UNEDITED – Launching May 30! In the meantime, follow the series on Facebook!

Syndicate WarWith every reason to suspect that this might be the last day of her life, Quinn adjusted her well-worn battle armor and shouldered her assault rifle, staring up at the billowing gray clouds of the early afternoon sky.

There were no rays of light, no sign from the heavens, nor any other reason to be optimistic.

Yet, somehow, she still possessed a modicum of hope, because she wasn’t just readying to fight for herself. Hers wasn’t necessarily a personal battle for survival; rather, it was a fight on behalf of humanity against an invading force of aliens that might soon sweep across the Earth, ushering in a new age of extinction. Quinn had always thought that despondency arose out of having choices, and since there was only one option—do battle against the invaders and squeeze every ounce of life from their bodies—there was little reason to lose heart.

A bemused smile danced across her lips, and she wondered how it had come to this. How a young woman from an Ohio backwater could enter the Corps as a means to support herself and her little girl and then, only a few years later, be on the front lines of what might be history’s last great stand. The battle to end all battles, the fight to save Earth from a powerful alien force that the Marines simply knew as the Syndicate.

Soon they would likely see the first sign of what might bring their impending death. Quinn and the others in her squad, the thirty-six men and women of the Global Force Marines, were ready for whatever the day might bring, even if that meant their complete and utter annihilation.

She had once heard somebody say that all of the old gods, except for the God of War, were dead. She thought that was about the truest thing she’d ever heard. Her squad didn’t just recognize the last, living god, they bowed at his bloody altar. The Marines of the Global Defense Command were well trained and ready for action. They would gladly sacrifice themselves in defense of honor, their families and the citizens of Earth.

Another scan of the skies revealed no fleet of alien ships. The anxiety causing the shooting pain in her chest was a mixture of excitement to be among the first to fight and die against this alien force, and horror at the knowledge that this morning’s sunrise might be her last. Not that it wasn’t a sunrise worthy of her last day. Streaks of red clouds lined the deep blue above, like fresh claw marks ripping open the sky.

“This place is as good as any to hunker down and protect what’s ours,” Quinn said, dismounting the squad’s armored tactical vehicle, her eyes never straying from the sliver of sun that peeked up over the jungle hills. “Especially since we have no idea who they really are.”

“Sergeant,” a corporal said, trying to get her attention. But Quinn couldn’t even remember his name. He was a headquarters warrior. A scientist meant to give them a strategic advantage on the battlefield should he recognize a tech weakness in the enemy’s defenses. But so far, he’d proved worthless and took up valuable armor and gear that would have been more useful in the hands of a fighter.

Especially considering no one really knew what they were up against yet. What Quinn wished was that Earth’s Defense Forces possessed the foresight to provide more Marines with proper combat training, instead of scientists that only consumed space and resources. Fear about the unknown nature of the invasion force had gotten in the way of combat readiness, though.

But Quinn wasn’t about to let some corporal steal her last sunrise, so she ignored his call, instead staring at the sky. Behind her, the sound of more Marines dismounting clattered across the slab of rock that overlooked an immense sweep of jungle and the ocean that lay beyond it.

Spring was in full bloom and the air seemed dense, perfumed from the flowers that bloomed across the jungle canopy. A mist from the ocean hovered over the jungle, swirling about the skirt of a rugged formation—their ultimate destination, a stratovolcano in the midst of Mount Tlaloc, a massive spit of rock that loomed over everything in awful majesty like some pagan idol.

Finally, the sky lit up a bright pink that faded to orange. She breathed deep, taking in the fresh morning air and hoping her daughter back in the city was looking at that same sunrise. Everything had started for her little Sammy, only nine years old but so mature.

Now, chances are they would all die, and Quinn would never see her daughter again.

She closed her eyes and steeled her nerves for what was about to come, then turned to look at her brothers-in-arms, standing at ease, awaiting her command. Before making her move, she detached the top plate from her gunmetal gray, interlocking battle armor.

“Alright, Devil Dogs,” she said, stepping forward and projecting her voice. “The daylight has snuck up on us. Do not allow the same of those godforsaken, shit-licking alien bastards who mean to see us annihilated. Suit up, prepare defenses, and, if it’s your thing, say your prayers.”

As they moved about their business, Quinn studied the other Marines, her eyes lingering on the four men she trusted most in this world: Milo, the rangy one with a stubbled face and strong cheekbones; the black, muscle-quilted Sergeant named Hayden; Giovanni, the world-weary sniper, who was bald as an egg and prone to communicating as much with looks and gestures as with words; and Renner, the short grenadier with a stocky build whose hands were as fidgety as a blackjack dealer’s.

Renner caught her staring and said, “Yo, Quinn, tell Centcom I want mine over there.” He motioned to a section of flat earth covered in flowers.

“Your what?” Quinn asked.

“My grave,” he said with a wink. “I plan on saving this planet, that’s for damn sure. My payment? The most beautiful burial plot on this hill.”

She rolled her eyes as the other Marines hooted and hollered.

“Not a single Marine’s crossing over to the other side without my say-so,” Hayden said. “In point of fact and until we have killed every last one of the Syndicate, you do not have my permission.”

“Then why are our orders to head underground, Gunny?” Milo asked. “Shouldn’t we be the first to greet the enemy when they arrive?”

