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  1. Fast: A Hybrid Role Play
    Chapter 1

    The desert sandstorm practically consumed them, wrapping it's salty embrace around them like a blanket. With their neodannas protecting their mouths, and goggles tightly covering their eyes, Adam Vance and Jacob Wortham walked together toward the base's morale welfare and recreation center. The entirety of Al Ta'alem Air Base had been hit by the unexpected storm. But that was typical. No one on the ground really bothered to pay attention to the climate conditions anymore. The airmen and soldiers that were stationed there had become so accustomed to shaking sand out of their boots and ears that such conditions were considered normal.

    When they had first touched down in Al Ta'alem two months ago, Adam's fire team wasn't sure if they were going to enjoy the deployment. They were supposed to be back up in Manas, Kyrgyzstan with the rest of their comrades, but Kuwait needed more FAST certified members, so he and three others were picked to be forward-deployed. With hope they would be going to Ali Al Salem, which was about an hour's drive from where they actually ended up, Adam was excited. He had been there once, shortly after the pull-out of Iraq. Manas had stopped being such an over-crowded hub for US CENTCOM forces and started sharing the love with Ali. He had been there as a normal flight worker back then, manning the gates, searching vehicles, and watching over the flight line from time to time. It wasn't bad at all, really. They had been allowed to stay in newly built dorms, enjoyed a fine chow hall, and the MWR was well-budgeted. It had been a great deployment.

    To say that he was disappointed to not be going back to Ali Al Salem would be an understatement. Instead, Al Ta'alem, a new air base in the country that was being used as a secondary hub for C-130s and C-17s, was the base in desperate need of more FAST troops. When they arrived, Adam and his fellow team members had been greeted by some washed up old schmuck of a former Raven. He was with the Air Force Guard. Adam hated him from the moment they met; so carefree and hypocritical at the same time.

    "I used to be a marine as well," he had said, smiling to himself as he bragged about his past to remind everyone that he was large and in charge. And large he was. The bald man's belt was almost too tight around the nearly forty-inch waste, and his mustache simply looked like suspicious fuzz on a giant fruit.

    As if having a guardsman as their FAST coordinator, and thus their supervisor, wasn't enough, the base itself was small and mostly unpopulated, which made typically made for a long and boring deployment. But morale had actually taken a sudden turn for the better when they found out the twelve-man tent they would be staying in wasn't to be shared with anyone else. They were a fire team of only four members; Adam, Jacob, Erik, and Thomas. When they explored the base the following day, after situating their bunks and getting settled in, they discovered a small McDonald's kiosk in the Army's logistics support area just outside of the Air Force's zone. Within their own compound, there was a Green Bean coffee bar, a Subway hut, and a Domino's pizza kiosk.

    "Just like Ali," Jacob had said enthusiastically.

    So it wasn't all bad. Taking into account the activities available at the MWR, the selection of food choices outside of the chow hall, the fact they laid claim to an entire twelve-man tent and didn't have to share it, and that they were on a fly-away mission... Adam and his team members had it made. Perhaps the deployment wasn't going to be so bad after all. He reminded himself of this as he and Jacob continued to walk through the sandstorm.

    When the two men reached the MWR, Jacob opened the door, which was obviously a struggle for him with the constant strength of the wind bearing down on its face. Adam reached over with an arm and helped him prop it open. "You go first!" he yelled, his voice muffled by the neodanna. After both had made it safely inside the large building the door slammed shut behind them and echoed through the main room, which looked a lot like the interior of a plain warehouse. Concrete floor, metal walls, steel support beams... The tables consisted of a laminated fake wood and metal iron legs, raised up high enough that the seats were more like bar stools; four around each table. At least ten forty inch displays hung on the blue-painted walls, with each one displaying a different channel; sports, MTV, news, or something else randomly forwarded from the States by the military.

    A refreshments bar had been built in the back left corner from the entrance. At least two airmen from the Force Support Squadron were always tending the counter, selling sports drinks, teas, and comfort food to whoever wanted it. Proceeds from the sales would directly benefit the rec center and also help other morale activities on the base.

    Adam broke off from Jacob for a moment to step up to the bar. "Arizona Lemon Tea, please," he said to the blonde, female airman first class working behind the counter. She nodded and turned to retrieve the tall, ice-cold can from the refrigerator.

    "Two bucks," she replied after setting the can on the bar.

    He gratefully handed her his Eagle Cash card, a protected medium for carrying currency in deployed or training environments. As she turned to swipe the card through one of the readers behind the counter, Jacob approached from behind and asked, "You ready for this trip to Jordan tomorrow?"

    "Now that TMO finally sent our damn passports? Hell yes."

    "How is it that Sampson was the only one to get his before we left?"

