Shadows Across the Moon is a scifi romance serial novel with chapters being released daily. If you missed the first two chapters you can read them here-
Moderate violence and sex.
SHADOWS ACROSS THE MOON by SF English
“What do we do with this?” Grace asked as she picked up her satchel and glanced at the black box.
“They’re all over the city by now. Leave it.” Dane picked up his pack and they followed Robert out onto the street.
The fog hit her at her shoulders, but she could still see through it enough to walk. It would be quite some time before it would impede either Dane or Robert. Dane kept hold of her hand as though he might lose her to the fog itself.
“Why do we need a high-ranking soldier?” Grace asked, trying to occupy her mind with something other than dead bodies.
“They usually leave grunts to die,” Dane replied. “But they invest pretty heavily in the higher ranking ones. They want those guys back, so, they have homing devices.”
“The problem is,” Robert said, as he led them around to the ocean side of the apartment, “they’re also smarter, faster, and able to make decisions on their own within a relative framework of established rules.”
“So they could outsmart us?” Grace asked. The thought of it turned her stomach.
“Not us.” Dane squeezed her hand reassuringly.
They walked toward the ocean and old Pier 39. The large city museum looked more like a haunted house tonight. The place had once been a popular tourist attraction, full of life and children’s laughter. Now, it housed the memories of things, the history of things, and it could be seen every night on channel 11 between 1 and 2 a.m.
Her heavy jacket, Stephanie’s jacket, was no match for the cold sea air. She shivered and, feeling it, Dane turned to check on her. She offered a weak smile and he turned back to follow Robert into the shadows.
“Why are we staying close to the ocean instead of heading into the city?” Grace’s teeth had started to chatter, so she spoke slowly, enunciating each word.
“The command center will have to be close enough to control the AIM soldiers, but mobile, so they can evacuate before they blow it all to hell,” Robert said. He motioned for them to stand nearer the walls of the buildings near the piers as they walked by them. “The best way to be close and far away with little chance of getting trapped in the city? By ship.”
He said more, but a strong wind came up and stole his words. A bell sounded from just offshore. They stopped. The wind that stole Robert’s words carried the sound of a motor to them. Robert signaled for them to be silent and hide between the buildings. Grace was tucked behind both men and could only see a small area of the alley.
The bell sounded again, closer. Voices announced the landing of the boat. The sharp thump of a boat hitting the dock, then footsteps. The footsteps made a hollow sound on the old wooden dock, then a softer sound as boots hit cement.
Grace’s hand crept up to take Dane’s. He looked back at her, brought her knuckles to his lips, brushed a kiss there, and gave a short squeeze of reassurance. He held on, defrosting her frozen fingers. Through the cold night air, the dense fog, and the fear, it warmed her.
“Just do as you’re told.” A female voice, sharp, high pitched, pissed. Familiar.
“My orders are to take you to the land base. No detours.” Male, authoritative, unaffected.
“Check with the command center.” The woman wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
Footsteps grew louder and distinctive, as the sound of high heels hitting pavement gave away her position well before her voice did. They were walking by.
Robert and Dane put their backs to the wall and hunkered down into the fog. Grace followed them, but her eyes never left the opening between the buildings. Two figures filled the space. Male. Female. Soldier. Civilian.
Grace’s eyes widened with recognition. Juliana. Her heart skipped a beat, then leapt up into her throat. Her free hand covered her mouth to stifle any inclination to gasp.
Juliana stood there, not ten feet away, facing the city. Her shoe drummed a rhythm of annoyance on the cement. The AIM soldier was calling into the command center. A brief exchange of information and the soldier turned to face her, putting him directly in line with Grace. She froze. Was she covered by the fog? Could he see her? She didn’t dare move and bring attention to them.
“We’ll make the one stop. That’s it.” The soldier told her. No annoyance. No emotion. Orders from the command center were all that mattered. Following orders. He motioned and another soldier came into view. “Take her. Meet me back here in an hour.” The soldier nodded and Juliana followed him out of Grace’s field of vision.
