Armored Hearts
Angela Knight
All rights reserved.
Copyright ©2015 Angela Knight

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Hunger chewed Captain Nick Rand until he felt like a bone in a wolf's jaws. It wasn't just a hunger of the body, though his gut felt hollow and his hands had a tendency to shake. Didn't matter how much food he ate, how much water, coffee, or whiskey he drank. None of it touched the craving that gnawed at his brain, making it hard to think about anything but what he needed. Even now, when the enemy might be drawing a bead on his skull, all he wanted was blood. Hot, red and seductive as a siren -- a taste that reminded him of sex and the cool touch of a woman's hands.

Rand fought to ignore that bottomless need. He didn't have time for it now, no matter how hungry he was. Enemy temp shelters surrounded him, dome shapes dappled with camouflage until they were indistinguishable from the forest floor.

They made his shoulder blades itch.

Invisible, a silencer field muting the sound of his footfalls, he padded between the shelters, beam rifle raised as he swept its muzzle from side to side, scanning for potential attackers. His stomach growled so loudly he wondered if the noise could be heard outside his silencer field. He ignored his hunger, fighting to concentrate past the savage need. As he'd been fighting for every endless hour of the previous nine days.

Instead, Rand focused on the familiar process of searching the enemy camp. He could hear the rasp of his breathing in his helmet as he ducked into one empty tent after another, though the silencer muted the sound past four or five centimeters.

In his helmet com, he heard the murmur of his men reporting in as they filtered through the camp, searching for the enemy. They had no more luck than he'd had. The Falaran Coalition battalion had melted into the surrounding forest, leaving behind smashed equipment, hastily abandoned meals and wrecked temporary shelters. Apparently they'd been alerted to the approach of the G.A.E. force at the last minute, dropped everything, and run like hell. Wise of them, considering they were outgunned and outmanned. The colony was small, without the economic resources Godsson's more established planetary population could command. Their armor was certainly no match for the G.A.E.'s.

Still, they could have left someone behind. Maybe in camouflage armor like his own, surrounded by a field of energy that bent light, rendering the sniper invisible.

But you could bend all the light you wanted to, and it wouldn't stop Rand from picking up your scent. Vampires had great noses. And great speed, great endurance, and enough raw strength to take on a mech unit with no backup at all.

Which was why he had been hired in the first place, despite the G.A.E.'s disdain for mercenaries in general and vampires in particular. The generals who led the Glorious Army of the Enlightened didn't know a damned thing about war. Nick Rand, on the other hand, had spent the past two decades fighting in a dozen wars on a dozen planets. His combat reflexes weren't just muscle memory -- they were burned in all the way down to his DNA.

Which was why the G.A.E.'s brass had decided they could ignore his food preferences.

He moved in a liquid glide into the next tent. Sweeping his rifle over the whole space in a smooth arc, he ordered a sensor scan. The answer came back a heartbeat later. Sensor scan completed. No enemy located, said the computer implanted at the base of his brain. He breathed deep, scenting the air just to be sure. And froze.

The tent belonged to a woman. Actually, more than one. Perfume lingered in the air: lilacs and star roses and the natural scent of female bodies. Rand inhaled, drinking in the lush aroma. His eyes closed for just a heartbeat as he imagined the taste of blood and pussy.

Months. It had been months since he'd had a woman. Godsson taught females were corrupting influences who'd blunt his soldiers' warrior instincts. He insisted women belonged at home, teaching their children piety and submission to the will of their Most Exalted -- i.e., Godsson himself.

Yeah, right. Why the female cultists tolerated this airlock blow, Rand had no idea. It was no wonder the million or so Falarans had refused to join Godsson's six million plus worshipers, badly outnumbered or not.

I should never have taken this fucking job. Never mind that he'd needed work. Peace had broken out all over with its usual rotten timing. Absolutely no one had been hiring. Had it not been for Godsson's decision to invade the neighboring planet Falara, Rand would have been forced to find a security job, and he hated bodyguard work with a passion.

But after a year with the G.A.E., the idea of keeping some arrogant prick alive was starting to sound pretty damned good. For one thing, he wouldn't be slowly starving to death among zealots who considered him a pervert.

He wished G.A.E. HQ would quit fucking around and send him a new hemosynther. The last time he'd commed them, Supplies and Requisitions claimed the 'synther was on order, scheduled to arrive from Earth next week in a shipment of medical equipment. Rand had told the requisitionist it had better, or he was coming to HQ to sink his teeth into something with a pulse.

The man had blanched. As if Rand would touch his sweaty neck with a nine meter radiation probe. His blood would probably taste like burned coffee and stale doughstries anyway.

Growling under his breath, Rand left the tent -- and heard the scream coming from the other end of camp. A woman's voice, crying out in rage and pain.

He was running before the echo died.

* * *

If she hadn't been so sick, she could have made the G.A.E. bastards pay a higher price when they found her in the middle of the camp. Unfortunately, it had been more than a month since her vampire had died, and Lieutenant Zara Tahir was deep in blood sickness.

They surrounded her, a yelling, laughing mob of massive shapes in helmets and black armor emblazoned with Godsson's halo and planet logo. Those suits gave them enough raw power to take on a blast tank and win.

Even so, Zara hadn't made it easy for them. Even in her lighter V.S.S. armor, she had the advantage in speed and agility. Fighting ferociously, she triggered a spontaneous nosebleed. Feeling the hot wetness rolling down her upper lip as she spun and kicked, she snarled. It had been far too long since she'd tasted vampire blood. Wouldn't be long before her own immune system killed her.

Not that these fuckers would give it the chance. They were pissed, and they planned to kill her. And worse.

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