The invasion has begun.
On the capital world of Vassar-1, the Allied Independent Colonies find themselves in a race against time to stop a terrorist plot that could bring chaos to the galaxy.
As the terror spreads, Earth provides nothing but deception and subterfuge.
With time running out, it's up to Ben and Ada to deliver an AIC agent with vital information.
But not everything is what it seems.
Release date: November 24, 2019
Print pages: 244
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) alien worlds (1) cool gadgets & tech (1) emotionally riveting (1) entertaining story (1) escapist/easy read (1) future societies (1) great world-building (1) military clashes (1) profanity-laced (1) realistic characters (1) rich setting(s) (1) satisfying ending (1) suspenseful (1) terrific writing (1) thought-provoking (1) unexpected twists (1) unputdownable (1)
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
“And you’re sure?” Ben asked Ada stupidly, as if he hadn’t clearly heard the Marine tell him that his father, Captain Saito, was dead. Even though he knew, somewhere in the back of his mind, that the likelihood of his father’s survival was slim, Ben had convinced himself that he’d save him.
“I...” Ada started to say, then stopped.
Ben could see she was struggling with something. “Well?”
Ada took a deep breath. “We heard his voice over the intercom, only ... it wasn’t him,” she said.
Ben was confused. “What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t him,” she said again, hesitantly. “It was one of them. One of the Shapeless.”
Ben felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “Are you sure?”
Ada nodded reluctantly.
“He sacrificed himself for the rest of us,” said Tomas. “He was a good man.”
Ada’s glance made Ben think she didn’t necessarily share that assessment. He felt all of his energy and drive leave his body. All of this had been for the sole purpose of finding his father. “How did he die?”
“He just...” Again, Ada hesitated. “He just walked out of the apartment.”
Ben looked up sharply. “What? Like he gave up?”
“He sacrificed himself for us,” Tomas said again, but again Ben could tell that Ada wasn’t agreeing. He glanced at the other Atlas survivors, but they all looked away.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Ben said. “The old man was a stubborn bastard.”
“There’s something … I think there was something that they were doing,” Ada said. “To draw him in.”
The others seemed to be caught off guard by this, like it was something she’d discussed with nobody else. “How so?” Ben asked.
Ada shook her head. “Just something about his demeanor. It changed right after one of the Shapeless touched him.”
“He was hurt in the escape. One of them gave him a sharp cut along his forehead. It was bleeding, but we were all hurt, so I didn’t think anything of it until … until he left.”
Tomas was frowning. “I’m pretty sure one of them cut me.”
“Hell, I think one touched me, too,” Ace said, looking uncomfortable. “Shit, you blew up half the damn station, and a lot of them into pieces in the process. All of us might have been touched by them.”
Ada shook her head. “I don’t think they were after us. Not like they were after him.”
Ben wasn’t sure what to make of any of this. He felt weak on his feet, like a fighter waiting for the bell.
“Well, look, this is all fascinating,” Ace said. “But we need to get outta here, folks.”
Ada nodded. “Agreed. We got a lot of them, but no way do I think we got all of them.”
Ace nodded at the expended cold caster that Grimes had cast aside. “Do we need to get more weapons?”
“No,” said Ben firmly, pushing down his emotions about his father. Now wasn’t the time for that. He had to reassess his priorities and get them all to safety. “We’d have to double back. We’re getting off this station right now.”
“I like that plan,” Tomas said. He and Ada both looked to be in rough shape. They’d found cover in the cafeteria ahead of the blast, but they’d still taken the brunt of everything that had gone down to this point.
“HUD, call Morgan,” Ben said as he stood.
“Who’s Morgan?” Ada asked.
“She’s trying to get our ship up and running,” Ace offered.
“You’ve got a ship?”
“We do. Finest ship in all the galaxy, darlin’,” answered Ace.
“That’s what everyone told me about the Atlas,” Ada murmured.
Ben’s video call popped alive in his HUD as the group started moving.
“Yeah?” Morgan said with a fair bit of hostility.
