WARDOGS INC. #2: HUNTER KILLER is the April Book of the Month. Since it is the second book in the mil-SF series set in the Quantum Mortis universe, we are including the ebook for WARDOGS INC. #1 with all three levels of replatforming. For those who are not Heroes of the Revolution but would like a paperback edition, all three WARDOGS INC. novels are now available at Castalia Direct. As, for that matter, is QUANTUM MORTIS: A MAN DISRUPTED.

An excerpt from HUNTER KILLER, in which Tommy Falkland and his fellow mercenaries consider the pros and cons of a contract they have been offered by their employer, Wardogs Incorporated.

Jones sipped at a mug of hard coffee as Ward bit his nails.

“It’s good money,” I said, breaking the silence.

“Yeah, but is it too good?” Ward said. After Ulixis, we were all feeling suspicious of anything that looked too easy to be true. Then Captain Marks walked in.

“Looks like the answer is here,” Zelag said as we stood in unison.

“At ease, gentlemen,” the captain said. “Sit down and I’ll fill you in. Three of you were chosen for your excellent performance on Ulixis, and Zelag, I guess they picked you because someone in accounting has a fetish for missing limbs.”

We laughed, then Marks put up a hand to silence us.

“Now,” the Captain continued, “here’s the mission. The Datacon-Verlaag GmbH corporation had a bit of an issue at their Feymanus branch yesterday, so the local CEO of operations needs some bodyguards until things blow over.”

“A bit of an issue, sir?” Ward asked.

“See for yourself,” Marks said, engaging the viewscreen behind him with a motion of his hand. On it appeared a high-resolution security camera image of a stretch of cafes and markets. A small booth with trays of what looked like olives was front and center, an older man sitting behind it in an antigrav chair. Up walked a guy in a suit, sipping a drink through a straw.

“That’s the victim,” Marks said. “Albert Fast.”

The man looked to the side as a woman came up to the booth beside him. He was maybe in his 40s, clean-shaven with good hair. His suit looked tailored. The old man offered both him and the woman a sample of the olives. He accepted, the woman declined. Then the woman reached in her purse as if she were going to pay for something, but instead produced a small cylinder and stabbed it into the victim’s side.

“Stunpen,” Zelag muttered.

The man moved back as if confused by the woman’s actions, then put his arms up as she stabbed him at him again and again, finally landing a clean injection. The guy went down, pulling at the edge of the tablecloth and falling in a mess of upended olive trays. Then the woman made some strange hand movements towards the heavens. It looked like she was trying to make shadow puppets. A second later, she ran out of frame.

The old guy jumped up and looked over the counter, yelling for help. The guy in the suit was motionless. The screen went blank and Marks spoke.

“There’s our incident,” he said. “She stabbed him with a stunpen loaded with cyanide, then made her little hand movement and ran off.”

“They catch her?” Ward asked.

“Yes,” said the captain. “She’s a Chrysalan. Some call them the Sky People.”

“What the hell?” Jones said.

“It’s a cult,” Zelag said. “They believe people are like caterpillars, waiting to enter their cocoons, after which they come out as butterflies full of heavenly energy. It’s supposed to be based on an ancient illustrated manuscript published on Old Earth.”

“You’ve got the gist of it,” said Captain Marks, surprised.

“So why did she kill the guy?” I asked.

“A minor miscalculation on his part,” Marks said. “He was the marketing director who oversaw their latest ad campaign. It featured Mount Xirtis, contained various testimonials to the company’s high level of data security, then the tagline ‘come to the mountain.’”

We listened, confused. Marks saw our looks and tried to explain. “It’s a metaphor, you see.”

“So these caterpillar people hate metaphors?” Ward said, puzzled.

“Or they hate skiing?” Jones volunteered.

“Skiing is actually prohibited on Mount Xirtis,” Marks said. “Along with every other sporting activity. Because it’s considered to be a ‘holy mountain.’” He made quotation marks with his fingers when he said it.

“To the Chrysalans,” I mused.

“Bingo,” Marks said. “The marketing department basically claimed their data protection company was on par with the sacred mountain of the gods. The temple of the sky is at the base of the mountain and there is a massive pilgrimage that travels up the mountain once a year.”

“Oh yeah,” Zelag said. “I watched a documentary. The really serious ones go without oxygen all the way to the top.”

“Sure you’re not one of them, Zelag?” Ward said.

Zelag shook his head. “I hate bugs. And mountain climbing.”

“So that woman killed the head of marketing because of some stupid advertising?” Jones said.

“That’s not the first time,” Zelag said. “A few years back they threw acid in the face of a pop singer for recording a song called ‘Like a Butterfly.’”

“Geez,” Jones said. “That’s pretty hard core.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Ward said. “That assassin did a lousy job of it. She didn’t even get a good stab on him the first time. He could have just pushed her away if he’d known it was coming.”

“Amateur hour,” Marks agreed. “Nevertheless, DVG is concerned about the safety of their local CEO on Feymanus, a gentleman by the name of Brixton Heiermach. They have contracted with WDI to keep him safe. As you know, there are few things that put the righteous fear of God into evil-minded folks like a team of Wardogs bodyguards.”

“How long does he need hand-holding?” I asked. It looked like a pretty damn easy job to me.

“Good question,” Marks replied. “It could take a while, but DVG is actively working on damage control already. Heiermach plans to offer a sincere corporate apology to the Chrysalans, as well as pledge funds to refurbish the ancient temple at the base of the mountain. Still—the longer it takes, the more money you make. Glorified babysitting.”

“Wait a minute,” Jones said. “The CEO is going to apologize to these caterpillar cultists after they murdered his marketing director?”

Marks shrugged. “Apparently an angry mob has also scrawled pictures of butterflies on multiple DVG office buildings and spent three days beating drums, chanting, and pissing sacred streams of their holy urine on the steps to claim the infidel’s earthly property for the sky.”

“Judeo-Christ,” I muttered.

“Can we nuke them?” Jones asked.

I thought Marks’ mouth almost twitched towards a grin at the suggestion, but I might have been wrong. He was good at being serious. “No,” Marks said. “We’re not launching a crusade against these people, we’re just protecting a businessman. Unlike you bastards, DVG has to deal with the public on a regular basis. It’s an old and well-respected religion on the planet, and they have some highly connected members on Feymanus. And their extremists have been implicated in just enough acts of terror that no one wants to set them off unnecessarily.”

“And so we play bodyguard to Mr. Heiermach,” Jones said. “No big deal. Crazy chicks with stunpens don’t keep me awake at night.”

Marks nodded. “Tommy, you’ll be in charge this time out. Think you can handle it?”

“Yessir,” I said. “Though I’m not as qualified as Sergeant Hanley.”

“He’s on leave. And this is cake—the experience will be good for you. You did well on Ulixis and I think you have a bright future.”

“Who’s my boss on Feymanus?” I asked.

“Captain Elrich Williams. System VP. He’s a busy man so don’t waste his time if you don’t have to. We’ll be able to supply you in New Patras from a branch office. Check in when you get there and we’ll make sure you have everything you need.”

He stood and opened the door. “Now go sign your docs in HR. You leave within the hour.”