Their newfound intimacy had some unexpected results. Johnny found himself comfortable in her presence on a level he could never have imagined. They laughed more often, stared into each eyes more often, and as the last vestiges of Jade’s veneration to
him as a god melted away, he discovered a woman of high intellect, crazy humour, and a warmth and loyalty that stunned him. It was as if they had not known each other before, and this new, easy intimacy was a dimension neither had anticipated. They spent their entire time as close to each other as possible; nudging each other, teasing each other, smelling each others breath as they whispered together, and generally behaving like any two people in love would.
Johnny sat on the floor of the treasure room, surrounded by scrolls. Jade was exploring further along, still in awe of the priceless relics contained within. He stood up.
‘Jade, I think we should think about moving this stuff to the ship. We can’t stay here forever, and it’s going to take a long time to go through all of this.’
She pouted, her lower lip sticking out comically. ‘But I like it here. This is where we discovered each other.’
Johnny smiled. Images of the last few days flitted through his mind, and he understood only too well her reluctance to leave this magical place.
‘I’m sorry, my precious, but it has to be done. I don’t think I could bear having to leave in a hurry and abandoning this wealth of knowledge and history.’
Jade said nothing but came to him and began picking up discarded scrolls.
‘Where would you like me to put this, Master?’
Johnny laughed. ‘Just outside will do, my pretty slave!’ She gave him a haughty look and turned to walk away, yelping in outrage as he pinched her behind.
‘Run along now; no dawdling, or you won’t get any pudding,’ he warned, seeing the look on her face.
‘Hmmph! We’ll be seeing who gets pudding and who goes hungry tonight, my worshipful liege!’ she said, walking away, hips swaying suggestively.
Johnny grinned so wide it could have split his face in two. He had never known happiness this deep; this safe and warm. The unshakeable certainty that this person; this beautiful, caring, funny, warm, cuddly blonde goddess was his and his alone was a thought that raised goose bumps on his arms.
Still grinning, he set to the task he had so mercilessly imposed on Jade, and the two of them spent the rest of the afternoon carrying armloads of scrolls and other items of value up the tunnel. They deposited them on the ground just outside the temple. As Johnny had explained, it would save a lot of time as they could use the ship to transport them on-board without having to walk the extra distance each trip.
Once done, they went back into the temple to have one last look around. There was still a wealth of material artefacts inside, items too heavy or too cumbersome to carry up the long tunnel.
‘You know, my heart, my people would go mad for this stuff,’ he told Jade.
‘How do you mean?’ she asked.
‘Well, the value here is both in wealth and in history. If the wrong people discovered this place, these artefacts would disappear into the black market and never be seen again,’ he replied.
‘On the other hand, if found by the right people, they would come here and document all they found. They would ensure that every item in this place found its way into museums around the world, and it would be a priceless addition to the history of the South Americas.’
‘What are you suggesting?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know that I’m suggesting anything, truth be told,’ he replied. ‘Just thinking out loud, I suppose.’
They looked around one last time before turning to leave.
‘My lord …’ There was a twinkle in Jade’s eye that Johnny recognised only too easily.
‘Feeling smelly and dirty, Jade? Perhaps all this hard work has made you stink like a monkey and you need a bath?’
‘My lord knows me too well,’ she replied demurely.
The unmarked B-52 took off and flew into the night. She carried forty men, dressed in camouflage and armed to the teeth. Graham sat up front with the pilot and gave his instructions quietly.
‘South – over the Gulf – then south west into the jungle. Avoid Cuban airspace at all costs.’
The pilot nodded wordlessly as he eased the large aircraft up to cruising altitude. He was no stranger to black op’s operations, and understood the repercussions should enemy radar ping them and request identification. As a standard procedure, he flew with his transponder off, which meant that civilian traffic controllers could neither identify him, nor ascertain his altitude and heading. They were invisible.
Graham checked his watch. ‘Zero One Thirty. What’s our ETA?’
‘At our current speed, about four hours,’ the pilot replied. Graham grunted as he looked back out the cockpit window.
‘So we can expect drop off at about Zero Five Thirty?’ The pilot nodded.
Graham pulled a small notebook out of his flight case and consulted the charts.
‘Local sunrise at this time of year is Zero Five One Five – perfect. I want you to liaise with Mother an hour before drop. Those helicopter gunships are vital to this operation.’
An aircraft carrier was on station in the waters off the eastern coast of Brazil, and would dispatch three Apache gunships to the area the moment notification was received. Once the operation was over, the team would be extracted via the same route. Graham closed his eyes and went over the plan for the hundredth time.
Somebody shook his arm, and he opened his eyes, surprised to see the orange glow of sunrise off his left shoulder. He had fallen asleep.
‘Mother has acknowledged drop and co-ordinates. They’ll be there for us.’
