I have a new book coming out soon! It’s a standalone, pure scifi novel. Be sure to follow me on Goodreads and Bookbub so you don’t miss the release!Here’s chapter 1.
“Tell me you’re not afraid of heights,” the tall, slender redhead said. She stepped out onto the glass of the skybridge, pulling her Asian friend with her, eyes focused on me. All I could think was that Manhattan was below her—far below. If the glass gave way and she fell, that would be her end.
Fluorescent lights of blue and red shone through the glass floor of the skybridge, while the walls and ceiling flowed with augmented reality to give the impression of walking through space and looking down on New York. This skybridge wasn’t typical. It, like the rest of the architecture and eccentricities that made up Garrick Calsen’s sky loft, was a reminder that not only was he one of the wealthiest men alive, but that he had leveraged that wealth to become one of humanity’s greatest explorers of space.
Many of us simply referred to him as Mr. Tycoon, as he was the top of the top. The man was elusive, only seen from a distance at these get-togethers he would host, if seen at all. So far at this night’s get-together, nobody had reported seeing him.
“You’re doing it?” John asked, stepping up beside me, nodding. “Come on, man. Take the step.”
John Kim was my boss, technically, but the sort of boss that likes to hang out. The sort I felt bad saying no to, so more often than not ended up in these strange situations. For example, walking on a skybridge when I hated heights with a passion. His watch was there on display as always, a legit Draden—one of the fanciest you could find—to remind anyone he could that he was doing quite well for himself. The guy was half a foot shorter than me, half-Chinese and half-Japanese, but he had taken to calling himself John instead of his given name, Hiro, when he had studied abroad at Harvard.
He didn’t know what he was asking of me, but there was something about all this that felt so magical. Back in the halls, I’d been captivated by the images of the various space stations Mr. Calsen had helped set up, and the expeditions to alien planets. Pictures of strange ruins, metal domes with openings in them, and even the architecture of the penthouse, made to represent some of the most famous ruins found to date. It was also so overwhelming, and almost enough to make me forget any phobias I might have had.
Imagining I was Mr. Calsen and that this skybridge led to a shuttle and my own chance to explore space, I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing as I’d learned in aikido long ago. Opening my eyes, I took a step out onto the skybridge, staring into the redhead’s striking blue eyes. She’d first caught my attention on the dance floor, and she’d let me buy her a drink. Now I was upstairs, stepping out onto glass, and had to wonder whether I was the hunter or the hunted. Considering the fact that I was at the fanciest skyrise loft of the New Horizon zone among Manhattan’s most elite of society, but this lady kept drawing my attention, I think it was the latter. When she had first met my gaze, I’d had a feeling there was something special about her.
If she was able to get me to walk out over the city like this, it was more than most women could have achieved. Even so, with each step out there to follow her, I started to enjoy it. The AR stars and ships moved around us, and for a moment I stood there lost in it all, almost believing one of those ships was coming to pick us up for a great adventure. Then I looked down, watching a hyperloop train as it shot through the lit-up circles below, past massive billboards and holographic ads for the latest in fashion. One was viewable from up here, though only the front appeared three-dimensional, like a real woman applying perfume. At this angle, we could see the projection lights. Two guys on the edge looked high as a kite staring at it all; must have been some of that new orange blow. Supposedly it was like cocaine but from an alien planet, way too expensive for me even if I had been keen to give it a go.
“Stunning, isn’t it?” my redhead asked, stepping over to me.
“It is,” I replied, and looked up to see her leaning against a railing nearby, while John and the other woman were holding each other, and he leaned in for a kiss.
The redhead cleared her throat, noticing too. Stepping close, she looped her arm through mine. “I’m Verity, by the way.”
“Tommy,” I replied.
She considered, eyes on mine, then leaned in to kiss me on the cheek. “You’re cute, Tommy. A buff guy like you, needing someone like me to coax him out here.”
I grinned, hand on hers, and said, “I don’t imagine you often have problems getting men to do what you want.”
“No,” she admitted.
Our surroundings changed from stars and space to moving lights, some sort of show that reminded me of shifting, colorful gas. Maybe a simulation of an alien planet? I was considering going in for a real kiss when John called out for me.
I glanced up to see they were already halfway across the skywalk, motioning for us to follow.
“There’s something over here you gotta see,” he said.
Verity looked at me with excitement and gave me a pinch.
“What was that?” I asked, not complaining.
“Making sure you know you’re not dreaming.”
I laughed, but that joy faded when I remembered how far above the city we were walking. Everyone knew a skybridge like this wasn’t likely to break; maybe it wasn’t even possible according to some. Still, no amount of redheads could get me to smile while knowing that sort of fall was beneath me.
She was going on about something—maybe how her friend had been checking out John all night—but my focus was completely devoted to my curiosity. A place like that, what could John want to show me that he would prioritize above making out with that woman? They’d been using some heavy tongue, so I knew for a fact it had to be special. John wasn’t the type to give up tongue. Not for anything.
