Brutal Response Book 1: Topgun Requiem
Mia only wants to be better. Better at training, better at fighting, and most importantly better than her father.
Brutal Response 01 snippet –
Mia’s breath came out as soft white puffs in the chilly night air. She kept a tight grip on her rifle, staying low and close to the hard gray bunker wall. Listening for the enemy wouldn’t do any good—not when they could move in near-perfect silence.
Her eyes had long since adjusted to the dark. The cloudy night made it harder, leaving the gradations of shadows more difficult to pick out.
That didn’t bother her. A stablight would have given her position away. The guards didn’t have better vision than her, and she should play to her strengths.
Timing would be key. Taking on multiple opponents ate away her margin of error. A simple miss in a one-on-one firefight might be enough to drive a man under cover and give her greater tactical flexibility.
But soldiers with backup were brave. A bullet offered as suppression fire would kill her as well as any other.
She stopped at the corner, taking slow, even breaths. Her heart kept the same steady rhythm it had for the entire battle. This wasn’t a true challenge. If she kept her focus, she’d complete her mission without any trouble, as she had so many times before.
A shifting shadow betrayed her enemies’ position. She spun around the corner and pulled the trigger twice, barely registering the outlines of two men holding rifles before they dropped to the dark ground.
Mia darted forward, staying low. She was too exposed on this side of the bunker and didn’t know if the enemy had overwatch. The briefing hadn’t been definitive either way. When she reached the end of the wall, her slide added another layer of dust to her pants and took her behind the wall of a metal storage shed and closer to her next destination.
A wide pile of scrap and discarded building supplies lay behind the shed and stretched along the back wall of the bunker to form a natural border of concrete, metal, and plastic. Trying to run around it would leave her open, so a small passage through was her only choice.
Mia swept the immediate area for targets. A quick point-to-point move took her to the back of the shed without suffering any gunfire. Another second placed her at the mouth of the junk corridor. A new enemy, this one holding a pistol, popped up from behind a slab of concrete. He didn’t manage to stand all the way up before she put two rounds into his chest.
This was too easy. This was turning into nothing more than target practice.
Mia advanced down the corridor at a quick jog. Loud shots rang out behind her, and she twisted to return fire at the two enemies who’d somehow flanked her. The first man went down with ease, but her rifle chimed empty before she could finish off the second.
“Damn it.” Mia dove behind the concrete slab and beside the body of her third victim, dropping her rifle and reaching for her sidearm.
The enemy peppered the area with shots. She stayed behind the barrier but could hear the gunfire drawing closer. Her opponent eschewed the spray-and-pray approach, instead taking careful shots that thudded against her barrier and all around her.
Mia yanked out her sidearm and rolled from behind her cover. She went for a trifecta, three shots to the center of the mass, more than enough to take down any unarmored man.
One round struck the guard in the chest, and he staggered backward. The second nailed his shoulder, making him drop his weapon. Mia’s final shot grazed his wounded shoulder and sparked against the shed with a loud pinging nose, and the guard toppled backward.
She gritted her teeth. The enemy was down, but she wouldn’t get maximum points. She’d expected and trained for a perfect run. The bastard had moved more than she’d anticipated, and that was on her.
Mia took a deep breath, stowed her sidearm, and retrieved and reloaded her rifle. She still had a job to do. If the pre-briefing intel had been right, she’d picked off most of the exterior guards. Her mission remained the same: breach and find her primary target.
She scanned the area. There were no shadows of movement. No loud gunshots, nothing to imply a threat to her. Getting through the corridor and sweeping around should take her to the weakest door in the bunker.
Mia hefted her rifle and charged through the corridor before turning to sprint along the back edge of the waste pile. Two towers loomed on opposite ends of the security fence. They’d once held snipers, but she’d taken those guards out on her initial perimeter run.
For the first time in the battle, her heart kicked up and her stomach knotted. Her target had been hidden inside the bunker because the enemy was expecting her. She’d downed enough guards that somebody must have noticed over comms and prepared inside. The hardest part of the mission lay ahead.
Mia reached the far edge of the pile, and another short burst of speed took her to the heavy reinforced door and the intimidating numeric keypad. The sloping walls provided plenty of natural cover.
Holding her breath, she reached for the keypad. She would have preferred a more explosive entrance to throw off whoever waited inside, but the pre-briefing intel claimed the codes would remain valid for the entire raid.
“This better work.”
Mia jabbed the keypad with her finger, imagining each button as the eye of an enemy soldier until the pad flashed green. A loud, echoing thud sounded, and the door clicked open. Success!
She switched her rifle to full auto and threw open the door, then snapped her free hand back onto the rifle. She was unsurprised at the two men waiting at the far end of a long hallway running across the bunker, and as gunfire erupted from inside, she ducked behind the door. The stream of bullets bounced off the thick metal.
