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Authors: G. T. Almasi

Blades of Winter (45 page)

BOOK: Blades of Winter
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• Keith Smith: entertainment biz veteran and perhaps the coolest guy in the world. Keith generously shared his real-life knowledge and helped me navigate the confusing world of extra-literary rights.

• Jamie Costas: the editor who, even though we didn’t wind up working together, convinced me to make Alix the age she is now instead of the age I had her before, which helped the book a lot.

To my advisors and beta readers:

• George S. Almasi: world history, German language and culture, general science, technology, and all the other things fathers teach their sons.

• Paul C. Christesen: history, German language, macroeconomics, and general science.

• Andy MacInnis: military history, firearms and ballistics, European culture, and long-time sounding board.

• Steven Sharp: military history, general science, and sci-fi literature.

• Arthur V. Milano: military history, coma recovery, and the inspiration for Raj.

• Kirsten Schwaller-Sigrist: Genetics, cloning and sci-fi literature.

• Diane O’Brien: Medical science and keeping Andy in line.

• Beth Kelley: Medical science, in particular the treatment of gunshot wounds, operating room procedures, and other disgusting hospital stuff.

• Scott D. Packard: Medical science and theoretical future sciences.

• David Hayes: History and literature.

• Len Freiberg III, Maureen Robinson & Krista Snyder: FBI terminology and procedures.

• Lori Freiberg-Rapp, Paul Muller: Military terminology and procedures.

• Jamin Naghmouchi: German slang.

• Paul Owen Powers: Eighty-one inches of Midwestern dynamite. Paul told Tris to read my first manuscript, but left the dire consequences of not reading it to Tris’s imagination.

• Megan Kiernan & Seth Coburn: my original models for Scarlet and Patrick.

• Claudia Wilcox-Powers, Laurel Christie, Jim Foley, Gretchen Schwaller-Sharp, Peter Sigrist, Cathy Davis-Hayes, Carol DuBois, Steve Coburn, Mark MacFarlane, Emily Clark, and anyone I can’t remember at 3:00
Beta-readers, sounding boards, super-supportive cheerleaders.

• Everyone on my Facebook author page. Thanks for following my demented late-night ravings!

I’ve found great inspiration in the books of Ken Follett, Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Hunter S. Thompson, Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum, and Frank Miller, the films of Luc Besson, Quentin Tarantino, and Guy Ritchie, and the video games of Todd Howard, John Romero, and Jason Jones.

Can’t get enough of Scarlet?
Then be sure not to miss the next pulse-pounding novel of the Shadowstorm:



G. T. A

Coming soon from Del Rey.

Turn the page for a special preview!

“Scarlet, ten left,” Brando’s comm-voice says, “and stay low.”

I dash ten yards up Main Street. My heavy breathing blows little puffs of dust off the floor. Some dirt sticks to my sweat-soaked forehead. I blink hard to get the salt drops out of my eyes.

A turret pops out of a stand of plastic bushes on my left and noisily sprays the air above me with rubber ordnance. I slide on my stomach and aim Li’l Bertha at the bullet-bot. My pistol locks on and comms “Target Acquired” to my Eyes-Up display. I pull the trigger and return fire. My lightweight practice slugs rattle off the turret’s metal shell, which signals the Training Control Center that
ya got me, pardner

Brando comms, “Next station, twenty right, fly-by.”

I jump to my feet and pump my legs for twenty yards. I look to my right. “Fly-by” is IO slang for “don’t stop moving,” so this next part will be something extra hairy. A bright light flashes from a little house on the right side of Main Street. As I turn to riddle this target, the floor drops out from under me. I’ve got just enough momentum to grab the far lip of the insta-pit with my free hand. Then my body slams into the pit’s wall, and I get the wind knocked out of me.

I hang there for a moment, gasping. My partner
comms, “Scarlet, hurry, we’ve only got thirty seconds and one more station to get through.”

That’s easy for you to say, Darwin
. I pull myself out of the pit and wheeze on up the road.

“Okay, last one. Fifty-five straight ahead, top speed.”

I mentally activate my sidearm’s safeties so she won’t accidentally fire as I swing my arms as fast as I can. My sneakers slap the floor and my hair blows behind me as I race up to twentysomething miles per hour. I can hit the high thirties with Madrenaline in my blood, but Brando and I are supposed to be able to complete this training sequence without using my Enhances. Each run-through is different, and I’ve screwed it up three times today. This is the closest we’ve gotten to finishing.

Brando comms, “Twenty seconds remaining!”

Ahead of me is a clear run to the finish line. All I need to do is jog fifty yards and—


Three bullet-bots drop from the ceiling in front of me. They bounce up and down on long rubber cables, and each bot emits a thin red laser beam. All three beams point at my chest, and the bots fire a volley of rubber bullets.

