Station Alpha – Chapter 1

So, I might have mentioned I have a book coming out soon? This one?

Station Alpha Aislinn Kearns

Station Alpha

Well, as a special treat, I thought I would release a little sneak peak to you all! I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1

A harsh rattle shattered the peace of the night.

Christine shoved the enticing tendrils of dreamless sleep aside. Her phone had awoken her, buzzing on the wooden nightstand; the sound only loud because everything else was silent. She squinted against the unwelcome glare as the flashing screen lit up the room.

Christine hesitated for just a moment, then reached to pick it up with a resigned sigh. She caught sight of the time as she swiped the screen. 2:02am.

This had better be good.

When Jimmy had interviewed Christine for her new job as personal assistant to his ageing father, he’d warned her that it might mean some all hours phone calls. But she’d thought it had been a polite ‘maybe once every few months you’ll get a call at 10pm’ warning, not a ‘in your second week you’ll be woken in the early hours of the morning’ warning.

“Christine speaking,” she answered, trying to sound less groggy than she felt.

“There is a team of men converging on your house right now,” came the unexpected reply from a low male voice. Unfamiliar, urgent. “You need to run.”

“What?” she asked, blinking in an effort to focus. A prank call? She checked the number and realised she didn’t recognise it.

There was a grunt on the other end of the line, sounding a lot like frustration. “There are about…fifteen guys or so in black combat gear outside your house, ready to storm it. You need to get out while you still can.”

“Listen here, buddy,” Christine began, anger stirring within her. What kind of creep was this guy? She sat up in the bed. It was hard to deliver a set down with righteous fury when you were prone in a warm bed.

The cold air in the room chilled her arms and shoulders, bared by her tank top. A shiver played across her skin as she drew a deep breath to begin her tirade. The new angle gave her a perfect view out of the bedroom window. Christine froze with the breath still in her lungs.

There was a flash of movement outside.

She couldn’t tell what it was, other than it was big. Human-sized. She lived on a large lot on the outskirts of the city. No person should be anywhere near her house. Not at this time of night.

And anyone that was there wouldn’t be paying a neighbourly call.

“Please tell me right now if you are messing with me,” she told the man on the line. Her throat was tight with dread; she could barely squeeze the words out.

“No,” he said, and Christine realised that he sounded deadly sincere.

“What do I do?” she asked as she threw back the covers. She didn’t waste time on fear, though her heart was hammering in her chest. She stuck to the practicalities—get safe.

Some instinctive part of her mind told her to stay low, keeping out of sight from whoever was outside. She crawled across the floor one-handed, gripping her phone to her ear like a lifeline. The worn carpet scraped against the exposed skin of her knees.

“They’re at the front and back door now,” the man on the phone told her. She stuck her feet into the running shoes she’d abandoned by the bedroom door the night before, not bothering to tie them. “They aren’t covering the storm door to the basement. You’ll have to get out that way.”

She nodded, forgetting he couldn’t see her.

The good news was that the storm door was right near where she’d parked her car. The bad news was that it was also near her front door—just metres away from where he’d said there were bad guys. At least, she had to assume they were bad guys. She couldn’t imagine why the good guys would attack her house in the middle of the night.

“But they’ll see me,” she told him, whispering.

“Yes, but you’ll have the element of surprise. You can probably get to your car before they start shooting.” His voice was matter of fact.

“Probably?” she asked, the phone still to her ear as she snatched her keys off of the hallway’s sideboard, grabbing her bag while she was at it. “Wait, shooting?” she continued as her brain caught up with her mouth.

His reply was sardonic. “They have guns. I have to assume they will use them.”

Christine reached the basement door. Of course they had guns. A thought occurred to her. How did her mysterious saviour know that they had guns, or where they were standing?

“How do you know where they are and what they have?” she asked, wrenching open the rarely-used basement door. It creaked, loud in the silent house. Christine froze for just a moment, listening hard. She’d half-expected a door to burst open, spilling evil men into her home. But nothing moved.

She trod down into the darkness. After a few steps, the weak light from the house could no longer penetrate the gloom. She slowed, even though the adrenaline gushing through her body urged her to run, to move. She wouldn’t do herself any favours by falling down the ancient stairs. The flaking wooden banister beneath her hand did little to steady her. A few pricks made Christine think it was giving her splinters, but she paid no attention. She had bigger things to worry about.

