Chapter… who knows. I've wanted to write this chapter, and the following for a while now. Fuk sequentially, that's for noobs.
Phil squelched awkwardly through the SU camp. His stride encumbered not only by the boggy terrain, but also by the self-conscious clumsiness bestowed by thousands of staring eyes. He could feel them in his shoulder blades, in the nape of his neck.
Sprawled across agricultural land that had once been the romp of Amazonian Sharmans and their serpent deities, the only organisation in the layout of the camp that Phil could see was that the people tended to place their temporary shelters and tents on any elevated land they could find. This left the lower land as the walkways. By the smell they also served as latrines. Probably not on purpose, but it was difficult to avoid in a place that rained like it was about to go out of fashion.
Quiet whispers flowed before him like a wave. Men and women alike abandoned their tasks to point and stare, turning away only to elbow a friend or pass on the whisper. Even the abundant, knee high, plant life seemed to ogle him.
Mijail walked proudly by his side, head held high, as if he had been the one to pulverise the alien front line and buy them all a day of rest, buy many of them their very lives, if only briefly.
The men he'd unwillingly brought with him stared with a look of mixed awe and trepidation. Like they'd just learnt that they'd unwittingly been in the presence a king. The rest of the men just started with revere. How would he ever convince them that he was just a normal guy, someone you could share a beer or two with?
As he and Mijail approached the command tent the reverence broke and the camp erupted in wild cheering. Awkwardly, Phil raised his hand in acknowledgment. He didn't like the spotlight, never had. Mijail did, smiling ear to ear he bowed first one way and then the next.
The guards let them pass without question, saluting with more vigour than they would have for the highest command. Phil wanted to tell them all to stop. To tell them all that he was just another guy. Not worthy of their admiration and certainly not eager to allow them to lump their hopes and dreams on his shoulders.
Yet he merely smiled awkwardly and moved on. As ridiculous as it was for him of all people to give them hope, it was evident that he did. Already they walked taller and prouder, the defeated, haunted and sunken faces of only yesterday, banished. He wouldn't rob them of that, not yet. Time would surely demonstrate his inadequacies and reveal the pseudo nature of his gift.
Gift? He was no gift, they thought an angel walked amongst them. Instead, they'd got a monster.
Bloody hell, thought Phil, I'm no bloody hero. I'm a mad man. A murderer. A monster. They should flee in fear. The blood of the innocent is my wash water.
Phil pushed aside the heavy, green and brown camouflaged material and entered the tent. Large enough to accommodate any decent circus, the inside of the tent was alive with activity. People here didn't stop to stare, they merely paused, sometimes cheering out something in Spanish, then quickly resumed monitoring the blipping screen to which they belonged, or alternatively, barked orders down a dated communications system.
As they neared the centre of the tent people barely paused to acknowledge them. Phil breathed a sigh of relief, shaking his shoulders to release the pent up stress.
A short bald man appeared out of nowhere, proffering his right hand. "Buenas dias. Soy Pedro."
"Soy Phil," replied Phil. Then, to Mijial, "can you tell him I don't speak Spanish?"
"Ah, no problem sir," said Pedro before Mijail could speak, "no problem. This way please."
They were led to a large circular table. It was littered with maps, the corners of which were pinned down with used coffee mugs and ash trays. A large array of monitors surrounded the table, primarily displaying what Phil assumed to be geographical displays of both friendly and enemy troop concentrations.
With little more than childhood games for an education in the matter, Phil could clearly see that the SU forces were heavily outnumbered and in no position to push the enemy back to the worm hole from whence they had sprouted.
Seated around the table was a collection of high ranking military officials, who rose as Phil and Mijail strolled in. To a man they nodded in respect.
A boulder of a man resettled himself at the head of the oblong table. Fully attired in khaki and heavily decorated with shining medals, he drew thoughtfully on his cigar and spoke, lips hidden by a glossy black moustache, not to Phil, but to the unadorned man at his side.
The unadorned man Phil recognised immediately. His body tensed involuntarily. Dressed in a cream linen suit, his face seemed etched of cool steel. Eyes and all. He was a figure of legend. His face familiar to Phil since childhood. He had done school projects about this man's military prowess.
