Valhalla (Dead Force series, Book 4) by SD Tanner by SD Tanner - Read Online

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Valhalla (Dead Force series, Book 4) - SD Tanner

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EPILOGUE

AUTHOR’S INTRODUCTION

This story is primarily told through Tag, but please see the character name in the Chapter heading to know which person is narrating.

For other books by SD Tanner, please check out Hunter Wars Series, Navigator Series, Bombardier series, WarriorSR series and our standalone Sci-Fi thriller, Time to Die.

CHAPTER ONE:

Lost Ark

(Tag)

The morning after he died he woke up inside a pod, or at least that’s how he remembered it.  What did a man believe when his brain couldn’t be trusted?  Somewhere between dying and waking he’d been a killer, murdering the very people he’d sworn to protect.

Back off, Rok.

Judge was complaining, but there was nothing new about that.  The man had bitched before he died and being dead hadn’t improved his temperament.

Cover our six.  Get on point, Rok grumbled as he stepped ahead of Judge.  Rok, do this.  Rok do that.

A snarl erupted behind him ending in what sounded like a drunken hiccup, but it was only Grunt’s way of laughing.  In the few months he’d known Grunt, the seven-foot tall reptilian alien had proven to be both fierce and amiable.  His small platoon of matching grunts had fought by their side to defeat the interfectors, always willing to die if that’s what it took to win.  Admittedly, Grunt’s platoon wore harnesses, which gave them shields, invisible blades, and EMP disruptors.  Joker was working with the clone they’d nicknamed Ditto to create something similar for the Dead Force.

After the four floating cities had merged and taken root on Earth, crushing the crumbling one beneath it, the eight-mile wide metropolis had become home to his eighteen thousand Dead Force soldiers.  The word Valhalla meant hall for warriors, and in Norse mythology it was where heroes went when they died.  His Dead Force had already sacrificed their lives, making them worthy of Valhalla.

Ditto had restored the production lines which allowed them to manufacture armor and weapons for the Dead Force and add beacons to the growing fleet led by Hawk.  When the cities had floated above the land they’d been pristine white, but once they had taken root on Earth, they turned a tan color.  The gold filaments climbing the walls had become green like ivy.

The city was more than a home for his army, she was like a protective mother hen killing anything that threatened her chicks.  When a few of the deadly mechanical interfectors had dared teleport into Valhalla, they’d been sunk into her floor, crushed by the walls, and then thrust deep into the earth underneath the city.  Valhalla didn’t approve of the interfectors or the enemy aliens.

He didn’t blame Valhalla for being angry.  The living cities were as much a prisoner of the enemy aliens as the Dead Force and Grunt’s platoon had been.  If Jessica hadn’t broken the protocols coded into the mechanical part of their brains, then they would still be slaves to a master no one had known existed.  Even the humans on Earth had believed the blue-suited aliens living inside the floating cities were people who had colonized planets.  After finding the breeding pods on the arks, he knew they were hybrids, formed from alien embryos feeding on human DNA.  The company called Lunar Horizon had been a shield for aliens quietly using their technology to take over Earth’s assets.  Cities had fallen and humanity had been lost without anyone knowing they’d been under attack.  The aliens had then reanimated the bodies of human soldiers to attack their own countries, destroying civilization until all that remained were struggling tribes.

Having been reanimated by enemy aliens and used to destroy his home planet, he was just another victim of their vicious attack.  With Jessica safe inside Valhalla, his mind had turned to acquiring more real estate.  He could walk away, or even take one of the alien arks into space and find himself a new home, but something was stopping him.  At first, he’d thought it was his long-dead daughter, Daisy, only now he wasn’t so sure.  Daisy had lived her life believing him to be dead, which he had been.  Waking inside a pod, finding himself alive again, wasn’t simply an extension of his old life.  He was in a new world having an old argument.  Restlessness had ruled him before he died and rage drove him afterward, but both drivers could be satisfied by war and he was determined to start one.

Four cities weren’t enough, and he wanted more.  The city they were currently reconning was a thousand miles from Valhalla and roughly the same dimensions.  Perhaps size shouldn’t matter, but it was so large he wanted to know what was inside it.  The four living cities that now made up Valhalla had contained production lines and prisoner aliens.  He was hopeful this one made something they could use against the enemy aliens if only he could find them.  That was a problem he had yet to solve.  Although the blue-suited human hybrids could spit acid, they weren’t anything he couldn’t kill.  The interfectors were mechanical killers they struggled stop, and it wasn’t clear who or what controlled them.  He couldn’t beat what he couldn’t see and his true enemy had yet to show their face.

