One wants justice. One just wants to survive.
But nothing on Planet Hell is what it seems. The brothers soon stumble upon a plot to interact with the aliens that could change everything. But they aren't the only people trying to understand the aliens--and most are willing to do anything to keep the powerful secrets for themselves.
Shifting alliances, hidden agendas, and ruthless killers interact against a backdrop of invincible aliens willing and able to kill anything, and anyone, on a whim.
Gritty and fast-paced, Planet Hell is a high-octane military sci-fi with a devastating mystery at its heart.
Release date: May 24, 2019
Print pages: 224
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Listen to a sample
“Incoming!” a voice screamed in my earpiece. It was accompanied by the sound of roaring energy pulses that distorted the rest of the message.
I squatted, waiting for somebody to start shooting at me.
I looked at the pulse rifle in my left hand. Thanks to a pair of surgically implanted energy ribbons, the grip stuck to my hand like magic, or at least, like magnets. I still remembered having a hand that wasn’t made to hold a weapon. That’s how new I was.
But somehow, I was also an officer. Captain Tim Oberon.
That rubbed some of the guys the wrong way. Specifically, the guys who’d been here every day trying not to get killed, actually earning their promotions.
It is what it is. You can’t always be one of the good guys who pulls himself up by the bootstraps. Sometimes you’re the spoiled brat who gets to jump to the front of the line.
Until you end up on Planet Hell, that is. Then your silver spoon just gets shoved up your ass.
The ridge exploded around me like it was made of firecrackers.
“Son of a bitch!” I shouted as I fired aimlessly in the general direction of the energy pulses that were raining down on me. My rifle was old and second-hand so I doubted I could do much better if I took my time.
I was on a narrow ridge that fell away to nowhere on either side. I could keep moving up the ridge, or turn tail. As I was trying to decide what to do, an energy pulse ripped into my shoulder. The combat gear I was wearing did its best to absorb the blow, which I really appreciated.
But it still hurt.
I turned tail. I had nothing to prove. I started running back down the ridge, calculating just how far I’d have to go before I could find cover again. Not that there was any real cover out here, but, you know, the excuses for cover you could find on a burned-out husk of a planet.
A rock under my foot gave way.
I landed on my ass and spun around as the full weight of the backpack I was wearing dragged me backward. For a moment, I spun like a top. I saw the fire-red sky, dead like everything else here, as it spun over my head.
I came to a stop with my arms and legs pointed straight forward. My back was hunched forward as far as my abs could manage, while my ass balanced on the ridge. I held the pose like a fat man trying to hold a sit-up, while I bargained with whatever deity I was willing to sell my soul to this week to not let me fall off the ridge.
I leaned forward, and felt the weight of the backpack shift forward with me. Whatever had been shooting at me was still out there, but for the moment, I just took a breath and tried to draw my legs back down to a sitting position.
Then I turned over and started to get up on one knee.
Slow, asshole. Something’s still out there.
A beam of energy exploded in my face.
At least it felt that way. It must not have, because I still had a face, but it was damn close. If I’d stuck out my tongue, I might have lost half of it.
That would make me popular. A mute officer.
But I didn’t stick out my tongue. I did the next most stupid thing. I jerked my head backwards. It was involuntary, but what could I do? I didn’t want to have my face burned off.
It was only after I jerked backwards that I realized that gravity now had all the ammunition it needed to win the little tug-of-war with the heavy backpack I was wearing.
I swung my arms out, clawing at the air like an idiot, but it was too late now.
I tumbled backwards off the ridge.
The world started to spin. What a world it was. Barren rock and dirt as far as I could see. Out there somewhere was whatever the hell was shooting at me.
A rock smashed into the back of my head, and I saw stars. Something punched me hard in the gut. A boulder the size of my first dropship flew past, then another.
If my gun hadn’t been attached to me, it would have gone flying. So score one for the engineers who’d figured that one out.
I smashed down on my face in between a pair of rocks about the size of my head. A joke entered my mind.
Hey, left ball.
Yeah, right ball?
Who’s the penis in between us?
