Two Worlds – Chapter 32

Name: Gwen Cunningham

Genetic Identification Code: BDIM0922239444726

Physical Health: Superior

Mental Health: [Authorized Personnel Only]

Education: High School Graduate, Noncommissioned Officer War College

Occupation: Staff Sergeant (P), United Commonwealth of Colonies Training Division

Criminal History: N/A

Citizen Status: Confirmed

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

            Staff Sergeant Gwen Cunningham switched off the PA system and reclined back in her chair. The nano-fibers adjusted as her body shifted, and she sighed with satisfaction.

<Being dirt-side sucks sometimes, but you’ve got to love the amenities.>

                As the aches of the morning eased out of her muscles she watched the screens closely. She needed to get a good idea about this new, green batch of recruits she was dealing with.

The door to the observation room hissed opened and PO3 Chase Janney entered with two fresh cups of coffee. “How they handlin’ it?”

The change in Chase’s voice still surprised her.  The navy man’s accent still had a southern twang to it, but it was nowhere near as thick and heavy as when he talked to the recruits. She’d asked him about it after their first look at this class, and his answer was kind of brilliant.

“If I sound like I should be off somewhere fuckin’ my sister, then they’re goin’ to think I’m stupid. If they think I’m stupid, they’ll try to pull some shit. When they try to pull some shit, I’ll catch them and make’um wish they were never born.” He’d smiled at the last part, showing flawless white teeth.

“That makes sense,” had been her reply.

Over the last two weeks they’d prepped for spending the next twelve weeks with the incoming class. Although they wouldn’t be physically present for the isolation phase it was probably the most work intensive phase for them. The recruits had to be watched twenty-four-seven, and there were only two people to do it.

“They’re handling it about how you’d expect them to.” Gwen watched as the squads clustered together, asking their squad leaders for more information.

<Poor bastards.> Gwen genuinely felt sorry for the ten men and woman in-charge because they didn’t have any information, and there was nothing worse than being a leader and not knowing what to tell your soldiers.

Gwen’s mind flashed back to her own isolation phase twenty years ago. She’d been a scared little wimp back then, and had actually cried when they locked her up. Coming from the Belfast-Dublin-Isle of Man Metropolis she was used to feeling the spray of the sea or the salt-tinged air on her face every day. Suddenly being locked into an underground box with a hundred other people was the worst possible thing that could happen.

Which was exactly the point of isolation phase.

Isolation was a test of a future soldier or sailor’s ability to tolerate the stress of prolonged spaceflight, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The phase was also a psychological experiment to see how soldiers reacted to a military environment with little to no freedom. On average they lost recruits after this phase for multiple reasons. On the flip side, true leaders tended to show themselves; as well as people with technological skillsets.

The barracks that had just become a bunker was decades old. Things tended to break, and part of isolation phase was instilling maintenance discipline in new soldiers. With all the equipment used by the Fleet and Infantry, preventative maintenance was something routinely stressed by all commanders.

<It’s already starting.> Despite the barrack’s age, a state-of-the-art surveillance system was installed. They could watch everything from simple audio-visual to individual recruits’ biometrics.

“I bet that fucking bitch is just loving this.”

Gwen double-tapped the screen and zoomed in on the recruit speaking, Andrew Davenport. An adjacent screen also displayed his entire service record. She could look at everything from his high school transcripts to his personality tests.

“He’s goin’ to be a problem,” Chase pointed at the screen and shook his head.

“Yeah,” Gwen re-read his psych profiles. “Hopefully he’ll fail out after isolation.”

Andrew Davenport was a narcissist. Even worse, he was one of those narcissists who thought he was smarter than he actually was.  She knew he was testing the limits of what he was going to be able to do, and that was why he’d been the victim of the brutal smack-down.

The smack-down was a time honored drill instructor tradition. Every soldier or sailor from every basic class could describe that first smack-down moment like it had just happened yesterday. It was the moment the drill instructor transitioned from a mere mortal to a god in the eyes of most recruits. When Gwen’s drill instructor had smacked down a particularly rowdy farm-boy he’d fractured the kid’s femur. It was the only time Gwen had seen the thickest bone in the human body sticking out of a person’s skin. At least, the only time the person was still alive. If Gwen ever saw Sergeant Trumley again she might just piss herself.

“We’ll keep an eye on him.” Gwen input some commands into the computer to keep a closer watch on Davenport. She could have spoken the command, but she preferred to write it out, especially since she would be sitting in the closet-sized observation room for most of the phase.

“But I’ve got confidence in Berg. She’s been groomed for this. Nothing we throw at her is going to work.” Gwen made the admission with a smile. “Did you see how they all used their woobies instead of the bedding?”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Berg.”

In the last fifty years of conflict only five Crosses of Honor, the highest military award in the Commonwealth, had been awarded. Two of those five went to people with the last name Berg. In all actuality, Eve Berg should be at an elite military institution right now, not in Basic training, but that wasn’t something Gwen should be thinking about. Whatever Eve Berg did with her life was her choice. It was Gwen’s job to make Eve Berg into a first-class warrior.

Gwen knew all too well the pressures a family legacy could put on someone. Andrew Davenport had hit on that sore topic, which might have been why she took him down a little harder than usual.

Gwen Cunningham was not the intergalactic supermodel Jasmine Cunningham, but she was her twin sister; which meant that if she wanted, she could have had a modeling career as well. Gwen didn’t want that, in fact, it was probably the farthest thing from what she wanted.

That was why Gwen had saved her first few hard fought paychecks and genetically altered her hair. That was also when Gwen shaved half her head, and received a special waiver from the infantry to do it. Soldiers under her command, and officers over her, couldn’t get wrapped up in staring at her face and tits when they should be busy fighting wars and killing the enemy.

Gwen’s twin sister had been haunting her through her twenty-year career in the infantry. She knew it wasn’t Jasmine’s fault, and she still loved her sister; even if family Christmas’ were a little awkward sometimes.  It was just a pain in the ass sometimes; which was why she didn’t want to butt into Berg’s situation. She had it tough enough as it was.

“What about the guy makin’ lovey-dovey eyes at Berg? What’s his deal?” Chase pointed to the tall, skinny recruit standing close to Berg.

Surprisingly, Berg was allowing the almost-contact.

“He won the relay this morning,” Gwen remembered, double-tapping the recruit’s face. “Mark Cooper. He could be trouble too.”

“Welfare Rat…here instead of prison…some stupid shavetail fresh out of an academy forgot his shit in his air-car. That’s just bad luck for Cooper.” Chase used the derogatory name for a new lieutenant that had been around since the old American Army as he read the file over Gwen’s shoulder.

That wasn’t what concerned Gwen. What concerned her was the personality testing.  According to the in-depth tests Mark Cooper was a grade A asshole. He wasn’t a team player, only cared about himself, and always looked out for number one.

<That’ll change.> She exited out of the screen.

The military was the quintessential team sport. Without your team you’d die, and you’d die quickly. Mark Cooper would learn that, or he wouldn’t make it far. The guy’s sheer stubbornness would get him through basic, but more than likely he’d buy the farm on his first combat mission. Someone wouldn’t cover him and Cooper would get turned into Swiss cheese.

“Should we hit them with somethin’ right away?” Chase’s finger itched to input any one of the hundreds of scenarios the instructors had to work with.

“No.” Gwen was feeling generous today. “Let’s give them a few hours to get settled. I’ll pass on some mandatory reading to them, and then hit them with a scenario pertaining to that; crawl-walk-run.” Gwen was a fan of the philosophy. She didn’t want to discourage them too much right off the bat. They needed attainable goals.

<Hard to attain, but still achievable.>

Gwen and Chase’s eyes met, and wicked grins appeared on their face. “Stress test.” They both said in unison.

“Just have them grab a piece of equipment while undergoing a compensator malfunction,” he suggested.

“Sounds good. I’ll have them read up on the basics of the Alcubierre Drive and then initiate five percent compensator degradation.”

Gwen had undergone a thirty percent malfunction during faster-than-light travel before. In her twenty years in the Infantry Gwen had been shot, stabbed, blown up, lost limbs, been blinded, rendered deaf, and suffered traumatic brain injury. None of that was as uncomfortable as an Alcubierre Drive malfunction during FTL travel.

“Attention Recruits.” Gwen engaged the PA system. “Your PAD’s are now connected to the basic military network. MILNET is an authorized resource for gathering information on military related topics. Most of the Infantry and Fleet field manuals are available over MILNET.” Gwen did a quick search while she addressed the eighty-nine remaining recruits of Echo Company. “You have forty-five minutes to research Fleet FM 96.4-101, chapters one through three. Begin.”

She cut the line, and watched the recruits spring into action. That was good. Recruits needed to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.  All soldiers did.

Chase smiled before plopping down into the chair next to her. They would start the approved training schedule tomorrow, but today was the day commanders allowed their drill instructors to weed out the ones who’d slipped through the cracks. The Commonwealth’s recruitment systems were good, but they weren’t perfect. One day to scrape away the refuse would save the battalion tens of thousands of dollars over the course of the twelve-week training.

Gwen started the clock and returned her chair to the reclining position. This was her last basic class, and she was committed to enjoying it. In three months it would be time to get back to business. Her promotion to Gunnery Sergeant would kick in, she’d get an infantry company NCOIC slot somewhere in the galaxy, and she’d go back to kicking ass.

After all, that’s what the Heavy Infantry paid her to do.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 31

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

Coop was high as a fucking kite.

As a welfare Rat, Coop was no stranger to recreational drug use; but this was his first experience with this type of high. Coop was used to a mind numbing, brain chemistry altering type of high. Illegal narcotics were one of the biggest markets in the PHA, and its biggest export product. Rich kids throughout the Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit suburbs went to their high school proms with PHA-made synthetics in their pockets.

Coop had been a weekly user at one point. He’d started when he’d reached an age old enough to understand why his mother threw herself into the core. A high like that took away the pain, made you feel invincible, or let you rot away in peace. People used for all of those reasons and more.

Coop kicked the habit when he found the joy of getting his dick sucked. One nasty side-effect of the shitty PHA produced drugs was that they tended to have a negative effect on a man being able to get it up. When Coop finally had to make the choice between getting his dick wet and sitting in his apartment alone and fucked up, it was an easy decision.

But today, after winning the race for his squad, Coop was feeling something entirely new.

<Is this what it feels like to be high on life?> Coop felt stupid for thinking it. Being high on life was just some crap people said to make themselves feel better about their boring lives.

Whatever it was, it was awesome. Second squad quickly did cool down stretches, while bragging about their victory, before heading back into the barracks and straight into the latrine. They stripped out of their sweat-stained CMUs and tossed them into a giant receptacle.

“They’ll be clean by the time we’re done.” Eve explained as she led the way into the showers.

<Water.> Coop couldn’t hold back the sigh of relief as the warm liquid rushed over his head, down his torso, and dripped off his legs before heading toward the drain and the recycling plant beneath the tiled floor.

Just because the military had the luxury didn’t mean they were going to be wasteful.

