On the Good Ship Caligula by Teel James Glenn by Teel James Glenn - Read Online

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Summary

When the Exceptionals uncover a deadly gladiatorial combat that has been televised worldwide, they make an even more horrifying discovery: one of their own, the techninja Temper, is a participant and fighting for her life.Conner Le-Shott is convicted of murder and then escapes jail only to find himself embroiled in the deadly games. He meets the young girl, Jester, who badly needs his help and finds his interest is more than professional.Can the Bodyguard discover where the games are and stop mad man Caligula's plans for world nuclear destruction before Le'Schott loses his life—or his heart? EPPIE Award Finalist!
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781603136099
List price: $3.99
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On the Good Ship Caligula - Teel James Glenn

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Prologue

The New York Exceptional group, The Bodyguard, sat in their brightly lit conference room of chrome, plastic and synthwood and watched a live murder on the Tri V.

This is horrific, Caesar Brassfield said. He was the only African American member of the group, a handsome lean man. He was dressed in a military style tunic of dark green that was immaculately tailored and pressed so the creases had knife edged sharpness. His Exceptional codename, Echo, gave indication of his bio-enhanced abilities with sound. He sat at a pressed plastic table with six chairs set at computer stations around its oval. Four of the chairs were occupied.

On the Tri V cubes at the stations, the image of two men, dressed as ancient Roman gladiators, were killing a third with gory slashes from short swords. As the man fell to the sand at their feet, the two turned on each other and began to battle. The combat was shot from several angles and in perfect three dimensions. The sounds of a live crowd roared behind them and occasionally that crowd, garbed in togas, seemed drunk for more blood. When the camera scanned the faces, all masked to hide their identities, the same mad blood lust was seen in all the revealed eyes. Over all, a figure dressed as a Roman Emperor, save for a golden facemask/helmet, lorded with great glee, delighting in encouraging the crowd and before one of the gladiators killed the other, raising his thumb straight up in the gesture of ‘send him to the gods.’ Echo stared at the live feed with blanched disgust washing over his handsome features. He seemed unable to take his eyes from the screen. How long has it been going on?

If you want to be cynical, since Rome’s ‘bread and circus’ policy in the pre-Christian era, the only female in the room said. She was codenamed Skorpion and was a red haired buxom woman that the misinformed would call Rubenesque. A better term would be ‘thick’ for there was no jiggle when she strode across the room to hang her red over-robe on a hook. She smiled grimly, her pretty face marked by the blue scorpion tattoo on her left cheek. But law enforcement got whispers of these Death Games only about a year ago. She pulled a cigarillo out of a pouch on her gun belt and lit it up by breaking off the ‘ignite-tip.’ It was one of the ‘New Tobacco’ types and while legal, she evidenced distaste at the synthetic flavor of it. Usually, she preferred the banned type of the real stuff.

Me and the scarlet wonder just cracked the computer blocks on a captured hard drive about an hour ago, a gold clad man said. They sell the access codes for a lot of money and on threat of death if they are revealed to the cops. He was handsome and boyish, with short-cropped brown hair. His attire was a garish gold body suit, high black boots and guns. Lots of guns: a shoulder holster, two hip holsters, boot holstered guns and a derringer on a neck chain. Goldstrike was his Exceptional codename. He was Matthew Stryker—the twin brother of one of the missing members of the team, Firststrike.

And you think this is connected to Temper going missing? the last occupant of the room asked. He was tall and broad-shouldered with a raw boned, square jawed face. His salt and pepper hair was cut in a retro mullet and he wore sunglasses. He was attired in midnight blue and red leather with white highlights that had the hint of a motorcycle thrill show about it. He was the Exceptionals’ team leader, Lastshot.

Certain, Skorpion said with uncharacteristic grimness. She adjusted a control dial and the Tri V image shifted to show several fighters in what appeared to be a ‘back stage’ area. One of them was clearly Tori Yagyu, the techninja known to the world as Temper. We saw this snippet of the ‘warm-up’ pen with the other fighters just when we cut onto the live feed. We think it was some sort of preview feature: she is not scheduled to fight in this edition of the game.

This edition? Echo said with shock. How many are there?

Once every three months as near as we can figure, Goldstrike said. It’s like a snuff film on a grand scale: they do animal shows, mass battles—everything they used to do in the old Roman Arenas. We only got a portion of this one because we didn’t crack the download code in time. He leaned in as if speaking too loudly might evoke some evil god’s wrath. They organize betting lines and have a regular subscription service.

