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TAP Preview: Chapter 1 Excerpt

Chapter 1
Valanor: the centermost continent on Earth. Abundant in human advancement. Devoid of peace.

     His eyes open to the burning of sweat.
     Jason’s lungs heave, exerting the panic straining his body. His head aches from resting on the shower wall.
     So strange… When did I get in the shower?
     Whenever he wakes from dreams like this, he is sitting up in a sweat-filled bed, not standing in a shower he forgets to turn on; not standing in a shower, clothed. Jason wants to dwell on it, but pushes his thoughts aside. Today is the last day he can talk to Brace about them, about anything.
     His body obeys like an 80 year old, not 22. He stumbles out of the shower, resting against the wall before landing on the floor. Voices mumble on the other side of the door. Someone is in his apartment! A sudden adrenaline spike withers the pain away. He sneaks a hand to the door knob and silently twists, but stops when a familiar jingle rings out.
     “I’m Gene Raystone and THIS, is your Vienna Noon News!”
     Jason’s head shakes in surprise. Did I leave the TV on all night, again? He peeks out the door and notices his remote lying upside-down at his feet. Jason grabs it, pushing the volume up as he twists the shower knob to the ‘H’ in the same moment. The showerhead gushes water, but he does not dare jump inside yet; rather, Jason scoops his hand into the icy water and rubs it across his eyes. The cold washes off the irritation.
     Jason sees nothing significant about last night from his mirror. Apart from a large red-mark on the side of his face, there are no other signs of fatigue. His dirt brown eyes are free of bloodshot. There are no creases between the occassional freckle, nor anywhere else within his slight tan.
     Steam builds within the shower. Jason takes a fast glance at the bed. His white sheet and pillows are on the tile floor, but no other sign of what brought him here. The shower is ready. I can figure this out once I reach the deli.
     Jason throws his off his clothes as Gene’s voice comes back on the T.V. The warm water runs over his back, soothing his muscles.
     “UP, UP, UP! Militia Providence’s economy continues to soar as Giga Corporation takes a new turn for industry, pushing for the newest in helicopter technology, The Y-45 Skyhawk…”
     “We’ve had that bird for three years now, folks. Take a look into the Z-50, would ya!?” Jason laughs, reaching for a plain bottle of ‘Sham-poo’. Even though the brand sounds corny to Jason, it is Army-standard and never failed him before.
     “Thanks, Gene. On the warfront, Army Forces go on the offensive against the primitive Divisionists. ATS Missiles rained on the capital city of Telethros, decimating the entire western side. As you can see from this footage, the concussive damage has once again proven to be too much for Divisionists to stop. No Alyan casualties were reported. Back to you.”
     “Thank you, George. The army reports that about a week ago, another Unmanned Arial Vehicle mysteriously crashed into the valley of Endlig Forest. Krash, Three-Star Commander of Army HQ had this to say:”
     “Though we serve the Alyan people as best we can,” the snuffled voice says, “I regret that these incidents happen. I am pleased to report, that the UAV crash was not a Divisionist ploy, but simply an error of the pilot. We have addressed the pilot and are putting him through additional training. He should be back to flying our top guns in no time. As always, thank you for your support of the Alyan Army—”
     POOM. Jason is already dry as he punches the TV off. That is enough news for the day.
     For the first time Jason remembers this morning, he enters his room, a plain, undecorated cube where the walls are white as the tile floor. Jason spends too much time on deployment to care about decorating, satisfied with the TV and a couple of fans whirring air towards his empty bed. His sister once offered to decorate for him, but gave up at his first scowl.
     On top of the TV sits a block of clothes folded into a perfect square. Though neatness is not his style, these clothes are a cursed reminder of who he is. A warrior. A perfectionist. An Alyan soldier.
     No sooner than Jason can pull his shorts on, someone raps at his door.
     No one knocks on my door, unless it’s…
     He puts on his shirt and rushes to the door. A quick check between his mattresses reveals a black pistol, ready to use with a flick of the safety. He peeks through the peephole at a young man, shaven on both his neck and scalp, The man stands at attention in military-issue camouflage.
     …or them. Jason opens the door just enough to show his face. “Yeah.”
     “Master Sergeant, Sir! A message for you from ArmyHQ.”
     The recruit snaps out a white envelope. Jason hates fresh recruits that show at his door. There is always a bad message the brass does not want to say itself.
     A FRESH recruit. Let’s see how fresh. “Are you the new errand boy?” Jason asks.
     “No, sir!” The recruit replies.
     “Well, why are you doing the errand boy’s job?”
     “Because I was ordered to by ArmyHQ, sir!”
     “Shouldn’t you be promoted to errand officer then?”
     The recruit thinks for a moment. “Y… Yes, sir!”
     “There is no such position. Gimme that letter, and get outta my face!” Jason grabs the letter and slams the door.
     Jason shakes his head and snickers a little before he checks the envelope for a wax seal. On Army mail, blue seals signify informal messages, while green ones mean orders. Jason rips the green seal open and dumps the paper into his hand.

     Jason Wyton,

     As a result of your transfer to and deployment with Zulu Battalion, your next psychological screening will be tomorrow. Arrive at Zulu barracks at 0500 sharp. Your screening will be brief but thorough. All issues need to be addressed before your deployment is approved. Be ready.

     Darrell Baron
     P.S. This evaluation is mandatory.

     Jason bangs his head on the wall. A muffled roar leaks through his grinding teeth.
     “I’m not crazy!” He yells, slamming his head harder. “I’M NOT CRAZY!” He slams his head harder still, intent on lashing every last drop of anger on this wall.
     The wall caves in around his head. Grumbling and glaring at the hole for a moment, Jason takes a deep breath, as if it can help. If anyone is a psychopath around here, Krash, it’s definitely you. Since the day I first met you, you’ve been nothing but an insane military commander. I don’t care how you look on TV… I’m tired of playing your games. Just one more deployment before I go home, and guess what? Zulu Battalion counts. Joke’s on you.
     Jason throws on his boots with a jerk, grabs his black coat, and opens the outside door, striding into the fresh morning sunlight.
     By the way, I also blame you for this hole in my wall.