||High Pitched Hum
||October 1, 2006
Meet college student Saban Smith, a quiet and awkward freshman, and Margo Weissmann, an outgoing and athletic sophomore. When unexpectedly caught between two teams of covert operatives, they must trust each other with long held secrets if they hope to stay alive…
Saban And The Ancient
Whatever else might happen tonight, unruly hair would not be an option. Fax pulled every strand of her strawberry blond curls into a tight, efficient bun but decided to keep the helmet off a few minutes more. Once again, she went through her mental checklist of personal items so she could easily reach anything she might need: gum, mirror, nylon cord, truncheon, ammo—everything a girl needed for an evening out. Not surprisingly, nothing had changed in the few minutes since she had entered the transport.
The small cargo plane she and her companions occupied was almost freezing, and the roaring vibration of the engines washed over everything around them. At 13,000 feet, the interior wouldn’t have been warm on the best of days, and, as it was, winter was approaching. The faint scent of diesel completed the cruel ambiance, though it occurred to her things could be worse. They could be in one of those professional sky-diving planes with no side door.
Instead, they were in an aircraft where part of the tail would soon open like the rear gate of a pick-up truck. This plane wasn’t meant for passenger comfort, rather for moving its payload from point A to point B.
And dropping it.
That payload was six young adults, each one dressed in sky-blue fatigues designed for warmth and camouflage against the blustery heavens. Their uniforms were offset by deep-blue boots, utility belts and cloth-swathed neoKevlar helmets. Peeking out from each helmet was a set of night-vision goggles, and each person clutched a curiously-shaped firearm that looked like a cross between a paintball gun and a rifle. Except for size, the numbers emblazoned on their shoulders were the only way to tell them apart—unless the headgear wasn’t being worn, which was the case with Fax and her brother.
Fax and Franklin sat beside each other so they wouldn’t have to speak too loudly. For the millionth time, she resisted the urge to move his long and wild hair out of his eyes. Instead, she made note to address it with him later. Best not to push over small matters too soon.
“It’s going to be dusk by the time we get there,” Fax said, trying hard to sound casual.
“I hope not, I’ve only done one other night jump.”
Oh, splendid. “You’re joking, right?”
“What do you think?” he said, smiling. “The qualifying jump for Alpha team is still a night drop, with full combat load. There’s no other way I would have been allowed to join.”
“Did you repack your chute like I told you?”
“Why would I?” he replied. “I saw you packing mine when I showed up. Who’s more exacting about this stuff than you?”
“You’re not going to start with me, are you?”
“Hey, truce, remember? Yes, I repacked it. You’re not starting with me either, are you?”
A crackle of electricity broke up the all-pervasive noise from the motors, and a voice came over the loudspeaker situated in the rear of the plane. “Sixty…” it began in a voice that sounded to her ears like a slow, slow baritone.
“I’m glad we get to wear these new armored outfits,” Franklin said, tapping the plate beneath the “A19” patch on his uniform’s shoulder. “But they chafe the heck out of me.”
“Better than being chafed by some random projectile.” Fax had a similar patch, an “A47,” on her own shoulder. “They’d like to think we’re going to be in and out without a problem, but I have a feeling there’s going to be trouble.” Others thought her cynical, but Fax considered herself to be a realist.
“It’s a shame you’re such a pessimist,” Franklin said, as if reading her mind.
He could not, but they were twins. Even when they disagreed, which was more often than she liked, they always seemed to know what the other was thinking.
“What’s a shame is that Demo can’t wear the body armor,” Fax observed with a nod toward the largest by far of the six passengers. “He’s too heavy to jump with it. Even without it, he’s almost too heavy. You’re clear on what we have to do?”
“Hit the ground about eighteen-forty hours, local time. Head to the security shack, eliminate any opposition,” Franklin recited with exaggerated boredom. “Then you and I do a sweep of the campus perimeter, take out any stragglers and meet at the target for further orders from Demo—or our mysterious ‘Alpha T-com,’ whoever he or she is.” Franklin waved his hand and switched topics abruptly. “Okay, why do you think the identity of our Alpha T-Com is pass-coded?”
“So whatever agent is embedded won’t blow his or her cover unless they have to. I’ve narrowed it to a handful of people, but we both know who it probably is.”
“Do you think any of these guys know who it is?”
Fax shrugged. “I’m sure I have no idea.”
“What? The all-knowing Fax has no idea!” he said. “You do know the rest of our team, don’t you? I read their dossiers, but I was counting on you for introductions.”