The showers were set up in two rows facing each other with ten stalls on each side of the room, so two entire squads could bathe at the same time. Second squad took the five on each side of the room closest to the door.

Coop found the set-up interesting. The shitters in the other room didn’t have doors, so anyone at the right angle could watch anyone else drop a duce. The showers on the other hand, had shoulder high barriers on either side for moderate privacy. It didn’t help against the person across from you, or anyone walking by, but it was something. Coop thought it was interesting that taking a shit and washing the sweat off your body earned the same amount of privacy.

Coop reveled in the warm water as the rest of his squad animatedly discussed their victory.

“I thought I’d lost it for sure, but you guys were so awesome, especially Coop.”

About fifty percent of the squad’s entire conversation was coming from Harper.

<Don’t stare.>

Harper just happened to be the person in the stall directly across from Coop, which gave him a full view of the naked woman.

Harper was hot, there was no denying that. She was on the shorter side, maybe one hundred and sixty centimeters, with shoulder-length brown hair. Her eyes betrayed her as coming from money. They were a genetically engineered vivid jade green, and they gave her heart-shaped face an exotic quality. Her body had an hourglass shape. She had respectable, perky breasts, a tight yet plump ass, and she wasn’t making any effort to hide it from Coop.

In fact, she kept shooting him smoldering looks over her shoulder.

<Don’t stare,> he repeated to himself.

Normally, he would have stared. Normally, he would have taken control and bent her over right then and there. But Eve was watching. Eve was always watching, and she was the goal. She was the elusive unicorn that he was going to plow.

To distract himself from staring, Coop had to thing about Harper’s negative qualities.

<She’s too soft for me.>

Harper’s body wasn’t soft. It was firm, perky, and tight in all the right places. Harper as a person was soft. Coop liked his women on the tough side. He didn’t want a girl who would just sit there and take it as he went balls deep in her. He wanted a woman who would bite, scratch, throw him off her, mount him, and ride him like a bucking bronco. That was the type of woman Coop wanted to fuck, and that was the kind of fuck Eve would be. He was sure of it.

He could just see it in his squad leader’s eyes. Eyes that were always watching.

Thankfully, those eyes weren’t able to peer into his shower stall, because they would have noticed a raging hard-on that you could hang a wet towel from.

“Eve, why’d you join up?” The conversation had progressed from gushing about their win to why they were here.

“I’ve been training for this since I could walk,” Eve answered without hesitation.

“What about you, Mike? Why are you here?” Harper saw her seduction techniques have the desired effect on Coop, so she turned her attention on the man one stall over from him.

“I wanted to get off Earth, see the galaxy, be all that I can be and all that crap.” Mike gave Harper a flirtatious smile.

Mike’s answer surprised Coop. He thought the other Rat from the Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis was in here to avoid prison just like him. Apparently, Coop had thought wrong.

Harper smiled back before she went around the room and asked everyone why they’d joined up. Nate, Emma, John, and Andrew were all here for the same reason. They were here to do their service and earn the right to vote in Commonwealth elections. Apparently, a lot of career opportunities were limited if you couldn’t vote.

“What about Olivia? Why are you here sweetheart?” Andrew asked the question, and Coop felt the hair’s on his neck stand up.

Everyone knew Andrew was an idiotic asshole, but now he’d added sleezeball to his resume. The way he leered across the shower stall at the small, thin, tan girl made Coop want to punch him in the face. He wasn’t the only one. Eve even took a protective step in Olivia’s direction before stopping. She didn’t want to step out from behind the thin barrier of modesty and become another target.

Coop half wished she would. He’d only seen her from behind so far, but that was more than enough to have him begging for more.

“Olivia’s here because of a boy.” Harper interrupted the tense situation by stepping out into the open center of the showers. “Isn’t that right, O.”

Despite Olivia’s tan skin, and being a good twenty meters away, Coop could still see the blush on her face.

“You told me he was in the company that started before us. A Recruit Birmingham if I remember correctly.” Harper was wiggling her eyebrows and making thrusting motions with her hips that wasn’t helping the erections of all the guys in the room.

“Get the fuck out of here, Harper.” Eve took command of the situation and pointed Harper out of the showers.

After Harper, the rest of the squad slowly followed. No one wanted to leave the hot water, but other squads were starting to trickle in, and they were already pissed at getting beaten. Having them wait to shower was just rubbing salt in that wound.

Coop noticed Andrew following a little too close behind Olivia, and made a mental note to keep an eye on that. Finally, it was just Eve and him left from second squad.

“So what’s your story, Coop? Why are you here?”

Coop thought about bullshitting her, but quickly dismissed the idea. Eve wasn’t as much of an airhead as Harper. She was sharp and she’d see right through his bullshit. He just hoped the truth didn’t turn her off.

“It was either the military or prison for me.” Coop shrugged, trying to make it look like no big deal.

Eve gave him a hard look, but then shrugged in return. “You look like a rule breaker to me.” Then, surprisingly, she smiled at him. “You can’t always do everything by the book. Sometimes you’ve got to stretch regulations or break them to get the job done.” Her eyes wandered over the exposed portions of Coop’s body not protected by the privacy barrier. “But you’d better think twice about breaking rules in my squad, Cooper.” Her voice turned harsh like she’d flipped a switch. “You fuck things up and I’ll fuck you up. Got it?”

The only thing Coop heard in that sentence was that there was a potential for fucking between them. “You’re the boss.” Coop winked at her.

Eve shot him another serious look before rolling her eyes and heading out of the shower section; giving Coop another million dollar view of her very slapable ass. Unfortunately, he had to spend another minute in the shower getting control of himself before he could follow.

That extra minute put him a minute behind the rest of the squad, which meant they were impatiently waiting for him in formation.

“Right face…forward march…double-time.” Staff Sergeant Cunningham smelled fresh as a daisy, just in time to run them to the chow hall.

Thankfully, it was a short jog. Just like the athletic fields that were scattered throughout the orderly rows of old, white barracks; so were chow halls. They stopped marching in front of the large T-shaped building right next to the pull-up bars.

“Listen up, Recruits.” The SSG stood tall with her hands firmly clasped behind her back. “You have thirty minutes for chow. Complete your pull-ups and don’t be late. Execute.”

There was a mad rush to the bars, and Coop got the satisfaction of Eve grabbing his ass to help him with the last three pull-ups. He could have sworn she gave him an extra, firm squeeze after he’d finished.

Chow was hurried this time. They didn’t have a lot of time for conversation. The chow hall was packed with all the other company’s recruits who were also trying to wolf down chow before their training.

They all shot side glances at the new company, glances full of pity. They all knew what was about to happen to Echo Company. Seeing all the glances made Coop anxious.

The one topic of conversation they were able to discuss, initiated by Harper of course, was what they wanted to branch: Infantry or Fleet.

“Definitely Fleet,” Nate answered first.

Coop remembered Nate wanted to be a naval officer, but that obviously hadn’t worked out.

“Fuck Fleet,” Eve practically spat. “Infantry is where all the action is. I want to be a ground pounder or nothing at all.” Coop got the feeling there was more there than was being said, but he didn’t push it.

The way into a woman’s pants wasn’t through interrogating her about her career choice.

Most of the squad was undecided.

“The sergeant at the Civil Administration building said I’d make a good Heavy, whatever that means,” Coop shrugged as he finished shoveling the eggs into his mouth. “I bet that’s Infantry though. I don’t think I’d do well cooped up in a big metal tube for months.

“You…a Heavy,” Eve tilted her head like she was regarding him for the very first time. Then she smiled, which Coop took as a good thing. “Maybe.”

That was all the time they had to talk. They had to stow their trays in the auto-cleaner, do their pull-ups, and get back into formation. Thankfully, everyone was on the same page and they didn’t miss their time-hack.

The SSG and PO3 didn’t congratulate them. They just faced them back in the direction of the barracks and started running.

“Everyone inside and to your bunks, MOVE!”

Coop scrambled just like everyone else to do exactly what the NCO was asking in the shortest amount of time possible.

“We are going to count off now.” SSG Cunningham marched up and down the open space in the center. “This is a method of accountability. We never leave a man behind, and this is a good, quick method to get a head-count. Pay attention squad leaders.” She looked at Eve and the four other leaders in the room. “You will start at the front right of the room, go all the way back, jump to the rear left side, and come back to the front. Understood? Execute.”

They did as instructed, and they fucked it up twice before they got it right.

“Forty-four!” The last recruit called out the last number. They were a little out of breath. The SSG made them do push-ups when they screwed up the simple task.

“First squad leader, remember that there are forty-four recruits on the floor.”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” First squad’s squad leader was a big dark-skinned man who looked like he had five years on everyone else in the company.

“Good. Now everyone stay.” The SSG put her hand out like she was talking to forty-four dogs. Then she left the room.

Coop counted the seconds on his mental clock. For a while nothing happened, and then more nothing happened. Soon Coop gave up his counting, and just started to get pissed.

They’d woken everyone up at three in the morning to piss in a cup, then they’d force people to do more pointless inventory. If that wasn’t enough, they PT’d everyone into the ground, and rushed them through breakfast. <All for what? To sit here with our thumbs up our asses.>

<You can’t always do everything by the book. Sometimes you’re got to stretch regulations or break them to get the job done.> Coop remembered Eve’s words from the shower, and thought this was a pretty good situation to execute his rule-stretching discretion.

Coop opened his mouth to say something while tensing his legs to move out of line…when the whole building shifted. Caught off balance, he fell face first onto the floor.

He wasn’t the only one. Eve staggered, but caught the bedpost as she fell. Harper screamed and smacked into the ground just as hard as Coop. It was mass chaos as the whole building shook and began to move.

<We’re going down.> Coop felt the direction the building was moving.

“Attention, Recruits!” SSG Cunningham’s voice rang out from the PA system built into the barracks. There was a satisfaction in her voice that made Coop reconsider his life choices.

“Welcome to Isolation. Do what we tell you when we tell you to do it and you’ll be fine. If you fuck around you’re going to get yourself and the rest of your company killed. Good luck.”

With her final words the movement of the building stopped, but the chaos was replaced by a grating noise above them.

It only took Coop a moment to figure out what was happening. The noise coming from above them sounded just like the blast doors of his PHA tower closing during drills.

<They’re locking us in.>

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A Change of Pace – Chapter 73

Angela struggled to wake. She’d been out like a light. A drug-induced sleep could do that to a person.

For just a moment as she regained consciousness, Angela felt completely at peace. The weight of the world hadn’t quite settled on her shoulders yet, and her brain wasn’t processing everything that had happened. For one blissful moment she was content just to be.

And then all the shit rolled back into place, and her heart broke all over again.

<My father is dead.> She felt like she’d been hit by a bus; again and again, every morning since the explosion.

Angela’s relationship with her parents was complicated. She knew that. She’d seen Becca’s parents when they visited and those were the sweet, loving parents you saw in Hollywood rom-coms. Angela’s parents were colder and more distant, but despite the warmth that Becca had received the blue-haired speedster was going into this life at a disadvantage.

