Description“Welcome to the Limit War.” E.R. Doctor Korina Antonakis thinks she has mastered the chaos of her work and life. In a flash of light, everything changes. A man appears, a soldier from another world. Sergeant Morrow is a Nightfighter, an elite soldier who always battles alone. But he needs an ally on Earth, a doctor. In the dark of night, he opens Korina's eyes to The Limit War. And Earth is on the front lines. More amazing than the interstellar war, is the soldier before her. He is strong and stoic, a veteran, but beneath the armor, Korina finds the heart of a man. And in Korina, Sergeant Morrow finds the soul of a warrior to match his own. Their lives had started light-years apart, but the attraction between them pulls like destiny. Their desire is real, but the enemy needs to be driven from Earth. Can Korina and Sergeant Morrow's passion survive in the Limit War?
Reader Rating: (3 Ratings)
Los Angeles, California, USA, Earth
“Chaos is easy.” Dr. Korina Antonakis made quick notations on a form, then handed the clipboard back to the frazzled-looking intern. “No time to question decisions. Act now and save a life.” With the intern at her side, she surveyed the bustling ER. This space had been her home for years, since her own internship. Even though the landscape changed, with every patient a new challenge, she understood her role here. Fight to keep people alive.
Fight for how long? Korina battled to save every patient, but some deaths were inevitable. Some losses resonated deeper in her; they had been years ago yet she could not release herself from a yoke of responsibility. Even with every life saved, she never felt her impact on the world was enough. The other doctors thought she was on the path to burning out, thinking like that. Saving just one life changed the world. She wanted to do more. Invent a cure. Stop an outbreak. Something that would let people breathe free, knowing a danger had passed.
The ER wasn’t the place for that kind of idealism. This was the trenches. “But that means your technique needs to be airtight,” she continued to the intern, who followed her words as if they were the only light in darkness. “Minimal margin for error. So study up and run scenarios. Anticipate, but don’t trap yourself in expectations.”
Scenarios. Korina’s ex-boyfriend Greg had complained that he couldn’t even surprise her with flowers because she had already run the scenario. Rather than seeing her pragmatism as a challenge to try something new, he kept trying to win her with clichéd gifts and professions that they “made a great partnership”. Korina had to put the relationship out of its misery, and she didn’t even miss Greg. The lack of intimacy left her lonely on long nights, but Greg himself wasn’t strong enough to etch his presence onto her life. Korina wondered if she could ever meet a man who surprised her.
“Fire! Fire!” A doctor shouted and nurses and interns scrambled. Rolling beds and equipment were hurried from a deep corner of the sprawling ER. While everyone was rushing away from the spot, Korina sprinted right toward it. She had run this scenario and knew just where the fire extinguishers were. She plucked the nearest one off a pillar and yanked the safety from the nozzle. Shoulders bumped past her. Voices shouted behind Korina. The space was cleared out. She was the only one standing between the fire and the rest of the ER.
But there was no fire. The corner of the room looked absolutely normal. For a moment, Korina thought it had been a prank or a drill. Then the heat hit her. Unmistakable and unbelievable. As if the air was invisibly on fire. She thought it might be an alcohol fire, which burns without visible flames, but the effects would be seen on the walls and plastic curtains that separated the bed bays.
Okay, so this didn’t follow any scenario she had created. There was no protocol for invisible fires that only burned the air. But that didn’t mean she just had to stand there, she reprimanded herself. Korina aimed the fire extinguisher at what felt like the center of the growing heat and pulled the lever.
The white spray shot out at the heat, then blew back toward Korina. The air shimmered all about her with a great concussion. The heat pushed out and washed over her, as if it was an expanding sphere. Korina wasn’t burned, but a protective sweat bloomed over her entire body. The wave of pressure strengthened. The fire extinguisher was knocked from her hands. She was thrown to the floor by the force of the impact.
Korina’s hair came loose from her ponytail and she struggled to support herself with one hand and push the black strands away from her vision with the other. Her view cleared just in time to see a bright light flash from within the sphere of heat. An explosion. Oxygen tank or another of the hundreds of flammable materials in the ER. She anticipated the pain, or even death.
