Mask on, I stand casually, as if unaffected. My overheated back pressed against the cool concrete wall of the military lab where all of this chaos began, watching my fellow SEALS lose their shit. Nothing has been ok since the day Wil, Kyle and I allowed these people to fuck with what God intended us to be.
I blame the Navy Special Ops for seeing us as nothing more than property. I blame Marcus, the brilliantly insane scientist that dreamed this shit up and I blame Wil, our Lead Petty Officer. Kyle would have never agreed to this if Wil, one our best friends at the time, hadn’t been so damn gung-ho about it all. Wil’s ego was practically salivating at the chance to be the biggest and strongest anywhere, and Kyle followed him in like a fucking puppy.
I’d tried to talk Kyle out of it, tried to explain the risks… how life altering this would be and when that didn’t work, I even tried to just get him to wait. To let Wil go first and then we would follow soon after, when Marcus was able to work out some of the bugs, but Kyle wouldn’t have it. He’d said that he was meant for this shit and he chose to become the shark because he thought that it would make him more valuable. Marcus had informed him that the others would most likely all be land animals. Kyle liked the idea of being needed… special. He always seemed to be trying to live up to someone or something beyond my comprehension.
When I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to talk Kyle out of going through with the transformation, I joined in. I couldn’t leave him to go through it alone and I knew that Wil wouldn’t watch over Kyle the way that Kyle needed. The only way that I’d be able to help him would be to be right there with him.
It’s not that Wil wasn’t a great leader; he was, always has been, but he’s never known and understood Kyle the way that I do. He doesn’t see how broken Kyle is and always has been. As much as I might like to, I can’t completely blame Wil for that. Kyle never shared things with him the way that he did me and he was good at putting on a front. On the outside Kyle was just a fun, strong and carefree guy. That’s the Kyle that Wil knew.
I tried to warn Wil. Tried to get him to leave Kyle out of this first one, but he laughed at me as if my warning was some sort of joke. He told me that if I was afraid, I could sit it out. That there was no shame in turning Marcus’ offer down. Like I was some sort of pussy.
After our transformation, learning that Kyle had broken out of his cage and escaped into the ocean, I was furious with Wil and Marcus. And then, the fact that the team… my team, and Special Ops didn’t spend every waking moment looking for him infuriated me. Kyle had needed us and we’d let him down.
Then, almost two years later, finding him in that laboratory tank… He’d spent God knows how long in shark form, being starved and experimented on until he was close to death! And the team calls themselves a brotherhood. What a fucking joke!
All of that made this moment even more difficult. Standing here, pretending to be indifferent while the team tears apart what’s left of the lab looking for clues as to where the girls may have been taken. Where Marcus and, once again, Kyle had been taken. I could only imagine what they were feeling right now and part of me, maybe the weaker part, felt really awful for them. The other half knew karma was in fact a real bitch and just wanted to get my friend back.
My bonded teammates were fighting to remain in control of their enraged beasts. Their eyes glowing brightly. Wil’s mouth now too full of pointed teeth to close completely, his bear apparently fighting for dominance. Bodhi’s arms were holding too much hair to be human, even if they hadn’t grown longer, his hands now seemed large enough to easily palm, if not completely engulf my head. I knew from experience that his gorilla form was massive.
Wil had been engineered as our alpha. Marcus had somehow programed our beasts to obey him without question, but it was unnatural. It didn’t follow the laws of nature in any way, shape or form. In nature, the alpha fought for his position, for dominance. He was the biggest, strongest, the most aggressive. Wil was none of those. At least not any more.
Wil’s bear was the strongest of us three original melds. He could over power me… if the bastard could catch me. A jaguar isn’t exactly a slow animal. I took pride in knowing that I at least had that one thing on him. I also believed that he could overpower Kyle. Kyle had his advantages, but for the most part, he was limited in his shark form.
Bodhi and Nico were melded next. Nico’s wolf isn’t anything special, or at least any more so than the rest of us. He’s large for a wolf with massive paws and long black fur. He’s stronger and faster than any human, but still no match for Wil. That’s where Wil’s dominance ended. Bodhi broke the mold. The guy was big before his transformation. Under six foot, but ripped with impressive hulking muscle. The meld only emphasized that build. His gorilla form was quite a sight, standing at what appeared to be around 10 feet tall and at least half as wide, if not more. Bodhi towered over Wil, but still cowered to his command.
Whatever Marcus had done to Wil, had been done well. I’m sure that it didn’t hurt that Bodhi seemed to have a huge amount of respect for Wil. I couldn’t image Bodhi ever challenging Wil for much of anything... except maybe something that wasn’t in his mate, Jayden’s, best interest. The bonded males were incredibly protective of their females. Whipped was a more accurate word though still a massive understatement.
Shaffer, our newest beastly addition, had the ability to take on parts of many animals. He’d been melded with some of all of the DNA that Marcus had used in the past. Marcus had said that he’d wanted to use only their strengths. Shaffer, who wasn’t a member of our SEAL team, but was a retired Para Rescue Jumper or PJ, was part bear, jaguar, shark, wolf, gorilla and vampire bat. He was also bonded with Nikita, one of the missing girls. Currently, his barely contained rage had caused him to grow. His now 10 or 11 foot frame, slouched as he shoved equipment aside, looking for anything that may give some hint as to where the girls, Marcus and Kyle had been taken.
The rest of the team, Jayce, Carter aka Ace, Jake the “Kid”, and Sketch, all still human, were doing their best to help while trying not to get in the way of their large, scary looking teammates that were quite obviously ready to snap.
Jayce’s wife was missing as well and though he was visibly upset, he was handling it better than the others.
We’d come back to the lab as soon as the mated men had felt their bond disappear and found the women, Marcus and Kyle gone, but they had left us a present. Faith’s 38 Special. A gift given to her by Bodhi and Nico back before she and Wil had gotten together. She’d gotten a couple of shots off before whatever drug they’d given her took effect, because we also had ourselves a dead half-breed, but that wasn’t the worst of it. At least not for Bodhi.
The kidnappers had been kind enough to leave a note. A single white sheet of paper, scribbled on with permanent black marker that read:
She’s better off with me anyway.
Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of her. I promise.
That’s how we knew who’d been in our lab. It made sense. Not many people knew this place existed beyond my team, a few other military personnel and our women, but we’d brought Zane, Shaffer and Cruz, all members of Jayden’s band, down here for protection.
Zane had turned on them, killing Cruz, pumping Shaffer with a few slugs that led to his transformation and giving Jayden a concussion. He’d been in love with Jayden and, per Shaffer, had told her that things could have been different if only she’d have gone with him.
My eyes jumped to Bodhi who’d flung a large piece of something metal across the room at the far wall before slamming his massive fists into the concrete floor on either side of him. A low growl rolled deep in his chest as he slowly turned his head, his eyes meeting mine.
Wil followed Bodhi’s line of site, looking murderous. Well, shit! I did my best to keep my breathing even and my eyes from changing. The last thing that I wanted was to provoke these guys right now. Bodhi and I had been a few rounds before. Our beasts having it out over his now mate, Jayden. I’d slept with her… no, I’d fucked her in the storage room at the bar before they’d gotten together and he hadn’t been too happy when he found out about it. I might have goaded him a little. I enjoyed toying with him. Jayden had been a good lay and even more fun to chase. Bodhi wanting her was a bonus, adding another level to my game of cat and mouse. Excuse the pun.
“Why the fuck are you so smug? You think this shit is funny? Some sort of…”
Bodhi didn’t get to finish, his best friend and roommate, Nico stepped in. Nico was the only other melded team member, besides myself, that hadn’t bonded with a female. “Whoa, Bam!” Bam Bam had been Bodhi’s nickname since before I’d met him. “Take it easy, Bro.” Nico instructed as he lay a hand on Bodhi’s arm.
My team was fairly tight, as most SEAL team are. They hung out almost daily. Before our meld, I had been one of them, but I’d been so angry after we lost Kyle that I’d pulled away. I didn’t hate my team, I’d just lost respect for them. I felt like by letting Kyle down, they’d let me down. We trained together, learned to work as a unit… a team… brothers in battle, but if we couldn’t count on each other, well then everything else was just bullshit.
Nico was now standing between me and three very angry looking half beasts. Shaffer had joined Wil and Bodhi. They appeared to need somewhere to direct their beast’s energy.
Well fuck it! I could do that. I pushed off the wall throwing my head back, a growl climbing up and out of my throat as I shifted form. My claws were the most deadly weapon that I had at my disposal and they clicked against the concrete floor as I came down onto all fours behind Nico who slowly turned, looking up at me, appearing to judge my intent.
I bared large white fangs as I growled again, tipping my nose down to stare into Nico’s much smaller, still human eyes. He raised his hands slowly and stepped aside, clearing the distance between me and the other guys. “It’s your funeral, man.”
I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that I had any sort of a chance with these three. Any one of them could most likely take me on their own, but they needed this and shit… maybe I did too.
I took one small challenging step forward, resigning myself to the fact that I was in for a serious ass whooping. I was a lot of things, but a coward wasn’t one of them.
Wil surprised me a little by being the first to accept my challenge and fully shift. Bodhi followed a half a second later, which didn’t surprise me one bit. Bodhi was bold and had never given me any reason to question his feelings about me. Wil on the other hand, was the reserved, well thought out, responsible one. He was our LPO for a reason. He must have been holding more back over the last year than he’d let on.
I took one, very large bear paw complete with claws, across the face before a shout stopped it all. Our chief, Tom, who was also alpha stepped into the room. “Enough!”
My beast obeyed immediately, but I was unsure if Wil’s would. The two alphas were often at odds, but Wil must have been fighting with his own conscience because he didn’t hesitate. He stepped back and turned away, quickly beginning to shift back.
Bodhi still stood, towering over me, breathing out in large gusts. He wanted me… badly, but his alpha, or one of them, had commanded him and he was helpless against it. I would have smiled at him… thought about it actually, except that my eyes had wondered to the even larger threat beside him.
I had to actually take a couple of steps back so that I was able to look up at Shaffer’s enormous form. His body dwarfed the room. He looked hulk-ish, aside from the whole green thing. I’d always thought Bodhi was the biggest SOB around, but that was no longer true… not by a long shot.
Shaffer was still pretty new to our group and newly changed. He’d been melded on Wil’s order to save his life and we’d only really seen him in action a couple of times. He was Marcus’ “Hybrid”. A new experiment and we really didn’t know what he was capable of, which meant I had no idea if he was ruled by an alpha like we were.
I slowly backed up to the wall, changing form as I went. I began changing because I didn’t want him to see me as a threat, but I didn’t change completely in case he did attack and I needed to protect myself. I’d need my claws and teeth.
I wiped an arm across my now human face, smearing blood on the sleeve of my tee. Luckily, Wil had pulled back or the cuts would have been a lot more than the scratches I was wearing now.
We were still human, but not completely. The animal side of us was just that; animal. Primal. I was showing him submission. He was an Alpha in the truest form. Not the man-made kind like Wil or the Chief. Shaffer was superior to me and everyone in the room by sheer size and strength, and he was a leader by nature. The last thing that I wanted was another damn alpha, but in this moment, that’s exactly what I had.
Shaffer stepped closer, growling softly and I wasn’t sure if he was going to attack or just exercising his dominance when the chief spoke, “Wil! Damn it! Control your man before we put him down!”
Wil stepped forward speaking carefully to Shaffer, but his words were lost to me. I’d risked a quick glance at the chief after hearing his threat. The “we” that he’d spoken of was SOCOM, Special Operations Command or Special Ops, and a few of their grunts who currently had their rifles all trained on Shaffer and my team. It dawned on me then that when he’d said “put him down” he’d meant it in the most literal way.
I was shocked and angered by this. It dawned on me that if they were so willing to end him, they may view the rest of us as equally expendable. I may be mad at my team and disappointed in them, but they weren’t disposable and neither was Shaffer.
I briefly considered taking out the gunman closest to me while suppressing a growl. I knew my eyes were beginning to glow again because I could see the white-blue light filtering out into the room. My team noticed it too because the attention in the room shifted from me and Shaffer to the threat in the doorway. Shaffer growled an angry warning, obviously as unhappy about the situation as I was. The major difference between us right now was that he wasn’t in complete control. His beast currently had a large hand in running this show.
I heard the command from one of the SOCOM cowards and whatever doubt I might have had about them actually going through with the kill was squashed. Without thinking it through, I stepped out in front of Shaffer, facing the new threat. The urge to growl was almost overwhelming, but I overcame it, knowing that these men needed to be reminded that we were still human. Still their brothers-in-arms.
I looked at each of the three SOCOM men, I’d never known their name and never much cared to. “Don’t do this. He’s a good man… a drummer and a veteran. He served his term as a Para Rescue Jumper, saving and aiding SEAL teams. He’s our brother.”
I wasn’t sure what else to say or even if there was anything else to be said, but I didn’t need to fumble long because both Wil and Bodhi moved up beside me and I heard the rest of the team step up too. I squared my shoulders, standing tall and proud. These fuckers weren’t getting to Shaffer… or any of us. We may have our issues, but we were a team when things got down and dirty. I guess brotherhood was a correct term after all. Now that I thought about it, we were very similar to siblings. We could yell and fight and be pissed off, but when somebody threatened one of us, it was on… for all of us.
For the first time in over a year, I felt a small sense of belonging. Like I was a part of something real again. It was stupid. They weren’t doing this for me and I knew it. They were protecting Shaffer, but it still felt good. Feelings are seldom rational.
The Chief held up a fist and the men lowered their guns. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and turned to see Shaffer was a few feet smaller, thank God.
“Someone want to tell me what the Fuck is going on around here?” one of the SOCOM men asked, and I tried my best to keep the disgust off my face as I looked at him. These men weren’t soldiers. They may have been at one time, but they’d traded their guns and camo for power and stripes. Now they were heartless blood suckers. Feeding off of the American people. Eating up their money while secretly plotting.
I couldn’t even begin to guess how much money they’d spent on us… on the GES Project, yet they were willing to end us so quickly, even before our first mission, all over something that we had absofuckinglutely no control over. We weren’t the failures here. Their intel department was. They’d lacked the ability to get us any real information on the half-breeds or who was creating them, from the very beginning. Now that WE had been able to figure some things out, they were pissed. The bastards!
Wil took another small step forward before he spoke, “The half-breeds came at us here, but they were only a distraction… bait. When they retreated, we followed, leaving the others locked here, in the lab, but vulnerable. When we came back, they were all gone.”
Wil stood tall as he spoke, like the leader that he was, but I could see the pain and guilt that was riding him. It was plain on his face. He was doing his best to mask it, to be the cold calculating soldier that he’d been trained to be, but he was failing at it and for the first time in over a year, I had the urge to connect with him on some level. I felt compassion for the guy and maybe even briefly felt like comforting him with a “it’ll be ok.” Or a “we’ll get her back.” It was a ridiculous thought and I felt like a big pussy for even thinking it. Wil wouldn’t appreciate it from me either. Not any more than I’d enjoy saying it. I hadn’t even spoken the words and they left a bitter taste in my mouth.
The tallest SOCOM scumbag spoke after a long awkward silence. “Did you ever once think about the possibility of exposure during your pursuit?” He spoke in a deep authoritative voice and though the guy could easily end Wil’s career, knowing that you could end this man before he could blink, had a tendency to make us a little harder to intimidate and I knew Wil wasn’t that easy.
I watched as the pain cleared from Wil’s face and was replaced by what most would think was arrogance… Anyone that didn’t know what we were. Those that knew, were usually smart enough to back down and, if they valued their life, run. Our SOCOM friends weren’t that bright. THEY were arrogant and I hoped Wil was in control enough to not kill them. After just losing his mate, there was no telling what the guy, or his beast would do.
Wil seemed to puff up, his eyes casting a gold light. I fought a smile as the grunts eyes widened and they looked back and forth between Wil and their superiors, fighting their instinct to flee. Funny, the new meat weren’t quite as stupid as they looked.
Excerpted from "Encompass: To Enclose; Envelop / Book 4 of the Altered Series" by Jay Hope. Copyright © 0 by Jay Hope. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.