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Beta Reader Request - Prototech (2 Viewers)

Riptide

WF Veterans
As much as I love doing onsies and twosie chapters in the forum, my story is complete, and I would love some eyes on its entirety, or at least half of it. I planned on buying a reader, but as we all know that's not cheap. if I'm going to cough up so much cash, I want my story to be looked at outside of just me by someone. A few internet strangers should suffice. I

Title: Prototech
Genre: Soft Sci-fi/Military
WC: 77k
Blurb:

Earth is at war from invaders.

Military leaders rush testing of an armor prototype, Prototech, to fight our new extraterrestrial enemies. Soldier Bobbie Ty does not want to be a part of the experiments, especially when everyone who joins isn't heard from again. But when a twist of fate forces one on her, she has no choice but to participate.

Now, a second alien invasion has ensued panic throughout the world and humanity's future looks bleak. The only hope of saving it lies in the misunderstood Prototech, and Ty, the sole survivor of the experiment, and the only person neither of the aliens seem to want to kill.

Sensitive Content: violence, language, and LGBTQ (Just in case that's not your thing)
Audience: Anyone who is not a young kid. I think it works best with NA, older YA, maybe just adult in general. Some action. Alien invasions. Betrayal and friendships, lots of fun.
Expectation: I'm always worried about readability. if it sounds nice, sentence to paragraph wise. Any inconsistencies or things just don't make sense, like people would never react that way, sort of deal. Anything you can think of, really. I don't really care how you make your comments, as long as I can understand them.
Timescale: You don't even have to read the entire book. I'm in the process of plopping in the final touches, adding a chapter and doing some personal cleaning of the later chapters. Can critique in waves. Five chapters here, five chapters there. Sooner is better, but I'm on your schedule now.
Formats: Whatever works. I use word, but I can use google docs and also change it to PDF if that's better

I'm fine with book swaps. Share the love, am I right? Or even in process swap. Anyway, here's chapter 1 if you want a little lookyroo

I shouldn’t have drank that water bottle. It sloshed in my gut with every lurch of the Humvee through the Kuwaiti wasteland. I went to the portajohn before leaving to prevent all this fuss. I shifted my front plate off my bladder and let it sit on my belt buckle, releasing the pressure. My body armor fit loose in all the wrong places and tight where I wanted loose, though it had been “sized” for my unique frame and dimensions. Only the best for our troops… A pothole dropped the plate back onto my bladder, and I groaned, feeling the pinch of my lower half hit a new high.

“Ty, if you have a change of heart, we could switch places right now…” Baxter said, crammed in the middle seat of the Humvee. He crossed his legs and leaned forward until his elbows rested on his knees. I wasn't the only one having a grand old time today. He was a born-again skater, as he put it; blonde locks and razer sharp blue eyes, more comfortably placed hitting a manual on a rail than squeezed in a hot box of a Humvee under a blazing orb of death.

“I called window,” I said.

“It’s the law of rides,” Turner said from his window seat beside Bax, having called it right after me. Turner’s body armor fit tailored to his slim form. We were, at the minimum, their third owners, yet somehow, he made his work better. His probably didn’t press rudely onto his bladder. Turner and I fist bumped over Bax. “I see nothing wrong here.”

“Me neither.”

“But you’re the tiniest,” Baxter whined.

“We all know I need space for these massive shoulders of mine after carrying this team this entire deployment.” I brushed fake dirt off my slight shoulder, squirming to readjust the pressure on my bladder.

“Whatever—"

The radio popped and a panicked person shouted, “Obstruction, 12 o’clock. It’s a gaping hole.”

The Humvee came to a jarring halt. After a flickering glance at Bax then to Turner’s profile, I faced the radio. It had to be a joke. We drove through the roads of Kuwait all the time without even checking for danger. It was Kuwait, after all—it hadn’t been dangerous for a decade.

“Get in formation,” came a cackled response.

The vehicle made slow, jerking motions until it positioned itself on the right side of the road, at an angle off the vehicle ahead and behind it.

“What?” I asked, breathless as the radio operator in front of me dropped the latch of his window. It fell with a swoosh and thump, and he put his weapon on the sill. This couldn’t be seriously happening, right?

