Two Worlds – Chapter 125

Eve Berg

Location: CWS Hoplite, Rogue Island System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Eve didn’t realize how colossally fucked they were until her boots hit the deck of the battleship.

CWS Hoplite was newer than Valkyrie. Her decks were a little shinier, her shuttle bay a little larger, and her crew was just as professional. Which was why it came as a surprise when a petty officer third class started screaming at everyone when the Spyder touched down.

“Move! Let’s go people. Get your asses off this bird NOW!”

SGM Queen didn’t take too kindly to the PO3’s attitude either. Eve knew the “chew your ass up and spit it back out” expression that appeared on the older Ranger’s face and she sat back to enjoy the show.

“I don’t care Sergeant Major.” The PO3 didn’t even blink when the hulking Ranger stepped up to him. “We need to get everyone off this bird now so it can get back down to the planet. It’s my job to make that happen.”

Since most of the people onboard were injured from the FOB on Rogue Island the process of unloading wasn’t a quick one.

“Shut your mouth and open your ears…” The SGM started.

“You need to move, Sergeant Major.” The PO3 cut him off.

Eve had trouble keeping her jaw off the floor. She’d seen a lot of stupid shit happen in her short time with the military. Davenport came to mind. She’d also seen one of her friends die, killed a few people in anger, and was watching her mentor struggle to hang on. Despite all of that, she’d never seen something more idiotic than interrupting a Ranger SGM when he was about to chew someone out. This was rapidly moving from a chewing out session to putting a foot up the Fleet NCO’s ass session.

“We don’t have time for this.” The PO3 kept going. “An enemy fleet is headed this way.”

That stopped the SGM in his tracks.

“And it’s not a pair of harassing battleships or another task force. The Blockies Sixth Fleet is heading this way, and if you’d like to get the rest of our people off that planet you need to step off my dick and let me do my job.”

Both NCOs were red in the face, and Eve was wondering what was going to happen next. Like most people in the Spyder, she’d stopped to see if the SGM stomped on the PO3.

“You heard the man!” The SGM rounded on the inactive soldiers in the Spyder. “Get the fuck off this bird. MOVE!” The SGM’s voice did what the PO3’s couldn’t. It lit a fire under everyone’s ass.

Eve grabbed one end of the stretcher GYSGT Cunningham was lying on and helped haul her off the bird, out of the shuttle bay, and down to sick bay. They were one of the first shuttles to make it back from the planet with casualties, so the GYSGT was the first patient to get treatment. She didn’t have to wait. Nurses were standing by at the door to take her. Eve and the SGM had to switched the Gunney over to a grav-stretcher because she was still in her armor and heavy as hell. After that, the nurses were able to take it from there.

“She’ll be fine.” It wasn’t part of the SGM’s nature to sound comforting, but he came as close as he was able to. “If you can make it to proper medical attention in our profession there is over an eighty percent chance you’re going to live. They can put humpty-dumpty back together again.”

That was good enough for Eve. She gave one last look around sick bay and followed the SGM out of the room. Now, they needed to get back to their assigned ship and prepare to haul ass out of the system.

That was a no-go the second they reentered the shuttle bay. All available birds were shuttling people on and off the ship. They were even going as far as to keep the engines running in the bay, so they didn’t have to do pre and post flight checks. The shuttle bay crew was moving as fast as they possibly could, and judging by the strained looks on their faces Eve didn’t think it would be enough.

“Come on.” The SGM didn’t want to stick around and be in the way once it was clear they weren’t getting back to Valkyrie. “Let’s go find some friendly faces and put our boots up. Something tells me we might have more action then we bargained for in a bit.”

Eve didn’t argue with that, so they headed off into grunt country to find this ship’s SOCOM personnel.

 

CWS Manchester Bridge

Location: Rogue Island System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “How the bloody hell did this happen?” The Rear Admiral in charge of the Rogue Island task force sat in his command chair on the flag bridge. “Those scouts royally fucked us.”

It was clear to the RADM’s staff that his question was rhetorical. Everyone except the Chief of Staff was too busy to answer it anyway. They were executing a massive withdrawal of all Commonwealth forces on the planet, and the countdown clock on the wall showed they had less than a hundred minutes to do it.

<It is not going to be enough.>

The RADM was running the scenarios on his PAD. If they left orbit in a hundred minutes, they would just barely skate out of the system before coming into weapons range of the massive Blockie force, but that was only if they held their current speed. The RADM knew when the Blockie admiral over there smelled blood in the water he’d push his units to the brink.

The numbers weren’t looking good. The Commonwealth RADM had over thirty vessels under his command, but the destroyers and battlecruisers weren’t going to be any help. They were out doing what they were supposed to do – locate any threat trying to sneak up on the main task force – and they’d done their job. It had been a tiny destroyer that had picked up the Blockie Fleet trying to act like a hole in space hiding behind another planet in the system. That destroyer had paid with its life, but it did its job and got the word out.

He’d sent orders for those smaller ships to bug out if they couldn’t reach the main task force body. They were to plot the fastest route to the hyper limit and get back to Syracuse. The drone that had been dropped at the hyper limit had already been sent back to the sector capitol with news of the enemy fleet’s position, but third fleet wouldn’t be able to mobilize and get to Rogue Island in time. All the RADM really had was his twenty-two battleships and two assault carriers to work with, and that wasn’t a lot when facing an enemy whose battleships alone outnumbered him four to one.

<We shouldn’t have dropped so many troops.> The RADM second guessed his earlier decision even though he knew it was the best one to make with the limited information he had available. It was always better to have numerical superiority. He’d given the troops on the ground that to retake the planet, and now he had to deal with the reverse.

The clock continued to tick down as assault shuttles flew well outside of recommended safety standards. The fighter jockeys were probably having a blast getting to screw with the rules. They were entering the atmosphere at steeper angles to cut down on the time. All they were doing was getting refueled when they got back to their ships. They weren’t even doing post-flight checks. They were just shoving them back out the door.

It was crude, but it was necessary. It was a miracle they only lost two shuttles during the evacuation, but that was still more troops lost than in the entire retaking of the planet.

“Final flight is in route, Sir.”

The RADM looked over at the clock. They only had fifteen minutes left, and for a flight to break out of the atmosphere, rendezvous with the ships, dock, and secure was at least double that.

<Twenty maybe thirty minutes.> The RADM computed the amount of time his task force would be in the engagement zone of the Blockies. <If I group us tight enough we might be able to survive.> That plan offered its own dangers, but this was the type of situation where you had to take risks. Playing it by the book was a sure way to die.

“Get us out of here.” The RADM commanded the second the last ship had acknowledged that they were good to go.

Manchester, its fellow carrier, twenty-two battleships, three battlecruisers, and one destroyer pulled away from Rogue Island. They broke free of the last of the planet’s gravity and steadily accelerated at full military power on the most advantageous course toward the hyper limit.

Then came the waiting game. For two hours, they were forces to watch as the Blockies inched closer and closer. They had the acceleration advantage and the angle. The RADM did what he could to remove as many of the enemy’s advantages as he could, but there was only so much he could do.

He grouped the task force closer than doctrine advised for better interlocked defenses. It also gave the Blockies a smaller target to shoot at. If they wanted to do more damage they’d have to bring more of their force to bear, which involved altering their approach vector to bring as many ships as possible into position for broadside volleys. That would cut down the overall engagement time as they exited the engagement window faster.

There was still no knowing if that was going to be enough. Eighty plus battleships alone could throw a hell of a lot of missiles in a single volley.

“Sir, everyone reports they are at battlestations.” The Commonwealth task force had been ready to fight for that last hour, but as the distance fell below ten million kilometers it all became much more real.

“Fighter launch, Sir.”

The RADM expected this. The Blockie admiral was going to want to do as much damage as possible in the short time he could, and that meant bringing out the armada of fighter drones stuffed into the bellies of the assault carriers.

“Launch fighters, defensive formation Alpha.” The RADM’s order was transmitted to the Manchester’s captain who executed.

A Commonwealth assault carrier’s MTOE called for one thousand fighter drones. The little arrow-shaped crafts were stealthy, well-armed, short-range combatants that could be used both in a planet’s atmosphere and in deep space. Doctrine mostly called for them to assist planetary invasions, but they were also excellent skirmishing units. They carried a single nose cannon in the twenty-five megawatt range, a single missile launcher with five more rounds, point defense laser cluster, and one railgun with plenty of ammunition. The missiles were much smaller than capitol-ship rounds, and had a range of only half a million kilometers, but with their numbers they could do a lot of damage.

Two thousand fighters swarmed out of the assault carriers and took up positions above and below the main formation of ships. While the counterfire from the warships would meet the enemy’s holocaust head on, the fighters would be able to shoot up and down at the enemy’s attack. It was the best coverage the RADM could get with what he had.

Everyone on the flag bridge watched as the distance steadily decreased between the two navies.

“They’ll get two maybe three broadsides in before we’re out of range.” The task force’s gunnery officer was the only one talking on the bridge.

Tense silence filled the last few seconds of peace a lot of people would have in this world.

“Missile launch!”

The Blockie fleet opened fire at the maximum range of eight million kilometers, and the Commonwealth fired back. They didn’t fire any missiles because they needed all of the tubes for countermissiles, but every energy cannon in the task force unleashed hell on the enemy fleet. The RADM had them concentrate their fire on the assault carriers and a few battleships, but distance, the weakening of the energy beams, and evasive maneuvers made killing the Blockies virtually impossible. Despite the odds, a Blockie battleship was forced to fall out of formation streaming wreckage. It wasn’t dead, but the Commonwealth had definitely kicked it in the nuts. It was a small victory.

“Fifteen thousand inbound contacts!”

The RADM paled slightly at the wave of red heading straight for them. <And that’s going to be their smallest broadside.> Only about eighty percent of the battleships had fired on the first volley.

“Second launch! Eighteen thousand inbound.”

“Third launch! Ten thousand inbound.”

<Forty-three thousand missiles.> The RADM had made his peace with everything he loved and believed in before he went out on every deployment, but seeing that many instruments of death heading straight for him was truly awe inspiring.

“Enemy is out of weapons envelope.” The navigation officer informed as the Blockies course took them out of range. Not that it mattered much. Those missiles were still coming in hot.

The tighter grouping was going to be a disadvantage now. He’d hoped the change would have resulted in less missiles being fired at his task force, and he’d partially succeeded. They were dealing with forty-three thousand instead of fifty-four thousand, but when so many missiles were flying around it was tough to think what difference eleven thousand made.

Worst of all, the RADM really couldn’t do anything else now. It was all up to the ships’ captains to fight their ships. They weren’t going on the offensive. That would be suicide. They just needed to fight through these missiles and make it to the hyper limit, but from here on out the RADM was riding shotgun.

The deck rumbled beneath the flag bridge as the first wave of countermissiles went out to meet the Blockie’s missiles in the opening number of the dance of destruction. Several millenniums of human ingenuity, training, and bravery were all coming to the forefront in a little backwater system in the middle of nowhere. This was the culmination of warfare. If he wasn’t so stressed, the RADM might have even laughed.

The assault carrier continued to shudder as it pumped out as many countermissiles as fast as it could. The combined throwing weight of the entire task force was only a little over five thousand missiles. That was where the drones came in handy. The task force got off two volleys in the time it took the first Blockie salvo to cross the space between them. With the addition of the drone’s last-ditch efforts they nearly had force parity in terms of numbers.

It was never a one for one exchange though. Electronic warfare systems on the missiles and ships flared to life. Confusion and chaos plagued both sides as phantom ships and missiles appeared, their location suddenly changed, or they disappeared long enough for the missiles to lose their lock on their targets. Countermissiles met missiles in the largest display of destruction the Rogue Island system would ever see. Point defense lasers flared to life and added to the light show. Last but not least, rail guns mounted on the hulls made the last stand before missiles detonated.

Can openers and funneled anti-matter blasts tore into eleven of the twenty-two battleships. The Blockies had grouped their targeting for the maximum damage, and it showed. Several ships went from green to red or yellow status as damage reports started to scroll across the side of the holo-bubble, and a few disappeared entirely.

“Sir, Valkyrie is just gone.” The RADM read the rest of the list himself.

The old battleship was the only one they’d lost, but another one had their Alcubierre drives knocked out and wouldn’t be able to jump. They were essentially lost. The rest looked like they’d limp across the hyper limit, but casualty assessments were already coming in and it didn’t look good.

<That’s what happens when over a hundred missiles target each ship.>

There was no time to mourn their losses though. The RADM turned his attention back to the tactical portion of the holo-bubble just in time to see the second – and largest – Blockie broadside tear through the Commonwealth’s countermissiles. Both sides had learned from the previous volley and adjusted accordingly. Fortunately, the Commonwealth adjusted better, but that still didn’t stop over fifteen hundred missiles from getting through.

This time they were targeted on the other eleven battleships. The RADM lost two outright this time with another two getting their drives knocked out. Also, the lone destroyer, which wasn’t even targeted, got blown to shit. The rest would make it.

All that left was the final broadside, and there were really only two targets left. Only two reduced countermissile launches leapt out to meet the last ten thousand Blockie missiles. The RADM knew what he had to do before those missiles even met.

“Sacrifice!” He broadcasted.

Immediately, the two thousand drones sprang to life and started moving. The RADM’s command was a last-ditch effort to save the carriers. The drones would act as shields. They would take the hits or try to pull away the missiles. They’d also fire the last of their missiles and fill the space in front of the carriers with duro-steel railgun rounds.

The RADM had now literally done everything possible to save his command. Most would make it out, but two destroyers and three battleships were already gone. Another three weren’t going to make the jump and would get destroyed or captured by the Blockies when they came back around. Now it was his turn to see if Manchester survived.

Missiles came screaming in as point defense lasers and the drones made a last-ditch attempt to kill them. They did their job and died for their carrier, but there was only so much they could do. Five thousand missiles had been targeted on each ship, and even giving it everything they had they were going to take some hits.

