night blind, Louis sat with his head out the window looking for Carpenter. The car shook to one side as Carpenter slid back inside. Louis pulled in his head and found Carpenter seated once again behind the wheel of the car, one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the gear lever.

"What is going on, Sir?" Louis said with a quiver in his voice. He found he had difficulty talking, since he was breathing so fast he was on the verge of hyperventilating. He made an effort to slow his breathing down and was partially successful.

"We are waiting to see if we are noticed." Carpenter said in a whisper.

"Noticed!?" Louis gasped, not in a whisper.

Carpenter looked at the young lieutenant and could see the fear embedded in his face. He grinned reassuringly before explaining softly. "I just put my jacket over that light. If someone is here or if someone is watching they will have noticed it."

"How do we know this isn't some kind of drill or something? Louis said shakily, nervously scanning the immediate area.

"The main guard shack is 10 feet in front of us. The Gate Guards should have addressed us by now. They have not. That's bad. What's worse is the cordite."

Louis tried to see the guard shack, but his eyes had still not adjusted from the light. "Whats cordite?" he managed to ask.

"Inhale deeply, through your nose". Carpenter began to slowly crawl out of the car window again. He eased his feet onto the ground and took a crouched stance next to the car.

Louis cautiously took a deep breath through his nose and caught a whiff of something that reminded him of when a match is lit

"What's is that?" he said, making an effort to maintain a low tone.

Carpenter began lean forward and Louis could see he was about to move.

"Wait. Where are you going?" Louis asked, his tone still low but with more desperation in it. He did not want to be left alone.

Carpenter looked briefly into the car and said, "Wait here. You'll be safe, okay?"

"But what is that smell and where is it coming from!" Louis demanded, unable to control his voice which took on the cadences of a pubescent teenage boy.

"Keep your voice down." Carpenter growled back. "It's from what's on the ground." He then moved toward the guard shack that was just now coming into view for Louis. For a moment Louis watched, captured by the grace and focus of the larger man as he moved low and fast toward his destination.

He then opened the car door to see what Carpenter had been talking about. The light inside the car came on and in one quick second Louis realized why Carpenter had crawled out the window. Blinded again, and panicked by the light. Louis tried to move quickly from the car, however, his body didn't seem to answer his commands and he fell awkwardly sideways onto the ground. He turned over onto his back and quickly reached up a hand to close the door in an effort to get the light off. He grabbed the bottom edge of the door closing it over his head and managed to catch his skull a resounding smack. The pain was intense and childhood fears immediately kicked in, momentarily crowding out his previous fear of being left alone. Had he crack his skull? Was there brain damage? Was he cut and going to bleed out?

"Try to stay behind cover Lieutenant." Carpenter voice came in a low, stern tone. "Cover? You mean something solid? Quavered Louis then a second later, "Why?'

Carpenter's sigh could be heard even at the distance he was from Louis. "Look at your feet Lieutenant."

Louis was puzzled and sat up, rubbing his head. He glanced down, unsure at what he was suppose to be looking for. His eyes were still seeing bright spots from the emergency light and crack on the head, so it took a moment for them to re-adjust to the dark. Something did catch his attention and he picked it up and looked at it closely, not exactly sure if this was what the Captain had wanted him to see. He looked intently at it until it came into focus and he could see it was a shell casing. He surveyed the area around him and could now see that there were shell casings in all directions. He could also feel them under his buttocks. He felt a ripple of fear run through his body like a bolt of lightning, as a horrid realization ripped through his mind. Not able to contain himself and now looking in all directions he blurted loudly, "Oh my God, they've been attacked!"

Carpenter, who was at the door of the shack stiffened. "Shut up" he hissed.

The lieutenant apprehensively moved to the front wheel of the car where he could see Carpenter. Watching the Captain, he was aware of the change in the man's manner. The easy going companion in the car was gone. Before him stood a man who deserved those combat medals he wore so casually. He was not hunched over or hiding behind the tire of a car like a frightened child. He just stood there surveying the area, his entire body radiating awareness, taking in all the information that his surroundings would give up. When he moved, he made no sound.

Carpenter could see the door to the guard shack was open, hanging by a hinge. Another slow step and he could see something large in the doorway. Before he was close enough to identify the shadow he knew what it was. A body. He scanned swiftly around again. The night air was calm, too calm; he could only hear the lieutenant's uneven breathing, but none of the sounds that the night normally held. He made his way to the downed soldier who was lying, arms outstretched, on his stomach. Kneeling, he reached out for the neck, touching the still warm flesh, but unable to find a pulse.

The Captain edged his head around the doorjamb and looked inside. He could not see anything in the darkness. He listened carefully before pulling his Zippo from his pocket and lighting it, extending his arm so the flame would not show through the windows and the spill of light would be caught inside the solid concrete walls and his own body.

