Down on deck 4, Finn showed up at the gym he hadn’t visited since his second day aboard. There was West Texas, grim-faced, punishing herself on the lat press. And yes, there was Tucker, seating at the weight bench, flanked by his two rat-faced buddies.

Tucker watched Finn’s approach, his eyes narrowing. He set his weights down with an ostentatious Hfff! and wiped his hands off on his pants. “Well look who’s here. The pacifist SEAL.” He barked a few times. Ratface 1 and Ratface 2 hyuk-hyuk-hyuked.

“The thing I said about fighting, not seeing the point?” said Finn. “I changed my mind.”

His right arm shot out like an adder’s strike.

Tucker rocked back on his legs, grabbing at his throat and gagging for air. Finn had a philosophy about fighting. He preferred not to; mostly it was a waste of time and energy. But when a fight became necessary the only way to do it was to win, and quickly.

In Finn’s book, there were three types of fight.

The fight to kill: that was the simplest and easiest.

The fight to avoid being killed or prevent someone else from being killed. That one you accomplished by putting the other combatant out of commission, not necessarily permanently, just for the purposes of the moment. Still, the general rule in a type 2 fight was to inflict, if not lethal damage, then at least damage sufficient to ensure that the immediate danger was completely extinguished. Because nobody was more dangerous than a committed but only partially disabled combatant.

And then there was the third type: the fight to make a point.

Which was what Finn was looking at right now.

“Hey!” A full two seconds had elapsed from the instant of impact, but Ratface 1 was just now reacting, a look of outrage and fury so exaggerated it was almost comical. Apparently, he was winding up to execute some sort of counter. Not so Ratface 2, who was still frozen in place, nothing but stunned disbelief on his face. Some backup. Typically the goal in a type 3 fight was to cause more psychological than physical pain. In a word, to humiliate. Since there was seldom any real danger involved, there was rarely a need for serious physical damage.

Regardless of the specific goal, though — to kill, to avoid being killed, or to humiliate — it was always best accomplished immediately. Less wasted energy, more certainty, and you retained the advantage of surprise. The fights in movies, stretched out for suspense and entertainment purposes, were pure horseshit. In a real fight, the outcome was usually determined within the first 10 seconds of action.

Ten at most.

This one took about half that.

Tucker had reeled back two steps, retching, and coughing but not fully out of the game, which impressed Finn. There was something to be said for the inertia of sheer bulk. He half-turned toward Ratface 1 and punched the point of his left elbow into Ratty’s left temple, then launched off his left foot and delivered a left-hand palm strike to Tucker’s nose.

The nose is one of the more sensitive human extremities, even in a less than supersensitive guy like this one, and smashing its delicate cartilage up against the nose bone is quite painful, as Tucker would have been able to attest if his brain were not currently distracted by firing on all sorts of normally unused cylinders. The nose also houses a dense matrix of tiny blood vessels, a number of them then in the process of rupturing. All in all, a nose strike like the one Finn had just executed could be relied upon to make the eyes tear up to the point of shutting down vision. Finn turned his face sharply a few degrees in the direction of Ratface 2, who responded by promptly sitting down on the deck.

Ratface 1 had slumped back against the nearest machine, a leg press.

Tucker was on his knees, a supplicant weeping before the unfamiliar god of defeat.

Finn turned to the stunned scattering of gym patrons watching this all go down and lifted both hands in the air, open palms forward, in the universal sign language for “It’s all good, fighting’s over.” Nobody moved.

West Texas watched him curiously. Tucker let out a low moan.

Finn sat down against a bulkhead and waited.

It took a full two minutes for security to show up. Long enough for a crew of sailors to lift and haul the big guy out of the gym and off to medical, his entourage in tow. The others in the gym didn’t move a muscle, just gawked at Finn like he’d just gone on a shooting spree.

After a half minute of silent stares, he spoke up quietly. “He’ll be fine,” he said. No one said a word. They didn’t believe him, but it was true. Finn’s fighting style was a cross between water and lightning: fluid, electric, lethal. Though not literally, in this case. Delivered with full force, that throat strike would break the windpipe and severe the vessels, causing the opposing combatant to bleed out in minutes. Or choke on his own blood. Whichever came first. Finn had pulled it. No major damage, and certainly nothing permanent. Although Tucker wouldn’t be able to talk in anything over a whisper for the next few days. What a loss to the world.

When the security team arrived Finn was still sitting in the same spot. The two MAs stood him up, read him his rights as they cuffed him — moving warily as if he were made of high explosive that might detonate at any moment — and marched him out of the gym. Two minutes later they ushered him through a massive, capsule-shaped door, then a second, steel-grated door, down a narrow ladder and through yet another door to the subfloor suite that constituted “Precinct 72,” the ship’s brig, and into the custody of the two masters-at-arms currently on duty.


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 

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