Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Unforeseen Enemy


As Jack and his partner track down those responsible for a string of murders, Jack discovers that the deaths are part of something more than just the heinous scheme of a deranged serial killer. A sinister plan to bring the 'Holy Grail' of biotechnology to life is unravelled.


If only the leather rifle case was in front of him. He would pack it in: the sniper rifle, the assignment, his career. The smell of damp tar filled Jack's nostrils as he lowered his head. The fumes made his eyes water and his headache intensified. It was far too late to back out.

Nestling the bi-pod into the roof gutter, he double checked his right knee. It was at a perfect, ninety degree angle. He never checked his leg, why now? However abnormal, given what had happened, it was a wise precaution.

Jack fixed the M40 bolt-action sniper rifle firmly in the pocket of his shoulder through the gentle pull of his fingers, then closed his eyes. He tried to meditate on the sound of dead leaves scattering around him and the din of traffic below - the final engagement with the world before he shut the door on all distractions. A sharp leaf from a tree on the roof pricked his neck. Jack scowled at the sky.

Jack gripped the small of the stock behind the trigger; his skin tingled as it pressed against the cold cheek piece. His brain resisted the usual coaxing, coming up with words of discouragement. He sighed. Impatient honks from the traffic still had his full attention.

There was still a vestige of evening light in the sky and he was an imperceptible dot. Even if he stood up, his six foot body would go unnoticed. Why the angst? Jack rubbed the ice cold metal with his cheek whilst cold sweat trickled down his brow, despite the raw air.

He lowered his eye to the scope.

Tunnel vision, so familiar to him, refused to expel his rogue thoughts from his head.

One block away, on the third floor, the light came on in the corner room of the hotel. Jack adjusted the cross-hairs. The obese man in his sights fitted the description. The target shuffled his feet behind a stroller seat walker. He dragged his weight to the other end of the room and allowed himself to fall onto a sofa. He spread his arms on the backrest and wiggled to shift his torso. His flabby jowls shook as his head turned towards the window. The look suggested that he would have preferred the curtains to be drawn closed.

A rush of static killed the last hopes of Jack's latent focusing abilities returning to him.

“Bravo, Beta's companion has arrived. Moving into position. Ten twelve,” came the voice of Jack's fellow American CIA member.

10-12. Standby. The earpiece was an itch that Jack could not scratch. He had reached the stage when the quick-set plaster began to set. He had to lie stiff and motionless, the cast only to be removed safely once the job was done.

The target rocked forward; his arms reached down to lift a metal briefcase. The man set the briefcase down on his lap. His sausage fingers flicked the latches and he inspected the contents and lifted a brochure in his swollen hands. Jack's brow creased. Inside the briefcase, bundles of cash were visible now that the briefcase had been placed on the sofa. The brochure opened. The graphic on the cover was a large DNA double-helix. Jack's chest tightened.

The target dropped the brochure and clutched the handles of his walker; he looked in the direction of the door – stage left, Jack's right. Jack panned to the door where a slender woman stood.

The cross-hairs returned to the target on the other side of the room. The man appraised the woman's figure with a salacious grin. He beckoned her with his flapping hand to join him on the sofa.

The cross-hairs returned to the woman's perfectly symmetrical face. Her radiant red hair shimmered under the spotlights. Her complexion was as white as milk and looked almost wax-like. Full lips formed a meek smile as she drew wisps of hair behind her ears. The spaghetti straps of her negligee rolled off her shoulders and the garment fell to her ankles. Jack simply observed as she padded over to the target. Logically, he knew how provocative she was.

The duo both fitted inside Jack's narrow, circular field of view, making the contrast between youthful radiance and shameless old age momentous.

Still no green light for the kill shot.

The woman sank to her knees and placed her hands flat on the man's tree trunk thighs. That did not explain why there was so much cash. The cross-hairs converged on the target's forehead. A lecherous grin caused the doughy face to open. The man tilted his head back and grabbed a fistful of the woman's hair. He swept it away from her shoulder, revealing a tattoo the size of the man's hand. The swirling black ink in her pale skin stood out – a DNA double-helix tattoo.

The instructions played like a looped audio track in Jack's head.

It's imperative, Jack, shoot when instructed to. The target's companion escapes, got it? She'll run straight into our arms.

