Movie Review: Passengers

passengers-movie-reviewPassengers is a movie that’s seen a lot of grief over the past month.  I think that’s in part because it asks difficult decisions.  In short, one character makes a morally terrible decision early on… and he makes it for a very human reason.

When he makes that decision, the viewer can empathize with him.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that most people, if they’re honest with themselves, would come to the same decision and they’d chose the same way.

The story doesn’t make light of that decision, but it also doesn’t linger.  From that point on is where much of the story really begins.  There’s a lot to take in, with good humor, romance, and even some tense moments.  It’s a genuinely fun movie with some fantastic chemistry between the characters (human and android included).  The characterization is strong and as a viewer, I was caught up in the little triumphs and big failures that the characters experienced throughout the movie.

Part of that, I’m sure, is that the movie has such a sense of optimism, of humans pushing new barriers and solving problems.  There’s elements of such grand hope, of literally reaching for the stars, that I want to see it again, just to relive that experience.  The characters in Passengers are put in extremely dire straits, but they never question their decision to journey to the stars.  Indeed, the movie itself never questions that.  This isn’t the technology cautionary tale that Hollywood likes to beat people with.

I think the reason that Passengers gets grief is that it forces the viewer to like and appreciate a different perspective… and to consider that other perspective.  It’s not a safe movie, where the ice-bergs in a relationship are tiny things.  Yet, it is a love story, and there’s elements of forgiveness and atonement.   It is a very human movie, where the main characters are flawed in ways that ring true.

This is a movie that I plan to buy.  It’s fun and for those who can handle it, it examines elements of what it is to be human and to make bad decisions.  It’s a movie I want my kids to watch someday and to talk with them about.  I highly recommend seeing it.

passengers-movie-header-image
I can’t help but say that new parents understand these expressions…

COSine 2017

For those in Colorado, I’ll be attending COSine, a Colorado Springs Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

It’s a fun little convention, if you haven’t been before.  I highly recommend it.  There’s always a few excellent authors in attendance and they have a variety of great topics for their panels.

My schedule:

SATURDAY  
11-noon    Characters in Combat (Breckenridge)
5:15 – 7pm   Author Reception and Mass Signing (Ballroom)

SUNDAY
10-11am   How much does that Star Cruiser cost – fictional economics  (Breckenridge)

The author reception and signing is particularly fun, so if you don’t get a chance to do much else, I recommend that especially.

New books! Kindle deals! It’s the January CLFA Booknado!

Here’s a bunch of new and discounted books that might appeal.

Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance

booknado-grfx-600wideStale, formulaic, establishment fiction cannot resist this gale-force gust of alternative storytelling. Why let Big Publishing’s cabal of easily-triggered Brooklynites decide what you get to read? Decide for yourself!

Don’t let cabin fever set in – open your mind and entertain your intellect with some fresh selections from this month’s CLFA Booknado!

New Releases

Freedom’s Light: Short Stories
The first-ever CLFA-endorsed anthology of short fiction!  Enjoy a variety of tales in assorted genres from CLFA members and supporters!

Forbidden Thoughts
This is the month for anthologies! Savor a witty intro by the great Milo Yiannopoulos and enjoy popular authors including John C. WrightL. Jagi LamplighterNick ColeLarry CorrieaBrad TorgersenBrian NiemierSarah Hoyt, and Vox Day.

Set to Kill: A Sean AP Ryan Novel (Convention Killings Book 2) by Declan Finn
Sean AP Ryan thought he was doing security for a science fiction convention…

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The Temple of Light, Available Now!

the-temple-of-light-kindle-v2The Temple of Light, book 5 of The Shadow Space Chronicles, is now available on Amazon.

The greatest threat is the one that you don’t see coming.

Lieutenant Alannis Giovanni has proven herself in battle, but now she has to face a far more personal threat. Her ex-husband, Reese, plans to activate an alien superweapon located at the Temple of Light that could devastate entire star systems and Alannis is the only one who can stop him.

She and the crew of the UCS Constellation will have to fight off Reese’s other pursuers, infiltrate pirate bastions, and defeat aliens bent upon the destruction of humanity in an effort to stop Reese from activating the superweapon.

It’s a dangerous mission, one where a single misstep could not only doom entire star systems, but embroil the United Colonies in a multiway war. Yet Alannis has little choice. She has to stop her ex-husband no matter the cost.

It’s a race to the Temple of Light, and whoever gets there first will have the power to destroy worlds.

