The Wild Vitality of the Earth: Chapter 1

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Prologue   

         Years ago, when the Earth lie unravaged, before the grim auguries spouted by Delphic harbingers sprouted wings and polished the rusty scepter in Hades’ hands, light brushed along the edges of the velvet blanket vaulting atop Hong Kong. Light issued forth from brilliant megaliths and seeped sepia tone across the black sky. Trams and double decker buses, steel cages transporting untold numbers of people, plowed up and down the cities’ streets. A leather jacketed man stepped out of a high-rise office building on the sidewalk and lit a cigarette. A couple of women in plush coats trundled along past him, attended by shopping bags clutched in their hands and internet gossip on their tongues. A multiplicity of nightclubs and bars, crowded with scores of diverting figures, mediated their transition from workers to purveyors; from the throes of familial obligation to liberating libidinal addiction; from daytime drudgery to nighttime escape; all shapes and shades of people intermingled in vivacious life before the bombs reduced them to ash.

            Advertisements for Dior, Hugo Boss, and Giorgio Armani flashed stark on the side of buildings, hugging the streets. Those names still held onto a sense of meritorious glory, but no longer in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s leveled cityscape, burning bright red all over the cracked crisps of buildings since reduced to rubble in a flash, now held a different purpose: a warped precursor to what awaited the rest of the civilized world if the strain couldn’t be contained and Dr. Lewis Pellas, the founder and CEO of Omega Energy, wasn’t returned within forty-eight hours, alive and of sound mind, unharmed by his mongrel captors.

             December 2064. Airspace above Devil’s Peak. The Outskirts of Hong Kong, Occupied Territory of the United Front Alliance. 11 P.M.

The fires on the ground had yet to be put out, and the smoldering haze that wafted up clouded the six tinted visors just above all twelve eyes gazing down at the ruinous landscape from the loading dock of the gunship in which they sat ensconced. It had only been days since the failed insurgency, but the featureless remnants strewn about the field reeked of rotten eggs. The mechanized respirators worn by the six operatives hissed as they took each breath, filtering out the putrid elements hovering in the air.

Each were members of the Omega Rescue Unit, all eight of them elite, paramilitary, black operations task force designated with one simple mission: recover Doctor Lewis Pellas, the founder and CEO of Omega Energy, by any means necessary. They were to infiltrate with extreme discretion under cover of night, proceed as quickly as possible to Pellas’ last known location, and await orders for the location of extraction if Pellas was found alive.

          “ETA three minutes,” the gritty voice of the gunship’s pilot boomed over the loading area’s amplifiers. Each operative went through their pre-operation ritual. Hendricks made the sign of the cross and asked for the forgotten Lord’s blessing. Francois fastidiously checked the bearing of his T-38 rifle, slipping laser mags in and out, along with carefully weighing and counting each of his sonar charges. Each operative was armed with a T-38, a Canadian designed and leased semi-automatic laser rifle with both a pulse shotgun and traditional grenade launcher attachment. Once the airship dropped them off, the team would have no way of contacting anybody outside the immediate Hong Kong area unless through satellite connected sonar charges, which transmitted an invisible signal for a very short amount of time. Pellas had relayed his SOS message from Omega’s Asiatic headquarters’ mainframe supercomputer.

Douglas stubbed out a cigarette and lit another, an act he had repeated nearly six times since they took off less than thirty minutes beforehand from a United Front aircraft carrier. His bulky nostrils, surgically augmented for greater filtration and air oxygenation, puffed out fumes like upside down chimney stacks as thick as the miasma awaiting them below.

Their commanding officer, Major Benjamin Lyle, had been chosen for his inflexible lethality and combat seniority. A joke here and there regarding his family history was bandied between the other members, but Vincent never wanted to be caught with his pants down and face off with Lyle, so he refrained from talking ill of his father’s mishaps during the outbreak of the skirmishes just before the declaration of war went formal. Vincent didn’t have a pre-operation ritual. Didn’t need one. He felt superstitious hokum should have died out in the Dark Ages. The 22nd century was soon to come, just around the proverbial corner, but time had permitted the magical fancies of men to thrive.

“Hey Vince!” Douglas shouted gleefully from across the reach of the transport loading bay. Vince ponderously alighted his gaze upon Douglas’ rugged face, a large surgical stitch curving downward from his ear to the lower part of his jaw like a crescent moon. Vince thought it unwise for Douglas’ respirator to be still resting atop his shaven skull. A tattoo of the United Front Alliance’s logo was tattooed atop it, and Vince traced the outlines of its multicolored artwork because Douglas’ head was tilted down. The logo was an impassive skull. Real fucking macho, Vincent thought.

“Hey back,” Vince muttered.