Once, I’d seen John making out with a woman in the middle of a hurricane, and even when the river flooded up to their feet and she tried to run screeching, he picked her up and kept going. At least, until a heavy gust of wind blew them over. He was technically my supervisor at the Titans Rising hedge fund, but we’d hung out enough to make it clear we were more buddy-buddy than anything else. For example, your supervisor shouldn’t get a tug at the dinner table when you’re there on a double date, but that had happened no fewer than three times in our case. Awkward every time, but it also brought us closer together.
“Tommy?” Verity said, pulling me from my thoughts.
We were off the skybridge, and into what I could only think of as the entrance to an opera box, complete with curtains and a couple of stairs that led to an area out of sight still.
“Sorry, distracted,” I replied, then nodded to John and his date.
“I was asking if you’re ready,” John said.
“For what, exactly?”
“To have your mind blown.”
I chuckled, wondering if this was all part of some elaborate ruse of his to get us both laid. If so, who was I to interfere?
“Always,” I said, giving Verity a comforting smile. Maybe this was about to happen, and if so, I needed to get my mind right. Start setting the mood.
“You’re killing me here,” she said, motioning to the curtains. “What is it?”
John eyed her, then his lady, and shook his head. “Nah, get lost.”
“What?” they both said at once.
I balked, too, adding a grunt of confusion.
John walked over to me, put an arm around my shoulder, and said, “This is for me and my boy, Tommy. You two can meet us back by the elevators later. If you want.”
“Seriously?” his woman said.
“Your friend is kinda being an ass,” Verity added, looking at me with arms folded.
Here’s where it got awkward. As mentioned, John was my supervisor. My boss, you could say. So, while we were buddies, moments like these made the power-matrix a bit skewed. Even more so when he leaned in and whispered, “It’s a work thing, bro.”
I let out a sigh, put a hand on Verity’s shoulder, and said, “Do you mind? We won’t be long.”
“We might,” John countered.
My glare his way made it very clear what I thought of him not being helpful, but I shrugged, turning back to Verity. “At least let me get your number?”
“You two have fun,” her friend said, already walking off to the skybridge.
Verity hesitated, then shook her head in disgust and walked off. Before they walked out of sight, she put her hand on her hip and stuck out her ass, as if to say, “For the record, you could’ve had this. All of this.”
Then they were gone.
“John, what was that?” I asked, shoving his arm away and wondering if he was actually about to make a move on me. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d wondered that about him, but nothing ever came of it.
“Told you, work related.” He took a step toward the curtain, nonchalantly motioning for me to follow. “You won’t regret it, not one bit.”
Without another word, he vanished past the curtains. I thought of Verity, of her cute little plaid miniskirt, and wondered how the hell I wasn’t going to regret missing out on the chance to be with her. John hadn’t led me wrong too often in the past, though, so I stepped in after him.
Passing under the thick, red curtains, I entered an atrium-type room with all manner of trophies and pictures. This was the true collection, not all the other showy stuff back in the main party rooms of Mr. Tycoon’s house. Red rock from Mars formed pillars at the door leading into another room. Before going in there, though, I turned, taking this one in.
Several crystals were on display in glass cases with tiny movements inside—some of his first discovered alien life, perhaps? It was a blur, but I thought I’d read something about his expedition and that early discovery. One wall was decorated with a mounted rifle above a picture of a team of hunters with him at the center. Considering the circles of ground that rose past them, one with hanging purple plants that curled up at the bottom, I had to guess that was one of his other intergalactic missions. He even had a bit of the tech that had made Faster Than Light (FTL) travel possible. An invention of either his father’s or grandfather’s, if memory served.
There was more, but none of that mattered when compared to what came next. I passed the Mars pillars and found myself standing at the entrance to this massive room with no windows. Nothing covered the walls. All there was in this area was the skull that stared down at me, suspended from the ceiling to make clear this was the center of attention. Not some deer or elephant skull, mind you; I’m talking huge. This thing had to be at least fifteen, maybe twenty feet in diameter. The type of animal it had to have come from was beyond me, but I knew without a doubt it had to be alien. It had similar characteristics to a giant squirrel, but with a series of spikes along the top of its forehead. Each tooth was as long as my arm, and they looked like they’d been sharpened.
“What am I looking at?” I asked, taking a step closer, trying to ignore the way my heart pounded. My breaths came short, a line of sweat moving along my temple. This thing was long dead, but it still freaked me the hell out.
“That, dear boys, is my grand prize,” a deep voice said, and we turned to see another man in that room with us. I recognized him instantly as Mr. Tycoon himself, AKA Mr. Calsen. The old man had a full head of snow-white hair, and though I knew he had to be in his seventies, could otherwise almost pass for being not much older than myself. He stepped forward, eyes moving up to his prize. “A kill I’ll never forget. There’s something about conquering a beast of this enormity that makes you realize how great man has truly become. We have ascended to near godhood, gentlemen.”