    Adam swallowed a gulp of the smooth, refreshing lemon tea. He felt the rush of icey-cold goodness instantly take effect and start to eliminate the heat and exhaustion. "I'd be more interested in knowing how we managed to go two months without having them!"

    "'Cause only a bunch of over-paid civilians work in TMO, and they don't give a damn about us so long as the base isn't being inspected."

    "Whoa! Tell the world how you really feel about them."

    That was typical of Jacob. The staff sergeant had never much cared for civil service employees and the retired veterans that - in his own words - "took up space, money, and his time". But then again, Sergeant Wortham hated everyone. He had been a hard man to get along with at first, and when Adam first met him, the two had seemed to have completely opposite personalities. Wortham was authoritative, strict, and very cynical; while Senior Airman Vance was soft-spoken, easy going, and reasonably optimistic. Adam could have sworn that he would never get along with the man, but the staff sergeant that he had found himself on a first name basis with actually ended up pleasantly surprising him.

    "So what's this Jordan mission?" Adam asked after waiting for the airman behind the counter to walk away and help another customer.

    "Printer paper, or some shit like that."

    "We're protecting... printer paper?"

    "No, we're protecting the aircrew delivering the paper."

    "But... printer paper?"

    They both started to laugh at the absurdity of the idea. "Hey, Jordan! Did you want some Hewlett-Packard copiers to go with your printer paper? And while we're at it, why don't we throw in the toner for free. I mean we're already spending a hundred thousand dollars per flight. So... why the fuck not?!" The joking continued for the next several minutes, each one trading off with a not-so-witty quip about wasting resources.

    Adam and Jacob were FAST-certified. FAST is an acronym for Fly Away Security Team, and those certified to participate as a member of one of those teams could be selected for "fly-away" deployments. This was the first fly-away of their career. So far, the two of them alone had been all over the sandbox, from Kuwait to Afghanistan, and from Egypt to the Kingdom of Bahrain - which was Adam's personal favorite. FASTs are usually assigned to protect C-130 aircrews, interchanging the crews every mission or so. Each team would fly out every other day, allowing ample time for crew rest between missions. Their most critical objective was to ensure the security of the aircraft and its crew, acting as air marshals on board in the presence of other passengers, and as sentries on the ground when the plane was being loaded or unloaded.

    "I think I need a new flight suit before we head out," Adam said.

    "Why's that? Got a tear?"

    "No, it just feels too small for some reason. I think I need a thirty-two-'L'."

    "You can pick 'em up from Supply down the road. Before we go though, I need to Skype home to my son."

    "How is Tyler, by the way?"

    Jacob pushed away from the counter and the two walked together over towards the computer terminals lined up in rows in an adjacent room off of the main recreational area. "Good, I think. I talked to him Tuesday."

    "Is your family even awake at this hour?"

    Jacob pulled the sleeve of his ABS-G back to reveal his watch. "Well it's eighteen-eighteen local, and Kuwait is... three hours ahead of Greenwich; so that means it's... about oh-nine-eighteen in the morning where they're at."

    When they approached one of the terminals, Jacob pulled out the seat and sat down in front of the computer. All of the stations were opened and unlocked, unlike a standard government workstation. They were intended to be for morale and recreational use, so Airmen could use them at their own leisure without running into blocks and overbearing firewalls. Instant messaging and video call programs like Skype came pre-installed and ready to go so troops could stay in touch with friends and family.

    Jacob logged into his own Skype account and was happy to see that his wife was shown as "online". He clicked her name and initiated a call. A few seconds later, the screen changed and he saw a live image of his wife gradually render into a recognizable, though slightly pixelated, image. The two happily waved at each other and smiled.

    "Hey, baby!" his wife, Jillian said. Her brown hair was let down over her shoulders. Adam saw that it was darker than usual and slightly mangled and curled. She must have recently washed it. The time differences between deployed zones and home was always a bit of a shock.

    "Hey, hun! Adam's here, too." Jacob moved away for a second so Adam could lean in and offer a wave. "Is Tyler awake?"

    Before Jillian could answer they heard the voice of a young boy sound off in the distance. A second later blue eyes, messy brown hair, and a Wolverine pajama top butted into the frame. "Hi, dad!"

    "What's up, buddy?!"

    "How's... uh... Kuh-wait?"

    Jacob grinned and laughed. "Kuwait. And it's not too shabby. It's hot, though. You'll have to tell your mom to send me an ice pack in her next care package."

    "Okay! Hey! You wanna know a secret?"

    Jacob nodded and turned his ear toward the webcam above the monitor, cupping his hand behind it. Adam saw little Tyler lean in close to their own camera and whispered loudly into the microphone, "Misses Wilkinson said I could - um - be in the school's musical."

