I wrote A Little White Lie several years ago, as a companion short story to my sci-fi series. There are many things in Wil’s background that I wanted to explore. A Little White Lie is one of these. Until he met Matilda, Wilhelm VanLipsig wasn’t a very nice man. He had his moments, but he is the first to admit that he’s a cold-blooded bastard. No matter what, he manages to get the job done.
The sleek silver satin ribbon of river snaked across the plains, looking ethereal in the morning mist. Wil extinguished a cheroot beneath his heel, adjusted his eye patch and gun belt, inhaling deeply. Fresh air—didn’t get too smell that very often. In his line of work it was the stench of blood and death, not sweet breezes and wild flowers, that usually filled his nostrils. Picking up his backpack, he adjusted it with military precision and effortlessly began the descent on the river side of the mountain he had climbed the day before. He felt invigorated by his night on the mountain top, but looked forward to getting back to base camp. His lightweight boots made very little sound on the rocky terrain, but watching him hop lightly from boulder to boulder, one got the impression even in full combat gear, this man would move shadow soft.
The last assignment had been pure hell. It was the first job in the last thirty years that scared him. Faced with sure death, he played his hand, wondering if his infamous luck had finally run out. Of his entire squad, only three men were left—and him; once again walking away without a mark. He had already worked through his self-doubts and castigations, now he was helping another man through his own personal hell.
Ben Drexel had become an unanticipated friend. At the start of mission training, Wil had almost demanded a change in personnel. Drexel had taken a swift and adamant dislike of Wil. Had the man not proven himself to be nearly as able as Wil was himself, he would have been replaced with no explanation. But Ben was too good to be giving himself grief over this mission.
Based on their intel, Wil and Ben put together a solid plan. The flawless infiltration and sabotage mission had gone with clockwork precision, ending in tragedy. The extraction point was close, but not so much it would attract undo attention. They could get in and out safely, quietly, but something went horribly wrong; their position was surrounded, their perimeter compromised. The enemy had nearly twice the men anticipated, invalidating their information. All but ten men went down, no way to carry out the bodies; leaving them went against all Ben believed in.
Then Ray got hurt—was dying by moments. Wil picked him up and carried him at a dead run to the secondary extraction point miles away. Running through the jungle at night, the men followed Wil on faith and trust, blinded by darkness and fear. Only his cyber eye and infallible sense of direction got them there, but along the way, six more died.
Ray lived and got himself another purple heart. The corporal who survived was promoted to sergeant and given a commendation. Ben received the Galactic Medal of Honor. Wil refused his medals, standing quietly in the background watching with an almost paternal pride. He put the incident behind him; chalk up another dozen or so men to the growing number of those who’d died under his command.
But for Ben, the nightmares didn’t stop. The screams of dying men faded, but ghosts of those left behind haunted his days until he broke. Wil was just as shocked as Ben when he helped the younger man pick up the pieces, work through his nightmares and move on.
A favorite quote of Wil’s flitted through his mind, “Sometimes bad things happen to good people.” Ben was one of the best. It hadn’t been his fault or Wil’s that the mission went south.
This hiking and camping trip was part of Wil’s prescribed therapy for Ben and Ray as well as himself. He needed time away from the stench of death. So far, it was working.
Ben was back at base camp nursing a twisted ankle he’d earned trying to emulate Wil’s mountain goat antics on the rocks. Ray was resting after yesterday’s twenty mile hike to get here. He was healing nearly as fast as Wil would have, a fact none of the men called attention to.
There was an unspoken understanding between the three men that professional shop talk was out. Discussing women, sexual exploits or bar fights were common subjects. Battles won or lost, worlds destroyed, lives taken—all that was left behind. They circled, too, around a nebulous subject that they probably would never discuss, even tried not to think about. The fact the three of them had all been genetically manipulated by the military was the most taboo subject of all.
©2015 Dellani Oakes