Are you sure this city does anything? Judge asked, sounding bored and disgruntled.

How was he supposed to know?  Every floating city appeared to serve a different purpose.  Some manufactured weapons and ships whereas others were holding pens for alien prisoners.  All the cities contained the blue-suited, acid-spitting human hybrids and red-suited clones like Ditto.  Interfectors and Dead Force defensors, still under the control of their enemy, could be teleported into any city to attack them.

They’d been walking through one room after another, where the next one was identical to the last.  Trailing white strands hung from the ceilings like tinsel on a Christmas tree, and he knew they would find a room with small, furry animals like Beanie.  The enemy kept the city alive by feeding it the cute little critters.  Once Valhalla landed on Earth, it took what it needed from the soil, no longer feeding on flesh, which explained why it had turned a tan color.

Sniffing irritably, he replied, It has to do something or it wouldn’t be here.

How do you know that?

Judge’s challenging tone annoyed him and he replied sharply, Got a better idea?

We should be testing the new harnesses, sorting out the civilians around Valhalla, training the Dead Force, and stabilizing the real estate we have.

It was a reasonable summary of what they could be doing instead of wandering around a floating city nearly a thousand miles from Valhalla, but his restless rage wouldn’t let him sit still.  He wanted a battle, something he could lose his reason over.  The aliens had denied him death, and now his trigger finger was itching for a kill.

Other people are sorting that shit.

Rok snorted.  Tag’s just looking for bitches to slap.

That’s not a good reason to take on a dangerous mission, Judge replied.

Swinging his KLAW so that it was pointing through the gap in the wall, Rok stepped forward into the next room.  Works for me, bro.

Judge followed Rok through the gap, shaking his head as he did.  I’m your first sergeant, not your bro.

At any other time, Judge’s declaration of seniority would have earned him a barrage of return fire from Rok, but he couldn’t hear either man through his headset.

Rok?  Silence greeted his question. Judge?

A large paw covered in a metal glove caught his arm.  No.

Half-turning to look back at Grunt, he asked, Why?

Gone.

Where did they go?

Grunt’s command of their language was poor and, instead of answering, he pushed past him toward the gap in the wall.  The reptilian’s back was covered by the metal harness and was so wide it almost bridged the gap.  Like a dog cautious of its surroundings, Grunt sniffed at the next the room, as if the two holes above his lipless mouth could smell danger.

Rok.  Judge.  Report in.  Receiving no reply, he asked, Grunt, can you see them?

Grunt turned his muscular body wearing the heavy harness to face him.  The yellow eyes glinted evilly, and then he grabbed his armored shoulder.  Thinking Grunt was about to speak, he cocked his head curiously, only to find himself flying.  Still holding his shoulder, Grunt had tipped backward, allowing his body to fall.

Disappearing through a hole in the floor, they were both swallowed by the city.  Even as they fell, he could hear Grunt snarling.  Hole.

Ya don’t say.

Living cities could reconfigure their shape at will, so it was hard to know if the hole they were tumbling down had always been there or was newly formed, but it was wide enough for both he and Grunt to slide through.  Even wearing the metal harness, there was enough room on both sides of Grunt’s shoulders for him to spread his clawed hands and feet so they were digging into the walls.  Where his reptilian buddy looked like a flying bat, he had one knee bent on his harness, while his other boot rested on a scaly shoulder.  Surfing Grunt like a hitchhiker getting a free ride, he held his gun ready.  Eventually they would land somewhere at the base of the living city, and he had no idea what they’d find.

A KLAW was always noisy, but Rok could make his chatter like an angry bird.  The sound of gunfire echoed along the tunnel long before they reached the end of it.

Rok!

Busy, Tag.

Before he could call Rok an idiot, Judge’s voice filled his earpiece.  You’re going to love this.

Gliding down a hole toward the sound of gunfire wasn’t something he had expected would end well.  What’s Rok shooting at?

Tiny drones.

Why?

I don’t know.

Make him stop.

Losing Ash seemed to have taken the last of Rok’s common sense.  He’d never been an easy guy to command, but now he was outright feral.

Rok!  Cease fire!  Judge shouted.

The hole ended abruptly, forcing a belching groan from Grunt as he hit the floor.  Grunt absorbed most of the impact and he rose to his feet while still standing on his spine.  What greeted him was nothing he’d ever expected to see, but it made him smile.  Propped up by dozens of protruding white lumps emerging from the floor was the main body of an ark.  Its underbelly sat fifty feet above the floor where hundreds of people dressed like clones in the red jumpsuits were walking beneath it.  Buzzing around the mile-long ship were thousands of drones.  Each one was three-foot wide with ten or more long, jointed arms.  Every arm had a different attachment, and they were landing and rising from the surface of the ark like flies feeding on leftover food.