Neither came. She couldn’t anticipate what happened next. Two men emerged from within the flash of light. They were huge. Each one was over six feet tall, both covered in dark body armor made from an alloy she had never seen. The man closest to her held a deadly sub-machine gun, the barrel still smoking. With his other hand he supported the other man.
Korina’s mind was a blank. Never in her most extreme imaginings could she have created this scenario. This wasn’t real. It couldn’t be. She had no plan. Instinct took over and she scrambled backwards on the floor.
The closer man stepped toward her. His face was smudged with dirt and blood. But within that grim, dirty face were the most brilliant blue eyes. They shined with a luminosity, as if lit from within. Right now, those eyes bore into Korina. Her first instinct was to run.
“Wait,” the man growled. He dropped his weapon and it swung on a sling attached to his shoulder. An armored hand reached out for Korina. She wanted to scream. The man’s expression softened slightly and she saw that his perpetual scowl had something to do with the scar that ran from his temple to his jaw. The light shined again in the man’s eyes. “Help him.”
The armored hand wrapped around Korina’s arm with surprising caution. He was incredibly strong, she could feel the potential in his body, but he held himself in check when he touched her. With his assistance, Korina stood and saw the condition of the other armored figure.
“You’re a damn fool, Morrow,” the other man hissed out, some blood coming out of his mouth with his words. His armor was shattered along the left side of his body revealing puncture wounds, burns and abrasions.
“Save it, Pynn,” the first man shot back. Korina studied the other man’s wounds and the first man pulled closer to her. “You can help him.”
“I’ll...” Order started to emerge in the chaos. Korina was so overwhelmed with the unknown, she focused on what she did know. She was a doctor and this man was injured. “I’ll try.” She looked about, but there were no more beds in this area. She was alone with these two men, isolated in this corner of the ER. “Lay him on the ground.” She pulled a rolling cart of supplies close to them. “Can I have some nurses?” Korina glanced behind her, to the rest of the ER, and found herself stunned silent again.
All the people of the ER stood at the edge of an invisible barrier, thirty feet behind Korina. The sphere of heat that had passed over Korina had expanded to this point and stopped. Some people tested the barrier’s strength, but no one could breach it.
The first man had laid his wounded friend on the floor and looked up at Korina as she turned back to these incredible strangers. There was a slight hint of sadness in his hard blue eyes. “They can’t see you either.”
“See what you’ve done, Morrow?” The injured man coughed up blood. “You think I’m worth this, you stubborn son of a bitch?”
The first man’s name was Morrow. Korina clutched to anything she could in this never-ending maelstrom.
“Save your goddamn breath, Pynn,” Morrow barked. “We wouldn’t be here if you’d kept your distance and only observed their new tech.”
“So let it go. I fucked up and deserve this.”
Korina tore open packages of gauze and knelt at the injured man’s side. She started to dab at the flowing blood to get a better view of the wounds, but he pushed her away. The man winced with the movement and spoke through gritted teeth. “But she doesn’t deserve this. Talk about breaking discipline.”
Korina returned to the wound. She had worked on countless difficult patients during her years in the ER. That’s right, she told herself. Focus on what you do know. Don’t think about the otherworldly heat and light and armor and weapons.
“Keep talking, soldier,” she guessed the wounded man was part of some kind of military force, “and you lose more blood.”
The man managed a smile and glanced up at Morrow, who stood over them. “At least you picked a good doctor.” Pain made the man’s words smaller. “And it’s Sergeant Pynn.”
“Alright, Sergeant, I’m going to pour some saline over your chest so I can get a good look at what we’re dealing with.” She cracked open the bottle of saline and felt the presence of Morrow kneeling beside her.
“I can assist.”
His face appeared to be carved from stone. Chiseled lines and large planes made a rugged and handsome face. But he wasn’t old. A little over thirty, maybe. Hard to tell his age with all the experience that lined his face. Close-cropped blond hair was only interrupted by the scar that began at his temple. What kind of soldier this man was, Korina had no idea. But she could see that he was a warrior, trained to fight and survive. Those blue eyes told her of an incredible awareness. He constantly scanned the surroundings, taking everything in, processing quickly and moving on to the next task.