    "Oh, really now?" Jacob asked with the smile of a proud father. "And when is that?"

    Tyler looked back to his mother for a reminder. Jillian leaned around him and answered, "It's in May. It's two weeks after you're scheduled to come back!"

    "Well then, buddy, dad's gonna be there to hear you sing!"

    Tyler grinned for a moment, but it suddenly faded into a serious frown. "You promise?"

    Adam had never known Jacob to pause in thought before replying to a question. He was always quick to answer, and never slow to react. After a few seconds, he finally said with the best smile he could muster below watery eyes, "Yeah, buddy... I promise."
  2. Chapter Two

    "May! May! Hurry!! You are going to be late!!"

    Her hair tangled all around, May slowly pushed herself off the bed and climbed down. Unknown to her parents, last night May had been secretly reading some manga she borrowed from the library under her blanket. She couldn't sleep at all even though it was past midnight and now she could barely hold her head up. Her mother came in exasperated, but smiled sympathetically when she saw May so tired. "This is the third time this week... You can't be late today!"

    Picking May up, she brought her to the bathroom and brushed her hair for her while May brushed her teeth. After getting ready, May's mother stuck a piece of toast into May's mouth and hurried her to the bus stop. "Here is your lunch money, we will talk after school today with the doctor, everything is going to be okay. Have a wonderful day at school and try to stay awake!" With a kiss on the cheek, May's mother returned to the house and May stood there swaying with the wind.[/hr]
    #2 Kalista, Feb 1, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2014
  3. Tyler always hated to ride the bus. The kids in the back were too rough and noisy, and the kids in the middle were too awkward or didn't much care to talk to anyone. Thus, little Tyler Wortham would normally sit by himself at the very front. His seat was usually directly behind the bus driver, Mrs. Creighton. The large lady with curly red hair was the only one that would bother to talk to Tyler. She was nice to the good kids... and a force to be reckoned with, with the bad kids.

    "Mornin' Tyler!" she exclaimed after he plopped down in his usual seat behind her.

    "Good morning, Mrs. Creighton."

    The exchange was left at that this morning. Neither really had anything to talk about. Tyler's mind was still too wrapped up in his father's promise last night. A part of his was ecstatic, yet another part of him felt uneasy.

    The last of the students for Political Science 1201 had filed in through the doors of the large lecture room that could seat just under one hundred bodies easily. However, with the course's nature, it was unlikely the university would find so many eager minds. Politics was a certain bad vibe that came with the word "politics" nowadays. To say the least, it disheartened students like Michael, who wanted nothing more than to better understand the field so he and others like him would not only have a voice, but know how to use it.

    "I see everyone bothered to show up on time," Professor Richard Huber said as he hobbled in with his cane to support his right leg. "Mr. Reigns," he announced, looking to one of the more stacked students near the middle row, "I'm impressed. You don't actually look hungover this morning." A few students laughed and chuckled at the athlete's expense. "Now," the professor continued, "who can tell me where we left off last time?"

    "The Shia and Sunni, sir," Michael said aloud.

    "Correct. And what was is it that caused their divide in the Islamic world?"

    Another student from the front row provided the answer. "The conflict over Muhammad's successor. When he died, a new caliph needed to be appointed, but since they don't declare caliphs by democratic majority and only by the will of God, there was dispute over who should ascend."

    "Also correct. And on whom did we assign the burden of proof?"

    "On the Shia," another student said.

    "Yes, and why?" The professor looked around for someone to call on when no one bothered to raise a hand or come forth with a response. "Mr. Reigns! Can you tell us?"

    Malcolm Reigns sighed and shifted in his seat. Michael could tell the jock really despised being called on. He was probably one of those privileged, overly-hyped athletes in high school that got away with anything and everything simply because was on the varsity whatever team.

    "Something about... their gods or something; I don't know."

    More chuckling and giggling was heard as well as Professor Huber's disappointed sigh. "The Fourteen Infallible, Mr. Reigns. They're not gods, but the Shia very much elevated them to demi-god status, asserting that their prophecies were absolute and perfect. It is considered a great offense to think otherwise." Hubert then turned to the rest of the class. "Our discussion today is over how this ideology has influenced the on-going disputes we see in Islamic nations."
  4. Finally, the bus pulled around the corner and stopped in front of her. She got on mechanically with a sleepy smile to Mrs. Creighton, who had greeted her warmly. May saw Tyler sitting in his usual spot so she sat down too. "Hi, Tyler." she said, and with a yawn, closed her eyes and went to sleep.

