Iron Maiden

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Nationally famous comic book artist and writer Diane Nine has been a paraplegic since the age of five. Now twenty-nine, the only thing she needs in her life besides a fine chardonnay and massage is true love—if she could just keep her celebrity and handicap out of the equation. She figures she might meet an eligible boyfriend at the local library park. Her prayers are answered when the gangly freelance engineer Chet Strauss jogs into her life. Chet’s developed a revolutionary combat exoskeleton that can change the face of global military warfare. He’s obsessed—she’s impressed. Chet and Diane don’t waste any time firing up a blisteringly hot romance, during which time Chet makes an extraordinary promise. He believes he can modify his combat suit to allow Diane to walk again. Thrilled with the idea of mobility, Diane agrees to test the prototype suit so Chet has a “bullet-proof” demonstration to offer the U.S. Department of Defense. Her world disintegrates when her boyfriend suddenly disappears. She finds evidence that he’s been kidnapped, and the clues lead to the Cuban-controlled island of Juventud. To complicate matters, he’s left the suit in her care with strict orders to never let it out of her sight. She takes that promise to extremes. With the aid of her nurse Bibi, a Nell Carter look-alike with a Whoopie Goldberg mouth, and her Streisand-addict

Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Agent Gene took two strides and joined Diane Nine on the other side of the window. He peeked around the frame, fisting a rifle in one hand. “I see two, so far. One is standing by the passenger door and looking this way. The other is stepping off the porch across the street and heading for the vehicle, but he has his eyes on this building.”

“The locals ratted us out,” she said. “We can take two.”

Gene made a throaty noise. “The windows on the SUV are blacked out. There could be more in the vehicle. But that’s not the worst of it. They’re wearing flak jackets. I can’t get a clean headshot from here without endangering bystanders.” He paused for a beat. “Okay…the passenger just cornered the vehicle to meet up with the other one. Now they’re both out of my sight.”

Diane tore the baggy clothes off, exposing the combat exoskeleton and snapped the helmet and utility belt into place. The utility belt held a pouch with a dozen circular saw blades.

Gene glanced at the waist pouch. “What the heck are those?”

“Weapons of mass destruction. Stay here. I’ll guard the hall.”

“Take an AK-47 with you. All you have to do is spray and pray.”

“Yeah, but I’m all thumbs when it’s time to reload.” She showed him her pincer-like claws.

He saw the multi-mode finger control on the combat suit. “Then use it with your off-hand and bring it back when it’s empty.”

Picking the rifle up and jacking the slide was easy.

“I can’t let them get on the radio set,” he said, and jumped in front of the window and yanked the rifle up. The gun belched on full auto. Window shield glass splintered. Bullets pinged off metal.

It was on.

# # #

Diane brushed through the door and jogged down the hall, arriving at the head of the stairs. Screams of dismay came from the lobby below. Several hotel patrons ran up the stairs in a crush and headed for unoccupied rooms. After the last person cleared the stairs, Diane ran down fast, the servos in her legs squealing. Too fast. The robotic legs jerked out of sync. She pitched forward, landing on her chest, and belly-slid toboggan-style down the landing, her helmet chin plate striking the steps. She crashed headfirst into the lobby counter. After shaking off the fall, she staggered to her feet.

An armed man leapt onto the porch, heading for the entrance door. She heaved the rifle up and sprayed the front window, taking it out with an explosion of shards. The hotel manager ducked under the counter, screaming her lungs hoarse.

At first, it looked like the advancing man was hit since he’d disappeared after her burst. Then a rifle barrel rose over the lip of the porch. He had dropped down for cover or had been blown down. His gun barked with an orange flash. Bullets whistled inside the lobby striking the walls and staircase. Dine ducked behind the edge of the counter and heard a barrage of fire coming from the second story, and knew it was Gene having his own gun battle. His shots were answered by return fire coming from the street near the SUV.

Diane stepped out, sent a burst into the planks of the porch, tearing up chunks of wood. The man’s rifle barrel suddenly dropped. She trotted across the lobby, skidding on broken glass, firing single shots at the porch. Reaching the shattered entrance door, she aimed down, fully aware that the terrorist had scooted under the porch to hide. She pumped her last bullets into the planks. The rapid fire was answered with a moan. Fifty feet away, the rear passenger door on the SUV swung open. A man jumped out, firing from the hip. Reinforcements.

Dine felt sharp thumps against her torso. The body armor had taken several high-powered rounds, including the face shield, which nearly tore her helmet off. She turned to run, a hail of bullets chasing her, several of which struck her back armor. After making it to the staircase, she half-crawled, half-ran up it. She knew she had been hit when she reached the top landing. The warmth of blood coursed down her back. After reaching the hotel room, she found Bibi and Gene bobbing and taking shots out the window. She threw the empty rifle on the mattress and called out. “I got one under the porch!”

