I’ve decided to post the full text of my first novel, The Nephilim Protocol, on my blog for free, which I’ll be doing for the next month. People are hardly going to buy a book they don’t even know about, so if posting the book makes more people aware of it, even if they don’t buy it, wonderful. Plus, this way, I get to promo The Hospitaller Oath, which at this point I’m hoping to publish sometime in late August or mid-September.
“Stupid … dropping in blizz…. Never find …”
“Neede … rop them. Not fly elsewh …”
“Saw one land in the wat—” The voices are getting clearer. “Gonna … awing him out … days.”
“—ere’s one.” Something grabs the back of the bag, rolls me onto my side. I feel air on my face. “Crap! There’s Boar. Doc, get over here! Boar’s chute must’ve gotten tangled!”
I’m staring sideways at a white landscape. White hills, white sky—even the air is filled with white flakes, whipped about by a roaring wind.
Directly in front of me is a soldier in a light blue camo parka, with the dark helmet and red goggles from before. A different soldier, though—this one looks Hispanic. He’s staring at something just to the left of me and signaling to someone further back. I see what he’s stooped over.
Another soldier. His body’s arranged in a way a body really shouldn’t be, with lots of red soaking through. I realize the wet sensation on my face isn’t from the snow.
There’s heavy footsteps, and four or five more boots come into view.
“Too late, man. That throat’s been ripped open!”
Another voice cuts in, calm and deliberate. “A slashed jugular isn’t”—he coughs—“… isn’t automatically fatal.” An old man with a thick iron grey beard bristling out of his olive-green parka kneels on the other side of the body. “But it looks like …” he says, coughing again, “there’s also some internal bleeding. Give me room.”
The boots step back. I can’t look away, so I get an up-close view as the old man cuts an “x” across the wound so he can fold the skin back from the red tubes beneath. Blood flows out, thick and deep red.
It’s really sort of fascinating.
“There.” The old man’s glove comes off, and he neatly pinches the bleeding tube. His spare hand is rooting around in his bag. He pulls out some sort of metallic clip. Pressing the tube just enough to make it pucker, he uses the clip to hold it shut.
“That should hold for now,” he says, pulling out bandages and wrapping them around the wound. His eyes gleam behind his glasses. He’s wearing green ones, I notice. Not the red opaque goggles the guards have. “Can one of you signal a chopper? We’re on a runway, after all. Tell them to bring a shock kit and plasma.”
“He’s been lying in the snow for nearly half an hour!” says the Hispanic soldier.
“He’s lost a lot of blood, but with the young man on top of him providing pressure, he’s not gone yet.”
The soldier snorts. “Guess the neff was good for something.” He looks at me, and his eyes widen. “Shit, it’s awake!” He stumbles upright, fumbling with his silvery gun. I don’t like the way he’s pointing it, and I struggle in the straitjacket.
“Give it an injection!” someone calls.
Hell, no. Not that again. Who knows where I’ll wake up next? I start to really struggle.
The straitjacket, the bag, and half a dozen leather straps I hadn’t even known about rip apart, and everything becomes much looser. I start to get to my feet …
Something jabs into the back of my neck—Shit! That burns. Things fade to black again. As I collapse into the snow, I have one last confused thought: the heck is a neff, anyway?
This time I wake up in a glass-enclosed room like the one before. It’s not the same one, though—there’s a lot of medical equipment all around. And a bed.
There must be a camera watching. It’s not long before a soldier comes along to open up the cell. “Come on,” he gestures. “Showers.”
Ordinarily, I might take offense to that, but actually, I was about to ask for one. Kind of a weird concern, after everything, but my shirt’s sticking to my back, and everything has this disgusting slimy-ish feel. I haven’t had a shower in … huh? I guess I had one just this morning. Last morning? Shit. How long was I out?
The showers are communal, like the gym back at school. There’s soap in little metal dispenser canisters on the walls, with shampoo dispensers right beside. There’s a kid in there—chunky-looking, nearly as tall as me—rubbing soap under his armpits.
“Here.” The aide indicates the general direction. “You’ve got about fifteen minutes of hot water. Make it fast.”
I peel off my shirt, kick off my pants and underwear and start showering. The soap is hard and marble-like, and the shampoo feels rough—or maybe it makes my hair feel rough. Whatever. It makes it feel clean.
