A Change of Pace – Chapter 69

 

Lilly felt lonely as she walked away from the townhouse and into her usual alley.

<He thinks I’m fucking some other guy.> She wanted to hate Seth for the comment, but she couldn’t blame him.

She’d slapped him to keep up the charade, but she was spending all of her time with another guy. And Mika loved it.

Feeling more melancholy than she had in weeks, Lilly vanished in a puff of darkness and reappeared on the other side of Orlando.

“Hey, Wraith.” Mika looked and sounded loopy.

There were half a dozen empty energy drinks on the table next to him, his eyes were twitching as he fought the exhaustion, and there were red marks around his eyes from pressing them into the binoculars all day. Despite all of that, the kid looked like he was having the time of his life.

“Anything new?” She asked, placing her bag on the bed.

They were in another shady motel room across the street and a block up from the target. They’d been able to get a room with a good line of sight on their target. Even though nothing ever seemed the change.

“Nope.” Mika shook his head, and Lilly heard the vertebrae popping from inactivity.

“Let me take a look.” Lilly laid down on the bed in a prone position and slid up to put the butt of her rifle into the groove of her shoulder.

The tech genius designed weapon was more than powerful enough to kill anything in that room at this distance. <You can’t kill what you can’t see.> She thought with agitation as she toggled through the high-tech scopes multiple functions. Infra-red, night vision, X-ray, super magnification…nothing got her a view into Hunter’s room. <Fucking countermeasures. Things would be so much easier if he was a moron.>

It was wishful thinking. They didn’t train stupid Heroes, which was why they were so hard to kill.

Mika saw the unhappy look on her face, but instead of looking equally displeased he smiled.

“What?” Lilly snapped, letting her frustration get the best of her.

Either Mika ignored it or he was so sleep deprived that he didn’t understand her anger. But he kept on smiling.

“It’s ready.”

That was exactly what Lilly needed to here.

“What are you waiting for?” She slid away from the rifle. “Whip out that little thing and let’s get this party started.”

Mika was already reaching under the bed and grabbing a sleek, silver case. He popped the latches and there was a hissing sound as the air trapped inside of the sealed case leaked out. He slowly opened the top to see their hundred-thousand-dollar investment.

It was underwhelming. It wasn’t much more than a black spec. If it wasn’t contained within a clear receptacle set against a silver case she probably wouldn’t have noticed it.

<And that’s the point.> Lilly felt her mood improving as she looked at the little Frankenstein fly they’d created.

This was their ticket into the room. The key to unlocking the last bits of their plan.

Mika’s entire body was shaking in excitement. It could have been form the gallons of energy drinks he’d consumed, but either way it was the correct reaction. Lilly just couldn’t have him twitching for the rest of the operation.

“Let’s get our little miracle bug into that room and then you need to take a nap.”

Mika didn’t look too pleased at Lilly’s order.

“You’re twitching so hard I’m afraid you’re going to snap the remote in half, and I can’t fly that thing.” Her point was reinforced as a spasm worked its way up Mika’s spine.

“Fine,” he relented.

Flying their little creation was like flying a fighter jet in one of those virtual simulators, but harder. It took a few practice flights around their crappy motel room for Mika to get the feel of it.

“It’s all about synchronizing the wingbeats,” he sighed, having figured out the problem. The fly went from looking like a drunk driver to smoothly flying in circles around them. “Air currents are still going to be a problem, but I can handle them.”

“Are you sure?” Lilly felt the bubble of nerves in her gut. “We’ve only got one shot at this.”

“Yeah, I’ve got this.” Mika waved her off with a confident nod. “It’s Nano time.”

Lilly tried very hard, and barely succeeded, in stopping a laugh. She wasn’t sure if the teenage technopath was trying out a catch phrase, or if his brain had just crapped it out due to exhaustion. Either way, she’d eventually tell him he could never say that again. It would be their little secret. Because if anyone else ever found out he’d be the laughing stock of the villain community.

<And we’re so close to being Gods.>

Taking down a Hero was the ultimate accomplishment of a villain. Her father had done it, her Uncle Armsman had done it multiple times. It was a rite of passage in her family.

<I wonder what my Uncle would think about me fucking a future Hero?> She knew the answer. He’d either be incredibly impressed in her infiltration abilities, or he’d denounce her. <Oh well, we’ll find out soon enough.> She turned her attention back to Mika and the fly.

Mika had maneuvered the fly out of the cracked window and into the street. He’d been right, the air currents had their little spy flying all over the place.  There were so many close calls Lilly couldn’t watch after a while. They literally almost splatted like a bug against a windshield more than once.

<Maybe a grenade up the street will stop traffic.> It was a good idea, but she quickly discarded it. <Hunter would be alerted to the explosion so close to his safe house and he’d never return.>

With explosions not being a viable option Lilly was out of ideas. So she sat back and watched as Mika piloted it over to Hunter’s room. It was a nail-biting experience.

Ten minutes later, with a sigh of relief, Mika dropped the fly down onto the windowsill of Hunter’s room. The kid was drenched in sweat, and he smelled. It smelled like the energy drinks were oozing out of his pores, mixing with the stench of sweat, and creating an aroma of ass that was infesting the entire room.

“Get that fly in the room and then get in the shower.” Lilly’s expression left no room for interpretation.

Mika just nodded. He grabbed the controls and slowly walked the fly forward. It hopped off the windowsill, which was only a few feet high, but it looked like the fly was jumping off Niagara Falls; and then scuttled forward on its multiple limbs.

There was only one way into the Hero’s room, and that was through the crack under the door.

<The moment of truth.> Lilly held her breath.

There was no doubt in her mind that the countermeasures Hunter had deployed involved something that detected live organisms entering the room. Devices like that were really meant to deal with humans, but they could be calibrated to any form of life down to small insects. Knowing the paranoia of subtlety Heroes, she was betting Hunter would have it on its highest sensitivity.

The moment their fly crossed the threshold there would be an alert sent to the Hero. The Hero would inspect the alert, probably tune into cameras within the room, and examine the threat. The hope behind their innocent little fly was that he would dismiss it. This was Florida after all. Insects outnumbered humans a billion to one. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that a fly just happened to find its way into his room.

“Do we have eyes on Hunter?” Lilly asked just before Mika walked the fly under to door.

“Um…” he checked some other equipment he had set up in the room. “…Yes. He’s still at the Protectorate headquarters, but he looks like he’s getting ready to leave.”

“Hurry then.” Lilly motioned for Mika to move. “If he comes back to the room in the next few minutes we need to be ready.”

“Ok…ok.” Mika shot her an irritated look and pushed the joystick forward.

The bug took two steps then…

…there was a flash of red…

…and everything went black.

<NO!> Lilly felt the remaining hope drain out of her. <Motherfuckin…stupid…stupid…stupid…> She turned away so Mika wouldn’t see her composure crack.

She’d wasted two weeks of her life on this quest. She’d alienated Seth, slacked on her mission, and all for nothing. Lilly wanted to scream, throw things, and kick the shit out of the first person she saw. She had an uncontrollable urge to do something, anything to try and make these last two weeks a success.

“Ah…I thought this would happen,” Mika chuckled, brining Lilly back from the brink of doing something stupid.

“The Hero obviously saw the front door crack as a weakness, so he set up a countermeasure there. The flash of red was a laser meant to fry any electronics that were stuffed under there.

<That’s fuckin’ great.> Lilly need a big stiff drink. <Now we’re right back to where we started.>

“But never fear,” Mika had a big shit-eating grin on his face. “Nano is better than some second-rate criminal trying to peak into someone’s room.

The screen in front of them flickered and then Hunter’s room popped back into focus.

“I added some EM shielding to Franken-fly when I built her. It was the only way to keep the camera operational after something like that. Pretty smart if you…” Mika didn’t get to finish the sentence. Lilly grabbed him by the neck and planted a big sloppy kiss on his lips.

“You’re a fucking genius!” Lilly felt her hope rekindled in her bones. Something like that was worth a little indiscretion on her part. Seth would just have to deal with it.

<Not that he’ll ever find out.>

“Yeah…um…I’m…um…smart…” Mika was in shock; which Lilly took as a good sign. If he wasn’t shocked by her kiss, then she’d have lost her touch.

“Yes you are,” he gave him her best smile, which turned him to mush. “Now get that bug in a good spot, check the Protectorate HQ camera feed, and settle in.”

<Hurry up and wait.> Lilly knew the concept well.

You put in a lot of effort to get something done, and done in a timely manner, and then you had to wait for fucking ever until you saw a return on that investment.

“I think we’re good,” Mika replied, switching his attention between the fly’s controls and the Protectorate camera footage. “He looked down at his watch, hit a few buttons, and then turned his attention back to a conversation he was having.”

<That sounds promising, but don’t get overconfident.> Lilly felt how close they were to success, and she didn’t want arrogance to get the best of them.

“I’ll take over now,” she practically elbowed Mika out of the way. “You take that shower and go grab some food. It’s almost dinner time and we’re in for another long night.”

Now that their little spy was into the room they had to keep eyes on the screen at all time. The second phase of their operation was going to happen fast when the time came.

Lilly reached out and grabbed the black duffle bag that was sitting on the bed by her rifle. Inside was her homemade bomb, the bomb that was going to take down her father’s nemesis once and for all. It was crude, but effective. There was more than enough C4 to take out several rooms, and she’d picked up a bunch of ball bearings to add a little more punch to the surprise. Hunter didn’t have enhanced strength, so the explosion would pulverize him and the ball bearings would rip him to shreds. He’d look like he went through a meat grinder by the time first responders were able to clear away the rubble and find what remained of his body.

If Lilly had been a mediocre villain then her planning would have ended there, but she wasn’t your average teenage supervillain.

Killing a legend like Hunter would bring every law enforcement agency and their mothers down on Orlando. She needed her escape to be flawless, and that meant planning for another tracker to show up.

Lilly would teleport the bomb from this room because she had to. Her teleportations were more accurate when she touched the object she was transporting. But teleportations left a trail to trackers like Hunter. They could sense the distortion in space and use their ability to pass through the rift and reappear at the origin point. So Lilly had to take that into consideration. She needed secondary and even third or forth points set up to make a clean escape, which was why she’d deployed her own countermeasures in this room.

Once Lilly and Mika left, and they’d have to leave in a hurry after the explosion, she’d activate her countermeasures. They weren’t as ornate as Hunters, but they’d get the job done. If anyone teleported into their hotel room, following the trail from Hunter’s destroyed room, they’d activate a second bomb.

Lilly and Mika would be long gone by then, teleported halfway across the globe to another trap. This trap was less explosive, but just as deadly. She’d be taking Mika to one of her European safe houses. The place wasn’t much, just an open flat with a large metal cage in the center. She’d teleport them into the cage. They’d quickly exit, and she’d lock the door behind them. Normally that wouldn’t be a challenge for a teleporter, so that’s why she had generators set to electrify the cage. If someone somehow survived the second bomb, then they’d most likely get barbequed alive in the cage.

From her European flat, Lilly and Mika would head out on foot to a third location a good distance away. Far enough away that a tracker would lose their scent. From that third location Lilly would take Mika back to Chicago before heading back to her alley and a short walk to the townhouse.

Going to Chicago first wasn’t just to drop off her technopathic sidekick. It was also to create a buffer between her and her pursuers. If it came down to it, she was willing to sacrifice Mika to buy her more time to make an escape and disappear.

It might seem cold, but it was just her being practical. The world didn’t do anyone any favors. You had to look out for number one.

<Yeah,> Lilly didn’t want to admit it, but she’d be breaking her own heart if she had to do that. Not because of Mika. She liked the kid, but he was expendable. It was because of Seth.

<Fucking love,> she cursed as Mika headed into the bathroom. <It can be such a pain in the ass.>

Mika smelled better when he emerged from the shower, but he still had an aroma of energy drinks. “Brush your teeth,” Lilly instructed, feeling like his mother. But she didn’t want that artificial tang in the air around her. She needed to concentrate.

Mika ordered food and had them deliver it to the hotel front desk. Lilly made sure he was suitably disguised before she let him go down and get it. Her stomach was growling, but a little abdominal distress was doable to avoid capture and life in prison.

The authorities didn’t take kindly to assassinations of their beloved Heroes.

They took turns watching the screen as they ate. The meal was tense. At any minute Lilly might have to send over the bomb, and they’d need to bug out of this room immediately.

Mika took the first watch after dinner, so Lilly could clean up. She packed up her rifle and teleported it to one of her many stashes. It was in a cave on the Australian coast. She’d found and then blocked the entrance on a vacation. Even if a Hero did find it, they’d be bogged down by international laws and regulations for weeks before they could investigate.

The thought made her smile.

Next she wiped down the room for fingerprints, and sprayed bleach all over the place. They’d worn gloves the whole time, but it was better to be thorough. Any clue they left could lead to their capture.

After an hour of work, they switched so Mika could break down his computer equipment. Everything was dismantled and put away except for the camera monitors watching the Protectorate and Hunter’s room. When Lilly and Mika bailed, those monitors would be wiped by electromagnets and literally melted by a small box of Mika’s own creation.

Lilly wasn’t arrogant enough to think this was the perfect crime, but it had to be pretty damn close. They had all their bases covered, and Lilly even had a few extra contingencies to protect herself. This was what her father had trained her to do since she could walk, and if he knew, she was certain he’d be proud of her.

They did another switch once Mika finished packing his equipment and Lilly teleported it to another safe location. If anyone thought it was easy to sit at a screen and intently focus on anything that changed, they’d be wrong. It was mentally exhausting, especially when you had to do it for hours.

Lilly turned away from the screen and blinked her eyes continuously until her tear ducts started working. Her eyes itched from the constant strain of watching the screen. She also had a crick in her neck, and a burning desire to pee.

She was in her full Wraith costume now; she’d changed after their first switch. If things were to go down she needed to be prepared. Despite her costume’s ballistic protection properties, it was very breathable and maneuverable. She felt and heard her body crack and groan as she worked the kinks out.

Mika was in his full Nano gear now, and he looked even more uncomfortable squeezing into the small seat. Since they’d last done business before the holidays the teenager had purchased some own protective additions to it his outfit.

He was just starting to realize that the supervillain business outside of him sitting on his ass in front of a computer screen could be hazardous to his health.

Lilly glanced at the clock. It was a little after eight. Hunter had left the Protectorate headquarters over an hour and a half ago. They didn’t have any idea where he’d gone, but she was starting to get a sinking sensation in her gut that tonight wasn’t going to be the night.

<Another waste.> She couldn’t stop the defeatist thought from creeping into her mind. <At some point I’m going to have to cut my losses. I can’t keep doing this to Seth, and I can’t keep putting my primary mission on hold. I’ll need to…>

“Holy shit, there he is.” Mika sounded more stunned than anything else.

Lilly’s body acted on instinct. Her hand shot out to the bomb that was sitting within reaching distance. In a blast of darkness, it was gone.