What kind of a monster would do something like this? Echo asked.

More frightening is what kind of monsters subscribe to this kind of horror? Lastshot said. The others looked at him, their expressions making clear they all had the same grim realization that the world was indeed full of monsters. It was the very reason, when all was said and done, that each of the team had taken on the mantle of dragon slayer.

Temper went in under cover before me and Lastshot took our little walk across Chechnya, Skorpion said, referring to the harsh week when she and her teammate had been stranded in the nuclear wastes of that country. She was on the track of some major illegal bio and nuclear weapons traders when she completely went off the radar two months ago. Her implants and transponder were deactivated, so we know it was a deep cover mission, but it left us no way to trace her at all.

We have to find Tori, Matthew said with an urgency in his voice that went beyond the professional. He seldom used Temper’s real name, even in the privacy of team meetings.

That’s why I called this meeting, Lastshot said. We can’t leave it to some outside agency like Unipol to find her.

The others all nodded in agreement.

Jason would agree with that, Goldstrike added. He and his brother disagreed on absolutely everything but the important stuff.

I know; I ran it past him. Lastshot smiled. So we find a way to get one of us into that Death Game and find out why she went in.

And get her out, Goldstrike said.

And get her out, Lastshot said. And if we can, hurt the sons-of-bitches that are running it.

That’s what I like about you, Lastshot, Skorpion said. You have a Marine’s sense of shading: all black and white.

Damn straight, Red, he said with a smile that had launched a thousand punches, damn straight.

Chapter 1

The prisoner was big. Tall at two meters, he was also heavily muscled as only a man who has twenty-three hours a day of solitary confinement and thus unlimited time to work out can be. He had broad shoulders with cabled muscles writhing under the skin; yet whenever he moved, he still had the grace of a tiger ready to pounce.

He wore only a ‘wife beater’ t-shirt, loose pajama-like orange pants, and cloth slippers so the numerous prison tattoos that decorated his body and marked his journey through the Criminal Justice System were clearly visible: Visit Pelican Bay and rot, Semper Fi my ass! Back off or die! and among other images, the head and shoulders of a playing card joker on his left chest, over his heart. He had a skull and cross bones crudely marked at the base of his shaven skull.

His mustached face was pressed against the Plexisteel window where he could watch the large Tri-V screen mounted at the end of the cellblock corridor. His hands were thrust through a hole in the door where wrist restraints had been fastened.

On the tri-v monitor, a live Cube network broadcast showed a robbery in progress in New York, while the announcer droned on about what was being shown. The images were from a bank security camera and showed a group of cowering civilians surrounded by five armed and masked men in paramilitary uniforms.

Suddenly, a wall of the bank seemed to dissolve and three extraordinary figures charged in through the hole. One was tall, dressed in blue and red leathers reminiscent of a motorcycle thrill show performer. He had a mullet and wore sunglasses. The second figure was a buxom female dressed in a scarlet bustier and robes. The last figure was dressed all in gold and his clearly visible face was turned toward the camera, and whenever he could manage it, a smile crossed his features. The three spectacular figures fired their side arms in the same split second and, as if in a scene from an old cowboy film, shot the guns out of the hands of the masked men.

The other prisoners in the cellblock, their faces likewise pressed against their windows, all booed as the three colorful figures proceeded to lay about the bank robbers barehanded and subdue them.

The oddest thing about the whole affair was perhaps that out of the three costumed figures, only the one in gold seemed to have a face. The other two seemed to have their features blurred like an old photo that had been smudged.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the Tri-V announcer proclaimed. Goldstrike, Lastshot and Skorpion, New York’s own Bodyguard, proving once again that our government money is well spent.

The inmates howled in protest, all but drowning out the shouted orders from a guard captain standing with two burly guards in front of the bald prisoner’s cell.

Stand back away from the door, prisoner Le’Schott.

The two hundred seventy pound prisoner complied, stepping three feet back into his tiny cell.

Open number thirty! the Captain called out. There was an echoed clank and the mechanism that held the door closed, released.

Out! the officer ordered.

When Le’Schott stepped through the door, a net hood was placed over his head. It was a spit guard. He grinned wolfishly at the precaution.

