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Three Good Weapons - A Spy's Journey - Book 1

Three Good Weapons - A Spy's Journey - Book 1

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Read the Synopsis

Three Good Weapons: A Spy's Journey

-Brooke Woods, a woman accustomed to quiet evenings and solitude, finds herself thrust into a world of intrigue and espionage. From her quaint bungalow to a secret underwater compound, her life takes a thrilling turn she never saw coming.

Meet Shotgun, a spy in training, surrounded by a motley crew of recruits, each harboring their own secrets. As they embark on their first mission, the stakes couldn't be higher—a hostage rescue operation deep within enemy territory. A terrorist organization, shrouded in secrecy, threatens to unleash chaos.

With her fellow recruits by her side, Shotgun must navigate the murky waters of espionage, where nothing is as it seems. Friendships, rivalries, and mysteries abound. Will they trust each other enough to complete their mission, or will the shadows of doubt tear them apart?

In a world where everyone has a past, and loyalties shift like quicksilver, Shotgun must rise to the challenge and become the agent she was meant to be. Armed with three exceptional weapons straight out of science fiction—a bulletproof suit, invisibility camouflage, and a bio-locked laser pistol—their mission promises to be straight from a spy movie.

But beneath the action and adventure lies a deeper tale of redemption, belonging, and the pursuit of purpose. Follow Brooke's transformation from an ordinary woman into a secret agent, navigating a complex web of espionage and alliances.

As the mission unfolds, secrets are unveiled, rivalries intensify, and Brooke's journey into the shadows becomes a gripping tale of survival, courage, and the bonds that can form even in the darkest of times.

"Three Good Weapons" is an electrifying spy thriller filled with suspense, mystery, and a cast of intriguing characters. Dive into this world of secrets, loyalty, and espionage, where nothing is as it seems, and the shadows conceal both danger and opportunity. Are you ready to unveil the truth?

🔵 Chapter 1

1 - Before

 Brooke Woods pulled an earbud away and tapped it three
times with a blunt fingernail. The static vanished as quickly as it had begun,
and she resumed her position outside the conference room, hands behind her
back, eyes fixed on the internal door directly in front of her. She was in the
private Hamptons home of her boss, a popular and likeable politician with an
equally likeable family: a wife who came from a respectable background, and two
kids, one boy, one girl, with wide smiles and sandy-blond hair. The kind of
family you’d expect to see on a billboard advertising toothpaste or summer

Even the most well-respected politicians needed
bodyguards though, and that’s where Brooke came in. She was good at what she
did. She’d passed police training at the top of her class, the only recruit to
never miss a target on the firing range, but after seven years in the force,
she started to stagnate. She’d needed a change of direction and that’s when an
opening in the personal bodyguard route had presented itself. When she first
met Johnny Stobbart, his hand gripped hers a little too lightly, the handshake
lasting longer than would’ve generally been considered respectable, while he
assessed her suitability for the role. There was nothing controlling about the
gesture, nothing sinister or improper, it was simply his way. Johnny Stobbart
was a good judge of character, and when he liked someone, he welcomed them into
his extended family. He showed them respect and he demanded respect in return.

Brooke never questioned her employer’s orders—Johnny
paid her to guard him with her life, and that’s what she did—but something
about this meeting he currently held didn’t sit right with her. For starters, there
was no provided list of attendees. It was a little unorthodox to host a meeting
in his private home but not unheard of, only this time, his family wasn’t there,
his wife had a full calendar of social events that she was unwilling to renege
on, and the children were at school.

Several chauffeur-driven limousines had delivered the
guests to the Stobbart residence earlier in the day. Brooke had waited
discreetly in the background while Johnny greeted them with hearty handshakes
and pats on the back, a team of bodyguards surrounding the porch, another surveillance
team scrutinizing video footage of the grounds from the safety of an
underground room.

Everything was as it should be.

Everyone, including Brooke, was in position, fulfilling
their duties to protect their employer and his very important guests.

Until she heard the static in the earpiece. It rang
alarm bells in her head, but before she could contact the team positioned
around the property and grounds, she caught a glimpse of movement outside the
window to the left of the elegant room in which she was standing.

