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There were exactly two things that Jordan noticed as he pushed on the door into McCarn’s.
The first of these was that there was someone watching him. He wasn’t sure who or where, but he felt their eyes on the back of his neck. He glanced around the room, but to no avail. It was a feeling he’d experienced several dozen times over the last few months. His doctor had decided it was due to sleep loss, and he didn’t have any reason to disagree. In any case, it’d go away in a second if his experience was any judge of that. Or perhaps he’d just grown used to it?
The second thing he noticed was the collective of assholes in the corner of the bar. They were a typical group of bar prowlers. They didn’t seem to be outright wasted yet, but they probably weren’t sober either. One of them wore a goatee over his tanned skin and had an unkempt mat of hair. Another sported stubble and a buzzhawk. The man who seemed to be their leader was arguing with a woman.
He was not huge, but he still had enough muscle on him to be intimidating. He had dark brown hair and a clean shave, except for mild sideburns. Many women would find him attractive, but this one did not. Her maroon hair was short, and she wore an elegant, black dress that complemented her fair skin. The expression on her face made it clear that she was not looking for company, least of all that of the man in front of her.
Jordan sat down at the counter, and hung his head forward till it nearly touched the polished wood. Adam McCarn slid him a glass of gin, as the two were good acquaintances. Jordan turned to face Adam. No words were said, but they communicated through facial expression.Adam, you seeing this?Jordan, hang on. You’ll make things worse.Are you that concerned about your bar?I am. Maybe it’ll resolve itself before it becomes a real problem.
Jordan narrowed his eyes.It’s already a problem.
Meanwhile, the quarrel was steadily growing louder and more intense.
The leader of the group spoke, “Woman, my patience is wearing thin. You’ve no right to be all snide and proud to me.”
If he was like a powder keg waiting to explode, she was a glacier, coolly gliding along—and eroding his patience in the process. Without a shred of emotion, she said, “I don’t care who you are. Give me one reason why you’re worth my time.” Casually, she added, “…so much of which you’ve wasted already.”
“I’ve got money, power, and looks. I am not to be taken lightly.” His muscles were tensing up. Adam shook his head and then leaned back, resigning himself and preparing for Jordan’s move. The man continued, “Start giving me respect that I deserve, or you’ll regret it. I’ll make sure of that.”
She narrowed her eyes slightly. “Despite the fact that you’re such a big man that you threaten women, I’m afraid I have no interest in you. This conversation is over.”
Fury in his eyes, the man stood up and pinned her against the wall, grasping her throat. “Oh? Ever the witty little bitch, aren’t you? I can fix that. Now you’ll wish you’d never spoke.”
The bar had fallen silent, now fully focused on the commotion in the corner.
Jordan closed his eyes, and sighed.
And then a shot glass struck the aggressor in the back of the head. He released his grip and swung around, clutching in both pain and surprise. The woman fell to the floor, coughing. At the same time, it surprised Jordan to see that she had not lost her composure.
“AH, fucking-What…who threw that?”
Jordan was the sort of person who stuck out in a crowd.. He was tall and well-built, and his jet black hair and stubble made him seem more conspicuous.
He was also looking right at the man.
Mister Powder keg stood there for a second, his mind still registering what had just happened. His fists clenched, his lips trembled, and finally he spoke again.
“You just made the biggest mistake of your life. You know that?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Think you’re funny? Think you’re a fucking comedian?” He was fuming mad, but he seemed to be trying to mask it in his tone of voice—the calm before the storm. This didn’t keep him from cursing every other sentence. He and his lackeys had now approached the counter, and he continued. “I’ll tell you what. Get down on the ground and start begging, and maybe I’ll go easy on you.”
Jordan didn’t raise an eyebrow. His attention returned to the front and he slumped towards the counter, plainly ignoring the man.
A second passed.
The ringleader coughed as Jordan slammed the base of a bottle into his throat. Jordan then rebounded to the right, swinging towards the side of another opponent’s head. The man leaned away from the blow and put up his hand—a very painful decision. The third man threw a punch—sloppy as it was, it didn’t connect properly. Jordan subsequently grabbed him by the hair as his clumsy fist sailed past and slammed him against the counter with force. As the second man recovered, Jordan simply punched him in the face. The fight was over.
Time elapsed: 2.5 seconds.
To the typical bystander, it might appear that Jordan was a trained martial artist. The truth of the matter was that his body merely strung together motions subconsciously. He had no more skill than the men he’d just beaten down.
The rest of the bar’s occupants stared at him, mouths agape. They weren’t clear on what had just happened. Soon enough, however, the room would return to normal. It wasn’t, after all, the first time he’d started (and finished) a bar brawl, nor was it unheard of anywhere else. Station justice was not as vigilant as some of the systems from old earth culture. So ignoring their glances, he sat down again in his seat again as if nothing had happened. Adam poured out another shot of gin with a fresh bottle and a frown, and shrugged. Jordan paid with the ringleader’s wallet.
