Shadow Warriors are elite fighters-larger and stronger than humans. They're the polar opposite of hell's spawn because they think and strategize, making them a more formidable enemy. Because of fear, bigotry, and thinking the Shadow Warriors might overthrow the new government, the Federation almost started another war when the threat of the hellhounds receded. Thanks to the government's screw up, I have this nice advancement in office and I'm on a mad dash to repair relations with the good monsters. It's basically a suicide mission.
King, the reigning leader of the Shadow Warriors, requested a female liaison. That's King as in Cher or Prince. He provided no other name, so I'll work with it. The question is: Will King work with me?
After the president swore me into office, he said roping in King is my number one priority. I'm not personally responsible for the mistakes made at the end of Hell's War, but my orders are to apologize-a.k.a. beg, plead, or do anything else to get them back on our side.
"Defense Secretary Church, we'll be landing shortly," a voice blasts over the intercom, and I jump half out of my seat almost hitting the dirty, white console above my head.
Regardless of the abrupt blare, I'm unused to the title directed my way and an interminable ache spikes in my chest at the remembrance of people addressing my father in the same manner. He died fighting. It didn't matter that he was an old man who should have been enjoying a fluffy dog at his feet while reading his favorite westerns, his responsibility was to the men and women fighting an impossible war. Dad didn't live long enough to know we won and he was gone before he could stop the heads of state from screwing up the relations with our allies. I know in my heart Dad would have found a way around the diplomatic catastrophe that happened. The Shadow Warriors respected him and he returned their respect. As his daughter, I'm following his lead even though the men I'm about to meet petrify me. They're big, bad, and scary. I kid you not, their animal form is Bigfoot on steroids. Goose bumps run across my skin and I go back to humming "My Humps."
I peer out the small window again and think about the scenery when the plane first took off. Knowing our cities are destroyed and actually seeing an aerial view of the devastation are quite different. Tall buildings are nothing more than scraps of concrete and metal. We live mostly below ground now, and as much as I've hated it, I'm relieved I don't have the day-to-day reminder of all we've lost. Even knowing sharks lurk in the blue water below, the image is preferable to the ruin left behind by the catastrophic war.
I pull my gaze from the ocean, unbuckle my seatbelt, and head to the lavatory to check my appearance. I've grown accustomed to military fatigues provided to government workers. The dark blue suit jacket, skirt, and clunky heels I'm wearing are incredibly uncomfortable. I tug on the short skirt as I walk and almost trip. They put me in this getup to garner male attention. I'm not happy about it. I'm nothing but a piece of meat to the U.S. Federation. Believe me, meeting a group of monsters who grow six-inch fangs is not a time to feel like food.
I close the lavatory door and glance in the mirror. My cheeks are flushed red from the slipshod training yesterday. The small outdoor space had high walls and no shade unless you hugged the perimeter. My skin, unaccustomed to sunlight, took the brunt of the exposure. I'm too tall and uncoordinated to learn fighting skills that take years to master. Would they listen to me?
At least they gave up after a few hours. I'm hopeless, and training with kids in their early teens who are more capable than I am didn't help my self-confidence. Seeing these kids wear their red stripes on their shoulders with pride wasn't exactly helpful either. They will be the first to die when the hounds attack again.
I adjust the clip holding my thick kinky brown hair, making the wayward strands half-conform once more. I've thought about cutting it a thousand times. A thousand times I resist. It's my one vanity. Running a brush through my hair at night grounds me. It's such a simple task even though keeping it clean and lice free isn't easy. I shiver at the thought of the small creepers that make so many shave their bodies. The new world sucks.
After my first full shower in months-with hot water no less-I'm actually clean. It could be my only perk as defense secretary before I die. I stare at my reflection in the mirror. I'm far from beautiful or sexy regardless of what clothes they put me in. My high cheekbones and pointed chin give my face a thin, haunted appearance even with my current sunned, cherry cheeks. Truthfully, I didn't like sunshine before the war and preferred a dark corner to hide away and work. The war took away the option of sunlight, but against my personal code of dark and quiet, I now long for it. At least until the heat outside yesterday realigned my thinking.
Glancing forward, I can't see more than my face in the small mirror, which is a good thing. I've always been awkwardly tall, coming in at more than six feet, and extremely thin with no coordination. Sit me in a spot, hand me a pen and paper, and I'm safe to be around. Put any kind of obstacle in my path and I'm as likely to fall as a newborn colt. If no obstacle is around, I'll trip over my own feet. No, acting wasn't the best choice of professions for me, but I loved it.
