Jake tossed and turned all night.
He was either too hot or too cold. Every time he was on the verge of dozing off, Smith asked if he was excited.
“The chance to train in the martial arts once again. I can’t wait.”
“If you keep depriving me of needed rest, you won’t like the results.”
“I had to endure Solomon’s 706 wives and 309 concubines. You have no idea about real sleep deprivation. I could tell you stories. . .”
“I don’t care. Besides, you’re an interface. You don’t need sleep.”
“Your personality traits for uncaring responses to those nearest you are disturbing.”
“Leave me alone. I need rest to be ready for whatever is going to happen tomorrow.”
“I understand. I’ll hum my favorite tune. It’s relaxing.”
“Look at the time. Only two hours until 8. Just enough time to shower, eat and pack. You should be getting up.”
Jake’s father argued with Mizrahi for over fifteen minutes.
All he accomplished was embarrassing Jake in front of the forty-five other new recruits. Mizrahi pointed out Jake’s legal age, mental capacity for decision-making and his voluntary signature on the legal forms. His best argument turned out to be the threat to have his dad arrested for interference with a governmental official.
Rob Goddard didn’t return Jake’s wave as the bus left the depot. Jake couldn’t decide whether the look on his dad was horror, anger or a combination of both. Jake wasn’t sure he cared. He was too busy trying to avoid the stares of the other recruits.
In the end, Jake sat by himself for the three hour bus ride. No one chose to sit by the American with the overprotective father. There was no doubt in Jake’s mind he was considered a wimp by the others.
The sun was high in the sky when they finally stepped off the bus and jogged into ragged lines before three stiff-backed Sergeants.
“When you are identified, proceed to the area indicated,” the Sergeant with the most stripes said. Pointing, he continued, “Kravi 05 and 07 here. Kravi 02 there.”
Jake was put in the Kravi 02 group with eight women and one other man. He got an uneasy feeling.
Leaning toward the only other man in his group, he whispered, “What’s the deal with Kravi 02. I don’t get it.”
“Count your blessings, little one,” he lisped. “02 training is for non-combatants and lasts only a month or so. Now be still.”
“This is not good. Learning to bake bread and wash laundry is not the way to learn how to kill people and break things.”
Jake defiantly raised his hand. The lead Sergeant with the nametag ‘G. Spitzer’ spotted him at once.
Looking at a clipboard, he said with dripping sarcasm, “What’s your problem, Recruit Goddard? From what I hear, Daddy will be happy with your training assignment.”
“Level 07 is where I should be assigned, Sir. I want combat.”
“You want combat. Well isn’t that wonderful. Go on then. March right over to 07. I must have made a mistake.” Again the sarcasm was thick.
Jake began walking toward the 07 group and was almost there when Spitzer said, “Can you believe the chutzpah of this American. Only a few minutes on Base and he thinks he’s in charge of decision making.”
Wondering what was going on, Jake stopped and regarded Spitzer with genuine puzzlement.
Spitzer said, “Sergeant Luzzatto, what should we do with Recruit Goddard? I don’t think he understands our simple protocols.”
In a voice that sounded clogged with sand, Luzzatto said, “I think a test to determine his physical abilities. If he can best me in a fight, he proves 07 is the better fit for him.”
“Very well. Test him.”
“Six-four. 235 pounds. Lean muscle mass. Kinda small but he’ll make do.”
“I’m dead,” Jake thought. “At least my stay in the infirmary will be restful.”
“Just relax. Object lessons are essential. Now face him.”
Jake took a relaxed stance less than three feet from Luzzatto. The man’s balled fists looked huge, but based upon his past experience with Smith, Jake simply smiled.
With no warning, Luzzatto struck with a combination of fists, elbows and kicks. The power of his blows knocked the wind from Jake and laid him flat on his back. With a supreme effort, Jake managed to hold onto consciousness. He tasted blood, and two of his teeth felt loose.
“What kind of fighting technique was that?”
Struggling to his feet, Jake wobbled. Luzzatto hadn’t changed expression. The creases in his shirt and pants weren’t disturbed in the least.
He wasn’t finished. Twirling low, he swept Jake’s legs from under him. Landing flat on his back on the dusty asphalt, Jake felt his skull bounce and his dizziness increased.
“Don’t get up. Your injuries are much worse than I anticipated. If this beating continues, you will suffer permanent injury.”
