Two Worlds – Chapter 5

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop was spent. Fucking for three straight hours had that effect on a man. He took it as a personal point of pride that he could rally multiple times before he was done, but it hadn’t filled him with his usual level of satisfaction. Despite being exhausted, sleep eluded him.

Hailey was curled up on her side, facing the wall. Squeezing into his twin bed was always uncomfortable, but they didn’t know anything different; it was all the PHA had. The rhythmic melody of her breathing told Coop she was asleep. He wanted to wake her up and apologize. He’d been rougher than usual, and it would leave its marks. His own lip was bleeding, and he had some angry red scratches running down his back and arms, but most of that was easily covered up.

He was angry at how rough he’d been, but that was surface level. What he was really angry about was leaving her. Despite how much fun he had with Hailey, what they had was an arrangement. Hailey was with him, and that offered her protection. Sure, they screwed like two rabbits in heat; but they weren’t in love. He was a boy with raging hormones, and she was a girl who didn’t want to be sold around the PHA; him leaving put her in danger.

Coop wanted to think of it as business, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t love either, but it was something that was familiar. He knew the shape of her body pressed against his. He knew what she liked, and she knew what he liked. It was a great arrangement, and maybe one day it could have been more; but now they’d never find out. He desperately wanted to hang onto anything familiar.

<Fucking Fleet fuckwad,> the surge of anger made Coop shake hard enough that he got out of bed. Tomorrow was going to be just as hard for him as it was for her, and he didn’t want her to face it exhausted.

He tried not to jostle her too much as he slipped out of bed. She groaned and rolled over to occupy the whole small space, but she didn’t wake. Just as silently, Coop slipped out of the room and into the apartment.

Just because it was night didn’t mean it was quiet; both inside and outside the tower. Even from their fifth floor interior apartment Coop heard laughs and screams. There was the occasional gun shot, and the much more frequent sound of sirens racing by. Being so close to the Civil Administration building; which also served as the police headquarters, meant they got to hear every hog going out on a call.

Inside the tower, in nearby apartments, Coop heard more screams of pain and pleasure. The tower’s defenders would check out the painful ones, and daydream about the pleasure filled yells. These were the sounds of home; sounds he’d memorized over eighteen long years.

“You feel any better?” Coop’s father called from the other room.

The lights were off but the soft glow of the holotable was enough to illuminate the room. A three dimensional rendering of some game show was playing on low volume in the center of the space. Coop’s father’s eyes didn’t drift from the show when Coop entered.

“My balls feel like two used up old raisins.” Coop dropped down into a seat opposite his father.

Walter paused the show with a hand gesture, and swiped the program out of the way so he could talk to his son. “Sounded like you two were having fun in there.”

The statement left them in an uncomfortable silence. Neither man was what people would call a “sharer”. Emotion was a weakness in the PHA. People could take what you told them in confidence and use it to destroy you, your reputation, and anything you were working towards. For Coop, being emotional meant people wouldn’t trust him to get the job done. If people thought he couldn’t get the job done then no one would hire him. If no one hired him, then he ate nothing but BSA shit for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Coop would rather jump into the core than be some feeble, weak piece of Rat shit. Weak pieces of shit didn’t get ass like Hailey’s, and weak pieces of shit ended up dead or worse.

“You made a decision yet?” The question brought Coop’s mind back to the present.

“Ha,” Coop laughed a single, humorless laugh. “Fuck if I know.”

“You want my opinion?” Walter knew his son’s answer before he even asked the question.

“No.”

“Well I’m going to give it to you anyway.” Walter leaned forward, placed his elbows on his knees, and looked over clasped hands at his son. “I think you should take the armed forces gig.”

“Ha,” the laugh this time was surprised with a twinge of humor. “Yeah, ok. I’ll join up, march in a straight line with all the good boys and girls. Say yes sir, and yes ma’am, and then die in some backwater shit colony all so our great Commonwealth gets a better deal on some fucking cloth that some alien spider shits out its ass. No thanks, Dad; but thanks for the stellar advice.”

Walter didn’t miss the heavy sarcasm, but he kept on going. “It’s better than taking a dick up the ass and a shank in the kidney in Attica,” he deadpanned. “You aren’t built for a place like Attica, Mark. Big Bubba is gonna make you his bitch and then shove his balls down your throat when you mouth off. At least in the military you’ll get food, shelter, and cash.”

Coop knew well enough what could happen to him in a prison, and it didn’t help that his father was laying it out for him. It also didn’t help that he was dangling the money line in front of Coop’s face.

“What good is some digital bank account if you’re dead?” Despite Coop’s ambivalence, this was becoming a real discussion.

“Then don’t fucking die, Mark.” Coop didn’t like it when anyone used his first name, but his father was the only one he let get away with it. “Whatever branch you end up in will feed, clothe, and give you a bed to sleep in for free. If you’re smart and don’t blow your paycheck on booze and whores then you could end up with a big chunk of change by the time you finish up. You won’t have to live in the PHA, and you’ll have skills that people will pay good money for. You’ll be able to make a better life for yourself than what your mother and I had.”

That was a low blow, and Coop let his dad know it. He picked up the dish that was lying on the table beside his chair and chucked it at his father’s head. Over forty years in the PHA had honed the old man’s reflexes, and he easily dodged the flying plastic. The dish clattered loudly to the floor, but nothing broke. Despite the decrepit people in the PHA, the government had built this place and everything in it to last.

“Think with your head instead of your balls, Mark.” Walter continued like nothing had happened.

Coop didn’t answer; he didn’t want to even look at his father. Ever since his mother threw herself off the top floor of the tower things had been hard for him. Coop’s father, despite this evening, wasn’t around a lot. He was a leader in the tower and that occupied a lot of his time. Coop was left to raise himself, and had developed into his own man without a lot of help. Coop was proud of what he’d been able to accomplish, and pissed that he had to do it alone. They were conflicting thoughts, Coop knew that, but he didn’t really care.

<And now the old man wants to give some fatherly advice.> Coop nearly spat at the thought.

Coop was filled with anger toward his father, and the PHA, the system, and at the Commonwealth as a whole. He was even angry at himself for getting caught in the first place. But even with all that anger boiling in his gut, Coop still listened to what his dad was saying. Coop might be a welfare Rat, but he was far from stupid.

“Whatever.” Coop wasn’t going to explain himself to his father tonight, he had better things he could waste his time doing than arguing.

“Whatever.” Walter echoed the response, knowing the conversation was done. With a few flicks of his fingers the game show popped back to life.

Coop walked right through the holographic representations of the contestants and back to his room. The ambient light of the holotable didn’t reach all the way to his door, so it was dark when he entered. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but when they did he liked the sight.

Hailey was awake, and spread provocatively across his bed. Her head was propped on her shoulder, and she had a look on her face that Coop knew very well. Both of her perky breasts were calling to him, and he felt his body begin to respond to his yearnings. She stretched out her other hand and beckoned him to come closer.

Even if Coop wouldn’t say it to his father, or anyone else, he’d made his decision; but making the decision and wanting to think about it were very different things. Instead, Coop occupied his mind with memorizing Hailey’s gorgeous ass as he fucked her silly. That was a much better use of his time tonight.

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A Change of Pace – Chapter 61

“Have a holly, jolly Christmas. It’s the best time of the year…” Anika plastered a smile on her face and kept it there.

<She’s cute, but she’s not that cute,> Anika watched as the entire Whitfield family belted out the lyrics and butchered the song.

The entire family was packed into the large minivan for Christmas shopping, which meant there was no way for Anika to escape what was happening all around her. Mr. Whitfield, who kept insisting she call him Eugene, was leading the chorus and driving at the same time. With the thick blanket of snow covering everything Anika didn’t think that was a good idea, but the patriarch of the Whitfield clan handled it with ease.

“Here it comes again,” he bellowed, in a raspy voice that said he was in the initial stages of coming down with a cold. “Haaaaaaaaaaave a holly, jolly Christmas…”

Next to Mr. Whitfield was Mrs. Whitfield, who also wished to be called Maurine, and Anika also thought that was weird. She acted as copilot, spotter, and kid wrangler. Behind them sat Becca and Anika. Anika looked over to where her girlfriend was belting out the lyrics out of tune and without a care in the world. Becca’s singing voice made her flinch, but the smile on her face and the happiness in her eyes melted Anika’s heart.

“… it’s the best time of the year!” feet slammed in rhythm into the back of Anika’s seat.

Anika was a guest of the Whitfield’s. They’d welcomed her into their home for their favorite holiday, and despite the particulars of her and Becca’s relationship, things had been going fine. That tenuous peace meant that the multi-gifted Super couldn’t turn around and pummel Becca’s younger brother.

“I don’t know if they’ll be snow, but have a cup of cheer,” the rhythmic kicking didn’t cease.

Anika couldn’t physically beat down the little man, and she also couldn’t keep the exasperation off her face. Thankfully, Becca was in tuned with her girlfriend and noticed the situation.

“Clark!” she spun in a blur, and slapped his legs. “Don’t kick the seats.”

Clark Whitfield was seven years old, and had all the pent up energy that came with that age. The little guy looked a lot like his father; plain brown hair and brown eyes, but Anika could already tell he’d be a good looking guy when he grew up. He already had the same jaw that men in magazines had who modeled outdoor clothing. But that was a decade away; right now he was just a literal pain in the ass.

In response to Becca’s order, Clark did the rational thing and stuck out his tongue and kicked the seat even harder. Anika could have braced the seat easily with her enhanced strength, but that would only hurt the kid’s legs. No one needed a trip to the hospital so soon before Christmas.

“Clark, listen to your sister,” Mrs. Whitfield called from the front, and Clark reluctantly stopped.

He might have stopped, but he had that mischievous glint in his eye that little boys sometimes had. Anika knew she need to be on guard later because he was up to something. <And I thought I’d have trouble staying sharp.>

                Clark and Becca were a lot alike, and Anika could see that her girlfriend was probably a lot like her younger brother when she was a kid. They were exuberant, full of life, and probably a handful for poor Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield. Becca’s sister wasn’t like that. Matilda Whitfield was the middle child of the family. She sat quietly in the back seat reading a book. Anika knew the type. Matilda was the smartest of the younger siblings. She’d got teased because she wasn’t as outgoing as her siblings in school, but she was going to be the girl that got out of the small town and made something of herself. She didn’t let the minor bullying get to her. Of course, that was a lot to put on a nine year old girl, and Anika could be totally wrong, but she didn’t think she was.

“How’s it going back there Matty?” Anika asked over the disjointed singing. Matilda wasn’t taking part in the revelry.

“I’m fine,” the little girl’s voice was soft as she looked up at Anika through her thick glasses.

Matilda’s hair was brown and fuzzy, just like her mom’s; but she’d inherited blue eyes from some recessive gene buried deep in her DNA. She was the only person in her family with something other than brown eyes, and it made her stand out in a good way.

Anika would have talked to the quiet girl a little more, but she was interrupted by Mr. Whitfield announcement. “We’re here!”

“Yay!” Becca and Clark echoed each other while Anika and Matilda rolled their eyes, and then shared a grin.

Their destination was a small, family run supermarket in the center of town. Both town and supermarket were generous terms when ascribed to these places. Even Anika’s family, which witness protection dictated live in a remote area, had more civilization than Becca’s town. A town it had taken them ten minutes to reach by car.

