Posting my writing of this book seems to be helping me go faster and get more done, so I'm will keep doing it. If you don't want to know what happens until the whole thing is finished, you might want to skip reading this.
Pirates had filled up fast. Jeb was sitting next to me on top of one of the tables, his feet planted on the bench beside me. Caris and Quinn had latched onto Farron as soon as she’d walked in with Levi and Sammy, and they were sitting at the “girl table.” Something about too much testosterone. Donovan and Tate occupied the bar along with Dylan and Cree.
Jamie was standing up facing the bar not watching as the Lt. Commander approached the podium. Rucker was standard military issue, severe down to the bone with an ice-cold, don’t-ask-me-any-stupid-questions expression.
“Here it is.” Donovan reached for the remote to the television mounted in the corner over the bar and turned up the volume.
Rucker adjusted the microphone while a few lower ranked officials stood behind him, stern in their bodyguard stance. Reporters were chomping at the bit, eager-eyed and salivating.
“Ms. Meyers.” The Lt. Commander's cool voice went along with his cool gaze as he gestured to a thrity-ish woman clutching a pad to her chest. She stood and cleared her throat
“Lt. Colonel Rucker, how exactly has our government succeeded in keeping a whole sub-species of human a secret for so long?”
“We haven’t been keeping secrets. What this government has done is work for decades to protect a segment of its population that may be open to unwarranted scrutiny and bias. Government officials, both local and federal, along with this small segment of the population, wanted to be certain the world was ready to welcome this extraordinary community of people into our society, and we agree that it is.”
Thus began the Q and A.
“Does this sub-species have a name? What exactly do we call them?”
The tilt of the Lt. Commander's lips was indulgent. “I think human works fine. We don’t see the need to assign labels. I assure you, these people are just like you and me. They have families. They have jobs. They pay taxes. They simply have biological needs you and I don’t. A need to breathe water. Scientifically, it’s quite remarkable. In the coming days and weeks, you’ll be privy to some of these scientific observations as the information becomes declassified.”
“You’ve recently admitted these people have been integrated into specific military units, working alongside some of our servicemen. How are they being accepted as part of our military?”
“I’ll let one of those servicemen answer for himself.”
Donovan sat forward in his chair, shushing us with a wave of his arm. “Quiet guys. This is my fifteen minutes.”
The screen cut to a recorded interview with Donovan recounting his days of training with Jamie. For the duration of the two-minute video clip, Donovan sang Jamie’s praises. Made him sound normal. Made him sound loyal. Credited him for saving his life once in a training accident, concluding with a direct appeal aimed straight at the camera.
“There’s not another man I’d rather have at my back. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Lieutenant Jacobs. This country is lucky to have him.”
Tate pretended to wipe his eyes. “Shit, Donavan, you’re breaking my heart.”
“I meant it, Jamie. Every word they wrote for me. Except that last bit. That came right from here.” Donovan thumped the left side of his chest with his fist. Jamie threw a hushpuppy at him, which Donovan snagged out of the air and stuffed into his mouth.
As soon as the video was over a picture of Jamie popped up in the right-hand corner of the screen—his official television debut. The room erupted in loud hoots and hollers.
I cut my eyes at Jamie and we clinked our beers together. I detected an actual smile in his eyes. I’d been on the beach with him when he’d posed for this particular picture. It was one of hundreds they’d taken. Dressed in a pair of fatigues, his deep-blue t-shirt was skin tight, displaying his impressive physique to perfection. They hadn’t attempted to camouflage the blue stripe crossing Jamie’s face. This whole press conference was a full embracement of Jamie and what he was, what we were. The idea was to play to people’s imaginations. He looked like the hero on a movie poster or a book cover or a recruitment ad for the Navy. He was the epitome of badass. The new “America’s Navy” evidently included another species of human and they were milking Jamie for all he was worth.
He was a super soldier. Who didn’t love a super soldier?
Behind the podium, a video clip of Jamie going through a workout on the beach was playing. His shirt was off and on camera those patches of blue-green skin left by his time in the Deep looked like tattoos, which only added to his badassness. He was carrying the load of a whole team of men on his back, but he was sweating, and grunting, and breathing heavy, and though he was obviously strong as shit, he was showing just enough weakness to make him relatable. He didn’t look scary. He looked inspiring. Hell, I was about to sign-up myself.
The questions continued; carefully selected questions with carefully selected answers with just enough antagonism and suspicion from those asking that it didn’t look and sound like a total snow job.
And if social media was any indication, the public was buying the image Jamie’s handlers had created hook, line, and sinker. Live tweets were running across the bottom of the screen, documenting the world’s reaction. Maybe the modern world needed a super hero after all.
Cree had his phone in his hands, monitoring #waterbreather. Jamie was going viral. And he hated every minute of it. He wasn’t even watching anymore. He’d gotten up from his stool and punched the mute button on the remote control.
“Dude. Some girl is offering to bl-“ Cree looked over at the girl table, grinning. “Sorry ladies.”
“Shut up, Cree.” Jamie tossed the remote on the bar, signaling Joe for another beer. It was his tenth. I was counting. Girls were a topic I tended to avoid with Jamie. He’d received his divorce papers earlier in the month. I’d sat beside him as he’d signed them. Drank with him afterward though I was the only one that ended up wasted.
Cree laughed, scrolling over his screen. “A marriage proposal from a Lauren. Natalie from Australia wants to have your babies.”
Cree kept talking and I not-so-patiently waited for the storm of Jamie’s anger.
“Some blowhard is calling you a right-winged conspiracy publicity stunt. The meatheads are out in force wanting to know your workout routine and what kind of supplements you take.”