“Jerry,” Brooke whispered into the mouthpiece.
“Movement outside the drawing room.”

More static filtered through the earbud, making it
impossible to hear the response.


The door on the opposite side of the room opened, and
a man appeared. He wore a black suit and dark, wraparound sunglasses. During
police training, Brooke learned to assess the situation before reacting—shooting
a weapon too soon was as dangerous as shooting too late, and placed her, and
her entire team in danger—but even so, her gun was raised, and a bullet had
disarmed the unexpected visitor before his shiny, black shoe crossed the

Ignoring the frantic, tinny voice in her ear, and the
commotion behind the locked door of the conference room, Brooke opened fire on
a second man in a black suit before aiming a bullet through the skull of the
man who was already on the ground.

She removed another weapon from a holster slung around
her hips. Her role was to protect Johnny Stobbart, which meant that, until
backup arrived, she wouldn’t leave her station in front of the door.

With a clear view of the room facing her, Brooke saw
blood spatters on the pale, ivory carpet. She noticed the vibrations from the
overhead chandelier, the shadows crossing the room as it was surrounded by the
uninvited guests swarming the grounds, the tiny, pink Barbie shoe belonging to
Johnny’s daughter on the floor beneath the antique dresser.

Another door opened, and Brooke shot the first man she
saw in the forehead. She fired bullet after bullet, each shot reaching its
target, but there were too many of them, they kept coming, and she knew it was
only a matter of time before she ran out of ammunition, or one of them got
lucky and fired the bullet that would end her life.

Pain exploded in her right shoulder. Brooke blinked,
tiny silver stars spiraling in front of her eyes, but still she kept firing,
protecting her employer, knowing that any moment now, the rest of her team
would show up, get Johnny Stobbart to safety, call the cops….

Brooke was still holding both weapons when the bullet
entered her chest. White-hot pain … heavy footsteps … voices she didn’t
recognize. She tried opening her eyes … she needed to keep the target in sight
… protect Johnny.

Then everything went black.


Johnny didn’t visit her in the hospital.

The bullet had somehow missed her vital organs, but
she was staring at white walls for two weeks while the wounds healed. The
cracked ribs would take longer, but Brooke didn’t care about broken bones. The
cops came to take a statement from her once the drugs had worn off, and her
memories were lucid. Brooke couldn’t tell them who’d been present that day; she
couldn’t describe the men who’d attacked her; she couldn’t even tell them how
it had gone so horribly wrong. Johnny managed to escape unhurt. They wouldn’t
give her any more information other than that. They had leads to follow.

“Thank you, ma’am, you’ve been most helpful.” The cop
didn’t even look her in the eye when the lie tripped off his tongue.

She didn’t want to be the kind of patient who stared
at the door of her hospital room waiting for a visitor to come in with a broad
smile, some glossy magazines, and a bunch of grapes. So, she stared out the
window instead, replaying the events of that day in her head, over and over,
trying to figure out what had happened, and what else she could’ve done to
prevent it. The cops had assured her that Johnny Stobbart was safe, thanks to

It wasn’t enough.

Then the day Brooke was discharged, a nurse came in
holding a huge basket wrapped in cellophane. “This is for you,” she said,
placing it on top of the wheeled trolley beside the plastic jug of tepid water.

The basket contained apples, pears, a prickly
pineapple, shiny cherries, and a fat cactus in a pretty, pale-green pot. The enclosed
card read:

Thank you for everything.

I want you to take some time out, heal, think, grow.

I’m repaying the favor.

Johnny S.

Brooke scrunched up the card and tossed it into the
trashcan. She took home the basket of fruit and sat it on the end of the
counter in the gleaming kitchen that she rarely used. She named the cactus
Thorn and sat it on the coffee table in the living room. Then she sat on the black
leather sofa and stared at it.

She didn’t want to take time out. She enjoyed her job.
To Brooke, time out meant time to think, and time to think meant the images in
her head that she kept buried beneath hard work and focus would resurface, and
she wasn’t ready to face them. She might never be ready, and she was okay with
that too.

