Ty is thrust into a galactic war that only she--and a stolen armor bracelet--can win
|I really shouldn’t be here. And I knew that. Damn did I know that with every fiber of my being, but I continued to flip through a folder with my name on it in the dark like some cockroach. My phone flashlight rested on the table, flooding my three-meter radius with a diamond light.
Specialist Bobbie Ty. Female. Twenty-one years old. A goofy, smiling photo of me was stapled on the document along with a red “APPROVED” stamped on the front page. A cold sweat peppered my upper lip. Skimming the unredacted text, I gathered “minerals, armor, testing…” live human testing for an armor prototype that I somehow qualified for.
This was Specialist (Spc) Turner’s fault for riling me up about my inability to stick up for myself, mentioning my brother and letting me storm away when I wanted to get food. Hunger pangs jabbed into my stomach. Or Sergeant First Class (Sfc) Mann’s fault for ordering me to do vehicle services in the middle of the night, knowing full well I didn’t have the courage to propose a better, more decent offer. But, in reality, it was both of their faults for leaving me alone when a Kuwaiti sandstorm hit, to where I had to flee into a seemingly useless building for protection.
Other folders and names scattered the table and cabinets of the room in resemblance of TV show detective’s organized piles of chaos work desk. I dropped my folder to inspect them. Spc Turner was also marked approved, which at the moment sparked a bit of joy that I doused quickly in the face of the pressing reality of the situation. Human testing? I was surely not supposed to know about it, at least not by a folder in some distant factory flat at midnight in Kuwait. I returned to my folder in need of more answers and pulled out a loose page. The reason, pocketed near the bottom, screamed out at me. Somehow, I’d missed it on my first scan through. My brother was to blame for me being a prime target because he left me after the loss of my parents. Because of that, I was alone and had no one in the states who would care if I never returned. I stuffed the paper back in the folder, jaw clenched.
I tiptoed out the room, quiet as a mouse, anger snuffed until I stood stumped in the middle of the hall. Now what? The rumble of the sandstorm continued to thrash at the building. I bounced from foot to foot in silent concentration. Did I bury the knowledge, leave, and never return? I certainly wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place, and no one knew I was there. Did I do something about it? About what, exactly? A couple of redacted documents possibly about human testing? But now I was mad and that fueled a different line of questions.
Did I find more information? The exit was to my right, through a door that led into a lobby that led outside. To my left continued into the maze of the factory. I turned left, hesitantly. What should I do? I stepped forward, letting my emotions carry me onward.
This building wasn’t useless or abandoned, but nonabandoned buildings were stocked of people and security and doors weren’t left open. It was too convenient to think everyone was on lunch break. This sandstorm was pretty convenient as well, come to think of it.
No windows blessed the factory halls, leaving me to fend for myself with my shoddy night vision. For my own safety, I shut off my cellphone flashlight, removed my name tape, and put on my patrol cap, in case someone turned an eye towards my escapade. I jingled the knobs of the other doors lining the hallway, finding all locked. I moved, keeping aware of the exit behind me. Of its exact location as the path veered left and right, in sharp corners and long, bare halls without a decorative poster or two for the walls. Nothing brought life into the plain white paint job or the slab of wood doors and their lack-luster knobs.
Was this a wasted effort? I wondered as I jingled my fifth locked door. I straightened in the middle of the corridor, my throat dry, hands clammy, with the signs of a tension headache building. Was this unnecessary stress for nothing? As I pivoted towards the path to the exit, a purple light from an ajar door caught my attention. It renewed my resolve. I edged closer, a sailor to the siren’s song, right when the lights snapped on.
Inside the room with the purple glow, someone exclaimed, “Finally!” He had a coarse, authoritative hardness to his voice. “Let’s continue the brief.”
I halted by the door; my body pressed to the wall while I peered inside, heart hammering. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.
I spotted my commander, Captain (Cpt) Rouse, and numerous other high-ranking officers around a table. At the head of a table was a three-star general. On the counter, I found the source of the light: a glowing purple and white bracelet.
“Of course,” my commander said. “Major Marin’s preliminary testing concludes that my two soldiers, Specialist Ty and Turner are both good candidates to test the armor prototype.” He glanced at the purple bracelet. “They are healthy, have no family, and fit the parameters of the band.” Pausing, his sobered expression cracked. “I have one concern, though.”
“Which is?” the genera; said. He was the one who had spoken first.