Mr. Whitfield pulled the car into the only remaining parking spot, there were only a half dozen to begin with, and threw it into park. “Ok, does everybody know what they’re getting?”

“Cheetos!” Clark yelled, but his mother shot him a look and he shut up.

“Your mother and I are going to grab the Christmas ham,” he started things off.

“I will be getting the mashed potatoes and beans,” Matilda announced from the back. “I’ll also keep an eye on Clark.”

“I can keep an eye on myself,” the little guy huffed, but didn’t protest anymore.

“Ani and I will grab all the fixin’s,” Becca was vibrating with excitement. “And the cornbread, can’t forget the cornbread.”

Anika thought cornbread was a southern thing, but apparently the Whitfield’s had been having cornbread at Christmas dinner for generations; Anika wasn’t complaining, she loved the stuff.

“We’ll all meet at the cash register in twenty minutes,” Mr. Whitfield put his hand in like they were in the middle of a team huddle.

Becca rolled her eyes in an “I’m too old for this” way, but didn’t hesitate to put her hand on top of her dad’s. Not sure what to do, Anika followed her lead. Next was Mrs. Whitfield, and then Clark; who half climbed over Becca to get in there. Matilda just nodded.

“Let’s do it!” Becca and Anika pulled back the sliding doors and had to jump out of the way as Clark sprinted through the ankle deep snow and into the store. Matilda exited the car much more civilly, and thanked Anika for holding the door for her.

Anika had already thought of the supermarket as an overstatement from the outside, and she revised that expectation when she got inside. I was hard for her to imagine good parents like Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield allowing their kids to run wild in a store. There were simple things to worry about like them knocking over displays or grabbing a bunch of stuff they didn’t need, but then there were much more serious issues. What if somebody snatched them from the candy aisle while the parents were looking at hams?

All it took was one look into the market to know there was no way that was going to happen.

It was safe to say that the last time anything had been done to the building was in the 1980s. It wasn’t worn down, but it had a well-traveled feel to it. There were two cash registers, and neither of them had the moving conveyer belt that brought the groceries closer as the cashier scanned them. Both cashiers, who were an old couple, were dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Judging by the realistic bulge, Mr. Claus didn’t need any padding to play Santa.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Claus greeted the Whitfield’s by name, and they even made a big deal about seeing Becca again. Anika looked beyond the small homecoming gathering at the rest of the store, which consisted of a fruit and vegetable section, four aisles, and a meat and Dairy section. There was no way someone would be able to snatch Matilda or Clark in a store like this. You could see seventy-five percent of the place from the front door.

“And who’s your friend here?” Mr. Claus had a rumbly voice, just like all the movies portrayed Santa.

“Oh…um…this is my…friend from school, Anika.” Anika kept the smile on her face as she shook hands with the Claus’.

She didn’t hold it against her girlfriend that she’d called Anika her “friend” from school. They’d gone over exactly how they were going to handle things on the drive up. Mr. and Mrs. Whitfield obviously knew, and they were adapting better than Becca thought they would. It took more than a day to discard generations of biased thinking, and it was something they’d have to consistently work at.

Becca’s siblings didn’t know, but Anika believed Matilda had a suspicion. The little girl was too smart to miss the signs. Clark was oblivious though, and Becca’s parents had politely asked Becca and Anika to not tell her siblings. There wasn’t any “we don’t want you infecting our other kids” mentality behind it; which Anika originally feared. The Whitefield’s were just still trying to figure out how to explain it all to them, because it wasn’t just the family that this concerned. In a close knit community like the one they lived in, once word got out everyone was going to know within twenty-four hours. The older Whitfield’s not only needed to explain it to their children, but they needed to be ready to support those children when Matilda and Clark eventually went back to school and had to deal with the backlash.

<Matilda will be fine,> Anika knew that for sure. <It’s the outgoing Clark that they need to be worried about.>

“Well it’s good to see you all again. Welcome back Becca,” Anika had missed the rest of the conversation between the Claus’ and Whitfield’s, but she smiled and waved politely as they walked away to get their groceries.

“You weren’t even paying attention,” Becca chided Anika, as they headed down the first aisle.

“Sorry,” Anika apologized. “Just thinking.”

Becca did a quick look around before giving Anika a tight hug. “Just give it time.”

It warmed Anika’s heart to know that her girlfriend got her like that. “Ok,” Anika broke the hug with a smile. “Let’s get these fixins’ you been talkin’ about,” she laid the country accent on thick and got a playful smack on the shoulder for her effort.

“Uh oh, cat fight,” a cocky male voice said from the end of the aisle.

“Crapola,” Becca’s face went from a grin to a grimace instantly, and the sudden change had Anika on high alert.

“What is it?” they both turned toward the voice.

Instead of seeing one guy they saw three. The leader, the one who’d spoken, had a quarterback build. If Anika had to guess he’d been the captain of the team and the teenage king of the town. <Big fish in the smallest pond imaginable,> Anika saw how this could play out and it wasn’t good.

What Becca said next only made things worse. “That’s Ben Wilson. I dated him senior year.”

<So it’s a boy comes back from college and wants a quick winter fling with the girl he used to hook up with scenario. That’s just great.> A bad outcome was almost guaranteed at this point, because Anika sure as hell wasn’t going to let some jerk put his hands all over her woman.

“Becca Whitfield,” the man sauntered over, and when Anika thought sauntered she meant sauntered.

He had his chest puffed out like a peacock, and he moved his arms back and forth meaningfully. He looked like he thought he was marching in some important parade, not walking down the aisle of a small-town market.

“Hey, Ben,” Becca replied, significantly less upbeat than a few moments before.

Like all guys, Ben clearly missed the body language. Becca was slightly withdrawn, shrunk down, and had drawn in on herself. All of which were telltale signs of not wanting to get involved in something. Ben missed all of that, walked right up to them, and casually leaned against the shelves full of soups.

“How ya been?” his voice dripped with ego, and Anika wanted nothing more than to have his grip slip and him fall into the metal cans like an idiot.

“I’m good. How’s Iowa State?”

“They red-shirted me this year, but they say I’ll start next year,” Anika had the quarterback pegged even before she knew he played football. “And who do we have here?” The way he turned his attention to Anika made her want to puke.

“I’m her…friend,” Anika reined in her inner bitch-mode that she so badly wanted to unleash on this little tool.

Ben wasn’t little by any means. He was 6’1” probably two hundred and ten pounds, and was used to high stress situations that also involved him getting hit. Still, he wasn’t a Super and he wasn’t in an HCP; so he was no match for either Becca or Anika if it got ugly. Still, he could hurt her in other ways.

“These are my friends, Bill and Ted,” he motioned to the two guys behind them. They didn’t look like current athletes, but they might have been. Not all high school football players made it to college. “How about ya go talk to them and let me have a moment with Becca.”

He made it clear he was telling not asking. Anika wasn’t going to have any of that. She stepped in front of Becca, crossed her arms, and leaned casually against the same soup rack Ben was. “No thanks, I’m good.”

You could always tell when a guy wasn’t used to hearing no. As a big football star in a local town he probably never heard it from a girl. On a college football team he probably didn’t hear it either. Anika saw his eyes go wide, and his face go from a cocky smile to a scowl. Anika almost wanted him to do something. She’d have him on his face before he knew what hit him.

“Hey now,” Becca the eternal optimist and good person stepped between them. “It’s ok.”

<Are you sure?> she projected the thought into Becca’s mind.

<Yeah, it’ll only take a second. I can take care of myself you know.>

                <I know,> Anika cut their link and pushed off the shelf. “Come with me Bill and Ted,” all she could think about was the late 80s dorky comedy.

Anika didn’t go far. She might trust Becca to handle herself, but she wasn’t going to let her girlfriend out of her sight. Bill and Ted followed obediently, and Anika revised her opinion of them. These guys weren’t additional muscle; they were just two dudes who’d followed Ben all through high school. She looked a little closer and saw that Bill and Ted looked as uncomfortable with the situation as she did.

“I…um…I like your tattoos,” Ted was the one who finally broke the silence once they stopped at the end of the aisle.

It was cold out, so Anika had layers on that covered her arms, but it had hiked up when she struck her casual pose against the soup. She could tell Ted was nervous. Despite Ben’s charm, and apparent good luck with the ladies, Ted didn’t seem to share in that confidence.

“Thanks,” Anika gave him a small smile to put him at ease. He didn’t seem like such a bad guy.

“So…um…are ya like Becca?” the question caught Anika off-guard, and it took her a few seconds to figure out what he meant.

Her first thought was that he was asking if she was gay like Becca, but then she remembered that no one knew Becca was gay. That left possibility number two. They were wondering if Anika was a Super, and by association, in the HCP.

There were a couple ways she could answer the question. Say yes; which would intimidate these guys. She didn’t care much about that, she’d probably never see them again in her life; but they’d make life difficult for Becca. If they both made it to Hero it could also be a problem. She could say no, but she didn’t think she could sell that. If she lied, and they called her on it, Anika would be that new girl who was a liar. Again, that would negatively affect Becca. There was always option number three. Not answer them at all and let them guess. Going over her options that one was probably the best one.

She never got to answer.

“WHAT!” Ben shouted from the other end of the hallway.

Anika had taken two steps at a faster than normal speed before she got a better view of them. She expected to see his hand on her; hands that she would immediately break, but instead he was backing away with a look of horror on his face.

Becca just shrugged, spun on her heel and walked back toward Anika. She looked relieved.

“We got shoppin’ to do,” Becca waked right past her. Anika gave Ben another look before following obediently.

She waited patiently until Becca was ready to talk about it, and that wasn’t until she’d finished grabbing most of the ingredients for Christmas dinner.

“I told him I was gay,” she said simply as she grabbed some thyme from a rack of spices.

Anika didn’t even hesitate; she pulled Becca into a tight hug. They held it until Becca wiggled, signaling that she was good. “I saw he didn’t take it well.”

“Yeah,” instead of looking a little sad at having to out herself to the entire town before she was ready; Becca was grinning.

“What?” Anika didn’t understand the discrepancy.

“Well,” Becca giggled a little. “I might have told him it was because of him.”

That set them both into a fit of laughter that echoed through the small market.

“He needed to get knocked down a peg or two,” Anika replied when she had enough breath. She had to wipe the tears out of her eyes.

“Yes, yes he did.” Becca smiled while taking a deep breath. “I hope you’re ready for Christmas, because it’s going to be the most interesting one of your life.”

Anika was ready, but she doubted she had any idea what she was about to get into.

 

***

 

San Francisco was an amazing town, and an amazing town can only be shown to you by an amazing woman. Mason was lucky enough to have one. The first couple of days of their holiday break were a whirlwind of activities. There was so much to do and so little time that Kyoshi dragged him out of bed early and they didn’t return until dinner. Mason saw all the sights; the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Warf, the Presidio of San Francisco, China Town, and Golden Gate Park just to name a few.

Mason had particularly enjoyed China Town. It was a splash of familiar in the otherwise unfamiliar settings. Mason had been to China Town in New York many times; and despite being on opposite coasts, the people and neighborhoods were  fairly similar. Other than that, he’d learned than San Francisco and New York were two very different places.

It wasn’t just the cities that were different, but the people and the atmosphere too. New Yorkers had a volatility to them that Mason was yet to see anywhere else in the world. 9/11 and an Armageddon level Super attack would do that to a city. San Francisco was lucky enough to have a few major Hero teams and not a ton of crime. It was a nice place to live, and that was reflected in the people; along with their world renowned acceptance of those who were different. Where Mason might get sideways looks on the NYC subway, people here didn’t do that. It was a refreshing change of pace from home.