The AIM soldier stood there looking into the darkness where Grace stood. His eyes seemed to penetrate the dense fog. His head moved slightly to one side as though listening for something.
“Yes, General. I’ll take care of her,” he said. He moved the mouth piece away and walked away.
Footsteps receded back over the wooden dock. They sat there another ten minutes in silence. Be sure. Be careful.
Robert tapped out something on Dane’s shoulder. Dane nodded and pulled on Grace’s hand. They stood and waited for Robert to check for danger.
Robert walked to the entrance of the alley and peered, first to the left, then to the right. He motioned for them to follow, and he waited for them.
“I know that girl,” Grace said. “That’s Juliana from Infinity.”
“What’s she doing with AIM soldiers?” Dane asked.
“Black box,” was Robert’s answer. Dane nodded. Infinity had ties to the military. Weapons.
“Did you hear them say there was a land base?” Dane asked Robert. “What are we going to do? Stephanie could be there. She could be at the command center. We don’t have time to check both places.”
“Let’s start with getting a military head set from our pal on the dock,” Robert pulled out a stun gun. “Then, we’ll find Steph.”
“We’ll need to lure him off that dock without giving ourselves away. If he reports something suspicious then doesn’t check in, the command center will know to shut him out of communications,” Dane told them.
Robert stopped at the side of the museum, just before the turn that would put them in line with the dock.
“Look out there,” he instructed Dane.
The walkway to the end of the dock was 20 yards long. It was a good 50 feet to the wooden walkway. They could hide in the fog to get there, but there would be no disguising their footsteps on the antiquated walkway. Two red lights announced the soldiers out there. A grunt and their target. Even in the dark, the outline of their uniforms set them apart.
“This is impossible. They’ll see us. They’ll turn us in. Let’s look in the city instead.” Dane shook his head.
“The clock is ticking, Dane. This is our guy.” Robert’s single-minded purpose had more to do with his wife than the ticking of a clock.
“What do you suggest?” Dane worried that Robert’s inability to think logically would have them running right into the line of fire.
“Can’t you take them out from a distance?” Grace thought of the laser sight. Robert was a SEAL. This should be easy.
Dane looked from Grace to Robert. Robert was a sharp shooter. But, if he missed, they would be on to him before he could get off another shot.
Grace watched the two men communicate silently as they fell back into the shadows. Robert took out the rifle, but left the laser sight off She looked away into the night. She recalled hearing Stephanie say something during a speech. What was it? Fear didn’t make you a coward, refusing to act did. Something like that. Stephanie was no coward. And, neither was she. She looked back at the men and their weapons.
Robert was gone. She hadn’t heard him leave. Dane’s gaze went out toward the city, down the darkened streets, and she felt the chill of uncertainty from the inside out. She strained to see into the darkness.
“What is it?” Short sentences were best when your teeth chattered.
“The fog. It seems thicker.”
Grace realized that it had risen to just beneath her chin. She had been able to see through it relatively well, but Dane was right, it was becoming denser. It crept along the darkened streets with purpose. Something about the fog wasn’t right. Never was.
She shuddered and felt the warmth of Dane’s arm encircle her shoulders. He pulled her to him, warming her back to his chest. His heart was beating steady. She tried to concentrate on the sounds around them when the first shot rang out.
She couldn’t suppress her gasp, and she moved with Dane to the corner of the building to see if Robert had hit his mark. She couldn’t see Robert, but the grunt was gone, lost in the fog. Straining to see if the soldier was dead, her heart almost stopped in her chest with fear as Robert’s form lifted in slow-motion from the darkness. He was halfway between them and the standing soldier.
Dane pulled on her hand and they went down into the fog as another shot rang out.
“Stay here, Grace,” Dane said, as he let go of her hand.
He was gone. She sat down in the fog on the cold cement. Fear caused the world to spin. He had left her. He wasn’t supposed to leave her, but he was gone.
