Kris began snaking her way back out through the dimly lit passageways, the faint glow of the ship’s red nighttime lighting just enough illumination so she wouldn’t trip over knee-knockers or bump into turns in the path. Picking through the maze, she made for a small and rarely used sponson, an external access space with its own tiny catwalk, just enough room for one or two people to stand outside and grab some air.

She opened the big hatch and slipped outside. Alone.

She gripped the rail with both hands and closed her eyes, feeling the hot dry breeze caress her face. Gave a few shuddering breaths, then began replaying the recovery sequence in her head. If she didn’t do this now it would only replay itself later on when she was lying awake on her back, staring up at the underside of Monica’s bunk, trying to sleep.

She heard a sound behind her and turned, her eyes snapping open. “Oh —!” her hand flew to her chest. A startled hare, a runaway horse. “Sorry.” A nervous laugh escaped her.

Goggles and a green jersey looked back at her.

She relaxed back against the rail. “For a moment I thought —”

His arm shot out, punching his gloved fist hard into her solar plexus.

A sharp gasp escaped her as she doubled over.

Her assailant followed up with a hard right uppercut to the jaw that sent her staggering backward. He caught her before she fell, and for an instant she stood, bent over, wobbly, dry heaving.

She felt a rag jammed into her mouth, then a sharp prick in her neck as he lowered her to the deck and propped her in a sitting position, her back against the rail. She struggled to catch her breath, felt her whole body twitch and tremble; when she tried to flex her fingers they responded like semi-hardened clay. Something was happening to her, taking control of her hands, her arms, her legs.

He’d drugged her.

Some kind of muscle relaxant. Propyphol? No, she wasn’t getting drowsy. She just couldn’t move. Could barely breathe.

The clay was hardening. The goggles loomed close, inches from her face.

“We don’t have much time,” he rasped.

The goggles, helmet, and muffler obscured his face. She couldn’t see who it was. But she knew why he was there.

WEBB & MANN’s “STEEL FEAR” Acquired. A Novel About the Navy’s First Serial Killer

Read Next: WEBB & MANN’s “STEEL FEAR” Acquired. A Novel About the Navy’s First Serial Killer

He was going to rape her.

A convulsion of horror flooded through her. Sick bastard! He was going to rip off her flight suit and f*** her, right there on the catwalk. She focused with all her might on her mouth and tongue, summoning the force to spit in his face. She would not go down without a fight!

Nothing.

Her attacker reached into one of the green jersey’s pockets, extracted a water bottle, and unscrewed the cap, which he then carefully placed back in the pocket. She was confused. If he was going to rape her, he would want to do it fast and then get the hell out of there before anyone stumbled upon them. Why was he was stopping to take a drink?

But he didn’t take a drink. Instead, he leaned over her, one hand holding her jaw steady, the other tipping the water bottle to her lips, eking out just a few drops.

What was he doing!

She felt the tiny stream snake its way inward past her dead tongue, under her soft palate, into her throat. Her mind went rigid with panic. She tried to will herself to cough — nothing. She wanted to scream with fury and frustration. The ghoul wasn’t going to rape her. He was going to kill her. And she couldn’t fight back.

The bottle left her lips.

Goggles in her face again.

“If you behave yourself, and everything goes well here, there’s a very good chance you’ll come through this alive.”

You’re lying! screamed the voice trapped in her head. You’re lying! You’re lying!

And then it struck her: that low rasp. It was a cheap impression, Clint Eastwood doing “Dirty Harry.” Which gave her a flicker of hope. The goggles, the voice — he was taking steps to prevent her from recognizing him. Which would be pointless if he planned to kill her.

Which meant, maybe he’d just told the truth. Maybe there was a good chance she would come through this alive. The jet pilot training kicked in, her mind a whir of calculations. Speed. Trajectory.

How long before she passed out? Before the drug completely paralyzed her lungs? Could she fight through it, come out the other side?

The face was staring at her, peering into her eyes. Like it was reading her thoughts. It looked like an insect. Hungry.
A shiver of horror ran through her nerves, though her body was still as stone. Then the insect nodded. Put a hand out to touch her shoulder.

She recoiled in her mind.

“It’s okay,” Dirty Harry rasped. “It’s okay.”

IT’S OKAY?! she wanted to scream. HOW IS IT F****** OKAY?! It, everything, was as far from okay as it could possibly be.

But the disguise! she shouted at herself. He’s disguising his voice for a reason! God knew how, but maybe it was all going to be okay.

And then —

Oh God. Not again.

He tipped the bottle once more, releasing another trickle of water on its way.

All her calculations evaporated, all false hopes vanished, as she felt herself down into an abyss of pure terror, the voice trapped in her head thrashing and screaming out of all control —

Stop! Stop! Please no please no please no please no no no no…

The insect giggled. Then sighed.

“All right,” it rasped. “C’mon, up we go.”

He grabbed her with both arms, then pulled her upright and leaned her body against the railing, head flopped to the side like a rag doll. Steadying her against the railing with both knees and the press of his torso, he uncoiled the tie-down chain draped over his shoulders and wrapped it around her several times.

“Good for you. You’ve behaved yourself. This has all gone very, very well.”

Slowly, deliberately, he removed the goggles and stared directly at her.

There was nothing in those eyes.

You?! the voice in her head screamed. YOU?! Why are you doing this?

And then he spoke — softly, but in his normal voice:

“And there is no chance, no chance at all, that you will come through this alive.”

He peered into her face for another moment, the empty eyes feeding on her panic —

Then swiveled her body around to face the open ocean and pushed her face forward and down so she was staring into the expanse below.

Not the ocean! Please God NOT THE OCEAN!

The last thing she saw before her mind completely snapped was the black face of the

The Arabian Sea rushing toward her.

SOFREP is releasing one excerpt a day until publication day next week, 7/13. Please consider pre-ordering the book here and becoming eligible for a private fireside Zoom chat with the authors Brandon Webb and John Mann who spent more than 10 years bringing this story to life. Pre-orders make a huge difference. 

****

“Sensationally good — an instant classic, maybe an instant legend.” — Lee Child

“An absolutely amazing thriller! Steel Fear comes in hot and never slows down. Exciting, action-packed, and twisty from stem to stern. This will be one of the hottest books of the summer!” — #1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Thor

Sincerely thank you for your advanced order. -Brandon 

PS – Please visit www.STEELFEAR.com  for upcoming events and to join our email list for upcoming events and follow on books in the Finn series. 

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