Angela could never deny that her mother and father had prepared her for the rigors of the HCP, the difficulties of being a Hero, and the realities of life. She’d purposefully been brought to funerals when Heroes her parents knew were killed in the line of duty. She remembered sitting at a half-dozen of them with her hair done, in her somber black dress, and contemplating what exactly she was doing there.

Only one of those funerals had been open casket, and it had been a surreal experience to step up to it and see the Hero inside. The woman had been young, not even thirty, and she looked peaceful in death. Peace was something Angela hadn’t known since she first got her powers.

“She was good.” Angela’s mother, Sophia, walked up to stand next to the coffin. “She saved many lives in her time as a Hero.”

The gathering was private, and everyone was in the Hero community, so there was no reason to hide who they all were.

“How did she die?” Angela knew now that asking that kind of question at a funeral was a faux pas, but she’d been young and inquisitive.

Sophia didn’t say anything at first. She just looked back and forth between Angela and the dead Hero’s calm expression. It was one of the only times Angela remembered her mother smiling. Not the fake smiling she did for the cameras, a real genuine smile. Even if it was a little sad.

“Sometimes we die when we least expect it.”

That resonated with Angela now. She didn’t expect when she went to dinner with her father, which was ultimately a ploy to discuss Alec, that he would be dead two hours later.

<When we least expect it.> Angela fought back tears and did not succeed.

Angela sat like that for a long time; struggling not to cry, failing, and then running her tear ducts dry. Then it would start all over again twenty minutes later. She was in a seemingly endless cycle of pain and, even more so, regret.

<I should have done something. I should have stopped him. Begged him to listen to Mr. Morningstar. Even knocked him over the head to keep him from teleporting out of there.>

It didn’t matter that none of those things would have worked even if she tried. Hindsight was twenty-twenty, but that didn’t stop her.

The one constant in all of this, the one burning certainty that seemed to be fueling her existence at the moment, was that she would find whoever did this to her father. When she found them she’d make them sorry they were ever born.

<I’m coming for you, Wraith. Whoever you are you’d better run, you’d better run far away from here. Let me hunt you to the ends of the Earth like my father taught me. And then, when you’re cold, tried, and helpless, then I’ll give you a slow death. Then we’ll be even.>

At first Angela’s own thoughts frightened her, but the more she thought about it the more she knew it was what needed to be done.

A soft knock on the door interrupted the vivid imagery of Wraith’s death that was playing on a loop in Angela’s mind. It was the only thing that gave her solace as she sat alone in this hospital room.

“Come in.” She didn’t know why anyone was knocking. They had to get cleared by the two DVA agents guarding the door to get this close. Why not just come in.

“Hello, Angela.” Coach Meyers stepped into the room, her red eyes casually sweeping the room for danger.

“Coach Meyers.” Angela kept her tone neutral.

With the alternative instructor was a second man. Angela didn’t recognize this man, but he didn’t look like a threat. He looked like another doctor.

“Angela, this is Dr. Johnson.” Coach Meyers introduced the man whose profession Angela correctly guessed. “He works for the program.”

“Hello, Angela.” The man moved forward and took a seat next to her bed. “How are you doing?”

Angela felt her eyes narrow and her mouth tighten in anger.

“I know it’s a stupid question to ask,” the Dr. Johnson surprised her with a shake of his head. “You’ve just been through a significant trauma. A trauma that seasoned Heroes have to deal with, and sometimes can’t cope with. Asking you how you are doing is pointless. It’s obvious you are in pain from the experience, so please forgive me.”

Angela looked at the doctor in a new light and huffed out a brief chuckle, which got her a raised, questioning eyebrow. “As far as questions go that was the least intrusive one I’ve heard since I got here.”

“Did a DVA agent try to shove a thermometer up your ass?” Coach Meyers asked.

Despite her horrible mood, Angela couldn’t help but laugh at that.

“You think it’s funny now, but you just wait.” Coach Meyer’s tone was serious, but she was smiling. “Just give us a call if they try to insert things into sensitive orifices.”

“I can promise you that.”

Angela’s good mood was fleeting, but it felt good to smile and laugh if even for a moment.

That moment came to a flaming halt when the door to the hospital room burst open.

“Excuse me.” The woman standing in the doorway didn’t sound apologetic at all. “Who are you, and what are you doing in my daughter’s room?”

“Mom?” She was possibly that last thing Angela expected to see today.

“Good to meet you again, Mrs. Martin.” Coach Meyers turned to face to Hero Seraphim. “Professor Meyers, we met during parent’s week.”

“Of course. Good to see you again.”

Angela had never seen her mother look so distracted, but the delay in putting the pieces together was noticeable.

<Could she actually be feeling something.> The concept seemed about as likely as an impromptu alien invasion of Earth. Angela had never seen her mother feel anything but a never-ending aversion of people who couldn’t live up to her high standards. Namely, Angela.

“Our condolences.” Dr. Johnson stood from his chair and went to shake Sophia’s hand. “I’m Dr. Johnson, West Private’s resident psychologist. Please let us know if you need anything.”

“Yes, thank you.” Sophia’s response was stiff as a board.

<She is feeling something.> Angela put two and two together and was able to see that her mother was actually sad. That her mother actually loved her father and it wasn’t just a suitable partnership of two Heroes.

“Mom?” Angela’s voice quivered, as the tears fought their way back to the surface.

“Yes, Angela.”

Coach Meyers and Dr. Johnson moved out of the way as Sophia quickly crossed the room to Angela’s bedside.

“Mom, Dad’s gone.” Angela couldn’t hold it in any longer. The tears started flowing freely along with a choking sob.

“I know, I know.” Sophia bent over and did something Angela hadn’t felt since she was a child.

Angela received a hug from her mother.

Not a halfway, ass out, awkward hug. It was a real hug. Sophia gripped Angela tightly and brought her in close, and began to stroke her hair.

“It’s going to be ok, it’s going to be ok.” Angela heard her mother’s voice quivering now.

Both women were on the verge of tears.

Coach Meyers and Dr. Johnson quietly left the room to give to two Martin women some privacy and a moment to grieve.

 

***

 

“Well look who it is?”

Daisy had barely stepped back from Angela’s closed door when a familiar voice called down the hall to her. Debora Phillip, her boyfriend’s sister, looked in her element as she walked the hospital halls with a stack of folders in one hand and a coffee in another.

“What are you doing here?”

“If you have to ask then you don’t have the clearance to know.” Daisy answered bluntly.

“Oh I have the clearance Professor Meyers. Since they assigned me to this case they gave me a full rundown of all DVA and HCP assets in the area of operations. That included the infamous Reaper.”

The hallway was basically empty. The only person close enough to hear them was Dr. Johnson, and knowing Daisy was Reaper was probably the tamest thing the good doctor knew about her past. Still, it wasn’t something she liked broadcasted in a public place.

The look she gave the DVA agent clearly conveyed her annoyance, and Debora acknowledged that with a blush.

“Can I help you with something?” Daisy asked, when Debora didn’t leave. “I can assure you I haven’t corrupted your brother too much.”

“I don’t care what my baby bro does behind the bedroom door.” Debora scoffed.

Daisy immediately made her regret that. “You meant even if there are copious amounts of leather, whips, and chains.”

The color drained from Debora’s face as Daisy continued.

“There is a particular thing he likes me to do where I stick my hand up…”

“Ok!” Topher’s sister couldn’t take anymore.

<If you can’t take the heat stay out of my fucking kitchen.> Daisy smiled smugly at Debora’s discomfort.

Daisy also couldn’t wait for the phone call her boyfriend would inevitably receive. Being accused of being a masochist and being dominated by a woman who he hadn’t even had sex with was going to confuse the shit out of him.

This conversation had successfully made Daisy’s day.

“So back to my original question.” Daisy kept a straight face through the whole talk. “Is there something I can help you with.”

“Yeah, actually there is.” The DVA agent waived Daisy over to an empty room across the hall from the nurses’ station. Once inside she opened up a file and pulled out a bunch of paperwork. “What can you tell me about the Sprout incident? You were there weren’t you?”

The memory flashed through Daisy’s head. It felt like much more than a few months had passed since she and John had rescued students and innocent civilians from the team of mercenaries and the ensuing fire. So much had happened, it felt like multiple lifetimes had passed. Since Daisy’s mind had been healed, and her past was slowly coming back to her, that was kind of true.

“I was there. What do you want to know?”

“I talked with a Mason Jackson, Kyoshi Schultz, Anika Kemps, Rebecca Whitfield, Seth Abney and Elizabeth Aretino earlier tonight. They came by to see how Angela was doing. Do you know much about them?” The DVA agent had out a fresh sheet of paper and a pencil to take notes.

“Five of the six are students of mine, so I know them extremely well. I do not know this Liz Aretino, so I can’t give you any information on her.” Daisy informed.

“What about the Sprout incident. How were they involved?”

“Well,” Daisy paused to organize her thoughts. “My report on the Sprout incident is pretty straightforward. I believe it was an attempt by Hellgate to snatch an HCP student, specifically Ms. Kemps. Ms. Kemps and Ms. Whitfield are a couple, and they were both present at the coffee shop. I was there with your brother, and Mr. Abney was as well.”

“Ms. Aretino claims she was present as well.”

Daisy searched her memory. “Blonde, about this tall.” She held her hand up to her chin. “Looks like a teenage boy’s wet dream?”

“Yes.” Debora frowned at the not by the book description.

“She was there with Mr. Abney on what I presume was a date.” Daisy paused and thought back. “If I remember correctly, Hellgate and his men tried to take her as a hostage too, but I’m still convinced their primary mission was Ms. Kemps.” Daisy stated, while Debora scribbled down everything she said.

“Any other information you can think of?”

“Not really,” the aftermath of the rescue mission involved a lot of pain for Daisy. “You’ll have to read the reports from the officers on the scene. I was taken away pretty quickly by HCP staff.”

“You were injured in the attack?”

“Severely burned,” Daisy wasn’t ashamed. Getting injured to protect people was part of a Hero’s job.

“Huh, I thought a legend like you would be a little tougher than that.” Debora grinned.

The dis might have been a little more effective if the DVA agent wasn’t grinning. Daisy could tell there would be a lot of good natured banter between her and Debora as long as she was with her brother. If she and Topher ever broke up that would most definitely change.

“Any other questions?” Daisy didn’t mind shooting the shit with someone, but less than forty-eight hours after a major attack wasn’t a great time for it.

“Not at the moment.” Debora put her notes in the file and her pencil in her pocket. “I know how to reach you if I have any more questions.”

With their impromptu interview over, Daisy left the room and headed back to meet Dr. Johnson. They had a lot of work to do before the class on Monday.

“Oh, Ms. Meyers,” Debora called after Daisy. “Be gentle with my baby bro. He can be a crier.”

Debora pushed through a far door after having the final word.

<What a bitch.> Daisy smiled as she rejoined a confused looking Dr. Johnson.

“Don’t worry,” she didn’t want to peak the psychologist’s interest.