The Temple of Light Snippet Three

the-temple-of-light-kindle-v2 Here’s snippet three of The Temple of Light.  The Temple of Light will be available on January 14th.

If you missed the first and second snippets you should read those first.  Snippet three focuses on what Reese and the mysterious Minder are up to…

 

 

 

Trident Forward Operational Base

<Redacted> System

July 7, 2409

 

Captain Reese Leone snapped to attention in front of his boss’s desk.  “My Lord, reporting as ordered.”

Lord Marius Octavious Giovanni, rightful Baron Giovanni, and eldest son of the Emperor Romulus I and his rightful heir, gave Reese a nod.  When he spoke his voice carried both authority and weight.  Marius Giovanni had every bit of the presence that his son, Lucius Giovanni had.  And he’s far more loyal to his people, Reese thought bitterly.  “Reese, I hear that you have almost completed our preparations?” Marius Giovanni asked.

“Yes, my Lord,” Reese nodded.  “I’ve acquired almost all of the items we’ll need.  There’s a few of the more… unique items that my people have located but not yet acquired.  I haven’t wanted to draw that level of attention until we begin our final preparations.”

“Understood,” Marius nodded.  He rose from behind his desk and came around.  As always, it somewhat surprised Reese at how short the man was, he barely came to Reese’s shoulder.  Granted, Reese was a hundred and ninety centimeters.  Marius projected so much presence that he seemed bigger, somehow.  “How has the other project come along… the one involving my daughter and grandson?”

Reese looked down.  “I’ve set things up, my Lord.”  Alannis Giovanni, Reese’s former wife and the mother of his child, was also Marius’s daughter.  The entire situation gave Reese a bit of a headache.  Marius Giovanni had lived in exile since Alannis was three weeks old, when he’d led a failed coup attempt to seize the Nova Roma Imperial Throne from his half-brother, Emperor Romulus II.  His son, Lucius Giovanni, had assumed the title of Baron and everyone had, until recently, believed that Marius had been executed for treason.  When the Chxor had seized Nova Roma, Emperor Romulus III had been executed, along with the crown prince, leaving the young Prince Octavian to assume the throne as Emperor Romulus IV.  Yet Marius’s son, Baron Lucius Giovanni had built alliances and founded the United Colonies, which had then liberated dozens of captured human worlds… including Nova Roma.

Reese didn’t know the details of how his brother-in-law had managed it, but his triumphant return had resulted in the people hailing him as their new Emperor.  He’d managed to pull off the “if I am called upon for the duty, then I will do it” appearance well enough, but Reese knew better than to believe that for a heartbeat.  Lucius must have arranged it all, just as he had manipulated Reese’s wife into joining the military to portray their family’s “noble service.”

Lucius had destroyed Reese’s marriage in the process and Reese wasn’t about to forget it.

However, Marius Giovanni was the rightful heir to the Nova Roma Empire.  Whatever else had happened in the time since didn’t change that.  And while Lucius had a vast wealth of resources to include the fabled Dreyfus Fleet… Marius Giovanni had quite a few resources of his own.  Reese didn’t expect Lucius to step down –not for his estranged father– but he did expect Marius Giovanni to come out on top of this little matter of Imperial succession.

Reese realized that he’d been quiet too long and he spoke up, “The teams are in place, I’ve set up multiple layers of cut-outs.  They don’t know exactly who they’re working for or anything beyond their part of the plan.  I’ve also kept the information secure from your man on the ground, since you don’t want to compromise his position.”

That last had been more than difficult.  Reese had been shocked to learn that General William Proscia worked for Lord Marius Giovanni.  The Marine General had served under Lucius for decades… but he’d begun his career as a junior officer under Marius Giovanni.  Apparently the same total loyalty that Lucius seemed to generate held true for his father as well.

In any case, General Proscia not only ran the Faraday Military Academy, but he also bore chief responsibility for the Imperial Regiment, the bodyguard unit for Lucius and his close family.

“Good,” Marius said.  His dark eyes bored into Reese.  “Do you feel a high level of confidence towards their success?”

Reese felt sweat bead his forehead as he met his superior’s eyes.  Failure was one area where Reese had seen that Marius was very different from his son.  Admiral Lucretta Mannetti had been Marius Giovanni’s chief agent until only a few years earlier.  After Lucius had defeated her not just once, but twice, Marius had given the order for her death.  He’d managed to arrange for her to die while she was under guard in a prison on Faraday, in a place where she should have been untouchable.