Mason let down his guard enough that Kyoshi tried to shove some culture down his throat. She coincidentally timed their visit to Golden Gate Park at the same time as a Shakespeare festival. Thankfully, the weather was warm enough for them both to spend half a day watching everything from Romeo and Juliet to King Lear. Mason expected a park festival to have crappy acting, but he was proven wrong.

By the end of the fourth day of tourism Mason was worn out. He was looking forward to the upcoming Christmas festivities, but he was also relieved that they would mostly be taking place in the home. It was time to kick back and enjoy the rest of the break, or so he thought.

One night mason was lying in bed, drifting off to sleep, when he heard something being pushed under his door. Most people on the edge of sleep wouldn’t have notice the soft rustle of paper against a wooden floor, but Coach Meyers had a way of teaching her students to be paranoid.

Mason’s first thought was that it was from his girlfriend. Despite all the time they’d spent together, they hadn’t spent anytime “together”. It surprised Mason just how much that affected him. He’d only gotten laid once in high school, and it hadn’t bothered him; but now that he and Kyoshi were regularly intimate, a few days off was an unwelcome change.

<Not that I’m going to do anything about that,> Mason’s commitment was unyielding. It was unyielding because if they got caught there was no doubt in his mind that Wilhelm Schultz would tear off his limbs one at a time.

With growing trepidation, Mason got out of bed and walked over to the piece of paper lying by the close door. “Meet me tomorrow morning at 7:00am in the basement,” Mason read the note to himself three times.

He was looking for hidden meaning, but didn’t find any. At first he thought the note was from Kyoshi, but the handwriting was all wrong. Kyoshi’s handwriting was elegant and flowing. She preferred cursive whenever she could, and she never pressed hard on the paper. This note was written in heavy block letters. It was the type of handwriting you might expect from a large man.

“Oh shit,” Mason barely got any sleep that night.

He set the digital alarm next to his bed for 6:45. He’d probably gotten two hours of total sleep as his mind flashed from one possibility to another. <Why does Mr. Schultz want to meet with me so early?> The answer to that was simple; Kyoshi liked to sleep in whenever she could. If she was asleep she couldn’t listen in to whatever was going to occur between them.

What could happen between a father and his daughter’s boyfriend was the stuff of nightmares. But you had to sleep to have nightmares. Mason got lucky, he just got to lay in a pool of cold anxiety sweat until the alarm started beeping.

Not knowing what was going to happen, Mason selected a comfortable outfit. Part of it was to be comfortable, but the other part was to show that he wasn’t intimidated. Of course he was scared shitless, so this was an exercise in his acting ability.

The bedrooms were on the second floor of the house. Mr. and Mrs. Schultz’s master was at the end of the hall. In the middle of the hall, directly across from the stairs was Kyoshi’s room. At the opposite end of the hall were two guest rooms, one of which was Mason’s. Mason briefly considered knocking on Kyoshi’s door and alerting her to his imminent danger, but quickly decided against it. If things went as planned, Mason was going to have to deal with Mr. Schultz a lot; so he needed to get comfortable around the grizzly-sized man.

The wooden stairs didn’t creak as Mason’s considerable weight descended into the open floor plan of the first floor. Everything was comfortable and inviting; but the mix of cultures was a bit jarring. There were some clearly Japanese touches throughout the space, and some unmistakable German ones as well. The most important of which was the large man standing next to the door leading to the basement.

Mason was immediately grateful he’d chosen comfortable, casual clothing. Mr. Schultz was wearing athletic shorts and a sleeveless workout shirt. The older man’s arms were the size of tree trunks, and the veins popping out of them meant that he used them regularly.

Mr. Schultz didn’t say a word when Mason stepped onto the first floor, he just waved for the younger strongman to follow. Mason did just that, and descended behind the larger man into the basement darkness. Mason expected a light to get switched on, but it didn’t happen. Once double the proper amount of time had passed Mason started to get nervous.

<This is it. He’s gonna kill me, and bury me under the basement,> Mason started to move away from the stairs in the opposite direction he thought Mr. Schultz had gone.

Logically, Mason knew Mr. Schultz wasn’t going to kill him in a dark basement. Mason knew he was just a papa bear protecting his cub, even though that cub could full out conquer other people’s minds and possess them.

Thankfully, the paranoia was short lived as lights flashed on everywhere; but it was only replaced with more anxiety. Mason was standing in the middle of a gym. This wasn’t an attempted murder, this was a workout; but Mason had been in the HCP long enough to know that there really wasn’t much difference.

“Relax, Mason,” Wilhelm Schultz’s accent was still heavy despite living nearly twenty years in the U.S. “Vacation is making you soft, this is a chance to fix that.”

Mason gulped, but nodded his acceptance, as he scanned the room. Mason knew from the home, and Kyoshi’s spending habits that the Schultz’s were well off. Mr. Schultz had a thriving business, and was able to provide everything his family ever needed. Judging by the modern strongman gym that was in his basement, everything included all of this.

“Let’s see what you can do,” there was a clear challenge in the statement, and Mason felt a fire stir in his chest in response.

Mason wanted to show Mr. Schultz what he was capable of. He wanted to show the seasoned German Hero that he could protect his daughter, and he would be able to provide for his own family as a Hero.

“Ok, let’s do this.”

Mason had learned long ago that all strongmen were not created equal. It became obvious quickly that the strongman boxing coach that Mason worked with was much weaker than Mason. Since joining the HCP he’d done a little more research into the topic and found out quite a bit about his Super classification.

First off, the average strongman could lift things roughly in the three to four ton area. That had surprised Mason as first, but then he read on. This was just the baseline for regular Super strongmen, not Heroes; and they usually stayed in the three to four ton range because they never tried to improve themselves. If Mason wasn’t working to become a Hero, and not in an occupation that required him to lift heavy things, he probably wouldn’t need any reason to lift more than eight thousand pounds. The average car only weighed two tons; so as long as he was able to jack it up by hand to fix a flat tire, there really wasn’t any need to get stronger.

The low end Hero strongmen usually started at lifting around twenty-five tons, but they usually had some other skill that they brought to the table. Lifting fifty thousand pounds with pure physical strength was fine, but there were easier and less dangerous ways to pick stuff up. Mason knew of several density manipulators who could make that fifty thousand pounds feel like fifty pounds.

Strongmen strength climbed up from there, and moved into mid-level around forty tons. Supers in the mid-level could possibly make it to Hero on their pure strength alone, but they’d need a good team fit. A mid-level strongman couldn’t always take the hits the rest of his team couldn’t; so he needed to fit into a different dynamic.

Mid-level gave way to the high-level strongmen in the sixty-five to seventy ton range. The amount of strongman who could lift and throw a main battle tank were rare, but they fit into a typical strongman team role very well. For all intents and purposes that was the end of the line for strongmen. There were some extreme-level strongmen out there. Supers who lifted above two-hundred tons, but you could count those Heroes in the US on two hands. The one that sprang to mind instantly was Iron Giant, and the other was Titan. But Titan wasn’t really a strongman, so Mason didn’t know if that counted.

Currently, Mason was hovering between the low and mid-level strongmen categories. Strength for strongmen, just like humans, was measured through a series of exercises. Despite what some people might think, and some women might appreciate, it didn’t matter how much weight a Hero could curl with their bicep. The muscle wasn’t going to do too much when it came to the stuff that mattered. Exercises like the bench press, squat, and deadlift were more relevant to the type of work a Hero strongman would be doing. So those were the exercises Mason and Mr. Schultz started with.

Mason’s performance showed that he’d been taking some time off.

“Push!” Mr. Schultz yelled as he stood behind Mason.

Mason was halfway through the upper motion of a squat. The magnetically driven weights had forty-two tons on the scale. That might have been impressive to anyone else, but Mason could tell it wasn’t doing it for the old Hero. Personally, the squat was Mason’s best exercise, and his personal best was forty five tons for six reps. This was only rep number three on forty-two and he was already crapping out.

With a final burst of exertion, which almost made the young strongman crap his pants, Mason pushed the weight up the last bit and into the locking mechanisms.

“Good set.”

“No it wasn’t,” Mason couldn’t stop the words from coming out of his mouth.

Mr. Schultz stopped toward the readout where he would program his own weight and stared at Mason.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Schultz,” Mason put up his hands defensively. “I’m…”

“You will call me Wilhelm in the gym, Mason,” the Hero’s voice was strangely kind. “But only in the gym,” and the kindness was gone. “There is no need to apologize,” he continued before Mason could speak. “A strong man admits his flaws and weaknesses. This is a space to admit such things. A space where no one will hold it against you.”

<I’m not so sure about that,> Mason kept the comment to himself as Wilhelm dialed in the weight for his sets.

“Now move. My turn.”

Mason couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping as Wilhelm warmed up with twenty reps at seventy-one tons. The man was warming up just shy of double Mason’s max rep. If he had to guess, Wilhelm was at least twice as strong as him, and the older German might even be able to break that coveted hundred ton mark.

<I’ll just have to wait and see.> and that’s exactly what Mason did.

They worked up to max weight sets on the primary muscle exercises where Wilhelm did break a hundred tons on the deadlift and squat. He only fell short on the bench press, and that lead to a stream of loud German cursing. Mason didn’t see what the man was complaining about. Wilhelm was up in the rarified atmosphere of strongmen. He wasn’t a Titan or Iron Giant, but he was probably the strongest person in the city, including the Hero teams in the area.

Mason on the other hand barely broke thirty-five tons with his deadlift and bench press. Wilhelm didn’t say a word or convey any emotions accept encouragement, but Mason still felt like he was being judged. After the big muscle exercises they dropped significant weight and worked some of the finer muscles. That was where the conversation took a unique turn.

“You should not be so hard on yourself,” Wilhelm announced as he brought two hyper-dense weights in front of his chest in a butterfly motion. “You do well for someone so young.”

“Well doesn’t make you a Hero,” Mason replied, mirroring the movement with the same weight.

“You are young, four months into real training,” Wilhelm laughed aside Mason’s complaint. “How much was your first lift?”

“I squatted eighteen and a half tons…” Mason listed all his starting lifts. He’d memorized them after his first power evaluation.

“You double your strength and you are angry,” Wilhelm actually laughed, something he’d never done to something Mason said. “You will be very strong, Mason. Do not worry. You started stronger than me if that helps.”

Surprisingly that did help. The huge man had started off weaker than Mason; that put a lot of things into perspective for the young Hero in training.

“And the programs in this country are good. Not as good as Deutschland, but still good.”

“How are they different?” Mason asked, and Wilhelm was more than happy to answer.

Mason had never thought about how other countries trained their Heroes, and was very surprised to find out that it was all done through the military in Germany. According to Wilhelm, every Super went through the American equivalent of basic training in Germany. They were evaluated, categorized on a separate system that America didn’t use, and then trained.

“Most just do training and go live regular lives. They will only be called in an emergency. Others, like me, are good enough to get full training and become Ritter von Deutschland.”

“Ritter?”

“Ya. Ritter means knight in Deutsch. Americans call them Heroes, Germans call them Ritters. Europe is fond of its old traditions,” Wilhelm laughed at a joke that Mason didn’t understand. “The point, Mason, is that you will be a strong man one day; maybe strong enough for my Kyoshi.”

