Two Worlds – Chapter 28

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

The next two hours were spent doing inventory. Coop had never done an inventory in his life, and he would take his own life before he ever had to do it again. They started with their lockers, which were biometrically coded and locked with their GIC’s. Inside were two duffle bags stuffed to the brim.

“Take your bags, place them in front of you, and dump everything onto the floor.” Staff Sergeant Cunningham paced in front of them.

The medic said Andrew would be back soon, but he still hadn’t returned. That meant the rest of the squad had to inventory all of his gear; which meant more work for Coop.

<Dumb fuck.> Coop cursed the squad idiot as he and Nate were instructed to conduct the extra inventory.  The SSG took that perfect opportunity to walk by. <She does have a world class ass though.>

Unfortunately, Eve caught him looking, and he got a punch to the kidney when the drill instructor was farther away. If this had been the PHA, and Eve was another Rat, Coop would have kicked the shit out of her. It didn’t matter that she was a girl. You didn’t start throwing punches unless you were ready to get down and dirty.

Coop didn’t feel that way when Eve punched him. Sure there was a flare of anger, but it was quickly overpowered by attraction. Coop liked it when Eve played rough.

“Everyone should have six pairs of CMUs,” the SSG announced. “Hold them up over your head until I tell you to stop; then put them back in the duffle bag.”

Coop found the blocks of smartcloth that looked identical to the pair he’d received at the Civil Administration building. He held up his six pairs, and three of Andrew’s, while Nate held up the other three. Then they stood there and waited while the SSG went down the lines, to all fifty recruits, and counted how many they were holding.

All nine of the uniforms Coop was holding probably didn’t even weigh a kilo put together, but after holding them up for ten minutes you really started to feel the burn.

“Drop and give me twenty-five, Harper.” The talkative girl was the first to fail in second squad. “Four count, Harper. This is the military, not some community gym.”

Harper struggled, just like anyone else who had to knock out some pushups. <Come on…Come on…you’ve got to be shitting me.> It was worse for Coop because he was holding fifty percent more weight.

Everyone was silent in the room, because they were forbidden to talk beyond the groans of lactic acid filled muscles. The only thing that stopped Coop from dropping his arms was the look on Eve’s face. Her gaze promised swift retribution on anyone else who failed.

<Can’t get beat by a girl.> Coop’s motivation got a second wind, and he was able to make it to the end.

“Recover.” Everyone dropped their arms, and a sigh of relief passed through the room like a heavy breeze.

But SSG Cunningham was merciless.

“Next you will find your Self-Contained Survival Habitat.” The drill instructor showed them what to look for. It looked like a large, retractable cocoon. “There are three settings. Spread your SCSH out in front of you and run a diagnostic. I want to see green on temperate, arid, and arctic, Recruits.”

Coop did as he was told. The SCSH was idiot proof. You pressed a button and the expandable mesh exterior swelled to a size a soldier could comfortably lay in it. There was a small panel next to the opening. You went into the menu and search for diagnostic then hit start.

“You will be able to conduct this from your PADs when they are issued.” The SSG walked among them, making sure everyone was doing things correctly.

Coop kept his eyes away from her ass.

It didn’t take long for him to get three greens. “Hold your SCSH above your heads when you’re finished so I can inspect them.”

Anyone who groaned had their displeasures cured by another round of pushups.

They did this for two hours, and by the time they reached their last item Coop could barely feel his shoulders. His chest was pretty fatigued too.

“Last but not least, we have your PADs. Pull them out and hold them out in front of you.” Coop did what he was told.

The PADs were not what he expected. They were made of clear polyplast, were a few centimeters thick, and smaller than Coop’s hand. They’d obviously seen better days. His PAD had a big scratch down the center that would definitely blur the screen. They didn’t look anything like the sleek models the rich kids had at the recruitment center, or even the ones he’d seen the other soldiers using.

“Hold the PAD up to your GIC and keep it there until it powers on and links to you,” the SSG ordered. “Let me know if it doesn’t work.”

Coop wanted his to fail, but after a few seconds it glowed to life and a slew of number flew across the screen establishing the link. Only two of the PAD’s malfunctioned, and they were instantly replaced with equally old and battered models.

“PADs will be kept here at all times.” The SSG patted a pocket on her right hip. “Stow them now.” Everyone did as they were told.

“By activating your PADs you have signed for all of your equipment. Second squad leader.”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Eve perked up.

“Have Davenport sign for his equipment by activating his PAD when he returns. He can take Cooper and Cruise’s word or do the entire inventory himself. It’s up to him.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“That’s it for tonight, Recruits. You have thirty minutes to use the latrine and then lights out is at 2300. Reveille is at 0600 tomorrow morning. I’ll see you all then.” Without another word the SSG walked right out of the room.

Even though the SSG was gone they still had tasks. Coop was beginning to think he wouldn’t have enough free time to take a shit. Prison was looking like a decent alternative right now.

“Everyone gather around.” Eve called out to the squad. Every other squad was either busting out their bedding materials or heading for wherever the latrine was.

“Judging by Cooper’s retarded face he doesn’t know what the latrine is.” She smirked mercilessly at Coop. “The latrine is the bathroom, but stop thinking of it as the bathroom. Stop thinking of everything by its civilian terms and start thinking like soldiers.”

“Mike!” She snapped at the largest member of their squad. They were right next to his bunk and he was taking out bedding like the other squads. “Don’t bother with your bedding.” She kept her voice low. She didn’t want the other squads to hear. “You’re going to have to make sure it is pristine every morning if you use it. It’s so fucking hot down here that it’s better to use just one of the blankets and pack it up in the morning before PT. I’d bet my squad leader position that they’re going to chew everyone out tomorrow and tell them just to go with the woobie.”

<Woobie?>

“The woobie was that nice, soft liner that we inventoried near the end,” she informed before Coop could ask.

Mike just grunted as he stowed his bedding back in the locker and pulled out the woobie.

“Ok, everyone hit the latrine and get some sleep.” With the meeting adjourned Coop went to take that shit.

As it turned out the latrines were co-ed, and there were no doors on the stalls. Coop had to concentrate on forcing out a log while a dude brushed his teeth less than three meters in front of him.

When the lights finally went off at 2300, Coop was exhausted. There was still some light conversation going on around the room, so he decided to take the opportunity to get some answers.

He was on the bottom bunk while Eve was on the top, so their conversations were relatively private. “Hey, boss-lady.” The bed creaked as Eve moved, and then her head appeared over the side.

“What do you want Cooper?” she looked irritated.

<Women.> Coop mentally shrugged. He could have sworn she was mildly flirting with him, not to mention she grabbed a handful of his ass earlier on. <I’ll never understand them.>

“How do you know all of this?” Coop was sure the entire squad was wondering the same thing.

“I’m a military brat,” she answered matter-of-factly. “I was stationed all over the Inner-Worlds with my folks. I’ve known the little tricks drill instructors use to trip up fresh recruits since I could walk.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re our squad leader then, boss-lady.” Coop was genuinely grateful.

Eve just scoffed at him. “Just don’t fuck up anymore, Cooper. Keep your head down and your mouth shut. I’ll get us all through this.”

“Ma’am yes ma’am.” Coop gave her a bad salute, but it didn’t get the smile he intended. “So where are your parents stationed now?” He quickly tried to salvage the conversation.

Anger swept across Eve’s face. She didn’t say a word. Her head withdrew out of sight, and the bed creaked as she settled back into position.

“Uh, ok then,” Coop mumbled, not sure what he’d done wrong.

If this was any other night, Coop would have kept asking. If it was Hailey, he would have gotten to the bottom of it. But tonight Coop was tired, and Eve was a bit of a bitch. Instead he relaxed into the hard mattress. It reminded him of the PHA cots from home, and the familiarity put him to sleep in less than a minute.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 27

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

<There has got to be something in the water,> Coop thought, his mouth hanging open as he looked at the two drill instructors.

For the second time in a few days he found himself craning his neck to look up at a soldier, and if he had to guess, this one was even taller than the sergeant back at the PHA Civil Administration building.

“Echo Company.” The woman addressing them didn’t yell, but her voice rang with authority. “My name is Staff Sergeant Cunningham, and this is Petty Officer Third Class Janney. We will be your drill instructors for the next twelve weeks.”

The two instructors standing in front of the company were blatant contrasts. SSG Cunningham was a giant. She loomed over the company at 225 centimeters, with her back straight, chin held high, and her hands clasped behind her back. She was pasty white, so much so that Coop wondered if she ever saw any sun; but her face was covered in freckles, and it was a gorgeous face. The CMUs looked like they struggled to hold together on her, and that wasn’t just because of her impressive curves. SSG Cunningham looked strong, strong enough to break a little Rat like Coop.

<She looks familiar.> Coop tried to place where he’d seen her before, and he could see that other members of the company were trying to do the same.

Her unearthly green eyes zeroed in on them, and they all pretended to be looking at anything else.

What Coop found most interesting was her hair. It was a fiery, probably unnatural red, and the right half of her head was shaved to stubble. On her left side, her hair only fell to her chin. Coop didn’t know what the military’s rules on hair were, but the SSG’s hairdo couldn’t possibly be legal.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, PO3 Janney was short and stocky; and when Coop said stocky, he meant the petty officer was built like a fucking boulder. Unlike the pasty white SSG who probably had considerable Irish ancestry in her DNA, PO3 Janney looked like he’d been deep fried in the sun for most of his life. The second drill instructor was short, one hundred and sixty five centimeters tops, which made him look like a child standing next to the SSG. But his face didn’t look childish. While SSG Cunningham’s face was gorgeously critical of the company, PO3 Janney just looked royally pissed off.

“Y’all list’n here!” The deep southern accent on the man made it hard to understand him. “Y’all quit buttfuckin’ ‘round in the chow hall, ya understan’ me!”

“Yes, Petty Officer Third Class!” The company yelled back, but they all tripped over pronouncing his rank.