Bullets flying...!

I couldn’t help the old basic training cadence from swimming in my mind at the worst of times. This mission wasn’t supposed to be dangerous. I was not supposed to see combat, not supposed to use the weapon clutched in my grip or the combat load of ammo stored on my body armor. The radio had been silent without a single report going out. If this was an IED warning, someone would have to be notified. There were procedures to follow.

Bullets flying all around…!

My cushion signal job did not go out onto dangerous missions. But that didn’t change the fact I pressed against the armor door of the Humvee, the barrel of my M4 propped out the window.

Nothing looked strange during my 20, 50, 100-meter scans of my sector. I certainly couldn’t see the hole or understand why it was cause for alarm. But something was there, or we wouldn’t have stopped. Just the notion plopped a hearty boulder of fear in my stomach. We stayed silent for what felt like hours, waiting for anything to happen. Even my urge to pee quieted.

Better keep your head to the ground…!

With a front and center view of the open banks of Kuwait, Baxter stiffened, good as dead if anything happened.

“Good job, Bax. Real good idea. Let’s go on a quick mission. In and out, a day at most.” Turner grunted from the base of his throat.

“Shut the fuck up, man,” Baxter said.

“Cool it,” I grumbled. My gaze strayed a second from my sector to glance at Bax. His forehead set in deep lines of frustration. Sweat dotted his upper lip and perspired like rivers down his sideburns from under his helmet. I let my non-firing hand drop onto his knee and squeezed in reassurance. Sure, in some twisted way this was his fault. He had offered our names to command for this mission, but who could’ve realized we’d actually do anything?

All alone in the combat zone…!

“Ty!”

My attention swiveled to my window at Bax’s shout. Several somethings moved out on the horizon. They were bipedal, dressed in a full red body armor suit with their weapons dragging by their side. Their halting stride carried them like stocky, slow-mo husks in the sandy, swirling breeze.

“What’s the ROE?” I shouted, scrambling to steady my weapon; my finger tensed against the trigger as I toggled to semi-automatic. Had ROE been briefed in the convoy prep?

“Shoot on sight!” snapped the butter-bar lieutenant in the driver’s side.

“Y-you sure?” The LT had barely glanced at them.

“Three targets, 200 meters, 3 o’clock. Engage!” the radio operator ordered.

This baby-faced, right out of college second lieutenant without a lick of experience told me to discharge my weapon on the unsuspecting, unthreatening—so far—presence in front of me… I hesitated as I leveled my target between my sights, caught in the panic when my finger pressed down, and the kickback of the rifle tapped my shoulder. Looking through the magnification of my ACOG, I watched my bullet pound into the person’s chest. My chest squeezed, heart and lungs and throat aching under the weight of taking a life.

My target stirred at the impact and turned to me. There was nothing human in its distant gaze and shielded eyes. I gasped as it moved forward, unhindered by the now constant fire of rounds that nicked at its armor. Unfocused, I looked at Baxter who leaned into me. “What are they?”

“Just shoot, babe. Just shoot them.” His breath was hot against the back of my neck.

I swallowed my growing unease, nudging him away. “Space.” But that should’ve killed it. I aimed center mass. How was it still alive?

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He pulled off, but his presence was a comfort of familiarity behind me.

My pulse thrummed in my ears as I leveled on the advancing creature once more.

Better keep your head to the ground…!

I rocked in a steady stream of bullets. My spine groaned at the curvature of my position, the shockwave of the recoil grinding my bones with each shot until the thing puffed into ash, swept into the torching sunlight like a gritty gray shimmer.

Things didn’t just disintegrate into thin air at the flip of a switch. Things didn’t take several bullets to the chest without dying, either.

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” came across the radio that silenced the chatter of gunfire. A screech followed, then the heavy breathing of someone holding up the line. “Maintain your perimeter.”

The butter-bar looked at us three signal soldiers who were not supposed to be here. Who weren’t properly trained for this. Who hadn’t been briefed.

“How is everyone? Injured? Ammo?”

