Chapter 2: The Secret Earth Services
Jack awoke instantly. He had been plucked from a deep state of sleep. Both of his eyes threw themselves open and they ached when artificial light hit them. After a panicked gasp emerged from his dry mouth he lurched up. Where the hell was he? All around came a dull humming of electricity. Plain and almost opaque walls surrounded him on four sides, three of them had high level windows. His eyes followed them around the room until his vision met another figure staring straight back at him.
“Oh, hi…” Jack croaked, his voice still dishevelled from the sleep.
The man wore a blue tracksuit with lettering on the chest. Jack didn’t bother or care to read it right then. Where he was interested him more although this guy stared at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Would it be cliché to ask where we are?” Jack asked. The man turned away with a smile.
“Secret Earth Services,” he said in a thick distinct accent. Now was it Australian or South-African? Jack couldn’t be sure and would let him talk some more to scope it out.
“It’s how they have always done things.” The man seemed awkward or at least very short with words. Jack looked at him closely, there was a familiarity about him. His skin, well-tanned or was that his natural dark colour? Hair long and rough, chest wide and muscular, his age, probably at least ten years older than him.
Reasons began to quickly flash through Thorn’s mind.
What in the crap have I done to get myself into the S.E.S?
“I take it the Sarge met you personally?”
“The Sarge, uh, yeah. He came to X43,” Jack said with the realisation this partially made sense now.
“You’re supposed to be here then soldier,” the man said continuing with his shortness.
“I’m getting South-African feels from that accent.”
“You army also?” Jack asked.
“Not a talker either?” Jack added. He swung both legs over the shelf type bed and to the floor. Next his hands patted down the Army of Earth tracksuit until he looked down to see only socks on his feet. They touched a cold floor and again he looked to the man perched on the shelf bed opposite.
“Although, they did want me to play war with them on that planet. They never replied after I sent them the invoice,” the man said, and the small crease of a smile emerged from one side of his mouth.
“Name’s Cade, I’m with Sky Force.”
“Jack. Army of earth. Wait, you said Sky Force?”
“Yep, I own a private air force that runs air support services to those in need of it or who can afford it. We just got back from a patrol job on V54,” this Cade explained and shot a glance at Jack.
“Sky Force, yeah I’ve heard of that. So that’s where I recognised you.” Jack then placed a hand on his aching forehead.
From behind him came a vibrating hum. Out of the wall folded a shelf, on it sat a solitary beaker of clear liquid.
“Well you’re up Jack, that special potion is for you.”
He grasped the beaker and sized it up.
“Smell’s kind of electric.”
“You’ve been out a while. That’ll make you feel a billion bucks,” Cade said as Jack tipped his head back and swallowed the drink.
“Uh, that’s as bad as tequila,” he said wiping his chin. Upon placing the beaker down a loud piecing alarm buzzed.
“Attention. Please stand away from the plain wall,” a computerized female voice sharply announced.
Jack looked forward and presumed the wall directly in front without any glass must of been the plain one.
“What’s going on?” he asked over the repetition and buzzing.
“It’s try-out time. This is why you are here right?” Cade asked.
“Right. But why does a guy who owns his own air force want in on this?” Jack asked loudly.
“I’ve known the Sarge for some years…” The buzzing stopped along with the announcement, next came a pneumatic type hissing.
“You know him? well how did you meet?” Jack asked.
Great this guy knows Sarge personally, that’s already an advantage I don’t have.
“He approached me with an offer much like this one,” Cade said.
The plain wall moved an inch forward and then with more sounds of machinery and hydraulics the whole surface moved up. It opened while folding above them like a garage door.
“That’s kinda neat,” Jack said.
They looked out past their confining cell. There was nothing but white.
“Least we get our shoes back,” Cade said and jumped off the bed. He grabbed a pair of sneakers just outside the line of where this confining wall had raised.
“Yeah what is with that?” Jack asked, and grabbed his. They both stepped out of the cell into what seemed to be a huge space.
“It’s the famous calling card of the S.E.S. Leave nothing behind but your damn shoes, that’s what I make of it anyway,” Cade said sounding more like ‘mek of it anyway’ but Jack was more focused on the expansive place they stood. This seemingly endless place felt disorientating especially with the only colour around being a bland off white which provided no horizon or reference point.
“Sort of makes you dizzy,” Jack said while Cade whistled loudly.
“No echo, either.”
Another loud hiss forced them to both turn. From the unlimited space, the cut out of a doorway emerged nearby and folded inwards. Out stepped two figures.
“You have the Secret Earth Services to thank for their always elaborate style,” Jeremey ‘Sarge’ Jones said. Concealed behind his tall and large frame walked the African American Axel Hendricks and behind them were a line of men and women. All of them were dressed in a range uniforms, from navy, army, air force to even police.
“Guess I underdressed,” Jack said looking at Cade whilst Jones approached.
“I see our final candidates have arrived. Many of you will recognise Commander Cade Biggs, owner and proprietor of the renowned Sky Force,” he said.