Bathed in the weak backlight of the lighter, Louis saw the body in the doorway for the first time. "Holy Shit! Is that guy dead?" He stammered his voice full of horror. He had never seen a dead man before and his fear escalated.

A brief nod of the head was the only response he got from Carpenter, whose shoulders had slumped slightly as he saw a second body on the floor inside, spread eagled on its back. He quietly moved forward and checked for a pulse but again found none. Noticing a hole in the fallen man's shirt he frowned, seeing no blood stain. Puzzled he placed his still lit lighter on a chair, his right hand slowly reaching out and opening the buttons of the shirt pulling the two halves aside to stare at the exposed chest. He could see what appeared to be a bayonet type wound, about 2' in length, situated just below the man's breastbone. It was a very clean wound, devoid of blood, the edges a curious brown color and, more puzzling what looked like a thin covering of ice that was reflecting the light. He reached forward and touched it.

"What are you doing?" Louis hissed from behind Carpenter, his voice high with anxiety. He had moved up from the car behind Carpenter who, had been so intently looking at the wound, had not hear him coming.

"I'm not sure, what…" Carpenter's words trailed away. His mind was racing but he could not put into words what he did not understand. He had never seen anything like it.

Louis had been avoiding looking at the dead men, his eyes roving around the shack in spasmodic stops and starts. His glance accidentally crossed the dead man's chest and he noticed the wound for the first time. His glaze became riveted; he was unable to look away. He watched in morbid fascination at what appeared to be small wisps of smoke that rose from the hole.

"Is that…is that a bullet wound?" He asked hesitantly.

There was an unnaturally long silence as the captain raised his hand closer to his eyes, first peering intently at the wet residue on his fingertips then bringing it to his noise.

"No" He finally responded, "It looks like a bayonet wound, but who could have got close enough…" Carpenter's sentence ended unfinished as he shifted himself to have a better look at the wound.

"A bayonet!" Louis echoed with surprise.

The Captain reached out his hand to touch the wound again. The wound itself was ice cold, but the flesh immediately around it was still warm and pliant. If not for the chest wound, the fallen soldier could have been asleep. Carpenter realized that this could not have happened long ago. But then he already knew that, since the smell of cordite only lingers for minutes and he could still smell it. His unease spiked and he jerked back his hand.

"What, what, is it hot?" Louis demanded.

Carpenter just stared at his finger.

"S….Sir?" The lieutenant prompted, struggling unsuccessfully to keep his voice steady.

"No"

In his high state of anxiety Louis needed an explanation to help him understand what was happening. Unconsciously ignoring protocol, he demanded one.

"N…No what?" He was beginning to feel sick to his stomach and desperately craved reassurance from the Captain, whose current demeanor was giving him the chills.

"No, it is not hot. In fact, it's cold. Damn cold." Carpenter snapped softely, his voice angry at his own lack of understanding.

Louis' mind failed to grasp what this signified. "I, I don't understand," he stammered in puzzlement.

"The wound is not hot, it's freezing cold." The Captain repeated, almost not believing his own words. He knelt down closer to the body. He shifted the lighter to get a better view of the wound. But it remained just a large hole in the chest of the dead man, not giving up any of its secrets. The thin layer of ice around the wound reminded Carpenter of frozen plants after a night of heavy frost. He wondered about the brown coloring, perhaps dried blood or possibly mud, but it was an unnatural, unhealthy looking brown and seemed to be discoloring of the actual skin, not some residue from an unknown substance. "What the hell could do this?" He asked himself, unaware that he had spoken aloud.

Louis didn't respond. Even in his highly nervous state he realized that Carpenter was not expecting an answer.

Both men stayed still for several seconds contemplating the wound.

Carpenter finally stood up. Stepping over the body he lifted the Zippo higher, surveying a panel of switches that controlled the lights to the compound, still keeping his body between the light and the windows. They were all in the "on" position. Obviously the main power to the camp had been interrupted somewhere else. He turned to study the now dark emergency light that still hung crazily outside and then looked over towards the barracks and other buildings that made up the compound. Although he could not see other light standards, he searched the areas he knew they were in. None were on. He frowned. Had the light outside been on a separate system? Why would the guard shack emergency light be on and no other? His gaze swept the room and he saw a phone on a desk. Stepping over to it he lifted it to his ear, but there was no tone. Placing the receiver quietly back in it's rest, he turned and checked the back of the room where he saw what looked like a fuse box door located close to the baseboard on the back wall. He opened it, illuminating its interior with the Zippo. He read a switch that said, "Emergency Lights". He flipped it to the "On" position. Immediately several sparsely spaced flood lights flickered on in the nearby area.

"God by merciful." The Lieutenant said, in a voice almost totally overcome with emotion as the feeble light entered the shack. He turned and then stared in shocked horror out of the shack doorway at the heart rendering scene in front of him. As far as the eye could see there were bodies.