Brando comms, “It’s a bungie screen!”

I hold Li’l Bertha in front of me while I leap and dodge away from the bouncy-bots’ bullets and laser beams. Her target indicator is blank.

“Darwin, what’s happened? Why can’t my pistol get a lock?”

“They’ve got jammers. You’ll have to—”

I charge straight at the left-most bot.

“—find a way around them.”

The left-bot locks on to me as it drops to the bottom of its arc. I leap at it and grab the bungie cord above its body. The bot’s momentum hauls me off the ground, and I sail up toward the roof.

I swing like Tarzan across the training space and wrap my bot’s cord around the other two cables before dropping
myself off at the bottom of the next bounce. The bots are still live, but now they can only point in a fixed direction. I dodge the static laser beams and hurl myself across the finish line with less than a second to go.

” Brando shouts. “Made it!”

I flop onto my back to catch my breath. The view from Camp Gaspy shows that this facility has a very high, curved roof supported by metal trusses. It’s like a giant airplane hangar.

“Terrific,” Brando comms. “Now for the driving test.”

Sure. Whatever
. “Gimme a minute,” I comm. It takes a minute anyway since Brando has to bring the car around.

A vehicle pulls up next to me. I peel myself off the ground. Oh god, I wish I could use Madrenaline. Brando switches to the passenger seat, and I hop in behind the wheel. Something must have happened to our previous training vehicle, which was a fucked-up black-and-white Dodge sedan, like a former police cruiser. This new car, a white BMW two-seater convertible, is quite a hot little number. The relatively few dents and scrapes tell me this sexy momma hasn’t seen much track time here yet. While I coast to the start line, I take in the gorgeous tan interior.

My partner sees how impressed I am with our new wheels and says, “Drug bust.”

Ah, of course
. Sometimes when ExOps helps local cops, we get to keep the bad guy’s ride. If the D.C. SWAT guys can’t take care of a situation, or if the FBI is in over their heads, Director Chanez will send one of his Levels out with them. It never takes long after that. Regular crooks can’t compete with a million-dollar murder machine designed to help topple whole governments.

I rev the engine and yell, “Think there’s any cocaine left in this baby?”

Brando turns up the heater, puts on his seat belt, and smiles. “I doubt it. The mechanics probably got it all.”

I pull the Cokemobile up to the start line. In front of us, a pair of giant hangar doors slide open. Brando riffles through his instructions and nods to me when he’s ready.

“TCC, Scarlet and Darwin ready for launch.”

The Training Control Center comms back. “Roger that, Scarlet. Arming the tree. Go on green.”

In front of us is a tall pole that supports two vertical series of lights. Right now the top lights are lit up bright red. I press the clutch down and shift into first. My right foot floors the gas and holds it there.

The light tree flashes down: reds, yellows,

I slip my left foot off the clutch pedal. A white cloud of tire smoke billows behind us as we screech off the line. The tachometer redlines and I shift into second. We burst out of the hangar at sixty miles per. The sun smacks my face, and my vision Mods adjust their gamma to compensate.

I shout,

Brando responds with a wolf howl as we roar down the first long straightaway. The Cokemobile makes it to a buck-ten before I tap the brakes to set up a spectacular powerslide around Turn One’s broad expanse. I counter-steer and slam full on the gas before I’ve even passed the corner’s apex. Cokey leans into this scandalous driving like a drunk businessman doing the motorboat between a hooker’s tits.

Oh, I am totally getting myself one of these honeys

“Turn Two,” Brando navigates, “eighty in, descending circumference, sixty out.”

I downshift from fifth to third to transfer the car’s weight forward. My hands twist the wheel thirty yards from the turn. All that weight up front makes us plow into the corner. When we’re a foot from the pavement’s outer edge, I stomp the gas and pull the car’s weight back onto its rear wheels. The unloaded front tires suddenly grab the pavement tighter than a Scotsman’s wallet and whip us through Turn Two.

“Turn Three, seventy in, ascending circumference, seventy-five out. Sharp vertical rise at apex.”

I slither us into Turn Three with my right toes on the gas and my right heel on the brakes. My left foot peppers the clutch as needed to keep our revs up. I do great until the turn’s apex. The vertical rise bumps Cokey into the air and screws up my driving line. We fly three feet sideways before we land. I overcorrect and the Bimmer tilts onto her two left wheels. Brando and I both lean as hard to the right as we can. I jiggle the wheel left to get us back on all fours, but now we’re headed off the track.