That night, his mind was brought back to the events a few hours before. His fighting tendencies were something he’d inherited from his father—God rest his soul—who had also always taught him that it was the duty of any respectable man to stick his neck out for the opposite sex, and he respected his father.
But that woman…there was something about her that seemed wrong. She didn’t belong in the atmosphere that was McCarn’s, though he didn’t know why. Why was she there? He then recalled that once the fight was over, he hadn’t thought to look for her. Had she left during the fight, somehow? But then, why hadn’t he noticed it? Hell, how could she have slipped out during the ten or so seconds she’d been unobserved?
There was something going on, and somehow, he felt he hadn’t seen the end of it. Perhaps he was being paranoid. He certainly sounded that way to himself. Then again, maybe he was right. His instincts had been right before.
These were the thoughts that occupied Jordan’s mind in the half hour or so between the time when he lay down and the time when exhaustion finally overcame him.
Major Harold Eldritch stared down at the screen of his personal computer. The military communication console was open. It was a dated program, based loosely off of old DOS programs from before the end of the last millennium, but it got the job done. And, there was no alternative which offered the same degree of security—the only thing that mattered to him.TANNER: Major, I’ve got another report for you. I think you’ll be pleased by the results.
FILE TRANSFER REQUESTED. ACCEPT?
Two buttons appeared below this line—proof that it wasn’t, in fact, a program from the 1990’s. He pressed a “Yes” on his touchscreen. Both buttons vanished, and the next line immediately followed the one before it as if there had never been a break in text.REQUEST ACCEPTED.
UPLOADING TO SERVER…
DOWNLOADING FROM SERVER…
ELDRITCH: Which is this one?
TANNER: Candidate 015-A. It’s all in the file.
ELDRITCH: Care to give me a name, captain?
TANNER: If you must. Jordan K Fellows, age 25. I must say that he gave an interesting demonstration.
ELDRITCH: So it’s all locked in. Anything you’d care to highlight?
TANNER: It was an occurrence of pure luck the likes of which you wouldn’t believe. The data speaks for itself better than any description I can come up with here. To that end, I believe you’ll find the report to be quite surprising.
ELDRITCH: You know I don’t get surprised easily.
TANNER: We’ll see.
ELDRITCH: Right. How soon can you get him in?
TANNER: Already working on it. I’ll have him in training by the end of next week.
ELDRITCH: Very well. You’re dismissed, Captain.
TANNER: Over and out.
CPT. TANNER HAS SIGNED OFF.
The major glanced at his clock. 11:00. He’d been working late at least four days out of each week for the past month and a half. He was a tired man. If he’d looked in a mirror, dark bags would have stared back. It was time to finish up for the day. He navigated his computer’s directories and opened the file. With a deep and exhausted sigh, Major Eldritch began to read.Candidate Designation: 015-A
Name: Jordan K. Fellows
015-A will be a valuable addition to Project CE. He seems to be stable, and he’s very observant, not unlike other candidates. But while this is nothing out of the ordinary, the thing that sets him apart is his reflexes. Analysis of the cam footage clocked the time it took for his hands to respond to auditory and visual stimuli in a combat situation to be between 46 and 61 milliseconds. Furthermore, it can be noted that all of his senses, though eyesight especially, seem to be significantly more sensitive…
He stopped reading as awareness flooded him, and he recalled a few select facts. In general, the program produced candidates with three-fourths of the reaction time of an average person. In the ninety-fifth percentile, which included people like Captain Tanner, the reaction time was about two-thirds of a typical man’s, or in three-fifths certain circumstances. But this candidate, designation 015-A, had reflexes were three times as fast as a human’s capabilities.
Deborah Walker stepped into the room she’d visited so many times over the past few years. The room currently housed only one patient. On rare occasions it reached half of its capacity, but in general the hospital manager kept the room clear. The hospital had plenty of capacity anyway, so it was seldom a problem.
This patient at John Bradley Memorial Hospital was her responsibility, and had been for the past five months; a young woman with long, orange hair and fair skin. She was of mixed descent, but her Japanese blood didn’t really show much. People had long ago given up on keeping track of racial descent as more than a descriptive tool, so no one else even knew. She herself only knew because of the word of the girl’s father.
A picture of the man stood on the table nearby. He was a burly Irishman, likely in his late 40’s or early 50’s. He didn’t seem like all that much financially speaking, so she was never sure how he had afforded a hospital space for so long. That aside, he was paying for a daughter who did not seem to have much hope of coming out of the coma. It saddened and heartened Deborah at the same time; that a humble man would put aside income for years because of his love for his daughter.
Speaking of which, she recalled that the girl was about a month and a half shy of her 17th birthday. But Ashlyn McCarn had not been able to celebrate her birthday for more than seven years.