Agent Freeman Jones and Agent Kate Hanzo arrived at The Meadows; an arrangement of 17 football fields on the Loomis Chaffee campus in Windsor, Connecticut. Kate parked her black sedan next to Pratt field where they played their football games, and Freeman stared out at the empty field and watched as the remaining early September dragonflies hovered over the fence. Surely, she didn’t bring him out here to watch a football game, and after two hours of waiting, Freeman frowned. Nobody ran this late to a rendezvous unless something was seriously wrong. The relaxed gaze in Kate’s thin eyes told a different story. No. Freeman was convinced that something was wrong. Wrong just happened to be a part of the plan.
Freeman was many things; an orphan from Los Angeles, a divorced father with a daughter he wasn’t allowed to see, a retired Green Beret, and a current CIA agent. One thing he wasn’t was a fool. So when he received a memo in his inbox telling him that he would be training a sixteen-year-old girl, he assumed it was a typo. Being a veteran agent who had seen everything the average American citizen was not supposed to, he wondered what he could possibly teach a teenager. How to manipulate an innocent bystander into an unwitting informant? How to fight your way through six trained enemy operatives and escape into the desert with only your life and a canteen full of water? What would a high school girl need with any of those skills? What she needed to do was graduate high school, go to college, and then decide if she wanted to become a CIA agent after a few drunken parties, a few boyfriends, and couple graduations with family and friends. No one would ever think about recruiting a teenager to the CIA, and yet here they were waiting for this kid to show up; a kid who was two hours late. Freeman picked at his black tie and gray button down shirt as he shifted in his seat. Nothing about this situation felt right.
“Wait,” Freeman said. “This girl doesn’t know we’re meeting her today, does she?
“She knows she has to meet us eventually,” Kate replied as she ran her fingers through her jet black hair. Freeman always admired how well she kept herself together; her raven hair, her white and blue striped blouse, her gray slacks with sharp creases, her black nail polished fingernails. Everything matched. Nothing was out of place, at least not until after they went home. If she wasn’t such an enigma, he would consider a little monogamy, but he knew it wouldn’t work out. Neither of them were good at that.
“So why are we here?” Freeman asked. “Is she on the football team?”
“No, smart ass,” Kate chuckled. “She just sneaks onto the football field at night to work out after soccer practice. You’ll see her. Don’t worry.”
“Yes,” Kate sighed. “But really, high school level conditioning does nothing for her. I think she works out so much so she can feel tired like everyone else. Perhaps it gives her a sense of normalcy.”
That was Kate. Ever the psychologist, she always had a way of getting into your head. When they worked together in the field, Freeman always gathered the information; casing the target’s routine, finding friends and relatives, researching documentation and certifications. Once they had everything they needed, Kate did the talking. She could convince an informant that they were all walking on the moon, and they could only get back to earth if he told her everything he knew. She was that good. Reading people was her specialty. She was also damn near impossible to read, unless you were as close to her as Freeman. Still, even he had a hard time figuring out her motives.
“There’s another reason we’re here, isn’t there?” Freeman asked. “One you’re not telling me.”
“You could say that,” Kate replied with a nod of her head.
“Would you cut the mystery talk, Kate?” Freeman snapped. “I’m not one of your suckers.”
“She’s coming now,” Kate said with a hushed tone. “Watch!”
It was dark out, and Freeman couldn’t really see anything but an open field, but he searched. If he blinked, he might have missed the figure strolling across the field. She was clearly female, but nothing about her indicated that she was anything more than a high school athlete who snuck out for a late night run in a baggy t-shirt and long basketball shorts. That all changed when she started jumping the bleachers. Ten bleachers at a time.
“That’s my girl,” Kate whispered. “Look at her go.”
Freeman’s jaw dropped as he watched what appeared to be a teenage girl leaping at least ten feet in the air with each vertical leap before reaching the top. She then leaned into a handstand and walked backwards down the steps. When she reached the bottom, she somersaulted three times before landing on her feet and starting over again. Freeman watched her continue this routine for fifteen minutes. Such an amazing feat was not possible for a normal human. Freeman knew exactly what she was now, and why the CIA rushed to recruit her.
“She’s a nephilim,” Freeman said. “You found another one?”
“She exposed herself,” Kate replied. “She got in a fight with your personal favorite and survived.”
“Ailina‘s not my favorite anything ,” Freeman snorted.
