Happy Friday, everyone!
I felt as the marketing campaign is still doing so well and the launch for Zero (my first ever science fiction novel) at Fantasticon SciFi & Fantasy convention on Aug 16th is looming ever closer, it was high time to post an extract.
It took a little while but I settled on a section that has action, dialogue and drama but contains no spoilers and doesn’t need much background explination.
This is your chance to get a feel for the tone, characters and story. I hope you like what you find! If you do, you can pre-order signed copies through the marketing campaign as well as ebook bundles with exclusive bonus material!
General release for paperback and ebook on Amazon will be August 16th, same day as the book launch!
Oh, and it is now also on Goodreads should you wish to add it to your to-read lists 😀
All you need to know about the build up to this bit of story is that the protagonist, Captain Hugo and his commander, Ezekial Webb, have been assigned a mission to break up a ring of terrorists-for-hire called the Splinters based on a space-bound colony called Lunar 1. They have found the ringleaders, Armin, Broenan, Ankle and Marlowe and have been joined by freelance smuggler Marilyn Harvey, who has her own agenda with the underground organisation.
(Warning: contains violence and adult language, oo-er)
“Where’s Webb?” Hugo asked when he opened the door to only Harvey.
“He won’t be long.”
Harvey scowled as she pulled her jacket off. “That Ankle’s a nasty piece of work. We followed him all over the sector. Webb only recognised some of the points he dropped in on but none of it was good news.”
“What sort of points?”
Harvey ran a hand over her shaved head. “Drugs. Weapons. Even dropped in on someone that Webb is sure is a blade.”
Hugo shuddered. “And then?”
Harvey turned a chair round and sat in it, rubbing her eyes. “We followed him back to his place. A hole it was too, under some barhouse in Sector 3.”
“We need to stop them before they execute this new contract. Their client wanted all of Lunar 1 brought to its knees. God knows what they want now that that’s not happened.”
“But how?” Harvey asked. “This shit called in on ten points at least today. Their connections are like a poxy great net over the entire colony. We can’t wipe it all out.”
“We have to think of something.”
Just then the buzzer went again and Hugo let in a harried-looking Webb.
“I have a plan,” he said as he moved across the room and shuttered the window.
Webb turned to face them, held their gazes a moment, jaw tight, then came forward whilst fishing something out of his pocket and put it on the table. Harvey looked at it and paled.
“Boot black?” Hugo asked, confused.
“Jesus, I don’t know Webb,” Harvey murmured. “If you’re suggesting what I think you’re suggesting…”
“Does someone want to fill me in?”
“The black cross,” Webb said.
Harvey shook her head. “It ain’t good. Some Lunar 1 folk sent some of that shit Haven way a few years ago. It wasn’t pretty.”
“What is it?” Hugo asked, getting impatient but the set look on Webb’s face sent uncertainty creeping through him.
“The black cross is a symbol. For revenge. For retribution. For the punishment of a grievous and personal sin,” the commander said, voice flat.
“Boot black?” Hugo repeated, though quieter this time.
“You wear it on your face,” Harvey ran a finger down the middle of her face then across her eyes. “Anyone sees you wearing a black cross…well…let’s just say it ain’t something you want to be seeing.”
Webb pulled a can of spray paint from another pocket of his cargo trousers and set it on the table next to the polish with a toothy rattle.
“We take them out in their homes,” he said, “where they think they’re safe. All four ringleaders. And we leave the mark.”
“Well if you’re after shitting people up…” Harvey said, eyeing the spray can like it might bite.
Hugo gathered himself. “And then what?”
“The whole network will fall apart. No one will want to be associated with anyone who’s died under a black cross.”
Hugo looked the commander in the eye. “How do you know Marlowe?”
“From a long time ago. It’s not relevant.”
Seeing the grim set of Webb’s face, Hugo didn’t push. “Marilyn, do you think it’ll work?”
She tore her eyes from the spray paint. “Yeah. If we can get all four of them without being caught or recognised… I think it’ll send whoever’s left into holes they won’t be in a hurry to climb out of.”
“Then we do it,” Hugo said, the words feeling heavy in his mouth.
A nasty smile spread across Webb’s face but the sound of Doll returning for lunch had him slipping the boot black and spray paint back into his pockets before she came into the room.
Hugo’s head ached and his skin crawled as they spent that afternoon with hard-copy schematics of the different sectors spread over Doll’s table, planning their first move. Webb played with his knife the entire time, flipping it over in the air or twizzling it with the point making notches in the table top.
Breonan, in his dilapidated apartment block without even an alarm system, didn’t stand a chance. Someone had left a window open on the ground floor so they didn’t even have to break in. They didn’t bother checking for cameras. Webb said that if they got picked up on any feeds in their incongruous black gear, peaked caps and black crosses daubed on their faces, more the better.
The man had counted on his lock system to keep his enemies out but hadn’t counted on Webb and his multi-tool. All three entered the darkened apartment in their goggles. Webb found him in the bedroom and put a bullet in his head before he’d even drawn breath to yell. He sprayed a cross on the wall over the dead man’s bed before turning and pushing back past Harvey and Hugo and out of the apartment.
They were back at Doll’s in under two hours. Webb made them scrub their faces clean before she came back from her night shift.
Harvey went with Doll down to her room once she returned but neither Hugo nor Webb made a move to turn in after they had gone. They both sat at the table, staring at a card game they had stopped playing half an hour ago.
“Do your parents know the truth, Captain?” Webb murmured into the silence.
Hugo jolted then frowned. “What?”
Webb met his eyes. He looked tired. “Do they know the truth? You know, that you weren’t really discharged? That you’re still bleeding for the Service, but you’ll not be getting any more medals for it?”