Gene glanced at her. “Move over here—take this. I just reloaded it.”

She took his position at the window while he reloaded her empty weapon. Bibi hobbled across the room, snatched up an extra clip and disappeared around the door. The large, black woman’s heavy steps faded down the hall.

“Bibi, you get back here!” Diane yelled.

“Never mind that,” said Gene. “Give me some cover fire—keep them pinned behind the vehicle.”

Diane fired short bursts, biding time for Gene who now had one of his makeshift hand grenades loaded in the sling pouch. He approached the window on his knees and lit the fuse. When he had the slingshot pulled back to its limit, he rose up and let fly. The ball sailed through the air with a wobbly sizzle and struck the inside wheel well of the SUV. It exploded with a concussion that rocked the vehicle off the ground. Shredded rubber flew like cannon shot, sending the two men behind the hood sprawling flat. Just as the men groped to their feet, Diane aimed for their faces and pulled the trigger several times. Missed. The men dove for cover behind the vehicle again.

Gene sent another grenade missile out the window. It went long, erupting on the porch behind the men in an explosion of wood chunks and nails.

Firing from the first floor, Diane could see Bibi’s shots hit the side panels of the SUV, piercing the metal, breaking the windows and taking chunks out of the upholstery.

The return fire halted. The enemy disappeared. Gene sent another mini-bomb out the window. This time it landed on the hood, blowing out the SUV’s front windshield.

Diane strained to see any combatants left. “You think we got ’em? Where’d they go?”

Gene eased up to peer around the window. “They might be under the vehicle. No, wait. I can see the rear passenger door opening on the other side. I can’t get a bead on him. Okay, now I think he’s crawling around to the rear of the…”

A man stepped away from the back of the SUV and knelt. He flipped up a long tube-like object atop his shoulder.

“RPG!” screamed Gene, and shoved Diane toward the door. She made it inside the hallway just as her feet left the floor. Then came the sensation of somersaulting in the air in slow motion like she was caught in a vat of molasses. The next thing she remembered was spitting plaster dust and trying to shake the ringing from the ears. It seemed the whole hallway wall had collapsed inward from both sides, burying her.

Strong hands lifted Diane up from the wreckage. Gene pulled her down the hallway, carrying both rifles in the other hand, while she had to work the servo legs. He turned his head to speak but she couldn’t hear the words. When they arrived at the top of the stairs, they saw Bibi at the bottom, crouched behind the lobby counter, exactly where Diane had been moments before.

Consumed with an infuriating rage, Diane broke from Gene’s embrace and stomped down the stairs, holding onto the rail for support. After reaching the lobby, the terrorist who had fired the RPG had another rocket readied for loading. She clicked her finger control for a dead run, passed through the entrance and launched over the porch. She hit the man in the midriff with a flying body-block, sending both of them thumping to the ground. She scrambled to her knees and caught the man around the ankle just as he got to his feet. Activating the mechanical pincher fingers, she broke his leg. The man howled then crumpled to the ground. Two thundering punches to the face knocked him out. The suit controls gave off electronic snaps and shorted out. She lay on her side and waved for help.

Gene got to her a moment later and tried to stand her up. Failing that, he drug her to the porch and sat her upright. He rushed to the SUV, checked the interior and then moved around to the other side in a stalking crouch. He reappeared and then gathered up the terrorist’s weapons with a full armload.

Gene palmed the sweat from his forehead and said, “There were four of them. The one on the other side of the vehicle has the back of his head filled with wood and the other lay under the porch, where you got him. That makes two dead, two unconscious.”

Bibi limped out of the hotel and collapsed on the porch, clutching a breast. “That bastard shot my nipple clean off! I hope this shit’s over.”

Diane pulled her helmet off, letting it clunk to the porch. “Girlfriend, I’d love to help you right now but I’ve been hit. I think a bullet crept up the seam of my suit when I was crawling up the stairs.” A pool of blood had collected on the porch next her right buttock.

Gene pulled her vest back and peered down inside. “Okay, hang on. I can take care of this.”

Bibi gripped her girlfriend’s wrist. “Oh, baby, we’ve got ya!”

Diane had the sensation of being lifted into the air and then floating. Disjointed voices and the sound of muffled footsteps came from far off in the distance. Her eyesight phased in and out of focus.

Then her mind wandered. I wonder if this is what it feels like when you’re going to heaven. I’m dying. Angels will show up at any minute. I’m ready. They didn’t come. Then, before blacking out, she wondered how in the hell she’d ever gotten into this mess. The answer was simple. She had only wanted to walk again. That was it. Was it too much to ask for a dream come true?

Start writing here…

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