Not only that, but Marius had arranged the death in such a fashion as it looked like an accident… and as far as Reese could tell, no one questioned the story.  Failure brought drastic consequences.

“I’m not, my Lord,” Reese said.  “The security situation being what it is…” he thought about the new Imperial House that had been constructed on Faraday, designed with all manner of electronic and physical defenses.  Reese shook his head, “I wouldn’t give them even odds of success.”  The situation was almost as bad when Lucius’s family was on Nova Roma, but there at least the urban sprawl had encircled the Imperial Palace, which gave his people more freedom to move around.

“Even with your… connection?” Marius asked.

Reese swallowed nervously, “My Lord, I don’t feel confident enough to exploit it fully, not without exposing that source.”

“You aren’t allowing your personal feelings to sway you in this?” Marius asked with an intent voice.

“No, my Lord,” Reese swallowed.  “And I will assure you, I want this to succeed every bit as much as you do.  I just don’t feel this gives us the best opportunity of success.  Given what happened to the last person that tried to kidnap a member of Lucius’s family…”

He shouldn’t have said that, he realized.

Marius glared at him, “The imposter behind that bungled attempt deserved what he received.”  The Centauri Confederation Ambassador, who had claimed to be Marius Giovanni, had actually succeeded in kidnapping Lucius’s daughter.  Parties unknown had returned her… and the charred remains of the impostor had been delivered to the Centauri Confederation with a stern warning not to try such a thing ever again.

“Still, my Lord,” Reese hedged, “I think that even the attempt will be likely to draw more attention to our other activities when we draw near the critical juncture.”

Marius Giovanni cocked his head, his face stern.  Yet he gave a single nod, “Alright, I’ll grant you that point.  The last thing we need is someone getting in the way of some of those preparations… though involvement at the right time might be to our overall benefit.”

“My Lord?” Reese asked.

“It’s easy to forget that some of our opponents,” Marius had never once referred to his son as an enemy, just as an opponent, a point that Reese hadn’t missed, “are at odds.  Putting them against one another isn’t always something we need to take the time to arrange, sometimes they’ll do that on their own.”  His eyes went narrow, “Any further news about our special ‘friends’?”

Reese shivered a bit as he considered those particular enemies.  Up until the battle in Ghornath space, Marius’s organization had only had a theory about them even existing.  Yet the rumors that had come out had already had profound ripples across human space.  Former rivals in any number of systems now had reason to reexamine old grudges.  Even the Shadow Lords had apparently been surprised by the revelation of a hidden force within human space.

But not Marius, Reese thought, whoever these people are, my boss at least suspected their existence and has included them in his plans.

“No additional news, yet, my Lord,” Reese said.  “But I’ve confirmed that the destruction of Admiral Mannetti’s facility at Iota Persei was their work, based off of examination of the wreckage.”  Admiral Mannetti’s research into Reese’s current field of study had come to an abrupt halt when parties unknown had destroyed her facility in the Iota Persei system, killing most of her scientists and engineers.  She’d assumed it was the work of Shadow Lord Imperious, based upon the timing… but Reese had examined some of the wreckage and confirmed that the energy weapons damage was most likely a result of high energy gamma or x-rays.  Since that seemed to be the primary weapon system of this mysterious faction, it seemed evident that they’d been behind the setback.

And so it only stands to reason that they’ll try to do the same against us again, Reese thought.

“Well, then,” Marius Giovanni said, “in that case, I want you to remind all of our involved allies of the importance of secrecy, especially as we draw closer to success.  Go ahead and begin our final round of acquisitions… and I trust you are willing to do what’s necessary to achieve that?”

Reese swallowed as he contemplated the risk, not just to their project, but to himself in particular.  “Yes, my Lord, I’m willing to do it.”  Self-sacrifice wasn’t something he normally valued, but with the stakes they faced, and for his wife and son, he considered the risk acceptable.

“Excellent,” Marius said.  “I’ve said before that you’ve impressed me as my son-in-law, but you continue to show that my daughter has excellent taste… even if she may be a little confused at the moment in her priorities.”

Reese knew the comment was meant to be a compliment, but that didn’t take the sting out of it, either.  Alannis had rejected him at their last meeting, too focused on her own perspective to see the big picture.  Everything I’ve done, he thought, I’ve done for her… for us.