The great general, the Hawk, calmly ignored the menace in Phil's stare.
The last time Phil had seen his face it was at the top of the list of people he had killed in the towers. And it was one of the few he hadn't regretted. His fists clenched. What was the he doing here? Why was the 'saviour of the free world' convening with his lifelong enemies? Why was he not a smouldering pile of ashes at the bottom of Centre Tower where he belonged?
"Hold it there boy," bellowed the boulders hidden lips as a growl managed to crawl out of Phil's tightly locked jaw.
Mijail looked up at Phil, confused.
"Evidently no introductions be required between you two, but, for me, it would be a good thing that you knew some truth before you go and get all crazy." He flicked his head towards a screen behind Phil that showed a slow motion reply of his assault on the towers.
Fighting to keep the anger of that day from taking him, Phil said nothing. The boulder continued. "The Hawk, here, he no was in the towers when you struck, because it no was he that killed your amigos and your family. Look this."
Phil looked at the Hawk. He sat serenely and looked Phil in the eyes. He did not flinch. A man ready to die, he thought. And independent of me. He's simply a man ready. Absently he felt Mijail tug on his sleeve, but he was lost in his struggle to maintain control. Moreover, he didn't think he could bare the look that would surely be in the boy's eyes. Now that he knew him for what he was. A murderer. A mass murderer.
The screen flicked and the footage of Phil was replaced by footage of a high-tech, military command room. The room was alive with people, all action centred on a large screen that displayed an aerial view of the house Phil's family had perished in.
The monster stirred deep within, but Phil forced it down. There would be ample time later. Let the beast feed on his enemies, not his friends. Although, this would need to be a good movie to reclassify the Hawk.
The silver haired general entered the recording barking with an authority he must have been so used to wielding that he didn't notice how little effect it had on the lynch mob like state of his men that night.
With grinding teeth Phil watched as the Hawk almost entered his part of the laser code, then, with apparent difficulty, broke free of the collective desire of the room and began to ask questions.
Phil watched with more interest. He saw himself framed with the murder of the president. He saw the Hawk stand against a room of madmen. Saw him dragged from the room. Realised, that by holding out under questioning as long as he did he'd saved Phil's life.
The recording flicked off. Phil didn't move for a long time. Finally the beast settled and he felt able to speak reasonably once again, he turned to the Hawk. "You saved my life. And the life of some friends. I'm in your debt, Hawk."
The Hawk smiled a rusty smile, as if that function of his face were long unused. "I acted only to circumvent further misuse of the runaway train that is our institution. You owe me nothing, but if you could do me a favour, never again use that name. The Hawk was a tamed and tortured creature, forced to hunt his own. Now I hunt true game."
"OK, what do ya wana be called?"
"By my name, Alejandro."
"Great!" bellowed the boulder by Alejandro's side. "I be Rogan Boon, I'm not sure of the words in English, but I'm the boss here and these be my men," he said gesturing around the table with a giant paw. "A cleverer bunch you couldn't ask for. But we are still getting destroyed out there. These cursed aliens die easy enough, true, but ten jump through that blasted hole for everyone we shoot. We sure be grateful for your show yesterday, curse me if we not."
"If I may be so bold as to take over briefly?" Rogan tilted his head in acquiescence to Alejandro's request. "The forces here were sent to overrun and destroy this newly discovered gateway, unfortunately the enemy's ability to reinforce was underestimated and the assault faltered."
Rogan managed to rumble while mumbling indiscernibly around his cigar. Alejandro then added, "due to a large UN invasion force gathering off the coast of the state of Venezuela, few troops can be diverted here. This leaves us only two options, we could fortify our position, resulting in the same, undesirable, position we see in Alaska. Or we could nuke them before they can finish construction of their force field generator. Also undesirable, yet the only sure fired way to halt the flow of the invaders." He paused and looked Phil straight in the eyes. "That was yesterday. Today we have you. You are a wildcard that we are desperately in need of. What exactly are you? And what can you do?"
"I don't know what I am. What I can do is bend the free energy of the universe to my will. With little or no finesse, but with, according to some alien friends of mine, considerable strength."
"Are you able to go back out there again today and repeat what you did yesterday?"