“What?” Douglas yelled. The last thing Vince wanted to do just before they were to disembark on the perimeters of a dead but reasonably perilous battlefield was chat with Douglas and endure his vociferous, unfunny comedic diatribes.

ETA Two Minutes!” Douglas wisely heeded the cue and slipped the respirator, combat interface, and protective combat helmet over his face and head and adjusted the dials which controlled the photon energy on the visor over his eyes. It clicked into place at 400 THz, the frequency by which the energy of photons would transmit red on the electromagnetic spectrum. Its color slid from yellow, then orange, and finally red. Each soldier’s visor emitted a distinct color which denoted their expertise in the unit. The CO’s, Lyle’s, was green. Francois, a French national and expert negotiator, slyly chose blue. He often spoke of what he felt was his monumental knowledge of modern geopolitics. Everyone besides Vincent stopped listening after thirty seconds. Francois appreciated him for that and often condescendingly referred to him as “My spirited American understudy” with a thick Parisian accent.

Vincent didn’t choose violet. Violet was chosen for him. Tucked away at the terminus of the visible spectrum, violet was the threshold between innocuous, visible color and potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation. Vincent’s visor mechanism clicked as he tuned the dial. Within seconds of the latest ETA, every member of the team assumed their roles and colors. The colors were signifiers that helped them communicate and identify each other in the heat of battle, if any hostile threat were to be encountered, something their briefings had not warned them of: Lyle’s green gave him supreme command; Douglas’ red made clear his expertise in navigation; Francois bandied knowledge of the underlying micro conflict, eyes wide in exultation and excitement under the shade of dark blue. Vincent had never met any of these soldiers before the one-month training exercises.

There was no doubt he held the capacity to take life. They were all capable of that, the elite of the elite in the rank and file of the United Front Alliance; in the fading conflict incited by disagreements over Asiatic trade negotiations. A bizarre garrote of merciless despots and charlatans masquerading as heads of state had finally embraced violence as their forefathers had. It wasn’t necessarily a completely global war, it just contained global elements. Yet, the verdure at its commencement echoed that of the previous centuries’ two world wars. To call it World War three was hyperbolic. It was just another disagreement that led to a small exchange of firepower that further led to the breakout of major hostilities. After seven years and an unforeseen bacterial outbreak in Hong Kong, most vied for peace. Nevertheless, Francois had the annoying habit of reminding the others: if you want peace, prepare for war.

Edgar Hendricks and Edgar Pierce, referred to by their surnames for obvious reasons, held the unenviable job of reconnaissance. From whatever vantage point they could manage, they’d report back to Lyle over the coms about what dangers would lie ahead. Though Vincent was unable to scrutinize their faces under the masks or deduce why they chose the colors orange and yellow respectively, he felt that underneath those impenetrable death masks hey were glowering at him; regarding him uncaringly as if Vincent were just a pale puppet whose business on the battlefield was better left to others more blighted by the ill fortunes of combat. Vincent returned the expression. How ironic that Vincent had seen more than their simple-minded brains could stomach. It was none of their business.

         “ETA forty-five seconds!” Smattering gunfire erupted from below as the airship made its slow descent. Archaic weapons; outdated bullets. During the mission briefing, no murmur was heard from the dropmaster as to any contingencies that may arise on the team’s dispensation. Bullets struck the steel hull and peppered the bulletproof glass of the cockpit.

“Wasting ammunition,” Douglas shouted, glee brightening his eyes. All six team members beside Vincent gave short bursts of laughter; all except CO Benjy Lyle, whose vigilance never waned; whose trenchant commands rarely wavered. Vincent looked at him curiously and pressed his fingerprint along his T-38’s trigger guard. Their weapons had a unique biometric identifier. A bright blue light shone along its barrel, a sign that meant it was live and ready to fire.

None of them could have predicted that a surface to air missile from more than four hundred yards away was cutting a searing path through the atmosphere; zooming through the cinders and smoke; writing their obituaries with each passing second. Though meant for the area holding all six of the team, it blew apart one of the ship’s engines and set it aflame. Suddenly struggling to stabilize, the craft began to teeter on the brink of a tailspin. A shrieking alarm sounded, and the unloading dock’s crimson lights began to cast the small area in blazing light.

The ETA reports weren’t necessary anymore. If the team couldn’t find a way to escape a fast approaching and then sudden fiery death, the mission to rescue one of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century from the shattered remnants of Hong Kong would fail before it began. No graves would be dug for the six men. No teary commemorations for their valor and heroics in a land ravaged by a war. For these six men did not exist on paper. They were an experimental, heterogeneous, deadly cadre of impressions; jewels skirting the grid between sanctionable and unsanctionable; untouchable entities ghosting across a once beautiful, cultured, gem of a city. It was a possibility that they would never be heard from again; just godforsaken obelisks drowning in the sands of time.

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