I yank the emergency brake, crank the steering wheel right then left, and drop the e-brake down again. This throws us into a completely slideways skid. I look over my left shoulder to see where we’re going.

God almighty, we’ll be lucky if there’s any rubber at all on the tires after this one. My training has taught me to ignore the natural inclination to slow down when faced with an all-out mental-patient driving disaster like this. If I even breathe on the brakes right now, we’ll spin completely out of control. I shove the gas pedal to the floor, dimly aware of Brando as he hangs onto his door handle for dear life. He doesn’t say anything though, god bless ’im.

The tires throw out a massive cloud of scorched rubber, and we exit Turn Three at eighty-eight miles per hour.

“Hah!” I wipe the back of my hand across my forehead. “Okay, El Brando, what’s next?”

We’re so far ahead of the time we need that I only drive like Maniac Junior for the next five turns. Still plenty of excitement, but nothing like the heroics in Turn Three.

We come off Turn Eight and enter the main straightaway, ready for Lap Two. Before we pass by the hangar we receive a comm from the Training Control Center. “Scarlet and Darwin, switch seats before Turn One. Lap Two will be a target lap.”

Brando calls out, “Chinese fire drill!” and grabs the steering wheel. I take my feet off the pedals, crouch up on my seat, and haul my partner bodily across the center console. He keeps his eyes forward as his legs unfold onto the pedals. Meanwhile I transfer myself to his seat and pluck my pistol out of her holster.

I snap Li’l Bertha’s neural contact into the pad in my left palm, and she connects to my internal systems. Her status cluster appears in my Eyes-Up display to show me how much ammo she has left and her current ordinance settings. I swivel my head around to see what my field of vision will be for this lap. With the convertible top down, I have clear firing lanes in all directions except to my direct left where my partner sits.

Brando brakes into Turn One, smoothly clips the apex, and guns the engine out of the corner. The tires barely chirp.

“You call that driving?” I tease.

“Hey, Miss Hot-Rodder, I clocked the same time as you did without scrubbing a year off the tires.”

“Yeah, but you’ll never make the highlight reel!”

He smiles and then presses his lips together while he sets up for Turn Two. As he brakes into the corner he comms, “Target! Right side, yellow on red.”

I spin my head and aim Li’l Bertha. A red sign with a big yellow dot has popped out of the ground twenty-five yards away from the pavement. I hit it with a short burst, and the target drops back where it came from.

Brando races the Cokemobile through the track’s twists and turns and calls out each target. I nail all of them, but I’ve barely got time to aim and fire before I have to get ready for the next one.

We exit Turn Eight and return to the main straightaway. I sit back, smugly thinking we’re done when Brando looks in his side-view mirror and cries out, “Target far left, yellow on black.” I swing my head around. The yellow-and-black sign is already behind us, plus it’s very low to the ground.

While Brando says, “Crap, we were almost perfect, too,” I jump out of my seat and clamber onto the car’s trunk. Cold wind hits me like a refrigerated hurricane, but the extra height I get from standing up here gives me a better angle. I hook my foot into the roll bar and sight on our shrinking target. I unload Li’l Bertha at full auto. Just as she clicks empty, the target falls down.

“Got it!”

“Scarlet, sit down! We’ve gotta get back inside to finish.”

We’re too close to the hangar. I don’t have time to sit down normally because I might roll off the car sideways when my partner turns. If Brando brakes I’ll fly off the front. If we overshoot, we’ll fail the exercise—
not an option.

I wrap my arms over my head and dive into the passenger-side foot well. I end up with my legs on the seat and most of my body smooshed under the dash. The engine is much louder down here, and hot air blows into my ear. I feel the car swerve right, accelerate for a few seconds, and then slow to a stop. Past my feet is the hangar’s metal roof, and then my partner’s face as he leans over from his seat.

“You all right, Hot-Rod?”

“Did you know there are tiny men down here who make the heater work?

“How do they do that?”

“They eat bowls of hot peppers and fart into the ductwork.”

Brando laughs and tries to extract me from the foot well, but I’m jammed in here so awkwardly that rescuing me requires him and one of the ExOps training administrators to haul me out by my knees.

“Hey,” I say to the admin as I dust myself off. “What’s with that last target? It didn’t pop up until we were past it!”

The admin raises one eyebrow. “That’s because it wasn’t actually a firing target.”

Brando stands behind me and swacks car-floor crumbs off my jacket. “So we weren’t supposed to shoot it?” he asks.

“You were barely supposed to
it. We use it to record how you’d react to having missed one.”

“Has anybody ever shot it before?”

The admin slowly shakes his head back and forth. I hold my hand out behind me and Brando slaps me a low-five.

BOOK: Blades of Winter
5.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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