Read an Excerpt
The C.H.A.O.S. Trilogy 3
By JON S. LEWIS
Copyright © 2013 Jon Lewis
All right reserved.
Chapter One Colt McAlister sat on the scorched hood of a Volvo station wagon as tendrils of smoke rose from the broken landscape all around him, melding into a gray December sky. Rose Hill, Virginia, was gone. As in wiped off the map. Entire neighborhoods were leveled. Trees were uprooted, cars overturned, lives lost. Thousands of lives lost. There was nothing left unless you counted the portable toilets and food trucks that FEMA brought in for the search teams.
None of it seemed real. Not the body bags stacked up in the streets. Not that Colt had been recruited to fight despite the fact that he was only sixteen. Not that his parents had been murdered or that his best friend's dad had tried to murder him too. And especially not the warmongering aliens who had declared war on all of mankind.
He closed his eyes for a moment and wondered what it would feel like to get a full night of sleep. Over the last few weeks training sessions started well before dawn and lasted into the evening. The CHAOS Military Academy cadets ran, lifted weights, and sparred. They spent endless hours at the shooting range and ran through scenario after scenario in the hologram rooms where three-dimensional images looked and felt real, allowing them to visit strange worlds without ever leaving campus. He was exhausted. They all were, but the stakes were too high to slow down.
Colt's stomach churned as he watched men in hard hats pull another body from the rubble. This time it was a girl, not much older than nine or ten. A tall man carried her toward the recovery center where Colt stood guard, and for a moment Colt thought he looked familiar. It was something about the way he moved, or maybe it was his olive skin.
But Colt had seen countless volunteers over the past three days, and they all had the same stunned looklawyers, professors, accountants, housewivesit didn't matter. They walked around, eyes glassed over and shoulders slumped. It was as though they were going through the motions, unable to comprehend how something like this could happen.
Less than a month ago, a select group had known that aliens from distant worlds lived among humanity. Now everyone knew, and everyone was terrified. It didn't matter that most of the aliens were scientists and diplomatsthese aliens, the Thule, had come to conquer, and they weren't going to stop until humanity was eradicated.
Colt's stomach churned as the man walked closer. The girl in his arms was so young. So frail. Her honey-blond hair fluttered in the wind, and though her neck was bent at an awkward angle, Colt could see her empty eyes staring back at him. Her skin was a ghostly shade of white, and her crimson nightgown pooled like blood around her frail body.
The thin material couldn't fend off the December chill, but as Colt scanned the area for a blanket he realized that it didn't matter. All the blankets in the world weren't going to bring her back.
Communities up and down the Potomac River were in ruins. The death toll in Rose Hill alone was expected to reach two thousand, with five times that many in nearby Alexandria, which was only a few miles away from CHAOS Military Academy. Some estimated as many as twenty thousand were lost, but it was too early to tell.
Colt had overheard one of his instructors mentioning that the academy had escaped damage because the real target was Washington, DC, or more to the point, the president of the United States of America. It made sense. After all, between the faculty and the cadets, there were more than a thousand men and women armed with the most advanced weapons in the history of humanity. The aliens had sent a strike force, not an army, and they couldn't risk a prolonged fight and still accomplish their primary objective.
The attacks had come in the middle of the night while most of the Eastern Seaboard slumbered. Survivors said there was something that looked like a lightning storm as the portals opened and Thule gunships burst out of the sky. At least a dozen transports delivered Thule infantry to the ground, and though local authorities tried to stop them, the Thule tore across the countryside until soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division engaged them just outside Washington.
Reinforcements arrived from as far away as Fort Bragg and Shaw Air Force Base, and when the battle was over, the president held a press conference on the front steps of the White House, claiming victory. The speech was meant to inspire, but the words were hollow. Everyone knew that the Thule didn't lose. They simply disappeared back through the portals, and when they returned, humanity would need more than luck to survive. They'd need a miracle.
"There you are."
Colt turned when he heard Danielle Salazar's voice through the speakers in his battle helmet. Like the other CHAOS cadets who had been called into service, she wore an exoskeleton called a Whitlock Armor System that made her look like a modern version of a medieval knight.
Each suit cost more than a beach house on Coronado Island, but it was equipped with power cells, processors, and an operating system that enhanced speed and strength by nearly double. The ceramic plates and ballistic mesh were stronger than metal, and the entire system was sealed and temperature-controlled. A breathing apparatus filtered the air, allowing the wearer to enter toxic atmospheres with minimal risk. In a pinch it could be used underwater, but the oxygen supply only lasted ten minutes.
Danielle's helmet was equipped with auto-targeting software that linked to both her sniper rifle and her .45-caliber handgun. The technology made it hard to miss, not that she needed the help. In the few weeks that she had been training, Danielle had shown herself to be a natural marksman, rising to the top 10 percent in her class.
