Origins: The Men of MER
By Kristine Cayne
Marine Engagement and Reconnaissance (MER) Command
Naval Air Station Whidbey Island
Excitement hastening his steps, Petty Officer Second Class Wyatt Black sped through the hallways of MER Command. When he reached the office he shared with his teammates, he whooped. “Fucking A! I beat the record.”
His best friend, Mason “Angel” DiAngelo, grinned and jumped to his feet to high-five him. “Exactly what record are you talking about? It can’t be the one for most chicks beating down your door because you know I’ve got that one.” Mason turned to the other men in the room. “None of you horror shows will ever beat it.”
“Screw you, Mace. I beat Wingman in the breath-retention test.”
A smile spread across Mason’s face and he clapped Wyatt on the back. “That’s the best damn news I’ve heard in months.”
The other men joined in with their congratulations.
“So what time did you get?” Mason asked, cutting through the noise.
“Thirty minutes and nine seconds.”
“Shit, Wyatt. That’s four minutes and forty-two seconds longer than anyone in MK X, ever.”
Wyatt bounced on the balls of his feet. “And the best part? It was a full swim test, no suspension.” The words were barely out of his mouth before the sudden quiet in the room hit him like a twenty-foot wave. Wyatt scowled at his friends. “What’s wrong with you guys? Wingman needed to be taken down a notch.”
With a hand on his arm, Mason pulled him away from the others. In a low voice, he asked, “What did you do, man? We agreed, no more.”
Wyatt yanked his arm away. “Who are you, my father?”
“No. I’m your friend. Or at least I thought I was.”
“What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I don’t know what the hell’s happening to you. Most of the time, you seem more animal than man.”
Blood pounded through Wyatt’s veins, delivering a heavy dose of adrenaline to his entire system. He laughed, the sound more like a bark. “You’re jealous. You’re fucking jealous because you’re too much of a coward to be the best MERman that you can be. Well, I’m not. I’ll take whatever enhancements the docs think I can handle.”
Mason’s face turned an ugly shade of red, and his fists clenched. Even though Wyatt could hold his own against his friend, he took a step back. Mason followed, bumping his chest into Wyatt’s. “Who you calling a coward? The difference between me and you is that I’ve got nothing to prove.”
As spittle sprayed his face, Wyatt lost it and charged at his friend. They fell to the floor in a rolling mass of arms and legs. Mason shot his fist at Wyatt’s chin and he returned the favor with a knee to the groin. “Take that, motherfucker!” Wyatt yelled.
“What in God’s name is going on here?” The low controlled voice of Lieutenant Hunter Hadley, the man in charge of MK X, cut through the shouting. Wyatt froze. “On your feet, both of you. Now.”
He jumped to stand at attention. “Aye, aye, sir.” Beside him, Mason did the same.
“Petty Officer DiAngelo, stay here,” the lieutenant said, then pointed at Wyatt, his mouth tight. “You, my office.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Wyatt snapped a salute and marched out of the team office. Tension stiffened his posture as he waited outside the lieutenant’s door for him to arrive. What the hell had he done? If he got thrown into the brig, he’d have to go God knew how many months before he got the chance to see her again. The lovely Dr. Claire Montgomery, the woman he couldn’t stop thinking about. He glanced at his watch. As it was, he was already pretty short on time. It would take him a good two hours to get down to the Seattle Aquarium, assuming he didn’t have to wait long for a ferry.
At the sound of clomping boots on the linoleum, he straightened his shoulders even more. If he was going down, he’d go down like a man. Lieutenant Hadley stepped past him, opened his door, and walked inside. A drop of sweat slid between Wyatt’s shoulder blades as he waited for his next instruction. Hadley set his hat on the desk, then pointed to a spot two feet in front of himself. “Enter.”
Swallowing the river of saliva in his mouth, Wyatt walked to the spot, his movements stiff, parade-like. Hadley shoved his face in Wyatt’s. “You will not participate in any more experiments without my express approval, Petty Officer Black.” His face darkened even more and he finished on a shout. “Is that understood?”
Wyatt stared into Lieutenant Hadley’s narrowed eyes. “But the Lieutenant Commander—”
“Will need to go through me.”
A vein in Wyatt’s forehead began to pulse. It was only his years in the military that gave him the control to keep from slamming his chest into his commanding officer’s and shouting back—an action that would see him thrown in the brig for insubordination. What was wrong with him? This type of posturing was nothing new, and he’d never reacted to it before.
“Wyatt,” Hadley said.
The weariness in that one word deflated Wyatt’s anger.
“I’m doing this for your own good.” Hadley raked a hand over his cheek, the rasp of his stubble echoing in the spartan office. “You’ve had more injections than anyone else on the team, in a lot less time. The truth is, we don’t know all the repercussions yet.”
Wyatt continued to stare straight ahead. “Permission to speak freely, sir.”
“Granted.” Hadley pointed to a hardback chair and rounded his desk to take his own seat. “You’re a valuable part of MK X, Wyatt. It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes scientists can lose sight of the subject as they strive to reach their goals.”
“Thank you, sir.” Wyatt sat and cleared his throat, struggling to put his frustration into words. “I just don’t understand what the problem is. I’ve never felt better. I’m stronger, faster, and I can hold my breath longer than anyone else.”
Hadley drummed the edge of his desk. “And you think Petty Officer DiAngelo is jealous because of that? You really think that’s why he’s upset?”
“Yes.” Wyatt paused, then shook his head. He and Mason had been friends before joining MK X, when Mason had been a SEAL and Wyatt had been in EOD, Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Mason had always been a big supporter of his teammates, the first to congratulate anyone when they achieved a goal. “No. That’s not his style. He’s a good guy.”
“I agree. So what started the fight?”
You seem more animal than man. God. Maybe Mason was right. He had changed.