’Fraid I’ll blow you a kiss, Conrack? the prisoner said to the officer.

Save your smart ass remarks for the Exceptional who is waiting for you. The uniformed Conrack stepped behind the trio and nodded to the two guards who took up positions at the elbows of the shackled giant. You can tell him how a decorated marine can go so bad, kill a prisoner in his custody and then weeks later steal a government payroll like a common rat.

Even with his feet shackled to each other and then to his hands, Le’Schott moved like a tiger, flowing rather than shuffling along the corridor. He seemed to tower over the three men by his sheer physical presence more than his height—he was only a few inches taller than the tallest of them. His voice had a soft southern drawl to it when he spoke, yet it carried a quality that commanded. I simply got sick of listening to idiot politicians who knew nothing of what it’s really like out there, Le’Schott said. So I just redistributed the wealth to the frontline troops.

And killed two Shore Patrol guards in the process. The Captain’s tone was dripping with hate and disgust. He held a three-foot stun baton in his right hand and brandished it, looking for an excuse to apply the twenty thousand volts to the bald man’s back.

They were Navy, Le’Schott said simply in explanation.

And the prisoner they say you killed?

Hey—you know prisoners are expendable? Le’Schott smiled.

Conrack’s hand tightened on the baton’s handle. You make a scene in front of that government man and I swear I’ll make your miserable life a living hell.

The prisoner threw a brittle laugh at the officer. Been there, done that, dog breath.

Shut up, con, and keep moving.

The entourage moved through the sterile maximum-security cellblock of the federal prison at Fort Madison, Iowa. It was located on bottomland on the west bank of the Mississippi River and was a retro fitted facility built in the eighteen thirties. Fashioned of red sandstone and granite, it made the corridors within the facility feel like a dungeon, no matter how brightly lit they were.

The rows of cells in Cell House Twenty were metal doors painted a dull grey with small Plexiglas windows. The faces pressed against those windows were of every race and color, made uniform by their expressions of hatred and madness. The cellblock was isolated from the four pods of general population, saved for the worst of the worst in the eleven-acre institution.

Into Exam room six, Conrack ordered.

Le’Schott moved along, the chains making a gentle clank with each tiny step along the concrete floor. The bald man’s green eyes were focused and bright, even through the net’s veil. He hummed the theme from an old 2-D John Wayne movie while he walked, seemingly oblivious to his surroundings.

Stop humming that crap, the captain commanded.

Chisum is a classic, you troglodyte, Le’Schott said, not that you’d get it.

Shut up! The officer jammed the stun prod into the prisoner’s kidneys and pressed the trigger button.

Le’Schott grunted and dropped to his knees as a half charge cramped his muscles with a jolt of manmade lightening.

The prisoners in the cells on either side of the corridor hooted and hollered, slamming fists and heads into the windows in reaction to the attack.

Le’Schott fell forward onto his chained hands. The two guards bent to grab him under his armpits, intending to pull him back to his feet. The prisoner chose that moment to grab the two men tightly, locking their arms to his body. He used the purchase to mule kick backward and caught the captain unaware. He twisted his legs and wrapped his ankle chains around the officer’s neck and torqued his body to throw the man into a cell door. Conrack dropped senseless, a gash across his forehead flooding his face with blood.

The two men holding Le’Schott struggled to pull free but the muscular prisoner jumped first left then right, bringing his heels down on the inner knees of the guards. This dropped both men in agony, unable to respond, while Le’Schott stood, ripped off his spit guard and worked the muscles of his throat in an odd way. After a moment, he was able to regurgitate a small key by means of retro- peristalsis.

He quickly unlocked the wrist and ankle cuffs and then his restraint collar, making a satisfied hmm! sound when his throat was free.

One of the guards attempted to hit the panic alarm button on his belt, but Le’Schott hit him with an open palm blow to the temple and rendered him unconscious.

The caged convicts were riotous with screams of encouragement now, with suggestions like Kill them now!, Wring their necks, and the like.

The bald escapee grabbed the stun baton and cranked the power setting to full. He located the box high up on the wall of the corridor where power for the doors and alarms for the block were located. He weighed the baton in his hand in preparation to toss it when the door to the interview room, twenty feet away from him, opened and the ‘government man’—The Exceptional, stepped into the hall.