“Destroy it!” She yelled to Nano as she reached back across to him.

There was a beep, and then the sound of bacon cooking. Lilly didn’t need to watch the monitors melt, she trusted Mika’s technological creations.

“Wraith…” Mika tried to say something, but Lilly wasn’t listening.

She grabbed him by the shoulder and focused her mind on her flat across the Atlantic.

<I did it.> She expected to feel ecstatic at the accomplishment. She did feel pride swelling in her chest; but it wasn’t everything she always thought it would be.

Lilly felt the twinges of confusion on the edge of her mind as she and Mika teleported away.

The soundwaves of the explosion were the last thing she heard before they vanished.

 

***

 

Angela was giddy, and she was never giddy. Giddy was unprofessional. Little girls were giddy not Heroes in training. Still, she couldn’t help the exciting bouncing of her feet as she finished up dinner.

But then she had to wait for her father.

Unlike Angela, Henry was taking his time with his meal, and it was a big meal: a porterhouse steak, enough mashed potatoes to sink a small boat, and green beans that he put a little too much salt on. Angela only saw him eat like this occasionally, and that was when her mother wasn’t around.

“What is mom up to?” She hadn’t heard from her since the break.

“There’s a prostitution ring breakup underway in Memphis that she’s been brought in to spearhead,” Henry answered; slicing off a piece of the steak, rubbing it into the sauce, and slipping it into his mouth with a satisfied sigh.

“I feel sorry for them.” Angela felt bad for the guys who’d get their door kicked down by the feared Seraphim.

“Shouldn’t have kidnapped teenage girls and sold them into the sex trade.” Henry shrugged, his face sharing none of the empathy his daughter’s did.

“Is that what we’ll be working on? Are you helping mom with it?” Angela pried, trying to figure out what she’d be looking into soon.

“No,” Henry shook his head as he stuffed a chunk of mashed potatoes into his mouth. “We’re looking at something closer to home.”

That’s all Angela was able to get out of him. She had to wait another agonizing twenty minutes for her father to finish his steak and decide whether or not to get dessert. Finally, after declining some of the restaurant’s famous chocolate chip cookies, Angela followed her father out of the front door.

She realized again she was bouncing with excitement, and quickly reined it in. It wasn’t professional, and it wasn’t lady-like.

<Where are we going? Your office? Protectorate headquarters? A DVA sanctioned operations base in the city?>

She’d been forced to do research on the HCP’s systems for her last project, and she knew the DVA must have better systems. With her father being Hunter, she bet he had access to the best equipment. Even an hour with that equipment would put her ahead of the curve.

Henry didn’t give any indication of where they were going. They walked two blocks down the street, and another two over, and took a left into a dark alley. Angela felt his hand grasp her arm, and then they were somewhere else.

When Angela reappeared she wasn’t looking at a state-of-the-art government computer lab. She wasn’t even looking at a computer. Her father had teleported them back to a shady motel room.

Her father’s hand left her arm and he started to move toward a table in the corner.

Angela was confident she would be thoroughly disgusted if she ran a black-light through the room, and the bed bug report on this place had to be awful.

Angela looked at the bed with a cringe, and that’s when she saw the puff of black.

<What the…> Angela took a step and saw that sitting between the two queen-sized beds was a suspicious black bag.

Angela reacted on instinct. Coach Meyers’ lessons about constant vigilance ringing in her ears as the sudden explosion of light signaled her transformation. She felt the power fill her like a firehouse pouring into a water balloon. She grew taller, broader, and stronger. She felt her wings expand and nearly touch both sides of the room.

“Angela, what…?” Henry yelled.

He never finished his statement. Angela’s wings curled protectively around them both a split second before she felt the concussive blast of an explosive detonating. The shockwave hit her in the back and threw her forward.

It spun her out of control, and she nearly lost the grip on her father.

There was a small, almost undiscernible pause, between the concussive blast smashing into her and dozens of needles stabbing at her. The broad explosion did less damage; it only succeeded in tossing her forward. The stabbing was much worse. She felt the blades stab into her. Those that hit her armor felt like a strongman was striking her with a hammer. Others hit her flesh. Most didn’t penetrate. Her more muscled areas weathered the onslaught, but other parts didn’t.

Blood flew as the blades stabbed into her. Angela screamed in pain, and didn’t even notice crashing through the wall and into the adjoining room; or going through the following wall after that.  But she did notice the flames. Fire invading an open wound didn’t feel good for anyone.

The whole incident only lasted a handful of seconds. One second she was transforming and grabbing her father, the next she was being viciously assaulted by man-made explosives, and the next she was lying face down in the smoking ruins three rooms away.

<I hope there weren’t people in those rooms.> Hope was all she had to rely on, because there was no way anyone survived that explosion.

“Dad!” Angela felt movement under her tattered wing.

It hurt to move it, something was bending the wrong way, but she didn’t want to transform back yet. They’d just been attacked, and becoming human again, if only for a moment, could kill her.

<Suck it up!> With a grunt of effort she moved her wing off her father, and shoved that pain deep into a corner of her mind. She shut the door on the pain and threw away the key.

“Angela?” Her father’s voice was hoarse, and he coughed uncontrollably for a few seconds. “Are you ok?”

“I’m fine,” she pulled back both of her wings so she wouldn’t snag them on rubble, and stood back up. “I’m combat capable.”

She only gave her father a brief glance before she scanned for danger. He was patting himself down, looking for any blood, and testing his limbs. Everything seemed to be working, but he grimaced as he got to his feet. He grabbed his abdomen and started shuffling forward toward his old room.

“We need to call this in.” He coughed even more and he climbed over debris. Angela helped, clearing the way for him with a summoned energy spear.  “We need to find who did this.”

It took thirty seconds to reach what was left of his room, and that was about thirty times longer than it took the bomb to destroy it.

“Wait here.” Henry put up his hand as they reached where the room’s wall used to be. “There could be more.”

“In that case.” Angela pushed her father aside. She was taller and stronger than him now. “Let me check it out.”

Henry, the father, looked like he wanted to argue; but Hunter, the renowned Hero, knew it was the best tactical move.

“Go.”

Angela stepped into the room, dispersing the spear and summoning a large shield. She needed the extra protection.

The beds were just gone. The only thing remaining was some splinters scattered around the area. The same was true for the desk her father was heading toward, and everything that had been on it. All the DVA files he’d been researching were vaporized.

<They’ll be electronic copies.> At least Angela hoped there were. An attack like this could destroy an investigation if backup copies weren’t kept.

The only thing that was left was a tan bag, not too different from the black one that had suddenly appeared. The bag looked relatively unscathed, except for black ball bearings that were imbedded in the resistant fabric. Angela grabbed it, opened it, and saw her father’s protected costume. Not even a thread was out of place.

“Here.” She walked back and handed him the bag. “Everything looks clear.”

Henry strapped on his mask and became Hunter. The only other thing he grabbed was a phone. From the way he was cradling his stomach he didn’t look like he was in any shape to change.

He dialed a number and put the phone on speaker. “Good evening, Hunter. I trust…”

“I’ve been attacked,” Hunter interrupted the sophisticated voice on the other end of the line. “Someone just set off a bomb in my safe house. I’m injured but ambulatory. I don’t know how they got it in.” Hunter looked down at his watch which was cracked and not showing any data.

“I saw what looked like a shadow, but it quickly vanished. Then I saw the bag, that’s when I sifted and grabbed you.” Angela cut in, feeling the adrenaline pumping through her ethereal veins.

She was injured, her father was injured, multiple civilians had probably been killed in the explosion, but Angela was loving this. <This is what I was meant to do.>

“And who might you…” the voice started to ask.

“You said you saw a shadow that disappeared?” Angela’s father grabbed her by her armor’s shoulder straps. “Are you sure?”

Angela saw something intense pass across her father’s face.

“Yes, I’m sure.” The image of the puff of shadow was as engrained into her memory just as several ball bearings were embedded into her flesh.

“Wraith, I knew it.” Hunter started to turn in a circle, and winced painfully.

“Morningstar, I need anyone available to report to my location immediately.” Hunter gave the other Hero the address. “Let your DVA contacts know, and call the HCP. We might need Dr. Sanderson’s help here.”

Angela could hear sirens in the distance quickly approaching. As much as she wanted to stick around, she might have some problems with an SI infraction if half of Orlando saw her on the news. Her shifted form’s appearance was different enough, but there were some similarities that could point back to her if someone was obsessive and looked close enough.

None of that was on her father’s mind.

“Angela.” He shook her arm. “Where was the bag? Where did you see it?”

Angela turned to where the beds used to be. “Right in this area.” She pointed and circled the approximate space with her finger.

“Stand back.”

Hunter stepped toward the area with his arms outstretched. When he reached the space where Angela had pointed he smiled.

“I can feel it,” Hunter relayed over the phone. “But it’s getting faint. This was a small teleport with limited power. I need to follow now or we’ll lose the trail.

“Dad no…”

“That is unwise.” Mr. Morningstar echoed Angela’s restrain. “You sound injured, and there is work to be done at the site of the explosion. Galavant just reached Dr. Sanderson. He’ll be at your location in five minutes. Hold.” The last word was an order.

“We don’t have five minutes.” The defiance in her father’s voice was clear. Hunter didn’t take orders from Mr. Morningstar.

“Dispatch.”

“Yes, Hunter.” A second voice answered over the phone.

“I’m giving my daughter, Angela Martin, freshman at West Private University HCP temporary authority to secure the scene. I need to follow Wraith or she’ll slip away from us again.”

“Hunter…” Whoever Dispatch was, she didn’t seem too keen about the idea.

“I don’t have time, Dispatch. Wraith has already killed multiple people, and now she’s targeting Heroes. We need to end this. I need to end it now. ”

“Yes, Hunter. Ms. Martin.” Despite the whole conversation Angela was still surprised to hear her voice.

“Yes, Dispatch.” She made her voice sound confident and professional.

“Authorities and members of the Protectorate will be arriving momentarily. All you need to do is remain in place until they arrive and give your statement.”

It was a bit of a letdown, but Angela knew very few people were given these temporary authorizations. It was her moment to shine.

“Hunter, wait.” Mr. Morningstar was protesting.

“No time, Morningstar. I’ll see you soon.”

Hunter approached the space where Angela knew the black bag had appeared. “Angela,” he paused, looking back over his shoulder. “Thanks for dinner. It was nice to catch up.”

“Sure, dad.” She smiled, and then he was gone.

A few seconds later another deafening explosion ripped through another hotel across the street.

Previous                                                                                                                                              Next

 

 

Advertisements

Jason Bourne: More of the same, but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it

I’ve decided I’m going to do movie reviews after every new movie I see, so this is entry number two. I’ll be the first to admit that my last review was off the cuff and probably a little chaotic. So I’m going to break it down better this time. I promise.

Here goes nothing 🙂

***SPOILERS***

Rating: I’d give Jason Bourne 3.5 out of 5 stars and here’s why”

Action: The movie doesn’t disappoint. Bourne is at heart an action star just with a political/espionage twist. Bourne kicks ass in this movie there is no doubt about that. He takes down multiple bad guys, does crazy car chases. The best was when he surprised and close-lined a guy who was running down a hallway after him.

The one typical action movie trope that Bourne did not succeed in was saving the girl. Sadly, early in the movie, Julia Styles character get shot and killed. Personally, I think this was a good move. It was time for her to get phased out. She did what she needed to do to further the plot of the movie, and her death was meant to give Bourne that extra motivation to get to the bottom of this latest conspiracy.

Acting: The acting was good all around. Matt Damon has been consistently good, Tommy Lee Jones is a legend for a reason, and the new entrant Alicia Vikander was great. There was one part where Tommy Lee Jones gave a smile that perfectly epitomized the, “I’m going to kill anyone I need to in order to accomplish this mission” attitude.

Story: The story revolves around a real-life issue; Security vs. Privacy, so it’s very relateable. What I found particularly well done was that it didn’t get overly political with it. That just turns people off and upsets whatever side of the argument is deemed villainous by Hollywood. The cliff notes version of the plot revolves around a Facebook-esque company that has partnered with the CIA to do surveillance all its clients. That is the underlying plot of the film.

As has happened in a lot of other Bourne movies, our deer friend Jason is off doing his own thing when he gets dragged back into this world. As far as the plot goes in furthering Jason’s story-line I found it lacking. They reveals his father, who was the initial architect of Treadstone, and was then killed when he thought it might have been crossing some lines. And of course, the guy who killed Jason’s father is the guy trying to kill him now; who…wait for it…had his cover burned when Jason released those files at the end of Ultimatum  and spend two years in a Syrian prison. It’s all pretty coincidental. There is no lost love between these two men, so Jason dramatically snaps his neck at the end. Avenging his father.

I’m going to backtrack a bit and go back to Alicia Vikander’s character who’s the CIA cyber director. She’s the twist. She gets close to Jason, helps him out, and saves his life by killing Tommy Lee Jones’ character when he had a shot to kill Bourne; all in the supposed name of ending his tyrannical reign. Because Tommy Lee Jones was the old school CIA and she’s the new breed. The twist comes in the last scene where she meets with her new boss and tries to get the vacant director position. She’s really no different that Tommy. She will bring Bourne in or kill him, and she thinks she has an in with him because off all they’ve been through. But Jason’s been tailing her and he figures this out, because he’s Jason fucking Borne.

What’s Next: In my humble opinion this latest Bourne movie takes Jason’s character away from the young kick ass agent that I’d seen in previous movies. The last scene, in my mind, solidifies Jason as progressing into the older generation, but he’s a willy dog who shouldn’t be underestimated. Alicia Vikander’s character learned this the hard way. Ideally, I’d like to see a team up with Jeremy Renner in the future, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jason Bourne. As the title to this post states it is more of the same, but there is nothing wrong with that.

I hope this review was a little more readable than my last. Let me know what you think.

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 22

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Well, it’s been fun, Staff Sergeant. Thanks for…” Coop didn’t get to finish the smartass goodbye he’d been working on for the last twenty minutes.

“Get the fuck off my bus, Recruit!” The staff sergeant’s boot caught Coop right in the chest, picking him up off his feet, and throwing him from the top step of the air-bus’s entrance.

Coop landed directly on his back, smacking the back of his head hard, and kicking up a decent amount of dust. Coop would have a headache for the rest of the day, and he’d be seeing stars for the next minute; but that wasn’t the worst part. The kick and the landing had knocked the wind out of him.

Getting the wind knocked out of you was possibly the worst not really serious injury you could sustain. It was the worst because it felt like it was so much worse than it actually was. Coop thought he was dying. His lungs were still spasming from the impact and wouldn’t allow him to draw in any new air. All he was able to do was rasp like a dying toad and clutch his chest.

Slowly, the involuntary contraction of his lungs eased and he was able to take short, shallow breaths. By the time he looked up the bus was already gone, and a new one was coming in for a landing. Coop needed to move or he might get squashed.

