The hands ticked around the clock, filling the air with a rhythmic noise that reminded everyone how late this meeting was starting. The core crew had assembled, but the boss still hadn’t shown up. She was many things, but late wasn’t one of them. Ten minutes late? Perhaps it was time to send someone to find her.
A pencil rolled down the table, slowed to a crawl, and came back to the edge. It fell off the side, landed in a hand, placed on the edge of the table, starting the process over again. And again, and again, like more clockwork. Someone else thrummed a pencil against their notebook. Another tapped their foot on the metal floor. Everyone here was friends—well, almost everyone. Yet they just sat in silence. Rather, silence would have been better than this noise.
Before Alister could say anything, the door opened, slamming into the wall and sending out a resounding clang as the metal struck metal.
“Welcome back everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful vacation. I know I did! The beaches were warm, the food was exquisite, and I only got shot at three times.”
Around the circular table in the Lunar Dial’s briefing room, everyone exchanged glances as the black haired girl practically skipped inside. Her hair was a frazzled mess far from its usual pristine straightness. The suit she wore was torn and ragged at the cuffs and legs with a large slice through her right sleeve that had a bit of dried blood sticking it to her skin.
Doc stood, pressing her hands against the wood table as she glared at Alice. She didn’t get a chance to actually say anything.
A second girl, dragging her feet into the room just behind Alice, dripped water all over the floor as she entered. Her slightly curled blond hair was matted against her head. It looked like she had fallen overboard, had been fished out of the sea, then had been forced to come along. Which may very well have been what happened.
Around the table, eyes looked to the new girl with thinly veiled suspicion as the boss sat her down in a chair at the table. Alice left for just a moment and reappeared a second later with an extra chair, plopping it down to the right of the sopping wet girl. Alice’s energetic antics did not rub off on the girl. She sat with her shoulders hunched over and avoided eye contact with everyone. Even when first entering the room, she hadn’t looked up once. Her eyes were thoroughly glued to the floor. No one had seen her before, a fact confirmed with a quick glance around the table to gauge everyone’s expression. And, if she kept her eyes down, it was doubtful that she would see anyone else either.
After getting the girl situated, Alice took her own seat. There was no head of a round table, but she still managed to center the attention on herself. Interlacing her fingers, she looked around the assembled crew with a bright smile. When it became clear that Alice wasn’t going to elaborate without prompting, it fell to her second in command to get her talking again.
“Three times? You were shot three times? I thought you were just visiting your brother. That’s the only reason we let you go alone. He didn’t—”
“Alister,” the boss said with a mild warning in her voice, yet puffing out her cheeks in a pout at the same time. “If you’re implying that my brother tried to kill me, I’ll have Gideon toss you overboard.”
Licking his lips, Alister glanced over at the Israeli man. Gideon hadn’t moved a muscle at the threat. Or at all since Alice and the newcomer arrived. He didn’t need to. The former Sayeret Matkal commando was always ready. Despite his advanced age, he had never lost a spar with Alister. And if Alice told him to throw anyone overboard, even her so-called executive officer, there was no doubt that he would. None of the others would try to stop him. They would all have a laugh as Alister climbed back aboard the Lunar Dial as soaking wet as the girl was. With a slight clearing of his throat, Alister turned to face Alice. “I was going to ask if he had let you out of his sight,” he lied.
Once again, a bright smile appeared on her face. “I slipped away! And you should all be thanking me. If I hadn’t, we might not have a job to do today.” She stood, taking a drink from the can of Coke placed in the holder of her seat’s armrest as she glanced at everyone at the table. “Don’t worry, it’s a nice, simple job to ease you back into the swing of things—”
The table descended into a series of groans.
“She just had to say it,” Flash said with a sad shake of his head. “The vacation was only three days. It wasn’t even a real vacation. I didn’t even leave the damn boat.”
“She’s just trying to avoid talking about being shot at,” Doc said, sighing as she rounded the table. “You didn’t get hit, did you?”
Alice jumped back as the doctor rounded the table to inspect the wound on her arm, actually looking a little nervous.