“That will be all, Reese,” Marius straightened and walked back around his desk.  Reese turned away, headed for the door, his mind already going to the preparations he had to make.

“Oh, and Reese?” Marius Giovanni’s words caught him in the doorway, and Reese turned attentively.  “Go ahead and initiate your secondary operation.  I’ll accept the risk of failure for the opportunity it presents: bring my daughter and her son to me.”

***

 

Location Unspecified

<Redacted> System

July 7, 2409

 

The being that called itself Minder had worked at his task for decades.  He took pleasure in his schemes and manipulations.  The human race, the greatest threat his kind had ever faced, were a persistent foe.  They had come back from defeat after defeat, and Minder and his predecessors had still managed to keep them contained and focused inwards.

It had taken carefully-tailored plagues, massacres, assassinations, and even the occasional destruction of entire star systems.  Minder had personally killed thousands and his efforts had killed humans in the hundreds of millions.  As detached as he was from it all, even he felt a little sick considering the number of intelligent beings he had snuffed out of existence.

And yet they continue to be a threat, he pondered.  More and more it feels as if I’m merely fighting a holding action.  Despite the darkness of the thought, he let no trace of it touch his face.  It wasn’t merely emotional control.  It was an element of instinct… for while he wore a handsome face and looked as indistinguishably human as anyone, facial expression was not an element of his genetic ancestry.  Well, he thought wryly, except by a sort of adoption.

He summoned his daughter with a thought and his door opened.  She stepped inside, a smile on her face.  She looked as human as Minder did, but while he was handsome, she possessed a stunning level of beauty.  Even as disconnected as he was from human emotions such as physical attraction, he could still appreciate her appearance, just as he could enjoy human artistic expression.  She was every bit as breath-taking as one of the classical human sculptures… and just as human as a sculpted piece of marble.  Of course, only a few years ago she had been entirely human.  In fact, his decision to convert her to one of his kind had been a reluctant one, yet between his outward duties and his secret efforts, he had needed someone with enough authority among the humans to act in his interests.  “You called, Father?”

Even here in the offices that they absolutely controlled, they sustained the appearance.  After the many years of his kind’s efforts, it would not do to slip up, to let their guard down and so spoil things.  Besides, he left a small number of listening and observation devices in place in his offices, to better manipulate his human underlings.  More than once he had used such devices to lure humans into false expectations, including at least one assassination attempt where humans had expected their leader to be merely human.  He felt real pleasure as he remembered their shock and horror at how easily he had defeated them.  “Any progress on that matter I asked you to look into?”  The interest in the Enemy’s artifacts, he projected his thoughts, has it continued?

“Unfortunately not,” She replied aloud.  My sources have confirmed that there has been an increased interest in their acquisition, she replied in his mind, they continue to investigate and Sidewinder has intervened as necessary.

“I understand,” Minder said.  “Please keep me informed of any changes in the situation as they occur.”  Sidewinder is to be used only when we are left with no other options, he told her, the humans have begun to suspect our existence and if they start to examine things too closely, too many of our projects will fail.  He formed an easy smile as if the matter he’d mentioned was of little import, even while he shifted the topic to one that any potential observers would find of more interest, “Now, I was looking at the financial sector reports…”

***

The Temple of Light Snippet Two

the-temple-of-light-kindle-v2Here is the second snippet from The Temple of Light, book five of The Shadow Space Chronicles.  You can get The Temple of Light on 14 January.  Find the first snippet here.

***

“Well,” Captain Daniel Beeson smiled, “that could have gone better.”

“Sorry, sir,” Lieutenant Giovanni said, her expression downcast.

“Well, we’ve received the official thanks of Tigel’s planetary government for ‘removing an entire criminal organization,’ so I suppose it didn’t work out too bad,” Daniel said.  “But as I considered just how to break it to the Emperor that I got you killed —if I got you killed– I somehow don’t think that thanks would be worth all that much.”

Lieutenant Giovanni looked down and Daniel’s smile faded.  “I think it is best that we return to Faraday.  From what I understand, they’ve had some developments there and the Admiralty may have a better grasp on the situation rather than us continuing to chase after rumors and false leads.”

Lieutenant Giovanni gave a nod at that and Daniel’s gaze went to Lieutenant Commander Perkins.  He’d turned a blind eye to their relationship mostly because they kept things professional and as his XO, Lieutenant Commander Perkins wasn’t directly in her rating chain.  That didn’t mean he didn’t know about it.  “Besides, Forrest, you’ve just come down on orders.”