“Sorry for wandering,” I blurted out, but noticed the humor in John’s eyes, the upturned lip. Hissing to John, I added, “You knew he’d be here?”
John grinned, and it hit me. Holy shit, he’d planned the thing with the ladies, used them as bait to lure me up here. He could have just told me he wanted me to meet someone, but no, this was his way. Always the type to make a show of life.
“Mr. Calsen here has agreed to let us see his collection on one condition,” John explained. With a nod to Mr. Calsen, he waited, hands behind his back, all very formal.
Suddenly, my going-out-on-the-town outfit felt very out of place. It was a suit, yes, but not the type we’d wear to meet with clients.
“I got my trophy here on a safari,” Mr. Calsen said. “Not a safari to Africa or anywhere like that. No, this is far more…” His eyes went up to the skull, then past it to the painted stars on the domed ceiling above. “…More exotic.”
“He’s invited us to go,” John said. “On his next expedition. Can you believe it?”
I blinked, totally caught off guard. Me, go out into space on what? A hunting expedition? There were so many reasons I felt that would be impossible. At first, anyway. Then it started hitting me that I really had nothing tying me down here for the moment. I’d recently gone through a nasty breakup—half the reason John was able to convince me to go to the tycoon’s party to begin with—and my lease on my apartment was up next month. Last I’d heard from my mom was over three years ago, when my brother had been reported dead with the Space Marines. I’d always envied his bravery, and now I had the chance to do something… well, not similar at all, but something that would at least make me feel some of what he must have felt.
Still, this was a huge step.
“What about work?” I asked in a hushed voice, hoping Mr. Calsen wouldn’t hear me.
John winked, then motioned me to join him a few paces away, our backs turned to the tycoon. “First, don’t fuck this up. Smile, show excitement, and nothing less. Second, this is work—we land this guy as a client, and we’re set for life. That means you, baby. You will be set for life, and I’ll personally see to it. Understand?”
“So you’re in?” he asked.
Part of me wanted to say no, but I knew I couldn’t. “Sounds like a plan to me.” I plastered on my best smile. But as we turned back to the tycoon and John told him we were on board, the smile became increasingly legit. By the time we were shaking hands and retiring to the party to celebrate over bottles of Scotch, I was downright giddy.
I, Tommy Kurbratski, was going into space with the chance of seeing real-life giant animals. That thought was only made better when Verity and her friend found us later that night, acting as if we hadn’t completely snubbed them, and spent the rest of the evening with their tongues enjoying our tongues. When we told them we were going into space with Mr. Calsen, their first reaction was to call B.S. on us, the second was to get us back to their hotel rooms for a nice send-off.
If only I hadn’t passed out in the cab and found myself waking up in front of my apartment building, alone, that might have been awesome. Even less great was the text I got the next morning—a picture of John with both ladies, all three topless, and him with a bottle of whipped cream.
“Missed you tons,” he said in the text message.
I was hungover as hell. Deleting the pic, I almost ignored the next text from him. Good thing I didn’t because it read: “Get ready, sunshine. We’re shipping out in three hours.”
My coffee went up my nose and out, and I had to reread the message again. Sure enough, we were really doing this, and not wasting any time at that.He then sent instructions for where to go and what I’d need. I poured another cup of coffee, started the shower, and leaned against the wall as I focused on my breathing to clear my head.
This was about to be the greatest experience of my life, or the worst. Either way, I was damn thrilled to be part of it.
Beck had met a lot of aliens, but this time around, it would be different. If all went well, there’d be way less killing and a lot more hellos and handshakes. That was, if the aliens even had hands. Beck hoped to God they did, because there was no way in hell he was shaking a tentacle.
Somehow, the thought of politely greeting their intergalactic
visitors made him more nervous than ever. Killing aliens was the natural order
of things. They attacked, humans defended, some humans died, but more aliens
did. And humanity lived on. He’d spent years living out that pattern as a
soldier in the Resistance.
Now things were changing. With an alien attack from the
Ascendancy on the horizon, the killing was about to start again. But this time
around, it wouldn’t just be humans versus aliens. Instead, it’d be the Ascendancy
versus all intelligent creatures who weren’t keen on being targeted for
And that meant a new survival tactic—setting aside the past
and becoming allies with aliens. Or at least attempting to.
Beck glanced around at the three multi-story buildings
bordering the tarmac. Snipers were stationed in every building, just waiting
for any sign of trouble. He itched to be up there with them. Beck had trained
half of the snipers on this base, and it seemed unfair that his former students
were the ones who got to have the comfort of a rifle in their hands while he
was stuck down here with the greeting committee.
Not that it was much of a committee. Just him and Nathan, the
base commander. Nathan stood beside him, squinting up at the clouds, his war-worn
face pulled into a disapproving scowl. That scowl was enough to make anyone on
base scramble to fix their mistakes, but it had no effect on the clouds
thickening above them.
“This is piss-poor weather for flying,” Nathan muttered.
