Shadows Across the Moon is a sci-fi romance serial novel with chapters being released daily. If you missed the previous chapters, you can read them here-
Moderate violence and sex.
All rights reserved as stated in serial chapter 1. Copyright SF English
SHADOWS ACROSS THE MOON by SF English
The smell of blood, sweet and coppery filled Paul’s senses. Metal and flesh, such a waste. Laying there, among his own kind, he waited. Footsteps, measured, organized, echoed in the fog. Paul closed his eyes.
AIM soldiers, grunts, had no need to speak to each other. They operated entirely from headsets. They were less human than the high ranking soldiers. The higher your rank, the more memories they could use and exploit. The more critical thinking options were allowed. The things that now approached were very much zombies. Electronics and skin, cold, thoughtless and obedient.
Cold hands picked him up. He was tossed casually over a shoulder. Paul didn’t dare risk opening his eyes. He prayed his headset would remain in place. He hoped they would wait to do salvaging of the bodies. Pray and hope. That was all that was left to him, as he was carried and carelessly thrown upon a pile of dead, in a cold room. He was inside the land center.
The two grunts dumped their load, turned and left. Paul waited, listened. He opened his eyes to see the face of a dead man. Half man, he corrected, half machine. He held perfectly still, as he looked as far as his eyes could see. Nothing. No one. Slowly he moved to take in more of the room. It was clear.
Paul moved off a small pile of bodies, and took in the scene. There were at least twenty or thirty bodies. Grayson had been a busy man. Or, perhaps Robert had gotten enthusiastic. Or both.
Paul searched his memory for the map of the land center. It came to him, like the stored data it was. Photographic memory, some would say. But, it was more than that. Because he was more than human.
Without knowing where he was, he couldn’t get his bearings. He’d had to leave his pack behind. It wasn’t standard gear and would be noticed. He pulled a knife from a pocket in his pants. He put the gun in his waistband. There was only one door, only one way out.
He stood where he was, listening. He looked to the bottom of the door where a small bit of light shone through. Nothing seemed to be moving. He was a ghost, silent and stalking. He stood to the side of the door, and leaned his head against it, hearing murmurs, far away. A loud slam of a door caused him to pull back. He put his back to the wall, gun drawn, waiting. Footsteps.
“Juliana.” Paul didn’t recognize the man’s voice.
More footsteps, clicking. High heels. They stopped right outside the door.
“I want to go back to the ship.” She sounded haughty and petulant. “Things are getting out of hand here.”
“Until you find that chip, you’re staying,” the voice was angry, strained. “So you might want to find it before the bombs go.”
“It’s not my fault!” Juliana made an effort to keep her voice down, but from the tone, Paul could tell she was ready to scream. “The homing device malfunctioned.”
“You should’ve had it replaced.”
“There was no need! We had her in our sight at all time.”
“Obviously,” he now lowered his voice, “Not all the time.”
“This is just as much your fault as it is mine, Travis! This was your idea in the first place.”
Rustling, footsteps and a loud thud against the door gave Paul the impression that Colonel Travis was growing tired of Juliana. He could hear the woman breathing hard just on the other side.
“If anything happens to me, you won’t have the technology to reverse the tumor and she’ll die. If she dies, the chip will self detonate.” Paul heard her move away from the door.
“Then you better hope to hell we find her before the bombs go off Juliana. Because if she dies, you’re of no use to me.”
Quick footsteps, purposeful and angry, walked away. Juliana remained. Her breathing was faster. A moment later and she, too, walked away. Paul stored the data.
When he could hear no other evidence, of someone on the other side he quietly turned the doorknob. A crack, barely wide enough to admit light, allowed him to see into the hallway. He was at the end. Doors lined either side of the darkened hall. At the end of the corridor was the nerve-center of the operation. Men, and occasionally cyborgs, walked with urgency and intent back and forth in front of the open archway. The light reached to the center of the hallway, then began to fade. There was nowhere else to go, so he walked out.