Mason nearly dropped the weights he was holding in surprise. “Really!” he can’t stop from sounding like a little boy who just got told he could buy the toy he’d wanted all year.

“Maybe,” Wilhelm’s expression and tone became serious again. “We will see.”

That was good enough for Mason. Wilhelm was starting to think we was good enough for Kyoshi. That was a big win, and the first step in Mason’s long term plan for him and the girl of his dreams.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 4

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop and Hailey moved quickly through the last few rays of sunlight. The sun itself wouldn’t be down for another thirty minutes to an hour, but the smog in the PHA was bad enough today that the weak beams weren’t going to penetrate down to street level. Whether real or pollution induced, darkness was a Rat’s worst nightmare; you weren’t safe unless a whole bunch of people had your back. Coop and Hailey only had each other, so their quick steps turned into a run as the shadows continued to grow.

Thankfully, they only had to go one block to reach the four tower complex that he called home. There were two men standing just inside the sole entry to Coop’s tower, and both gave the two Rats a pointed look when they arrived out of breath. Unlike a lot of towers in the PHA, Coop’s wasn’t run by the various gangs that infested the PHA. In Coop’s tower, the men and boys banded together to form a thin line against gang aggression.

Coop wasn’t part of that small force. Playing with others wasn’t his forte, unless those others had boobs. That had always been a point of contention between him and the men of his tower. All fighting age males got recruited into something. Usually it was one of the gangs, but here Coop had an option. It surprised everyone when he decided to do his own thing. If Coop had a job title it would be a freelance consultant. He would work for anyone who paid him.

“Your old man is lookin’ for ya,” one of the guys at the door said. He was a scarecrow of a man, with arms as thin as the barrel of the old gas-powered pistol he was carrying.

“Sure,” Coop replied gruffly. He was still in his dad’s old suit.

Coop had two things he wanted to do right away. He wanted to get himself out of these clothes, and then get Hailey out of hers. Then he wanted to repeat some depraved activities over and over until he was so dehydrated he couldn’t move. It was going to be his last chance to do it for a long time; whatever his choice. The downside was that to do either of those he first had to go through his dad.

Coop led Hailey past the two guards and into the PHA tower. As far as he knew all the towers were the same. Fifty stories of reinforced cement and polyplast were built around a twenty-five by twenty-five meter empty core. A blast door served as the ceiling, and could be opened and closed depending on the air quality. More people than Coop could count had jumped from the higher floors into the core, and splattered like pieces of rotten fruit in the lobby.

Originally, the lobby was designed to be a shopping area that could offer the welfare Rats anything they needed. The idea was good a few generations ago when there was still some disposable income, but when no one made any money it was difficult to buy anything. The businesses that had been there had withered and died. Now, all that was left was the medical clinic. The other empty spaces were used for people to hide in, get high in, or fuck in. Coop was pretty sure he’d been conceived in one of those dusty, dark, and decrepit shops.

Everyone was starting to clear out of the lobby now that the sun had effectively set. Even with the tower’s men standing guard at the entrance the chance of violence was more than most people were willing to deal with. Gang raids weren’t unheard of.

The last few vendors were packing up their jerry-rigged carts. It was mostly random bits of cloth to patch clothing, and food that looked like it was about to expire. That was the scope of the tower’s economy; that and the drug dealers and hookers.

The people at the medical center were slower to depart. With only one medic on staff they’d been standing there all day. People had to get up at four or five in the morning to get in line if they wanted to be seen. No one wanted to go to bed sick just to have to wake up early and stand in line all over again.

Coop and Hailey passed by all of them and headed for the elevators at the far side of the wide open space. He reflexively looked up as they passed under the open core of the building. Everyone in the tower kept their eyes on the core when they passed under it. Not doing so was a good way to get flattened by a jumper.

Another guard with a pistol in a leg holster stood inside the elevator. In most towers the elevator was a good place to get mugged. The tower’s men made sure that people had the luxury of an effortless ride, and that meant a lot to a lot of people. Coop and Hailey shoved themselves into a back corner as the elevator filled to capacity. The armed elevator operator hit the buttons for the floors people called out. Coop’s apartment was on the fifth floor, so he’d be one of the first to get off.

He spent the short, squeaky ride exploring Hailey’s body with his hands. “Mmm,” she groaned appreciatively. “Keep it in your pants, big guy. Two minutes and I’m all yours.”

Two minutes was too long, but before Coop could reply the elevator screeched to a stop. “Fifth floor,” the operator announced, shooting the two teenagers a pointed look. He didn’t want anyone screwing on his elevator.

Coop and Hailey forced their way through the crowded box, and exited onto the floor. There were a decent amount of people still milling about. The hallways were only wide enough for three people to walk through shoulder to shoulder; another step by the urban planners to fit as many people as possible into the towers. They didn’t have to go far to reach Coop’s apartment.

He pressed his finger to the thumb pad on the door, and the slab of polyplast popped open with a hiss. “Don’t let all the good air out!” a voice yelled from inside.

Coop and Hailey shuffled inside and quickly resealed the hatch. They’d kept their breathing masks on up until now, even though the air-recyclers made the air breathable inside the tower. Now that they were able to take their masks off and breathe easy, Coop took the opportunity to stick his tongue down Hailey’s throat.

Hailey threw her arms around him, raking her fingernails against his coat hard enough for him to feel it through the fabric. Coop liked that she had a tendency to be a little rough. They grinded their bodies against each other for a few seconds before a gruff cough cut short their make-out session.

“What?” Coop growled, turning his glare on the older man standing in the doorway.

“That’s my good suit, I don’t want you two messing it up when you go do the nasty,” Coop’s father gave the two teenagers a level stare.

“No one says ‘do the nasty’ anymore, Mr. Cooper,” Hailey pushed Coop away and gave the older man a smile. “That’s so twenty-third century.”

“Well excuse me,” Walter Cooper threw up his hands in mock surrender. “I guess I’m not hip with the lingo.”

“Please shut up,” Coop groaned.

At first, Coop thought it was a good thing that his dad and his girl got along. Since she was over a couple times a week it helped he didn’t have to lie about what they were doing when they locked themselves in his bedroom. Not that he’d be able to hide it; polyplast walls were far from soundproof. Now he knew better. Hailey and his father’s friendly relationship had left him with more than one case of blue balls. With one day of freedom left, the last thing Coop wanted was an aching pain in his crotch.

“I’ll shut up when you tell me how it went today,” Walter countered.

This was the last thing Coop wanted to do. He just wanted to change and get fucked. He wanted to forget that this was going to be his last night in this polyplast box; his last night with Hailey, and his last night with everything he’d ever known. So instead of just explaining, Coop lashed out in anger.

“It was fucking great, dad. Got my first welfare check and had to give it all back to some PHA bitch who looked like she was about to fall right out of her smartcloth. Stupid fat fuck,” Coop seethed, stripping out of his suit jacket and throwing it at his father. “But the rent is paid, so you’re good to live in this god damn shoe box,” next off was his shirt; which also got thrown at his father. “Then I got to go sit in court all day where some slut tried to talk to me like she knew me,” a harsh laugh escaped his throat as he remembered how the whore had been shocked and tossed from the room. “And of course, the highlight of my day. The judge throws the book at me because some Fleet fuckwad left his stuff in the back of that air-car. Now I’ve got until tomorrow to choose between a dime in Attica or four years in our Commonwealth’s glorious armed forces.” He heard Hailey’s sharp intake of breath at the admission, but kept on going. “So, dad, it went pretty fucking shitty. All I want to do is go into my room, fuck my girlfriend, and then forget today ever happened.”

Coop was breathing hard by the time he finished. His chest heaved with anger and exertion, and he hadn’t realized he’d clamped his hand down on Hailey’s forearm. Her slight whimper told him she was hurting, and he released her, but kept his glare digging into his father.

Walter Cooper looked like an older version of Coop. They were both a hair under 185 centimeters, and thin with wiry muscles. They both had short cropped dirty blonde hair, and stormy blue eyes that were attractive if Hailey had anything to say about it. The only difference was the graying of Walter’s hair around the temples, and the experience in the older man’s eyes. Right now those eyes were sad.

Coop was all piss and vinegar; ready to tell the world to take its crap and shove it up its ass, and willing to throw down if things didn’t go his way. Walter had been that way once, but reality had shoved crap down his throat despite his best efforts.

Walter just stared back as his son fumed in front of him. Coop had lost his mother when he was young. She’d been a jumper, and Coop had always blamed his dad because of that. Even though Walter was high up in the pecking order of men who protected the tower; he was still just another welfare Rat that hadn’t been able to save his wife or provide for his son.

“Ok,” it was not the answer Coop was expecting, but he didn’t let his father see his surprise. “You two have fun; I’ll see you in the morning.”

“I don’t need your permission,” Coop grabbed Hailey by the other arm, and dragged her into his room.

He slammed the door shut behind them, and leaned up against it for support. “Fuuuuuck…” he dragged the word out, as Hailey hurried to undo his pants.

“Shhh…it’s ok babe, I’m going to make you feel better,” she kneeled in front of him and yanked down the nice pair of slacks. “Just relax.” Despite her soothing words, he could tell she was crying.

Coop tried to relax, but even as the first wave of pleasure made his body shudder, he couldn’t push the decision from his mind.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 3

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Wait…what?” Coop was confused, and although mental whiplash wasn’t a real thing, he was undeniably suffering from it.

One second he was a normal welfare Rat looking at getting a slap on the wrist for steeling some retard’s air-car. The next minute he was facing charges against the Commonwealth for stealing classified intelligence. All he was thinking about was walking into a sterilized white room, getting a needle stuck in his shoulder, and going sleepy-bye forever. Now, the judge had decided not to throw the book at him. He’d been offered ten years in a prison where he was sure to be someone’s bitch, or four years getting shot at by one of the other starfaring nations’ militaries, corporate security forces, pirates, or religious zealots. If Coop was being honest, option number two wasn’t a whole lot better than option number one.

His defense attorney grabbed his arm hard before he could say another word. “You’re being given a chance, and I can tell you from experience that this judge doesn’t hand out these choices often. He saw something on that screen, and it is my legal opinion that you take him up on the offer.”

Coop would have responded colorfully if he wasn’t forcefully grabbed by the other arm, and easily yanked away from the defense attorney.

“What the…” Coop was about to take a swing at whomever was dragging him around, but he never got the chance.

His knees nearly gave out when a white-hot stabbing pain shot through his arm. The pain worked its way slowly through his arm, up his neck, and into his head. Coop didn’t even recognize that he was being manhandled out of the courtroom by one of the armored bailiffs. All he was able to register was pain, and all he was able to pray for was for it to stop.

“Hey, kid,” Coop didn’t even feel the first slap across his face. The second one registered, but it was still a full minute before he could make out the hulking shape of the armored man in front of him.

Coop was sitting on a bench just outside of the courtroom. The guard who’d scanned his slip was gone; probably inside to temporarily take the bailiff’s place. There was a reason there were two bailiffs in a courtroom. Rats like Coop didn’t have a reputation for conducting themselves in a manner acceptable to the court.

“Snap out of it,” one of the bailiff’s hands grabbed Coop’s face by the chin, while the other forced open his eyes.

“Wh’ fuck was tha’?” Coop couldn’t talk well with the man holding his face, but even without the armored gauntlet limiting his jaw’s motions, Coop wasn’t going to be eloquent anytime soon.

