UNEDITED (I have a new book coming – here’s a peek!)
Subsection Alpha: Outer Halls
None of the red dots on Stealth’s HUD would be alive in a few minutes, so he had no reason to worry. No, it wasn’t worry that crept up on him, sending the taste of bile into the back of his throat and a building tension in his chest.
What then, he wondered as he lifted his rifle and prepared to breach Subsection Alpha of Space Station Horus’s living quarters. This was a known hangout of the lowlifes of this place, and rumored hiding spot of the hacker group that called themselves “The Looking Glass.” His target.
This wasn’t Stealth’s first mission, so the reaction his body was having to it didn’t make sense. A glance at Red showed that the man was ready, breaching charge in place and hand up. He stared back through his faceplate—full, to protect against explosions. It reminded Stealth of a bug, with its built-in air filter in case of gas attacks and the small antennae-like horns on the top and rear, similar to the helmets they’d worn in their Marine Corps days.
Stealth did his best to push the unsettling feeling down, focusing instead on a memory of his training in the Marines before coming here. A drill instructor back on Earth, standing before him in his body armor of green and black, shouting at him to do just one more pushup, then another, then another. “Just one more,” and it went on and on. Repetition, something familiar… order to the chaos. That memory always calmed his nerves, though he was certain it had been the source of an opposite reaction at the time.
Since it was one of his few remaining memories, he clung to it like a dog with its favorite chew toy—which happened to be another snippet of a remaining memory, though one he relied on far less often.
Here on Space Station Horus, he was part of something bigger, part of something new. He and Red were elite soldiers in Project Destiny, a special team within the privatized military that controlled the space stations. Being part of this team meant they had special equipment, special biological enhancements, and special privileges.
However, it also meant that his team was the target of The Looking Glass, which made the terrorist hacker organization their main enemy. If Alice or any of the other top marks were here, he was sure as hell going to take them down.
“You with me?” Red’s voice came across their private comms, a direct channel just for him. As if he needed that now too. Babying.
“Just breach already.” Stealth readjusted his shoulder rifle, securing it in place against the section of his exoskeleton that allowed for maximum mobility while adjusting for kickback.
Red shrugged, triggered the breaching charge, and rolled back against the wall, out of the way. Three, two, one… KABOOM!
The door blew off its hinges, showering debris inward. A cloud of dust rose up around the two soldiers as they entered. Oddly, the HUD screen showed more red dots than could be possible—hundreds of the enemy in here, all armed to the teeth. So much that it was obscuring his vision, one of the problems with these damn devices. Red was already shooting, but Stealth took the time to turn off his display.
Instead of a room full of enemy targets, all he saw was his partner, the cloud of dust, and three people huddled in the corner. Movement flashed, and he registered a fourth person who came swinging in from his right.
At least he hadn’t been wrong about something feeling off with the mission, he thought as the large technician plowed into him. Thanks to the exo-suit and its enhanced abilities, he resisted the attack, but the hit did cause him to drop his rifle.
One man was down, and Red was moving on another, shots ringing out. Then a hand was reaching for Stealth’s rifle. Still wrapped in combat with the first attacker, Stealth let his training and enhanced speed and strength take over. When the man pulled back for a punch, Stealth moved to the outside of it, caught the incoming arm, and twisted it around before kicking out the man’s knee with a loud pop.
The hand was on his rifle now, so he slammed his attacker into the nearby wall, headfirst, and spun to get his weapon back.
But the hand belonged to a young, teenage girl. She had the rifle, but was unsuccessfully trying to lift it. Without the genetic enhancements of PD, that would be tough. Tears in her eyes, she was staring at the now unconscious man on the floor.
“The hell did you do to my dad?” she yelled, then pulled the trigger even without the gun fully raised.
A four-round burst shot out, three rounds planting in the floor and one going on to ricochet around the room and off Red’s body armor. Red turned to fire on her in retaliation, but Stealth leaped, knocking him sideways. As soon as he’d recovered, he turned back to the girl, reached her in two strides, and snatched away the Destiny’s Destroyer Assault Rifle—DD4, as they called it.
“Cease fire!” he shouted to Red, then pulled up the comms in his helmet. “Stand down. All teams, stand down. We’ve been had.”
“Negative on that,” Captain Legorn’s scratchy voice replied. “All teams, prepare for new assignments.”
“What the hell’s going on?”
“Sergeant, you were not given authorization to shut down your helmet during combat,” the captain replied, reminding Stealth why he disliked the man so. “Luckily for us, Red follows orders. Even more luckily for us, everything’s going to plan. Now stand by for orders.”
