Please welcome award winning author Stephanie Osborn to the blog today. Billing herself as the “the Interstellar Woman of Mystery” she has been a real life rocket scientist and is the author, co-author, or contributor to more than thirty books including a number of science fiction mysteries. Today she shares an excerpt from her new book, Division One, available in both print and eBook. Dr. Megan McAllister, aka Omega, and her experienced partner, Echo, handle everything from lost alien children to extraterrestrial assassination attempts and more.
Division One Excerpt
“I don’t get it,” said Romeo from his seat in the training observation room. “Y’all didn’t put ME through all this testing crap. Creativity testing and obstacle courses and puzzles an’ junk. I know we’re shorthanded an’ all, but...what gives? It’d be way simpler an’ quicker to just put her through the old testing.”
“We’re getting ready to start up a new department,” answered Fox, across the small conference table from Romeo; next to the younger agent sat his new partner, India. “Echo’s already agreed to head it up, while you were laid up with the leg. Good to see you off the crutches, by the way.”
“Damn good to be off ‘em. Still hobblin’ around a little, but that’ll go away eventually; ‘s why I’m keepin’ a cane handy for a while. So tell me about this new department. If you can, yet.”
“I can. It’ll be a kind of combination SWAT team and commando unit. Teams from this department will take the point whenever we have the really dangerous situations—the interstellar terrorists, the galactic invasions, things like that. We think, with her background, she may have what it takes to make it in this department. We sure as hell can’t send her back where she came from. She seems intrigued by the idea, at least. And no family complications to worry about. Single, only child, birth family gone in a car accident.”
“But, Fox, what if she can’t hang?”
“I don’t know yet, Romeo. We’ll cross that bridge—”
“We won’t have to,” interrupted Echo, coming into the testing observation room and moving past the table around which the others were seated, directly to the observing window. “She’ll make it.”
“But how do you know?” asked Romeo. “‘Got a feeling’?”
“Yup. Same one I had about you, junior.”
“WELL, the lady’ll hang, then.” Romeo sat back in his chair, satisfied.
“Damn,” muttered India.
Echo shot her a hard look, then returned his attention to the observation window overlooking the course.
“Have we started yet?”
“No,” Fox answered. “We’re still getting set up. And we were waiting for you.”
“I’m here. Let’s get rolling.”
“Done.” Fox hit a button on an adjacent control console.
Romeo, Echo, and India watched as the observation window, as well as a hooded monitor on the command console, showed several aliens of various types entering the obstacle course. Romeo gasped as he recognized a Betelgeusian giant arachnoid, possessing, by his estimate, a good fourteen-or fifteen-foot leg span—accompanied by several Division One agents sporting flamethrowers, lasers, blasters, and disintegrator rifles, entering the course. Two heavily-armed guards in black armor moved into position at the entrance. Romeo and India noticed then, with a shock, that they were FACING the course, as if the concern was from something inside.
“Hope she’s not afraid of spiders,” Echo remarked offhandedly.
“Hope she’s not afraid of death,” Romeo murmured to India. “Shit.”
* * *
Megan came into the observation room just then. She was wearing black workout leggings and sports-bra top, but the rest of her attire was somewhat odd: menswear-style black lace-up dress shoes, a black tie, a dress leather belt, and a pair of the special goggles-cum-sunglasses strapped to one hip. An unusual device, like a large plastic bangle bracelet, was fastened around her right ankle. Sensors attached to her head and torso connected to a small transmitter pack on her back. Echo met her and led her to the command console.
“All right, Megan,” Fox began, waving a hand at the view in the monitor, which now only depicted a door and two guards, “this is the obstacle course. When you go through that door,” he pointed to the image of the guarded door on the monitor, “you will enter the first of a series of six rooms, each of which has various...impediments...to your progress. Your objective is simply to reach the exit of room six as quickly as possible. The tracking device on your ankle will enable us to monitor your progress. You may make use of anything on your person, as well as anything you find along the course. In addition, you may select from one—and only one—of the items on this side table.”
Megan eyed the monitor display in detail before Fox led her over to the table. On it was an eclectic collection of items: a Phillips-head screwdriver, a small glass bottle, a pair of wire cutters, a coil of rope, a pen knife, a jar of cheese spread, a pocket-sized Winchester & Tesla Mark II death ray, a packet of facial tissues, and a chocolate bar.
Megan was in no rush. She scanned the table carefully, considering, as the four Division One agents watched. She looked herself up and down, fingering the items she already carried. Echo watched as she flipped over the tie and checked to see what was on the label. He smiled inwardly, pleased as he followed her mental processes, realizing he understood how she thought. Finally she reached out, picked up the pen knife, and clipped it to the belt at her waist.
Echo raised an eyebrow in carefully-hidden surprise and looked at Fox, who returned his gaze unemotionally. Romeo and India watched the whole scene in amazement.
