Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A sneak peak at The Skill to Kill: A Mark Merrick Novel, coming to Jukepop Serials this Friday.



“This is our target,” Galactic Police Lieutenant Jesenia Vasquez said to her five-man team, punching an outstretched finger at the vid-pic of a deadly-looking mugshot. The target had dark hair, thinning out at the temples; a rugged face, lightly stubbled; and a murderous expression crinkling his brow. She glared at the target with a scathing countenance. Pissed off just by looking at him, she struck a button on the remote she held, swapping the target's mugshot for his bio data. Black words materialized across the backdrop of a blank screen. “As you can see, he isn't someone to take lightly,” she said in a severe tone, Latina accent thickened by anger. Her team's eyes scrolled down the data, reading every word with currents of caution rippling through them.


NAME: MARK MERRICK
PLANET OF BIRTH: EARTH
RACE: CAUCASIAN
AGE: 35
BRANCH OF SERVIVCE: GALACTIC MARINE CORP
MOST RECENT OCCUPATION: SPECIAL OPS
AKA: THE GRIM REAPER
SINGLE KILLS: 343
WIFE: JESENIA VASQUEZ
DAUGHTER: KATIE MERRICK

Still fuming, Jesenia smashed the button again. The screen switched to vid-pic number two: Mark looking down the scope of a high-powered riffle with that infamous killer glare of his, seen in the prior photo. He was outfitted in military garb, a sleeveless camo-patterned uniform complete with a protective vest and a combat belt flaunting a deadly arsenal. “This man is one of the toughest son of a bitches this galaxy has ever seen. He served as a Marine for four years. Then he was picked up by Special Ops. His last mission with his team was to take down an interplanetary drug operation. His teammates were found slaughtered and he nowhere to be found. I've heard many versions of what might have happened. Some say he went berserk and massacred his teammates himself. Others say they turned on him, forcing him to retaliate with extreme prejudice. Anyhow, after the incident, he just disappeared. Dropped off the face of the galaxy.”

A heavily muscled frame sat in a corner in a metal folding chair, away from the others: Samuel Archer, one of the team's most experienced hand-to-hand combat and weapons experts. He lifted his legs and braced his boots comfortably on the seat of another chair, facing him. Then he folded his arms over his chest and made eye contact with Jesenia. “Men of valor like that don't turn traitor on their own guys,” he said firmly. “I served with Merrick in the Corp long enough to know that whatever happened, he didn't kill his teammates by choice, if he did at all.” The assurance in his voice professed his trust and loyalty to his fellow serviceman. He unfolded his thick arms and directed a finger at the conspicuous crosshatch of scars on his left cheek. “Hell, if it wasn't for him, this would've been the least of my worries back on Odessia.”

“No one knows the truth but him,” Jesenia countered. “Anyhow, he's been operating as a mercenary and a lone hitman for hire since he resurfaced, which is illegal and why he has to be brought into custody. He's been difficult to track down for the past two years, but Intelligence has a hot lead on him. And now we might have the chance to apprehend him.”

Sam leaned into the metal backrest and anchored his hands behind his shaved head, fingers interlocked. He wasn't the least bit thrilled about pursuing his old friend. “Mark's only been taking out the scum of the galaxy,” he said in a nonchalant tone. “He hasn't hurt a single innocent soul. Seems like he's just doing us a favor.”

Jesenia's brows came together, and she clenched her teeth—heated about Sam's lackadaisical attitude toward the mission. “What he's doing makes him a criminal.”

“The man served his galaxy. He might be many things, Jesenia, but he's no fucking criminal. He's a man of valor,” Sam asserted.

“He ceased to be a man of valor when he chose to become a lone operator,” Jesenia snapped. The bitterness plastered across her face intensified. And ceased to be a husband and father as well. She thumbed a blue button on the remote. The screen blipped and flashed to a graphic map. Reigning in her fury, for now, she restored order to her mind and moved on with the briefing, pointing to a small planet dwarfed among a multicolored cluster of many. “Intelligence believes he's been hiding here.”