Talking about her sex life was something they hadn’t quite progressed to in therapy, and she wanted to keep it that way for a while longer.

 

***

 

Lilly sat in the family room of her underground mansion utterly alone. She didn’t cry, crying was for babies, but she did brood.

The TV sounded like an angry mob behind her. The announcer was loudly listing Hunter’s accomplishments over his twenty-plus years of service.

<He literally pulled a cat out of a tree.> Lilly watched as a picture of a young Hunter, probably just out of the HCP, flashed onto the screen.

He might have started small but Hunter really stepped up his game. He’s taken down drug dealers, captured thieves, stopped large international arms deals, busted up an entire cartel along the U.S. border, and of course found and captured terrorist and serial killers alike. He was part of the two-man Hero team involving Seraphim, the winged menace. Rumors circulated that she was his wife, but they were never clarified. In fact, the whole memorial reel for Hunter was only a few minutes long, and almost all of those pictures featured him with Seraphim.

Lilly knew Hunter was a subtlety hero specializing in subterfuge and intelligence gathering. Being one of the most feared trackers on the planet was just a cherry on top of the sundae that was his power.

<And I killed him.> Despite her father’s anger, and the country’s mourning, Lilly had never felt more alive.

The only thing that was bothering her was Angela. Why was she at the motel? Why was she in the hospital? How much did she know? Lilly knew Angela’s parents were Heroes. She hadn’t been present when they showed up for the school’s parents weekend, but Seth had let enough slip. Lilly had to seriously consider the possibility that she’d just killed Angela’s father.

Of all the residents of townhouse #117 Lilly liked Angela the least. It wasn’t anything in particular, they were just polar opposites. Lilly liked to kick back, drink a beer, and fuck her man loud and hard whenever she wanted. Angela was the opposite; uptight, overstressed, and in serious need of a good boning. Angela just wasn’t Lilly’s style. The wannabe Hero had never been rude to Lilly before. In fact, they’d never really spoken too much at all.

<Oh well. Having to overcome tragedy builds character.> She’d just need to make sure she kept an eye on Angela from now on.

An explosive ring of fire announced the return of Hellgate. “Daughter.”

Lilly could tell he was still pissed, but he didn’t look like he wanted to go a round of fisticuffs. “Dad.”

“I apologize for my actions.” He stated plainly. “I should not have struck you. While you certainly deserved it, I should have shown better judgement.”

Not quite the full apology she was looking for but it was good enough. “No problem, Dad. Sometimes we get angry and do stupid things.” She was poking the bear, but she really didn’t care.

Lilly saw fire flash through her father’s eyes briefly before he got himself back under control. “Yes, well,” he coughed before continuing. “I have come to a solution to reconcile the situation.”

“Oh really.” Lilly instantly got defensive because there was no way this was going to be good.

“Yes. You will leave West Private University immediately. We will move up our time table and capture Anika Kemps for our client, and then you will lay low for the next year. After that time, we can reevaluate the situation and progress from there.”

<Nailed it.>

“Well that’s a stupid fucking idea.” She didn’t hold back, despite the bristling of her father.

“Explain?” He asked through gritted teeth.

“Well first of all we so aren’t ready to try a snatch and grab on Anika. Have you even finished going through the DVA plans for her protection?” Her father didn’t answer, so she took that for a no. “I know enough that we’re going to need a major assault on the city to pull it off; which was half the reason we blew up the power plant and got the info in the first place,” she scoffed. “Manipulating the Fist into that situation gave us a lot of good intel on how the city reacts to a large-scale attack.”

“And now they will be prepared.” He stated matter-of-factly.

“Or they think they will be.” Lilly’s sly smile would have given anyone else goosebumps.

“They’re bringing in more people to counter the Fist, so we just need to give them one hell of a show to pull their attention away from the real goal. Our client might be able to give us a hand there.”

“It is not stipulated in our contract that he be involved.”

“Of course it isn’t, but your screw-up at the coffee shop already pointed the spotlight in his direction. It’s too late to take that back. Plus,” her smile turned downright wicked. “The guy is always claiming he’s invincible. It’s time to nut up or shut up.”

“Our client will rip your head off if you speak to him like that.”

“Only if he can catch me.” Lilly’s grin had returned to normal, but it was still overconfident.

“Beware of Icarus, Daughter.”

“Yeah…yeah.” Lilly waved away the thought. “Flying too close to the sun and all that. But I don’t fly, I move through shadow.”

Hellgate sighed and rubbed his eyes which had aged an entire year in the last twenty minutes. “I can propose a course of action, but I find it unlikely he will agree.”

“Of course he will.” Lilly was much more confident than her father. “Sometimes you sit on the sidelines for so long that you’re itching to get back in the game.”

“This is not American football, daughter.” Hellgate shot back. “But I do see your point, and will pass along the request.”

“Good. If we have a massive attack everyone’s attention will be diverted.” Lilly’s wicked smile was back.

“And what of the panic device.”

<So you have read that far.> Lilly didn’t know her father knew about ForceOp’s panic button.

“That’s simple. We just need to get her into a position where she feels threatened. That shouldn’t be too hard to arrange. After all, she’s just a first year Hero wannabe.” Lilly had just the person in mind. “We can get her in the situation, she’ll press the button. The ForceOps’ soldier will show, and I’ll be there to take him out. Then all we have to do is take her to a location of our choosing and mission completed.”

Lilly only felt marginally bad that she’d be kidnapping Anika. After Angela, Anika was the person Lilly liked least in townhouse #117. She wasn’t as uptight as Angela, but the Super with the silver tattoos had always been standoffish toward her.

Lilly knew all about her background, and all the shit she’d been through, so she understood. But that still didn’t stop the sideways looks and frowns the other woman gave her when she was with Seth.

“And if my plan doesn’t work there is always Anika’s weak spot.”

Lilly was too well-trained to put all of her eggs in one basket. There always had to be contingencies, preferably more than one. She was still working on the others, but an obvious course of action was Becca. Of all the people in the townhouse, Lilly wanted to hurt Becca the least after Seth.

<There’s just something about her.> Lilly kept her emotions in check. <Being an eternal optimist has to be exhausting. Gotta respect her for that.>

“You’ve given this some thought.” Hellgate scratched his chin and sat back down. The momentary violence between them forgotten.

<I just hope I don’t have a mark or Seth is going to shit a chicken.> She made a mental note to grab some concealer on her way out. <If all else fails then a good old-fashioned ‘I ran into a door’ will work in a pinch.>

“I feel more comfortable bringing this plan to the attention of our customer with this additional information.”

“Dad, don’t take this the wrong way, but you seriously need to get out more. If this is getting you excited, then you need a woman in your life; preferably an expensive escort type. I’m not in the market for a new mommy.”

Hellgate’s answering laugh was amused but sad. “Soon you will know how I feel.” He sighed again and closed his eyes. “So I take it you will not be leaving the campus.”

“No can do.” Lilly plopped into a nearby recliner and kicked her feet up. “Suddenly up and leaving will draw too much attention. Then there’s the fact that I need to be there to dispatch the ForceOps teleporter, and I’m afraid I’ve got to be in the line of fire for a little longer.”

“Very well.” Hellgate knew he’d lost that argument. “But I would prepare yourself for action sooner rather than later.” He looked over at an old-fashioned calendar on the wall. “It’s later January now, and our client’s culture generally takes this time off to recuperate and prepare for the next fighting season. I would guess that he will want to act early spring, late spring at the latest. I would be prepared, by this May, to leave the campus and start over somewhere else.”

Lilly hesitated, she knew she hesitated, and she knew her father saw her hesitate. Her mind flashed to Seth; their vacation over the winter break, meeting his family, and the hundreds upon hundreds of times they’d had some sweet sweet lovin’. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was have to leave him behind.

“I understand,” she replied after the hesitation.

“Do you?”

“Yeah,” she snapped back, jumping to her feet and walking out. “I’ll call you later.” She called over her shoulder as she headed back to her room.

She looked her face over in the mirror and silently cursed. <That’s gonna leave a mark.> She grabbed some concealer, applied a generous amount, and then pocketed the rest.

With her face presentable, Lilly teleported into the shadow realm. She was there for a fraction of a second before reappearing in her usual alleyway.

By the time she exited the small space, she knew what she had to do. She knew she would need to execute the plan that her father was going to present to the client. She knew she would have to lure Anika or Becca away, and dispatch a soldier in the process. All of that was a given. What she could not accept was that she was going to have to leave everything behind. She couldn’t accept that things with Seth would be completely and utterly over in a few months.

<NO!> She ground her teeth and stubbornly dug in. <Fuck that noise. I’m going to figure it out.>

She’d keep Seth around, she promised herself that. She didn’t know how she’d do it yet, but she’d make it work.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 30

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

Peeing in a cup, while another guy glared at his dick, was just the beginning of Coop’s first real day in the military. It only took half of the allotted three hour time period for everyone to pee in their cups. The other half was dedicated to getting rid of the all the people who failed.

The company lost eleven recruits, one of which was from second squad.

Coop thought they’d just get a swift kick in the ass on their way out the door. But that wasn’t the case. There was paperwork to be filled out and all their gear had to be inventoried. Since the offending recruits were quarantined by the military police that left their squad members to clean up the mess.

<Fucking inventories. We did these eight hours ago. We haven’t done anything since then. Why do we have to pull out all this shit again?> It didn’t help Coop’s mood that Eve was still pissed at him, so she detailed him and Mike to the tedious task.

Second squad’s victim was Ethan, the guy who stood next to Mike in formation. Coop didn’t know anything about him aside from his name, but Mike said he was cool. Ethan had been a Rat just like them, but from the Vancouver-Seattle-Tacoma-Olympia-Portland Metropolis.

Unlike the guy in Coop’s pee group, Ethan tested positive for Schedule One narcotics. If Coop had to guess, Ethan probably partied it up the night before he caught the bus to this hellhole. No harm no foul in Coop’s mind, but Coop wasn’t in charge. Even Eve looked a little pissed when the MPs dragged Ethan off in handcuffs.

“Clean this place up, and form up outside in ten mikes,” SSG Cunningham ordered before exiting the barracks.

“Mikes means minutes,” Eve clarified before Coop could ask the question.

<Yep, you’re a fucking psychic.> If Eve heard Coop’s thoughts she didn’t show it, so he decided to test his theory.

Mental debauchery ensued for the next minute. Coop thought of every dirty sex act he’d ever performed, heard, or read about. He imagined himself doing all of them to Eve.

She didn’t even acknowledge him.

<Oh well. At least I’ve got some ammo for my spank bank.> Coop helped stow the rest of Ethan’s crap back in his locker.

If the day started out bad enough it only got worse from there. At 0600 sharp they stood at the position of attention while reveille played. They weren’t the only ones.

As far as the eye could see there were other companies standing in formation in front of their barracks. <Holy shit! There’s got to be five thousand people.> Coop couldn’t look left or right after they fell in, but his peripherals still showed the sheer magnitude of personnel.

