Title: “Restore: The Alliance Chronicles, Book Five”
Author: SF Benson
Expected Release Date: November 19, 2018
Genre: Dystopian Thriller with Romance Elements
Cover Designer: Cover Me Darling
“They considered me a liar, a traitor, and a cheat. I agreed.”
Asher Jones has dealt with a lot of losses in his life—family, love, and freedom. His entire adult life has been about someone else’s agenda. And he’s tired.
Tired of being a spy for both sides—the Alliance and the nefarious faction within it. He’s tired of fighting battles for Riza as well. He just wants to live in peace with his wife and child.
Mohammad Raman Bashur, a trusted friend, is tired too. He’s tired of the treatment he’s gotten from others. In his eyes, justice comes with exposing the New Order’s cloning program. And he expects Asher to do his dirty work.
Problems arise when the fight comes to close to home. Everything is on the line—Asher’s marriage and his sanity.
Can Asher finally close the door on his past, have the life he wants, and silence his enemies once and for all?
Niang, a Riza Purebred from Senegal and an operative in the Alliance—not the rebel faction—meets me at the main door. The smell of smoke and the sounds of chaos drift in with him.
“What’s going on?”
“Venter’s been killed.” The words rush from the man’s mouth.
His face clouds over. “Aoki.”
Damn! That man must have a death wish. I push my judgment aside. He’s killed two parents. I’m sure he’s having a difficult time with it.
“What’s the plan?”
“Getting you to safety, sir. There’s a helo waiting.”
“We’re the only ones leaving?”
“Yes. Fletcher is with Zared and Miss Shepard.”
Good enough for me. No one has to tell me twice when to leave.
As the Black Hawk lifts into the chilly, night air, happier memories flood my mind. I’m on my way home—a beautiful wife and a daughter I barely know are waiting there. It’s a place I haven’t been in a little over a year. And I miss it…I miss them…terribly.
Suddenly my thoughts drift to the item around my neck. Panicked, I tap my chest—afraid I may have lost it. And then I feel it, like a lifeline. Pulling out the chain, I remove the plain silver band, and my finger traces the inscription—You are my heart in Kurmanji. I’ve hated not being able to wear the ring. It was a necessary gesture. When my commanding officer believed I lied about being married, I had no choice but to hide it. Riza heavily frowned upon my relationship with a Syrian refugee. My association with the Fakhourys made my superiors suspicious. So, I lied about our relationship and hid the band.
Not wearing the ring, though, always felt like a denial, as if Rihana didn’t matter to me. But she’s not someone I could toss aside and forget. If it hadn’t been for her, I don’t think I would have stayed clean and sober all those years ago. But contrary to the opinions of others, my love for Rihana isn’t about gratitude. I want to believe… No, I have to believe that it’s so much more.
“Sir?” Niang starts.
My head lifts. “Like, do me a favor? Stop calling me sir. For all we know, Riza doesn’t exist anymore.”
“Then what shall I call you?” he asks innocently.
“Jones is fine.” Technically, it’s not, but I have no desire to explain how a man like me goes by the name Aza Ahmad. It’s not that we don’t have the time. I simply don’t have the energy.
“Understood. I suppose a lot will be different now.”
“What do I need to know before we touch down?”
“We got Aoki and his girlfriend out safely. They’re on their way to the New Mexican Territory per your directions.”
“Staying behind. He said something about keeping up the good fight.”
I’m not sure how that’s going to play out with my step-grandfather. He anticipated all of us returning.
“And, like, what’s our final destination, Niang?”
“You’re going home. We’ll refuel when needed.”
“Good. I’m going to take a nap.” Time to get my mind right.
Hours later, the helo lands in Los Alamos at my step-grandfather’s enclave. It’s a well-protected airfield that hasn’t been officially used in years. I exit the Black Hawk and leave Niang behind. The night air is crisp, but there’s smoke from all the wildfires scorching the terrain. Instead of waiting for a driver, I cross the open expanse and head toward the hangars where my step-grandfather, Steve Winters, waits for me.
As I approach, he extends his hand.
Cautiously, I accept the gesture. The man has only offered friendship, but every chance I get, I reject it. Before meeting my grandmother, the man was a bodybuilder and a player. But that’s not why I dislike him. He fell in love and married her. That action pushed my grandfather further down the shit hole he fell in. About a year ago, my first grandfather died after alcohol ate up his liver. I make no apologies for my damn convictions.