“…minutes…” came from the loudspeaker in the same deep, molasses-like pitch.
“Of course I know them. Demo and I have worked together for months, and you should remember Spar from our days in training.” Spar, a petite Asian girl with close-cropped hair, was snuggled like a kitten next to Demo. “The others are—”
“I was kidding. I know all their names, and I remember Spar from training, years ago.”
“She and Demo…” Fax said, “they’re like us, you know.”
“Siblings, stupid. And Talents.”
“I know. I was kidding. I told you I read up.”
“I hate these codenames.”
“I know. You didn’t have to be ‘Fax.’ You could have been—”
“Don’t you say it.” Fax was nervous despite trying not to be and fought down the persistent urge to repack her ammo cartridges and a dozen other little things that might not be perfect. How can he be so calm? Sitting still was killing her. “Spar has a great reputation,” she said, immediately irritated with herself for nervous talking.
“Just what I like—a girl with a reputation.”
“Stop that,” she said. His smug expression irritated her further. “You promised you’d get serious if Demo allowed you on the team. Why did you want to be a field agent, anyway?”
“…until…” continued the loudspeaker.
“I’ll be good, Sis,” Franklin said with a smoothness that inspired no confidence. “I was just tired of being a bean counter.” He paused, then said in a serious tone, “No, that’s not it. I just…I didn’t want you to be by yourself if anything…if you ran into…you know. Saban. This could be a long mission—”
“Oh, please.” She cut him off. “I don’t need a babysitter, because I am quite over all of that. It’s ancient history. No pun intended,” she added.
“None heard. But I’m not trying to be your babysitter. I’m trying to be your brother,” he said with surprising intensity. “I’ve missed you, and I want to be there for you.”
Maybe he’s growing up, after all. It was about time. They were almost twenty-one. She put her hand on top of his and gave it a little squeeze, sighing wearily.
Sometimes she wondered if she would always have to keep an eye on him. It was sweet he wanted to reciprocate, but really, it meant more work for her. He could barely care for himself. How could he look out for her?
No. She resolved to make this work. He passed all his tests and earned his spot on the team. They had finally reconciled. And since he wanted them to be closer, she would make it happen. She would watch over him. And woe be unto anyone who gave him trouble. Except for her, of course.
“What will we do, if…if…you know?”
“We’ll do what we’re paid to do,” she said, more coldly than she intended. “Dead friendships are not a factor. It’s ‘mission first’—first, last and always.”
“Right,” Franklin said. “No, you’re not tightly coiled at all.”
“You said you weren’t starting with me.”
“…drop,” the loudspeaker finished.
Fax forced herself to decelerate as much as she could and glanced up at the loudspeaker, marveling at how she and her brother could have a complete conversation in seconds. And the fact that they were getting faster made her uneasy in a way few things could. What are our limits? Where will this end? Franklin seemed to be in love with every aspect of their new life.
She was not. Their organization, the Ancient, was highly structured—wonderful. Each field agent was required to take a codename—irksome, but tolerable. Their talents, however, were not exciting, or even comforting. To Fax, they were bizarre and frightening. In her eyes, coloring inside the lines was a perpetual goal, and their talents put them forever outside the box. Couldn’t he see that?
“I wasn’t trying to start…” Franklin said, then stopped himself, sighed and leaned his head back. “Forget it. Wake me in an hour.”
Fax knew her brother would not go to sleep. She closed her eyes as well but kept her hand on top of his.
Sometimes the enemy of your enemy...is still your enemy...
by erin thursby
Local author Danté Amodeo recently sent his first novel over to EU, an action/adventure/espionage tale called Saban and the Ancient. Although aimed at a young teen audience, the book is complex enough for adults to enjoy. It’s won 1st place for the category of Action/Adventure by POW, a national organization called Promoting Outstanding Writers.
The hero of the book is the unassuming Saban, who gets caught up with an ultra-secret spy organization called “The Ancient.” Elements reminiscent of comic book heroes, a splattering of the paranormal, the spy genre and relationship complications, all merge to form a cleanly told story that is to be the first in a series. The book is rapidly gaining popularity, showing up on book shop shelves across Jacksonville. EU recently caught up with Danté Amodeo to ask questions about the series.
EU: What inspired you to write for this age range?
The “age range” is always a tricky question, because it LOOKS like a young adult book, but it’s not just that. I actually wrote the book to be escapism for adults, but back when I worked for Daniel Memorial as a child care worker, I could never find enough books about young adults that were pushing themselves to be the best they could be. So the book is ABOUT young adults, and it’s clean enough for young adults...but there are a lot of parts that only adults will appreciate.