"No, I'm spent, exhausted. That would be like climbing Mount Everest bare handed then, before even catching your breath, trying to tear the whole bloody mountain out of the ground, while still standing on it. Tomorrow, maybe."
"Tomorrow would be good. I could very effectively work an offense based around your, er, what is it exactly you do. Magic?"
"Not sure, the truth is I'm not really down with the formal lingo. Way I see it is magic is a very subjective word. I think anything that happens that is completely beyond one's ability to understand is in the realm of magic. A performing illusionist achieves this simply by refusing to let you know the secrets of his illusions, thereby creating magic. For you, I do magic, because you see effect without cause. But, as I understand it, sort of, at least I feel it and experience it; it is not magic for me. I have seen masters of the art wield energy in a way that can only be described as magic. However, for them, I suspect it is simply cause and effect."
"There are others like you?"
"According to my alien mates, pretty much anything you can imagine, and an infinite amount of things you can't, exist - somewhere."
"I would very much like to speak more of this; however, time must confine me to military aspects relevant to our current struggle. Are there more of you? Here on earth?"
Phil's heart burned as he thought of his two surviving friends, friends he continued to let believe that he was dead. "There are two on earth, that I know of. They are not available to you and I don't want to talk about it."
Alejandro nodded, understanding, and Phil moved on. "You said there is a UN force hovering off Venezuela. Why have the UN and SU not yet united against the Orcs? Why do we still bicker?"
"We have tried boy!" bellowed Rogan, slamming his fist into the table and making the coffee cups dance, "they don't be accepting our calls. They even block the secret back channel frequencies the Hawk here, oh, um Alejandro, tried to used. Their propaganda factories spill out stories about how we made these things! That be why they are attacking us instead of fighting them green fuckers."
"Indeed," said Alejandro with a sniff of what could only be construed as frustration, "it appears we have been thoroughly duped, at a game I thought myself master of. Step one – create dissension among the ranks. The most obvious trick in the book and I didn't see it simply because they bent a few rules I was too set in my ways to realise were bendable."
"What be you talking about?"
"I believe," said Phil, "that the leader of the UN knows full well that the SU isn't responsible." Rogan looked at him curiously and Alejandro just nodded, inviting Phil to state the obvious. "The secretary of defence, turned overlord, he ain't human. I'd bet my left testicle on it. He took up position there simply to sow dissent among our ranks. To keep us from launching and effective resistance." Phil's fists clenched once again. "He framed me to have me killed, and through failing served his purpose even more effectively. I turned the world on its head moments before the invasion. I allowed him to form a position of unprecedented power with which to distract the world from its fate. I have failed. It was my task to create unity. I have created chaos, left us ripe to be plucked by an enemy most of us don't even realise is alien.
I must kill him." the beast roared happily.
"You must let him be son, for now. Don't go freaking out like a head with its chicken cut off. You'll not be able to find him. We need to close this gateway."
Phil angrily considered this and knew it to be true. "Fine, but we act now; I have acted the fool and wish to remedy it." He flung his exhausted mind's eye high above the camp and raced north.
With a great latency and a wobbly echo he heard Mijial keeping the stunned men around the table trying to aid in some fashion his dissociated state.
"He does this sometimes," explained Mijail in a matter of fact voice. "He's looking."
Phil raced over the skerricks of the Amazon and sawed through the puffy white clouds that resided over the Andes. After a matter of minutes the green and brown patchwork of the land gave way to rolling blue expanse of the Caribbean. Zigzagging outwards from the coast it didn't take him long to locate the enormous fleet loitering with a destructive intent.
He searched out the largest ship, an ugly brute of a thing, so brisling with armaments that not even its chief engineer could have loved it. It inspired just one sentiment. Fear.
Phil burst through metal walls into an enormous command room. After waiting for five minutes to determine who everyone else deferred to, he grabbed the man by his decorated, white jacket and shook him.
All activity died among his attending officers as, to their eyes, the Air General cried out in alarm while apparently shaking himself back and forwards.
Phil's body slumped. He had drastically underestimated how much energy would be needed to shake a man at such distance. His plan to speak to the man directly was out the window. The amount of energy to form up a surrogate mouth and manipulate it intricately enough to form words was well beyond his capability. On reflection, he realised, the skill to even manipulate a surrogate mouth was well beyond him.
