Excerpt from book:
As I hustled out from the hangar into the Persian Gulf twilight, my muscles tightened, and power flowed into my hands. Soon I would do what I did best. Soon I would kill a sorcerer.
The U.S. Army base tarmac gave off a blistering heat mirage as I scrambled across it. A helicopter’s blades rotated at ready; their wash blasted hot as I boarded. The door slammed behind me, and the copter, christened Valkyrie, took off.
The five men of my team saluted, then went back to checking their equipment. They showed no impatience at having waited on the pad for orders; they were used to the bullshit. I sat toward the front for quick off-headphone interaction with the pilot when we hit the spooky stuff.
For a silent aircraft, the Valkyrie made plenty of noise inside. Next to me, Cpl. “Vulture” Volant yelled my nom de guerre. “Casper. Is that like the friendly ghost, sir?”
“Not that friendly, Corporal.”
“A killing ghost, sir?” But, seeing that I was unamused, Vulture again inspected his sniper rifle, and I was grateful that I didn’t have to order him to shut the fuck up. It was my fault for choosing a shitty cryptonym, and not just because of the ghost reference. “Casper” gave a clue to my job. Casper, or Caspar, had been one of the Three Wise Men. A magus, or what Americans with knowledge called a craftsman. Why hide my identity only to give it away through the back door?
My father had written me a warning that “We Mortons are too practical about the craft, and too crafty about the practical.” Yeah, my real name was Morton, Captain Dale Morton. Other craftsmen tended to have strong opinions about my family. I didn’t blame them.
My men didn’t know about my family or magic, but they aimed uncomfortable glances at me. I didn’t blame them either. These five had trained together, a seamless whole, but not with me. I was too important a secret to expose to others for too much time. Our unit designation, MAC-66, appeared in no records. The Pentagon didn’t formally acknowledge Delta Force and SEAL Team Six but allowed their existence to be known. Craft ops were different; knowledge of their existence could be fatal.
Two of my five were boot camps, green as Uncle Sam’s toilet paper. Vulture and Lt. Shaheen were more experienced. Shaheen knew Arabic and regional detail and doubled as team medic, so he was Doc. And there was the old man, my NCO, Master Sergeant “Zee” Zanol.
All good men, but I couldn’t get too close. They were smart enough not to question the bullshit, but they would know the word from this land to describe me: assassin.
* * *
Hours before, I had stood in a prefab conference room shoved in a corner of the base hangar. The room served as an office for people who weren’t officially there. Colonel Hutchinson had explained my mission. She was my favorite officer, my favorite craftsperson, and my favorite living human being, all packed tight into a tall fortysomething mix of Kate Hepburn and triathlete.
“H-ring is calling it a snatch and grab, but you’ll assume your usual prejudice against the target,” she said in her easy rural New England way, as if she weren’t sentencing some stranger to death. “Intel says he’s a Farsi speaker, a Persian.” Persian—better than any existing nation’s name to describe ancient loyalties. Hutchinson pointed to a printout map. “He’s been farseen here, about fifty klicks southwest of the bridge.”
“A long ways from home, ma’am,” I said.
“He’s not such a wise man for a magus,” said Hutchinson. “We expect a go before sundown.”
“Isn’t Sword up next?” Code name Sword was the third craftsperson on base, though for security I was kept sequestered from him. I wanted this mission, but I had a gut suspicion of irregular assignments.
“This mission has been called by Sphinx herself,” said Hutchinson, “and Sphinx doesn’t want Sword. She said something to the effect that if we didn’t send you on this mission, we could pack up Western civilization and shove it up our asses.”
“Me, ma’am?” As far as I knew, neither the Peepshow at Langley nor their top oracle Sphinx ever selected the individual for an assignment.
“Don’t let it go to your head, Morton. This bozo isn’t important. Must be a butterfly-effect scenario.”
“So I crush the butterfly,” I said.
“Right,” agreed Hutchinson.
I respected Hutchinson more than my rarely seen parents, and whatever Hutch said, I would execute, with my usual and extreme prejudice. But it was more than personal loyalty. I shared the sense of duty of my ancestors: Philip “Foggy” Morton who delayed the British with bad weather at Brooklyn Heights to save George Washington’s army, Richard “Dick” Morton, who calmed the storms over the English Channel for the D-Day invasion, and Joshua Morton, who gave the last full measure for the Union he loved. Like them, I would serve my country to the utmost.
* * *
I checked my watch. We’d be within forty klicks by now. We were coming in low and below radar, but I wasn’t worried about the conventional firepower of the locals. The target would strike soon. I kept my anticipation of the supernatural blow to myself.
The first sign of attack came as a gut-lurching, sideways drop, followed by another. The chopper shook as if an oversized child was pelting it with boulders. Yes, a probable SPACTAD—spooky action at a distance.
I clambered forward and crouched behind the pilot, Lt. Nguyen. She had “Born to Kill” on her helmet. “What’s that turbulence?” I asked.
“Sir, we need to turn back,” said Nguyen.
“Just because of some wind?”
“Look at this,” said Nguyen. On the radar, a wall of disturbance moved toward us. Sandstorm.
“Fly above it?”
“I’ve never seen anything go so high,” said Nguyen.
“Keep flying,” I said. “We’ll be fine.”
“That’s an order.”
“Yes, sir.” Fortunately, Nguyen had been thoroughly warned to follow my every order, no matter how apparently suicidal. But she didn’t sound happy, no ma’am.
I made a controlled tumble back into my seat, and held some laminated maps in front of my face. But my mind followed the storm. I felt the enemy craftwork behind it, craftwork that had been wreaking havoc on air and land traffic in this sector for months. I could try to fight the whole spell, but I wasn’t on my own ground, so that would drain me, and that was probably what the target wanted.
So I’d shield the copter. It would look strange, but what could the pilot say? I touched my hand to the wall of the aircraft, and rubbed and patted it like a horse. I felt the pulse of the life of the air beyond. “Calm air, calm air,” I murmured, and the air around the speeding copter flowed calmly by.
My headset crackled. “Sir,” said Nguyen, “the sand is blowing, but we seem to be in a clear pocket.”
“Roger that. Carry on, Lieutenant.”
Compulsively, I checked my weapons and gear again—way beyond the necessary. I carried a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun with its clean first shot and a Sig Sauer P226 9mm pistol, because I didn’t want to adapt my father’s .45 with