The pod slowed as it approached the hatch leading to the adjacent section. It eased up to the dock and came to a halt with a slight nudge. We took the elevator down to the fourth level, the hydroponics section. Two steps took us from shiny metal surroundings to a setting resembling a park resting on metal grates with vats of nutrients underneath, taking the place of soil.
"I don't come here enough," Omega muttered. "I just now realized how much I miss trees. It's been almost three years since I had real ground under my feet."
Our surroundings were definitely pretty, though that made the reason we were here all the creepier. I slid my helmet's visor down and scanned the area for heat sources. Nothing stood out from the background yet.
[How close are we?] Omega took a quick look behind us before resuming his visual sweep of the "park" ahead.
[The latest anomaly occurred three minutes before you went through the same door, but there's been no activity since then. Looks like your target's decided to make a stand.]
[We've got contact,] Asuka cut in. [Stand by.]
Before that had a chance to sink in, Omega nudged my shoulder and nodded at something off to the left. A red outline appeared in my HUD, showing me what he saw–a large, bulky humanoid shape moving toward us from the right. He'd pointed me in the wrong direction to avoid tipping the guy off that he'd been spotted.
The figure crouched behind a tree and aimed what appeared to be a sniper rifle at us.
We whipped our plasma rifles toward him and hosed him down. The nice thing about this type of gun is that it'd take a prolonged burst to burn through a wall or the hull, so we didn't have to worry about a breach. The only thing we really needed to worry about was what sort of weapon he had–whether he was packing something that could punch a large slug through the wall or floor, as well as three or four others beyond it.
For a moment it looked like we wouldn't have to find out. The outline lunged aside as a hail of plasma bolts seared into the wall behind him–and several drilled straight into his chest, partially melting his armor but not burning all the way through. Molten globs of it dripped off, sizzled through the grate under his feet, and plopped into the nutrient vat with a lingering hiss.
He hit the floor and rolled behind another tree, giving us a few seconds to find our own cover. In the corner of my eye, he popped back out and lined up a shot. A flash burst from his rifle's muzzle, and part of my armor's right shoulder piece glowed. Luckily, the armor's crystalline layer refracted the beam, but some of its intense heat still came through to my skin. I ducked behind another tree and pulled my wings in.
What the hell was that, anyway? Couldn't have been a simple laser to do what it had just done. It would've had to be a hell of a lot bigger than a sniper rifle. Whoever these guys were, they must've had some serious connections to get their hands on something like that.
[Boiler, you okay?]
"Yeah." I tugged on my still-hot shoulder piece. "Ow! Mostly okay."
A thing that looked like a hockey puck rolled past me and bumped into the wall before toppling over. I scrambled away from it, stumbled and picked myself up, and ran like hell. A nearly blinding flash washed over everything and a shockwave hit me like a freight truck. I vaguely remember reeling across the floor before being knocked stupid. Every sound was muffled and distant.
I opened my eyes. Everything was a blurry mess. I blinked and shook my head, and when my vision cleared, I found myself staring at the ceiling. A few more seconds passed before I realized that was because I was flat on my back.
I moved my arms and legs a few inches, being cautious in case I'd broken any bones. I rolled onto my side and pushed myself up slowly. Plenty of pain, but nothing that seemed bad enough to be shattered bones or punctured organs.
[Boiler? Are you okay?]
Voice in my head...no, the comlink. Shit. I shook my head again. Come on, snap out of it.
[Boiler! Talk to me!]
"Yeah, I'm here. I...he used some kind of grenade."
Clanking footsteps vibrated the grate under me.
"Aw, fuck. Hold on." I looked around, turning my head slowly to be sure it wouldn't snap off, because it sure as hell felt like it might.
[Omega, you okay?]
[Yeah, I'm in one piece.]
[Check on Boiler, make sure she's not hurt.]
More clanking footsteps, this time from the right.
The first set seemed to be coming from the smoke in front of me. Through the smoke, I caught a glimpse of a huge hole in the floor, and flickering lights from the level below us. The smoke directly in front of me whisked aside, as if parting for something passing through it, but there was nothing...
It was only then that I realized my hands were empty. My rifle had gone flying off somewhere, and I wouldn't have time to draw my pistol. And there was no longer an outline showing me where the assassin was the link with Omega's eyes must've been cut off. Now I wouldn't even see the bastard pull the trigger.