“We’ll make do,” Beck said, trying to sound more optimistic
than he felt.
He flinched as a large raindrop plopped on his cheek. An hour
ago, the Florida sun had been shining down on the Resistance base, making the
landing tarmac shimmer with heat. Now dark clouds grumbled overhead, leaking
fat raindrops onto the dark pavement. If the wind kept picking up, pretty soon
no aircraft would be able to take off safely from the base.
Which meant they were officially screwed.
Their assignment was supposed to have been simple: They’d
greet an ambassador from the alien society of Rhuramentia, hand over the
ancient alien relic the base had been guarding, guide the ambassador into a
waiting transport craft, and shuttle him over to Washington, D.C. Easy-peasy.
The alien would spend thirty minutes on their base, tops.
But the ambassador hadn’t even landed yet, and everything was
already going to hell. It’d all started the night before, when a thief had
managed to shut off the security system, bypass all their Tier 4 security
protocols, break into the base’s most secure safe, kill a guard, and make off
with the relic. All within a matter of minutes.
It shouldn’t have been possible—they had too many safeguards
in place. But the ambassador wasn’t going to give a damn about that. All the ambassador
would care about was that he’d traveled five weeks in hyperspace to pick up a
precious relic that was now missing.
As the chief commander of the base, Nathan had been
scrambling to find the thief and the stolen relic, but it was no use. The thief
had gotten off scot-free. Now all Nathan could do was apologize to the
ambassador and ship him off to Washington, D.C, so all the top officials of
Earth could also issue apologies.
They were screwed. So screwed.
And all because of one goddamn, murderous thief.
Nathan wiped his hand over his face, brushing aside a
raindrop clinging to his short salt-and-pepper beard. In the dark shadow of the
clouds, he looked older than he usually did, his hair seeming grayer and his
“The bastard is late,” Nathan muttered, glancing down at his
“I’m sure he’ll be here soon,” Beck said, raising his voice
to be heard over the wind. He glanced behind him at the covered hangar. If this
storm got much worse, they were going to have to head inside and wait for the
Nathan grunted. “He’s probably just sitting up there enjoying
the sight of us getting rained on.”
Beck struggled to swallow back his unease. He’d only worked
with the commander for a year, since Nathan had moved to the base and taken
charge, but it’d been plenty of time for Beck to learn that the man was no
diplomat. Usually, Beck appreciated Nathan’s brutal honesty, but not now.
Because there was something else Beck knew all too well about the commander:
Nathan hated aliens. Period. He hadn’t wanted to store the
alien relic at his base, hadn’t wanted the ambassador to land here, and sure as
hell hadn’t wanted to play the part of a gracious host. The top leaders
of the Resistance had insisted on it, since Nathan’s base was the only Tier 4
security center in the region. But Beck had a bad feeling it was about to bite
them in the ass. They could force Nathan to host the ambassador, but they
couldn’t force him to be civil about it.
A black dot appeared in the sky. At first, Beck thought it
might just be a bird, but then he realized the dot was growing larger every
second as it descended toward the tarmac. The back of Beck’s neck tingled with
alertness, and his hand automatically shifted closer to the pistol at his
The small spacecraft descended at a rapid pace, not seeming
to be bothered by the wind. The ship was such a dark black it seemed to gleam
blue. It was long and sleek like a bullet, with short black fins on the top and
sides. Beck squinted closely at the craft, but couldn’t see anything resembling
panels or doors. It looked like it was crafted from a single piece of obsidian.
“Well that’s sure fancy,” Nathan muttered.
The commander sounded more wary than admiring, and Beck
couldn’t blame him one bit. Three years ago, when the Syndicate aliens had
tried to invade, the Resistance had barely managed to fight back against their
advanced technology. And this ship looked even more advanced than the
The ship slowly descended to the bright yellow square painted
on the hovercraft landing pad. The aircraft made no noise, but a deep,
thrumming vibration radiated off it, making the humid air feel thick enough to
Right when Beck was about to start gasping for breath, the
ship settled on the tarmac, and the vibration cut out. Beck shifted back and
forth on his feet, while Nathan leaned anxiously forward, ready to pounce at
the first sign of trouble.
Beck had no idea what was about to climb out of the ship.
From what he’d been told, “aliens” could mean everything from human-like
creatures, to robots, to intelligent plants. Nathan had said this species was
“humanoid,” but that label seemed to get slapped on everything with arms and
legs, regardless of how different they were to actual humans.
A door appeared in the side of the ship, seeming to melt
straight out of the pure black hull. It slid upwards, revealing a man and a
woman standing in the doorway. Beck sighed in relief as he realized they looked
almost totally human. Hopefully, that meant they also acted human. It would
definitely make communicating with them a hell of a lot easier.
A walkway made of the same black material as the hull
stretched out from the ship, and the two aliens strode confidently down it,
heading straight toward them. The wind tugged at their clothes, sending ripples
through the loose, light grey cloth.