Despite the lack of care and attention Brooke gave to Thorn,
it thrived. And since her refrigerator was empty, she lived on the fruit from
the basket until it ran out, then ordered takeout which she demanded be left
outside the front door so that she didn’t have to interact with the delivery
drivers. The dull ache in her chest persisted, but she forced herself to use
the gym equipment that she’d installed in the basement of her house, pushing
herself on the treadmill, climbing the hills and running the flats, until she achieved
her previous fitness level.

But there was a huge hole in her life shaped like the
responsibilities of taking care of Johnny Stobbart and his family. When they
needed her, her whole world had purpose, but without her demanding job, she was
forced to note that a lot of the time the sky was gray, and the news was filled
with depressing information from all over the planet.

Not only that. Each morning when she woke on the sofa
with the room bathed in gray sunlight from the large picture windows, she fought
off the childhood memories, determined not to let them back in, not after all
this time.

Brooke started doing stomach crunches, gritting her
teeth against the pain in her chest. The images tried to interrupt the numbers
in her head as she counted, flashes of her mom picking herself up off the
floor, the bruising already turning purple black around her eye as she smiled
at her daughter. “It’s all right, honey, Mommy’s all right.”

The voice in her head, trembling with controlled rage
and fear, interrupted the counting. Brooke leaped to her feet, downed a glass
of water, wiped her face with a towel and started again.

Several days later—Brooke lost count—she’d almost
reached five hundred crunches in one session when there was a buzz at the door.

She froze, the sound echoing inside her head.

Grabbing her gun, Brooke tiptoed on silent feet toward
the front door, and peered through the peephole. She hadn’t ordered food, and
no one else had ever been inside her house. There was no one there, but the buzz
was still hanging in the still air of the living room.

Brooke opened the door a crack. No one. She was about
to close it again when she spotted the midnight-black envelope on the doorstep.

Eyes narrowed, Brooke stepped out and over the mail,
peering left and right along the empty street before picking it up and going
back inside, closing the door behind her. Leaning back against the door, she
turned the envelope over and saw her name printed in plain gold font on the
front. She slid her finger inside the seal, tearing it carefully, and pulled
out a sheet of crisp white paper, almost as thick as card. The wording was
written in several different languages, but one word—the one printed at the top
of the note—was in English. It said simply: Invitation.

Brooke fetched a notepad, a pen, and her laptop, and
spread the note on the coffee table. She recognized the backward lettering of
the Greek and Russian alphabets. She saw the strange squiggles peculiar to the
Chinese language, and kanji used by Japanese. Using a translation app on her
laptop, she translated the words to English, but it wasn’t until she had a page
filled with words that made no sense, that Brooke realized that not only was
the note written in four different languages, but it was also encrypted to make
it even more difficult.

Intrigued, she fetched a glass of water and some
leftover pepperoni pizza from the kitchen and set to work decoding the message.
It was something that she’d enjoyed in college—solving puzzles—but this was
like nothing she’d ever seen before.

It was dark when Brooke finally leaned back against
the sofa, the solved message in her hands. It was from a group who called
themselves Horus. There was a brief description of the ancient Egyptian deity
Horus who took the form of a falcon, whose right eye was the sun, and his left
eye the moon. The message then went on to say that Horus had been watching her.
Brooke instinctively glanced at the window, wishing she’d installed blinds when
she moved in; all she saw now was her hazy reflection peering back at her from above
the coffee table, and beyond that only blackness. Still, she didn’t get up to
check if anyone was outside.

Because the next sentence contained the personal
details of her mom’s illness before she died. All her efforts to erase the
images of her mom, so fragile and tiny, swallowed by the hospital bed and the
tubes that kept her alive came flooding back. How did they know about this? Brooke’s
instincts were screaming at her to tear the note to shreds, set fire on it, and
flush the bits down the hole, but instead, she continued reading.

The mission of Horus was to end fighting and bloodshed
around the globe and restore world peace. Brooke let out a snort when she read
that—they weren’t exactly doing a great job right now. They were looking for
people with extraordinary talents and special skillsets, and this was an
invitation for her to join them.

