Here’s the first snippet of The Temple of Light!
Gamma Leporis System
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.