On August 17, 2014, the latest addition to the WEIR CODEX series of books, THE KABUL INCIDENT, will be released. The new novella is a prequel that finally reveals what happened in the ill-fate last mission Designate Cestus was assigned to right before the events of THE CESTUS CONCERN. It also leads directly into the events in WEIR CODEX Book 3, THE CESTUS CORRUPTION, which is due out in November 2014, and is a great jumping on place for new readers to enter the high-octane world of Malcolm Weir.
(Before you check out the story, you can take a look at a preview of the novella’s cover right HERE!)
So sit back, strap yourself in, and be prepared for the ride of your lifetime as you read the first chapter of THE KABUL INCIDENT.
THE KABUL INCIDENT: Preview
Fifteen-thirty hours: Twenty-two Klicks out from Kabul, Afghanistan.
“First time on nanny duty?” The boisterous voice startled Engineer First Grade Scott Brazier out of the wide-mouthed stupor consuming every ounce of his attention since he geared up back in Berlin. The only thing keeping the modestly built, blond-haired man with shining white teeth from being the perfect poster-boy for ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ was the lack of a Japanese made camera strapped around his neck…and, truth be told, Brazier was pretty sure the quartermaster back at Ramstein Air Base had stuck one of those in his pack somewhere. Heck, he had just about everything else jammed into the fifty pound black nylon backpack currently wedged down between his legs.
Bright hazel eyes flashed out from beneath the thin, pale brows that gave little in the way of protection from the harsh Central Asian sun. A half squint finally allowed Brazier to locate the owner of the voice. “Excuse me?” he asked in a way that labeled him one of the few non-military types assigned to the top secret operation deep within the heart of Afghanistan.
The burly soldier seated diagonally across from Brazier in the back of the half-covered armored trooper carrier grinned widely from beneath deep chocolate skin tinged with a hint of redness from the blazing Afghan sun. It took Brazier a second to make the man’s name out—the name tag sewn onto the left breast of his black tactical uniform had come lose, causing the right edge to flap freely in rhythm to the bouncing wheels of the massive vehicle the group rode in.
Gunnery Sergeant Ray Height echoed back, “Nanny duty? Your first time keeping eye on one of the Pinos?”
A quick nod and sideways glance down the row of men seated next to him was all Brazier gave the jovial United States Marine in response. He was already uncomfortable enough with being pulled away from his nice air-conditioned cubicle in Project Hardwired headquarters back in Los Angeles and thrown onto a series of military planes with hard seats and no drink service for thirty-six hours. There was no way he was going to make things worse by telling the hardened soldiers around him that it was the first field operation he’d ever been assigned to.
Signing up for field work had looked good on paper—increased pay, higher likelihood of promotion…and the added boost to his rep back at HQ didn’t hurt. Looking back on things, though, Brazier quickly admitted that the videos and virtual reality sims he’d run through did absolutely nothing to prepare the Springfield, Illinois-native for the heat, the bugs, or the smells that had assaulted him since touchdown two hours earlier.
Leaning down and whispering, Height answered, “Pinocchios…toy boys. You know…” A thick thumb jerked its way towards the rear of the vehicle and a pair of men dressed from head to toe in high tech tactical gear outlandish enough to make James Bond soil his panties. “Designates.”
“Yes. I’ve done monitor duty from remote locations on a number of operations, but this is my first time on the ground.”
“Which one is yours?”
Brazier scrolled his gaze towards the back of the fifteen ton MRAP vehicle and the unusual quartet of men arranged in two rows near its exit hatch. The first two, seated at full attention and seemingly completely unaware of their surroundings, were of no consequence to the government engineer. The large white letters emblazoned across their black helmets and along the upper portions of their equally dark shirt sleeves proclaimed what they were: GMRs of Rho-Team. Nearly mindless automatons in direct control of Project Hardwired’s mainframe and overseen by the boys back in the weapons division. Rho-Four and Rho-Five were grunts, operating under a hive-mind system and had no need for a monitor agent. The third man, a tall, broad-shouldered blond man with wavy hair and a gleaming chrome right eye was more interesting.
