The Jumpers 1: Luck of the Draw – Jeremy Huard

The Jumpers 1: Luck of the Draw - Jeremy Huard

“When you joined this company, you all swore to uphold three things within yourselves: Fortitude, resourcefulness, and loyalty. Men without those qualities are unequal to the tasks ahead of us. That is what makes us who we are.”
Gold took hold of a balancing loop behind him. The doors opened to reveal the landscape of the dark world rushing away beneath us and the angry roars of the engines beside us. Hisses from the necks of all of our suits emanated in unison as the masks began unrolling their backs.
“God knows what brought you all to my company of chosen men, but the fact remains you are all chosen. Uphold these virtues within yourselves and expect them from each other and you will survive. Lose them, and you will lose your life.”
At the parting words, our masks all hissed and slithered up from our backpacks like snakes on tracks and latched at our foreheads. As they began to close, Gold stood and watched over us. His eyes pried at our equipment, watching their predestined movements like a watchmaker examines his cogs. But I felt too that he watched each of us, pieces of equipment for his perfect use. He seemed satisfied with our function.
The transport bumped on an air pocket as we stood. The light began flashing above us and we prepared to jump. Gold stood next to the door, his hardened mask replacing his face with a hornet-like visage. I stood at the back of the line wit Blue’s hand on my shoulder.
The teams jumped out ahead of us at Gold’s signal. Five men jumped ahead of us, each paused a fair moment after the man ahead. Soon, it was my turn. Blue’s hand never left my shoulder.
I looked over the edge of the rushing ship. Nothing but a mad rushing blur awaited my leap. I took a calm breath. This is what I live for.
Gold signaled and I leapt from the ledge. Blue followed me a fraction of a second later. We both swung around to face the direction of the vanishing transport. As the jet sound faded, the sound of rushing air and my own breathing filled my ears.
“I don’t like boosters in the dark. A light signature may be worse than a hard landing.” Blue’s voice mildly came through the com-link. He nodded down into a nosedive to catch up with me.
“I concur. But there’s a while yet before we need think about landing. Begin scans for a suitable spot. Nowhere near religious institutions, meeting places, anyplace there might be too many Orions gathered.” I sucked in a breath as the pressure on my chest increased while the heat absorbed into my suit. “We need to keep body count to a minimum until we have established a few hides.”
Blue coasted farther away from me and I heard his breathing quicken. He floundered for a moment in the air before catching himself again. He began to scan the ground slowly from his visor.
“Nervous Big Guy?”
“Shut up Brains.”
I chuckled to myself and dove down further. Clouds rushed by and as we tore through them a beautiful clarity opened over the world. Domestic and public fires burned underneath us. A city, bright and beautiful in the lights of its fires, lay beneath us.
“There!” Blue’s voice hissed through the com. “Bloody hell, the city is crawling tonight. There must be something going on. We should set down outside just inside the walls. A back area, preferably storage and please, without livestock. You know how I feel about chickens.”
“I never did believe your Alektorophobia until we resided in a high-security pen for it.”
“Can we please not talk about that? Honestly, we’re here to do a job. Can we be here to do a job now?” His voice squeaked with irritation as the wings deployed in the backs of our suits, slowly flapping and slowing our descent.
“Very well.” I smiled to myself as we slowed and began to glide towards our destination. Farms surrounded the walled city. We silently soared over them and brushed over the unguarded walls. As we arrived, we both turned our wings to glide straight up. Our momentum died and we fell to the ground.
Both of us rolled as soon as we hit. The area around us was deserted of intelligent inhabitants. I saw Blue flinch as he heard a scratching sound. I pointed to a roosting crow in the tree at the center of the little courtyard. He relaxed and drew the suppressed pistol from the holster at his hip.
I smiled as we began to move forward. I drew my own suppressed pistol and we smoothly moved from wall to wall. All was darkness and silence, but as we continued, a distant noise grew in our ears.
“You want overwatch or point?” I asked as we paused against a crudely bricked wall.
“Which do you think Brains? You’re the smart one. You can do the adapting from here on out. I’ll make sure no one hits you in the back.” He spoke absently as his rifle snapped together.
“Soon as I see the target,” I said as I began to walk away. “I’ll light him with a ping, so keep half an eye on your GPS. And please don’t shoot me. It hurts.”