EU: When will the next book be out? Can you give us a sneak peek into the plot?
I’m shooting for June 2007…As to the second book, there is definitely a mole on the team. Saban cannot fully trust his friends, and he’s not too sure about his boss, either. Meanwhile, the crystals DO come together, in Italy of all places, and when the big evil is released, we will have to see if the supernatural can be trumped by science or superior firepower. Perhaps both...perhaps neither.
EU: How have your many jobs prepared you for writing?
All of them, as far as being able to think quickly. In my younger, slightly unethical days, I bluffed my way into maybe half of my jobs, under the pretense of being “rusty.” By the time I shook of the supposed rust, I had learned how to do the job - kind of like a small-scale “Pretender”, except without the chiseled good looks, or good looks of any type, really. And no felonies committed.
EU: Are you planning on killing off any characters in the next book?
One character is in a bad situation, I’m trying to figure out a way for them to survive, but I’m not sure they logically can. I’m big into “Deus” but not so much the “ex machina.” Like real life, the mortality rate is still 100% no matter what, and the only factors are when, how, and the class with which you pass. So some people will not make it out of the series alive, I can assure you.
EU: What kind of research did you do to get the spy lingo down?
Well, I am prior military intelligence, but most of what I did was over twenty years ago. So I cheated a bit. See, John has been “off-grid” for twenty years or so, and Alpha learned what they know from him. So they all use the terminology he would use, which (not coincidentally) is the lingo with which I am familiar. Younger spooks would call it “old-school”, I’m sure, but you know, “no school like the old school!”
EU: What’s your favorite spy novel?
Oddly, I don’t read spy novels. Most real intelligence work is surprisingly relational and relatively gadget-free. I did wear out my copy of The Puzzle Palace. And I thought the Bourne movies were cute and engaging.
EU: What are you currently reading?
Hah! You might laugh: I like relational stuff. I just finished Boundaries by Drs. Townsend and McCloud. It’s an incredible book on embracing responsibility and learning when to say “no” to people who encroach on your time and space. And I’m about to start Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, a fantastic book about the dynamics of man/woman relationships. Don’t be surprised if you see some concepts reflected in the relationships of the series. And I’ll read a few others soon, and then I won’t read for a while. But when I read, I read quickly. When the fifth Harry Potter came out, I borrowed it from a friend and read it in a day. I would rather learn than be entertained. Hopefully my books will do both -philosophical discussions while dodging bullets. And the action is the vehicle for the relationships, not the other way around.
EU: If Saban were a chess piece, what piece would he be and why?
He would say a bishop or maybe a rook, but he’s beginning to understand that those pieces are just “talented” pawns. Even as nice as Saban is, he has no desire to be anyone’s pawn - much to the surprise of those who try to play him. And when he has had enough...well, I would leave the room. It won’t be pretty.
This book arrived just as I was headed out the door for a business trip. I ripped open the envelope and looked at the cover, "Oh good," I thought. "A fun book to read while waiting at the airport." For three hours in the crowded waiting area of the F-Terminal at O’Hare, babies crying, drunken college kids goofing off, and cranky businessmen taking their frustrations out on airline staffers, not only I was somewhere else but I was the only cheerful person in the room.
Most of the communication between the characters is a scream. The characters talk like I talk to my friends; a combination of intelligent and juvenile babble that is different for each person and reflects your individual connection to that person. Erethay asway ethay inelay inyay igpay atinlay along with references to television shows and classical literature next to words like syzygy that most of us will have to look up and wasn’t in my spell-checker.
There was also the irony of reading this book at the airport on a suck-tastic business trip. (That’s a new word for me, i.e. "suck-tastic", which I took to mean fantastic, or surreal, but not in the happy way.) It opens with six people getting ready to make a parachute jump, and my seat cushion can be used as a flotation device over Lake Michigan. The story primarily takes place in the artificial social environment of a college campus, a parallel to the artificial social scene at Terminal F. Nietzsche and the "might makes right" discussion fit well with TSA and Homeland Security entanglements. Why is Saban there? His boss says so.
You don’t need me to tell you about the plot; since you are reading this on your computer you can follow the Amazon link to see that. You want to hear from me why I liked this book enough to have loaned my copy out and bought three for friends on the day after I read it. It is absorbing. It is distracting. It is relevant and above all it is clever. I recommend it to those who love mysteries, not because it has a mystery embedded in it, but because it engages the mind.
I’m sorry I have to wait until June for the second one. Not.
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