‘Okay – I got it,’ he said. Standing up, he went through the cockpit door to the large loading bay that was the main body of the aircraft.
‘Drop in twenty!’ he shouted, and the men immediately jumped into action. Still checking their equipment, they queued up in line and waited in the dark belly of the aircraft for the green go light. Graham waited at the head of his men, nerves taut, and watched the large ramp open. Cold air washed over him, and he felt the pressure in his knees as the aircraft began a banked turn to the west. Anticipating the moment, he grabbed the lapel of the man at the head of the line.
‘Get ready!’ he shouted over the rush of wind and engines. The sullen red glow of the indicator light disappeared and was replaced with a bright green luminescence, and Graham gave the order.
‘Go, go, go!’
His men ran forward and disappeared one by one into the pale dawn sky. Graham took one last look around, and then followed them out into the darkness. The noise of the aircraft decreased rapidly and within seconds, Graham was in a silent world. The flutter of his canopy was the only sound in this unique world, and he savoured it for a long moment before turning his attention back to the task at hand.
He picked out the parachutes of his men scattered at various altitudes below him, and could see they were all heading for the rendezvous as planned. A small clearing in the forest showed its pale face in the weak morning light, and Graham tugged gently on his guide lines to adjust his trajectory slightly.
The seasoned troops gathered their equipment and stashed it as Graham quickly got their camp under control.
‘On me!’ he said softly, and at once his men formed a semi-circle around him.
‘Okay guys, here’s the deal. We’re not busting drug dealers, as you were told. I can’t tell you everything, but here’s what I can.
‘We have an insurgent in control of an otherworldly craft. We are here to relinquish him of his burden. Be aware: he single handedly destroyed a nuclear submarine, but that was then, and this is now.
‘We will move out as soon as the Apaches get here and can cover us. Now, this is how it’s gonna work.’ Graham issued his orders quietly and efficiently, and the moment the thump-thump of helicopters was heard overhead, his men moved out.
Johnny’s eyes snapped open. He lay on the edge of the pool at Jade’s side. They had fallen asleep in each other’s arms. He grabbed the communicator from the belt on his discarded clothing and held it up to his mouth.
‘Yes, ship. What is it?’ he asked.
‘I sense a disturbance in the forest, my lord. There is a large group of men coming this way.’
‘How long do we have?’
‘Five minutes, my lord.’
Jade had already woken up, and watched him curiously.
‘Jade, we have to get out of here.’
They jumped to their feet, gathering their clothing without bothering to get dressed, and ran as fast as they could. They entered the main tunnel and sprinted towards the daylight visible at the end. They emerged breathless and immediately sprinted through the forest towards the ship.
Jade heard a strange thumping sound overhead, and she strained her hearing as she ran.
‘Johnny. Do you hear that?’ she shouted as she ran.
‘Run my heart! Run for all you’re worth!’ he shouted back. She put her head down and ran. They came upon the ship and ran up the ramp, panting and sweating. Johnny closed the ramp, and Jade followed him as he ran up the stairs to the control centre. Johnny sat behind the controls and closed his eyes. Jade knew he only had to do this if he wanted to investigate his surroundings, or receive images from the ship.
With his eyes closed, Johnny asked the ship for an update.
‘There is a large band of men just out of view, Master. There are armed aerial vehicles patrolling the sky. They seek us, but do not know our exact location, my lord.’
“I need those scrolls,’ said Johnny. ‘They are vital to our future, do you understand?’
‘Right. Let’s do this.’ Johnny willed the craft into the sky and directed it to the temple. Invisible, but not incorporeal, the surrounding trees shook with their passing, and Johnny heard the distinct cries of the men on the ground as they noticed the disturbance. Ignoring them, Johnny halted the ship over the temple and brought the cache of scrolls and other valuables on board.
He breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Well, at least they’re safe,’ he said. Suddenly, the very air around them exploded.
‘Master, we are being fired upon,’ the ship stated.
‘No shit!’ he shouted. He urged the ship upwards and within seconds, they were above the canopy.
Three helicopter gunships circled the area, looking blindly for them. Below, he could see a detachment of ground troops converging on the temple. Johnny’s first instinct was to leave the area and be done with the whole mess, but something inside him rebelled at the thought of these people discovering the ruined temple, held so sacred by Jade’s people. He knew that, as government troops, there would be no looting, and that it was probably the best he could hope for in the circumstances. The government would ensure the safety of the relics inside, but then it occurred to him that these troops, obviously American, were not in their own country and could very well be operating beyond their jurisdiction.
He hesitated, unsure whether to attack or retreat. The decision was made for him. A guided missile blasted out of the nearest gunship and headed straight for them. He reacted instinctively. With a mere thought, he demolished the missile, and Johnny turned his attention to the gunship.