“Are you ok, Recruit?” A shadow descended over Coop.

Even from his position lying flat on his back Coop could tell the man standing over him wasn’t big. In fact, he was probably a full head shorter than Coop. His demeaning evaluation of the smaller man ended abruptly and completely when Coop got a look at his face. It was a thin but hard face, a face that had seen a lifetime of struggle. Coop knew that look, he had that look most of the time, but the thing that scared Coop was the way the man looked at him. It was like he was looking at a PAD, or a pencil. There was no emotion assigned to Coop at all. Coop was just another thing in this man’s eyes.

It was not a good feeling to have in the middle of a military training camp; a camp where people were trained to kill, and on some occasions died before they could graduate.

Coop gulped as he looked up into those uncaring, lifeless eyes; and realized he might be in a little over his head. Not to toot his own horn, but Coop had been a big fish in a shitty pond back in the PHA. Now he was realizing that this wasn’t an average pond. So far, Coop had been outwitted, intimidated, and scared shitless by the other soldiers he’d encountered. The only people Coop thought he could get the upper hand on were the entitled suburbanites like Nate.

“I asked you if you were ok, Recruit?” The man’s tone was the same, but the way his eyes focused on Coop made him want to answer the question, and answer it yesterday.

“Yes…Sergeant,” Coop glanced at the man’s shoulders. He had three of the upside down V’s, and two U’s beneath them. That was one more U than the staff sergeant that had kicked him off the bus.

“Then get on your feet and join the group.”

Coop scrambled up, still clutching his chest, and half ran half stumbled toward the group of waiting recruits. He seemed to be the last one to arrive, because the moment he joined the group the small sergeant addressed them all. “Good afternoon, Recruits.” There were a few scattered replies, but most of the new recruits were still trying to adapt to their new environment.

The bus had deposited all of them in the middle of a building complex. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of two-story rectangular buildings stretched from where they stood all the way to the horizon. Currently, they were in the middle of a green-brown field. Around the field was a dirt circle, and around that dirt circle numerous groups of people were running. They were all moving as a single unit, in step, and singing a variety of songs as they ran.

<How can you sing and run at the same time?> It was Coop’s first thought. <Shit, how are they running without masks?>

In the confusion of not being able to breath from blunt-force trauma, Coop hadn’t strapped on his mask. His hands instinctually moved to his waist, but he found nothing. There was no mask on the belt of his smartcloth CMUs.

<Holy shit!> Coop took a breath of the freshest air he’d ever tasted. <You can kick my ass any day as long as I can stay here.>

“My name is Gunnery Sergeant Wilson. I am your Battalion noncommissioned officer in charge; NCOIC for short. Get used to acronyms people because you’re going to have to memorize a lot of them.”

<NCOIC…NCOIC…NCOIC…> Coop committed the five letters and their meaning to memory.

“For the rest of today I will be your instructor. I will orient you to your home for the next twelve weeks, and then I will turn you over to your Drill Sergeants.” He looked at every recruit expectantly. “Every time you are addressed by myself you will sound off with a “Yes, Gunnery Sergeant. Understand?”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” The reply was weak, and Coop half expected the Gunnery Sergeant to yell at them; but he didn’t. Coop got the distinct impression they weren’t worth the NCOIC’s time.

“Here is your first lesson.” Gunnery Sergeant Wilson planted his feet shoulder-width apart and placed his hands behind his back. “The smallest unit organization in our glorious military is the squad. It consists of ten men; the best trained, best equipped, both mentally and physically of any army in the history of mankind.” It was amazing how the gunnery sergeant never raised his voice but radiated authority. “In the next five minutes you will all be divided into your squads. These nine other people will be your family for the next twelve weeks. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!” The recruits yelled. If it was a better response the NCOIC didn’t acknowledge it.

“When I call your name sound off with “Present” and fall into line behind me. After a squad of ten is established the eleventh person will fall into line behind the first person, creating a new squad of ten. There will be ten squads of ten in your training company. One hundred soldiers make a Company, the next unit above the squad in our glorious military’s organizational structure.” Coop stowed that information in the back of his mind. He was sure he’d have to remember it at some point.

“Ahmed…Aleksandrovos…Allison…” The Gunnery Sergeant began to call names and recruits ran out to get into position. There was initial confusion about what way to face, but it was figured out by the time Coop’s name was called.

He was the twelfth man called, and was the second person in line in the Second Squad. Five minutes later all one hundred of the fresh recruits were lined up in ten squads of ten.

“Look to your right.” Everyone looked to their right. “The person at the end of your line is now your squad leader. They are in charge of you. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!”

Coop didn’t know what to think about his squad leader. She was tall; just six or seven centimeters shorter than Coop, with her blonde hair cut short. She didn’t look at Coop while he was looking at her. She kept her eyes forward. She was standing in a position similar to the Gunnery Sergeant’s, but even with the rigid posture Coop had to admit she was fucking hot.

<Lucky me.> Coop could think of worse things than standing next to a perfect ten for the next twelve weeks.

“Hey, I’m…”

“Shut up and pay attention.” The squad leader snapped, never even looking at Coop. “This shit’s important.”

<A babe and a bitch; I can work with that.> Coop had worked with worse.

He missed several sentences that turned out to be important. “’Right’ is the preparatory command,” the gunnery sergeant was saying. “It tells your brains to get ready to turn right. ‘Face’ is the command of execution. When I say face you will pivot to the right. You will pivot with the heel of your right foot, and the toes of your left foot. This will leave your feet separated. After you have completed the ninety degree pivot to the right you will bring them back together in a V shape. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!”

“Are there any questions before we begin?” Coop couldn’t imagine anyone asking the emotionless Gunnery Sergeant to repeat something. “Are you sure, Recruits? Now is the time to ask.”

Nobody said a word.

“Ok then,” the gunnery sergeant cracked a smile, and it was as frightening as Coop imagined it would be.

“Company….Aten’hut!” All around Coop people snapped to the position of attention.

<Shit,> Coop mentally groaned as he saw the gunnery sergeant’s eyes focus in on him.

Apparently, the position of attention was you standing with your chest out, head held high, and eyes looking straight forward. Your hands were curled into fists, with the thumbs on the outside; your arms were glued to your sides. Your feet were together, and your feet made a V shape identical to the one in the ‘Right Face’ command the gunnery sergeant had been explaining.

They stood at the position of attention for fifteen seconds as the gunnery sergeant looked them over. “Aleksandrovos, Cooper, Daley, Falk, Friedrich, Hall…” the Gunnery Sergeant called out another two dozen names. “On the command of ‘Fall Out’ you will take a step backwards with your left foot. You will execute a left face; which is executing the steps of the right face but in reverse. Proceed to your left until the squads come to an end. You will reform into lines of no more than ten behind the company. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” Everyone knew they’d fucked up, so there wasn’t much enthusiasm behind the response.

“Execute!”

Coop did as he was instructed. He only stumbled slightly on the Left Face, but other than that he thought he did pretty well. Once he’d cleared the rest of the squad he jogged to the back and got in the third line that was being formed. They didn’t hit ten, but they were close.

They waited there, at the position of attention, as the gunnery sergeant walked around the company. He had a quick word with the squad leader of the first squad. The man practically tripped over himself as he ran up to the gunnery sergeant’s previous position. Coop could see him sweating and praying that he didn’t have to do anything.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” The gunnery sergeant stopped in front of the twenty-seven person detachment from the company. “Congratulations.” Coop wasn’t the only one who looked confused. “You all get to meet an associate of mine, Corporal Collins.”

“MOVING, GUNNERY SERGEANT!” The voice came out of nowhere, and before Coop could figure out where, a large, fit man appeared in front of the Gunnery Sergeant. They exchanged a few words, a quick salute, and the Gunnery Sergeant stepped back and returned to the rest of the company.

“Right…face.” The rest of the company executed the command the NCOIC taught them earlier, and started to march away.

A few people from Coop’s group turned to watch them go.

“Eyes front, Recruits!”

Corporal Collins did things a little different than the gunnery sergeant. While the Battalion NCOIC was cold and emotionless, the corporal had an overabundance of feelings; and he liked to share them with the twenty-seven people in front of him.

“You’re at the position of attention, shit-stains! You keep those eyes front until I tell you to do otherwise. Do you get me?”

“Yes, Corporal!”

“Good.” The mean glint in the corporal’s eyes reminded Coop of a dog with rabies he’d once had to run away from.

There wasn’t going to be any running this time.

“Everyone, extend your left arm and move down until the fingertips of that person’s arm are touching your shoulder.” They did as they were told. “Lower your arms.” The corporal was smiling now. Coop was quickly learning that whenever an instructor was happy meant that bad things were in store for the recruits. “You retards are the lucky ones. You get to meet your new best friend before the rest of your company.”

“Say hello to the push-up.”

Previous                                                                                                                                                 Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 21

Name: Johnathan Helms

Genetic Identification Code: NK092123533291

Physical Health: Superior

Mental Health: [Authorized Personnel Only]

Education: Master’s Degree, United Commonwealth of Colonies War College

Occupation: Rear Admiral, United Commonwealth of Colonies First Fleet

Criminal History: [Classified]

Citizen Status: Confirmed 

Location: London, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Rear Admiral Johnathan Helms looked out of the air-car window and watched the lights of London zip by below him. Even after more than a year planetside it was a foreign sight. The career naval officer was much more used to seeing the running lights of warships than the blinking lights of a dance club.

<It’s necessary,> he told himself for the thousandth time as the air-car hurtled toward his destination.

As a high ranking fleet officer his car had priority in the traffic queue, so other air-cars automatically moved over for him to pass. You had to be at least a Captain to rate government transportation like this. Now that he thought about it, it had been years since he drove himself anywhere. The thought made him chuckle.

“Everything ok, Sir?” The man sitting next to him asked.

“Yes, Chief, everything’s good.” Helms paused, and really thought about what he was feeling for a second. “But I want you and your team on alert when we get to the restaurant; just in case.”

Another privilege of his rank was a personal security detail. Back when he was a junior officer he thought that meant he’d have a half dozen heavy infantrymen that followed him around in full armor whenever he went out. The truth was far less exciting. His PSD was three men from the Fleet who’d volunteered for the duty. It was a coveted detail with the opportunity to get face time with the brass. That at least meant that the three sailors assigned to him were competent; but this was Earth, and any chance of them getting into a hairy situation was highly unlikely.

<Keep your friends close and you enemies closer.> The ancient saying originated from a man who did just that and got stabbed to death for it. It might not have worked out well for him, but the meaning behind the saying was still credible.

The rear admiral’s mission tonight was to do just that. He needed to bring a man in close to him. The man wasn’t an enemy per say, but he wasn’t an ally either. He was a means to an end. But if the man became an enemy, there was a chance he could bring down everything Helms had worked half a century to achieve.

<It’s necessary,> he repeated the phrase in his head.

He’d looked at the problem from all other angles, and there was no other way. It was this or be stuck in his current rank forever. If the Admirals passed your submission over you usually didn’t get another shot.

The air-car started to brake as the restaurant came into view. It had a broad terrace about half a kilometer up one of the larger buildings on the outskirts of London. The terrace was covered in plants that had long since died out on Earth, but it made the guests feel like they were dining somewhere other than metropolitan London.

“All I have is one man standing at the docking ramp.” The driver of the air-car reported.

“Set us down,” the admiral ordered. “The man I’m meeting likes his privacy.” The driver acknowledged the order while Helms dialed a number on his PAD.

“Good evening, Rear Admiral Helm’s office, how may I assist you Sir or Ma’am?” The professional voice of his assistant answered.

“Commander, I’m going dark on comms for the next hour.” It was another request of the man he was meeting tonight.

“Yes, Sir.”

Helms disconnected the line and scanned the terrace for any other threats.

The driver had a good eye. As far as the rear admiral could tell there was only a single man in view. The air-car settled onto the docking ramp with only a minor bounce. A professional pilot would have been chewed out for such sloppy performance, but the PSD guys weren’t pilots. Helms had received a quick briefing on the team before stepping off, and all three came from an engineering department on a battleship that was in for a refit.

<Only on Earth.> It hadn’t taken the rear admiral long to figure out that things worked differently on humanity’s home world than in the rest of the Commonwealth.

The chief was the first one out of the air-car. He scanned the area quickly before walking around to Helms’ side and opening the door for him. Once Helms’ exited the vehicle, the man on the other side of the platform moved to greet them.

“Rear Admiral Helms.” The man’s eyes scanned the admiral and his PSD. “Follow me please, Sir.”

The PSD formed a triangle around Helms as they followed the mysterious man off the ramp, through the empty terrace, and into the heart of the restaurant.

“Johnathan, so glad you could join me.” The man seated at the far side called.

Helms’ eye immediately went to the two men clothed in black smartcloth standing on either side of Thomas Gold.

Even in an age where appearance could be deceiving, the rear admiral knew that all three of the men in Thomas Gold’s security detail were former military. He also knew that they had to be from R&S units. Their size, lethal frames, the constant sense of impending violence, and Thomas Gold’s wealth all pointed to that conclusion.

The rear admiral had been in the Commonwealth Fleet for over fifty years and even he didn’t know a lot about what went on with R&S units. R&S units were the modern equivalent of the pre-expansion special operations forces. R&S was military jargon because the four branches of specialized soldiers began with either an R or and S. All the units conceivably did the same thing, but each took pride in specific aspects of their mission.

The infantry units were the ones that began with R. They had Recon and the Rangers. Recon specialized in reconnaissance as well as search and destroy mission behind enemy lines. Rangers on the other hand were the elite shock troops that got called upon when the infantry was on the five yard line and needed to punch it into the end zone. There was only one Brigade of Recon infantrymen in the entire Infantry Corps, and only five Ranger Brigades; only sixty thousand troops in the entire tens of millions of infantrymen under the Commonwealth banner.

Infantry had the R, so Fleet had the S. The Fleet’s elite fighting forces fell under the SEALs or the SAS. The SASs bread and butter was ship-to-ship combat. They specialized in infiltration of enemy warships during battle, disruption of that enemy’s ability to fight, and if necessary complete destruction of their crew. SEALs on the other hand were masters of the orbital insertion. They were regularly loaded into drop-capsules and fired from battleship tubes into a hostile planet’s atmosphere. Once on the ground, if they survived the reentry, they would proceed to wreck all kinds of havoc on the enemy’s war fighting capabilities. They were particularly talented in demolition.

What that meant for the rear admiral at the moment was that his PSD full of engineers could probably be taken out by one of Gold’s bodyguards while the other two watched and drank a beer.  Thomas Gold was making his position clear. He held the power.

“Thank you for meeting with me, Mr. Gold.” Helms approached and shook the man’s hand.

“No, thank you, Johnathan.” Thomas Gold’s smile never reached his eyes. “You managed to do in one ten minute meeting what I was incapable of doing for the past few years.”