The man stood well over six feet tall, and his
shoulder-length blond hair was so light it almost seemed silver. He looked like
he was in his mid-twenties, but his face had a weary, knowing expression that
reminded Beck of an aging grandfather.
The woman followed at his side, and judging by the way her
sharp gaze scanned the tarmac, Beck guessed she was the bodyguard they’d been
told would accompany the ambassador. She had a similar build—tall and
pale-skinned, although she was surprisingly old for a bodyguard, probably
around fifty. Beck looked her over closely, but she didn’t seem to be carrying
“Welcome,” Nathan said, stepping forward with his hand
outstretched. “My name is—”
A sharp gust of wind stole away his words and blew a flurry
of raindrops against his face. Nathan muttered a curse and turned around,
gesturing sharply for the aliens to follow him. The ambassador and his
bodyguard stepped off their ship’s ramp, and it retracted back into the hull,
sealing it closed.
Nathan headed toward the south door of the covered hangar,
and Beck strode at his side, trying not to ignore the anxiety creeping through
his veins as the aliens followed closely at their heels. “Never turn your
back on your enemy.” The simple refrain echoed through Beck’s head, the
same words he’d repeated to young soldiers hundreds of times while training
But these people weren’t his enemy. He had to remember that,
even if he couldn’t entirely believe it.
Nathan paused to enter his keycode into an electronic
padlock. The personnel door to the hanger slid open, granting them access to
the wide expanse of the building. The four of them stepped inside, their
footsteps echoing off the metal walls. Nathan quickly shut the door and wiped
the last of the raindrops from his face before turning toward the ambassador.
“Let’s try this again,” he said, giving a strained smile. “My
name is Commander Nathan Hayes. I run this base, and I’ll be attending to you
while you’re here.” He gestured sharply to Beck. “This here is Lieutenant Beck
Wright. He’s the head of our sniper training program and our security escort
for any visitors to this base.”
Beck saluted the ambassador. “Nice to meet you, sir.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Commander Hayes and Lieutenant
Wright,” the ambassador said, speaking in a quiet, grave voice. He bowed low,
his left palm pressed to his heart. His bodyguard followed suit, although her
bow was slightly brisker.
“My name is Ambassador Liomsrata Alanoserbash-Horenporoma
Da’nash,” the man said in his soft, melodic accent. He reached out to gently touch his
bodyguard’s shoulder. “Accompanying me is my guard and friend, Marinasherban
Nathan raised his eyebrows. “Those are quite the names you’ve
Beck looked down to hide his cringe. He had been crossing his
fingers Nathan would at least try to hide his contempt when meeting with
the ambassador. Apparently, he was shit out of luck.
The ambassador tilted his chin up, staring down his aquiline
nose at Nathan. Most of the time, Beck completely forgot that his commander was
only about five and a half feet tall. But standing next to the towering height
of the ambassador, it was impossible not to notice that Nathan was shorter than
“Names are very important to our people,” the ambassador
said. “But if ours prove too difficult for you to pronounce, you may call me
Lio and my guard Marin.”
“They’re not difficult, Lio,” Nathan said. “Just
time-consuming. And I’ve been told it’s vital to shuttle you off to D.C. as
quickly as possible.”
Lio’s face remained impassive, but his voice was curt as he
said, “Yes. I would hate to stretch out our conversation any longer than
Beck watched the ambassador closely, but the alien’s face
stayed blank as a slate as he swept his gaze over the hanger and took in its
contents. By Earth standards, the ships in the hanger were impressive—two
military-grade hovercrafts and a fighter jet, along with three smaller cargo
pods. But judging by the spacecraft the Rhuramenti aliens had arrived in, Beck
had a feeling their hanger was downright primitive in the eyes of the
Beck patted the hull of the cargo pod to his right, having a
ridiculous urge to comfort the aircraft as it faced the piercing gaze of the
ambassador. What the Resistance lacked in technology, it made up for in
cleverness and bravery. It had gotten them through the Syndicate War, and Beck
had no doubt that same bravery would carry them through the impending conflict
with the Ascendancy.
Just as long as Nathan’s behavior didn’t get them all killed
before the actual war even started.
Nathan didn’t say anything for a long moment, seeming to want
the ambassador to have to ask for information. When the silence grew strained,
Lio softly cleared his throat and said, “If it’s possible, I’d like to be taken
to the Virtue of War immediately. My Council is awaiting a report on its
Nathan crossed his arms, as if bracing for a backlash.
“Sorry, Ambassador, but I’m afraid I can’t take you to it right this minute.”
In half a second, Lio’s face darkened, and his bodyguard
shifted her hand closer to her shoulder. Beck peered closer at her outfit and
realized she wasn’t unarmed, like he’d first thought. She had a discreet
holster strapped to her back, and the pearly white barrel of some sort of gun
peeked over her shoulder.