    Tiana Fowler couldn't stand the class. It was such a smelly room. The class seemed to have more males than females, so she figured it was from all that overuse of deodorant mixed with other nasty stuff. The seats were so uncomfortable and while she respected the professor, Tiana couldn't help but be bored. She could barely keep from curling her lips when Malcolm Reigns sighed. The jerk just made her wish she knew black magic or something. One time, he had come up to her from behind to feel her hair. It was really creepy and what annoyed her even more was that he most likely thought she liked it.

    Her mind drifted to other places and Tiana started daydreaming that she was diving off a waterfall in the middle of a beautiful tropic forest lake...[/hr]
    #4 Kalista, Feb 2, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2014
  5. Seeing May close her eyes almost made Tyler want to as well. He used to sleep during the bus rides all the time. It was the only way to drown out the ruckus from the kids in the back. But whenever Mrs. Ceighton hit a bump in the road, his head would bounce up and smack against the window or the cold metal interior. There was absolutely no way to get comfortable on a school bus. He supposed they were purposefully made that way, in order to torture all the kids that rode them. They were evil.

    Several minutes into the ride, Tyler checked his backpack for last night's homework, ensuring he had completed every problem and that his name was in the proper place at the top of each page. He hated losing points for the small mistakes.

    "Hey, May...?" he started to ask, unsure if he was being rude for disturbing her sleep. "What did you get for number five on the math homework?"

    As the professor continued with his lecture and Malcolm continued to not give a damn, Michael noticed a rising aura of frustration around Tiana. Her eyes had briefly fixated on the lug below them and, at first, Michael could have sworn the beautiful damsel was about to club him over the head. Michael had a lot of respect for the girl. She was exceptionally kind hearted and very focused on her studies. Unlike most college students nowadays, getting by on a free ride because of publicity stunts and "look at me" scholarships, Tiana actually valued her education; this much was certain just by witnessing how she paid attention and actually listened in class.

    "So!" Professor Huber erupted after a long-winded soapbox. "Who can give me their personal analysis on why the world seems to hold such a discriminatory view nowadays toward people of the Muslim faith, in spite of historical facts?"

    The question seemed to catch a few off guard as they raised their heads up from the support of their palms, while others were eager to jump at the opportunity and immediately shot their hands in the air like a grade school student begging to be called on.

    "Miss Fowler? You've been quiet this morning. Care to express your opinion?"

    Michael, as well as everyone else in the class, turned their eyes toward her. If she was nervous, she didn't have to be. Professor Huber wasn't the type of instructor to mock anyone over their ideals.
  6. May was starting to feel less sleepy as the bus was too bumpy to be comfortable. She also heard Tyler ask about the math homework they had to do. Shifting in the seat, May took off her backpack that she was still wearing and put it on her lap. Unzipping slowly, she pulled out a folder, bright neon blue and green greeted the eye of whoever that saw. She took out the homework and a pencil. Tapping the paper with the eraser of the pencil, May asked with fake innocence, "I dunno, how about you? What do you think it was?"

    Having completely forgotten to do her math homework, May wondered what else she had forgotten. When she couldn't sleep at night, she couldn't focus much either. Her parents had been concerned because her grades were dropping. At the moment, she was still doing okay grade-wise, but soon she will drop to around C if she kept it up.

    "Miss Fowler? You've been quiet this morning. Care to express your opinion?"

    Unexpected, the pressure got even greater when she felt the room shift their attention to her. Tiana also saw Malcolm's lewd stare and couldn't help making an irritated face. She hoped the professor didn't misinterpret that reaction as directed towards him, but she quickly discarded that worry as she thought about what to say. "Um... I guess first of all, people tend to fear people that are different whether that is physically, culturally... or both. Sometimes, they are ashamed of their fear and hide it with hate since it makes them feel better about themselves?" She paused a bit, and continued, "I think also when you have your own religion, all the other ones are wrong and when extreme things happen, people tend to jump to conclusions about the other religions." Tucking a loose strand of hair back behind her ear, she concluded her analysis using examples of suicide bombing and things about the religion itself that break many fundamental rights that are sacred to most other religions and even to non-religious people.[/hr]
    #6 Kalista, Feb 3, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2014
  7. Tyler rolled his eyes, but he didn't have it in him to leave May hanging. Sliding over in his seat, he reached his homework across the aisle so she could take it and copy his answers. "Just change one or two up so it isn't obvious you copied me." As he stretched out and leaned into the aisle, the bus had hit a significant bump in the road, perhaps a pot hole judging by the ferocity of the jerking, and Tyler went toppling face-first onto the floor.

    Several of the older kids in the back saw what had happened and started to laugh and snicker. Poor Tyler felt a wave of embarrassment and frustration build up inside of him, but he remembered what his father had once told him: "Pull yourself up, Ty. Don't let the world keep you down."

