Morgan's Genie Ch. 01bybashfullyshameless©
Author's Note: Again, no smut here, but it'll come!
More importantly: This chapter includes some very serious topics. Please understand that while this will ultimately be a fun, racy fantasy, I take none of the real-world issues herein lightly. No disrespect is intended in any way.
Chapter One: Valor
"No, no, no, I joined up in '02 when it was still just Afghanistan and we were going after the assholes who actually attacked us. No WMD bullshit and certainly no Abu Ghraib," Morgan Anderson declared firmly. Her eyes were vigilantly turned outward as the armored Humvee rolled through the streets despite the growing tension of the conversation.
"So what, you think everyone who signs up now is just an asshole?" asked the soldier seated on her left.
"Did I say that?" Morgan countered.
"Sounds like you wouldn't have enlisted if you had known what was gonna go down here."
"Jensen, that's like ninety percent of us," First Sergeant Gomez called from the front passenger's seat. "I don't know many guys who honestly want to spend every other year in sunny Iraq."
"Y'all can take my next deployment when it comes up if you want it, Jensen," joked Washington in the driver's seat.
"Look, we didn't come out here and do all this for nothin' is what I'm sayin'," Jensen scowled. "Getting' rid of Saddam was a good thing. This wasn't a big waste just 'cause they got the intel wrong. You'd know about that, right, Anderson?"
"Ouch," Gomez chuckled. Then he turned back to the radio handset, distracted by a new voice on the line.
A thin smile came across her lips as she eyed him for a moment, then went back to looking out her window. "I'm in counter-intelligence, jackass," she said. "Don't try to pin the old military intelligence oxymoron on me. I'm a dummy. Says so right there in my job title." It got a laugh from Washington, sitting in the driver's seat, but Gomez was distracted with the radio. If Jensen thought it was funny, he didn't laugh. "And I was still in language school during the invasion, anyway," Morgan added.
"Right, right," Jensen nodded. He was looking out his side of the Humvee, too, but the streets still looked relatively unthreatening. "Learning Arabic. 'cause that's what they speak in Afghanistan for the real war, right? Oh, wait. No, they don't speak that over there, do they?"
"What's your point, Jensen?" Morgan sighed. She was beginning to regret the whole conversation.
"My point is if you're so against us bein' here, why didn't you, I dunno, conscientious object or something?"
"I'm not sure that's an actual verb phrase."
"Yeah, but you know what I mean."
"I signed up, just like you did," Morgan said. "I took my oath. Wasn't the Army's decision to be here. That was stupid politicians. We're already here, might as well try to make the best of it on the ground. Like we did today," she added with no small tone of assertion.
"Hey, I ain't complainin' about today," Jensen shrugged. "Rape's rape. Don't matter whose side you're on. Ain't no call for that, ever."
Morgan nodded, not that Jensen saw. They were both turned away from one another, warily watching out opposite windows. She thought, briefly, that the earlier topic had been dropped. A moment later, though, Jensen said, "You went for fuckin' Kerry, didn't you?"
"Jesus," Morgan scowled, "Bush can't even eat a fucking pretzel right, and you think--?"
"Anderson," Gomez interrupted. He held the radio handset over his shoulder. "You've got a call."
She took the handset from him and answered, "This is Anderson."
"What's the verdict, Staff Sergeant?" asked the voice of an older man on the line.
"She positively ID'd Hutchinson, Franklin and Woods, Colonel," Morgan said. "I have her full statement, recorded and everything."
"You don't think she was coerced at all? Coached?"
"No sir," Morgan answered. "She spoke with me alone. I think she's got some good support from her family, sir, but the parents clearly didn't know we were coming and neither did she. This wasn't rehearsed. She even showed me bruising that matches what was reported on Franklin's phone. And I think she'll go the distance and testify."
There was a pause. It was, after all, a heavy thing. "You have it all on tape?"
"It's amazing that she would talk to any of us at all. Outstanding work, sergeant."
"Thank you, sir," Morgan said. She felt a rush of satisfaction. The situation was certainly as ugly as anything she'd seen in Iraq—it was hard to smile about this after all the pain she had just witnessed—and yet the moment left her feeling a little proud. Morgan felt a pang of guilt for thinking of herself at a time like this, but she couldn't deny that it felt good to know she was very good at her job.