“You will address me as Staff Sergeant, and Petty Officer Janney as Petty Officer, understood?” SSG Cunningham addressed the issue immediately and curtly. Anyone could tell she didn’t want to be wasting her time on tiny shit like that.

“Company,” she started to pace in front of them. “Were you given a thirty minute time-hack to complete chow?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”

“Can all of you count to thirty?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”

“Then please enlighten me as to why you were not formed up after your thirty minute chow was finished?”

Silence.

“That’s what I thought.” The tone of her voice told Coop he was about to be sorry for whatever happened next.

“Do not allow it to happen again.” She paced back to the center of the company, and snapped back to the position of attention.

<Huh. That wasn’t so bad.> It was a lot better than getting chewed out by Corporal Collins, who had vanished off the face of the earth along with the gunnery sergeant.

“The rest of the day will consist of returning to your barracks, inventorying equipment, and preparing for the next twelve weeks of your training.” She didn’t give the company a chance to yell their agreement.

“Company…right face.” Coop executed the military movement, and for the first time he felt like he nailed it. “Forward march. Left…left…left right….right a left…left….left right…” She used the same cadence as the gunnery sergeant.

After one hundred meters, Coop felt like they were finally getting the hang of it. And then it all changed.

“Double-time!” The SSG yelled.

Only Berg replied, echoing the SSG’s confusing statement.

“When I yell double-time, you will all repeat it. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”

“Double-time!”

“Double-time.” They got it right this time.

“March!” The whole company accelerated from a walk to a jog.

The jog wasn’t quick, it was only twice as fast as the walk; which was probably what the instructor meant by “double-time”. It was a lot slower than the sprint Corporal Collins made him do, so Coop felt like he’d be fine.

He only felt that way for the first two kilometers.

They just kept running and running and running. The white buildings to their right and left were identical, nothing ever changed. Occasionally there would be an athletic field scattered in among them, but even those were identical. The buildings and fields stretched all the way to the darkening horizon.

It was about the time that the sun set, descending the world into darkness, that Coop finally puked up his dinner.

<Eve was right.> Coop scrambled out of the teaming mass of running bodies, ran for the grass on the side of the road, and spewed out a mess of yellow and red with half-digested noodles.

It smelled like ass, which forced Coop to endure a second round of vomiting. By the third round his stomach was empty, and he was just coughing up bile.

“Quit bein’ a pussy, Coopa.” The company was a group of struggling bodies in the distance, but PO3 Janney was standing over Coop with a feral smile on his face. “Ya think this was gonna be easy?” He laughed, and it sounded like a chainsaw starting. “Get off ya fat ass and get movin’!” To hurry Coop along the PO3 started kicking Coop like a dog until he got to his feet and stumbled after the company.

He hounded Coop the whole way. The man didn’t even seem to stop to breath.

<What the fuck is with these people?>

Coop wasn’t sure how far they ran. The moon was high in the sky before the SSG brought them back down to a walk, and finally to a halt. When she instructed them to fall out, half the company proceeded to follow Coop’s earlier example and puke their guts out. Even Eve looked a little green around the gills.

“Welcome ta home sweet home.” The PO3 pointed at the white building that look like the thousands of other that they must have passed along the way. “If any of ya babies wanna go home and suck on ya momma’s titties then jus’ let us know.” The short man cackled as everyone around him groaned.

“Everyone inside.” The door to the building slid open and everyone scrambled inside propelled into motion by Janney’s boot and Cunningham’s gaze.

There was a stairway right inside the door. “Squads one through five downstairs, and six through ten upstairs.” The mass of struggling bodies bottlenecked as people tried to do what the SSG was telling them.

“Let’s go people!”

“Y’all, move yuh asses!”

It took a few moments, but eventually everything got sorted out. Coop was one of the last people in, and he had to run to an empty bunk where Eve was waving at him. The lower floor was one big room with twenty-five two-person bunkbeds and fifty individual lockers evenly spaced around the edges of the room. The center was open, and down that center strolled SSG Cunningham.

“Now y’all list’n here!” They heard PO3 Janney’s choppy yells from upstairs before the door hissed shut and cut out all other sound.

The SSG scrutinized everyone as she walked passed them. They were all sweaty, tired, and more than half had quickly drying vomit on their CMUs. She did not look impressed.

“This is your barracks, Recruits. Building number 3528. Commit that number to memory because I will not repeat it.” She continued pacing with her hands behind her back. “This will be your base of operations for the next twelve weeks. When we are not conducting field exercises you will sleep, shower, shave, and shit in this building. You will not leave this building without expressed permission from myself or PO3 Janney. Understood?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” Their yells echoed through the room like a great beast roaring.

“I know where I know her from.” Andrew whispered to the rest of the squad, as the SSG walked toward the other end of the room. “That’s Jasmine Cunningham. She’s a supermodel, one of the hottest women on the planet. What the hell is she doing here?”

“Do you have something to add to the conversation, Recruit Davenport?” The SSG’s head snapped around.

<How the hell did she here him?> Coop kept his eyes forward. <She’s got to be fifty meters away.>

“It’s just…”

<No, Andrew, you idiot. Don’t say it!> Everyone’s face in the squad was screaming the same thing; but Andrew was either oblivious, or just really fucking stupid. Coop’s money was on the latter.

“… that you’re Jasmine Cunningham.”

Coop wanted to slam his palm into his forehead, but he didn’t dare move a muscle. A spine-tingling chill had descended over the entire room.

“Is that so?” The SSG said it casually, but Coop could have sworn he saw frost forming on the ground as she walked back toward second squad’s section of the room.

“Yes, Staff Sergeant.”

“Does that matter, Recruit Davenport?”

<Please just keep your fucking mouth shut.> It was wishful thinking.

“Hell yeah it does. You’re a fucking babe.”

Coop didn’t know a lot about the military, but calling your drill instructor a “babe” had to be just about the stupidest thing he could think of. Coop held his breath, his imagination playing out what punishment the SSG would deliver on his squad mate.

“Fraternization!” The SSG called out, as she walked away from second squad. “Is unacceptable in this company. Understood.”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” Forty-nine voices echoed.

“I’d still fuck you.” Andrew was the single voice that stood out, and the SSG zeroed in on it.

“You want to fuck me, Recruit Davenport?”

Thankfully, Andrew kept his mouth shut this time. But the damage had already been done. What scared Coop the most was how calm the SSG was being about all of this.

“Step out here, Davenport.” She motioned for Davenport to join her in the central open space.

He did as she instructed.

“Prepare to defend yourself.”

“Wh…what?” Andrew finally realized he was in over his head. His mouth had written a check he wasn’t going to be able to cash.

“You said you wanted to fuck an Infantrywoman.” The SSG rotated her shoulders and cracked her neck. “Any self-respecting infantrywoman is going to make sure you’re a real man before she lets you whip out the pathetic sack of flesh you call a cock.” The SSG was smiling now. “So come on Davenport. If you want to fuck me, or any other woman in the next few years, you better be able to handle yourself.”

“Ok.” Coop couldn’t help but shake his head at Andrew’s cocky grin. “I don’t want to hit a lady, but to get inside those panties I’ll make an exception.”

Andrew took a fighting stance, and after a brief pause attacked.

The fight was over so fast Coop didn’t even see what happened. One second Andrew was throwing a jab toward the SSG’s face, and the next he was on the ground, in a broken heap, with a full ten centimeters of bone sticking out of his arm. Andrew wasn’t even screaming. He was trying to scream, but shock was setting in and it was messing with his vocal chords. All Coop heard was a high-pitched sigh before he lost consciousness.

“Fraternization,” the SSG repeated, looking down at Davenport like something unsightly she’d tracked in on the bottom of her boot. “Will not be allowed in this company. Everyone will be treated with respect no matter their planet, color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. Understood?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”

“Good.” The door slid open and a man with a red cross on the shoulder of his CMUs walked in.

“Someone need a medic?” He asked with a bored expression.

The SSG just pointed at Andrew’s unconscious body, and the medic went to work.

“Squad leaders on me.” She called back as she walked toward the exit. “We have a lot to do tonight, so let’s get to it.”

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A Change of Pace – Chapter 71

<Come in…get caught up…> Daisy didn’t like the words she was hearing through the phone.

“With all due respect, John,” she tried the best way to phrase her thought politely. “No fucking way am I coming in. The entire Orlando PD is gearing up for war, and a lot of them aren’t bulletproof.”

“You mean Mr. Phillips isn’t bulletproof,” John sighed, reading between the lines.

“Him and all the other officers.” Daisy conceded. “Fill me in all you want, but I’m staying out here. I can do more good on the streets.”

“Do I need to remind you of your status, Professor Meyers.”

<Shit, he’s in boss-mode.> Daisy noticed the title change.

“No you don’t, Dean Ditmar,” she replied formally. “I will not do anything to jeopardize the HCP, myself, or any other Heroes’ identity. I will operate strictly in a support capacity. John,” she paused for dramatic effect, “do you really want to be getting second hand information from the DVA or the Protectorate when you can have your own eyes on the ground?”

It was a lure that Daisy knew her old friend couldn’t resist. He took the bait. “Fine. Head downtown, I’ll fill you in on the way.”

“Yes, Sir.” Daisy hit the gas, and the HCP’s SUV’s powerful V8 engine roared to life.

Basically peeling out so close to a police station was just asking for a ticket, but everyone had something better to do, and Daisy soon saw why.

It was one thing to hear John explain that two bombs had gone off in hotels in the shady area of Orlando, but it was another thing to see the charred remains and devastation.

“Fuck me,” Daisy mumbled as she approached the area.

Flashing lights were everywhere; red, white, blue, and amber. The Orlando PD had thrown everything including the kitchen sink at this. Daisy wasn’t able to get within three blocks of the site, but it didn’t matter. Smoke was still billowing into the night, staining the skyline with an ugly black smear.