When the rear admiral first approached the President and CEO of Gold Technologies about supporting his candidacy for full admiral he’d found it strange that a facet of their arrangement be the mentorship of a young lieutenant. Now that Helms knew the whole picture, he felt sorry for Lieutenant Gold. Having a father like Thomas Gold couldn’t be easy.

“Don’t worry my friend.” Thomas seemed to be able to sense the thoughts behind Helms’ eyes. “Everything will work out according to plan. In fact,” a beep announced the arrival of a new message on the rear admiral’s PAD. “You’ve been added to the list for my golf outing this weekend. The Commander of First Fleet will be there, and I think you two will have a lot to talk about.”

“Thank you, Sir.” The rear admiral was still in awe of the influence Thomas Gold wielded. Helms was on the full admiral’s staff and he didn’t get to see him more than once every other week, and it was never a social call.

“But back to business.” Gold was driving the tempo of the conversation. “What’s the newest development on my son’s deployment schedule?”

“As I said before,” Helms fell back into something he knew very well, briefing. “Lieutenant Gold is being given command of a new class of gunboat; better armed and better protected than previous models. As far as a command for an officer as junior as him he’s going to be as protected as possible.”

“I already know this.” Thomas took a sip from the glass of wine next to him. “What is the new information?”

Rear Admiral Helms couldn’t stop from gulping. He didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news. “Lieutenant Gold’s gunboat is going to be assigned to Task Force 33.4, under Rear Admiral Nelson.”

Helms saw the apprehension dawn on Gold’s face. Nelson was a warrior. A combat commander who didn’t give a shit about Fleet politics; which was why they kept him in the most dangerous areas of space and away from anything he could screw up. Thankfully, Helms had been a Captain in one of Nelson’s task forces; so he had a working relationship with the man.

“I know Rear Admiral Nelson,” Helms quickly went into damage control. “I’ve personally requested that the new gunboat be kept out of harm’s way.” Thomas Gold’s hard stare made him add a qualifier. “But this is the Fleet, and the York Sector is a violent place to be. Nothing can be guaranteed.”

Thomas Gold was quiet for a long time. Long enough that the two men standing behind him started to stir restlessly. Finally, Thomas Gold picked up his wine glass and extended it to Helms.

“Let’s hope nothing happens to my son… for your own sake.”

<Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.> Rear Admiral Johnathan Helms couldn’t help but wonder if the man who’d first said that contemplated his own stupidity when someone drove a knife into his spine.

Previous                                                                                                                                            Next

A Change of Pace – Chapter 68

Seth prowled in a circle like an angry tiger, and across from him was the devil. Actually, it was Coach Meyers but that was basically the same thing. Or at least near the end of a gym class it was.

Seth was tired, sore, and had been humiliated more than once by the alternative instructor. <Heroes don’t give up,> he thought to himself and almost laughed. <That sounds like something Angela would say. I just want to land one punch on her smug fucking face.>

Seth remained expressionless as he continued to move. He stayed light on his feet ready to dip, dive, duck, or dodge whatever the woman was going to throw his way.

And his fists were ready for payback.

“One two.” Coach Meyers moved in with her practice gloves raised.

Seth concentrated, throwing a quick jab with his left hand meant to catch an opponent off-guard and then a powerful right cross. He made sure to rotate his back foot with the punch which added more power to the blow. In a perfect world the right cross would take off her head, but it thumped against the training glove losing all momentum like it was hitting a brick wall.

“One one two.”

The new combination added a second jab meant to catch your opponent off-guard if they were looking for the cross on the second punch. Coach Meyers wasn’t caught off-guard.

<Not yet.> Seth kept his feelings to himself as he continued executing the boxing combinations.

The combinations weren’t even the real training. They were a good workout, but Seth already knew all of them, and could execute them in a fight. He had already shown that. This training session was about multitasking. His goal today was to do the combinations but prepare a secondary attack to catch Coach Meyers unaware.

Seth wanted to score a hit with his fist or power so badly he could taste it. It tasted like blood, and Coach Meyers had made him bleed more than once today from mistakes.

“Pick it up, Abney. Two three two.” She moved in more aggressively.

It was a good combination to use if an opponent was being aggressive and trying to get in close. There wasn’t any time to set up the jab, so Seth threw a right cross followed by a left hook and then another right cross. Coach Meyers side-stepped the first right cross, ducked under the left hook, and back peddled away from the second cross.

“Come on Abney, show me what you got.” She smiled as she threw her own jabs, hooks, and crosses for him to dodge.

She was baiting him. Seth knew she was baiting him. She was trying to get him to strike before he was ready. A few months ago Seth’s ego might have driven him to strike early, but he’d learned. He’d attack when he was damn good and ready.

“One six three two.” The combinations got more complicated, but Seth kept his composure.

As the two Supers continued to exchange blows Seth slowly gathered his power. The entire alternative class was in the main gym today. Practicing a variety of different techniques with their powers in the open space between the pull-up bars and the pool.  Coach Meyers had given all of them something new to try. Of course, Seth didn’t get off as easy as some of his classmates. He got singled out to box with the fearsome woman.

<If you just wanted me to sit around and box all day you could have left me in the close combat training.> Seth let his concentration break for a split-second as his attention shifted to the close combat class across the gym. They were basically doing the same thing he was.

He paid for the distraction with a gloved slap to the side of his head that made his ear ring. “Focus, Abney, or you’re going to run until you puke.”

Coach Meyers was dancing from foot to foot with an expectant look on her face.

“Let’s go. One two five two.”

<I hate you so much.> Seth rifled off a jab-cross-left uppercut-cross combination. His fists hit the practice gloves with loud slaps, but that was it. <Fucking kinetic absorbers.>

Seth had figured out the alternative coach’s power, which only pissed him off more. When she trained students like this she absorbed their effort. The fact that Seth was punching and making her stronger was infuriating.

Three more combinations and Seth couldn’t take it anymore. <Try this!>

For the last five minutes Seth had been gathering and shaping a thin ribbon on water from the pool. He hadn’t done much training over the winter break, but being on the beach gave him time to play around with his hyrdokinesis. He still wasn’t as strong as he was with other elements, but he’d worked on his abilities tactically, not just summoning a small tsunami.

He’d condensed the water until it was as hard as any solid object, and then he sculpted it into a whip. A water whip was a great weapon to have. Several Heroes fought with water weapons, with the most powerful able to cut through solid metals. Seth’s wasn’t that powerful, but he’d be able to leave a welt.

“Running out of time, Abney. One two three.”

Seth waited until he was throwing the left hook to strike. His plan was to hit her when she was most vulnerable, and that would have been when she was ducking under the hook. Seth’s water whip lashed out like a viper striking its prey.

Instead of ducking, Coach Meyers moved.

Coach McMillian was the only speedster among the faculty, but damn Coach Meyers could move when she wanted. The alternative instructor turned her duck into a diving leap. She moved out of the way of Seth’s striking water whip, and did a handspring to reorient herself.

Not that it was necessary.

Seth had gambled on the strike. It was a gamble because there wasn’t enough time for him to move out of the way if he missed. And boy did he miss.

The water whip leapt forward and smashed into Seth’s chest. It should have knocked the wind out of him and smacked him straight onto his ass, and it did all of those things. What Seth didn’t expect was the electrical shock that went along with it.

It was only a mild shock, but that still made his whole body go rigid. When your whole body is rigid you can’t break your fall. Seth fell like a plank of wood onto his back, smacking his head hard enough for him to see stars. And then he rolled over onto his face, scratching his nose on the hard gym floor. He had to lay there, face down, for a moment before his body stopped twitching and feeling returned to his extremities.

<On the bright side I didn’t shit myself.> But that was just barely true.

“Nice try, Abney.” Coach Meyers walked nearby. Strutting with the confidence of an alpha predator. “But I saw the water attack coming a mile away.”

“How?” he grunted as he rolled over and examined his bleeding nose.

“You’ve got a tell,” she answered matter-of-factly.

“Wat is it?”

Seth thought he would get an answer; after all she was his teacher. Instead, Coach Meyers just laughed at him.

“Figure it out, Abney. I’m not going to tell you.” With nothing more to add she walked away to the rest of the class.

“Your face is pretty busted.” A white uniformed senior healer walked up to Seth. “It’s superficial, but I wouldn’t want to get seen around campus all scratched up like that. Looks like you got into a fight with a weed whacker and got your ass kicked.”

“Yeah I get it,” Seth grumbled. “Heal me up.”

The senior did, and Seth cursed. <He’s one of those ones.> The skin on Seth’s face healed, but it itched like a bitch now.

“Don’t scratch it and you’ll be fine.” The senior walked away to tend to other patients.

“Sure, don’t scratch what itches. What great advice captain fucking obvious,” Seth muttered under his breath at the older Super’s retreating back.

Seth’s attitude was rapidly deteriorating, and Coaches Meyers’ third embarrassment of the day wasn’t the whole reason.

Things were off with Liz.

<Since when did your mood depend on a woman.> Seth rejoined the rest of the alternative class, who were now recounting their progress to Coach Meyers.

<Since you fell in love, idiot,> he reluctantly admitted.

<What I don’t know is what’s wrong. We had a great vacation, no…not great, fucking magical. It couldn’t have gone any better. And now we’re back and she’s acting all weird. She is only over once every few days, she looks exhausted, and she’s not talking to me. I know it isn’t school. She’s way too smart to get stumped by freshman-level classes. Is she cheating on me?>

The thought pulverized Seth’s heart. He quickly thought of something else, anything else.

“Hey, Seth.” Seth jumped at Kyoshi’s comforting tone. “Are you ok?”

The gym was emptying out. Physical training was over for the day, and he was just standing there like an idiot. “I’m good,” he grunted, and stalked towards the boy’s locker room.

“Seth!” Kyoshi called after him. Her face was conflicted. She could feel his pain, anger, and distrust. She clearly wanted to help, but Seth wasn’t going to accept it.

<I’m going to find Liz, talk to her, and figure out what the fuck is going on.> He almost skipped showering in favor of going straight into the search, but it probably wasn’t a good idea to confront your wayward girlfriend smelling like gym socks and crotch sweat.

Seth quickly showered, changed, and applied liberal amounts of body spray. No one said a word to him while he changed with a purpose. If Seth stopped and actually thought about it he would have realized everyone was rooting for him.

Rumors traveled fast in the HCP, especially when you lived with gossip queen Becca Whitfield. Everyone who’d seen or met Seth and Liz knew there was something there. Everyone wanted things to get better between them. Not just because Seth was finally getting some friends in the HCP, but also because no one wanted him to go back to his old ways. If he went back to his old ways, there was little doubt he’d never be able to make it as a Hero.

Being powerful didn’t make someone a Hero. A Hero needed to be trusted to have his team’s back, and be there for others. Old Seth, and Seth in a funk, didn’t have those attributes.

“You need anything?” Mason’s deep voice asked as Seth grabbed the doorknob.

Seth didn’t even answer, he just left.

<Where would you be?> Seth took the lift to the surface, and passed through the mesh that hid the elevator.

It was dinner time, so Liz would either be at the townhouse waiting for him. <Not likely.> The dining hall. <More likely.> Or back at her own dorm. <Kinda likely.> He pushed aside the thought that there might be another guy there with her.

Seth couldn’t think that, because if there was he wasn’t sure he could restrain himself from beating the asshole to within an inch of his life.

Pushing those bad thoughts and feelings aside, Seth began his systematic search. He had to waste a meal to swipe into the dining hall only to find she wasn’t there. He doubled back and checked the student center, but she wasn’t at one of the smaller eateries near the HCP lift. He checked the other eateries scattered throughout campus, foregoing eating himself despite the rumbling his stomach was making.

He eventually dragged himself to her dorm room. He knocked hard, harder than he’d intended, and that brought an angry looking Goth chick to the door.

“What the hell do you want?” The girl was hot in a leather-wearing creature of the night kind of way. But she looked small, pale, and pasty compared to Liz.

“I’m looking for Liz Aretino,” Seth tried to ask politely, but he couldn’t stop from grinding his teeth.

He saw men’s clothes on the ground.

“Who?” The girl was pissed, but a deeper more primitive part of her was telling her to be careful.

Seth was radiating hostility, especially when he saw those pants.

“Liz Aretino!” He barked, forcing her to take a step back. “She lives here.”

“Chill asshole.” Seth saw her hand reaching toward her back pocket where he phone was. “I’ve seen my roommate like three times since the semester started. Last time she was here was two weeks ago.”

<Around the time she started to act weird.> Seth put the clues together but didn’t relax.

“Did she ever have anyone else over?”

“What are you her father?”

Seth glared a hole through the Goth girl’s forehead.

“Geez, no she hasn’t had anyone over.”

“Thanks.” Seth spun around and left without another word.

“Fucking psycho,” he heard the girl mutter behind him. She was probably calling campus security, but he’d be long gone before they got here.

<What happened two weeks ago?> Seth wondered as he returned to the townhouse.

He didn’t have a clue. He couldn’t remember doing anything. One second they were fine and the next she was being weird. He pushed the door open and walked quickly past Anika and Becca. The blue-haired speedster shot him a concerned glance, but he ignored it. Anika just watched impassively.

Seth soon figured out why.

He arrived at his door and heard someone moving around inside. <Of course she’s here after I searched the entire fucking school for her.> He fumed, but then caught himself. <Calm down, relax, kicking down the door is only going to make things worse. I’m going to go in there and talk to her calmly and rationally.> That was easier said than done.

He pushed open the door and came face to face with Liz. Seth was momentarily dumbstruck. He hadn’t seen her for so long that he forgot how beautiful she was. But there was something else.

“Hey,” he greeted lamely.

“Hey,” she replied just as awkward.

She had dark circles under her eyes and she was tense. He could see it in her body. She was full of adrenaline despite looking exhausted.

“Can you move please? I have a study group to get to.” Liz tried to move around Seth but he didn’t budge.

“Are you fucking some other guy?”

<So much for tact.>

Liz just stared at him open mouth for a second, before her open palm caught him across the left side of his face.

<Damn she’s fast.> Seth hadn’t even seen it coming.

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask me that.” Liz’s eyes were full of rage and pain, but above it all were tears. “Because if you ask me that again I’m going to cut off your balls and beat you to death with them. Do you understand me Seth Abney?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Seth replied instinctually.

They stood there awkwardly for a few moments, neither willing to move.

“Just trust me, Seth. I’m working through something and it’ll be done soon. Please just be patient a little while longer.”

Seth found himself nodding. It wasn’t the threat of removing his manhood, or the tears in her eyes. It was the pleading. Liz was pleading with him. Seth had never seen her plead for anything.

<She still loves me.> Seth’s spirits picked up, but not enough to make him smile. He stepped aside so she could leave.

She had a few changes of clothes packed in a gym bag. “I’ll be back soon.” She didn’t look back as she said it.