If you wanted to survive the war, you toughened up and I'm the antithesis of tough in a world where only the strong survive. I have no idea what others see in me, so I continue staring deeply into the mirror. Almond-shaped eyes more black than brown with a high forehead that stands out when my hair is pulled back or my curls stand on end. Dark eyebrows accent my eyes and need a lot of upkeep to stay away from a unibrow. Unlike my long body, my face is pixy with high angular cheekbones and a button nose that runs in my family. My lips, possibly my best feature, are fuller than my face should allow and perfectly shaped for kissing. That's a joke. My last kiss was more a sloppy meeting of mouths in a closet during a break at work. One questing kiss from that guy and I decided he could keep his spit to himself. It didn't help that he was too young for me. Not younger really, because he was around my age. I have a thing for older men for some odd reason. Daddy issues most would say, but my father was the bomb and if anything, I want a good man like him and not some guy learning to kiss with me as his slobber receptacle guinea pig. In my opinion the mirror shows nothing special and I only see the introverted failure I've observed a thousand times before.
I shrug my shoulders and move my thoughts along.
Many humans similar to me, as in not the fighting type, took their lives because they couldn't handle the harsh realities of our cruel new world. Some, due to ridiculous bigotry, refused to stand beside Shadow Warriors and died in their unprotected militias or homes. My guilt over the protection my father provided me from inside the internal workings of the government gnaws at my soul. I should have been one of the unfortunate and by only a chance of birth, I'm alive. For now.
So many brave human lives lost. The Shadow Warriors suffered incredible casualties too. They fought bravely and defended us while mistrust continued among humans. Considering the Warriors' numbers were nothing compared to hellhounds, they overcame unbelievable odds to be our saviors. And we screwed them over after the fact.
The first mistake the Federation made after the hellhounds receded was thinking they could control the Shadow Warriors. No, not control... use them for experimental purposes. They expected the Warriors to voluntarily turn themselves into the new government. The president and his cabinet thought the Warriors would happily return to the passive half-men, half-beasts who walked among us without our knowledge before Hell's War.
Not even close.
The nerve of the Shadow Warriors, I think sarcastically. They wanted equal rights, an equal say in politics, and the ability to hold office. When our military attempted to round them up, human soldiers died trying to enforce the will of the Federation. When all else failed, a treaty was signed giving the Shadow Warriors their own country. This happened about a year ago.
Hellhounds decimated Cuba early on. Cuban survivors straggled into the U.S. in the first two years of the war. After a few more years and no sign of survivors, the island was forgotten. I have no idea who suggested the Warriors take over Cuba, but it worked and they retreated to their new territory. Close enough for us to keep an eye on and far enough away that humans feel safe.
If I'm honest, I'm a mouse in a world of starving lions. I've learned to use the fear as an obstacle I can't trip over. It's in front of me continually and I move through my nemesis with finesse. "Yeah, right," I whisper into the miniscule room and roll my eyes. "I trip over lint."
After a mental shake and last glance in the mirror, I walk out and take my seat again. I pick up the dossier an officer working for the president handed me before I boarded the plane. He was dressed in fatigues and wore a cocky smile on his pimply face that grated on my nerves as he handed me a short overview of Shadow Warrior statistics. His instructions were for me to leave the briefing on the plane when I disembarked. According to the documents, our government thinks as many as two hundred soldiers survived with a low estimate at one hundred. The Federation wants me to establish the exact number if possible, along with breeding information-are they breeding to be exact. I roll my eyes at that. They also want the number and types of weapons they hold. No one mentioned this before the plane took off. My anger at their crappy request for added information kept my mind off sharks for part of the trip. The government hasn't learned a single lesson when dealing with Shadow Warriors. We really need my father right now, and I'm nowhere close to being second-best.
As we get closer to landing, I feel the nerves rise in my stomach as I think about the fact that the government sent no security to accompany me. The pilot has orders to leave as soon as I'm clear of the plane, making me feel even more alone. What's more, our government is not familiar with King, making him a wild card. Greystone, the Shadow Warrior in charge when my father was alive, is dead now too.
If I survive long enough to say we're sorry, I hope to learn about King and discover what it will take to bring peace between our nations. Trembling limbs aside, we need the Shadow Warriors fighting with us or everything is lost.
Personally, I came to terms with death a long time ago. Getting there is what terrifies me. If the Shadow Warriors kill me, I don't want to see it coming.