“Well this time we owe her one,” Kate chuckled. “That girl over there is her daughter.”
“And if she’s Ailina’s daughter, how can we expect her loyalty to us?”
“She refuses to claim Ailina as her mother,” Kate replied as they watched Achilla jump the bleachers again. “She loves her father and step-mother dearly and agreed to join us in exchange for their protection.”
“I’ve heard that before, Kate,” Freeman said with a sideways glance. “It didn’t work so well last time-”
“Not when I was in charge, “Kate snapped. “I’ve got it covered. You just make sure she’s ready to aid the government.”
“Fine,” Freeman chuckled. “ But don’t say I didn’t warn you. What am I working with here?”
“Not much work,” Kate said. “She’s a deadly martial artist and can speak five languages fluently. All she needs is your touch.”
Freeman frowned when he noticed four men crossing the football field. Each of them stood at least six feet tall and wore a black jacket and jeans. They marched toward Achilla as if they knew she would be here; as if someone told them. It figured. If the CIA was after this kid, why not some unsavory characters?
“Who the hell are they?” Freeman asked as he opened his door. Kate set her hand on his shoulder and shook her head. When he sat back in his seat, Kate patted her hand on his lap. That was generally the most affection she doled out to him. She usually only gave it when she got her way. She smiled and patted his lap again, squeezing his thigh until he shut the door.
“Remember those four idiots who screwed up that mission in Iraq?” Kate asked.
“You mean the guys I suspected were working as double agents?” Freeman replied.
“Yes, them,” Kate said while pointing at the men with her thumb. “Well, your suspicion was correct as usual, but I don’t want the President to know yet, and if the higher-ups find out, they’ll tell him.”
“I don’t blame you,” Freeman chuckled. “But treason is a serious offense. It’s not something you can just sweep under a rug.”
“Agreed,” Kate replied. “It’s one that should be punished by asking them to kidnap Achilla.”
“You’re expecting her to kill them?” Freeman demanded. “She’s too young for that!”
“No, she won’t do that,” Kate groaned and waved her hand. “She’s still a tad too innocent. We need them alive for questioning anyway. Achilla will just soften them up a little and make them easier to apprehend.”
“Is she aware of this assignment?” Freeman asked. Kate grinned before turning her head to the field. So that was it. Kate just threw this girl into the lion’s den without so much as a greeting. Freeman crossed his arms and watched the four men stand in front of Achilla. How could Kate be so cold with a kid?
Freeman knew these agents. They were all top spies who could take down ten men each if need be. Very few people in the Hartford office were a match for them. Freeman could have stood up to them in his younger days, but now? Forget it without a firearm and some distance. Did Kate have this much faith in Achilla? If she was a nephilim, then it was possible. Ailina was like a walking biological weapon and her father was even worse. How would Achilla fare?
One of the men lunged at her, and Achilla front-kicked him ten feet back. She then low-kicked one man’s shin, dropping him to the ground, and grabbed the next by his jacket before throwing him into the last man standing. The man she low-kicked screamed when she stomped through his knee. When the final two agents rose to their feet, Achilla back-kicked one into the bleachers, slipped a punch, and left-hooked the other in the face so hard that his head snapped back and forth three times before he collapsed. In mere seconds, Achilla displayed a combination of Jeet Kune Do, Muy Thai, and Western Boxing. She also took down four of the deadliest men in the country. She then looked in Freeman’s direction with glowing green eyes ;the same eyes as every other nephilim before they killed someone.
“Drive off,” Freeman barked. “Now!”
“Good idea,” Kate replied as she started her car and gunned the engine.
Freeman remembered those eyes. They glowed when he first encountered Ares and escaped with his life and two broken arms. They glowed in the surveillance recordings of Ailina when she killed an agent who got too close or abused one of her men when they stepped too far out of line. Those eyes gave him nightmares. Today, they made Freeman’s palms sweat and his heart beat out of his chest until he calmed down enough to analyze the situation.
“Judging from her hesitation at attacking us,” Freeman said with his arms crossed as they drove away from the field. “She doesn’t have all of her abilities yet. She couldn’t see or hear us well enough to determine if we were friend or foe. These nephilim must develop in stages like we do. They just have more of them like an extended puberty or something.”
“You’ll meet her in the morning,” Kate said. “I realize that my plan was a little fool hardy. If you approached her back then, she could have injured us both. But you’ve seen what she can do?”