Korina held out the bottle of saline. As Morrow reached for it the armored gloves over his hands folded away into the gauntlets that wrapped around his forearms. It was as if the metal were alive. She blinked and blinked, but it was true. Morrow grabbed the bottle in his large, rough hand and looked at her for the next order.
Act now and save a life. Korina remembered her own mantra. Focus, she told herself. “Pour this over his chest, I’ll sponge it up with the gauze.”
The saline washed away dirt and clotted blood. More and more gauze piled at Pynn’s side as Korina cleared the wounds. It didn’t look good. Deep punctures laced through his body, revealing some of his bones. Stop the bleeding, that was her first thought. She tried not to pause and marvel at the translucent yellow bones in Pynn’s body, as if they were made of amber.
The injured soldier gritted his teeth, biting into the pain. His hand shot into the air and Morrow gripped it. “Nightfighters spent too much cred training you, Sergeant Pynn. And you’re the only one who’s seen that delta tech. Can’t die yet.”
Pynn rasped out, “Already had my funeral.”
Morrow nodded. “With honors.”
Korina packed the two worst wounds with clotting compound and looked to staunch some of the slower bleeding. “Can we remove his armor?”
Morrow and Pynn shared a look, as if she had asked Pynn to reach into his chest and tear his own heart out. Then stern words from Morrow, “Do it, Pynn. We’re saving you.”
Pynn rolled his eyes and cursed in a language Korina didn’t understand. Morrow half lifted his comrade off the floor to remove the armor. Then Morrow froze. His alert eyes blazed. Instantly, the submachine gun was in his grip. The weapon seemed to hum with energy.
“Damn the dogs.” Pynn caught whatever Morrow was reacting to and struggled to get his own weapon in his hand. Rather than letting his injured friend rest on the ground, Morrow stood him up, both men grunting with the effort. Pynn growled through the pain, “Fight and die standing, Morrow. You did your best, friend.”
The air was charged with the power of Morrow. His awareness, his readiness to fight. He scanned the area, weapon poised. He and Pynn kept their backs to the rest of the ER and focused on the twenty feet between them and the corner where the heat had started.
Something was coming. Even Korina felt it. But if whatever it was made a warrior like Morrow bristle with a fight, she wondered how she could possibly survive. “What is it?” she asked, and discovered she hardly had the breath for the words.
Morrow spoke low without turning to look at Korina. “Stay behind me.”
“What’s coming?” Korina looked about the ER for a weapon, anything to defend herself. A scalpel. One and a half inches of sharp steel. She grabbed it anyway and stood behind Morrow. His armor shifted, the metal unfolding until it completely covered his arms and legs in thick, black plates.
Morrow murmured, “Light-heavy, Suzy.”
A female voice answered, “Of course, Sergeant.” Then his submachine gun altered, growing larger until it was the size of an assault rifle.
Korina stammered, “You... Your gun talks?” Whatever was going on here, it didn’t belong on Earth.
The soldier before her didn’t answer. He focused on a coming battle. Dark purple splashes of energy bloomed near the far walls in the empty corner of the ER, like bruises on the fabric of existence. Morrow readied his weapon in one hand and held up Pynn with the other. Aside from Korina, Morrow and Pynn there was no one within a thirty-foot radius in this side of the ER. The beds had been rolled away at the danger of fire and the only reliable cover was several pillars scattered through the space.
Pynn grumbled, “These the deltas that got me?”
“Forward Guard,” Morrow replied, low.
“Gotta get their tech, Morrow. Can’t let them take the advantage.” Pynn leaned in Korina’s direction without taking his eyes off the growing dark blooms in the air. “What’s your name, Doctor?”
“Dr. Antonakis.” The scalpel felt very small in her sweating hand. “Dr. Korina Antonakis.”
A smile from Pynn, thinned by the pain. “Thanks for trying, Doc.” Then Pynn knocked his knuckles into Morrow’s chest plate. “And you, too, Morrow. You tried. Now you have to save another life. Korina. Her name is Korina, Sergeant Morrow. Keep her safe.” With a deep breath, Pynn gathered his energy, pushed away from Morrow and headed toward the other side of the ER.
