Magnetic PulseBy: LaShawn Vasser
(The Hot Voltage Series)-Book 1
The worst day of Austin McKenzie’s life happened when he was twenty-years-old, but it was also the day that he became a man.
Austin stared up at the ceiling as he slowly breathed hot air into his lungs, then let it out bit by bit. Even after the sun rested for another day, there still wasn’t a breeze to be found. The air was dry, and the heat was stifling. Mix that with the raw smell of men who had been out in the desert all day in battle, and Austin wished for the comforts of home. Wishing was all he could do. He couldn’t conjure up images because his mind was numb. His mind wasn’t the only part of him that wanted to block out what he’d seen this day. His body rebelled against it too. It acted like it was paralyzed—unable to move as he lay in his bunk, shirtless and sweating to death. Austin didn’t want to think about the day’s events, and as luck would have it, the darkness of sleep wouldn’t rescue him. He should have been thankful because, in an otherwise shitty day, he was alive, so there was a silver lining. No amount of training could completely prepare someone for this, and he had worked damned hard, determined to be the best. Skills could be honed, he was proof of that, but he had a long way to go in learning how to control his emotions. Dealing with death was harder than he could ever have imagined.
It was ironic, Austin had been feverish to see some action. He had behaved like a crazed idiot, celebrating when he had received his orders. After his wish was finally granted, and he shipped out to Afghanistan, Austin thought he was ready for it . . . for anything. During training, his scores in many areas of expertise were off the charts. But there was a big difference between simulation and the real thing. He was immediately smacked with that new reality by something as simple as the climate in Kabul. It was a thousand degrees hotter than hell. Born and raised in the hills of Tennessee, Austin didn’t think any human should have to endure one second of this madness. He squeezed his eyes shut and threw his arm over his face. Too many people romanticized about war . . . including him. But, on this day, shit got real. It was his first time in combat, and he killed a man—many men, actually. Soldiers talked a lot about wanting to get in the battle and mix it up, but there was nothing satisfying about killing. What was even more unnerving—he was good at it. Supposedly, his marksmen talents during training had gotten notice from some of the higher-ups. Austin didn’t know if that were true or not, and it didn’t really matter because right now, he was just a grunt. Still, simulation was a much different beast than shredding a human body with an automatic rifle. Now that he knew the truth, all his macho talk were the words of an idiot. Combat wasn’t glamorous. It was the ugly underbelly of uncivilized people not able to agree. It was also what he had signed up for. Austin’s new awareness caused his goals to shift. He lifted his head off that thing they called a pillow, but was of no use to him, to glance over at his AR-15. From this moment on, it always had to be close and ready. Gone were the fanciful ideas of his youth. His job now was to protect his new brothers at all costs, stay alive, and complete his mission.
Since he’d been stationed, his entire unit had become his brothers, but especially, Rock, Miles, and Stratton. Stratton and Rock were his superiors. Even so, they all had developed a special bond. Stratton and Rock were a few years older than him and, along with Miles, had all been there longer. It was Stratton who had taken them under his wing. He provided balance and normalcy when nothing about war was normal.
Austin couldn’t remember exactly when their nightly ritual had begun, but he could recall what had started it. Stratton had been sitting on his bunk and burst out in a throaty laugh. He was reading a letter and hadn’t stopped smiling since he opened it. Austin wondered how anybody could find something humorous in anything right now. Even though he was curious, Austin didn’t want to get that personal. The letter could have been from his girl. Austin didn’t quite know what the protocol for stuff like this was. All he knew was that if you stepped out of line, you’d have to deal with Stratton and nobody wanted that. Grunts like Austin quickly discovered that look. It was the one where Stratton’s dark eyes could see right through you, and he would say, “You sure, soldier?” One had better be sure of whatever it was too. Austin was certain that after some time in the field, he would probably develop that look as well.
Stratton was a big strappin’ man. He was no less than six feet four, tatted up, and muscle-bound. Even his muscles had muscles. These days, to blend in with the civilians, Stratton wore a full beard and was growing out his afro. He reminded Austin of one of those bronzed statues in an Egyptian museum that he had been studying. Stratton had a good sixty to seventy pounds on him. And, even though Austin wasn’t a punk, he still didn’t want to piss him off. He had enough respect not to try to man-up with the guy. The bottom line, Austin was just glad they were fighting on the same side. So, while he wanted to know what the hell was so funny, Austin wasn’t about to ask Stratton. But Rock had the clout, and he asked.