UNEDITED (SPOILER – PROJECT ASCENT IS BOOK 3 IN THE SERIES)
Flying didn’t take long when in a jet arranged by one of the top U.S. ambassadors. Soon, land was visible and Alicia found herself almost laughing with relief. Everything they had been through to get to this point was coming to a close. All of her work putting together teams of hackers up on Space Station Horus, fighting to break free once she had her husband back, and now the romp from Japan to Italy—it hadn’t been for nothing after all.
Arriving at Washington, D.C. reminded Alicia of Istanbul in that they had done such a great job of keeping the old while building up the new. The Ronald Reagan airport had evolved over the years into this advanced hanger for local aircraft and craft for intercontinental travel, as well as space travel. Its design was reminiscent of a massive traveling bullet, with metal sheeting glimmering in the afternoon sun, sticking out like wings to symbolize motion.
Other craft circled as they waited for clearance to land, so Alicia and her group were able to catch a view of the monuments and D.C. itself. Monuments shone in white, defined by the large groupings of greenery around them, and the White House rose above the city like the fortress it had become after the large uprising that had nearly toppled it and changed the world. Alicia remembered the feeling of terror as she watched the news years ago, still in school, witnessing the militia charging in. It hadn’t lasted long, but the extensive damage and trauma of it all had convinced Washington of the need for better defenses. The Washington Monument had also been taken out by an attack that day—a symbolic gesture—but now rose twice as high, a spiraling tower with colored glass near the top that glimmered in the sun and ensured everyone knew it was there. No longer just a monument, its missiles and radar made it part of the capitol’s defense network.
North of all this, fancy new apartment complexes rose into the sky.
“Home sweet home,” Shrina said, spinning her chair to turn to her sister. “Well, close enough.”
“I’ve always wanted to see…” Marick started to say, but then turned to his wife. “Wait, have I been here?”
Alicia ran a hand along his arm and offered a gentle smile. “No, dear.”
“Good. Then I can say I’ve always wanted to see D.C.”
“We’ll have that chance,” Shrina said, “but we’re not exactly here for a tour.”
“You’re reminding me?”
She shrugged. “Just saying.”
“And this contact?” he asked, turning to Triston. “Any word?”
Triston had his seat’s screens working, and several were projected from the armrest to hover in front of him, one with words flashing: Access Granted.
“We’re good to go,” he replied, smiling at Shrina for an awkward moment, then seeming to remember that the rest of them were there too. “Two of us will go in under the guise of interviewing for an internship—that’s what the passes will say anyway—and then they’ve given us directions for where to meet.”
“And how do we know it’s not a trap?” Alicia asked.
It wasn’t like she was expecting to be reassured, but it would’ve been nice. At this point, there wasn’t much she’d put past New Origins. They’d already sent their elite warrior group, the Taipans, after them, as well as placing a bounty on their heads. The plan to stop New Origins would’ve been snuffed out by Project Destiny, of which the Taipans were a part, if not for Pete switching sides., Though the real blow—taking out Nightshade herself—had been a combined effort by Marick and Alicia.
She sighed, leaned back and put her hands to her temples. “I swear, if I have to put another knife into someone’s throat, I’m going to be so pissed.”
“Ah, the problems of the upper class.” Shrina said and shrugged at her glare. “Get it? Because you all came from up there, on the space station?”
“Oh boy.” Alicia rolled her eyes at her sister. “If you’d been up on Horus, you’d know it certainly isn’t all upper class.” Turning back to Triston, she added, “Seriously though, what should we expect going into this?”
He tapped his screen and then pointed to her wrist, and when she’d opened the screen and hit accept, he swiped over and watched the screens appear as smaller projections in front of her.
“You have what you need there,” Triston said. “This lady—she and the ambassador go way back. The ambassador swears by her, so she’s our best bet.”
“But…?” Marick asked.
“We’re going up against New Origins here.” Triston paused, letting those words sink in. “Their CEO has more money than most countries. And governments, including America, have given them so much power that they’ve been able to establish themselves as almost indispensable. We can’t exactly blow them to pieces. We can’t just shut down space exploration and mining operations, and we definitely can’t stop terraforming.”
“Then we need the government to take over,” Shrina said with a shrug.
“Says Ms. FBI herself,” Alicia said. “Many would argue that’s no better—and maybe worse.”
“Says Mrs. Former-Government, Faked-Her-Own-Death-and-is-Crazy, for all I know.”
“It’s one set of corrupt individuals for another,” Pete said, awakening from a deep sleep and chiming in for the first time. Alicia didn’t blame him for staying silent. Until yesterday, he’d been their enemy and probably wasn’t sure how truly welcome he was yet. “The difference,” he stood and stretched, then bent to look out one of the windows, “is that we already know Admiral Nor had ill intentions. We know she will hurt innocents to get what she wants.”
“Like any government,” Marick countered.
“The difference,” Shrina said, “is that we appoint our government.”
“Not all countries do.”
That left them in silence, all pondering the odd situation they found themselves in. As the plane moved back for another circle, the pilot’s voice came overhead, saying, “Hold tight, incoming.”
“What?” Alicia sat up, turning to the window just in time to see the reflective sheen of a stealth fighter craft, then the blast of missiles.
The jet lurched forward as she yelled for Pete to get in his seat, and then they were moving on to evasive maneuvers. A commercial jet flew past, dangerously close, and then an explosion sounded nearby, though they couldn’t be sure what had been hit, if anything.
“Seatbelts on!” the pilot shouted through the intercom. “We’re taking this baby down!”