* * * *
“Who are you, soldier?” The question, repeated for the tenth time, was followed by a hard fist.
Blood flew in an arch across the table. Robert told him the same thing again and again. Nothing.
A door opened behind him, and Robert could see her reflection in the window. She was followed by a man in his mid-fifties, in uniform. Robert’s blurred vision couldn’t make out the rank.
“I’ll tell you who he is,” Juliana came around to stand in front of him. “Robert Rose. Captain Rose, if I’m not mistaken.”
“You don’t get to keep your rank when you’re a traitor.” Travis moved into view. “Besides, he’s a civilian now. A real rebel-for-the-cause. Isn’t that right?”
Travis pulled a chair over, and sat down in it. He pulled out a cigar, lit it and puffed quietly. The smell drifted into the room, took it over.
“Come here to save your wife?” Juliana chose to stand. “I’m afraid the military may have use of her, Mr. Rose. Seems she has an inside informant that they need to…speak to.”
“Want to see your wife, boy?” Travis leaned in, blew smoke, and studied him.
Robert’s chin rested on his chest, but he raised his eyes, slow and full of death, at the colonel. The colonel grunted a laugh.
“Yeah. I see you do.”
“It’s simple really,” Juliana pushed something in front of his face. He tried to concentrate, to clear his vision. “You see this?” she asked.
He blinked hard and widened his eyes at the small square of light in her hand, but he couldn’t make it out. He blinked again, and saw that it was a portable video device. The same scene played over and over on a cyborg scanner video. Out at the docks, when they went after a high ranking AIM soldier and came back with that freak of nature, Paul. It showed he and Dane, fighting to save Grace. It showed Paul go down. He saw himself, pointing a gun, then the video feed died. Well, he thought, there’s some satisfaction in that. He didn’t bother to hide a smirk.
“Is that funny, boy?” Travis blew more smoke. Robert remained unaffected.
“Tell us where that woman is Mr. Rose,” Juliana removed the video, “and we’ll let you see your wife.”
When Robert said nothing, Colonel Travis stood, and moved Juliana out of the way. His meaty hand grabbed Robert’s chin, and soon Robert was nose to nose with Travis.
“Continue like this, boy, and when you do see your wife, you’ll not like what we’re doing to her.”
The sound that filled the room wasn’t human. It was rage and hatred announcing it had found a home. It filled Robert with an energy he’d never known. He lurched forward, and even tied to the chair, he took Travis down.
* * * *
Her wrists burned where they’d tied them together. Still, Grace struggled quietly as the two soldiers stood directly in front of her. Dane sat next to her. Their packs were emptied in a heap in front of them. Time was up. Grace wondered what Paul and Robert would do when they checked in, and got no response.
Her gaze was drawn to the headsets. Their captors had removed them immediately. They were waiting. For who, for how long, Grace didn’t know. But the city was about to die. She imagined that the fog had encompassed most of the taller buildings by now.
A door opened bringing her attention to a young man in uniform. He couldn’t be more than thirty, but he was an officer. The others saluted him.
“So, I hear that you were trying to escape the city,” he approached Dane as he spoke, “You saw the ship, and thought we might help you? Is that right?”
“That’s right,” Dane answered.
“Davis,” he called to one of the soldiers behind him.
“Have we run a check on them?”
“Checking now, sir.”
The officer cocked his head, and frowned as he studied Dane. “I know you. You’re Thomas Dane. Rich boy. A real celebrity.” He smiled, seemingly pleased at his own intelligence.
Dane moved a cold gaze over the officer. The officer approached Grace, and she could read his name on a gold badge. Tyson.
“The real question is,” Tyson bent down inches from Grace’s face, “Who are you?”
Grace remained silent. Unless she got some signal or word from Dane, she’d stay that way. Tyson came close enough that she could smell fish on his breath. She tried to will herself not to back away, not show her fear. But he knew.
