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System Apocalypse: Relentless

A Fist Full of Credits (System Apocalypse: Relentless #1)

A Fist Full of Credits (System Apocalypse: Relentless #1)

Written by: Craig Hamilton & Tao Wong
Narrated by: Shamaan Casey
Audiobook Length: 15 hours and 23 minutes
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Read an Excerpt of A Fist Full of Credits (System Apocalypse: Relentless #1)

I woke with a start at the slam of a nearby car door. The sound jolted me from the recurring nightmare of darkness and fire, and when my eyes cracked open, I found my vision obscured by a blue box filled with text. A momentary panic swept through me at the jarring transition back to wakefulness, and I instinctively reached for the rifle beside me.
My hand flailed until my brain woke up enough to recognize I was not in a military issue bunk and the rifle I reached for was nonexistent. Instead, I struggled to sit up in the reclined driver’s seat of my Ford Explorer, and I swiped my arm through the floating blue box in front of me as I willed away the figment of my imagination.
Sleep deprivation had messed with me before, but never to the point of hallucination.
A few more of the blue boxes popped up after the first one disappeared, but I waved them away without reading them as I looked out my tinted windows for the source of the noise.
A few houses down the street from where I sat with my SUV backed into the driveway of an empty house with a “For Sale” sign out front, I saw exactly what I’d hoped for when I started this stakeout. A tall, lanky man with disheveled brown hair walked away from an ugly orange sedan parked at the house I’d been watching before I nodded off. The man wore a Hawaiian shirt, which looked particularly garish in the mid-morning light of cloudy western Pennsylvania. The sedan matched the vehicle registered to the subject I hunted, but just to be sure, I glanced at the mugshot lying on my passenger seat for confirmation.
The mugshot sat next to the official bail piece from the Criminal Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. My gaze drifted farther down the page to where the reward for $30,000 was listed for the man who had skipped a court appearance two days earlier. Below the reward, the bail piece noted the Allegheny County Jail as the drop-off location for the apprehended subject. That was standard for most of the bail jumpers out of Pittsburgh, and I had often turned in bounties there. Some of the guards even greeted me by name these days.
A fold-out map of the greater Pittsburgh area stuck out from beneath the assorted paperwork. A GPS was useful, but sometimes it paid to have a big picture view of the streets throughout my hunting grounds. More than once I had predicted where a bail jumper would flee after I knocked on the front door.
Along with the other papers that littered my passenger seat was a certified copy of the man’s bail bond and a stack of printouts from his social media accounts. It amazed me how much information people, especially criminals who were trying to avoid the law, posted about themselves online. Most social media had geolocation tags embedded within each post, and if a person wasn’t careful to lock it down, that information could be publicly accessed.
A few of those careless social media posts and several tagged photos of my target had led me here.
My attention was pulled from the paperwork of my profession as another pair of car doors slammed shut, and I cursed mentally. Two more men had gotten out of a beat-up pickup truck, now parked behind the orange sedan, and were walking up the driveway. The men greeted my target warmly, and the three exchanged handshakes before they all headed into the house.
With a sigh, I resigned myself to an even longer wait. I could confront the three together, but my experience had taught me to catch a subject alone whenever possible. You never knew when a person would feel the need to act tough in front of their friends, so waiting to take a bail jumper on their own increased the likelihood that I could bring the subject in quietly.
I rubbed my hands into my eyes, attempting to maximize my wakefulness, and felt the motion pull at the disfigured flesh that marred my left cheek. The burn scar tissue that ran down my neck and disappeared under my collar was far from the only reminder of my time in Afghanistan, but it was the most visible one.
In an attempt to distract myself from that line of thought, I picked up the cup in the center console holder and grimaced as I sipped from the styrofoam mug. The cheap gas station coffee was just as bad cold, but the bitter liquid brought with it an alertness that I had lacked.
As the sun peeked out from behind the clouds to glisten over the last of the late-morning dew, the two men left the house. Each of the men carried a plastic garbage bag, and the second man pulled the front door closed behind him. I saw no sign of my subject as the men loaded the bags into the bed of the pickup, then climbed into the cab. The truck pulled out of the driveway and headed down the street. I held still, barely even breathing, as the vehicle drove past where I sat parked, but neither man seemed to pay me any attention.
Once the truck had disappeared down the street, I slipped out of my Explorer and into the brisk, fresh air of the slightly chilly April morning. I had long ago disabled my automatic door light that could give away my presence at an inopportune time, so noise was my only concern as I eased the car door closed.
Stiff from sitting in my vehicle overnight and throughout the early morning, the old injuries across my body protested at my activity, and I attempted to stretch as I patted myself down to check that my gear remained securely in place.
From a drop-leg holster strapped to my thigh, I pulled my Beretta service pistol and confirmed that the M9A3 held a chambered round. After replacing the safed weapon in its holster, I ran my hand across the equipment on my belt as I twisted my waist from side to side to loosen the tight muscles in my lower back. The Kevlar plate carrier on my torso flopped from the motion, exposing slack in the harness, as my right hand found my extendable baton, handcuffs, and zip ties in their proper places. I tightened the offending strap, then tugged at the taser holster attached to the MOLLE straps on the front of the plate carrier.
My left hand fumbled over the other side of my belt, numbly feeling the spare magazines filled with 9mm ammunition and replacement cartridges for the taser. Alongside the spare ammo sat a small tactical flashlight and an emergency flare. Some might consider me paranoid, but I'd been trapped in utter darkness once before and never wanted to experience it again.
I flexed the fingers of my left hand, consciously ignoring the ever-present tingling sensation that remained after the limb had been burned and crushed during my service. The leftover nerve damage had resulted in my medical discharge from the Corps. I made sure that every piece of my gear could be reached with my right hand in a pinch, since I no longer trusted my left arm to function completely.
With my equipment secured, I left my vehicle and moved toward the house where the orange sedan remained parked. I glanced around the suburban neighborhood as I stalked across the intervening yards. Even this early in the spring, most of the lawns had a freshly mowed look. Mulch-filled flower beds lined many of the houses and driveways. The house of my target was a notable exception to the otherwise decent neighborhood. The grass was unkempt and out of place amongst the other well-tended residences.
Though it was late enough on a weekday morning that most people should have already left for work, I tried to keep my approach subtle. Best to avoid any nosy neighbors who might peek out from their blinds.