I got up on my hands and knees and realized that the real joke was I didn’t have my pulse rifle after all.
I stared up at the ridge above. It was a long damn way up to the top, and now I was going to have to climb it again.
That’s what happens when you’re on the ass end of a mission up the side of a mountain, and you fall off.
I rolled over as I heard the static clear in my earpiece.
“Cap just went over the hill!” someone said. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it. I was still getting to know these guys. It wasn’t like we went back or anything; I’d met most of them a couple hours ago. And at the time, I didn’t think I’d need to remember their names.
I’m sure the feeling was mutual.
“Captain, can you hear me?” said the voice of Sergeant Lam. I knew that one. He seemed to know what the hell he was doing out here, so that seemed like a name to remember.
I spat out dirt. “I hear you,” I said, trusting that the high-tech toys the engineers had shoved in the computer that was embedded in my ear would understand that I was responding to the sergeant. “But I lost my—”
A twig snapped to my right.
I did the smart thing and spun directly toward the noise, utterly defenseless, my instincts as spot-on as ever.
The big black muzzle of a pulse rifle slid around the side of a rock about as tall as I was.
“Shit,” I said.
I threw myself to one side, slipped, and fell on my face as I did it. I landed next to a long, skinny indention in the rock that I slithered into like a snake into a wagon rut.
It was hot everywhere, but somehow, it was even hotter in that rut.
I waited to get shot in the back, but when that didn’t come, I figured what the hell and started to crawl forward like mad. The least I could do was make it hard for the bastard to kill me.
As I reached the end of the rut, I felt the hairs on my arm stand straight on end. I knew what that meant, but I didn’t know much I could do about it. I tried to squeeze myself as small as possible as the dirt over my shoulder erupted from a plasma blast.
Somehow, the idiot had missed. I rolled out of the end of the rut as mud splashed up in my face.
I jumped up and started sprinting toward what looked like a promising group of rocks. There were five of them standing in a semi-circle, almost like they were doing a rock version of kum-bi-ya, and I happily dashed into the mix.
A plasma blast lanced through the air and cracked into the rock just past my head. The rock exploded, splintering open under the energy bolt like a tree trunk hit by lightning.
I dove to the ground and scrambled behind another of the rocks, hoping it would manage to hold up a little better than its buddy.
“I’m pinned down,” I panted. “I lost my plasma rifle!”
The rock I was behind turned out to be narrow. It was barely thicker than my torso. I squeezed up against the rock, trying to make myself disappear into it.
With my pulse rifle gone, I reached for the punch pistol that hung on my utility belt. I half expected it to be gone, but to my surprise it was still in the fancy holster than came with the fancy combat suit that had already saved my life once.
With only the punch pistol, I needed to get a good close shot. I felt my heart rate finally begin to slow to something I could manage.
I was a good shot. I knew that. I knew if I took my time, I could kill this bastard. I might be a spoiled bitch, but I was still the oldest son of an Archduke.
“Don’t return fire,” Sergeant Lam said.
“Say again!?” I asked, knowing that I sounded on the edge of hysteria, which was a good representation of how I felt.
I could make out the man shooting at me now. He was wearing brown tactical gear. Great job blending in with all the shit-colored rocks around here, pal.
The bastard was walking openly toward me, like I was no threat at all.
That really pissed me off.
“I say again, do not fire,” Lam said. “Aliens are inbound.”
Aliens. Shit. That means—
The earpiece was supposed to be shielded so that there was no way sound could leak out, but Mr. Tactical Gear shifted his stance and fired his pulse rifle in one motion. I jerked back behind the rock just before it exploded behind me.
I dove forward as two more energy beams roared through the air just over my head. I dropped to the deck and rolled clear.
“Tell that to this asshole!” I barked to Lam.
I was dead if I just lay here. The guy was just nonchalantly walking toward my position. Screw it. If I was going to die, I wasn’t going to do it watching this prick walk up on me.
I jumped to my feet and rushed the guy. I tried to crouch as low as I could, and moved in a jerky, zigzag motion. I was closing fast; another couple of steps and I’d have a meaningful shot at the guy with the pistol in my hand.
