Authors: Magan Vernon
Text copyright ©2016 by the Author.
This work was made possible by a special license through the Kindle Worlds publishing program and has not necessarily been reviewed by Stoker Aces Production, LLC. All characters, scenes, events, plots and related elements appearing in the original Special Forces: Operation Alpha remain the exclusive copyrighted and/or trademarked property of Stoker Aces Production, LLC, or their affiliates or licensors.
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A Kindle Worlds Novella
To all of those who came so close and felt so far. Your dreams are only as far as you let them be.
Four Years Earlier
Most girls spent their eighteenth birthday figuring out what they could do now that they were a legal adult. I spent mine where I always felt like I belonged: the pool.
Not just any pool.
This was the pool for the Olympic trials. In just a few short hours, I'd be competing amongst other elite athletes for a spot on the Olympic team.
The water was always a part of my life. The good and the bad.
I stared down at the clear, blue water and those black lines that I could look at for hours and forget the world.
The world my mother had left when she couldn’t take it anymore after my father left before I was born. When the police officers came to Gran's house and showed the pictures the coast guards officers had taken, Gran fell to her knees as a strangled sob escaped her lips.
At three-years-old it was one of my first and most vivid memories.
Not long after, Gran enrolled me in swim lessons. I guess since she lost a daughter to the water, she didn't want to lose a grand-daughter as well.
I did get lost in the water. It was my solace. My place. And I was really good at swimming.
It didn’t take long for club coaches to recognize me at swim practice and to start recruiting me for local teams.
I broke southern California high school swim records in the 200m Individual Medley and my club coaches told me I had the times to make the Olympic team. Even though I’d been doing nothing but practicing for weeks, I still wanted to get a few more laps in the pool.
No one else was at the pool yet this early in the morning. I had the place all to myself. I threw my towel to the side before adjusting my goggles and swim cap on my head.
A few sets is what I told myself, but I knew I'd keep going until I felt the burn through my body. The delicious burn that made me keep going. Keep striving for more.
I stepped up to the side of the pool then dove in. Feeling the cold water against my skin always made me feel more alive than I ever did above land. But there was a new sensation that dove through my body that was more than adrenaline. A tingling like my legs were asleep.
I slowed down and then came to a stop, treading water in the middle of the pool.
That was when I first noticed my legs. Or what was my legs and now was replaced by a giant, gray tail.
I swam back, the tail moving with me. I was used to the sychronity of kicking my legs and moving my arms to plunge myself but this was different. I swam faster than I ever had before, the tail lapping against the water and pushing my body forward.
My suit completely disappeared from the waist down and now was replaced with a slick, wet tail. Like a mermaid but without scales.
I ran my hand over this new body part, feeling tiny hairs along the surface. Like a seal.
I gripped onto the edge of the pool and steady my breathing. I thought maybe this was all a bad dream. Maybe I had too much carb loading before bed.
Maybe I was still sleeping. Maybe it was all a bad dream.
I pinched myself and felt a little prick.
Nope definitely awake.
Then I reached down and felt the smooth tail again. This was definitely real.
Slowly I climbed out of the pool to get a better look at this new part of me. Was I now a mermaid? A seal girl? What was this?
Wide-eyed, I stared down at my legs as the tail slowly disappeared and my legs came back into view.
I jumped back in, thinking maybe I was hallucinating.
But as soon as I hit the water, the tail was back, floating on top of the water with the large gray fin staring back at me as if it was mocking me.
I couldn't explain it. I didn't know how to. I just knew there was no way I could swim with it and my days as a competitive swimmer were over.
Gripping the wooden rail of the bar with one hand, I tried to steady my breathing before lifting the cold glass to my lips.
I'd found myself at Ace's Bar and Grill after work almost every night now. Even though it was a SEAL bar. Even though I should’ve probably stayed away from anything that reminded me of my former life as an Undersea Medical Officer or UMO. That was before an IED took out my legs below the knee. Now I was just another veteran with a bad case of PTSD and a petty job as one of the doctors at a local university student health clinic.
"Hey, Doc, what kind of hell day did you have if you're slumming it with us active duty guys?" Matthew "Wolf" Steel put a rough hand on my shoulder, almost spilling my beer in the process.
I smiled politely. Something I had to work on. I hated smiling or pretending that there wasn't a huge, fucked up mess in my head. Or where my legs used to be. I’d had the prosthetics for a year now and still wasn’t used to the damn things.
"Better you guys than running into the girl I just had to pull a condom out of her ass. Which she claims she had no idea how it got there."
Wolf shook his head, the ghost of a smile still playing on his lips. "There's a reason you're still single, Doc."
"Yup, takes a strong woman to handle a man that deals with VD and fake sinus infections all day long." I took a long drink of my beer, not wanting to think about how many damn kids walked into the student health clinic, trying to get me to write them out of finals. Not like I had that kind of power. I was just another guy on the university's payroll and they didn’t give a shit what I said about some kid with the sniffles.
"It sure does," I said and took a long drink of my beer, almost draining it.
"Hey, Doc, you want to come join us?" Wolf nodded his head toward the corner table where the rest of his team was camped out with their women by their sides.
Each guy was bigger than the next with a gorgeous woman hanging on their biceps, looking at them like they were God's greatest gift.
The last thing I wanted to do was hang out with a bunch of active duty guys and hear about their missions. Even worse, I didn't want to be around their women and hear how great and heroic their men were. Not when I was no longer a sailor and just a shit doctor at a half-rate university.
"Naw, man, I'm just going to have another and head home. Been a long day."