    With both hands firmly on the dirty floor of the bus, the boy pushed himself back up and regained his balance and composure once he was fully back on the seat. His homework paper was covered in patches of dirt and dust from being crumpled beneath him, but he forced himself to not be upset by it. He simply swallowed his emotions and carefully finished handing it over to May.

    Professor Huber nodded in eager response as Fowler touched on religion as a basis for the feuding between the Shia and the Sunni. "Religious intolerance...," he exclaimed while holding up a finger. "That is the number one cause of many cultural disputes that divide fundamentalists and activists. Somehow, someway, the argument always goes back to the moral beliefs embedded into the psyche of individuals on both sides of the debate. Even those that aren't religious usually find themselves in a 'what if' metaphysical argument. For last several generations, our nation's politicians have struggled with this very ideal..." Professor Huber paused in his lecture to pick up a marker and begin writing on the dry erase board behind him.

    When he was done writing, he slowly articulated the question:

    "Does the United States of America have a moral obligation to promote democracy in third world countries?
    "This very question," he continued, "often runs into religious barriers. Language, local culture, population, and even economics cause little to no friction with our ideal of spreading capitalism and democracy. The Soviets of the past could probably say the same thing when they promoted communism. But the one major cause of political tensions between nations whenever influence is spread is a fundamental difference of religious beliefs.

    "Why is that? ... Mr. Brannon?"

    Michael had suspected the professor would call on him eventually. Michael Brannon straightened himself out in his seat and replied, "Well... I guess it's like what Tiana said: fear mixed with a bit of self-righteousness. Religious leaders owe it to their followers to ensure that their faith is the only faith; so they'll preemptively judge the religious or non-religious beliefs of others under the pretext of politics. If we, for instance, were to succeed in turning the entirety of the Middle East into a democratic power house, how long would it take for Christianity and its various denominations to threaten the dominance of Islam in the region? If we have an obligation to the promote our beliefs, then does that mean other nations shouldn't have an obligation to defend theirs?"

    Professor Huber smiled and tapped his finger against the pummel of his cane for a moment. "If any of you are interested," he began, "I meet with a small group of students every other day after my labs and lectures at the Star Bucks on campus. We discuss topics like this and others similar to it. If you show up - and contribute to an intellectual conversation - you can earn yourself some extra credit. A few of you...," his eyes glanced over to Malcolm, among others, "...could probably use the help."
  8. May reached out to get Tyler's homework, but poor Tyler fell to the aisle because of a sudden bump.

    "Oh my! Tyler!! Are you alright??" Mrs. Creighton called out with concern, she glanced back repeatedly. "QUIET!" She also shouted to the kids in the back. "You better mind your manners unless you enjoy being the last bus stop after school and first in the morning!" It was an empty threat, but the kids didn't know that so they shut up.

    Meanwhile, May had put her blank sheet down on the seat and turned so her legs were in the aisle. Before she could help though, Tyler pushed himself back up. "Wow, are you okay?" May asked while slowly accepting the now damaged homework. She flattened it out on the seat-less back in front of her and brushed off the dirt as best as she could. Then, she copied down the answers, leaving a few wrong on purpose.

    May then put her homework back in her folder and backpack, and when the bus had come to a stop at an intersection, she quickly moved over to Tyler's seat, he was sitting in the middle so she had some space to sit. May smiled and aimed a light peck to his cheek. "Thanks, Ty." Moving back to her seat, May looked out the window to see the school. She sighed, since it was going to be a long day.

    Tiana perked up a bit to the extra credit offer Professor Huber made to the class. While she wasn't doing horrible, exams were never her strong point and padding her grade up for the inevitable hit later on would be a good preparation. She would probably go, most likely a few times would be enough, depending on how much each session gave in extra credit.

    *bzzzt* *bzzt* *bzzzt*

    Three quick buzzes from the phone in her bag caused Tiana to reach in and see who texted.

    ***-***-****: hi there
    ***-***-****: i see u
    ***-***-****: guess who

    Looking up quickly, Tiana scanned the room only to see Malcolm grinning stupidly at her. Cursing silently, she jammed the phone back in her bag and left the classroom. She had an idea who had given Malcolm her number and would definitely find out for sure.[/hr]
    #8 Kalista, Feb 5, 2014
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 8, 2014
  9. Chapter 3

    Adam and Jacob briskly walked up the ramp of the old Hercules model C-130 after one of her load masters lowered it to the tarmac below. The two of them did the same thing they did every time they first boarded the plane; Adam headed straight for the parachutes, and Jacob headed straight for his preferred seat. While Jacob slid his dufflebag off of his shoulders and secured the gear in the far upper right corner of the planes cargo hold, Adam was busy hiding his M4 rifle in between the hanging parachutes, ensuring the three-point sling was firmly hanging from one of the open hooks. The parachutes would conceal their rifles, ensuring that third-country national passengers would be unable to tell them apart from the rest of the flight crew.

