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The window blew out, shards of glass rained in, but due to my completely inappropriate moment to fire my laughter gun, Spider was doubled over holding onto the table as the glass blew out.

It blew shards into her beautiful black braided hair, but it would have blown those shards into her face if she had remained looking out the window, instead of looking at me, so she escaped the initial part of the forced entry unscathed.

Since I fell back into the bathroom, I escaped the explosion entirely. Fuckface was a bit less lucky, but when the shards scattered and cut holes in his shirt and created streaks and pinpricks of blood on his arms he held them up in front of him, dazed and marveling, like a true believer that had just been blessed with stigmata.

From my perspective on the floor, I saw the first head and gun barrel poke over the now gutted window. I jumped into his mind as he was leveling the barrel at Spider. I knew immediately that the gun was loaded with real live bullets, and his orders, and everyone else’s, were to kill everything that moved in this room.

Of course, I wasn’t about to just let him do that, so I jumped into the driver’s seat, and had him vault over the windowsill and run into the room, towards the bathroom. Then he began stripping down.

While that was going on, the next head and gun barrel popped over the wall, but Spider had the good sense to begin getting down. The problem was that she was still in the line of fire.

Remember what I said about consensus? I didn’t have time or luxury for people to make the wrong choices. I stepped into Spider’s brain and took charge, running her back behind the bed and throwing herself to the floor, out of sight. I hopped out of her mind just in time to switch targets to the commando in the window who had my number right down the barrel of his scope.

I didn’t have much time to wrestle with morality. These were troops, American troops. Real Americans, with families, hopes, and dreams. I was getting a smattering of those as I hopped into their minds, but I could not allow myself to feel sympathy.

They were going to kill us all.

It seemed only fair to return the favor.

I’m not good at multi-tasking, at least I didn’t use to be. I’m not good at making quick, on the spot decisions, either.

Except either I was getting better at it, or necessity is the mother of all clusterfucks, because I suddenly realized exactly what we needed to do to get out of here.

We had to give them what they thought they wanted, which meant that one way or another, some of them, and some of us were going to die.

I also gave someone else everything they had ever wanted. While he trembled, and spasmed, and had a violent erection so hard it was painful, arms dripping with blood, I sent Mitch a message directly into his mind, and lied to myself that I’d still sleep tonight.

Gloves are off, Fuckface. Kill anyone with a weapon.

His first attack was a bit exuberant, as the man whose mind I was in suddenly screamed, and I felt the onset of excruciating pain before I threw myself back from his mind with a gasp.

With a howl and a scream of bloodlust, Mitch formed his fingers into claw shapes, and raked them at eye level, and I watched as tearing flesh and eruptions appeared across the soldier’s eyes.

Both of them popped and ruptured into white grape jelly, while his nose was ripped off, and his mouth flayed open.

Mitch smiled.

I don’t care how hardened of a soldier you are, no one trains you for a wound like that. He went down, pitched himself hard to the ground and screamed, and cried, and gushed blood, and held his ruined face, and I felt his pain and terror like a physical assault. The vibe was all-consuming, and it was only with practice and a good deal of effort that I was able to halfway ignore it.

My head started pounding.

Mitch left the room to do battle, and I sent a mental message to Spider. We need to burn this room to ash. There’s enough physical evidence here to make me really uncomfortable.

What have we got? she thought back at me, and my headache pounded even harder.

Stop thinking so loud. There’s a bottle of Bacardi 151 I was drinking back when I wanted to kill myself. I accompanied my message to her brain with a visual, and an arrow pointing directly at it. It was on the nightstand, just above where she was crouched on the floor.

I heard screams of terror outside, and a few stray bullets. I had to act fast.

While Spider splashed Bacardi all over the bed, I went to the naked guy in the bathtub, one Cpl. James Murphy, and I took an important moment to rummage through his brain, download much of his intel into mine, and while I did all that, I started putting on his clothes, using his brain to give me a hand on how to do it.

Then I did something I’d never tried before, just out of curiosity. I tried to access his muscle memory and general knowledge about firearms, and how to properly fire the rifle he was carrying. I learned a lot about his guns, though it was more like a crash course, and I didn’t retain most of it, which is why I still can’t tell you what kind of gun he was using.

I finished by wiping all knowledge of my existence from his brain, in particular my appearance, and by the time I was dressed I looked just like him. It was particularly helpful that his gear included a face mask and night vision goggles to keep my face under wraps. I picked up his weapon and moved to the door, crouching down. As Spider raised her weapon towards me, I shook my head.

“Wrong guy, Spider. Shoot the one in the bathtub.”