Brooke shoved the notepad aside, went to the kitchen,
and opened a bottle of red wine. She rarely drank. She didn’t like the feeling
of not being in control of her thoughts and actions, but tonight … tonight was
different. Sipping the dark liquid from a slender-stemmed glass in the kitchen,
she stared out the back window at the solid blanket of darkness surrounding her

This might simply be a hoax, albeit an elaborate one; someone
had gone to a lot of trouble to encrypt the message if this were nothing more
than a prank. But the envelope had her name on it, and how did she explain what
they knew about her mom?

Her thoughts wandered back to Johnny Stobbart and her
enforced leave of absence. She had no idea when—or even if—she would
return to work as the politician’s bodyguard, and what happened the night still
playing on her mind. She couldn’t shake the thought that her employer was
somehow involved in the attack, and this was simply his way of keeping her out
of the picture and ensuring her silence.

She swallowed a mouthful of wine and went back to the
living room. Picking up the note, she read the final part of the message. If
she was willing to join Horus, she must say the code phrase aloud. What did she
have to lose?

Shaking her head at the bizarre situation, Brooke said
loudly, “I yearn to gaze upon the blazing sun. I want to know what secrets the
sky falcon holds.”

She tossed the note back onto the coffee table and
raised the glass of wine to her lips as something sharp pricked the side of her
neck. Instinctively, she raised her fingers to the pain and found a tiny dart
protruding from the skin moments before the room began to spin as she sank to
the floor.

🔵 Chapter 2

Chapter 2 - Present Day

of vibrant fish shot through the water, their exotic colors bouncing off the
glass walls of the underwater compound. Shotgun gazed at the blue expanse
before her.

She’d lost track of how long she’d been
here. The first few days following her arrival were nothing but a blur—new
recruits were drugged during transfer to ensure their location remained a
secret, and although she didn’t realize it at the time, she must’ve still been
under the influence of some form of mild drug when presented with an actual
paper form to sign confirming her willingness to join Horus.

The woman had been short and wiry, gray
hair secured in a tight bun at the back of her head giving her an air of
efficiency and discipline. She’d told Brooke things about her previous employer
that she didn’t want to know, had confirmed what Brooke already suspected, that
the attack resulting in her hospitalization had been orchestrated by the
politician himself, and that she had already been replaced by another team of
bodyguards, all males. There’d been no pressure to sign. Brooke vaguely
recalled asking what would happen if she refused and was told that she would
simply wake up in her own home, all traces of the encrypted invitation erased
along with her memory.

She’d signed on the dotted line with an
old-fashioned, gold-nibbed fountain pen.

Brooke Woods no longer existed. She was
now known only as Shotgun.

Horus recruited individuals with no
family connections, those people for whom it would be easy to simply disappear.
At first, she’d wondered if anyone missed her, but quickly realized that there
was no point looking backward. She’d made her choice. This was her life now, an
endless round of training: firearm practice, fitness lessons, teambuilding, psychological
tests, and the kind of sensory deprivation trials employed by the Special Armed
Forces to mentally prepare their teams for capture by the enemy.

Shotgun hadn’t been outside since her
arrival at Island Base. None of the recruits had. She hadn’t seen the sky or
walked along the sidewalk; she hadn’t breathed air that wasn’t artificially filtered
and regulated; she hadn’t felt the change in temperature that accompanied the different
seasons. There were common rooms in which they spent what little leisure time
they had, but mostly she kept to herself, preferring not to get too close to
her teammates. The walls were made of glass, filled with sea creatures the
likes of which she’d only ever seen on TV before, and she assumed the base was underwater.
Either that or they built the compound within an enormous aquarium. It was
therapeutic though, watching the fish darting back and forth, their neon colors
zipping through the water like shooting stars. Calming after the endless hours
of physical combat and gunfire practice.

“My bet’s on Shotgun.” The voice reached
her from another corner of the room. She peered around to find three young men,
heads together, waiting for the results of their latest activity. Each day they
trained all morning, broke for lunch, then took part in a challenge that was
scored, the accumulated results posted on a large screen at the end of the day.
For some, the scoreboard was encouraging. For others however, Shotgun
understood that it must be disheartening to constantly see your name lingering
somewhere near the bottom. But even though she didn’t wholly approve of the process,
she kept her opinion to herself.

