I am terrible at grammar and have no beta. Be gentle.
He had always heard that the desert was all dry heat. But he was soaking in his clothes, droplets were threading through his eyebrows and behind his ears. The gear was pretty light, lighter than the shit the army guys wore but still. It chafed at the insides of his arms and his pants stuck and clung. If he adjusted himself one more time, he was going to have to just finish the job.
This wasn't the idea he'd had in his head when he'd been picked up as a contractor. 'Protect people', they said, 'build schools in the third world' they said. So far the missions had been a lot of posturing with big guns and hanging out in air conditioned rooms playing with technology that he could have sworn had Bruce Wayne's finger prints on them. The other guys, cut ex-military men, were enjoying themselves, sharing scar stories. But John Blake didn't have many visible scars and none of the fighting he'd done had been in a uniform. Right out of the academy they had picked him up for his high scores and endurance tests. Also luck, his superior was chewing him out calling him 'hot head'. Then a bald man with glasses had approached in the aftermath, grinning. " want a job, Hot head."
But now he was just playing security, watching the area a well would go into. When the big wigs eventually siphoned the money from somewhere. He honestly wasn't doing a great job guarding the area. There were no tools to watch, nothing of real importance. In fact, he'd completely overreacted when some little kids started pilfering rocks from under the flapping tape. These kids were going to need to watch some serious Sesame Street to get back a good opinion of Americans. You know, after one of them chased after them with a giant unwieldy gun. Since then he had been wandering in larger and larger circles, walking a little ways up the dunes before letting himself trot back down. He ran, the next time around cresting the hill finally and officially leaving his post. A little ways away the sand hardened into rough clay and dirt and the lip of a well was silhouetted against the afternoon sun.
Well why the hell were they making a well right here. When there was one right over there? John stamped over to it, losing his traction over the rocks and thirsty earth. The low stone wall, he noticed, was worn with age, almost smoothed. He peeked over the side. Below he did see sloshing water but it was far away and pooled in the center of stone floor. And there were men down there, wrapped in dirty fabric. Earth tone shapes moving below on the staircase where they were disentangling a limp body from a rope noose.
A hanging. A prison in the earth.
He jerked back before they could see him and turned around sharply.
The children scattered.
" wait, hey I'm sorry!" John cried and he held up his hands supplicating when they started to stop and peer back like rabbits. " Do you speak any English?"
They all looked at one another but one of the smaller boys thrust out his chest and approached, followed closely by his compatriots. They looked like a little flock of sheep with curious black eyes.
" Small" said the boy and made pinching fingers.
" Good, good that's great. What is this?" They all stared at him. John forced himself to slow down.
"This?" he asked and pointed at the hole.
It was a long conversation with a great deal of hand motions and complete confusion but john managed to eek out the words 'warlord' and 'prison'.
He thanked the boys and gave them the coins from his pocket. One boy threw his in the hole and then looked to the others to get the joke. He got a wallop on the head for his trouble. John waved goodbye and then peered back over the edge.
They couldn't seem to see him. The set up was bizarre. Was it that you had to be strong enough to climb up and out? Was it a trick? Was it to drown them all when the rains came? He was scouring over the ground when he noticed that one of the men was sitting beside a partition, pressing up against it.
He was looking straight up at him.
And even from this far away, John could feel the heat of his eyes. And see the rust colored stains all over his clothes.
The practical part of his brain screamed ' serial killer'
The part that rescued kids said ' victim'.
He went to call it in.
"What do you think you're doing?"
John spun around, sliding in soaked socks. His 'commander' Terrence was standing behind him, although the military protocol was more relaxed in contracting. The hope being that you could motivate yourself.
" You had one job, Blake. One. You just cost me money. Now I have to buy rick all the beers. All of them. Fucking stupid of me." His dark features were pulled in annoyance. John wondered how many other bets he'd lost him.
" I'm sorry, I was following these suspicious kids"
"John. Don't blame the kids. Especially when they just ran by carrying your money openly."
" Howd you know it was mine."
" You dumbass, are the only one who didn't convert all your money. I love the US of A but I don't carry her worthless metal all over. Only you do that shit."
"Did you know about this?" asked John more softly. Terrence looked disinterested over his shoulder.
" So these people have a lot of wells. They also got no water sources. Let them have some excess, Nickels."
" No. its. The kids say it's a prison."
Terrence's face hardened suddenly.
" Then we should get out of here right now."