Alicia braced, watching as Pete was jerked to the side. Only his enhanced strength enabled him to pull himself back to his seat and get strapped in. Perfect timing, too, because the jet was moving at an angle, turning back around, and spiraling down toward a path on the other side of some greenery. For a moment, it looked like they were veering back toward the river, but then the jet cut to the right, surprising a couple of bikers below, and pulled to the side, bringing them around as missiles exploded behind them.
Another explosion sounded overhead, but this time Alicia was able to identify the source as a series of Air Force fighter jets soared past. One of the enemy craft lost its cloaking, broke apart, and fell into the river.
That wasn’t the only one out there, though, and soon the Air Force fighters were engaged with a second stealth craft. For a minute they thought they were going to make it, but then they saw the ground coming up fast as the jet they were on lost control.
They were going to crash.
Marick was up, dashing forward to the cockpit. Alicia was about to follow, but she was jolted about and had to brace herself just to keep her head steady. From where she sat she saw Marick brace himself, then swipe on his machine and scan the ground. Either he was going to teleport out of there, which she didn’t find likely, or he was going to try something incredibly brilliant.
A split-second later he had his hand outstretched and the jet was pushing against a force made from the alien tech—like they were levitating, but not quite. She made a mental note to ask him about that later, along with any other extra functionalities he’d learned his suit was capable of.
Then they were on the ground, miraculously landing without any casualties—yet. Marick ran back to check on Alicia, moving as the jet slowed to a stop.
“Everyone up before we’re shot to hell,” the pilot said, turning to follow Marick and working the side door as he spoke. “That’s the closest we’re getting. Either stay on the plane with me as I hightail it out of here, or get the hell out and go on foot. Regardless of which way you’re going, we’re not staying here.”
“You heard the man,” Alicia said, unbuckling as soon as she’d processed the fact that they’d be going on foot from that point. “Shrina and Triston, you two—”
“Don’t even start,” Shrina said. “I’m coming.”
“She’s right,” Triston said as he stood and moved toward the door. “This meeting can go one way or another, and you’re going to need backup. And you’ll want us around in case you need a second option.”
Alicia debated arguing, but then an explosion went off nearby and shots riddled the ground just outside the window, reminding her it might be just as dangerous if they stayed on the plane.
She nodded and moved to Marick’s side. They all exited and ran for the nearby tree line, with Marick and Pete helping Shrina and Triston move faster. Behind them, the jet used the walkway to take off, hovering in the air for a moment before taking flight.
Marick knelt to pull out his exoskeleton, but Alicia put a hand on his arm. “Out here?”
He looked from her to the crowd of people watching the battle in the sky between the Air Force and the one remaining stealth craft, which was now in retreat, it appeared. Beyond the crowd were the three arches of the Air Force Memorial, along with more high rises and evidence of more advanced businesses that didn’t stick to the older look of downtown D.C.
“We gotta move,” Triston said, nodding to a section of the group that had noticed them and was pointing.
Instead of staying on the path, they moved into the trees in case the stealth craft returned or others came their way. The trees had been built up over the years to provide more of a natural barrier between housing and the airport. In terms of cover, it wasn’t much. It worked for the moment, and it was possible to follow the pungent gingko trees all the way up to the next bridge into the city. From there, they would have to hope no more enemy stealth craft were on the lookout.
“D.C. always like this?” Marick asked, wiping sweat from his brow.
“Humid? A swamp?” Shrina asked and nodded. “In the summer, anyway.”
“Try wearing a suit and tie,” Triston said, pulling at his collar. His undershirt was already starting to show sweat marks.
“No thank you,” Shrina replied with a laugh. “You could’ve changed like the rest of us.”
They were all wearing the clothes the ambassador had arranged for them except Triston, who preferred his suit, at least while they were on the plane. Now that he was out in the humidity of D.C., he was probably rethinking that decision.
“Considering the kind of people we’re meeting, I thought the suit made sense,” he countered. “Plus, I look damn good.”
“Less so with the sweat stains,” Shrina replied with a laugh. “But I’d still take you out.”
She smiled, then laughed at the way the others were looking at her.
“How about we focus on getting this mission over with?” Marick said with a grin. “Then you two can make marriage arrangements.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Shrina said, hands up. “I like the guy. Don’t get ahead of the situation.”
Alicia chuckled, seeing the look in her sister’s eyes and suspecting she more than just liked the guy, but she let it go. Marick was right. They still had a ways to go before they’d be in the city, and anything could happen between here and there.
FROM JUSTIN >>> Here it is – book 3 in the trilogy! I’m aiming to get this to you early, like perhaps the 20th of March. Fingers crossed! It follows the end of book 2, and we’ll get into the action right away. So far I’m hearing it’s the best of the series, the most action packed, and people are even claiming it’s my best writing. Yay!
I always like to point you to similar books when I post these, so wanted to direct you to Isaac Hooke’s new book:
Tane crosses the galaxy in a race against time to unlock the hidden powers inside himself before his enemies can capture him. With his companions, he moves between this universe and the next, pursued by the governments of aliens and humans alike. To fail means capture and mindless servitude, as those governments would turn him into a tool for their wars. To succeed means his freedom, and perhaps something more.
Hunted and attacked at every turn, eventually Tane finds himself backed into a corner, with no hope of escape.
But those who pursue him do not understand that Tane has only scratched the surface of the awesome power inside himself. And if his enemies press too hard, poke too deep, they might not like what rears its ugly head back at them.
Yes, they do not understand.
The Bender of Worlds has only just begun to awaken.