When it comes to hitting his target, Spencer Blackwelder can’t miss. But when it comes to hitting the mark in other areas of his life, his aim is way off, which is definitely a problem when you’re a military sharp shooter preparing for war with an alien species.
As penance for past mistakes in friendship and in love, Blackwelder makes the bold choice to relocate to Fort Felix, a military base on Neptune’s moon, a decision that could end up costing him his life. Once there, he meets: Juan Miguel Arías, to whom he takes an immediate liking; Vernita Burton, a true friend; and the men and women of Brant Squad, a group of lovable losers that he eventually takes under his wing.
Blackwelder is surprised to discover he has something to live for again, but all of that is threatened when war finally arrives on Fort Felix’s doorstep. Can Blackwelder find the hero within in time to save his squad, his planet, and the man he loves?
Christopher D.J.© 2017
All Rights ReservedChapter One: Out of the Dark
“All right, Jinx Squad, listen up,” said First Lieutenant Robby Macke as he stood before Sergeant Spencer Blackwelder and the other crew members. “As you know, an abandoned Elumerian starship floated into the Barack’s space sector forty-eight hours ago. It’s been subjected to long-range and short-range drone scans, and we know that the propulsion and guidance systems are damaged beyond repair. There are several vacant exterior ports, suggesting the crew evacuated. Zero life signs on board. We are the lucky squad who get to be the first to dock with it. Our mission is to search the vessel, determine its threat level, collect any useful data, and return to the Barack. Any questions?”
“Just one, sir: with those giant sat dishes Miller uses for ears, there’s no need for us to actually dock, is there? He can just conduct an audio scan from here,” said Mudunuri. The other squad members laughed as Miller, the pilot, whipped his head around to shoot Mudunuri a scathing look.
“Is this the comedy hour? Or are we here to do a job?” Blackwelder asked. “Knock it off.”
“Sorry, Sergeant Blackwelder.”
Macke smirked. “Don’t be absurd, Mudunuri; Miller couldn’t possibly pull that scan off from here. He’d need to be, what, at least three clicks closer?”
Miller shook his head from the cockpit. The other soldiers sniggered.
“Lieutenant Abernathy, com check, if you please.”
Abernathy adjusted her headset, then pressed and held a yellow button until it turned green. “This is Jinx Squad on Raider-1 to Barack actual. We’re conducting a com check; do you read, Barack?”
“Raider-1 this is Barack actual, we read you. Coms are go, over,” said a voice over the open channel.
Satisfied, Abernathy slid her hands along the console to a different cluster of brightly lit buttons. “Jinx Squad, internal com check, channel three. Confirm.”
“Coms are go,” they all said in unison. Over her shoulder, Blackwelder could see several lights flash green on Abernathy’s console.
“Coms are go, Lieutenant,” Abernathy said to Macke with a wink.
Raider-1 was a small ship with cramped quarters. There was a cargo hold beneath the floor of the ship, but its capacity was limited, not that they were expecting much of a physical salvage. Four soldiers shared the seating compartment with Blackwelder. Macke stood over the backs of the pilot and Abernathy, talking navigational tactics. They sat close together, their knees touching and occasionally banging into one another as the ship jostled. Several lit panels—some with loose-hanging cables—beeped above their heads. Expecting the atmosphere aboard the Elumerian ship to be completely inhospitable, the Allied Earth soldiers were wearing their space suits, sans helmets, and held their heavy-duty laser rifles at the ready.
The air was rife with tension; they had joked before, but Blackwelder knew it was a weak ploy to cover their mounting fear. None of them had ever stepped foot onto an alien, enemy vessel before. Blackwelder felt the concern himself, of course, but had to master it. Macke might have been the one giving the orders, but Blackwelder knew he’d be the one to keep them on point.
“Don’t forget to breathe, Jinx,” Blackwelder said to them all. “This is nothing more than a standard recon mission. You’ve trained for this.” A couple of them nodded, but they seemed little put at ease by his words. He took a quick look at Macke, though the lieutenant didn’t turn to meet his glance.
“And if any one of you shoots one of your own, I guarantee you you’ll be eating nothing but veg-ox for a week.”
A couple of them chuckled at the comment. “But what if you like veg-ox?” one of them said softly.
“Shut up, DeFrank,” Mudunuri said.
“Target in range, LT. Better get strapped in,” Miller said. On screen, Blackwelder could see a massive vessel that was rounded and bulbous on one end and through the middle, but that tapered off toward the tail. Cascading rows of spikes adorned the middle of the craft on both sides. The spikes, rounded at the edge and faintly glowing from their center, could almost be mistaken for fins. In fact, the whole ship had the look of a mutated whale, which reminded Blackwelder of the aquatic life they’d discovered years ago in some of Earth’s more polluted oceans.
Macke nodded and turned to take his seat, the only available one being next to Blackwelder. Blackwelder looked up at Macke; he kept his expression blank, but inside he was laughing. He could see a moment of nervousness sweep over Macke’s face, but he mastered it immediately and took his seat. Blackwelder couldn’t help himself; he found Macke’s discomfort utterly amusing. Raider-1 docked with the Elumerian ship shortly thereafter.
Macke stood up quickly from his seat and grabbed his helmet “Miller, Abernathy, you stay with Raider-1 and monitor us. Mudunuri, you’re with DeFrank. Pazmiño, you’re with Sergeant. Blackwelder and Wine, you’re with me. We’ll split up, clear the ship section by section, and rendezvous on what we’re eighty-seven percent sure is the bridge. Questions?”
Mudunuri opened and closed his mouth. Blackwelder could see the confusion mounting as he childishly raised his hand. “Uh, sir? Normally in the incursion scenarios, I partner with Pazmiño.”
Jumping to his feet, Blackwelder cut across Macke before he could answer. “This isn’t a scenario, dusties! In live missions, you take the orders given to you.” He took a step closer to Macke and leaned in to whisper: “Though, sir, the familiarity of the old pairings may be an advantage for us in this situation. One less thing for them to think about. Unless there’s a particular reason you want to readjust the teams?”
Macke glanced at Abernathy, who was close enough to overhear them. Her expression was quizzical, as she too seemed to be confused by the sudden change in the lineup.
“Besides,” Blackwelder said, “it will be easier for me to keep you alive if I can watch your back.”
“Yeah, okay,” Macke said impatiently. “Old pairings: Mudunuri/ Pazmiño, DeFrank/Wine, and Wellie, you’re with me. Let’s get in there and get this done, people.”
Christopher D. J. was born and raised in the South, calling multiple cities home between North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida, but none more so than Daytona Beach, where he graduated from Mainland High School. Christopher went on to complete his BA at Duke University and his MPW at the University of Southern California. Christopher is the author of Blackwelder: 2164 and Between Two Brothers. He briefly worked in the entertainment industry before turning his attention full-time to higher education; he currently has the pleasure of serving first-year students and families at California State University, Los Angeles as the Assistant Director for New Student and Parent Programs.
Christopher lives in Los Angeles, CA, where he enjoys comic books, movies, cheeseburgers, French fries, and not having to worry about mosquitoes.