Which only had the doctor sighing again. “I will strap you down to an examination table again if I have to. Now sit up properly and let me look at this.”
“I’m fine, alright? It was just a graze. Not even a proper flesh wound.”
“A graze can still become infected. Dirt and other debris can be caught in the wound, leading to complications with healing including permanent scarring. If infection sets in too deep, we may have to amputate—”
“Yes yes, I get it.”
Doc leaned forward, putting her face mere inches away from Alice’s as she looked over the top of her rectangular glasses. “You will let me examine you.”
“After the meeting. Which would go much faster if you would stop badgering me! Just no shots, okay?”
Doc continued her stare until Alice was squirming under her gaze. “Very well,” Doc said eventually, letting the pressure off. She turned and started back to her seat, but paused halfway around the table. “But if you slip away, don’t come crying to me in a week when your wound is larger than a basketball.”
Alice only hesitated for a moment before returning to her bright attitude. “As I was trying to say, this job is easy and simple.” Running back out into the hall, she returned with a black Pelican case roughly the size of a standard laptop, though far thicker. She hefted it up on the table to ensure everyone had a decent view. It clearly had some weight to it with how much effort she was exerting. After getting it set on the table, she stared anywhere but at Doc as she rubbed at her shoulder beneath her suit sleeve. “We have thirty-seven more of these down in the cargo hold to deliver to a warehouse just outside Tampico, Mexico.”
“Mexico?” Alister said. “Bit outside our usual area of operations, isn’t it?”
“We’re being paid extremely well to travel halfway around the world on such a simple delivery mission.”
“Would you stop saying the damn ‘s’ word? What’s in those cases? C-4 that’s set to go off while we’re in the middle of the Atlantic? Who is plotting to assassinate us when we make it to this warehouse? Which government placed tracking devices aboard the ship while loading those crates—because none of us helped you load them.”
“Flash, you’re paranoid. They’re just crates.”
“Of we-were-paid-extra-to-not-know. Nothing we haven’t done before.”
“Who is the client?” Alister asked, glancing toward the unknown girl to his right, guessing at her reason for being not only aboard the ship, but sitting at the table.
Alice didn’t answer straight away. She tapped her chin twice as she stared up at the ceiling. “They spoke Spanish,” she said with a shrug.
Alister stared at her, wondering if she was serious. Of course she was. Rubbing at his forehead in an effort to ward of the oncoming headache, he closed his eyes. “This is why we don’t let you accept jobs on your own.”
“They already paid half,” Alice said. She reached into her suit’s inner breast pocket and pulled out a cell phone. A few taps had her screen displaying a sizable deposit into the company account. “The other half will be paid after we drop the crates off at the specified warehouse.”
“And you just believed that? Without even knowing who our client is?”
“Well, if they’re no good…” Alice trailed off. Her smile sharpened at the corners of her mouth. She peeled something off the back of the case. A brick of clay-like plastic slammed down atop it, prompting a slight squeak from the curly-haired girl—the first noise she had made since the meeting began. Other than the new girl, only Tatyana hadn’t made a noise, though that wasn’t unusual for her. “It would be an awful shame if Flash accidentally mixed in a thirty-ninth crate of his explosives. An extra shame if he accidentally left some detonators in. And if someone were to accidentally lean on the remote… Well, who could blame us for that?”
“Our clients,” Alister said instantly, forcing Alice into another pout. “Probably the Mexican government as well.”
“You’re no fun.”
“Yes, well, sorry if I think keeping Mexican drug cartels off our back is unfun, but we’re already wanted by enough other people that I’d like to avoid making unnecessary enemies.”
“Besides,” Flash said. “As much as I like blowing up smuggled munitions… or smuggled drugs. Or both! Or anything really, I have to agree that this is a bad plan.”
“Really?” “Really?” Both Gideon and Alice glanced at each other as they spoke at the same time before looking back to Flash. “I thought you’d be on board,” Alice said. “You love explosions.”
