HEROES weren’t sealed in space caskets and launched into the void—not while they were still breathing. Kin shuddered. Memories came at night; they came with regrets, fears, and nightmares only a man buried alive could understand. Heroes destroyed the enemy. Heroes saved the day and died before they could wear medals or explain what it was like to shed the blood of millions.
This room is too dark.
Kin needed to go outside and look at the sky, but the wormhole song, the distant groaning of a universe unraveling, reminded him of Hellsbreach—gunfire, plasma bolts, and nuclear explosions on the horizon. Better to dream of Becca, though she was the reason he volunteered for the campaign.
“Stop thinking of her,” Laura said.
Kin sat up in bed, dropped his feet to the floor, and watched her drift back to sleep. Her chest rose and fell, a silk sheet accentuating her curves. Her eyes began to move under her eyelids.
“You don’t even know who she is.” He ran a finger behind Laura’s ear and down her neck until she giggled in her sleep. He smiled. “I can share anything with you in moments like these.” He slowly pulled the sheet lower and she didn’t stir.
Laura would like the game—exposing her skin to the night air and staring until she sensed his attention and awoke, but he stopped, reaching to cup the side of her face instead. Lust didn’t mix well with the darkness still in his mind.
“I’d fail again, given the same choice. Could you commit genocide, Laura?” he asked.
“Hmm?” She struggled to open her eyes, it seemed, but pushed him clumsily away with one hand as she rolled onto her stomach, twisting the sheets as she moved.
“I still love her. You know that, right?” Kin said.
Motionless on the bed, Laura seemed not to breathe. The wormhole that dipped into the atmosphere quieted. Silence spread across the planet. Sea birds called to each other and waves gently touched the beach.
Kin pulled on his pants and gun belt, then picked up his boots and go-bag as he crossed the room. Outside, he pressed an ampoule of caffeine against his neck and injected it. Sleep wasn’t a friend. The intramuscular dose was meant to be injected in the gluteus maximus, otherwise known as the place Laura hung on for dear life when they were together, but Kin didn’t want to ruin the feel of her hands by sticking his ass cheek with a needle.
He watched the sky as he did upon awakening morning, noon, or night, hating the way the wormhole that dumped them on the uncharted planet seemed alive and sentient. Lightning flashed through the undulating red, orange, and purple tube of light as it climbed lazily toward the ring of moons around the planet. The moons, by contrast, soothed his spirit when he could stop thinking about the gaping mouth of the wormhole. They climbed vertically from the horizon like the underside of an arch, brilliant at night and hazy during the day.
Kin steadied his breathing, forcing his shoulders to relax as he studied the anomaly.
The Goliath came through that hole. The enormous exploration vessel had been designed to orbit a planet and send down shuttles, not descend to the surface. No one planned for the uncharted wormhole to catch the ship and drop it inside the atmosphere. Much of the ship broke apart and scattered along the coast. The survivors existed between the sea and the impact site of the main fuselage.
Each year, sand covered the available salvage, making building materials scarce. The thought of leading another scavenger mission bored Kin, though he knew the children looked forward to crawling into holes the adults couldn’t reach. He rubbed his neck and decided he was done with caffeine injections for a while.
Kin had grown more sensitive to his surroundings since the deadly campaign on Hellsbreach. He heard Laura roll out of bed, though the heavy curtains were drawn over the doorway and she was trying to be stealthy. The floor creaked and Kin guessed she paused to scoop her pants and shirt off the floor. He didn’t hear her tug zippers or take the time to fasten buttons. Their relationship wasn’t that formal.
The ocean breeze and crashing waves soothed his mind, but didn’t mask the sounds Laura made. To Kin, there were simply more sounds, distinct and easily identifiable. She would have been smarter to move when the surf broke, but he still would have heard her. Auditory discrimination was why he hadn’t been slaughtered by Reapers on Hellsbreach. They could sound like men, or wolves, or stalking tigers, but beneath the obvious sounds there was always a clicking in their throats.
Laura moved closer to the doorway but stopped, probably listening for him. He measured the pause and assumed she was peeking through the curtain. She wasn’t incompetent at stealth, but he knew her game.
