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The Marines continued their journey, but it was another eleven hours before they completed their ascent and were driving through the colossal tunnel that had been drilled into the rear of the mountain. The tunnel had been built two years earlier, back when word of the Syndicate first arrived via SETI’s Alien Telescope Array.
The news had been almost impossible to believe and was initially chalked up to yet another “fake news” story. But then the truth was revealed. An armada of alien craft had emerged from a globular star cluster known as M-25, traveling at speeds of what appeared to be a thousand miles per second, heading directly toward Earth.
The first scientist to discover the craft, a man whose name was lost to history, described the spacecraft as moving in formation, as part of a team. He’d used the term “Syndicate” to describe the armada, and the name had stuck.
Not surprisingly, word of the discovery soon leaked, and pandemonium ensued after all the world’s media outlets, both respected and conspiracy-driven, started breathlessly reporting about all of the world’s satellites going dark all at once and the end of human civilization. Why weren’t they reaching out? Why weren’t the obviously organized and technologically advanced ships attempting to make contact?
There were endless meetings held at the United Nations, and eventually the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions that called for a kind of international Lend/Lease Act, whereby the world’s largest powers would manufacture all manner of weaponry to be stashed at strategic sites around the globe. The decision was made out of fear that the initial invasion would be overwhelming, so hiding the best-trained fighters and weaponry in preparation for an immediate counterattack was deemed the most logical military action.
The Mountain of the Crouching Beast, Mount Tlaloc, was one of the selected positions, a remote area in southern Mexico near the Guatemalan border whose nearest city was Tapachula. SOUTHCOM, Southern Command, in coordination with the world’s leading scientists and wannabe space navigators, predicted that this would be the area where the Syndicate would likely make first contact, because it would provide a perfect launch site for any further attacks by air, land, and sea.
From the Southern Hemisphere, they could reach anywhere easily and without detection. That was the best guess combined intelligence agencies could come up with as why here. Quinn didn’t buy it, but she did believe a landing was coming.
If the Syndicate ships had fired missiles and nukes when they entered the solar system, it would have indicated only an attack. But no missiles meant the Syndicate was invading because they wanted something on Earth, at least according to the intel Quinn was given, rather than invading only to destroy. Meaning a landing was inevitable.
Quinn looked up and guessed the tunnel to the mountain base they’d just entered must have been fifty feet wide and a hundred times that high. For two years, government construction teams had labored on the site, boring into the mountain and essentially inserting the contents of a thirty-story skyscraper into a five-story slab of granite.
There were five full floors of operating space, each floor the size of three football fields. On the floors were bullpens and war rooms and spaces filled with weapons and gear and food and vast stores of water, everything connected by staircases and landings and ladders and catwalks, the walls and ceilings reinforced with pure titanium and ballistic cement. They’d been told that there were enough supplies to last a six-month siege. Quinn was hopeful and expected that they wouldn’t need more than a few hours once the shooting started.
As Quinn and the other Marines dropped down from their tactical vehicles, they could see the interior was a beehive of activity. On the left side of the site, additional Marines and support techs were visible, scurrying past, stacking ammunition and supplies, anxiously preparing for the Syndicate to arrive. On the right side were clusters of armored vehicles and drones of all shapes and sizes, including first-gen battle drones that stood nearly seven feet tall.
Quinn had seen videos of the drones that, while shiny like the fender on a tractor-trailer, somehow also seemed eerily human. Draped in a new kind of composite armor called “Hollow-Core,” the drones operated electrically with hydraulic actuators, able to stand and move via titanium legs and wheels and capable of carrying surface-to-surface and surface-to-air rockets or Gatling-gun-style cannons.
The drones had rolled off the assembly lines only sixteen months prior, and while rigorously lab-tested, had yet to see real combat. One of the drones jerked to its full height, and Quinn thought it looked like a Great Dane standing up on its hind legs. The machine turned and stared at her. Quinn, uneasy, looked away.
Hayden signaled for the Marines to follow, and they did. First, they went to a mess hall, where everyone devoured corned beef and hash. Quinn glanced up from the food to see other soldiers sitting at different tables, chowing down. All ethnicities and both sexes were well represented amongst the other soldiers, and snatches of conversations could be heard in foreign tongues.
“Who are they?” Quinn asked, bobbing her head in the direction of the other fighters.
Giovanni lifted a fork and pointed to a group of soldiers in maroon berets. “Kaibiles,” he said softly. “Guatemalan special forces.”
Quinn nodded and studied the men, who were short but powerfully built.
“And those are Tigres,” Giovanni said, pointing to another group clad in jungle camouflage. “Spec-ops from Honduras.”
“How do you know?” Quinn asked.
“I know lots of shit,” Giovanni answered, his black eyes never leaving hers.
“So who invited them to the big dance?” Quinn asked.
“They know the jungle,” Milo answered, looking over.
“This is their territory,” Renner added, slurping down some hash.
Quinn traded looks with a young Guatemalan soldier with high cheekbones and a shaved head. A moment of understanding passed between them as the other soldier nodded. Quinn nodded back.