“You’ve been injected with your bail capsule,” the man saw the look of confusion in Coop’s eyes and explained with a sigh. “A capsule was injected into your arm since you’re being released on your own recognizance until noon tomorrow. If you do not return to this courtroom by noon the capsule will release the nanites inside of it and shut down your nervous system. You will shit yourself, piss yourself, and be a fucking vegetable until you’re picked up at the PHA’s convenience. We have a very low skip rate,” the bailiff’s eyes bored into Coops with the seriousness of the statement.

Anyone who was lying motionless in a PHA alley was going to have a bad day. If Coop didn’t return by noon tomorrow then he’d be signing his own death sentence. The Commonwealth wouldn’t have to spend a dime on a lethal injection; the other Rats would do the job for them.

“Ok,” Coop’s head was throbbing, and he didn’t have anything better to say.

“Good,” the armored bailiff left, and a moment later the PHA guard returned to his post.

“Get goin’, Rat,” the guard shooed Coop away like he would the four-legged rodent.

It took a few stumbling steps for Coop to get his bearings, but eventually his pain receded to a dull throb, and his vision cleared enough so he could find the exit. He took his first step into the waning afternoon light, and gagged after his first breath. Coop’s hands still felt heavy as he searched for the mask at his waist, and he was forced to take another breath. More pain stabbed his lungs as he inhaled the toxic air. Finally he found the familiar plastic apparatus, and slammed it over his mouth. He took another deep breath, and the mask filtered the smoggy air enough so he could breathe. The digital readout on the mask stated that the air was well below breathable levels.

“Thanks captain obvious,” Coop mumbled as he walked down the Civil Administration building steps.

Stretching out before Coop was the PHA in all its glory. The entire, self-contained, residence center was laid out in a typical grid fashion. Each block contained four fifty-story towers, and a small open recreation center in the middle. Each floor of a PHA tower had fifty rooms that housed a minimum of two people, but families of five or six routinely stuffed themselves into the confined quarters. That meant at a minimum there were a hundred Rats on each floor, and five-thousand per tower. With four towers that meant there were a minimum of twenty-thousand Rats crammed into a one block radius.

There were ten blocks in a square kilometer, and Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit PHA-2 was twenty-five square kilometers. In a testament to the ingenuity of urban planning, the Commonwealth had sandwiched over one and a quarter million people into a twenty-five by twenty-five kilometer area south of the City of Buffalo on Lake Erie. The sad part was that Coop knew he had it a lot better than some.

Coop only lived two blocks from the Civil Administration building, in what was considered the “good” part of town. He still had to keep an eye out. After he passed through the gates at the foot of the building’s steps he had to assume everyone was armed. No one walked around a PHA, this close to dark, without something to defend themselves.

Coop stuck to the middle of the street, avoided the increasingly shadowed sidewalks, and the nefarious alleys beyond them. There were no air or regular cars on the road, because no one aside from the cops could afford them. Coop felt naked, he would give a billion dollars for anything to ward off the predators waiting for him to step outside the Civil Administration building’s line of site. At that point the bail capsule didn’t mean shit.

“Give me all your money,” Coop was still a little off his game, but he got his shit together quick.

You couldn’t freeze when someone tried to rob you in his neighborhood. You fought back, and you fought back hard. Losing what little a Rat had could be a death sentence, especially if you were carrying home your basic subsistence allowance.

Coop threw out his arm in a swinging back fist, hoping that the thief was close enough. Of course they weren’t. Coop’s day had been nothing but shit; and as his clenched fist passed through nothing but air, he had no reason to suspect it was going to improve.

“You’re slow,” Coop finally registered the familiar voice, and thanked the universe for finally giving him a break.

“Hogs shot me up with a bail capsule,” Coop turned toward the person and showed her the injection site. “It’s got me a little messed up.” It was a weak excuse, but it was his only way to save face.

“Bail capsule?” the girl standing just out of reach had the same confused look as Coop when the bailiff explain it to him.

Hailey was the closest thing Coop had to a girlfriend. Titles like boyfriend and girlfriend didn’t mean a whole lot in the PHA. Relationships revolved around protection or pleasure, rarely both. Hailey and Coop were more about protection, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t a hell of a lot of pleasure involved.

Hailey was attractive, as far as women in the PHA went. She was skinny, not the athletic skinny that was on workout brochures, but the skinny that came from lack of food. People said that her skin was a rich caramel color, and Coop had to take their word on that. He’d never seen or tasted caramel in his life. She wasn’t really that tall, only about 165 centimeters, but her body had an hourglass shape that was hard to achieve without enhancement.

Hailey’s two most striking characteristics were her hair and her eyes. Her hair was platinum blonde, almost white; and braided into shoulder length cornrows. Coop knew it wasn’t her natural hair color, but it made her look exotic. He did know that she traded a day’s worth of rations for whatever bleached her hair like that. Sometimes it was better for a girl in the PHA to look good rather than eat. What was natural, but looked unnatural, were her eyes. Hailey’s eyes were a deep, beautiful amber. If Coop didn’t know any better he’d have thought that her parents had paid for genetic mutation before she was born. Eyes that color just didn’t occur naturally. But Coop did know better. He knew that Hailey, just like him, barely had enough to eat at the end of the day. There was no way her parents had tens of thousands of dollars to make their daughter’s eyes pretty.

Instead of explaining that he’d be a human vegetable in less than twenty-four hours; Coop walked up to her, used one hand to grab her ass, and the other to pull off both their masks so he could press his lips firmly against hers. Hailey tensed up for a second in surprise, but quickly melted into his embrace. It wasn’t smart to make out in the middle of a PHA street at twilight, but they did it anyway.

Hailey’s tongue poked past his lips and danced around his mouth. As she did that, she slipped her hands into his waistband. Coop liked where this was going, but jumped in surprise when he felt cold metal against his skin.

Hailey laughed, and pulled away with a mischievous smile on her face as she replaced her mask. Instead of fondling him in public, she’d done something much better. Coop looked down and saw the handle of his six shot revolver sticking out of his waistband. He sighed in relief; he didn’t feel naked anymore.

“Let’s get the hell out of here before someone jumps our asses,” Hailey’s attention returned to their dimming surroundings. “I’ll stick my hand down your pants when we get back to your place.”

Coop didn’t need any more motivation, and didn’t feel like breaking the news to her. He grabbed her hand and pulled her toward his apartment block; while keeping his free hand on the handle of his gun, and his eyes looking for trouble.

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A Change of Pace – Chapter 60

The flow of people through the hospital ER was average; which to anyone other than the seasoned medical personnel on staff meant it was hectic. There were a variety of medium to serious lacerations, one sex related injury that everyone was staying far away from, and a few return visitors from the madness that had occurred a few days prior. The loss of power had severely impacted the hospital’s capabilities. What made this night different was the block of men and women in blue uniforms.

You could tell who was on and off duty. There were only a handful of officers in ragged clothing, who looked like they’d jumped out of bed and come straight to the hospital; and they were unarmed. The rest looked somewhere in between anxious and ready for war.

There were two officers guarding the entrance to the ER since all the police casualties had been brought in. It was standard procedure, and considering the circumstances it was the least they could do; but that didn’t make it entertaining. The two men flanking the door couldn’t go talk to their friends, or check on what was going on. The other officers were good about it. They brought the two guards coffee, donuts, and information as often as they could; but the men had to remain at their post and watch for anything suspicious. So imagine their surprise when a six foot three inch blonde, Spartan goddess nearly pushed the door office its hinges.

The officer closest to the fire-eyed woman instinctually stepped in front of her to block her way. “Ma’am, you can’t be in here.” But by the time he was finished the woman was already past him.

She’d sidestepped and pivoted around him like a ballerina, leaving him with his hand in the air like some rookie traffic cop. “Hey, you can’t…” he reached for her shoulder, but she dipped it and slipped past him; continuing her fast walk toward the administration desk.

“Guys I need some…” the statement caught in the man’s throat when the woman looked over her shoulder and shot him a glare. Those fiery eyes were pulsing red; which could only mean one thing.

“Super!” the officer yelled out, reaching for his weapon.

Since the officer on the raid had been ambushed by the Super gang, the Fist, it was a logical jump in the officer’s mind to think that they were here to finish the job. That was one of the reasons why there was such a heavy police presence in the first place.

Guns were yanked from holsters and people everywhere started screaming. The police yelled for the woman to “get on the ground” or “surrender”, while the medical staff just screamed because all of a sudden there were guns everywhere. The only one who didn’t seem to panic was the woman walking toward the frightened nurse at the desk.

Thankfully, no one was trigger happy enough to take a shot at a Super who was casually strolling through dozens of cops with guns drawn like she was taking a Sunday stroll. There was more than one person in the room who knew things probably wouldn’t end well if people started shooting.

Daisy didn’t care what was going on around here. She barely even registered it as she marched toward the desk. Emotions whirled through her mind like laundry on a spin cycle. She was scared, pissed off, concerned, and ready to kick some fucking ass if she needed to. Images danced through her mind. She saw the friends she’d lost over the years, the interns who’d died on her watch, and the boyfriends she’d either killed or watched die. Each memory was more painful than the last, but one thing was for sure. There was no way in hell she was going to let Topher die on her. Not when it was her lead that had put him in the hospital.

<I haven’t even fucked him yet,> the thought rampaged through her mental melancholy like a bull in a china shop. For once it was good to have stuff shaken up a bit in there.

“Officer Christopher Phillips,” Daisy asked the scared shitless nurse as politely as she could.

The woman was frozen, her hands shaking, and her eyes darting between Daisy’s demonic red eyes and the barrels of all the guns pointed at her. It didn’t take long for Daisy to realize she wasn’t going to get anywhere with the nurse, so she turned around to address the screaming police officers.

She made sure to keep her hands out to her sides with her palms up. She didn’t need a ricochet hitting some innocent civilian. She gave all the officers a level stare until they stopped shouting and scaring everyone. “Take it easy guys, I’m one of the good ones,” she stated when they’d mostly quieted down.

The look on the men and women’s faces told Daisy that didn’t really do much. “For fuck’s sake,” she sighed massaging her temples to ease her frustration. “Just go and talk to Topher. Tell him Daisy is here.”

Mentioning her boyfriend’s name seemed to help a little, but no one lowered their guns. One cop went running down the hall to confirm while everyone else remained in a state of unrest. Two minutes later the man came running back and nodded quickly to his fellow officers. More than a few sighs of relief filled the waiting area as officers holstered their weapons.

When Daisy was confident she wasn’t going to get shot in the back she turned back to address the still shaking nurse. “Deep breaths,” Daisy gave the frightened woman a smile. “Everything is fine. Just take a minute and get me Officer Phillips’ room number.

The woman only paused momentarily before her fingers started scurrying over the keyboard. The more screens she went through the more at ease the nurse became. That was the best way to get over a high octane situation like the one that had just ended. Doing something normal and comfortable brought the brain out of its momentary shock. By the time the nurse had a room number for Daisy she was pretty much back to normal.

As Daisy turned to head toward the door that led into the hospital the same door she entered burst open. Into the waiting room, with his weapon drawn, stepped Galavant. There was a half second where everyone just stared at each other, which Daisy filled with a smile and wink for the rookie Hero.

“Who the hell called the Protectorate!” the senior officer in the gathered group yelled.