Wolf's eyes searched the bar for a second and he opened his mouth like he was going to say something but then closed it. "Okay, Doc, but that's a standing offer."
With that, we fist bumped and he sauntered back to the table. The woman sitting next to him’s eyes drifted to mine then she leaned over and whispered to him. She was wondering what my story was. I knew Wolf wouldn't divulge the details. He knew it was my story to tell, if I wanted to tell it.
Wolf, Abe, Cookie, Mozart, Dude, and Benny were all part of an elite SEAL team that in my former life I’d had the pleasure of working with. I’d sewed up enough of their faces and arms that I’d practically memorized every single one of their veins. They were the last team I worked with in the states, before I took on an assignment over in the Middle East with another team.
When the IED took out the HumVee that I was riding in, I knew my days were done in the military.
I’d done some rehab with another amputee named Tex who was just as ingrained Wolf’s group as I was. When he moved to Virginia to work on computers, I lost my only other amputee friend. The only other one I could talk to when I wanted to throw the prosthetics out the window or when I struggled with a wheelchair until I learned to walk on my new legs.
Sure, I could have met some other guys to hang out with at rehab or even at my new job at the school. But even after five years of being retired, I never stopped being a soldier and it killed me to be around other able-bodied men, ready to defend their country when all I could do was sit back and watch.
"Need a refill?"
I turned toward the bartender. She was young, maybe early twenties, with dark brown hair cascading down her shoulders and her black tank top dipped low to expose a hint of tanned cleavage.
It had been a long time since I'd been with a woman. Maybe that's what I needed was a roll in the sheets.
But I hadn’t had sex since I’d gotten my prosthetics. Would I need to take them off? What would a girl say when she saw my mangled half legs?
"Hey, my eyes are up here, dude," she scoffed, knocking me out of my thoughts.
I smirked, looking up to a gorgeous set of dark brown eyes. "I know. And the names Calder."
Her lips curled into a hint of a smile, making one tiny dimple pop out on her cheek. She grabbed my mug and brought it over to the tap, tilting the glass and filling it with amber liquid. "Well, Calder, I haven't seen you around here before. I'd ask if you're just out of basic, but by the stubble on your chin, I'd say you've been in this for a while."
My eyes roamed down to the gold nametag displayed closely to her cleavage. I made sure not to let my eyes linger and met her gaze again. "Well, Maya, that's because I'm retired."
She slid the glass over to me and leaned against the counter, which made her cleavage pop up practically to her chin. "Retired but still hanging around a military bar?"
I tipped back the beer. "We always go back to what we know."
"So what do you know? Former marine? Let me guess, sniper?" She asked, raising her eyebrows.
I took a long drink and set the mug down on the counter. "The marines are just a department of the navy."
"Yeah the men's department." She laughed.
I tipped my beer to her. "Good one."
She leaned in, her eyes watching me as I took another long drink. "So, you're navy then?"
I finished off the beer and pushed the mug toward her. "I'm a former Undersea Medical Officer. Doctor for SEALs and other naval men. That is, until an IED took out the team I was with when we were in route to the hospital. I was left crawling away with half my legs missing."
I never forgot that day and rarely talked about it, not even with the psychs they had me see while I was in the hospital. Every time I closed my eyes to sleep, I saw the mangled bodies of the men I couldn’t save. The ones who I left in the fiery heap while I crawled away from the vehicle to save myself.
Her eyes widened. "Oh my god! I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bring that up. I was just trying to make conversation and I kind of suck at it."
I shook my head and tried to force a smile. "Just keep my glass full and we won't have any problems."
“I can do that, Calder.”
I took a sip of my beer and looked at the TV above the bar. It was Olympic season but nobody was paying attention to the group of swimmers setting up on the blocks.
“That Jay Morningstar kid is supposed to break records this year. If I was ten years younger and had legs that weren’t metal, maybe I could give him a run for his money,” I grumbled, taking an even longer drink of my beer, emptying half the glass.
“Can’t live in the past, Calder,” Maya said, changing the channel off the Olympics to something on ESPN.
I could have talked to her more. Maybe had someone in my life that wasn’t just the other workers at the university. But I didn’t want to get involved. I didn’t come to the bar for small talk.
I came to get blitzed.
I lost count of how many beers I had. It took a lot for me to get shit faced, but tonight I didn't care. Tonight I needed to escape.
The bar was closing and I could have gone home. Called a cab. I should have.
Instead, I walked down to the beach, stumbling a bit in the sand with the damn prosthetics.
Even with all of the new buildings in the area, nothing could cover the blanket of stars that disappeared into the dark depths of the sea.
I closed my eyes, feeling the wind brush against my face.
I remember dive school and how I felt more comfortable underwater than I did on land. How it became my home.
I'd always loved the water. Loved everything about it. Was fully aware that there were special legs for swimming and I could probably work in some capacity at the VA, but I couldn't. I had trouble even looking in the direction of base and the VA, let alone setting a metal foot on the campus.
Sucking in a deep breath, I shook the thoughts out of my head and took a step into the ocean.
I wanted to feel the coldness lapping at my feet, but there was nothing.
These metal legs weren't real. A bastard that blew out my team took those.
I kept walking, wanting to feel something. Anything.
The tide pulled in and the water lapped at my thighs, soaking my jeans. Finally I could feel the cold. Feel something.
Opening my eyes, I could barely see the waves cresting.
In my alcohol soaked haze, part of me thought this was where I was meant to be. That maybe I should be with the team that I couldn’t save.
Watching the tide roll in, I closed my eyes, waiting for the sea to take me where I belonged.