Quinn turned to Milo. He was the golden child of the unit, the one with the excellent hair and the looks plucked from a recruiting poster. He was the Honor Graduate at Boot Camp, the one who finished first in every goddamn physical training course the rest of the unit had slogged through, and came out the other side with a smile. She wanted to explain, but doing so could derail morale. The strategy was an old one. Let the first wave take out a less “vital” unit—fodder, a tactic the British Empire had used to perfection at its peak. Then unleash their best fighters as the enemy reloads.

But before Quinn could respond, Hayden interrupted. “I get that you want to give your life for the cause, Corporal, but save your hero impulses for when our entire species isn’t at stake.”

Quinn shook her head and looked to the Marines. “I don’t care what you believe in that motivates you to move forward, just as long as you move forward. Am I clear, Marines?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” they shouted, in unison.

“Considering we’re all dead anyway,” Renner said, nudging the corporal next to him with his elbow, “why don’t we simply party until they arrive, am I right?”

A couple of the Marines cheered at that, but the majority glared at him, and then turned to Quinn to wait for a response.

“Stifle that shit and do what the Sergeant said!” Hayden shouted, silencing Renner with a nasty look.

Milo ignored the comment and moved toward Quinn, hoping for one last word before battle. The Marines filtered around him to the tactical vehicles as he got close to Quinn, who was refastening her armor.

“Do we really have a chance, Quinn?” Milo asked.

“You need to address me as Sergeant when others are around,” she said, glaring at him. “Just ’cause we went to Uni together doesn’t mean we’re still back there. We’re Marines now. Act like one.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” He gave her a wry smile, edging close as if to make a move, but she stepped back.

Quinn’s gaze smoked into his.

“Milo, Milo, Milo.” She looked him up and down, then scoffed. “You couldn’t last one minute with me. And I’m not the least bit sad to say, you’ll never find that out.”

“If I were the last man on Earth?” he asked, not giving up. “You’d have to consider it then.”

She shook her head, laughing. “Look, if you’re scared, you can hold my hand when the aliens arrive.”

“Fuck you, Quinn.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s what I just finished saying no to.” She smiled, but there was no levity in it. She noticed Giovanni watching, and nodded in acknowledgment. He quickly looked away, so she turned and looked over the mixture of jungle and desert one final time.

“In all seriousness,” Milo said, “I’m gonna be sad if this is all gone in a few hours.”

She didn’t respond, just held her breath.

“You’re a mom, right?” he asked.

She nodded.

“And moms are the nurturing, caring types, right?” Milo continued.

“Some of them,” she replied.

“So tell me something reassuring, momma.”

“Violent change is the essence of human history,” she whispered, hating Milo at that moment for reminding her of her little girl Samantha… Sammy. She’d left her behind with her folks in the hinterlands of Ohio, everyone hunkered down in the family’s bunker-slash-bugout coop. She would never even consider changing the moment that brought her Sammy, but she’d learned the lesson that night, the lesson to never get involved with another Marine. They all left or died in the end, and now she was proving the same point to her daughter.

Fuck, she wanted to punch something. Instead, she just leaned over the drop-off and spat into the lush jungle below, hoping it hit some predatory dick-weed animal in the eye.

Milo manufactured a smile, then started to turn away. “Yeah, so, that violent change stuff is totally not what I was going for, but thanks anyway.”

“No worries, Corporal,” Quinn said. “We’re all feeling tense.”

“Roger that, Sergeant. Locked and loaded,” Milo replied.

Milo gave her a wink, then joined the rest of their platoon.

Quinn watched him go, shaking her head. She hoped he’d make it through this day at least.

It was, however, entirely likely that they’d lose—be overrun or outgunned in whatever battle would soon take place. Hell, there was no denying that they’d probably all be dead before they knew the full power of the Syndicate.

She shouldn’t have been thinking that, but no one really knew how dangerous the alien horde was. Or if Earth even had the weapons to counter. They’d planned, but still. People like Milo deserved to make it, though. As for herself, she wasn’t so sure. She’d done enough wrong to justify getting a burial plot like Renner on the battlefield. Christ, maybe that’d be the best she could hope for.

But her little Sammy deserved so much more than this, a world overrun by aliens. And what happened if the Marines were defeated? What would come next? Humans forced to live in ghettos or worse? Rounded up and placed in pens and fattened and slaughtered like cattle if they were lucky? Quinn wanted to believe otherwise, but had a sneaking suspicion that things were not destined to end well for her and the other Marines.

FROM JUSTIN >>> At long last, I present the fist snippet for SYNDICATE WARS! This is a joint project with Kyle Noe and George Mahaffey, and we go into way more detail on that in the author notes. So to not be repetitive, I’ll just say that we’ve had a blast and are ALREADY working on book 3.

Book 1 launches May 30, so stay tuned. If you like Space Marines, Space Opera, Time Travel, and elements like that – perfect!

In the meantime, my other Michael co-author (haha) just released a space opera. Here it is:

HONOR’S RESERVE, by Michael La Ronn

Honor's ReserveIt should have been just another routine spaceship boarding.

For Petty Officer Grayson McCoy, it’s his last mission in the Galactic Guard: board a suspicious spaceship with no registration, perform a safety check, and write up a citation or two.

Then he can return home, pick up where he left off in his swimming career, maybe start dating.

But there’s something on that rogue ship more deadly than Grayson ever imagined.

And it’s taking over the galaxy.

Honor’s Reserve is the first book in the Galaxy Mavericks space opera series. It’s the story of six ordinary people from different walks of life who have to band together to save the galaxy.

You can grab it here.