The footsteps on the right increased their speed. Omega burst out of the shadows and tackled him, carrying him to the hole in the floor. Parts of the guy's armor blipped in and out for a second after the impact. Both of them fell through and slammed into the deck on the next level.
I got my feet under me, staggered over to the hole, and peeked over the edge. Omega appeared to brace his palms against the air itself. Then, suddenly, a man in heavy armor appeared out of nowhere, twitching and grunting, under him.
"What the hell?" A muffled voice groaned.
"Low-level EMP generators in my arms." Omega popped the latches on the guy's helmet and yanked it off, revealing a somewhat tiger-looking anthro. "I've got plenty of other built-in toys, so I suggest you roll over and put your hands on your head."
I sighed and spoke into my comlink. "Taura, looks like we've got this wrapped up. How's Asuka doing?"
[She's already bagged one. Morrison said she cracked the bitch's helmet wide open with one punch.]
I whistled softly as I sat on the edge of the hole and prepared to drop down beside Omega.
[Heh,] he said, [you just might have some competition for Top Badass around–whoooaaaaa!]
The cat-dude snapped his legs up, braced his feet against Omega's chest, and launched him down the corridor. The assassin did a backflip from his prone position, and barely a second later he was back on his feet.
I shook off the sudden surprise and heaved myself off the edge, landing right in front of him, catching an armored fist right on the end of my nose, and ending up flat on my back again. It happened so fast, I couldn’t even remember actually falling. Metallic hands grasped my shoulders, lifted me, and just as my eyes regained their focus, the bastard slammed me into the wall.
I raised my fist, planning to crash it down on his head, but before I could drop the hammer on him, he spun and threw me into the opposite wall. The back of my head struck metal and I almost blacked out again. Omega tried to pry him off me, but couldn't budge him. Must've had strength-boosting armor. The struggle with Omega did draw his attention away from me for a moment, though.
I sucked in a deep breath, leaned over, and roared directly into the assassin's right ear. He screamed, flinched, and clamped his hand over his ear. I cocked my fist back and drove it into his face, knocking him off his feet. Before he could recover, I threw myself on top of him and pounded his face a few more times.
"How d'ya fuckin' like that, cockbite?" I picked him up and slammed his head into the floor.
"I think he's had enough," Omega said with a chuckle. "He can't answer any of our questions if you turn his head into a lump of soft cheese."
"Yeah, yeah. Help me take his armor off."
"Sure." He kneeled beside me and we popped the rest of the latches on the guy's armor. Omega looked at me a few seconds later and cocked his head. "You okay?"
"My face hurts." I raised my hand to touch my throbbing nose, decided it wasn't such a good idea, and continued removing the armor.
"Looks like he broke your nose."
"Oh, that's just fantastic. Back to the med-bay again."
Chaser is available from Amazon, now only $1.99.
Now for an update on my other books, which I should've gotten to a long time ago. Due to almost nonexistent sales, I decided to take all my other books (except Reactivated, which is still on Kindle Worlds) off Amazon and the other sites. That's not the end of them, though. Load, Fifteen Minutes, Project Revenant, Elsewhere, and Game Over will be getting another rewrite and polish, and then I'll be submitting them to publishers. To be honest, I've often felt like giving up during the past few months, but I just can't. Not after putting more than a quarter-century of my life into this. If I pull the ripcord now, all that time was wasted. So instead of trying to make a go of it as an indie author, I'm giving actual publishers a try again. And trying not to be too pessimistic about it.
I'm getting into the home stretch on the rewrite of Load. I've got an eye on several publishers, and will soon need to decide which one to send it to first. Then I'll go right into Fifteen Minutes.
Meanwhile, not too long ago I managed to finish a new chapter of Harbinger, and will be getting back to work on Freelancers next. Haven't made any progress on Uncharted Territory in the past few months, but will be resuming work on that, as well.
And after more technical difficulties than I can count, I managed to finally get started on a series of videos for my YouTube channel, a sort of "Let's Play" of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Here are the first two entries in the series, with more to come soon.
Also in the works is a Let's Play of Star Trek Online, starting with its recent "Agents of Yesterday" expansion and a new player character created for this video series. If all goes well, the first video will be uploaded within the next day or two.
And that covers everything, for now. Hope the excerpt from Chaser caught your interest. If it did, head on over to Amazon and grab a copy for your Kindle for only $1.99.