    FAST teams always went out in pairs of two. Like modern day air marshals, they would hide their identity in plain sight. Actual air marshals would normally dress as a typical traveler, while FAST and Ravens would wear flight suits and act as one of the plane's crew. All crew members were equipped with an M9 Beretta, 9mm pistol. For Security Forces, like Jacob and Adam, this was a standard issue and very familiar weapon. They didn't exactly trust the load masters - and especially the pilots and navigator - with them, but in a deployed environment, a gun for every available hand was preferred. Adam and Jacob both preferred to carry their M9 in a shoulder holster, as did most of the officers. Just about every load master they encountered, however, would wear the pistol strapped to their leg. This was common since shoulder holsters would often hinder their performance and get in the way.

    After both of them had secured their gear and the rifles, Adam and Jacob would proceed to help the crew members prep the plane for her mission. Since they were transporting palettes of paper, only a few seats were needed for a small handful of passengers - typically referred to as PAX, for short - they were taking out of Al Ta'alem. These PAX were Army soldiers, so as FAST, the two of them could remain relaxed for the duration of the mission's first "leg", which was basically one flight out of the mission's series. The only time they really needed their guard up was when the PAX were third-country nationals, otherwise called "TCNs", or locals.

    Adam had just fastened the last seat needed to the clips on the floor when the pilots and engineer fired up the engines. On the inside, they were nothing more than a loud, constant hum. On the outside, that hum turned into a obnoxiously loud buzz, although Adam kept in mind that there was no plane in the Air Force that was as annoying as a C-5 with it's screeching jet engines.

    The flyboys up top in the cockpit had started the engines just in time. Temperatures on the tarmac were already reaching triple digits, and being inside of that tin can made one feel like a hot pocket in a microwave. With the engines now going, the air conditioning could kick in. Though it was of little help, it still worked to a bearable extent, and the propellers spinning outside would provide a constant barrage of air near the back, so - if needed - Adam could walk over and stand on the edge of the loading ramp for a bit to cool off.

    Jacob had already collapsed across several of the red folding seats lined across the right side of the hull. As FAST, they weren't actually required to help the aircrew prep the plane for its mission. They were there as a security detail and nothing more, so any help they provided was simply out of good conscience. But Adam and Jacob weren't the type to just leave the load masters hanging. Besides, the longer flight prep took, the longer they would be stuck on the ground... in the heat. Once they finished doing what they could, Jacob typically got in a quick power nap before things got rolling. Adam found stretching out on the seats to be terribly uncomfortable with the aluminum bars beneath the tight red fabric, so he passed on the idea and chose to stand or pace about. He would be doing plenty of sitting throughout the legs, so there was no need to laze about.

    Finally, after several more minutes of the load masters finishing their preps, the soldiers came out of a nearby passenger bus. They were all completely decked out in armor and full gear, carrying unloaded rifles with sidearms strapped to their legs. Kevlar helmets adorned their sweat-laden heads, and the whole squad looked exhausted. Adam never liked to question the passengers, ally or civilian, about where they were going or what they were doing. For one, it was too damn loud to have a conversation on board; and two, most of the PAX were in a bad mood anyway. He didn't blame them. C-130s were as uncomfortable as hell to ride in.

    Once all of the soldiers were tightly packed like tuna into the few seats that had been lowered at the front of the hull, the load masters directed two forklifts, one at a time, to carefully load up the palettes of paper they would be transporting to Jordan. Jordan would be their leg today, with the second leg being a trip back to Kuwait, but to Ali Al Salem. Finally, the day would end with a third leg back to Al Ta'alem.

    With the ramp closed up and the old hag on her way down the taxiway, Adam took his seat at the far front of the left side row of seats against the hull's wall. He had a direct path to the steps that led up to the cockpit, so if the sun gods were in any trouble, he could respond without delay. The inside of the hull was kept dim with the lights turned off in order to allow the temperature to remain as low as possible. The soldiers, still wrapped in all of their body armor and plates, would surely appreciate that. It was during times like this that Adam and Jacob were really grateful for being issued flight suits. They were as light and breathable as pajamas.

    "You ready?!" Adam shouted loud enough across the hull for Jacob to hear him, leaning over at the edge of his seat.

    Jacob nodded with a determined frown before reaching into one of the large breast pockets of his flight suit to retrieve his iPhone. He didn't get any service, of course, but the apps and iTunes kept him entertained throughout the dull moments of their missions. Without both ear buds in, Jacob took out a pair of Oakley half-flaks from his bag, secured in a small hard case for protection, and use them to conceal his eyes. Adam also had a pair and followed suit. The shades would serve to hide who they were looking at, give off a tough-guy or hard-target vibe to any potential trouble makers, and also hide the fact that they may or may not be... counting sheep.