When reveille ended the other companies went a hundred different directions, but Echo Company stayed right where they were.

“We’re going to start with the basics, Recruits.” SSG Cunningham faced them, her eyes sharp despite the early hour.

“Y’all a worthless sack of weaklin’s,” PO3 Janney spat as he stalked the edge of the formation.

That pissed Coop off. Weakness led to death in the PHA, an environment that Coop had thrived in. The PHA had made him strong. <That country, backwoods sister-fucker doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.>

Coop spread out as he was ordered to and started the PT session with fire burning in his gut.

It got doused real quickly.

When SSG Cunningham said the basic she meant the basic. They spent thirty minutes doing nothing but pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, flutter kicks, and overhead arm claps. It wasn’t the exercises that were difficult, it was the number.

They did hundreds maybe even a thousand of each exercise. Coop push, pulled, kicked, and clapped with the rest of his squad; and like the rest of them he failed. When he failed, the SSG and PO3 were there to verbally motivate him to get off his ass and keep exercising.

Thirty minutes of basic exercises with the two drill instructors from hell completely destroyed Coop, and all before the thirty minute run. It was at the same double-time pace as the previous evening; but after hundreds of squats Coop felt like his legs were made of lead.

“I wanna be an Infantry Ranger…”

“I wanna be an Infantry Ranger….”

“…live a life of guts and danger…”

“…live a life of guts and danger…” they repeated.

The SSG introduced them to more running cadences. She belted them out, her voice ringing through the morning air, while the rest of the company struggled to breathe. The only other voice to be heard was PO3 Janney screaming at the stragglers.

“Take a breather, you’ve got two mikes.”

If Coop had to guess, the SSG had taken them on a ten kilometer loop because they were standing back in front of their barracks.

“You are going to run everywhere while you are here, so get used to it.” The SSG was sweating, but she didn’t look tired.

“Sip don’t chug the water.” The PO3 bellowed as they swarmed the water dispenser attached to the side of their barracks. “Y’all gonna puke all over my clean road.”

Coop had just reached the dispenser and received his water when the SSG called them all back. “Line up here. Squad leaders in front, facing me, and everyone behind them.” She watched impatiently as they formed roughly straight lines.

SSG Cunningham towered above all the recruits, so she always seemed to be looking down on them. Today that was literally and metaphorically true. Her eyes scanned the sweaty, tired, sagging bodies of her company and she was not impressed.

“I see a lot of you looked pissed off.” Coop was one of the people she was referring to. “That’s good,” she smiled. “But you better harness that energy into something productive or I’m going to break you like I did Davenport.”

The rumor-mill worked as fast, if not faster, in the military than it did in high school. PO3 Janney had kicked the crap out of someone on the top floor around the same time as the SSG’s beat-down, but his victim didn’t end up with a gruesome compound fracture.

“We’re going to have a little competition,” a smile tugged at her lips. “Competition breeds excellence, and you are here to be the best of the best. There is no silver medal in war, Recruits. It’s you or the enemy.”

The SSG turned and looked down the road to where PO3 Janney was suddenly standing. No one ever heard him leave.

“We are going to conduct a relay race, and the winner will be allowed to do cool-down stretches and hit the latrine. The losers will continue to run relays until we’re left with the worst squad in the company. That squad will meet me every day for extracurricular training.”

Coop immediately wanted to win. No one wanted to spend one more second with the SSG than was necessary.

<This doesn’t look too bad.> The PO3 was only about twenty-five meters away. Going down and back wouldn’t be too taxing.

“Staff Sergeant,” Eve’s hand was in the air. “What should the squads with less than ten recruits do?”

“People will have to run more than once,” the SSG replied. “You have one mike to figure out your order.”

The arrangement was naturally unfair. A person running a second time wasn’t going to be as fast as a fresh runner. But Coop knew saying that would just lead to more pushups. Their instructors just didn’t care.

“I can run twice.” Coop immediately put himself forward as the choice.

Eve gave him a look, and he immediately had to defend himself.

“I’m quick over short distances. Let me go first and then last so I have time to recover.” Coop glared back at her.

There was a moment of gridlock but she relented. “Don’t fuck this up, Cooper.”

“Call me Coop, boss-lady.” She just rolled her eyes at him before organizing the rest of the squad into a good order.

“Ready…get set…go!” The racing order wasn’t set by half the squads, but Coop was ready.

He shot off the line and sprinted down to the PO3. Coop stutter-stepped as he slowed down at the turnaround point, but he was still in the lead. He bolted back toward line and crossed it a full body-length ahead of the next runner.

“That’s what I’m talking about, Cooper!” Eve congratulated him.

<Holy shit!> Coops’ heart was hammering in his chest. <That was a rush.>

Coop could feel the excitement in his body. Even though he was exhausted, adrenaline was pushing down the fatigue. Eve grin helped too. She had a glint in her eye that made her look half crazy, and Coop was pretty sure he had a bit of that himself.

He wanted to win. He wanted to smash the other squads’ faces into the dirt and piss all over them in celebration. He wanted to be the best. He wanted his squad to be the best.

While the competitiveness raged inside of him, Olivia, who’d run after him, had lost the lead.

“That’s ok, I planned for this.” Eve gave Olivia a high-five while Coop glared at her.

Mike was next, he fared better. Coop saw Eve’s strategy then. She’d put the slower runners after Coop and relied on the faster runners’ competitive spirit to make them run a bit faster near the end. It was a solid plan, and second squad wasn’t the only one to do it.

One by one the runners ran. Most of the squads were quickly outpaced and fell behind, but a few remained in contention.  By the time the last two runners were up only two squads were still in the running.

Eve was the second to last runner of second squad, and she took off like a bat out of hell. Coop would have spent a little more time watching her ass bounce up and down, but he was in the zone now. His entire squad was screaming at Eve to run faster, and for him not to lose.

Everyone wanted to win. The added incentive of extra PT was lost on everyone.

“Fuckin’ move!” Mike roared as Eve crossed the line and Coop tore back down the road.

Coop could just see the other runner in his peripherals. They’d been lined up by squad number, and the other squad fighting for the win was down in the eight-nine-ten range.

<Damn this guy’s fast.> Coop couldn’t make out anymore of his opponent than he was tall and his legs seemed to blur as they ran toward the PO3. <Fuck no you don’t.>

Coop slid the last meter toward the PO3, shedding momentum.

“Go!” Even over all the yelling, Coop could hear Eve screaming.

Coop ignored the pain as he pumped his legs ferociously. They had to be neck and neck as they approached the finish line, but there was no way Coop was losing this now.

Not with Eve standing right there watching.

Typically, runners threw their chests out at the last minute to gain a little extra distance at the finish. Coop and the other runner did this to varying degrees. The other runner did it a reasonable amount.

This was why he lost.

Instead of being reasonable, Coop threw himself across the finish line at full speed. He fell hard as his squad scattered to avoid him. Coop didn’t put out his arm to break his fall, that was a broken wrist just waiting to happen; so he tried to turn the fall into a roll. It partially worked. Coop lost some skin on the side of his face, and would have a few bruises later, but other than that he was good to go.

Second squad went crazy; all thoughts of the rigorous PT session forgotten.

Eve practically howled in celebration. Even soft-spoken Emma was cheering. Andrew was commenting on how the small lead he’d gained allowed them to win, while Mike talked trash to the losing squad. They all gathered around Coop and helped him to his feet.

“Yuh fuckin’ stupid, Coopa. But yuh won.” PO3 appeared amongst them.

He pointed the rest of second squad over to the side to do cool-down stretches while the rest of the squad lined up to go again. He also took a quick look at Coop’s face.

“Yuh fine.” He smacked the side of his face after examining him. Coop recoiled at the sting. “Go join yuh squad.”

Coop did just that, and received a round of applause and a few high-fives for his effort.

“Way to go, Coop.” Coop noticed Eve’s transition in addressing him.

“You told me not to fuck it up, Eve. So I didn’t.” They grinned at each other.

<And I’m in.> Coop knew that look in a woman’s eye. He didn’t give a shit about the SSG’s fraternization rules anymore.

He was going to fuck the shit out of Eve Berg, and she was going to love it.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 29

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

Coop was one hundred percent positive he had fever dreams that first night. The barracks they were staying in was old, and there were a hundred warm bodies stuffed into it. For some reason, beyond common sense, the military had successfully dialed back basic standards of living over a hundred years. Even the PHA had more amenities than this barracks. The first, and most obvious, was temperature control.  Coop felt like he was sleeping in a bog. He had sweat coating his entire body, all the way deep down into his ass crack. He now knew why people called it swamp ass.

<This is insane,> Coop thought as he rolled over. His face literally clung to the cheap plastic cot, painfully pulling at his skin.

That was the next item on the “how the fuck are we supposed to live here” list. Back in the PHA nanites cleaned everything off every surface: sweat, blood, tears, all other types of bodily fluids, dust, dead skin, you name it and nanites disposed of it. Here, in this god forsaken place, Coop hadn’t seen any of the microscopic robots. There weren’t panels on the bed to set a cleaning schedule or vials in the wall to be used at a person’s discretion.

<This is barbaric.> With this many people in this weather they’d be living in filth within a few days.

Coop tossed and turned. He’d wake up, move to a slightly cooler position, fall asleep, and then wake up thirty minutes later covered in sweat. Eve had been right. It was too fucking hot in here to deal with bedding. Even in the dark Coop could tell most of the other squads had tossed the bedding onto the floor in less than an hour. Even the light-weight woobies were too much.

Then there were the dreams.

Coop dreamed of people screaming at him. Their words blurred together in his dehydrated dream-haze. First it was Corporal Collins, then SSG Cunningham, then PO3 Janney, and finally Eve. That was probably the best part. Even though she was right in his face, screaming for him to move his ass he couldn’t help but smile at her.

Then she slapped him in the face.

“Cooper! Get the fuck out of the bed right now!” Eve screamed at him.

Everyone around him was moving, scrambling, tripping, and falling over themselves to get up.

As it turned out, the last part wasn’t really a dream after all.

“Stow your woobie in your locker and stand at the end of your bed.” Eve ordered, and then she was gone; she’d moved on to yelling at someone else in the squad.

“TEN…NINE…EIGHT…” A voice boomed, making Eve’s sound small.

Coop tried to ignore the voice as he staggered to his locker, but every time a new number was called he felt his chest tightening with anxiety. He didn’t want to be in the wrong place when it reached zero.

“…SEVEN…SIX…” Coop’s vision was blurred from the sudden wake-up, and he missed the locker the first time.

“…FIVE…” He found the panel, allowed it to read his GIC, and then shoved the thin woobie into the space when it popped open.

“…FOUR…THREE…TWO…”

Coop scrambled into place at the end of the bunk. “…ONE…” Eve joined him a second later.

“…ZERO…Everyone FREEZE!

The last word was yelled with such intensity that Coop’s body froze up whether he liked it or not.

Not everyone did as instructed.

SSG Cunningham picked off people who were moving like a trained sniper; for all Coop knew she probably was one. “Zimmerman,” she finished rattling off about half the room’s occupants. “Front leaning rest position move!”