People were gathered everywhere trying to figure out what was going on. They were held back by a cordon of yellow tape and patrol officers, but those couldn’t stop eyes from seeing the damage. From her parking spot Daisy saw charred, gutted buildings; like a drunken frat boy had taken a scalpel to the side of the building and then singed the wound with a lit cigarette.

Even worse, there were several black body bags on the sidewalk, and they looked full.

Daisy wanted to go up to one of the patrol officer, ask for Christopher Phillips, and then use him to get inside the perimeter. But she knew that wasn’t how this worked. She also couldn’t sneak in. That would look really suspicious. Police always made sure to take note of the crowds at tragedies like this. The psychology of the people that did these unspeakable acts sometimes drove them to return to the scene and see their work. Daisy had caught a few bad guys that way.

That left only a few options. She quickly scanned the area and looked for a vantage point. If she couldn’t get in, then she needed to at least get a better view of the crime scene. Thankfully the HCP’s vehicle had a set of binoculars with a recording feature, so she’d be able to get John all the on-site footage he could dream of.

She grabbed the equipment, locked the car, and headed a block back to where a five-story building sat. It was an apartment building with a locked entrance, but that was easily overcome. She hit the call buttons for every apartment and one buzzed her in.

She couldn’t complain, but people needed to be a little more vigilant; especially in a neighborhood like this.

“John,” she dialed her boss while she took the stairs two at a time to the roof. “I’m going to be streaming you some live footage. Get ready to receive.”

Daisy shook her head when she opened the roof access. <Not even locked.> She’d could only imagine the crime rate in this building.

She stepped out onto the roof and took the binoculars from her bag. They were a tech genius creation, but they looked almost identical to a normal set. They were a bit larger and heavier to accommodate the addition features, but Daisy was more than capable of handling it.

“Prepared to receive.” She uncapped the lenses and switched them on.

She was four city blocks from the crime scene, but the magnification of the binoculars made her feel like she was right in the middle of the destruction. She started by doing a full scan of the scene. Later on, if the police or Protectorate wanted to bring the HCP into the investigation they’d be able to build a 3-D model from this footage, so Daisy made sure to grab everything.

“We’ve got two sites.” Daisy did running commentary as she panned across the scene.

“The motel on the right was the original target,” John informed, so she started there.

“We’ve got a pretty large blast radius,” she cringed as she took it all in. “I’d say the blast completely took out three to four rooms. And I’d bet my yearly salary the floor in there is structurally unstable now. Yeah…the detectives look like they’re avoiding it. They’re going to need to get someone who can fly in there to get decent photographs.”

“Requests have already been sent through the proper channels. Shift over to the next building.” John was taking notes the old fashioned way. Daisy could hear the scratch of pencil against paper.

“The blast radius from the first bomb reaches a good twenty feet into the parking lot,” she noted as she shifted her focus.

There were a few cars that were recently on fire, and several more that had been riddled with shrapnel.

<Shrapnel that far out. That can’t be right.>

“John, if they aren’t already, make sure they look into the shrapnel material and pattern. I’m seeing cars that have been hit by it, but their damage is much too neat to just be the brick and mortar of the building.” She hoped she was wrong, but if she wasn’t then they were dealing with a sick son of a bitch. “This could have been a homemade claymore.”

“That’s what I’m hearing from teams on the ground.” John sounded just as frustrated as she felt.

A memory tugged at the back of Daisy’s mind and she allowed it to play out.

She and Mastermind were running through a jungle, their faces painted in greens, browns, and blacks, and their fatigues soaked with sweat. Something was chasing them, but she couldn’t remember what and the memory wasn’t showing her.

There were others with her, four humans, big guys with big guns who looked just as tired.

“We need to get back to our lines,” Mastermind yelled, ducking around a leaf the size of a car door. “They need to know what’s coming. They need to…”

Mastermind never finished his sentence. He dropped to the ground. <What?> Daisy was turning to see what happened. When the world around her exploded.

Thankfully, she’d kept her kinetic absorption abilities on at all times while in country. You never knew when a Vietcong sniper was going to take a shot at you. Her power saved her life, but it didn’t leave her unscathed. She rode the shockwave of the explosion like a surfer, just like the old veterans had taught her in the HCP. The kinetic blast minimized her injury from the fiery explosion, but she still had some decent third degree burns. She was going to need a healer when they got back to base.

“Holy shit…holy shit…holy shit…” a young soldier, maybe eighteen years old, appeared in front of Daisy. “We didn’t mean…Sarge told us to set up a defensive line here. We used the claymores.”

That was all Daisy needed to hear. She didn’t even have to lift her head to know that the four soldiers who’d been fighting alongside her for the last few days were nothing more than hamburger meat now. They’d have to be scooped into bags and shipped home. There wouldn’t be any bodies for their families to bury.

Mastermind was alive, but he was messed up. The eighteen-year-old soldier and his squad helped them to the healers, but Daisy sure as shit would never forget what a claymore could do to a human being.

The memory ended and Daisy felt a familiar bubble of rage building in her gut. She wanted to find who’d done this. She wanted to find who’d set off an anti-personnel bomb in an American city, and she wanted to shove her foot so far up their ass that they’d never forget what toenails tasted like.

<Easy.> Her more practical side cautioned. <Take some deep breaths.>

“Freeze!” A few police officer and Daisy’s favorite ginger Hero rushed through the roof access.

Apparently, they’d had the same idea Daisy did about good vantage points and the possibility of the bomber returning to the scene of the crime. Unfortunately, it left her in a compromising position.

“Lower the binoculars slowly, place them on the ground, place you hands on top of your head, and get on your knees.” Police officers were edging around to the sides of her.

“Can’t do that boys. Galavant over there will tell you why.” The rookie Hero finally got control of the adrenaline pumping through his veins and recognized who was on the roof with him.

“Everybody stand down,” he hastily ordered.

The cops hesitated, which was never a good thing.

“I said stand down.” Galavant strode forward toward Daisy, putting himself between the officers’ weapons and her.

“How do we know you aren’t being mind controlled?”

Daisy couldn’t stop the loud sigh from escaping her lips. After what she’d seen and the memory she’d remembered she wasn’t in the best of moods.

“He’s not.” She snapped. “If I wanted you all dead you’d already be dead. But you’re not dead, because I’m a good guy, so stop fucking around and lower your weapons or I‘ll make you lower them.”

A bad attitude wasn’t the smartest way to go. Daisy knew the cops were just trying to do their job, but she needed to talk to Galavant, and it was always nice to talk to someone without having to hide your face.

“Go and check the next building,” Galavant ordered, more steel in his voice this time.

After another tense moment of hesitation, the cops lowered their guns and left the rooftop.

“Sorry about that.” Galvant quickly apologized. “Everyone’s a little tense, and when they spotted you up here they thought you might be the bomber.

“That’s understandable,” her temper was still raw. “But they should be obeying your orders. The Protectorate is probably the primary on this, and they need to do what you tell them for your own safety. Make sure to write that up in your report. It will suck for them now, but it might save their lives down the road.”

“Yeah,” Galavant didn’t look happy about it, but he understood it was the right move.

Now it was Daisy’s turn to apologize. “Sorry if I’m causing such a fuss. I’m just taking a look at the scene and letting the Dean know what I’m seeing. We’re not butting into your investigation, but we’re happy to offer our assistance if you need it.”

“Thanks, but I think we can handle it.” Galavant’s response was a little defensive, but Daisy saw that as a good thing.

Sometimes you needed to do things for yourself.

“Plus, Dr. Sanderson already swung by to pick her up and heal anyone who needed patching up.”

“Pick who up?” This was the first Daisy was hearing of it.

“You don’t know?” Galavant looked surprised.

“You insisted on remaining in the field instead of coming in.” John sounded guilty on the phone, and that sent a wave of fear through Daisy’s soul.

“What aren’t you telling me?” Daisy wanted to sound terrifying and intimidating to ensure no one ever left her out of the loop again, but she failed spectacularly. Her voice broke as fear wormed its way into her mind.

“Daisy, Angela Martin was at the scene when the explosions occurred. We believe the target of the attack was her father; which is why the Protectorate and the DVA are taking the lead in the investigation and not the Orlando PD.”

Daisy didn’t give two shits about who was leading the investigation. “Where’s Angela?” The thought that one of her students had been caught in that meat-churning explosion as unthinkable.

“She’s at the hospital, but…”

Daisy stopped listening. She headed straight for the door and back to her car. She was in the wrong place. She needed to make sure Angela was ok. If she wasn’t, then Daisy would focus on killing the parties responsible.

<But first Angela.> Daisy didn’t even say goodbye to Galavant as she rushed off.

 

***

 

It took Becca and the rest of the residents of Townhouse 117 a while to get to the hospital. They fit everyone they could into Seth’s little Porsche, but it was a two seater. They were able to get him, Liz, and Becca in and that was only because she was so small.

It was incredibly awkward being so close to the couple. <Geez, they were doin’ it less than five minutes ago. I don’t even think they finished.> The image of Liz writhing on top of Seth was permanently seared into Becca’s brain.

Becca tried to shift into a more comfortable position next to Liz, but it wasn’t physically possible. The two women were practically on top of each other.

<Don’t think about it…don’t think about it.> She repeated over and over again as she chewed on her fingernails.

<EWWWWW!> She caught herself and forced herself to stop.

Becca hated finding nail clippings all over the place from the boys, and she hated people who chewed on their nails. She knew she was being a hypocrite, but she couldn’t stop herself. Chewing her nails was her nervous habit.

“Slow down.”

“Speed up and make that light,” Becca’s statement was overridden by Liz’s.

They were flying downtown at speeds meant for the highway, and Seth showed no inclination to slow down.

“Don’t worry, Becca,” Liz gave Becca a pat on the thigh. “I can personally vouch for Seth’s ability to handle anything.”

