Excerpt Reveal: Rogue Sequence by Zac Topping
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Excerpt Reveal: Rogue Sequence by Zac Topping

Excerpt Reveal: Rogue Sequence by Zac Topping

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rogue sequence by zac topping

It’s 2091 and independent contract companies around the world are producing genetically modified soldiers…to be sold to the highest bidders.

Ander Rade is a super-soldier, a genetically engineered living weapon, and has been dutifully following orders since he gave himself to Xyphos Industries’ Gene-Mod Program several years ago. But when a mission goes sideways, he’s captured, imprisoned, and forced into brutally violent fighting pits for the better part of the next decade…until agents from the Genetic Compliance Department of the United American Provinces appear in the visiting room.

Things have changed since Rade was captured. Shortly after his incarceration, the World Unity Council banned human genetic engineering and deemed all modified individuals a threat to society. Overnight, an entire subculture of people became outlaws simply for existing. But instead of leaving Rade locked behind bars, the GCD agents have come with an offer: Freedom in exchange for his help tracking down one of his former teammates from that ill-fated mission all those years ago.

It’s an offer Rade can’t refuse, but he soon realizes that the situation is far more volatile than anyone had anticipated, and is forced to take matters into his own hands as he tries to figure out whose side he’s really on, and why.

Please enjoy this free excerpt of Rogue Sequence by Zac Topping, on sale 6/11/24


PROLOGUE

Yunnan conflict zone
Myanmar/China border
August 14, 2091

Dusk had settled by the time the assault was over, the horizon turned a red smear choked with streaks of oily black smoke that drifted out over the surrounding jungle. The gunfire had stopped, the silence sinking down over the village like a weight, blanketing the stillness and filling the void left by the abrupt absence of chaos. No more belching rounds or snapping arc charges, no more screaming confusion. Just the gentle breeze scratching across the dirt, and the crackling of fire as the village’s fuel tanks burned.

The battle had been swift, and violent. More a slaughter, really.

The thought made Ander Rade uneasy, but he buried the feeling and continued moving through the ruined village. He remained cautious, keeping his SA-68 burst rifle tucked to his shoulder, letting his senses reach out to search for any sign of remaining opposition. The mission had been straightforward: locate a small rebel outpost, eliminate all resistance, and secure a weapons cache reported to be hidden somewhere in the area. But now that the chaos was over it was clear this had been nothing more than an ordinary village occupied by ordinary villagers. They’d been no match for the brutality of Xyphos Industries’ custom-built assault team, each member having been fine-tuned at the genetic level to be a perfect killing machine. Strong, fast, accurate, near impervious to damage. Utterly fearless and addicted to aggression. Few companies in the world produced such spectacular products as Xyphos Industries’ gene-modified combat operatives, and the company, based out of the United American Provinces, had no shortage of clients willing to pay top dollar for their services. This particular client—the Myanmarese government—had purchased Xyphos’s aid in quashing a rebellion that was trying to take control of the country.

The details didn’t interest Rade, though. Too many conflicts in too many war-torn parts of the world to bother keeping track of. None of it mattered. Xyphos pointed, and the team went.

Rade stopped in the street and kicked over a corpse with the toe of his boot. It flopped in the dirt, vacant eyes staring up at nothing. A battered and rust-spotted arc rifle two decades out of fashion lay just beyond the body’s curling fingers. One of the local government’s older models, and one often found in the possession of government sympathizers, not rebels. The weapon was so old it was a wonder it hadn’t exploded on the first pull of the trigger. The weapon’s operator, however, was just the opposite. Young. Too young. Not a man yet, and certainly not a rebel. Something wasn’t adding up.

Rade sensed movement to his left. The enhanced neocortex of his brain recognized the familiar pattern of footsteps as that of his team leader, and relaxed. A second later, Sevrina Fox pushed through the doors of a shack on the opposite side of the road, her own burst rifle held at the low ready. “Southeast clear,” she said as she approached.

Rade tore his gaze from the corpse at his feet and squinted at the smoke-filled sky. “These people had government-issue weapons,” he said.

“Your sector. Is it clear?” Sevrina asked.

Rade looked at the carnage around them. “These weren’t rebels.”

“Ander,” Sevrina said with an edge.

“Sector’s clear.”

The sound of a gunshot brought them both around, rifles up. Combat endorphins spiked, temporarily dampening Rade’s sour mood and making him hope for something to fight. The sound of a scuffle, followed by the familiar four-round burst from an SA-68. The door to a hut a few rows down flew open and a young woman stumbled into the street. She was unarmed, shoeless, clad in threadbare clothes. Blood spattered across her face and neck, her eyes wild with fear. She lost her footing and fell to the dirt, crawling desperately as she tried to keep moving. She caught sight of the armed mods in the street watching her and froze.