Designate Gauss was one of twelve Prime Units created under the auspices of Project Hardwired—the entire reason the project had been formed nearly a year earlier. He was a cybernetic soldier. Hardwired’s executive director, Gordon Kiesling, had often called Gauss and his half-machine brothers the ‘future of warfare,’ and Brazier wasn’t one to disagree with the man who signed his paychecks. Large portion’s of Gauss’s body and brain had been replaced by the sort of cutting-edge technology the common United States citizen assumed was relegated to science fiction novels or Michael Bay movies. The twin, mirror-like metallic arms mounted onto where Gauss’s original human appendages had been, allowed the soldier to generate magnetic fields intense enough to warp steel or even lift a sedan over his head. If the reports Brazier had reviewed were accurate, on a recent mission to Switzerland, Gauss had torn a five ton bank door off its settings. The man, if he could still be called such a thing, was an absolute brute.
In spite of his nearly unfathomable power, Gauss wasn’t Brazier’s focus. The magnetically-enhanced cyborg was under the care of the thin engineer’s field counterpart, Grace Talborg. Seated across from him, Talborg hadn’t looked up from her small computerized tablet once since they had unloaded from the massive military jet that brought them from the civilized world into the heart of dust and improvised explosive devices. The athletic woman with her thick mane of golden, wavy hair, gave every iota of her attention to the constantly scrolling stream of data being sent to her from the computers housed deep within Gauss’s brain. Brazier’s immediate superior back at Project Hardwired, the handsome Jason May, had regaled all the boys in engineering with tales of a stormy late-night liaison with the woman, but he doubted the veracity of such tales. She was beautiful, she was focused, and she was about as warm as a frozen TV dinner.
Brazier had to admit that in spite of the rather enticing way the perspiration flowed down Talborg’s neck and disappeared down into the intriguingly tanned skin peeking out from beneath two unfastened buttons, the thing taking up most of his time and attention since he’d gotten word of his assignment sat with one hand gripping the rear access point of the MRAP and the other hovering just over the trigger of the SCAR-H assault rifle resting across his lap.
Designed as the ultimate urban warrior, Designate Cestus had been created to be a perfect silent killer and assassin. Enhanced strength, speed, and senses were just the tip of the iceberg. The main weapons in the cyborg’s arsenal, aside from the knowledge of every form of armed and unarmed weapon combat his personality had been programmed with, were the twin silver and gun-metal gray mechanical arms surgically grafted to his body. Unlike Gauss, whose arms were highly polished chrome in appearance, the ones merged into Cestus were rougher, sharper, and deadlier in appearance, containing a utility-belt worth of vicious killing implements within that would have made Batman green with envy. Blades, garrotes, pneumatic darts, and more were all housed in the thick cabled machines. From the reports, Cestus’s weapons of choice were the ten-inch, razor-sharp titanium claws his fingers could transform into with a thought. The brown-haired former US Army Ranger enjoyed doing his killing up close and personal.
Eyes the color of frozen blue ice flashed, locking the curious engineer in their sights, nearly startling him out of his seat. Brazier’s face flushed a deep red. Somehow the cyborg had sensed he was being watched. The engineer’s mind ran down the list of abilities Designate Cestus had been given in his upgrade from normal soldier and came up empty with a practical explanation for the detection. A weak smile drew itself across his lips as he tipped his head in greeting to the man he’d be monitoring on the upcoming mission. A dismissive snort from the handsome, rough-hewn face of the super solider was the only response given to Brazier before Cestus returned his attention to the outside.
“Designate Cestus,” Brazier finally answered Height’s question, more than a little unhinged by his interaction with the living weapon he’d been assigned to.
“OOooo…you drew the short straw on this mission, huh?” The comment from the over-sized marine drew a horrified expression from the civilian.
Sergeant Height laughed loud, grabbing the attention of nearly everyone seated in the transport. Only the eyes of the focus of Brazier’s mission, the man codenamed Designate Cestus, remained locked on the scenery whipping past at nearly sixty miles per hour. The only things giving any indication that Designate Cestus was awake at all were his eyes constantly scanning and analyzing every inch of the surrounding landscape. From his briefings on the combat abilities of Cestus, Brazier knew the cybernetic warrior was reaching out with senses far beyond those possessed by mortal men. He was on full alert even as he sat still amongst a group of fellow warriors.
Cestus was every inch the weapon of destruction he’d been created to be. Alert and ready to kill at a moment’s notice.
Shuddering, Brazier returned his attention to the Height.
“From what I’ve seen, the other Pinos don’t like that one much.”
Confused, Brazier pressed the talkative soldier for more details. The engineer had watched countless hours of the various Designates in action on a number of ground ops, but he’d never seen…or even considered…what the personal interaction between the cybernetic super soldiers would be like. No one at Project Hardwired viewed the men as anything more than tools…weapons to be deployed when needed and put away, hidden from prying eyes, when they weren’t. The idea the Prime Designates might be more was intriguing to the man.