“Why didn’t you protect me?”
“Don’t complain. This style of fighting is new to me. Let me look through my archives. Yes. Here it is. Krav Maga. A combination of Karate, Judo, Boxing and Aikido all mashed together into a formidable hand-to-hand combat technique. Simple enough.”
“Simple? People take years to learn how to fight like that guy.”
“It won’t take you anywhere near so long to be proficient. Besides, dirty tricks are my specialty.”
Jake levered to his elbows and spat blood. He wiggled one of his loose teeth with his tongue, and it broke free. Spitting it to the pavement, he pushed up and faced Luzzatto with a scowl. He heard muted laughter from the 07 group.
“I’m still standing here. 07 is where I belong.”
Luzzatto’s superior smile turned to a frown. It looked like the only way to end the fight was to put the kid down permanently. He had to be careful about the ramifications of injuring a new recruit. Regs required him to use restraint, but this boy was trying his patience. A broken arm was acceptable. It was treatable, and the healing time would keep the troublemaker from influencing the other recruits. Receiving a go-ahead nod from Spitzer, Luzzatto charged.
Jake felt the ring snug and relaxed. Feeling Smith manipulate his body, he sidestepped the charge, bent and flexed his hip. Luzzatto’s own momentum guided by Jake’s arm push, sent him sprawling to the pavement.
Scrambling to a squat, Luzzatto looked at his ruined shirt and snarled. Even his nameplate was scuffed. The embarrassment of getting knocked off his feet and mussing his uniform was too much. The arm break was going to be a permanent disability now.
Pushing off the asphalt, he rushed Jake like a linebacker determined to sack a quarterback in the championship game. His teeth were clenched, and Jake thought he heard a guttural snarl.
Pirouetting from the charge like a matador, Jake stiffened his fingers and chopped against the side of the man’s throat. At the same time, he kneed Luzzatto in the gut and clubbed the center of his back with an elbow.
Each blow was sharp, not hard, but the results were devastating. Luzzatto lost consciousness as his carotid artery slammed shut. His body toppled to the pavement and assumed a fetal position. His arms and legs twitched involuntarily.
With a look of determination, Jake faced Sergeant Spitzer. The man’s eyes showed white all around.
“I think under the circumstances I should be a member of 07. With your permission, Sir, I need to see the Base dentist.”
Spitzer nodded but never said a word. Jake didn’t know it at the time, but he’d just put the Base’s lead instructor in hand-to-hand combat on the injured list. He heard no more laughter from the 07 group. They all kept a respectful distance from him.
“And there goes your chance to spend time with the good looking females in Kravi 02.” Smith sighed. “At least you’ll get some instruction on how to properly throw a grenade and slip a knife between ribs.”
“Women can come later. Right now I need other skills.”
“You’re sick aren’t you?”
Avner’s warning was an understatement. Jake’s American heritage coupled with the knockout of Luzzatto was tantamount to having a bullseye tattooed on his forehead saying ‘Hit me’.
Smith was up to the task of protecting him but was getting tired of the constant surveillance.
“Every wannabe street fighter wants to best you. It’s annoying.”
“Annoying is not how I would describe being tripped, elbowed and threatened every few minutes by fellow soldiers,” Jake replied. “I’m always sparring with the strongest and most vicious people. When we begin training with knives and guns, I don’t think I can avoid some permanent injury.”
“I have a plan. It will alter how the other soldiers feel about you, but you’re going to have to trust me.”
“I trust you. You’ve kept me from being injured more times than I can count. Except you don’t seem to care about my dental pain.”
“This time will be different. There are other powers I can control through my interface you will perceive as supernatural. It’s difficult to explain without demonstration.”
“Then go ahead and demonstrate.”
“Don’t be naive. The last time I used these powers, you were covered in blood. This is serious stuff. Not for public consumption or the faint of heart.”
“Then let’s go over your plan. I want to be ready to act.”
“No. I need your reactions to be as natural as possible. Just remember when certain things begin to happen, I’m responsible for them. Do not be intimidated.”
The shriek of the Base general alarm was the loudest noise Jake had heard in his life.
The blaring sound was almost a physical force. A fellow soldier, David Fischel, fell out of an upper bunk screaming epitaphs.
“What is going on? Are we under attack or something?”
Despite the fact it was 3 o’clock in the morning, lights outside their barracks windows made eerie shadows float around the room. Shouts for help grew louder.