“Yeah,” Freeman replied. “And it’s more than Ailina could at her age. If this girl ends up like Ailina-”
“And that’s exactly why we need her on our side,” Kate said. “She has soccer practice at nine tomorrow morning.”
“Understood,” Freeman stated with a nod of his head. “I’ll be there. Consider her training complete.”
“Good,” Kate sighed before patting Freeman’s lap again. “For now, you’re coming home with me.”
“Really?” Freeman frowned until Kate rubbed his thigh.
“Yeah,” Kate said as she stared out into the road. “She’s a teenage girl, but Achilla’s still a nephilim. Just meeting her is a high risk situation.”
“So, I’ll need you tonight,” Kate said with a longing look at the road. “In case anything happens to you. I don’t want any regrets, Freeman.”
“You’ve got it, Kate,” Freeman replied as he intertwined his fingers with hers. “You’ve always got it.”
The next morning, Freeman changed into the clothes she kept for him in one of her drawers and left Kate’s house in South Windsor. There was no kiss goodbye. He just left her sleeping in her bed as usual, taking Achilla Johnson’s file with him. Per the terms of their relationship, they would behave like nothing happened come Monday. The difference this time was that Kate wasn’t sure if there would be a Monday. So they gave each other everything they had last night and parted ways without a word. It wasn’t much of a farewell, but Freeman understood that Kate wasn’t very good at those things. It was best to not make her try.
When Freeman arrived at the Meadows, he approached a soccer field with practice in full swing. As he searched the field of teenage girls for his new student, he wished Kate was able to pull up close last night so he could get a better look at Achilla’s face. The picture of her on her high school basketball team showed a 5’3”, black girl with green eyes. The girl he saw in the field last night had to be at least 5’7” and with much longer hair. Had he seen other changes, like piercings or scars, this search would be easier. Kate was a brilliant con woman, but a lousy detective. He would remind her to let him gather intel on his own next time.
Freeman breathed in the brisk air that finally reminded him that Fall was coming. Perhaps Achilla was late or staying in after her fight last night. If she was as innocent as Kate said, Achilla was probably traumatized. Freeman decided to stroll to the other side of campus and gather some intel on her class schedule when he felt a tap on his shoulder. When he turned around he saw a girl wearing a black hoodie and black sweatpants with a black and red Chicago bulls fitted cap. She raised her head to expose her green eyes as she stared at him.
There was no doubt in Freeman’s mind that this girl was Ailina’s daughter. They held the same facial structure and those eyes were unmistakable. If lava could turn green, it would match this girl’s pupils. However, everything else about her was different. Her posture, the way she chewed her gum, it was completely unlike Ailina’s movements. Achilla shoved one hand in her pocket as she leaned on one leg. That movement alone, so indicative of a teenage girl with at least some semblance of normalcy, proved that the only thing she had in common with Ailina was their nephilim DNA. Kate had no reason to worry. Achilla was no natural killer; at least not yet.
“Looking for me?” Achilla asked before pointing at the field. “I don’t know who told you to stalk me, again, but that’s the JV squad. Varsity gets up at six.”
“Achilla Johnson?” Freeman asked while hiding his nervousness the way only a seasoned CIA agent could.
“Who wants to know?” Achilla asked with a jut of her chin.
“The CIA,” Freeman said. “I understand that you were expecting us eventually.”
“Yeah, way to pussy foot around about it,” Achilla snapped. “Seriously, if you wanted to figure out my fighting ability you could have put me in the ring with protective gear instead of setting up those poor guys to get hurt.”
“You knew that was a set up?” Freeman asked with a frown.
“Do I look stupid to you?” Achilla snorted. “If you guys knew I went head to head with Ailina, you would’ve used much more severe methods to kidnap me; like a tranquilizer or something. You sent them in knowing I’d whip their asses, and I don’t appreciate it. What if I killed one of them? Are you trying to get me locked up?”
“I doubt a tranquilizer dart would puncture your skin at this age,” Freeman replied. Achilla frowned before stepping to the side. Though she was no killer, she was clearly trained to fight down to the smallest detail. Even with her hands in her pockets, Achilla held a fighter’s stance with her feet shoulder length apart and her lead foot pointed at him, and she stood at an angle that negated Freeman’s dominant hand; which means she had already assessed him and set herself up to dominate the fight. Whoever taught this girl did a good job. Freeman had a gut feeling that Ailina was her mentor in that regard.
