Last night thriller author Chris Allen posted an exclusive extract from AURORA: CENTRALIS on his Facebook page. For those of you who missed it, here it is again:
Harris stared hard at Frank, clenching his jaw tightly.
“Who?” he barked. “Speak!”
“I can’t.” Frank shook his head, dismayed, his voice sounding quite nasal after Murphy’s attack.
“You can and you will, motherfucker!” Harris leaned his face right up to his.
Frank shook his head again; in fact, his whole body was shaking as he whispered fretfully. “They’ll kill them!”
“I don’t know their names.”
“What do they look like? Who will they kill?”
Frank looked up at him with frightened, panicked eyes. “My family! My wife and son. They have them. I have to get back.”
“Where? Where do they have them?”
“Give me the location,” Harris said, then waved his hand at Steinberg. “Get the coordinates!” Then he turned to Packham. “Get us wheels now!”
“Yes, sir,” she nodded and left.
“No! No, you can’t!” Frank said fretfully. “They’ll kill them! Please!”
“Not if we get there quickly enough!” Harris told him firmly. “Now tell me who they are? What did they look like?”
Frank looked back at Harris, terrified. “Th—they were b—big . . . one had g—gray hair . . . he had a tatto—”
“Quint,” McKinley said bluntly, cutting him off.
Harris nodded, then turned back to Frank. “Was it just the two of them?”
Frank nodded. “Please don’t do anything that will hurt them!”
“We won’t, Frank.”
“I wasn’t going to hurt her, I prom—”
“What’s in that needle?” Harris cut him off, turning around as Doc and Welles re-entered the room.
“He didn’t tell me,” Frank shook his head. “He just said I had to make her have the needle or he would kill them.”
Harris picked up the needle and handed it to Yughiarto. “Get this to Command ASAP. Tell them I want it tested and the results sent through to me. Understand?”
Yughi gave a nod, then quickly left.
“Alright!” Harris said looking around at the team. “Steinberg will send the coordinates to Packham who is getting us mobile. I will go with a small team to try and capture Quint and the second attacker. The other team will stay here and guard Welles. Understand?”
The team that was gathered, nodded.
“So,” Harris said, “McKinley, Doc, Brown and Evenssen, you come with me. Steinberg, Murphy and Colt, and Yughi when he returns, will stay and guard Welles.” Harris then turned to Steinberg. “You do not leave her fuckin’ side, Steinberg. Understand?”
“Yes, sir,” he nodded.
“What do we do with him?” Murphy motioned to Frank.
“Command will send soldiers to collect him. Until then, you guard him too.”
“Team one! Let’s move out!”
Packham pulled the carrier over, just down the street from Frank’s apartment, in the civilian sector of the island. It was a three-story building, rectangular shaped, and a simple layout within.
“We need to move fast,” Harris told them. “Frank’s been gone a while now. Quint will be getting suspicious.”
“So let’s do it then!” Doc said eagerly, eyeing the apartment.
Harris glanced over his shoulder at him, then back at the apartment. “McKinley and I go through the front. Doc, you and Brown take the rear. Evenssen? You stay here with Packham and be our third line. If you see our targets, try to avoid physical combat, unless either McKinley or Doc are nearby. I repeat, only McKinley and Doc are to attempt physical combat. Everyone got their headsets on?”
“Alright. Packham, you receiving everybody?”
Packham’s hands darted around the carrier’s console. “Yes, sir. Five headsets confirmed.”
“Good,” Harris opened his door. “Let’s move out.”
Harris watched as Doc and Brown moved stealthily toward the back of the apartment block. He gave them time to get into position, then turned to McKinley.
McKinley nodded, and they made their way to the front door of Frank’s apartment on the second floor. As they reached it, McKinley stood back on guard, while Harris used Frank’s access card as quietly as he could. He heard the door’s lock release, then stepped back and nodded to his lieutenant. McKinley, gun out front, intantly forced the door open with one swift kick and swooped inside. Harris was quick behind him, following his lieutenant into the darkened apartment.
“We’re in!” Harris whispered into his mouthpiece. He trailed McKinley silently as they carefully scoured the rooms, one by one, doing a cross-cover. The apartment looked lived in, but something didn’t feel right. There was an empty quiet to it. An eerie silence. When they burst through the door of the bathroom, they saw a bloodied handprint smeared across the wall. They exchanged a look, then quickly turned and headed for the last room, the master bedroom, the door of which was closed.
On Harris’s count of three, McKinley kicked the door open and entered, but his lieutenant stopped suddenly and Harris almost smacked right into him. McKinley dropped his arms a little and Harris stepped around him to see what was there. He paused at what he saw.