The RADM took a deep breath and clenched the sides of his command chair. <Come on! Give us the best you’ve got. We can…>

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 17

Lilly ran along the flawless beach. Her heart pounded, her legs pumped against the added resistance of the sand, but her breathing was deep and even. After her time cooped up in that small cell she wanted to feel the wind in her hair again. Today, she was getting a little more than she bargained for. A monsoon was forecasted to wash over Armsman’s little island paradise in the next few hours and the rain was already starting to pick up. It was starting to move from a drizzle to a pour, but the rain was refreshing on her sun-tanned skin.

<Another half-mile and I’m done.> She told herself as she picked up the pace.

Despite the comfortable equilibrium her body had reached, her mind had more in common with the approaching monsoon. She was deeply conflicted about one thing in particular, and for her it was the only thing that mattered right now: Seth.

She knew she’d fucked up with the phone call. She felt like she was twelve all over again and couldn’t talk to the boy she liked so she hung up on him. That had never happened to her in real life until now, but she saw it in the movies all the time.

<Why am I so nervous?> She’d already done everything and then some with him.

<You know what it is.> Her mind told her what she didn’t want to hear, so she picked up the pace and started to sprint the last quarter-mile. <You don’t want him to reject you.>

It was an emotion as old as time, and one she hadn’t had to worry about before, but her subconscious was right. She was fucking terrified that Seth would toss her to the curb.

<Could I really blame him?> A spark of depression welled up, and she quickly strangled it with her mental bootheel.

<No.> She shook her head to rid herself of the thought and get her damp hair out of her eyes. <We’re going to be fine. We’re meant to be together. All that soulmate shit is real. I’ve felt it. He just needs to be reminded of me and taken away from that little bitch.>

Determination to get her man back flared into jealous rage as she remembered the picture she’d memorized. <What kind of name is Isla Perko anyway.>

Mika had caved and finally compiled a report on the young freshman Seth had been seen hanging out with. She was probably in the HCP too, which was how Lilly got Armsman to ok the expenditure of resources in the first place. It was always good to know who the enemy was going to be in five years.

<She’s cute,> she’d grudgingly admitted. <But she’s too short for Seth, and she has no ass. He needs something to grip on a woman.> The thought of Seth gripping anyone’s ass but hers brought forth a simmering rage that could only be exorcised through vigorous physical activity; thus the running.

Just as Lilly reached the entrance to the underground bunker, the wind started to pick up to wailing level. She had to struggle to pull the door closed behind her, but once she did the majority of the noise was cut down. She walked through the stark steel-lined corridor to another door. She had her biometric data taken by a few separate security measures before being allowed to enter.

In her uncle’s underground home there was no evidence the monsoon was starting to bear down on them from above. There was a whole other natural disaster forming.

“Could you please listen to something recorded after 1970!” She screamed at the oldies music blaring throughout the place. “Would it kill you to put on the Chainsmokers for one song?!”

She didn’t expect to get a reply so she headed to the shower to clean up. Regular training and good food on the island had gotten her back into shape and she did a quick three-sixty in the mirror to evaluate the run’s effectiveness.

<He needs someone with an ass.> She confirmed as she admired her own before stepping into the shower.

She heard the sound of a phone ringing through the music, and was surprised that she was so surprised at the telltale ring. Any other time she wouldn’t have thought anything of it, but this was the first time she’d heard a phone ring at her uncle’s place. She’d thought he didn’t have one.

It was picked up after the third ring, and the music was shut off. She conditioned her hair wondering what was going on, and was rewarded with a knock on the door.

“Stop playing with yourself and get out here.” Armsman’s voice was tense, and since she hardly ever heard him tense she quickly rinsed and wrapped a towel around herself.

“What?” She cracked the door open enough the steam wafted out into her room.

“You’ve got a meeting scheduled in fifteen minutes, so suit up.” He was already wearing his fatigues – minus the mask and arsenal of weapons.

“Meeting? You agreed to a meeting?” She asked warily, her hand grasping for something on the countertop to bash her uncle’s head in if he tried to turn her back into the Heroes.

It was unlikely, but she was never going back to prison, and she’d kill anyone that tried to take her.

“I didn’t have a choice, and neither do you, so get moving.” His voice was hard now, but he turned and walked away.

She didn’t relax though, the brief relief the run had given her had evaporated. She couldn’t fully suit up for this meeting, which made her even more nervous. Her tech genius designed vest had been confiscated by the DVA along with her electromagnetic rifle, so she had to make do with a specialized – but not as special – vest, and an assortment of conventional firearms. Armsman had no shortage of weapons in his home. She wore a long-sleeved compression shirt under the vest, black cargo pants with plenty of pockets for various goodies, and black boots. Her uncle had a small collection of shemaghs, so she took a black one of those. He also had some cheaper copies of her grinning black volto mask.

She made do with five pistols: two in shoulder straps, one on her thigh, one in the small of her back, and a final dainty one in her boot. A few knives went up her sleeves, onto her vest along with ammo, and she teleported a few grenades from her ready table in her underground armory across the world. The darkness that blasted with their arrival was like a gust of fresh air that lingered before dissolving back into the universe.

She looked like Wraith, talked like Wraith, and walked like Wraith, but there was something missing. She couldn’t quite figure out what it was as she joined her uncle. Armsman looked as deadly as ever.

“You break any of my stuff and I break you,” were his parting words to Mika before an explosion of darkness teleported the two villains away.

The location Armsman had been given was cryptic for anyone aside from Lilly. It was a reference to a luxury hotel in downtown Orlando, which gave her a small hint as to who they were meeting. Her suspicions were confirmed as she deposited them in a corner of the room she’d been in before. Only last time guys had been wiring IEDs in here.

The darkness spread out and identified the room to her before dissipating. There were four other men there. Two had weapons on their hips and were definitely human. The other two had no weapons and were definitely not.

“Ah, Wraith. I’m so pleased to see prison was so kind to you. You look as radiant as ever.” Seif al-Din smiled and Lilly felt her skin crawl.

“Yeah sitting in a box and eating soggy oatmeal three times a day was a blast.” She tried to appear nonchalant, but she was waiting for the ambush to start. “I see you brought a friend. How’s it going Damas-douche.”

The silver-haired pyrokinetic looked at her like she was complete garbage, and she returned the sentiment one hundred percent.

“We can skip the pleasantries.” al-Din looked at Damascus and the other terrorist went to the bed to grab a stack of folders.

“Things are a little hot right now.” Lilly stated when Damascus walked over and deposited the stack of files on the desk in front of her. “I’m not really taking new contracts.”

“This is not a new contract.” Seif al-Din stated matter-of-factly. “This is a continuation of your existing one.”

“I smell bullshit.” Armsman finally spoke up. The statement earned him a hard glare from the terrorist leader, but that was it. Armsman was one of the few people in the world that could reliably kill Seif al-Din. The terrorist knew that, and wasn’t about to get on the nullifier’s bad side.

“There is no such bullshit.” The terrorist took a more diplomatic approach and smiled. “Wraith and Hellgate were hired to help me retrieve my dear Fadeelah and they failed.”

“We didn’t fail. I successfully grabbed her and Hellgate…” she didn’t know how to describe her father at first, but the situation quickly made it clear how she needed to define Hellgate. “Well, Hellgate died in the attack, so we don’t owe you shit.”

“On the contrary.” Self al-Din didn’t bat an eye at the news of Hellgate’s death. “You might have grabbed my daughter, but you also led the Heroes right to her. That’s like saying you won a million dollars gambling, but then lost it all in a single roll of the dice. You still ended up with nothing. The same is true here. You still owe me what is due.”

The tension in the room ratcheted up with each word. Lilly’s fingers were itching to get around the trigger and put a couple of holes in Damascus. Her uncle would deal with al-Din. The terrorists felt it too because there was a tense twenty seconds where they all looked at each other like they were in a Mexican standoff.

“However,” al-Din finally broke the tension. “I understand the circumstances you are faced with at such a young age. I myself have lived in your position for decades, and at times it can be unpleasant.”

Lilly didn’t relax but she kept on listening.

“You do still owe me a job.” He made that point abundantly clear. “But I think we can come to an arrangement that is beneficial to both of us.”

Curiosity got the best of her. “What do you have in mind?” She also didn’t want to be on the run from al-Din’s network and the DVA at once.

“I’ve got a new target in mind. You will assist me in finding her, capturing her, and killing everyone she is close to.” al-Din said it all like this was a real-estate transaction.

“Who do you want me to grab?” Lilly wondered what the two of them could have in common.

“I want you to get me Reaper.”

<Hot damn. Spank me and call me auntie luck.> Lilly couldn’t help the smile that dominated her masked face.

“You mean Ms. Meyers.”

She didn’t think she could surprise the legendary terrorist, but his eyebrows nearly shot up into his hair.

“You know who she is?” The calm, almost uninterested tone was back, but it was too late. Lilly knew she had him hooked.

“I know her name, who she is, where she works, and even what type of coffee she likes.” It was a bit of an exaggeration, but she needed to have the upper hand here.

“Then we are in agreement.” al-Din smiled brightly. “You grab me Reaper… Ms. Meyers…and we’ll call it even.”

“Not quite.” Lilly crossed her arms so her hands were only inches away from her pistols. “You want her captured. I want the bitch dead.”

“Ah.” Seif al-Din scratched her trimmed, well-maintained beard. “How about this then. I only need her for a year, maybe two. After that she is all yours to do with as you will.”

Lilly considered it and almost turned it down, but then thought about it. She still had a lot of shit to sort out in her life, knowing Reaper was getting tortured by al-Din for a few years wasn’t that much of a price to pay. She could get things straight and then pop the old Hero in the head when the terrorist was done with her.

<Easy enough.>

“Deal.” She conceded. “But the price is going to go up.”

Damascus looked like he wanted to set her on fire, but she ignored him. If he tried anything Armsman would cut off his hands.

“Picking up Anika was one thing. Picking up a Hero of her status, with her power, from where she is, is not going to be cheap. I’m going to need resources, intel, a whole fucking team working for me.”

“Done.”

How quick al-Din agreed made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

“The team is already assembled and has made a probing move against Reaper and the local authorities. They will try again soon if you want to be a part of it.” He held out his hand toward her. “I can make the necessary introductions.”

She looked at the hand for a moment before taking it. Not taking it would be a sign of weakness. Armsman gripped her shoulder, but before Damascus could come closer she teleported away in a wave of black.

They went to a nondescript cave in a barren island in the Mediterranean before hopping back to the location al-Din gave her. It was a dilapidated warehouse in section of the city formerly held by the Fist. The Super gang had long since been demolished by the Heroes, but a few of their properties had been passed on to other less-than-legitimate enterprises.

Seif al-Din didn’t looked surprised or concerned that Damascus hadn’t come along for the ride. Instead, he walked forward like he owned the place. Which he probably did.

“Ladies and gentlemen.” He approached a man and two women.

The man had on a stained, formerly white wife beater. One well-muscled woman had a jumpsuit stripped down to her waist and wasn’t wearing anything other than a sports bra while she worked over a punching bag. The second woman was sitting at a table cleaning a collection of knives. All she did was raise her eyes at the approaching newcomers.

“May I introduce the newest addition to your team. Wraith, this is the team” Stal, Nightingale, and Vortex.”

“The muscles, the brains, and transportation?” Lilly guessed correctly.

The moment al-Din nodded Lilly moved. In a fluid motioned honed by over a decade of training, she drew one of her shoulder-holstered pistols, pointed it at the man, and shot him between the eyes. The only person who seemed surprised by the action was the man, and he was dead before he hit the ground.

“Hello,” she put the smoking barrel back in the holster. “I’m Wraith, your new transportation.”

 

***

 

Seth sat alone at a lunch table shunning any other forms of social contact. He even gave people the stink eye when they tried to sit down at the tables on either side of him. After a few attempts by people to make contact word spread to not sit by the weird guy in the corner.

Seth didn’t give two shits if people thought he was weird or not. His thoughts were too chaotic. A whirlwind of emotions raged inside of him, and what he wanted to do most was go home, get drunk, take a nap, and then figure out his next move.

Seth picked his head up and scanned the room. Sitting about fifty feet away were a man and a woman. They looked young, but they couldn’t quite pull off the late teenage look. It was the way their eyes kept scanning the room that gave them away. Normal teenagers were too self-absorbed to know what was going on around them most of the time. These two were constantly focused outward.

<More like constantly focused on me.> When they looked his way Seth gave the two undercover DVA agents a wave. They might be twenty-one jump streeting this thing, but he wasn’t going to make it easy for them.

He turned back to his barely-touched meal and opened the chocolate milk. He took a long sip before pulling a small flask from his pocket. Both the milk and the flask disappeared beneath the table, and in an expert show of skill he mixed the two beverages by touch alone. When he was finished the milk had a nice tingle of Kahlua to it.

“Hey Seth.”

Seth didn’t even turn as Izzy approached, ignored the invisible boundaries he’d set up, and took a seat. “Freshman.” Was his only response.

“That’s how this is gonna be.” She raised an eyebrow as she raised a burger to her mouth.

Seth had a joke about girls and meat in their mouth ready to go, but he stomped on it. He wasn’t in the mood to encourage her today.

“I guess so.” He turned away from her and moved his food around a little with his fork.

“Brooding isn’t nearly as cute as you guys think it is. I blame all of those vampire books. A whole generation of girls are into dark, older, brooding guys with a fetish for biting.”

Seth couldn’t stop the smile that pulled at his lips, but he could stop her from seeing it. “What do you want freshman?”

“I have a name you know.” A hint of irritation leaked into Izzy’s voice.

He thought it better not to answer, and it succeeded in making her even more pissed.

“Cut out this mopey shit, Seth.” She scorned him. “We’re way past the freshman hazing. When you put down plastic to pay for bras that kind of took away you playing your upperclassman card.”

“Don’t feel so special. I’ve bought clothing for lots of women, and I’ve taken plenty of it off too.” He succeeded in silencing her judgment for a few minutes.

He speared a slice of the school’s meatloaf with his fork and tasted it. He had to force himself to swallow the hard, dry piece of quasi-meat, and resigned to pick something more edible up after HCP training.

“Why are those two watching you?” Izzy spoke up again.