Locking the location in his mind he left the startled Air General to his men and returned to the distant command tent. He would have to think of something quickly, he was about to collapse from exhaustion. "I found them. The man in charge is fat, balding, dressed in white and has a pair of golden wings on his right breast. Could you name him Alejandro?"
"Yes. I know him well. James Lockwood. I raised him to Air General personally. There are only several people in the UN who outrank him, now that I'm gone."
"Good. Do you guys still use Morse code?
Clearly taken about at being addressed so, Alejandro bristled slightly before replying, "yes it is still included in military training, although I would need to time to revise if I were required to communicate so."
"We have no time. I cannot maintain this for long. Think!"
"Even if I could remember it's pointless, there ships are not equipped with a receiver, I don't even know if there's a transmitter here. If they do have one, it'll be buried in a supply room somewhere. Moreover, there's no purpose in communicating, they will not listen."
Strained to his limits Phil shouted, "give me solutions not problems man!" he turned to the collective of generals. "Find me someone who knows Morse code!" they scattered like archers before a charge of heavy cavalry.
Having watched the scene with dissociated interest, Rogan asked, "what next boy? They have no receiver. Even if they did, what do you plan to say?"
"They don't need a receiver. I'll link that coffee cup–," he said indicating a filthy chipped old thing in front of him, "-to one in their command. They'll move in perfect synchrony."
Rogan chuckled to himself, obviously delighted with the absurdity of it. "So the fate of humanity rests on a coffee cup."
"As for what I'll say, well I don't plan to say anything. The Hawk will inform this General Lockwood that the UN has been compromised and that he will stand not only for what is right, but for common sense, and open normal communication lines so as to allow us to orchestrate a combined, nuclear free, offensive against a common enemy."
"And if he doesn't listen?"
"You nuke both aggressors and in doing so effectively fuck humanity up the arse with one of those big cacti you love getting high on."
General Lockwood stood very still. His hands itched to rearrange his uniform to its usual, impeccable state, but they were overridden by instinctual urge to remain completely still, play dead.
His men, not sure what had happened, looked around expectantly, not wanting to be the first to ask what was going on. Had their leader just had a mental breakdown, or was there a bloody ghost in the room? The way he had moved had seriously unsettled them; his tie had been pulled free seemingly by nothing.
For Lockwood, their facial expressions were as readable as a book. They displayed a war between a mind that was both sure of what it had seen and sure that it had somehow been deceived. Impossible things were, well, impossible.
"Er, General, you alright, sir?" asked his second in command, two star General Burkes.
Lockwood looked around with his eyes only, not sure of the answer. But, he was in command; it was his responsibility to project confidence, even when it was the last adjective on earth he would have used to describe himself. He shook himself and rearranged his attire. "Yes. Yes! of course I am, just had a little um, little er…one of um… you know. Right where were we? How are we on fuelling?"
"Almost complete General. Mission ready at O-four hundred." He looked down briefly at a clean white coffee cup that had begun rattling around on a desk between them and then continued, "enemy defences are evenly distributed along the coast. If we concentrate the first wave of bombers on a small section we should be able to get the major strike package through to primary targets…" he trailed off as the cup continued to rattle. It was almost as if it had a pattern.
"Forget the cup Burkes!" barked Lockwood, "just a bit of turbulence." He waved his hand around the room of stationary stationery to emphasize his point. "Oh, what the fuck?" He bent to inspect the desk for the source of movement.
"Generals?" squeaked a nervous looking, baby faced, subordinate, probably not a year out of training.
Better not tell him to shut up, thought Lockwood, he probably had a seriously ranked father to have advanced so far. "What is it?"
"The cup sir, it's er, its um, its…"
"Spit it out boy!"
"It's, it's not rattling, General. It's um, it's tapping."
"It's tapping the old Morse code, General. And er, it's for you sir."
The room went deadly silent, again. The young officer wilted visibly under Lockwood's glare.
"What did you just say boy?"
"It's for you sir," squeaked the officer.
