Excerpt: Not Enough to Be a Ranger

Not Enough to Be a Ranger is an in-progress novel of mine. It was intended for National Novel Writing Month 2013, but my time was too short and there were too many scenes that couldn’t be written quickly to get it all done in one month.

Synopsis: High school is tough for everybody. Some are coming to grips with their sexuality, even more are coming to grips with what it means for them. Balance is almost impossible to find, whether it’s physical balance, balance between responsibilities, or balance between priorities in the classroom. Put them all together, and it’s a recipe for more than one disaster.

Yet how many high school students must balance all of this with the stresses of being a Ranger, part of a defensive force that must take precious time out of their lives to defeat forces beyond their imagination, all without ruining their future in the progress. Is this the feather to tip the scales off balance…or the source of a new support group for dealing with their problems? Are they an expert team that can get through anything, or five teenagers with attitude trapped in a room together?

This is the question “Not Enough to be a Ranger” asks, as fiery Cassidy, proud Avani, athletic Jim, brilliant Zoe and artistic Mark face more trials than one school year should be allowed to contain. Because even if facing a threat that endangers all of humanity was enough to excuse them from homework, it still wouldn’t protect them from the important things in their lives. Read Except 1 here.

US

We need a Number One, extra large, extra ketchup for Drive Thru!”

Yolanda’s voice rang out clearly across the back counter. Cassidy was already paying attention, and was assembling the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich even as she heard the call for it. She hated to let a customer wait, even a customer that was ordering a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich at lunch time. She slathered the English muffin with extra ketchup before slapping on a slice of cheese, two strips of microwaved bacon and a patty that her grandmother would never have allowed her to call an “egg” before wrapping the construct in a sheet of wax paper emblazoned with the “Breakfast Palace” logo and dropping it into the bag, right next to the steaming hash browns still dripping with vegetable oil, and put it in Yolanda’s hand. “Here you go, ‘landa.”

Cassidy Jones, is that you?” a voice called out from the front of the building. Cassidy didn’t need to look to know that was Miss Perkins, an elderly lady that attended church with Cassidy and her mother. Miss Perkins had a lot of grand children with a lot of interests, and while she never missed a service, she always seemed to be flitting about and was a regular customer at the Breakfast Palace. “I thought you were at the barbecue.”

I only had time to cook, Miss Perkins,” Cassidy said as she packed the next sandwich – this one a more conventional (for this time of day) bacon cheeseburger – with a hint of apology in her voice. “I helped prep the food, but I couldn’t stay for the barbecue because Mike called out.” Even now, Cassidy observed over her shoulder, the weekend supervisor Tammy was in back working the fryers until a cook could come in.

Goodness, chil’, you seem to be helpin’ jus’ ’bout everybody today!” Miss Perkins remarked, with nary a hint as to when she was going to deign to allow Roddy to take her order. This wasn’t a surprise; no matter who was here, Miss Perkins would find something to occupy her before she got to the dreadful business of deciding what she actually needed off the menu.

Ah do try, Miss Perkins,” Cassidy replied, with more twang than she encouraged escaping her mouth at work. “But as for me, Mister Griffing will kill me if I don’t get home in time to study for the test tomorrow!”

* * * * *

Squad! Atten-hutt!” There was just something about the spirit of competition; something that made Avani Patel, usually far more interested in what needed to be done than what needed to be said, become a fan of her own voice. She loved the feeling of exercising what she could accomplish for the sake of her time. “For-ward…HARCH!”

Perhaps that was why the daughter of two Indian immigrants reveled so much in her United States Marine Corps uniform, an accessory of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps that had done so much for her throughout her two years of high school. Like the saber she held between her thumb and two fingers of her right hand, she knew that she would only become sharper with further service to the club. “Squad…HALT!”