“Ready, then?” Fox asked Megan.
“As I’ll ever be.”
“All right. Follow me.”
As Fox led Megan out, Echo turned to the console, put on a headset, and began entering commands. Romeo and India walked up to the observation window, and Echo hit a button. Blast shutters on the window began to close.
“Sorry, kids. Can’t watch this one; you’ll have to go through this yourselves soon enough.”
“Oh, joy,” India muttered.
“You can monitor her progress on this schematic.” Echo hit another sequence of commands, and a panel opened on the wall. It showed the layout of six variously-shaped, interconnected rooms, a number on each room.
“How are you gonna evaluate her if you can’t see what she’s doing?” Romeo asked him, as he and India sat back down at the table, across from the schematic.
“I didn’t say Fox and I couldn’t watch. I’ve been through it. You haven’t. Yet.”
Fox re-entered the room. “She’s ready, Echo.”
“All right, then.” Echo handed Fox another headset, then keyed the microphone switch. “Megan? GO!”
* * *
The door opened, but Megan was in no hurry to charge through it. Any obstacle course that had a funky-looking little weapon like that strange pocket-sized ray gun as one of the equipment options was not one into which she intended to go running headlong. Let alone the armed guards stationed around it. So she eased around the left side of the doorframe, surveying the room from the threshold.
How odd, she thought, as she scanned the room; it looks like an ordinary study: hardwood floors, bookcases lining the walls, cozy fireplace on the far side, with a wing chair and decorative wrought iron side table next to it.
A heavy walnut desk with granite top stood in the center; a lamp and crystal decanter sat on one corner. Waterford crystal, it looks like. An EXPENSIVE study, then.
The door into the next room was in the far wall, to the right of the fireplace.
She stepped forward into the room.
* * *
Romeo and India watched the display as the first block lit up with a big red ‘1.’ Echo and Fox leaned together over the screened closed-circuit monitor.
“She’s in,” Echo observed.
“Aaannd the timers have started,” Fox noted. “Both of ‘em.”
India and Romeo exchanged glances...and thoughts. BOTH of ‘em?
* * *
Megan had taken no more than two steps into the room when she heard a faint, almost inaudible click off to the left. Quickly spinning, she saw bookcase holograms fade away to reveal a blank wall with horizontal slits halfway up. Oh shit, she had just time to think. She dropped flat on the floor as a flurry of projectiles whistled through the space she had occupied fractions of a second before.
Suddenly the fireplace roared, belching a tongue of flame into the room. She rolled to her right, out of its reach, in the barest nick of time. Another projectile barrage opened up. Scanning the room, she swiftly combat-crawled over to and under the desk, where she caught her breath as she analyzed her situation.
* * *
“She actually heard that,” Echo remarked in surprise. “Damn. I knew her ears were pretty sharp, but wow.”
“Pulse, one-twenty and steady; blood pressure, 130 over 90,” Fox read off the sensor readouts. “Respiration, twenty-three. High left hemispheric encephalographic activity. Trigger the plasma jet, Echo.”
Romeo and India spun around and stared in dismay at the two calm men. Plasma jet?!
* * *
A faint whine was the only warning Megan got before the plasma cannon behind the right-hand wall opened up. She crouched farther back, under the desk, until its initial salvo was complete. Then, in a momentary lull between projectile bank, flame-throwing fireplace, and plasma cannon, she reached up with her right hand, over the desktop, and grabbed for the decanter she had seen there. Miraculously, it was unbroken, having been below the level of the projectile barrage. She unstoppered it and sniffed the decanter mouth. Brandy. Perfect. She put on the special glasses.
She timed her next move carefully. In the split-second after the projectile weapons fired, while the plasma cannon built to discharge again, she emerged from her cover and flung the stoppered decanter with all the force and accuracy she could muster, straight at the plasma gun, then she turned and pushed with all her might against the back of the desk.
The desk slid across the polished floor just as the crystal decanter crashed into the now-firing cannon...and exploded. The improvised Molotov cocktail melted the circuitry and ignited the fuel tank, sending a geyser of flame out into the center of the room. But the desk was no longer in the center. Instead, it was now overturned, with its substantial polished granite top largely blocking the flame-throwing fireplace.
Megan held her breath, closed her eyes, and crouched in the desk’s opening until the flames from the plasma cannon subsided and the current round of projectile barrage ceased. Then, slightly singed, she scuttled on elbows and knees behind the wing chair. She overturned the marble-and-iron side table, heedless of the useless trinkets which tumbled off it, and caught it up in her left hand, holding it by the wrought iron pedestal. Using the tabletop as a shield, she moved up into a crouch, ducking behind it when the next round of missiles opened up.