“We need to conduct more tests before we allow human participants. I am not comfortable having my soldiers be the guinea pigs when there is so much we don’t understand of its chemical makeup.”
His words jumbled into my mind, confirming what I already knew.
“As I explained previously,” the general said, “if my scientists say it is safe, it is safe. Your people will be fine, but, to set you at ease, we will run one last diagnostic.”
That did not set me at ease, not at all, but my commander agreed to his terms without more argument.
“Hey! Who are you?” shouted a stern, unfriendly voice to my left.
Someone else, much friendlier and wiser, yelled, “Run!”
I pushed off the wall without checking either of the voices or the officers. A moment later, a weapon went off, then a pound of a bullet hit the floor. My eardrum quaked as I executed a staggering right. After another right, I smacked into a security man, his weapon poised. I gasped, watching him fumble from my body slam before I slipped backward. Down the hall, I took the left instead. I lunged into a side corridor, footloose. Hot breath, in and out. Hot damn, this was a mistake. I knew that in the shadows with the folders. Oh, had I known that.
I peeled around another corner into a narrow hall. Where was the exit I so painstakingly kept aware of?
The next person I ran into caught ahold of my shoulders. He was different from the security guy, seeing as this man had on the guise of an intruder, with a black mask that covered his mouth and jawline and a black fleece cap. His eyebrows lifted in amusement as he snapped his fingers.
“Ty, I’m sorry.”
My chin slipped off my fist, and I nearly face planted the table. I focused past the blur of my vision. “What?”
“For how I acted earlier. I didn’t mean to bring up your family, especially knowing how much it hurts you. I have a lot on my mind, and I took it out on you. You didn’t deserve it,” Turner said, looming over me. He had a Styrofoam to-go box in his hands, and a simple smile half curved on his face. “I brought you a make-up meal.”
“I …” I swiped drool off my lip. “Where am I?” Oozes of blood smeared down my fingertips, into my palm from little nicks that ran up and down my fingers. Where had I gotten these cuts from? I hid them under the table.
Turner skidded a nearby chair over, opening the food in front of me. “Are you okay? You’re in the ops tent.”
Except I hadn’t been seconds ago, because seconds ago I had been spying on officers and reading redacted documents. The more I tried to fit the jigsaw pieces together, the more my head hurt. Images, blurred memories, flashed across my mind. None of it made too much sense after my run-in with that intruder-looking guy. Who was I to judge the man, though? He probably came in to avoid the sandstorm, much like myself. Had he been the one to tell me to run?
“Do you forgive me?” he asked, batting his chocolate brown eyes while he pushed the sweet aroma of French toast sticks towards me.
“Um, yeah? Of course… of course I do.” But how’d I get here?
Turner leveled himself to me, a crook in his brow. “You’re hurt.” His gaze moved to my fingers that came out of hiding in thought. “What happened?”
I dropped my hands into my lap. “Probably happened during the sandstorm.”
Rising, Turner made his way to the back of the operations building. It was the same building I remembered it to be, with its dinging computer towers, the dimly lit monitors, and the ruffle of an outside generator wheezing air into the tomb-like room. “Sandstorm?” He rummaged on one of the top shelves of the ceiling-high cabinets. “I must’ve been inside the d-fac already because I don’t remember that.”
When he returned, he had a first aid kit. He popped it open and removed the hydrogen peroxide and Band-Aids. “Give me your hands.”
“They’re fine.” I crossed my arms, hands pocketed in my armpits. “Really.”
With a shake of his head, he said, “Give it.”
Begrudgingly, I gave them to him, letting him clean and bandage them.
Afterward, Turner fetched the sudoku I had abandoned on the table and flipped it to a blank puzzle, legs kicked onto the counter. “Eat up and then rest. You’ll feel a lot better.”
I glanced from him to the food to the entrance of the building. How the hell did I get away? Why were my fingers bleeding? What happened? I pondered these questions while brandishing a French toast stick. That meeting… the commander… nothing good would come from it. I should’ve ducked and ran when I had the chance. What did this make me, a criminal? A criminal for breaking and entering, then leaving? A spy?
My breath caught in my throat. Oh no, I was in trouble for this, I just knew it.
“What did the French toast stick do to you?” Turner asked.
It was nearly out of my grasp, wilted and torn by my roughhousing. “Nothing,” I whispered. What had I done? Absolutely-freaking-nothing if I kept my mouth shut. No one knew I was in there, and no one would ever know. I bit into my French toast stick. Ever.