My lips were cracked, and my shoulder stung. I flexed my fingers over the grip, flipping the selector switch to safe with my thumb as I did. “Amber for ammo,” I mumbled and gulped a dry lump of air that sat in my stomach, buddied-up to the fear.

We locked eyes. “Good job.” He faced the road again.

The radio operator informed higher of our situational report. After the rest of the vehicles gave their SITREP, a deep tone told us to continue mission minutes later.

“Continue?” I asked, shocked that we weren’t turning around to safety. “What was that, sir?”

As the vehicle pitched onward, straightening into our starting formation, the LT chewed on my question. “It doesn’t matter what those were.”

“Sir, I beg to differ,” Turner chimed, gripping the seat ahead of him as he pivoted forward to look at the LT.

“Those weren’t people,” I said, more for myself than the group.

His grip tightened on the steering wheel. “We’re calling them Damned—”

“Sir!” injected his radio operator with a spear-like glower. “That’s classified.”

The butter-bar ignored him. “They’re aliens who arrived a month ago.”

“Why?” Baxter’s word hung expectantly in the cramped quarters of the Humvee. A lot more questions were ram-packed into it than we could voice.

“Not sure why. As you can tell, they’re resilient and are determined as hell to get to their objective, whatever that is.”

“Extraterrestrials…?” I tried to wrap my head around it.

“Sir, I advise you not to tell them anymore. They’re not need-to-know.”

“Shit, sarge, they just saw those things firsthand, what more do they need to know? Just don’t go blasting this information out there, not even to your unit. We are trying to reduce public panic until we get things under control.”

The three of us shared a concerning look. Turner’s jaw went slack. “Bax, for real, what did you sign us up for?”

Bax shrugged, deflated into his seat. Before we left, this mission seemed like a routine install and train. That was what I was led to believe. I should’ve known that wasn’t true when we were ordered to get our weapons and body armor, then were demoted to passengers, unable to drive our own equipment to the area of operation.

It was fine. This was fine. I was a soldier; danger was in the job description. Bax gave me a crinkled smile before telling Turner, “Don’t lie, this is the first time you’ve felt alive since deploying.”

Turner socked him in the shoulder with a trembling fist, a grin twitching on his lips.

The Humvee cruised to a stop. We scooched outside into blinding sunlight. Feet planted—and sunk in the sand--I adjusted my body armor to displace the weight off my shoulders. After that one-sided firefight, I was okay keeping it on.

Oh god, that realization hit me like a freight train going 100 on a sleek track. I had just experienced my first firefight. A real showdown of bullets—granted, all one sided, but with aliens. I fired my weapon at something with the intention of killing it. I wanted to explain this jumble of feelings to the world, shout it to the nearest person, to clarify the high and uncertainty that layered my emotions. Instead, I stood perfectly still, body itching.

Turner caught my eye, pointing, “Get a load of this.”

Bax and I followed the end of his finger to a cave in the side of a hill that led into darkness. Manual powered mining equipment parked beside it, sparkly and new under the lashing sunlight. I wondered why they were so tiny and not diesel, but I chocked it up to the Damned. It would draw too much attention. As my gaze roamed, it landed on the LT who hustled at the tail end of a group of officers.

“Sir!” I called.

He stopped, half turned to look at me.

“Is there a bathroom anywhere?”

“Just the open plain in that ditch over there.” He gestured to a low dip that ran off a hill. “Sorry.”

“That’s fine…” I mumbled as he vanished into the crowd. Not like I expected much else; I’d go later as my bladder groaned in disagreement.

Bax clapped his hand, drawing me away from my thoughts. “Okay, let’s get to work.”

As the adrenaline crashed into the mundane of work, my fatigue hit the roof. A nap sounded more up my alley, and Turner and I matched expressions of exhaustive defeat. With a sigh, I trailed after Bax. I hopped for the dry, cracked crust that sporadically spotted the ground.

Bax was tall, like a pinnacle on the largely flat land surrounding us and easy to follow. A good-looking pinnacle to follow, too.

Turner nudged me off my focal point. “Do you believe them?”

“What are you talking about?”

