Saturday, February 5, 2011

What am I working on?

Here's an excerpt from Legionarii:


This time Brutus came in person to collect the woman. For ten years she’d eluded capture. Yet again, he found himself in the same situation. She’d disappeared, and now all that was left, was the knowledge she’d been there and a decoy who’d have no idea of her new location. Even if the decoy could point him in the right direction, he’d die to protect her instead of breaking his silence.

Unfortunate for him. Those who put themselves in Brutus’s path would pay—had paid. The decoy wouldn’t be the first or the last he’d killed, but this time Brutus intended to send a message, one that made it clear if they continued to hide her, things were going to get nasty. He now had the power of the LOP behind him. The weapon would demonstrate that perfectly. He stroked the sphere in his pocket and watched, knowing this would be the last time they’d pull this trick.

The man, a High Imperial Guard stepped from the safety of the building. He wore common Terran clothes, a long coat, jeans and a gray tee-shirt. Nothing about his appearance would give away his true identity. Certain he’d played his part, he glanced both ways up and down the quiet street, pulled the red wig from his head, shucked his coat and tossed both in the rubbish.

Brutus's brain flashed bright, "enemy-acquired" alerts. The man glanced both ways again, walked up to a black vehicle, opened the door and slid behind the wheel.

Brutus waited until the decoy’s attention fixed on the transporter’s ignition. He stepped from his hiding place, his prey still unaware he’d been stalked. Brutus’s fingers closed around a ball inside his trench coat. With a smile, he drew it out. The liquid gold swirled around his palm, a gazing globe that trapped the images of the world around in its skin and death inside its guts. A quick flip of the wrist, and it rolled under the car, catching the light and flashing brilliantly.

The clank from the ento-pod drew the guard’s attention. His gaze drifted up and stopped on Brutus. His eyes widened, his face went white. He scrambled around the compartment and lifted a communication device to his mouth. A thrill shivered through Brutus.

His com wouldn’t save him. Nothing could, but he would find out soon enough. The electro-magnetic pulse had already disabled it, and his escape vehicle.

The guard removed the device from his ear and took his eyes from Brutus. He shook it and then smacked it against his palm. The man lifted his chin, a thousand screams of horror upon his face. Brutus shook his head and smiled. He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the show, which didn’t take long.

The pod hatched and a swarm of bio-mech drones poured out, surrounding the BMW in a metallic fog. The chattering robotic insects chewed into the body of the car. A sound akin to a chainsaw screaming against metal echoed against the weathered brick buildings in the cul de sac. The phone dropped from the man’s hand. He hit the locks and fumbled with the ignition.

Brutus tipped his head and studied him. His enemy had grown weaker. Some faced death with bravery—dignity. From the look on the man’s face, he’d certainly soiled his seat. The wasps drilled through the doors. They altered the matter and pushed through the steel as though it was gelatin. The holes snapped shut behind them, solid, with no evidence left behind. The engine whined. “Rrrrr, rrrrrrr, click, click, click.”

The blood drained from the guard’s face. He hit the steering wheel and cranked on the keys again. “Rrrrrrrr, click, click, click.”

As the insects broke through the interior, he began to flail, swatting at the horde of ento-robites. For every one he hit, another two landed. Brutus watched as they filled the cab and bit into the man’s exposed flesh. They kept coming, entering his eyes, open mouth, nostrils and ears. Many penetrated his skin and slid under the surface along the muscle in little lumps. Deeper and deeper they moved, boring into his body as though it was rotten fruit. The man clawed at his flesh. He raked, bucked, thrashed and shrieked.

No one who cared could hear him. His biggest mistake had been to lure Brutus to the empty warehouse and remote location. Brutus reached into his coat and fingered the button on the controller. A smile curled his mouth and he pushed, sparing the man the last moments of agony. He wasn’t a monster, just someone who was prepared to do what he needed to, to get what he wanted, and his enemy would have no allusions after today.

Blue light glowed from behind the guard’s eyes, lighting him like a jack-o-lantern. A wet sucking sound, accompanied by a high-pitched whine as he imploded and collapsed into a puddle of smoking skin on the front seat.

The pile incandesced, until all that remained was greasy soot and a pair of legs. The charred stumps were the only evidence a man once sat there. The authorities here would scratch their heads when they discovered the remains. Another victim of spontaneous combustion.

They may have saved her this time. Next time there’d be no place to run. He now knew someone in his inside circle was feeding the loyalists information and the informant would be flushed out. When he was, he’d lead him straight to the heir. Brutus turned on his heel and spoke into the com attached to his collar, contacting the one man he knew he could trust—his brother. “We’ve got an informant on the inside. Find him and we’ll find her.”