Everything descended into madness. Daisy gave the Protectorate Hero a small wave before excusing herself from the entire scenario. <Well that’s a hell of a way to make an entrance.> Everyone present would have a great story to tell at future parties.

The steady click of her boot heals followed Daisy down the hallway. Like some of the officers in the waiting room she’d thrown on the first thing she could find before speeding straight to the hospital. That meant that she was wearing a baggy hoody, yoga pants, and workman’s boots that clashed horribly with the outfit and the mild Florida weather; but her clothing was the least of her worries.

Daisy felt her pulse quicken and her hands become sweaty as the room number steadily climbed upward. She passed a few rooms that had other officers from the raid in them. One was on life support, a bloody bandage covering his leg. Some of the others didn’t need help breathing, but they looked like they got the shit kicked out of him.

For about the third time since she got the news about Topher, Daisy felt like kicking her own ass. She’d let her fears about her recertification get in the way of doing what needed to be done. And because of her cowardice, Topher was lying in a hospital bed with…Daisy didn’t actually know what was wrong with Topher. Her steps quickened until she reached the room the nurse gave him.

“Hey, babe,” Topher sat upright, grinning like an idiot with a hospital Jell-O cup in his hand.

Daisy’s heart did a summersault at the sight of her man. His chest was wrapped tightly in white material, and she could see the twitch of pain in his cheek every time he took a breath. She exhaled a breath she didn’t notice she was holding, and put a hand on the door for support.

“You scared the shit out of me,” Daisy replied undiplomatically.

Topher’s face went from a slightly strained smile to a worried look. “They didn’t tell you I was ok.”

“No,” a flare of anger surged in Daisy, but she pushed it down. Scaring the officer who’d neglected to tell her everything was fine wasn’t going to help the situation.

“It’s ok,” Topher must have guessed what she was feeling because he beckoned her over into a hug.

<This man is too good for me,> Daisy realized in that moment. Here she was complaining about not getting any information when Topher was bandaged up in a hospital room. His injuries didn’t look life threatening, but they were still injuries.

Daisy hugged as gently as she could, but he still winced. Still, that didn’t stop him from grabbing a handful of her ass. Daisy slapped his hand away playfully and grinned back at him.

“This whole stunt isn’t some elaborate trick to get me to sleep with you, is it?” Daisy teased, taking a seat next to Topher on the edge of the bed.

“I don’t know, is it working?”

“Maybe.” They both laughed, but Topher’s was cut short by a grunt of pain. That brought an end to the light flirting.

“Two broken ribs and a bruised sternum,” Topher explained when he saw her worried look. “Nothing some rest and relaxation won’t cure.”

Daisy nodded. She’d had bruised ribs before. Hell, one time she’d nearly had her whole chest blown off. A compound fractured rib was something she would never forget. Thankfully, there had been a healer nearby or she would have died long ago.

“Well you need to get some rest then,” Daisy tucked him in like he was a child.

“Where are you going?” Topher reached out and grabbed her by the wrist before she could pull away.

“I’m going to talk to your friends out there and see what happened. Then I’m going to find who did this and put them in the ground,” it might have been a little dramatic, but that was how she honestly felt about it.

“Wait,” Topher didn’t let go when she pulled away, causing another wince of pain. “You can’t do that.”

“They can’t get away with it,” Daisy retorted a little more sharply than she intended. “One of your friends is out there fighting for his life.”

“And we all knew what we signed up for,” Topher cut her off, still not relinquishing her wrist. “I’m a police officer, Daisy. Sure this isn’t New York, but it’s part of my job to stand between this community and danger. That’s why they call us the thin blue line remember.”

Logically Daisy knew all of this, but when someone your cared about was hurt you tended to be a little illogical. “I know.”

“Good, so promise me you won’t do anything reckless. I don’t want you screwing anything up. I’d like to put you in handcuffs, but not when I’m arresting you.”

Daisy couldn’t help but laugh. The light sexual banter did a lot to ease her frustration. After their mutual flashing episode things were growing less awkward on that front; maybe even to the point where she’d be ready soon. Of course there was no way in hell she’d tell Topher that, the man still had to work to get the good stuff.

“I promise I won’t do anything stupid,” Daisy sighed, leaning in to give her boyfriend a light kiss.

“I’m gonna hold you to that,” Topher’s face was sincere and serious.

“How about instead of cracking some skulls I get some ice cream?” Daisy suggested. A light went off behind Topher’s eyes telling her that she struck gold. “And not this shitty hospital food. I’m gonna get us some good stuff.”

“No funny business,” Topher hesitated, but finally let go of her wrist. “Chocolate vanilla swirl please.” He sounded like a kid at the ice cream truck.

<Sometimes men never change,> Daisy gave him one last kiss and then headed for the door.

She was going to be good and get ice cream, and she wasn’t going to engage in anything illegal; but that didn’t mean she couldn’t figure out everything about the sons of bitches that did this to Topher.

When the time came she would be ready.

 

***

 

The parking garage was as dark and foreboding as always, but this time an icy chill swept through the structure. Orlando was getting a rare burst of true winter weather. The air temperature had plummeted below freezing and strong winds turned the tourist town into a ghost town. People didn’t pay good money to come to amusement parks and freeze their asses off.

Orlando might be suffering, but it was nothing compared to what was going on just north of them. From Atlanta to Charlotte, an arctic funnel had descended on the American Southeast. The blast of cold air and building condensation was dumping inches of snow on the South. People were already out calling it snowmagedon.

In actuality, it was a lack of preparation by state and local government to combat Mother Nature. Even the largest southern cities didn’t have more than a handful of snowplows and a few tons of salt to coat the roads with. As a result the highways had become clogged and slippery, and accidents were everywhere because people didn’t know how to drive in the snow. Everyone was being urged to stay in their homes and ride it out.

Orlando didn’t have it that bad. It was just a lot colder than usual, and that was a good thing. After the madness of the power outage it was better to have everyone stay at home instead of wandering the streets. Of course, there were always exceptions to the rule; which was why a small group of the Fist were waiting in a dark parking garage.

Lilly had arrived half an hour before their scheduled appointment. She was laying prone on a cement rafter, freezing her ass off, and wanting desperately to be back on vacation. She’d seen the news of the arctic freeze that had descended on Orlando while eating room service in bed with her hunky man. They’d joked about the poor losers who’d be forced to endure the cold. Now she was one of them.

The group was small, only four people. Lilly recognized Squid, Dragon, and the woman who could do something with light; but she didn’t recognize the fourth man. He was a small, rat faced man; but from everything she’d seen he wasn’t much of a threat.

<Let’s get this shit over with so I can get back to the beach,> she’d lied to Seth and said she was going to get a massage. That gave her an hour of free time before he got suspicious.

Lilly shifted on the cement rafter and the rat faced man’s head snapped over in her direction. He tilted his head towards her, and his nose scrunched up repeatedly as he sniffed the air.

<Enhanced senses,> Lilly made a mental note before teleporting to the edge of the flood-light circle that was present during all of their meetings.

“This had better be good,” Lilly didn’t have to act disgruntled as a gust of cold wind slapped her in the back. “I’ve got better things to be doing.”

Everyone but the rat-man jumped slightly at her sudden appearance, but they recovered quickly. “Boo-fuckin’-who,” Squid growled. “Shit’s goin’ down and where you been?”

“Squid, I don’t tell you how to run your business so don’t tell me how to run mine,” Lilly put a little menace into her tone, and placed her hand on grip of her pistol.

A ripple of anger visibly ran over Squid, but he didn’t shift. “Ever since that power plant gig we’ve had heat comin’ down on us from everyone. The Heroes are sniffin’ around. Dragon barely got away when they tried to kill his ass at the bank.” Dragon huffed his agreement in the form of a puff of smoke. “And now the five-o is raiding our safe houses. We had to put down a bunch of them a few days ago.”

“What is your point, Squid,” Lilly didn’t want to listen to the man bitch all day long.

“The point is that we bein’ hunted now. All because you had us do that one job,” Dragon took a threatening step forward, but was met with the audible click of a safety being switched off.

“I pay you good money, Squid,” Lilly said after she teleported to a new location. “I gave you a job that both of us would profit from. It isn’t my fault that you couldn’t look two moves ahead. No shit the Heroes and cops are going to be gunning for you now. You guys took down a fucking city,” she laughed. “You’re a bigger threat now, but if you did your job right during the outage you should have the resources you need.”

Squid’s face was neutral; but the light manipulator, Dragon, and rat-face all looked confused. Lilly sighed and put everything in simpler terms. “You need to seize this opportunity. You’ve got a reputation and resources now; assimilate your competition or put them down for good, bring in more muscle, put out the word and other Supers might join you. Hell, if you cast a big enough net you might get some trained mercenaries who’ll do the job for the right price. You need to present a formidable target. That’ll keep the Heroes on their heels. The Protectorate isn’t the Patriots. They’re a small town, second rate franchise. They don’t have the muscle to take down a gang as big as yours can be.”

“What about the HCP?” rat-face spoke up. His voice was just as rat-like as his face.

“The HCP will stick to their campus unless you pull some serious shit or you put their wannabe Heroes in jeopardy. Stay away from the school, don’t blow up the city and you should be fine,” she was fairly confident in that assessment.

“It ain’t just the Protectorate and the HCP we gotta worry about,” Dragon said, and Lilly was surprised the brute could form whole sentences. “There was another guy at the bank, a teleporter. He killed a few of my guys.”

“A teleporter!” despite Lilly’s desire to remain calm and collected; her emotion betrayed her this time. “What did he look like?”

“Big dude, big ass rifle on his back, with a mask,” Lilly had all she needed to know.

<Fuck, Hunter is in Orlando.> She stopped paying attention to the end of Dragon’s description, and started thinking about how this affected her plan.

<Does he know who I am? Does he know what we’re trying to do? Does he know that I’m bankrolling the Fist? Does he know about me and Seth? Does he know that I killed Ricky?> The last reason was a lot more inconsequential than the second to last, but it was still valid concern in her mind.

“Yo, everything ok, Shadow,” she must have missed something because Squid was waving into the darkness.

Lilly teleported to another location. “Yeah,” she didn’t sound nearly as confident she wanted to. “I know the teleporter. I’ll deal with him.”

“He was pretty bad ass, Shadow,” Dragon began, but she cut him off.

“I know him much better than you, Dragon. So leave him to me,” her voice was hard and the fire-breather shut up.

“I don’t give a shit what your beef is with rifle-guy,” Squid stated. “I just want what I built to not get ripped to pieces by other assholes.”

“Then take my advice,” Lilly’s mind got back on topic. “Grow, either absorb or conqueror, and get some Supers who know their shit. That will at least buy you time to consolidate your hold on the city. Understood?” It was clear Squid didn’t like taking orders in front of his people, but he wasn’t dumb enough to miss good advice when it was presented to him.

“Good, now I’ve got places to be,” Lilly didn’t bother with a goodbye, she just vanished.

A quick stop to stash her Wraith outfit, and another teleport took her back to the beautiful Cayman Islands. She felt the heat hit here and her skin start to glisten with newly formed sweat almost immediately. <Ahhhhhh. Perfection.>

                The resort she and Seth were staying at was an upper class one with a private beach, and full service. They were on the VIP package, so they basically had a gaggle of servants following them everywhere and tending to their every need. It was heavenly.

Lilly took a deep breath, slipped back into the familiar skin of Liz, and exited the dressing room.

“There you are, Ms. Elizabeth,” a man rounded a corner and visibly relaxed at the sight of her.