“Good eye.” The compliment slipped out. “Those are the two DVA agents they have on me twenty-four-seven in case I turn to the dark side on a whim.”

“Aren’t they supposed to be protecting you?”

That got a harsh laugh from Seth. “They couldn’t protect me from an angry chihuahua. If Wraith comes for me there’s nothing that Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus looking suits could do about it.”

“If you need some protection I could…”

“No.” Seth cut her off, finally looking up into her black eyes. “I’ve got enough dead people on my conscious. I don’t need to add you to the list.”

Izzy’s face went from happy Seth was finally looking at her to irritated in a flash. “Are you saying I can’t look after myself?”

“That’s what I’m saying, Freshman.” Seth returned his attention to his food.

“I am third in my class with a top notch defensive power. Coach Meyers says I might even be capable of more.”

“Coach Meyers is a cold-hearted bitch, but even I know she’d laugh in your face if you thought you could stand up to Wraith.” Set pushed on as Izzy blushed with embarrassment. “Don’t start thinking of yourself as hot shit because you’re top five in an HCP class. Wraith has taken on Heroes with decades of experience. She was accused of killing one. She didn’t, but she blew him up pretty good. She also injured Seraphim enough to take her out of a fight. SERAPHIM!” he exclaimed. “The same Hero that took out an entire Mexican drug cartel solo.” His hard, green eyes looked back up at her. “Do you think she doesn’t already know who you are?”

He saw the first glimpses of fear on Izzy’s face. He didn’t want to see her afraid, but she needed to know the shitstorm she was blindly walking into.

“I got a call from her on my new phone. That means that she had people look up my new number. If she’s having people looking into me then she knows about the DVA security, she knows about my friends, and now she knows about you.”

Now the freshman hero-in-training’s eye were wide.

“From there it isn’t a big leap to figure out you’re in the HCP. All it would take was one anonymous phone call and you’d be kicked to the curb for an SI infraction that you aren’t even guilty of. She probably wouldn’t even stop there. I’d stay away from dark places and walk with a buddy for a while.”

Fear, anger, and determination spread across Izzy’s face. It was enough that Seth had to pinch the bridge of his nose in frustration.

“My aura will protect me. She can come at me in a dark parking garage if she wants. She’s just a teleporter.”

“Then you’re already on the way to being dead if you think she’d just going to come after you in a parking garage. She’ll drop the whole structure on your fucking head, Izzy, and she won’t bat an eye.”

Izzy’s expression told him she thought he was pulling her leg, until he told her she’d already done that before. “I can take care of myself.” She remined defiant.

“Whatever you say. I’m just saying you need to stay away from me and your life will be easier. Keep talking with me and butting into my shit and you might get something dropped on your head when you least expect it.”

“How is my life going to be easier if I abandon the people I’m trying to protect. I’m training to be a Hero. That means more than punching things.”

“True.” Seth acknowledged the point. “But you’re still a freshman. The next nine months are all about punching things. If you can’t punch things then they aren’t going to let you get to the point to see what you’re really made of. That brings me back to my original point. Stay away from me Iz, and you might get what you want out of life.”

It was only then that he realized how close Iz was to Liz. He looked down at the food as the empty feeling in his chest spread to his face.

“I learned long ago that life can take a dump on you whenever. You’ve got to make the best of it, roll with the punches, and do what you want. If you let other people dictate how you live you aren’t really living.” She got up and grabbed her tray. “I’ll see you around, Seth.”

“Motivational words, freshman.” He returned to the generic name. “A lot harder to live by than you think.”

She didn’t reply to that. She just walked away and left Seth all alone with his shitty meatloaf. Her words did strike a chord with him though. They were basically a less harsh version of what a lot of people had been saying to him for months.

<And if everyone was saying the same thing then they probably have a point.> He took a deep breath, let it out, and made a call.

Five minutes later he had an appointment with Dr. Johnson, the HCP’s psychologist. Maybe just maybe, if Seth got to lay down on a couch and vent a little he would feel better.

He went to put his phone back in his pocket and felt it clink against something. <What the hell?> He reached in past his phone and pulled out the unknown object.

It was an old flip phone, like the kind they used ten years ago. It was small and boxy, and for a second Seth thought the DVA was pulling some weird shit on him. <Did they just record my whole conversation.> His irritation made the air in the cafeteria stir, but he quickly regained control with a few deep breaths. <Might need to talk about my anger issues too.>

A small screen on the front of the phone glowed light blue with a message, so he flipped it opened and hit the message box. There, in blocky letters were here words that shattered Seth’s composure.

I MISS YOU

It was like Seth had gripped the tale of a King Cobra. He jumped up from the table and was ready to bash to phone against the table until there was nothing left but broken plastic and circuitry. He even brought his fist up to smash it down – but his arm didn’t move.

Memories raced through his mind. Watching her punch out the drug dealer in yoga pants, their blissful Christmas break, basically every night over the last semester, and finally the last time they spoke. The pain and fear in her eyes when Mr. Morningstar revealed to him who she really was. She’d professed her love over and over again. She told him not to listen to them, that they were trying to manipulate him, but he didn’t say anything. He was too shocked to even open his mouth. Before he knew it, he was being escorted from the building, and he didn’t hear her voice again until recently.

So, he didn’t smash the phone. A few people were looking at him awkwardly because he’d jumped out of his seat, but he knew they’d write it off to the weird guy being weird. He grabbed his tray – making sure to keep the burner phone hidden beneath it – and returned his uneaten food to the window. Once he had enough people between him and the DVA goons he slipped the phone in his pocket and tried to forget about it.

It was the equivalent of walking around with a nuke in your pocket. It was hard to ignore, but he did his best. The first team trial was today and he needed to get his head out of his ass. They were about to go up against teams that had been training and strategizing for weeks. All Erin had them doing was working out while she stared off into nothingness.

When he reached the HCP and the DVA lackeys abandoned their constant shadowing, Seth had two things weighing fifty-fifty on his mind: what was he going to say to Liz, and how bad was he going to get his ass kicked?

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I’m on TDY from Hell – Seals

Prince Seere sat on his throne. His back was straight, his eyes were glazed, and he was unmovable. He was fully engrossed in the inner works of his realm. He had to be. Hell was being more difficult than usual today.

<There you go. Easy does it.> He crooned to the land as he fed it newly arrived souls.

There was no telling how long he pumped æther into the land, but it eventually began to calm. That was only one of the many tasks he was working on simultaneously.  The legions at the newly conquered pass had finished erecting a keep. He waited patiently for them to vacate the structure before summoning more power and funneling it into the masonry. Exquisitely carved symbols around the base shone brightly as power filled them. They grew brighter and brighter until they began to wink out of existence. As the disappeared, the energy channeled into them climbed to the top of the keep. Once the last one winked out of existence a shockwave of energy was unleashed. It knocked over a thousand men off their feet, but when the dust cleared a golden flamed burned at the summit. The golden fire reinforced the land around it and sped up its natural defenses.

Seere turned his gaze outward and felt the pressure of Beelzebub’s forces gathering to reconquer the pass. This would make it that much more difficult. That and the extra legion he’d deployed. With the pass secure his borders would be that much more protected in the endless game of war the lords of Hell played with each other.

Satisfied that Beelzebub would have his work cut out for him, he shifted his gaze to his other boarder. Caine’s necrotic scent persistently coated everything in the other lord’s realm, and hid any troop build ups. Seere wasn’t too worried. The weaker lord’s forces were limited, had limited training, and were half mad from the same curse that afflicted their lord. Seere’s own forces were set to redeploy in the next few months, but he had no qualms about the commanders charged with the Styx’s defense.

Seere was about to turn his attention to the interior of his kingdom when he felt something red and hot tear through his mind.

<Danger!> His body and mind responded to the threat.

Power flooded into Seere beyond anything any other creature aside from ætherial beings could comprehend. His body – already twenty-feet tall and armored – began to swell. The silver armor began to glow as power filled it. Seere rose from his throne standing nearly forty feet tall now. Anything more and he’d have trouble engaging in combat within his hall. His guards noticed the change and immediately began to circle around their lord. Their own power was nothing more than a drop in a pond compared to Seere, but every bit counted when it came to these types of fights.

Without warning the doors to his throne room were thrown open and brilliant light flooded the space. His guards screamed in pain as the light seared the eyes from their skulls, and they collapsed around him like dominos. Seere was not impressed. The light did not affect him like it did his soldiers. He sighed and lowered the massive sword he’d been holding in an attack position. He was reasonably sure he was safe, but he didn’t reduce his size and relinquish the power back into his land and throne.

“Brother.” Seere smiled down at the much smaller angel in the room. “All of this unpleasantness could have been avoided with a simple message.”

With a sweep of his hand the groaning bodies of his guards were tossed to the opposite side of the room. Part of it was to clear the battlefield, but he also just didn’t want to seem the writhing on the ground until their eyes grew back.

“We never drop in on each other anymore.” Lucifer shrugged as the light dimmed around him. “How can we truly be happy without a little spontaneity in our lives.” The smile the former seraphim gave Seere was bright enough to incinerate a human’s brain.

There was a reason Lucifer was called the Lightbringer and Morningstar.

“Very true.” Seere kept his guard up, but gestured for his brother to take a seat in a chair that sprung up from the floor.  “I assume your spontaneity has a purpose.”

“Don’t be put off, brother.” Lucifer adjusted the flawless-white tunic he was wearing. “There eyes will grow back.”

“It’s inconvenient.” Seere’s retort was measured.

“And you have my apologies.” Lucifer inclined his head in a small bow.

Seere could sense it was the truth, so he let it slide. “I assume there is a reason you’re here?” Seere took a seat on his own throne but continued to hold onto his power.

Lucifer noticed. “I mean you no harm, brother.” Another truth. “I just wish to talk.”

After a moment to contemplate things, Seere shrunk back down to his normal twenty-foot size. If it came to a fight, he would be able to draw more power quicker than his brother. Lucifer’s lands were on the opposite side of hell from Seere’s kingdom.

“What do you wish to speak of?”

“A recent development that will work in both of our favors.” The smile was back, but no light radiated from it this time. “We have the chance to break a seal.”

Seals were a big deal. When their Father conquered Eden he built a barrier between it and Hell. The barrier – which an Infernal only had to look up to see – was held together by six hundred and sixty-six seals of their Father’s own power. Destroying a seal released that power into the æther and weakened the barrier between the realms.

Their Father was many things, but he wasn’t stupid. Breaking seals wasn’t a question of physical might, or Lucifer and Satan would have bashed them to pieces over the millennia. The seals were very specific and difficult to find much less break. If Lucifer had a line on a seal, then sharing it with Seere was a big show of faith. That or he needed the Prince’s help to break it.

“You have my attention.” It was Seere’s turn to smile, although he was still looking for the double-cross.

“Excellent.” With a flourish and a flicker of light a piece of parchment appeared before the other angel. “I’ve taken the liberty of drafting a binding agreement between the two of us for the duration of this partnership.” With a flick of the wrist the parchment floated on the air over the Seere.

Seere deftly caught it and studied it carefully. Internals were sticklers for details. One of their main streams of soul revenue was making deals. A rookie Infernal made some of the best human lawyers look like amateurs. An Infernal lord like Seere had deal making in his blood.

As such, the negotiations took a while. They went word by word, section by section, arguing the intent of certain clauses and defining them clearly so there could be no other reading of the contract than what was intended.  The basics were all there: no waging war, operating in good faith, and open borders on Eden for the flow of information and resources. The nitty-gritty was in the details of power-sharing and who would supply those resources.

By the time they hammered out all of the details, the eyes of Seere’s guard had regrown and they’d taken up their old positions around the throne room. All that was left was the two lords to sign the pact in blood and it would be binding. The clauses for breaking a contract were always written into it and steep.

In this instance, it required one more revelation before signing.

“What is the seal, Lucifer?” Seere couldn’t help it if he was on the edge of his seat.

The last one had been broken by Satan over three centuries ago, and the power allowed him to take a large chunk out of Belial’s nearby kingdom and hold it. That kind of power would allow Seere to be rid of Caine once and for all. The elimination of a rival lord was an ambitious but reasonable goal in this instance.

“We must perform a ritual sacrifice of the sixth born of a fair Dominion.” Lucifer stated smugly.

“Kill the sixth born of a fair Dominion?” Seere frowned and nearly ripped up the contract. “That could mean anything! You know how our Father twists words to his whim. What does the ‘sixth born’ mean? Sixth born son? Or sixth born daughter? How do we define ‘fair’? It could mean anything, Lucifer!” Disappointment flooded through Seere.

“I understand your hesitation, but I have it all worked out, brother.” He gestured for Seere to be calm. “Since ‘sixth born’ is not explicitly defined if could be either a male or female. The ‘Dominion’ section if fairly straightforward. I’ve got the specific ritual sacrifice, which by the way alters depending on the region the Dominion rules.” Lucifer looked pleased with himself for figuring out that tidbit. “That only leaves the ‘fair’ portion, and as you’ve guessed it was difficult. Does ‘fair’ mean just, and if so what level of justice rates as fair? The good news is that we don’t need to worry about that.” Lucifer was smiling that brilliant smile again.

“In our case, ‘fair’ doesn’t’ have anything to deal with a mental condition. It is physical. ‘Fair’ refers to the fairer sex. We need to kill the sixth born Nephilim of a female Dominion using a ritual sacrifice specific to that geographic location.” Lucifer smacked his hands together in excitement, which was enough to ring the ears of everyone in the room but Seere.

“And the geographic location of a Dominion with a sixth born child is in a city under my control.” Seere pieced it all together.

“Yes.” Lucifer nodded. “And once you sign the contract I’ll tell you where and who we need to sacrifice.”

After rereading the contract once more to assure there were no secret clauses or ambiguous interpretations, Seere signed the document.  Lucifer quickly scribbled hi own signature in ætherial blood and rolled up the contract. An influx of power duplicated the document, and he gave the copy to Seere. Seere double checked the copy and the original to ensure they were the same.

“The Nephilim we are looking for is Maria Delgado, daughter of Ava, Dominion of Charlotte.”