    The first leg had taken them two hours; the usual amount of time it took to get to Jordan. Their landing wasn't as smooth as Adam would have liked it to be, but every pilot was different. Sometimes they were lucky and went out with fantastic air crews, and other times they weren't so lucky and were stuck protecting idiots. Today's pilot thought he would stop Big Bessy in only three hundred meters... or so it felt like he did. The sudden throw forward everyone had been subjected to as soon as the douche bag hit the breaks was like being hurled by a tornado; and the seat belts that only wrapped over your lap didn't offer much help. Even though the plane was now taxiing at a relatively steady pace, Adam still felt completely off balance after the insane landing. His combat boot was still forward as if to brace his body from being flung again and his hands were glued to the bars underneath his seat.

    After another few minutes, the plane had come to a stop and the load masters lowered the ramp. Adam could see a couple of forklifts already waiting behind the tail, ready to retrieve their palettes. The engines remained spinning, simply idling. This leg was nothing more than a drop-and-go delivery. As soon as the second palette and the PAX were unloaded and away, the load masters would raise the ramp and they'd be off back to Kuwait.

    In less than a minute, the forklift operators had their paper unloaded, so the soldiers were free to leave their seats and move toward the ramp, which was lowered for them to walk down. Jordan was a neutral country in regards to the operation. Under normal circumstances they didn't allow Americans to deboard their planes with weapons, but a special exception must have been made for this trip. Most likely, Adam guessed, the soldiers were here for some kind of joint training program. He watched as they trotted toward a bus in the background that had come to pick them up. Another U.S. soldier had stepped off to wave at them.

    Before one of the load masters could raise the ramp, he stopped to look back at two individuals running toward the plane. Adam and Jacob had spotted them long before the load master did and had already jumped to their feet. Jacob's hand had jerked upward to the pistol grip exposed from his shoulder holster and Adam's hand was already slithering in between the parachutes. Both of their eyes were never removed from the two men that dared to approach.

    The load master, in all his grand wisdom, walked to the bottom of the ramp and started to talk to the two individuals. As far as Adam and Jacob were concerned, they were only here to drop off the paper and PAX, nothing else. So when one of the two men started to walk up the ramp with a backpack over his shoulder at the permission of the load master, they were completely thrown off and their suspicions were raised.

    "Hey!" Jacob shouted over the sound of the engines. "Load!" He had directed his exclamation toward the second load master nearest them, who immediately hobbled his way through the seats and over to him. Adam couldn't quite hear what Jacob was asking, but he could read his lips enough to understand it. "Who is that guy?!"

    The young airman nodded and raised leaned in toward Jacob's ear to shout back, "He's a last-minute PAX! He's OSI!"

    OSI? Adam wondered. Why are we transporting a special agent? OSI, or the Office of Special Investigations, was basically the FBI of the Air Force. Each branch of the military had their own investigative division that would spearhead special cases and assignments that required a more clandestine or inquisitive mind. For the Navy, it was the NCIS, which Adam would often compared to when explaining to civilians what their OSI was, since most people had heard of the well-known and over-hyped television series.

    "Can he do that?!" Jacob demanded.

    "Flight Commander approved it!" the load responded. A flight commander was basically the air craft's pilot and had the authority to make mission essential calls. Of course, he probably only approved because it was OSI and didn't want to cause any conflict and upset higher brass.

    Adam and Jacob took their seats as the OSI agent took his. The man was dressed in civilian clothes with blue jeans and a dark brown, short sleeve button-up shirt that he had left open to keep himself cool, exposing a white t-shirt beneath. His eyes were hidden behind his own pair of pilot sunglasses. Despite his easy-going appearance, neither Adam or Jacob could keep from glaring at him behind their own shades; knowing fully well that the agent was probably doing the same.
  10. Chapter Four

    Tick tock tick tock tick tock...

    "It's taking too long... How to do this problem by the way?" May asked Tyler during homework time. They were in math class and the homework was on fractions. It was May's least favorite part about math, since she likes decimal numbers better. When she was younger, May would set up her own shop in the house called "May Shoppe" and would sell kitchen silverware and other household items to her parents or guests at dinner parties. Because of this, she got really good at working with decimal numbers handling money.

    "Oh ya, are you going to practice tonight?" May meant the musical that Tyler got casted in. While she was glad for him, at the same time it meant she would be alone on the bus on the way home.

    "Coffee, cream, and two sugars please," Tiana smiled to the handsome barista behind the Starbucks counter. Smiling back, he accepted her credit card and swiped it. While he was processing the purchase, Tiana looked around and spotted Professor Huber sitting next to the window at the far corner of the cafe. It seemed like she was the first as there was no one else around him. Oh no... Growing nervous, she suddenly wished she ordered something that would take longer to make. A few seconds later, the coffee was handed to her and she accepted slowly.