The target pushed the woman's face away and she lost her balance and fell onto her hip. She flicked her hair and placed her hands back on the man's thighs with deft, mechanical motions. The man gripped her wrists and motioned to the door, her right wrist still clutched in the hand he used to point. 

Jack felt the back of his teeth with his tongue, unable to decide whether to focus the cross-hairs on the target or see what had interrupted the private rendezvous. He bit his lip, brow strained, eyes aching from not blinking. It was too tempting. Jack removed his finger from the trigger and panned to the door.

There was no table on wheels, no covered silver platter - not room service. A man wearing jeans, a dark knit sweater, and a balaclava stood in the doorway.

Jack redirected the cross-hairs left. The woman jumped up on the sofa, shielding the obese man's face with her torso. Her breasts bounced as she secured her footing on the cushions. Jack ground his teeth, unable to decide which side of the room to focus on.

“Bravo,” came the familiar, clipped voice. “Crash. Beta is now the man who just entered. Kill the newcomer.”

Blood laced with adrenaline rushed to Jack's head.

“Bravo, do you copy?”

Jack managed a hasty “copy that” before another gust of wind slapped his face and lifted his fringe. It was as though a freezing wet towel was pressed against his exposed waist. He bit his numb lip.

The newcomer entered Jack's field of view and circled the sofa. He held a gun. He moved to the window and partially blocked the view of the almost naked woman and the man beneath her.

The cross-hairs converged on the back of the newcomer's head. The hairs prickled on the back of Jack's neck. He just needed to follow orders: ignore the fat man, ignore the woman, kill the newcomer. Jack inhaled air deep through his nostrils. It was ice cold. He flinched.

A slender vase near the window covered up the gap between the sedentary man's thighs. The newcomer had moved and the three people in the hotel room appeared to be frozen in time and space. An exchange of words stalling the trigger happy newcomer?

The woman stepped down from the sofa. The newcomer nodded in agreement as she picked up the briefcase. Jack tried to swallow but his tongue refused to move without sufficient moisture. The newcomer circled the duo. The woman pivoted on the ball of her foot to keep shielding the sedentary man. She held the briefcase out in her bent arm, her DNA double-helix tattoo just visible. The newcomer stood perfectly still. This was it. Jack's heart raced. Time to pull the trigger.

The woman flung the briefcase and it struck the newcomer square on the jaw.

Jack squeezed the trigger.

The round was expelled from the chamber.

MissedShards of ceramic covered the floor in front of the sofa and red tulips lay scattered.

Next round.

The target scrambled to his feet and knocked the woman over. He picked the briefcase up deftly and jolted towards the door, weapon raised. Jack adjusted his aim, the quick movements taunting him. The target was out of sight and the woman lay still on the floor. Her blood blended with the tulips - shot dead by the newcomer.

Jack's teeth bit the inside of his mouth. He lifted the weapon and unscrewed the muzzle brake suppressor, then slung the bag across his shoulder. The contents prodded him in the back as he sprinted. At the other side of the roof, Jack skidded to a halt and grabbed hold of a ladder. He peeled his warm leather glove off his firing hand. The palm was bloody, sliced open by the rusty pin he had pulled out that released the lower half of the ladder. The ladder clattered to a halt below and swayed back and forth. The pit of his stomach protested. Jack held his firing hand out flat. It was trembling.

On the street, Jack paused to check the corner from a distance. His colleague was not there. 

Adrenaline coursed through his body. He glanced at his watch. Rush hour was over and the get away would be quick. Jack sprinted, fighting the urge to yank the ear piece out. “Free. I Failed. I Failed.”

“Copy. Bravo, knot.”

Negative. The order to meet by the rendezvous point was preposterous.

He would rather die. An acidic heat brushed the back of his throat. Gagging, Jack sprinted towards the hotel. Towards the killer.

Jack shoulder-barged a revolving door at the top of a set of white marble steps. He visualised the hotel floor plans and hurried past a security guard and concierges inside the lobby, towards the first place he could think to check. An inner courtyard with a passage-way at the back enabled access to the street and the hotel's underground parking lot.

Jack sprinted past an elderly couple drinking tea in the lounge, towards the door at the back. He shoulder-barged it but it rattled in its frame in protest. As he pulled the handle towards him, his eyes briefly locked with those of the smug woman, her partner oblivious.

Jack slammed the door behind his back.