<Gerald.> Seere remembered his newest Dux, and wasn’t pleased to have such a rookie be entrusted with such a great responsibility.

“We need to move fast. Satan is always on the lookout for seals, and he’ll find this one sooner rather than later.”

<So much for replacing Gerald with someone more experienced.>

“I’ll send orders to my Dux immediately,” Seere assured his brother.

“I would also like to send some of my forces to join your dux. My own Dux, an imp or two, and some Soulless, nothing more; just enough to bolster your forces and deal with any problems they run into.” Lucifer placated when he saw the look on Seere’s face.

“Fine.” Seere stated after a moment of thought. “I will tell my Dux to expect them.”

“Excellent.” Lucifer got to his feet. “I’ll send out my own orders. Maybe I’ll see you upstairs.” He pointed up toward Eden and then vanished in a dazzling flash of light that left the guards screaming in pain.

“SILENCE!” The screams turned to whimpers, and Seere’s thoughts turned toward what needed to be done.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 124

Benjamin Gold

Location: Cobalt Station, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “Thank you so much for coming, Mr. Gold…”

“It’s an honor, Mr. Gold…”

“Please let us show you everything Cobalt Mining Company is doing to ensure your return on investment, Mr. Gold…”

“Please, gentlemen.” Ben held up his hands when the ass kissing finally became too much. “I am here as a representative of the Fleet. We are doing our inspection in accordance with the defense contract we signed years ago. There is no need to go through all of this trouble for me.” Ben could make out the tail end of a cleaning crew every time they rounded a corner.

They were moving ahead of the small group ensuring that most of the grime was stripped away before they reached that section. Ben had been immediately greeted when they docked with the station by the Station Manager, the Assistant Manager of Operations, and the Head of Security.

The manager was a round man who had the pale look of someone who’d spent too long in deep space. If Ben had to guess, the manager had started the mining outpost and stayed on over the last half decade. The assistant manager looked like a ladder climber. He was thin, pristinely dressed, and with a smile you’d see on a corporate receptionist. This was just a stop along the way for him. The head of security was another story.

The manager looked nervous, the assistant manager never stopped smiling, but the security expert was constantly frowning. It was like his face was frozen with negative emotion, and Ben didn’t think it was completely about him. The guy was the head of a squad’s worth of security troopers that had to police several hundred rough miners and their families.

From what Ben heard from the manager, he thought the security leader had his work cut out for him.

“We are constantly rotating the workforce as a cost-saving method, Mr. Gold. Crews are easy to come by, and out here they are eager to find work. We rotate them out before they meet the time requirements for the next paygrade and rehire them in six months.” The fat man looked particularly happy with toeing the legal line of Commonwealth compensation law.

Ben didn’t respond. He didn’t like what was happening, but it wasn’t his job. He was here to make sure they weren’t smuggling anything, breaking safety codes, or doing anything that would threaten the lives of Commonwealth citizens. If they wanted to impress someone, they were talking to the wrong Gold.

“I’ve got nothing, Sir.” One of the deckhands was walking with the group waving a wand over everything and anything they passed.

The meter-long stick was used to sniff out a number of illegal substances, as well as find smuggler’s holds and detect old-fashioned gunpowder or power cells used in newer weapons. It wasn’t perfect, and there were ways to get around it, but as far as tools went the wand was an effective way to sniff out contraband.

“Can we see the engineering sections?” Ben asked politely.

“Of course, Mr. Gold. That will give me a change to explain our patented refining techniques.” The manager looked happy for the suggestion.

“Sir.” SGT O’Neil and the other marine operating as his security detail were flanking the small group in their armor.

He nodded back the way he’d come and Ben saw a few dirty faces looking back at him. None of them looked happy, but there was nothing Ben could do about that. He’d check the payment logs to make sure everything was above board, but what the manager had described to him was technically legal. This was the Rim and life wasn’t easy. Pirates weren’t the only thing people had to worry about.

“I see it. Keep an eye out, and make sure Argo is ready if anything happens.” Ben hadn’t come unprepared. He had a pistol on his hip and a knife in his boot, but that was nothing compared to the armored and armed marines.

They didn’t expect trouble, but those angry faces had the hairs on the back of Ben’s neck standing up. Desperate people sometimes did stupid things.

“Any problems in the last few months?” he asked the head of security.

“Nothing we can’t handle.” The man replied gruffly. “A few bar fights here and there. A few stabbings over who laid claim to what piece of rock. Nothing more than the usual stuff on a station like this.”

Ben had to take the man’s word on that. He hadn’t been on a station like this before. They rounded a corner and the cleaning crew still had several meters to go before they could get out of sight. The manager flushed with embarrassment, and pointed for the assistant manager to take care of it.

“Routine cleaning, Mr. Gold. You’ve got to keep a close eye on these miners’ families. They do a lot of the station cleaning and maintenance, for wages of course, but if you don’t watch them like a hawk they’ll steal the floor boards right out from under you.” He laughed, and Ben just gave a polite smile.

The cleaning had stopped ahead of them as the assistant manager started to argue with the crew leader. The guy was big – really big – probably two meters with a face that looked oddly familiar. The assistant manager started to gesture wildly with his hands and then dropped them and stood there.

“What’s going on now?” The manager puffed up and started to wobble forward. “Damn station Rats…”

He never got to finish. The crew leader grabbed the assistant manager around the torso and turned him around. The immaculate white smart-cloth shirt he’d been sporting was now a deep crimson color as liquid leaked from his neck and stained the fabric. Ben’s eyes were still on the man’s red shirt when SGT O’Neil’s arm came out of nowhere and swept him out of the way.

“Contact front!” He yelled the same instant the cleaner raised a weapon and fired.

The waddling manager went down with a smoldering hole in his chest big enough to fit your fist through before the SGT could return fire. The cleaner backpedaled down the hallway, using the assistant manager as a human shield and rounded the curve before SGT O’Neil and the other marine could get a good fix on him.

“Fucking shit.” The head of security swore as he looked at his two dead bosses. He had a PDW out, and was kneeling on one side of the hallway.

“We need to move. There’s no cover here.” The SGT began to pull Ben back toward him. “Take point. You take rear.” O’Neil ordered the marine and the security professional.

The other marine immediately turned and headed back the way they’d come while the head of security kept the cleaner behind cover with sporadic fire.  Ben retrieved his pistol and flipped the safety off. The deckhand didn’t have a weapon, but he carried the large wand like a baseball bat.

Argo is informed. They’re sending a fire team in to help.” The SGT announced.

Whatever the hell was going on, Ben hoped it was over. The station’s management was dead in the corridor behind them. If the workers were taking out their grievances directly then Argo and her crew should be able to make it out of this just fine.

That was Ben’s hope until they rounded another corner and came under more fire. The lead marine sent a torrent of fire back at their attackers and their rate of fire dropped considerably. Whoever they were, they were either taking casualties or weren’t used to taking on marines.

“They’ve got us blocked in.” SGT O’Neil stated as he leaned around the corner and added his rate of fire to the other marine’s.

“No they don’t.” The head of security backtracked ten meters and pushed on the wall. There was a pop, the hiss of escaping air, and a section of the wall moved outward. “We can use this.”

Ben couldn’t help but give the deckhand an irritated look. They’d just scanned this corridor and missed this secret passageway. He’d have Chief Yates chew the young spacer out when they got back to the ship.

“Let’s go.” The marines held the corner while Ben and the deckhand ran for the exit.

“Hurry up.” The head of security hustled them in. Ben went first, then the deckhand, then the security chief.

The new corridor was cramped and dark. There was just enough light to see as they proceeded to the adjacent corridor. Ben tripped over a few boxes and stumbled.

“Hey watch your…” He looked back just in time to see the deckhand go down with blood spraying from his chest and the head of security shutting the door behind him.

“What are you…?” Ben was already moving his pistol, but it snagged against the wall in the confined space.

Before he could get it leveled at the new threat, the other man tackled him. They went down in a tangle of limbs that banged against the walls. Ben tried to turn so the security chief landed on the bottom, but it didn’t work. Pain lanced through his back as he fell on top of some boxes, but it wasn’t as bad as the man’s fist making contact with his face. The chief had some basic enhancements – enough to make the punches hurt – and the training to do the damage.

Ben covered his head, so the man went to work on his torso. Ben took the punishment as his mind raced to figure out what to do. SGT O’Neil and the other marine were probably being attacked on both sides now. The cleaner was probably just waiting for the head of security to get Ben and the deckhand alone to resume his attack.

The blows let up for a second and Ben lashed out. His kick made contact and there was a loud grunt as the security chief was thrown backwards. Ben might not have the training the other man did, but his hits would do a lot more damage.

With a few moments of freedom, Ben scrambled to his feet. He couldn’t find his pistol which had been knocked out of his hand during the fight, but he did grab his knife from his boot. Then he turned and hauled ass for the exit. He made it halfway there before the security guard tackled him back to the ground. This time he landed on his stomach and the security chief tried to get an arm around his throat.

Ben tucked his chin and rolled. They smashed into the metal wall and the man’s grip loosened. Ben started to crawl forward as the man grabbed for his legs. Ben lashed out again and made contact. The man’s grabbing stopped and Ben scrambled to his feet for what felt like the hundredth time. He made it to the end of the smuggler’s corridors this time, but that just led to another problem.

He had no idea how to open the damn door. He looked for a panel, biometric reader, a handle, or even a seam. He found nothing.

<How do you…!?> Rushing footsteps behind him alerted Ben just in time.

The head of security was barreling toward him with a snarl on his bloody face. The last kick had clearly broke his nose. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the charging man wasn’t stopping. He was going to smash Ben into the wall and do his best to hurt him.

So Ben did the only thing he could think of. He raised the knife and braced himself.

The security chief killed himself with the blind charge. He ran into Ben at full speed, the knife plunged deep into his chest, and they both smashed into the wall behind Ben – which crumbled under the combined weight and force.

They both tumbled into the fully-sized corridor. Only to find themselves surrounded by dirty-faced men armed with an assortment of weapons. Fighting could still be heard close by, but it seemed Ben had stumbled right into their assembly area.

Ben pushed the head of security’s corpse off of him and slowly got to his feet with his hands raised. There were at least a dozen weapons pointed at him that would rip him to shreds.

“Mr. Gold.” A familiar voice greeted him. The group parted and the small man Ben had interrogated stepped forward. “So glad of you to join us.” His eyes went to head of security and didn’t even flinch at the man’s deathly grimace. “More money for you guys.”

The surrounding group hollered in excitement. The small man produced a pistol from the folds of his coat and motioned for Ben to start walking.

“Let’s go, Mr. Gold. You’ve got a date with someone who wants to meet you very badly.”

Ben knew he could take the little guy, but the man was keeping his distance and the pistol looked like it would eat right through Ben if fired. He did what he was told and started walking.

He didn’t even see the small man lob a grenade back at the group of rebellious miners as they rounded the corner. He heard their dying screams just as the leader of the cleaning crew came into view. He gave Ben an unconcerned look.

“We’re good to go.”

“Then let’s get the hell out of here.”

The man Ben thought had been an innocent victim led him away from the fighting at gunpoint. Away from Argo, and away from the marines that were fighting to survive.

“There’s no way you’re getting out of here without my ship blowing you out of space.” Ben told the men holding his hostage.

“We’ll see about that.” Was the only reply he got, just before the cleaner reached around and jabbed a needle into his neck.

Immediately, Ben’s world started to warp and blur. In less than ten seconds he was out cold and being carried by the bigger pirate toward their ship.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 123

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Abraham Lincoln, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Let’s go. Hustle. Move it…Move it…Move it!” The permanently irritated SGM yelled every few seconds as over two thousand soldiers streamed into the assault carrier’s main hanger bay.

It was the main hanger bay, but Coop knew each assault carrier contained three. One for the Spyders and infantry to use, one for the gunboat scouts, and the last was for the fighters. Coop would likely never see the other two bays. It wasn’t his job to sit around in a small metal tube or fly the drone fighters the Commonwealth used in planetary invasions and major space battles. He was a ground pounder, and he was proud of it.

“Fall in!”

The company and battalion NCOICs were already working on getting the soldiers organized. You’d think that two thousand plus soldiers being packed into the bay would be cramped. You’d be wrong. The bay was designed to have the ship’s full brigade contingent and all of their Spyders occupying it at the same time. It was freaking huge.

Coop fell in on the far right with the small contingent of 2222nd soldiers. They were only a company and a half compared to the other two full battalions. The rest of the 2222nd was already deployed, but the replacements still had to get in formation with the rest of the newcomers and receive the initial briefing. The speech, SOPs, and local ROE would be available on all of their PADs through MILNET when they were done, but a commander addressing their troops was something that never went out of style.

“Welcome to all the new faces.” The Brigade Commander gave Coop’s small group a nod. “I hope everyone had a good rest because you aren’t going to see one for the next several months. We are preparing for war, and that preparation starts with us securing our assets. Your missions will be…”

Coop tuned out about then. Their mission was to stop the Blockies. Their mission was to fight and win. The particulars of that mission would get relayed to him by the NCOs directly above him. The CMDR could spout out all the high-level crap he wanted. It wouldn’t affect the day to day duties Coop would be tasked with.

Instead, he took his time examining the bay and counting the Spyders. <148…149…150.> There were some out on patrol, assigned to the planet, or undergoing maintenance somewhere else, but it was the most assault shuttles Coop had ever seen in one place. Even back on Mars they didn’t even have fifty birds sitting side by side. It was an awesome display of firepower. <And it’ll move two and a half battalions of ass kickers at once to any battlefield we’re needed at.> He felt bad for anyone that fucked with this ship.

“Brigade, atten-tion! Dismissed!” The CMDR wrapped up his spiel and executed a brisk about face.

After that it was filled with a lot of yelling as the NCOs took charge. Many were looking at their PADs for their unit’s assignments. One by one, companies began to break off and head out. Some even headed back the way they came to the luxury liner. They weren’t staying on the ship.

“Hey, Sergeant! What are we gonna do?” Coop just had to be the guy to ask that question.

The NCO charged with picking up the replacements was a standard grunt, not HI, so he gave the standard answer.