The grubbiness is starting to peel away when I look around and realize something.
Fat Kid is just across from me, his plump skin pink in the hot water. Next to him is an olive-skinned guy with startling dark eyes and long, messy, dark hair—he must have come in while I was washing up. But that’s not what I notice.
Olive Skin catches me looking and glares at me. Then he catches what I’m looking at and stares. We turn to face the fat kid, who’s looking at us with a strangely fascinated expression.
So, I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve got a chunk missing from this bone, called the sternum, that most people have to keep their ribs in place. The missing chunk makes the whole thing bends inward. Pectus excavatum or “funnel chest” is the term. A “vagina chest” is how one of the witty guys on the basketball team put it. It looks really weird and not in the “Ooh, I’m quirky and different” way. More in the “Holy shit. How are you alive, you hollow man?” sort of way. It’s not something you see a lot.
But here we are. All three of us, in the showers, looking for all the world like some leech or something is sucking our solar plexus back to our spinal column. The shape of the cross-shaped dent is unmistakable. The only difference is that on the fat kid, it looks small, and on the olive-skin kid, it just sort of blends in with his general skin-and-bones-ish-ness.
After a few moments, we all sort of awkwardly turn back to finish washing up. But it’s a lot less tense, and the fat kid even lets out something like a chuckle.
I feel better somehow. Not sure why, but everything seems lighter. I can breathe easier. I take my time with the soap. But as my fingers pass over the spot in the middle of my chest, where my sternum is missing, my fingers feel something odd.
A scar. More than that, stitches, running in a wide arc around the sternum. Stitches that weren’t there two days ago when I ripped my friend’s jaw off.
We’re struggling into some loose red turtlenecks and khakis when one of us finally says something.
“Where the hell are my clothes?” the fat kid says, looking around.
Mine were in the shower room. I get up to take a look. Gone. “The guards must have taken them,” I say. There’s a strangely hollow feeling to the realization, like I’ve lost my last friend in a crowd. I don’t know why—I didn’t even like that shirt.
“They’re just clothes,” Olive Skin says.
“Easy for you to say. You had barely anything left to take off,” Fat Kid says.
“I guess we’d have to throw them out eventually,” I say, trying to shrug it off. “I don’t know about you guys, but I didn’t exactly pack a wardrobe.”
“What’s a wardrobe?” Olive Skin asks.
“That’s not the point,” Fat Kid says. “They took our clothes. That’s our shit. They can’t just steal it. I don’t care what sort of fancy-pants outfit this is; I’m going to complain.”
“Maybe we’ll get them back later,” I say, but it sounds weak, even to me.
“Hang on. Are you guys American?” asks Olive Skin.
“Uh, duh,” Fat Kid says. “What gave it away?”
“The whiny-ness. Seriously. Complaining about clothes?”
Fat Kid sniffs. “It’s the principle of the thing.”
“So you’re not American?” I say, sitting down to put on my socks.
“Turkish,” Olive Skin says. “Is this America?”
Good question. “Your English is really good,” I say. “Barely any accent.”
“My what?” He squints at me.
“English,” I say again, trying out a smile. “If you hadn’t told me, I’d never guess you weren’t American.”
Olive Skin’s eyes narrow. “Is this some kind of joke, dude?”
“I didn’t know Turkish people said ‘dude,’” Fat Kid says.
Olive Skin glares at him. “What’s with you guys. Is this some sort of idiotic joke? How are you so good at Turkish in the first place? Are you language nerds or something?”
There’s something weird about the way he said “nerds.” Like he didn’t actually say that and used a completely different word.
But I heard “nerds.”
“No,” Fat Kid answers for me. “What’s with you? How’s a camel jockey learn such good English?”
“Racist, much?” I say, glancing over at him.
Olive Skin (I guess I shouldn’t think of him that way) frowns. “I really don’t get American humor. Like what’s the point of this? Driving me crazy?”
Fat Kid (probably shouldn’t think of him that way either) huffs. “You’re about to drive me cra—”
I hold up my hand. “Watch his mouth,” I say. I noticed something that last time. “Could you say that again, please?”
Olive Skin tilts his head at me, then shrugs. “I don’t get you guys. Am I supposed to believe you? Walk around talking to everyone thinking I’m speaking English? What is this pickled cabbage?”