Adrenaline kicked through Beck’s veins. He folded his arms,
resisting the urge to rest his hand on his pistol. He couldn’t risk escalating
“I don’t understand,” Lio said. “You told my people you had
the relic safely stored at this base.”
“We did,” Nathan said. “And now we don’t. A thief broke in
last night and stole it.”
For a long, painful second, the ambassador didn’t react. He
just stared at Nathan with a blank look of shock. Finally, he said in a quiet
voice, “A thief?”
“Yes,” Nathan said. He cleared his throat uncomfortably and
added, “Look, I know this makes it sound like the Resistance was negligent
about keeping your relic safe, but we weren’t. The thief who stole it isn’t
some ordinary dumb criminal. He calls himself Goodfellow, and he’s hit over
half a dozen secure compounds in the past year. Resistance bases, American
military bases, you name it. He’s like a ghost. Nothing can keep him out.”
“And why are you so sure he was the one to steal the Virtue?”
“Because he’s a cocky bastard,” Nathan said, his tone
lowering to a frustrated growl. “Every time he steals, he leaves a calling
card. We found it in the safe where the Virtue was being kept.”
Lio took a shuddering breath. “The Resistance informed my
people that the Virtue of War would be contained in the highest security vault
you have. They said it would be impossible to steal.”
Nathan rubbed at the back of his neck. “And that was the
truth. Look, Lio, I don’t even know what to tell you. Whatever tech Goodfellow
uses is something we’ve never encountered before. He shut down our entire
security center. Cameras, sensors, communications, locks, every safeguard on
this base. It all got disabled, which isn’t at all possible. But somehow, it
Lio didn’t say anything for a long moment. He just stared at
Nathan, his look of disbelief slowly morphing into one of horror. Finally, he
said in a low, shaky voice, “You must get it back.”
Nathan nodded. “I swear to you, the Resistance and the United
States military will be doing everything we can to retrieve it. We understand
it’s a very important holy relic to your people.”
“No,” Lio said, his voice a shaky ghost of a whisper. “No.
You don’t understand at all.”
Beck hadn’t been told much about the Virtue of War, but he
knew it was some sort of holy object that had been stolen from Rhuramentia
thousands of years ago, and that it’d been rediscovered in the wreckage of one
of the Syndicate ships. Turning it back over to the Rhuramenti people was
supposed to be a gesture of peace and friendship, and it would officially seal
an alliance between Rhuramentia and Earth.
The ambassador should be furious, but he hardly even sounded
mad. Instead, he sounded downright scared, and that made Beck’s skin prickle
“There must be some way to retrieve the Virtue,” Lio said.
Nathan nodded. “We’re working on it, but the break-in
happened less than a day ago. You need to give us some time to find
Lio shook his head, staring wild-eyed at Nathan, as if the
commander had just pulled the pin on a grenade and was refusing to throw it.
“We don’t have time.”
“I know it’s a tough situation, but we’re making the best of
it,” Nathan said. “We have a transit craft scheduled to take you to Washington,
D.C. tonight. You can meet with all our top officials there, and hopefully they
can help sort out this mess.”
“I do not want to talk to your politicians,” Lio said, his
words stiff with anger. “That will do absolutely nothing to help.”
The door behind them slid open, interrupting the tense
conversation. A tall woman dressed in a Resistance uniform strode inside,
raindrops clinging to her short black hair and a frown weighing down her
expression. Beck almost didn’t recognize her. Sierra always had a smile on her
lips, to the point where Beck sometimes questioned her sanity. But she looked
impossibly grave as she approached them.
Nathan waved her closer. “Ambassador Lio, I’d like you to
meet Sierra Lawson. She’s the finest pilot we have on this base, and she’ll be
the one transporting you to D.C.”
Sierra nodded to both Lio and Marin in greeting, and both
aliens gave a stiff bow. Sierra froze, unsure what to do, and then dipped into
an awkward bow in return.
“Pleasure to meet y’all,” she said. Her Southern accent
seemed far heavier than usual, the way it got when she was upset. She turned to
Nathan and said, “Sorry, Commander, but we’ve got a problem. We can’t fly out
in this storm.”
Nathan scowled at this news. “You don’t think you can handle
“’Course I can handle it,” she said, her frown deepening.
“But the brass in D.C. won’t let me.” She tapped at the comm unit clipped to
her wrist. “Sergeant Faris just sent out an alert. Says the storm ain’t natural
and we need to stay out of the sky.”
Lio tilted his head. “Someone created it?”
Sierra nodded. “Yes, sir. The military satellites are picking
up some really weird atmospherical disturbances way above here. Someone’s fuc—”
She cut herself off and cleared her throat, nodding to Lio. “Excuse me,
Ambassador. I meant to say someone’s messing with the weather.”
Beck tried not to show his shock. No one was supposed to know
the ambassador was arriving. That was why he’d landed at such a small,
high-security base, and why he was flying out in such a discreet aircraft. But
it seemed news of his visit had somehow leaked.
“How can they possibly influence a storm?” Nathan demanded.