Sevrina lowered her weapon. “Handle this, Ander.”

The woman was locked in Rade’s sights, and her eyes were locked on him.

He didn’t move. Couldn’t move. The sheer terror on this woman’s face pinned him like an accusation, like she was seeing him for the monster he was. And for the first time in his life, he wondered if she was right. The thought grated against everything he’d ever believed, ever wanted to believe. Pulled back the layers of psychological conditioning he’d successfully endured to become the warrior he was.

He’d never hesitated before. Never felt doubt about the morality of his orders, but here, now, in this burnt-out and bullet-riddled village in the jungles of some distant country he barely understood, he’d been laid bare by nothing more than a look from a complete stranger.

He was a monster.

“Ander.”

He could feel Sevrina’s eyes on him. The team leader had given an order, an order handed down by the indisputable authority of Xyphos Industries. Yet his finger stayed braced on the upper receiver, and off the trigger. This was a noncombatant, no threat to himself or the team. The assault was over. There was no need to end this person’s life.

Out of the same hut the woman had stumbled from came the third member of the team, Darius Turin, marching out into the street with his burst rifle slung across his chest and a furious snarl plastered across his face. He saw the woman, saw Rade standing frozen before her, then, without losing stride, ripped the sidearm from his thigh holster and shot her through the back of the head.

Rade stared at her lifeless body and felt something inside him break.

“Sons of bitches were playing dead until I was right on top of them,” Turin said as he holstered his sidearm and rolled up his sleeve to expose a bullet hole in his forearm. He pulled a snap knife from his belt and used it to dig the bullet out, and, once freed of the foreign object, the wound immediately began to heal. “They’re not playing now, anyway.”

Maybe it was the stress, or the combat endorphins, or the unsettling feeling coursing through every fiber of his being, but Rade’s focus locked on Turin. “You son of a bitch.”

Turin squared up. “The hell’s your problem?”

“Both of you lock it up,” Sevrina said. “We still have a mission to complete, so focus and follow orders. Did anybody locate the cache yet?”

“Negative,” Turin said, making a production of putting the knife away.

“Nothing on the sweep,” answered Hab, the fourth and final member of the Xyphos hit team, as he appeared from around the corner of the village’s only satellite station house. He was clutching a handheld frequency scanner, his short-barreled submachine gun hanging from his chest. His left eye was entirely milk-white, indicating he was still receiving video from the surveillance drone buzzing overhead, the images feeding directly into his optic nerve. The neural linkage grafted to his skull blinked rhythmically as it maintained connection to Xyphos’s private satellite network, relaying their comms and location. “The waves are dead,” he said. “There’s nothing here.”

“Not anymore,” Rade added, feeling the combat endorphins recede, and the deep unsettling feeling creep back in.

Sevrina turned narrowed eyes on him. “What’s with you, Ander?”

He was no stranger to killing. No stranger to following orders. It had never been his place to question the mission. Xyphos gave the commands and they executed. That was it. But something here had opened him up. Revealed the awful truth of what he was. Like there’d been only so much he could ignore, only so much he could bury and suppress before the dam broke, and now he could finally see.

All around him lay the lifeless husks of what had been people only moments ago. People with hopes and dreams and loved ones who had no idea what had been coming for them. Innocent people. Noncombatants, armed only with rudimentary government-issued weapons barely capable of protecting their meager village.

Rade felt Sevrina staring at him, waiting for an answer. “I . . . don’t know,” he said. “Nothing.” He wanted to tell her that this was wrong. That what they were doing was wrong and that they maybe didn’t have to do it at all. But he knew it would fall on deaf ears, and only further complicate an already unraveling situation.

Her hand gripped his shoulder. Firm, but not threatening. Her eyes grew softer, and Rade wondered if she knew how easily she pierced his armor. A smaller part of him wondered how much of that was just another of Xyphos’s psychological conditioning parameters, reinforced through pheromone-induced obedience protocols.

“We have to lock it down,” she said, the edge gone from her tone. “We’re not done here until we locate the cache and mark the location for the Myanmarese troops. Understood?”

“Understood,” he replied, wanting nothing more than for her hand to stay where it was.

But she pulled it away and turned toward Turin. “You were point man on this one. You sure your intel is good?”

Turin finally looked up, something dangerous hiding behind his eyes. “I spent weeks grooming contacts and building a network in this goddamned country. This is what I do. The intel’s good.” He was doing a poor job of holding back the venom in his voice. He stared at Sevrina long enough for Rade to wonder if he should step in, but then Turin’s glare shifted back to him. Like he knew what Rade was thinking. Which maybe he did, considering he was the team’s advance recon specialist and reading the terrain was his field of expertise.

“Fine,” Sevrina said, cutting in before things started to escalate again. “We split up, make another sweep of the village. Keep peripherals up, there may be more stragglers waiting to get the jump on us.”