“How would you know that?” Achilla demanded. “Nobody can verify that.”
“You mean except for the doctor who had to perform surgery on you?” Freeman replied. “You’re not the best liar, are you?”
“Maybe I’m not as accustomed to being fake as you are,” Achilla shot back with a slight raise of her chin. “You want to answer my question?”
Her personality was completely different from Ailina’s. Instead of manipulating a way to get her info, she was direct about her intentions. In a street fight, that worked to her advantage. In the arena of espionage, she looked like a drunken fool asking for directions. They had a lot of work to do, but she was smart enough to catch on. The fact that she knew she was being monitored by trained agents and approached him in a way that ensured her victory in a fight proved her intelligence. She just needed to learn how to hide it better. As he cleared his throat, Freeman wondered why Ailina hadn’t taught her that part yet. It was certainly one of Ailina’s strengths and a constant thorn in the CIA’s side.
“I know a lot of things about you, Achilla,” Freeman said. “Your mother too. From now on, you’ll work under my tutelage, and I’ll tell you everything I know.”
“Just to be clear, my mother’s name is Samantha Johnson,” Achilla replied. “ Ailina Harris is not my mother. She’s an egg donor. Got it?
“Whatever works for you,” Agent Jones stated with his hands on his hips. “I’m more concerned about your training than your parental preferences.”
“I can respect that,” Achilla nodded. “Let’s get started then. What do I do first?”
“Go do your homework,” Freeman said as he walked past Achilla toward his car. “And wait for my word.”
“You’re leaving me hanging?” Achilla snapped. “Oh, come on, uh, wait, what’s your name?”
It took her this long to get his name. She paid no heed to the fact that he had way more information on her than she did on him, and it took her this long to ask for his name. Freeman stopped himself from slapping his own forehead. They certainly had plenty of work to do, and judging by her attitude, he would have to be tough to get his point across. Stubbornness and arrogance were nephilim traits that she inherited in spades.
“Agent Jones to you,” Freeman said as he opened the car door. “That’s all you’ll need to know for now. I’ll contact when you when I’m ready to start your training.”
“Are you serious right now?!” Achilla growled as Freeman stepped into his car. He drove off watching Achilla glare at him in his rearview mirror. The frustrated step to her walk as she marched back to her dorms said it all. She was still a teenage girl with angst. However, her eyes and the way she handled those CIA agents told another story. She was a nephilim, and she was gifted even for one of them. For the first time, Freeman actually approved of the CIA jumping on her so early. Such a dangerous weapon should only be in the hands of the United States Government.
Achilla fumed as she sat on a patch of grass while leaning against an oak tree. She had just met Agent Jones a week ago and she already disliked him. Despite the fact that he looked like a thinner version of Philip Banks, he seemed tough enough at first to deserve her respect. Even though he left her standing there when she was ready to start, she understood. He was in charge. So she waited for his word.
When he finally contacted her to start training, Achilla jumped for joy in her dorm. She got up early, met him on time, and peppered him with questions. He answered them all with a yes or no; sometimes a grunt. He then drove her out to this wooded section of Connecticut that she was completely unfamiliar with. Achilla could hardly contain herself as she asked what she would be learning today. He didn’t answer. He just unloaded a backpack and told her that he had a training exercise for her. He then requested privacy to use the bathroom and stepped behind the other side of the jeep. When Freeman glared at her, she shrugged.
“I’ve seen it before,” Achilla said. “It doesn’t bother me.”
“You’re too young to see mine,” Agent Jones replied. “So it bothers me. Now turn around.”
“Fine,” Achilla sighed as she turned her back. She jumped when she heard the jeep start up and whirled around to see a cloud of dirt and the jeep heading back down the trail. Achilla growled at herself for falling for such a basic ruse. He left her a backpack and a note challenging her to survive in the woods for a day. Achilla ripped the note apart and threw the scraps behind her shoulder before crossing her arms over her black t-shirt. She couldn’t wait for him to get back so she could slap him so hard his hair would grow back again.
