© By Katherine Bryan August 2012
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. – Seneca
Romans 7:14: The law is good, then. The trouble is not with the law but with me, because I am sold into slavery, with sin as my master.
The monster in Sidney Matthews’ closet was real.
Night after night, as he tried so desperately to sink into sleep, terror ran through his thin, child’s body.
How many nights had he lain in horror and shame waiting for his mother to come to his bed? A hundred? A thousand? She came, but not as a mother. Mothers read you quietly lulling bedtime stories, tucked you in, kissed you on the forehead and turned out the light.
Not Sidney’s mother. No, Sidney’s mother came to him on whispering heels in the dark of night, long after the house was quiet, long past his bedtime, long after his father had closed his door with a promise of sweet dreams to come.
Sidney never had sweet dreams. Sidney had nightmares of a devil-woman with maleficent blonde hair, despicably naked under a blue peignoir, and instead of a children’s story, she came armed with the Word of God.
Blood is life.
The first lash of the belt seared into his skin.
Blood is atonement.
More pain. Again and again. Over and over. When he screamed, she beat him harder. When he cried, she called him names. When he begged, she punished him longer. Sometimes he wondered if she was going to kill him. Most of the time he wished she would.
The nightmares always ended the same way. With the unthinkable. The unspeakable. The reprehensible.
His mother would strip, run her breasts across the abased welts, kiss him. Tell him what a good, good boy he was. And then she’d take him into her mouth and shame him even more.
Night after night, the monster came, stealing the illusory protection of childhood away from him.
Oh yes, the monster in Sidney’s closet was real.
Sidney bought his first computer on his fifteenth birthday. By the time he was seventeen he owned two more, and could hack into almost any system in the world. He wrote his own programs, blazed through firewalls, strolled through doors that were closed to millions, coded his own execution commands into the intercellular matrix of the Pentagon, and dreamed about ruling the galaxy.
He was a wizard. A sorcerer of magic.
He could render an entire operating system useless with the stroke of a key, a wave of a wand.
He could also end a life.
Diane Waltham’s father should never have told him to get lost. Shouldn’t have sneered at him or looked at him like he was less than zero, a non-person who’d never be good enough to date his precious daughter. Like he was a bug on the bottom of Waltham’s shiny black loafer.
He was God.
A week later Sidney proved it.
First he deleted old man Waltham’s bank account. Twenty thousand in savings, poof, gone. Twelve hundred in checking, nope, not anymore. Credit cards? Maxed out and over ninety days late. Mortgage payment? Five months behind. Foreclosure imminent. And that nice cushy accounting job? Well, bummer for him when a sudden audit showed that the asshole had been skimming into an offshore bank account.
Boo-hoo, mother fucker. Life over.
Sidney’s eighteenth birthday was only three weeks away, he was almost a man, and inside he harbored a man’s rage. A rage contained, suppressed for nearly a lifetime. His preacher father was a pussy, his mother a whore.
She came to him as she always did, smelling of roses, nearly nude, with a bible in one hand and a belt in the other. On this night, however, things would be different.
Blood is life.
The first lash of the belt never touched his skin.
He became tall. He became real. He became the son of his mother.
He loosed his rage, setting it upon the woman he’d once loved. The woman he now despised.
He bashed her skull in with a hammer until her brains spilled onto the floor, and as he watched her bleed, still reeling in the spiral of rage, he got his first legitimate erection.
As he picked up the bible and started reading, he stroked himself.
Blood is atonement.
The monster in the closet was dead.
Sidney never went to prison for killing his mother. Instead, he spent three years in a state mental hospital pumped full of Thorazine. Within the first six months, he became poor, sad Sidney whose mother had hideously abused him and, holy Jesus, who wouldn’t crack, even kill, under that kind of mistreatment. So poor, sad Sidney with the Thorazine shuffle, behaved, learned, and played the system.
The system was easy. Passing his meds off was even easier.
His favorite place within the cold, sterile, keep-the-psychos-calm yellow walls, became the library. The old saying about knowledge being power became his salvation. And glory be, the patients’ library even had a computer they let poor, sad Sidney use. After all, what harm could a chemically lobotomized man do?
