The book’s about to launch, so here you go! FINAL SNIPPET!
Mortar rounds began dropping as an airborne drone sliced by, distending a mass of metallic tentacles that ensnared a female resistance fighter. Giovanni watched the drone pull the screaming woman up into the air until she was barely visible, and then it dropped her.
The woman shrieked, windmilling her arms, falling through the air before her body broke apart on the roof of an adjacent house.
“Fuckers!” Calee said, pulling up next to Giovanni. She had a Hafnium rocket launcher over one shoulder and was hungry for targets.
“Cover me!” she said, and Giovanni did, turning and firing several rounds as the drones regrouped and menacingly moved forward.
The chain guns on the drones turned night to day, spitting fire continuously, as Calee dove for cover. She scrabbled behind a brick wall and rose and fired her rocket.
The missile arced up and then came down on a hard angle, detonating on top of another drone, splintering it into five smoking pieces.
Giovanni motioned to Luke who thundered forward and took cover next to him.
“You still in one piece?”
“For now,” Luke said, with a quick nod.
“This is like Yemen on bath salts,” Giovanni said.
Luke looked bewildered. “I have no idea what that means.”
They rose together and fired at the drones which were continuing their advance, plasma rounds from their chain guns splintering the brick wall, nearly taking off Luke’s head.
“Fall back!” Giovanni shouted. “FALL BACK!”
The resistance fighters rose and angled back, several of them shot down as they maneuvered through the Syndicate field of fire. Another was injured, and before Giovanni could move to him, he fell under the oversized foot of a drone, the man’s body mangled and crushed to death, while the fighter next to him, a young woman, was grabbed by the arms of a metal machine that telescoped out and grabbed her around the legs and neck and ripped her body in half like a chicken wing.
Every time Giovanni thought he’d hardened himself to the worst things a person could see, a night like this would happen. He could taste the bile at the back of his throat, but set his jaw and fired at the drones, shattering the arms on the monster that had just killed the female fighter.
They’d lost seven, perhaps eight fighters, Giovanni thought, as he shadowed Luke, slinking through the gloom. They couldn’t continue to suffer so many casualties. He turned and realized he was all alone. The drones opened up on him, and he covered his head while running raggedly forward.
Plasma rounds from the killing machines churned the earth all around him, splintering a tree, blasting apart a junked car that was off to his right.
He saw Luke up ahead, gesturing to follow toward the rear of the house.
Luke rushed forward, emptying his gun and providing cover fire. One of the shots took down a small airborne drone that whined and pinwheeled through the sky, trailing a tail of smoke and fire before crashing into the beached tactical vehicle and setting it ablaze. Flames licked the sky and the scent of burning metal, rubber, and torched flesh was overwhelming.
Giovanni and Luke veered around the side of the house, making for a gate near a wooden fence, when they paused at a whistling sound.
Turning back a final time, Giovanni watched the sky turn orange, and then he felt a stillness in the air, like being in the eye of a twister.
Instinctively, he covered his head. The ground erupted under his feet. A Syndicate munition exploded, lifting him fifteen feet into the air.
He felt weightless for an instant, his testicles sucked up into his stomach.
The air rushed past him and then he looked up and saw the backyard pool coming up fast.
Giovanni hit the water head first, his nose nearly touching the bottom of the pool, the water glowing red from the resulting explosion.
He threw out his arms and tasted the chlorine as he nearly kissed the bottom of the granite pool. At the last second, he threw out both hands and pushed himself back.
By some miracle, he breached the surface of the pool and looked up to see Luke near the edge, peering down at him.
“You’d think after eleven years of combat I’d be used to getting blown up,” Giovanni muttered.
Luke smiled darkly and reached a hand down, grabbing Giovanni’s wrist and pulling him up. “I’d think you’d learn how to not get blown up, but that’s just me.”
Giovanni managed a pained chuckle, ignoring Luke’s roaming eyes as the man checked him for missing parts.
“All there,” Luke said.
Giovanni looked down at his singed clothes, wondering how close he’d been to losing a limb or two. He noticed he was still holding Luke’s hand, and sheepishly let it go.
“I don’t want to stay to give them another chance,” Giovanni said, and Luke nodded before leading the way out of there.
The pair hopped a short metal fence, circling through the yard of another house where Calee and the other fighters, eyes sunken with exhaustion, were visible.
The noises of the drones resolved themselves into a faraway clatter. Giovanni gaped about and realized that, as quickly as the assault had begun, it was over. The drones were nowhere in sight and, by the sounds of things, were moving off in the other direction.
“Fuck the Syndicate!” one of the fighters shouted. “We took down four of those bitches!”
“And lost half of our team in the process,” Luke cut in.
Giovanni shook his head. His guts seized because he knew the whole thing had been a ruse. An attack designed to keep the resistance at bay while the Syndicate made for the safe house, the hidden complex where the resistance concealed its youngest members along with fighters who were filtering into the city from the outside world. He climbed onto a nearby stone wall, where he stood and stared.
From his vantage point, he could see the glow of fires in the distance, could hear the far-off rattle of machine-gun fire from the resistance defenders guarding the safe house. The firing reached a crescendo and then fell eerily silent.
