Alpha, p.1
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       Alpha, p.1

           Daniel Schmidt

  By Daniel Schmidt

  Text copyright © 2017 Daniel Schmidt

  All Rights Reserved

  To my wife for all her love and support

  To all Veterans, past and present

  Table of Contents


































  Chapter 1

  The aspen trees surrounded me in their full autumn colors. Red, orange, and yellow leaves adorned the branches of each tree and covered the ground in a thick, colorful blanket that softened my footsteps. In the distance, towering over the trees stood the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks of Northern Arizona. Behind me sat the graveyard and all around me was complete silence, broken only by the occasional gust of cold wind.

  A particularly strong gust kicked up and blew through my jacket and brushed leaves through my legs, causing me to stop and look back to the graveyard. The pain in my chest from only minutes before returned as my eyes focused on the gravestone I had just come from. Frustration and anger built inside me until the wind picked up again, this time sending leaves smacking against my face. I turned away and stepped to the hard pavement of the street.

  As my eyes moved up the street, I saw an unfamiliar woman in blue jeans and a tight-fitting brown jacket leaning against the grill of my truck. She looked tall and athletic, with fair hair spilling over her shoulders. She looked perfectly at ease, with one leg kicked up behind her resting on my bumper.

  Most days I would have welcomed a chance meeting with a tall blond, but her demeanor unnerved me. Women don’t just have chance meetings in a graveyard with strangers. She looked too calm, too out of place, and my senses tingled, telling me that something was wrong. As I strode towards her I scanned around me as casually as I could.

  The graveyard stood to my left but I saw nothing except a sea of aspen trees. In front of me, down the street, was a row of apartment buildings deserted like the graveyard. Off to my right stood a large parking garage, newly built by the University but silent and empty on the fall holiday.

  As I stepped to within ten paces of the woman, I stopped and my eyes found hers. She had bright blue eyes, almost too bright, and they locked on to me with unshakable, almost predatory confidence. I judged she was just a little younger than me, probably late-twenties. She wore no makeup and she didn’t have to – her skin was flawless.

  I smiled as best I could. “Hello. Can I help you?” I asked, my breath forming white wisps in the cold autumn air.

  The woman smiled, revealing a set of perfectly straight and white teeth. “I think so,” she said. “You’re Paul Trent right?”

  A painful shiver starting at the base of my spine shot up to my neck. My mouth instantly went dry and my stomach twisted in an uncomfortable knot. My palms started to sweat and my heart beat harder and harder. My senses had been right – something was wrong.

  No one was supposed to know my real name here. I looked quickly around me again, fear building inside me. I saw nothing, nothing yet. I breathed quickly and fought back the fear knowing I couldn’t let it show. My eyes returned to the woman.

  “I’m sorry, do I know you?” I asked.

  “We’ve never spoken but I’ve seen you around,” she said.

  My mind raced as I stepped closer to the woman to try to place her. I ran through a mental list of all the people I had met in Northern Arizona but nothing clicked.

  “I’m sorry, you don’t look familiar and I need to get going,” I said, knowing that if she knew my real name I needed to get away from her as quickly as possible.

  The woman stepped closer, bringing us to within touching distance. “You’re not interested in why I’m here?” she asked.

  “Why are you here?” I asked quickly.

  “I’m here to offer you a job, one I know you want.”

  I wanted to back away from her, but I stood my ground. I lifted my hands in confusion.

  “What are you talking about? I haven’t applied for any jobs.”

  My mind quickly returned to the question of her identity and how she knew my name.

  “Paul, I have a job for you. It pays more than you’ve ever made in your life and it’s doing what you love to do, what you were born to do.”

  I expected her to continue but after a few moments of silence I asked, “And what was I born to do?”

  “Fight,” she said softly.

  I felt angry, but I was not entirely sure why. I angled around her, starting towards my truck’s door.

  “I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t need a job. I have one, thank you.”

  When I got to the driver’s door she turned towards me and spoke.

  “You don’t have to hide anymore Paul. Come join me and I promise you will find yourself again.”

  I didn’t have to hide anymore?! Her comment drove fear further into me. I stepped away from the door.

  “Look lady, I don’t know what you are talking about. You must have the wrong guy because I don’t even know who you are or what you’re talking about.”

  “But I know you Paul, probably better than you know yourself.”

  Another shot of pain ran up and then down my spine, and I struggled not to let it show. “Again, I don’t know what you are talking about. I need to get home,” I said as I opened my truck’s door.

  I saw her reach inside her jacket. I thought she might pull out a weapon and my hand instinctively went to my pistol concealed under my shirt. I casually pulled the pistol out but kept it hidden behind the door. The woman took out a large round coin. I slowly slid the pistol back into its holster as she stepped towards me.

  She spoke softly. “I want you to come fight for me Paul. I guarantee that you will find the camaraderie and trust you miss so much.” She smiled. “And you will find yourself, the real you. Trust me.”

  The woman looked down at the coin, spun it in her fingers a few times, and then held it out towards me. The look on her face and the tone of her voice seemed genuine, but I wondered if the coin was a sign, a token given to a marked man. I slowly reached out and took the coin, keeping my other hand on my pistol.

  My fingers touched hers for a second as I took the coin, and they – and the coin – felt abnormally warm. I pulled it back towards me, keeping my eyes on the woman. She looked at the graveyard and then back at me.

  “Well, I know where to find you now. I’ll be back tomorrow, same time, to tell you more.”

  She turned and walked quickly away. I half wanted to run after her and question her, but the other half of me was glad she left. I watched her disappear around a street corner, and then I finally looked down at the coin.

  Five strange symbols were etched into the heavy gray metal. The symbols were made with varying straight lines that looked something like ancient runes. I tried to break it, thinking a tracking device or something sinister was inside, but it did not yield. I glanced around one more time and then jumped into my truck and tore
off down the road.

  With all the college kids gone, this small Arizona mountain town didn’t have much traffic. I sped off in the opposite direction the woman had gone. I turned on to the main road that ran through town and drove away from where I needed to go. The woman’s words played and played in my mind, and the fact that she knew my name drove me a little crazy. I circled back on my route several times, thinking someone would be following me, but I saw no one.

  I stopped at a restaurant, sat in the back, facing the door, and watched people come in and out. I ordered a meal but couldn’t eat. I couldn’t stomach the fact that I had been found out, that I was in danger now, real danger. I knew I had to leave right away. After waiting for the sun to go down, I paid the bill and drove to my apartment to gather what little essentials I had there.

  The parking lot of my apartment complex was nearly full and I parked in the furthest row. A few dim lights surrounded the lot, and my eyes searched the darkness for danger or someone out of place. My heart slammed in my chest. I slowly stepped out of my truck and walked towards my front door.

  Halfway through the parking lot, I heard tires screeching – not like a car accelerating but one coming around a corner too quickly. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. My hand went to the pistol again. I thought it could be the rowdy kids that lived a building over, but more likely it was men coming to kill me.

  A dark-colored SUV without its lights on sped into the parking lot and stopped in front of my building. Two more pulled in behind me at each entrance leading from the street into the parking lot. It wasn’t the rowdy kids. I pulled out my pistol. This was it – my time was up.

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