His team mate Clive was nowhere to be seen. After another scan, he spotted a patch of light behind a fountain. The light shone between a tall copper mermaid's elbow and the horn it was holding up to its mouth. The sound of falling water rapidly increased and decreased in a wave as Jack darted past the copper-plated fountain, towards the light and the parking lot beyond.

Lights should have remained on for hotel guests. A sliver of light from a window illuminated a sign on a door that read, “PARKING.” Something was wedged between the door and the frame. A foot. Jack pulled his Beretta out of his shoulder holster and felt around on the other side of the wall for a light switch. The lights did not come on. He turned his flashlight on and held it in his left hand over the top of his right forearm, the gun gripped tight in his right hand. The door slammed into the wall from the force of the kick.

He was inside a stairwell. He swept from left to right.

Jack peered down. Clive lay spread-eagled on the floor, his chin in his chest, head propped up by a banister. The crimson spot between the tall, muscular man's closed eyes explained his fate. Jack had never knocked his boxing buddy to the mat. Today he lay dead. A surge of adrenaline rushed through Jack's body.

Clive's Beretta had been taken.

“Alpha, do you copy?” came the voice of Jack's fellow American CIA member. There was a rush of static. “Knot. Repeat, knot.”

Negative. No rendezvous until the fucker's dead.

Jack squinted and tried to peer beyond the banister, his stomach twisting. It was too dark to make out anything beyond Clive's limp body. The light from the flashlight was too weak. Jack felt his teeth dig into his lip. Clive's blood had spread to Jack's feet. The target was no longer a mere shape in his scope. He would go after the newcomer and beat him to a pulp with his bare hands. There would be no rendezvous until the killer was stone cold dead, like Clive.

Too much empathy, that's your problem, son, Jack heard his father's voice say. Don't want to kill, don't want to eat. Don't worry, the deer won't know what hit him. Minute you start feeling, you've lost. Blinking hard, Jack squeezed the hand rail tightly, then crept down the stairs, into the dark.


“Did you go through it?” the young psychologist asked, pointing at the report.

Fischer wondered whether the man was aware of his body language or if he enjoyed emasculating himself. “Yeah,” he replied. He could not make out the psychologist's name on the file in front of him. The letters were upside down and, without his spectacles on, Fischer remained clueless. “But I didn't understand your psycho-babble. Who else am I supposed to send? Jack is the man for the job.”

“You need to consider my assessment.”


“Jack Flynn still wears his ring. The poor chap hasn't been the same - not himself,” the psychologist said, as though he actually knew Jack. The young man looked aloof as he wiped his spectacles with a handkerchief, then felt his head to make sure that his neat parting was not jeopardised by loose hairs.

“You married?” Fischer asked, glancing at the young man's naked finger. “Ever been married?”

The psychologist frowned and held his spectacles up towards the florescent light, squinting as he inspected them. “My personal life is inconsequential. Brown agrees with my assessment.”


“Jack's responded very negatively to high pressure situations in the past.” The psychologist pressed the bridge of his spectacles in place with his finger. “My assessment – it's not just a hunch you see. His failure in Afghanistan was the root cause of his other failures. Patterns shouldn't be overlooked. I wouldn't trust him to take on a new, important assignment.”

Fischer waved his giant, wrinkled hand. “His performance appraisal reports have always been good,” he said, laying on his Texan accent extra thick as he dismissed the upper class Brit's disparaging comments. “Didn't Brown show you those reports?”

“I know the chap's performed well in the past. But he's got three negative reference points for that particular type of scenario. There's always been zero room for error.”

“Zero room for error huh. Is that how Brown put it to ya?”

“It's a trend. I figured—”

Figured?” Fischer said, scratching his temple with the end of his silver fountain pen.

“The thought of failure could trigger a stress response next time. If he's put under the same pressure.”

“Oh, come on. Just say it.”


“You think he's just another jarhead gone loco huh?”


“But I guess you can't write that. So he's got three negative points in your book. What's the third, doctor?”

Reference points. Points of reference. He missed a vital shot in Bucharest most recently.”

Fischer caught himself crinkling the first page of Jack's psych report with his fingers. “And?” The psychologist's eyes averted his.

“Brown agrees with my assessment,” the psychologist repeated. “We agree you should opt for someone else this time.” The psychologist offered a smile that did not reach his eyes, his facial muscles strained. “This assignment's going to require close collaboration. The majority of Jack's successful missions have been completed with... limited teamwork,” he said, stroking his lapels.