“Cree. Really. Shut the hell up,” Jamie said, the irritation clear on his face. And I meant that literally. That brushstroke of blue skin grew a little darker, and the texture of it seemed to waver making it look like the ripple in a pool. It was subtle but unmistakable. Cree put his phone down.
The workout question had been highly anticipated. It was exactly the angle Jamie’s handlers were hoping would strike a chord with the public. Jamie had a website with his daily workout routine—functional, elite fitness guaranteed to be the next big thing. He’d gained over 10,000 followers in the first two hours of the website going live, most of them in one branch of the service or another. Whoever Marshall had hired to handle PR was a genius. This coming out of the closet stuff just might work to our advantage.
“We are all so getting laid tonight.” This from Donovan.
“Seriously?” I asked, my beer suspended halfway to my mouth. Call me old-fashioned, but I didn’t think it was respectful to talk in such a crude manner with the girls around.
“All I know is, at Flounders last night when I mentioned to this chick that I knew Jamie and was on his team before, she practically dragged me out of the bar. True story.”
I hadn’t been out in public much since Jamie’s reappearance, choosing to keep a low profile as most of us had, but on the few occasions I had been out, people had stared. They’d pointed. A few had laughed. Pictures had been taken, odd questions asked. I’d been hit on more than once. And it wasn’t as if any of us were strangers. I’d lived here all my life. Filled up the Bronco at the same gas station and was on a first-name basis with the guy that owned it. I waved at the garbage man. The name Jacobs meant something. It was a name that garnered respect. It was as if in the space of a few weeks we’d gone from mild-mannered citizens to celebrities.
“Wait. What happened?” Cree sat up in his chair and his eyes focused on the television. The twitter feed had stopped. He snatched his phone off the table checking the screen then turned a stunned expression on Jamie. “You broke it. You broke the internet.”
Some good natured ribbing occurred and after a few minutes Jamie almost looked like he might possibly relax. The press conference ended with a barrage of breathless run-on questions that went unanswered. The world didn’t tilt on its axis. A tsunami didn’t hit. The locals didn’t show up at Pirates with torches and pitchforks. I drank another beer. Levi and Jeb were too loud. Sammy was too quiet. Tate tried to get Farron to talk to him. Caris beat me at darts. Twice.
“Better luck next time.” She patted my cheek and offered me a sympathetic look. She knew what a turn on it was when she beat me at anything. I circled her wrist with my hand, and to hell with the audience, kissed her full on the mouth, tugging her toward one corner of the room where it was at least semi-private.
“Umm…” She nipped my bottom lip, pulling it into her mouth. “Promise me we’ll finish this later.” Her hands circled around my hips to cup my ass. “Quinn has some new samples she wants me and Farron to look at. I’ll see you later.”
Caris floated out of my grasp, following Quinn and Farron toward the exit.
With a nod from Levi, Sammy left his place at the bar and discreetly followed them. We weren’t expecting trouble, but we’d hardly let our three females walk into this new world without a proper escort. I kind of itched to go with them but that would have been too obvious. It was a game we played. We’d been looking out for them. We just didn’t want them to know we were looking out for them.
Donovan and Tate had crowded around Jamie and after a couple of back slaps they headed out too.
Those of us left—the core of our tribe—fell silent, exchanging baffled looks. We were out. Life was different. Life would change for us. Only it wasn’t different, and that felt weird because it should feel different. And I couldn’t help being disappointed at the lack of fanfare surrounding our coming out. A parade would have been nice.
I noticed the change in the atmosphere, a slight shift in the air to one more dark and sinister. I didn’t need to turn around to know those were Sol’s footsteps coming up the back steps from the beach, and now I was glad Caris had left. I didn’t want her to see this.
Shit was about to hit the fan for Sol, and I couldn't wait to get my hands dirty.
I turned around and let out a breath. Jamie had pushed off the bar and stood to his considerable height. Sol’s faced blanched, and his dark eyes widened like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His mouth fell open and he swallowed.
“How?” Sol’s voice cracked in a sort of awed disbelief. He lifted his hand as if to trace the patterns the Deep had left on Jamie’s skin. “I saw that boat blow to hell. I looked for you.”
I snorted. Oh goody. Sol looked for him. Like that made everything all hunky dory.
“Maybe you didn’t look hard enough.” I was on my feet too, my hands clenching and unclenching at my sides. It was all I could do not to pounce on Sol.
“Noah.” Jamie’s gaze cut to me and he shook his head.
“What? You’re going to just let him off the hook? He almost killed you.”
Jeb had gotten up too and was standing beside me as though offering his support. In fact, no one was sitting down anymore. No one was smiling. We’d made a circle around Sol and it slipped tighter like a noose.
Our little impromptu get together had quickly turned into something more official. It was the tribe’s right to see Sol punished. He wouldn’t be wholly welcome until some type of discipline had been administered. And the best part about it was we usually got to the administering.
Sol’s gaze lit on everyone in turn, his trademark smirk firmly in place.
“I’ll make it easy for you.” Then looking right at me, he said, “Gauntlet.”
Now he was talking.
“Gauntlet,” I said, meeting the challenge in his eyes as a sizzle of excitement coursed through the room.
“Gauntlet,” Jeb echoed without the slightest hesitation.
It was a simple matter of everyone casting their vote now.
“Gauntlet,” Daniel said, closing the circle tighter.
“Gauntlet,” Cree said, and my heart started pounding in anticipation.
Levi rose from his stool, downing the last of his beer in one long swallow. He slammed his empty bottle on the bar. “Gauntlet.”
Sol unsheathed the knife at his hip. “Let’s get this shit over with.”
~ ~ ~
This section is still labeled first draft. I still need to check on the titles Lt. Colonel and Petty Officer and see if they're right. Once I do that and do another read through I can change the label to revised draft at which point an editor looks at it. Edited to add: The titles weren't right. They've been changed.