But he’s not saying that. In fact, I’m not sure what the words he’s using are. His mouth’s moving and opening completely out of sync with what I’m hearing—except I’m not hearing, either. It’s not like some sort of overdub translation. It’s like I’m hearing the words, the sounds of the words he’s actually using, but my brain is somehow getting the message.
It’s hard to explain. But I don’t need to anymore, because I can see the others get it too. They’re looking at each other with wide-eyed amazement.
“Huh,” I say, feeling a bit lightheaded. “Weird.”
“Huh.” Fat Kid rubs his hair. “The fuck is ‘pickled cabbage’ anyway?”
“Nothing. It’s nonsense,” Olive Skin says, frowning. “Like literally, that’s what it means: ‘nonsense.’ It’s just a thing we say.” He shakes his head. “What’s going on?”
A big man in a navy blue suit is waiting for us as we exit, along with six guards in their blue-camo uniforms and light blue berets. “This way.” He indicates a hallway.
“Where the fuck are my clothes?” asks Fat Kid.
The guards point their guns. The aide doesn’t even blink. “This way,” he says, indicating the hallway again.
“Who even are these guys?” Fat Kid mutters, as we file after him. If the aide can hear, he doesn’t indicate it.
“How can you not know that?” Olive Skin asks him. “Blue camo? That makes them Peacekeepers. United Nations.”
They walk us to a sort of conference room—rows of plastic chairs in front of a projector screen, faded carpet, fluorescent lights. And there, at the front of the room, looking over a notepad, is the lady from before. Wolfe.
She looks up and nods at us. “That will do,” she says, setting down the notepad. “Make sure their orientation packets are prepared and get their mentor in here. Any updates?”
“They pulled White Lotus Son of Protective Will out of the water,” says the big man. Wow that’s a weird codename. “We’ve put him in Detention. Four men are undergoing treatment for hypothermia.”
“Very good,” she says, and the big man leaves. She looks at us and jerks her head at the chairs. “Sit. Let’s get this over with.”
“Get what over with?” asks Fat Kid.
“Orientation. Now sit,” she says, pointing at the chairs.
There’s not a lot of options. We sit.
“This,” Wolfe says, stepping forward, “is Camp Solanas. I suppose I should say ‘Welcome,’ but as you’ve guessed, ‘welcoming’ is not exactly the point here. This is a training camp, operated by DEVAS, Disparate Extranationals Vigilance Agency Subdivision”
“We’re ‘Extranationals?’” I ask. “What does that even mean? What kind of person is an ‘Extranational?’”
“You’re not persons at all,” she says. “You’re Nephilim.”
Nephilim. Neff.It makes sense. Or it might—if I knew what a Nephilim was even supposed to be.
“You must be joking,” says Olive Skin. Fat Kid just looks puzzled. And a bit hungry.
“The technical term is Ascended Nephilic Instance,” she says. “A week ago, you would all have been classified as Potential Nephilic Instances. Nothing might have ever become of you—apart from the giant holes in your chest, you would have been indistinguishable from humans. But then you Ascended. As a result, things have become more … complicated.”
“Complicated how?” I ask.
She glares at me. “Crushing-your-girlfriend’s-arm complicated.”
“Dude, what?” Fat Kid turns to stare at me.
That’s gonna follow you to your grave, Chad. “I never meant to—”
“That’s what they always say,” she sniffs. “Even assuming you’re telling the truth, that’s the entire problem. Over the last twenty-four hours, your DNA has dramatically shifted. You no longer even know what your own body will do. What would happen if, say, you had flames shoot out of your hands while making out with Ms. Miller in the closet?”
“What?” says Olive Skin.
“I can do that?” I look at my hands. How would that even work? Would it be through pores or …
She sighs and massages her forehead. “Most likely not. There are only a few reports…. Again, you’re missing the point. What if that had been what you’d done with Ms. Miller?”
“I wouldn’t …”
“Three days ago you would have said you’d never have broken her arm.” Wolfe frowns at me.
There’s a memory I don’t like to think about: of a bonfire I went to when I was nine. The host tossed a can of diesel oil into the fire. Said he did it all the time. I’ve tried, so hard, to lose this vivid image of him being loaded into the ambulance, his skin bubbled and blackened, parts starting to slide off the bloody flesh beneath…. I can’t fry hamburgers without the smell flashing that image on my brain.