"Very well. Is Morkot there with you?"
"No sir, he's in the other Humvee, but he recommends arrest."
"Alright, we'll get to that. You just—"
She didn't hear the rest over the explosion that blew the Humvee ahead of hers end over end to land on its roof. Washington slammed on the brakes before he struck the wrecked vehicle. Curses of surprise and anger erupted from inside Morgan's Humvee, followed an instant later by gunfire as they took hits from both sides. She saw blood burst from Jensen's left shoulder beside her as the allegedly bullet-resistant window on his side shattered.
Her M4 was already in her hands. She leaned left while Jensen groaned and reflexively jerked right, almost putting his head in her lap. Even as she pointed her weapon out Jensen's now open window, Morgan spotted a man shooting an AK-47 from behind a parked car. Another man beside him wielded an RPG. The streets of the area were lined with shops and small merchants' stalls, though any civilian who hadn't already found someplace to hide was desperately doing so.
The hostile with the rocket hesitated; the one with the rifle sprayed wildly. Morgan was far more controlled as she shot back. Training took over as she fired tight groups at the greatest threat first. The one with the RPG jerked back as a red, wet spray burst from his head. The other went down much the same way.
More bullets hit the vehicle. The situation was too chaotic at first for her to tell which way they came from. Morgan looked down at Jensen, who was already groaning more in anger than in pain. His shoulder was covered in blood, but the arm still moved. "It's not too bad," he managed.
Washington was already on the radio calling in the ambush. He crouched down away from the windows just like everyone else. "We gotta get them out!" Gomez snapped. "Jensen!"
"He's hit," Morgan grunted. "I'm with you."
"Jensen, can you cover from the door?"
"Ready?" Gomez asked. He only waited for a quick nod, then turned back and opened his side door just as Morgan opened hers. She was greeted with the sight of another masked attacker, literally within arm's reach of the door, crouched beside the rear wheel. She saw him toss the small black shape inside, right in her lap.
"Grenade!" she yelled. She had it in her hand within a second, out the door in the next, slammed the door shut once more and ducked. When it blew, her window held up much better than the one beside Jensen had. The armored vehicle rocked hard just the same, collapsing on her side without much of a right rear tire left to hold it up. She glanced over to see that Gomez had reacted just the way she'd hoped. He had slammed his door shut as well.
There just wasn't time to process any of it. "Ready again?" Gomez asked.
"Go!" she answered. She saw his door open and threw herself out of her own. There was plenty of smoke from the grenade, along with plenty of blood on the ground around her, but her first concern was over keeping up with Gomez. She found him already crouched in front of her, almost bowling him over. He fired at targets up ahead.
There were hostiles at the doors of the overturned Humvee. One had turned his attention from the doors of the Humvee to Gomez, but came up on the losing end of the ensuing exchange of gunfire. The other gunman beside him scrambled to get to cover around the front of the wrecked vehicle.
It was a lot to take in all at once. Morgan had been in many tense situations before in Baghdad, had been very close to live firefights and had even seen an IED take out the vehicle ahead of hers on her second deployment, but she hadn't ever had cause to fire her weapon outside of training. She had always been diligent about going to the range—she knew where she'd be deployed, after all—and had been through the pre-deployment combat refreshers, but she wasn't an infantry trooper. There had to be a hundred things she didn't even know enough to worry about here.
She quickly looked around, saw no targets in view, and immediately followed Gomez into the smoke around the wrecked Humvee. "Watch right, watch right," Gomez warned, and as he kept an eye on the forward field of fire, Morgan kept up her guard for anyone who might shoot from the buildings on their side of the street.
A bullet ricocheted at her feet. As she jerked over to the side of the wreck she heard Jensen and Washington open up behind her. Looking back quickly, she realized they were both shooting for the rooftops.
"Help me!" Gomez demanded. She turned back, seeing him with the door to the Humvee open and a battered and bloody soldier inside trying to crawl out with Gomez's assistance.
She reached down with her left hand, grabbing the soldier by his web gear to help drag him out. He groggily fumbled around on hands and knees while she and Gomez heaved him clear. Morgan had him almost upright and moving back to her still mostly-intact vehicle when something slammed into her back and her right thigh. She staggered, whirling around without meaning to. Other bullets bounced off of the side of the Humvee beside her.