“I hope there are,” Turin said before breaking contact and heading back toward the northwest sector.

Rade let it go. He had enough to contend with already, he could deal with Turin later. Right now he had to get a grip because whether he liked it or not, Sevrina was right. In order to get out of there they’d have to complete the mission.

But everything about this op was wrong. From the locals armed with government weapons to the possibly stale intel, it was all congealing into one big rotten mess. And something was prickling Rade’s senses, something dangerous, like feeling the eyes of a predator watching from the shadows.

His thoughts were cut off by a sudden piercing screech through his earpiece. The shock sent a wave of combat endorphins spiking through his blood as he ripped the earpiece out and threw it away.

Hab shouted and clutched at his head, his left eye clearing from white back to normal as the drone fell from the sky. The neural linkage blinked out.

“The fuck was that?”

“Interference?” Sevrina asked, her pupils dilated, tendons in her neck and hands flexed tight as her own combat endorphins surged through her body.

Hab was punching furiously at the controls of a manual sat-linkage device as he tried to work through the problem. He stopped suddenly, and his head snapped up. “Negative. We’ve been cut off. And we’ve got incoming.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere.”

Rade swept the barrel of his burst rifle toward the perimeter of the village. Dusk had turned the tree line into a black wall just visible between the small block buildings that made up the village. He should’ve trusted his instincts and voiced his concerns earlier. Might’ve been just enough of a warning to give them the jump. “How?” he growled.

“Not important,” Sevrina said. “Right now we need to—” She was cut off by the high-pitched whine of turbine engines as a heavy gunship cleared the canopy and swooped down over them, floodlights snapping on. The ship’s rotary turrets spun up and swiveled around, tracking them where they stood.

Roughly armored vehicles burst from the forest and came roaring into the village, rebels jumping out and pointing weapons at the three genetically modified mercenaries standing among the dead bodies scattered through the streets. Several of the rebels were clad in heavy black-market exosuits and carried sparking stun suppressors.

Rade lifted his rifle, but Sevrina placed her hand on the barrel and pushed it toward the ground. “We can’t win this,” she said, and he knew she was right. The rebels had come prepared.

A setup, no two ways about it. The thought made Rade want to erupt, and it took every ounce of will to deny the storm of combat-tuned chemicals pulsing through him, begging for violence, but he did as Sevrina ordered.

The rebels closed in, shouting in Burmese. Rade didn’t speak the language but he guessed their meaning all the same. He set his weapon on the ground and lifted his hands. The only option they had now was to survive, and trust Xyphos to come get them out.

A crackling bolt ripped through the night. Sevrina grunted and fell, twitching.

Hab went to draw his sidearm. Another stun bolt flashed. He hit the dirt, electricity arcing across his fried biohardware. Rade’s heightened reflexes went into overdrive as he dove to his right and dodged a third stun bolt that passed close enough to make the hairs on his body stand up. He rolled and came up with Sevrina’s rifle, emptying the magazine at the rebels around him, trying to drive them back. Three fell to the dirt and another screamed as he spun around backwards under a barrage of bullets. There was no plan. Rade was only reacting. Someone grabbed him from his left, mechanical hands clamping down around his arm and wrenching the rifle away as another jumped on him from the right. Rade growled, twisted, and threw one of the attackers into the side of an armored vehicle. Fueled by rage and the combat-tuned endorphins, Rade gripped the frame of the exosuit still clinging to him and fought against the mechanically powered strength of the rebel who was trying to wrestle him to the ground. A brief flash of wide, terror-stricken eyes beneath the soldier’s helmet, and Rade tore the offending hand away, snapping the limb backwards to the sound of screams and grinding servos.

Someone opened fire. Rade felt the air ripple as rounds came flying in. The slap and clang as lead met steel and flesh, and the rebel in the exosuit went down. An impact in Rade’s thigh, searing heat as the bullet burned its way into the muscle. Rade fell to one knee, doing everything he could to not topple over completely.

An older rebel wearing a tattered jacket covered in mismatched ribbons started shouting and waving his arms. The gunfire stopped. Rade bared his teeth, glancing about for a weapon he might be able to reach . . .

There was a click and whine as a stun suppressor primed its charge. A bright flash, a cold, numbing punch to the chest, and Rade crumpled to the ground. He couldn’t move. Could barely breathe. All he could do was look at Sevrina lying facedown in the dirt next to him, gasping like a fish as they clamped a suppression collar around her neck.

The old rebel in the decorative jacket crouched down beside Rade and patted him on the face. Rade could do nothing to fight back. In broken English, the old rebel said, “No death. You come alive.” He leaned in, smiling. “Buyers already waiting.”

The suppression collar closed around Rade’s neck before he could even scream.

Copyright © 2024 from Zac Topping

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