Coop had learned the hard way that the front leaning rest position was military talk for, “get on your face and get ready to do fucking pushups”. He did not envy the men and women getting up close and personal with the floor.

“On my command, DOWN…” A few people went down and then started to push back up. A quick look around and they all went back down. No one wanted to get on the SSG’s bad-side now.

“Listen up and listen closely, Recruits.” There was fire in the SSG’s eyes. “When I yell freeze you will fucking freeze. A freeze is a command given for the safety of you, your squad, and myself. I don’t care if you are sitting on top of an anthill when myself or Petty Officer Janney yells freeze. You will suck it up and let those ants chew off your dick before you move. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” The group on the ground huffed out their response.

The SSG inspected them for another ten seconds, her eyes making sure that everyone understood the seriousness of the command. “Up!” The half of the room on the floor labored to get into the push-up starting position. “Recover.”

People hopped to their feet out of breath. Coop never imagined that a single push-up could be so exhausting.

“Recruits, the time in now 0300.” Coop’s mouth dropped open, but he snapped it shut when Eve glared at him. “Over the next three hours you will complete your mandatory urinalysis testing.”

Coop didn’t have any idea what that meant, but he didn’t ask. He was too tired to ask.  <0300,> he groaned. He’d maybe gotten two hours of sleep, and something told him he wasn’t going to be getting anymore any time soon.

“Males form up on the right and females on the left.” Coop walked away from Eve and got in line between Nate and Mike.  Both guys looked just as tired as Coop. “Males will follow Petty Officer Janney. Females will come with me. As you exit the barracks you will accept a canteen before you fall in.”

Coop thought about not taking a canteen. If he showed he couldn’t follow basic instructions then maybe he’d be able to get out of this shit-show. At least in prison he’d be able to get some sleep in a climate controlled environment.

When the moment came, he took a canteen like everyone else and got into the male formation in front of the barracks. He just couldn’t trade hot, sweaty Georgia nights for hot, sweaty nights with Big Bubba.

“Good mornin’, Recruits.” PO3 Janney bellowed like a wild boar. “What we have this mornin’ is called a hydration formation.” There was an evil grin on the naval NCO’s face. “When I tell ya ta, y’all will open yuh canteens and drink up everythin’. Understood?”

“Yes, Petty Officer!” Coop was thirsty enough he could drink Lake Erie. Hydration formations didn’t sound like such a bad thing.

“Execute.”

Coop unscrewed the cap and started to chug the water. There was a slight chemical taste to it, but it was nothing compared to what he’d drank back in the PHA. He was halfway done with the canteen before he came up for air.

“Coopa!” The PO3 zeroed in on him like a guided missile. “Did I tell ya ta stop?”

“Um…”

“Um is not a response, Coopa? I asked ya a question and I expect an answer.”

“No…no, Petty Officer.”

“Then drink!”

If anyone else was going to come up for air they didn’t. Coop had taken the bullet for the entire company. Even though he was dehydrated, Coop struggled to drink the entire two liters provided in the canteen. When he finally finished he felt like he was going to burst.

“Put ya canteens next to yuh left foot.” The PO3 ordered.

Everyone did what they were told and then they just stood there. For five, ten, fifteen minutes they all just stood in formation.

<This is so stupid.> Coop shifted his weight from foot to foot even though he knew he was supposed to remain motionless at the position of attention. <At least its cooler.> It was cooler, but that didn’t cool a lot of the company’s simmering resentment.

<Making us get up at three in the morning, drink until we’re about to explode, and then have us just stand here. This is so fucking stupid.> Multiple people were thinking the same thing.

At the twenty-minute mark Coop was going to say something. His own anger was beginning to boil over and the pain in his bladder was to the point he just wanted to take a piss all over the PO3’s bunk.

“Males, fall out and reassemble in the barracks bathroom. Females, do the same but in the barracks behind us. Fall out.”

Coop did as he was instructed, pushing and shoving his way to the front of the group. <I’ve really got to piss.> That was all that mattered. He didn’t really give two shits if everyone else was feeling the same way.

“First ten of y’all in the bathroom. Everyone else form a line outside” There were about sixty total men in the company, and Coop was the second to last one in the first group into the bathroom. “Stand here.” PO3 Janney pointed to the middle of the room and had them all line up shoulder to shoulder facing away from the urinals.

The PO3 held up a cup, and gave them all a scowl. “Y’all will take a cup in yuh left hand. Y’all will pull out ya dicks with yuh right. You will piss in this cup and then hold it out in front of yuh until it changes colors. Understand?”

“What?” Coop wasn’t the only one surprised at the instruction.

“This is really gay Petty Officer.” Of course it was Andrew Davenport that opened his big stupid mouth.

“Stow that shit, Recruit.” The PO3 advanced into Andrew’s personal space. “Or the Staff Sergeant is gonna break yuh arm…again.” He looked down at the gelatinous cast Andrew was wearing, and grinned.

The PO3 stared down second squad’s token idiot for a few more seconds before moving back to the front of the group.

“I didn’ wake up this mornin’ lookin’ forward to starin’ at y’alls little dicks, Recruits. But I gotta make sure none of yuh are cheatin’. So grab a cup and execute.” The PO3 crossed his arms and scanned back and forth at everyone’s waists.

Thankfully, Coop’s bladder had never been shy, and he wasn’t ashamed of his dick. He followed the PO3’s instruction; held the cup with his left, grabbed his dick with his right, and pissed in the cup until it was full.

The bad part was that he still had to go once he’d filled the cup.

“Hold yuh piss, Coopa,” the PO3 barked. “And hold out yuh cup.”

Coop pinched off the flow, which was about as bad a stopping a blowjob mid-suck, and held up his cup. After ten seconds the cup turned green.

“Good job, Coopa. Yuh aren’t a fuck up. Go ta the pisser, empty the cup, and finish pissin’.”

Coop didn’t have to be told twice.

Glorious relief followed as the PO3 cleared the rest of the ten-man group.

Until someone’s cup turned red.

“And we have our first winner, Recruit Killsby.” Coop didn’t recognize the guy; he was from another squad.

“And what have yuh pissed hot from…ah… good ol’ fashion synthetic Mary Jane.” The PO3 grinned at the sweating recruit. “Good news for yuh is that Mary Jane isn’t a Schedule One narcotic, so yuh aren’t goin’ to jail. Bad news is that we don’t allow yuh kind into the Navy or the Infantry. Pack yuh things, Killsby, yuh goin’ home.”

And just like that the company went from one hundred recruits to ninety-nine. And Recruit Killsby wouldn’t be the only person to get kicked out a basic from drug use.

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A Change of Pace – Chapter 72

<This is such a turn on.> Liz sat in the hospital room with Seth, Mason, Kyoshi, Becca, Anika, and across from Agent Debora Phillips. <She’s definitely DVA.> Liz made sure to shield all of her thoughts from Kyoshi and any other telepaths in the area.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” the agent smiled thinly.

Liz was laughing inside, but she betrayed none of her emotions. <You’re sitting three feet from the person who killed your precious Hero. Hahaha!> Liz could barely control the euphoria. It was a drug that she would never stop chasing.

She gripped Seth’s hand tight. She’d need to use him as a crutch if she was going to get through this, and then she needed to finish what she’d started when they were rudely interrupted by Becca.

“Can you please tell me how you learned of Angela condition and whereabouts?” The agent had out a notepad and black pen.

“We were at home. We live in a campus townhouse, and we got a call from De…Mr. Ditmar, one of our teachers. He said Angela had been in an accident and was at this hospital.” Becca rattled off the explanation.

The agent looked like she got all of it. She scribbled on the paper in shorthand, but her eyes never left the group. They scanned back and forth, looking for any tells they were lying or holding back.

<Shit.>

These were the kinds of people Liz was supposed to avoid while on assignment. Sitting three feet from one of them was hazardous to her health.

“There is no need for subtlety, Ms. Whitfield,” the agent referenced the slip about the dean. “Ms. Aretino, do you know that the individuals sitting here with you are HCP students?”

All eyes turned toward Liz, and she gulped nervously.

“Well, I knew Seth was, and I had my suspicions about the rest of them.” Liz turned to the rest of the group and gave a meek smile. “But I never pried. It’s not my business.”

“Do you intend to divulge their identity to the school or anyone else of your own free will?”

If the group hadn’t been staring at her hard before they sure as hell were now.

“No, ma’am. Us Supers have to stick together.”

Liz probably could have avoided telling the Agent Phillips that she was a Super, but it was best to get it out in the open. If she didn’t tell her now, then the agent would go digging, find out, and wonder why Liz hadn’t fessed up when they first met. That was enough to dig deeper into Liz Aretino, and that wasn’t something Liz wanted.

That was the trick with professionals who looked for lies for a living. You had to give them kernels of the truth; enough that their appetite was satiated, but not too much that they dug deeper and found out the truth. It was a balancing act, and a dangerous one for Liz under the circumstances. After all, she had just killed her boyfriend’s roommate’s father.

“You’re a Super, Ms. Aretino.” More notes were scribbled.

“Pretty weak teleporter,” Liz reached for the agent’s pen. “If I may?”

The agent gave her a hard look before handing over the writing utensil.

<Here we go.> Liz took a deep breath and concentrated.

The key to a good lie was the physical reactions. Any silver-tongued used car salesman could spout out convincing words, but it that the physical reactions that sold it. Thankfully, Liz didn’t have to act like a weak teleporter. If she’d been forced to, the agent would have busted her on the spot.

Liz concentrated hard on the pen. She took deep breaths; in through her nose and out through her mouth. She filled her lungs with oxygen to the point that she was getting a little dizzy. Then she held her breath and strained her mind.

She could feel the darkness fighting to break free as she engaged her power. Sweat glistened her forehead, her eyes bulged, and her hands trembled as she forced back the darkness and let her power leak through.

The tiny pen disappeared from her right hand and reappeared in her left.

Liz exhaled and sagged into her seat. She felt like she’d just done a hundred burpees and then swam a mile. “It’s nothing fancy.” Liz handed the pen back while wiping her forearm against her forehead. “But it lets me appreciate what my friends are trying to do with their lives. Not all of us are as lucky and selfless as they are.” She had to add the selfless part to make the statement believable, not only to the agent, but to her too.

“A demonstration was not required, Ms. Aretino.” The agent looked at her pen carefully and then pocketed it. She pulled out another pen to take notes.

<Jokes on you.> Liz thought as the pen went into the older woman’s pocket. Liz had been very careful not to actually touch the pen with her fingertips. She’d gripped it in the palm of her hand the whole time.

Liz doubted that the DVA had fingerprints on Lilly Thermopolis. She’d been very careful and always worn gloves when conducting illegal activity.  On top of that, there was no record of Lilly Thermopolis ever being born. Her father had made sure of that.

What the agent’s little move told Liz was much more important than anything the agent would learn about her. It said, very loudly, that the agent didn’t trust the Supers in this room. That thought gave Liz a headache.