A single black Sharpe smeared eyebrow wrinkled his forehead. “Aliens, Ty. True to God, from outer space, aliens.”

“I-I guess so. I mean, you saw them out there, right? Those weren’t humans.” The bullets seemed to bounce off them.

He laid his weight on his hips, hooking his thumbs in his belt loops with his gaze resting towards the gray-blue sky. Maybe, if by staring hard enough, he could see them; the aliens—their ships, their planet, floating somewhere else, watching the sky as we are now and seeing Earth drift in space with the intention of visiting.

“You think they want to attack us?” I asked.

“100%.”

Bax looked over his shoulder. “We done chitchatting? Come on!” His voice deepened into leadership mode. Though all of us were E-4s, he was a corporal, so therefore in charge.

We made quick work unhooking the Satellite Transportable Terminal, STT, and putting it in on even, hard ground. We spent several long minutes pounding at the sand to dig the three feet deep hole for the grounding rod. Even under the guise of “winter”, Kuwait’s satanic heat left no survivors. While Turner configured the parameters of the STT, Bax and I lugged the rest of our equipment, five cases of communication, into the cave. All our commo was protected by green armor that added a good 20lbs to the already hefty cases.

I had misgivings about the cave right when I stepped foot inside. The interior magnified the furnace of outside without even a breeze to cool it down. But these were the orders, and they made no marginal space for correction. From the entrance, the tunnel widened into a sizable opening, giving room for the stabilizing pillar that marked every couple of meters. Lights strung along the pillars in domes of white.

Scuffed paths of dirt led deeper towards grunting and clanking of equipment. Groups of troops formed like animals at the watering hole, but with burnt coffee instead. They studied smudged blue prints on fold-out tables while keeping an eye on everyone else, seeing who wore the rank, who commanded the biggest following, who had the best rack sown onto their chest…. Did anyone even know each other or were we all pushed together by some higher force?

“What do you think this is for?” Bax whispered, cheeks peachy under the strain of carting the last case. “What are we mining for?”

“No clue,” I whispered with my arms locked in a bicep curl to hold up the other end of the case. “Precious gems? It has to do with the Damned.”

“Definitely.” We dropped our gear with a puff of clay. “It’s strange, though.” His words carried uncertainly in the air as he thought about it. The strangeness didn’t mix well with the sweat-damp dust that surrounded us. “All this secrecy, aliens, and now comm equipment? I don’t like it.”

“They might have to kill us,” I pondered. “Since we know about the invasion and all.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” he agreed with a grin. “But there must be something special here.”

I smiled in return. “For sure.” I wanted to continue theorizing, but my task distracted me. As I set my communication equipment up, Bax checked on Turner. From here, I properly connected one case to another. We had three routers, two switches, and each one of them connected to one of two uninterrupted power sources, UPS. Since I understood the flow of signal through my equipment and how they communicated with one another, I knew where to plug the fiber in from the STT, which then branched into the other routers. Ethernet cords connected the routers to their special switches, and the encryption box was wedged between the set. Finally, I turned it on, and booted the laptops that I used for consoling into the routers and switches to check the tunnel configurations.

“ETA?” asked the butter-bar who drove me here.

I cleared my throat, standing from the comms after running a show run command to confirm the correct input on our tunnels. “Three hours.” Though if everything was configured properly, which I staked my grade on, we’d work right when Turner connected to the bird. We were a useless husk of electronics without Turner’s half, and he was a wasted connection without my half. I flashed the lieutenant a smile in hopes the delay fit with their time crunch. I was sure our stop with the Damned threw a wrench in that, anyway.

He hmphed, turned to his command team. My smile morphed into a scowl at his back.

With nothing else to do here but sizzle, I left the cave to a just as a chaotic atmosphere outside. In the aftermath of our recent battle, someone arranged the vehicles in a battle formation, using them as watch post. At least I wasn’t one of those poor saps on guard duty.

I found Bax and Turner messing with the dish still.

“What happened?” I asked.

Turner dropped his helmet to his boots, squinting at the dim computer screen in front of him. His lips were set flat in concentration with a flickered look towards me. “I’m manually moving it to pinpoint the satellite.” As he worked, the dish made micro-movements to match.