Here they were, sophomores in high school, and yet they were already assigned to what the Department of Alien Affairs called an Elite Combat Squad. Each ECS had nine members: a squad leader and eight other cadets who were divided into Alpha and Bravo teams. Alpha teams typically specialized in recon while Bravo teams were the heavy gunners, but cadets trained to be interchangeable.
Their primary directive was to find and eliminate hostile alien life forms, which was why they took to calling themselves "exterminators" whenever their commanding officers weren't around. With the bulk of the military mobilized, the cadets were all that was left to sweep the evacuation sites that had been decimated in the attacks.
"What happened?" Danielle asked. "You were supposed to meet me at the rendezvous twenty minutes ago. Commander Webb didn't even know where you were."
Colt glanced at the heads-up display inside his visor. According to the US Naval Observatory Master Clock, he was only sixteen minutes and thirty-two seconds late, but he got the point. He had been named leader of Phantom Squad, which meant that he was supposed to keep everyone else on task, not the other way around.
"Did you turn off your comlink or are you just ignoring us?" she pressed.
"The signal must be scrambled. All I heard was static."
"Can you hear me now?"
Colt hated it when she used that condescending tone. "Yeah, but it's probably because you're standing next to me."
Danielle placed her hands on her hips the way his mom used to do when she was upset with him. "Then find a tech and get it fixed, or Commander Webb is going to demote you and put Pierce in charge."
Though they weren't related by blood, Danielle was the sister Colt never had and the daughter his mom always wanted after giving birth to eight boys. Growing up, their families spent most vacations and major holidays together, and he was fairly certain there were more pictures of Danielle in his family scrapbooks than there were of him.
"Look, I'm sorry." His eyes drifted back to the little girl. "It's just that none of this makes sense. I mean, why the suburbs and not a military base ... or the White House?"
"It's not like they didn't try," Danielle said. "They knocked the portico off the Lincoln Memorial and then blew the head off the statue."
"But why not assassinate the real thing?"
"It's symbolic," Danielle said. "I mean, yeah, there's a good chance they could have killed the president, but in some ways this is worse. By destroying a symbol like Lincoln's statue, they made a statement ... the same statement they made here and in Alexandria and everywhere else. They want us to know that nobody is safethey could show up anytime, anywhere, and we can't stop them."
Colt felt a sense of hopelessness wash over him as he watched a Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter hover in the distance, its tandem rotors scattering debris. He hadn't thought of it that way, and as much as he wished it weren't true, Danielle was probably right. The Thule understood the power of terror, and they had used it to their advantage.
In the last week, people had stopped going to work. There was widespread looting, air traffic had been shut down, and the stock markets were closed. Armed members of the National Guard roamed the streets in riot gear as a show of force. It was meant to instill confidence, but all it did was breed more fear.
"How did everything go over on grid D?" Colt asked, changing the subject. Grid D used to be the neighborhoods surrounding Ridgeview Park. Now it was just a marker on the FEMA map. Police states. Curfews. Swift justice. Freedom was all but gone and so was the confidence that the government could protect its people.
Danielle shook her head. Even with the helmet in place, the gesture was incredibly sad. "No survivors."
"Any sign of Thule?"
"We've been through at least two hundred houses and we haven't even found a"
Colt cringed as static blared through his speakers.
"Say again?" Danielle pressed her hand to the side of her helmet. "Where?"
"What happened?" Colt tried to adjust the volume control on the side of his helmet.
"Did anyone go near it?" she asked, then waited for a response. "Good. Tell them not to touch it. Tell them to ... just get out of there."
"Touch what?" Colt said over the static.
"We're leaving now." Danielle started to walk away, tightening the strap that held her sniper rifle over her shoulder.
"Commander Webb said that someone spotted a Class 2 Thule fighter a couple miles from here, and he wants us to investigate."
"What about the rest of the squad?"
Chapter Two Colt sped through the streets in a Humvee that was built for rough terrain, not for a winding obstacle course of potholes, crumpled cars, and mounds of debris.
Thud. Thud. He barreled over an aluminum ladder, and his brain bounced against his skull.
"Watch out!" Danielle yelled.
Colt didn't see the cast-iron tub until it was too late. He clenched his jaw and cranked the steering wheel to the right. Tires screeched, and the engine roared as the front bumper clipped an upright piano, erupting in an explosion of wooden panels and ivory keys. He knew he should slow down, but he couldn't. Not if there was a chance that Thule were lurking nearby.
"Display GPS," he said, and a map appeared in the heads-up display inside his visor. "Show me the shortest route to the crash site."
The word CALCULATING flashed on the screen three times before a green line appeared, connecting two dots. "Turn right onto Larpin Lane in one hundred feet," an automated voice said.