“You look like a sweet girl,” he whispered to her, “A worker, no doubt. Can tell that by your hands. Not a whore, no, you look too innocent for that.” He seemed to reflect, trying to solve the puzzle. “Are you a…,” he glanced to Dane, and back to her, “a fan?” He smiled and pulled away. Grace was grateful.
“You think I’m stupid?” Tyson’s mouth was tight-lipped. “She has a military hook-up.” With that, he bent down, and picked up the headsets. There were three. Hers, Dane’s and one Dane had picked up earlier that evening. A special one, he had worked on.
“Things aren’t looking too good for you,” he lost his smile, but the sarcasm held. “You killed two of my men.” He looked at Dane. “Pretty efficient for an artist.”
He turned back to the soldiers. “See what progress we’ve made on identifying the woman,” Tyson ordered, sending one of the soldiers away.
Tyson turned around so suddenly, Grace flinched as he approached her. She heard the loud crack before she felt the pain. The room spun as she fell backwards in her chair. She fell to her side, stunned.
“Pick her up.”
The world moved again, hands on her shoulder, on the chair, and she was sitting up. The taste of blood filled her mouth. The taste of fear. She couldn’t keep her heart from racing, her breath from coming in so fast it made her dizzy, but she would not talk. The Grace that woke this morning no longer existed. The old Grace would have cried. Would have tried to save what was left of her life. But that Grace, had nothing more important than her own life. Things had changed. This Grace swallowed her fear. This Grace looked at the heap of things on the floor, and saw her gun. Lisa’s gun. Her hand itched for it.
Tyson grabbed her hair, and pulled it hard, bringing her face near his. “Tell me about this.” He pushed the military headset at her. She focused on it, nearly crossing her eyes it was so close. What she saw there caused her to smirk. Tyson watched her, and pulled again on her hair.
“What’s so funny?” He hit her in the face with the headset. She didn’t want him to break it.
“They’re coming,” Grace said, as she looked at the headset. “And you can’t stop them.”
He let go. She almost tipped back, but leaned forward to balance herself. Tyson stared at her, then glanced to the headset. He looked at Dane and her gaze followed.
Dane sat there quietly his expression seemed to say nothing. But, not to Grace. Grace knew that look. She’d seen it less than half an hour ago. It fed her faith, her resolve.
“There’s no one going to save you,” Tyson said, as he pulled his own headset off. “We’ll have them, tracked and dead, within minutes.”
He flicked the rod down. As he studied it Grace felt her heart pound against her ribs. He pulled it over his head, the six inch rod slipping into place.
The jolt that went through Tyson was slight. His eyes rolled up into his head, and he lurched forward. When Tyson fell, the soldier behind him immediately went to his aid.
Dane threw his entire body weight into the kick. It connected hard with the soldier’s face, rocking him back, so he hit the wall with the back of his head. Dane was down. He scooted around until his hands reached the pile, and his knife.
As Dane cut through the ropes at his wrists, Grace couldn’t take her eyes off the closed door. Seconds seemed like hours. Sweat beaded, and dropped into her eyes, stinging them. Dane was free, then she was free.
She grabbed the gun and followed Dane out. He stopped, looked around, and started moving quick and quiet up the corridor. He stopped again, by an open door, and peered inside. He threw the knife. She heard a noise. Dane signaled for her to stay, as he retrieved the bloody knife, and they moved forward.
Noise, coming from behind them, moved them into the next room. Grace came around to see a soldier standing in front of a monitor. He moved, and she pointed the gun. He froze, and Dane took him out with the knife.
“AIM soldiers,” Dane pointed to the monitor. A list of numbers, ranks and technology options, showed hundreds of AIM soldier’s positions in the city. Dane sat down, Grace quietly closed the door.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“We’ll never make it to the detonation room. But, we can take those cyborg-bastards out from here. And, we have to hope Paul and Robert can stop it from the land center,” he explained, as he began to read the screen. He pulled the headset off the dead soldier, plugged in, and pulled out the keyboard connected to the headset.