Melissa McCray, the team's feisty, battle-loving red head, cupped her chin. Her alluring green eyes examined the coordinates blinking at the bottom right of the screen. “That world isn't in our Galaxy. So it's outside Galactic Police jurisdiction. Are we authorized to go there?”

Steve Brennan, who most refer to as the the Hotshot, answered. “There's no government or external ordinances governing that world, so no one's barred from entry. It's a desolate planet colonized by refuges, IDPs, and war survivors. They go there to start a new life. It's a sanctuary for those escaping hardship. Our code name for it is Eden. The people who go there seeking asylum simply stake out some uninhabited land to call their own and build themselves a home and a new life. Everyone on Eden lives in peace, no matter their race, creed, or religion. It's a huge intergalactic melting-pot. Some say an escapist's dream.”

The rough features of Sam's face hardened into a frown. “And here we go bringing guns to their doorstep,” he said with disgust—eyes shut, arms refolded, and chin tilted to his chest.

Jesenia glared at him with steely eyes, fed up with his protest. “No one's going to be harmed, Sam, if Merrick surrenders peacefully.”

The ridges of Sam's brow deepened as his unsettled expression hardened even more. The seasoned war vet knew what happened when innocents got caught in the crossfire. Eyes still clenched shut, the memories of women and children being mowed down by hails of gunfire began to plague his thoughts, as they too often did. His chin came up, and he opened his eyes, glowering intensely at Jesenia. “And what if he doesn't go peacefully? What about that, Jesenia?” he asked with a bite in in his voice. “We take him out, putting innocents in the line of fire?”

Jesenia's eyebrows furrowed. She clicked off the screen and slammed the remote down on the lectern in front of her. “Look, we have our marching orders. We're going after Merrick whether we like it or not,” she said with finality.

Sam breathed out an acquiescing sigh, and the features of his face slackened. All of his qualms continued to trouble his conscience, though. He slid his feet off the chair in front of him, silently rose, and casually made his way toward the exit. The doors hissed open as he approached. Standing in the doorway, he craned his neck, looking back over his broad shoulders at Jesenia. “Let me know when it's time to go.” His voice was somber. The big man walked off. The doors whispered shut behind him, sealing together with a barely audible click.

Jessica Corbell, the team's newcomer, shifted uneasily in her chair. “So . . . um . . . is what they say about Merrick true?” her voice quivered.

Jesenia swiveled toward Jess. “And what is it that they say, cadet?”

Jess, the fast-talker that she was, blurted out, “I've heard his strength and recovery time exceed that of the normal human being. I've heard he's impervious to pain.” Her voice fluctuated from dramatic to over-dramatic. “And witnesses to one of his hits say he single-handedly took out twenty men and . . .”

Jesenia slapped a hand to her forehead. “Let's not focus on hearsay,” she interrupted, putting an end to Jess' rant. “Let's focus on what we've got to do.”

Embarrassed, Jess shied away.

Emotions unreadable, Takagi's angled, thin eyes focused on the graphic of Eden. His analytical mind pondered how things would go down. He broke his deathly silence, saying, “So when do we leave, boss?” His voice was calm, cool, and collected.

“When command gives us the green light,” Jesenia responded. “Intelligence is trying to narrow down Merrick's whereabouts as precisely as they can. I've been told that at the least, our wait time is forty-eight hours.”

The doors slipped shut as they sauntered down the hall. Jesenia exhaled exhaustion and clicked the screen back on. She plopped her tired body into one of the metal folding chairs facing the screen and fixed her eyes on another image of Mark: him being awarded the Medal of Virtue by his commander and close friend, Gabriel Proser. Why, Mark? Why? She wondered. She slipped out a slimline flask from inside her blue jean vest and quaffed its alcoholic contents partway. She then stowed the flask back inside her vest and let her head fall back, staring up at the ceiling and still asking herself, Why?

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