“Yeah, but, what if they actually pay us? Then what? Walk back in like ‘Hey, forgot our bomb. Don’t mind us.’ Or worse, just leave it there? I don’t really want to be giving away my art for free without at least a guarantee that they’ll send me a video of whatever they use it on. That stuff doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”
Alice picked up the chunk of plastic explosive and stared at it for a moment. She dropped it somewhere under the table with an exaggerated sigh. “I suppose it is a good thing I thought up a backup plan,” she said as she tossed her phone to Alister. He snatched it out of the air, noting that she hadn’t bothered locking it since showing the account. She was among friends, no one here would steal it—with the possible exception of the curly-haired girl. The girl looked scrawny and weak; if she took the phone, everyone here would tackle her before she could get more than a step away from the table. Still, it was bad practice to not lock it as soon as she finished using it. He would have to reprimand her later, for now, he looked to the screen as she continued talking. “Their contact details are in there somewhere. I doubt they’ll work long after we’ve delivered the merchandise, but you can call them up and figure out what I might have missed.”
Sure enough, she had a whole section of surprisingly detailed notes including a physical description of the three clients. Which just prompted another groan from Alister. She had met with people on her own. People who were almost certainly smuggling something illegal. Probably people who wouldn’t care in the slightest about killing a young woman. And she still didn’t get an organization name, but it was a start. “In the future, let’s start with backup plans. However,” Alister paused, locking the phone and placing it down on the table. There was something more important at the moment. The Lunar Dial wouldn’t be able to leave Greece for another day minimum—their much needed supplies of both the food and fuel variety weren’t to be delivered until the morning. Contacting their mysterious clients could wait until then. Alister turned to the curly-haired girl who, despite having her head down, somehow knew that he was staring and only shrank in on herself even more. “If she isn’t the client, then who is she?”
“Oh! How could I forget. This is…” Alice trailed off, tapping at her chin as she stared at the increasingly nervous girl. “A temporary member of the crew!” The girl snapped her wide eyes up to look at Alice at that proclamation. “Who is going to introduce herself right now.”
“You don’t even know her name?”
“Of course I do! But new crew members should introduce themselves.”
“You clearly didn’t talk to her about this. And you didn’t talk to any of us, either.” Alister glanced around at each of the others, Gideon, Doc, Flash, and Tatyana, looking for any indication that they had been consulted. None of them objected to his statement or countered it in any way. “You can’t just… You haven’t forgotten that the last person you brought aboard like this was a CIA plant, have you?”
“I knew from the beginning.”
“I couldn’t have told you. You would have acted differently around her.”
“Maybe we could have saved the Solar Dial if she hadn’t been there,” Alister said, trying not to narrow his eyes at Tatyana at the same time.
Alice waved her hand dismissively. “I still don’t think Signum had anything to do with that. She liked us too much. It was just a wrong place, wrong time sort of thing that accidentally wound up with us unable to stop the bomb. Bad luck for everyone. But anyway, topic dropped. We focus on the here and now.” She patted the girl’s back. “Go on. Nothing to be afraid of. Well, I mean, everyone here could kill you in increasingly disturbing ways as you go clockwise around the table, but they won’t. It would waste all the effort I went through saving you!”
The longer Alice talked, the sicker the girl looked. She refused to meet anyone’s eyes. Despite his protests, Alister actually felt a little sorry for the girl. She clearly didn’t want to be here. Which just made her joining the crew all the worse. Even as a ‘temporary’ member. People who didn’t want to join were far more likely to turn traitor if put in a poor situation. If the girl needed help, they could stow her away until the heat died down or they found some other solution. Letting her sit at the table while discussing a job was just careless.
“I-I’m-I’ve…” The girl finally started talking, only to pause and sniffle. “I am so dead,” she said. Her head flopped forward, smacking into the table’s hard wood with a heavy thud.
Author’s Note: So, there’s that. If you’re not sure what this is, you can find more information in my Updates, specifically 003. Since I talked so much about the project as a whole there, I’ll only say a little here. This project is currently seven chapters long, representing one complete story arc. They will be posted once a week on Thursday until they’re done with. After that, we’ll see!