A woman and child lay face down, bound on the bed. Frank’s family. They were not moving. Harris exchanged a quick glance with McKinley, as they both swiftly moved over to the bed and began to check for signs of life.
“Wife and child are here,” he spoke quietly into his headset. “No sign of Quint or any other Jumbos. Doc, you?”
“Nothing,” he replied. “They alright? You need me?”
Harris rolled the woman over. Her face was bloody, battered quite badly; her neck very bruised too and lying on an odd angle. He pressed his fingers against her neck, trying to find a pulse. He felt nothing. He looked at McKinley who was doing the same with the child. The boy looked young, under five years old. His face and neck too were bruised. McKinley placed his head on the child’s chest and seemed to be listening. Harris took the woman’s wrist and tried again. Nothing. He knew it was futile from the angle of her neck. It sent shivers down his spine as he pictured Carter lying dead on the Darwin, his neck snapped like a twig.
“Captain?” Doc whispered again over their earpieces.
“You better get up here, Doc,” Harris told him. “I got no pulse on the woman. Think her neck’s broken.”
“Roger that,” Doc answered.
“Brown, keep your eyes out,” Harris told him. “I’ll send McKinley down.” He looked at McKinley. “Anything?”
McKinley shook his head. “I smell blood but I don’t see any.”
Harris furrowed his brow. “You smell blood? The woman maybe?” Harris looked at her battered face again. “Or the bathroom?”
McKinley shook his head, looking down at the kid. “It’s coming from him. I smell it on him . . . or maybe in him . . .?”
Just then Doc entered. He took one look at the woman, then moved straight over to the boy.
“Go cover Brown,” Harris ordered McKinley.
He nodded, taking one last look at the woman and child before leaving.
Doc concentrated hard, trying to get a pulse on the boy.
“McKinley said he could smell blood, but couldn’t see any,” Harris told him.
Doc glanced at him, then back at the boy. “There’s no pulse, but I’ll try anyway,” he said. He tilted the little boy’s head and attempted to resuscitate him.
Harris left the room, opting not to watch Doc try to revive the dead boy. Instead, he scoured the apartment again, room by room. The apartment mostly looked undisturbed, except for the smear of blood in the bathroom. The attack did not appear to be a drawn-out affair. Quint and his accomplice had acted swiftly. Harris stared at the bloody handprint on the bathroom wall. He held his own up against it as a comparison. The hand was larger than his. “Jesus,” he muttered.
He walked into the kitchen and his eyes caught on a picture stuck to the fridge of Frank with his wife and child. Pictures of Taya and Ty immediately entered his mind and he sighed deeply in sympathy, lowering his eyes to the ground. Despite the attack on Welles, he felt sorry for Frank, that he had been caught up in this. Clearly, the man had had no choice.
“It’s no use,” he heard Doc say quietly from the doorway. Harris turned around and looked at him. There was a stillness about him, and a Jumbo fierceness set about his jaw.
“How long you think they’ve been dead?” Harris asked him.
Doc shook his head again. “I don’t know, a while. They’re cold. Quint had no intention of waiting for Frank to return.”
“No. Covering his tracks,” Harris sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. “If he did this right after Frank left, then he would be miles away by now.”
“You think he knew that Frank would get caught?”
“I don’t think he cared either way.”
Doc stared hard at him. “It bothers me that Quint is in Fort Centralis.”
Harris nodded. “It bothers me, too.”
“We need to know what was in that needle,” Doc said firmly.
Harris nodded again, while Doc moved to the back window and looked out.
“McKinley? Brown? Anything?” Harris spoke into his mouthpiece.
“Negative, sir,” Brown answered.
Harris had Packham call it into Command. As he ended his discussion with her, McKinley walked in toward the master bedroom again. He looked very determined, like a man on a mission. Harris and Doc followed him, curious. When they entered the room, they saw him leaning in close to the woman. He appeared to be smelling her neck.
“What’re you doing?” Harris asked, furrowing his brow in confusion.
McKinley moved over to the boy. “Quint’s scent,” he told them, pausing to inhale the boy. “There’re two different scents here. If I can pick them up outside . . .” he shrugged.
Harris and Doc exchanged a look, then McKinley walked past them and went outside again. They turned and saw Brown standing in the doorway, staring at the bodies on the bed. His face said it all. Harris looked back at them as well, first at the woman, then at the pale fragile face of the child. He felt sick. It was clear that Sharley’s Jumbos cared not for any life. No-one was safe from them.
His grandma’s words, spoken by his mother, rang in his ears. “More will die.” And so they had. Only, so far, they had not been from his team as he’d predicted. So far they were innocents once removed from the team: Katherine, and now Frank’s wife and child. How much further would it go? And why was his spine aching right now? Why did he sense a big, dark fuckin’ cloud approaching?