As I knelt down and began to move forward in a crouch, I heard Blue chuckling behind me. I saw a little display of what his eyes were seeing in my display as well as his vital signs. He began to climb the building next to us and follow me from the rooftops as I crept forward.
I rounded a corner cautiously to discover a roadblock. But more importantly to me, I saw a great light at the end of the street. I slowly crept over the roadblock and pushed the enhance button on my mask. The vision zoomed on my right eye and I saw a great bonfire. A figure stood above the rest of the odd creatures, gesturing, clenching and unclenching his jaw. The characteristic Orion snubbed beak in the relative shape of lips snapped at the air in front of his face. His eyes shocked me though. They roamed the crowd with a predatory calm I only knew from psychotic murderers and politicians. I moved ever closer, keeping to the shadows and knelt down as soon as I touched the edge of the firelight.
I nearly stumbled as a force collided with every inch of my body. I fell to one knee and saw every electronic item on my body fizzle for a moment. Something akin to a nail driving into the base of my skull erupted on my head and I crumpled to the ground.
“Red? What’s wrong? Your vitals are flipping out. Talk to me!” Blue’s voice seemed distant, an echo in the hollows of my burning mind. The pain brought a virginal silence. The pain faded and my vision cleared from the agony. As I saw again, I heard a voice.
“…And so it is on this day of all days that we remember the brave men of our city who set forth their lives as the purchase of freedom for our city. Let the fires light the night sky from wall to wall and spread the light of liberty. Drive out every shadow of doubt with the light and comfort of our security. Let the gods know our nobility in the face of all trial. Let every enemy tremble at our indomitable will…”
“Red? Talk to me!”
I cradled my head and slumped against the shadowed wall.
“Easy Blue, I’m ok. I don’t know what happened, but I can hear the target now. He was supposed to be doing whatever Orions do to communicate with the masses right? Take the one on the top of the platform.”
“Adjusting. 10 seconds.”
I pulled myself up off the ground and began to stumble away. The ground seemed to shake and shift under me. But the strength of the speech lessened as I got farther away. Soon, it was like a whisper.
“Sighted and ready. Give the order.”
“Hold for a second Blue. I need to get clear. All the side streets seem to be blocked off.”
I regained myself and moved to a corner.
“He’s moving. The arm waving must be done. Orders?” I swore to myself. There is never any time.
“Take him. I’ll get clear on the rooftops.”
“Don’t, not with me up here. You’ll be downrange.”
“Will you shoot him already!” I shouted into my mic. Noise caught my attention down the alley.
As a shot echoed over my head, an Orion with a sort of poncho wrapped over him stumbled out of the shadows. He held a bottle in one hand and squinted at me drunkenly. I sheathed my pistol and aimed a kick between his eyes. The Orion hit the ground stunned but I heard a different sound.
A tremendous scratching, rattling, slapping, trembling sound echoed over the otherwise silent city. It took me a moment to realize what it was. The voice of the Speaker was silenced. The plebeians were searching.
I began to run down the alleyway. Quickly, I searched through the scans of the city Blue had taken, looking for a way out of the area. My mind raced frantically as I heard the sound of a hundred slapping feet begin to rise behind me.
“Blue! Get out of here. Hide! I’ve been compromised!”
In a moment, I stopped. Ten stood in front of me, all bearing clubs, torches, or anything they could lay their hands to. I leveled my pistol and readied myself to fire. When I tried to pull the trigger, I couldn’t move.
I strained my mind against a force, some blocking force that prevented my movement. The Orions before me noiselessly approached with wrath evident on their faces. One ran ahead of the rest and beat the weapon from my hand before landing a heavy blow on my forehead. I heard a hiss above me as the Orion bent to put his four-fingered hand around my neck.
The Orion’s head snapped up and squinted at a figure shadowed at the edge of the torchlight. The figure wore a flowing robe that wrapped over one shoulder. He waved a hand and the plebe backed away from me reluctantly.
“Bring light and take him to my personal study. He ought to have a partner somewhere within the city. Do not approach him with hostility. Send Equal Delios and Equal Phaeton to speak with the other. Bring him to me as soon as you can.”
Hands grasped my paralyzed body and gingerly lifted me off the ground taking me to I knew not where.