As for the writing itself, this is a bit different than my normal style in many senses of the word. First and foremost, the literal style. You might have noticed that this is no spaces between paragraphs and indented. Is that better or worse than the no indents with single line between (such as these author’s notes)? I don’t know. You tell me in the comments. I’ve been reading a few epubs that are in this style and I kind of like it, but maybe it isn’t meant for web writing.
Secondly, there are a lot of characters introduced in this first chapter. I normally don’t like introducing more than one main character in the first chapter. Maybe two at most. This has seven. And there are more coming in future chapters. There is a Character sheet for this in case you get confused later on, so don’t forget about it. You might notice that pretty much none of them have much in the way of physical descriptions either. I didn’t want to bog down your heads with seven different descriptions and seven names as well all in the first chapter. You would probably never remember it or keep it all straight. Physical descriptions will be doled out like light seasoning as we continue onward. As with Void Domain, physical descriptions for most characters are probably going to be light anyway. Maybe hair color and style and a few other key features.
Thirdly, this is a realistic military-esque fiction. I am not Tom Clancy. I’m not going to bog you down with ten pages on how to disassemble a rifle or other too technical details. But I have decided to name real world equipment. I don’t think I’m going to put much in the way of weapon description unless there is something particularly noteworthy about a given item. If I say that there is a KSVK anti-material sniper rifle being used, you don’t really need to know much other than it is a big long rifle and probably has a scope equipped. Generally what you would expect from something called a sniper rifle. However, I know some people like knowing exactly, so the character page will also feature an equipment list with all named equipment on it and links to probably Wikipedia.
Fourthly, and related to the above, there might be some acronyms. If nobody says the full thing in the text, I’ll probably add a bit in a footnote at the bottom. For example, in the next chapter, somebody says RWR which doesn’t get a definition up above (though the context will probably give you an idea about what it means anyway). So, at the bottom, I’ll say RWR — Radar Warning Receiver, a device that detects radar used by potentially hostile craft. Or something. That might also go on the equipment list, though I don’t currently have that one on it at the moment. However, like the KSVK above, a lot of weapon names are acronyms as well. KSVK stands for Крупнокалиберная Снайперская Винтовка Ковровская (Krupnokalibernaya Snayperskaya Vintovka Kovrovskaya); English: Large-Caliber Kovrov Sniper Rifle. I will probably not write that down anywhere. So it might feel a little inconsistent? I don’t know.
Fifthly, as you might guess from the title, this project features languages! And I only know English, though I did take two years of German and two years of Japanese, both over ten years ago! Sometimes, the text will say something like: So-and-so said something in Spanish. Sometimes, I’ll type out something in the language: “Ich kann Deutsch sprechen. Habe es gelernt, als ich bei der Armee war.” Most of the time, those will be translated by somebody or you should be able to glean mostly what was said by context. I am writing this primarily for English speakers, so don’t worry if you don’t speak 29 different languages. That said, if you do speak a language used and the speaker of said language uses it wrong or just phrases it poorly when they’re obviously supposed to be fluent (I am using Google Translate for everything) let me know in the comments and I’ll update the text to be better!
Sixthly, much of this work will take place in real world locations. Especially real world locations that are conflict heavy as of 2017-2018. Sometimes these conflicts will be played up for in-story drama or narrative purposes. So if I portray your country as a war-torn land filled with mines, rainy skies, and guerilla fighters when it is really a pretty nice place, sorry about that. This is ultimately a work of fiction. While I may use organizations and governments, I will avoid naming real people who are currently in power. Past leaders, perhaps. But even the President of the United States of America won’t be Trump or Clinton or Sanders or anyone who is a current politician. It will be someone made up like Rick Alanman. I don’t think I really needed to mention this note, but stories are always like “everybody is fictitious, any resemblance to a real person is coincidental” so I figured I would add this anyway.
So anyway, this author’s note is like half the length of the actual chapter, so I figure I had best stop here. Hope everyone enjoys!