Some of the group nodded in approval.
“And this is Jack Thorn, soldier for the Army of Earth and currently assigned to the war on X43.”
Thorn scanned the group who mostly seemed to turn their noses the other way.
“I’m Axel Hendricks, pleased to meet you Thorn. I worked with your parents many years ago and…”
Jones coughed loudly to interrupt Axel.
“I think we should proceed Hendricks,” he said in a semi-commanding tone.
“Nice, to, uh, meet you,” Thorn said but he was still in awe of this place.
“Now welcome all of you to the white room,” Jones announced.
“Why is it called that?” Jack asked.
“Because it’s white kid, try to keep up,” a senior looking uniformed man said in an attempt to brush off Thorn.
“Thanks for the input General obvious. Remind me to come to you for any more obvious quips,” Jack immediately said back. As the senior man began to angrily reply Jones loudly coughed again.
“Let’s try to remain focused on why we are here. Now all of you have been hand selected for an opportunity to be a part of the new World Force, our planet’s answer to the ever-worsening rate of robot crime. Either Hendricks or I reached out to you in some capacity to be here today and I see a range of men and women here who represent the very best in what they do. Some, may not even know it yet,” Jones paused at Thorn before slowly walking along the line of people.
“And some may never know,” the senior looking ‘General obvious’ said with a direct glare to Thorn, this time only some of the group laughed.
“Now we are all equals in this room,” Jones said. His commanding voice called out while he continued along the line. Again Thorn spoke out,
“That is until some of us get our teeth kicked down our throat.” Cade gently gripped his shoulder.
“Wind it in mate. You’ll get your chance,” he said. Jack and this senior man continued to stare at each other.
“You have all been especially invited to take part in a series of simulated exercise activities. At the close of today we will have a better idea as to who we think will best suit our needs for the next generation of World Forcers.”
Axel Hendricks stepped forward, in his one gloved hand he held a transparent glass tablet.
“All of the exercises will happen in the white room. Many are adapted scenarios from previous World Force reports and have happened in real life. Of course, this is a simulation room, but you will still be able to make full body contact with any A.I. involved and the geography is also as real. You will take part in teams of two, the person whom you arrived with will be your partner for the day.”
Jack nodded at Cade and Axel continued,
“Everyone’s performance will be analysed on a constant basis while you work thorough the various simulations. Consider this a real life on the job interview for an opportunity to fight robot crime. If there are no questions, I suggest we move proceedings forward.”
Jones broke the momentary silence,
“I am looking for a leader. Someone to be the vessel for this new generation of robot crime fighters. The world needs leaders more than ever right now and this is your shot. The simulations will now begin. Good luck.” He turned with Axel and they headed for the door way.
“I guess it’s us versus everyone else kid,” Cade said, and Jack began to follow.
“It would seem that way…”
“Before we get this little party started…” ‘General obvious reached out and gripped Jack’s shoulder from behind.
“You better appreciate, Thorn, is it? Most of us have had a life of earning medals and respect. A low life soldier like you…”
Jack spun forcing the man’s grip away,
“A low life solider like me has every right to be here. You touch me, no, you lay one damn finger on me again. You’ll regret it,” he said through gritted teeth. A uniformed woman stepped in to pull the man away.
“Come on Davidson, we’re partners in this shindig so let’s move out.” She led him away, but he and Jack continued to stare each other out.
“We’re up Thorn,” Cade said. He led them to a nearby holographic display of their names.
“There’s something about that guy I really don’t like. I’m only getting bad vibes,” Jack said.
“We can profile the entitled uniformed assholes later,” Cade added. He and Jack watched a wire type frame fold out of the white flooring, hung on it were two handguns.
“Guess we’re gonna need these.” Jack grasped the gun along with his partner. In front of their eyes the area turned into a building city scape. Structures rose from the white and began to form into a full street. Every surface seemed a little blurred including vehicles which rose out of road surface.
“I recognise this layout. This is Times Square,” Jack said looking around at the slightly blurred displays and advertising.
“I’ll take your word for it mate.”
“Location; New York,” a computerized voice announced with bright text flashing past. It continued with the brief,
“Simulated robot hostiles have blocked all traffic and are holding a violent demonstration. Simulated civilians are caught up in the demo. Shoot to kill at your own discretion. Direct as many simulated civilians out of the area. Behind you is the medical team waiting for the area to be made safe so they can reach the casualties. Simulation activated.”
A loud buzzer sounded, and Jack pointed his gun forward taking the lead.
Cade stood a few steps behind and they approached the first blurry car. If it wasn’t for the lack of detailed graphics both of them could believe they were stood in New York.
“You know this place Thorn. What’s the plan?” Cade asked. He scanned between the blurry cars.
“Head into the centre of the triangle. Take out anything that…” He fired the gun and an electronic spark surged towards the first approaching robot. The simulated figure reacted to the shot and flickered before falling back into a car. It morphed into a plain white manikin and dropped.
“Even the damn perps are just holograms,” Jack said. Two screaming civilians ran across their view, the image flickering momentarily.