Stealth looked back at the girl, kneeling beside her father now. He was awake, at least, which was more than could be said for the worker Red had put a bullet in. Dammit, what kind of horror storm was this?
“New coordinates incoming,” the captain said. “Proceed.”
“Roger that,” Red said, having recovered and now glaring at Stealth with his mask raised. Cutting off comms, he added, “Stick to the program, hot shot,” then slammed his mask back on and headed for the far door.
They moved through the door and into the next corridor, an empty hallway with eerie yellow lights flashing overhead. Metal beams ran across the side of the walls, with empty patches revealing the hallways on each side. Likely under construction, and just as likely to never be fully completed, as was the case with much of this station. Money was better used for military expansion and defenses, even if extraterrestrial life hadn’t actually been discovered yet.
And since Earth had begun diverting large amounts of its resources into terraforming, the space stations weren’t receiving subsidies anymore. It was easy to understand why the people were fighting back, angered by their low wages and cutbacks on rations to the lower crust.
“What are we doing here, Red?” Stealth hissed over their private channel. “They said to get in, hit the target, and get out.”
“Remembering that I’m not the target, right?” Red replied, ignoring the question. “Just want to make sure.”
“Dammit, you saw that girl back there. You were just going to shoot her, too?”
“I get the job done,” Red growled. “Some teenager chick has my partner’s rifle, I take her out. Man up, bro.”
The words irked Stealth to a whole new level, but as he was about to respond, a new direction showed up on his screen. They turned, the captain starting to shout at them through their comms that they were going the wrong way, and then—KABOOM!
As the floor disappeared beneath them, Stealth found himself reaching, arms flailing as he dropped his rifle and tried to catch hold of something, anything. He was falling, darkness consuming him. Then another explosion went off, and he was vaguely aware of Red’s helmet flying past, above.
Helmet… maybe? In the flash he realized that there might have been more than helmet there. No torso, but more than helmet.
The floor below slammed into him with a shock that shot through even the exoskeleton-reinforced body armor. He froze there, back arched and chest feeling like it would explode. Shooting pain held him in place, coursing through his limbs and wanting to fly out with a yell of agony, but he gritted his teeth and refused to give them that satisfaction.
Whoever had done this to him and his partner had just made a horrible mistake. He would heal. He would find them. He would take them down without mercy.
But first, he had to get out of there before more attacks came. With a growl, he staggered to his feet, noting that the exoskeleton was bent and his shoulder dislocated.
He positioned himself against the wall and threw his shoulder into it, screaming now, unable to help it. A glance around showed no sign of attackers, so he took another moment to disconnect the exoskeleton on his upper right side, where the dent and injury were.
A buzzing was coming from his helmet, so he hit it with the palm of his gloved hand. His ears rang, and then a moment later he heard someone shouting for him and Red.
“Stealth here,” he replied. “Red… is down.”
A brief silence followed, during which Stealth started to back away down one of the dark chambers. Whatever came next, he certainly wasn’t going to be found sitting around, waiting.
“Stealth, is that you?” Captain Legorn’s voice came in over the comms.
“Get the job done, and we’ll get you out of there,” Captain Legorn commanded. “Stick with the plan, soldier.”
Soldier. Huh. As much as that was true now, his being a part of Project Destiny, he knew in his heart where he belonged. This feeling of unease and suspicion had never been with him back on Earth, back when he was with the Marines. He didn’t remember a whole lot from those days, but he remembered that much.
“I’m a Marine, dammit,” Stealth replied, turning to abandon his mission and return to the command room. He meant to find out just what the hell was going on here. While he was at it, he would see that Captain Legorn got a piece of his mind.
FROM JUSTIN >>> This is the first peek of my new book! So keeping it short and sweet. It’s going to be on a space station, and you’re going to see two Points of View (POVs). The other is female, and you’ll meet her in the next snippet!
Guess what? We had our third baby a couple days ago! Ella Victoria Sloan, and her siblings are super happy to have her in our lives (as are we, of course).
That said… it is causing my writing time to be influenced, at least at first when mommy is super tired. I’ll try to keep up, but bear with me!
In other news, PT HYLTON and I released our third baby with Michael Anderle (okay, not really a baby), it’s….
It’s time to take this fight to the next level.
The hunt for Tolrok and the evil A.I. leads Valerie and Kalan to uncharted territory where they find themselves battling sand snakes, shapeshifting cultists, and worse.
As Valerie and Robin search for the reclusive admiral of the Lost Fleet, Kalan stays with a stranded squadron to help them fight off a pending attack.
Valerie was chosen by the Dark Messiah as his Justice Enforcer, but in the expanse of space, she’s quickly earning a new title: Prime Enforcer.
*NOTE: If cursing is a problem, then this might not be for you