Leaving the shack Carpenter scanned the area before quickly running to the nearest body, checking for any sign of life, then the next and the next. He continued until it had become painfully clear that none were alive. They all had similar wounds to the soldier in the guard shack. He stopped, realizing that it would do no good to check more.

"What happened?" Louis whispered hoarsely who had followed closely on Carpenter's heels, not wanting to be left alone. He swallowed compulsively, forcing down his nausea, feeling his heart pounding like a hammer on an anvil in his chest.

"I don't know." The Captain answered, his face grim, still crouched down by the last body, his voice weary as he surveyed the devastation. "I have seen a hundred battlefields, but nothing like this." He stood slowly, his ears straining to hear any unnatural sound, his eyes busy scanning the compound.

Louis stared around wildly. He was feeling an urge to run away as fast as his feet could carry him. "Holy Shit, we have to get out of here," his words sounding unnaturally loud in the stillness of the dark night.

"At ease Lieutenant! And watch your mouth." The Captain snapped coldly, trying to infuse some of his own control into the panicking man. "We need to find out what has happened here."

"They're all dead! That's what has happened. They must have been attacked by terrorists or something. We need to get the hell out of here before the come for us!" Louis answered, his voice still way too high.

Carpenter turned his cold glare on the man and Louis felt as if he had been slapped.

"Look around you, troop. Those are thousands of expended rounds and these aren't boy scouts lying here. These are Rangers. The Army's elite of elite, highly trained combat arms. If this was terrorists where are the bodies of the enemy? Even if this was a complete surprise ambush, these Rangers would have killed at least some of them. Yet I don't see a single body that doesn't belong here."

Louis took several deep breaths, forcing himself to calm down. After a moment he spoke, "Maybe it was some kind of gas or chemical or something?" he offered, his voice stilted.

"No, they all have puncture wounds, not chemical. What I don't understand is this layer of ice around the wound. I have never seen anything like this before. Besides," he continued, picking up a shell and turning it over in his hand, "why all the shells? You don't shoot at gas."

"Maybe it's some kind of new ice bullet. Can you make a bullet out of ice?" Louis asked.

"I suppose you could, but why would you?" The veteran began to walk around amongst the fallen trying to read more of the clues left in the aftermath of the battlefield. After a few moments he spoke again, "Damn, I don't know what it was they were fighting, but it must have been fast. Look at the bodies, they are laying in all different directions. These guys didn't even know which way to shoot. What the hell could cause Rangers to panic so badly?"

Louis kicked at a shell casing in front of him "They sure did fire a lot of rounds."

The Captain whipped his head up and looked at his companion, his gaze sharp.

"What did I say sir?" The nervous youth questioned.

Carpenter began looking around on the ground.

"What? What is it, sir?"

"These are all American." He answered softly.

Louis frowned. "American,' he echoed, "What do you mean, sir?"

The Captain checked the handful of shells he had been picking up as he walked around sliding the casings between his fingers of his right hand which he then balled into a fist. He pointed to the largest shell casing. "This is a round for an M60." Pointing to the middle sized shell, "and this is 5.56 which are used for M16's." Finally pointing to a short fat shell, "and this is .45 caliber. All these rounds are made for weapons that Americans use. I haven't seen a single shell casing that would indicate a foreign weapon was used.

After a moment's thought, Louis' eyes widened as a thought entered his mind. "You mean they were attacked by Americans?" His tone was horrified.

Carpenter paused, thinking this through, "No, those wounds didn't come from bullets. I think that all these rounds came from the Rangers. Whoever the enemy was, they weren't shooting." A cold shiver passed through him. He tried to think how it would be possible to attack a group of Rangers with some type of bladed weapon. He could not think of a single way. He recalled a passage from a book he had once read, "A wise man, after eliminating the possible, accepts the improbable." Invisibility? His mind balk at the idea.

"We need to notify someone of what has happed here. We'll need to find some form of communication device that is still working…since I can see that someone has cut the commo lines."

"Why would someone do that? Louis asked, puzzled, and then answering his own questions. "To stop them from calling out for help."

The veteran slowly shook his head. "No, it was done after, not before. Look they cut the lines inside the compound, not outside. That means the Rangers were dead and then the commo lines were cut." He pointed out the damaged communication lines dangling limply nearby.

"After!? Why after, what would that accomplish if everyone was dead?" Louis questioned, still not putting the facts together.

Before answering Carpenter once again checked the surrounding area, seeing nothing that presented a danger. He looked toward the young lieutenant wondering if he had gotten them both killed. He could see the fear behind the eye of Louis. He wondered if his finely tuned senses and leadership abilities, which he has always relied upon in the past, had finally dulled through lack of use. He finally replied to the young man, his voice dry. "It stops us from calling for help."

The younger man's face paled noticeably, then he spun around wildly looking in all directions, his imagination going berserk.

"Oh fuck, you mean they are still here."

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