It would have helped if she could see, but she wasn’t stupid enough to turn on the light.

She reached the bottom of the staircase, and her eyes began adjusting to the gloom. Weak moonlight streamed through the small, grimy window. Lumps were haphazardly arranged around the space. If memory served, it was all long-forgotten detritus from her childhood.

“Well?” she demanded, not forgetting her earlier question as she picked her way forward. If he could see the people outside, could he see her, too? Perhaps her entire house was rigged with cameras. She swallowed past a nervous lump.

“Later. Let’s get you to safety first.”

“How can I trust that you aren’t leading me into danger?” she countered. The storm door was almost in reach. “You could be out there with these bad guys right now. Maybe you are leading me outside to my doom to save you the trouble of breaching my house. I could run straight into their arms.”

“Fine. I’m watching via a live satellite uplink. Happy now?” he growled.

“It’ll do,” she told him. “For now.” Christine had to believe he was on her side.

“Good. Be ready to make a run for it when I say go.”

Christine took a deep breath, creeping up the steps to the door. “Wait a moment, I need to unlock it.”

He made a sound of frustration—something that seemed to be a habit with him—but said nothing. Christine felt around in the dark until the rusty metal of the bolt grazed her palm. To her relief, it wasn’t padlocked. She had no idea where she would have kept the key if she’d needed one. It wasn’t good for her safety, but excellent news at this moment. She’d rectify that bad habit later.

She worked the bolt open, trying not to make too much noise. She was conscious of the men hovering on the other side, only a few steps away. After a steadying breath, she whispered the words, “All right.”

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Christine focused on keeping the air coming in and out of her lungs steady. She was tense, ready, her ears straining for any sound in the quiet night. She couldn’t hear the men out there, but it didn’t mean they weren’t waiting for her.

“Now!” the man yelled, and Christine threw open the doors and started running. She didn’t look around, even as she reached her car and tugged open the driver’s side door. Thank god for automatic keyless entry. The lights flashed, then flashed again. Her mind caught up as she slid into the driver’s seat. The violent report of sound penetrated the roaring in her ears. She realised those second flashes were gunfire.

She ducked as she started the car with a press of a button and slammed it into gear. Bullets pinged off the body of the car, but none shattered the windows. Not taking the time to wonder why, Christine rammed her foot hard on the accelerator and sped off. She spun the wheel, angling the car down her long driveway. Her heartbeat thudded in her ears, drowning out all other sounds as she raced down her driveway.

She flicked on her headlights to see the turn, and they bounced off dark cars lining the road. Big SUVs, every one of them. There had to be at least ten, maybe more. She spared a glance at the rearview mirror. The armed men, weighed down by an obscene amount of weapons, raced down the drive toward those cars.

She turned onto the road that ran outside her house and lost sight of them for a moment. She focused her eyes on the road ahead, determination filling her.

“Are you all right?” The gruff question sounded through the car’s speaker system and Christine jumped. She realised that her phone had automatically connected via Bluetooth. It had slipped out of her hand in the chaos, and she suspected it was somewhere in the foot well. “Were you hit?” he asked with more urgency when she didn’t immediately reply.

“No. No, I’m okay.” She thought she heard a sound of relief. “Are they following me?”

“Yes,” he said shortly.

Christine swallowed and pressed even harder on the accelerator.

“Just follow my directions, and you’ll be all right,” said her saviour. She frowned. She couldn’t keep calling him that.

“What’s your name?” she asked. The words came out thin and muted. Terror had stolen her voice.

He cleared his throat. “Paul,” he muttered. “Now turn right.”

She slid the car around the corner and immediately checked the rearview mirror for any pursuit. It took them just fifteen seconds to turn onto the same road. Not good.

“Where am I going?”

“Somewhere safe.” It was obvious he didn’t intend to tell her any more, at least for now. Still, she’d already put her life in his hands for the night. She’d trust him a little longer. “Turn left.”

She did, the steering wheel wobbling in her hands as she fought to gain control.

“Can you give a little more warning on these turns?” she asked, gritting her teeth.

“No. I don’t want you to telegraph the turns to your pursuers. Right.”