“The 222nd is assigned with the protection and deployment from this assault carrier. Most of our units onboard train primarily for planetary invasion and repelling boarders. That being said, we have more assignments than we do troops. The other ships have their own marine contingents, but we still need to secure the planets, slingshot, and any forward operating bases we deem necessary. As the biggest unit in the sector that responsibility falls to us.”

It didn’t answer Coop’s question, but it necessitated more.

“Why don’t the planets have their own militias protect them? Isn’t that what they’re there for?”

“Planetary militias, especially out here on the rim, are poorly equipped and undermanned. We supplement them where we can. Mostly we secure the PDC.” The SGT was being politer and patient than Coop thought, so he just kept on pushing.

“Where are we getting assigned?”

“That, Private, is for your commanders to decide.”

Just like that the patience was gone and there was no more talking as the hundred and fiftyish soldiers marched through the assault carrier’s corridors back toward infantry country – the giant space in the assault carrier that was meant to berth ten thousand marines.

Coop took one look at the room he was assigned and was thankful the entire brigade was not on the carrier. He was HI so he was two to a room instead of four, but even then he wouldn’t be able to fully lie down on his cot. It wasn’t long enough to contain his entire frame.

“Do you believe this shit?” Coop poked his head into the cabin next to his.

“Yeah, this sucks,” Mike replied. He had it even worse than Coop.

The only positive was that they had the cabins to themselves. It was a positive as far as sleeping, but a negative when it came to the eventual combat they’d be engaged in. A half-full berth signified a lack of HI, and as Coop knew only too well they were operating at about fifty percent strength with the units he was familiar with.

His PAD suddenly pinged with a priority message from a GYSGT Topper. The name sounded familiar, but Coop couldn’t place it. It requested Coop and Mike’s immediate presence in a briefing room at the far end of grunt territory. It took the two HI troopers longer than they thought to get there. They had to take several corridors that never seemed to lead where they were supposed to. They missed their deck on the grav-lift once because it moved so fast and they weren’t paying attention, so when they finally got the briefing room the GYSGT’s comment wasn’t a big surprise.

“Took you long enough. You stop for a snack on the way?”

“We didn’t pass the mess, Gunnery Sergeant,” Coop answered with a totally straight face.

“Shut your fucking face, Cooper.” The GYSGT lashed out. “I’ve read your file, and I don’t want any of your shit while you’re with my outfit. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Understood?”

<Yes, Gunney stick-up-his-ass.>

“Yes, Gunney.” He didn’t dare say what he was thinking.

“Sit your ass down. Enders,” the GYSGT looked at Mike appreciatively. “You’re a big motherfucker aren’t you? I’ve got just the job for you.”

Coop knew Mike well enough to read the hesitation on his face. Despite being a big bastard, Mike didn’t like to just be used to pick up heavy things, move them somewhere, and then put them down. He was a good trooper, and a good trooper wanted to do something mission-oriented.

“In case you two haven’t figured it out, I’m Gunnery Sergeant Topper. The battalion commander has tasked me to be in charge of our HI assets. You two are one third of my responsibility.” The NCO’s gaze was steely.

“That means I’m going to be all over your asses. I don’t care if you’re five light years away. I’m going to make sure you two don’t fuck up. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunney!”

<Just great.> Coop kept his exasperation off his face. He dearly hoped he got to be stationed five light years from this douche.

“Enders, I’m assigning you to Delta Company. You’ll find the unit details in your PAD, but the short and sweet of it is that they’re in charge with the sector capitol’s defense. So get your shit and get onto the first bird headed planetside.”

“Yes, Gunney.” Mike nodded.

“What are you waiting for?” The GYSGT stated after Mike didn’t move. “Get the hell out of my face. Go do your job.”

“Yes, Gunney.” Mike snapped out of parade rest and without a sideways glance at Coop jogged out of the room.

The assault carrier only shook slightly as he ran.

“Now for you, Cooper.”

“Yes, Gunney.”

“I’ve got a request from an MP company back on Luna to look into you.”

<Oh shit.>

“Right now, two masters-at-arms are looking through your shit. If they find what they’re looking for then you’ll be spending this deployment in the brig. If they don’t, and I don’t think they will, then I’m assigning you to Foxtrot. They’re one of our best companies. It was SGT Takahashi’s company. He met his maker in a fleet action to secure the supply route to this sector. He gave his life to ensure a whole section of the battleship he was hitching a ride on didn’t lose power and get blown apart in space.”

Coop knew better than to react, both to the MAs searching his berth and the SGT he’d be replacing. Nothing he could say was going to get him any leeway in either case.

“The LT and NCOIC know how to handle problem children in Foxtrot, so I expect you’ll be whipped into shape soon. You’re staying onboard, so get comfortable. PT is at 0600 ship’s time. Tomorrow we’re doing PMCS of our armor. Yours better be ready to go. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunney.”

“Dismissed.”

The NCO turned away and Coop got out of there. Mike was waiting for him around the corner, and didn’t look happy that he was going planetside alone.

It was weird saying goodbye to Mike. Not only because the MAs were tossing his room while they stood in the hallway, but also because the two of them had been together their entire military career. From the PHA all the way to now. They’d bled in Basic, HI School, and even fought off riotous Chicago together. Coop didn’t know what to say after all of that.

“My shuttle leaves in ten.” Mike didn’t have a lot of stuff and hadn’t unpacked, so he was ready to go in thirty seconds.

“I’m stuck in this tin can.” Coop shrugged. “I’ll try and grab some leave when I get a chance and check out your swanky digs.”

It depended on the person, but most soldiers preferred a planetary assignment to a shipboard one.

“Just let me know, and I’ll try and get some time away from my five-star accommodations.” Mike grinned. “I heard they even have a pool.”

“Fuck you.” Coop extended his hand.

Mike took it. “You know,” he stated after a second. “The first time I met you I didn’t like you. You seemed like one of those fast-talking leeches that thought they knew everything and were the hot shit. I usually had to pummel those little Rats into seeing the error of their ways.”

“I’m flattered.” Coop smirked.

“You were still a cocky little shit who thought he knew everything, but Berg got to kick your ass instead of me. I think that helped.”

“Thanks?” Coop cocked an eyebrow.

“Don’t mention it.” They finished shaking and Mike turned to leave.

“Stay safe.” Coop called after him.

“You too.” Mike rounded the corner and was gone.

After months together it felt weird to not have the big guy’s hulking figure nearby. He missed it even more when the MAs stepped out of his room with grim looks on their faces.

<What the hell could they have found?>

“You’re clear, Private.” It didn’t occur to Coop that the grim faces were because they didn’t find anything.

“I know.” Coop tried not to sound too triumphant.

<It’s a good thing I blew all that money on booze back on Thor.> His own frivolousness had saved him a trip to the brig.

With that over with he entered his cabin and shut the door behind him. The liner had dropped all the new soldier off in the middle of the night ship’s time. Coop had two hours until PT, so he decided to catch some Z’s. He needed to make a good impression tomorrow.

<Gunney already thinks I’m a criminal. I can’t have the LT and NCOIC thinking that too.> The fact that the Gunney was technically correct didn’t even cross Coop’s mind.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 16

“Again.” Angela walked among her team watching them with a critical eye.

She was in her angelic shifted form today for training, and her armor threw streams of artificial light in different directions when it hit the gleaming metal. Something she was using effectively in the training session. Coach McMillian had given the team captains the training time again today, and Angela was taking full advantage of it.

Kyoshi charged and struck. The air shimmered around her where she wrapped herself with telekinetic energy. It was a good force multiplier, but it didn’t put her in league with a strongman. That’s where Alex came in. He barreled in like something out of a child’s worst nightmare. He was all red and white – muscle and bone – as he charged in. Bone darts flew from his knuckles fast enough to pierce light metals, and he leapt at the target. Blake mimicked Kyoshi’s martial art’s grace and converged on the target with the team.

“Halt.” Angela stopped the exercise and gave some pointers.

Blake had moved too slowly and left an opening. The entire point of this exercise was to trap someone and beat them into submission. Kyoshi had pointed out a flaw when the teams were selected. Angela had not selected the strongest team. She and Alex were the closest thing to the strongman category while the rest were versatile. Theoretically, if they were able to keep someone contained long enough Kyoshi should be able to possess their bodies, but that was more of a last resort than a common tactic. Possessions took time, and time was something in short supply in scenarios the instructors would throw at them.

“Next group.”

Alex, Kyoshi, and Blake walked off a short distance while the rest of Angela’s team took center stage. Oliver Carpenter had a variety of mechanical gadgets attached to his uniform. Angela recognized some of them from previous sessions as offensive or defense countermeasures, but other things were new. Natalia Romanoff walked with him. She looked alert and bored at the same time. She had no physical power like most of the first group. All she was her eyes. Granted, those eyes could paralyze the strongest person in the class, but it was still a limited ability. Lastly, Fiona stepped forward with a determined look on her face. She was the key to a lot of the team’s strategies, and she’d been working hard to get where Angela needed her to be.

“Begin.” This time Angela didn’t just watch. She participated.

A bow and arrow made of energy appeared in her hand, she drew it back and fired toward the center of the group. Fiona grabbed Natalia’s shoulder and they vanished with a pop. Oliver rolled away from the strike with a surprising amount of speed for someone who looked like he spent all day laying on the beach. Angela dismissed the arrow when it hit nothing but air, and jumped into the sky. She’d sensed movement behind her and didn’t want Fiona and Natalia to be able to take their shot. Normally, the two couldn’t hurt her, but Oliver always had some tricks up his sleeve.

One of those tricks popped up when Angela fired a second arrow at him. This time he didn’t run. A large contraption on his chest started to grow as the arrow drew nearer, but when it was only a foot away it hit resistance. The arrow exploded into a hundred tiny fragments and an energy shield flared red around Oliver. The technopath and apparent genius inventor smiled at the success just before Angela dropped out of the sky with a large war hammer. Fiona appeared in the nick of time and teleported him to safety.

“Good looking out for your teammates.” Angela nodded as she dissolved the war hammer and turned to face the rest of the team. “You’ve all got a good handle on that configuration.”

That was what Angela had been drilling into her team for the last few weeks. She’d organized them into different two-team configurations. Today was a power team designed to take out opponents and an evade and surprise team to take down with alternative methods. Oliver’s bag of tricks, Natalia’s power, and Fiona’s maneuverability were perfect for that.

<It all comes down to our opponents.>

“Take five,” she instructed the team. Who were more than happy to grab some water.

Angela spent the time staring across the giant gym. The four teams had taken up training positions in the four quadrants. It was harder to see exactly what the teams on the far side of the gym were doing, but it was clear as day what the nearest team was up to.

Angela wanted to be prepared for any situation and had drilled different tactics for different scenarios. Close by, Kimberly Goodman didn’t seem to be thinking along the same route.

Angela knew better than to underestimate the blaster. Her minimal strategy wasn’t due to lack of intelligence, she just knew what her people were good at and let them focus on that. Her team doing what they did best was going to put up a hell of a fight against whoever they came up against.

 

***

 

Becca’s perception was heightened as she darted around her opponent. She’d let Rich grow too much and now it was coming back to bite her in the tushy.

<Crap on a cracker.> She let out the dirtiest curse word she was willing to think as she darted in for another strike.

Rich got stronger and more durable the more he grew. Currently, he was twice the size of Becca – about ten and a half feet tall – and he seemed to think that was good enough to beat her.

<Not beat me, but make me fail to accomplishing my mission.>

Kimberly had them rotating from team member to team member to fight for short bouts. There wasn’t more than thirty seconds of rest between the fights, so it forced them to adapt on the fly. It was good thinking, because even Becca realized they didn’t have much else going for them other than the ability to beat the poop out of people.

Becca darted in and peppered Rich’s knees with blows. She hit stronger than a regular person, and training had taught her where to hit, but there was only so much damage she could do. Rich swiped at her in response, but she was long gone. She circled around behind him and lashed out at the back of his knee with a vicious front kick. He actually stumbled a bit on that one.

<Got you now.> She’d figured the best way to deal with Rich was hit him low until he started to anticipate that and then hit him high.

“Switch!” Kimberly’s voice cut through the gym.

“Come on!” Becca grumbled. “I almost had him.”

“You wish.” Rich grinned back as he marched off and met his next opponent three strides away.

Becca stayed where she was and waited for the next challenger to show up. <Oh no.>

“Becca…Becca…Becca…this should be electric.” Anna Fletcher walked over. Static electricity already coursed across the body of the volatile electrokinetic.

The two women had engaged in a few sparring matches already. Becca didn’t particularly like them. After all, who liked to be electrocuted. Anna loved them. She viewed Becca as the ultimate opponent. Most other people she just had to get the voltage right to take them down, but not Becca. Becca was someone she had to struggle to hit in the first place. For someone who wanted to win as much as Anna, Becca was her ideal training opponent.

“Go!”

Becca started running and didn’t stop through the entire fight. The air tasted funny and her hair was going crazy through the entire fight. It felt like it was fighting to break free of her head. It had been easier dealing with it when she wore braids, but the pixie cut was too short to tie it up with anything. Her hair wasn’t her only problem. Unlike Rich, there was no way for Becca to get close to Anna.

The electrokinetic was set to stun for the training, but much more powerful crackling energy forced around her in a quasi-energy armor. She’d been perfecting it over the summer, and finally had enough control to attack while simultaneously defending herself.

Becca had even overheard Professor McMillian talking about her possibly being able to completely transform into the element by graduation, if she made it that far.

<Sure feels like she could.> Becca barely dodged a small lightning bolt a second before a wave a pressure made her stumble.

She slowed to maintain her balance and that was when her whole body seized up.

“Fuck yeah!” Anna announced triumphantly as Becca face planted at moderate speeds. “Finally got you.”

“Healer.” Kimberly called out calmly as she came to check on the progress. She’d already finished off Rich.

The big guy might be tough, but the different energy blasts Kimberly was capable of had overwhelmed him.

A white-uniformed senior trotted over and gave Becca a quick exam. “Broken jaw and some pretty bad road rash.” He diagnosed. “Hold still.”