A loud commotion outside caused Grace to look at the door. There was no lock. She turned back to watch Dane’s hands fly across the keyboard. Grace watched the small red dots begin to blink. One by one they began to go out.
Footsteps outside grew louder. Dane turned his head as though he were listening. His eyes jerked toward Grace.
“Kill on site,” he repeated the orders he heard through the headset.
Anger made it hard for Robert to concentrate, hard to see clearly. Rough hands pulled him up and off of Travis.
The colonel was fast for an old guy. A fist flew into Robert’s face before he’d registered that Travis stood in front of him. A sick snap echoed in his ears, and warm blood flew from his nose.
“Put him in with his wife,” Travis breathed hard. “I’ll be in to attend to them, personally.”
“We need the information,” Juliana said.
“You’ll get it,” Travis told her.
Robert watched as the colonel picked up his hat, and set it on his head. Then, the room spun. He lost sight of the colonel. His legs wobbled, but he moved. Or, more accurately, was moved, out of the room.
They walked only two doors down the corridor before the door was opened. So close to her. As the two soldiers pushed him through, he cast a glance down the darkened hallway. Movement caught his eye. A lone soldier at the end, stood quiet and still. He lost sight of the soldier, as he was moved inside another room.
As they pushed him into the corner and tied him to the chair, he saw her. She sat, as he last saw her, hands tied in front of her.
Her clothes were dirty and disheveled. She’d lost one shoe. Her blouse was imprinted with smudges, some in the outline of handprints.
Robert’s gaze took it all in, bruises on her neck, a cut that ran from her neck to her collarbone, disappearing behind the material of her blouse. As the soldiers secured him, and took their post beside the door, he steeled himself. Inside, the heat of violence bowed to the cold of his heart. He prepared, he breathed. He looked into her eyes.
Her soul locked to his in that moment. The cold agony rose up like bile in his throat as he read her silent gaze. What had they done to her to put that look there? What had they done while he wasn’t there to protect her?
Her steely gaze held him. He could read her. He always could. She appeared to be silent and still, but it wasn’t true. Her chest heaved, taking in short, quick breaths. Her nostrils flared as she pulled in those quiet breaths. She was talking to him. Her body was talking to him, with the shift of her weight, the set of her spine; her eyes. Her gaze said that she was afraid, for him. It said he shouldn’t have come. With all the intensity he saw living in those eyes their words tore through his soul. Helplessly, he watched her tears gather and fall. She’d made no sound, but she was screaming.
Soldiers snapped to attention as the door flew open, and Travis walked in. Noises, panicked and loud filled the room. Robert heard shouting, running. One look at Travis, and Robert knew things were going badly for the US Military.
The noises were dulled when the door shut, but they weren’t silent. The colonel pulled out a knife as he approached Stephanie. He stopped beside her, turned and faced Robert.
Sweat poured down Robert’s back. Heat filled every muscle. Clenched teeth caused his jaw to ache.
“It seems we have an emergency,” Travis announced. “And so we must make sacrifices.” The colonel glanced to Stephanie, his intent clear.
“What do you want?” Robert asked, stalling, thinking.
“Tell me where the woman is. The one…”
Before Travis finished Juliana rushed in. “They’ve found her. She’s on board the ship.”
“You’re sure?” Travis asked.
“She was positively identified. They’ve lost sight of her, but she’s on the damn ship! We’ve got her! Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Travis stood silent for a moment. Juliana’s excitement didn’t seem to reach him. He looked, first to Stephanie, then Robert. The knife, he’d held loosely, stood erect as he gripped it. With slow, measured steps he approached Robert.
“Her, I can use,” Travis said, “But you…you I don’t need.”
“No!” Stephanie screamed. “I’ll tell you anything. Anything!”