<She winked!> Becca was mortified. <She actually winked at me.>

Thankfully, the uncomfortably close quarters and even more uncomfortable conversation were nearly over. Becca could see the large hospital building just a few blocks ahead, but that wasn’t what caught her attention. What she noticed was the smoke in the distance, and the flashing lights that were bouncing around the night sky.

<Angela.>

Becca had gotten the phone call, but there hadn’t been a lot of information. She was told by someone that Angela was in the hospital. The person on the other end might have said something else, but all Becca heard was that her friend was in the hospital. If Anika hadn’t been there to calm her down, Becca might have blown her secret identity and ran all the way down to see her friend.

<It’s going to be ok, Becca.> Kyoshi’s comforting voice, and a sense of peace, entered Becca’s mind.

<I hope so,> she answered, and then they arrived.

Becca sprang over Liz, out of the car, and was through the sliding glass doors before Seth put the car in park.

Once she was through those doors she was assaulted by the sights and smells of a big city hospital, something she hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing before. There was blood, puke, sweat, people crying, people yelling, nurses trying to gather information and console people, and an obvious drug addict who smelled like he’d pooped himself. A guard was watching him closely to make sure he didn’t mug people of their medications as they left.

The scene was overwhelming and Becca faltered. <What am I supposed to do, where do I go. I don’t know where Angela is?>

The doctor in Becca’s hometown still made house calls, and if things got really bad you were taken to the county hospital, which was still about a third the size of this place. She didn’t realize until she was inside the building how unprepared for this situation she really was.

<For Pete’s sake, me and all my siblings were born at home!>

Thankfully, Becca wasn’t alone.

Seth and Liz strode into the hospital like they owned the building. Their eyes scanned the room and zeroed in on a nurse. They walked with a purpose toward the haggard looking woman, not paying any attention to the chaos surrounding them.

“We’re looking for a patient, Angela Martin. We received a call that she was being treated here.” Seth blocked the woman’s path so she couldn’t walk away.

“I’m sorry, Sir. You need to wait for…”

“Please!” Liz grabbed the woman’s sleeve, and Becca saw tears streaming from her eyes. “She’s our friend…and we got a call…they didn’t tell us…” Liz sobbed between each broken statement.

The nurse took pitty on them. “Ok,” she walked over to a computer. “Ms. Martin is in room 413, but that’s in an entirely different wing on the hospital.”

“We’ll find it, thank you.” Seth slipped his arm around Liz and led her toward a door leading out of the ER.

Becca followed, not knowing what ese to do.

“Man,” Liz used a finger to wipe away the tears without smearing her mascara. “I deserve an Oscar for that performance.”

Becca couldn’t stop her jaw from dropping. <It seemed so real.>

Liz was her staring. “You’ve got to do what you have to if you want to get what you want.” Liz winked at her again.

“Text Mason and the rest of them the room number,” Seth advised, as they worked their way through the confusing hallways of the hospital.

There were color coded lines that ran along the halls, but Becca hadn’t seen a chart explaining what the colors meant, so all they amounted to was a confusing floor-rainbow. Seth seemed to have an idea because he kept following a white line. It vanished a few times and they struggled to find it again, but eventually it led to a group of rooms on the fourth floor, and one of them was room 413.

It was obvious they were in the right place because the door was flanked by two cops, who placed their hands on their holstered weapons as Becca approached.

“Can I help you?” One of the cops asked. Holding up his hand so the three teenagers stopped several feet away from them.

“Hiya, I’m Rebecca Whitfield and this is Seth and Liz. I got a call that Angela was in the hospital, and the nurse told us this was her room number.” Becca put on her best smiled, trying to let these good police officers know she wasn’t here to cause any trouble.

“I’m going to need to see some identification.” One of the officers stepped forward with his hand out.

Everyone handed over their driver’s licenses, even though the only one with a car was Seth.

The officer accepted them and scrutinized them.

“Just a heads up there are more of us coming. The entire townhouse was home when we got the call.” Seth added.

I was good that he did, because the officers took a hesitant step back when Mason and Kyoshi stepped thought the door with Anika right behind them. They handed over their ID’s for inspection just like Becca, Seth, and Liv.

When the two officers determined their IDs were legit one of them disappeared into the room while the other kept an eye on them. After a minute the officer returned with an angry looking woman in a black pants suit.

“Seth Abney, Liz Aretino, Rebecca Whitfield, Mason Jackson, Kyoshi Schultz, and Anika Kemps,” she listed them all off like she was reading bingo numbers. “My name is Agent Debora Phillips with the DVA. I’ve got some questions for all of you. Please follow me.”

 

***

 

“It’s ok, Angela. Take your time and try to remember. Any detail, even a small one, will help our investigation.”

Angela took a deep breath and tried to concentrate. She reached for the glass of water, but her hands were trembling so bad she sloshed water all over the table.

<Get a grip!> She yelled at herself, abandoning the attempt.

Angela tried to remember, she wanted nothing more than to remember. The IV of fluids sticking out of her arm itched, but she didn’t scratch it. That would just be more pain. She didn’t want to feel any more pain today.

Angela remembered the ending. She remembered the argument. Her father and Mr. Morningstar arguing about the best course of action to stop whoever had tried to blow up the hotel with Angela and her father inside of it.

She remembered her father being so sure of himself, despite the injuries he’d sustained in the blast. He knew who the culprit was, he knew where they were, and he was going to catch them.

<Wraith.> The name was permanently carved into Angela’s mind.

“Thanks for dinner. It was nice to catch up.” Angela mumbled the last words her father would ever say to her.

“What was that?” One of the DVA agents asked.

“He said it was nice to catch up. Then he vanished. Then I heard the explosion.” Angela sniffled, successfully holding back tears, but just barely.

She couldn’t remember anything after that point. Something had snapped. It was like someone had dug inside her head and snipped out the portions of what happened next. The next memory Angela had was of waking up in this hospital with doctors and DVA agents.

Then the questions started.

“Ok.” One of the agents scribbled down her statement. “How about we start at the beginning.”

“The beginning,” Angela couldn’t stop the harsh laugh from escaping her throat.

“The beginning of what? Hunter’s Last Supper? Is that what you all are calling it.” The anger was irrational and misdirected. Angela knew that but she didn’t care.

“It was Wraith!” She exclaimed, smashing her hand down hard on the bedside table. Hard enough that it sent a spike of pain all the way up her arm. “He said it was Wrath. He knew it was Wraith. Find Wraith…find Wraith…FIND WRAITH!” She screamed, causing the DVA agents to jump to their feet in alarm.

“She teleported the bag. I saw it…poof…blackness…and there it was. Then BOOM!” She gestured wildly. “I saved him with my wings,” she pointed toward her back. “I’m strong when I shift, stronger than Wraith’s bomb. We need to find Wraith and we need to kill her!”

“Doctor!” One of the DVA agents called into the hall.

“Doctors, we don’t need doctors.” Angela threw the sheet off herself, revealing the paper-thin hospital gown she was wearing. “We need Titan, we need Iron Giant, we need Zero, we need some grade-A Heroes to come in here and put her down. She’s a cockroach, A COACKROACH! We need to step on her now before she can kill anyone else.”

The doctor arrived just in time for Angela to crumble into uncontrollable sobs.

“Shhh,” the old man helped maneuver her back into bed, wrapped a blanket around her, took out a needle, and administered a sedative through the IV.

The choking sobs slowly abated until they were soft snores. The soft snores of a girl whose father had been brutally murdered right in front of her.

“We’re not going to get anything out of her anytime soon.” The DVA agents started to pack up their stuff.

“Let’s let her rest and then start again tomorrow.” The only female agent present suggested.

“Yeah, sure.” Her male counterpart nodded dismissively. “I’ll start on the report. A lot of that might have been crazy talk, but Hunter’s last communications with Mr. Morningstar did talk about Wraith. So that’s a lead.”

“It’s a good place to start.” The female agent agreed.

The door to the room opened before either DVA agent reached it. “Excuse me, Ma’am.” One of the two police officers assigned to guard the girl’s room stuck his head in. “I’ve got a bunch of her friends outside asking for her.”

“Jesus,” the male agent rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to spend the next few hours babysitting. They’re all yours Phillips.” The man turned around and took another door out of the room.

<Lazy sack of shit.> Debora kept the thought to herself, the guy was her immediate boss.

“Ok, Officer,” Agent Phillips caught the man’s attention with a wave of her hand. “Take me to them. Might as well get started on those interviews.”

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Suicide Squad: Good Enough, I Don’t Know Why People are Freaking Out.

There has been some controversy around the release of Suicide Squad, so here’s my take. In my oh so humble opinion I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I will say this…If you are expecting this to be DC’s answer to Marvel’s Deadpool than you’ll be disappointed. Overall, Suicide Squad wasn’t knee slapping funny. It had it’s moments but it was only moments.

They’re also approaching 400 million in the global box office, so whatever critics are saying people are picking up what Suicide Squad is putting down.

***SPOILERS***

Rating: I give Suicide Squad 3 out of 5 stars.

Story: I guess I can see what some critics are saying when they are complaining about the plot being a little disconnected. That being said, I think if you use a little bit of brainpower you can put it all together. They introduce each of the characters while giving the premise for forming the team. The character intros are brief because they have to be, and the premise is the government wants a team that can can take on rogue metahumans. It’s pretty straightforward. They progress too quickly from forming the team to putting them into action to the point that it’s too unrealistic. The movie would have benefited from being about twenty minutes longer with a few scenes of the team bonding in some particularly villainous way,

I don’t think the villain, Enchantress, was portrayed very well. It kind of felt like a knee jerk setup, but if you’re a go with the flow person you can get past it. The big “weapon” she builds to take over the world is never really described and is easily destroyed by what amounts to a very big grenade. They could have fired a cruise missile into the building and never have to send in the suicide squad at all. So the big “ending” was a little anticlimactic.