Liz tensed at seeing the man. It was never a good thing if people were looking for her when she didn’t want to be found. “Yes.” She replied. She didn’t owe the help an explanation.

“Mr. Abney has requested your company after you finish your massage.”

“Thank you,” Liz slipped a five from her bikini top and handed it to the guy.

She didn’t wait for his thanks before walking away. It was a perfect eighty-two degrees today with a light wind and a cloudless sky. She spent a few minutes walking the resort. News that Hunter was looking for her now had her a little on edge. She needed to make sure no one was watching her, and she needed to get the anxiety out of her before heading back to Seth.

The resort was surprisingly sparse this time of year. Liz would have thought it would be a prime time for anyone in a colder climate to get away, but apparently people like to spend November and December with their families.

<Give me a mojito and Seth any day,> the thought sent Liz heading to the poolside bar.

She and Seth had only been there a few days, but they had a reputation among the staff. If they anticipated Liz and Seth’s needs they got good tips; which was why the bartender was just putting the finishing touches on a pair of the minty drinks when Liz arrived at the bar.

“Ms. Elizabeth,” the man had a sultry voice that he used on every woman he served.

Liz returned his smile and handed over a ten. Seth might be paying for the majority of the trip with his unlimited credit card, but she was still an independent woman. She’d brought along a few grand in her bag to handle tips and other little conveniences that popped up. She was even prepared for inconveniences. She had a million bucks ready to be wired to anyone if shit went down. Thankfully, nothing had happened so far. They got through immigration with no problem, and now they were enjoying their vacation.

Liz walked from the pool area to the VIP elevator. The elevator was a glass box that ascended the outside of the building, giving the occupants a million dollar view of the ocean. It was still early in the day, and the sun steadily rising above the waves allowed Liz to put her plan, the Fist, and Hunter out of her mind. She rode the elevator to the top floor suite and disembarked directly into their room with a swipe of her key.

The room was all soft Egyptian cotton, light colors, and comfortable furniture. She could affirm that the bed was extremely comfortable, and stood up to their rigorous extracurriculars. The floor was an off-white tile, and its coolness felt good against her feet as she walked into the room.

Seth sat across the room on his laptop. He was shirtless and in a pair of swimming trunks. Liz stopped and admired the sight for a second. This was the man who said he loved her back, and this was the kind of life they could live together. The thought sent a ripple of ecstatic anticipation through her.

“You just gonna sit there and creep on me all day,” he turned to face her with a smile.

Liz had never found southern accents attractive before, but now it revved her engine.

“You don’t want me to admire the view, because that can go both ways,” she teased, and pretended to cover up.

“No!” Seth pleaded, and they both laughed.

“I thought you might be thirsty. We need to stay hydrated,” she handed him the mojito. They’d taught the bartender how to make them right the first day they were here.

“You’re looking out for my well-being, like a good girlfriend.” She answered his statement with a passionate kiss. It would have led to other things, but Liz had just spent the majority of the last hour sitting on a cement rafter in an uncharacteristically cold Orlando. She needed some sun.

So instead of humping like bunnies on speed they packed a bag and headed to the beach. The ocean was a little too cold for Liz’s liking, but digging her feet into the sand and slowly baking her skin in the Caribbean sunlight was what she really wanted. If she needed to cool off there was a heated pool she could use.

Liz and Seth claimed what looked like a bed on the beach. It had a retractable fabric roof and curtained sides to block out the sunlight when the occupants had enough, but Liz knew that wouldn’t be anytime soon. If this was ancient times she would have worshiped a sun god.

Once they settled in, they fell into a comfortable rhythm. Seth did some reading on a tablet; mostly financial news from back home. Liz watched him reading, watched how his eyes darted across the page, and his brow furrowed as he took in information. Seth might look like a playboy, but she knew there was a brain under there.

She rolled from her front to her back when she felt her skin start to heat and hid a smile as the movement pulled Seth’s attention from his tablet to her ass. <Smart, but still a man.>

Liz closed her eyes and let warmth of the sun and Seth’s affection wash over her. Life was pretty much perfect, and she never wanted it to end.

Previous                                                                                                                                            Next

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 2

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop was still breathing hard when the doors closed behind him. His physical health might be rated good, but that didn’t mean he was in shape. A good physical health reading just stated that all your internal organs were functioning within a certain range. Even with the filters in the building, the air in here wasn’t conducive to any type of physical activity.

The courtroom beyond the big door was busy, but that was to be expected in a PHA Civil Administration building. People tended to get themselves into trouble when they didn’t have jobs, had barely enough to eat, and were basically confined like prisoners. The PHA sections of any metropolis had their own cultures, societal norms, and ways of doing business. They could be their own countries; the poorest and shittiest countries in human history, but they met all the basic qualifications.

Coop looked at the waiting section behind the metal bar that separated the seating area from the actual court proceedings. The place was packed, with people standing along the walls with disinterested looks on their faces. There weren’t any families or friends in this courtroom, just people waiting for their Commonwealth dispensed judgement.

The site brought back uncomfortable memories from Coop’s recent past. There were several other courtrooms in the building, and he’d visited a few of them, but this one was different. This was an adult court, not a juvenile one. A shudder worked its way up his spine, but he ignored the ominous feeling in his gut; and instead studied the room.

The first differences between this courtroom and the others he’d been to were the walls. Every other room he’d been in was the same white polyplast that made up the walls of his PHA unit. Polyplast was the builder’s product of choice for building interiors for the last half century. The material was durable, easily manipulated, easily sanitized, and most importantly, cheap.

This courtroom’s walls were all wood, but it wasn’t real wood. It would have cost millions of Commonwealth dollars to panel the entire 200×200 meter room, and no one would waste that kind of cash on a courtroom in the armpit of Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis PHA-2.

“They say it’s supposed to make the room feel warm,” the woman standing next to Coop whispered when she noticed where he was looking.

The woman was dressed like a ten dollar whore and was twitching with the obvious signs of narcotics withdrawal. Coop didn’t judge her. He knew a hundred women like her, and when the times were right, he’d gotten to know of few of them intimately.

“Don’t know what the hell that means,” Coop replied in a gruff whisper. “A box is a box, doesn’t matter what it’s made of.”

The woman looked like she wanted to talk more, but a look from the two bailiffs made them both shut up. Like the PHA guard outside the courtroom both of the bailiffs were armored, but unlike the guard outside, both of these men were armed with sleek looking pistols holstered at their hips. Those weapons could put an electromagnetically powered projectile through Coops head at two hundred meters. He knew that for sure, he’d seen it done before.

Case by case people were called past the metal barrier, sworn in by the bailiffs, and walked through the justice process. Even though Coop had been told to be there at a specific time, he’d be waiting around for hours until his case was heard; but such was the life of a welfare Rat. Soon enough space opened up for him to find a seat. He sat, and the seat instantly conformed itself to his body. The nanofibers adjusted to provide the best possible support to the seater, while automatically sterilizing the seat when anyone left. He could take a dump, smear feces all over the chair, and it would be gone by the time he walked out of the room; eaten and repurposed by the efficiency of the microscopic robotic organisms.

The man sitting next to him was called to appear before the judge, and the seat was immediately filled by the whore Coop had spoken to earlier. “They say the judge’s plaque is made out of legit Martian Sandalwood,” she whispered.

The whore was using idle conversation to mask her nervousness. She also placed her hand on Coop’s knee. He only allowed it because he had similar nerves, and this might be the last time either one of them had contact with the opposite sex for some time. Her hand didn’t migrate north, so he didn’t have a problem; it might be momentarily comforting, but he had higher standards now than in his earlier youth.

He studied the plaque with the judge’s name on it. <The Honorable Judge…Asshat,> Coop didn’t care what the man’s name was. What he cared about was what it the plaque was made of.

If the whore was right then that fifty centimeter long nameplate was worth a hundred thousand bucks. Martian Sandalwood was expensive stuff, and having it shipped 225 million kilometers from Earth’s oldest colony made it that much more valuable. Unlike the rest of the courtroom, which was fitted with the laminate, light brown, faux wood paneling, the plaque looked legit. It was a blueish-white color and looked like someone had taken a paintbrush to it, making the fine grains pop. Like all things Martian, there was a hint of red to it; which a half century of terraforming had failed to totally eradicate from the environment.

<I could pay rent for five years with that thing,> Coop tried to think of ways he could steal the valuable piece of wood. All the scenarios ended with him missing a large chunk of his head, so he abandoned the idea.

Twenty more minutes passed, and then the whore was called up. Her hand tightened on his thigh for a brief minute, betraying her fear. “I’ll see you on the other side, baby.” She scooted past him, giving him a nice view of her chest, and then she was gone.

Coop only half paid attention to the whore’s proceedings. She was guilty, and she wasn’t going to get off this time. She cried out when her sentence was read, and then tried to resist the bailiff who was escorting her toward the door marked “PRISONERS” in bold black letters. All that got her was a hundred thousand volt shock, and getting tossed through the door like a sack of potatoes. Coop didn’t even bat an eye, it wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before and would probably see again.

He waited another hour passed until he finally faced the music. “Mark Cooper,” the Bailiff’s voice was augmented by the audio set worked into his armor.

Coop stood up, tried to smooth out some of the wrinkles, and walked calmly towards the front of the room. He was in his Sunday best; which meant that it was his father’s clothing from a quarter century ago. No one in the PHA could afford this type of clothing anymore.

The metal bar silently slid back as Coop approached, and then quickly snapped back into place once he was passed. A bailiff tossed him a thin copy of the Commonwealth Constitution encased in polyplast; which Coop easily caught. “Repeat after me,” the armored man didn’t wait for Coop to acknowledge. “I swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

Coop was pretty sure that if there was a God he didn’t give a shit about a little Rat like him. “I swear.”

The bailiff snatched back the protected document, and pointed toward the defendant’s chair. A public attorney stood next to Coop’s chair in a suit only slightly less wrinkled than Coop’s. The older man looked tired. His face was drawn, there were dark circles under his eyes, and more wrinkles than his middle-aged years accounted for. The state attorney on the other side looked just as tired, so Coop saw that as a win.

“The United Commonwealth of Colonies vs. Mark Cooper,” the prosecuting attorney looked just as surprised as Coop felt.

Every other time Coop had been in front of a judge it had been him against the PHA, not the Commonwealth. <What the fuck is going on?> The ominous feeling that had been festering in his gut vanished as his whole stomach fell through the floor and halfway to China.

“You are charged with grand theft auto of government property. How do you plead?” the judge, who hadn’t looked up in the last few cases, actually raised his head to look Coop in the eyes.

Those eyes didn’t convey anything good.

The whole story behind the charge had been funny up until a few minutes ago. In some way unknown to Coop, some idiots from the suburbs had gotten lost and ended up in the PHA. Considering you had to go through checkpoints to get into the complex it was a pretty impressive feat. Coop had been minding his own business, when he’d seen the air-car fly by. Since it was the first time he’d ever seen an air-car, he went to investigate. When he arrived, the driver had entered the Civil Administration building, but left the car running. It was just asking to get jacked.

Coop was better than most with computers, so he knew how to turn off positioning software on just about anything. He hoped in, powered down everything that would track the vehicle’s location, and planned to drive it to the nearest chop shop. He’d make a couple of grand off the deal, get some spare parts to sell himself, and get to eat some decent food for a week.