Becca stayed still because her face hurt like the dickens. There was a momentary burst of pain as her jaw was snapped back into place, but it was the itching that hurt the most. As the skin on her cheek and chin mended itself it felt like a million mosquitoes were attacking her face. For about three seconds it was nearly unbearable. It was a lot more painful than actually getting hurt had been.

“Let’s keep working, people. Show’s over.” Kimberly stepped in and shooed everyone away. “Rotate and start again.”

Becca was no exception. She got up, tested her neck and jaw mobility, and then moved on to face Carson Long. She took out the frustration of the loss on him. He was too slow to hit her, and tough enough to take the hits. His thinly veiling offensive comments didn’t help. She might have accidently kicked him a little too hard a little too close to the groin.

<But that’s what we’ve got that healer for.>

She looked around as they waited for the senior to get Carson to stop wailing in pain. She could see Angela’s team doing different drills with different groupings of people nearby. She knew Angela was smart and cunning, but Becca didn’t think she’d selected the best team; especially when Seth had been available to be picked multiple times.

Becca could understand why no one wanted him. His performance in class was inconsistent since they got back from summer break. Then there was all the mess with the DVA and Wraith. There was even a rumor spreading about how he’d attacked some random guy. Unlike everyone else, Becca was willing to look past that. She saw a powerful Super who could be an asset to any team who gave him a chance.

<It also would have been good for one of his friends to give him a hand.> Becca wished Angela had been the bigger person and reached across the aisle to him, but she hadn’t. He’d been picked last, and she was sure that was affecting him.

“Hey, Becca, focus.” Kimberly was right in front of her snapping her fingers.

“Sorry.” She blushed and turned back toward the team practice.

She also felt a bit guilty. She’d been thinking about how Seth was holding up without giving any thought to her own girlfriend. Anika’s team was on the far side of the gym, too far to see exactly what they were doing. She wished she knew. It would make facing her and beating her team that much easier. Becca might love Anika, but she was still competitive and wanted to win.

They all did.

 

***

 

Anika was doing her part for her team. She was watching everybody else closely.

“What’s everyone else thinking?” Jason Cook stepped up behind her and whispered.

“If Kyoshi is paying attention then she is going to hear this conversation whether you whisper or not.” Anika stated as she continued to scan the room for anything interesting.

She’d been working on her telepathic abilities all summer, and she was starting to see the benefits. Spending time in a town where a portion of the people fundamentally hated what you were was good motivation to know what they were thinking before they could do something stupid. That was the primary role of her telepathy when she thought about how it integrated with the rest of her abilities. Her strength and speed were still her greatest assets, her telepathy just allowed her to pinpoint where to use those abilities to their fullest potential.

It was that same thinking that led Jason to pick her in the first round. He got someone strong, fast, that was able to throw down, and who could help him direct his forces. She was his number two, and they were already figuring out how to win.

“Kimberly has been drilling primarily offensive techniques, but that’s not a surprise. Her team is probably the strongest. Angela is taking a more varied approach. She’s trying different scenarios and seeing how her team reacts. Then she’ll change it up, keep them guessing, and make adjustments when necessary.”

Jason nodded. He was taking a similar approach. His team had already finished their physical drills for the day and had moved on to the mental ones. To any outside observer it would look like they were just sitting or lying on the ground with their eyes closed, but nothing could be further from the truth. Half of fighting was mental. His team was war gaming in their heads. They were matching themselves up against members from other teams and playing out how those fights would go with what they’d learned from being in the same class with them for over a year. It allowed his team to rethink their strengths and weaknesses and where they could possibly get help from their teammates.

Anika knew Jason had been thinking about a possible third match with Angela. So far, he was one for two against her, but now he was thinking about getting another heavy hitter like her or Teresa in on the action. That would tilt the fairly even odds in his favor. Even having Danny Mason’s duplicates distracting and harassing Angela was enough for him to get the win.

“I think we should hope to get paired off against Angela’s team.” Anika stated as she continued to listen and learn from the thoughts around her. “I’d be worried about Kimberly’s team overpowering us with all their blasters and Casey bringing up the rear. She’s tougher than hell and neither Teresa or I could take her alone. We’d need to double up, and that would leave us vulnerable.”

“I could take up the slack.” Jason insisted.

“Anna would probably keep you occupied alone.” Anika countered. “Do you know how close she is to transforming into a pure energy form?”

Anika did, and it was going to happen a lot sooner than the instructors realized if Anna kept gaining the ground in training that she did.

“Even having Jacqueline and Becca double teaming you from the land and air is going to require your complete concentration.” Anika had to respect Kimberly’s picks. She really did have a powerhouse team.

“I guess we’ll see what happens soon enough.” Jason shrugged.

“I guess so.” Anika nodded. The month was almost over and everyone was just waiting for the inevitable.

“Hey,” Jason stopped before walking away. “What’s going on with Erin’s team?”

<That’s the million-dollar question.>

Anika looked at him and shrugged. “Hell if I know?”

 

***

 

“What the hell are we even doing here?” Seth fumed as he racked the bar and sat up.

He was about fifty pounds off his normal bench press weight, and he’d been forced to do four less reps. He felt winded and his whole body hurt after the run at the beginning of class. Erin didn’t make them do five miles, but she set a grueling pace for the shorter distance. Hardly anyone else did any running during that physical training period, which already put Seth in a bad mood.

The running was just the beginning. The worst part came next. Once they were done with the run Erin just told them to work out on the machines in one corner of the room. There was no combat training, there were no strategy sessions, there was just weightlifting while Erin sat alone and starred off into Neverland.

“What the fuck is she thinking about?”

“Chill out, Seth.” Mason put a big hand out in a stopping motion. “Erin’s different, but she’s stayed number four for a reason.”

“Yeah,” Seth scoffed. “That reason is that she’s coocoo for coco puffs and nobody wants to fight a crazy person. They’re too unpredictable.”

“Maybe that’s what she’s doing. Maybe she’s being unpredictable.” Mason shrugged as he leaned back on his own weight machine and started to bench press a hundred times what Seth had been doing.

<Show off.> Seth knew Mason wasn’t showing off at all, but he was already pissed and when that happened recently things just started to snowball.

Seth added another plate – making it six total – and was determined to fuel that anger into something mildly productive. He heaved the three hundred and fifteen pounds off the rack and brought it all the way down until it touched his chest. He got the first rep done fine. The second he struggled a little at the end, but it was the third that was the real ball-breaker. He got stuck with it just a few inches off his chest, and no matter how hard he pushed it didn’t budge.

“Spot.” He grunted, and Mason was there in a flash to help.

Despite the serious physical exertion, Seth was only more pissed. He used to do double the reps at this weight and Mason had grabbed it like it was nothing. <He probably could do pinky curls with this weight.>

“God damnit!” Seth jumped up.

A gust of wind blasted through the section of the gym knocking heavy dumbells off the rack by a mirror and sending lighter ones flying nearly fifty feet out into the track.

“Whoa!” Mason jumped in front of Seth. “Jesus, man. Calm down.”

Lorelei and Simon Skylar were paired up not too far away. They shot warning glances at Seth before moving away. Ashley Bates just gave him a glare and moved farther away. Only Rowan, who didn’t seem to know any better, walked up to them.

“You good?” he asked Seth with an annoying amount of earnestness.

Rowan was still the new guy, but he was already more accepted than Seth. That only pissed Seth off more.

“We’re good.” Mason smiled. “Just burning off some of that excess energy.”

“Cool. Let me know if you need a spot.” That was directed at Seth not Mason, and Seth didn’t know if it was a good-natured request or the new guy rubbing in Seth’s weaknesses. It was tough to tell the difference now-a-days.

“You ok?” Mason asked after Rowan walked far enough away that he wouldn’t overhear.

“I’m fine.” Seth answered stubbornly.

To that, Mason just waved his hand at the scattered dumbbells. “Doesn’t look like that.” He gave Seth a serious look. “Is this because she called?”

<Yes.> Seth wasn’t going to admit that though.

The DVA had been all up in his business since the phone call. The lawyer his family had hired had just decided to rent an apartment in town and stay because of all the crap that was cascading onto Seth. The DVA had confiscated his phone, was monitoring all of his communications, and they had a tail on him twenty-four-seven. Seth was pretty sure the guy would stand in his room and watch him sleep if he could get away with it.

His lawyer just told him to fully cooperate because he had nothing to hide. <I do have nothing to hide. Not that anyone gives a shit.> Seth was so close to dropping all of this Hero shit and telling everyone to suck a dick. It was so tempting, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it just yet.

“I’m fine.” He eventually answered Mason’s question. “Come on, we need to keep going or else our fearless leader might notice we’re talking instead of working.”

They both glanced over at Erin. Her gaze was still staring off into the distance, but now she looked like she was muttering to herself. Mason didn’t say anything. There wasn’t much he could say to paint a better impression of their leader, so instead they got back to work.

It was all they could do until it was go time.

 

***

 

Daisy and Craig were not present in the gym while the sophomores practiced. Daisy wouldn’t normally be there anyway, but Craig definitely would. They weren’t there physically, but they were there electronically. Like every room in the facility, the giant gym was wired with cameras so the professors could watch their students work.

“So, you’re thinking Team Two versus Four and Three versus One?” Daisy had her feet up on her desk as Craig ran the plan by her.

“I’m toying with it.” Craig scratched his chin and looked down at the pad of paper he was making notes on. “I want the first match to be as even as possible, but I want them to slug it out. I want to teach the lesson that no matter how smart or cunning you are sometimes you just can’t make up for the difference in raw physical strength.”

Daisy agreed that was a good lesson to learn. “Then I would have Three face Four.” She put in her two cents. “That’ll match up the two strongmen. Abney, despite his current predicament, is a powerful Super. Erin can bring a lot of force to bear in a fight if she’s engaged. Gilford’s blasting doesn’t match Goodman’s but it still has a hell of a kick to it. With a couple of supporting people on either side I think it has the makings of a good fight.”

“I’ve considered it. I’m putting a lot of faith in Martin and Schultz from Team One to make it a decent fight against Three, but the matchups just might not be there for the knock-down drag-out fight I’m looking for.” Craig’s sighed as he put down the pad and rubbed his eyes.

His baby was just starting to sleep through the night, but he was still trying to catch up on sleep. He wasn’t as young as he used to be, and it was showing. Burning the candle at both ends had that effect on a person when they couldn’t drain the life out of someone and stay young theoretically forever.

“So, Three versus Four and One versus Two?” Daisy asked with a grin.

“I’ll sleep on it,” Craig shot back.

“Better think fast. The match is tomorrow.” Daisy reminded him.

“That’s the beauty of being the person in charge.” Craig flashed his mischievous grin. “I make the rules.”

Daisy just shook her head and let the speedster have his little power trip. She had other things on her mind.

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I’m on TDY from Hell – Sideshows and Seductions

“That’s a good boy…such a good boy.” Gerry dug his fingers behind Grimm’s ears and scratched. The hellhound gave a soft moan before flopping down and rolling onto its back. “You want me to scratch your tummy…ah that’s a good boy.”

Grimm’s tongue lolled out and his foot began to kick in the air in rhythm with Gerry’s scratches. Gerry let the joy show on his face. It was something he would never do in the company of his lieutenants. There was something about having man’s best friend around that always seemed to brighten his day. Especially when said best friend had caused a ruckus in the local magical community. He was getting reports from his agents that people were consolidating their strength and looking over their shoulders. Grimm’s attack was showing the deeper fault lines in the local community.

<The solo practitioners don’t like the Salvatore’s and the influence they wielded. The Lake Norman witches don’t like the Salvatore’s because of their illegal enterprises. Nobody likes the Soulless and the soulless like nobody. The only group we aren’t hearing from is the Divine.> That had him worried.

Day by day he was growing in strength. He could feel the æther swirling in the near-bottomless pit of his Demesne. A few more weeks and he’d have enough to take on the Remnant, and after that all that stood in his way was the Divine.

Grimm’s large, clawed paw waved in his face. He’d stopped scratching and the Infernal beast took offense to that.

“Sorry, boy.” Gerry went back to work.

“This looks intriguing.” Jezebel’s presence and voice came into focus from the edges of the demesne. “Why wasn’t I invited?”

“Enter.” Gerry schooled his face and rotated to face the other Infernal.

She was dressed to impress tonight with a tightfitting evening dress that showed off a lot of tanned thigh. She smiled her sensual smile as she curtsied to the Dux and assumed a humble position.

Gerry didn’t fall for it.

“You asked for me, Dux?” There was an invitation in the question, but then again there was always an invitation where Jezebel was concerned.

“Yes.” Gerry gave Grimm one last pat on the belly and then shooed him away.

The beast gave Jezebel a short growl before complying.

“I don’t see why you created that filthy…”

“That filthy creature has our enemies looking everywhere but at us right now, Jezebel.” He cut her off. “My creation has done more for our mission than you.”

Anger crossed her face for a second before she regained control. “I live to serve, my Dux. I only await your command.”

“It’s time to get some skin in the game.” Gerry’s comment elicited a raised eyebrow from the sex demon.

“I am fully engrossed in our mission, Dux. My agents…”

“You’re agents are doing fine work, Jezebel. It’s you that I want involved.”

“Me?”

“Yes you.” Gerry took a bit of pleasure at seeing the look on her face.

“My Dux, I am management. I maneuver my pieces across the board and influence only where necessary. My people are more than capable of handling any task you assign us. I have trained them well.”

“That’s what I thought you’d say.” Gerry sighed before flicking his wrist.

Just like the first time Gerry had been in the presence of Prince Seere, his hand motion picked the lesser Infernal up and threw her across the room. The impact didn’t hurt as much as it was humiliating. Her hair got ruffled and her dress ripped as she fell back down to the ground.

“Do you know what the difference between a good general and a bad general is?” Gerry strode over to stand over her.

“No, Dux.” She didn’t try to get up.

Gerry could feel the anger radiating off the Infernal, and he drank the excess æther in before she got control of her emotions.