Some of the character development was good and some of it wasn’t. I thought the best part of the whole movie was the relationship between the Joker and Harley Quinn. I wish there was more of it. I’ve read that they filmed a lot more of the King and Queen of Gotham, but it would have taken too much away from the main Enchantress polite.   Rick Flag and Enchantress’ human half, Dr.Moone, wasn’t as well done; and since that played into the big ending it added to the anticlimactic nature of it. The character Katana also seemed to just be thrown into the movie, and I found it detrimental. It would have made more sense to bring the character in earlier with the rest of them. Bringing her in right in the middle hurt the flow of the story.

As far as the growth of the DC universe goes it helped push it along just a smudge. If anything the most progression happens in the mid-credit scene between Wheeler and Wayne. It does set the stage for them in future movies very well.

As long as we see more of Joker and Harley then I’m happy.

Acting: Some of it was good, some was ok, and the rest fell in between. Again, I think Joker and Harley made the movie. Leto’s Joker was great. Some people have vocally disagreed, but I think it was very well done. He brings a new more “gangster” feel to the character, but its just as frighteningly creepy as Ledger in Nolan’s film. He hits the madness aspect of the Joker perfectly. Robbie’s Harley Quinn was even more awesome. She really brought the character to life. She hit the really heavy  Harley accent perfectly in a few places that made me have flashbacks to the old animated movies. Leto and Robbie together are a force to be reckoned with.

Will Smith was good even though the show was stolen by Robbie . The rest of the Suicide Squad was believable, even though Killer Croc was hard to understand sometimes. His pimp coat was awesome though.

What’s Next: As I said up in the story portion Suicide Squad pushes along the DC plot line. There is a cameo of both Batman and Flash to tie it into the universe, along with footage of Superman’s funeral. I can not emphasis this enough, but I really want to see Joker and Harley again. Without them I would rate this movie a star lower. I’ve heard news that Ben Affleck is set to star and direct his own Batman movie, If these two aren’t the villains then someone at DC should be fired. There is also mumblings of a Harley Quinn movie along with other female heroes and villains. I’d pay to see either.

Two Worlds – Chapter 26

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“So, Berg. That’s an interesting name.” Coop jogged next to his squad leader as they were hurried outside by Corporal Collins.

“It’s Swedish,” she replied curtly.

“Swedish?” That took Coop by surprise. “You’re a Euro?”

They were forming up into their ten squads of ten outside the building, but she spent a few seconds looking at Coop and rolling her eyes.

“No, you moron. Sweden isn’t part of the EU.” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Just because the origin of my name is Swedish doesn’t mean I’m from Sweden. My great grandfather emigrated to the Commonwealth from the Union nearly a hundred years ago. Wait…why the hell am I telling you this?” She frowned, and snapped her eyes forward.

“It must be my naturally charismatic personality,” Coop smiled.

The look Berg gave him said that clearly wasn’t the case.

Coop recalled his geo-political knowledge from freshman year of high school and figured out that Berg’s reference to the “Union” meant the Scandinavian Union not the European Union. The mega-state was a nation made up of the former countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. In terms of economic, political, and military influence the Scandinavian Union was far below the United Commonwealth of Colonies; but they still had a few planets colonized and a navy to protect them.

Coop stole another glance at Berg out of the corner of his eye and decided that her explanation made sense. She definitely had Scandinavian features. She was tall, almost as tall as Coop at just under one hundred and eighty centimeters. Her blonde hair was cropped in a short pixie cut designed to be low maintenance and keep the hair out of her eyes. Those eyes were blue, and several shades lighter than Coop’s own storm-colored eyes; but they were sharp and cold. Her face was beautiful, but her high cheek bones and personality gave it a permanently fierce quality. The smartcloth CMUs hid a lot of her body, but he could tell she was fit and a fine specimen of the female form.

Coop had read mythological holo-books growing up, and Berg was the spitting image of a Valkyrie; strong, proud, and a warrior down to the bone.

<I’m still gonna bone her.> Coop grinned to himself as the gunnery sergeant stepped to the front of their formation.

“You’re in luck, Recruits.” The look the gunnery sergeant gave them didn’t make Coop feel lucky. “You get to eat some chow before you meet your instructors.”

Now Coop felt lucky. The first thing he wanted to know about the military was how good the food was, and all the answers he’d received said it wasn’t half bad. <It can’t possibly be worse than that BSA shit.> Coop executed a right-face with the rest of the company and started marching toward the chow hall.

“Left…left…left right….right a left…left….left right…” the gunnery sergeant called out what foot should be hitting the ground. Even with the help, Coop didn’t think they looked like the professional military units he’d seen marching in parades.

They walked for a solid ten minutes until they reached a long rectangular building. Their marching was better by the time they got there, but it didn’t have the precision or snap of the other companies they’d passed while marching.

“Listen up, Recruits.” Corporal Collin stepped forward. “The chow hall is set up in a buffet style. You will move through the line and gather what you want. You will not go back or cut in front of people. If you need to return you will go all the way to the back of the line. The line moves in a clockwise fashion, so do not fuck it up. Understood?”

“Yes, Corporal!”

“Good,” he smiled, and pointed at a bunch of bars next to the four sets of double doors. “Everyone will execute ten pull-ups every time they enter and exit the chow hall. Execute!”

Everyone rushed to the pull-up bars and formed lines behind them. Coop had never done a pull-up in his life, unless you counted pulling yourself up and over a wall when another group of Rats tried to steal his hard earned shit.

Berg was up before him, so he watched her closely; partially because he wanted to see how they were done, and partially because she had a nice ass that was bobbing up and down in front of his face. The form was simple enough; palms facing out, gripping the bar at shoulder width, raising yourself up until your chin was over the bar, and lowering yourself until your arms were fully extended. Berg knocked out ten without any problem.

When she was clear, Coop jumped up and copied her movements. It was not as easy as it looked. His back screamed in protest, and he had to throw his legs to get himself up after the first six.

“You’re all fucking pathetic.” Corporal Collins didn’t even yell, he just leaned on the railing and shook his head.

“Come on, Cooper!” Berg was standing in front of him and urging him on.

“That’s easy for you to say.” Coop was dangling with his arms fully extended. He had two more to go.

“Move your ass! Let’s go!” Berg pushed the person behind Coop aside, grabbed two handfuls of his ass cheeks, and pushed.

She was surprisingly strong.

“At least buy me dinner first,” Coop wheezed.

“Dinner is free. One more.” She grabbed again and prepared to heave.

“At least tell me your name then.” Coop turned around and gave her a pained grin.

“You get your chin up over that bar by yourself and I’ll tell you my name.”

That was all the motivation Coop needed. He pulled, thrashed, and kicked his way into a pullup. His hands slipped on his way down and he fell straight on his back. Berg stood over him with her hands on her hips, and a slight smile teasing the corners of her mouth.

“My name is Eve. Now get off your ass, you’re holding up the line.”

“Eve.” Coop felt the name roll off his tongue as they walked up the stairs and into the air conditioned chow hall. “That’s biblical.”

That got him a raised eyebrow. “You know the bible?”

“Just the basic bits.” Coop grabbed a plain, white tray and joined the line of people slowly moving forward. “Eve was the first girl, right?”

“Yeah,” she eyed him like she was seeing him in a different light.

Religion was a touchy subject on post-Expansion Earth. You would think that humans exploring the vastness of space would create a greater appreciation for the divine, but the opposite was true. Just like the other nations, the various religious organizations took full advantage of the Expansion and the opportunities it provided. The growing starfaring nations, like the Commonwealth, didn’t like that. They labelled religious organizations like the Roman Catholic Church, Islamic states under Sharia Law, and Judaism as sovereign states when they settled other planets. As such, those states were not permitted to interact with communities except through authorized consulates, and those consulates were usually limited to one per planet.

You couldn’t walk down the street in a Commonwealth metropolis and spot a church every couple of blocks, and with a lack of accessibility came a lack of followers. Individual communities could still congregate at a worship center, but after a few hundred years those centers’ beliefs and traditions had changed drastically from the dogmatic doctrine of the original church. As a result, religion was a changing, fluid thing that only a few outside of religiously founded nations practiced.

It was something a welfare Rat like Coop would had little or no experience with. Which was why it was surprising that Coop knew anything at all about the Bible.

“You don’t look like an Eve.” Whatever goodwill Coop might have earned, he quickly ruined with his big mouth. “I’m gonna call you boss-lady.”

Eve couldn’t stop the single laugh from escaping.

<I’ll take that as a win.> Coop smiled. He could still feel her hands pressed against his ass.

The chow hall was huge. There had to be hundreds of tables across the hundreds of meters of space, and a lot of them were filled with sweaty, dirty, tired recruits. Coop followed Eve’s lead until they reached an open table in the middle of the room. They were quickly joined by the other members of their squad. They took a few minutes to get to know each other.

Second Squad of Echo Company 132nd TRNG Battalion consisted of six men and four women. Eve was the squad leader followed by Coop. After Coop in line was Nate, who still looked miserable that he wasn’t going to be an officer. Next to him was Emma and then Olivia, followed by John and Mike, the other Rat Coop had met back home. Next to Mike was Harper, who never seemed to shut up, and constantly placed her hand on Mike’s thigh despite the bigger former Rat’s uneasy protests.  Rounding out the squad was Ethan, and last but certainly least Andrew; the asshole from the ethics training who everyone in the squad knew was going to get them into trouble as some point. It didn’t help that Andrew was a bigger guy who looked like he knew how to handle himself.

Coop shoveled down food as the people around him talked. He was in heaven. The food in the military wasn’t just good, it was great! He ate two bowls of pasta, half a dozen meatballs, and then got back into line for ice cream. Eve told him to take it easy, but he shrugged her off. He was eating like a king for the first time in his life. His mind literally wouldn’t allow him to waste the opportunity.

