Now

Sam realized that for the first time in years, he was actually scared. The sensation, however, had not been inspired by the automatic gunfire ringing in his ears, nor was it attached to the potential for death that the noise represented. Sam hadn’t even wanted to be alive for a very long time. What was really getting to him right now, though, was the glass. The enormous hospital windows that overlooked the southern parking lot were shattering and spraying everywhere… just like the night when his entire world had turned into a nightmare.

#

One year ago

“It’s just a one-time deal,” Sam said with a smirk as Mark tried again to grab his keys.

“Dude, if I’m saying it’s a bad idea, it’s a REALLY bad idea,” Mark responded with a hint of resignation in his voice. “Just let one of us drive you back here tomorrow to pick up your car. It’s a hell of a lot better than getting a DUI or getting killed.”

“First of all,” Sam said while making a concerted effort to look coherent, “Paul drives home buzzed all the time and never gets caught. And secondly, I already took enough crap from you guys for one evening about the whole thing with Anne. I really don’t want to have to hear about it again tomorrow morning.”

“I promise I won’t say anything,” Mark said while holding his hand out. “Just give me the keys… or at least call a cab.”

“No thanks,” Sam snapped back. “Don’t feel like waiting or being around any of you right now. I just want to get home and forget that this whole week ever happened.”

Sam got in his car, started the engine, and peeled out of the parking lot. He’d never driven drunk before in his life, but this would have to just be another bad decision in a week that had been full of them.

As Sam drove away from the bar and got onto the highway, he was surprised at how in control he still felt. It wasn’t like all those anti-drunk driving PSA’s on TV that showed some idiot hiccupping and squinting to keep his eyes open. What being drunk had made him unable to do, however, was keep his mind off of Anne. His brain was so focused on her (and how things had ended between them) that he hadn’t even noticed the red traffic light he’d gone through until it was too late.

Sam’s truck was travelling at close to 80 mph when it slammed into the SUV. As his airbag deployed and he lost consciousness, the last thing Sam heard and felt was glass shattering all around him.

#

Now

Sam got down on his stomach and began crawling forward as the cover team ahead of him began firing. The drastic increase in gunfire was strangely reassuring. It meant he had allies; maybe even some people who were worried about his safety.

As he crawled towards an overturned bed at the end of the hallway, Sam did his best to avoid the multiple bullet-ridden bodies strewn about the floor in front of him. Even though they were already dead, it just didn’t seem right to crawl over them. But as he looked up towards the firefight in front of him, he saw one of the troops go down as the shooter’s bullets somehow ripped through his protective vest.

Sam instantly cast aside his concerns about respecting the dead, squirming over still-bleeding limbs and torsos while trying to reach the cover team. He may have only known these guys for a couple months, but they were the closest thing to a group of friends that he had.

As Sam got behind the overturned hospital bed he’d been crawling for, one of the troops look at him and began to fall back.

“Stinger One is in position,” he heard the soldier say through his com. “Let’s leave him and get the hell out of here.”

4 months ago

Sam never got visitors. Part of that was due to him often being on suicide watch, but no one had really wanted to see him anyway. He’d never been close with his dad, who only called on Christmas and the anniversary of the day his mother had died. His friends had also all but abandoned him, but he didn’t blame them for it. When you’re the guy who killed a family of four in a drunk driving accident while walking away unscathed, you’re not the type of person a lot of people want to be friends with.

But today, someone had finally come to see him. The prison even set up a meeting room for the two of them, which seemed a bit odd. Sam sat at the table by himself for half an hour until the tall man dressed in a sharp looking business suit walked through the door and sat down across from him.

“Hello, Sam,” he said without the usual derision or disgust that most people included while saying his name. “I’m Carey Pendleton from the Department of Homeland Security.”

His attempt to shake Sam’s hand was met with a cold and slightly confused stare.

“No title?” Sam asked while sitting back in his chair.

Pendleton smiled, sat down, and began tapping the screen on his tablet.