Then a bright light exploded in front of me, bathing everything in brilliant white. I gasped and put my hand to my eyes.
I figured I was dead. The guy must have thrown a flash grenade, and I didn’t even realize it. I mean, I didn’t hear the detonation, but what else could it be?
I staggered, my eyes watering, looking for movement ahead of me.
Then I saw it.
Only it wasn’t moving towards me. It was moving upwards, away from me, into the sky.
It took me a second to realize that the guy was suspended in mid-air, slowly floating upwards in a tight beam of light. His legs were sprawled below him, kicking like he was in water. His mouth was open, frozen in a soundless scream. The man’s gaze locked onto me, an animal in the grip of complete panic.
I followed the beam of light upward until it terminated at the base of a perfectly square alien ship floating serenely in the sky. The gleaming cube seemed to be made up of several smaller perfectly square shapes. There was no way to know what was going on inside. Nobody had ever been in one and come back to tell the tale.
The edges of the cube blurred, and when I looked down, the guy’s body convulsed and seemed to coalesce into the beam of light that was holding him. Then the beam disappeared.
I felt my jaw go slack.
The cube floated perfectly still another full second as I felt a tingling sensation wash over me. Then it blurred again and flashed across the sky too fast for my eyes to follow.
I stared stupidly up at the empty sky as the trees rustled and my asshole slowly unpuckered.
Then I heard someone whistle behind me and I spun around to find one of the Marines from the drop team standing there shaking his head.
“Did you see that?” I asked.
“Aliens, man,” he shrugged. “Hell of a way to go.”
He nodded at the punch pistol I was still holding in my hand, then patted his own pistol in his shoulder holster and winked. “They don’t like guns,” he said.
I looked down at my weapon. It seemed so insignificant compared to what I’d just seen that it was comical to think the aliens would care about it. I holstered it. “They don’t like guns?”
He considered me. “Guess they didn’t see you as much of a threat.”
The insult didn’t even register. “Does this happen often?”
The Marine glanced up at the sky, shrugged again, and then turned around. “Welcome to Planet Hell.”
Forward Operating Base BB14 (Big Boy)
Three hours earlier
“Don’t jump, Captain.”
I knew the voice of my brother, so I didn’t bother turning around. I just kept staring over the lip of the station at the planet far below. “How about I just throw you, Major,” I said.
“Murdering a member of the Guild of Juuvlin carries serious repercussions.”
“Not for another member of the same Guild,” I reminded him.
“You love me too much,” Mason said.
“Debatable,” I said. I licked my salty lips. I was still sweating from my run. “I need a beer.”
“The suns aren’t even up yet,” Mason said.
“Details. I just finished a five-mile run.”
“Don’t you have to be at your duty station soon?”
“Since when did my little brother care about duty stations?” I asked.
Mason snorted. “Got me there.”
He joined me at the lip. I didn’t know what the official name was, but “lip” would have to do. It was one of the few places on this huge floating base where you could stand near the actual edge and look over. Whether it was by design or by engineering necessity, nobody seemed sure.
I could feel the heat from the gigantic thrusters firing somewhere far below, always burning night and day, keeping the platform floating 19 miles up.
“Quite a view,” Mason said. He was sucking on an energy drink, the kind the soldiers drank before a mission. “Can you believe this used to Udeba? Remember when it didn’t look like shit?”
“Can you keep it down?” I said.
“What?” He spread his arms. “Nobody’s up this early.”
“Everybody’s up this early,” I said. “It’s a military base.” I could see activity on the central landing platform. Dropships were already coming and going, ferrying missions down to the surface. They were full of Union soldiers. Most were convict conscriptions. Even the lowest Guilds in the Union could manage to get their mandatory military service somewhere other than Planet Hell these days. The average life expectancy for these poor bastards was … well, not good.
Mason rolled his eyes. “What’s the big deal?”
“The big deal is that we don’t need people knowing that we’re from here,” I hissed. “It’s weird enough that we’re here at all.”
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...