“Likely a vapor bomb,” Lio said, a frown tugging at his thin
lips. “That technology shouldn’t be available on your planet, but given the
His voice trailed off. Nathan nodded grimly.
“We’re probably dealing with the same people who stole the
relic,” Nathan said. “Someone who has technology that’s definitely not
Sierra nodded. “The military said exactly that. So they’re
demanding we wait until the storm ends before we leave.”
“A wise decision,” Lio said, although he sounded more
frustrated than impressed. “Whoever set off the bomb did it for a reason. It’d
be foolish to walk into whatever trap they’re setting.”
“You’ll have to stay here tonight,” Nathan said, nodding to
Lio. “We have empty quarters you can sleep in.”
Lio’s bodyguard turned and spoke to him in a low, hushed
tone, using what Beck assumed was their native language. The Rhuramenti
language was delicate and slow, with soft syllables that flowed seamlessly
together. Despite the tension in the room, she sounded like she was reciting
Lio replied in the same language, and they spoke together for
half a minute, seemingly oblivious to anyone else in the room. Finally, Lio
turned back to Nathan, primly clasping his hands behind his back.
“We will accept your offer of lodging,” he said. “But we will
need to use your communication facility in order to contact our Council. They
need to know of the situation immediately.”
Nathan nodded. “Of course. I’ll contact our technicians and
get the communication station set up for you.”
“Thank you,” Lio said. “I must also request that you continue
to keep our presence here discreet. I would prefer to stay in rooms away from
Nathan hesitated slightly before nodding. “I assure you my
men on this base are as loyal as they come. But if you insist, we’ll keep your
presence on the down low.”
“Much appreciated,” Lio said with a nod.
Nathan gestured sharply at Beck, making him stand a little
straighter. “Beck will lead you to your rooms, and then to the communication
station, whenever it’s set up. If you have any concerns about your security,
he’s your man.”
Lio’s eyes raked him up and down, his expression impassive.
“Thank you, Beck,” he said. “Your guidance is appreciated.”
“I’m happy to help in any way I can,” Beck said, using the
sincerest tone he had.
“Right,” Nathan said. “Now, I need to get back to my office
to make some calls. We’ll get that relic back soon, I promise.” He gestured to
Beck. “Beck, take them to the North Quarters. If they want seclusion and
safety, it’s the best place.”
No. No, it definitely wasn’t. It was secluded, that was
true—the North Quarters were used for housing new recruits during their
training, and since it wasn’t a training season, the building was empty. But it
was also the oldest building on the base and a broken-down piece of crap.
Always twenty degrees too hot, leaking faucets, shitty beds. Beck wasn’t any
sort of expert in intergalactic politics, but he was pretty damn sure putting
an ambassador in the North Quarters was the quickest way to get Earth nuked.
“All right,” Beck said, forcing himself to nod.
Nathan reached out to shake the ambassador’s hand. “Nice
meeting you, Lio,” he said gruffly. “I’ll see you later at the communication station.”
Lio nodded and returned the handshake, and then gave another
bow, although it was short and stiff. “Peace and duty, Commander Hayes.”
Nathan gave a curt nod, clearly having no idea how to react
to the farewell, and headed toward the door that Sierra had come through.
Sierra gave a hurried goodbye and followed after him, leaving Beck alone in the
hangar with the two aliens.
“Right this way,” he said, gesturing for Lio and Marin to
He took them out the north exit of the hanger, as if he were
actually heading that way. But as soon as they exited, he veered toward the
left and took off toward the South Quarters.
Lio and Marin followed closely behind him, walking side by
side. They spoke to each other in their quiet, flowing language, but when Beck
glanced back, he could see concern crinkling the face of the ambassador.
Beck cleared his throat and quietly said, “I’m sorry Nathan
was a little… abrupt. He’s a great man and a great commander. But he’s very
suspicious of, um, visitors from other galaxies.”
Lio nodded. “I can see that.”
Beck hesitated. He knew he had no right to speak to the
ambassador about this sort of thing, but he couldn’t just let the subject drop.
Nathan had always treated Beck like a son, taking him under his wing from the
moment he’d joined the Resistance. The commander was a damn good man, even if
he could be a strong-headed ass, and Beck wasn’t just going to stand by and let
the ambassador get the wrong impression.
Beck halted and turned to face Lio. “Look,” he said quietly,
“I know Nathan is being really difficult, and I apologize for that. But just…
His wife and daughter were killed by the Syndicate, and his son was maimed. It
all happened right in front of him, and I think it just kind of… messed with
Lio merely nodded, giving Beck an impassive stare.
Beck cleared his throat uncertainly, but he decided to push
on. “Nathan distrusts all aliens. It’s not just you or your people, it’s all of
them. So please don’t take his behavior personally, and please don’t think all
humans feel the same way. Most of us are eager to work alongside you against
the Ascendancy. We want this alliance to work. And I think Nathan will, too,
once he sees that it’s best for humanity.”