“Everything okay down there?” Ben asked, caught off guard by her tone.
“Oh, you know, I’m trying to re-route power to the other engines, repair and reconfigure our nav systems, refuel, and oh yeah, I’m surrounded by literal corpses. So…yeah, everything’s ‘okay’ down here.”
“How long until she can fly?”
“An hour,” Morgan said. “Maybe two.”
“Cut some corners,” Ben said. “We’re coming back and we need to get off this station.”
“What? Why? Did you find your old man?”
Ben felt a knot in his stomach rise up, and he pushed it down. Now wasn’t the time. If his father really was gone, he wouldn’t want Ben to lose focus over it. There were few things that had upset the bastard more. “See you in fifteen minutes. You need to get that ship flying or we might be dead. HUD, end call.”
The group was hustling now. Ben was leading them at something between a fast walk and a slow trot. The fact was, if they ran into any of the creatures along the way, they were probably dead.
They ran past a hallway with outward-facing bubble windows. Several of the survivors gasped as they saw the liquid-metal sphere floating in space.
“It’s bigger,” Ada said. “It’s getting bigger.”
“And closer,” Tomas offered.
“How about we pick up the pace, Cap?” Ace said, right at Ben’s shoulder.
“Good idea,” Ben said.
But something told him that they might be too late already.
“I’m so glad to see you guys,” Ada heard Francesca say. She was practically attached to Ada’s arm, and making it hard for her to keep up the fast pace that Ben was setting. She wasn’t sure how much she was onboard with this plan, but it was better than nothing.
“I’m happy to see you too. But why are you out here?” asked Ada. “Where’s Walter and Rollins?” She felt guilty that it had taken this long for her to realize they weren’t with them. “Do we need to get them?”
“Dead? What do you mean, they’re dead?” Ada said, faltering in her gate and causing the other survivors in the line behind her to slow as well.
“He came for me, for us. And there was nothing… I was so scared.”
“Who came for you?”
Ada glanced forward to see if Ben had heard; but if he did, he didn’t react. He had enough on his plate without hearing about this. “Captain Saito? You mean, a Shapeless that looked like him?” she asked.
“Yeah, I think so. I mean.” Francesca wiped the snot from her nose. “I never met him before, but Rollins, he … he called him that.”
“We really have to keep moving,” Ben said, noting they were slowing. Ada nodded and grabbed Francesca by the shoulder, and got her moving again.
“Did he say anything to you?” Ada whispered.
“He did… I dunno, I wasn’t really listening. I’m sorry.” Francesca started to break down in tears again.
Ada pulled her closer. “Nothing to be sorry about. You’re so brave. You’ve survived better than I ever would at your age.”
Ada was trying to be comforting, but she damn well meant it, too.
“Son of a bitch!” yelled Morgan. She threw a wrench halfway across the docking bay. Her frustration had reached a fever pitch as she couldn’t figure out how to get off the couplings and disconnect the Lost’s clipped wing from the ship’s electric and fuel systems. It was all she had left to do to make the vessel flyable again. Then she’d realized she needed the wrench.
“Hey, robot!” Morgan yelled at the station police robot that Ace had left behind for her.
“Yes, ma’am,” answered the robot in a monotone voice.
“Wanna get that for me?”
“The wrench! The one I just threw across the damn room!”
“Really?” Morgan sighed. “I dunno. You know what, never mind. I’ll get it myself.”
“Would you like an escort, ma’am?” asked the police robot.
“Sure. Why not?” mumbled Morgan.
“Sorry, please speak up.”
“C’mon!” Morgan tried her best to simultaneously step over and around the dead in the docking bay, while at the same time ignoring them. If she didn’t at least try to ignore the carnage, it’d drive her crazy. Maybe Ace could go skipping through it like a self-centered asshole, but Morgan didn’t have that same gene in her.
Behind her, Morgan could hear the police robot following. It had no reason to try to step over the corpses on the docking bay floor, so instead, it simply plowed through them. Morgan could hear the sickening crunch of bone and the squishing of body parts behind her. She thought she was going to throw up. Again.