She ducked around, peeking into the bathtub, then whipped her hair around as she stared at me with wide eyes. “Are you crazy?” she asked me. “I’m not killing a defenseless man in the bathtub!”

“Then you can let him choke to death on the smoke when we set the room on fire.”

“If you want him dead, you kill him!”

“This clusterfuck is your fault, might I remind you, Spider? He can’t survive!”

“So my gun is going to put a bullet in him?”

Dammit, she had a point. I was new to this whole “Scheming While Under Extreme Duress” thing.

“Fine,” I snapped. I brought naked boy into the room, trained my gun on him and…

Couldn’t make myself pull the trigger.

“Not so easy, is it?” Spider asked.

“Give him your gun,” I said, growing desperate.

She didn’t argue, which was nice for once, and tossed it to him. He caught it and readied it in his hand.

I couldn’t watch. While I poked my head outside the window to see what was going on, I gave him his final fatal command.

Eat the bullet.

The report that went off was muffled by his skull, and splattered his brains on the wall, and he collapsed in a boneless pile on the floor, blood flooding from his mouth, nose, and left eye, where the bullet had exited. I wasn’t spared the sight, because I caught an echo of it from Spider’s mind, who immediately wanted to be sick.

Sorry, Cpl. James Murphy.

Outside, every time someone poked their head up to fire, they screamed and lost an eye. They still had to shoot and cross the intervening distance. Mitch only seemed to need to see them to hit them with his bloody lacerations.

In retaliation, the fifty or so soldiers outside must have emptied a whole clip into the side of the building behind which Mitch was hiding, and it looked like so much riddled cheese by the time they were done that it was only feeling the fevered excitement in Mitch’s mind that could have told me he was still alive.

I told Mitch to lay still, they’d be coming to check him out.

The forces that were closest to us, I was close enough to reach their minds. I felt my head start pounding dangerously, and wished I had time to pop one of my prescriptions. It reminded me at the last minute to scoop my backpack of prescriptions, with my goddamned name on the labels, off of the floor, and throw the strap over my shoulder. I had never tried to control so many people at once, but found that with a little practice, I got five of them to inch forward, away from the window, creeping towards Mitch playing possum.

They were out of sight, but I had to be sure. “Anyone got visual on the window now, Spider?”

She concentrated for a moment. “Nope, but those soldiers outside…”

“I’m holding them,” I said, gritting my teeth. “For now. Light the fire and get the fuck out.”


“Stop using my name,” I said. “Go.”

“But what about you?”

“You’ll find me later.”

“What about Keith?” she asked.

“I’ll find him,” I said.

“Why?” she asked, and I could feel her genuine surprise.

“Because he’s a kid,” I said. “And doesn’t deserve it. And because saving him seems like a good way to get into your pants.”

“I thought you didn’t like black women.”

“I didn’t say—I’m never going to live that down, am I?”

“No. But if you can get Keith…I’ll let you get into more than my pants.”

It was an inappropriate time to suddenly get aroused.

She lit the bed on fire using one of the Bic lighters, then threw the cigarettes and the other lighters on the pile for some additional kindling, and then she moved out the window, scurrying into the night, and I lost track of her after that.

I moved out in the opposite direction, towards my “comrades”, trying to emulate the way the soldiers were moving, crouched low, feeling the burn in my thighs already. I brought up the rear, as I had no desire to be the first one to reach the place they were going.

When the soldiers reached Mitch, I hung back. I missed the fireworks, but from the sudden horrified screams, the blood that sprayed out from his hiding place into view, and the scattered gunfire I could tell that he was doing what he was born to do.

My heart was throbbing in my chest, and I wondered if I’d have a heart attack. There was adrenaline flowing through me like a river, and nothing seemed real. I was disguised as a special forces operative and was, I realized for the first time, capable of classifying myself as “behind enemy lines”.

The radio squawked at my shoulder. “Murphy, did you have visual on the hostiles, over?”

I ran through the crash course of encyclopedia of military jargon and procedure I’d yanked from the soldier’s mind. There was a ton of it. There could be an encyclopedia on military acronyms alone. I managed to cobble together from his stolen vocabulary something that sounded like something Murphy might actually say.

“Roger. Visuals on hostiles confirmed. Primary target was DOA, self-inflicted gunshot wound. Lost visual on…” I searched his databanks for what they were calling Spider. “…the informant during the fire.”

“Over,” I added belatedly.

“Fire?” came the response. “Please advise current situation, over.”

It’s hard using someone else’s words, particularly when every time you look into your brain to find something to say it spirals off into sub-categories and situational modifiers.

“Uh,” I began intelligently, “Uncertain as to cause of the fire, sir. But the room caught fire shortly after we made our…” Approach? Our creeping walk? Our…fuck! “…to the position.”

