Rites of Passage Ch. 01byEvolution20XX©
You know something, I sit back and replay these events time and time again, and it seems that they get harder to believe every time I recount them. However, before I go through them for your benefit, allow me to shed some light on who I am. At the time, I was fresh out of the military and indulging one of the passions I had always had, just never had the time for: paintball. Even though during my eight-year tenure in the Army I had served, first as a Radio and Communications Security Repairer, then as a Biomedical Equipment Technician, there was a part of me that always longed to see how the other half lived: to get down and dirty while closing with the enemy on the battlefield. From where I sat, paintball was as close to real combat as I would allow myself to get. I often wonder whether the fact that you're all going to meet up at the clubhouse after a match made my opponents more or less dangerous than real-world enemy soldiers. Oh well.
I was at a paintball range I had recently begun frequenting. After a few months, I had finally earned the respect of my squadmates. Reggie, Palmer, Alex, Corinne, Gregory, Danielle and I comprised Team Spearhead, the point half of Fury Squad, which if they were half as dangerous as they were when I joined up before my arrival, adding a former Soldier to the ranks made us invincible. However, all my battlefield skills and knowledge seemingly went unnoticed in my first few outings. After a while, I overheard my teammates talking about some sort of rite of passage. I heard the guys talking about it, but oddly enough, the girls never mentioned anything about it.
After my fifth month, and a spectacular performance during a Capture-the-Flag mission, I heard Mark, the squad leader, polling the group if they believed I was ready for the initiation. They voted unanimously, one even suggesting that I become team leader upon my success. I don't quite know well that flew with the team; I mean, I was the most skilled man on the team, and also the fastest, most agile, which some might find surprising for a man who stands 6'5" and weighs 217 pounds. My leadership skills were second to none, and I had the good fortune of having squadmates who were willing to trust me. All these things may explain why I was promoted so quickly within the squad, and chosen to take part in this 'ritual' so early. I mean, I'd heard of people coming and going and spend years in a unit, but never become a full-fledged member. Hell, our ammo-bearer has more time with this squad than I do. Again, oh well.
It was late in the afternoon, and we had just returned from our latest match. It was our Fury Squad against Draco Squad in a game of Capture-the-Flag. For the tactically proficient hellions we had become under (what I like to call) my leadership, it was almost two easy. Leave two snipers and two footmen at the base for defense, send one man along each side of the arena to clear out any potential sniper nests, and let the rest of the squad charge in head first and engage the enemy head-on. The beauty of an approach like this against Draco is that when their base comes under attack, all fifteen squad members regroup to assist. They end up chasing maybe seven of our guys away from their base, while our two stealth experts have by now reached the rear of the enemy base. Usually they've been reinforced by two more troops from the main group. Contending with three people who are defending one person hauling tail with your flag is not a pleasant prospect for anybody, be they the weakest squad in the league or the strongest. It was a tactic we always managed to work to perfection and one that sent the rest of the squads in the league into their war rooms for days on end trying to figure out a way to defeat it.
My squadmates and I were all gathered in the clubhouse congratulating each other when Michael approached me. "You've gotten pretty damn good since you've been here. I've never seen a rookie make that kind of progress that fast, even a fellow servicemember." Michael was only three years older than I was, and a veteran of the first Gulf War. As such, he appreciated the combat tactics I brought to the squad. "You think you're ready? Everyone else seems to."
There was no mistaking what he was talking about. "As ready as I'm gonna get." My trademark response to the question, "Are you ready?"
Michael grinned. "Then report here at sundown."