“Cut sheets not work?” It was a moot question because of course they didn’t work if he had to do this.

“No,” he grunted.

From over Turner’s shoulder, Bax nixed my continuous questions with a gesture. I quieted, overlooking the process from behind while Bax watched for the SAT light to blink on the display, which meant we were seeing the satellite.

“You got it, dude, it’s blinking!” Bax released a breath with a visible loosening of his shoulders. I bet he was second guessing putting our names forward for this mission.

Turner rumbled in sounds, pulling out his phone and dialed up to our nearest regional hub node. After snappishly short sentence over the line, we connected with a full green SAT lock—transmission and receive good—and together, we migrated back to the equipment inside. Someone hooked up a fan that circulated warm air everywhere.

“This isn’t permanent, right?” I asked, brushed by the hair singing rush of a ‘breeze’.

“I hope not,” Bax said.

The area was cooking already, and with the added touch of our toasty stacks, we were really blazing. Oh well, not my problem, and I confirmed network connectivity. “Sir,” I called over to the butter-bar, “we’re up.”

He waved away my status update, in the middle of a heated discussion that abruptly stopped. The four leaders popped their heads from their circle, gaze focused on the tunnel entrance. I didn’t hear anything, at least not whatever got them so jumpy. Turner, Bax, and I fidgeted, our task done as the officers left to go outside without another word.

I glanced at Bax. “Now what?”

I wished I hadn’t asked because the two locked eyes, a conniving grin twisting their lips.

“No one said to stay put,” Turner said.

“Nope, no one said that,” Bax agreed.

“No ‘don’t move’, ‘you can’t go there’.”

“Also true, and I don’t see any signs telling me to avoid an area.”

I warned, “Let’s not do anything rash—”

“Ty, come on.” Bax leaned over me, expectant with wide, child-like eyes. “Let’s live a little.”

We had lived a little on our way over here. Shooting at aliens was living enough for me. Turner inched his way towards the other end of the tunnel. “Stop being so afraid and let’s go. What are they gonna do, take us off the mission?” He barked in laughter. “We already finished it!”

“This is plain manipulation,” I grumbled, arms crossed. Beats passed in silence, our time to go in unsuspected dwindling. “Fine! Fine! Whatever.” I rolled my eyes as Bax pecked me on the cheek.

Bax rallied us and onward we journeyed into the depths of the cave. Sure, I was curious, who wouldn’t be? A secret mission, mining equipment, some stern-looking officers, weapons drawn, special ops… and the Damned. Gut instinct told me this had something to do with them.

“It has to be energy,” I whispered. “Something so rare we don’t want to draw attention to it.”

“Yeah,” Turner said, “energy for a bomb. Like a natural atomic bomb that would end wars for good. At least protect our world from aliens”

“Aliens, though. Damn. Can you believe it? I don’t think I’ve accepted it yet,” Bax said.

Turner chimed, “I was wondering when they’d show up and steal our resources. Surprised it took them so long since we’re such a thriving planet and all.”

“Those things are crazy. I shot them multiple times and they wouldn’t die.” Saying it out loud gave me the heebie-jeebies. Earth was invaded by aliens. Actual extraterrestrials. And no one knew about it. It was enough to give a girl high blood pressure if she thought too hard about it. I shook my head to rid the thoughts out of my mind. “Aliens…”

We made it to a fork in the tunnel without any of the busy bees asking questions. One way led to a string of lights and the clank of mining tools. The other led into shrouded darkness with a tiny glimmer far within. So of course we went to the tiny glimmer. The path narrowed, the lights far and few between. The boys crouched while the ceiling brushed against my helmet—the perks of being short.

Bax tickled the palm of my hand, smiling, as the glimmer grew. “This is cool.”

I had to admit silently that it was cool. The rocks turned blue, like gems, but not any I had seen, though I wasn’t a gem connoisseur. They fit like jigsaw pieces out of the wall—all part of something but not assembled. We stood in a shimmering, blue twilight night. Turner stared mouth agape, the gem’s innate twinkle cascading over his features.