Another shot. Why would there be another shot? Was there another soldier? Did the soldier fire back on Robert? On Dane? She was frozen to the cement. Paralyzed. Breathing in as though the fog held little oxygen.
Get yourself together. He didn’t leave you. He’s here. Don’t panic. Now isn’t the time. Wait six months. Panic then.
She felt for her gun. If they were going to kill her, she wouldn’t go alone. She had six months, and if someone cheated her of that, they would pay a high price for it. The gun was cold, unfeeling, like the soldiers. Her fear was replaced by the numbness of knowing that she was, indeed, capable of using such a weapon. Something inside her clicked off. Her eyes searched the dense fog for movement.
She had pulled the gun before, but Dane had been with her. The intent wasn’t there. The gun had been a shield, not a weapon. Dane wasn’t here now. This wasn’t a video game. This wasn’t a simulation. If she pulled the trigger, someone would die. She would condemn them to the fate she feared the most. She told herself she should feel something over that. Guilt. Sadness. Mercy. Anything. But, it wouldn’t come. A piece of her humanity slipped away with the knowing, but she would have to mourn it later. Alone.
Footsteps helped her line up a shot. One in front, one behind. A piece of metal hit the cement behind her. Which was Dane? Which was death? If she chose wrong, Dane would die. Or, she would. The numbness held. The safety clicked off. She crouched down, one hand on the cement to steady her, the other holding the gun, pointing in front of her. Another shot rang out from a different direction. Three. There were three. Dane…Robert…
“I have positive identification of subject Grace Sullivan,” rang out behind her. The almost metallic sounding voice caused her to scream out. She whirled around and pointed the gun at the six-foot four inch AIM soldier from the dock. “She is with two unknown male subjects. Armed.”
“Grace!” Dane was in front of her, but she couldn’t see him.
She looked away, then back to the soldier, but he wasn’t there. He’d disappeared under the cover of the fog. She willed her legs to move, but they refused. She willed herself to look through the fog, but she couldn’t do it. Tears gathered in her eyes, but she felt no emotion.
Another shot rang out. It was to her right, close.
“Robert, don’t shoot! Grace is over there!” Dane’s voice rang out.
“Christ!” Robert was coming closer. “Call out, Grace. Let us know you’re okay.”
She couldn’t do it. The soldier had seen her. Knew her name. He was in the fog. She turned slightly in Robert’s direction. She willed herself to speak, say anything that would let him know where she was.
Her mouth opened, but all that came out was a scream, as a large, cold hand grabbed her wrist, and her gun.
The grip was harsh and she felt as though her bones would break. The gun fell to the pavement and fired into the fog. The soldier was much taller, and when he lifted her she felt her feet leave the cement.
He looked at her. One eye dark, the other a glowing red light encased in silver metal. The military headset was plugged in, the mouthpiece hovered at its lips.
“I have the subject.” The voice sounded more human this close up.
She was well above the fog and could see all around her. Where was Dane? Where was Robert? Did she accidentally shoot one of them when she dropped the gun?
She hung there suspended in the air, her body rubbing against the hard cold AIM soldier. She grabbed his arm to level out her body weight so he didn’t break her wrist. The pain intense.
“Shall I silence her?” He spoke to an uncaring, unseeing, all powerful entity on the other end of his headset.
How would he silence her? Why didn’t he just kill her? Was he going to? Her eyes glanced at the headset as she let go of his arm and hit at the mouthpiece. The rod in his ear came out two inches. She hit at the headset as the soldier attempted to capture her free hand. The piece came out, caught around his neck, leaving him unable communicate with the command center.
She swung at the headset again, trying to knock it into the heavy fog, to buy time. Where’s Dane? As her hand came up again the soldier caught it. A shot rang out, she heard it pass by her ear, and it hit him. She fell to the ground.
She scrambled away as another shot came. It hit metal. The soldier stumbled backward. Grace stood to run. The metal side of the soldier’s head was coming apart, but he was still alive. What stopped her wasn’t the sight of blood, but the look on his face. Surprise. Shock. Fear.