Sergeant Morrow didn’t try to hold on to his friend. The fight was already on. Morrow and Pynn fired their weapons, slicing the air with energy blasts. But no light or flame emerged from their guns. The energy they shot was a deep red, nearly black.
From within the dark stains in the air, horrible humanoid creatures appeared. Korina only caught glimpses of their indigo bodies and deep green armoring. Every time one moved so that she could see it, Morrow blocked her view with his large body. It was like watching a movie, born from someone else’s twisted imagination. She never could have dreamed up such creatures. Only in a nightmare. But they were real and Korina felt that these aliens brought death with them. There was no time to marvel at what was happening. She had to stay alive.
The aliens had weapons of their own and fired back at Morrow and Pynn while trying to move away from the walls and deeper into the ER. The killing energy from the creature’s weapons was dark purple, almost the same color as their scowling faces. The air sizzled all around Korina with the dark energy blasts. The linoleum floor exploded near her feet and she jumped to what she thought was safety.
Instead she found herself on the ground staring up at the barrel from one of the dark creature’s weapons. The metal was the same dark green as its armor. A purple light in the alien’s chest plate flashed. A sickly sensation of violation washed over Korina with the light.
The creature’s dark purple face grinned like a skull with shockingly white teeth. High cheekbones accentuated lustrous black eyes. And then the face was gone. Red energy blasted into the alien soldier’s body and he fell away. Korina turned to see Sergeant Morrow advancing on the fallen creature, blasting it with a stream of fire until the enemy was surely dead.
Morrow’s face was a mask of grim efficiency. It didn’t seem to matter what world he was from, Korina recognized the essence of soldier in this man. Once he was sure this foe was dead, Morrow turned and fired at another. With his free hand, he reached back and helped Korina to her feet.
She still held the scalpel. But what could she do in this fight? Sparks of dark purple scattered over Morrow’s armor as he deflected attacks from the creatures. He moved and fired back, pulling Korina with him. She realized that he not only fought the aliens, but he also kept his body between them and her.
Two more of the enemy fell. A third tried to fire on Morrow, but he caught a combined blast from Morrow and Pynn. Thirty feet away, on the other side of this isolated area of the ER, Pynn leaned against a pillar and fired at the coming creatures. More purple blooms formed in the air near the walls, heralding more dark troops to advance.
Korina tugged on Morrow’s armor, showing him where more aliens were coming. He split the air with blasts from his weapon, killing the enemies before they could do her harm. The scalpel still stood ready in her hand, and she hoped to never be close enough to one of these creatures to use it.
It seemed as if there was a never-ending stream of these horrible aliens. “How many are there?”
Morrow replied as he swung his weapon from target to target. “On your planet, thousands.”
“And they’re all coming after us?” Deadly energy crisscrossed the air.
“Feels like it, doesn’t it?” Morrow was remarkably calm. This was the efficiency of a professional soldier. Korina couldn’t imagine what he was a veteran of, but his experience was evident in his lack of panic as he took down enemies and moved to new cover at a pillar. All the while protecting her. “Dusk Warriors. Deltas,” he explained. “These are from the Forward Guard.” With the armored toe of his heavy boot, he tapped the dark green armor of a fallen Dusk Warrior. “Color of the shell tells you the division.”
Thirty-one years of life on this earth. It felt as if most of that time was spent studying, learning and planning. The ER had been the ultimate outlet for her skills. She helped people. Korina always knew there was more to learn. She never thought she would have to relearn her whole notion of reality. Thirty-one years and it all changed in an instant. And she started to learn just in time to die. “Great, now I know who’s killing me.”
Morrow spun, firing his gun and wrapping one arm around Korina. He slid the two of them behind another pillar, temporary cover in the maelstrom. Luminous blue eyes found hers, held her attention. With Morrow’s intensity and resonating power, it was as if he and Korina were alone and there wasn’t a battle raging all about them. His eyes flared brighter and she stared into their depths. It wasn’t a cool blue, but a fire that burned within him. It could burn her, too. He spoke with vehemence and conviction, “To know that death is coming means you’re still alive. And while we live, we fight.”