Chow was scheduled for thirty minutes, which meant they had to finish eating in twenty, get their trays into the auto-cleaner, do their pull-ups, and be back in formation by that thirty minute mark.

Echo Company failed to meet that thirty minute time frame, and the two new people standing in front of the unit did not look happy about it.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 25

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“Why do we fight?” The gunnery sergeant asked as he looked out over the gathered recruits.

No one said a word. After the chew out the retard in Coop’s squad received it wasn’t a surprise. Coop just sat there, content to see how this all played out.

“This ethics session will require conversation.” The gunnery sergeant paced in front of the one hundred gathered boys and girls. “I expect you to participate, so I will ask you again. Why do we fight?”

“We fight to protect the United Commonwealth of Colonies and its interests from all enemies interstellar and within the Sol system.” The squad leader sitting next to Coop replied robotically.

“Directly out of the recruiting pamphlet,” the gunnery sergeant gave her a nod. “But I want to hear about it in your own words.” The squad leader hesitated and Gunnery Sergeant Wilson moved on.

No one else spoke up.

“Maybe that is too big of a question for all of you,” he scratched his cleanly shaven chin. “Tell me why you fight. What is your individual motivation for joining our glorious military?”

Of course it was the idiot who spoke up. “I’m here to kill Blockies. They’re all a bunch of communist, low-life scum who are trying to destroy our way of life.”

Coop could practically see people grimace internally. But not the gunnery sergeant. Something told Coop the old soldier had dealt with a lot of people like the idiot recruit.

“There are more threats to our Commonwealth than the Eastern Block.” The NCOIC referred to the Commonwealth’s primary economic and military opponent by its political name instead of the slang “Blockies”. “But if you want to fight soldiers from the Eastern Block then you will certainly get your chance.”

The recruit had a stupid grin on his face, but the gunnery sergeant quickly wiped it off. “Do not underestimate those soldiers. I’ve seen a handful of them execute a textbook ambush that killed half a company of Commonwealth infantry. They are not some backwater, backwards civilization. The Eastern Block is an interstellar power that rivals our own, and they have a professional and fiercely dedicated military to support them. The moment you underestimate them is the moment they kill you. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” There was a lot less enthusiasm this time.

“Recruit Cooper.” The gunnery sergeant suddenly called out, causing Coop’s stomach to drop.  “Why are you fighting?”

Coop was taken by surprise. “Um…” he stammered like an idiot before collecting himself. “I’m fighting for our glorious military because it’s better than prison.” He said it jokingly, but the gunnery sergeant didn’t laugh.

“Exactly. Recruit Cooper and a few other recruits in this company are being given a second chance. We all hope they don’t screw it up.”

The easy smile Coop had been wearing when he made fun of the gunnery sergeant’s vocabulary vanished with that thinly veiled threat.

“How about you, Recruit Berg?” The squad leader next to Coop sat up a little straighter. “Why do you fight?”

“I fight to protect the lives, liberties, and the ability for Commonwealth citizens to pursue what makes them happy,” she replied confidently.

“Ah,” the gunnery sergeant’s sigh of relief was obvious. “We’ve got an idealist on our hands.” Corporal Collins laughed in the background.

Coop’s big mouth got the best of him here. First, because this chick was his squad leader, and it was always a good idea to be on the boss’s good side. Second, because he really wanted to get in her pants. He’d only known her only for a few hours, but that was enough to know it wouldn’t be easy. He had to put in the work first.

“Why is that idealistic, Gunnery Sergeant?” Coop tried to sound as innocent as possible.

“Did you not…” Corporal Collins came barreling in, but the NCOIC waved him off.

“No, that’s a good question, Recruit Cooper,” the gunnery sergeant smiled, and Coop got a bad feeling.

“What Recruit Berg is referencing is an old mindset about governance. It was first established by John Locke, one of the ancient Founders of Liberalism, and a seventeenth century English philosopher. He coined the phrase life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. The phrase and ideology was altered slightly by Thomas Jefferson during the founding of the United States of America; Mr. Jefferson changed it to pursuit of happiness.” A quick look at the gathered recruits showed that no one, accept maybe Berg, was following.

<What does ancient history have to do with us killing people?> Coop thought.

“I say Recruit Berg’s motivations are idealistic because they are based on a philosophy that ultimately failed.” The gunnery sergeant explained. “I will explain, Recruit, no need to wave that hand around like you’re drowning.”

Berg put her hand down with a blush.

<Damn, but if that isn’t the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.> The blush made the squad leader look more like a woman and less like a wannabe military bitch.

“We’ll start with the idea of life,” the gunnery sergeant began. “We do not protect life.” It was as blunt as statement as Coop had ever heard. “What we do is selectively choose which life we deem to be more valuable than others, and then do our best to extinguish the other forms of life based upon our orders.”

The sounded about right to Coop. The Commonwealth military was there to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth, but that put tens of billions of other people in the crosshairs; and then those people’s militaries targeted the Commonwealth’s people. It was a cycle of violence that was as old as mankind.

“Our job is not to save lives. It is to accomplish the mission. The mission always comes first. In fact, we meticulously plan how to take life.” Coop felt like the gunnery sergeant was drilling home a point there.

“So what about liberty? But to really answer that question, we need to ask what is liberty?” The NCOIC shrugged.

No one was sure if that was a rhetorical question or not.

“People have had different ideas about liberty throughout history. The Greeks had their democracy, the Romans their republic, the nations of Europe their hereditary monarchies, the nations of Asia their communist party rule, and the Americans had their revised federal republic. Everything worked for a little bit; but all of those empires fell.” The gunnery sergeant scanned the crowd to make sure everyone was paying attention. “Some of those political philosophies failed because people didn’t have enough authority. The European monarchies died out after a few hundred years because they oppressed their people, and there is no such thing as a divine mandate to rule. Some other political philosophies failed because people had too much authority. The American republic gave everything to all of their citizens, but when everything is freely given it has no value. People don’t value their freedom unless it cost them something. They became soft, entitled, and many of them couldn’t survive the pressures of the Last Terran War. The Commonwealth learned a lot from America’s failures; which is why you have to earn the right to vote in Commonwealth elections. A truly educated and dedicated voting populace is something that few nations had before the formation of the Commonwealth. But now I’m rambling,” the gunnery sergeant stopped his speech. “The point is that liberty always vanishes, and it exists only as long as people are willing to fight and die for it.”

“So that leaves us with ‘happiness’; which is an abstract concept to begin with. I could be happy crushing rocks in a Blocky prison camp as long as they didn’t beat the shit out of me; but Recruit Cooper might be miserable. He, on the other hand, might be happy killing a man with his bare hands; but I’m not. Happiness is a condition based on the individual; it is not a reason to defend an interstellar state since one man’s pleasure might be another man’s pain.”

<Wow, that’s deep.> Coop was mildly impressed, and annoyed at the gunnery sergeant’s example of him.

“Recruit Berg has touched upon what used to be called the ‘unalienable rights of man’, but just like liberty we know that nothing is unalienable in this galaxy. Things are stable here on Earth, but that will not make you complacent. You go outside the Core-worlds, especially in the Rim, and you’ll see just how pointlessly useless political philosophy is; which brings me back to my original question. Why do we fight?”

This time it was a rhetorical question.

“Every holo you’ve ever seen says that we fight for the men and women to our right and our left. We are a brotherhood, and we’re willing to lay down our lives for one another. That is true, and some of you will experience that firsthand in the next few years; but not all of you. Some of you will want nothing more than to accidentally drop a grenade next to your squad leader, or call in indirect fire on top of your company headquarters. Some of you will not experience that band of brothers that every group of soldiers is supposed to have.” The gunnery sergeant’s stare was deadly serious now.

“The point I’m trying to make is that we fight for individual reasons, and it is those individual reasons that are truly important. Those reasons will be put to the test in the next twelve weeks of basic training, your specialty training after that, and then on the frontlines against seasoned enemy veterans. Your individual reasons need to sustain you, they need to give you the will to fight and kill the enemy. I do not want anyone here to die for their country. I want you to make some sorry son of a bitch die for theirs. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!”

<Well if that doesn’t give a self-righteous asshole a hard on then nothing will.> Coop wasn’t dumb enough to drink the Kool-Aid, but he was smart enough to know a good salesman when he saw one. And Gunnery Sergeant Wilson was a good one.

The ethics class lasted for another few hours. They discussed many things; rules of engagement, the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, what was expected of them as recruits during basic, and all the ways they could fuck up and get kicked out. What surprised Coop most was that most of the people here wanted to be here. Apparently, the selection process from the armed forces didn’t just let anyone in; which made Coop wonder what that judge saw about him on that screen.

“We don’t want mindless drones. We want soldiers who can think, adapt, and overcome.” The gunnery sergeant explained, although it was contradictory to a prior statement he’d made.

Coop was about to point that out when Berg stopped him. She just gave Coop a small shake of her head, and he realized that she was covering for him just like he’d stood up for her.

Coop paid special attention to the rules, because if he fucked up and got booted he was headed straight to Attica.

“Any final questions?” The gunnery sergeant wrapped up their ethics class around the four hour mark.

It was late, the sun was starting to set, and Coop could hear his stomach growling. He hadn’t eaten much all day. That was normal for a Rat, but Coop also had to do all the physical activity. Burning calories he didn’t have was creating unpleasant gastrointestinal issues.

No one raised their hands. “Excellent.” The gunnery sergeant powered down the holo with a practiced swipe and then gave the group a creepy smile. “Let’s go meet your instructors.”

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A Change of Pace – Chapter 70

Friday nights meant the HCP was nearly vacant. Despite all the work ethic, dedication, and drive to be a Hero people still needed a break. Daisy liked Friday nights. It gave her some peace and quiet.

<Janet Ibsen.> Daisy grabbed the next file in her to-do pile.