" There's a guy down there who's hurt pretty bad."
" John" snapped Terrence. " You aren't fucking superman. We are in a strange country far from home and we do not just snap up people's prisoners. You knew getting into this you were going to see some war crimes worthy shit. Grow up, man."
John felt his throat tighten. He wanted to be home. He wanted to be in Gotham, doing good. He wasn't helping anyone here. And the man had looked at him with those despairing eyes.
Green eyes with pale lashes. John got an idea.
" I think he's from Europe."
" what do I care where they get their crazies?" Terrence barked and started hunting through his pack for a canteen. One John knew would be full of orange juice. Terrence, for a giant imposing black man with a fierce underbite and a mean cursing streak, was a pretty big germaphobe. He was always filthy but it was 'natural', he was afraid to get sick. John could use that.
" Didn't we run into an English contract that was missing a man. A thick guy. What if he was injured, found here and then rather than deal with the 'who dun it' they just chucked him in?"
Terrence looked at him squarely and stopped squirreling.
John tried to hold a solid expression. " what if you or me got thrown in there, wounded with all that disease. We don't even know what theyre doing to him down there. A contractor, one of ours. Worse case scenario we just put him back in the hole if he isn't ours."
Terrence jutted his mouth out like a bulldog. " Lemme make a call" Terrence said and wandered a ways away. John had remembered the lost English men. He also knew he was dead and the contract had cleaned out of the desert. But scuttlebutt was fierce. Someone would remember the story and pass it on, since the actual finding had been so private.
Terrence came back, eyes narrowed. " Alright. So somebody's missing an English. Show me him." John pointed tentatively down, someone below saw the movement because a buzz of human voices started up from below. Echoing. The man didn't look up again but the sliver of his forehead was relatively pale. This could work.
" So how do you want to do this?" asked John, excited. " Do we repel?"
" Shit. We don't have that shit." Terrence said economically. " I called the guys. We'll lower you, King Friday, into the hole and we'll lift you back up again."
" King Friday" asked John.
" Mr. Rogers. You make moral proclamations all the time. You never seen Mr. rogers?"
" No." John laughed, masking that old anger. He hadn't had a frivolous childhood.
Turned out the guys who came were French and were cracking jokes about the enlighs before John even got the cable around his waist. By the twelfth dirty joke, John was glad for the woosh of adrenaline in his ears so he couldn't hear them. They started to lower him down. He hated heights but he was also one of those strange angry people who did things he hated, to fuck himself over. Prisoners were coming closer, like maggots out of flesh. John gagged at the smell and brandished his weapon, setting off a warning round into the far stone wall. They fell away, back into the dark.
His feet hit the top of the stairs. The man was across the water in that lower area.
" You" he theatre whispered. The man didn't move.
" Hey!" he hissed. The man rolled his head to look at him. He looked at John blankly, like he couldn't decide what emotion to muster up. " can you walk?"
The man looked at him for a moment. 'Maybe he doesn't know English,' John thought and wracked his mind for some Arabic. He couldn't remember.
" I'm here for you." John said. The man stared. " I'm here to save you." Still nothing. The men around the edge were jawing loudly. The man's eyes darted to the darkness.
" I'll protect you" John stage whispered. The man's eyes caught in something like awareness. Then he shuddered in some terrible suffering and rose.
The man lurched unsteadily to his feet and shuffled, slowly towards the stairs. The men were starting to approach. John let lose another round. They kept coming when they realized he wasn't hitting them. The man was halfway up the stairs.
" Faster, you have to go faster!"
The men were coming, he could see their beady eyes in between folds of cloth. He could smell them. The man, who was huge how was he going to carry him, was finally close enough.
" Hold on" John said. The man kind of slumped into him and the crowd surged. The rope went taut and they started to rise but the man was so heavy and John's ribs were compressing with the weight of just his upper arms. The man cried out in pain so John grabbed him up. And dropped the gun. The man kicked one insurgent in the head with a heavy foot but a pain like a nothing he'd ever felt before sank into his thigh. Above the crew were yelling, they pulled faster. The hands clutching them let go. John focused on holding on, baring his teeth through the pain. Friendly hands clutched them over the wall. With his back on hot ground, his arms were suddenly empty.
"He's bleeding out!" Terrence yelled. He couldn't focus on them touching him, hurting him because the man was running out of sight, hazing into the heat. John's eyes rolled and a nauseating darkness rolled over him.