“Don’t need one,” he replied with a bit more forcefulness in his voice. “It says here that you killed a family of four in a drunk driving accident. Is that correct?”

Sam didn’t say anything, instead just continuing to glare at him while clenching his fists.

“It also says here that you’ve tried to kill yourself a few times during your stay in prison,” Pendleton continued in a callously breezy tone. “You know, I’ve never understood how people can just ‘try’ to kill themselves. It seems like the type of thing that if you really wanted to do it, you should be able to get it done… unless you really didn’t want to… or you’re just too scared to go through with it.”

Sam shot up from his chair and lunged towards Pendleton, forgetting momentarily about the shackles around his ankles. The chair rocked forward with enough force to hit the back of Sam’s right knee, causing him to fall onto the floor.

“Now there’s what I was looking for,” Pendleton said with a grin as he leaned down and got right in Sam’s face. “The man who his old football coaches called ‘The Beast’ because of how vicious and dominant he was on the field. But you also won a citizenship award in college, did you not?”

“Get the hell out of my face,” Sam hissed as he picked himself back up off the floor.

Pendleton, however, continued as if he hadn’t said anything.

“You helped build houses with Habitat for Humanity, volunteered at a local animal shelter, and were also known to just about everyone as an all-round great human being. In fact, the only blemish on your record before the DUI was during your senior year in high school when you… let’s see… here it is. You beat a kid to within an inch of his life after you caught him trying to sexually assault a girl behind the soccer field.”

“Yeah, well, I pretty much flushed all that goodwill down the toilet, didn’t I?” Sam grimly replied as he sat back down in his seat.

“For the time being,” Pendleton said while maintaining a congenial tone. “But what if I told you there was a way to make it all up? What if there was a way that you could save more than enough lives to ‘balance the scales’, so to speak?”

“I’d tell you to cram it back up your ass,” Sam said without looking up. “I can never take back what I did. I have to live with that forever.”

“Maybe not,” Pendleton replied as he leaned over the table. “There’s also a way you could save those lives while also finding the peace and nothingness you apparently want, but can’t bring yourself to do what you’d need to do to get there.”

Sam looked up, trying to hide his intrigue as best he could.

“…and I suggest you take the offer,” Pendleton said in a suddenly business-like tone. “It’s a one-time deal.”

#

Now

The shooter was dressed in full body armor that looked almost exactly like what Sam was wearing. As he continued to fire in the direction of the retreating cover squad, Sam let his mind wander briefly, asking the same questions that neither he nor the people at the top of Operation: Stinger seemed to have an answer for.

The new domestic terror organization and its motivations was something that had been debated by the entire country during the last year. American politics had become so divisive and full of vitriol that it made the early part of the century look like collaborative utopia. But no one on the right or the left could understand or make sense of the violence that the shooter’s organization was raining down on the public at large. If they really considered themselves to be protectors of the “real America”, how could they justify killing so many innocent people?

The immediate concern for Sam’s group, however, was where the shooter’s organization was getting access to such advanced weapons and tech. Even the most politically outlandish people Sam had come in contact with during his training didn’t seem like they’d ever even consider helping a terrorist organization.

Luckily, the sane and non-homicidal side of this new civil war still seemed to have the best minds working for them.

#

3 months ago

Sam felt strange being the only person sitting in a briefing room full of chairs. But then again, calling any part of this entire ordeal “strange” was a gross understatement.

“Let’s begin,” the man at the front said as if he were speaking to a room full of people. “In the last six months, the terrorist organization known as the True Patriots have been executing a series of surprisingly sophisticated attacks on various domestic targets. Their latest one, however, has everyone here shitting bricks.”

The man turned down the lights and started a video. Sam instantly knew what it was: The Cumberland Mall Massacre. Even though he’d been locked up, news of the worst mass shooting in American history is still big enough that he and the other prisoners saw and heard reports about it on a daily basis. This footage, however, was different; it seemed to have been taken from a helmet cam from one of the soldiers.