Somehow, it was able to track him, and he reacted in the only way he knew. It erupted in a blaze of blue fire, and Johnny brought the ship on course to the next helicopter, which was now turning to face them.
‘How do they see us?’ he shouted.
‘I do not know, my lord.’ Johnny didn’t bother asking any more obsolete questions. The gunship exploded, and as the fire in Johnny’s blood reached boiling point, he lost all reason.
He seized the final helicopter with an invisible power and hurled it into the ground so violently that the sheer force of the impact extinguished the flames that should have engulfed it.
He turned his attention to the troops on the ground, who were now blind without aerial support. Men ran around aimlessly, and a maniacal glee seized Johnny as he began to decimate the pathetic challenge that they had thrown at him. Like an animal that had been caged for too long, and had only now realized it was free to kill, Johnny went on the rampage.
‘Who are you to challenge me?’ he roared as he turned the green jungle into a bloodbath.
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, and the red mist gradually dissipated. He opened his eyes and looked at Jade, and the look he received unmanned him. Her eyes were sad, knowing, embarrassed and hurt.
More than that, her eyes said: I don’t know you. His breathing returned to normal, and he hung his head. Jade walked away, silent.
Johnny sat for a full ten minutes before gathering up the courage to approach her. She was downstairs, in the living quarters, and the stairs seemed to last an eternity.
The unbelievable bliss they had shared these last few days was tainted somehow. There was a feeling of innocence lost, and Johnny already mourned the passing of an age. He wanted to curl up in a ball and cry like a baby. He loved and respected Jade so much that if he could, he would rewind the tape and let himself be captured by the men he had killed, rather than face her now in his shame. Her opinion of him was, he realized, more important than anything else on Earth.
She sat in the room she had always used as her own. Prior to their arrival at the temple, Johnny and Jade had shared adjoining rooms. Since their discovery of each other, they had not spent a night on the ship, and Johnny thought for the first time that they would have begun to cohabitate now that they were intimate.
She had her face turned from his, and the sight of her glorious blonde hair sent another spasm of guilt through him.
She didn’t answer. He sat at the foot of the bed and waited. She hung her head, and Johnny longed to reach out and touch her; give her the reassurance he always knew his touch would bring, but he sensed, quite rightly, that this time it would be unwise to make the first move.
He waited. Eventually, the back of her head moved as she spoke.
He said nothing, knowing there was more.
‘Why did you kill those men in such a brutal fashion?’ Her voice was pained, and Johnny realized that, despite her killing Francesco with a shot to the head, and decimating the submarine that had captured him, Jade couldn’t understand his actions.
‘But you’ve killed before, my love,’ he replied, frowning.
Jade turned to face him. ‘I killed to save you, Johnny,’ she said quietly, pain in her eyes.
She was right – absolutely, mercilessly right. She had killed in cold blood; pitiless in her retribution, but it had been for a cause. A just cause. He had killed today for what had seemed a cause; the vague idea of saving some ancient relics from foreign hands, and he had gotten carried away. There was no excuse.
‘I’m sorry Jade,’ he said, looking down at his hands. ‘I’m sorry. I got carried away; I let the excitement of the moment get the better of me.’
‘Excitement?’ she shouted, startling him. ‘Excitement? Is that what you call it? Slaughtering innocent men on the ground that posed no threat?’ She was breathing heavily, and Johnny realized that this was the first time he had seen Jade truly angry.
‘If you are to be a god, then you have to act like a god!’ she shouted. ‘If there is one thing that my grandfather taught me is that we have a responsibility to our fellow man!’
Johnny hung his head in shame. He had been so absorbed in the moment that he hadn’t stopped to consider the implications of his actions. He had killed thoughtlessly, and it took Jade, the light of his life, to make it apparent. He was torn; there was a part of him that still relished the thought of destroying his enemies, but there was also that part of him that shared Jade’s revulsion.
‘Jade,’ he said, ‘I have apologised. I am truly, truly sorry, and if I could I would have acted differently; but what is done is done, and there is nothing either of us can do to change it.
‘We are safe, the men that threatened our lives are destroyed, and the scrolls we need are on-board. I do not excuse my behaviour, but my primary concern is to keep you safe, and if nothing else, I have at least achieved that,’ he said.
Looking into her eyes, he finished. ‘It will not happen again. I give you my word.’ Jade returned his look, staring deep into his eyes for an eternity, before giving a small nod.
‘Okay, Johnny, I believe you.’ She looked sad, and Johnny knew that she too was mourning the passing of something special.
Johnny and Jade had both just experienced the reality of adulthood, and at last understood that with the good came the bad, and that behind all wisdom lies sadness.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2013
Cover artwork: John Killin © 2013
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© 2013 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved