Supporting Documentation of the United States Hamrammr Program
Section 5: Increased Sensations of Sight, Hearing, and Taste
RATHER THAN hallucinations and paranoia, the activation process increases sensory abilities in the Hamask, including heightened sight, hearing, taste, and touch….
With initial fury, the candidate does not have an anchor to his training. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the sedatives used to calm the candidate instead further aggravate the sensory overload, and the brain shuts down to protect the candidate, inducing hibernation.
Introduction of an anchor, or Vargr, restores the candidate to preberserk levels. (Bur, Brad S., PhD, [New Tokyo Military Academy, 2093], AAT NX722718)
HAVOC Class, 2097
ACTIVATION FOR Jamal Zumati started on a Thursday morning. He ate with the others, then gathered his rations and gear and hiked to the farthest shed. The US military insisted on some of the antiquated practices of the early aboriginal tribes in order to bring his abilities online; isolation, little to no food or sleep, and meditation. The hardest part of his training had been the goddamn meditation.
You want a former Adderall-dependent guy to focus by sitting quietly and not thinking about anything? So not going to happen. One of the cadre had finally suggested yoga. The poses allowed him to focus on the strain, the heat generating from each muscle, rather than the mind-numbing silence.
The military either ignored the other historical aspects or felt they went a bit too far, voodoo and wives’ tales. So no eating mushrooms, bloodletting, or purging. Which was all fine and good, except being the farthest out meant he went last, and those mushrooms would have at least kept him from being bored.
He spent the week stretching his mind and body.
Some couldn’t handle being alone this many days. For Jamal, it felt like the first couple of weeks at a new group home. You got your bearings, established which of the kids were the bully, the narc, and the druggie, and then you shored up and tried to make it to school each day. There was always food at school.
Jamal kept to himself until the second time the foster had to enforce a rule. The first time they’re on their best behavior, so you don’t get the real picture. Second time, though, when they go apeshit, vein pulsing in their neck, that’s when you see the real them.
Wednesday morning, the sweat dried on Jamal’s chest as he held his sun pose then eased down to upward-facing dog. He heard them activating someone just down the hill: the sound of stomping boots and tears instead of the buzz of insects and the occasional rustle of an animal scurrying past. Maybe it was one of the girls, or a guy who had hung his masculinity on being a bear and knew instantly that he was a wolf. Bear or wolf—it made no difference to Jamal. He had a duty to his country. It had supported him through his whole life: paid his medical, bought his food, provided for his schooling. Now he would pay with his muscles or his mind. He’d act honorably and serve the people.
He placed his forehead to the smooth wooden plank and let the tension wash out the tips of his fingers as he took the balasana or child pose. It was finally silent again outside. Jamal’s ribs slid around loosely, his chest full of liquid heat, revved up to take on this vital step.
As the activation team entered his shed, Jamal stood and saluted his senior officers, no longer self-conscious about his nudity.
He moved to a parade rest and surveyed the team: four military police, a nurse, a doctor, and Captain Chakosky. Chakosky was a Vargr and would be on hand to help with grounding Jamal if he activated as a Hamask. Chakosky was round of face, his size equivalent with Jamal’s broad shoulders, but Chakosky was rather soft for Special Forces. Genetics could still snuff gym effort.
“Are you ready?” The doctor’s eyes were bloodshot, his clothes creased in odd places.
They must have worked through the night and had one more to activate before they could call it a day. What, they couldn’t be bothered to dress up for the occasion? Jamal had on his birthday suit, so dress blues should at least be required for everyone else.
“Sir, yes sir.” Jamal sat on a wooden chair—the solitary piece of furniture was older than the shed—and stared straight ahead while they prepared his skin.
As he activated, Chakosky was the first thing he was aware of. The man stood in front of Jamal and had his hands clasped as if in prayer.
Jamal pushed the sickness in his stomach down.
There was a medical tray holding the empty vials and the thirty acupuncture needles, a few tipped with red. Jamal’s eyes felt dry and he reached up to rub at his eyelashes. His nails felt like metal files tearing at wooden lashes. Shit, what have they done to my eyes? He flattened his palm against his cheek and eye socket to gently, slowly rub away the debris. His dry, coarse fingertips shredded his skin like a cheese grater. Tears poured down his cheeks.
God, this is embarrassing. Fuck, yes, it hurts, but I’ve had worse.
Tears were a sign of weakness. Tears made you a target. He just needed to pull himself together. Just give him a minute to calm down, to process.
Chakosky took a step toward him. No. He held up a hand to ward the man off. He just needed another minute.
That wolf shouldn’t be touching me. Shouldn’t be in my territory.
The abraded skin itched, and Jamal staggered to his feet as he scrubbed with his fingernails. He was definitely a Hamask, could even feel the increased power in his arms and thigh muscles. His touch was all haywire, but realization felt distant, almost separate of self.
Chakosky took another step toward him and Jamal raised both hands to hold the Vargr off. “Just give me a minute.”
Something was wrong—his hearing was normal. Not all his senses had come online. That would be okay, no surprise to learn he was subpar at even this.
The nurse pulled out a brown bottle, and as she unscrewed the lid, the smell—lavender and rice starch in rancid water—made Jamal jerk his head back and stumble toward the wall, bile rising in his throat. He bumped into someone and his skin recoiled and shot with pain. “Stay the fuck back,” he whispered to the MP. Stupid jock was going to mess this all up.
They needed to clean the activation away. Left unattended, the chemicals would fry his neural synapses. Shit, he couldn’t focus around the pain. As the nurse advanced, an MP and Chakosky stepped up to take hold of his arms. Caustic bile churned in Jamal’s throat at their repulsive touch and he dry-heaved.
Hold on, you can do this. They’d clean him up, give him fresh water, and then he’d head back to the base with Chakosky keeping him grounded. That was how all activations were supposed to go. Except, even with the Vargr touching him, he wasn’t leveling out. Physical contact should help. “What’s happening?”
He tried to push Chakosky away and realized his fingers were smeared with blood. Had he cut himself on the wooden chair? Moisture dripped from his chin, and a red splotch smeared like oil over water on his chest. Not tears. Blood.
His hearing kicked in at the same time that a deep feeling of hatred, so hot and bright that he closed his eyes, poured through his bones. They had done this to him. Come in with their bullshit B game, used crap chemicals, and blundered around like idiots. Damn them. “Stop. Don’t.”
LT. RYAN “Rum” Walker could tell the men and women filing down the aisles of the lecture hall were ensigns, privates, cadets, and seamen. They looked like kids, and they had yet to develop that ramrod posture that came with any service past basic. The uniforms—standard issue and for the most part unadorned—told the same story. But being faced with their youth was another slap to his recently demoted face.
He waited for the creak of wooden seats and the quiet murmurs to settle down. His psych and anthropology training divided the room into Myers-Briggs subtypes and recognized those whose body language showed either confidence or secrets. A human map stretched across the tiered rows of wooden seats. With 78 percent accuracy, he could identify those who would be good wolves or bears, who had lied to get here, and who would kill to stay. Those were the things he should be teaching. How to read people. If they were going to pull him from the field because of insubordination, let him teach candidates actual battle-ready techniques, something useful. Instead they assigned him this propaganda bullshit they spoon-fed all the newbies.
Rum had a lesson planned, just not the one the brass were expecting.
As he stepped into view, someone called out “Attention!” They jumped to their feet, and Rum returned their salute. “As you were.” They settled back in their chairs and he let his voice fill the hall.
“My name is Lieutenant Walker. Welcome to HAVOC.” He then clicked the old-fashioned wireless remote in his palm.
“Hamask and Vargr Operations Center” projected on the forward wall. There were a few murmurs, and a girl in the front row, her hair tightly braided, shifted in her seat. Her eyes weren’t the only ones that gleamed.
“This morning I will give you a brief summary of what we do at HAVOC and answer any general questions you may have. You will then be divided into groups, where you will watch an in-depth video on the Hamrammr initiative, and then you’ll choose.”
He let the silence draw out. “Choose to be activated or… choose the blue pill. Choose to return to your current posting.”
When they got a Hamask to do the morning introduction for potentials, it turned into parlor tricks. Who used which soap that morning? Which male had masturbated in the last twelve hours? They’d have the class write something down at the room’s farthest corner and then the Hamask would read it. The instructor might even tell you the type of fabric you were wearing. Hello! We’re in uniform. The last one even Rum could do.
Rum squinted at them, glaring the murmurs back to quiet. He tilted his head to one side, leaning his right ear toward the noise, and took an audible sniff.
As a Vargr, his enhanced skills didn’t involve his senses, but his abilities were always in play. Hard to turn off, in fact. If there was a sleep mode for his brain, he sure hadn’t found it yet.
Rum clicked the remote again. Pictures of men and women, often in uniform, always in pairs, slid by on the screen. There was official verbiage on what, exactly, he was supposed to say. However, if he were any good at following orders, he wouldn’t be here.
He lowered his voice, knowing the microphones around the stage would carry to the full room just fine. “You are each here because you have potential. Your ASVAB scores and DNA indicate that you could be activated as a Bear or a Wolf. ‘You’re a wizard, Harry.’” He wasn’t surprised when no one laughed. Sometimes it took people a minute to warm up to him. “Half of an elite fighting pair. Pairs like—” He paused the screen on two female doctors. “—Dr. Janis McCarthy and Dr. Lynn Ladd. Hamask McCarthy is a renowned heart surgeon and Vargr Ladd has revolutionized the organ transplant process.”
He liked using this particular example because it showed possible endgames for those who wouldn’t become career military, and because McCarthy and Ladd weren’t in a traditional bonded relationship.
It would have been nice to include a picture of the FBI pair Bur-Longwei, but that suggestion had been nixed pretty damn high up the food chain.
He clicked the remote again and the screen displayed a new pair. The man and woman stood in front of their WREAC team—War Reconnaissance Extraction Assault Corps. “WREAC and HAVOC. Hamask Tidsdale and Vargr Lange are in the foreground with WREAC Team 3, instrumental in saving thousands during last year’s tsunami in Hawaii.”
A dark-skinned airman with soft eyes scoffed.
Rum snapped an index finger in his direction. “Skepticism. Good. But tell me, Airman…?”
The airman was slightly older than average, tall, broad shouldered. He stood upon being addressed. “Sir, Adayo, sir.”
“Airman Adayo. Why did you assume the woman was Vargr Lange?”
Adayo’s eyes widened, and then he swallowed. “Sir, I—”
Gawd, I love bein’ right. “Unvarnished truth, please.”
“Sir, I reacted to my programmed cultural expectations on gender roles. I assumed that the woman would be the Vargr and the man would be the Hamask. I know that is not always the case.”
And that was why Adayo was here. Because he was smart enough to see his own shortcomings. Rum nodded in acknowledgment, and Adayo reclaimed his seat.
“Less than 25 percent of Hamrammr initiates are women. Though when they make it through training, women have a slightly higher success rate of activation.” Which meant the most common Hamra Pair was two guys. He’d let them do the math.
He clicked to the next picture, a more stereotypical pairing. “This Hamra Pair both specialize in weapons and demolition.” The picture showed the two out in the field and heavily camouflaged, the Hamask distinctive with his bare hands. “A more… traditional team. Currently in deep assignment tracking Christian extremists in South America.”
He explained that those who stayed would face twelve intense weeks of physical and mental training. He highlighted the different military occupational specialties each successful Pair could be assigned to. He sprinkled in a few obscure references to old cultural evidence of Hamrammrs or those with the potential to change into Hamask and Vargr, including how the pair became two halves of a superserum soldier, i.e., Captain America.
“By the end of today, once you make the second-toughest decision, you’ll be housed in coed barracks with your fellow potentials.”
Rum did not talk about bonding, though he identified five of them who practically quivered to ask about it. He did not cover the activation process, though he strongly believed it was something they should know before making the decision to stay. He didn’t warn them of the political bullshit that came with activation. Only a third of the candidates would make it through training, and only half of those would successfully activate. Maybe ten people in this room would become part of a sanctioned, bonded pair.
He turned off the old projector. Military budget restrictions had curtailed the crazy spending that was so rampant fifty years ago, but this ancient tech was sad. At least the mission rooms had holo sets.
“Things you probably all know, but just to be thorough. Hamask and Vargr always work in pairs. Hamask, also called bears, learn to use their senses and strength. Vargr, the wolves, act as a guide, provide a baseline for the chaos bears live in.” That was an oversimplification if he ever spouted one, plus it didn’t explain the heightened speed Vargrs gained in reflexes and mental processing. “Feel free to ask questions, but for the sake of time, please do not stand.”
There were a few chuckles at this. Now to see if the seeds he’d planted would generate the questions he wanted them to ask.
The female marine with the braid raised a hand. He nodded to acknowledge her. “Is it true what they say about the bonding process?”
Rum raised his eyebrows and gave her an incredulous look. Seriously? That wasn’t going to give her the information she wanted. “True that a bonded pair is stronger than an unbonded one? Absolutely. Bonding isn’t a requirement and plenty of pairs never bond.”
Yes, I’m going to make you work for it. Try again.
“Sir, why are only officers activated?” asked a hesitant seaman with more freckles than hair.
“Good eye. Yes, all Hamra, short, of course, for Hamrammr, are designated officers. Upon activation Hamra roll over to an M-rank system, similar to noncommissioned officers. They use officer designations, and though not all of you are officers currently, you all have completed the required college degrees for that status or you wouldn’t be here.”
Which made the two seventeen-year-olds present even more impressive.
A private, so rosy-cheeked that he would probably be carded until he was in his midthirties, raised his hand and asked, “Are Hamrammrs allowed to choose their partner?”