I gulp. “Okay. I get it.”
Wolfe nods, looking slightly satisfied. “I’m aware you all don’t want to be here. Rest assured that I don’t want you here either. That, however, is irrelevant. You endanger society if you don’t receive specialized training and care.” She pauses. “Such as the specialized implants we installed before you left the mainland.”
So that’s what that was. My fingers trace the strange scar on my chest. That healed fast.
“Your … chest condition,” Wolfe says, tapping her breastbone. “The doctors who diagnosed it were wrong, because they couldn’t understand one of the defining traits of your species. It’s a great deal more advanced than a missing bone. Your whole body’s caving inwards at an accelerated rate, particularly now that you’ve hit Ascendance. Your ribs would start to crush on your lungs and heart in a matter of months. The loss of structural integrity would cause multiple bones to shatter or dislodge. And the sheer pain of this ordeal, coupled with your … unique nature would drive you insane.”
Silence. Olive Skin’s olive skin has turned pale; he’s probably never had the condition explained to him.
“But,” Wolfe continues, “with the specialized implants we’ve developed, the condition—known as Nephilic Rot—should be kept at bay. Though the implants do, of course, need to be occasionally maintained.”
“Of course,” says (now) Pale Skin, his mouth twisted.
“It’s not perfect, and it’s not permanent,” Wolfe says, ignoring the way Fat Kid is staring down his shirt front. “Don’t put any strain on it. But it’s something we can do to help.”
Fat Kid snorts, looking up. “Help. Right.”
“We are professionals here,” Wolfe says. “Whether we like our jobs or not, we do them. We have teachers, doctors, and paranormal experts on staff who are specifically trained in the nuances of your species. We have recreational facilities here on campus—an arcade, a library, and a gymnasium. It’s not because we care, but because otherwise you start causing us problems.”
“Wow,” says Fat Kid. “That’s … nice.”
“No, it’s not, because I’m not a nice person,” Wolfe says. “Understand something. As of two days ago, none of you is human. You’re paranormal non-human entities. The Geneva Convention doesn’t apply to you. The UN has a statute on extra-human relations that dictates what we’re required to provide, but that’s very loosely enforced. I could kill all three of you, and no-one would care.”
“But I don’t, and we don’t, because we’re professionals,” Wolfe says. “You’re a danger to global safety. Each one of you could, and would, kill hundreds of people if left to yourselves. You’d grow insane and violent and die. We prevent that. Which you’d do well to remember, should you start feeling … rebellious.”
This … is bizarre. My mind is screaming they can’t do this! But the entire island and the armed guards outside answer, oh yes, they can.
“You have assigned dorms,” she says, picking up some folders off the podium and handing them to us. “Be in them by ten each night. Be in your assigned classes daily. If a teacher or camp official tells you to do something, do it. No questions, no insolence. If any official brings charges against you, you’ll be confined to quarters.” Wolfe pauses and leans forward. “Not just if the charges turn out to be true. If they are brought. We can take away your recreational privileges, we can confine you to dorms, and our Detention Hall isn’t the sort you can just walk out of.”
“Seriously?” Fat Kid asks.
“Dude, shut up!” I hiss.
Wolfe is still talking. “If they are found to be true, you’ll be confined to Detention Hall for an indeterminate amount of time. In fact,” she lifts her finger, “if I have any reason to believe you’ve harassed any of my personnel here for any reason, you will be placed in immediate detention, pending possible transferal to another facility.”
“What does ‘harass’ mean specifically?” asks Olive Skin.
“Whatever the fuck they want it to,” says Fat Kid.
“You’re going to be a fun one, aren’t you?” Wolfe glares at Fat Kid. “Common synonyms would be annoy, irritate, or molest.”
I glance over at Olive Skin. “Doesn’t it translate?” Weird, that.
“Sort of.” He frowns.
Fat Kid chuckles. “There’s probably no Arabic word for ‘sexual harassment.’”
“Dude, could you not be racist for like five minutes?” I say.
Wolfe shakes her head. “We’re done here.” She picks up her notepad and heads for the door. As she opens the door and her aide re-enters, she looks at us again. “I would say ‘Enjoy your time here,’ but as I mentioned at the beginning, that’s really not the point.”
The door clicks shut.
“Fuck,” says Fat Kid.