“Okay, no, stop!” Morgan turned and put her hand up to the police robot. “Just watch my back from there.”
“Roger. I will observe your back, ma’am.”
Before Morgan went back to trying to retrieve her wrench, she happened to look out the plasma shield that separated the docking bay from space.
The impostor AIC fighters that had fought and helped take out the Perseverance were melding together like drops of mercury. They became a smaller version of the large, churning liquid metal sphere in the distance. What was worrying about that was that around the smaller sphere, orbiting it like satellites, were the missiles that those fighters were typically equipped with.
“That can’t be good,” said Morgan out loud to herself. “HUD, call Ben.” She turned around and ran back to the Lost. Retrieving the wrench suddenly became a whole lot less important.
“Got some good news for me?” Ben said, sounding out of breath. “We’re close.”
“Not really. You guys need to hurry up. Like, run back here. I think we might be in trouble.”
“We’re definitely in trouble,” Ben said. “You have no idea.”
“Yeah, well,” Morgan said, “I can see this damn orb thing in space, and—”
“It’s bigger and closer,” Ben said, cutting her off. That aggravated the hell out of her. “We know.”
Morgan had a welding torch in her hand, so she couldn’t exactly send the gesture she wanted to up to the heavens. In lieu of the wrench, and due to the fact that time was getting very, very short, she’d decided it’d be easier just to use a welding torch to cut off the electric and fuel lines to the clipped wing, then fuse them shut. It wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do.
“Fine,” she said, gritting her teeth. Morgan didn’t need goggles or a welding mask. Her artificial eyes didn’t need the protection. “It also looks to be pointing lots of missiles at us. But I’m sure you know that, too.”
Ben was silent. Hey, looks like you don’t know everything, smartass, she thought.
“We’ll be there in two,” he said curtly, and ended the call.
When they reached the docking bay, Ben saw that the Lost’s systems were all already activated. Morgan was cycling the engines, making sure those that remained were functional.
Ace rushed up ahead as Ben heard a gasp from the group, and turned around to see Francesca clinging to Ada and Tanisha with her hand over her mouth, looking terrified. Even Tomas was shaking his head. Only Ada continued forward into the bloody minefield of the docking bay with a grim look of determination.
She nodded over Ben’s shoulder at the Lost. “That’s it?”
“That’s it,” Ben said.
“Will she fly?”
“That’s the plan.”
Morgan was standing at the base of the extended loading ramp. She nodded at Ace, and he headed up the ramp.
“We can take off,” she said. “I think. Not sure about ever landing again.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we have to,” Ben said.
“And when will that be?”
“When we get to Vassar-1,” Ben said. “We ran into one of those Oblivion bastards, and he said that’s where it all begins.” He saw the look on her face. “Whatever the hell that means.”
Ada, Tomas, Tanisha, and Francesca followed up the ramp as Morgan watched. She said nothing, and Ben again found himself impressed with her ability to compartmentalize and focus. In her shoes, he’d have a million questions. All she did was nod and say, “Everybody find somewhere to park your ass and put on a safety belt,” as she pointed to the main level of the gunship, then smacked the button closing the loading ramp.
Morgan headed for the cockpit after Ace. Ben followed. He noticed Ada up ahead, heading for the cockpit too. “We got three seats up there. Stay back here with your people. Once we’re out of here, we can all make more formal introductions and figure out what the hell we’re doing.”
Ada nodded. She was a private, so Ben assumed she was used to following orders, although recent events had clearly changed the dynamic. She was a natural leader, too, but this was still Ben’s ship. She was going to have to live with that. She dropped back, clearly not happy about it.
When they got to the cockpit, the door had to be manually shoved open. “Not working,” Morgan said.
Ben and Ace exchanged a look. Ben settled into the captain’s chair. “Get us the hell out of here, Morgan.”
“Uhh,” Ace said, looking over the information panel next to his seat. “I got no data.”
“Yeah,” Morgan said. “Not working.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...