John G. Hartness is a teller of tales, a righter of wrong, defender of ladies' virtues, and some people call him Maurice, for he speaks of the pompatus of love. He is also the award-winning author of the urban fantasy series The Black Knight Chronicles, the Bubba the Monster Hunter comedic horror series, the Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter dark fantasy series, and many other projects. He is also a cast member of the role-playing podcast Authors & Dragons, where a group of comedy, fantasy, and horror writers play Dungeons & Dragons. Very poorly.

In 2016, John teamed up with several other publishing industry professionals to create Falstaff Books, a small press dedicated to publishing the best of genre fiction's "misfit toys." Falstaff Books has since published over 200 titles with authors ranging from first-timers to NY Times bestsellers, with no signs of slowing down any time soon. 2019 saw the launch of Book Babble, a YouTube show where John and Falstaff Books Associate Publisher Melissa McArthur interview professional writers about the books they love.

In his copious free time John enjoys long walks on the beach, rescuing kittens from trees and playing Magic: the Gathering. John's pronouns are he/him.

Raptor by John G. Hartness

She was a Marine, but an RPG took her career, her arms, and nearly her life.

Now she's been reborn as part of the secret TECH Ops program, but Sheila Hewson is no phoenix rising from the ashes.

Call her Raptor.

They are TECH Ops, a secret project blending human beings and high technology into modern-day super soldiers with incredible power. But after a terrorist attack leaves most of the dozen operatives dead, Raptor and her Delta Team have to find out who's responsible. But their mysterious enemy is relentless, trying again and again to discredit and destroy every aspect of the TECH Ops program. If they can't get to the bottom of these attacks, TECH Ops will be over, and Raptor and the entire team will be shut down. For good.

 

REVIEWS

  • "Action-packed and able to be read in one night"

    – Erin Penn
  • "Lots of action laced with the author's own brand of humor."

    – Pendragon’s Folly
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Raptor glided in over the farm, her enhanced vision relaying a feed of what she saw back to Duke, who directed the assault from a mobile command center a mile away. "There are two guards in each of the three towers," she reported. "Each one armed with a scoped rifle. Probably a Remington 700 or something like that."

"I've got eyes on the north tower," Lone Star said over the comm unit. "They are positive targets."

"South tower is covered." Blackout's voice came across in a low murmur. "Two positive targets."

"West tower is covered," Whisper said. "One positive target."

"There are two tangos in the west tower, Whisper. Confirm." Raptor swept back around and double-checked. There were two people walking the post in the tower, just like she saw a—what the hell?

The shorter guard turned, took three quick strides over to the other guard, and wrapped an arm around his neck. Seconds later, the taller guard dropped to the floor.

"West tower secure." Whisper's voice came across the comms. "One tango down in the tower, one down in the barracks."

"Jesus, Whisper," Raptor said in a hush. "How the hell did you manage that?"

"That's what I do, Raptor. Duke, west tower is secure. It's go time."

"Roger that, Whisper. All teams go. Remember, we need at least a couple of them alive."

"Too late for these guys," Lone Star said. The flat crack of his sniper rifle echoed across the fields twice, and the two guards in the north tower slumped to the floor. Half a second later, the guards in the south tower were down.

Raptor tucked her wings in tight to her body and aimed her head down, turning her body into a missile aimed at the ground. Bare seconds before she crashed into the turf, she spread her arms, wings flaring out to the sides and bringing her up in a tight arc just inside the reinforced gates of the Warriors of the Power compound.

Raptor stepped forward and lifted the heavy wooden bar across the metal-reinforced wooden gates, tossing the four-by-four chunk of lumber to the side. "Gates are clear; come on in, boys."

"There in three, Raptor." Tank's voice was gleeful as he spoke. "You don't want to be too close to that gate."

Sheila sprang back into the air, activating the small jets on her back just as Tank slammed into the gates with a thunderous crash. The unstoppable force met a very movable object, and move it did. The gates flung open to reveal Tank standing there holding his electric claymore, wearing nothing but a huge Black Watch tartan kilt, blue face paint, and a vicious smile. Breaker stood next to him with a modified minigun in his hand and a case of a thousand rounds of 7.62 ammo strapped to his back. The two behemoths stomped through the door in matching Doc Martens, but Breaker was at least wearing something resembling tactical clothing in his black t-shirt and black pants. The red and blue luchador mask on his face put an end to any semblance of propriety he almost made a nod to.

All over the compound, doors slammed open and men armed with hunting rifles, AR-15s, and shotguns poured out into the central clearing. Raptor stitched a line of 9mm bullets into the ground in front of them, strafing the dirt with her MP-5 from thirty feet in the air.

"You should all rethink a lot of your life choices really fast," Raptor called down.

"Or don't," Tank said, still grinning like a maniac. "I'd really, really like it if you don't."

"We have taken your guard towers and destroyed your gate before any of you could fire a shot. We will happily kill every man, woman, and child old enough to pull a trigger in this place if you give us even a hint of an excuse. It's been a very long week, and we would like to spill some blood."

"So give us an excuse," Breaker said. "Pretty please."

"What in God's name is going on here?" A tall man with silver hair, a white beard, and an air of absolute calm authority stepped to the front of the group. Sheila recognized him as Harold Manus, leader of the Warriors. His hands were empty, but Sheila took note of the Colt 1911 on his hip and the bulge of a smaller pistol stretching his left pants leg.

"Hideout pistol, left leg," she murmured, knowing the small mic affixed to her throat would pick up the vibrations and amplify her words to the entire team.

"Got it," Blackout said. "If his hand goes anywhere near his Colt or his ankle, I'll part his hair for him. Lone Star is en route to Command."