“Orders, sir?” Forrest stared at him in surprise.  “I’m being transferred?”

“You are.  Apparently they’ve had an officer vacancy aboard the destroyer Bowie, so once we get back to Faraday’s Sanctuary Station, you’ll transfer immediately,” Daniel said.  He couldn’t help a smile at Forrest’s obvious dismay.  A transfer to a destroyer after his time aboard the Constellation was something of a demotion.  While that wasn’t technically true, that’s how it would be seen… except for one important point.  “I understand you’ll be replacing Lieutenant Commander Felton as the new CO of the Bowie.  Congratulations.”

Forrest’s eyes went wide, “Thank you, sir.”

A command after such a short time as XO aboard the Constellation was a sign that his performance had been noticed.  Granted, Forrest Perkins was older than most Lieutenant Commanders, at nearly fifty, though his youthful demeanor and access to the United Colonies’ longevity treatments made him look no older than twenty-five.  He’d only served in the United Colonies Fleet for six years, but he’d plenty of civilian ship experience and had graduated from Saragossa’s Fleet Academy over twenty years previously.

And since Saragossa may sign on to the United Colonies, Daniel thought, using him as something of a poster-child isn’t a bad idea.  Daniel didn’t know if Forrest realized such politics were involved, but he wouldn’t be surprised if he would figure it out soon enough.  Not that he hasn’t earned it, Daniel thought.

“No, thank you for your exemplary service,” Daniel said.  “Once we make port, Lieutenant Commander Rickard will take over as XO until your replacement arrives.”  He couldn’t help a look at Ensign Giovanni.  “At that point, I’d understand if both of you might want to take some leave.”

Both of them flushed and neither looked at the other.  Well, he thought, serves them right for them thinking they’re fooling anyone, but at least they kept things professional.

“Did we learn anything from the smuggler’s files?” Lieutenant Giovanni asked.  The short woman’s olive-skinned face was intent.  Captain Beeson understood why, but that didn’t mean he fully approved of her dedication.

“I see that you’ve spoken with Gunny Tam,” Daniel snorted.  “We’re still sorting through the data.  Strictly speaking, I shouldn’t be telling you this as the assistant tactical officer.”  She blanched a bit as he said that, but his tone eased, “however, since I figure you’ll be seeing most of this information from your brother, the Emperor, I might as well save a couple of steps.”

She rolled her eyes at that, but she gave him a nod, so he went on.  “We’ve found some sales data as well as indications of where Reese Leone has made purchases,” Daniel said.  “Which did include this system, but apparently he hasn’t been seen here for at least four months.”

She looked disappointed at that, especially since they’d come here based upon information that he was based out of or operating in this system.  If he hadn’t been seen in that long, it suggested that this was yet another dead end.

There’d been a few of those over the past six months.  The Constellation’s mission was to investigate any leads on Reese’s whereabouts, activities, and his mysterious patrons.  Certainly the amount of money and resources Reese accessed on a regular basis suggested that he had some powerful allies.  “The word I’ve received from Faraday says that they’ve put together a working group for this specific job.”  The somewhat cryptic statement had come through the ansible network.  They still didn’t know for certain if the network was compromised.  The Ghornath had discovered indications that a mysterious group could intercept ansible transmissions.  The United Colonies Fleet had begun to limit the critical information they transmitted.  Most of what they did send now was either entirely administrative or personal.

“Now, we’re headed back home.  Lieutenant Commander Perkins, I understand some of the other officers will be throwing you a congratulatory party, so I expect you to be appropriately surprised.”  Daniel smiled, “you are dismissed.”

***

The Temple of Light will be available on 14 January.  Find out more here.

The Temple of Light: Snippet One

the-temple-of-light-kindle-v2Here’s the first snippet of The Temple of Light!

Prologue

Gamma Leporis System

Colonial Republic

July 1, 2409

Lieutenant Alanis Giovanni ducked as gunfire ripped down the alleyway behind her and bullets tore through the air over her head.  “This is all your fault!” Alanis shouted as she ducked into a doorway next to Lieutenant Commander Forrest Perkins.

“Me?” He asked, even as he squatted and then leaned out to fire his pistol.  “You’re the one that mentioned Reese’s name, all I did was find the guy selling illegal artifacts.”

Alanis couldn’t argue with that.  As soon as she’d mentioned her ex-husband’s name, the situation had gone from a shady business deal to a running gunfight.  They’d come down here in civilian clothing to attract less attention, but right now, she wished they’d been suited up for combat.