She moved behind him, wrapping her arms around his trim waist and pressing her body against his. She gripped him hard with no pretense of romance. Perhaps she heard what he said about being in love with Becca. She pretended she wasn’t jealous, but she was. She bit his ear. He continued to lean on the rail, ocean breeze blowing on his face, solid wood under his feet. She bit his neck. He smiled. The bite hurt, but he pretended it didn’t.
“You put your pants on,” she said. “Did I tell you to get dressed and sneak out of my bed?”
“I would hate for the Fleet to send a rescue mission and find me out of uniform.”
“If the Fleet comes to Crashdown, I’ll tell them about you,” she said. Her lips brushed his ear as she spoke and she lingered with a kiss even as one hand went into the front of his pants. Kin smiled and shook his head minutely.
“Crashdown is a good name for this place.” He thought the planet was huge and extremely dense, because the gravity was heavy and the ocean horizon to the west was flat as a blade.
“Do you think I’m joking?” she asked.
Kin didn’t answer. He wished she wouldn’t try to provoke him. He had killed for less. She enjoyed rough sex, danger, and power. Kin was bored with two of the three. She released him, patting his ass before she walked away. He knew she kept them all alive. She was a force of nature. He needed to meet a nice girl, someone like Becca.
The wormhole convulsed. Kin let go of the rail and stood straight. His hand went to the pistol hanging on his leg. Objects burst from the hazy opening high in the atmosphere. Most ships that crashed on this huge planet came alone—pioneers, explorers, or pilgrims fleeing persecution. Meteors were more common, but during the last three days, a variety of space junk and wreckage had splashed into the ocean and smashed against the mountains east of Crater Town. Somewhere in the universe, an epic battle raged and the debris drifted through the wormhole.
Pacing, Kin watched the sky until the wormhole began to puke earnestly. Small pops sounded in the distance, but he suspected they were explosive thunderclaps.
Objects burst into the air close together, sounding like the chatter of machine gun fire. Pop-pop-pop. Pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.
That’s a planetary assault force.
Each cluster of fast-moving smoke trails were troopers in Fleet Single Person Assault Armor units. He had worn an FSPAA unit during his enlistment and recognized the formation. Several larger objects followed, flanked by more troopers in airborne assault mode.
Laura emerged from the doorway, paused to stare at the sky, and hastily buttoned up her shirt. “I’m going to the meeting hall.”
“Go to a bunker,” Kin said, but she was already running.
“Damn!” Kin estimated a division of Fleet troopers were plummeting toward Crater Town. He jumped off the side of the deck and ran to the lighthouse, sprinting up the spiral staircase. When he reached the top, he doused the light and picked up a horn.
A large ship emerged from the mouth of the wormhole, bow elevated twenty degrees too high and drifting sideways. The ship was still under power, laboriously righting itself as the atmosphere burned it. Kin watched pieces break off. He didn’t recognize the ship’s class or if it were built for entry into the atmosphere, but it was shaped like a Fleet vessel.
An armada of broken ships, huge things never meant to enter the atmosphere even if in one piece, were the last through. Kin sounded the alarm. Horns answered from every corner of Crater Town. Men, women, and children rushed from their homes with survival kits. He saw many running to the well to form a bucket line and parents rushing their children to crude fallout bunkers.
Two companies of assault troopers splashed into the water off shore. Two additional companies veered right while another two veered left of Crater Town as flanking elements. Four came straight at him. The command ship and heavy vehicles—Tanks, Strykers, and reconnaissance vehicles—fought for altitude. They soared over the town, landing near the Goliath half buried in the sand between the coast and mountains.
Kin picked up binoculars from the railing and tracked the progress of each assault force and the efforts of Crater Town’s people. About the time young men surrendered to Fleet troopers in seven-foot-tall armor, the space debris hit. The noise of the plummeting ship parts had been minimal from a distance, but as they neared, they ripped through the air, vibrating the tower where Kin stood. Troopers and townspeople ran for shelters, threw themselves on the ground, or gaped at the destruction. Earth exploded. Water erupted into steaming clouds of death. Fires rampaged like demons.
Kin risked a final glance toward the wormhole before descending the tower.
That’s not a Fleet ship.
He jerked the binoculars up.
No military emblems. No weapons. And it’s shaped like a blockade runner.
He watched the small craft drift away from the others, seeming to sneak free of the chaos. Kin didn’t like the feeling in his gut. Dread hollowed him out. He thought of Reapers and stolen technology.