As I reached my destination and climbed the stairs to the front porch, the faint smell of ammonia tickled my nostrils and set off a warning bell in my mind. I’d given the place a thorough once-over during a drive-by the night before and noted the drawn blinds. That hadn’t seemed particularly noteworthy at the time, but the added chemical aroma clearly indicated this bail retrieval might be more dangerous than I had anticipated.
Since the subject of a bail bond agreed to forfeit their normal constitutional protections in exchange for bail, state law allowed for a bail recovery agent to pursue a fugitive onto private property. The holder of a certified bond could legally enter the residence of the fugitive to perform an arrest.
A certified bond like the one which sat on the passenger seat of my Explorer.
My left hand slowly tested the handle of the front door and found it unlocked as my right pulled the taser from its holster. I turned the doorknob and eased the door open before I pushed my way inside.
Once through the door, the acrid chemical stench hit me like a physical impact and seared into the back of my throat. I instinctively held my breath as my eyes watered. On hooks beside the door hung several full-face industrial respirator masks, and I hurried to don one.
With the mask sealed over my face, I blinked to clear my vision. The mask smelled bad, but it was from body odor and not the noxious chemicals that filled this house. I was now positive that I’d stepped into a damned meth lab.
No longer half-blinded by the stinging fumes, I took in the layout. A set of stairs to my left turned sharply and ascended to the second floor as they climbed parallel to the hallway that extended straight ahead. To my right, the floor opened into a living room strewn with garbage and assorted debris.
“What did yinz guys forget now?”
The voice projected from down the hallway, and a figure stepped around the corner. The man took several steps toward me before realizing I was not one of the men who had just left. Despite the respirator the man wore, I recognized the shaggy hair and the gaudy shirt that peaked from under a white plastic chemical suit as he came to a halt.
“Freeze!” I commanded with the taser pointed at the man.
Under the clear mask, the man’s eyes grew wide, and he instinctively stepped backward before stopping.
“I’m Harold Mason,” I firmly introduced myself. “I’m a licensed bail recovery agent with a certified bond to take you in.”
The man’s surprised expression twisted into a sneer, and his foot slipped backward another step. I’d been in the business long enough to know he was about to run.
Fine. I’d given him the chance to come quietly.
I squeezed the trigger on the taser, which gave an audible pop as it deployed with a puff of carbon dioxide and fluttering confetti. The prongs flew out and embedded themselves into the man’s torso as the wires uncoiled. I expected the rapid clicking of the taser pulse to follow, but it never began.
For a long moment, silence reigned and neither of us moved. He looked at the prongs lodged in his chest while I glanced at the taser in my hand and gave the trigger another squeeze.
Nothing.
“Ha!” The man exclaimed as he yanked the taser prongs free. Several expletives were muffled by the respirator. “-ing jagoff pig!”
The man reached around the corner and pulled a long cylindrical object from behind the wall. As the shotgun rose, I instinctively dropped the useless taser and reached for my holstered pistol. A flick of my finger released the strap holding the weapon in place, and I drew the pistol smoothly.
“Drop it,” I commanded with my pistol pointed at the man’s chest.
The shotgun thundered in response.
The impact to the left side of my chest twisted me partially to the side. Sharp pricks of fire stabbed into me, and agony ignited along my side and left arm where they were unprotected by the ceramic plates in my vest. The majority of the buckshot had been deflected by the armor over my torso.
Despite the pain, I squeezed the trigger of my pistol as soon as I steadied myself. The pistol barked, and the round caught my target in the shoulder, causing him to stumble backward.
I pushed myself upright and stalked down the hall. The man scrambled backward, clearly surprised that I was still on my feet. I was a little surprised myself, but my Kevlar had caught the worst of the blast, and pain was nothing new for me.
The man darted around the corner ahead of me, and I pursued. The sound of the shotgun slide being racked gave me a moment of warning, and I skidded to a halt before the end of the hall. I glanced around the corner and ducked back as the shotgun thundered again. The tight spread of the shot tore a plate-sized hole in the wall.
I stuck my pistol around the corner and blindly triggered two shots. A muffled yelp indicated a hit, so I stepped out with my pistol at the ready.
Only a flash of white caught my eye as my quarry disappeared again, this time into a room farther down the corridor. A splash of red low on the wall stood out as I followed. I’d wounded my target twice now, but he was still on the run, and the crash of glass breaking somewhere ahead spurred me to move faster.
The next room removed any doubt that this house was a meth lab. The combined kitchen and dining room was full of large glass bottles connected by a series of tubes. Cans of paint thinner and stacks of batteries lined one wall. Even through the filter of the mask, the stink of chemicals hung heavily in the air.
Along the far side of the dining room, the large picture window had been shattered, obviously the source of the breaking glass. Outside, I saw my target running toward the woods behind the house, having jumped through the window to make his escape. I vaguely recalled that wooded area being labeled Frick Park on the map when I researched where the bail jumper might be hiding.
As the man reached the treeline, I carefully snapped off another shot and was rewarded with a new spot of red blooming on the shoulder of the white chemical suit. The man stumbled from the hit and bounced off a tree before falling into the woods and out of view.
The pain from the buckshot in my left arm had faded to a distant throb as I hurdled the low wall of the busted kitchen window and jogged toward where the man had disappeared.
When I reached the treeline, a depression in the foliage was the only sign that remained where the man had fallen. A few scraps of the white chemical suit were caught on brambles, torn from the suit as he crawled farther into the forest. Fortunately, the early spring growth had sprouted enough to leave a clear trail, the vegetation parted and knocked aside where my quarry had fled.
I ducked under some low-hanging tree limbs and followed. I would not let him escape, not after taking shots at me.
As I ran, branches whipped across me, leaving scratches on the exposed skin of my hands and face. I ignored the stinging pain and kept up the pace. Ahead, I heard my target crashing through the underbrush as I closed the distance between us.
I soon had the man in view, though there were plenty of trees to give him cover and he had not yet seen me catching up. I held my fire, figuring it was better to close more distance to give me a better shot.
He limped from the bullet wound in his leg, though oddly, the wound seemed to lack the significant blood trail that had been left inside the house.
I followed, gradually closing the distance as long minutes passed, but the man glanced back and finally noticed me trailing him. He turned sharply and fired the shotgun from his hip. The pellets from the shot blasted a chunk from a tree beside me, but this time, all of the shot missed.
I returned fire more accurately, a trio of shots aimed at his center of mass. A patch of bright crimson blossomed on the man’s chest, the stain spreading across the white chemical suit. He staggered backward into a tree, then slowly slumped to the ground.
A blue box popped up in front of me, obscuring my vision, and pure agony spiked directly into my mind.