As the shooter continued to fire off round after round, a soldier on the right moved into position without him noticing. He fired on the gunman and scored a direct hit, which instantly caused the screen to go white.

“Everyone knows about the massive explosion that ended the confrontation,” the presenter continued. “It claimed more lives than any of the shooter’s actions had up until that point. What you might not have noticed, however, was that the shooter wasn’t wearing any explosive devices.”

“So what caused an explosion big enough to take out three city blocks?” Sam asked.

“He did,” the presenter said grimly. “He was the bomb. The TP have begun utilizing the same bio bomb technology that we saw in the Middle East a few years ago.”

“So why not do what the Israelis did and hit him with an EMP?” Sam asked while the security footage replayed again.

“That’s where the TP’s ability to recruit some of our R&D people has really screwed us over,” the presenter replied while gritting his teeth. “They’ve made it so the bio bomb nanotech links up with the carrier’s unique biorhythms. Any sort of disruption, including a loss of consciousness in the carrier or a severe electrical charge, makes it go off.”

“So how do you stop them?” Sam asked, curiosity overtaking his initial feelings of apprehension.

“As of now, we can’t,” the presenter said while shaking his head. “The tech is so advanced that the production is incredibly limited, thank God. But another one has been deployed since the last attack.”

The presenter pushed a button on his laptop, changing the video to surveillance footage of a college classroom.

“One of these guys was responsible for the Florida State shooting?” Sam said with disbelief.

“Yeah,” the presenter replied bitterly “that’s the one we’re still getting shit from the media about for evacuating everyone from the school instead of taking the shooter down. Now you know why we did it that way. As far as the TP is concerned, though, it was still a win. Their guy managed to kill thirty people. The fact we didn’t kill him and he’s still out there has the entire country even more on edge.”

“So how do we stop them…and what the hell does it have to do with me?” Sam asked.

‘Operation Stinger,’ the presenter replied. “You’re going to be the one to help us try it out. It’s a one-time deal, but if it works, we have a chance at stopping this type of attack from ever happening again.”

#

Now

A blast on Sam’s right side snapped him out of his momentary rumination on the True Patriots’ motivations and tech sources. The shooter had now lost all of the other targets from the retreating cover team, meaning that Sam was about to become the sole target of his gunfire.

“It’s now or never,” Sam thought as he grabbed the syringe from his belt and rolled up his right sleeve.

Taking a deep breath, he plunged the large metal tip into his arm and squeezed.

#

1 month ago

“SON OF A BITCH!” Sam exclaimed as the needle shot through his palm.

“Sorry,” the lab tech said with a sheepish look on her face. “That should be everything, though.”

“Until I have to inject myself with the catalyst fluid,” he reminded her.

Sam looked at the metal contraption that covered his right hand, following the wire that ran from his fingers back into his bicep.

“This thing sort of looks like a pimped out version of the Nintendo Power Glove,” he said with a smile. “You remember those?”

“A bit before my time, old man.” the tech responded with a grin.

Sam wasn’t sure if she knew about what he’d done before, but the tech, whose name was Lisa, had always been friendly towards him. He wasn’t sure if the attraction he felt towards her was genuine or a result of finally being treated like a human being, but it was definitely there.

“Once you’re close enough, grab the guy and squeeze,” she continued in a more clinical tone. “Then punch the button here on the back of your hand. The uplink should take only a few seconds.”

“And then we both fall asleep in each other’s arms,” Sam replied with mock romanticism.

Lisa bit her lower lip and touched Sam’s hand. She’d touched him before while he was being fitted for the nanotech delivery system or having tests run, but never like this. It was the first time in forever that he’d actually felt any sort of affectionate contact from another.

“Sam…” she said with a slight crack in her voice. “I’m guessing that if you’re here, it’s because you did something really bad.”

Sam started to say something, but Lisa cut him off.

“Shut up. I don’t even want to know. What I want you to know, however, is that the man I’ve seen over the last two months is a good person… and what you’re doing now won’t only save the lives of the people in the next attack. It’ll also give us the info we need to build a viable countermeasure that doesn’t require someone to do what you’re going to have to do.”