“This is it,” he whispered to himself. We had slowed, this our apparent destination.

“I think it’s alive.” Bax tugged at my wrist to a jewel that looked to be pulsating. He touched it, and the warmth stemmed into me, startling me from his grasp.

“Oh no, that’s not right at all.” I flexed the heat from my fingertips. That was enough for me. As cool and alive all this seemed to be, I’d rather be alive and cool above ground. “We should leave now.”

Bax turned to me, peace settled on his expression—formed by the glow or the simple ambiance of calm in the room. His thumb grazed the rock’s smooth surface. “Will you marry me, Ty?”

“What?” My heart skipped a beat as time itself froze. Even Turner whipped around from whatever he was doing, jaw dropping. I stutter-stepped in retreat. “Excuse me?”

We were in the presence of something historical and all he could think about was me? In that light it was cute. But still off handed and strange; we just fought aliens! We’d been dating a few years now, sure, and it had come up jokingly in passing… Shit, what do I do?

The ground underneath me rumbled alongside the violent clash of emotions inside me.

“What are you guys doing?” shouted someone at the fork in the road, jarring me into the very real earthquake coming down on us. “Let’s go before you get crushed!”

My vision wobbled. I lunged towards the voice. The gems flickered in sporadic lights, their glow turning hazy. It haloed my vision. A gush of loose pebbles and dirt showered over my body. It filled my lungs with each breath while I choked out coughs.

“Faster!” said the voice. I extended my stride, tumbling from the darkness at my feet.

We reached the cave entrance and funneled with the rest of the soldiers and contractors outside to wait out the shakes. The mass of us slowed with a frenzied energy about us without an outlet to release it. A second wave of workers emerged from the tunnel, caked in sweaty mud.

The quakes ebbed away with minor tremors, leaving me shaken. I needed to find a shaded seat to decompress, and I hunted for one along the sandy dunes. I avoided eye contact with Bax as I did so.

The lot of us fidgeted until a colonel stepped forward. “Back to work!” The workers surged into the tunnel with renewed vigor as us three dawdled, no longer wanting to explore its intricacies.

Baxter coughed into a closed fist. “Sir? Who are we teaching?”

Right, we had a second part to our mission: set up and train, and my search for a rest area took a pregnant pause.

His eyes skimmed over us. “Right this way.”

***

A month later, the cat was out of the bag and everyone knew about the Damned. There was an active call for volunteers for patrols to hinder the Damneds movements. Then they introduced an experimental armor also in need of test subjects.

“You’re crazy!” I shouted once again to Bax who had a soft smile, arms loose at his side, head cocked.

“I’m not. The experiment is with the gems, I know it, and I want to be a part of this. We can only do so much on patrol. You’ve been out there, you’ve seen it, and you know we aren’t ready for them.”

We’d been out there more than most because of our prior experience with the Damned, but they weren’t efficient in battle, like puppets with their strings all tangled. He didn’t need to risk his life on a whim of an experiment.

I ground my teeth, jaw aching from how tense I held it. My tongue pressed onto the roof of my mouth. “No, Bax. Stop it.”

The ring weighed on my chest, a leaden pipe in my throat. He had bought it from a haji shop, and I had put it on my dog tags after agreeing to marry him after the incident in the cave, but I told him to wait until we got back to the States to do things properly.

“Turner,” I snapped. “Tell him.”

“She’s right. I don’t trust it either.” He unfolded the informative pamphlet from his pocket. It had been creased and matted with fingerprints. Clearing his throat, his tone shifted to an announcer from a late-night info commercial. He said, “Prototech, the new armor technology; we need you to assist its development. Make history…! They rushed it, man. It’s not ready yet.”

“They need people, and I’m people. Willing people, who know how to fight and will fight when it works.” His voice remained calm as if persuading a child. He looked at me, equating the two, I imagined. “You ever wonder, what if? Because I don’t want to wonder.”

The leaden pipe lodged itself higher into my throat, bringing a heaviness behind my eyes. This was all wrong.

“Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” He placed his hand on my shoulder. Comforting, firm, nothing could go wrong. He left shortly after that for testing.
 
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