When her frustration settled, Achilla brainstormed for solutions. She had never gone camping before, and it was the one practical skill Ailina never taught her as a child. The last time she set foot in a forest was during a bad dream; during which she sleepwalked and almost killed her father. She sighed as a blue jay landed in a tree branch just above her head and screeched. This shouldn’t be too hard. Achilla was smarter, faster, and stronger than people who live out here every day, so she had a leg up, right? The blue jay dropped a deuce just to Achilla’s left and flew away. She gritted her teeth and flipped off the bird’s backside. Now she was surviving in these woods no matter what.
Achilla walked and searched through her bag. It contained a can of soup, some packets of dried food, a flashlight, a lighter, and a hunting knife. The knife caught Achilla’s eye, and she pulled it out. She dropped her bag and brandished the knife in a fighting stance before chucking it at a tree twenty feet away. It whistled through the air and thudded into the bark, leaving only the handle exposed. Achilla strolled towards the knife and yanked it out of the tree trunk before whistling as she admired the craftsmanship; the serrated blade tickled her thumb as she rubbed against it.
“You and I are going to be real good friends,” Achilla said to the knife as she ran her fingers across the blade. “Yep. Best buddies.”
Achilla whirled around when she heard her bag dragging on the ground behind her. What she saw made her jaw drop. A brown bear three times her size was digging through her bag. How did she not notice something that large sneaking up behind her? Achilla sniffed the air and realized why. Though his scent was particularly strong now, this entire wooded area carried it. It must have been his territory, and if what she read about bears was true, this one would have left markings and hair all over the place.
Tears jerked out of Achilla’s eyes when the bear ripped the bag open. All of her food was going in this thing’s stomach if she didn’t act fast, but what could she do? This wasn’t any random thug trying to rob her. This wasn’t Ailina who, as powerful as she was, Achilla knew well enough to put up a fight. This was a bear, and this was his domain. Still, Achilla had no clue how to hunt and gather food. That bag was her only hope.
Achilla took a step forward and the bear stopped digging and looked at her with black, dead eyes. When she took another step, the bear stood up on all fours and stepped over the bag before letting out a short grunt. Achilla stopped, but the bear maintained his position. It didn’t take an animal expert to figure out that he wasn’t leaving until she did. As she stared at the cans of food under the bear’s massive, brown furred body, the feeling became mutual.
“Look, I need that,” Achilla said as she pointed at the remains of her bag before holding her knife with the blade up. “And I need it now. Just step away and find a river with some fish or something.”
The bear replied with a throaty roar that made Achilla’s knees tremble at first. Soon, her legs steadied and her hands shook in their place. As the bear continued to roar, Achilla clenched her eyes at the thought that after getting tricked into living in the woods, almost getting shitted on by a bird, and then wandering around like one of those dumb chicks in horror movies, now this thing wanted to take her food? She could smell the bear’s bitter breath rushing out of its mouth as it roared with a mocking tone. It wasn’t just a threat. He was making fun of her, telling her that this was his food now, and there was not a damn thing she could do about it.
“No,” Achilla groaned just loud enough to hear herself over the bear. “NO!”
Achilla charged forward and swung the knife. The bear swung its paw at the same time and smacked her across the face, sending her flying back and the knife sailing out of her hand. Achilla rolled on the ground before hopping to her feet. Before she could think of her next move, the bear was on top of her with both paws pinning her to the ground. Achilla grunted as she struggled to keep its arms at bay while it opened its mouth to bite at her face. Its long, yellow teeth gnashed inches from Achilla’s eyes as she turned her head. She saw a red gash across it’s left eye from the knife, but it did little good. It was still on top of her trying to bite her head off. She cried out as her world filled with teeth, drool, and the sour scent of rotting fish, dirt, and berries, but she shook her head as she pushed the bear a little higher.
No. Her life wasn’t ending like this. She had to protect her family. She had to fight Ailina again and win. This bear was nothing compared to her, nothing compared to what Achilla had already been through. This bear was nothing. Achilla was not dying in these woods like some lost victim. She was not letting this forest conquer her. She was conquering it, starting with this smelly, flea infested monster with performance enhanced morning breath.
“Get,” Achilla grunted before raising her legs and kicking the bear in the gut, “the hell off of me!”
