Ho.Bo: Vol. I Excerpt
I wanted to post some excerpts from my first fiction book for those who either didn't know I wrote a fiction book or perhaps didn't think they'd like it. If you like what you've read, and want to see more, click on the "My Books" tab at the top of the page. And thank you.
As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can't eat, and home the very place you can't live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescue possible: the last card has been played.
-C. S. LEWIS, Perelandra
Barachiel scanned the dark skies below him cautiously; he knew this would be his most dangerous assignment yet. He had been flying above the earth for hours now, seeking a point of entry, but the enemy had the planet’s atmosphere locked down behind a seemingly impenetrable defensive network. They know something is afoot, he thought, referring to the frenzied activity of fallen angels below him. His mission was to protect a human; an unredeemed man by the name of Tristan, but for what purpose, he did not yet know. Then he saw what he was looking for, as a small opening appeared over the Indian Ocean.
He lowered his wings and leaned forward to sharpen his angle of attack. He then reached out as if to grab the air in front of him and immediately shot forward like a bolt of lightning. He plunged into the Indian Ocean at a speed virtually undetectable to the naked eye. Although he knew another angel could not kill him, he could be unnecessarily delayed or potentially thwarted should the adversary get wind of his assignment. Thus, he decided to trade speed for discretion as he plunged into the ocean’s surface.
The air was the primary domain of Satan and his fellow fallen angels. Angels could not kill each other, but they could fight, delay, and repel each other when time was of the essence. He knew he could survive in any physical environment; however, moving underwater would afford him better concealment from the enemy as he advanced towards his objective. Although Barachiel could move underwater at incredible speeds, he decided slower was better. This was not due to friction or obstacles; the world’s oceans and seas had their own, unique perils.
The angelic hierarchy is incredibly complex for both the holy and fallen angels. Most fallen angels chose to live in the second heavens, i.e., the earth’s atmosphere. They do this because they know what dreadful future awaits them in the end the eternal blackness of hellfire. Given the choice, most chose to avoid anything that reminded them of their dark, dreadful fate for as long as possible. However, some did not. This told him that on one hand, while nefarious and malevolent, at least the airborne fallen angels had enough common sense to enjoy their freedom while they still had it. This also told him that those who chose the darkness of the ocean deep were completely insane.
Out of the complex hierarchy of fallen angels, the water dwellers, or Leviathan as they called themselves, were only slightly better off than those already confined to the abyss. They lived in the unexplored places of the ocean deep.
They especially delighted in causing disasters at sea and stirring up massive storms that wreaked havoc upon the islands and coastal cities around the world. Although he had never fought one, those who had told him their centuries in the dark, watery, underworld had warped them beyond recognition. Still, there were far fewer Leviathan, so his odds of traveling undetected and unmolested were better than moving through the atmosphere.
Just then, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. He drew his sword and spun around to see his brother in arms, Turiel, drawing up beside him.
“Greetings in the name of the Father,” Turiel said.
“Greetings, brother,” Barachiel replied, “in the name of the Son.”
“And in the name of the Holy Spirit,” they both replied in unison.
“What brings you here?” Barachiel asked.
“I am sent to accompany you to your target,” he replied. “You have dangerous roads to travel.”
“I am glad for your company, and will gladly take it as long as you can give it. The deep waters are not a nice place to be.
“Neither is where you are headed,” Turiel said.
“Yes, the Hindu-Kush Mountains; I am to wait there until my mission arrives.”
“Ah, deep in enemy territory. Let us pray the Prince of Persia does not find out about your arrival or your mission ahead of time. I think my follow-on mission is connected to yours somehow.”
“Yes. I am to head to Kansas after I’m done escorting you.”
“And yes, the longer I can keep my presence from the fallen prince, the better.”
“I will see you there then,” Turiel said. “May God grant us safe travels.”
“Amen,” they said in unison.
At this, they sped off together through the murky waters.
If the world had a landfill the size of a nation, Afghanistan would be it, Tristan thought. However, the view from 35,000 feet was not so bad. At least at this altitude, the air was cool, but he knew what awaited him upon landing; the end of a long, hot Afghani summer. Afghanistan was not a landfill because of the pollution, although, probably preferable. Afghan culture encompassed some of the worst aspects of humanity: widespread ignorance and illiteracy, tribalism, perpetual warfare, landmines, and unchecked brutality.
There was no question as to why this rugged, landlocked country was given the nickname, the ‘Graveyard of Empires.’ If you’d ask me, they have earned it, answering a question in his mind no one asked. All the heavyweights have tried their hand and failed here. Alexander the Great. Genghis Khan. The British. The Russians. The United States? Whoever had the bright idea to come here should have taken a lesson in history. Afghanistan, historically speaking, is in love with being a failed state.
Afghanistan is a land with two fixed social constructs guiding everyday life: rigid tribalism and a medieval devotion to militant Islam. This has made living here unnecessarily cruel and difficult, and why the average lifespan does not often exceed 50 years of age. Although they briefly flirted with Western modernity in the 1950s and 60s, it was short-lived. The Soviet Union’s military incursion in the 1970s to spread the Gospel of Karl Marx caused the locals to rebel and resort back to their more primitive ways. Hard to make genuine progress in a country where everyone wants to go back to the good old days, especially if those days were steeped in the Dark Ages.
After twenty years of military operations with little to show for it, the US was finally getting the hint it would fare no better than the Russians had a generation earlier. If you want genuine change here, you are going to have to play the long game and change their religion he thought. Unfortunately, Uncle Sam was not interested in actually fixing this place. They just needed somewhere they could use to justify a bottomless budget. He knew how the game was played but he was too close to retirement to start making waves by saying it aloud. Just do my time and get out while I am still sorta young and vertical.
This was his fourth deployment and hopefully, his last. He thought briefly of his wife and kids back in Kansas. He did not want to dwell on them too long, because it was too early into the deployment to go and make himself heartsick. He hated being forced to leave them again but was hoping this final trip would at least set them up financially so he could retire right at twenty years.
All these thoughts kept racing through his mind as he looked out over the sea of his camouflaged comrades in the Air Force C17. These were the principal forms of movement for troops coming in and out of the Afghani Theater. While pressurized, they were Spartan in their accommodations for passengers. Soon enough, the short two-hour flight from Manas Airbase in Kyrgyzstan, to Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan would come to its abrupt end. All of his mental exercises in theorizing about the stupidity of this deployment would be over and he would soon be living i
There is one truism every soldier understands; the worst part about deploying to war was not being there, it was getting there. It was living in transit until you could get somewhere you could call your own. That does not happen until you unpack your rucksack and make your bed… regardless of what that bed actually looked like. Once you were there, the only two things you had to worry about was your family back home and making it through the day. Wash, rinse, repeat.
He could tell they were starting to descend because he could feel the temperature getting warmer. Just then, the Air Force pilot came over the intercom to announce they would be landing soon. He knew all too well their quick descent and rough landing was not based on bravado, but fear of being shot down. A fast descent and rough touchdown were just what his stomach did not need. Oh well, he thought. He laid his head back and toasted the air in front of him with his lukewarm water bottle as if to say, here is to another turn in Afghanistan.