“Nu-huh, not this time,” another man
said. “Rifle has this one in the bag.”

Rifle and Shotgun had been star-players
from the start, their names generally topping the scoreboard for each challenge
they faced. It meant that the two women were rivals rather than friends, and the
other recruits had even started taking wagers on them. Shotgun paid little
attention to the banter, but from what she’d gleaned from snippets of overheard
conversations, the two women had the group equally divided.

Someone jostled her shoulder, and
Shotgun glanced up at Revolver. He was tall, lanky, with olive skin, thick,
black hair, and a Latin American accent. “Ready?” He gestured to the large
screen on the wall. “I think I might’ve snatched this crown right out from
under your noses.” Despite being physically and mentally pushed to their limits
since joining Horus, Revolver’s smile never wavered; it was almost as if he’d
been specially chosen to give the rest of the group an injection of morale whenever
they needed it.

Shotgun’s gaze settled on Rifle who was
watching the screen from across the room, arms folded across her chest. Physically,
the two women were well-matched, but that was where the similarities ended.
Shotgun was blond, with gray eyes and pale skin, while Rifle was dark-skinned
with brown eyes and a mane of black hair which, when set free, puffed around
her head like a halo. Rifle’s loud voice could often be heard from the common
room, while Shotgun rarely made conversation with anyone. There was a scar on
the back of Rifle’s left shoulder which Revolver touched once, resulting in him
almost getting a broken jaw. Despite the rivalry though, Shotgun believed that
if they were ever in danger, she could trust Rifle with her life.

A hologram appeared against a dark
backdrop. A familiar presentation began. A white screen lit up with the
agency’s logo—a modern Egyptian Eye of Horus—followed by photos of their base.
Shotgun was no expert in video editing, but the presentations always seemed
off; the transitions between slides were abrupt and stilted, and the background
music had a strangely oppressive feel, like a Soviet Union anthem, and she had
the urge once again to stand to attention.

The sound of the trainer’s authoritative
voice reverberated through the speakers, his eyes scanning the group from the
screen like a hawk examining a field mouse for body fat. This was the man they
knew only as Trainer. Even though he could still see the recruits, Shotgun’s
shoulders visibly relaxed whenever Trainer wasn’t physically present in the
room. He watched them too closely, especially the women, and although she’d
never heard him raise his voice, his tone sent faint shivers down her spine.
Serpent was the word that sprang to mind whenever she saw Trainer. She wondered
if the other recruits felt the same. There had been many occasions when she
caught him watching her instead of paying attention to other recruits, and even
when she stared him out, daring him to look away, she was always the one who
averted her gaze first.

All around her, the others shifted their
weight from one foot to the other. No punishment was delivered for failing to
complete a challenge, they were simply required to try again until they
mastered the task, but the fear of incurring Trainer’s anger was real, a
tangible thing that they could reach out and touch whenever the scores were

The activity they’d just completed was
one of negotiation. They’d each been tasked with obtaining information from
someone posing as the wife of a terrorist … without the woman’s knowledge.
Shotgun had worked with the gray-haired woman who’d greeted her with her
consent papers when she arrived, and although she’d felt relatively comfortable
with the woman, interaction wasn’t her strongest point. She’d always struggled
to make friends, even as a child, missing social cues, and misunderstanding the
nuances of light-hearted banter. Now, her heart raced as Trainer clicked
through the slides to reveal each student’s score. She would never admit it to
Rifle, but this healthy rivalry made her even more determined to prove herself,
so when her name crept into first place, she allowed herself a small fist pump.
She had no idea how she’d managed it, but she wasn’t complaining.

“Congratulations to our winner,”
Trainer’s clipped voice sliced the air. He was looking directly at Shotgun, a
twitch appearing in the corners of his mouth as though suppressing a smile. He
was also enjoying the rivalry, perhaps a little too much.

Shotgun wanted to speak to Rifle. She’d
have wagered money herself on Rifle winning this challenge, and part of her was
beginning to wonder if the scores might even be rigged in one or the other’s
favor to keep the competition alive.

But before she could move, Rifle saluted
her, and said, “Congratulations. Enjoy it while you can because glory comes
with a price tag.” Then she turned around and walked out of the room without a
backward glance.