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Product Details

Release Date:

Pages: 513

Genre: LitRPG Sci-Fi

eBook ISBN: 9781990491085

Language: English

Format
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About A Fist Full of Credits (System Apocalypse: Relentless #1)

Bail bondsman. Veteran. Survivor.

Hal Mason's still going to find surviving the System Apocalypse challenging.

While bringing in his latest fugitive, Hal's payday is interrupted by the translucent blue boxes that herald Earth's introduction to the System - a galaxy spanning wave of structured mystical energy that destroys all electronics and bestows game-like abilities upon mankind.

With society breaking down and mutating wildlife rampaging through the city of Pittsburgh, those who remain will sacrifice anything for a chance at earning their next Level. As bodies fall and civilization crumbles, Hal finds himself asking what price is his humanity. Are the Credits worth his hands being ever more stained with blood?

Or does he press on - relentless?

A Fist Full of Credits is the first book in a new series in the System Apocalypse universe. Written by debut author Craig Hamilton in Tao Wong's bestselling post-apocalyptic LitRPG universe, System Apocalypse - Relentless is another glimpse into what humanity will do when the chips are down and the monsters are crawling from the shadows.

 

Additional information for the signed print versions: Signed by Tao Wong. This item will be shipped in 4-6 weeks depending on stock and external shipping factors.

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