"He just got here," Duke said. "Command is en route to you guys."

"Roger that," Raptor said. "I'm going down." She cut her engines and glided down to land in front of Tank and Breaker, her slender form dwarfed by the heavy gunners, but to be honest, there were entire football teams dwarfed by Tank alone.

"Mr. Manus, my name is Raptor. We need to talk to you about some of the things you said online yesterday."

"You see, my children!" Harold Manus turned to the others in the clearing and spread his arms wide. "I warned you that this day would come. I told you that the imperialist Zionist Occupation Group, ZOG, the cancer that has grown within our own government, would one day come for me! I have seen this day many times in the visions that God has granted to me, His most favored son! These jackboots are here on the orders of the Zionist infiltrators to oppress me and my white brethren! They are here to force us into race-mixing with Mexicans and the mud people! They are here—"

"I am here to put a foot up your ass if you don't shut the fuck up and answer my questions," Sheila said, spinning Manus back around to face her. She reached up to the tall man's collar and jerked him down until they were almost nose-to-nose. "We are going to go into your office, and we are going to have a conversation. If I don't like what you have to say, my friends here are going to turn every racist cocksmoker out here into Swiss cheese. Do you understand me?"

"Oh, I understand everything, little Bird of Prey," Manus said, his voice pitched so that only she could hear. "The question is, do you understand anything about what you have done for me today?"

Raptor looked at him, baffled, then scowled and spun the tall man around again. "I'm going into Mr. Manus's office. My commanding officer will be here in a moment, and we will have a chat with your leader. If anyone tries anything stupid, it will not go well for you."

"Please try something," Tank said with a maniacal grin. Moments like this, when he had his blood up and wanted to hurt somebody, Raptor wondered what he was like when he was wrestling. She had a feeling it was pretty scary.

She led the trim "pastor" into a nearby building and into a small office. Manus sat down behind the plain desk and leaned forward, his elbows on the large calendar that bore the name of a nearby feed supply store. "What can I do for you, ma'am? Besides sue the federal government for its unlawful attack on my property. The men you murdered were U.S. Citizens, bearing arms in accordance with their Second Amendment rights, defending our way of life from the influx of—" His words stopped short as his eyes focused on the barrel of the .40 Smith & Wesson pistol Sheila had pointed at his left eye.

"If you say another word that is not the answer to a direct question, I will paint that window behind you with your brains. Do you understand me?"

Manus nodded, his head moving very slowly. "Yes."

"Good. Now we're going to sit here in silence until my boss gets here. Then you're going to answer all of his questions, without even a hint of reservation, or we are going to make you and everyone in this camp disappear. We won't send your ass to Gitmo; we will erase every record of your existence from the world. You won't just vanish; it will be like you were never born. As far as every computer network and public record is concerned, that's exactly what will have happened—nothing. Do I make myself clear?"

Sheila could see the muscles in his throat working, the lines in his forehead growing deeper, a tiny bead of sweat forming at his temple as he fought the almost irresistible urge to use his charm, his charisma, his honeyed tongue to work its magic on her ears.

After many long heartbeats, he nodded. "Crystal clear."

"Good, then we can just sit here quietly while my guys keep everything nice and calm outside, and our fearless leader rolls in from—"

"Raptor!" Lone Star's voice across the comms cut her off. "We got a bogey coming your way!" She heard the crack of his rifle, but no accompanying confirmation that the target was down. Tank's heavy machine gun spat thunder, and she heard the screams of people outside.

Sheila sprang to her feet and reached across the desk. She latched onto Manus's shirt front with her cybernetic arm and yanked him up and over the big chunk of wooden furniture.

She heard Blackout yell "Grenade!" over the comm half a second before she heard the glass splinter behind Manus's desk. Throwing herself and the thin man to the floor, she flexed her shoulders and expanded her wings to their maximum spread. The titanium-alloy fins flared out, and she wrapped them around her body and the man beneath her just as the grenade exploded. Shrapnel tore through the room, turning the heavy wooden desk into a pile of matchsticks and shattering the rest of the window from the frame.

The concussion drove the air from Raptor's lungs, and the peppering of metal shards shredded her Kevlar jacket, but the microfiber chain mail mesh woven into the coat stopped the worst of the shrapnel. Suddenly she was transported back to a burning hulk of metal, a shower of blood, and pain, unimaginable pain blocking out everything, everything but fire, and pain, and blood. Gotta move. Gotta move. Fuck, I can't move. Derek! Where's Derek? Holy fuck that HURTS! Pain everywhere. FIRE PAIN FIRE PAIN FUCK!

The sound of gunfire from outside the window snapped her back from her memory into the present, and she took a quick inventory for injuries. A stream of sticky blood ran down her back, but she could tell nothing vital was hit.

The rest of the compound erupted in gunfire and mayhem as her TECH Ops team engaged with a suddenly rabid and armed group of what once appeared to be civilians. Sheila stood, looked down at a grinning Manus, and realized the level to which they had been set up.

"You planned this all along, didn't you?" she asked, pushing herself to her feet.

"Of course," he said, a small cut on his forehead streaming blood down his face. "I knew you Jew-puppets wouldn't allow a free white man to stand tall without trying to bring him down. So I trained my warriors of faith to turn aside the forces of ZOG whenever they entered our Holy Land."

"Shut the fuck up," she said, swinging her robotic fist through his jaw, shattering it, and sending him slumping to the floor, unconscious.

"Duke, get the hell out of here! It's a trap!" she yelled, exiting the office and running for the front door.

"Good call, Admiral Akbar, now what?" Scorpion's voice came over the comms.

"Same thing we do every night, Pinky." Tank sounded like a giddy little boy at Christmas. "Kill the bad guys and try not to die!"