“Aahh! Dammit!” A ricochet off the nearby marble mantelpiece winged her right shoulder. But she had reached the exit door. Still shielding herself with the table, she tapped the door handle warily with her right hand; no booby traps. She opened it; stepped sideways to her right...
* * *
Block 2 of the schematic lit up.
“Pulse, one-thirty and rising; BP, 135 over 92; respiration twenty-five. Hemispheric activity high and equally dominant,” Fox called out.
“Staying calm, thinking fast and getting creative. Great. Fox, did we get the fumes vented properly?” Echo asked, glancing over his shoulder at the two younger agents, so very intent on the largely-blank schematic, with a grin. Good idea Fox had, letting them see only a small part of the test. Ups the ante for ‘em, and gives us a chance to see how THEY react to the pressure.
“Yeah, no problem,” Fox responded. “Didn’t want it building to potentially dangerous levels, anyway.”
* * *
Fumes? What kind of fumes? Romeo and India sat staring, unbelieving, at the schematic while listening to the two men. WE’RE gonna have to go through this?
“How’s she doing?” Echo asked.
“If she maintains this pace, she’ll equal the record,” Fox responded.
“Dayum! Who set it?” exclaimed Romeo.
“I did, about six months ago,” Echo remarked, offhanded, his attention never wavering from the lithe figure going through its paces on the monitor.
* * *
This room was a formal dining room, of all things, complete with chandeliers and elegantly-set banquet table. Funny notions they have about obstacle courses, Megan thought. Whatever she had been expecting, so far this wasn’t it.
Megan discarded the side table and moved cautiously into the room, on the lookout for booby traps now. Her nose caught it first: an acrid, pungent odor. Then she saw the wisps of vapor rising from the floor.
“Acid!” she cried out in horror. The flooring was being eaten away underneath her.
Do they really want to kill me? I didn’t think that Echo-guy would’ve...but at least they would be rid of an eyewitness. Damn. Is this all just a set-up, then? An excuse for knocking me off? I am in such trouble...
An adrenalin-propelled standing leap took her to the near end of the banquet tabletop, irrespective of china and crystal, which tumbled this way and that, shattering. The way out, an open archway, was at the opposite end of the long table, but the opening was far out of reach of her ability to jump. The floor was now out of the question; large holes were starting to appear in it, a bubbling fluid underneath. She looked up.
The row of chandeliers ran almost the entire length of the oblong room, and were of the ornate Victorian candelabra style. Jumping up, Megan caught onto the one overhead and swung on it, tugging, testing. Strong enough, but not far enough, she thought, easing back down to the tabletop. If they only hung a little bit lower...
Abruptly, the table dropped out from under her, lowering by a full six inches, as what was left of the floor gave way. Megan lost her footing and fell, smashing china and sliding across the polished wood, over the edge. Digging her fingernails into the wood, she halted herself, her bent knees mere inches from the acid that now pooled around the bottom of the table. She slowly clawed her way back onto the tabletop. At least now I know how deep the acid is...
Suddenly, she whipped off her tie and belt. She threaded the leather belt through its buckle, making a loop, then used the pen knife to enlarge the last belt notch. Replacing the pen knife securely on her hip, where it clipped to the waistband of her leggings next to the glasses case, she quickly threaded the small end of the silk tie through the hole in the belt and knotted it firmly, jerking it hard to test it. Then she ran to the far end of the tabletop. She didn’t know if it would hold, but there was no time to change her mind. The table legs were starting to disintegrate now.
“Hope the farm skills are still with me,” she muttered as she swung the makeshift lasso.
The leather loop caught a prong of the chandelier, and Megan jerked it tight. Backing up as far as her improvised rope would allow, she made a running start, then swung forward.
No time to check the next room, she thought as she swung through the air. I just hope I hit the door opening straight, or this is gonna hurt bad...
“BANZAI!” she yelled as she reached the top of her arc and let go, flying head-first, arms stretched out in front, hands fisted, through the open doorway.
* * *
“Wow. Nice Superman jump,” Echo noted with a grin.
“Yeah, I liked it too,” Fox agreed, nodding.
Romeo and India just stared at the two men in consternation.
* * *
As soon as she was well through the opening, Megan realized she was in a bad way. Landing hard, she rolled, looked up, and blanched. At the far end of the room crouched a giant, hairy, black spider-like creature, with a leg-spread of at least fifteen feet, in a huge cage. To Megan’s horror, the front of the cage began to slide slowly up.
“Spiders. Dammit. I hate spiders. Why did it have to be spiders?” she muttered.
Stephanie Osborn ©2017
Award-winning author Osborn is a 20+-year space program veteran, with multiple STEM degrees. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 30 books. She currently writes the critically-acclaimed Displaced Detective Series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” and the Gentleman Aegis Series, whose first book was a Silver Falchion winner. She “pays it forward” through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, and working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank. Osborn’s website is http://www.stephanie-osborn.com.