“A good general leads from the front. They know the issues that are important to the common soldier, as well as the tactics needed to win the battle, and the overall strategy to win the war. I’ve been lucky enough to have dealt with some fine generals in my day with our Prince’s legions. You undoubtedly have not.”

Jezebel hid her face.

“Tonight you are going to learn to lead, Jezebel. Not manage… lead.”

“I am always eager to learn, my Dux.” She answered diplomatically.

“Good.” Gerry gave her another look. “Rise.”

She did. “What can I do to prove my loyalty?”

Gerry smiled. “I want you to take a page from Grimm’s book.”

“You want me to kill someone?”

“Not quite.”

She thought back to the conversation they’d been having.

“You want me to sow discord among our enemies. You want them infighting and stabbing each other in the back instead of looking at the real threat…us.”

Gerry just smiled and waited for her to grasp the full meaning.

“But the magical community is already doing that. They’re already frightened, and knowing your tactical mindset you don’t want to overdo it.” She mused.

Gerry nodded.

“That means that you want me to fuck with the humans.” She arched another eyebrow at the Dux. “But why?”

“My reasons are my own.” Gerry didn’t fill her in. “But you need to have a target selected and complete your mission between eight pm and midnight. Can you do that, Jezebel?”

“Of course, my Dux.” She smiled, and her infernal beauty hovered on the edge of being feral. “I assume you want it to draw the necessary attention.”

“Yes,” Gerry smiled. “Use your artistic discretion.”

“Yes, my Dux.”

Gerry watched at the Infernal curtsied low and exited the demesne through the elevator. He needed to make sure she was committed to the mission of realizing Prince Seere’s vision. She’d been on Earth longer than the old Dux and had always seemed to keep everything at arm’s length. By getting her hands dirty, Gerry was forcing her to join the party. She’d either succeed or fail and that would tell him all he needed to know. A request for another demon of the fourth choir wasn’t something he wanted to do, but sometimes you had to shake up your staff to get the results you wanted.

<Let’s see what she does?> Gerry pushed the lesser Infernal to the back of his mind. He had better things to do.

He’d been called to meet the Dominion. It was inevitable. He was the new face in town and even with his very public alibis she needed to vet him.  It was probably going to be the most important meeting of his life. A life that was going to be cut tragically short if he failed.

He headed to the bathroom to begin the purification ceremony. He couldn’t show up to the meeting smelling like hellhound.

 

***

 

“Welcome to the ahhhhhhh…” The doorman nearly had a heart attack as a woman walked through the front door.

He was ancient – over eighty – and he did what he did because he loved it. He’d been doing it for over fifty years, and planned to do it until he couldn’t stand up anymore. He prided himself on his professionalism and that he always treated everyone with a smile. That’s why he was so surprised to feel arousal coarse through him.

Jezebel smiled as she felt the lust in the man’s heart. Even good men felt temptation and longing for beauty. He also hadn’t had a boner since the Clinton Administration which made his æther that much sweeter. She siphoned it off as she walked past the man in a dress that was to die for.

At least that was the goal anyway.

Every male eye in the hotel lobby turned as she walked past. Every female eye grew jealous with envy. No one could have her curves or her smile. They were products of Infernal machinations, and they were gifts she planned to use tonight. On the outside she looked cool, composed, and confident but on the inside her anger was smoldering.

The new Dux questioned her. <He questions me?! He questions my loyalty?! He’s been her for all of five minutes and he wants to ruin what I’ve spent decades building.>

What the Dux had said was true. She played in the shadows while those she trained and molded did the dirty work. In her line of business that was how it worked. She had done her time on the front lines. She had fucked the dregs of this world to their deaths. She had sucked the life from their bodies and passed their souls on the Hell.

<I’ve done my time. I worked my way to where I am, and now he’s going to screw it all up,> she seethed, but kept all of the emotion off her face.

She walked past the line waiting to enter the ballroom and right up to the man in charge.

“I’m looking for the mayor.” She smiled sweetly and infused it with her influence.

“By the stage.”  The man got a dazed look on his face when he gave her the information and then stepped aside.

To Charlotte’s blue-blooded elite that cause a few disgruntled whispers, but one look back at them shut them up. She walked across the room like she belonged there and strode straight up to the mayor. Her fragrance blossomed across the space and seeped into the pours of the men and women present. Men of power found themselves drawn to the waitresses, and the waitresses to them. They paired off like they were boarding Noah’s Ark, and left her alone with the most powerful man in the city.

“Mr. Mayor.” She smiled and knew he was immediately under her thrall.

“Hello, beautiful.” The mayor smiled like only a man could when faced with such ravishing beauty.

Despite everything about him. Despite all his charm, political power, and community influence he was only a man. A man had no chance of standing against an Infernal. He reached toward her and took her by the waist to pull her close. She let him get close to her. She even let his hands reached lower and cup her ass. She was numb to the affect a man’s touch had on her. She’d been feeling them for centuries.

“How about we find someplace private?” His voice was husky, and she could feel his anticipation against her thigh.

“Lead the way.” She let him take charge.

He took her hand and pulled her toward a service door at the rear of the room. The ornate wallpaper of the banquet hall faded into the stark metal of the hallway leading to the kitchen. The mayor couldn’t even control himself long enough to make it upstairs to his room. He stopped in the middle of the hallway, pushed her up against the wall, and began kissing her neck. He hoisted up her dress and was surprised to see she wasn’t wearing any panties. She felt arousal overwhelm him.

He started to undo his belt and open up his fly. He was ready. She could feel the lustful æther radiating off him and she savored it. If she was going to take his soul she’d let him fuck her, but tonight’s activities didn’t require that.

When he was at his most vulnerable – when he was trying to pull his dick out of his pants – she reached up with both hands and snapped his neck. She rotated his head a full one hundred and eighty degrees. She smiled as his body went limp, but she easily supported it. Thankfully, he’d wanted to throw her up against the wall and screw her six ways to Sunday right next to the trash chute.

<This will make a good headline in tomorrow’s paper. Mayor found dead with pants down.> She smiled as she hoisted him up and dumped him down the chute.

A few bangs echoed on the way down and ended with one loud one when he hit the bottom.

<That’s that.> She wiped her hands on her dress and straightened it out. <Let’s see what the Dux thinks of that!> She smiled and walked down the hall toward the rear exit.

She had other more important things to do tonight.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 122

Eve Berg

Location: Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “I heard they ran like a bunch of little bitches.”

“I heard that the Fleet is spanking them all up and down the system.”

“I heard you have a foot-long dick. That tells me you can’t believe everything you hear.” The gaggle of infantry sitting across from Eve laughed as their Spyder Assault shuttle rocketed through space toward Rogue Island’s upper atmosphere.

Unlike the three young grunts, Eve had a better idea what was going on. Her V3 LACS only had limited connectivity with the higher levels of STRATNET, but it didn’t take a genius to understand what happened. She doubted the Blockies were being little bitches or getting their asses spanked so easily. You didn’t stand toe-to-toe with the galactic starfaring powerhouse that was the United Commonwealth of Colonies by being cowardly or stupid. Most likely, the Blockies were executing a fighting retreat. They only had a handful of ships against the full might of the Commonwealth task force, so they couldn’t do more than harass the larger force as it approached the planet. The battlecruisers and destroyers had to be careful of the two Blockie battleships, but the twenty-plus Commonwealth battleships didn’t have much to worry about.

Of course, all of this meant jackshit to the infantry dropping onto the planet. All they cared about was that hornet’s nest they were about to kick over.

“Rangers, listen up.” The six SPECOPS members in the Spyder focused on their NCOIC.

Even though SGM Queen was present he wasn’t leading this operation. He was an extra gun, and a failsafe if shit really went sideways. The SGT was running the show.

“Latest intel says that the Blockies were able to pull half of their people off this rock before they had to bug out. Good news is that it only leaves us with a few battalions worth of them to kill. Bad news is, there are only a few battalions of them for us to kill.” That got some chuckles out of the other Rangers, but Eve kept her mouth shut.

“Our mission hasn’t changed. We’re going to land here and clear this area for an LZ. The infantry grunts on board are going to hold that position for the second wave once we’ve secured it. At that time, we are going to push toward the PDC. We’re only getting some snippets of radio transmissions getting through the Blockie’s jammers. We’re going to get to our people and assess the situation. Recon is doing the same from the east. And infantry is handling north and south. We’re creating a box around these remaining assholes. Once we’ve got them boxed in, were going to tighten the noose and finish them. Questions?”

There were no questions.

“Rangers lead the way!”

“Rangers lead the way!” The reply was loud and thunderous. They really were leading the way on this one. That, and they were competing with Recon to see who could get to the PDC first.

The first jerk of the Spyder hitting the atmosphere put an end to the SGT’s briefing. They were already locked in tight and secure, but every other Ranger onboard had done a combat drop before. If they were shutting up then there was a good reason.

What had started as a smooth ride to the planet suddenly deteriorated into a clusterfuck. Or at least that’s what if felt like. Eve nearly threw up in her LACS three times from all the crazy maneuvers and hairpin turns that seemed to defy the laws of physics. She felt bad for the regular infantry. With their thinner armor they’d be walking away from this ride with some ugly bruises.

But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was not having any idea what the hell was going on. She was locked out of the Spyder’s external sensors along with everyone but the Ranger SGT and the infantry’s NCOIC.

<This is why I didn’t join the fleet.> She repeated several times as the Spyder dipped, dived, ducked, and dodged through Rogue Island’s atmosphere. <One second I’m ready to fight and then next I could be disintegrating ash making a nice light show across the sky. I want to be boots on the ground with my foot in someone’s ass. If I die I want to see it coming.>

“Ranger’s on your feet.”

Eve was surprised the command over TACCOM came right as the Spyder made a pretty sizable jerk.

“Magnetize boots!”

Eve did what she was told without thinking. It was a good thing she did, because the back of the Spyder opened up and they were in a corkscrew.

Explosions and energy blasts filled her HUD as the flight of Spyders contended with the Blockies air defense artillery.  Thankfully, most of the explosions seemed to be missiles getting blasted from the sky by the Spyder’s countermeasures, but she did see one assault shuttle get clipped and go into a death spiral.

<Fifty men gone just like that.>

 It had been a long time since Eve felt true fear, so long she’d almost forgotten what it was. But there was no mistaking the emotion as it grabbed ahold of her gut and threatened to expel her meager meal one of two ways.

“Thirty seconds!” The SGT yelled as he cautiously stomped forward under the power of his suit. Without the suit, he would have snapped his leg in half from the sheer force of the evasive maneuvers.

“Let’s go, Berg.” The SGM prodded her forward as the rest of the Ranger team started marching toward the open rear ramp.

It took her a moment to figure out what was happening, but when she did she had to take a couple of deep breaths. It was common knowledge that a Spyder was at its most vulnerable when it was on the ground and dropping off troops. Plenty of good men and women had died in those crucial ten seconds of an operation. Plenty of good Rangers had too.

So the SPECOPS training and doctrine teams thought of ways to mitigate that risk for the expensively trained and equipped Rangers. With the V3s and their grav-boots the answer was simple: get out of the Spyder before it lands and becomes vulnerable. That was the SGT’s plan as they lined up three across and two deep on the ramp.

The Spyder was spinning toward the ground in a textbook combat descent. Eve’s HUD gave her some data to work off of.

<Three hundred meters…two-fifty…two hundred…one-fifty…one hundred…> Her eyes were glued to the spinning world beneath her.

“GO!” The SGT’s words cut through the daze and she punched in the command.

The grav-boots pulsed and she shot off the ramp. Unlike the two other people in her line who went straight she angled to the left.

“Berg, duck!” Was all the warning the SGM was able to give her before the jet wash from the Spyder’s engines swatted her from the sky like some annoying fly.

She went spinning out of control. For a second she couldn’t tell her ass from her head as her controls went haywire.

“Fucking newbie.” She heard the SGT’s words but couldn’t see him anymore.

<Find the horizon and orient.> Despite the vomit in her throat the training took over.

She concentrated on the gyroscope, lined up the horizon and fired her boots to reorient. It was a given that she was way out of position, but at least she wasn’t going to plow into the ground face first.

“I’m good.” Eve sent back to the SGM. She was too embarrassed to radio the SGT. “I’ll rendezvous with you guys in two minutes.”

She grabbed for her Buss at her side, which had miraculously stayed attached to her armor, and gripped it tight as she descended the last few meters to land on the top of a building. It had a nice rooftop garden that looked well-maintained, and there was even a little fountain at the center still spurting out H2O despite everything that was going on.

Thankfully, she’d been admiring the fountain or she would have missed the camouflaged bulge just to the side of it. That was all the warning she got before the RPG fired straight at her chest.

Instinct took over. She slid to the side with super-quickness like she was skating on air. The RPG flew wide and detonated against the side of the next building. Eve didn’t worry about that. Her HUD’s carrot was already lining up with the human figure next to the fountain and she was pulling the trigger. 3mm plasma tipped rounds churned through the fountain, the person, and the rooftop with minimal effort. There wasn’t even any deflection as the rounds killed her attacker.

“Contact at my location. One enemy down. SITREP to follow.”

The Ranger SGT acknowledged on TACCOM with a simple ping that lit up the comms channel green. He was too busy right now to worry about what some newbie had done when she was stupid enough to get in the way of a Spyder’s jet wash.

She moved quickly and efficiently after that. She approached what remained of the human body, which was getting drizzled on by the fountain she’d expertly killed as well. The body had no armor, only a set of fatigues that looked a few centuries old.

<It isn’t even smartcloth.>

“Sergeant Major, this guy wasn’t a Blockie. He was just some idiot with an RPG and not enough sense to know friend from foe.” She was surprised her voice held so much emotion. The guy had tried to kill her.

But that tended to happen the first time you killed another human being in anger.

“Shake it off, Berg. It was probably one of the insurrectionists that were fighting it out with us before the Blockies rolled into town. Focus on the mission and get your ass over here.” The SGM cut the line and Eve took his advice.

She shook it off, moved to the edge of the roof, and jumped. Her boots activated and she skated off toward the rendezvous point where the infantry were securing the perimeter. She didn’t meet any more resistance along the way. Apparently, the RPG taking down some apartment building’s wall was enough to have anyone else nearby shelter in place.