Alanis peeked down the alleyway.  She only saw a couple of the artifact smugglers at that end, which probably meant the others were flanking them.  She pulled out her comm and spoke into it, “Gunny Tam, we need that extraction.”

“We’re on the way,” Gunny Tam said.  “ETA five minutes.”

“What do they say?” Forrest demanded as he fired again.    He’d lost his earbud in their mad scramble through the town.  He barely fit his tall, lanky frame into the narrow alcove, though when they’d been running, Alanis had barely been able to keep up.

“Five minutes,” Alanis said to Forrest.  Her small frame fit into the little bit of cover just fine.

“How are you on ammo?” Forrest asked.

“Have you seen me firing at all for the past ten minutes?” Alanis asked.  “I fired off both my magazines just getting out of the warehouse.”  She’d killed a few of their attackers in the process, which might have been a mistake.  The smugglers seemed to be the types to hold grudges.

“Well,” Forrest said, “I’ve got three rounds left.”

“Keep their heads down,” Alanis said.  She turned to the door and pulled out her datapad.  As she plugged it in, she noticed the bullet lodged in the screen.  The smart-crystal screen had shattered, but apparently her personal datapad’s thick circuitry had stopped the bullet.  Which doesn’t do me much good right now, she thought as she threw it aside.  “Give me your datapad,” Alanis snapped.

“It’s in my back pocket,” Forrest said as he leaned over and fired.  Down the alleyway, someone screamed.  A rattle of gunfire came from both directions and both Alanis and Forrest went flat against the doorway as bullets screamed past and bits of brick and stonework shattered around them.

“Which pocket!” Alanis screamed.

“Left cheek, left cheek!” Forest shouted, even as he fired off his second-to-last round.

Alanis pulled out his data pad and hooked it into her cable.  “Seriously?!” she demanded, “this thing is like twenty years old!  It doesn’t even have any software upgrades!”

“I just use it for messaging!” Forrest shouted as he ducked back.

Alanis didn’t bother to respond.  She finished hacking the door’s electronic lock and the metal security door for the warehouse clicked open.  “Inside!” She shouted.  As Forrest followed her in, she slammed the door and triggered the lock from the inside.  “That should hold them for a moment, come on.”

“That’s come on, sir.” Forrest smirked as he followed her at a jog.  “Can I get my datapad back?”

“This barely even qualifies as a datapad, sir.” Alanis shook the offensive bit of equipment.  “I’ve got a music player with more capabilities.”

“It does what I need it for…”

They paused as they heard the sound of impacts on the door to the warehouse.  “That’s not going to hold them long,” Alanis said.

“Anything useful in here?” Forrest moved over to a heavy crate, the top covered by a tarp.  He sighed, “Mratha rice.”

“Well, at least we won’t starve,” Alanis said.  She threw back another tarp and wrinkled her nose in distaste.  Mratha rice was a healthy, nutritional grain that basically tasted like cardboard.  It also smelled sort of like old gym socks.

Someone opened fire on the door and bullets ricocheted through the warehouse.  Alanis cursed and took off in the other direction.  She skidded to a halt, though, as she saw a set of offices off to the side, “this way, there may be a door!”  I am never going to insist on going on one of these again, Alanis thought.  It was all supposed to be simple.  Meet the smugglers, see if they knew anything about Reese.  Yet this was the third time one of these meetings had ended in gunfire.  Three for three, she thought.

She and Forrest rushed over, just as they heard their attackers kick in the door behind them.  As someone sprayed gunfire through the warehouse, Alanis dove through the doorway to the offices.  Glass shattered as windows exploded inwards and the archaic displays shattered.  “They’re firing blind, at least,” Forrest muttered as he crawled across the floor, pushing a wave of broken glass ahead of him.

“They’re trying to keep our heads down,” Alanis snapped.  It was working, too.  The smugglers were local, they probably knew where the other entrances were to this warehouse and they probably just wanted to keep them pinned in while they got in position.  With how dilapidated most of the neighborhood was, she doubted any kind of law enforcement would arrive soon enough to help.  Another few minutes for Gunny Tam, she thought.

She glanced up and her eyes widened as she saw the shotgun in place under the desk.  Apparently the office manager didn’t feel this was a quality neighborhood either.  She pulled the shotgun down and checked it.  It was local manufacture, a simple pump action, but it was better than nothing.  She dragged it with her as she backed across the floor.