Stumbling to the nearest window, Jake saw flames belching from the Base hospital. Throwing on his ripstop pants and a T-Shirt, he joined the crowd jogging toward the burning structure.
The hospital was a multi-story wood and concrete building erected during a time when sprinklers weren’t required. It had many windows that funneled oxygen to the blaze creating heat akin to a blowtorch. Thick black smoke billowed everywhere.
Several firetrucks were spraying water on the roof and into open windows in an attempt to smother what flames could be reached.
Jake ran toward a man soaking towels and handing them to rescuers.
“Tie this around your nose and mouth. It’ll help with smoke inhalation.”
A section of the burning building less than a hundred feet away collapsed as the man handed the wet cloth to Jake. Sparks exploded and for a moment, Jake recalled how much he missed his evenings at the fire pit.
“Oh man. They got most people out when the fire first started, but there are some still trapped inside. Only God can save them now.”
“Have no fear. The situation is tailor-made for us. Run into the nearest door and follow my instructions.”
“Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t last five seconds. If I don’t smother, the fire will end me.”
“Have I ever let you down?”
“What’s that got to do with it?” Jake asked as he recalled the dentist drill. “Going in there is suicide.”
“Do you want to be admired? Considered a hero? Or just another Kadokhes?
“What’s a Kadokhes?”
“A worthless jerk. Come on, get moving.”
Knotting the wet shirt around his face, Jake ran toward the flames.
When firefighters realized where he was headed, they shouted for him to stop. Despite their pleas and orders, he leaped through the threshold into what felt like a blast furnace.
The noise of the fire and the collapsing structure muffled the cries to stop. Jake watched the hairs on his arms burn away, and his skin began to scorch.
“And now we begin.”
Moving, cooling air surrounded him. The feeling was not from a breeze. It had no apparent source. Just before his smoke-filled eyes teared and blurred, Jake saw shadowy figures surrounded him facing the flames.
Icy hands with a familiar scaly feel grabbed his arms and led him further into the inferno. Wiping his eyes with his sleeve, Jake watched the flames wither away as he followed the bluish-red apparitions. A bubble of cold air surrounded him, moving as he moved. For a fleeting moment, Jake remembered the time he visited a large aquarium and walked in glass tunnels under the water.
He was guided to a door where the fire had melted away its paint. One of the shadows chopped with the edge of its hand, and the door splintered open. The room was a ward filled with women in various stages of advanced childbirth. The roar of the blaze dampened their screams, but there was no doubt the ladies were terrified.
Jake was speechless. Not knowing what was expected of him, he stood rooted outside the door.
“Don’t just stand there, Jake. You’ve made a unique find. Save these women, and your path to glory begins.”
Encouraged by the absence of flames, heat and smoke within his bubble, Jake bellowed, “Everyone up. I’m getting you out of here!”
The cool area around him grew enough to encompass the women. Although Jake could see the bluish-red apparitions spread out to enlarge the bubble, none of the women paid the least attention to them. It was as if the specters were invisible.
Four women levered their feet to the floor, but a fifth said, “I can’t make it. My baby is crowning right now. Walking is impossible.”
Jake rushed to her bedside and pulled her bedsheets into a sling-like shape. Gathering her in his arms, he was surprised how light she felt. She had to weigh at least 140 pounds, but she felt like a feather. Jake felt a scaly arm and realized one of the apparitions was helping him lift the woman.
Easing through the door with the other ladies following him, Jake stopped short.
The hallway he had followed to get to the ward was burning out of control and impassable. The ceiling cracked, and a rafter fell. The women were too scared to scream, but their eyes were wide. They hugged their bellies as if they could protect their unborns with their arms.
“Kick the wall to the left. I’ll take it from there.”
Gathering his strength, Jake kicked the wall as instructed. Just as his foot impacted, one of the specters rammed it and the wall blasted outwards. It was an outside wall, and a hole large enough for Jake to bend and walk through appeared.
“Follow me,” Jake shouted as he scurried outside. Other firefighters had seen the wall explode from the force of Jake’s kick and helped take charge of the situation.
“Thank you for saving my baby,” the woman he was carrying said. “Who are you?”
“It’s not important right now. Just have a healthy baby,” Jake replied as she was carried away.
Jake couldn’t respond. He was getting pounded on the back by other soldiers and firefighters.