Forget who the boys farther was, Lockwood was about to unleashed an avalanche on the cretin when another officer stepped forward. "He's right sir. It says, er, forgive me general but it says 'Lockwood you bloody Muppet, stand down.'" He paused, obviously reluctant to speak the last, "from um, it's from The Hawk, Sir."
Lockwood froze again. There was a bloody ghost in the room. His old mentor, the Hawk, had frequently called him that when he was acting the fool. No one else had ever called him that. He had attended the Hawks funeral not three months past.
"May I continue General?"
"It's changed sir. Somehow the cup knows you got the message."
"How do you know?"
"Because, General, it now says 'wipe that stupid look off your face and listen. This can't be maintained long.'"
A decisive and keenly intelligent man, Lockwood, put all absurdities aside and saluted to the cup. "I'm listening, my General." Then proudly, "we're about to avenge you sir."
The cup danced a little jig. Tapedy tap, tap tap. "Avenge me? What do you think; you're talking to a ghost or something? Bloody Muppet. You're about to kill me. I've joined the SU command. The UN chain of command is compromised. You work for our enemies. I barely escaped with my life."
Lockwood didn't need long to think about this. It was obviously an elaborate trick.
"No, this is not an elaborate rouse," tapped the cup angrily, and continued to list a long list of experiences that the two generals had shared that no one else could possibly have knowledge of.
The part of Lockwood's brain that controlled his knees went on strike and he sunk to the flaw. "Impossible. My General, I am bound by oath, I can't betray the UN, I can't believe you did. You claim I work for the enemy, yet you are in their camp."
"Open your eyes and think. Have any of your orders lately made sense? Earth is invaded by extra terrestrial forces, yet you are ordered to strike the SU, robbing the northern defence lines of essentially needed air support."
"We go to strike at the source," stammered Lockwood weakly.
"The SU is invaded, too. Don't tell me you don't already know that."
"Intelligence says that the number of creatures swells in Brazil because it is the staging point."
"Have you seen the images?"
"Well, maybe the beasts turned on their creators?"
"Enough I know you don't believe that. My mode of communications is almost spent. The earth is invaded by superior, alien, forces and you are about to strike against your fellow man. I, the Hawk, loyal to the UN, order you to redeploy your strike packages. The portal here is not yet shielded. If it becomes so, earth will likely fall and humanity end. We have insufficient forces to overrun it. Come on old friend, I didn't promote you so high to just blindly follow suspect orders. You once told me your trust in my command would be un-dampened by the armies of hell. They have come."
Lockwood sat motionless. No concept of time. The man that had trained him in the ways of loyalty, of the importance of the structure of command, now asked him to betray it. Events of late were alarming. Nothing much made sense. Only recently, after the Hawks supposed death had he felt any reason to make true decisions for himself. He had decided to do as trained. Follow UN command.
He looked around the room. Military men. Men trained to follow orders. But, men who had had themselves trained in such as fashion so as to protect that which they held dear. What if they were now being exploited? Whatever the invaders were, they certainly seemed hell bent on the destruction of humanity, not just the UN.
He thought to a standstill. He didn't know what to do. But there was one truth he still trusted in. The Hawk. Ghost or not. Defector or not. The Hawk was something solid, something he trusted in beyond all else.
His knee control returned and he stood calmly. A sense of clarity he had not realised had been robbed of him, returned. The burden of true decisions was lifted form him. The Hawk was back.
Face twisted into a grim smirk, he addressed the cup in deathly serious voice, "we come."
The cup nodded once then never again moved.
"Sir!" cried General Burkes. "That's treason! We would become renegades. Our lives forfeit."
Lockwood nodded his head slowly. "Yes. Spread the word across the fleet. Under command of the Hawk, for the people of the UN, we rebel against our leadership and ally with the SU. We must unite against a common foe. Any who wish to dissert have amnesty for one hour. They will be given transport to UN held Panama."
"With all due respect, which now amounts to very little, I am relieving you of command. We will not follow the orders of a cup! Take him away."
Both Generals looked around the room. The atmosphere was tense enough to cut with a knife. Finally, one man stepped behind General Burkes. "I'm no traitor."
His actions acted as a catalyst for the rest of the room, as one they moved and took up positions behind the man they chose to follow. Knowing there was no way back, they nodded grimly to themselves and each other, while muttering over and over, "The Hawk."