As she turned her head to give commands, Avani couldn’t help but see her squad as attractive. They were the only female Color Guard at the drill competition not to be dressed in skirts – a decision made by Avani herself – and the only one, by her estimation, not to be overly made up, either. And they still looked damned fine. “Pre-sent…HARMS!” In a single, practiced motion she snapped her chestnut hand up to eye level, her grip on the saber hilt becoming more concrete as she did so. She spotted Amber watching her from the bleachers in her peripheral vision, and swallowed the smile that threatened to break her composure before issuing the command to order arms.

Cadet First Lieutenant Patel led her team through the rest of the routine like a well-oiled machine. If only she could feel this way outside of competition, she would be truly at peace.

* * * * *

Jim looked serene, his eyes closed, the sunset behind him, as he stood alone in the local park. While the park technically closed at sunset, he had trained here every day for years, and it was unlikely that he would be questioned. He seemed almost to meditate, forming a circuit with his arms and fists through which he seemed to channel his ki. He broke the circuit, nodded once, and then moved back into a more fluid standing position.

Hwa-RA!” His kipan could be heard well outside the park a she launched himself into a flurry of kicks, rolls, jumps and (occasionally) punches. To the casual observer, it was nearly impossible to tell where the kata – combination attacks and holds designed to flow into one another – ended and the individual movements began. In his trance, it was unlikely that Jim knew, as he put every ounce of his being into his ancestral art of Tae Kwan Doe, the Korean martial art he had learned from his father and grandfather. Focusing his energy, or ki, through further kipan yells, he disarmed and knocked down imaginary opponents. Sweat flowed in rivulets down his bare torso, where not an ounce of fat impeded its progress down his deeply tanned skin. So deep was he in his trance that Jim occasionally ricocheted off of invisible enemies, knocked to the ground by their counterattacks, which caused him to disable them with ground-based fighting techniques before springing to his feet and executing complex back-flips and roundhouse kicks.

Once he was breathing heavy, his entire conscious self willed out through exertion and mucle memory, he paused. Only for a moment, barely even that, he paused. Then, he ran. The Choi clan’s Tae Kwan Doe had given them a figure that was lean and strong, the perfect shape for the high school track team. He paid it back by doing the best he could to be the star of that team. There was no flaw in the system: he worked to strengthen his body, and stayed healthy in doing so. This was what was important; the time he lost in his studies was easily being made up for by the spiritual and physical benefits of Tae Kwan Doe.

* * * * *

What do you think?” A red-headed fifteen year-old in glasses sat on a stool in the mall, chatting with her blonde friend.

You look like a total nerd, Zoe,” the blonde giggled. Zoe’s face beamed, her freckles glowing.

You think?”

Yeah, you look cute.” If anything, Zoe’s smile widened. “All the boys would go crazy over you.”

Zoe’s smile was replaced with a thoughtful look. “I’m not all that concerned about the boys, Eve.” She put the frames back on the display.

I’m jealous,” Eve said. “You’re the only one.”

I don’t know about that,” Zoe replied. “What about Cassidy?”

Oh, Cassidy is concerned alright,” Eve said with a knowing tone. “She doesn’t talk about them, and certainly doesn’t have time to do anything, but I have definitely seen her looking.”

Oh,” Zoe’s look became even more thoughtful. “Maybe I’ll get the glasses later. I’ve become so used to my contacts I don’t know if I can switch back just to make a fashion statement.” She held that thoughtful look for a moment, before her eyes lit up. “Hey, isn’t there a new office supply store in this mall?”

Eve sighed and chuckled at that. “There is, but while we’re in the department store you and I should try out some new skirts. What do you say to that?”

Zoe thought about joining her model-like friend in modeling some skirts. Yeah, that would certainly lift her spirits.

* * * * *

A la derecha, a la derecha!” The boy yelled to his green-clad team-mate who was kicking a soccer ball along ahead of him. The team-made went to the left, and almost immediately had the ball kicked out from under his foot by the yellow-clad defensive player of the opposing team. The boy who had yelled originally bit back half a curse in Spanish before doubling back and launching himself into a sprint to catch up to the ball. There was a struggle, a kick, and somebody yelled “Goal!” before both teams returned to the center of the field.