Seth just stood there for a minute, not sure what to do. Possibilities whirled through his head. Thankfully, her riding some other guy like a bucking bronco wasn’t one of them.

After that minute he started moving. <I trust you. But that still doesn’t mean I’m going to sit by while you do whatever it is that is tearing you apart.>

One minute was enough of a head start that Liz didn’t see him coming out the door after her. She was already far down the street walking with a purpose. Seth followed at a safe surveillance distance, sticking to the growing shadows. He watched her turn into an alley not too far from the townhouse. He gave it a couple of extra seconds before he followed.

The alley was dark, but it was a clearly a dead-end.

Liz was nowhere in sight.

 

***

 

Angela watched and evaluated.

The coaches still saw that she possessed superior hand-to-hand combat skills than the average freshman student, so her training was a little different. She still had to fight. This was a physical training class and not doing any training would just lead to her getting fat, lazy, and sloppy.

The first half of class she joined in with her classmates who were able to turn their powers off. She went through the drills with them. While they learned the basics of Brazilian jujitsu, boxing, Krav Maga, and half a dozen other martial arts disciplines that the HCP incorporated into their training; Angela used it as a refresher and warmup. After the instructional period came the sparing where she wiped the floor with anyone she came up against.

<Well not everyone.> Angela put her ego in check. <Romanoff is pretty talented in Systema. That was an interesting fight.>

                Angela had still won, but she walked away with a black eye and a busted lip.

The second half of class was very different. For the second half Angela acted as a pseudo-instructor. She watched over the HCP Supers who we just learning to fight. She corrected them on their forms, drilled them, and made sure they didn’t hurt themselves more than was necessary. Pain was a powerful learning tool, and the people in the class needed to feel that pain as part of their HCP education.

She didn’t watch over the inexperienced HCP freshmen all the time. Sometimes Coach McMillian wanted her to get a real workout. So she shifted into her angelic form and faced off against the strongest of her class.

Mason’s fist came within a few inches of her face, but she side stepped it. Even if he had connected it wouldn’t have knocked her out of the fight.

“You’re getting sloppy, Mason,” she chided, as she threw two jabs and forced him to backpedal. “Pause.”

The big man acknowledged the stop to their fight with a nod of his head and a ragged breath.

Angela had noticed a flaw in Mason over the last two weeks of training together. When the big strongman got tired he got sloppy. He relied on his natural strength to carry the day instead of fighting smart. It was a mindset that might prove fatal one day.

“Your crosses and hooks are getting sloppy.” She set herself up so Mason got a side profile of her. “Make sure to pivot those back feet on those crosses, and rotate that core on your hooks.” She demonstrated the proper technique, but Mason already knew it.

“Yeah, thanks,” Mason sighed, wiping sweat from his brow. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Make sure that you do.” Angela put a little edge to her voice. She didn’t want to call out one of her few friends, but she wanted him to be able to fight better than any criminal he would come up against.

“You might want to do some extra cardio or endurance drills.” Angela toed the line between encouragement and insulting. “It might help.”

Kyoshi’s boyfriend wasn’t stupid. He knew what Angela was getting at. “I will, thanks.”

Physical training went on for another twenty minutes, and Mason made sure to properly execute those moves. It made him slower during their sparing, but it increased his power significantly. The one hit he got on her put her straight on her ass, and rung her bell pretty good.

“Coach McMillian!” Angela called out as the class wrapped up and everyone started heading for the lockers. “I’d like to issue a ranking challenge.”

It had been two weeks since the start of class, and Angela knew that everyone was waiting for her to make the challenge.

“And who will you be challenging.” The speedster had a sly grin on his face. He knew who she wanted to challenge, everyone did.

“I’m challenging Jason Cook for the number one freshman class ranking.”

“I accept.” Jason wasn’t too far away, and it was only a formality. The number one ranked student couldn’t realistically turn down a challenge.

“Does next weekend sound good? A little extra time for our two freshman titans to prepare?” The close combat coach asked.

“That sounds reasonable.”

“I agree.”

A lot of other freshman would have been trash-talking each other at this point, but not Jason or Angela. They were beyond that kind of behavior.

“I’d like to make a challenge too.” A lot of the class grimaced at the sound of Carson Long’s voice.

Long had fallen from grace within the freshman class over break. After the final Kimberly Goodman had broken up with him. It hadn’t been pretty, and any loyalty she felt towards him had been shattered when he bragged about their bedroom activities. Both of those two could play with fire. Kimberly spilled the beans on him, and now no girl in the class would come near him with a biohazard suit and a recent shot of penicillin.

“Who are you challenging Mr. Long?”

In addition to falling from female favor, Carson had also fallen from the number ten rank to the number twenty. Something he was righteously pissed about, and he let everyone know that.

“I’m gonna challenge Seth Abney for my number ten spot.” He practically sneered.

Seth was already halfway to the locker room. He looked like he was in another world, but he gave a thumbs up over his shoulder.

“I’ll set that up for the same weekend,” Coach McMillian confirmed. “Now everyone get out of my gym.”

Angela was already moving. She had somewhere to be, and not a lot of time to get ready. She showered quickly. Her hair was still cut short, so it didn’t take long to comb it. In her locker she found a charcoal grey pants-suit. She quickly put it on, smoothed out a few wrinkles, and headed for the lift.

She only had half an hour to get downtown, and that would be a challenge at this hour.

Seth had been kind enough to lend Angela his car, but the sporty Porsche speeding through the neighborhoods around the college looked a little out of place. She felt bad for asking, especially with his and Liz’s current relationship troubles, but she was desperate.

She made the trip in twenty-eight minutes. She dropped it off with the valet, made sure she was presentable, and calmly entered the restaurant. She quickly surveyed the scene and found who she was looking for. He was already seated at a table.

To say Angela tried to sneak up on her father was only partially true. She wanted to be discrete and see if she could do it to the legendary Subtlety Hero. It was also payback from the dinner last year where he left her hanging with Mr. Aretino.

“Hello, Angela.” He’d spotted her when she was still ten feet away and approaching from directly behind him. Even as a child she’d always thought he had eyes in the back of his head.

“Hello, father.” She abandoned her attempt and circled around to take the seat opposite him. “How are you?”

“I’m well. I’m glad to hear you finally are ready to take on Mr. Cook.” The statement was coded enough that no one would think he was discussing internal HCP happenings.

Angela didn’t care about that. She cared that he knew she’d issued the challenge when the challenged had only been issued forty-five minutes ago.

“How?”

“Don’t be dull, Angela,” Hunter admonished her. “I was a guest lecturer and I know most of your teachers. They’re keeping me apprised of your progression.”

It made sense. Angela had always thought Coach McMillian liked to play things closer to the vest. <Well.> She really thought about that assumption, and the more she considered it the more she realized Coach McMillian would do something exactly like this. For a Hero, the close combat instructor liked a healthy amount of chaos.

“That is not why I asked you here tonight.” Hunter got back on topic, forcing Angela back on the defensive. “I’m here tonight because you initiated a background check on an Alec Mitcham.”

The statement caught Angela off-guard, and her face showed it.

“Why did you initiate the check, and what is your connection to this Alec Mitcham?”

For a second Angela’s mind froze. It froze because she didn’t know how to answer the question. She knew she needed to keep her mouth shut, but for some reason it had a mind of its own at the moment.

“Alec…um..he’s um…a friend.” It sounded as lame she felt saying it. There wasn’t a more cliché response than that.

Hunter stared back, unblinking, waiting for more.

“I initiated the background check because he approached me. He wanted to get closer to me, to study with me, and I thought he should be vetted first. The check came back clean. We’ve struck up a friendship.” That sounded better, but Hunter was already onto the scent.

“An initial check might have come back clean, but I will initiate a separate investigation. I cannot have my daughter…studying…with a boy we know nothing about.” Hunter’s eyes scrutinized her, but Angela thought she saw something else behind those soul-stripping eyes.

<Is he worried about me?> She almost automatically dismissed the alien thought. <No…maybe…yes?> Confusing emotions passed through her mind.

“If the secondary check comes back clean I will meet this Alec and verify him myself,” Hunter stated.

Angela desperately didn’t want that, but Hunter had already made up his mind.

<Please be a terrorist or something.> Angela felt bad for her study partner. Her father had a knack for being intimidating, and it wasn’t going to do their friendship any favors. It would be easier for Alec if he was a criminal and her father just hauled him off to jail.

“Let’s order.” Hunter waved over the waitress. “And after we eat I’d like you to come back to my place with me and offer a new set of eyes on some case files.”

Despite the ongoing awkwardness of the evening, Angela’s face lit up. “Yes, sir,” she answered with enthusiasm.

The opportunity to look at some actual DVA case files, and get some real-world experience was invaluable. She ordered quickly, waited impatiently for the food to arrive, and then scarfed it down like a sumo wrestler after a diet.

She couldn’t wait to get started on those files.

Previous                                                                                                                                                Next

 

              

My thoughts on Star Trek Beyond

As some of you might deduce from my username, BeamMeUpScotty, I’m a fan of the science fiction genre. Truthfully, I’m more of a Star Wars than Star Trek man, but I thought I’d throw my two cents in and try this movie review thing. Going into this please note that I’m a pretty easy going guy so I try to give movies the benefit of the doubt on a lot of things.

So here are my thoughts on Star Trek: Beyond…

***SPOILERS***

The film starts out with Kirk in a bit of a humbug situation. They’re three years into the five year mission that was alluded to at the end of the previous film.Kirk’s having an identity crisis and he’s using his Dad as a measuring stick. Considering that Kirk has done way more stuff than his Dad ever did I don’t know if this is the best barometer, but it furthers the plot concerning Kirk’s dilemma. Does he really want to continue to be a ship captain, or does he want to take a nice cushy desk job and a bump in rank. Plus, there’s the added bonus of getting to be on the Yorktown, the Federation’s totally bad ass new mega-space station.

On a personal note, I loved the visuals of the Yorktown. Anyone who’s read my web serial, Two Worlds, I kind of imagine that’s what my New York metropolis looks like. Although, instead of having the city’s being on different sides of the “spokes”, I have them stacked on top of each other. Similar to the way the spaceship’s entrance area is below the actual city part.

Now back to the review.

Why they’re on the Yorktown, Spock learns that the Leonard Nemoy Spock has died. I like how they handled that topic, and they built it into Spock’s character development. Just like Kirk, Spock is having his own dilemma. Should he continue in star fleet or as Bones puts it “go make Vulcan babies”.

Bones has a much bigger voice in this installment than in previous ones,and it worked out well. There is a general overture of comedy in this Star Trek, and it mixes well with the character building they do. Simon Pegg’s character, Scotty, has some funny one liners too. I think having him co-write the script was a good idea. I’ve been a fan of Pegg since Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. He’s transitioned into blockbusters very well.

After setting the stage for where all of the characters are they bring in the catalyst that sets off the rest of the story. An unidentified ship shows up asking for aid in an unidentified region of space, so of course Kirk and the Enterprise spring into action.

That actions involves a hive-like enemy ship formation that destroys the Enterprise.

This was a part of the movie that I had an emotional reaction to. The disk section of the Enterprise crashing into the atmosphere was heartbreaking.

We meet the bag guy in the fight that takes down the Enterprise. Played by Idris Elba, Krall isn’t really as well defined as I would have liked; especially when he was played by such a talented actor.

After the crash landing on the planet Scotty meets a warrior woman, Jaylah. While a bad ass, I feel like the acting could have been a bit better. There were some accent slips that brought you out of the moment, but it wasn’t too bad. She gets in on the action and comedy throughout the rest of the film.

While Scotty and Jaylah are trying to fix an old Federation ship that Jaylah comedically refers to as “home”, Spock is with Bones, and Kirk with Chekov. I won’t go through too much of what happened but there was an intended plot twist with Kirk and Chekov’s group that you saw coming a mile away, while Spock and Bones do some bro bonding.

Needless to say, they fight to save the captured crew and win. Jaylah gets some revenge against Krall’s second in command that had to have had several scenes cut from the movie during editing. Kirk riding around a motorcycle was pretty entertaining though.

In the old Federation ship, Kirk and crew race off to save the day with Spock’s recommendation on how to do the actual saving. I understood the thought process on how to destroy the enemy hive-fleet, but I still don’t get exactly how they caused all the ships to blow up. They rushed through that part of the explanation, but the mix of rock and roll and cinematic violence more than makes up for it.

Kirk has a final struggle against Krall, who again I don’t think had enough screen time to be built into a proper villain. It’s not as climatic as I would have liked, but it was ok. I had an idea about the twist with Krall coming, but I could see where some people would have missed it.

In the end, everyone’s self-doubt is gone and the crew of the Enterprise is ready to head off on another adventure. I read an article they’re getting Chris Hemsworth to be Kirk’s father again and I’m guessing the next one has something to do with time travel or the parallel universes meeting up. Don’t quote me on that though.

One a scale of one to five stars, with five being awesome and one being total crap, I’d give Star Trek Beyond three and a half stars, maybe four depending on your knowledge of the TV series. It’s a little before my time, but I’ve read other reviews that say it brings people back to those good-old days.

RIP Anton Yelchin 😦 He will be missed.

Two Worlds – Chapter 20

Benjamin Gold

Location: Oxford, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Candidate Gold, are you seriously arguing for increased militarization and funding of the Commonwealth Armed Forces on the basis of xenomorphic invasion?” There was fire and brimstone in Dr. Hoover’s eyes.

Ben had already gone from Mr. Gold to Candidate Gold during the course of his interview, which was more like an interrogation at this point. That wasn’t a good sign.

Dr. Hoover was an old ultra-liberal SOB who took his politicized views on humanity and pushed those politics on his students. He didn’t get many takers. Like the rest of the population, the students at Oxford tended to fall in the middle of the political spectrum.

It didn’t always use to be that way with elite universities. Students with no real-world experience used to sit in ivory towers and be lectured in a singular ideology. Now, students were almost always forced to spend time outside academia after receiving their bachelor’s degrees. The cost of education was astronomical, and only the wealthy elite could go right through their academics without taking a break to work off their student debt.

Going to a university was a right not a privilege. The standards didn’t admit everyone, but there were more alternatives than in the past. Trade schools were popular and taught valuable skills, and the military was an excellent resource to obtain an education. Both made a person a valuable asset to the workforce.

The situation was a double-edged sword. The young coming just out of college might have to put their dreams on hold to work, but after generations of that being the norm it developed a strong work ethic in the young population; and reversed the “give me” attitude of the past. It also led to a citizenry with less radicalized ideologies that plagued a lot of people pre-Commonwealth and just after its founding.

Personally, Ben was a centrist. He believed in some conservative and some liberal policy points on different issues. Fortunately, Ben saw that same mentality among a lot of his peers. That didn’t include everyone, and Dr. Hoover was a prime example.

“Dr. Hoover, I am not arguing for increased spending due to xenomorphic threats.” Ben stayed away from radical terminology like “militarization”. “But it would be ignorant of humanity to ignore the possibility.”