His human eye searched in confusion. He saw her. His hand reached out, but he fell back onto the cement. His still form lay there, the red light out.
The sound of footsteps brought Grace around to see Robert running from the direction of the dock. Dane stood ten feet away, arm straight, gun out, still smoking. His arm fell to his side, his gaze on Grace.
Her body began to shake. She ran to him, threw herself into his arms. The numbness was gone and in its wake came everything she wasn’t able to feel before. Guilt. Fear.
Ssshhhhh…” Dane held her so tight she could hardly breathe. He whispered soothing things to her over and over. “It’s going to be okay now.” His cheek rested on the top of her head.
She thought she couldn’t possibly tremble more, but it wasn’t her, it was Dane. His breath came in short, quick spurts. His arms wouldn’t stop crushing her to him. He kissed the top of her head, her forehead, her cheek.
“I’m so sorry Grace,” he whispered. “Never again. I promise. I’ll never leave you again.”
Robert paced beside them, but couldn’t contain his rage.
“You stupid ass!” Robert screamed, uncaring that the volume of his voice would carry for miles in the empty darkness.
Dane set her away from him and turned to Robert. Dane was rocked back as Robert’s fist connected.
“Stop it!” Grace yelled at Robert. “Stop it.” She lowered her voice. A warning that things were getting out of hand and they needed to calm down.
Dane stared at Robert, rubbing his jaw. No surprise. No anger.
“I know what I did was wrong,” Dane’s voice carried his regret.
“No you don’t.” The anger was still there. Still raw. “When you come back and she’s gone, then you’ll know. But, until then, you’d better keep your promise Dane. Cause from where I’m standing it doesn’t look like she matters much to you at all.”
“It’s okay, Robert,” Grace’s soft voice wasn’t enough to calm the man. He turned to her, looked at her, through her, seeing something she couldn’t see.
“It’s okay ,Grace,” his tone turned calm. “It’s okay because when you screamed he was here to save you.” The threat of tears shined in his eyes and the pain, the grief there caused her to look away. “He might not get so lucky next time.”
She wanted to go to him. Comfort him somehow. Her heart broke at the thought if his grief. The love for his wife. She’d never seen anyone love so desperately, so completely. The thought of it drew her gaze to Dane, who stood along in the fog, with his reflections and regret. A man who could feel so much, give so much, yet be denied the one thing he desired most. Real love. To feel real love.
Robert walked toward the soldier. There was work to do. There was still hope, for Stephanie, for the people of San Francisco, for them.
“His headset fell off,” Robert swore under his breath as he tried to see through the fog. “I’ll need some help over here.”
It had become more and more difficult to see in the growing fog. Grace got on her hands and knees to feel around the cold cement for the headset. A faint high pitch tone, almost too faint to detect, caught her attention and she followed it. The sound brought her closer to the unconscious soldier, and she slowed her pace.
Robert was near the head of the soldier, and Dane was behind her at the soldier’s feet. As she neared the large man she realized he had once been handsome. It was difficult to tell in the fog how old he was, but the outline of his face and her memory of that moment facing him caused a picture to form in her mind. Dark hair and eyes that had once been chocolate brown. One was still brown.
His uniform was black, red numbers ran along the breast pocket. 013067. Did they call him that? Did he have a name? Her examination of the man brought her closer to the mysterious noise. The headset was under his neck. Grace heard a soft voice, whispering. Someone from the command center?
“I don’t want to die,” the whisper called out for mercy, but not from the headset. With a gasp, Grace realized the man was still alive.
“What is it?” Dane was there beside her.
Robert gun pulled, pointed at the man’s head. Retribution curved his lips into a satisfied smile. Revenge. It changed his handsome face into something Grace couldn’t recognize.
“I don’t want to die.” Again the plea for mercy.
Robert looked to Dane, “Get the headset. That’s what we came here for.” Dane nodded and picked it up.
Grace looked at the soldier’s bloody face. His eye opened, the red light no longer worked, but his human eye moved frantically around until it found Grace’s face.