Travis never hesitated, never looked back. “Yes, you will.”
Three steps forward and Travis pulled back his arm to deliver the death blow.
Despite the rush of adrenaline flowing through his veins, Robert saw everything move slowly. Stephanie stood. Juliana hit her. The door to the room burst open, and Paul opened fire.
* * * *
“They’ve breached,” Charles yelled, “They’re in!”
“Go, Charles,” Lisa grabbed him, shook him, tried to make him see through his shock.
“I’m not going.” The man shook, tears of fear filled his eyes, but he stood there.
“Come inside then,” Lisa told him as she pulled on him. “They’ll search each hive one at a time. Come inside so they don’t see you.”
She led him inside. Her spacious room was filled. Rosa carried Amanda in her arms. Lisa looked from the sleeping figure to the faces of the doomed. They were all silent. Waiting.
Lisa watched as Rosa made her way through the crowd. As she stood next to her, Lisa ran her hand over Amanda’s hair. She bent down, kissed her head. Then her gaze went back to the slightly opened door.
AIM soldiers filled the large tunnel. Thirty or more. Red lights reflected off the tunnel walls. Half went into a complex one, half into two. From somewhere behind her, Lisa heard someone begin to cry. She was amazed and more than humbled that they’d remained silent this long.
A small, organized group of AIM soldiers entered the hive. Two by two they spread out. A second group entered, then a third. Rosa’s hand took Lisa’s. Beside her, Charles pulled his gun.
A large soldier, alone and obviously scouting, ran into the complex. He scanned the area quickly, but she couldn’t hear his report. He scanned again. Something was wrong.
Two AIM soldiers approached her home. One stumbled. He righted himself. He began to move, and stumbled again. He fell. He lay there. He didn’t get up.
The second one fell. Lisa stopped breathing, as Charles moved closer to the door. Her lungs burned. Another soldier fell. Charles opened the door slowly, just a little. Another one fell. Lisa looked to the high ranking soldier, but he was gone. He lay crumpled on the ground.
* * * *
It hadn’t taken long for Dane to put on the soldier’s clothing. He put the body behind the door. As he took the man’s weapon, he paused and walked back to the monitor. Red blips continued to go out. His hand went to his headset, he frowned. Grace looked at him, waiting. Before he could speak she heard them outside the door.
“Mission aborted,” someone yelled. “Code 17! We have a code 17! Fog machines are sabotaged!”
The door flew open, almost hitting Grace. The young man’s eyes were wide. His breath was fast, panting and excited with fear. He looked straight into Dane’s eyes. “Mission’s aborted. Everyone’s falling back. We gather all equipment from the city, and we’re outta here! We leave in 30! With or without!”
Then he was gone. The door stood open and Dane casually closed it.
“Someone’s shut down the fog machines,” Dane said, nodding to himself in reflection.
“Paul?” she asked. But it didn’t matter. “What happens now?”
Dane was still listening, but he began to move. “They’re retrieving the bombs,” he told her as he took out a pair of handcuffs. “The AIM soldiers hold no country insignia. No evidence.”
Grace’s mind spun with the news, and fear, and hope. The government would cut its losses and run? What other choice was there? She looked up as Dane approached.
“We’re getting out here,” he told her. “Turn around.”
They stepped out in the corridor. She was a prisoner again. Dane walked with purpose, fast and hard, toward the exit. His hat was pulled down to hide his face, but no one looked at him. Obviously, aborting the mission wasn’t something the military had planned well for. People pushed past them, barely acknowledging their presence.
They turned, and headed up the stairs. Outside was pandemonium. Boats were coming in. Men, not AIM soldiers, were returning from land with equipment, evidence.
Grace looked toward the city. The fog had receded, and the high rises took possession of the skyline again. The fog-line was lower than when she last saw it, before they boarded. And it was thinning. She could see the outline of the piers.