“This is a forum for intellectual discussion, Candidate Gold, not rumor mongering.” Dr. Hoover had a pleased expression, like he’d backed Ben into a corner.

That’s what Ben wanted him to think.

“I’m not rumor mongering, Dr. Hoover, I am just looking at the facts.” With a swipe of his index finger, Ben enlarged a chart he’d been waiting to use. “Dr. Hoover, the bubble of human space only covers about three thousand light years; fifteen hundred light years in each direction from Earth. We have roughly estimated that the diameter of the galaxy is one hundred thousand light years, so we can say with approximate certainty that humanity has charted about three percent of our galaxy. We have also estimated that there are a hundred billion galaxies in the universe.” Ben saw the doctor roll his eyes, but he kept his own face professional.

“Even in our small neck of the woods we have discovered sentient life…”

“But the life we have discovered doesn’t have heightened cognitive function, Candidate Gold,” Hoover interrupted. “If we are going to be invaded by xenomorphs then it would be by a species of alien life no more intelligent than your average household pet.”

Ben tried to keep his face professional, but he couldn’t stop his mouth from forming a thin line of frustration.

“Dr. Hoover.” Ben raised his voice slightly. “Your argument is predicated on the foundation of humanity confronting sentient alien life that we are currently aware of. If we were to face a xenomorphic threat that it would certainly be from a species we have not yet discovered. But even the species we have discovered are quite capable of killing humans. For instance, the arachnids of Arachna in the Mu Arae system have a history of aggressive behavior towards human colonists.”

“They do, Candidate Gold, but only if provoked. We harvest their silk by the tons. Would you be angry if an alien invader settled your world and started to steal from you?”

“My point, Dr. Hoover, is that we should not ignore the possibility of advanced, hostile xenomorphs, and our defense preparations should reflect that,” Ben stated.

“And my point, Candidate Gold, is that humanity’s worst enemy is itself; and that the continued militarization of the Commonwealth, and the negative effects it has on its citizens, is something that should be fought whenever possible.”

Ben could see he wasn’t going to get anywhere in this argument, so he decided to take the high road and compromise. “I will concede that a hostile xenomorph incursion into human space is unlikely, but not impossible. But if humanity’s greatest enemy is itself, then why would we not defend ourselves?”

“Do you realize the absurdity of your statement, Candidate Gold.” A purple vein was throbbing in Dr. Hoover’s forehead. “You don’t give a loaded weapon to the person who is most likely to shoot you with it.”

“Do you realize, Dr. Hoover.” Ben couldn’t help his own voice from being tinted with anger. “That your statement is simplistic and ignorant of the complex human emotions, and checks and balances that are set in place to prevent casual violence by the citizens of the Commonwealth.” Dr. Hoover’s eyes went wide and the vein looked like it was about to explode. It had probably been a while since anyone had called him ignorant.

“We do not just hand over military equipment, or even simple weapons, to the general public. Citizens are allowed to purchase non-lethal anti-personnel weapons with the proper permits. These weapons will severely injure but not kill someone; which gives the people that ability to protect themselves if any bad situation arises and the authorities are not present to intervene. There are also strict protocols for military members to follow in regard to weapons security.”

“So the military holds all the power,” Dr. Hoover scoffed at Ben’s explanation. “Last I checked there was an entire infantry corps stationed in the Sol system, with at least a quarter of it on Earth. That’s two hundred and fifty thousand highly-trained killers who can drop out of the sky and assert their control over this world if they choose.”

Ben could see arguing with the doctor was pointless. There was blue in the other man’s eyes; which meant he’d spent decades solidifying his viewpoints. Ben had to use a different tactic.

“Dr. Hoover.” Ben kept his voice devoid of any of the frustration he was feeling towards the old academic. “When was the last time you were aboard a Commonwealth Fleet ship?” The man blubbered, but couldn’t think of a response. “When was the last time you sat in on a Battalion level operations meeting, or stood in formation for morning physical training?”

Instead of trying to find an answer, Dr. Hoover just glared at Ben.

“That is what I thought, Sir.” Ben tacked on the “Sir” at the end to remain marginally professional. “I suggest you go attend a briefing, or sit down for chow, with the men and women of First Fleet or the First Infantry Corps before accusing them of being bloodthirsty murderers who only want to take away the rights of citizens.” He should have stopped there. “We specifically take oaths to defend the Commonwealth, Dr. Hoover. So maybe you should step down from this Ivory tower and take a good look around before making uninformed accusations about good and honest Commonwealth citizens.”

The holo froze and Dean Cummings sat back in her chair with a sigh. “Accusing Dr. Hoover of Ivory Tower Syndrome probably wasn’t the smartest idea, Mr. Gold.” She disengaged the playback and rubbed her temple with her free hand. “Your debate on your political theory ended in a stalemate as far as I’m concerned, but then you personally humiliated him.”

The dean’s office was not as luxurious as Ben would have thought from a woman of her stature. It was actually refreshing after spending all his time in the gaudily decorated castle, or visiting the New York penthouse apartment. Granted, she still had walls full of diplomas, awards, and pictures of her with very important people; but that was the end of her displays of wealth and power. The rest of the office was outfitted with a sturdy polyplast desk and a rug that you could have bought anywhere on the Asian continent.

“What hurts Dr. Hoover even more in the eyes of the rest of the panel is that you were right about his lack of recent real-world interaction, Ben,” Ben noticed the name change as the smile spread across the dean’s face. “You obviously didn’t get his vote, but the rest of the panel was very impressed by your presentation, and your future plans.”

The dean’s eyes drifted to a picture on the wall behind him. Ben waited patiently for her to snap out of whatever memory she was thinking about. No one became the Dean of the University of Oxford’s Politics and Intergalactic Relations Department without being the best. Dr. Cummings had been the chief diplomat for the Commonwealth Council for two decades. She’d helped quell insurrectionist violence, brought multi-trillion dollar corporations to heel, and sat down with representatives of the Eastern Block to discuss ceasefires. Ben only hoped for a career half as successful as hers one day.

“The Fleet’s Diplomatic Corps is a great opportunity.” She pulled her attention away from what she’d been reminiscing over. “I expect great things from you, Dr. Gold.”

Ben couldn’t stop his jaw from dropping.

“I’m sorry. Did I let that slip?” Her innocent tone wasn’t fooling anyone. “Oh well, I’m getting old and I’m not quite as sharp as I used to be.” She got to her feet.

“I doubt that,” Ben followed her lead, and accepted her outstretched hand.

“Things should be finalized by the end of the weekend,” she explained. “And if your schedule allows, I know a lot of people would like to see you walk and receive your diploma.”

“I would love to, Dr. Cummings,” Ben replied, unable to keep the smile off his face. “And thank you for all the advice you’ve given me these past few years.”

“My pleasure, Ben,” she smiled back and walked him to the door. “I’m a nurturer of minds. It’s my job.”

“And you do it very well, Ma’am.” Ben waited until he was out of the building to do a victory dance.

It wasn’t as much a dance as it was him punching the air repeatedly in victory.

<I cannot believe it.> In that moment reality settled fully onto his shoulder. <I got my doctorate. By the beginning of next week I will be Lieutenant Commander Gold. I’m going to step on board a gunboat for the first time as its commander in a few months, and I am going to be responsible for the well-being of that entire crew.>

Ben had never felt so excited and so scared all at the same time.

Previous                                                                                                                                     Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 19

Benjamin Gold

Location: Oxford, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Ben’s fingers caressed the wooden bench in a staccato drumroll that had others coughing and shooting him irritated glances. Ben stopped his nervous tick, and folded his hands in his lap. It wasn’t even five minutes before his hand absentmindedly drifted back to the side of the bench and renewed the drumming.

Ben hadn’t stayed long at his family’s penthouse apartment in the upper-city of New York. After eating, and engaging in less than a half-hour of conversation with his mother and little sister, Ben had returned to his family castle outside Oxford. Once back at his home away from home, he prepared for the biggest day of his life.

Doctoral dissertation presentations had been around for as long as academia. To earn a coveted doctorate, it was a long standing tradition that a student be faced with a panel of the field’s experts and made to defend his point of view or research. It was designed to be educating for everyone involved. Ideally, it brought new knowledge, ideas, and problem solving methods to the attention of the discipline; but that wasn’t always the case. These things could turn into outright shouting matches as opposing viewpoints clashed. That was something Ben was looking to avoid.

Ben had done a little digging, and knew everyone on his panel. He wasn’t supposed to know, but a little birdie had informed him that most of the faculty of Oxford University’s Department of Politics and Intergalactic Relations was sitting in on his presentation. The presentations were open to anyone who wanted to attend, but the only interactions that could take place were between the students and the professors.

“I know you’ll do great, Ben.” His little sister, Hope, had given him a big hug before he left the previous evening. His mother didn’t say a word, she just embraced him and shooed him out the door. She knew that he would succeed, he always had.

At the moment having a perfect record wasn’t a great thing. It helped build confidence, but there was an age-old saying about people like Ben. <The bigger they are the harder they fall.> Ben did not want to fall on this momentous day.

“Gold, for the love of god shut up.” The girl sitting directly across from Ben hissed.

“Sorry, Tammy.” Ben shot his classmate an apologetic smile. “Just nerves.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you nervous.” She reached across the small space between them and patted him on the knee. “You’re the smartest guy in the class, I’m sure you’ll do just fine.”

“Thank you.” Ben meant it.

He’d known Tammy since their first day of class. They were members of the small selective group studying Intergalactic relations, so they ran into each other a lot. They’d even dated for a few weeks before both realizing they didn’t have time for personal relationships. She was also presenting today.

“You are just happy that everyone is going to come to my presentation,” Ben joked.

“Yes I am,” she smiled back. “Just give me a small room of TA’s and a professor and I’m fine with that. You hog the spotlight all you want. I just want to feel that diploma in my hand, and see that Ph.D. after my name.”

“Benjamin Gold.” A holographic avatar of the dean of the department appeared in the middle of the waiting students. “Please report to room 1A. Thank you.” The avatar disappeared, and Ben gulped.

<1A.> That was not good. 1A was a small auditorium that could fit over a hundred people. If he was in 1A then his presentation was a bigger deal than he thought.

Tammy’s expression mirrored his spike in fear, but she quickly wiped the shock from her face. “Good luck.” The rest of the waiting students echoed her sentiment as Ben left the small vestibule.

Ben felt like he was walking through another time as he passed through Oxford’s hallowed halls on the way to his destination. The university was one of the oldest on the planet, and it had survived the Last Terran War largely unscathed. There was a lot of meticulously maintained wood on the interior; which was foreign on a world that had lost three quarters of its vegetation.

Mankind had done a lot of incredible things, but it had ravaged the Earth in the process. <But we would not be here today if we had not.> It was a bittersweet thought. The Earth had to become a skeleton of its former self so mankind could expand; and humanity had kept it on life support ever since.

The wood-adorned hallway transformed into an ancient brick as Ben pushed out of the interior section and into a covered walkway. The spring air of England was cool and damp, but he could smell the potential. It was potential for the future and new life; for both Ben and the carefully maintained ecosystem of the campus.

Ben’s thoughts wandered during the short walk through the walkway and across a small quad that was already starting to bloom. Sooner than he would have liked he was standing in front of a heavy wooden door with an old-fashioned placard informing the entrants that this was room 1A; and just below that was Ben’s name and the title of his dissertation.

Ben stared at the placard for a few moments before bracing himself for what he was walking into. With a solidification of willpower he grabbed the old iron rung that served as a doorknob and pulled. The door creaked as it swung outward to admit Ben, but he barely heard it over the sound of voices; dozens and dozens of voices.

“Mr. Gold, please take your position and begin at your leisure.” The only voice that mattered, the voice of the dean, cut through the side conversations.

“Thank you, Ma’am.” Ben walked forward with his head held high, and his back ramrod straight.

Room 1A looked like a giant whirlpool. A gradually descending circle of spectator seats flowed down into a small flat space with a podium at its center. Ben walked to the podium, ignoring the hushed conversation of the people all around him. He wasn’t claustrophobic, but he could see how people could be. He felt like the weight of hundreds of expectations was about to crush him like a bug.

<Do not think about that. Focus on your presentation.> Ben had rehearsed his talking points so many times he could do it in his sleep. That wasn’t an exaggeration. His in vitro enhancements left him with an uncanny memory.

Ben placed his PAD on the podium and flipped through a few screens before he found the one he wanted. With a swipe of his finger a holographic display encircled him at the edges of where the stadium seating ended. He closed his eyes, took one last calming breath, and began.

“Doctor Cummings, esteemed members of the University of Oxford’s Politics and Intergalactic Relations Department, ladies and gentleman; I am doctoral candidate Benjamin Gold, and I would like to tell you a story.” A few chuckles went through the gathered academics.

<I have got them interested.> Ben held back a smile, he needed to remain professional. <Now it is time to reel them in.>

“This is the story of our past. The story of how we came to sit here today, and at the very center of that story is politics.”

They weren’t leaving, so Ben could tell he had the audience’s attention.

“The study of politics can be traced all the way back to Aristotle’s work, Politikos; and it has always dealt with the process of making decisions that apply to a group of people. The fundamental foundation of politics has never changed. The only thing that has changed is the context.” Ben’s fingers danced across his PAD and images sprang to life all around him.

“To Aristotle, and the Before Common Era Greeks, the group was the city-state and the people numbered in the tens-of-thousands. Less than three hundred years later it was Julius Caesar at the reigns of an empire that spread across the Mediterranean world. They both experimented with democracy and republican government; two lasting philosophies that helped shape our modern understanding of politics.” With a swipe the maps of the Greek City-States and Roman Empire vanished.

“But the Greeks and Romans weren’t the only ones who were involved in the development of political theory. On the other side of the world the Chinese Empire had prospered for thousands of years under the idealization of divine rule and Confucius’ bureaucratic philosophy. Shoguns and samurai warriors operating under a feudal code fought throughout the Japanese islands.” More swipes and more images vanished.

“Soon monarchies dominated Europe, and empires driven by religious law swept across Northern Africa.” The last of the images vanished, and Ben was staring at the people he was presenting too. “The one constant in all of this is that no one system was perfect. Empires rise and fall as flawed people managed their political systems. But another constant, a constant that exists not only in politics but throughout human history is that people attempt to remember the mistakes of the past.”

Ben pressed a button and another set of images bloomed around him. “This brings us to modern pre-expansion political theory, the realm of International Relations. The United States of America was a federal republic and the United Kingdom a constitutional monarchy. They would inevitably form the core of the Commonwealth. The People’s Republic of China and the resurrected United Soviet Socialist Republic of Russia’s communist ideology became the backbone of the Eastern Block. Last, but certainly not least, we have the European Union; a hodgepodge of political ideas ranging from ultra-nationalists to democratic socialists that have stood the test of time.” Ben spread his fingers and the three starfaring nation’s territories on Earth overwhelmed the rest of the imagery. “Together, with the absorption of other smaller nations, these three have become the predominant foundations of our current political study. The study of Intergalactic Relations.”