The bear let out a mix between a roar and whimper as it rolled back and slammed into a tree, shaking off a few leaves and acorns that rained on both of their heads. Achilla hopped to her feet and the bear rose onto its hind legs just in time for her charge. This time, she was in no mood for a wrestling match. Achilla ducked the bear’s arms and delivered a right straight to its soft underbelly that pinned the bear against the tree before leaping up and exhaling hard through a side kick to its head. The bear rolled to its side and crashed into a nearby boulder. Achilla wasted no time flinging herself forward with an elbow to the bear’s right eye and a knee to its chin before darting back and holding a fighting stance. The bear groaned as blood leaked down its muzzle and its tongue rolled out of its mouth. Now one of its eyes was bloody and the other swollen shut. This fight was over. Achilla huffed and wiped her face. The bear’s claws from its earlier attack left a scratch but no blood.
“Not going to lie, you hit pretty hard,” Achilla said as she walked past the bear while remaining ten feet away. “But not hard enough. If you think you’re scary, I have an egg donor you should meet.”
The bear let out a gurgled growl as Achilla salvaged the last of her belongings. The bag was no good as a backpack, but one strap still worked and she could carry it like a purse. As she slung the bag over her shoulder, Achilla noticed the bear limping toward her, its tongue still hanging out and its eyes inoperable to the point that Achilla wondered how it could see at all. She could kick the bear right now and snap its neck. She was sure that it would do the same to her if it could. Still she shook her head and pulled out a packet of dried food; chicken flavor. She ripped open the top and tossed it under the bear’s nose. It stopped and sniffed before licking the powder that leaked out of the bag.
“You’re welcome,” Achilla replied as she turned her back and ran away. Though she had her food, she lost her knife and had to use her bare hands to survive. After her fight with the bear, Achilla had a feeling she could manage that. She waited until dusk to gather a few tree branches and rub them together like she watched on television. Forgetting to factor in her abnormal strength, she jumped at how quickly a fire sparked. Achilla opened her can of soup and constructed a make-shift grill of more tree branches, making sure to set them high above the flames before setting the can on top. It wasn’t much and certainly held the risk of catching fire, but it was all she could do.
Fortunately, it worked. Achilla waited until her soup boiled before sipping a spoonful. It tasted like liquified peanuts and brussel sprouts with a hint of sour piss for broth. Achilla gagged and coughed as she spat it out. Had she known it would taste so bad, she might have let the bear take the soup and die from food poisoning. Achilla shook her head. No, this was her food. She had to suck it up. She curled her lip as she steadied herself for another mouthful.
Achilla finished her soup and set her spoon inside of the can when she heard her next visitor coming. She waited until the footsteps were within range before picking up a stone and turning to launch it. She stopped mid-swing when she saw Agent Jones leaning against a tree. Achilla dropped the stone as a wave of relief surged through her. The wave crashed as the urge to apply her slap-rogaine remedy made her palm itch as she stalked toward him. Agent Jones raised his hands and stepped forward before reaching into his backpack and pulling out a bottle of water. He tossed the bottle into Achilla’s chest. The opportunity to drink bottled, civilized water washed away Achilla’s will to fight. She guzzled the water and only stopped to breathe.
“I thought you’d figure it out,” Agent Jones said as he strolled towards the fire. “The same way I did when I was trapped in a forest like this. At least this time your life wasn’t at risk like mine.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Achilla barked. “I just fought a grizzly bear!”
“Black bear is the correct term,” Agent Jones replied. “Sometimes their fur can be brown, and that can be confusing, but what you fought was no grizzly. You’d have a lot more than a scratch on your face if you did.”
“You weren’t even there!”
“No, but I know you better than you think,” Agent Jones sighed. “You’re strong, and one day, a grizzly bear will be no match for you, but you’re not there yet. If you fought a male grizzly, you would have walked away with worse injuries. Right now, you’re relatively unscathed. It was a black bear.”
“That is completely hypothetical-”
“Fine, a male grizzly weighs around 800 pounds,” Agent Jones snapped. “Did the bear you fought seem that big to you?”
The answer was no. Achilla would have placed the bear she fought at a little over 400, but she didn’t want to give Agent Jones the satisfaction of being right. She turned her back and crossed her arms.
“I didn’t think so,” Agent Jones said. “And the correct description of my analysis was anecdotal. I’ve dealt with grizzly bears. I know what they can do, and I know what people like you can do from personal experience and observation.”
People like you. He meant Ailina, and maybe the rest of her family. Achilla wouldn’t be surprised if Ailina made short work of an 800 pound animal. The fact that Achilla struggled with a black bear told her that she still had a long way to go, but how much could she improve? What was her ceiling? Ailina was a terror, but Achilla wanted to overcome her, and the only way to do that was to learn about how people like her can grow stronger. She had a feeling that Agent Jones had the answer.