I nodded my head. "Roger," I acknowledged, then went to the workshop to perform some routine maintenance on my gun. I hadn't had the foresight to not put too many rounds through my gun barrel, and thus spent a great deal of time cleaning it. Before I knew it, sunset was already upon me, and I still hadn't eaten. I ordered a quick bite at the bar, then hit the ammo shack for another full load, plus whatever else I could find space for. I hustled back to the clubhouse, where I had left all my protective equipment, including a flak vest that managed to go unnoticed when I turned in my military gear. I donned my vest, ammo belt, radio, knee, shin, and elbow pads and waited for further instructions with my helmet and gun on my hip. My stomach was churning with a mix of anticipation and nervousness. I had not considered it proper to ask any details of this ritual, nor had I ever been offered any. I continued to wait impatiently for somebody to give me some info; fortunately the sun had not been down ten whole minutes when Michael and the rest of Fury Squad entered the clubhouse. Any thoughts I had of this being a team effort were dashed to pieces when I saw the entire group in street clothes. Michael proceeded to give me my mission briefing:
"This mission is extremely critical to your continued membership of this squad. An enemy faction has set up a jamming device in the far end of Dead Man's Mile." I gulped noticeably. Dead Man's Mile was called that for a reason: it was a plain 150 feet wide in between two 100-foot tall cliffs. It was a perfect place to set up ambushing snipers along the 5,280 feet that the cliffs ran, before combining to form a dead end. He continued: "You will need to destroy it or all our communications efforts will be compromised. We don't know who planted the device, their supporters, their motives, anything. Stealth and speed are of the utmost importance, so you'll need to travel lightly." With that, Dexter from Team Breakdown, and Reggie, my radio man in Team Spearhead, collected all my gear and set it in a pile in the corner. They left me only my ammo belt, an extra two hundred rounds and two CO2 cylinders, in addition to what was already loaded in my weapon. Now I was really worried. They planned to send me into enemy territory, by myself, with a grand total of four hundred rounds, my helmet, my gun, and the BDUs I was wearing. (Note: BDU stands for Battle Dress Uniform, standard issue camouflage uniform worn by U.S. Soldiers.) Michael's voice chimed back in: "Your objectives are as follows:
"1) Disable communications jamming device;
"2) Discover as much information about the enemy operatives as you can;
"3) Above all, RETURN ALIVE! You have 24 hours to complete this mission; do you accept it?" I automatically responded in the affirmative, and Danielle escorted me to a vehicle waiting outside. She drove to the mouth of Dead Man's Mile, and for the entire time, neither of us spoke a single word. I, for my part, had too many questions, primarily why the long time limit? I mean, the slowest of us could walk Dead Man's Mile and back in an hour, and all the recon in the world would take less than six hours. I had a bad feeling about this, yet every other male in our squad had been subjected to the exact same ritual; this at least they allowed themselves to tell me. Finally we arrived; I stared down the length of Dead Man's Mile; in the full moonlight, I could see clearly halfway down the canyon. I took one final deep breath as I put my helmet on and dismounted the vehicle. I heard Danielle wish me good luck before she drove off. But by now, I didn't need luck. It was all business from this point on. Or so I thought... I moved stealthily, steadily into the gorge, weaving from wall to wall to throw off any snipers perched along the canyon walls. After about 45 minutes had passed, I stopped to look back and it seemed that I had traveled a good quarter of a mile. At this rate, I'd be back by morning; why was so much time allowed for this mission, I wondered. I sat down for a moment and took a drink of water from a pack I carried on my back. Not the best of decisions, in retrospect. I think I managed to stand up again afterwards; beyond that, I'm not really sure.
When I came to, the first thing I tried to do was check my inventory. However, I needed only to open my eyes to see myself in a small room, my equipment stacked neatly in one corner, and my barenaked body strapped to a bed in the other! I quickly gathered what I knew; 1: my water must have been drugged. But how? I had filled it not five minutes before leaving, and it hadn't left my possession since. 2: I was alone. Whoever had captured me wanted me alive. I was going to be tortured and my mission would be a failure, I was certain. Number 3, since it still hadn't completely registered: I was naked and strapped to a bed!!! Realization Number 3 really threw my brain into overdrive, so I just lay there fiddling at my bindings, until I heard a door opening and closing. I quickly closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep, until I felt a hand roaming across my chest. I guessed it to belong to a female, so I cracked my eyes open just enough to see without being detected. True enough, the hand belonged, not only to a woman, but to a plump African American one at that. Now, most people would be mortified at the thought of waking up to a woman like that standing over them. I'm not most people. I love fat women, especially fat black women; the pussy tastes better, bottom line. And seeing as how she was wearing only a negligee and a g-string, I had a feeling I was gonna end up getting fucked one way or the other.