Ben looked directly into the eyes of the dean. “We started as hunters and gatherers, we endured a Neolithic revolution of agriculture, and we gathered together into city-states and started to think of the laws of governance. We built nations, suffered the growing pains of globalization, and the horrors of the Last Terran War. Now we look to a new stage in the saga of humanity, and with that next step into the galaxy we look at how we will continue to govern and interact with ourselves and each other.”

“My presentation takes a look at where we go next. I examine the relationships between the hundred plus Commonwealth colonies, the sixty-seven territories controlled by the Eastern Block, and the forty-three systems of the European Union; as well as private settlements, and corporate worlds that exist in the fifteen-hundred light year bubble of human space. I explore the cultural norms and societal behaviors of these starfaring political entities. I look at what makes them tick, what rubs them the wrong way, what they value, and what they are willing to go to war for.” Ben let the last statement hang for a moment.

“My goal is to predict the future. I want to chart a path for humanity to continue to conquer the galaxy; for everyone to live a life of liberty pursuing whatever they choose. But things are never that simple in politics.” That got a little chuckle. “There are so many moving pieces, and one wrong word can turn a statement of peace into a declaration of war. It is my desire to make sure that starfaring nations can come to agreements; because when people wield continent destroying battleships instead of baseball bats the wrong move could lead to oblivion.”

Ben’s body practically vibrated with excitement.

“Very well, Mr. Gold. Please continue.” She tried to hide it, but Ben saw a small smile creep across the dean’s lips.

That was all the reassurance he needed.

Previous                                                                                                                                          Next

A Change of Pace – Chapter 67

The shrill ring of the phone cut through the dark, silent hotel room. Before the second ring the light beside the bed was on, and before the third a hand had already grabbed the handle.

“Yes.” Hunter yawned as he wiped the last bit of sleep from his eyes. He didn’t use his name because this was an unsecure line.

Like most Heroes he could go from asleep to awake in the snap of his fingers, or in this case, three rings of a phone.

“Uh…hello, Mr. Hunter, Sir.”

Hunter couldn’t stop a groan from escaping his throat. <I’m going to have to talk to Morningstar about operational security.>

                “No names,” Hunter reminded the young Hero on the other end of the line.

“Shit, yeah…sorry. Well the boss wanted me to give you a heads up that we bagged the guy that took a shot at us on that day we were working together.” Hunter could hear the excitement in Galavant’s voice.

“I’ll be right in.” Hunter didn’t wait for a response before hanging up.

He went straight for the shower, rinsed off, quickly shaved, and got into his costume. For the millionth time in his career, he was thankful that his costume was basic; shorts, t-shirt, a hunting jacket (all in the same theme), his mask, and his rifle. It was nothing fancy, and it was nothing that would get in his way went shit hit the fan; because shit always hit the fan in this line of work.

In less than ten minutes he was completely ready to go. He set the countermeasures for the hotel room, and vanished. He reappeared in the Protectorate’s headquarters, in a side hallway they’d set aside specifically for him. KaBoom was waiting for him.

“We grabbed him just a few hours ago,” the Protectorate’s number two quickly filled Hunter in.

The renowned teleporter had taken a few personal days over the holidays. It was always a good idea to take short breaks every once in a while, step back, and remember what you’re fighting for. That and the DVA mandated thirty days in an inactive status a year.

Hunter would have liked to take a legitimate break but he had to deal with Angela. Her second place finish in her first semester required some additional training. She’d performed well, but she still had a long way to go.

His time off meant that he was a little behind on the happenings in Orlando. So Hunter held out his hand and KaBoom handed him a thick file.

“His street-name is Dragon, real name Stanley Kursk.”

<Why is it the bad guys always have normal names?> Hunter frowned at the random thought, but quickly turned his attention back to KaBoom’s quick rundown.

“He’s got a rap sheet a half-mile long. We’re talking assault, battery, B&E, grand theft auto, possession with intent to sell, and after what he did at the bank attempted murder of a Hero.”

<So we’ve got room to bargain with.> Hunter knew the drill. Dragon as going to prison, but for how long depended on if he wanted to talk or not.

“Where is he?”

“In the cell room with Morningstar.” KaBoom pointed toward doors on the far side of the room.

Hunter cringed at the lack of security in the place, especially after all the attention the city had been receiving the last few months. <First the coffee shop, then the gang takeover, and that doesn’t even take into consideration that something big and bad might be headed this way in the near future. Plus, Wraith is still on the loose, and we’re all sitting here with less security than your average mall security office.> That wasn’t quite true, but when you were facing all the dangers that Heroes faced that was how it felt.

“Thanks for the heads up.” Hunter shook KaBoom’s hand and headed over to the interrogation.

“So you’re telling me that it was an accident?” Mr. Morningstar was lounging in a chair on the opposite side of the cell wall from the prisoner. “You didn’t mean to shoot all those police officers.”

Galavant was in the room, and he handed another piece of paper to Hunter. They didn’t want to interrupt the spell Morningstar had over Dragon, so Hunter played catch up based on Galavant’s notes.

So far they’d established that Dragon was senior in the Fist, a lieutenant just below the leader; a guy named Squid. The Protectorate had a file on him, but they didn’t know his real identity. Squid was smarter than Dragon. They’d also established that Dragon was at the police raid that turned into a shit-show. All the officers had been injured and one was still clinging to life a few weeks after the fact.

“They just kicked down the door to our house, what was I supposed to do?” There was another attempted murder charge they could add to the list.

A lawyer might fight Mr. Morningstar’s interrogation technique via his ability, but the Hero had been around long enough to have precedent on his side. Plus, on the surface level, Dragon didn’t even look like an upstanding citizen. In fact, right now, he looked like he’d gotten in a fight with a Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robot and lost badly.

Galavant caught him looking. “KaBoom took him down like that.” Galavant snapped his fingers. “It looked like a man fighting a baby.

Hunter just nodded, glad his mask hid his exasperation toward the interning Hero.

“Yo, who that?” Galavant’s snap had alerted Dragon to Hunter’s presence. “I remember you!” He cried out angrily. “You killed Billy-B and Marco. Yo, I shouldn’t be stuck in here. That big mutha killed them guys like it was nothin’.”

“Actually, one of your boys shot the other while I was holding him.” Hunter regretted the loss of life, but he’d seen a lot of death in his career. He didn’t shed a tear for a couple of gangbangers who decided to fight instead of surrendering. “And all of that would have been avoidable if you’d decided to not rob a bank.”

“Not my choice.” Dragon crossed his arms angrily. He literally had smoke coming out of his nostrils. “Squid tells us wat to do and we do it.”

“The ‘I was just following orders defense’ didn’t work for the Nazis and it won’t work for you; especially not for you,” Hunter shrugged, and took a seat next to Mr. Morningstar.

“The big question is why’d you do it?” Hunter and the Protectorate leader seamlessly transitioned the interrogation. “From what I can tell you guys had a pretty good thing going. You had your illegal fronts, your protection racket, you’d cornered the market in drugs and women.” Hunter shrugged as he tried to build up the criminal’s ego. “Why give all that up?”

“Like I said,” Dragon spat back. “I don’t make the calls. Squid tells me to bust heads and I bust heads.”

“Well I’m sure Squid isn’t happy that you’re here talking to us now.” Hunter moved into a standard interrogation technique.

“I ain’t saying shit.” Dragon fumed, literally.

“Squid doesn’t know that,” Hunter smiled. “The next time we bust up something to do with the Fist we’ll have the cops on the scene bragging about how we broke the guy in custody and he’s spilling his guts to the Heroes.”

There weren’t many ways to hurt a guy like Dragon. He was big and dumb. He was nothing more than muscle, and he just did what he was told. But the thing about muscle was they always prided themselves on not being snitches. Taking that away from Dragon would undermine his entire identity.

“Fuck you!” Dragon proved Hunter’s suspicion by lashing out. He smashed his fist into the barrier. He only succeeded in breaking is hand, and receiving one hell of a shock.

“Urg!” The criminal made a gurgling noise as he fell over, clutching his hand.

“I think we’re done here for a while.” Hunter got up and stretched so Dragon could mentally acknowledge his lack of freedom. “We’ll let you think about what you want to do while we spread the word that you’re talking.” Dragon couldn’t see the smile under Hunter’s expressionless mask.

“…fuck…bullshit…stupid bitch…wouldn’t be a problem…Squid’s a dumbass…” Hunter caught snippets of Dragon cursing under his breath.

“If you’ve got something to say, speak up.” Hunter stopped walking toward the door and returned to the cell’s barrier.

“Squid’s a dumbass.” Dragon carefully flexed his hand and winced. “He shoulda never taken that bitch’s money.”

“Who’s this bitch?” Hunter sat back down.

It was obvious she was an outsider, or Dragon wouldn’t have been talking about her.

“Some skank ass black bitch who payin’ Fist for shit.” Hunter let Dragon curse the mysterious woman for a few minutes before redirecting him.

“Can you give me anything else other than her race; hair color, eye color, height, any distinguishing features?” Galavant was scribbling furiously in the corner, while Hunter was committing it to memory.

“Naw, she ain’t like African; Bitch just wears all black.” Whoever this woman was, she was a sore point for Dragon.

“Anything else?”

Hunter kept his anticipation under control. Dragon might not be willing to spill on the Fist, but this woman had rubbed him the wrong way at some point in the past.

“She armed like she gonna take over the whole fuckin’ city; guns, knives, all that shit. She also got those extendable things like you cops like to beat hood rats with.”

<Batons.> Hunter’s breath caught. <Could it be?> He had to force himself to slowly reach in his pocket for the grainy picture he’d been carrying around with him for the past few months.

“Is this her?”

Dragon had to squint at the photo with his one good eye. He’d resisted arrest when they’d brought him in, and one of KaBoom’s kinetically powered punches had swelled up his other eye so much the criminal couldn’t open it.

“This picture’s shit,” Dragon scoffed at the Heroes. “Use an IPhone 6 next time.”

“Is this her or not?” Hunter couldn’t keep the hard, seriousness out of his tone.

“I can’t tell a hundred percent, but it looks like her. We call her Shadow. Bitch got shadows she disappears into.”

That was all Hunter needed.

<Wraith is in Orlando…Wraith is bankrolling the Fist…Why?>

“You said Squid is taking her money.” Hunter recalled earlier parts of the conversation.

“Yeah, Squid’s being stupid and trustin’ this Shadow bitch. She told him to hit the power plant. Now he got all kinds of heat on him. Stupid!” Dragons started to curse up a storm again, but Hunter stopped paying attention.

<Wraith wanted the power down…why?”> The more Hunter learned about the villainous teleporter the more he realized she didn’t do anything without reason. <First the assassination, now this. Is she covering her tracks? Is this a whole separate operation? Where is she getting the cash? Why Orlando?> More questions ripped through his mind, and he didn’t have any answers.

Except maybe the last one. <This has to have something to do with Kemps and the coffee shop attack.> His mind was running a hundred miles an hour while Dragon complained in the cell. <Meyers said that it was Hellgate at the coffee shop. That would explain how she knows so much about teleporter counter-surveillance.> Pieces were falling into place, and Hunter did not like the picture it was putting together.

Another teleporter, trained by Hellgate himself, maybe working with the notorious villain, and setting up shot in Orlando. <Then there’s all the chatter and contingencies going around about an Armageddon level attack; which ForceOps is taking the lead on.> That meant international terrorism. The U.S. wasn’t loved internationally, but only a few Supers were powerful enough, or ballsy enough to attack America.

“I think we’re good for a while.” Hunter needed to get out of the room and think. “How about we get a healer in here and get you fixed up?” Dragon just grunted. “And maybe we’ll hold off on telling the Fist that your squealing.” Hunter’s good-will offering didn’t stop Dragon’s glare. “As long as you keep the information coming on this Shadow woman.”

“Bitch don’t mean nothin’ to me.” He shrugged. “All she cause is problems.”

Hunter nodded, and beckoned for Morningstar to follow him out of the cell room.

“Well, that was certainly interesting.” Mr. Morningstar was waiting expectantly for an explanation.

“I think the woman he’s talking about is a recent supervillain named Wraith.” Hunter gave him all the information he had on the up-and-comer.

“She certainly sounds like a terror, and you think she’s in my city?”

“At least part-time. We’ll get more information from Dragon, but I’m more interested in why Wraith wanted the power down.”

“That might shed more light on her motivations. I’ll get some officers to comb through the files of everything that happened that day.” Morningstar scratched his chin in thought.

“Look deeper than just what happened. She’s smarter than that. Look into false alarms, pay attention to anything around West Private’s campus, and look for anything out of the ordinary.” Hunter was pacing now, and it was getting attention.

“Any idea what we should be looking for?” Morningstar clearly didn’t like the lack of information.

“No idea, but we need to find something. If Wraith is already here, and she’s responsible for the blackout, then we need to know what she’s planning next.”

“Agreed.” KaBoom walked over. His face serious. He’d overheard part of the conversation. “There hasn’t been a supervillain active in Orlando for over a decade. Protocol states that we inform the HCP.”

“I’ll do it.” Hunter offered. “I spoke there not long ago, and I’ve built a relationship with the Dean.” Hunter knew the Protectorate had a relationship with the school too, but he also wanted to see how his daughter was progressing.

Her first week back was almost finished, and if she hadn’t challenged the number one ranked student yet, then she had some explaining to do.

 

***

 

“Uh…hello, Mr. Hunter, Sir.”

The voice was garbled with static coming out of the computer speaker, but Lilly got the gist of it. “Ok, you’re going to have to give me more to work with than that, Nano.” She lounged in the young villain’s office in the Willis Tower in Chicago.

Mika had phoned Lilly early in the morning nearly frantic with excitement. <I need to set more boundaries between us.> Now that she was with Seth, she needed to set barriers between her life with him and her life as an awesome villainess.

“Do you remember when you told me to keep an eye on things?” Mika asked.

It was the fidgeting that gave him away.

“No, Mika. I don’t believe I ever asked you to keep an eye on things.” A dangerous edge crept into her voice as she realized the teenage technopath was doing surveillance on her.

“Um…no… I mean yeah you did.” It was a feeble attempt to recover and it failed.

<What to do, what to do?> Her hand drifted absentmindedly to the knife on her back.

Lilly had come to this meeting without her usual ensemble. She wore a black half-mask that covered to top half of her face, tactical pants, and a black t-shirt underneath a grungy old bomber-jacket. She had one pistol strapped to her thigh and half a dozen knives strategically placed around her body. It was as casual as she was willing to go.