<I need a drink.> Liz let her defenses weaken and a garbled version of the thought slip out.

It was important, especially around Kyoshi, that Liz slip up in her mental defense every once in a while. To have impenetrable mental walls was a red flag, even to an amateur like Kyoshi.

The large, curvy Super sat up a little straighter when she heard the random thought, and had to stifle a laugh. That earned a round of questioning from the agent, and shifted the attention away from Liz.

It was tough to judge time in an interior room like the one they were all sitting in, but Liz had to guess about an hour passed before the agent had asked all of her questions. Most of them were simple questions. How well do you know Angela? Do you know her family? Does Angela have any enemies? Why would someone do this to her? Basically the questions that got asked during any cop drama show.

Liz and the rest of the group answered those questions truthfully. They knew Angela to varying degrees. They’d only met her family once during Parent’s Weekend. They weren’t sure about enemies, and they had no idea why someone would do this. Liz just shrugged at the last question. She thought it was better to remain silent.

They were just about free when Becca had to open her pretty little mouth.

“Is this the same people from the Sprout attack?”

Liz had to refrain from smacking herself in the head with the palm of her hand.

Agent Phillips, who had been about to pack up her stuff and let them go, practically froze. “What do you know about the attack at Sprout?”

“Well most of us were there,” Becca replied innocently. “Anika, me, Seth, and Liz.”

“Mr. Abney, Ms. Aretino, you were both present at the Sprout attack?” She asked. Liz did not like the look on her face.

“Yeah, it was actually our first date.” Liz placed her hand on Seth’s shoulder and leaned against him. “We were having coffee and waiting for our food when guys in black were suddenly everywhere. One tried to hit me with his gun, but Seth stopped him.” Liz turned her face to give Seth a genuine smile. “Whoever said chivalry was dead wasn’t in that coffee shop. Then this woman flashed the main bad guy, a metal man busted through a wall, there was a fire, and the next thing I remember I’m on the street giving my statement to the cops. It all happen so fast.” Liz didn’t realize she was giving a rapid fire playback of the night.

<Becca would be so proud.> Liz stopped and took a deep breath.

“Sorry,” she apologized. “But it makes me a little nervous if these were the same people. They tried to take us hostage.”

“It’s alright,” the agent scribbled a few more notes. “I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation, but I’m sure your dean will keep you apprised of the situation.” The agent gave them all one last look over. “Thank you for your cooperation.”

They all got up and left the room.

“We’re going to see if we can find Angela,” Becca stated, dragging Anika toward the nurse’s station at the end of the hall.

“We’ll come with you.” Kyoshi dragged Mason in the same direction.

“Um, I think we’re going to head back to the townhouse.” Seth replied, causing the two couples to stop. “No offense to you girls, but you can be a handful. I’m sure Angela’s just been through hell and you two are going to be as much as she can handle. I’ll come by tomorrow and see her.”

It was a good excuse, but it was only half of the reason Seth was passing on the visit. The other half was that Liz had a handful of his ass and was squeezing tightly. She was turned on, he knew she was turned on, and they needed to get home and do the no pants dance.

“Ok, fine.” Becca pouted. “But make sure to bring flowers and balloons. Everyone like flowers and balloons when they’re sick.”

“Of course,” Seth agreed.

They parted ways there. Seth broke about every traffic law there was getting back to the townhouse, and the Liz broke about every moral law when she fucked his brains out.

“That was crazy?” Seth was breathing heavily and lying on fluid stained sheets.

“The thing I did with my mouth?” Liz arched an eyebrow. “I know I’m good, but that wasn’t the first time.”

“No, not that, but kudos.” He interrupted his train of thought to give her a kiss. “No I’m talking about Angela and the DVA. It’s just crazy, and we still don’t know what really happened.”

Everyone was playing things close to the vest; the media, the HCP, the DVA, and the Hero community. News of Hunter’s death hadn’t broken yet, so Liz had to keep her mouth shut.

Now that the agent was gone, she was allowed to be a little more vulnerable. “It just makes me nervous that it could be the same people from Sprout.” Liz laid on her side and nuzzled against Seth’s sweaty chest. Despite their fervent physical activity, he didn’t stink.

“Don’t worry. I protected you then and I’ll protect you again. I don’t mean to brag, but I’m stronger now than I was then. If anyone tries to hurt you they won’t stand a chance.”

Liz didn’t need a man to protect her, but it made her feel warm and fuzzy that one was willing to do it anyway.

“I love you.”

“I love you too.” Liz nuzzled more, and the smile on her face was pure joy.

Then her phone rang. She ignored it. It rang again, and she continued to ignore it.

“Liz?” Seth tilted her chin with his hand so she was looking at him. “Do you want to get that?”

“No,” she grumbled as the phone started to ring for the fifth time. “But I guess I should.”

“You get that and I’ll chug a Gatorade. Then you can do that thing with your mouth again.” Seth had to dodge a good-natured slap as he retreat toward the mini-fridge.

“No, this time we get to see what you can do with your mouth.” Liz shot back while watching her boyfriend’s magnificently sculpted, naked ass.

“Challenge accepted.” The grinned at each other.

Liz reached her phone just before it ended the fifth ring cycle. “Yes.” She couldn’t keep the growl out of her voice.

“Hey it’s me.” Mika’s voice was hesitant, and Liz thought for a second he might have been watching all of her and Seth’s depraved activities through whatever surveillance methods he used.

“This isn’t a good time.” Liz didn’t use names on purpose. Not with Seth only fifteen feet away.

“Ok, but I thought you’d want to know they’re going to be breaking the news about you know who at the top of the hour.”

Liz looked at the clock. It was late, coming up on eleven o’clock; but that was a prime news slot.

“Thanks for the heads up. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Ok, goodni…” Mika didn’t get to finish saying goodbye before Liz cut him off.

“Sorry, babe.” Liz jumped out of bed, pulled on her panties, and searched for her bra. “I’ve got to run out for a quick errand.”

Her remark took the wind out of Seth’s sail, anatomically speaking. “But…” He argued feebly.

“Don’t worry, you can eat me out a little later, I’ll just be gone an hour, two tops.”

“But…” Seth looked like a sad puppy dog. “What about…” He pointed down at his rebounding junk.

Liz gave it a playful slap as she walked by. “We’ll have fun later.” She pulled on shorts, a t-shirt, and then stopped to give him a long, deep kiss. “I’ll be back soon.”

She left Seth with a hard on, standing naked in his room, with a half bottle of Gatorade, looking like he’d just had someone else blow out his candles on his birthday cake. She couldn’t help but chuckle and as she ran out of the house, down the street, and into the alley. In a blast of darkness, she disappeared and reappeared in her lavished underground mansion bedroom.

“Dad!” She yelled, hoping he was home.

“Lilly?” His confused, but alert response came back.

“Turn on the TV, dad. You’re going to want to see this!”

Altair Thermopolis could have heard about the demise of his arch-nemesis over the television, but Liz didn’t want that. She wanted to break the news about the Hero’s death standing next to her father.

<I did it. I killed him. It was me dad!> She was already practicing her speech as she ran into their vast living room, and powered up the seventy inch 4K HDTV.

This was going to be a night neither of them would ever forget.

 

***

 

“This is a shit show.” Daisy didn’t bother to keep her thoughts to herself. “Someone just came into our house, left an upperdecker, and you’re telling me we don’t have much to go on.”

Daisy sat in the confines of the HCP conference room surrounded by the other teachers. They’d all been woken up and alerted right after the explosions, but they were just now getting together to prep for what was to come.

“Yes.” The single word coming out of John’s mouth was tinged with abject failure. “All we have is a name.”

“Well that’s a solid starting point.” Daisy’s fist hit the table hard enough to rattle the sturdy piece of furniture.  “Then start kicking down doors and gathering information. Grace you’re still part-time, you must have some contacts you can leverage.”

“Daisy, no.” Again the HCP Dean’s words were tinged with sadness. “This investigation is going to be handled by the DVA and the certified Heroes in this area.”

Daisy bit back her response because she knew John was right. As much as she wanted to kick ass, that would just push her farther away from recertifying.

“So what the hell are we doing here then?” Daisy’s words were still harsh.

“We’re here to remember.” John pulled out a large, old bottle of amber liquid. “I’m sorry Daisy, but this is tradition.”

Shot glasses were divvied out to the entire HCP staff. Even Dr. Johnson accepted a glass full of the sharply scented liquor. Daisy accepted the first glass, and raised it with the rest of the staff.

“To Hunter, Henry Martin, may your deeds never be forgotten.” John raised the glass high and then turned it on its side, letting the liquid flow out and onto the floor.

“Never forgotten.” The rest of the staff chanted, and poured out their own glasses.

The bottle was passed around and the glasses were refilled. Daisy passed this time. What came next was an ancient tradition, that would leave most of the people in the room needing to see Dr. Sanderson in the next few hours.

<At least one of us should be sober in case something happens.>

Daisy’s sobriety was hard, but it was really put to the test during occasions when you just wanted to get fucked up.

Craig raised his glass this time. “To his loved ones, may they find peace.”

“May they find peace.” This time, instead of pouring out the drink, the Heroes and former Heroes drank.

Daisy had to cough as a lump formed in her throat. It was clear by Craig’s comment that they were thinking about Angela. As her student, Daisy felt a sense of responsibility toward the young shifter. Sure, Angela was rough around the edges, too focused to the point of burning out, and lacking in certain social skills; but she was still Daisy and Craig’s student. The emotions stung even more because Angela had been on the scene when it happened, lived through one of the two explosions, and was still in DVA custody. Not even John had been able to ascertain her status.

The glasses were refilled, and Miles Willis cleared his throat. “To the Heroes that will avenge him, may their aim be true.”

The toast was a little theatrical for Daisy’s taste, but that was Miles.

When the bottle came around to refill, Daisy grabbed it as it passed. John gave her a hard look, but she gave him a quick shake of her head. <No falling off the wagon.> She raised her glass, and the rest of the staff followed.

“To the fuckers that killed him, may they rot in hell.”

“May they rot in hell.” There were several cruel smiles around the table as staff downed another shot.

<Have another one on me, Hunter.> Daisy tipped her glass over and let the liquid pour out. <A warrior deserves more than one drink at their funeral.>

The ceremony for a fallen comrade continued until every staff member had said something. By then, a good chunk of the staff was hovering on the edge of alcohol poisoning, so Dr. Sanderson fixed them all up. Even with the healing, they’d be feeling it the next morning.

“We will miss, Hunter, but now we must consider what his death means.” John said.

The tiny dean had been unable to stand a few minutes ago, and that was a memory Daisy would cherish forever.

“As you all know, the main culprit in Hunter’s murder is Wraith.” An image appeared above the center of the conference table, the same blurry image taken from the battle in the Nevada desert. “We still don’t know much about her, but Hunter’s investigation does put her in the area.”