It was Firststrike of the New York based Exceptional team, the Bodyguard. Dressed in a black and grey form-fitting outfit, he was just a head shorter than Le’Schott. He was lean, with short-cropped brown hair, and a Fu Manchu mustache like Le’Schott’s. This, combined with a silver eye-patch over his left eye, gave him a piratical appearance.

Hold it right there, Big Boy, the Exceptional said, and save yourself a world of pain.

The shaven headed giant just laughed and said, Bring it on, Cyclops, and welcome to my world!

Chapter 2

Things were not going well for Tori Yagyu. She was in combat on a sand floored faux Roman arena, while above, a blue and cloudless tropical sky washed the combatants in bright cheerful light.

Tori’s opponent was wielding a naginata, a nine-foot pike-like weapon with a curved blade at the end. And the woman was wielding it well.

Tori, all five-foot-three of her, was armed only with two tanto blades. The eight-inch knives made attacking the long stave a very risky business, so she was reduced to a defensive fight.

The naginata woman was half a head taller, broadly built and blonde, a perfect opposite to the slight raven-haired Nikkei girl. Tori backpedaled across the sand of the arena looking for a gap in the blonde’s scything blade, but the blade seemed to be everywhere at once. Tori knew she would run out of retreating room soon. I’d better get inspired soon, she thought, or I’ll be out of this tournament in a permanent way.

Tori chanced a look past the blonde warrior to see the face of a tow-headed young girl, hand to mouth in shock, hiding at the edge of the wide stone-walled mock Roman Arena. The girl had somehow learned that Tori was to have the informal practice and snuck into the area to see it. Her expression made it obvious that she had not imagined it would be so fierce or dangerous.

Tori allowed herself a slight smile at seeing the horror on the girl Jessie’s face and thought Hey, what did you expect—it’s an arena. But she kept her focus forward at the slicing blade of the naginata.

The Japanese-American girl moved like a whisper of air over the sand floor of the arena, her bare feet gliding as if floating, yet somehow grounded at the same time. It was more than the heritage of her Iga-style ninjitsu training; it was the countless hours of testing and training in her ‘real life’ as the Exceptional Temper that allowed her to perform at such a high level. It was as Temper that she had begun the undercover mission that got her as far as the fight she was in.

Tori had an instant flash of her Exceptional teammate Lastshot as the two of them ate a Meal Ready to Eat on a training exercise a year before.

The thing about most people is that they only see their fights through a narrow field of vision, ‘What would I do to win?’, and limit themselves to preparing for that. What they should be preparing for is, ‘what would a desperate or insane person do to win?’ ’Cause those are the people that will snatch your certain victory from you.

Tori’s face lost its frown in favor of a grin. Okay, Lastshot, she thought, I won’t admit I’m desperate, so let’s try for crazy. She continued to let the blonde press her toward the edge of the sand covered arena until she was barely two meters from the marble wall. Suddenly, the lithe Japanese-American turned and raced for the wall at top speed.

Her opponent saw only her back and gave chase, intent on a quick finish to the match; a quick kill.

Tori jumped, hit the wall with both feet at her own shoulder height and launched herself backward at the charging woman. The dark haired fighter twisted in midair so that she slammed into the blonde’s too-late attempt to block her with the center of the naginata.

Tori’s weight and velocity bore the woman to the ground and the Nikkei straddled her chest to pin her. The tanto blades went to the arteries at the sides of the woman’s neck in an ‘X’ block. Tori whispered, Give it up, Sister!

Abruptly a single set of hands clapping echoed off the high stonewalls of the empty arena. Splendid, little ninja, the clapper said with a delighted giggle.

Tori swung her gaze from the fallen girl to take in the image of the ‘clapper.’ He was an outrageous figure. He was tall and lean, clearly of Arab descent by the hawk-like nose and thick eyebrows, but his hair was dyed yellow blonde and he was wearing a roman-style toga.

Behind the Mediterranean apparition, four women of stunning beauty were dressed as classical Roman courtesans, but armed with old AK-74 semi-automatic rifles. They moved with him in a crescent formation as he walked down the rows of seats.

The young girl, Jessie, shrunk into the shadows of the toppled stones by the entrance gate, catching Tori’s eye with a shake of her head when it seemed the Asian girl was about to say something. Tori stepped off of her opponent and sheathed the aluminum practice tantos in her belt.

The blonde got to her feet and shot an angry look at Tori. "Next time you