A little bit of the hardness melted from Lio’s expression. “I
appreciate the explanation,” he said simply.
Beck nodded and then turned around, heading back toward the south quarters. In the grand scheme of things, his words probably changed nothing. But he would sleep easier knowing he’d done his part to try to keep this fragile alliance alive.
Check out my book PRIME EVIL, on preorder for May 14, 2020
All the bugs in the world couldn’t keep Chief Petty Officer Bryant from reaching Petty Officer Moldoon, the man who knelt with one of those damn creature’s slicers tearing through his armor. Armor that shouldn’t have been penetrable, originally made for the Marines but upgraded and enhanced for the SEALs.
Dark caverns in all directions echoed with the shouts and gunfire of the fighting. Shrill screeches from the bugs sounded on frequencies that threatened to drive the Earther forces mad.
The SEALs were there to infiltrate, while the Marines went toe-to-toe aboveground. Another day for the most clandestine section of the Interagency Intrusion Task Force, or the IITF, to get to work. Chief Petty Officer Bryant found this label humorous for the simple fact that their team was made up almost entirely of SEALs. He was a former Marine, true, and had risen to the rank of Staff Sergeant before switching over to the Navy and to go SEAL. Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training wasn’t easy, but with all the space exploration and threat from intergalactic enemies, he hadn’t expected anything less.
And now his team had the mission of taking out the mother of all bugs. By God, he would see it through, but first he had to get to his man. He charged through the enemy ranks, sending green and black goo from dead bugs spraying around him with his assault. A leap with his augments sent him over the head of one that reminded him of a mixture of praying-mantis-meets-scorpion, almost forgetting about the double tails until one sliced into the armor on his forearm.
Wound be damned, he’d made it. Other SEALs came behind to deal with the tails. Petty Officer Green sliced off the first while Petty Officer Robinson pumped the creature’s chest full of lead. Moldoon’s scream of pain reminded Bryant that he didn’t have time to linger and watch it go down.
Three shots hit the bug’s curved carapace armor, creating small dents but nothing more. (more…)
I’ve been listening back through the Shadow Corps books as I outline book four, and it’s funny how, when I wrote them, I didn’t think of them as Gamelit. I was just writing what I thought would be fun. Then I got reviews saying they were LitRGP, and I was confused. Anyway, reading this now… I see why. Check it out.
A SciFI Gamelit Snippet:
She threw herself at the bastards, quickly destroying them, then stepped back and looked down. The sword glowed to its full potential, and her last blue circle filled in.
A rush of energy filled her, tingling up from the suit. She felt it growing thicker, stronger… better.
As if she had just leveled up. Holy shit. This was too much fun. She checked, and sure enough, the lights had reset back at zero.
With a new zest for the fight, she charged into the cavern, her battle cry piercing the darkness. Now the creatures were falling left and right, but she noticed that the blue lights weren’t filling up quite as fast as before. When she came to a fork in the tunnels, a light appeared inches from her face and she nearly stumbled back, not expecting that. (more…)
“Ten… Nine… Eight…” The Marines were calling out the numbers along with the screen, and when we hit one, the screen lit up with fireworks over the White House, illuminating the crowds cheering us on.
All around the world people were tuning in, preparing to watch the first simulated war in history. Here I was, playing my part in it. A final look around the room showed anticipation, bravery… the world’s finest.
The headsets went on, and I was back in blackness. The light flashed a couple of times, then vanished.
The smell of pines hit me first, then a gust of wind brought a scent like fresh rain. A moon shone down on us from the middle of the sky, reflecting off the damp grass at our feet. It was all so real. I knelt, taking off my glove, and could feel the grass, smooth and sharp to the touch.
“You going to make love to this place, or come fight the war with me?” Relic said, grinning at my side. (more…)
Nothing could’ve excited Trent Helms more than the gateway as it opened in the stars above. This was it—the moment he’d been training for, the moment that pulled his entire future together. He and the other Space Fleet Marines gathered with officers and senior NASA officials, watching as purple and blue light flowed through space like a door to heaven.
They’d opened this particular door before for testing and probes, and while no images had made it back, readings had. Results indicated at least one potentially habitable planet in what they’d named the Krastion Galaxy. This information was enough that, on this night, Trent and the other teams would be the first humans through. They’d be the first to investigate the other side, to learn if there was indeed another option for expanding beyond the Solar System.
And maybe, if they were lucky, they’d discover signs of life.
“I hope you have your big-kid undies on, Gunnery Sergeant,” Colonel O’Donnell said, a grin spreading across her normally stern face as she slapped Trent on the shoulder. “I almost shat myself just looking at that thing. Imagine actually flying through it.”
“An image I’m sure to carry with me through the gate, sir,” he replied with a chuckle. “But we won’t have to imagine flying through the gate for long. I want to be the first ship through.”
“Damn right,” she said. “I take care of mine, just remember that. You and me, we’ll shove the rest of them aside if we have to.”