The problem was that he didn’t know how to drive. He didn’t think it was difficult at the moment; up, down, left, right, forward, back, it didn’t seem hard. He made it about a block and a half before he plowed it into a support pillar for the Maglev train that ran above this section of the PHA. The cops found him unconscious in the driver’s seat, but the car hadn’t taken much damage.

How that equated to a Commonwealth level crime was beyond Coops ability to comprehend. “We plead guilty, Your Honor,” the public attorney stated without missing a beat.

“Yo, what the hell!” Coop couldn’t stop the outburst. “Wait a minute.”

“Silence in the court,” the judge banged the gavel.

Coop shut up before he ended up on death row, because that’s where he felt like he was going. Death was the penalty for an uncomfortable amount of crimes, but with population control being such a problem it was a logical solution in many people’s eyes.

“Let’s review the facts of the case, Mr. Cooper,” the state attorney looked like Christmas had come early. “There is surveillance footage and biological evidence recovered at the scene of the crime; in addition to you being caught inside the stolen vehicle. The vehicle had government tags, and was carrying classified government property.”

“Your Honor, the defendant was unaware of any classified Commonwealth property within the vehicle at the time of the alleged crime,” the defense attorney took the words right out of Coop’s mouth.

“Whether the defendant knew about the property or not is irrelevant,” the judge quickly squashed Coop’s attorney’s feeble plea. “The classified information was present.” The judge hit a few buttons on his Personal Access Device (PAD), and the square device brought up all the relevant information.

“The government vehicle was signed out by a Lieutenant from the Commonwealth Fleet, and had technical manuals of assault shuttles in the back seat. Along with the Lieutenant’s government issued PAD.” If Coop didn’t know any better he would have thought the judge was just as displeased at the Lieutenant as he was at Coop.

<The guy must have been a dumbass if he left all that crap in the back of an unlocked, still running air-car,> Coop wondered how in the hell someone so incompetent could get that job.

“So I’ll ask again, Counselor. What do you plead?” the judge’s gaze could have cut right through battle armor.

The defense attorney gave Coop a look he knew all too well. It was a hopeless look. The prosecution had Coop dead to rights, and there was nothing the attorney could do about it. Coop’s gut, which was already buried deep in the ground beneath him, completed its journey through the Earth and into China.

<They could kill me over this?> the defense attorney saw the light go off in Coop’s head, and thought up the best plan he could.

“We still plead guilty your honor, but we also plead mercy,” pleading mercy in a 25th century courtroom was like hoping to hit an incoming ship-to-ship missile with a baseball bat and survive. “Mr. Cooper has committed no other crimes of such a serious nature. My client is a misguided youth who has been raised in a poor environment with no discipline or accountability. We beg the court to levy a lesser punishment.”

Coop might have taken offense to the poor environment crack if he wasn’t busy having an existential moment contemplating his own mortality. Knowing you were one gavel smack away from a one way trip to a lethal injection had a tendency to shut out the world around you.

“The court accepts your plea, and will consider the plea for mercy,” the judge hit the screen on Coop’s profile several times to unlock the “Authorized Personnel Only” portions.

There was a minute of tense silence as the judge considered all the information. Unlike the attempted, and failed, legal precedents of the past; a judge was not required to have a jury of the defendant’s peers to render a verdict. The modern judicial system placed the full authority on a judge who was given the godly power upon his appointment.

“A history of aggressive behavior, violence, disregard for others,” the judge condensed his criminal career and mental health into three brief statements.

The judge’s face went from unyielding disappointment to contemplation, and then he smiled. Coop knew instantly he wasn’t going to like what he was going to hear.

“The court accepts your plea of mercy, Mr. Cooper,” Coop felt his stomach leap back into his body as hope flooded through him. “I sentence you to ten years in medium security at Attica,” Coop’s stomach dropped back out again, and the ray of hope became a bout of nausea. “But if that doesn’t sound like something you want to do, then I offer you an alternative sentence of a four year mandatory service obligation in the Armed Forces of the United Commonwealth of Colonies.”

The judge smiled when he saw the confused expression on Coop’s face. “You have twenty four hours to make your decision, Mr. Cooper,” the bang of the gavel sent an electric shock through Coop’s system. “You are released on your own recognizance until noon tomorrow. Next case.”

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Two Worlds – Chapter 1

Name: Mark Cooper

Genetic Identification Code: TBCD0425241412631

Physical Health: Good

Mental Health: [Authorized Personnel Only]

Education: [Blank]

Occupation: Welfare Recipient

Criminal History: [Authorized Personnel Only]

Citizen Status: Pending

 

“Huh,” the single syllable escaped his mouth in a puff of carbon dioxide.

It was surreal experience to see your entire life laid out on a slip of polymer. Anyone could take the 10 x10 centimeter card and scan the barcode to bring up his entire life. It was the first time he’d received one of these slips. It was one hell of an eighteenth birthday present.

Mark Cooper absentmindedly scratched his forearm as he read over the card again; alleviating the itch right above the black barcode that had been fused into his body before birth. Like every single one of the twenty billion Earth-bound residents of the United Commonwealth of Colonies, he’d been tagged before his momma had pushed him out, and a nurse’s slap on his ass had forced him to take his first breath of what passed for air.

The Genetic Identification Code (GIC) on his reinforced piece of plastic matched the one on his arm. You could tell a lot about a person by that code; a code that was mandated by law for the last four generations of human beings. Not only did scanning it reveal every aspect of your life, but the code itself held useful information. The first few letters always destinguished the metropolis you were born in. In his case, that meant the Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis. His home’s mix of ancient brick, millennial steel, and modern polycarbonate encircle the once great Lake Erie. Now, it encircled 130,000 billion gallons of brown sludge from over 500 years of sewage dumping. There was nothing great about the lake anymore.

The next eight digits were the day someone was born. He had entered the disappointment that was his life on April 25, 2414, and it had all gone downhill from there. The final five digits of the GIC was your position in the computer registered tally of newborns that day. 12,630 people had been born before him just in the Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis alone on that April day eighteen years ago. His metropolis was one of hundreds, maybe even thousands of metropolises that covered the face of the planet.

He’d only been born at 8:04 A.M.

Anyone could do the math. The problem was pretty obvious unless you were stupid; so everyone knew it, but nobody gave a flying fuck.

One of the few things he took pride in was his physical health. He wasn’t some jacked, ripped dude like on one of those body building infomercials; but he was categorized as good. It was hard to get a good rating where he lived.

The “authorized personnel only” print under the mental health heading just made him laugh. Privacy law was bullshit. The government didn’t care about his privacy, and any government hack could scan his arm, or the new slip, and bring up the data. There would be a lot of key words in that text; things like problems with authority, mild sociopathic tendencies, antisocial behavior, and a bunch of other words that were long and had definitions in some thick medical dictionary somewhere. It was all a lot worse than it sounded, and five minutes of diagnosis by a government shrink didn’t mean shit in his neighborhood. All that medical babble meant was that he looked out for number one, and wasn’t afraid to let people know about it.

The blank reading next to his education was a sore point with him. Anyone you talked to would say Coop, no one called him Mark or Marky, was smart. He just thought that the Commonwealth education system spouted out more crap than a football fan with raging diarrhea. He’d gotten all A’s his freshman year in high school, started to read between the lines sophomore year, and stopped going all together junior year. There were much more lucrative things he could do between the hours of seven and three thirty every day.

He had to engage in his extracurricular because of his listed occupation; welfare recipient. That was the most politically correct way anyone had referred to him in his eighteen years. Most people just called him, and everyone who lived in any Public Housing Authority neighborhood, a Rat. Society meant it as an insult, but he didn’t look at it that way; especially since the number of Rats was rapidly outpacing the number of good, law abiding citizens on this spinning blue and green ball of shit. Coop knew for a fact that there were over ten million Rats packed into clustered fifty-story shoeboxes in his metropolis alone.

Being a welfare recipient, and needing extracurriculars to bring in more Commonwealth dollars, led to the second “Authorized Personnel Only” reading on his card. Those wouldn’t be accessible to any old government stooge who scanned him; although every cop on his block would have instant access. It was a juvenile record, but still a record. It was mostly petty stuff; assault, breaking and entering, burglary, possession of a controlled substance, nothing bad enough for the government to ship him off to juvie. To punch that government paid ticket you usually needed to kill someone, and he hadn’t been caught doing that.

The PHA didn’t care if a Rat stabbed another Rat in an alley over their Basic Subsistence Allowance. A finite amount of food got dispensed every week, and they didn’t really care who ended up eating it. If you made a scene, or were psychotic in your killings, then they stepped in. It was bad publicity to have a serial killer lurking around government owned housing. Shooting a person in self-defense didn’t count; all you had to do was deal with the smell until garbage day.

The only truly scary thing about Coop’s brand spanking new slip was his pending citizen status. That could be a problem.

“Hey, kid, you’re holding up the line,” the man behind Coop yelled.

“Shove it, Grandpa,” Coop replied, not bothering to turn around to see the man give him the finger. On the street he would have kept one eye on the older man, but in the Civil Administration building doing anything out of line earned you a beat down. Plus, no one was carrying weapons in here thanks to the scanners at the entrance.

Coop pocketed the card and looked at his watch. The soft glow of the digits ticking by on his pale skin told him he had an hour. <Shit,> Coop quickly walked toward his next destination. He’d be cutting it close.

The welfare office of the PHA was perpetually busy. Sitting in line at the welfare office was one of the realities of being a Rat, and you learned to cope. Thankfully, Coop only had to cope for forty-five minutes.

“Next,” the heavy-set woman in the blue smartcloth of a PHA employee waved him forward. “Arm.” Coop obediently held out his arm so she could scan him. “Mark Cooper, congratulations on your first welfare check,” The woman said without any enthusiasm.

Now that he was legally an adult he would start withdrawing the twenty thousand dollar a year welfare stipend. Of course that money didn’t do shit, which defeated the entire purpose of monetary income.

“I gotta pay rent,” he replied, taking the twenty thousand dollar data chip from its slot and handing it back to the woman.

Scanning his arm had already brought up his block and unit number, as well as the balance due. The woman took the money chip from him, inserted it into a slot and that number dropped to zero. It was the entire purpose of the welfare check to pay for the housing costs the government incurred, but that didn’t make it any less depressing knowing that your entire income for the year was gone in a ten second transaction. Usually his dad did this, but since Coop was here anyway he decided to get it done.

In the past the government might have done more for its economically destitute than pay for housing and food, but that was all that was given out today. If you didn’t like it you could always go die in a gutter, and they’d pick up your body for recycling once you expired.

With his errand done, and his melancholy thoughts receding, Coop checked his watch. <Five minutes!> He ignored his better judgement and ran.

Running in the Civil Administration building identified you as a threat, and being a threat wasn’t good for your health. Angry calls and the energizing of stun batons followed his progress through the halls. It was a good thing it was a short run, because any longer and he’d get a hundred thousand volts of electricity shoved up his ass.

He came to an abrupt stop at a large faux wood door, and had to catch his breath in front of a stern faced, armored, PHA guard. “Mark Cooper,” he held out the card with one hand as he rubbed the stitch in his side with another.

The guard put the card in a slot by the door and waited for the response. Mark would never get that card back. Anyone who needed anything from him would just scan his arm, but the card was needed for this particular circumstance.

“Mark Cooper, you’re checked in,” the guard opened the door, waving off the other guards who’d just come around the corner. “The judge will see you soon.”

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