“Ok, I’ve had enough,” Achilla said as she sat down on a log by the fire. “What am I?”
“Excuse me?” Agent Jones chuckled as he joined her on the log.
“You keep saying you know a lot about me,” Achilla said. “What am I? It may not have been a grizzly, but I doubt anybody else can fight a bear like I just did; nobody normal anyway. What’s the deal?”
“In due time,” Agent Jones replied as he sat next to her. “For now, we finish dinner, and we head home.”
“Why are you keeping this from me?” Achilla asked. “Look, I’ve grown up always thinking I’m a human, and I’ll always be human, but obviously I’m different; so different that people like you look at me like some kind of freak. Why can’t you at least tell me why?”
“Because there’s a story behind it,” Agent Jones replied.
“We have a campfire,” Achilla said as she pointed at the orange flame in front of them. “Now’s as a good a time as any. Enlighten me.”
“You’re not ready,” Agent Jones stated. “The story is a lot to handle, but I will tell it. Later.”
“You can’t bullshit me,” Achilla snorted. “You want to tell it. Someone’s restricting you; someone you have to obey. You’re not really in charge, are you?”
Agent Jones gave Achilla a stare before opening his bag and pulling out a plastic-wrapped bird. It’s feathers were brown and black, and it was just big enough for Agent Jones’ hand. Agent Jones spread the plastic out and pulled knife out of his bag. It was the same knife Achilla had, but somehow he kept his. With all of her strength and intelligence, Achilla felt like a fool in front of this man.
“This is a quail,” Agent Jones said. “Have you seen one in person before?”
Achilla shook her head.
“I’m going to show you how to skin one,” Agent Jones said before giving her a hard look. “Then how to gut it, season it, and cook it. After that, you’re on your own.”
“Is it better than this bummy soup you gave me?” Achilla snapped as she picked up her soup can and chucked it deep into the forest. “I hope you know that was hardly worth the bear fight.”
“You’re welcome,” Agent Jones replied. “And yes. Quail’s as good as chicken; just a little bonier. The eggs too, only they’re smaller.”
Achilla sighed as she stared out into the trees that were now twilight shadows in the distance and listened to the crickets and cicadas serenading the dark blue sky. If Achilla didn’t have her soup, or if Agent Jones didn’t show up with his quail, she would have to hunt in the dark. She refused to apologize to the man who left her stranded, but listening to him wasn’t a bad idea. She picked up a stick and stoked her fire.
“How’d you catch it?” Achilla asked.
“You’re looking at the best knife thrower and trapper in your division,” Agent Jones replied as he stared at the quail. “Next to you, of course. When I show you how to hunt, you’ll surpass me in a week tops. Though I’d imagine that you might be able to catch one on foot if you had to.”
“This doesn’t feel like regular procedure for the CIA,” Achilla said. “Why are you doing this? Why are you teaching me this stuff?”
“Because you’re not regular procedure,” said Agent Jones. “We need you to know everything there is to know about survival. There’s no telling what Ailina might throw at us and especially at you.”
“Can I ask what else I’m going to learn?” Achilla asked. “I’d like to know ahead of time from now on.”
“You will learn how to survive on your own in any environment better than agents twice your age,” Agent Jones stated. “You will learn every fighting style you can get your hands on. You will learn every language you can. But there is one thing you will learn most of all.”
“And that is?” Achilla asked as she stared at the dead quail lying between Agent Jones’ boots before looking up at him.
“You will learn about yourself,” Agent Jones said as he looked Achilla in the eye. “And that we have to do in increments. Think of this as another one of your classes at school, only instead of having homework due on Monday, you’ll report to me when you’ve finished. For example, what about yourself have you learned today?”
“That I can make a fire and cook nasty soup,” Achilla chuckled. “I can also beat up a bear.”
“A black bear,” Agent Jones corrected. “I saw the aftermath of your skirmish. That bad boy weighed around 400 pounds. That’s half the size of a grizzly and about twice the size of your average marine. Yet you left that bear with two eyes that he’ll never be able to use again and major intestinal damage that prevented it from keeping down the packet you left. If I didn’t have a few friends who work in wildlife conservation, it would’ve died. Not a small feat for a girl who stands 5’7 and weighs 130 pounds.”