Revolver grinned at Shotgun. “Sibling
rivalry. It’s really quite adorable. Rather reminds me of a couple of thugs I
knew from my first job fresh out of college. They were always at each other’s

Shotgun widened her eyes at him. A
warning. “You know we’re not supposed to discuss anything from before.” She
didn’t fully understand the reason behind it, but she guessed it was because
they were different people now, and their past lives should remain exactly
that: in the past.

“Oh, honey, you do take everything so
seriously. Maybe one day, we’ll be sitting underneath a wide umbrella on a
gloriously sandy beach, sipping cocktails, and discussing this very moment as
our past.” Shotgun opened her mouth and closed it again, unsure how to respond.
“It’s okay, I get it. One day at a time, huh? But if I’m right, and that beach
becomes reality, I’ll have a dirty martini.”

🔵 Chapter 3


rest of the day passed quickly. With the daily challenge over, the recruits
were free to choose their own activities, and Shotgun practiced her sniping
skills, honing her technique using the advice that Rifle had given her shortly
after she arrived.

Before she’d joined Horus, Shotgun had
kept her mind and body active to avoid the thoughts scrambling for attention
inside her head, but now, as she found her body becoming more capable, her
muscles reflexively reacting to the physical activities imposed upon them, she
relished the quiet time to reflect on her teammates’ histories rather than her

It was a given that no one there had
families back home to worry about them, no one to go to the cops and put out a
‘Missing Persons’ notice, no one to come looking. They all brought their own
skills to the table too. But more than this, she believed that each of them had
suffered some hardship or trauma that had molded them into the people they were
now and driven them to accept the invitation to join Horus.

Revolver’s earlier comment about sibling
rivalry made her wonder now if he’d lost a brother or sister when he was
younger. She and Rifle had been pushed together during the early stages of
their training because Trainer had realized that a little healthy competition
would fuel their determination to excel, but Shotgun had made no attempts to befriend
anyone else at Island Base. Revolver had somehow infiltrated their relationship
to create this small group of three, by sheer refusal to accept Shotgun’s blunt
responses and Rifle’s attitude. The guy was persistent. He was also impossible not
to like. In fact, he was so nice, so accommodating and approachable, that she
wondered if people had taken advantage of this in the past.

It dawned on her that perhaps he’d been
bullied as a child. Kids could be cruel. If he was as sensitive then as he was
now, he might’ve been singled out for being vulnerable; bullies were often
cowards, which was why they picked on those weaker than themselves.

Rifle, however, had the kind of
personality that filled a room. She’d take no one’s shit. Yet she’d chosen
Horus over whatever she’d left behind, and that was where Shotgun struggled
with piecing together her backstory. Was she in trouble? Were the cops after
her? Her rival had so much self-control that it was difficult to imagine her being
led astray, but Shotgun knew as well as anyone that when times were hard,
people’s actions were often extreme and out-of-character. Self-preservation.
She’d joined the police force for the same reason; perhaps Rifle had been
pointed in the opposite direction at some point in her life.

Shotgun didn’t know what made her wander
down to the common room after their evening meal. She’d avoided it as much as
possible until now, but winning today’s challenge had come as a surprise, and
she was starting to question the integrity of the scores they were presented
with. She had originally planned to sneak down to the out-of-bounds lower
levels—she wanted to check out the underwater port and a crack in one of the
walls that she’d discovered on a previous unplanned walkabout—but perhaps it
was time to get to know her teammates better. Knowing they’d all been personally
headhunted she was compelled to understand why. Why had Trainer elected to pit
the two of them against each other? It occurred to her then that Rifle was
exactly the kind of person who’d be interested in exploring the sections of the
base that were labeled ‘out of bounds’ with her. She knew exactly what the
other woman would say: They can’t stop us. We’re not goddammed teenagers!
Shotgun had already figured out the guard rotation, but there was still an
expansive area she hadn’t yet been able to reach surrounding the underwater
docking station. Getting closer would require two people, and who better to
help her than her rival?

The competition didn’t faze her; not
knowing where it would end was the problem. Perhaps, for this reason alone, it
would be better to get to know her teammates even just a little.