I hoped he’d think technology had failed us for a moment, rather than that I just couldn’t think of an unfamiliar word when I was consumed by terror and clenching my ass cheeks together to keep myself from shitting my pants.

Say what you want about the intelligence of military service members. They have to memorize a lot of shit. I just didn’t have the conditioning to do it like a natural.

Damn Mitch if he wasn’t still alive. I could tell he’d been shot, but not bad enough to put him down, and he was kind of getting off on the pain. Here he was, a wild animal, a predator in his natural environment, culling the herd. That the herd was trained to fight predators simply made it more exciting for him.

He’d chosen a good spot. All he needed was a visual, and a split second to rip somebody to pieces. The soldiers were fast, not to mention well-trained killers, but there was still the time required to bring the weapon to bear and take an accurate shot. He was tucked into an alcove between the outbuildings of the bed and breakfast and the main office. He had no visual to the outside world, but they didn’t either. They had to creep up on him, round the corner, and hope they could get a bullet into him before he could retaliate. But his luck couldn’t last forever.

Some of the soldiers were still alive, groaning, and this meant that no one was willing to just drop a grenade on his ass and be done with it, lest they hit their own men.

So they kept sending them in there, a few at a time. One of them finally got the smart idea to toss in a flash bang grenade. It didn’t do the surviving soldiers any favors, but it wasn’t lethal, either.

Then I felt the connection snap in time with a barrage of gunfire, and a final series of screams.

I heard command calling in, asking the soldiers to report, but none of them responded.

“Murphy!” my radio shouted at me. “Get in there and see what’s happening!”

When being told to charge headlong into danger, my usual response of, “Fuck you, sir!” wasn’t going to fly here. That said, I wasn’t worried about myself where Mitch was concerned, so I got to look like a big brave hero when I charged madly into cover.

I almost slipped and fell on the way in from all the blood, and caught myself against the wall, knee dipping into sticky and coppery blood. The smell was overwhelming.

But there, on the ground, his chest hitching and spasming as he struggled to hold onto life, was Mitch.

He grinned when he saw me. Somehow, despite all my getup, he recognized me. Probably something to do with my vibe. He’d spent a lot of time with me lately.

“Good….job…..sir?” he asked, blood bubbling at his lips.

“Yep,” I said, and pointed the barrel of the gun at his face. Then I closed my eyes, pulled the trigger, and didn’t release it until the clip was empty.

It was right that I should have been the one to kill him. I told myself that the pang of loss I felt was simply the loss of my humanity, the first person I’d ever killed.

But in quiet moments, late at night, I had to admit to myself I kind of missed him. It was like having a trained pet tiger. A violent, vicious creature who was in no was something you could mistake for human, but who could really fuck people up when they got on your bad side.

“Target is down,” I radioed in. “All hostiles eliminated. Area is secure.”

There was a great deal of mopup and other fuckery going on. The surviving soldiers started relating details to each other, loosened up and started taking their masks off, which was my cue to leave.

But there was one thing I had to do first. I walked up to the voice on the radio, a distinguished man with grey at the temples whose name on his uniform read “Col. Hodge”. I gave him a smart, Cpl. James Murphy salute.

“At ease,” he said.

Before he could open his mouth to speak, because I wasn’t here for a social call, I jumped into his head, and shut his mouth for him while I did it.

It took about a minute, but once I had what I needed, I erased the encounter from his memory, and invented a charming and completely fake story in his brain about how Cpl. James Murphy had never been here in the first place.

I got out of there fast, using the night as cover, and ran so far that my lungs tried to climb out of my throat.

Through the clever application of my mental tricks, I ended up in a Motel 6 a few miles down the road, and a new change of clothes. I wadded Murphy’s clothes into a ball and decided to burn them at the first opportunity. Disposing of his gun was going to be a different matter, but I at least knew how to break it down into more mobile components thanks to the last legacy of Murphy’s military mind.

Later that night, with my cellphone recharged, while I sat on the bed at stared at the TV without seeing it, I went to he.ro and waited.

There you are, Spider said, and I smiled.

“Guess you got out, too.”

Yeah. Thank you.

“You’re welcome, I think. Though I suspect you hate me now.”

Why? What happened?

“Oh…no…not…you know, because of before.”

You were right. I was wrong. This was a complete mess. They were going to kill me, weren’t they?

“Yeah. No survivors. That was their mission.”

Assholes. If you can’t trust the government, then who can you trust?

“Excuse me? I seem to remember someone telling me the government isn’t as bad as I think. That there are worse things out there.”

Forget I said that. Did you find out anything about Keith?

“Yes,” I said, grinning. “And I hope you’re ready to take off those pants.”

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