Hugo tossed his cards on the table, trying to stoke up anger but then sighed, defeated. “No.”
Webb shrugged, gaze sliding away. “Figures.”
Webb blinked slowly at nothing. “Nothing, Captain. Just… nothing.”
They scoured the news reports and rumour boards again the next day but found nothing to do with Breonan.
“Doesn’t mean anything,” Webb muttered. “Either they’ve not found him yet or they’re not telling if they have. It doesn’t matter. The ball is rolling.”
“Who’s next?” Harvey asked.
“Ankle’s next,” Hugo said, going back to the table to where his weapons were laid out to be checked and cleaned.
“Tonight,” Webb said. “Then we lay low for a couple of days and let the rumours gather some steam.”
“There are no windows at all,” Harvey said as she clambered back up on the burnt-out flyer hulk next to Hugo. “It’s all below ground level.”
Hugo frowned and looked back through his binoculars at Ankle’s door. It was down a flight of steps at the back of noisy bar.
“Can you hack the lock, Commander?”
“Seems our fat friend is a little more prepared than his pal,” Webb replied, frowning around his binoculars. “There’s a camera over the door. The minute someone starts trying anything with the control, he’ll know and he’ll be sounding the alarm.”
“How are we going to get in, then?”
“He’s going to have to let us in.”
Hugo lowered his binoculars and scowled. “And how are we to persuade him to do that?”
“Have faith, Captain,” Webb grinned. “We will be shown the way.” Hugo glared but then Webb’s grin widened. “See?”
Hugo looked back through his binoculars just as a moped pulled up at the end of the alley. A girl in a bright blue cap and high-viz jacket clambered off then pulled a pizza box out the basket on the back.
“You can’t be serious…” Hugo said.
“Harvey, go,” Webb said and Harvey was over the wall they were leaning on and moving in the shadows toward the girl, drawing her gun.
Webb followed and Hugo scrambled after, hissing protests. They caught up just as the girl, eyes wide and mouth opening and closing, was dropping the pizza at Harvey’s feet and scurrying back to her moped. The little engine hiccoughed and then she was tearing away.
Harvey scooped up the pizza and Webb was gesturing at the door with his gun. Hugo pulled out his own weapon and took up position on one side of the stairwell just as Webb did so on the other. Harvey made sure the peak of her cap was obscuring her painted face and tucked her gun in the back of her waistband, then made her way down the stairs and pushed the buzzer.
“What?” snapped a voice from the intercom.
“Pizza,” Harvey said in a bored voice.
There was a whirr as the camera adjusted its angle. Hugo pressed himself against the wall. Harvey didn’t flinch, just shifted the pizza so it was more obvious. There was a pause in which Hugo felt every beat of his heart and every muscle tighten, then the door opened. Harvey looked up and Ankle cursed and tried to slam it shut but Harvey got her boot in the gap. Hugo dropped down into the stairwell and shouldered at the door. Sputtering came from the other side then Webb jumped down next to them and leant his weight to the ramming and the door gave way.
The pinging of their silenced gunfire filled the air but the fat man scrambled into another room. He was through another door before Hugo and Webb had clambered around the jumbled furniture. They both slammed into the door but it didn’t budge.
“Get back,” Webb snapped and took out the handle and lock with a couple of shots. They shouldered the door and it cracked against the wall inside. Ankle backed up into a corner, gibbering and dropped his panel on the concrete floor.
“Listen… whoever you are… just wait one second,” he stammered as he held his hands up, staring at their faces. Webb moved across the room in two strides and pulled the spray can out of his belt. He stood shaking the can and staring at Ankle as Hugo came forward, keeping his gun trained on the Splinter.
“No, please, I…” Ankle’s chins wobbled as his mouth fell open. He glanced from Hugo to Webb and back and his eyes widened. “You?” Webb turned his back and started spraying a black line across the papers and posters pinned to the wall. “No. Stop. I can help,” Ankle came forward, hands up. “I can help you guys. I can. I can get the contract erased, like it was never there. Just let me…” He stooped to retrieve his panel.
“Don’t move,” Hugo growled, taking a step closer.
The can hissed as Webb sprayed the second line of the black cross on the wall. Ankle whimpered.
“Who’s your client?” Hugo snarled. Ankle opened and closed his mouth a few times, eyes fixed on the gun, but no sound came out. “Who is it?”
“It’s all -” Ankle squeaked, coughed, wiped his mouth on his sleeve then tried again. “It’s all on there…” he sputtered, waving at the panel on the floor.
Hugo stared at him a moment longer then bent to retrieve it.
“Hugo, look out!”
There was movement, a bang and flash of heat across his arm. When the world stopped spinning, he blinked up at the ceiling for a moment that stretched on forever before Harvey was grabbing the shoulders of his jacket and hauling him back and onto his feet. His senses came back to him with a rush and there was a sharp, throbbing pain in his bicep and liquid heat soaking into his sleeve.
Ankle was sprawled on the floor, Webb stood over him with his gun drawn. The Splinter had a hand clutched at his chest where blood was pumping through his fingers as his breath came in great bubbling heaves. Blood and spittle trickled through the stubble on his chin as Webb kicked a gun away from Ankle’s other hand. The commander muttered something in what sounded like Latin, then fired again. Ankle jerked, then was still.
“You okay, Kaleb?” Harvey said.
Hugo shook himself, holstered his gun and clutched at his arm to slow the bleeding. “We need to get out of here.”
There were nods from Webb and Harvey and they moved back to the door. Hugo paused, averted his eyes from the dead man’s stare and grabbed the panel from the floor, tucked it into his jacket then followed the others back out of the apartment. They shut the door behind them and Webb shot out the door camera as they passed.