She spun the wheel, and found herself on a suburban street, more populated than her own. Her pursuers were still not far behind, and closer every second. The engine whined as she flattened the accelerator, but it made almost no difference to her speed. Her car was built to be environmentally friendly, not to win in a high-speed chase. She assumed that men who stormed houses must have cars built for speed.

“They’re gaining,” she ground out.

“Shit,” said Paul. Christine couldn’t agree more.

“What do I do?”

“Left!” he barked. She turned again, tires squealing. Her heart plummeted for a moment as she fishtailed along the road. The vehicle was out of her control for just a few seconds before she ruthlessly tamed it.

The brief error had cost her. A dark car, leading two others, was inches away from her bumper. Christine tried to pull away, but it was no use. The lead car gunned its engine and drew even with her for a split second. The tinted windows of the car prevented her from seeing inside. But the creeping sensation ghosting over her skin told her the driver was watching her. A shiver trickled down her spine.

The car jumped forward, overtaking her. It positioned itself just ahead of her, blocking her path.

She looked left. Another of the cars was parallel with hers, risking any oncoming traffic by driving in the wrong lane. A glance in the rearview mirror confirmed that the third car was behind her.

“There’s a right turn coming up,” said Paul’s soothing voice through the speaker.

Christine took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. Her hands tightened on the wheel.

“Turn!” She did, bumping over the kerb before pressing the accelerator to the floor.

The car that had been behind her managed to follow at the last minute, tires squealing. Within seconds, it closed in on her. She felt a slight tap against her bumper as it nudged her. The car rocked. Her heart leapt into her throat.

He had her. Whoever was driving that car could cause an accident without any danger to themselves. Christine was powerless against it.

But then, the car braked, backing off. It settled a car length behind her, seemingly content to follow her. The other two cars had caught up, but none made a move towards her.

“Left,” Paul said again. Christine followed his direction without comment, her back tires screeching.

“Why aren’t they gaining again?” she asked.

Paul grunted. “Looks like they’ve got new orders. They’ve probably been reminded their instructions are to capture—not kill—you. Which explains why they only fired at the body of the car.”

If it was at all possible, Christine’s heartbeat sped up even more. “Why?”

“Don’t know. We’ll discuss it later. You still need to lose them.” A brief pause. “Right.”

She spun the wheel, and wrenched her focus back to her driving. The defensive driving classes she’d taken a few years ago had not prepared her for this. It required her full attention. She couldn’t afford to have her mind wandering into speculations.

Five minutes later, Christine was in the centre of the city, dodging the few cars that found themselves on the road at this time of night. She glanced at the clock on her dashboard. 2:24am Christ. Not even half an hour had passed since her life had completely upended itself.

Her pursuers were falling behind a little now that there were more streets for her to wind through. Paul directed her with absolute precision. He gave her only as much time as she needed to make the turn, and no more.

“Left.”

The car skidded a little on a wet patch as she turned. She wasn’t sure what had caused it, as there hadn’t been any rain lately. She hit the kerb with her rear tire, bouncing before righting herself. The engine throbbed with strain.

“Shit,” she muttered, then felt an immediate hit of lapsed-Catholic guilt.

“You’re doing real well,” Paul said in an encouraging voice. Christine was oddly soothed.

The orange glow of the streetlights bathed her path. The whoosh of her tires on the road was the only sound she could hear.

She made a few more turns as Paul instructed, running a few red lights in the process. Christine was grateful that the late hour meant that she didn’t endanger anyone else.

“I think we’ve lost them,” Paul’s voice murmured. Christine glanced in the rear view mirror to see he was right. The black SUVs that had been glued to her trail had disappeared.

“Thank God,” she breathed, easing her foot off the accelerator.

“Don’t slow down too much,” Paul told her, still tense. “Keep to the speed limit. Don’t relax until you’re safe.”

Her racing heartbeat returned full force. Just for a moment, she’d felt the relief of safety. But he was right; it was an illusion.

She cruised the streets. Crossing the river, the bare neighbourhoods she’d left morphed into lush green suburbs. He was taking her east, skirting the edges of the Portsboro central business district, with its skyscrapers and high-rises. While during the day the city centre teemed with besuited workers, at this time of night it would only be populated by a few drunk stragglers.

As she drove, Christine checked every few seconds to make sure the cars weren’t following her. Paul still directed her, just with less urgency, giving her plenty of time to turn.