“Oh, God,” Giovanni said, to himself, recognition on his face. “They’re already there. Follow me, you sons of bitches!”
With a wave of his arm to signal them forward, Giovanni led the fighters on a mad dash down through an alley that bisected apartment buildings and a potluck of bungalows and Spanish-style ranchers with terra-cotta roofs. The moon had retreated behind the clouds, the alley heavy with shadows. The alley spooled to an unmarked, garbage-strewn urban spur, shadowed by a large, partially destroyed office building.
The air flurried with cinders from the fires. Giovanni came to a pause, listening to the whine of the gliders overhead, the hissing and snapping of the pistons on the drones as they spidered down the streets on the other side of the building. Giovanni liked to think of himself as a tactician—someone who was always quick with a plan—but for the moment, he was at a loss.
He had to reach the resistance safe house and quickly, but to do that, to run a gauntlet teeming with Syndicate soldiers and drones, was a suicide mission.
Sensing his confusion, Luke grabbed his wrist and pulled him back with the others, who were hugging a cement-block wall, threading ammunition into their weapons. Luke pointed to the far end of the spur where shadows danced on a massive, cement wall. It was the outline of a fast-approaching Syndicate drone. At the other end of the spur, they could just make out a unit of slow-moving Syndicate soldiers scanning the shadows with red lasers.
Luke stared at Giovanni, grim-faced. “What say?”
Giovanni pulled back the firing pin on his rifle. “I say we’ve got ‘em precisely where we want ‘em. Surrounded… from the inside out.”
Luke cracked a smile, and Giovanni pointed back toward the office building. The rear facade had been shorn at some point in the past to reveal the structure’s innards. A rusted, crooked fire escape dangled from the building like an umbilical cord.
“We hit that and move through the building,” he said.
Luke studied the fire escape and nodded. “And then?”
“We make it up as we go along.”
Luke turned to Giovanni and held his gaze. “So you’re suggesting we just crawl up into a building that could collapse at any moment, and then find a way down onto a street that’s infested with things that want to do us all kinds of wrong, all the while searching for people who likely have been taken away up into space? Is that what you’re suggesting, ace?”
A ghost of a smile gripped Giovanni’s face. “Got anything better to do?”
Luke shook his head and returned the smile. “Hell no, I don’t. Let the madness begin.”
The fighters blasted across the spur and negotiated their way over the mounds of rubble at the back of the building. Giovanni was on point, grabbing the end of the fire escape, pulling down, testing to see whether it would hold.
Sensing that it would, he slung his rifle and pulled himself up, the others following. They crawled twelve feet up and wormed across an interior landing until they were maneuvering through the structure. They pounded through the center of the structure, running over exposed metal floors that were as hard as obsidian, tossing aside clusters of electrical conduit that dangled from the ceilings like spider webs.
Soon, they were on the other side of the building and peering out through the gaping holes that were once office windows. Giovanni did a quick recon of the main street below and realized, with a sinking feeling, that the Syndicate was already besieging the resistance safe house.
The safe house was at the other end of the street, beyond several other small structures. It was an industrial warehouse tucked between the commercial buildings and a sleepy neighborhood, the kind of place you wouldn’t look twice at, which was precisely the reason why the resistance had chosen it. Giovanni watched gunfire ring out from inside the warehouse as the Syndicate mercilessly returned fire, pounding the structure. God help Detwyler if he is still inside, Giovanni thought, his brain clouding with worry.
“It’s over,” Luke whispered.
Giovanni shook his head. “There’s still one chance.” He gestured for the others to follow, and they did. He led them down through holes in the drywall, filtering through spaces that had once been an enormous bullpen. Giovanni stopped the fighters at the other end of the building and pointed down through a massive hole in the wall. Twenty feet below was the roof of another building, and beyond that roof was another roof.
Puzzlement flashed through Luke’s eyes. He peered over Giovanni’s shoulder and began to mentally measure distances.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Giovanni asked.
“That I should’ve never come here with you,” Luke said.
Giovanni steeled his nerves, fists clenched. “We can do this. It’s the only way.”
Luke sighed. “What is it with Marines and death?”
“We stare it down every day. That’s what makes us such interesting people. A fascination and desire for death gives us much more of an appreciation for life.”
“Okay, for starters, that’s probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Luke said.
Giovanni gestured to the others and motioned for them to move back. He trotted across the bullpen and turned. Without hesitation, he set off a ragged run and jumped through the hole. He felt himself suspended for an instant, felt a sense of inner stillness, and then he was falling.
He hit the adjacent roof hard, falling into a clumsy roll. The impact was more significant than he’d expected, his knees and joints aching. Luke and the others followed him down, one of the men turning an ankle and having to be helped up as the group plowed forward.
They continued across the other roofs and then dropped down onto a parking garage. Sprinting down the ramps on the garage, they were soon only thirty yards away from the resistance safe house, but by then, it was too late.