At a lapse in their firing, Mia shoved her rifle around the corner and offered two quick bursts, hoping the men had stayed in position. There were no screams and no new gunfire, so she risked poking her barrel around the door and then her head. Both men lay on the ground, victims of her near-blind firing.
Mia rushed inside toward a room she knew would lay behind the open doorway to her right, thanks to the pre-mission intel. Her heart soared and sweat poured down the sides of her face. She was so close to her objective.
Hesitation killed, so she wouldn’t allow any. Mia dove into the room and behind a table near the doorway. Two enemies waiting inside opened fire, but taken off-guard by her diving entrance, they shot wide and missed her.
Mia hit the floor and rolled to keep her momentum, which allowed her to line up a shot into the chest of the first guard before she jumped to her feet and landed behind a thick support column.
Enemy bullets riddled the column. Mia counted the shots while she reloaded and switched her fire selector to single-fire mode. She didn’t have time to play with the man, and she couldn’t risk any more mistakes like the failed trifecta. When she’d counted up to the enemy rifle’s capacity, she ran around the corner and placed three shots into the man’s chest as he reloaded.
Before her enemy had hit the floor, she ran toward a table in the center. A datapad sat on the table, flashing a series of codes. It was her primary target. She’d expected more enemies in the back of the bunker. She’d gotten lucky.
She narrowed her eyes, taking deep, slow breaths to focus on the patterns. Intel hadn’t given the location and had only provided a general briefing concerning the enemy’s code regime. That wasn’t enough. Careless entry of the stand-down code could end with her swarmed in the bunker and the enemy’s coordinated attack proceeding from there.
Seconds ticked by. Every lost moment could lead to another casualty.
Her breath caught. She recognized the numeric pattern.
Mia entered the code into the datapad. The pad beeped and stopped flashing.
She sighed with relief and whispered, “That’s right. Full retreat and regroup. How do you like that?” She wiped her forehead with her sleeve before consulting her wrist-chrono. Her eyes widened.
“Seventeen seconds slower?” she shouted and ran her hands through her short ash-blonde hair in frustration. She kicked the table so hard it rattled. “How the hell could I have been seventeen seconds slower? That’s nearly sixty percent worse than my last attempt under these conditions. The score loss from the trifecta is nothing compared to the points I’m going to lose from this time.”
Mia picked up the datapad with a scowl. The earlier missed trifecta must have affected her more than she’d expected. She’d thought she’d cracked the code quicker, too.
She tightened her hand around the datapad, but when she heard cracking, she set it back on the table. Destroying the datapad wouldn’t make her time any faster, and she’d have to justify it to her father. It was her failure, not the equipment’s.
“End scenario,” she shouted.
The two dead men, their bodies nothing more than light, disappeared, along with their weapons. She set her practice rifle on the table and braced herself against it with her arms, biting her lip in frustration.
Questions swirled in her mind. Had she missed the shot because she’d practiced too many simulation rounds in a row? Would she have made it if she had used a stablight?
That didn’t track. She’d mixed hand-lit and dark runs all throughout the night, each time with randomized enemy positions and varied objectives, including direct assassinations alternating with datapad and other recovery objectives. A couple of seconds had been dropped here and there, but not seventeen. Her thirteen-year-old self could have done better.
She rubbed her eyes, grabbed her practice rifle, and stomped from the room, thinking through her every movement during the training session. By the time she arrived at the door, she’d decided upon a different explanation: arbitrary randomized ammo limits that emptied her rifle and made her seek cover and switch weapons.
The scenario setting had been intended to simulate scavenging equipment from the field without time to check it under fire conditions. The limits had proven troublesome in the past, earning her scorn. Her father had insisted that anything that annoyed her made for better training.
Mia gave a firm nod. She’d identified the weakness and moved on to identifying a solution. She couldn’t change the scenario too much, so she should change herself. Wasting valuable seconds counting rounds would only give her less time. She would drill harder on her rifle to sidearm transitions. Optimally, she would have traded and fired while jumping for cover.
She squinted. The sun peeked over the hills surrounding her combatives course on their property at the edge of the Cycovich Wilderlands. Mia and her father had built the course together years ago. She was thankful he wasn’t there to see her humiliate herself by dropping seventeen seconds on a standard bunker breach scenario.
The appearance of dawn didn’t surprise her—despite losing seventeen seconds, she’d never lost overall track of time throughout the night, no matter the mission or scenario. That was part of her training, too. Chronos could fail, and her life might come down to knowing roughly what time it was.
Her gaze slid to the open-air gym beyond the fence. Logs and stones for lifting lay near benches with weight racks, hanging bars, climbing walls, and other conditioning gear, all packed in a tight area near the combatives course.