"Wait, what?" Danielle said. "There's nowhere to turn."
"Why would the GPS lie?"
"Maybe because it doesn't know the streets are buried under a foot of debris."
"Turn right," the GPS repeated.
Colt jerked the steering wheel, and the Humvee shook as it rolled up a mound of plywood, beams, and Sheetrock. Crack! Something beneath them broke, and the tires spun until they found traction on what was left of a sofa.
"See, it was right," Colt said as the Humvee shot down a street that had been partially cleared by a bulldozer.
There was a blur of motion as a motorcycle with a sidecar cut in front of them. "What a jerk!" Danielle cried out.
"Me or him?" Colt barely had time to react, but he managed to cut the wheel hard to the left. Their Humvee shot over a curb and into a front yard.
"Colt! Tell me you see that!"
They were speeding toward a chimney that stood in a field of ash. It was all that remained of what had been a massive house, and they were on a crash course.
Colt slammed on the brakes, and the wheels locked up. Tires cut through wet grass, digging through the mud as he spun the steering wheel to the right. Momentum turned the Humvee sideways, and time seemed to slow as the chimney loomed in front of them.
Twenty feet. Ten feet. Five.
Metal crumpled as the driver's-side door slammed into the chimney. Colt felt the impact roll up his spine and into his shoulders. His head snapped to the left and then the right as bricks fell on the roof in rapid succession. One caught the windshield and left a jagged crack before it fell to the ground.
Colt hit the gas and the Humvee shot forward, rolling over a birdbath and then jumping back onto the street. From the corner of his eye he could see Danielle looking at him, and even though her face was hidden behind the helmet, he could imagine the fire in her eyes.
"Look, I'm sorry," he said. "But"
"But what? You almost got us killed!"
"I know. It's just that ..." Colt hesitated, trying to think of a good excuse. It didn't matter that he was only sixteen or that it had only been six months since he earned his driver's license. Not when the world needed heroes to rise above themselves.
Chapter Three The Thule were killing machines that looked like walking lizards with six arms, and their hooked teeth and clawed fingers were designed to rend flesh from bone.
Until recently most of the world thought they were little more than characters from a comic book. In the past, some, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had known the truth. He'd kept their existence a secret, fearing that if people knew Hitler had joined forces with a race of shape-shifting aliens it would cause mass hysteria at a time when Americans needed stability.
He'd also hidden the existence of Project Chrysalis, a top-secret program he developed where infants were inoculated with Thule blood in an attempt to create a breed of super soldiers who could defend the United States against extraterrestrial threats. Seventy years and billions of dollars later, the project was on the verge of cancellationuntil the first successful test case in recorded history was a boy from San Diego named Colt McAlister. The military finally had its savior.
"That's it!" Danielle said as she pointed at a four-story brick building surrounded by trees and rolling hills.
As they entered the parking lot they could see the tail end of the Thule fighter sticking out from the rooftop. Since it was nearly impossible for humans to speak the alien language, they had taken to classifying Thule ships using reptilian names. This particular fighter was called a Taipan, named for the most venom ous snake on the planet.
"How long has it been here?" Colt asked, wondering why no one had spotted it in the initial sweep.
"I know as much as you do." Danielle opened her door, grabbed a camera out of her duffel bag, and walked toward the building.
"Wait a minute. What are you doing?" Colt said.
"What does it look like I'm doing?"
"Trying to get yourself killed." He shouldered his assault rifle and grabbed Danielle's sniper rifle. "You don't go into a hot zone without your weapon."
"So now you're worried about protocol?"
"I'm worried about one of the Thule ripping you in half."
"Right, because this place is infested. Remind me again, how many Thule have we seen over the last three days? Because I'm pretty sure the number is zero."
"That doesn't mean they aren't here."
"Fine, I'll prove it." She picked up a brick, bounced it in her palm, and threw it at the window.
"Have you lost your mind?"
Danielle shook her head. "Since none of them are rushing out to rip my head off, I'd say we're fine."
Colt could feel the hair on the back of his neck stand on end as wind whipped across the parking lot, causing a metal handicap parking sign to shake. A newspaper fluttered. Branches creaked in nearby trees, threatening to snap. But there was no sign of the Thule. Yet.
Over the last two weeks, when Colt wasn't battling replicas of Thule inside a hologram chamber, he was studying them in a classroom. He learned about their fractured political structure and how their government had splintered into five warring factions, each led by a warlord who sought supremacy over the others. He knew that four of the factions had united in the fight against humanity, and more importantly, he knew that each Thule had a jaw that was strong enough to bite Danielle in half if it got hold of her.
Excerpted from DOMINATION by JON S. LEWIS Copyright © 2013 by Jon Lewis. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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