He tore his gaze away from hers before she was done drinking in his confidence. With unbelievable care for her body, Morrow moved her out of the way with one arm while raising his weapon with the other. Short bursts from his gun and two Dusk Warriors fell. The temporary safety of the cover had been compromised. Morrow fought his way out, shielding Korina all the while. She saw at least a dozen Dusk Warriors crowding the corner of the ER. Pynn still supported himself on a pillar, fighting from the other side of the ER. Even with the Dusk Warriors in a crossfire, it seemed they would eventually overwhelm Pynn and Morrow.
Morrow’s words resonated in Korina’s. While we live, we fight. Something deep within her understood, like a latent memory awakening. The scalpel wasn’t going to help her and she threw it aside. She needed a bigger impact.
Korina looked over the battle and tried to find an opening. It wasn’t going to be easy, but she had to do it. During the briefest lull in the firing she sprinted to a rack along the wall in the ER.
“Get back to cover,” Morrow shouted, then ran to her. Sparks of energy rained all about his armor. He winced with the impacts. He fired back and finally reached Korina. “I can’t let you die.”
“Not dead yet.” Her heart was pounding and she had no idea how close she had come to being shot. But it was worth it. Korina yanked an oxygen tank off the rack and threw it along the floor toward a group of Dusk Warriors. It spun and skittered to their feet. Not sensing a threat, the Dusk Warriors hardly paid attention. It was Korina’s turn to give an order. “Shoot it.”
Without hesitation, Morrow brought his weapon to his shoulder for finer aim and pulled the trigger. One blast raced across the room and impacted the oxygen tank. The energy from the weapon combined with the pure oxygen. A great explosion rocked the room. Deep red flames, tipped in bright white, ripped through the cluster of Dusk Warriors.
“Outstanding.” Real appreciation from Morrow. Even some surprise in his voice. Korina glowed, knowing she could surprise someone as hardened as Morrow.
From the other side of the room, Pynn pumped his fist in appreciation. His eyes scanned the space for more oxygen tanks. A whole rack was three yards away from him. Limping and wincing, Pynn fought his way toward the rack.
Morrow covered his friend’s progress, firing at the remaining Dusk Warriors. And more were coming. Korina wondered if they had enough oxygen tanks to stem this onslaught. There were two more tanks on the rack near her. “Should I throw these?”
“Get ready to run.” Firing and shielding Korina, Morrow pulled something the size of an apple from a belt loaded with gear.
“Run where?” There was no exit.
“With me.” The object in Morrow’s hand glowed with the dark red energy. A small lens snapped out of the collar of Morrow’s armor on an articulated arm and positioned itself in front of his eye. He looked over the ER through this lens and picked one wall. Morrow stopped shooting long enough to throw what Korina could only assume was a hand-grenade. It bounced on the floor and landed at the base of the wall Morrow selected. There were four Dusk Warriors between them and the wall.
“How the hell...?” She started, but Morrow wasn’t listening to her. He was focused on Pynn.
Morrow dropped one Dusk Warrior as it approached Pynn and the other soldier gave a slight nod of his head. His wounds were bleeding and it took great effort for him to fight forward. After a moment, Pynn reached the full rack of oxygen tanks and fell on it for support.
Morrow whispered, “See you in the night, Sergeant Pynn.”
“Wait,” Korina couldn’t believe what she was seeing. “Is he going to...?”
“Run now,” was Morrow’s reply. He fought his way into the room. At a silent command, the grenade exploded. Fire and smoke and dust erupted from the wall. The remaining Dusk Warriors who blocked Morrow and Korina’s path were knocked toward Pynn.
As she ran behind the safety of Morrow’s body and armor, Korina had to ask, “Why didn’t you throw that before?”
“They would’ve thrown it back.” He shot her a glance. “Your explosive tank was perfect, the deltas didn’t know it was a threat.”
The smoke and dust cleared, revealing a gaping hole in the wall. Fresh air from outside streamed in. “That’s our exit.” Morrow took Korina’s arm and lead her toward the hole.