Physical conditioning formed the basis of all true combat ability. Her father had told her that constantly.
Another course would improve her time almost without effort if she kept the same settings, but doing the same scenario, even with randomized conditions, would make it too easy. That meant she’d need at least two different rounds with different scenarios for it to be a proper training scenario run.
She slung her practice rifle over her shoulder, still torn between hitting the gym and running the combatives course for several more runs.
“Damn it.” Mia sucked in a breath. “Why did I have to screw up?”
Improving her time didn’t matter. When her father returned, he wouldn’t care that she’d managed to bring her time down with quick practice. He’d demand to know why she’d given up so many seconds in the first place.
“I could hack the system,” she whispered. “Erase the run record or insert a foul code and make it look like a broken parameter forcing a reset. He’s told me himself how finicky the system can be.”
Mia’s shoulders slumped. He would notice. He always did. That would only make her failure worse and force her to explain herself.
Her stomach churned as she imagined the disappointed look her father would give her if she tried to cheat.
Her frustration wouldn’t justify it. All those years he had on her, and she’d failed yet again to beat her father’s record. Given her last performance, she wasn’t going to get closer to matching him this morning.
“Damn it, son of a bitch.” Mia kicked a pebble through the fence on her way to the storage rack, where she shrugged out of her tactical harness and left it inside, along with her rifle and sidearm.
Her father’s words echoed in her mind.
Never let failure cripple you. That’s true weakness. My daughter isn’t weak.
Mia vaulted over the fence and headed for one of the logs. She lacked her father’s rippling, bulky form, though she was middling-to-tall for a woman, and her muscles were well-defined.
She crouched and stuck her hands underneath the huge log, then grunted and pulled until she’d brought the edge up to her chest. Keeping her breathing slow and regular, she lowered the log back down, fighting against the natural urge to let gravity take it down. Shortcuts bred weakness.
Settling into a rhythm, Mia continued her reps with the log. Her father had told her that she hit weights most full-grown men would struggle with and most women would never dream of doing. Those same people would tell her moving the log at all was a victory.
Those people were weak. She didn’t need to beat weak people. Her only true target was her father, and she could never match his weight and rep records without a significant improvement.
Mia continued her controlled breathing and quickened her lift pace with her advancing reps until the log was pumping up and down like a piston. She might not be able to match her father pound-for-pound, but her improvement had been steady over the years. Reaching him in the future wasn’t an impossible goal.
“Oh, perfect. I’ll beat him by the time he’s a withered old man. That’s impressive.”
Mia Ada Verick, daughter of the great Emery Konan Verick. She needed to be better than everyone. And everyone included her father.
Reps flowed together until her muscles screamed for her to stop. She did five more after and then squatted slowly to set the log down.
Her father kept telling her to stop trying to beat him and instead beat herself. The objective would always be there, even when he was old and gray.
Fight yourself, and no matter who wins, you’ll always get better.
Mia walked over to a bench, where a large flat boulder lay at the end. She sat on the edge of the bench, stuck her legs underneath the boulder, and, with a grunt, raised her legs, moving the heavy stone with them.
“I can see the wisdom, Dad,” she muttered. “But how do I know that it’s not just your pity for someone incapable of beating you?”
As Mia pumped her legs, her grunts grew in volume. She had to do better. She would do better. There was something out there she could beat her father at. That was the only way they’d ever be true equals.
She let out a strangled laugh. Her plan had been to beat his records on the combatives course while he was away for a work assignment. Nearly a week on her own, and she’d only managed to come close twice. After today’s disaster, she didn’t know if it was possible.
Mia pushed her legs through the burning reps before finally lowering the stone and checking her chrono. The confirmation that she was ahead of schedule weakened the sting of the night’s failures.
She had time before she had to return to the house to clean up and begin her studies. That was the one area her father didn’t care about as much. He told her to self-select her own areas of study.
Her gaze drifted to the simulation pod attached to the back of their combined garage and machine shop. The pod resembled a mechanical octopus trying to eat a giant metal clam with all its cables and tubing burrowing into the bowed walls and swept roof of the garage.
Mia rubbed her chin. She could jack in and see if she could tie her father’s dogfighting record. That would be a small victory, at least.
She sighed. That wouldn’t work. She wouldn’t want to stop until she hit her goal. That risked her neglecting her studies and earning that terrible look of disapproval.
“A few hours this evening.” Mia returned to the storage rack to pick up her real rifle and sidearm, along with her tactical harness filled with magazines. Target practice offered training and stress relief, a perfect combo to push out the negativity tensing her muscles.
Find out if Mia is ever able to beat her father's time on December 13th, when Brutal Response Book 1: Topgun: Requiem is released. Until then head over to Amazon and pre-order it today.