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Cover art – Daniel Kamarudin

Proofing and Editing – Kisa Whipkey

Copyright © 2021 Joseph. F. Halpin

All rights reserved.


Chapter 1: Fireteam Delta

Chapter 2: That’s Different

Chapter 3: The Asshole

Chapter 4: Road Trip

Chapter 5: Town

Chapter 6: Side Effects

Chapter 7: A New Friend

Chapter 8: DEFCON 1

Chapter 9: Inn for a Penny

Chapter 10: Dinner Date

Chapter 11: A Long Night

Chapter 12: Hoofin’ It

Chapter 13: Pack Tactics

Chapter 14: Old Friends

Chapter 15: Newer Friends

Chapter 16: Mended Bridges

Chapter 17: Trigger Discipline

Chapter 18: Trail of Tears

Chapter 19: No Entry

Chapter 20: Recruitment Drive

Chapter 21: Chain of Command

Chapter 22: Means to an End

Chapter 23: Training

Chapter 24: Beyond the Walls

Chapter 25: Contact

Chapter 26: Trials and Tribulations

Chapter 27: Powder Keg

Chapter 28: The Pyre

Chapter 29: Shipping Out

Chapter 30: Sea Life

Chapter 31: Bait

Chapter 32: Dreaming

Chapter 33: Takeout

Chapter 34: Devil Within

Chapter 35: Visitors

Chapter 36: Changes

Chapter 37: Turning Point

Chapter 38: Reserves

Chapter 39: Long Road

Chapter 40: A Downhill Battle

Chapter 41: Useful

Chapter 42: Trust Issues

Chapter 43: Those We Left Behind

Chapter 1: Fireteam Delta

“This thing is older than I am.”

That was the thought going through Alex Summers’ head as he checked over a radio he was fairly sure had been in service since the 1970s. He’d been at the small army communications outpost in the boonies of the Alaskan “countryside” for about three months now. In that time, he’d seen everything from a punch card machine to an honest-to-God Commodore 64 that ran their servers. It was one of the many problems with the US military branches: if it still did its job, nobody saw any need to replace it.

Although, now that he thought about it, that might be the same reasoning that kept him around. He had served in the army as a marksman. In fact, he was on track to become a Ranger. “Was” being the operative word. That had all ended after a rather unfortunate incident involving an officer’s sister, followed by a lot of string pulling and shuffling that landed him in the coldest, most out-of-the-way station they could find.

Summers snapped the radio’s cover back in place, stretching his tired back. He was tall, his skin tanned from long days on guard duty, and a mess of brown hair that was definitely not up to regulation. Not that anyone in a base this small and out of the way actually gave a shit about something like that. Mostly though, he looked bored. Young as he was, he’d already seen more than most had. He’d been in combat, seen his share of death. He didn’t miss it, exactly. But here, it was just him and his thoughts. And those were the real issue.

Cold winter air rushed into the barely heated room in an instant. Summers turned to find his border collie of a staff sergeant, Nowak, in the doorway, a smile on his face.

“What’s up . . . Sergeant?” The rank was an afterthought. Summers had dragged the man from the one bar in town too many times to bother with formalities at this point. But manners never hurt, and he liked the guy, despite his better judgment. In his experience, NCOs like Nowak were usually smarter, and meaner, than they let on.

Nowak’s smile only broadened. “You’ve got to see this shit.”


“This shit” was a caravan of trucks pulling through the main gate. That in itself was not unusual. What was strange was the tarp-covered trailers being escorted by a full platoon of heavily armed soldiers.

“It’s some DARPA thing,” said Nowak, indicating the emblem on the side of one of the trucks. “Would have been nice if the brass had let the rest of us know it was coming.”

That was a surprise to Summers. There were about a dozen NCOs on the base, and Nowak was probably the most well-liked. If he didn’t know what was going on, it meant that whatever was happening was way over his pay grade.

Summers glanced at the tarped trucks. “What do you think it is?”

Nowak gave it some serious thought. “Probably a nuke.”

“You serious?”

Nowak shrugged. “I can’t see any other reason they’d lug all that equipment out here, except to test something that might explode. With a guard detail on top of that . . .”

Summers watched as a suited man he could only assume was an officer stepped out of the truck, followed by a young girl. She couldn’t have been more than twelve. A civilian, then? He watched as they headed over to talk with his CO, Colonel Braun. To his surprise, the colonel saluted the suit, announcing to anyone who cared that the stranger in front of them was the one calling the shots here.

“Huh . . .”


They ate lunch in a sheet metal hangar turned mess hall. Summers watched as the men from the new guard detail kept a distance from the rest. There were a few brave or brainless soldiers who tried to cozy up to the newcomers, but from what he could tell, they were all waved away with a few polite but firm requests they keep to themselves.

Summers was busy watching the circus when a lunch tray dropped, then splashed, in front of him. He found a stocky, athletic woman in front of him, Angela Cortez. She stared down at Summers, a look of such disdain on her face, he briefly worried he’d drunk-texted her the night before.

Cortez and Nowak were Summers’ drinking buddies most weekends. They were among the only ones on base with a CIB—a piece of plastic that shows someone shot at you and missed. That made them minor celebrities among the morons who thought that shit mattered, so they’d

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