<He knows too much about me, Seth, maybe all of Dad’s plans. If the DVA gets him we’re all fucked. On the other hand, the guys a damn genius and an irreplaceable asset. I need to come at this from a different angle.>

                Lilly scrutinized Mika. He was defensive. His arms were curled around himself and he was staring anywhere but at her. He knew he’d screwed up. But there was determination on his face. His jaw was set in a stubborn frown, and there was a slight flush of embarrassment on his face. It all clicked into place.

<He’s jealous.>Lilly nearly laughed, but restrained herself. <What did you expect? You’ve been flirting with the kid of years. This is what you wanted to happen. You wanted loyalty and devotion from him as well as his hacking skills.>

                Instead of driving the knife into Mika’s skull, Lilly took a deep, theatrical breath. “Oh, Mika.” She sighed, walked over to the shorter boy, and ran her hand down the side of his face. “You realize what you did was wrong. My private life is my private life.”

Mika nodded fervently after every statement, and raised his eyes to meet hers. “I’m sorry, Wraith. I just thought…”

“You thought you were losing me,” she finished the sentence for him. “You thought because I shacked up with a boy at school that I was going to forget about you and everything we’ve done together.”

“Well, you haven’t been calling or talking to me as much as you used to.”

Lilly had to admit he had a point there. She had been devoting a lot of her extra attention to Seth, and for good reason.

“I realize that now, and I’m sorry. But you also need to understand I have different jobs, different missions that I’m working on. Orlando is one of them. So I need you to stop running surveillance on me down there or it could ruin everything I’ve been working toward. Do you understand?”

“Yeah.” Mika deflated like she’d popped his imaginary balloon. Then he seemed to straighten up, buoyed by some unknown force, to face her. “Do you like him?”

Lilly played it cool. “Him who?”

“The kid you spend every night with.”

Lilly found it hilarious that the small, young technopath was calling anyone a kid.

“He’s a way for me to get what I want.” Lilly smiled at Mika in what she hoped was a predatory fashion.

That threw the technopath off balance. “Don’t worry about him, Nano.” Lilly walked closer and bent down so her face was right in front of his. “You’re still my big guy. My one and only techno-nerd.” She leaned in, Mika closed his eyes with fervent expectations, and at the last second she veered to the right and planted a kiss on his cheek.

<Not as paternal as a kiss on the forehead, but it will keep him thinking about where we stand.> It was important to keep him infatuated, but surprisingly, she didn’t want to do anything that compromised her growing relationship with Seth. <That could be a problem.> But she forced the thought to the back of her mind. She needed to get Mika back on track for the real reason he’d called her in.

“Yeah…um…ok then.” He blubbered when she gently prodded him for more information on the call. He was blushing as a red as a fire-hydrant and couldn’t seem to get the right words out.

<Good.> Lilly waited patiently for him to get it together.

“So while doing my well-intentioned surveillance.” Lilly kept her face neutral at Mika’s statement. “I’ve been monitoring communications coming out of the known Hero bases. Just standard procedure.” It was anything but standard, but she let him continue. “This is a brief phone conversation that happened early this morning.”

 

“Yes.”

“Uh…hello, Mr. Hunter, Sir.”

“No names.”

“Shit, yeah…sorry. Well the boss wanted me to give you a heads up that we bagged the guy that took a shot at us on that day we were working together.”

“I’ll be right in.”

 

The conversation cut off and Mika grinned like an idiot. Lilly quickly realized why. She was grinning like an idiot too.

“Please tell me you have a location on all of this?”

“It was scrambled coming out of the base. They routed it through a few servers in three different states, but I was able to trace it to an unsecure motel phone line.”

“A motel.” From what Lilly knew about Hunter and Seraphim the Hero team wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less than the Four Seasons. “That sneaky fucker.”

It was a good counter-surveillance technique; be in the place no one would expect you to be. Plus, Hunter was a subtlety Hero. <I can’t believe I overlooked the possibility.> Lilly was pissed at herself, but she didn’t let it show. Partially because it would be bad form in front of Mika, and partially because she was too excited.

<I can do what dad never could.> She felt like she should be laughing maniacally, but instead she felt a calm focus falling over her. <Time to get to work.>

Working on it took a lot longer than Lilly thought it would.

For two weeks she plotted and schemed. Mika was heavily involved in the process; which helped his insecurity of being replaced by Seth. He ran constant surveillance on the target. That revealed the first problem.

Hunter didn’t always stay at the motel.

<If he’s smart he’s got a couple different places that he randomly rotates between.> It was a standard tactic. Lilly had safe houses all over the world that she could use if she wanted; all in nonextradition countries.

The problem wasn’t unsurmountable until you coupled it with other issues they discovered in their surveillance.

By hacking into the power grid, and isolating the motel room, Mika was able to determine that the room was drawing considerably more power than the rest of the motel; which meant countermeasures. And that was just the countermeasures that required an external power source. Lilly knew a dozen off the top of her head that were self-powered, and Hunter was likely to have a number of custom tech genius gadgets in use.

So at this point their setbacks were they wouldn’t be able to get into the room without spooking the Hero, and they couldn’t tell when he was even going to be home. A sniper shot like the one Lilly was able to pull off against the mafia scumbag wasn’t an option. She just didn’t have the time. There were multiple opportunities for a sniper’s nest, but with the increased surveillance in the city it was only a matter of time before someone spotted her.

<Damnit.> Lilly spent one too many nights massaging her brain. Stress relief activities with Seth only went so far, and he was growing concerned by her increased absences.

“Don’t worry.” She spoke sweet nothings into his ear post-coital one night. “It’s just the stress of the beginning of the semester.” It was partially true.

Lilly had to alternate assassination preparation with chemistry homework. It gave her the idea of poisoning her mark, but Hunter would never be that stupid.

They were running out of options.

Mika solved one problem. Social media could be a great tracking tool, and while Hunter didn’t use it, DVA employees and visitors to the police station did. Tweets and Facebook posts constantly put the famous Hero at the Protectorate HQ.  So Mika hacked into accounts and created an algorithm that alerted them to Hunter’s whereabouts every five minutes if someone posted it. But that was only secondhand information. They needed to get eyes on their target as much as possible.

Mika fixed that problem too.

He couldn’t hack into to the actual Protectorate HQ security system, the DVA would catch him sooner rather than later; but he could get into the police station surrounding the HQ. Luckily, they had a camera pointed right through the entrance of the Hero HQ that offered a solid view of seventy-five percent of the small space. It wasn’t perfect, but it gave them eyes on the target while he was working.

The countermeasures were more difficult because there was no real way around them. Nothing could enter that room without Hunter knowing; especially by teleportation, and they couldn’t see inside. Every way of trying to see into the room was blocked by the countermeasures; everything from the good old mark one eyeball to advanced optics.

The solution they came up with was expensive and risked blowing the entire operation.

“The room isn’t sealed.” Mika’s sleep-deprived eyes bulged.

“It would look a little suspicious if a seedy motel had a room environmentally sealed. Hunter is trying to stay under the radar.” Lilly snapped back, a little more aggressively than she intended. She wasn’t sleeping well. And things were on the rocks with Seth.

He was busy too, and he found time to hang out. She even suspected he was growing suspicious that she might be cheating on him. <It’s true, I am cheating on him with this op.>

She pushed the hurt down and dove into solving the problem.

The solution was to get something inside the room that wouldn’t draw too much suspicion. To do that they had to bring in a third party.

Lilly let Mika handle all of that. She didn’t want to be anywhere near this freelancer who didn’t even know they were participating in a crime.

The third party was a healer of sorts, and together with Mika’s tech they were successfully able to surgically plant a micro-camera inside of a fly. If the military figured out the procedure, then they’d have a hell of a surveillance tool. The nature of the implantation of the camera meant that the fly’s biology should shield it from any countermeasures looking for intruding electronics. “Should” was the operative word there. Lilly really hoped it worked. It cost them six figures to get the third party healer to spend a day working with Mika.

So now they had eyes on their target and a way to get eyes into the room, because Lilly highly doubted that Hunter was just going to walk up and unlock the door like a normal person. He was going to teleport in and out.

What they needed to figure out next was how they were going to kill him.

That was easy.

“It has to be a bomb.” Lilly put her foot down. That’s the only thing that’s going to spread fast enough before he escapes.

<And I want to entire world to figure out their renowned subtlety Hero met his maker in a catastrophic explosion.> Lilly started to cackle and stopped herself. She really needed to get more sleep.

Making the bomb was easy. Any third grader from a war-ravaged country could make a bomb. Lilly just fine-tuned a simple design, with parts purchased from all over the world, to make sure it didn’t fail. They only had one chance at this.

Finally, after two long weeks of work, they were ready. Or as ready as they would ever be.

<Phase one, get our Frankenstein fly into the room.>

Previous                                                                                                                                          Next

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 18

Benjamin Gold

Location: New York City, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Thomas Gold looked very good for a man who was a hundred and sixty-three years old. He barely looked fifty. He was born in 2269 and was one of the few men alive who could say that he’d been alive in three separate centuries. He wasn’t a particularly tall or large man. In vitro enhancements hadn’t been fully developed when he was born. At one hundred eighty-two centimeters and an average frame, the leader of Gold Technologies looked like any man off the street. His genetically altered hair and blue specks in his eyes would identify him as wealthy, but aside from that there wasn’t anything special-looking about the man.

What was really extraordinary about him was what lay beneath the surface. Thomas Gold had a brain for business that few in the galaxy could match. As a young man he’d turned a patent on nanites into a revolution that changed the way humanity lived. He built upon that foundation to create a corporate empire that dealt in everything from defense contracts to private education. He might have four children, but Thomas Gold’s greatest achievement would always be his company; and everyone except maybe Hope knew this.

“My…my, this has become quite the little reunion hasn’t it?” He strode to the back of Miranda’s chair and started to massage her shoulders. Ben’s mother smiled and placed a hand on top of his, a picturesque vision of a loving couple.

Ben knew that Lord and Lady Gold weren’t a picture-perfect loving couple. They both had their ambitions and desires, and part of what made them work was the freedom they allowed each other in accomplishing their goals. They were still affectionate, they had created two children in their thirty year marriage; but Thomas Gold wasn’t the type of man to walk over and start massaging his wife’s shoulders. It was a calculated maneuver to nurture the rare sense of family that he’d walked into.

While it was nice to see most of his family members, Ben didn’t have time to waste. He had a big day tomorrow and there was business to discuss.

“I cannot stay long, Dad, but can I speak to you privately for a minute.” A surprised expression flashed across the older man’s face, but it never reached his shrewd eyes; eyes that were the same pale blue as Ben’s. Eyes that made the Rear Admiral’s secretary look like a toothless, declawed cat.

“Sure, Son. Let’s step into my office.”

Thomas Gold’s office was what you would expect in someone who’d bought a royal title and decorated his New York penthouse with priceless pre-expansion artwork. Everything oozed efficient luxury. What always caught Ben’s eye was his father’s workstation. A corporate titan never stopped working, which meant he needed a place to work from home. The technological setup on his father’s desk was the type you would expect someone needed to run a galactic empire. Ben had seen flag bridges on battleships that were less impressive.

“Please have a seat, Ben.” Ben noticed that his father was speaking in his business voice. The older man hadn’t forgotten the circumstances of their last meeting.

Ben didn’t have time to dance around the issue, so he sat down and got straight to the point. “I need a favor, Dad.”

Thomas didn’t speak for several seconds. He studied his son’s face carefully before nodding for him to continue.

“When the next admiralty vote comes up I need you to support Rear Admiral Johnathan Helms.” Ben didn’t elaborate, because he knew his father would have questions.

The first one came quickly. “Why?”

“Because I have made a deal with him,” Ben stated firmly. “The Gold family will back him for admiral and he will advance my career.”

Thomas smiled, but he shook his head. “I’m going to need specifics before I agree to support this rear admiral. The capital needed to ensure a promotion to admiral is not small. I need to know I’m going to get a good return on my investment.”

Ben knew his father was going to react this way, which was why he knew this wasn’t asking for a favor; it was making a sales pitch. Ben needed to show his father that this arrangement was going to better the family and the company, not just Ben.

“Rear Admiral Helms is fast-tracking my promotion to Lieutenant Commander and giving me a command position. These are the qualifications that I need if I am going to get into the Diplomatic Corps, and he is allowing me to do it half a decade ahead a schedule,” Ben explained. “As far as what he can do for you, you are going to have to ask him. I’d suggest scheduling a meeting soon, which will at least put a potential partnership on everyone’s radar.”

“Why should I do that?” Thomas repeated. “I’ve already got a few admirals under my influence. I’m playing golf with the Commander of First Fleet later this week. Why should I help this Rear Admiral Helms?”

“Because he is the man that can help me.”

<And now is the point where I compromise.> Ben knew it would come to this, but that was the only way he could make it work.

“Command of a Commonwealth warship comes with a prestige only few can ever know. That helps the family. More importantly, it gets me into the Diplomatic Corps. Give me a decade being a diplomat, and using my degree, and I will have contacts in every system I visit. With your help, I might even know someone in every system. Think about the possibilities.”

Ben knew his father was doing just that. Contacts like the ones Ben was proposing could ease trade sanctions, open previously closed shipping routes, and cut through bureaucratic red tape thicker than battleship armor. Ten years of Ben’s life could open up a hundred years of prosperity for Gold Technologies.

“At the very least I would be an asset to our corporate security fleet. Having an officer with Commonwealth command experience is something we always look for.” Even the least favorable return was still favorable.

“You make a strong case.” Thomas scratched his chin in a well-rehearsed motion. Ben knew the man had already made up his mind; he was just making his son sweat. “You would be an asset in our trade negotiations, political lobbying, or in corporate security. What is this Rear Admiral Helms like?” And just like that Ben knew his father was onboard.

“I know he is from New Kingston, started with very little, has worked very hard to get to his current station, and is very good at his job. He likes the finer things in life, and is ambitious. He has seen the other side of the spectrum and had no desire to return to his roots.” It wasn’t a lot of information, but it was what Ben had been able to glean with his brief time with his boss’s boss.

Ben knew Gold Technologies’ corporate spies would thoroughly vet the rear admiral, and know his deepest, darkest secrets within the week. The rear admiral knew what he was getting himself into. Getting into bed with a corporation like Gold Technologies was just like sleeping with a beautiful woman. You had to get naked and show everything, imperfections and all. The woman could then use those imperfections against you if she was scorned.

“Do we have a deal?” Ben allowed his father to contemplate before asking.

The look Thomas Gold gave his son was something Ben hadn’t seen in a while, pride. “Yes, we have a deal.” They shook hands, and Ben was surprised by the strength of his father’s grip. “I’ll have my secretary call his office in the morning and set up an appointment.” Thomas got up, concluding their business. “Now please join us for dinner.”

Ben wanted to say no. He felt dirty for having to pimp himself out to get his father’s blessing, but he hadn’t seen his mother or little sister in months. “I will stay, but not for long.” Ben followed his father back into the apartment. “I have to present my dissertation tomorrow, and I need to be ready.”

Previous                                                                                                                                                    Next