The impact knocked the wind out of her, but her body armor saved her from much worse. The small of her back came up against the Humvee, right where she had been hit, preventing her from falling all the way to the ground. Gomez was down. She saw him there, clutching at his chest. Gunfire roared from several directions, but the bullets weren't going for her. Through the broken windows of the shop on the street, two masked gunmen unloaded on Jensen and Washington to keep them down.
Another leapt forth from the doorway, bringing the butt of his AK-47 down across Morgan's head. She tried to block but was too sluggish. The blow was harsh enough to knock her down to one knee. She felt her weapon torn from her hands by another attacker. Then they both grabbed her and yanked her back from the street, hauling her into the storefront.
She cursed and struggled, but it was two against one and both men were considerably larger than Morgan. One had her by the left arm; the other, on her right, managed to get her sidearm out of her belt as they crossed the threshold of the store. There were shelves and hanging trinkets everywhere. Another hostile waited inside with a sack that looked like it was meant for her head. A fourth covered the others from the window.
Morgan kept fighting. She got one arm free, shrugging off blows to the gut and the constant struggle to get her completely under control again. Before they could stop her, she snatched a grenade from the belt of the one on her right. Morgan twisted up into her left arm rather than trying to get free from the man holding it. It was a fumbling, desperate fight.
The moment she had a finger through the pin of the grenade, she yanked it free and let it drop at her feet. Her Arabic was quite good; she heard the man yell, "Grenade! Get away!" as he shoved her free.
She had three seconds after that. Morgan grabbed onto another of her attackers, using him to haul herself out of the way. Her weight threw him off balance, sending him to the floor beside the grenade. She took one limping step, just enough to haul herself around a long shelf of pots, pans and tall bottles before the grenade went off.
Shrapnel tore through her left foot and calf. The rack shielded her from the rest of the blast, but her leg simply wasn't clear in time. She went down as the heavy rack fell against the one next to it, leaving her enough space that she wasn't crushed. Falling cookware battered her just the same.
Morgan couldn't hear anything but a constant throb that reverberated through her skull. Even with the smoke and darkness she felt the world spinning around her.
There wasn't time to think about that. Just keep moving, she thought. Move. Move. Morgan forced herself to crawl forward through the tunnel made by fallen store shelving. Her foot and ankle were in agonizing pain and the opposite thigh didn't feel any better. Her back hurt like hell, too. Morgan pushed pots and pans out of her way, fumbling along. The gunfire had stopped—that, or she had gone completely deaf. She couldn't think straight enough to really consider either possibility. Her head started to clear as she got to the light at the end of her tunnel.
As soon as she had a hand clear of the fallen rack, someone grabbed her and dragged her the rest of the way free. It wasn't a friendly face. Angry eyes glared out over a checkered cloth covering the nose and mouth. A fist came down on her eye.
"Slut!" the man roared in Arabic. "Whore!" He punched her again. "Leave my country!"
Morgan tried to block with one arm, fumbling for something—anything—to use as a weapon with the other. She grabbed onto a bottle, tall and metallic and decorated with an intricate pattern of lines. It looked very old and had solid weight to it. She blocked the man's next punch and slammed the bottle into his head.
The blow staggered him. She hit him again and he stumbled to the floor next to her. She kept up her assault.
Smoke began to surround her, but she didn't stop swinging. It was what she had been trained to do. "Stupid motherfucker!" she screamed back at him in English. She kept hitting him. "Stop fighting us and we will fucking leave!"
Smoke and more smoke. It was all coming forcefully from the bottle. Her opponent was down and out after she lost track of how many times she had hit him in the head.
Still on her hip, unable to stand, Morgan saw only dark gray smoke around her. She crawled only a foot or two forward before her hand touched someone's hair on the floor in front of her.
She caught only a glimpse of him—dressed in a chain shirt, pale-skinned, groaning and clutching his head as if he had just suffered the same kind of beating as the Iraqi behind her—before injury and blood loss overtook her.
Someone in the distance was calling out her name. The world finally went black.