Fischer stared incredulously at the psychologist. The young man held his gaze. As the Deputy Director of Operations, Brown had stamped his authority but the decision was still his to make, nobody else's. Jack Flynn was the man for the job.

“Look, Jack was in the Marines damn it,” Fischer said, his feet tapping the floor involuntarily.

“Yes, I'm well aware. But he wasn't really one of them from what I've gathered. The chap has a rather independent mind.”

“Independent mind,” Fischer repeated sarcastically. “You wrote he passed the physical right?”

“Yes, he passed. Just. Jack has plateaued when it comes to strength and his stamina is not great but I suppose it's to be expected at his age.”

Fischer forced a laugh. “You're tellin' me. He's only thirty-eight.”

“Passed the medical evaluation too, as I wrote.”

“Two out of two. There you go, the ivory tower team should be happy with that, right? Chuffed, that the British expression? What are your thoughts on Yi Ling?”

“Ling? Highly competent. I mean, she got the highest test score in the academy's history. Seemed to know where the best locations were to plant those bugs through intuition.”

“I know what she can do. I've seen her test scores. What's she like? As a person. Any... issues?”

“She's healthy, no family history that would set off alarm bells. From what I hear, her tech skills are unparalleled. Came in handy in Paris. Ah, sorry, I've said too much,” the psychologist said. His eyes sparkled with self-satisfaction. “Passed the post-assignment psych evaluation sans probleme. Quite frankly, she seemed unperturbed by it all.”

“So she likes it rough? Ain't mean much.”


“Ain't seen nothin'. She didn't kill anybody in Paris, right?”


“Tell me doc, have you ever killed a man?”

“Goodness. Look, I don't feel comfortable joking about such an unsettling topic.”

“Changes a man. And Jack's attention to detail's – I've never seen anything like it. But you've got that written down in your file, right? Brown tell you this?”

“Brown was forthcoming. He stressed that you need to take my assessment very seriously.”

Fischer glanced at his watch. “Oh, looks like time's up. I've got another meetin',” he said, hastily standing up. His six foot six frame towered over the psychologist. “It was a pleasure. I'll get back to you, all right.” The fingers of his left hand squeezed into a tight fist as he offered his right hand.

Fischer followed the short young man to the door and ushered him out. Once the door clicked shut, he slumped back into his leather-padded chair and returned his attention to the stacks of paper spread around his large mahogany desk. He extracted a cigar from his breast pocket and ran the entire length of the wrapping under his nose, allowing the familiar tobacco scent to fill his nostrils.

At least the rapid technological advancement of society had not put an end to the manufacture of traditional cigars. Fischer lit up and took a few short puffs. The insides of his cheeks grew warm and his shoulders relaxed. As he watched one smoke ring chase another, he let the significance of Jack Flynn's failure fade.


“What am I dealing with?” Jack asked.

“Guy's called Lazar. A Romanian criminal,” Fischer said. “You'll want to remember that name, all right. Lazar. Was investigated for money launderin' months back. Somehow the case files got lost and the case was dropped. See, our friend Jones infiltrated Lazar's crime syndicate.”

“Okay. Who's Jones?”

“Don't worry about Jones. He's not important. Not anymore. So, you remember the guy you were s'pose to kill?”

“Yeah,” Jack said. It was difficult to forget a botched assassination attempt in freezing Bucharest. Fischer's slow Texan drawl added to the condescension. The question was not uncharacteristic of the pompous way Fischer ensured that everybody understood things as well as he did.

“Jones identified the guy you were s'pose to kill,” Fischer said, a thick cigar moving up and down between his fleshy lips as he spoke. “Specifically, the guy you failed to kill is Lazar's right hand man, name's Artur Groza. He's another Romanian. If you'd killed Artur Groza, crap would'a hit the fan big time for Lazar. Thought you should know,” Fischer added casually.

Jack let the revelation sink in whilst he watched Fischer tilt his head back. The Texan puffed away furiously, then blew a thick cloud of smoke. As with all of the people he had been sent to kill in the past, Jack had simply followed orders, no questions asked.

In the most recent dream, Artur Groza had smelled red tulips grasped in his hand, then thrown the flowers onto the obese man, who lay dead. In the dream, the woman had never shown up. Dreams distorted reality in bizarre ways. What would his subconscious come up with next?

“... And anyone who tries to tell you somethin' different doesn't know what they're talkin' about,” Fischer said.