“Your man Blades is a total wipe.” This was old news to Brazier. Designate Cestus’s recruitment into Project Hardwired had been a rocky one and the man’s base personality had been erased. Whoever Captain Malcolm Weir of the Third Battalion, Seventy-Fifth Ranger Regiment had been in his life before Project Hardwired, he was gone now, replaced by a personality construct created by A.I. mainframe in charge of maintaining and managing all the Prime Designates of the ultra classified governmental branch.
And the Abraxas-1 system had done an amazing job at creating one of the coldest, most efficient killing machines Scott Brazier had ever seen in action. Designate Cestus was the golden boy of Project Hardwired and Gordon Kiesling’s star. Whenever Congress came snooping around to see how the billions of taxpayer dollars had been spent, Director Kiesling rolled out footage of Designate Cestus in action: breaking up riots, assassinating heads of foreign states, destroying terror cells, and taking on all the dirty wet work the politicians in DC wanted done quickly, quietly, and discreetly. With a hundred percent success rating, the cyborg had killed more people than small pox.
Designate Cestus was unique…his mind a product of binary brain-surgery and computer calculations.
The other eleven Prime Designates were an entirely different story. Each of them still retained their original personalities and memories—they were all essentially the same men they had been before they joined Project Hardwired. Of course, all of them had been hard-line connected to the Abraxas Array and could be taken over by the system at any point, but for the most part, they acted on their own.
Height continued, “Magnet Boy there and the others aren’t fans of his. I think he reminds them that they’re all just one step away from being glorified robots. I know I wouldn’t like it one bit.”
“And what can you tell me about Gauss?”
“Magnet Boy?” Height chuckled, firing a conspiratorial wink back at the smaller civilian. “He’s just an asshole.”
Uncomfortable seats and ever-present, mind-numbing heat aside, the remaining hour long ride turned out to be rather illuminating for Scott Brazier. Surprisingly, Sergeant Height revealed himself to be a vast source of knowledge when it came to not only being on a mission in exceedingly hostile territory, but also in the practical side of working in close proximity with the Prime Designate Units from Project Hardwired. The blustery marine and his battalion had been on loan to Hardwired since the program’s inception, and they had been part of nearly every large-scale operation assigned to the cyborgs throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. All told, Brazier wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the soldier had logged more combat time with the Designates than all the current engineers combined.
Hell, the man had even been around for the early missions with the earliest Primes…he’d been there to help clean-up the devastation caused during Designate Siege’s first, and only, assignment. They’d been able to blame the Fukushima Daiichi incident on a tsunami caused by the Tōhohu Earthquake, but it was the worst disaster in the newly formed super soldier project’s history, and one that almost resulted in it being mothballed by the bigwigs up on Capitol Hill.
It was also the main reason why civilian techs like Brazier and Talborg were sent out on what had otherwise been military operations. Having a couple of eggheads in the field with the ability to shut down one of the temperamental human killing machines was a very small concession for Executive Director Kiesling to agree to.
Swatting at what seemed to have been the millionth mosquito to feast upon his tender flesh, Brazier wasn’t quite as convinced as to just how small that concession had been. He much preferred the first few months of his time at Hardwired when the only danger he faced was carpal-tunnel syndrome.
Spending a weekend in ‘beautiful’ Afghanistan was not high on the mid-Westerner’s list of preferred vacation spots. If anything, Kabul fell somewhere under the ice planet of Hoth and only one position higher than San Diego during ComiCon.
A sigh of relief summoned from somewhere very deep inside Brazier’s being burst free in response to the mission’s military head, Lieutenant Arias, announcing their arrival at Camp Eggers. The LT’s brusque Yonkers accent barked out a series of orders over the radio headsets every member of the strike force wore over their left ears. Although the assignment was a joint operation between Project Hardwired and the US Marine Corps, and had been signed off by every level of the government up to and including the President of the United States himself, the details were top secret and not to be shared with anyone at the base not already in the ‘know.’ As far as the base’s soldiers checking the team in through the heavily fortified security checkpoint were concerned, the twenty-man unit had been assigned to help set-up a new communications relay for the new Afghan government.
The reality of the situation was far more important than satellite connections and cellular towers.