“Yes. Let me emphasize that. Yes.” He nodded and then gestured to communicate exactly how important this was. “The military will make suggestions. If the partner you choose does not qualify for some of the advanced options, that may limit you. Thus the suggested pairings. But you get to choose. You, bear or wolf, get a choice.” A few heads shook in the negative, and Rum immediately labeled and categorized them as American-born, second generation, military service. Military brats.
They came in thinking that the wolves led the bears around by the nose; that the only way to keep a bear in check was to form a sexual bond and manipulate their own pheromones to keep the wolf as the dominant in the relationship. Total military-culture bullshit. Rum memorized each face. By the end of training, either they’d be gone or they would darn well have a new perspective on partnerships.
The next question was from a female airman with the palest blonde hair Rum had ever seen. “Sir, why wolf and bear? I mean, the transformation rumors have been disproved and the abilities of each don’t really match actual bears and wolves. So…?”
“The words hamask and vargr are from Old Norse. Viking mythology, legend, stories, whichever you prefer, tell tales of sending berserkers into battle. Changed men, fierce as bears and cloaked in wolf skin.” He raised his finger to draw their attention even tighter. Giddy warmth filled his chest even as his shoulders tightened.
“There have always been such people. The aboriginal people of North Sentinel Island. Celtic lore. Even Native American vision quests. When the United States discovered a way to fully activate these abilities, shortly after the September 11 attacks in New York, the first Vargr held a doctorate in Norse history. He chose the terms. Don’t worry. You’ll get more of a history lesson during training.”
A few arms shot up, and Rum indicated a tiny guy from the Coast Guard. Rum wouldn’t be surprised if he was one of those two seventeen-year-olds on the list of candidates.
“Can you explain the bonding process and specifically the sexual aspects?”
Better question. “This is the United States military. We are not known for our sexual acceptance.” It was his first use of “we,” and like most of what he said, it was a strategic decision. “Yes, sexually active pairs are bonded pairs. Do all Hamra Pairs have sex? In my opinion, that’s their business, and no one else’s. Bonding does not require sex.” The military strongly disagreed with him, but he wasn’t about to disillusion potentials. That was more of a week-three activity. “Next question.”
Adayo’s hand was the first one up. “What is the hardest decision?”
Bingo. Now to reel them in. “Good question.” He gestured to indicate the whole conference hall. They’d put in their time and deserved his best performance. “If you believe that I am a Hamask, raise your right hand. Starboard for the seamen in the room.” He smiled. “If you believe I am a Vargr, raise your left hand. Okay, keep your hands up.” He looked through the crowd and watched them look at each other. The training cadre were watching to see who would change their answer, and who were right.
“Why did you choose Vargr?”
Adayo smiled. “At first I thought you were Hamask. You fed that belief by emphasizing your use of senses. Squinting, cocking your head to hear better.”
Rum had also crafted each response and kept a tight lid on his accent. He’d teach them how to pick up on those clues eventually. “But?”
Adayo tilted his head and looked back at him with a critical eye. “Well”—he shrugged—“if you’re not Hamask, then only Vargr is left.”
“That is how most people see the Hamrammr initiative. If you’re not a bear then you’re a wolf. A second choice, less than. Despite the wolf being the leader in the pairing.”
Hell, a lot of what was broken in this program surrounded that inferiority complex.
“Toughest decision that you each need to make before deciding if you’ll stay: does it matter if I’m a wolf or a bear? Until we try to activate you, we don’t know which you are.” He scanned the room. “All of you are Hamrammr, but potential what? If you’ve got your heart set on being a Hamask, can you live with being only a Vargr?”
He checked his watch. 1122. Eight minutes to spare. Perfect. He tapped the watch’s face to bring up the group lists and sent it to the candidates’ smartwatches. “I’m sending each of you an itinerary and group list for the remainder of the day.”
“Lieutenant Walker?” Tiny Coast Guard had his hand up.
Rum blinked at the boy, genuinely surprised at the additional question and the gold bar indicating the seventeen-year-old was an ensign—college degree and officer training completion. “Yes, Ensign—?”
“Sir, Kramer, sir. Are there any potential side effects of being activated?”
Bastian Gero Kramer. Rum’s memory supplied the information. The ensign’s voice spoke of New Orleans and his Latino upbringing.
Damn, he was good. Rum had specifically asked General Khan whether he could cover this and had been shot down. Khan’s exact words were “don’t bring it up,” but he’d also told Rum to answer all their questions.
Rum smiled, and based on a few of their responses, he knew the grin looked evil. “You could fury.”