This girly needs a little discipline. I've let the eating go hog-wild. I'm not working. I'm shopping (ok, for Xmas, but still...not working). I'm not posting much or on anything important because my internet connection is so shabby. BTW, don't take my abstinence personally. It takes me about four tries on average to post a comment on a blog. We've got some serious problem. This post alone will probably take me a few tries.

But anyway...tomorrow I'm back to it. Routine. Working. Getting my shit done and my ass smaller. Tomorrow. So, in that vein, I'm going to start posting bits of my work, usually new or heavily reworked, just to keep me working on new stuff.

This piece is from my first book, a heavily reworked novel that everyone loves but my crit group. o/ (me waving cheerily!) I want you to tell me what you think of this scene. Kaelin is twenty and has been trained as a sniper. These are his first kills. Tell me what works, doesn't work, about the tension, about sympathy, empathy, what eats at you about it (if anything).

Insect bites prickled his skin as he settled among the leaves, casting about for snakes in the darkness. Nothing moved within arm’s reach, so he settled in, shifting to ease the pressure of a small leafy offshoot bending beneath his thigh. The narrow rigidity of his perch drilled into his fatigued muscles, but he forced discomfort from his mind as he lifted his goggles, settled his gun on a branch, and peered through his gun-sight at the faintly glowing camp below.

It must have been an old outpost, maybe for the Islamic insurgents prevalent on the island. A tent with open sides rested on a muddy raised wooden platform, providing scant protection from the weather. Two figures milled about in the misting rain, three more sat inside the lighted tent, gathered around, smoking and sipping from cups. They turned to one another and spoke, but Kaelin couldn’t hear their voices. And one figure sat alone from the others, his back to Kaelin’s scope. When Kaelin found him, he lowered the scope for a moment and inhaled deeply. Jacob hadn’t warned him…

He shouldn’t have had to, came the internal retort. You knew it would be bad.

Kaelin lifted the scope back to his eye and refocused. Only a prisoner would be so gaunt. Every rib stood in stark relief beneath his skin. Bruises shadowed his spine and one shoulder. Crimson scars striped his narrow back. His hair clung to his head in lanky strips. He did not move; Kaelin could barely detect the rise and fall of breath. One hand extended toward the tent post—chained, likely. Kaelin scanned the Augur’s body again. What he’d first taken for a grotesque bruise on Mondragon’s shoulder was actually the tattoo of a spider. The rest of it was injury. Pax was right. He’d been tortured, severely.

He reached up with his free hand and touched his mic button. “Package in clear sight,” he said lowly. “Two guards out, three in.” He watched the guards carefully, making sure they hadn’t heard. Then he chided himself for worrying. They were 500 meters away.

“In position,” Lucy responded.

“Roger. In position,” Cara whispered. She was very close to the tent, situated with Pax. Kaelin scanned the woods where they should be but did not see them.

Sam checked in. “Three guards on this side. Permission to engage?”

“Negative. Hold fire.” Pax, low and breathy. What he was waiting for, Kaelin didn't know.

One of the guards, circling idly in the rain near Pax and Cara’s position, paused to stare in their direction. Kaelin, even from where he sat, froze. The crosshairs found the guard’s head; his finger tightened on the trigger.

“I have him,” Sam whispered.

But Kaelin didn’t let up on the trigger. The blackness welled inside him, bringing a tingling rush to his head. He inhaled deeply and let it absorb his consciousness. It felt good, right: his finger on the trigger, hapless victims below.

No. That wasn’t right. But still, he felt different than before: like a good drug was carrying him away to new realization. He didn’t want the feeling to end. As if in response, the rush washed through his stomach and groin. Kaelin watched as the guard dug in his pocket and pulled out a cigarette, cupping the flame with his hand as he turned toward Kaelin. His smooth cheeks and chin carried scant suggestion of a beard. He was too young to really need to shave more than once a week. All this registered vaguely behind the tingling in the front of Kaelin’s skull.

“Kaelin, inside. Sam, exterior. Lucy, take your side. Shoot at will.”

Kaelin swung his rifle toward the man next to Mondragon, releasing the stale air trapped in his lungs. One heartbeat, two, and his finger moved against the trigger.

The man dropped as if he’d fainted. Though he was right next to him, Mondragon didn’t flinch or look his way. Two more breaths and the other two guards were dead, as well. Kaelin lowered the scope before he could examine the trail of blood and gore his bullets had left. His heart, slowed during concentration, gave a painful lurch against the inside of his chest.

He heard the putt-putt of machine gun fire and the cleaner sound of Sam’s single-shot. Every sound and scent crashed in on him. His targets were dead; the rush drained from him. He dragged breath into his tight lungs and wiped angrily at his stinging eyes. It’s the rain, he told himself. He needed to get down from the tree. And he needed to get his rifle undercover right away.

“Fall in,” Pax ordered.

Kaelin slid down his branch, put his foot on the next one down, and climbed down one-handed, gripping his rifle, waiting for his trembling body to betray him. But he made it to the ground safely, and for a moment just stood.

They’re dead. I killed them.

It didn’t seem real, but the last thing he wanted to do was approach that tent.

“We’re secure,” Lucy announced as soon as he reached the camp. She granted Kaelin a brief smile. “Smooth, Kaelin. Really good.”

The guards had all died cleanly, but Cara was busy walking around and adding a bullet to each one to make sure. Each shot thudded right through Kaelin’s ribs into his heart, disrupting the regularity of his heartbeat. The cigarette had fallen from the lips of one, left to sizzle and die in the dirt.

A low roar was starting in his head, filling his emptiness.
“You’re up, hotshot,” Pax said, flashing a white grin at Kaelin.

Kaelin couldn’t smile back. He handed Pax his rifle and walked forward, breathing through his mouth so he wouldn't have to smell the blood. Instead, he tasted it, salty on his lips. Cara finished with her gruesome task and the jungle fell silent. The others hung back respectfully.

Why didn’t the sweet tang of blood make him feel sick? There was so much of it.

I just have to get him out of here, he thought. I just have to take him home.

He paused before stepping up on the wooden platform and whispered the prisoner's name. Maybe Mondragon would come to him, and Kaelin wouldn’t have to dirty his boots in the blood of the men he’d killed.

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