“I weigh 125,” Achilla replied.
“Today,” Agent Jones snorted. “But this isn’t your best weight. Ailina stands at 5’11 and weighs 150. Your frame’s a little different. You can probably carry more and perform just well.”
“You didn’t leave me out here to rough it,” Achilla replied. “You knew I’d run into that bear.”
“They’re unusually common in this stretch,” said Agent Jones with a shrug. “They’re also unusually bold. Unless you know how to avoid them, it’s bound to happen.”
“You were testing my fighting ability,” Achilla replied through gritted teeth. “Again. Those three guys in the football field didn’t cut it?”
“You’re used to fighting men,” Agent Jones said. “I wanted to see how you react to the unexpected, and you didn’t disappoint. Over the next few years, you will do much more. You have no idea of your potential, Achilla. With the proper training, you’ll be unstoppable.”
Achilla’s anger faded to a vibrating heat in the pit of her stomach. What did he mean? What was Achilla capable of, and how did he know so much? With all of her intelligence, this man managed to stay one step ahead of her at every turn. If she wanted to learn more, she had to comply. Achilla slumped her shoulders and pointed at the dead quail.
“Are you going to show me how to skin this thing or not?” Achilla asked.
“One question before we start,” Achilla said as she rested her forearms on her knees and laid her head on them. “How’s my family?”
“They’re doing well,” Agent Jones replied as he raised his knife. “Hang with me, and they’ll do even better.”
“Ok,” Achilla breathed with a weak smile as she thought about her parents back home for a split second. She then focused all of her thoughts on following Agent Jones’ knife movements; where he cut, how deep, and in what order. She watched how he seasoned the bird, pierced it with a stick, and set up a spit over the fire. When she tasted the quail, it made her mouth water and she wolfed it down, only stopping to drink her water. She then followed Agent Jones and studied his every move as he taught her how to navigate a forest and particularly how to know she was in bear territory by spotting their droppings. She learned as much as she could from him throughout the night until they arrived at his car on the side of a highway Achilla would have never guessed was there. She soaked in everything he had to say. If hanging with him ensured her family’s survival, then she was willing to go through it; even if it meant fighting a few bears along the way. Whatever Achilla had to go through, they were worth it, but a competitive fire also filled Achilla’s heart as she stepped into Agent Jones’ jeep.
“Agent Jones,” Achilla corrected herself. “I’ll be the best student you’ve ever had, but I have two conditions.”
“First, I want to know that my family is safe,” Achilla said. “I want to know it often.
“I can give you weekly updates,” Agent Jones replied. “Daily, if you’d like.”
“Daily,” Achilla demanded. “My second request might be a little tougher.”
“Well, what is it?”
“Give me a mountain lion next time,” Achilla said with a grin as she stared out into the woods. “The biggest you can find.”
“Achilla,” Agent Jones chuckled. “A mountain lion is no pushover-”
“After that, a grizzly bear,” Achilla said with a clenched fist. “Eight. Hundred. Pounds. Give me the best you’ve got.”
For the first time, Achilla saw Agent Jones crack a smile as he nodded his head. It looked like it took him a lot of effort to raise the corners of his mouth and even more to put them back down. His smile was nothing like Brendan’s, but something about it made Achilla want to see it again. Now she knew that she would work to earn it every day. Achilla leaned her head back against the seat as she imagined all the things she would learn. The very thought of improving upon her own greatness made her bounce in her seat.
“All right,” Agent Jones said. “Next week, we hit cougar country.”
“Yes!” Achilla replied with a raised fist. “Let’s get it!”
Agent Jones chuckled and shook his head. His laughter reminded Achilla of her father’s, only rougher. She didn’t know what this man had to live through, but whatever it was, she wanted to live through it too. Achilla was going to be the strongest thing walking the earth. Nothing else mattered but learning how to survive. The next time she met Ailina for their rematch, she would be the victor and Ailina would end up looking like the black bear Achilla left blinded in the woods. Ailina was going to wish she never screwed with Achilla’s family, and Achilla was going to love every second of it. For now, she would ask Agent Jones questions as they rode home and she would sleep well tonight after finishing her homework for the week. Training began tomorrow, and Achilla wanted no distractions.
I hope you enjoyed it. Part 3 comes next week.
Survive well, my friends.