“Disperse, now!” Cade shouted. He and Jack continued through a mass of parked vehicles.
“This could actually be fun,” Jack added.
He lowered the gun and tucked it into his tracksuit.
“Let’s see what they can do.” He pulled in a fist and stood with a defensive stance.
“If that’s how you want to do it, then that’s how we’ll do it,” Cade said doing the same with his weapon.
Jack stepped up onto a car to see a group of robots closing in. The nearest target jumped up and faced him. With a lightning jab Thorn moved in and startled the target before tripping him down onto the car bonnet. Landing with a thud, the robot’s display flickered to blank before Jack was about to drive his palm down.
“These guys are paper thin,” Cade said and roughly wrapped two hands around the nearest target. With a grunt he pulled and slammed it into a nearby vehicle, again the robot flickered to white.
“Yeah, this is too easy.” Jack swung a leg high with not even half strength, the robot smacked back.
The number of robots incoming began to grow in numbers.
“I think,” Cade said as he pulled his gun out and fired.
“These things are designed to be cannon fodder,” he added and fired several times.
“I think you’re right,” Jack said joining Cade with the firing. They took down the various targets most of which didn’t even seem engaged.
“This is kind of crappy. I’m more of a hands-on type of guy.” Jack turned his attention to the left. Just when Cade surged forward with multiple shots, he looked through a side street and into another simulation.
He could see Davidson and his partner struggling with a mass of robots surrounding them.
“Pull back! Screw the civilians they are on their own,” Davidson shouted and got up from behind a car. The guy began to retreat.
“Hey!” Jack shouted. He moved away from his simulation.
“Thorn! Where you going?” Cade shouted. Alarms and text began to flash.
“Return to scenario, return to scenario…”
Davidson watched Jack heading into his zone with fists and feet at the ready . He swung around and launched a heel into the first robot. Moving further along he thrust both fists back and forth going through the mass of robots, all of them diminishing before him.
“Hey, get out of here soldier scum!” Davidson roared before running back into action. By the time he arrived Jack had dealt with the final target. A simulated family stood cowered down between two vehicles. Their terrified looking back and forth animation played on a loop. That was until somebody engaged them,
“It’s safe, get out of here,” Jack shouted. Immediately the simulated faces changed their animation by looking at him and then to Davidson.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?”
“Your job. ‘Screw the civilians’ is not in our remit,” Jack barked.
The taller Davidson clamped his hand down on Thorn’s shoulder.
“That’s what this is about, protecting people?” Jack added while feeling the gradually increasing pressure from Davidson’s grip.
At that precise moment, something clicked inside his senses. Everything aligned while he felt the strength of this man which seemed more than human.
He’s a damn robot.
Jack winced in pain just when Cade burst onto the scene. He barged Davidson away forcing his grip.
“Break it up.”
“He’s a damn robot Cade,” Jack said.
Before Cade could speak Davidson had crashed forward into him. Cade fell forward and went down head first onto a car bonnet.
“Dammit Davidson,” his female partner whined.
Davidson faced Thorn with a sinister grimace.
That was the moment both Jeremey Jones and Axel Hendricks realised they had a situation on their hands.
“I’m ending all simulations and disarming the soft hostiles,” Axel said. His finger began to tap on the clear glass tablet he held. Sitting beside him Jones reached out to intervene but kept both eyes on the display screens of their dark control room.
“Wait. Let’s see how this pans out Hendricks.”
Buildings from the various simulations began to lower and flicker back to white.
“It’s not safe Jones. Biggs is already down and if we don’t end this now then all of those candidates are going to turn on Thorn…”
“The situation is in control. Thorn isn’t the only human in there,” Jones argued and tried to snatch the hand-held tablet from Axel.
“The only other human in there is a plant we put in and he’s just hit his head on a damn holographic car. Badly might I add.”
As they bickered and argued the situation inside the white room fell entirely into Jack Thorn’s very capable fighting hands.
Before anyone around him offered a reaction, Thorn engaged and rushed in. He saw red for his now downed partner Cade Biggs and for what this smirk faced Davidson stood for; even if he was most probably a planted robot by Sarge. With two hands, he snatched at Davidsons hair and pulled down driving his face into a knee. That was the move he used when he was after blood and there was, but it came in robot black. At that moment all the surrounding simulation scenarios disappeared into the white.
Davidson reeled back from the knee impact and with no time to react any further Jack had driven the sole of his foot into the robot’s chin. He hit the white floor with a spark.
Thorn then realised the majority of uniformed men and women in the room were all staring at him, but not with that intrigued type of stare. Their eyes showed no emotion but just the glassy emptiness of the what revealed them all to be robots.
End of Part 4
Tune in Next week for another edition of Jack Thorn. Same Jack time, same Jack place… Remember if you enjoyed reading, tell a friend, leave a comment and share it around on social media…
Copyright 2004 – 2019 ‘Jack Thorn’ and ‘The Thorn Legacy’ Written By Lee Hall 2019 All rights reserved.