“I have so many questions,” she said into the darkness.

“Like I said. Later.”

“Are you directing me to where you are?”

He hesitated. “No.”

“Then where am I going?” Panic itched at her, leaking into her voice. Paul had saved her life. She felt attached to him. But going to an unknown location, alone? The thought made it difficult to breathe.

“A safe house that the company I work for owns.”

“What do you do for a living?” she asked, partially to sate her curiosity, and partially to distract herself.

“This and that. The company does all kinds of jobs. I do most of the surveillance.”

“Is that why you were watching me?”

He was silent for a moment, and Christine wished she could see his face. She sensed that he was debating how much to tell her. Or maybe deciding if he should lie to her.

“Sort of,” he replied.

“Well?” she demanded.

He directed her to pull up around the back of an apartment building up ahead. Christine complied, pulling into an empty space near the back of the lot, but didn’t make a move to exit the car. Trees hung over the surrounding fences, blocking out much of the moonlight. The car was dark, shadowed.

“Go inside,” he ordered.

“Not until you answer me,” she said, feeling bolder now that the immediate danger had passed.

He made one of those frustrated sounds again, almost a growl.

“I’ll tell you when you get inside.”

She shook her head, then wondered if he could see her. “No. I don’t know what I’m walking into. You need to give me something.”

He was silent for a long moment. She could hear his short breaths coming through the speakers.

“Fine,” he ground out. His displeasure was evident in the way the word sounded like it’d come through a clenched jaw. “Someone hired us to watch you, but not as protection. We were meant to ascertain whether you knew certain information. They thought you might be a corporate spy.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“Your employer.”

“Mr. Disik?”

“His company.”

“I wasn’t aware he had one,” she whispered. She felt small compared to the vast swathe of information she didn’t know. “Why do they think I’m a spy? I never did anything. I’ve only worked there for two weeks.”

“He’s retired, though still listed on the board of directors. We were hired to watch you, see if you met with anyone suspicious.”

“And?”

“Nothing. If we hadn’t found anything after three weeks, the job would have been over. You would never have known we were there.”

“But then tonight happened.”

“Yeah. And I broke just about all the rules we have in getting you out of there.”

“Saving my life was against the rules?” Her heart hammered.

He cleared his throat. “No revealing ourselves to the suspect. No direct contact with the suspect. No interference in any operation, meet, or other unusual activity. No revealing that we have access to our own personal spy satellite…” He sounded like he was ticking each item off on his fingers.

“Right,” she murmured. She squeezed her eyes shut as tears sprang in them. “Well, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet. You’re not inside and safe.”

She smiled at his grumble. “One last question, and then I promise I’ll go in.” Her heartbeat was slowing to a more normal rate.

He grunted, and Christine took it as a yes. “Why did you break the rules for me?” The words came out in a whisper.

He was silent for a long time. Christine once again got the feeling that he was considering whether he should lie.

She didn’t know this stranger. But he’d helped her through the most dramatic event of her life. Now, it was just the two of them in the enclosed cabin of her car, his voice surrounding her in the early morning quiet. Like a confessional. It all combined to weave an unexpected spell of trust and intimacy between them. His answer mattered to her.

He sighed, and it sounded pained. “From what I could tell from my—our—research and surveillance, you didn’t deserve whatever they had planned for you. Or, at least, I hoped you didn’t.”

“Will you get in trouble for disobeying?”

“That’s another question.”

She grinned, and the expression felt strange on her face after the events of the last hour or so. “Humour me,” she told him.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Could go either way. Now will you come inside? It’s on the fourteenth floor. Apartment two.”

She almost laughed at the playful petulance in his voice. “Yeah,” she said, to put him out of his misery. She gathered her things and got out of the car. It wasn’t until the frigid air hit her that she realised she was wearing her pyjamas. She tugged at the hem of the shorts, fruitlessly attempting to cover more of her legs. It had been a while since she’d showed that much skin in public. At least she’d had the foresight to put shoes on.

All the energy drained out of her at once. Christine felt bereft, shivering alone in a strange, unfamiliar parking lot. She trudged inside, almost uncaring about what might await her.

 

If you enjoyed that sneak peek, you can preorder the book here:

Amazon (US)

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