"Running with the Devil" Novel Chapter 2 snippet 1

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The weather on Arlington was supposed to be mild, but no one could convince Kate. Compared to Necko she was always either too hot or too cold and rain would fall two to three days out of every week. While the mountains and valleys were pretty to her, it failed to make up for the discomfort she felt. It had gotten so bad that she looked forward to missions just to get into a more comfortable climate.

Fleet Intelligence had placed their headquarters on Ireland three decades ago. Fleet had thought that placing their intelligence arm in separate location from main HQ was a prudent move. It would mean that if an enemy attacked one, the other would be left to fight back. In the same wisdom, they had placed a small amount of Intelligence command in DC so if Arlington command was destroyed, someone in command would be alive to manage their field assets.

With the weather being so unpredictable, Intelligence had placed a firing range under the headquarters complex. The facility allowed agents, when not on missions, to stay sharp while firing in a climate controlled environment that didn’t abuse their equipment.

Kate placed her Kimber on the counter before her. One of the fortunate things about being mostly cybernetic was the fact that she didn’t have to worry about being deafened by the firing. However, for the ones who weren’t so cyberized, a set of hearing protectors hung on a hook by her head.

“I bet I can outshoot you, Kate!”

She turned her head to face the speaker and smiled. Rachel Adams was handling her weapon in the next stall from hers. Adams was both Kate’s roommate and her biggest challenger. When they came through basic training, the two of them were first or second on every section. If Kate didn’t win, then Adams did and vice versa until they got to flight training. Kate had smoked everyone at Top Gun and earned the honor as the best ever to graduate from the age-old academy.

“You sure about that,” she said dryly. “You haven’t yet.”

Adams reached into the pocket of her camouflage pants and slapped some money on the counter. A mischievous smile crossed her lips while she winked at Kate.

“Twenty credits says I win,”

“It’s your money,” Kate said, slamming a clip home.

Kate watched as Adams raised her pistol up and fired nine shots. She raised an eyebrow in appreciation of her roommate’s efforts when the target was retrieved. Adams had placed eight shots near the center of the target with one missing.

Not bad, Kate thought.

“Watch and learn young whippersnapper,” Kate said.

In a fluid motion, she brought her Kimber up and into firing position. The crosshairs appeared in her vision and she lined them up with the target. Kate took a deep breath and pulled the trigger until the Kimber was empty.

The target was retrieved while she sat the smoking pistol on the counter. Contrary to Adams’ effort, all nine of her shots were in the center of the target, none off by more then a centimeter. Kate turned to look at her friend, a broad smile on her face.

“I believe I’ll take that money,” she said, grabbing the twenty-credit bill.

“Damn,” Adams said, admiring Kate’s results. “You just don’t miss do you?”

“Not unless I want to,”

Kate slipped another clip into her pistol and lined up with a fresh target. Adams stood behind her while she took up the shooter’s position. In seconds, nine more shots were fired and the target was being retrieved. Behind Kate, Adams whistled in appreciation.

“For someone who hates this job,” Adams said. “You sure are gifted at it.”

“Gifted at killing doesn’t mean you want to do it,” Kate muttered. “I wish to God I didn’t have the blood of so many people on my hands.”

A flash of annoyance filled Kate’s mind as she stuffed her pistol into its holster. How could Adams even remotely think she enjoyed being gifted at the job? Did she have a clue just how many people Kate had killed in her life? Would being a government sanctioned killer make the things she had done suddenly okay?

What I wouldn’t give to be able to leave this place, she thought while she strode out of the range.

Everything always came back to Necko and that was what annoyed her. She had first arrived on that God-forsaken planet when she was six. An orphan, Ferini had bought her from a Church-run orphanage on Selkirk. The Games had been hard of Ferini and his stock of gladiator slaves had gotten dangerously low, so he had traveled to Selkirk to restock.

Kate gritted her teeth while she walked. The very memories of what Ferini had done to her made her furious. A child, she had been a damned child! An entire life spent being trained to kill other people and why? Everything in Necko was centered on one thing: death for other people’s enjoyment.

Years of training and fighting followed her arrival. God only knew how many friends and lovers she had seen die before her. Just to survive she had killed more people then she would ever be able to count and their memory was haunting. At night, when asleep, they came back as voices that tried and convicted Kate for their murder.

I doubt many people in here live with the guilt that I do, she thought.

Kate entered the mess hall and tried to push the thoughts from her head. Even with most of her body cybernetic, she still had to eat to keep her biological components alive and it was an action that kept the voices at bay. While personnel made their way through the line and their trays were filled with food Kate looked at the offerings and barely managed to keep a frown off her face.

Nothing like bad food to make the day worse, she thought. Although on the other hand, it sure beat what I ate when I first arrived on Necko!

The cooks slapped the food onto everyone’s tray and they moved through the line quickly. Her first couple years on Necko, until she had established herself as one of Ferini’s top gladiators, had been absolutely awful. Just like the slaves of Earth’s past, she found that he barely kept them fed. A menu of bread and meat was all they were fed and many nights it wasn’t enough to prevent going to sleep hungry.

It wasn’t until she made Master Champion that Kate learned what it meant to eat well. Ferini kept his top gladiator fed well and she was no exception. An average meal was a full four-course dinner with a quality that would’ve made a chef blush in appreciation.

Which certainly beats the hell out of this ****, Kate thought, frowning.

She took a seat at a table and looked down at her tray. A blue glob of something filled the center of her plate. Even with her enhanced eyes it was impossible to tell what it was other then to call it mush. If someone had mentioned how bad the food was in the military, Kate would’ve told Dr. Matthews to let her die…

Damn this **** tastes worse then anything I’ve ever had, Kate thought, grimacing.

The need for food overrode her hatred of the taste and she ate. While it did beat, barely, the first meals she had on Necko, Kate wasn’t impressed. Wasn’t there a law against cruel and unusual punishment?

You killed us, the voices in her head said. Each and every one of us…our blood is on your hands!

Shut up! Kate thought. I’m sorry…what more can I do?

You can die! They shouted back.

A frown crossed her face while contemplating what they said. Didn’t she come close to that when that pulse grenade exploded? With more of her body machine then human, Kate would say she had paid a steep price for their blood.

I nearly did die, she thought while finishing the food.

That’s not enough! They said.

It’ll have to be, Kate thought, placing the tray in the cleaning slot. I’ve given you all I can…

The voices were silent when she left the mess hall.
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