Jack straightened his back and took a sip of water. “How was Lazar's crime syndicate infiltrated?”

“Jones... he's CIA... infiltrated the crime syndicate months back. You been listenin' to a single word I just said?”

“No. Yeah, I meant, how did Jones infiltrate Lazar's organisation? I'm guessing Lazar didn't know that Jones was CIA?”

“Well course not. Don't worry about that. Look, before Lazar and his guys smelled a rat and blew Jones' brains out, Jones sent us some intel from Singapore. That's where the team's pickin' up a scent. Our people are lookin' for Lazar in Singapore right now.”

“The CIA is onto this big fish Lazar,” Jack said, thinking aloud. “I'm guessing this is where I come in?”

“Well done Jack, really, well done. I've got a meetin' with Brown later. Goin' to decide who's goin' with you to Singapore. We're lookin' at Yi Ling as your partner. But don't worry about her just yet. And I didn't mention her name, okay? I've got some homework for you. Straight from Brown himself.”

Jack took another sip of water. Fischer and Brown – the Deputy Director of Operations - would discuss more than just Yi Ling, if they even discussed her at all. Their shared passion for cigars seemed insatiable. The old-timers were true chums and were too wary of stepping on each other's feet to question each other's decisions.

Brown's official blessing was purely a formality. Jack was irritable from the lack of sleep and annoyed by Fischer's way of formulating things - his indirectness. “Homework?”

“Brown said the agent I want to send to Singapore can get started with these files. I want you,” Fischer said, pointing his finger like an Uncle Sam recruitment poster. Fischer let out a burst of laughter. “You passed everythin.' You're good to go,” he added with a rueful grin, tapping a set of files. “P-L-R-H. Proscribed and Limited, Restricted Handling. Mum's the word, right. I'm going to brief Yi in full tomorrow mornin'. I've told her to go ahead and do the pre-mission weapons test. Brown's just - it's just a formality.”

“Here you go,” Fischer said, pushing the files forcefully into Jack's chest. “I'll get back to you. Oh, and you'll go see the techies a.s.a.p. They've got somethin' for you. A little goin' away gift.”

Jack shut the door and heard Fischer curse vehemently. Something shattered and showered the tile floor with the sound of wind chimes. Fischer had done a sloppy job of covering psych reports on the desk with a newspaper – Singapore Today.

Jack tapped the files with his fingers. He had the chance to track down and kill the man he had failed to kill. He could still avenge Clive. So much weight had been lifted off his shoulders. The opportunity to clean up the Bucharest mess gave him renewed energy and the corners of his mouth twisted up into a smile.

As the elevator doors began to close, Jack reached into his breast pocket for his wedding ring. The ring usually absorbed his attention. He rolled it between his thumb and index finger. Standing inside cramped elevators had become a phobia. How had that come about? He questioned the reliability of a relatively thin cable lifting you up tens of metres in the air as you dangled perilously, trapped between four walls. When was the first time he had ever thought about elevator cables?

Old elevators were the worst. The way they creaked and shuddered as they descended was nauseating. Thankfully, he was alone. Jack imagined the cable snapping like a piece of string cut without warning. A chill spread at the pit of his stomach. He rubbed the ring. Fusing a lock of hair into the platinum had cost a fortune. How much had he paid for that?

Jack exited the elevator at ground level and continued past large historic maps of London and Paris. He reached a series of windows that framed an inner courtyard. A group sat around a table under a tree, drinking coffee and chatting. He continued to navigate his way through the maze-like ground floor of the Old Headquarters Building. He stopped by The Coffee Cart and, as if on auto-pilot, found himself sliding three one dollar bills out of his wallet. “The usual please. Here, it's three dollars.”

It took a short while for the blind barrista to feel around for the correct change. “Hi Jack. Here you go, fifty cents change.

“Thanks Bill.”

“Here you go. Your black Americano. Watch your step, it's hot.”

“I'll be careful,” Jack said, forcing a laugh. “You take care, all right.”

Jack took a cautious sip of the steaming brew and resumed his stroll until he saw the distinctly Asian art work in the corridor of the East Asia Division. He smiled at the CIA's unceasing need for acronyms. He reached the relevant door and punched in the code on the cipher lock close to the acronym. Did anyone know what they actually stood for?