* * *
Thomas groaned in pain as he lay on the floor, trying to regain some semblance of composure.
He was fairly sure that he was supposed to kneel and say something grave and sincere and formal. Something about service and loyalty and honor, and what he could provide. Instead, he had an absolutely splitting headache and the rest of him didn't feel all that great, either. However, he could move, and that was certainly an improvement on his condition before the old man had bound him in the bottle.
There were voices—male, firm, tense yet controlled. He couldn't make out the language right away. As Thomas managed to open his eyes, he found himself in the wreckage of a shop. It was very different from anything he'd seen before. He knew the world had changed a great deal, and he didn't really know how long he had been bound, but to some extent a merchant's shop was a merchant's shop.
Men moved through the shop dressed in strange clothes with intricate and confusing patterns of brown and tan colors. They swept through the shop carefully, with black objects held at the ready and intent expressions on their mostly pale but occasionally dark-skinned faces. The men had to be warriors—that much seemed quite obvious—and the black objects therefore had to be weapons, but Thomas couldn't tell how their weapons were to be used or how they might be dangerous. They looked rather awkward. The warriors seemed quite serious, though, as several stalked right past him.
They didn't notice him at all. No one would, he realized, except for his master. Mistress. He knew her face. He'd had a flash of it when she first grasped the bottle. He knew instinctively that she was different from most who had grasped the vessel in the past. But then everything went insane and the pain began.
She lay there on the floor in front of him as he forced himself up. She was dressed just like the warriors but badly hurt, with blood pouring from her right leg at the thigh and her left at the foot and ankle. Her comrades—could she be a warrior, too?—tended to her. Thomas instinctively reached out to mend her wounds, but then stopped.
Witnesses to magic were to be avoided, Thomas realized. He was still unsure of the scale, but the old man had told him that magic became less and less reliable as one's witnesses increased in number. Thomas had no perspective on that. He understood that this was why a wizard such as the old man had not simply thrown the Crusader Army into the sky with a powerful whirlwind, but surely a few witnesses mattered little.
To work such obvious magic without permission from his mistress, though, was perhaps overstepping his bounds before she had even established them. It was his duty to protect her. He knew that without even needing to consider it. He felt it, right through his heart. But this situation was so confused, and he had not yet even introduced himself. He didn't know what she would want. He didn't know, and could not know.
A soldier wrapped her foot in white cloth and soon her leg as well. Thomas became increasingly sure that his mistress was indeed a warrior herself, amazing as that was. The world had changed a very great deal.
They laid her upon a litter made of metal and strong fabric, speaking to her all the while as she mumbled and groaned. Thomas listened intently, quickly learning the language. He didn't even realize he was doing it at first, but before long, the words became clear.
"...back to base and fix you up," the one tending to her wounds said. Around him, two others picked up the litter, one at her head and the other at her feet.
"Gomez?" she asked. Her mouth was bloody and looked like it would soon bruise nastily. "Is Gomez okay?"
"They're all okay, Sergeant," the other warrior said. "They're all gonna be fine. You done real good, Sergeant. Just hang in there. Keep breathing."
Thomas followed the men and his mistress out into the street. He winced at the brightness of the sun. His eyes adjusted, though, allowing him his first real look at the world beyond his bottle.
It was a lot to take in all at once.
* * *
Morgan's first action upon waking was usually a languid stretch, but as hazy consciousness came over her she was all too aware of pain. Her back hurt. Her face hurt. And her legs...
She groaned, shifted a bit and tried to open her eyes. Only the right would open; the left had something over it. The room was dim but not dark, with a great deal of light leaking in from the open door.
Woozy. If anyone had asked her, she'd have to say she felt woozy. Someone kept messing with the zoom and autofocus function on her eye. She must be on painkillers. Good ones, but not good enough. She still hurt.
"You'll have to be careful," someone said. "You are in the...infirmary? You were gravely injured."
"MMnno shit," she mumbled, looking around for the voice. He was sitting in a chair next to her bed. Morgan frowned. He needed a shave, would probably be cute with the lights on, but..."Why're you dressed for a Renaissance Faire?"
The man blinked. "If you would have me wear something else, I will gladly see to it," he answered simply. "I can certainly see how out of place my garb is here."