X Squad: Stay Dead
by O. J. Anderson
part 1 of 2
“Ninjas?” Jack Creed spits out his toothpick. “Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Will Martin says. “I took a class in Asian history last semester. They were ninjas all right. Lots of ’em.”
“How many is lots?”
“Twenty. Thirty. Maybe more. Soon as we walked into the forest they started popping out of trees like Keebler elves.” Waving his hands about his head like he’s swatting away bees. “They were everywhere. It was crazy!”
“Mm.” Jack looks at the other kid, who hasn’t said anything yet. Standard activist type: shaggy hair, Lennon glasses, messenger bag, being swallowed by his sweater. Looks like he was just struck by lightning. Jack takes a step closer and asks him, “You all right, son?”
No response. Thousand yard stare.
“He’s still a little shaken up,” Will says. “He was almost cut in half by the ninjas.”
While Jack snaps his fingers in Matt’s face, Will says, “Um, there’s one other minor detail, Mr. Creed. And this might sound a little crazy, but...”
Jack, pulling down his sunglasses and checking Matt’s pupils, says, “Crazier than a half human, half snake man-beast shooting poisoned arrows from a crossbow made out of a metal that hasn’t been discovered yet?”
He considers that for a moment. “Okay. This might not sound so crazy then. The thing is... the ninjas had no eyes. Or faces for that matter. The swords also seemed to be floating at the end of their sleeves.”
“Mm. Ghost ninjas.” Unclipping the walkie-talkie from his belt, then twisting a small knob, Jack says into it, “Smith, send Doc up here, would ya?” Then to Will he says, “That’s a first.”
Doc Brown comes running up to their position with an aid bag slung over his shoulder. Jack tells him, “Looks like this one’s afraid of ghosts, Doc. Take him back to the van and check him out.”
“Right.” Doc takes off Matt’s glasses and shines a penlight into his eyes. Takes him by the arm and leads him back to the van.
“Um,” Will says. “What do you mean a first? The police said you guys were specialists.”
“Relax, kid. I’ve never met a paranormal, extraterrestrial, sub-human, post-human, or trans-human I couldn’t beat with an overwhelming amount of firepower. I just meant that I’ve never seen one dressed up like a ninja before.”
Waving his hands as though canceling something, Will says, “Whoa, hold on. What do you mean firepower?”
“I mean firepower, kid. Fast-moving deadly projectiles. Rockets. Missiles. Super high explosives. Roiling balls of fire. Death, destruction, mushroom clouds. What do you think I mean?”
“Nuh-uh. Sorry. No firepower here. Out of the question.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Uh...” he says in a tone suggesting that that might have been the dumbest question ever asked. “Because this is a wildlife preservation area.” Pointing across the clearing to the woodline. “That forest is one of the few remaining habitats for the Red Cockaded Woodpecker. An endangered bird species! We cannot have any mushroom clouds here. Absolutely not.”
“Look, son. Once I’m on the job I do what I gotta do. Woodpecker or no woodpecker.” Into the walkie-talkie he says, “Smith, Jones, gear up.”
“You can’t! There are less than five thousand reds left in North America. That number is down by two percent from ten years ago. You just can’t!” On the verge of panic. “Don’t you guys have special lasers or containers!”
“Oh, we got plenty of lasers back at the shop, just not the kind you’re thinking of. But this ain’t the movies, kid. Lasers don’t work on ghosts. Now, I don’t know all the science behind it, don’t much care to either, but what I do know is this: when I’m done with this job, those ninjas are gonna stay dead.”
“But...” Will sees the heavily armed recon team running up from the vans toward the woodline. He tries to head them off, block them, but Jack Creed grabs him by the collar and pulls him back.
“Don’t get your hemp undies all twisted up, kid. I’m only sending in a recon right now. Have a looksee at these ghost ninjas.”
A minute later: radio check. The recon team disappears into the woods.
Jack asks, “What were you two doing in there anyway?”
Will doesn’t answer right away. Clears his throat. Sort of steels himself for the inevitable reaction. Then says, “We, uh... we went in there to sing.”
“Sing, huh?” Jack doesn’t buy it.
Nebbishly, almost as if apologizing, he adds, “Singing to the woodpeckers. Trying to encourage mating habits.” Turning away, and nearly in a whisper: “There have been studies.”