A few recruits greeted Shotgun with a
smile and a nod when she entered. She noticed two guys in one corner of the
room, deep in concentration, playing chess on a board with simple black and
white pieces. Some were reading—the bookcase in the common room was filled with
books, mostly old classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great
, and Pride and Prejudice. Shotgun would read them if she
could take them back to her room where she would lose herself to fictional
worlds created by the authors without worrying about being caught unaware.
Music played throughout invisible speakers—Shotgun placed it as, The Mystery
of You
by Spencer Day after thinking on the tune.

Revolver peered at her from over the top
of a Marvel comic and flashed her a charming grin.

A young woman with hair dyed Barbie-pink,
was French braiding the long, blond hair of another recruit. Sitting at the
same table, but oblivious to the styling session taking place, was Rifle. She
had a notepad and pen and was scribbling notes, one arm curled around her work
for privacy. Was she keeping a diary, or a record of the challenges they took
part in?

Intrigued, Shotgun made a beeline for
Rifle, pulled out the seat next to her and sat down. “What are you doing?” she

“Minding my own business.” Rifle barely
glanced at her.

“Where did you get a pen and paper

Rifle’s eyes met hers. Her skin was
smooth, unblemished, and her eyes were clear like she got a full eight hours’
sleep at night, yet there was an air of experience in the way she interacted
with the other recruits during activities. Shotgun wondered how old she was but
didn’t ask.

“I asked for them,” Rifle said, like she
was stating the obvious. “It’s not that hard. But if you don’t ask, you don’t

Now that she’d approached Rifle outside
of the training complex, Shotgun didn’t know what to say. They were forbidden
from talking about their past life, and a quick glance at the blinking red
lights in the corner of the ceiling confirmed that speaking about Trainer would
most likely result in a disciplinary warning of some kind. She’d never enjoyed
gossip. In high school she would watch the other girls huddled around the
lockers whispering about their latest crush, or cut their eyes at anyone
walking past who didn’t fit in with their social group like they were the
center of their own universe and no one else counted. And she’d be grateful
that she didn’t have to contribute to conversations where someone invariably
ended up getting hurt. So, she didn’t want to gossip about Trainer. She simply
wanted to understand Rifle’s thoughts on how their training was going.

“Today’s challenge,” she said, testing
the water.

Rifle’s pen hovered above the paper.
“What about it?”

“I…” She knew she had to choose her
words carefully; she didn’t want anything twisted out of context and repeated
to Trainer, and even though she would trust her teammates to watch her back on
a mission, she didn’t trust them not to try knocking her off her pedestal if
the opportunity arose. “I was surprised you didn’t score highest.”

The pink-haired recruit stopped braiding
momentarily, her eyes fixed on the back of the other woman’s head, before she
began twisting strands of hair around her fingers again.

“Yeah, well, either you catch on real
quick or Trainer’s finger slipped when he was typing in those numbers.”

Shotgun frowned. Rifle had a way of
speaking that meant most of what she said could be construed in multiple ways.
Was she hinting that she thought the scores were being manipulated too, or was
she simply being the bigger person, determined to try even harder to beat her
rival’s score next time? Shotgun wished that she could pick up on social cues
more easily, but it had never been her strong point and she’d had no one to
learn from.

Just then, a young man who looked like
he was barely out of college but must’ve been recruited for his ability to wield
a knife, stood up, toppling over the small table containing the chess board and
let out a roar that made everyone in the room freeze.

The hairs on the back of Shotgun’s neck
prickled. What was he doing?

He went to the elevator at the rear of
the common room and hit the button.

“Oh damn,” Rifle muttered under her

They were all told during their initial
briefing the elevators were out of bounds. Trainer and his assistants made it
quite clear that if they attempted to leave the building without written
consent, they would be punished accordingly. They didn’t elaborate on the form
of punishment, but Shotgun still remembered the way Trainer had looked at each
of them in turn with cold eyes, daring them to question the rules. She could
almost hear his slightly accented voice: Go on, I dare you.