“Asher, it’s good to see you, son.”
“Same here.” Not a lie. I’d be glad to see anyone who isn’t part of Riza or the Alliance. “You, like, taking me home?”
“Not yet. Let’s debrief first.”
Always business first with this man. He employs lots of former military men and women. Steve also has a few key Riza operatives on his payroll. He says it’s to keep an eye on the government.
We enter the hangar, reminiscent of a large-scale bivouac—temporary living quarters for military personnel—divided into areas each with a different purpose. Granted, I’ve only seen such a place in old training films. Riza has no need for transient housing. All of our procedures are carried out on the spot with no time spent in the field. Missions are a different beast. Because of the terms of the New Order’s Constitution, housing can be commandeered from civilians whenever needed.
I follow my step-grandfather around a few banks of holographic computers and desks. We stop at a room tucked into a back corner. Steve pushes open a scratched-up metal door. On the other side is a utilitarian office space—a metal file cabinet takes up a far wall; a long folding table and a few scattered folding chairs occupy the rest of the space. Two fluorescent lights hang overhead. Someone’s had the foresight to brew a pot of coffee. The contraption sits on top of the file cabinet along with a colorful variety of mugs.
“Have a seat,” he tells me and points to a chair. He pours a couple of cups and set them on the table. Steve yanks open a drawer and removes sugar packets and powdered creamer. He tosses them beside the mugs.
Coffee is the last thing I want. A stiff drink—something I haven’t had since I married Rihana—would be more welcome.
Sitting across from him, I ask, “So, like, where should I start?”
“At ease.” He opens two packets of sugar and dumps them into a mug. “This is just about my need to know. What really happened at New Belle Isle?”
Where the hell do I start? My arrest or the subsequent uprising possibly still underway? Do I tell him how Ko Castaneda puked her guts and told everything she knew and then some?
Steve must sense my discomfort because he lowers his cup and taps the table. “How about telling me what all Riza knows about you?”
“That I failed at my duties. That I absconded government information and leaked it to the DarkNet.”
Steve scratches his jaw before passing a hand over his slicked-back brown hair, not a speck of gray visible. “Why did you do it, Asher? You had to know that was going to be an issue, not to mention your affiliation with the Alliance…”
“I’ve been reamed enough for one lifetime.” Rubbing the back of my neck, I ask, “Have Zared and Tru arrived?”
“They did. They’re at the house with your grandmother. That’s why I’m here.”
“Your friend Zared upset Sibley. I had to get out of there before I hurt him.”
Shit. What the hell did Zared do to piss off Steve? The man would do anything—and has done nearly everything—to keep her protected. Sighing, I push my fingers through my sandy blond hair. “What the fuck did he do?”
“It’s more like what he’s said. He accused you of being a traitor. Even had the nerve to say he should have put a bullet in you when he had the chance. You know that didn’t sit well with Sibley.”
My grandmother—I’ve always called her Mama Sibley because she doesn’t look old enough to be anyone’s grandmother—has always been the feisty spirit. She’s the one I should have lived with after my parents and brother died. With her, I probably would have lived a better life.
And never met Rihana.
Or had those adventures with Mark. Probably shouldn’t have had those.
“I should, like, talk to him. Explain things,” I offer.
Steve softly shakes his head and takes a sip from the cup. With it still lifted, he says, “Not yet. You’re going to stay here on base tonight. Let your friend cool off.”
Slamming my hand against the table, I shout, “I want to go the fuck home.”
“Calm yourself,” he cautions. “There are bigger problems to tackle than your friend’s ignorance.”
I push to my feet and pace the floor behind the table. “Like what?”
“When’s the last time you spoke to Bashur?”
Stopping, I scratch my head. I don’t remember. We had a face-to-face or an actual phone call. All of Bashur’s commands come through an operative. The last one being Farouk.
Steve glances down before his troubled gaze lands on me. “Bashur has made himself at home with Rihana and Viyan.”
Leaning my palms on the table, I say, “Like, what the fuck does that mean?”
“It means the man is behaving like you’re dead and he’s Rihana’s next husband.”