Here’s chapter 1 of VIRTUE OF WAR – enjoy!
Kaylin never planned on having to break into her own home. Then again, she also never planned on getting tossed out of her home and threatened with death if she ever tried to come back. But fate was a bitch, and here she was, scouting out the perimeter of the military base where she’d lived for two long years.
So much had changed since she’d left, but the base still looked exactly the same. A fifteen-foot wall marked the border of the compound, stretching around six square acres of wilderness smack-dab in the middle of the Florida Everglades. Inside was one of the most secure Resistance bases in the world, outfitted with a cutting-edge blend of human and alien technology that was supposed to keep any intruder at bay.
“This was a bad idea,” she muttered under her breath.
Her buyer had made it sound so simple: slip into the base, retrieve an alien medical device that was stored inside, and slip back out. With some special codes to disable the security system, it’d be a total cake-walk compared to some of the thieving jobs she’d taken on before.
So far, it’d been just as easy as her buyer had claimed. One of the gates on the outside perimeter had been left unlocked, and the motion and heat sensors were dead. When she’d tested the video signal coming from the security cameras, she’d found the footage was on loop, showing an empty landscape with nothing but sawgrass and gnarled pines.
But Kaylin still couldn’t shake the anxiety chewing at her gut. Something was off. It was just too damn easy. The Resistance could be overly cocky sometimes, but they weren’t sloppy, especially not when it came to security.
She should turn back. It’d be easy enough—she could just leave the base the way she’d come, cut off contact with the buyer, and drop the assignment. Sure, it’d probably damage her reputation on the black market for a bit, but it was the best option.
Or maybe that was just her guilt talking. No matter how much the Resistance had screwed her over, she still felt bad stealing from them. She’d spent two years working as their soldier, and it was hard to shake that kind of loyalty. Once a Resistance fighter, always a Resistance fighter.
Something brushed against her waist, making her gasp in surprise. She instinctively reached for the tranquilizer pistol holstered at her waist, but her hand froze as she spotted Red. Her pet vater lizard had crept up from behind, his scales camouflaged a mottled green and brown color to match the grassland Kaylin was crouched in.
The sight of him brought reality crashing back to her. If the Resistance had their way, Red would be dead. They wanted every single alien species killed off, even the harmless and innocent ones.
The Resistance might have saved humankind, but they were hardly a bastion of morality. And they certainly weren’t her masters. Not anymore.
“You’re supposed to be on guard,” she muttered at Red.
He snorted softly in response, swishing his tail back and forth in a signal of boredom.
She shook her head. “I don’t care if you’re bored, you need to do as you’re told.”
Red made a low grumble in the back of his throat, as if protesting her stern tone.
Kaylin sighed and rubbed her temples. When she’d first adopted Red, she’d resisted the urge to talk to him. It made her feel like one of those crazy old cat ladies who lived alone and only talked to her pets.
But at this point, Kaylin had embraced her life as a crazy lizard lady. She spoke to her clients and to Red, and she didn’t bother with anyone else. It just wasn’t safe to have friendly conversations with people. And besides, humans were totally overrated.
Red reached his nose up and nudged at the treat bag clipped to Kaylin’s tactical belt, letting out a small, pitiful whimper. At only a year old, the vater lizard was already getting huge, his body the size of a large dog and his leathery wings stretching eight feet when they were unfolded. But he still made sounds that reminded her of a helpless little puppy.
“Shush,” she muttered at him. But there was no way she could resist the pathetic whimper, and she drew a small piece of carrot out of her treat bag, tossing it to him.
Red leaped up and snapped the treat out of the air. His jaws easily crushed it to pieces, reminding her why vater lizards had gained such a notorious reputation as pit-fighting beasts. Abuse one for long enough, and it was a seven-foot-long killing machine.
But they weren’t naturally aggressive. Far from it. A well-trained vater lizard was as smart and docile as a dog, and just as useful.
“Guard,” Kaylin ordered, pointing to the thick grass behind her.
Red swallowed his treat and rubbed his cheek affectionately against her thigh, smearing saliva and some stray carrot bits on her pants. Kaylin shoved his scaly head away, but not before scratching him lightly under the chin.
“Go on,” she said.
He gave a quiet, rumbling purr before slinking off into the tall grass, disappearing with only a slight rustle to mark his passage.
Kaylin turned her attention to the steel door five yards ahead of her, knowing Red would alert her if anyone tried to approach from behind. The door should have had a guard with a rifle in front of it, but no one was there. Once again, it looked like her buyer had come through on his end of the deal. She had no idea how he’d managed to jack up the base’s security system so royally, but she suspected it was an inside job.
Kaylin checked the small screen strapped to her wrist—it was one of her favorite pieces of alien tech, a hypersensitive heat sensor. She had it programmed to alert her if anything with the temperature of a human body came within twenty feet of her.
The screen stayed blank, reassuring her that no one was nearby. The door’s guard was really gone. Kaylin darted to her feet and jogged to the door, keeping a careful watch on her surroundings.
Thunder rumbled ominously overhead, as if reminding her to hurry the hell up. Just an hour ago the weather had been perfectly clear, but now dark clouds blocked out every trace of the blue sky. Kaylin hadn’t planned for a storm, but she’d make do. After all, that was why her buyer had hired her—she was known for getting a job done, no matter what got in her way.
She reached the door and crouched in the shadows at its base, checking her surroundings one more time. The only thing around was the towering wall and the swamp grass waving wildly in the wind. She let out a low whistle, and a moment later Red crept up to her side, still perfectly camouflaged.
A bolt of lightning streaked through the air, making Kaylin’s heart kick. She took a steadying breath and reached into her pocket, drawing out the data chip her buyer had sent.
This was the real moment of truth. Her buyer had promised the chip contained a master key that could unlock any door on the base with only a simple four-digit code. If he was wrong, and she triggered some sort of alarm…
Kaylin shook her head, tossing aside the worry. So far, her buyer had come through perfectly. She had no reason not to trust him.
Before she could second-guess herself, she pressed the chip against the surface of the biometric scanner on the door’s lock. A blue light blinked at the center of the small, silver chip, telling her it was transferring information into the lock’s internal computer.
Nothing happened. The lock didn’t budge.
“Come on, come on,” Kaylin muttered under her breath. She was already starting to shift backward, ready to make an escape the moment a guard appeared.
The biometric scanner suddenly blinked green. Then a number pad appeared on the digital screen, and Kaylin hurriedly keyed in the code her buyer had given her.
A muted thunk came from within the door. Kaylin tried the handle again, and this time, it opened.
She was in.
She slipped the chip back into her pocket, drew her tranquilizing pistol from its holster, and looked down at Red.
“You ready?” she asked.
He snorted in response and shifted closer to the door, preparing to follow her as soon as she slipped through.
“All right then,” she said, cracking open the door. “Let’s do this.”