“Where did you find that?” Forrest demanded.

“I’ve got resources,” Alanis smirked.  They came up to the back of the office and Alanis tried the door.  It opened, but just on a storage closet, filled with cleaning supplies.  Worse, the thin plastic walls wouldn’t stop any bullets.  It was a place to die, not one to hold out for help.

“Alright, we need to move,” Forrest said.  She could hear shouts as the smugglers moved through the warehouse.  They didn’t have much time.

“Split up?” Alanis asked.

Forrest nodded.  “I’ll work my way around the right, you go left.”

Alanis hesitated.  Right led back towards the door they’d come in.  Their attackers probably had more people concentrated there.  She didn’t know if he’d chosen that direction because it held the most risk or because he wanted to protect her… or because she had a comm unit still and could summon help for both of them.

On impulse she reached out, caught him by the collar and pulled him in for a kiss.  It was short, passionate and it sent an electric thrill through her.  “Be careful,” she said.  Technically their relationship was within the regulations, they weren’t under same command: he was the ship’s XO, she was in the tactical department.  Keep telling yourself that, she thought.

She moved to the side door of the office and then out into the warehouse without a look back.

As further gunfire echoed, she bit her lip and stayed low, keeping quiet even as bullets impacted crates of Mratha rice and sent grains raining down on her.  A moment later, she froze at the sound of a footstep, just around the corner.

“That fucking bitch,” an accented voice said, “she killed Nori.  When we get her, I’m going to kill her and rape her.”

“Only if she doesn’t kill you first, Jas,” a nervous voice said.  “She zakked Nori fast.   Two shots, bam-bam.”  He had a similar, rolling accent, different from most that Alanis had heard.

“Shut up,” Jas whispered.  “I’m not afraid of no woman.”

“I don’t want to die, Jas,” the second man said.

Alanis didn’t wait to hear more.  As their footsteps drew near, she rolled around the corner and leveled the shotgun on the nearest man.  As Jas’s rifle came around, she fired the shotgun.  The heavy shot ripped open the man’s torso and he fell back.  Alanis worked the pump action, even as the second smuggler let out a panicked shout and turned to run.  Her second shot caught the man in the back and he dropped to the ground with a wail.

Alanis worked the pump, ejecting another shell and then crawled forward.  She heard shouts and running feet, then a single shot from the far side of the office and a scream.  I hope Forrest gets another weapon, she thought, even as she reached the fallen smuggler.  She picked up his rifle and checked it.  It was an unfamiliar model, but she worked the action and chambered a round.  She dug through the dead smuggler’s pockets until she found another couple of magazines.  Next time, she told herself, I’m bringing more ammunition, I don’t care how it looks.

The smuggler she’d shot in the back gave a whimper as he tried to crawl away.  Alanis saw that he had dragged himself along, his legs limp, with a broad trail of blood behind him.  “She’s over here!” he shouted, “help me!”

Alanis took careful aim and fired.  The smuggler dropped lifeless to the ground.

Yet a moment later she heard more gunfire and she rolled away as bullets tore through the crate next to her.  Alanis abandoned the shotgun and crawled away as fast as she could.  Her boots cleared the corner just as flashlights illuminated the dead smuggler and more gunfire riddled his corpse.  These guys are a little trigger-happy, now, aren’t they?

“There’s one over here!” Someone shouted, just as gunfire picked up from the far side of the warehouse.  As the flashlights turned away, Alanis pivoted around the corner and brought her rifle up.  She could barely see the two men in the dim light, but she didn’t hesitate.  She fired four times in as many seconds and both men dropped to the ground, wounded or dead.  She took off at a crouch, running the opposite direction, just as more gunfire tore through the warehouse where she’d been.

As she reached the far end of the warehouse, she heard a roar of engines outside the building.  “We’re here,” Gunny Tam barked over her earbud.

“I’m at the rear of the building,” Alanis said.  “Lieutenant Commander Perkins is near the front of the building.  Ten or more hostiles inside, undetermined number outside.”

“Roger,” Gunny Tam said.  “We’re making a door.”

“Marines inbound!” Alanis shouted, even as she dropped to the ground and covered her ears.  This was going to be loud…

As the back wall of the warehouse blew inwards, she was very glad that the Constellation had upgraded their Marines to powered armor.

***

The Temple of Light will be available on 14 January.  Find out more here.