She glanced back at Pynn and tried to resist Morrow’s great strength. A dozen Dusk Warriors surrounded Pynn, fighting toward him with deadly progress. Pynn fired back, holding them off, but he couldn’t last much longer. “We have to help him.”
“He’s securing our exit. This is his fight. Alone.” Morrow turned for a final look back at Pynn. “With honors, Sergeant Pynn.”
Pynn shouted back, “See you in the night, Sergeant Morrow.” The surrounded soldier let out a battle cry as he fought the furious onslaught of Dusk Warriors. Amidst their dark purple bodies and green armor, Korina swore she saw Pynn smiling with rage. Then she couldn’t see his face any longer. The Dusk Warriors converged on Pynn and he huddled close to the rack of oxygen tanks. A small spark of red energy. A moment before the blast. Then the air shook. Red and white flames radiated in a sphere, like a galaxy being born.
Morrow threw himself between Korina and the blast, shielding her from the flames. But she felt the concussion of the shockwave. The bright light subsided and Korina felt herself moving again. The gloved hand of Morrow was around her arm and urging her forward. He could crush her bones with his strength, but he held himself in check and treated her with more care than she thought this armored man was capable of.
He hurried them through the hole in the wall. Korina glanced back and saw the charred radius where Pynn and his enemies had been. His sacrifice had wiped out all of the attackers.
The fresh outside air hit Korina as she saw the dazed Dusk Warrior pursuing her and Morrow through the blasted wall. Morrow didn’t stop his quick pace to twist behind them and fire. Not a single round of energy was wasted. Every shot hit its mark and the Dusk Warrior fell among the rubble of the broken wall.
The battle seemed over, but Morrow continued his run, Korina keeping up. Dim lights showed on Morrow’s gauntlet and he spoke into it in a low, efficient voice. “Core. Morrow. Sending containment coordinates.” He paused, listening, and the tension tightened in his voice. “Negative. Repeat, negative. Exfil impossible. Mission ongoing.” The lights snapped out on his gauntlet. Morrow took a deep breath and Korina saw some of the tension to drain out of him. He slowed their running pace to a jog. “Sub, Suzy.”
“Of course, Sergeant,” his gun replied and shrank down to the size Korina had first seen. He let the weapon drop and it hung by the sling at his side.
It was night in Los Angeles. Korina knew these streets, the smell in the air. It was late and only a couple of cars drifted up a wide boulevard two blocks away. This area of closed shops and restaurants was dead quiet with dim yellow streetlights that hardly lit the sidewalk. She grew up in this city and there weren’t too many surprises left in these streets. But it was all different now. Nothing was real. Everything had changed. She tried to stop running and felt the grip of Morrow tighten around her arm.
“Wait. Wait,” she protested and tried harder to get out of his grasp, though she knew if he wanted to hold her she could never escape.
Morrow stopped and grudgingly released her arm. But he stayed close. And his blue eyes never stopped scanning the area around them. “I can’t answer all of your questions here. We need to get farther away.”
“I need to get back.” They were only a block away from the hospital and she could see the hole in the wall leading into the ER. “That’s where I belong.”
“Not anymore.” There was a shade of sadness in his voice.
“People may be hurt in the ER. They need me there.”
“There are others to help them.”
“I need to go back.” More than merely returning to the ER, Korina really wanted to return to the normal world, the place that existed before Sergeant Morrow burst into her life.
Morrow shook his head. “You can’t return.” He reached for her arm, but she twisted away from his grip. His frustration grew. “After tonight, you’ve seen more than anyone else on this planet.”
His words hardly made sense. She was desperate to wake up from this nightmare she knew was somehow real. “Can’t I go back? I can forget.” Korina tried to convince Morrow and herself. “I’ll forget everything.”
“I’m sorry.” With his great care, Morrow placed his armored hand on the small of her back to steady her. “You’ll never forget.” The soldier’s touch felt almost intimate through the armor. This man from another world had taken Korina from everything she had ever known. She was lost, weightless and drifting through perilous space. Morrow’s blue eyes blazed in the night and Korina wondered if she could navigate to safety with those two luminous stars.
His face was grim, a statue of a veteran soldier. “Welcome to the Limit War.”