Janet Ibsen was a light manipulator, and the twenty-seventh ranked freshman. She could summon what Daisy described as a light-rope. During the first semester Janet had concentrated on shrinking, growing, and learning to bash people with her object. Despite its appearance, the light-rope could dish out some punishment.

But first semester was behind Janet now. She was in Daisy’s alternative class, which meant they were exploring new ways to work the young Super’s power. Currently, Daisy had her experimenting with different techniques. A critical flaw in Janet’s form was she basically used the rope as a chain to bash her enemies with. That wouldn’t fly, especially when she was just as vulnerable as your average human. Her light-rope was strong, a lot stronger than it looked, so Daisy had her training to use the rope like a lasso. Keeping the rope swirling around Janet would give her a partial defense, subtler control of her manifestation, and the skill to use her power to contain rather than smash.

<But there’s more there,> Daisy thought as she scribbled some notes in Janet’s file.

Later in the semester Daisy wanted Janet to experiment with manipulating the properties of her light-rope. There was always the possibility of her making her rope do more than just shine, deflect attacks, and bash people’s skulls. Daisy saw it as a good sign that the rope was already more resilient and sturdy than a flexible beam of light had any right to be. It gave her hope that Janet might be able to manipulate other aspects of the rope.

<Maybe try and have her make the end adhesive.> Daisy let her mind wander. <If she can get it to stick then that would increase her mobility. She’d have to really condition herself, but she might be able to climb up the sides of buildings, swing between them, or be able to latch onto anything. That would be a lot to work with.>

Daisy couldn’t help but revel in the rush of excitement. She’d been in the Hero business a long time, and she always loved brainstorming and thinking about the possible uses of a Super’s abilities. Of course, things had changed. She used to apply this particular set of skills to evaluate criminal Supers and build contingencies of what she was going to do if one attacked her.

A Super trained with Janet’s ability could be a handful. They would have solid offensive and defensive skills, plus extra movement options. It would be a pain in the ass, and make Daisy look like an idiot, if she was chasing after a villain who was swinging through a city like Tarzan.

It was a solid power, but still no match for Reaper.

A memory surfaced at the forefront of Daisy’s mind. She was with Mastermind and a few other people. They were in some type of bazar in a hot, sandy place. Judging by the fashion on some of the people this had to be the seventies. The ForceOps team was in disguise, and walking down the street spaced apart so they could watch each other’s backs. Daisy wore a head to toe garment. The only thing you could see where her eyes, and judging by the irritation she remembered she was wearing contacts.

They were approaching a café where someone was laughing, yelling obscenities in a foreign language, and demanding more drink. Daisy moved into the café and past the target. The man was broad in the shoulders and thick in the waist, making him rather large all around. He had an uncomfortable looking woman on his arm, and was surounded by half a dozen armed men.

None of them watched Daisy as she passed. She wasn’t a threat in their minds. None of them even gave her a second look until she used her power on them. Every armed man in the room collapsed and convulsed as they puked up everything they’d eaten. Daisy held them like that while the rest of her team pulled out silenced pistols and began methodically executing them.

Their target was a weapons smuggler who was making life very difficult for a fledgling U.S.-backed government. The hit couldn’t look like a Super assassination, that would draw too many suspicious eyes. It was much more plausible that a competitor found the gun-peddler and took him out; poisoning and then killing everyone.

Daisy didn’t remember feeling any regret as someone put two in the man’s chest and one in his head. The only regret stemmed from the other people in the café. This had to look like a turf war, and that meant everyone had to go.

The woman who’d been uncomfortably attached to the weapons dealer’s arm was the person she really remembered, and it wasn’t because the woman looked scared. Whoever she was, the woman looked relieved as Daisy’s team backed out to the entrance where a member of the team pulled out an AK47, and sprayed the place down with bullets.

And then they all left, like nothing ever happened.

<Damn.> Daisy reached for the dream journal she kept with her at all times.

Ever since Kevin helped her with her brain problem everyday activities had been bringing back once forgotten memories. It was small things that would trigger them, but thankfully they weren’t all encompassing visions like they’d been before. They were normal memories and Daisy experienced them like a normal person. Although, it wasn’t normal to remember a café assassination when one of her students looked like an innocent woman who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Daisy would have felt bad, but this memory was over forty years old. The woman had been dead a long time. There was nothing Daisy could do but write down the memory, try and explain her emotions, and then share them with Dr. Johnson when she saw him next.

<Ok, I think that’s enough for tonight.> Daisy closed Janet’s folder. She’d lost any motivation to continue thinking about various uses of powers.

She looked down at her watch and saw it was seven-fifty. She needed to hurry up if she was going to surprise Topher on his first night back to work.

Only a month after taking a shotgun blast to the chest, and three weeks after getting out of the hospital, Officer Christopher Phillips was back on the job keeping the streets of Orlando safe.

That might be what Topher had in mind, but Daisy wasn’t going to allow him back into harm’s way just yet. Between the impressions she’d made during her time with Topher at the hospital, and her Hero connections in the community, Daisy had convinced Topher’s boss that he wasn’t quite ready to go on patrol yet. Topher was on light duty for another week to slowly work back into the swing of things, so Daisy had peace of mind for another week before her very vulnerable boyfriend went back to man the thin blue line.

<And I’m going to take full advantage of it.> She’d told herself, which was why she was leaving the HCP hours before she usually did on a Friday. <My man needs some healthy food, and I’m going to get it for him.>

                By healthy food she meant bacon cheeseburgers, and by get she meant pick up in a drive through. It wasn’t a romantic candlelit dinner, but she knew he would appreciate it.

She passed by the gym on her way out. There were a few seniors in there sparing. Her eyes met with Hannah Dixon’s, and the senior gave her a brief nod before resuming her telekinetic attack. She’d been nominated to participate in intermural by her class. And although Daisy was pretty sure the senior subtlety student didn’t want to, she wasn’t going to let her class down.

<You can try and hide what you can do, but your first day as an intern you’re going to have to show your team what you’re capable of. Anything less than full knowledge to your mentor will only piss them off.> Another memory from Daisy’s past began to surface, but she repressed it. She didn’t have time. She needed to get to Topher.

The ride over was uneventful. She pulled through the drive through and grabbed the burgers, fries, and milkshakes. It wasn’t the diet one would expect from a Hero but Daisy didn’t really give a shit. She was hungry, and she knew Topher would love it. She turned the radio up and blared the latest country hit, singing alone off-key in a way that would make everyone within earshot shudder.

Daisy drove to the police station without a care in the world. She was just a girl going to see a boy, bringing him ice cream, and hoping to sneak a kiss when no one was looking.

That was her hope, and those hopes were dashed when she arrived.

Police stations were by nature busy places. Criminals were being dragged in or being shipped out. Cops were coming and going, and civilians were too. There was always a flurry of activity, and Friday nights were usually bad; but Daisy had never seen anything like this.

It looked like every car in the precinct had its lights on and was peeling out of the motorpool. Daisy turned down the radio and heard more sirens farther away. Something had happened. The nice bubble of excitement she’d been feeling about bringing Topher dinner had just shattered.

<Something’s wrong.> No sooner had she thought it than her phone began to vibrate.

“Topher!” Daisy read the caller ID.

For a second, one brief but terrifying second, Daisy thought something had happened to him again. The thought had nearly crushed her.

“Hey.” Topher sounded breathless like he’d been running. “I just wanted to let you know I’m not going to be able to eat with you tonight.”

“What?” The bags of food in the passenger seat were completely forgotten by whatever the hell was going on.

“I know you were going to surprise me with food, and I love you for that, but something happened. We had to leave in a hurry.” Topher sounded upset, Daisy could hear it in his voice.

“I thought you were on desk duty for the week.” Daisy knew her attempt to rationalize it sounded weak.

“I was, but they needed all hands on deck for this one.” Topher’s voice took on a grim tone of determination.

<What the hell happened?>

                “Call your boss.” Daisy got the hint. “And I love you.”

“I love you too.” It was like Daisy’s heart was do backflips while nearly exploding with fear at the same time.

She couldn’t have something happen to Topher, not again. Not so soon after she’d almost lost him. Not so soon after they’d finally confessed their love for each other.

<Maybe if I screw his brains out he’ll stop playing hero cop and stay home with me.> They didn’t need the money. Daisy was loaded. But even as she thought it she knew Topher wouldn’t go for it. He was a cop just as much as she was a Hero.

<Maybe I’ll dunk him in a vat of toxic sludge. If he gets superpowers I might not be so afraid for his well-being.> It was wishful thinking on her part.

“I’ll call you as soon as I can, ok.”

“Sure. Stay safe.” The line went dead, and Daisy immediately dialed the HCP secure line.

“Put me through to the Dean, now!” Daisy felt bad for the DVA operator who’d just gotten the voice recognition off her irate tone. No one wanted to be called by a renowned Hero who sounded like she was going to murder someone.

“Yes, ma’am.”

There were several clicks and a moment later John’s voice came over the line.

“Daisy, I was waiting for…”

“John, what the fuck happened?” She cut him off.

“Ah, you’ve heard,” John’s voice did something Daisy had rarely heard from the man. It cracked with emotion.

“I think you’d better come in. We need to get you caught up.”

 

***

 

The alley was dark and quiet, wrapped in the cloak of a warm Orlando night. A blast of darkness disrupted that calm, and then Lilly appeared.

<Flawless victory,> she thought with a surge of pride.

No one had followed her or Mika as they covered their tracks across the world, and that could only mean one thing. If Hunter was alive, then he would have followed. He’d be compelled to. It was his nature as much as it was his Hero’s persona. Just like it was Lilly’s nature to remove people who threatened her from the equation.

<It couldn’t have gone any better.> She started to whistle in the dark depths of that alley. A cheerful whistle that was out of place, but oddly made it more eerie in the confined space.

<Time to face the music.> Lilly took a deep breath and started walking toward the townhouse, toward Seth. Although, there was a lightness in her step that made it an almost-skip.