“What are you doing?” A soldier had collided with Dane, and now looked questioningly at Grace.
“The prisoner’s to be executed on land,” Dane told him.
Private Rand only nodded, as he saluted Dane and apologized.
“Where’s a boat I can use?” Dane asked.
“Starboard.” He nodded, looked into the distance beyond Dane, and ran in that direction.
Dane’s hand was cold as he took her by her wrist and moved her forward. They made the corner and saw soldiers unpacking equipment, some just arriving. Soldiers emptied boats and took orders.
She watched Dane take it all in, could almost see him calculating. He walked her past most of the activity. When they reached a soldier just bringing up a ladder, Dane stopped him.
“I’ve been ordered to return this prisoner to land for execution,” Dane told the lesser ranked soldier.
“You’re gonna take her yourself?” he asked, eyeing them suspiciously.
“You volunteering?” Dane asked.
The man cast a look out at the city. His hand let go of the rope ladder, and stepped away. “No sir,” he said, respectfully, “I’m not.”
Dane nodded and moved her forward. He took the cuffs off that he’d placed on her before they walked out.
“Get down to that boat.” He pushed her forward and she began to descend.
* * * *
The two soldiers were dead. Paul held the gun on Travis and Juliana. Someone tried coming in through the door and Paul shot him. Another came, another shot. Voices screamed to evacuate. Lights, red and blue, blinked on and off, into the shadows of the hallway.
Travis dropped the knife and went for his gun. As Paul turned from the doorway he froze. The gun was pointed at Stephanie. Travis kept his eyes on Paul as he moved, slowly, closer to her.
“Stop.” Paul’s simple command worked.
“I’ll kill her,” Travis warned.
“She’s nothing to me,” Paul said.
“You bastard!” Robert yelled.
“No?” Travis asked. His gun moved, slightly and he took aim at Juliana. “We’ve got Intel on you,” he said to Paul. “We know who saved your life. Who you are willing to protect.”
Paul was still. Of course they’d have Intel. There were videos from cyborgs, cyborgs who saw him rescued.
“Stop,” he said again. Again, the colonel stopped.
“Grace Sullivan saved your life, soldier,” Travis had little to bargain with, he was desperate. “If she dies,” he glanced to Juliana, and immediately back to Paul, “Grace Sullivan dies.”
“I know your background,” Travis continued. “Who you were. What you were. Our analysts say you might have a sense of loyalty to Sullivan. Let’s test that theory.”
Travis reached out and brought Juliana in front of him. He sidestepped around Stephanie’s chair.
“Stop,” Paul said. He raised his gun and took aim. Paul calculated, zeroed in, and considered the odds.
“Do you want her dead, boy?” Travis asked, as he put the muzzle of the gun to Juliana’s head.
“No.” The shot rang out. Travis jerked once. Shock filled his face, then blood. He fell.
Juliana fell to her knees crying hysterically. Paul glanced once at the door. No one was coming. Robert stood, and Paul walked toward him. He took out a knife and set Robert free.
Robert grabbed Paul and pulled him close. “You’d have let him kill my wife.”
“No,” Paul gazed into Robert’s hate-filled eyes. They stood there for a moment.
“Robert,” Stephanie’s voice brought him back. “He saved us.”
Robert blinked and nodded. There would never be a way to know if Paul was telling the truth. Robert thought, looking now at his wife, it didn’t matter.
Robert took the knife from Paul, and went to free Stephanie. As her arms came free they wrapped around his neck, and he felt the heat of violence leave him. The cold was gone now. There was only her, there had always been, only her. He locked her in an embrace. Everything flooded in. Losing her. The scream. Not knowing if she was alive. His body shook violently. A sob caught in his throat. He buried his face in her hair, breathing her in, taking her in. And when she looked up at him, he kissed her. It was a hard, claiming, brand that ended in softness and love.
“We need to find the others,” Paul had Juliana by the arm.