If they only knew. By the second year of his stay, Sidney was spending most of his time writing codes again, hacking, becoming stronger and smarter, until one day he simply ceased to exist.
On a cloudless summer day, Sidney Matthews shuffled off the hospital grounds, and yes, the staff may have known him, but without records of his birth, his life, his stay, he simply disappeared off the face of the earth, never to be seen again.
Friday, April 7th 5:57 a.m.
Lieutenant Commander Jake Kincaid heard the thwap of rotors before the chopper swooped into view. Shading his eyes, he scanned the horizon. The early morning sun glimmered over the Persian Gulf, glinting treacherously off the Blackhawk helicopter as it came in hot and hungry for the tactical extraction of the eight men on the beach. Whirling blades kicked up sand as the chopper waited impatiently for EDGE Team Two to reach it and board.
For the last ten minutes, Jake and his men had been hunkered down in a dirt alley behind an abandoned diner in a long line of gutted buildings sandwiched between a thirty foot cliff and a wide strip of beach.
The sheer idiocy of this pickup scenario made Jake’s palms sweat. Thanks to some Com guy’s Head Up Ass FUBAR, their 0300 primary pickup had been blown to hell. Even though, according to intel, the situation on the ground was now supposedly secure, it was broad daylight for God’s sake, which left the chopper and his men way too vulnerable to enemy fire. Crap, any lunatic with a gun could see them.
The pilot’s voice came over Jake’s headset. “EDGE Two, this is Falcon six-eight. State your position. Over.”
Jake checked his GPS, keyed up his mike, and replied with their lat/long, then said, “Approximately zero-two-eight-zero meters south. End building. Over.”
“Copy. I have a visual, over.”
Jake looked around for a second helo and didn’t see one. “Falcon six-eight, you got an escort?”
“Neg. No escort. I say again, no escort. Over.”
The pilot sounded young. Really young. Young generally meant little to no combat flight experience. Since this wasn’t a freakin’ training op in the Everglades, Jake wasn’t happy that he was handing his team over to what sounded like a kid, or the fact that his regular pilot hadn’t shown. “Where’s Falcon six-four? Over.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake. You at least got a gunner?”
“Gunner’s down. I say again, no gunner. Over.”
What the hell? Covert extractions in a secure territory didn’t generally require much more than a helo and a pilot, but still. Since the sun was now bright and blazing, this extraction wasn’t exactly covert anymore. So, no escort, no spotter, no gunner. No way. Jake thought better about telling the pilot to kiss his ass and instead replied, “Abort, Falcon six-eight. Abort, abort.”
“Negative, EDGE Two. CO’s orders. I’m running low on fuel here. Exit is secure. I say again, exit is secure. Please move it, sir. Acknowledge.”
Jake puffed out a breath and looked at his men, knowing they’d heard the entire exchange over their own headsets. Even though this was his team and he was the one in charge, and therefore responsible, he respected his men and wanted their vote. He got a nod from each man. Okay then. Decision made, he nodded back and spoke into his mike, “Affirm. On our way. Out.”
He watched the pilot pick a hover reference, toggle the stick and wait.
Time to go.
He gave the signal and his men left the cover of the building to move forward down the beach. Less than three hundred meters to freedom, and eventually, a cold beer.
Like Night Shield and Grey Dawn, EDGE didn’t officially exist. Missions were never recorded, never documented, and if an operation went wrong, the U.S. government would deny their very existence. Political credo 101: take the credit, deflect the blame.
All a part of SPECWAR. Black ops. And so deeply buried only a handful of men in the Pentagon had even the slightest awareness of it.
As a Navy SEAL Jake did as his country asked. With EDGE, he did everything they didn’t ask, but wanted, and then some. Pretty much anything and everything no one else either provided or sanctioned.
Both jobs boiled down to freedom and liberty.
But there was no freedom, and certainly no liberty, in the Arab nation Jake’s team was about to leave. They’d just finished a nice little counterterrorist maneuver that was going to save several hundred innocent lives, and at the same time neutralize a rebel force of thousands.