His line of sight tipped as Grunt rose to his feet and he tumbled to the floor.  Landing on his back next to a still smoking and dented drone, he looked up at Rok.  Why are you shooting the drones?

They pissed me off.

Wires and white fluid were leaking from the crumpled drone, and its jointed arms with their attachments were lying around the flattened body.  Why?

Rising to his feet, he followed Rok who was walking under the canopy of the ark.  I’m gonna shoot something, so it’s either you or them, Tag.

Why?

Because you piss me off as well.

He didn’t fully understand the relationship Rok and Ash had shared, but the man was clearly hurting.  No one was a machine, and some days the best thing he could do was cut a trooper some space.  The red-suited clones were moving with purpose beneath the ark and, as one caught his eye, he pulled back in surprise.  Ditto’s mismatched blue and brown eyes stared back at him, but the face surrounding them wasn’t the same.  Her eyebrows were finely arched as if plucked to perfection.  The nose was straight and her mouth was generous and full.  Like Ditto, the female clone’s hair had been cropped short, but he could already see it would grow out in a golden wave.

Rok’s sharp laugh made him turn away from the woman.  What now?

There’s a Missus Ditto for every Ditto.  He’s a lucky clone.

It had never occurred to him there would be different clones, but there was no reason why there shouldn’t be.  Hopefully she was like Ditto, meaning he only had to get through to one of her for them all to understand what they needed to do.

Grabbing one of the clones by the arm, he swung the woman around until she was facing him.  Flicking up his faceplate, he mimicked pulling something from the back of his neck.  Tear it out.  She blinked slowly, looking at him with what he assumed was skepticism.  Pull it out.  It’s controlling you.

The female clone raised her hand, then tentatively touched the back of her neck.  Hoping to encourage her, he nodded and grinned.  That’s the way.  Tear it out.

She frowned, seeming unsure what to do, so he stepped toward her, intending to show her how to remove the starfish.  Rok’s KLAW erupted again and Missus Ditto’s body jerked as bullets thudded into her back.

Rok!  Cease fire!

Nah.

It took a few beats for him to realize Rok wasn’t being stupid.  As the clone dropped to the floor, blood seeped from a half a dozen bullet wounds, and the defensor behind her recalibrated its aim.  He’d been so focused on their find he’d failed to notice defensors teleporting into the hangar.

Hoping to fool them, he ordered, Defensor!  Stand down!

A toneless voice replied through his headset.  You are malfunctioning.  Return to pod for repair.

Raising his gun and firing, he shouted, Rok!

On it.

While Rok fired at the defensor, he spun around looking for more of them.  They never traveled alone and, although technically they were Dead Force soldiers like his own troops, they hadn’t been deprogrammed by Jessica.  A dozen defensors had materialized under the canopy of the ark, but not all were shooting at them, not yet anyway.  As Grunt ran headlong at a defensor, Rok was cutting down those in front of him.  Grunt’s shields protected him from the bullets, and he raised his invisible blade clearly intending to cut the defensor to pieces.

Grunt!  No!

The defensors weren’t their real enemy.  Having been programmed to attack, it wasn’t their fault when they did.  Once Jessica deleted the protocols inside the mechanical part of their brains, they would become the soldiers they were meant to be.  He didn’t want to kill them, and Grunt’s blade would rip through their armor, leaving them so badly gutted they might not be repairable.

Grunt turned to look at him, holding the invisible blade suspended in the air, but he shouldn’t have distracted him.  The defensor was close enough to penetrate Grunt’s shield, and a blade flashed before burying deeply in his neck.  Staggering away from the defensor, Grunt grabbed his throat with one metal covered paw. He could already see at least four more defensors armed with KLAWs, meaning they could do him and the squad serious damage.  Although they could be repaired, he didn’t have time for a nap inside a pod, nor did he want them shooting the clones.  This was only a recon.  Taking the city would need more troops and ammo than he’d brought with him.

Jogging to where the crumpled drone lay on the floor, he shouted, Joker, emergency extract.

He just managed to reach out and touch the fallen drone when everything around him went gray inside the transporter.

CHAPTER TWO:

Sick Home

(Grunt)

Help me get the harness off.

How the hell is this thing attached?

Move over, Tag.  Let an expert at it.

You an expert now, Joker?

Know more than you do.

Then what’s the purple stuff leaking out of his neck?

Blood.

He could have helped them remove the harness, it was a small matter of twisting a hook and the metal bracket would fall away.  The butt of the knife was brushing against