Jack found an empty conference room, dropped the files on the desk, and stroked his temples, preparing to engage his photographic memory. Once he had finished going through the Proscribed and Limited and Restricted Handling project files he would meet the tech people. Evidently, the project was not widely known in the Agency and was closely held. He wandered who else knew about the project. The back of his neck tingled as though a spider was creeping up it.

“You'll use this laptop to write your observations, surveillance reports and stuff. It's built into the bullet-proof metal case,” a young, male technician said. “Only your thumb prints can unlock it.”

“Very nice,” Jack said. “And my exploding pen?”

“Pen?” The technician frowned and unlocked a drawer under a desk using a key attached to his chinos by a retractable chord. He wore thick rimmed spectacles and a sleeveless blue shirt that was too loose-fitting for his skinny frame. Tech geeks did little to change the stereotype of themselves. “This is for you too,” the technician said, finding whatever it was he had been looking for.

“What's this? Lipstick? I think you've got me confused with someone else,” Jack said.

The technician laughed. “Don't worry Flynn. Only kidding. It's for Yi Ling. What's she like? Must be looking forward to working with her. Steve told me her dad started teaching her Aikido when she was a kid. Says the guys at the academy don't stand a chance in hell against her. Get their asses handed to them every time.”

Jack shrugged. “Isn't Aikido a Japanese martial art?”

“Yeah, think so.”

“Ling is a Chinese name, so why would her dad teach her a Japanese martial art if he's Chinese?”

“Her mum's Japanese I think. Guess it must have been her mum who taught her.”

Jack gave the technician a sceptical look. “Look, I have no idea what she's like. Never met her. Whoever told you we're working together...”

The technician blushed and scratched his pimpled neck. “Nobody said that. I'm just assuming, based on—”

“Don't assume. I wouldn't be surprised if she's never seen one of these by the sound of things though. Good thinking.”

The technician laughed. “Well, it's a good thing you can see what it's supposed to resemble. It's a new type of CD.”

“You had me fooled, could have sworn it was supposed to resemble lipstick. But hey, I hope it plays Foo Fighters,” Jack said. He cringed in his mind.

The technician laughed on cue. “No. It's a concealment device. There's a hidden cavity in the case. Look, here. The device inside sends out a radio distress signal. If Ling gets into trouble, all she has to do is twist it. Like this. She'll be in good hands though, won't she?”

“Look, what's your name?” Jack asked.

“Sorry, sorry. I should have introduced myself properly. Otto.”

“Whatever, here's the thing, Yi Ling and I have got nothing to do with each other.”

The technician's face fell but a hint of scepticism lingered. “Don't worry, I've got one for you too.”


“Do you want lipstick?”

Jack stared at the technician with a straight face.

“Sorry, just a joke. You get a cigarette lighter. Similar though. You've just got to keep the flame alive for at least two full seconds.”

“Thanks for the toys Q.”

The technician's supplicating smile dissolved. “They're not toys. This is the real deal. The lipstick, please?”

Jack flicked the lighter fondly as he peered down at the wide expanse of the academy shooting range. Why was so much money pumped into the bizarre, state-of-the-art academy building? It seemed that every time he came to the building to follow Yi Ling's progress, a new change had been made. He had felt resistance towards more or less telling the technician that he did not know who Yi was.

The money spent on the academy could have treated the wear and tear of the drab Old Headquarters Building. It had been a long time since the building had been renovated. Pictures of past presidents, autographed and inscribed with notes such as Thanks to all of the employees of the CIA, hung on the peeling walls. The gratitude was not reflected by the government's current financial strategies. The rationale seemed to be that less funding meant prioritising. The CIA had chosen to prioritise its next generation of agents.

Jack scanned the young faces lining the shooting range until his eyes locked on Yi. The barrel of a standard issue twelve gauge shotgun was perched on her shoulder. He stared at the target flapping and whizzing towards her. The target – a paper silhouette of a man's upper body and head - was one of many that she had decapitated in a rapid succession. If she had done as well with the 9mm and .38 revolver, she had aced the pre-mission weapons test. Of course she had.

The smell of cordite filled Jack's nostrils as two fervent academy clones walked past him, chatting enthusiastically about the weapons they had fired. One of them had a beard. It suggested life experience, but beard had never been shot at, not knowing whether the air he was sucking in would constitute his last breath. Jack sighed and blinked hard. He was good at making himself feel old. Jack flicked the lighter one last time and smiled ruefully as he watched guns being fired by uninitiated hands.