Little of this was noticed by the boy sitting on the bleachers. The thin teen was leaned over a vertically-bound notebook and held a pencil in one hand. The sun was to his back, so there was no need to squint to see what he was drawing. Regardless of this, the boy seemed almost near-sighted, his attention so focused on what he was drawing that he noticed nothing else.

A girl sat down next to him on the bleachers. While he wore the tan skin and almost gaunt physique common to his Puerto Rican ancestry, the girl had much softer features and creamy skin. Once she had settled herself, she asked spoke. “So, what are you drawing?”

The boy blinked and looked up, startled at her arrival. He made contact with her lively green eyes, and found himself unable to answer. “H-hi, I-I-I-I,” he stammered.

The girl winked at him. “Hi, I’m Sylvia,” she identified herself.

M-Mark,” he replied, finding it a little easier to respond to a direct introduction. She smiled, taking his arm gently in her hand, and slid it to the side.

No longer obscured, the pad revealed a beautiful image: a character from a “Magical Girl” manga, in her most powerful form. The drawing was only partially complete, but even then the sparks of electric power around the character were apparent. “Do you have any more?” Sylvia asked, and Mark flipped the page to reveal another manga character, this one a completed sketch of the villain of the piece.

As the soccer game continued ahead of them, Mark and Sylvia continued to flip through the notebook.

THEM

In a world of shadows, a single woman holds the center of attention. She holds a scale, and on that scale rests a spheroid of enormous power. “Fire,” she says, the word itself a pronouncement of great import. Her voice carries the authority of the greatest Chief Justice, the experience of the oldest sage, and the raw heady power of the most talented seductress. Still, her pronouncement is not without response: hisses waft from the darkness like a foul scent from a canister left in the sun too long.

Iron,” the woman continues, ignoring the derisive sounds coming from around her. She stares at one focal point, where the darkness is deepest. “Languages.”

Almost as if she summoned the languages herself, the hisses became jeers. Languages of man and languages no man had ever heard both emerged from the shadows. At this, the judge raised her voice. “Powered Flight,” she added to the list, drawing actual boos out of the hidden audience. The sphere on the scale began to glow blue and green, and the woman speaking stepped forward. “From there came nuclear fusion, fission, and the understanding of the relationship between matter, energy and time. These led to travel in space, the ability to store and manipulate vast amounts of information, and artificial intelligence.”

By this point, the jeers had almost drowned out her statement. The speaker merely turned her gaze on the scale, which bathed the sphere above it in a harsh glow. As this glow spread, some of the spectators – the jeerers, at this point, as they all were – came into the light. Some were humanoid, but inhumanly perfect, while others were terrible monsters the likes of which were unknown to mankind. Of greater interest was the spheroid under scrutiny itself, which could now be seen as a ball of water with chunks of land on it. In short, it was the planet Earth, and it was humanity itself that she was judging.

Enough,” a voice rumbled from the shadows, and all became silent. The voice emerged from the very depths, from the darkness that not even the scale could reach. The voice boomed and echoed from the empty place where the Judge had been speaking to. As the voice echoed, it was the only sound that could be heard.

These…creatures,” the booming, echoing voice continued, “they have become more of a threat than an asset.” If anybody in the group before him disagreed, they did not respond. Many of the weaker members of the assembly clutched their ears as their master’s voice assailed them with raw power. Still more dropped to their knees, either by choice or as a result of the tremendous power of their master. “Should they rise up and choose to destroy us, we would be at risk. They must be destroyed.”

The voice went silent, and the awesome power of the presence receded into the darkness. As those assembled recovered from the force of his pronouncement, they looked to one another. Gone were the hissing, the jeering, the judging. “Humanity must be exterminated,” one of the more powerful of the assembled members stated, “and I know just the tool for the job.”

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