    "Miss Fowler, welcome! Please sit, please sit!" Tiana awkwardly smiled and thanked him as she sat down. Putting her bag down, she sipped her coffee too soon and made a light yelp. Chuckling, the professor sat back with his and drank.[/hr][/hr]
  11. Tyler glanced over at May's work. They had sat next to each other most of the day, though he wasn't able to bring himself to say a single word after the awkward bus ride. The peck on his cheek had turned him as red as a pepper and he didn't know how to react. May was cute, but he wasn't sure how to respond to something like that. He had never kissed a girl, other than his own mother, and he wasn't sure if he was supposed to be developing an interest in them yet. Last time he checked, they were still supposed to be "icky".

    Her second question diverted his attention from the math problem. "Uh, yeah," he shyly replied. "It's mandatory."

    "Caramel macchiato, si vous plait," Michael said, unsure exactly why he had chosen to say "please" in formal French, but it just kind of... came out. He handed his debit card to the cashier to pay and then soon after joined Professor Huber and, to his pleasant surprise, Tiana Fowler. She had been the first to arrive, followed by Michael and then one of the Irish foreign students, Ronald. The ginger-headed male's last name escaped him, but he didn't really care.

    "Afternoon, Mister Brannon, Mister Shaemus," Huber had said. Oh, so that's his last name.

    Michael took out his cell phone and made sure the alarms and other tones were turned off and silent. He didn't like interrupting Professor Huber during his lessons, in or out of class. It wasn't that the man minded, he couldn't actually care less, but it was a certain peeve Michael himself had. Noises and unecessary distractions only served to annoy him.

    "Here's your drink, sir," said the barista that had come out from behind the coffee bar to deliver Michael's macchiato.

    "Thanks. So what are we talking about to today, professor?"

    Huber perched his glasses higher up on the bridge of his nose with a matter-of-fact poise that sent a refraction of the sunlight from the windows flashing ever so briefly. "I was wanting discuss the situation in the Middle East a bit more, actually. I've always found the 'War on Terror' to be a fruitless effort to 'fix' something that has been happening for thousands of years. Let's do a little role playing, shall we?"

    "What do you mean?" Ronald asked.

    "It's simple, really. Whatever role you, yourself, decides to take up on this issue - such as the liberal anti-war activist, the conservative extremist, the moderate fence-sitter, so on and so forth - I'll take an opposing stance. Your job is to poke holes in my logic while I do the same."

    "A pointless debate?" Michael inquired, skeptical of the idea.

    "If it teaches you how to effectively argue your personal view in a world where this debate is so common it floods Facebook every hour, is it really pointless?"

    "Looks like he's already started," Ronald joked, his Irish accent coming out in full throttle.
  12. "Hmm... okay. " May said nonchalantly, though inside she was a bit disheartened. Other than Tyler, May didn't have any friends on their bus. It was unfortunate that all the annoying people were living along their route. Her mind started to wander and she ended up thinking about the stray dog she had seen around the neighborhood recently. He was a medium-sized Scoodle that came up to her one day as she was walking home from the bus stop. Since May had some leftover carrots from her lunch that day, she fed him and he followed her to the front door. May had said goodbye and since then they had become friends. She named him Moki and Moki would often greet her after school on random days.


    Suddenly, May remembered she was being taken to the doctor after school, and while it made her a bit happy she wouldn't have to ride the bus, she wasn't too fond of going to the doctor's either. "I have to go to the doctors after school today." May pouted and propped her head up with an elbow as she wrote with the other hand. "My mom thinks I'm sick, but I'm fine."

    Ronald Shaemus' accent was amusing for Tiana to hear and she barely hid a small smile as she sipped her coffee, which had cooled down a bit by the time the others had arrived. The other student to come was someone she knew was in her class, but at the same time didn't know too well. His name was Michael Brannon and they had never really spoken to each other before, but from what Tiana could tell, he was a studious person. Any time he was called on or offered any comment, Michael was ready to go.

    Tiana heard her phone buzz in her bag again, and tightened her fist a bit under the table. She had a feeling it was Malcolm again and decided after this meeting she would confront her "friend" who seemed intent on getting Tiana together with Malcolm, no matter how much of a jerk he was. It was even more annoying that her "friend" obviously liked Malcolm, but decided she would vicariously live through Tiana, who seemed to have gained his attraction.

    "Looks like he's already started." Ronald had joked and the way he said it somehow seemed really funny to Tiana and she choked on her coffee a bit. Her face heated up in slight embarrassment and she returned her focus back to the table while wiping the tip of her nose.
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