Fear was set aside and a clear understanding transpired between them. She was all the mercy he would know. Somewhere, somehow, he’d been turned into a government experiment. Like Dane. A prisoner, a soldier, a volunteer, she didn’t know what had brought him to this point, but without that glowing red eye he looked like a wounded man. A wounded man pleading for his life.
“Paul,” he whispered to her. His eye glanced at Robert, then settled back on Grace. “My name is, Paul.”
“Stop.” Grace placed her hand on Robert’s wrist. “No, Robert.” She looked into Robert’s eyes. Eyes that said killing this man would make things right. “This won’t bring her back.” Grace’s simple words, soft words, caused Robert to hesitate.
“We can’t let him go. This could be a trap.” Dane was behind her. Logical. Rational.
“We can’t just kill him,” Grace said.
“I can.” Robert hadn’t lowered the gun.
“And what if he can help us find Stephanie?” Grace asked. “What if we throw away a chance at getting her back alive? Can you live with that?”
Robert’s jaw flexed as he considered what to do. His gaze went to Dane, then back to the soldier. Paul.
“Do you think that whatever controls him was destroyed when he was shot?” Dane asked.
“He seems different,” Grace answered. She didn’t know. But there was something in the man’s eye that spoke of fear and humanity. No matter what it is, nothing wants to die. Grace knew that on an intimate level. Paul wasn’t just a soldier. He was a servant. Like her. A servant to the government. He was dying. She was dying. Perhaps there would be no mercy for either of them. No hope.
“Grace is right,” Dane spoke as he scanned the area. More soldiers could be on their way. “We can use him. Check him for weapons and if he can walk, we take him.”
“I don’t like it.” Robert lowered the gun to his side and began patting Paul down. There were more weapons, but they belonged to Robert now. “What if he can’t walk?”
“We can’t carry him. We can’t let him go.” Dane’s voice held a note of finality to it.
Robert nodded in acknowledgment.
“Can you move?” Grace asked, worried that Paul would fall victim to his own inabilities. Like her.
Paul didn’t move. His eye rolled upward to the sky, unseeing, concentrating. His entire body jerked in spasm. A grimace across his face told of pain. His left arm moved, his right leg, and slowly he sat up. His gaze moved with his body and he came close enough to Grace that their noses almost touched.
“Grace,” Dane warned.
She moved back. Mercy was best given with caution.
“How do we know we can trust him not to try to kill us?” Robert’s tone was still menacing.
Grace looked at Paul. She studied him as he did the same to her. Gratitude was etched in his face. His eye moved over her face as though he had never seen a woman before. Had never been offered mercy before.
“The command center knows you,” Paul said to her. “They’re coming.”
The military had been warned before Paul was shot. They hadn’t killed him outright and he had found time to contact the command center.
“He identified Grace, but didn’t know who you were,” Robert spoke to Dane. “Everyone in the world knows who you are. Hell, a lot of people know who I am. But he identified Grace.”
Grace felt goose bumps crawling over her flesh. No one knew her. She was nobody. But, Robert was right. Paul had identified her by name.
“Why did you identify Grace and not us?” Dane’s voice was demanding. Angry. “What do you want with Grace?”
“Good thing I didn’t shoot him?” Robert brought the gun out again and pointed it at Paul’s chest.
“If he doesn’t tell us what we want to know, I’ll shoot him myself,” Dane said.
“Oh? And where is your humanity now little brother?” Robert glanced to Dane.
Dane was silent for so long Grace turned around to see him. His gaze fixed on her, then caressed her face. The softness was there and gone in a second as he looked to Robert.
“With yours,” Dane nodded to Robert.
The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. The goosebumps danced on her skin until she shivered.
A sound in the distance brought them all around facing the city. The darkened streets were filled with fog. Red lights, hundreds of them, crisscrossed while soldiers ran toward them. It was a beautiful light show in the eerie fog.
“They’re here,” Paul whispered. “We’re all dead.”