“Still won’t change what I did,” Sam said as he slowly moved his hand away from hers. “But I know what I signed up for and what the cost will be. This is a one-time deal. I’m going to make sure it counts.”

#

Now

Sam suddenly felt very strange, as if the world was getting smaller around him. He got up from behind the hospital bed, only moderately concerned about the inevitable gunfire that would fly in his direction.

As the hailstorm of bullets reached him, most ricocheted off of his armor and mask. A few, however, managed to find an exposed point near his right arm and upper leg. Even though he shouldn’t have been, Sam was surprised to discover that he didn’t feel anything.

Looking in the stunned shooter’s direction, he charged forward.

#

Three hours ago

“Show time!” a man outfitted in a flight suit shouted as he popped his head inside the door.

Sam looked up with a start. He’d been allowed free range of the living quarters next to the development lab, but the boredom and anxious waiting had almost made it feel like he was back in prison again. The fact that he didn’t get to see Lisa anymore sometimes made it even worse.

“What’s going on?” Sam said as put down the book he’d been reading and got out of bed.

“The son of a bitch popped up again,” the pilot replied. “This time the bastard’s shooting up a hospital in Atlanta. Operation Stinger’s a go. We’re out of here in ten.”

#

30 minutes ago

“We’re dropping you in at the south entrance!” the commander barked over the helicopter blades.

“You know I can hear you on the com, right?” Sam said while trying not to let his annoyance sound disrespectful.

“Right, sorry,” the commander replied in normal speaking voice. “We’re dropping you in at the south entrance. You should have a clear path to the third floor, where the shooter is currently proving what a ‘true patriot’ he is by killing people who can’t get up out of their beds to evacuate. Once you’re close, inject the catalyst. You’ll have five minutes of ‘Beast Mode’ to get near him, but you should still try to avoid getting shot.”

“Pretty sure you guys have enough body armor on me that getting shot will be a difficult task,” Sam said while putting on his helmet.

“Don’t let the whole ‘suicide bomber’ stereotype fool you,” the commander responded. “This guy has no plans on dying. He’s hoping we’re too scared to do anything because of the hospital blowing up… and he’s got way better weapons and training than your run of the mill revolutionary. Do everything you can to protect yourself before contact. Remember, this…”

“I know,” Sam replied. “It’s a one-time deal.”

#

Now

The shooter dropped his automatic weapon and pulled out a pump action shotgun as Sam continued to charge forward. The first blast from the weapon didn’t hurt, but instead caused him to fly backwards. Sam quickly got back up only to be hit and knocked back again. After getting knocked down for a third time, it became clear that the invincible aurora he was feeling didn’t mean he could just charge ahead like a rhino.

Before a fourth shot could hit him, Sam ducked to the right and sprinted forward. The shooter aimed his weapon and fired again. This time, however, Sam was able to perfectly time his jump to the left before it came. A computer on the desk behind him burst into flames while the shooter frantically pumped his shotgun and aimed again. But before he could get off another shot, he looked down to see that Sam had slid over to him and was grabbing tightly onto his ankle.

“What the hell are you doing?” the shooter asked through his mask while aiming his gun down towards him.

“Making sure I have some company on the way there,” Sam replied while punching a button on his glove.

The needle shot out from his palm and entered the shooter’s leg, causing him to scream and stagger back on his other free leg.

“DO IT NOW!” Sam yelled, hoping that the shotgun blasts hadn’t knocked out his com.

A green light ran up the length of Sam’s arm to the back of his hand. As it reached his fingers, both he and the shooter were suddenly awash in a field of blue electric sparks. A second later, the shooter’s body fell limply to the floor while Sam’s head did the same.

Thirty seconds of silence passed before Sam’s com finally crackled back to life.

“Target neutralized,” a voice on the other end said. “Biorhythm sync and stop was successful. True Patriot shooter and Stinger One are both down.”