Six years later…

A loud explosion rocked the tower where Zoë sat. Yanked out of her daydream, her eyes snapped open and scanned the horizon for the source. More than likely, it came from the mines that honeycombed the subterranean crust of Odroxia, so common they were like a lullaby to the Droxi children.

Every day the explosions spewed toxins into the air and sent men to their graves in the hundreds. Working below was the final destination for many. Though the blasts were constant, she’d never gotten used them as had the indigenous people, who didn’t seem to notice the constant barrage, even when the explosions heralded death like an angel’s trumpet.

The wail of sirens filled the night. Those were new. Zoë leaned forward and narrowed her eyes to study the skyline. The thick haze that wrapped the countryside danced and twisted before her. Dark shapes began to emerge from the fog. A green ball of fire mushroomed over the horizon, backlighting the silhouettes of ships that streaked toward the city and the embassy where she sat.

Reality jolted through her, sending cold shooting through her guts. Zoe’s heart staggered several beats and her cup slipped from her hand, shattering into splinters on the floor. “My God, an invasion.” She had to get everyone to the underground bunkers. Another blast lit the city, sending a gruesome puce glow rolling across the skyline, illuminating the now closer ships.

Zoë leapt up and ran for the lower levels where her brother and sister slept. She had to get them to the shelter before the strike.

“Zoë. Zoë. Zoëeeeee…” Shrieks shrill like a cat being tortured but worse, much worse, indicated at least one of her siblings was awake. Her sister’s screams reverberated through the corridor. The lights flickered and went out and the building trembled. The invaders were closer than she thought. They’d certainly hit the refinery ten city blocks away. Another explosion shook the building. Zoë staggered into the wall. The embassy would be next.

“Zoë!” Another supersonic scream, several frequencies higher.

Invasion alarms continued to blast, blending with Kimi’s terror. The building rocked from another explosion, louder, more violent than before. Zoë stumbled, hit the other side of the corridor and found the entrance to the stairwell. She lunged for the stairs, taking two at a time.

Skylights illuminated her path with gray light. Dark shadows slipped overhead and created a strobe light effect, throwing the nightmare into slow motion. The building vibrated under her feet and its metal frame groaned. She stopped and grabbed the rail.

A boom shook the night, this time on top of them.

Loosened debris began to hail around her, blocks of stone from the walls and ceiling, chunks of plaster and mortar, followed by larger sections that crashed around her in heavy clunks. She dropped and clung to the rail. Ducking her head, she covered it with her arm and waited for the building to stop shaking. As soon as it settled and the debris stopped its assault, she pulled herself up and started back down, this time working her way around the chunks on the stairs, doing her best to hurry.

Kimi screamed again followed by another explosion. Zoë’s heart pounded. She tilted her head and listened. Nothing but the sound of ships tearing through the sky and the building as it groaned. Seconds later, the wall next to the stairwell fell away, leaving her looking out into the night. The load-bearing wall that kept the weight of the building off the lower rooms, remained intact, but one more blast would surely bring it down. “I’m coming.” Silence and dust. Zoë raised her hand to her mouth and coughed.

“Kimi!” Zoë stepped down onto the next level and it crumbled away. Her feet slid from under her. The back of her skull smacked against the edge of one of the steps in a hollow thud.

She reached for the rail as the world around her began to shift and skitter before her gaze. Focusing on the skylights, she tried to control the vertigo. The metallic tang of blood mixed with smoke penetrated her nostrils and chalky dust pelted her face. Overhead the roar of more approaching ships. The building vibrated from their sonic engines.

A large section of the ceiling swung by an iron thread, creaking as it rocked back and forth for several moments and snapped free. With only heartbeat to react, she rolled to her side. The block glanced off the step and smacked the middle of her back before it bounced down the stairwell. It echoed like a church bell against the metal railing as it tumbled to the bottom, testifying how close she’d come to death.

The sounds of the ships grew deafening, their roars filled her ears.

Dear God, they’d all die. She had to get to them. A band of pain shot around her ribs when she sucked in a breath to cry. Heat blasted through her cranium followed by nausea. Zoë tried to draw another lungful of air, but only managed a small sip of plaster dust and sticky, emaciated oxygen. In desperation, she pushed with her arms to roll. Pain struck so severe she her vision faded and only intense focus brought it back. She pulled in another desperate breath and shoved again, but her body refused to follow. So she pushed herself over the stairs, falling toward the next level. Bright bolts of stabbing light and shooting stars burst across her vision as she slammed into the hard metal decking. Pain pounded in her head like an atomic sledgehammer and drove a spike of agony through her skull. Darkness sealed in around her and sucked reality away.

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