A little later, the Marines headed to the armory to weapon up.
The armory was octagonal in shape and lined with rows of metal lockers (like upright coffins, one Marine muttered) filled with all manner of weapons. Standing ramrod straight in front of the lockers was a Marine clad in battle armor and missing one eye, his hair so oddly situated on his head it looked as if he’d been scalped.
“Marines, my name is Master Sergeant Keiboom. I am the base’s de-facto weapons monger,” the one-eyed soldier said.
Renner nudged Quinn.
“I heard about that dude,” Renner whispered. “Did four tours of duty in Syria and was in the first wave that assaulted those islands in the South China Sea. Fucker’s a straight up O.G.”
Kieboom heard the whispers and silenced Renner with a look. Then he grabbed up a short-barreled assault rifle and held it over his head.
“Marines, as you undoubtedly know, this is your best friend. R&D’s newest generation Fusion rifle, a kinetic weapon capable of firing the latest and greatest uranium-depleted, energized sabot at whatever motherfuckers are stupid enough to enter our atmosphere.”
Cheers and laughter went up from the Marines as Kieboom continued to extol the virtues of the weapons assembled before them, albeit muffled by hoots and hollers of praise he basked in. Then Kieboom took special delight in holding up a Hafnium surface-to-air launcher, which had a gray gripstock, yellow thermal battery, and five-foot launch tube painted in jungle camouflage.
“Who here has heard of Hafnium?” Kieboom asked.
There were a few mutters, but no hands went up.
“The reason you’ve never heard of it is because SouthCom was too fucking scared to mention it to anyone. Hafnium’s a nuclear isomer that if weaponized can melt flesh, penetrate hardened bunkers, and eviscerate entire city blocks. In short, it’s a goddamn miracle, a gift from the gods of war. Problem was, we couldn’t figure out a way to harness it. Until now.”
Kieboom eased the launcher down on his shoulder and aimed it at the Marines.
“With one pull of the trigger, we’re gonna protect our house and bring the hammer down on any alien sonofabitch stupid enough to wanna take one inch of our goddamn world!”
More cheers went up as Keiboom continued to discuss the weapons the Marines would have at their disposal.
When the presentation was over, Quinn and the other Marines were inspecting sniper rifles and the Hafnium launchers while Renner gushed about them, reminding anyone in earshot how a gram of the Hafnium isomer had the same power as one-third of a ton of TNT.
Hanging above the rifles were sets of armor—interlocking ceramic plates infused with high-tech materials that resembled the black scales of a dragon. Quinn reached up and brought down a set of armor that weighed barely more than eight pounds.
“They call it the ‘birthday suit,’” Renner said.
“Why’s that?” Quinn asked.
“Try it on and see. It’s got some kinda classified, nano-shit inside.”
Quinn quickly slipped down to her tank top and shorts and shrugged on the armor. She felt it cinch around her neck and laddered midsection, conforming to her body. She thought the sensation was not unlike slipping your hand into a latex hospital glove. She had to pinch and pull a bit, but ultimately she got it. The armor felt like a second skin, rugged and elastic.
Renner reached down and lifted an eight-shot, revolver-style grenade launcher and bandolier of forty-millimeter grenades. “Now, this puppy is a piece of engineering divinity,” Renner said, admiring the weapon while tapping a button on the launcher so that the eight-shot cylinder spun wildly.
“Just remember one thing,” Quinn said, looking over as she grabbed a rifle and a rucksack filled with magazines and ballistic grenades. “The folks who designed that piece of engineering divinity were on the government payroll.”
“Yeah. So?” Renner replied.
“So all of our shit was built by the lowest bidder,” Quinn clarified.
Renner’s face fell as the other Marines laughed.
Quinn reached down and inspected a magazine of ammunition. She slipped a sabot round out and held it up as Giovanni sidled over to her.
“You know what that is?” Giovanni asked, taking the sabot from her.
“That’s the last round,” he said.
“You’re the master of obvious, Gio,” she replied.
“What I meant is that that’s the one you keep for yourself.” Giovanni placed the round back in Quinn’s hand. “You know, in case …”
They shared a look that said she got it but didn’t want to acknowledge a situation where she would need a bullet for herself. Finally, Giovanni stood, nodded and trudged off, leaving Quinn staring at the ground.
She could never take her own life, not when her daughter was still out there, for all she knew. As long as she was alive, there was always a fighting chance she could return, that they could be a family once again. With a heavy sigh, she grabbed her gear and headed out after the others.
FROM JUSTIN >>> There’s a bit more for you. We’ve been going hard core on making this story shine, and it’s still a bit in progress (story is done, just revising and working on the book description. I’d love to hear what you think:
With an alien invasion and survival of the human race at stake, service in the Marines was no longer optional, it was a matter of life and death.
This was especially true for Quinn, a Marine sergeant who was hell-bent on ensuring that her young daughter had a world to grow up in. But one thing separates Quinn from the others:
She’s a certifiable badass.
And as the aliens will learn, it’s tough to keep a good woman down