No one moved. The kid looked all around
the common room, dark smudges under his eyes, his cheeks gaunt, collarbones
protruding above the neckline of his uniform. He almost seemed to be waiting
for someone to stop him.

Without warning, Rifle stood up and
crossed the room. “Dude, come away from the elevator,” she said.

The man shook his head, his bottom lip trembling
like he was about to cry. “No. I’m getting out of here. I-I can’t stay. I-I
just can’t…”

“Hey.” Rifle reached for his hand, her
voice softening, but he snatched it away. “Look, I want to help, okay? Whatever
you’re feeling right now, it’ll pass. I bet every one of us here has wanted to
get the hell out of this place at some point. Am I right?” She glanced around
the room for backup. Some nodded, and there were a few murmurs of yeah, sure.

The young man shook his head again. “I
don’t want to be here. I need to get outside before I lose my mind.” He sunk to
his knees then and wrapped his arms around his head, rocking back and forth, soft
groaning sounds emitting from him.

Rifle glanced across the room at Shotgun
and widened her eyes. Shotgun stood up. Whatever was going on with the guy, they
were all in this together, and they needed to get him back to his room before
Trainer found out what was going on.

She was halfway across the room, all
eyes on the man on the floor, when the elevator door opened, and Trainer
appeared, flanked by two women wearing white uniforms and clear plastic visors
over their faces. They looked like they were about to lead someone down to
theater and perform surgery on them, and another shiver traveled down Shotgun’s
spine. This situation was escalating way out of control. Surely, they could see
the guy needed help.

“Get him out of here,” Trainer said.

Shotgun’s eyes involuntarily flitted to
the sensors in the ceiling. He’d watched the whole scene pan out, of course he
had. For the first time since she’d arrived, Shotgun had a fleeting moment of fear
that her life was no longer her own. Sure, she’d solved the riddle on the note
that was delivered to her, she’d spoken the words out loud, and signed on the
dotted line of the consent form, but she didn’t sign up for a jail sentence.

“Wait!” Rifle interjected as the two white-coated
women reached down to grab the young man’s arms. “What are you doing?”

Trainer faced her, his movements stilted
as always as though he suffered severe neck pain. “You were all told not to
touch the elevator. You were warned that breaking the rules would incur

The accent… Trainer rarely saw them in
person, most of his instructions delivered via screens in the training complex,
and Shotgun tried now to figure out where he was from. Was it Eastern European
maybe? She’d never traveled to Europe and couldn’t be certain.

“Take me,” Rifle said, and Shotgun
gasped. “I pressed the button.” Rifle kept her eyes on Trainer. She stood with
her legs planted squarely on the ground, hands on hips, daring him to question
her confession.

His expression didn’t waver. Instead, he
turned to Shotgun and said, “You. Tell me who called the elevator.”

Shotgun looked at the man on the floor.
He was still rocking back and forth, and she wondered if he was losing his mind
in the claustrophobic confines of Island Base. It happened. It took
determination and willpower to remain focused when you were deprived of
daylight and contact with the outside world—they’d even learned about it as a
form of torture during their Horus training—and she was starting to think that
he wouldn’t complete the course even if they didn’t punish him today. But Rifle
would. She didn’t understand why the woman was trying to save him when he was
clearly mentally unstable. Besides, Trainer already knew the truth, and if she
went along with Rifle’s ploy, they would both be in trouble. Better to risk losing
one youth who needed to go home, than to jeopardize both their positions. They
were here to save the world; one man was collateral damage.

“It was him.” Shotgun nodded at the man
on the floor, whose groans grew louder. “Rifle tried to stop him.”

The woman glared at her, but Shotgun
raised her chin. She’d made her decision based on what was best for the team
and for Horus, and she wasn’t afraid to stand by it.

The two masked women grabbed the youth’s
arms and hoisted him onto his feet. It was as if a switch had been flicked.
Realizing his precarious situation, he struggled to free himself, bracing his
feet against the elevator door and twisting his body around so that the door
wouldn’t close.

“Where are you taking him?” Rifle
yelled. “Give the guy a chance to speak. What the hell, Trainer! All he did was
press a button—”

Trainer pressed a device against the
young man’s neck, and his body crumpled, the elevator door shutting them in.


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