“From what I’ve reviewed of Hunter’s investigation, Wraith has teamed up with the Super gang, the Fist, and is working toward goals unknown.” Miles, the subtlety Hero, took over the conversation. “Hunter had his theories, foremost being an unsubstantiated link between Wraith and Hellgate.”

“The Sprout incident,” Daisy nodded. “Have we looked over the crime scene notes?”

“The DVA and Protectorate are on it now. I’ve put in a request, but I’m at the bottom of the list.” Miles looked a little peeved by that.

“I’ll talk to Galavant and see if he can’t keep us apprised of any additional information,” Daisy offered.

“Will Galavant come through for us?” Miles sounded skeptical, but the look on Daisy’s face shut him up.

“Ronnie and I have a deep bond, forged in the heat of combat,” Daisy’s smiled was downright frightening. “Once you make a person shit their pants they never forget it.”

“Very well,” Miles grinned. “If Galavant can keep us up to date on what the Protectorate and DVA discover that will keep us in the loop. Hunter was doing some research on our servers, so I’ll read through those logs and figure out what he was looking into. We’ve also got some of his notes, so I’ll look into those too.”

“Do I need to remind everyone that we are in a supporting role with this investigation until told otherwise.” John gave them all a hard look. “We’re all on the same side, so don’t interfere to the point it disrupts the common goal of finding Hunter’s murderer.”

Heads nodded around the table.

“Boss,” Craig asked tentatively. “Is the DVA going to bring her in?”

Everyone knew who Craig was talking about, but no one had been willing to bring up the topic yet.

“Someone just killed her husband, Craig. She’s already here.”

Daisy felt bad for the criminals of Orlando, especially the Fist. The death of Hunter was literally going to bring angelic wrath down upon the city’s underworld. Daisy knew the female Hero’s reputation. The shifter was going to leave a trail of arrests and bodies in her wake. It was not going to be pretty, and she was not going to stop until Wraith was locked up, or dead in a gutter somewhere.

The room had broken down into a few side conversations, so Daisy caught John’s attention. “Any idea where Seraphim is now?” Daisy asked.

“She’s being briefed at Protectorate HQ, and then will probably do a quick recon of the bombing site, before doing a patrol.” John replied.

Daisy nodded her head. Seraphim wanted people to know she was here, she wanted criminals pissing their pants and thinking she would kick down their door or fly through their ceiling at any moment. It was a basic but very effective intimidation tactic. The problem was that Daisy thought the woman was forgetting one very important thing.

“Is anyone scheduled to pick up Angela when she’s released?”

“Not at the moment.” The look in John’s eye told Daisy he’d been thinking along the same lines.

“I can do it. It’s not a problem. I need to swing by and see Topher anyway.” Daisy stated.

“Sure,” John gave a tired sigh. “She’s been sedated for now. The DVA’s interview with her did not go well.”

“Traumatic stress?”

“Yes. She saw her father die and could do nothing to stop it.” A hint of sadness crept into John’s voice.

“Maybe Dr. Johnson should come with me. God knows he’s had enough practice with this kind of thing.” Daisy’s self-deprecating joke brought a tiny smile to John’s lips.

“Have I told you how much progress you’ve made.” That tiny smile turned big and genuine. “I’m very proud of you, Daisy.”

“Aww shucks, Pa,” Daisy’s goofy face and accent coaxed a laugh out of the Dean.

“You better get going.” John’s face looked like its normal self again. “They’re going to make the announcement soon, and we want to make sure Angela has no exposure to it or the media. We still have the SI clause to consider.”

“I’m on it boss.” Daisy gave a firm nod and headed toward the door. “Johnson, you’re with me.” The psychologist didn’t argue, but he looked confused as he followed Daisy out the door.

“We’re going to make sure Angela is ok,” she explained. “I’m sorry, but I think your workload just dramatically increased this semester.”

“Don’t worry about my workload.” Dr. Johnson’s expression was surprisingly determined. “I’ll do what needs to be done.”

<As will we all, Doc.> The two Supers were on the same wavelength, but Daisy doubted the good doctor’s involved as much blood as what she had in mind.

 

***

 

“We have a special report out of Orlando, Florida.” The national news anchor with fake tits and an even faker face announced.

“Dad it’s on!” Lilly couldn’t stop her eagerness from showing.

The anticipation of this moment had everything down to her bones vibrating in excitement. <Finally, you’ll see what I’m capable of Dad. I’m a real Supervillain now. One of the best there will ever be. I’ve killed a Hero at eighteen, that has to be some kind of fucking record!>

“Did you take something?” Hellgate sank down onto the couch in front of the massive television. “You’re awfully…”

“Nope,” Lilly cut him off. “This is all natural, Dad. I’m just fucking pumped. You’ll see why…look!” She gestured frantically at the TV.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” A local anchor was reporting live from the scene of the bombing. Lilly recognized the buildings. “It is with a heavy heart that I must report a tragedy for Orlando, Florida, and the entire United States of America.”

<Damn, she’s good.> Lilly saw tears glistening in the field reporter’s eyes.

“Earlier this evening the sounds of bombs disrupted the night of this great American city. Two detonations, both behind me,” the camera panned to the ravaged motels, “claimed the lives of twenty-two innocent civilians and the life of the man trying to save them. I regret to inform you that the beloved Hero Hunter was confirmed dead after sustaining injuries from the explosions.”

Lilly didn’t bother to listen to the rest of broadcast. She turned her attention to her father.

The older man’s mouth was hanging open slightly, and the drink in his hand was forgotten.

“So…” she couldn’t wait any longer. “What do you think?”

“What…?” Hellgate shook his head and turned toward Lilly. “What do you mean what do I think?”

“Hunter’s dead, Dad. I killed him for you.” She smiled her best smile. A smile that could launch a thousand ships.

“You…you killed Hunter.” He repeated her statement very carefully, as if he didn’t believe her.

“Yeah, Dad. I intercepted an unsecure call from the Protectorate HQ to one of his safe houses. I staked it out for weeks, spent over a hundred grand figuring out a way to infiltrate then sent in a bomb. I rigged several follow-up positions in case he followed, just like you taught me.”

Hellgate still looked shocked.

“It was hard work, and I won’t say there wasn’t a little bit of luck involved, but I killed him Dad. I killed a Hero! I’m only eighteen, if this doesn’t propel me to the top of the charts I don’t know what…”

Lilly never saw the slap coming.

It hit her hard in the face, knocked her off the couch and onto the floor. Her training took over before the shock wore off. She rolled out of the fall and came up in a fighting stance.

“You stupid bitch,” Hellgate’s word were soaked in venom. “You ignorant little shit. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

There was rage in her father’s voice, but even that couldn’t hide the sadness in his eyes.

“I…I killed your nemesis, Dad. I did what you failed to do.” She couldn’t stop the defiance the creeped into her last sentence.

“No,” Hellgate shook his head. “You killed yourself.”

“What? I’m pretty sure I’m still here.” She patted herself dramatically.

“Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but you’re already dead.” He kept shaking his head. “I didn’t want this for you. After your mother…I didn’t want you to end up like her.”

“I’m not going to end up like her.” Lilly’s defiance mixed with anger. “I’m going to be a legend. I’m going to be as big as you, as big as Armsman!”

“Do you know why we never see your godfather? Why we live underground away from everyone and everything?” He took a threatening step forward but stopped himself.

“Because we’re bad guys, duh. We do bad things. People want to arrest us and throw us in jail.” Lilly couldn’t stop from rolling her eyes.

She wasn’t five, she knew the dangers of her chosen profession.

“We have standing kill orders on us. Any Hero, anywhere, who spots us is automatically authorized to use lethal force. There’s even a reward for us, dead or alive.” His words burrowed into her.

There was a spark of fear at having a kill order on her head for the rest of her life, but it was quickly replaced by determination.

“They can try,” she growled.

“Spoken like an ignorant child,” Hellgate scoffed at her resistance. “Tell me that when she finds you.”

He pointed back to the TV. Circling above the ruined motels, scanning the area calmly, was a large winged woman with a spiked tail.

“Seraphim will rip out your heart, Lilly.” Hellgate’s voice was much softer now. “Then you’ll be nothing more than a footnote in history, another notch on her belt.”

In a blast of fire, that made Lilly scramble back to avoid getting singed, Hellgate disappeared.

She was left alone to figure out what she was going to do next.

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War Dogs – Interesting, but not what I expected

Going into War Dogs, after seeing all the trailers, I thought it was a comedy. After all, it’s directed by Todd Phillips (The Hangover) and Bradley Cooper has an executive producer credit. I thought I was going to see something similar to The Hangover, but War Dogs reminded me a lot more of Mark Wahlberg and The Rock’s 2013 movie Pain and Gain. Despite being a bit of a bait and switch I still enjoyed the film.

Rating: I’d give War Dogs 3 out of 5 stars.

***SPOILERS***

Story: As I said above, I though this was a comedy, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some good comedic moments.I particularly like a scene where Jonah Hill was trying to buy weed. He hands over the money to the stereotypical gangsters, who proceed to blow him off and flash a pistol at him. He’s all “Ok, cool”, walks back to his car, pulls out a machine gun, and then fires it off into the air. “Don’t worry i have a class 3 firearms license” he says when he gets back into the car, and then goes on to find more weed.

The story centers around two twenty-something kids who broker a 300 million dollar deal with the DOD. Obviously, laws are broken and corners are cut and they go down in the end. It shows how lax the American government was during a portion of our history. Hill’s has a great line about “participation trophies” that is the perfect analogy. In the end it is greed that brings them down…go figure.

It can all be boiled down too: The government wanted the ammo, they needed the ammo, and as long as they didn’t find anything illegal on the surface then they were willing to turn a blind eye.

What cracks me up, which isn’t funny at all, is that they could have gotten away with it if they’d just paid the guy they had packaging the ammo; who was doing it on the cheap to start. That, and after all the fraud that was perpetrated one guy got four years in prison and the other seven months house arrest.

On a technical side the plot flowed very well. It was a very clean presentation.

Acting: Jonah Hill’s performance added most of the comedy to the film. He had a laugh for the character that made whatever just happened in the scene funny. Dan Bilzerian shows up in a scene and punches him in the face; so that was nice. Overall, its not Moneyball but it was still a solid performance.

Miles Teller plays the more realistic and rational best friend. I feel that as an actor he’s on the rise; despite the horrendous reception to the Fantastic Four reboot, which I don’t think was that terrible. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t great, but a lot of people hated it. Another solid performance by Teller.

Bradley Cooper wasn’t really in the movie that much. Really it was just two main scenes. He’s the mysterious, veteran force in the background. Who really ends up showing up the two rookies at the end. He shows a heartless side in one scene, and then shares a heartfelt moment at the end where you see his humanity. I would have liked to see him more, but he’s a busy man and Hill and Teller carry the film nicely.

Lastly, I’ve got to give a honorable mention to Ana de Armas, who plays Iz; Teller’s girlfriend. First, she’s absolutely gorgeous, and second she plays the girlfriend who has to fight for her boyfriends attention very well, but ultimately forgives him quickly after all his lies and deception.

In conclusion, I liked it 🙂