The Syndicate gliders were still visible overhead, but the alien attack was over. The entire area, including the resistance safe house—the warehouse—lay in ruins. Giovanni and the others trodded through what was left of the area surrounding the safe house. The neighborhood had been reduced to ashes, the twisted structures of the buildings still smoking as the resistance fighters arrived.
The fighters guarding the safe house had battled valiantly, their efforts attested to by the myriad drones that lay broken and charred up and down the street. Indeed, the fighting had been so intense that sections of the asphalt had melted and buckled, the smoking corpses of the resistance defenders lying where they fell.
Luke ran ahead of the others, the first one into the main building that Giovanni assumed would have held Detwyler and the other members of his unit.
When he emerged moments later, tears guttered his cheeks. His face was as pale as spilled milk.
Luke approached Giovanni waving his hands to keep him back, his eyes pleading.
“Don’t go in there,” he whispered.
“I have to see for myself,” Giovanni said.
Giovanni brushed past Luke, stepping across the threshold and into the heart of a building that was now little more than a burning shell.
There were bodies everywhere, so many fucking bodies, men and women lying in all attitudes of death.
Giovanni covered his face, the stench of death peeling back his nostrils. He stepped over the bodies of his fallen comrades, inspecting them, fighting off the emotion. All sexes and various ethnicities were represented amongst the dead.
He found him at the rear of the structure, lying on his back, rifle at his side. The resistance fighter named Detwyler tried to raise his head, but couldn’t. There was a soda can-sized hole in his chest that was puckered and leaking red all over the ground. Giovanni watched his chest rapidly rise and fall, Detwyler cheyne-stoking, his life seeping away.
“Typical Marine. Always late for the big dance,” Detwyler said, forcing a smile, blood pooling between his teeth.
Giovanni approached and knelt at his side. “I hoped like hell to meet you under better circumstances.”
“That makes two of us,” Detwyler smirked, coughing up some blood.
“You need anything?”
Detwyler nodded slowly. “A little water would be nice and maybe a dozen or so pints of the red stuff.”
Giovanni removed a water flask from his tactical belt and held it up to Detwyler’s mouth.
“And the man who was in torment asked that Lazarus be permitted to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool the man’s tongue, for he was in agony,” whispered Detwyler.
Giovanni shook his head. “What’s that from?”
“The Bible,” Detwyler said, taking a long slug from the flask. “Funny how things come back to you in your time of dying.”
Giovanni pulled the flask down. “You’re not allowed to die yet.”
“Is that so?”
Giovanni nodded. “It’s a direct order.”
Detwyler’s trembling hand came up. He pointed to his side. “There’s something back there I brought you.”
Giovanni reached around to see a rucksack under Detwyler’s leg.
“Open it up,” Detwyler said.
Giovanni did. He removed a toy, a robot that was soot-covered, but otherwise undamaged.
“She said its name was Zeus,” Detwyler said.
“The girl,” Detwyler replied, his voice barely audible. “Samantha. She left it behind when she set out with another unit.”
“Where?” Giovanni asked.
“Near the Colorado border.”
Giovanni registered this, considered what it meant, then jolted as Detwyler placed a bloody hand on his leg.
“Ordinarily, I’d say a prayer for that young lady,” Detwyler said between coughs. “But seeing that I know her a bit, it’s probably best to pray for anybody that runs afoul of her.”
Giovanni nodded and looked to the side. “Just like her mother.”
When he looked down, Detwyler was no longer breathing. His eyes were still open, and his chest was still, but there was the faintest hint of a smile on his lips. Giovanni closed the man’s eyes and pocketed the toy robot, then moved back to Luke and the others. Once outside the wrecked structure, he gazed into the impenetrable blackness of night, wondering where the hell Samantha was.
FROM JUSTIN >>> Our book launches in 3 days. Pretty exciting! Book 1 has blown us away with its success so far, ranking quite well for Space Marines, Time Travel, and LGBT scifi.
Book 2 gets us into more of the time travel and relationships, and then book 3 will be much more about the time travel aspects of the story. What I care most about is Giovanni and Samantha – Quinn is awesome too, but I really want to see where those two characters end up!
Hope you’re enjoying the snippets – and don’t forget that the book will only be $0.99 for ht first day or two of launch, so … you’ve been warned.
As always, I like to promote another book at the end here. I really like the idea of magic and space, and … spoiler alert, some of that might show its head in book two of ours, so here’s Glynn Stewart’s
When a minor trade partner sends the Castle Federation a desperate call for aid, they have few resources to spare from their all-consuming war against the Terran Commonwealth. Unwilling to be seen failing their allies but able to spare only a tiny force, Castle sends a hero to command the task group: Captain Kyle Roberts, the Stellar Fox.
Beyond the Rimward frontier of the Federation and its allies, little is as it seems. The pirates are being armed by an outside force, and the politics of these worlds is made deadlier by their poverty. When the Coraline Imperium—the Federation’s oft-difficult ally—sends forces as well, it risks a conflict that could undermine the Alliance protecting them both.
There are deeper games afoot as local schemes play the great powers against each other. Captain Roberts is caught in the chaos as fire and blood explode across the region. There is only one certainty: these Rimward Stars must not fall.