Okay, now that Jack believes. He tries not to laugh. “Then maybe you can sing something to encourage your little woodpecker friends to vacate the premises before I turn it into the world’s largest supply of toothpicks.”
Puffing up his skinny chest, Will makes a stand. “I’m sorry, sir, but I cannot allow that to happen.”
“Oh, you can’t allow it, huh?”
“With all due respect, sir...I cannot.”
Over the radio comes: “Black Ace, this is Black Fox, over.”
Jack: “Whad’ya got, Black Fox?”
“Nothing. We’re about two hundred meters in. No contact, over.”
“Roger that. Hold your position and make some noise. Draw ’em out, over.”
In the distance: “Hey!” and “Hello!” and “Any ninjas here?”
“Let’s just call the whole thing off,” Will says. “Forget about the ninjas. They weren’t bothering anyone. We shouldn’t have been in there anyway.”
“No can do, kid.”
“But why? Maybe they want to be left alone.”
“You said they tried to cut your friend in half. Doesn’t sound like wanting to be left alone to me.”
“Cut in half? Did I say that? Must have been nervous excitement.”
“I don’t think so.” Jack pulls a mint flavored toothpick from his shirt pocket. “Nope. Fact is, most of these paranormals act out because they don’t want to be stuck here with us any more than we want to be stuck with them. These ninjas have probably been wandering around for hundreds of years begging for someone like me to come along; someone with an unusual amount of Perplex 10 super-high explosives at his disposal who can blow a hole in the time-space fabric and send them over to another dimension where they belong.”
Will, with a mocking laugh: “You’re going to blow a hole in the dimensional membrane?”
Punk kid. Jack gives him the stink eye. The message is received loud and clear by Will, who turns away, brushing the hair from his eyes, mumbling, “Um, won’t that cause some problems?”
“Don’t worry,” Jack says. “It’ll repair itself in due time.” And that’s the end of that conversation. Then Jack realizes that he hasn’t heard the recon team’s voices for a few minutes. He calls for a status report.
“Black Fox, this is Black Ace. Do you read me, over?”
No reply. Jack clips the radio to his belt and grunts.
“What?” Will says. “What happened? What’s wrong?”
“Mm...” Jack turns and walks toward the vans. “My men are either dead or captured.” To the rest of the squad he shouts, “Support position, eighty-eights, twelve o’clock. Pull all the P-10, det cord, and igniters. We go in with everything we can carry.”
From the second van comes three 88 millimeter mortar tubes, base plates, crates of ammo. The support team sets up their firing position as the assault team stuffs P-10 and other demo equipment into rucksacks. This much P-10 going off all at once will require a remote detonation from a distance of at least one mile away, less if they can put a good sized mountain between them.
A few minutes later, support is in place, leveling the tubes; thumbs up from the TL. The assault team straps on ceramic-weave body-armor panels and they’re ready to roll. They ruck up. The only small arms going in are the M-79 grenade launchers; a 40-mm HE grenade isn’t enough to take out ghost ninjas, but it will slow them down enough to grab Smith and Jones, set the demo, and exfil.
As Jack and the assault team approach the support position on their way to the forest, Micas, the STL, frowns and shakes his head. He points to Will, now lying in front of the mortar tubes as though they are tanks about to storm into the forest.
Jack holds up the AT. “What dee hell are you doing, kid?”
“I’m sorry, sir. But this is all my fault. I would rather die than let this go on any further.”
“Well you’re not going to die lying there, son. Mortars fire up into the air, you know.”
“I know that,” Will says. “But I don’t know what else to do.”
Because he isn’t a heartless bastard, Jack sympathizes with the kid. And even though it’s only woodpeckers, at least the kid’s committed to something. He sighs and says, “You got a set of stones, kid. I give you that much.”
With a trembling voice, Will says, “I just don’t want any more woodpeckers to die.”
Someone from the AT chuckles. Jack turns and it stops. “All right, kid. Listen...” Even though Jack has a strict policy against civilians within the area of operation, this kid is going to be a pest and he knows it. There’s no time to fool around; he’s got two men to extract. If this kid really wants to die for the woodpeckers... he’ll get his chance. “You’ve got until we set the demo and pull our guys to evac all your woodpeckers. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”
Will jumps up. Begins to say something like this is a debate.
Jack’s hearing none of it. Signals his men to move out. He shouts over his shoulder, “Take it or leave it!”
Copyright © 2006 by O. J. Anderson