The faster Fleet vessels and plummeting debris posed the immediate threat. Kin knew it. He needed to ignore the small civilian ship, but understood Reapers hijacked anything that would take them from their home world. The creatures didn’t build ships and were notoriously bad pilots, but when they left Hellsbreach, they were on a mission of murder.
Kin forced his gaze toward the ships and troops already on the ground.
Don’t think of Reapers. Don’t think of Hellsbreach. Captivity. Death. I should have died. Kin steadied his breathing, unsure if it calmed him or merely suffocated his panic. Should have killed them all.
Sweat beaded on his forehead. He waited for Fleet ships to spot the stranger and destroy it, but nothing happened. The craft disappeared beyond the mountain pass. He wanted to go after it, but Crater Town took priority.
He left the tower and ran down the unpaved street twisting around ramshackle huts near the bay. Laura hurried from a building up the street, wearing a firefighting coat. She paused to tie up her hair, then pulled on heavy gloves. People carrying tools rushed from their shelters to follow her. She accosted a group of men held at gunpoint by Fleet troopers and ordered them to follow her.
The squad leader pointed at Laura and gave an order. Get back. This is Fleet business.
Laura elevated her chin and put both hands on her hips. She said something. I’m sleeping with Kin Roland, a murdering deserter and traitor to the Fleet. He’ll cut your balls off if I even nod your direction. Fleet business my ass. This is my business. These are my people. Kindly mind your manners, you faceless killer.
The Fleet trooper spread his hands in frustration and surprise. He yelled and thrust his gauntleted finger near her face. Listen you stupid bitch. You’re lucky I don’t blow your head off.
Kin couldn’t hear the conversation, but he could imagine it. He wasn’t surprised when the troopers released the people of Crater Town to Laura. The guards followed, seeming a bit dazed.
What the fuck just happen?
Don’t ask me. You’re the squad leader. Take charge.
I’ll take charge of your face with my boot. Stay sharp. Watch the work crew. I’ll watch the councilwoman.
Kin ran up the steep hill, knowing planetary assault forces demanded immediate compliance when they made planetfall. They were paid to shoot people. He feared Laura would push too hard. Inflexible and harsh standard operating procedures placed the interests of the Fleet before the welfare of local populations. He needed to warn her about what happened when people resisted. She won this scrimmage and freed her work crew, but needed to consider a softer touch when dealing with officers.
Then he realized she had a trump card. He believed he knew Laura. He believed she had been toying with him when she said she would expose him to the Fleet. Being wrong would cost him his life.
“You there, halt and identify,” a Fleet trooper shouted. His amplified voice echoed from the helmet speaker. He held a rifle and a plasma thrower, each connected to the armor by woven metal tubes. Kin ignored the trooper, who moved forward, weapons ready.
He slipped around the corner and ducked through a cloud of smoke, then circled the area until he was behind the trooper who continued in the wrong direction.
“Identify yourself,” Kin said, under his breath.
Changed by captivity and torture, hunted by the Reapers of Hellsbreach and wanted by Earth Fleet, Kin Roland hides on a lost planet near an unstable wormhole.
When a distant space battle propels a ravaged Earth Fleet Armada through the same wormhole, a Reaper follows, hunting for the man who burned his home world. Kin fights to save a mysterious native of Crashdown from the Reaper and learns there are worse things in the galaxy than the nightmare hunting him. The end is coming and he is about to pay for a sin that will change the galaxy forever.
Enemy of Man: Book One in the Chronicles of Kin Roland was written for fans of military science fiction and science fiction adventure. Readers who enjoyed Starship Troopers or Space Marines will appreciate this genre variation. Powered armor only gets a soldier so far. Battlefield experience, guts, and loyal friends make Armageddon fun.
If you love movies like Aliens, Predator, The Chronicles of Riddick, or Serenity, then you might find the heroes and creatures in Enemy of Man dangerous, determined, and ready to risk it all. It’s all about action and suspense, with a dash of romance—or perhaps flash romance.
From the Author
Thanks for your interest in my novel, Enemy of Man. I hope you chose to read the book and enjoy every page.
If you have already read Enemy of Man, how was it? Reviews are appreciated!
Have a great day and be safe.
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Genre – Science Fiction
Rating – R
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