It was a short walk back to her home away from home. Probably too short. She wasn’t sure what she was going to say to the man she loved. Her excitement from her victory quickly dissolved into anxiety.

<Hi honey, I’m home. Sorry I’ve been a raging bitch for the past few weeks. Planning to kill a famous Hero is just really hard work and requires a lot of dedication, but that’s done now. So take me upstairs and fuck my brains out.>

                She smiled nervously. Telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth had a certain appeal to it, but Lilly wasn’t stupid. If she did that now she’d definitely lose him forever.

<I’ve got to bring him in slowly, over time, convert him. Wait…what?> Lilly stopped a few houses from her destination and shook her head. <Get it together,> she chided. <That went from makeup sex to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets to a hero-in-training way too quickly. Let’s not do anything stupid.>

Lilly cleared her mind and walked the last few houses, but she couldn’t lie to herself. <It would be nice if he knew and accepted me for who I am.>

As she reached the door to the townhouse she effortlessly shed the skin of Lilly Thermopolis and became Liz Aretino. It was a good thing that the two people weren’t that different.

“Oh…hiya, Liz.” Becca was sitting on the couch watching TV by herself when Liz pushed through the door. “I thought you were gone for the night.”

“I thought I would have been, but I finished up everything I had to do.”

Becca just nodded.

“Hey, do you have a minute for some girl talk?” Liz was just as surprised as Becca by her own question.

“Um…sure. What’s goin’ on?” If Becca didn’t look uncomfortable before, then she definitely did now.

“I know we don’t know each other very well. But you’ve been here and I haven’t lately. So I want you to be straight with me. How has Seth been? And does he blame me?”

“Oh geez,” Becca’s face softened a little at the question. “Well, he’s been as cranky as an old goat ever since you stopping comin’ around so much. But I honestly try not to pry too much.”

Becca tried to hide it, but Liz caught something pass across the petite, blue-haired woman’s face.

“Wait! Did you and he…”

“No…NO!” Becca threw up her hands defensively. “At least not for me. He might have been crushin’ on me, but that was before I figured stuff out.”

“You prefer a donut to a hot dog.” Liz couldn’t help the sigh of relief from escaping. This was awkward enough between her and Seth, they didn’t need to add an ex to the mix; especially one as cute as Becca.

<I wonder what happened to the one dollar ho I sent packing.> Liz briefly remembered the encounter after the coffee shop attack, and quickly determined she didn’t give two shits.

“So he’s just been a grumpy old man lately. Does he talk about me, blame me for anything?” Liz grimaced when Becca hesitated.

“I haven’t heard anything from the horse’s mouth, but Kyoshi has mentioned that his thoughts have been a little…negative lately.” Becca looked uncomfortable. “Kyoshi doesn’t do that a lot, but sometimes it’s hard to block it all out if someone is projecting like that, at least that’s what they tell me.” Becca quickly defended her friend’s actions.

It said a lot about how far Liz had come in this operation that these HCP students were freely talking about aspects of their powers in front of her. If she waited this out, then she might gain more insight into the HCP than any other person not associated with the schools or DVA. That information would be priceless among her like-minded, morally ambiguous, criminal associates.

<Dad and the client won’t wait that long.> It was a missed opportunity, but an opportunity she was willing to forego to stay on the good side of their client. He was not a man to be jerked around.

“I get it.” Liz turned her attention back to the conversation. “I’ve got nothing against Kyoshi. That actually helps me. I’ve fucked things up, and now I’ve got to fix them.”

“I wouldn’t say that you fudged them up, but…” Becca started to respond, but Liz was already on her feet and moving.

“Thanks for the talk, Becca. We should grab lunch sometimes and get to know each other better.”

“Yeah, ok.” Liz left Becca looking confused and unsure if she’d done the right thing.

Liz gathered her resolve as she climbed the stairs. She needed to sell this, make it look good; or everything she’d done to kill off the overrated Hero was going to come back and bite her in the ass. But the more she climbed the more conflicted she felt, and the more her emotions warred.

<You did kind of toss him aside for two weeks.> She could imagine a white, ankle-length, robe and halo wearing angel appear on her shoulder.

<What?> A devil, in a skimpy black, latex outfit appeared on the opposite shoulder. <You’re a powerful, dedicated woman who’s got her own shit going on. Why should you be waiting around for some man to say you can go somewhere or do something?>

                <It’s not that you can or can’t do something. It’s the way you handled it.> Miss Goody-two-shoes shot back.

<It’s a dog eat dog world, honey. You know that better than most. Don’t let anyone else set the rules. You make your own rules, and fuck everyone else.>

                The imaginary manifestations went back and forth as Liz finished climbing the stairs. It only left her more conflicted when she arrived.  

Seth’s door was closed. Normally she’d barge right in. It didn’t matter if he was getting changed or choking the sheriff and waiting for the posse to come, and in the latter case she’d probably just finish him off. But this time she knocked and waited. She’d lost her barging privileges when she partially abandoned him without any reason.

<But did I really abandon him?>

Seth opened the door, and all she got was a cocked eyebrow. “Yeah.”

Liz couldn’t help herself. The way he looked and sounded pissed her off.

She slapped him.

“Yeah! That’s all you’re going to give me?” She advanced into the room as Seth staggered back in surprise.

“What the shit was that for?”

“That was for your stupid face.” The comeback sounded like it came from an eight-year-old, but she rolled with it.

“What the fuck is wrong with you, Liz?” Shock wore off and Seth got defensive.

“You’re what’s wrong with me.” She shot back. She could feel the conversation spiraling out of control, and her mouth loosing whatever filter she’d thought she could bring to this fight.

Seth just stared at her dumbstruck.

“You’re just standing there looking perfect, with your abs and your smile.” It didn’t help that Seth was shirtless.

“I’m gone for a few weeks, a few weeks, Seth, and all of a sudden you’re this mopey little bitch who needs to call the whambulence.”

Liz knew she’d taken it too far. Seth had been surprised but not upset when she barged in, but now his face turned red with anger.

“What the fuck is your problem? You think this is my fault?” He roared so hard the picture frames on the wall shook as he unconsciously manipulated the air in the room. “You just up and left me, Liz. Without an explanation or a goodbye BJ. One day you were here and the next you were gone.”

“I wasn’t gone. I just had shit to do!” She matched his volume.

“Yeah sure. Did that shit you were doing have you on your back with your legs behind your head?”

<Wrong move, asshole.>

                Seth knew he’d done something bad by the snarl on Liz’s face. Apparently, the last slap she’d given him when he suggested she was cheating wasn’t enough.

So this time she threw a haymaker into the side of his head.

Liz was strong, well-trained, and angry. That meant that all the HCP training in the world wasn’t going to save Seth from getting knocked on his ass.

Seth crashed to the floor, an outstretched arm knocked several things off his desk as he tried to break his fall.

She didn’t give him time to recover, she jumped on top of him, and prepared to pound his face into the ground.

“Don’t you get it you stupid fucktard!” She dug her fingernails into the skin. “I love you, I wouldn’t cheat on you. I haven’t met a man who can make me feel like you can.”

Liz didn’t realize until now that she was crying.

She let her concentration slip and Seth rolled them both over, so now he was on top of her.

“Then why the fuck are you acting like this?”

Instead of leaning forward and putting all his weight on her, like someone would in a real fight; Seth sat up and checked the wounds on his chest.

“I don’t know.” A sob escaped her. “I’ve never loved someone before. And no one has ever loved me.”

Seth paused in his assessment and looked at her.

Liz didn’t want him to see her like this. Her mascara was running, she had blood on her fingernails from attacking him, her fist was starting the throb from hitting his thick skull, and she was tired; just so tired.

She thought she looked pathetic, but apparently Seth didn’t.

He leaned forward slowly, making sure he didn’t startle her. Liz let him, until his lips pressed softly against hers.

It was like someone set off a firework in her heart. She’d literally just punched this man in the head, and he still loved her.

<Wow, we’re dysfunctional.> But that was just the way she liked it. <Normal is overrated.>

When Seth tried to pull away Liz didn’t let him. She wrapped her arms gently around his neck and pulled him back in for another tender kiss.

It was an intimate moment, and in that moment, she needed to share something with him. It didn’t have to be big, it couldn’t be big, but she needed to share something from the real her, not the pseudo her.

“Seth,” she pulled back, and looked into his beautiful emerald eyes. “I’m not a nice person. I’ve done bad things in my life and I’m not sorry about them.”

It was vague, and only held a spec of the truth; but it should have thrown up warning signs to a normal person.

But not Seth.

Instead of looking concerned, confused, or even turned off; Seth smiled down at her.

“In case you haven’t noticed. I like it when you’re a little naughty.” His smile turned mischievous. “And in case you missed it, I’m no angel myself.”

Seth had no idea the disparaging gap between his personal, sexual proclivities and the many crimes Liz had committed, but she could still feel a kindred spirit in him. They might be several degrees of separation apart, but this could work.

“God I love you.” She raked her nails across his back summoning a groan of painful pleasure from deep inside him.

“Now shut up and fuck me.”

And he did…oh he did.

Unfortunetly, Becca burst in mid-reverse cowgirl.

“Seth, Liz, oh golly!” She shielded her eyes, but not before getting a full view of her grinding on top of him.

“Jesus Christ, Becca.” Seth pulled out and they scrambled for clothes. “Can’t you see we’re…busy.”

“Yeah, glad y’all have made up, but we got an emergency.”

Seth nodded for her to continue while he threw on some shorts. Not that it helped the boner.

“What’s going on?” Liz was a little more casual about getting dressed. After all, she was totally up for a threesome with Seth’s hot roommate.

“It’s Angela. She’s in the hospital.”

That put an end to any ménage á trois fantasies Liz was having.

“Then what are we waiting for?” Liz slipped her bra on and grabbed a shirt. “Let’s go.”

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