Disembarking from the darkened interior of the massive MRAP transport and falling into line with the quintet from Project Hardwired, Brazier allowed the specifics to run through his head as the soldiers of Sergeant Height’s First Recon Battalion of the First Marine Division efficiently unloaded their gear.
Thirty-six hours earlier, US anti-terrorist intelligence agents had intercepted word that three high-ranking members of the Jabhat al-Nusrah would be meeting at an outpost ten kilometers north of Kabul. The Syrian-based terrorist were due to receive more than a thousand kilos of sarin gas and a BM-21 Grad rocket launch vehicle stolen from the Russian army in Lebanon. The large volume of chemical weapons being brought in caused the level of panic which hadn’t been seen in the intelligence community since the 9/11 attacks. If the Syrian branch of the al-Qaeda was able to gain control of an arsenal of that magnitude, they would be able to wage a war on the West the likes of which had never before been seen. It was Project Hardwired’s job to make sure that didn’t happen.
Brazier’s team was given an assignment in three parts:
First, gain control of the chemical weapons by any means necessary.
Second, liquidate any and all terrorist forces on site. There were to be no survivors, no witnesses, and no mercy. Scorched Earth was the order of the day.
Finally, gain any intel on who was selling the deadly nerve agents to the Syrians.
In order to guarantee all points of the mission were carried out to the letter and without fail, Executive Director Kiesling himself had chosen the unit assigned. Designates Gauss and Cestus were pulled from their respective missions in Sŏngch’ŏn Kun and Shiraz. Although their mutual dislike ran deep, the two Prime units were the most effective pairing Project Hardwired had developed. Gauss was to be the hammer and Cestus the scalpel. With the two cyborgs riding shotgun, no enemy of freedom of the United States had any hope.
Engineers Talborg and Brazier had been given their assignments, along with triple hazard pay, by the current heads of Project Hardwired’s weapon division, TJ and Jason May. For all intents and purposes, it was a dream assignment. The sort of high pay, high profile gig that resulted in promotions and more.
Dust, the rumble of tanks, and the smell of unprocessed diesel fuel battered Brazier’s senses to the point of numbness, forcing the man to reevaluate his choice in career for the umpteenth time.
“Over here, Scotty boy,” called Talborg, summoning her colleague over to a burgeoning crowd of soldiers with a backwards flick of her wrist.
Brazier wasn’t sure how she did it, but the woman could pile enough snideness in the words ‘Scotty boy’ to choke a horse. Being in tight quarters to Talborg for an extended period had quelled any attraction to her the engineer had built up in his mind. She was as much of an asshole as Height had proclaimed Designate Gauss to be.
Lieutenant Arias stood tall in the middle of the troupe of fourteen marines, two civilians, and quartet of cybernetic humans, looking as impatient as he was imposing. It was easy for anyone halfway paying attention to see that the soldier was not an even-tempered man.
“Our bunks are in the buildings there.” Arias nodded in the direction of a cluster of small, hastily constructed buildings covered in the digital desert camouflage paint that seemed to coat every inch of visible equipment in the camp—vehicles, buildings, tents…even the men were covered in camo dress. “Stow your gear and pull all pertinent data for a confab at seventeen-hundred.”
Grabbing a pair of tan and gray duffel bags massive enough to hold a man’s body, Sergeant Height barked out to the crowd of marines and their civilian guests, “You heard the El-Tee. Hit your CHUs and make yourselves pretty like. It’s all asses and elbows from here on out, boys.”
Falling in line with the rest of his team, Brazier chuckled to himself.
Turning to Designate Cestus, he quipped, “You feel like we’re on the set of ‘Heartbreak Ridge?’”
The cyborg stared at the small engineer blankly and pushed passed him, making a beeline for the containerized housing unit set aside for the four cyborg soldiers. None of the regular humans, not even those assigned by the powers-that-be of Project Hardwired, bunked with the cybernetic men. The policy of separate housing for the Designates and GMRs had been implemented early on in the project’s formation. It was unsettling enough to be around a bunch of testosterone-filled marines, but that was nothing compared to being forced to sleep next to a quartet of half-robotic killers with little connection to humanity left in them.
Shuddering at the thought of sharing a room with Cestus, Brazier strained to haul his rucksack up to his shoulders before double-timing it to catch up with the rapidly dispersing crowd he’d been assigned to.
Better to take his chances with the ice queen than the Pinos, Brazier mused to himself.
It was going to be a long day.
To Be Continued in THE KABUL INCIDENT, available August 17, 2014.