While she was busy dealing with the lone militiaman, the rest of the Rangers and infantry had been mopping up the LZ. When she arrived there were half a dozen camouflaged bodies in the reds, browns, and greens of Blockie infantry.

“Berg, get your shit together.” Were the only words of wisdom the SGT gave her before he gave the order to move out.

The headed off in the direction of the PDC. They advanced as buddy teams over a three block area with a block separating them. One went low, moving quickly and efficiently through the deserted streets. The other went high, providing overwacth as they moved from rooftop to rooftop. They met minimal resistance, nothing a Buss couldn’t handle, and by the time they’d reached the outskirts of the PDC Eve had two more kills under her belt.

Those kills felt legitimate though. They’d been Blockie regulars in armor fighting to keep the Rangers from advancing toward their objective. They hadn’t been some local moron who thought they could take on a highly-trained special operations trooper in heavy armor with an antiquated weapons system. No matter how hard she tried to shake it she couldn’t get the look of that poor bastard out of her head. Most of his chest had been blasted to smithereens by the 3mm round, but the look of surprise on his face was something she doubted she’d forget today.

<Focus, Eve.> She stopped the pity-party and focused on her corners.

The orange overlay of the PDC’s shield on her HUD rose up in front of her when the six Rangers reconsolidated. Everything was quiet, but they were still having some trouble getting communications through. Wherever the jammer was they hadn’t destroyed it yet.

“I just hope they don’t shoot us in the ass.” The SGT actually sounded happy as they approached the shield.

Like anything moving below a certain speed they passed right through the invisible energy barrier. Things looked just as bad on the inside as they did from the outside. The PDC had been chewed up and shit out. There were hardly any structures left standing except for the central buildings. Even the shield generator looked like it had taken some hits. If Eve was to take an educated guess she’d say the shield wasn’t even operating at one hundred percent anymore.

<It was a good thing we got here when we did.> She doubted they would have lasted another twenty-four hours.

“Attention JB Sullivan PDC. This is Ricochet One-One, leading Ranger Team One coming in with six friendlies at your two-seven-zero. Please acknowledge.”

Now was the moment of truth. They’d see if there was anyone still left defending the PDC and if they’d beaten the Recon guys to the objective. Eve honestly couldn’t tell you which one the SGT was more excited about.

“Thank fucking god.” A voice came over TACCOM after a few tense seconds. “This is Chaos Six. Authenticate: Bravo-Zulu- Eight-Niner-Zero-Four.”

“Authenticate: Alpha-Delta- Seven-Six-Two-Seven.” The SGT replied back. The V3s connection with the PDCs STRATNET node should have been enough to confirm they were who they said they were, but Eve couldn’t blame the local commander for wanting additional authentication after all the shit they’d gone through.

“Good copy, Ricochet One-One. We’re holding fire. Thanks for answering our call.”

“It’s what we do.” The SGT made the move-out motion and they started bounding forward toward the shield generator.

“Be advised, Ricochet One-One, we’re black on just about everything. We need immediate medical attention for multiple wounded. We need body bags, and we need to get the fuck off this piece of shit rock.”

“Roger that, Chaos Six, we’ll pass along the message.”

They saw the first signs of the resistance about two hundred meters from the shield generator. A squad of ragtag looking soldiers poked their heads out of a hole and gave the Ranger team a wave. Eve waved back, but was the only one to do so.”

“Rangers, I’m going to confer with Chaos. I want you five to start triage. Mark the wounded on STRATNET so that the docs can prioritize when they arrive. Judging by the numbers I’m getting we’re going to need most of the task force’s medics down here.”

They split up as information started to update on their HUD as the local commander gave them access to their STRATNET data.

<Shit,> was all the Eve could think of as she saw the numbers of black and red icons start to climb higher and higher.

Their briefing said there had been two full battalions on the planet. From what she was seeing on her screen, only about seven hundred were still up and moving.

<Only thing I can do is get to work.> She pinged a location that she was going to handle and approached it.

It was bad.

Lots of soldiers had holes in them. A few were missing limbs, there was a lot of blood outside of bodies, and those seriously injured were only being kept alive by their armor. One by one Eve walked up to the wounded and made a connection by touching her gauntlet to their helmets. She analyzed their armor’s data and identified them as: urgent, urgent surgical, priority, routine, and convenience. Those that didn’t look like they could hold out were marked as convenience because it would be convenient to remove their bodies from the battlefield for hygienic safety purposes. No one wanted any lingering bacteria causing any infections.

For the most part, the soldiers she dealt with were priority. They needed to be evacuated promptly or within four hours. If they didn’t they’d be in deep shit. There were a few routine cases in the bunch, so they could last a day before getting transportation. But for every routine case there was an urgent or urgent surgical. These soldiers needed to get out of there ASAP or within two hours. Some needed to go straight to the nearest surgical unit if they wanted to live.

Even though she wasn’t supposed to, she gave most of her supply of medical nanites to the urgent or urgent surgical patients to get them just a little extra time to get help.

“We’ve got a few more over here.” A CPL was helping her with the triage. He had a broken foot but was otherwise unharmed. With some improvised crutches he was making himself useful.

He led Eve around some rubble and toward two hulking figures.

“We dug them out of a destroyed building about twelve hours ago. Battalion Doc gave them the last of our medical nanites six hours ago.”

Eve knelt down and made a connection with the HI trooper. He was a SSG and he was priority. The medical nanites were doing their job to stop the cerebral hemorrhaging. The broken bones could wait, but he needed to get out of here soon.

She tagged him and moved on to the second suit. The usually grayish metal was mixed brown and black now. Black from burns and brown from being buried alive. She made the connection and immediately could tell the trooper was unconscious.

That wasn’t the only thing she figured out.

“Gunney!” Eve couldn’t believe it. Her Basic instructor, who seemed more goddess than mortal woman, was lying before her on the brink of death.

There was lots of internal bleeding. Thirty percent of the bones in her body were broken. Her oxygen levels were really low, but the worst of all was the radiation poisoning. She’d been way too close to an energy blast, which explained the burn marks. Whatever reason she had for being so close the result was that her body was quickly giving up. The armor had recorded two seizures in the last two hours. Her lungs had severe inflammation and scaring, her white blood cell count was way down, and there were bad burns across her skin despite the armor.

She was urgent if Eve had ever seen one.

<I can’t just mark her and move on.> That’s what Eve should have done and she knew that. But this was Gunney Cunningham. She couldn’t just leave her like another random soldier.

“Sergeant Major. I’ve got a Ranger down over here.” Eve skipped the SGT and went straight to the big guy.

“Mark them and move on, Private.” The SGM replied emotionlessly.

“I…I can’t, Sergeant Major. I know her from Basic. She’s an ass kicker. I can’t just leave her.”

Her reply was met with several seconds of silence. “Bring her to the casualty collection point. We’ll put her on the first bird out of here.” The line went dead, and Eve knew she was going to catch some shit for it.

<Don’t care.> She thanked the CPL for his help and hoisted the GYSGT up over her shoulder. She walked around to the other side of the shield generator where a new LZ was being cleared out for an incoming wave of birds.

She got the first signs of life from the GYSGT when she half lowered; half dropped her onto the asphalt among the other urgent candidates.

“What the fuck?” The Gunney was groggy, clearly in pain, and clearly not wanting to be moved.

“Take it easy, Gunney. We’re getting you out of here.” Eve patted the NCO’s armored shoulder, which only made her wince.

“I must be dead. Because you sound like Berg, and if I’m getting rescued by some newbie right out of Basic then you might as well leave me to die.” Her laugh turned into a cough.

“It’s been a while, Gunney. I’m a Ranger now. I’m not going to leave you behind.” That seemed to instill some sense of calm in the older NCO before she lost consciousness again.

Thankfully, that was when the first flight of Spyders poked through the cloud cover and came down hard toward the PDC. They were taking much less fire than the first wave, but not all of the Blockies’ ADA batteries were down yet. Eve didn’t see anyone take more than superficial damage.

The Spyders landed in a straight line where people and hovering pallets started to stream off of them. Medical nanites by the truckload were going to be used to stabilize and save lives before they could get the wounded up to the surgical suites on the warships. Eve was able to talk a specialist out of an injection and quickly used it on the GYSGT. It was still a decent ride up to the ships parked in orbit and she didn’t want her dying before they got there. Since Eve was the only person capable of picking the GYSGT up, she got her onto the assault shuttle. She was about to get off when the SGM stopped her.

“We’re hitching a ride with them, Berg.”

“Why?” Eve looked down the ramp at the chaos.

“We’re the tip of the spear not the shaft. We have other MOS’s that are taking over now. We did our job. You kind of screwed the pooch at the beginning, but you did ok.”

Eve blushed under her suit, but the SGM never saw it.

“Pop a squat and run those diagnostics you love to run. We’ll hitch a ride to Valkyrie, do an AAR, shower, and get ready for wherever they send us next because if there is one constant in the Ranger Brigades, it is that there is never a shortage of stuff to do.

Eve thought a shower sounded pretty good, and her mind was concentrated on that as the Spyder’s ramp shut tight behind her and took off back toward the ships.

She was cut off from everything going on outside the shuttle when TACCOM was suddenly flooded with traffic and requests, so much so that the system went offline and had to reboot. STRATNET was also pinging off the hook as new contacts were recognized. Eve was oblivious to all of it as she rode in the quiet cargo bay.

This wasn’t over yet.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 121

Benjamin Gold

Location: CWS Argo, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 The battle was the easy part. Cleaning up after it was much more difficult. Ben had heard it described like this before. A few moments of sheer terror filled with hours of tedious boredom. He’d been prepared for the terror. That was what his training was geared towards, and being in command gave him a million other things to do in those precarious moments. Right now, he was very much not liking his job.

“Section 166, normal. No physical damage and only light irradiation. Only a few ppm, well below regulation levels.” LT Briggs was leading the damage control teams on a thorough and exhausting inspection of the ship. They were looking for any type of damage to Argo and compiling a damage report that he would have to sign off on and turn into the fleet when they returned.

Ben noted the assessment on the master report and the LT moved onto section 167. <Only a couple of hundred sections to go.> It hardly mattered that the pirates hadn’t scored a single hit on Argo. They still had to do this.

“Sergeant O’Neil on TACCOM for you, Sir.” SP2 Olvera reported dutifully.

“Patch him through.”

After securing Full Moon, Ben had ordered the marines to use their shuttle to make contact with and assess the damage to New Day. Since they were the likely target of the pirate’s attack, he wanted a thorough report on the damage they’d taken and whether or not it was natural or sabotage. He hoped it was natural. If it was sabotage then him and Cobalt Station had a lot of work to do. Pirates were making more and more inroads into this sector and it was Ben’s job to stop it. Not only did Cobalt Station pay the Fleet to do just that, but Ben felt a responsibility toward the small mining station. After all, he did kind of own it.

“Go ahead, Sergeant.”

“Sir, we’ve completed a preliminary scan of the vessel. It only has two crew members, the captain and a mechanic. Both were unharmed in the firefight, and only one is freaking out a little. As for the explosion that called for the original distress call it does look a little fishy. I’m no engineer, but I don’t think when something explodes for real it’s supposed to leave the stuff surrounding it relatively unharmed.”

<Damn.> Argo’s port call to the mining station just got a lot longer.

“Please sent my greeting to the captain and politely request that he accompanies you back to the Argo. I want to have a chat with him. Please tell him to forward his ship’s logs to me before you depart. I want to look it over before you arrive. Good work, Sergeant.”

“Thank you, Sir.” The link was cut.

Ben was left scratching his chin. He liked the SGT. All the marines had done a fantastic job of eliminating the threats with minimal injuries. Only a single marine required a short stay in their sick bay to recover from wounds obtained in the battle. Everyone was giving that marine a hard time about getting hurt, but as far as Ben knew it was all in good fun.

“Geoffrey.”

“Yes, Commander Gold.”

“I want you to take a look at the ship’s logs when they are downloaded to us. Please review for anything suspicious or altered.”

Ben received the logs thirty minutes later and got word that the shuttle would be arriving back at the gunboat in forty-five minutes. That gave him just enough time to prepare. There was no special room for questioning people on a gunboat. There just wasn’t enough space, so the question became where to talk. He wasn’t going to take the other captain anywhere near the bridge or any other sensitive area, which left infantry country. They had an open space for basic exercises and hand-to-hand training, so Ben had one of the maintenance spacers get a pair of chairs and a folding table set up. That would have to do.

“Shuttle arriving. Docking procedures initiating.” Geoffrey’s voice announced over the ship intercom.

Ben waited patiently next to the hatch until the light turned green and it slid open.

“Sir,” SGT O’Neil was still in his armor and looked massive next to the small man next to him. “May I introduce Captain Pickard of CMS New Day. Captain Pickard, this is Lieutenant Commander Gold, the commander of Argo.

“It is such an honor to meet you, Sir. The small captain took Ben’s large hand in both of his and shook. “Thank you, thank you so much for what you did for us.”

“No need, Captain. I was just doing my duty.” Ben couldn’t help but feel sorry for the smaller captain. The man looked pale, sickly, and in need of several good meals. “Can I get you something to eat or drink, Sir. Our mess is small, but our cook does what he can.”

“No thank you, Sir.” Pickard bowed his head. “You’ve done more than enough for me today.”

“That is what I wanted to talk to you about,” Ben ushered the other captain toward the table. “We are investigating the incident, and I wanted to get your take on it. You were right in the middle of it after all.”

“Yes, of course.” Pickard flushed as he took a seat. “I will do my best to answer your questions.”

“Thank you.” Ben set his PAD to record and made the proper legal statements required by Commonwealth maritime law. “How long have you been working for Cobalt?”

“Only a short time, Sir. I just got New Day outfitted and registered. This was going to be my first job in sector with her. I spent everything I had to get her up and running.” The captain’s voice cracked a bit.

“When did you first encounter the pirate vessel Full Moon?”

“On our way here. We stopped for fuel and supplies in System 1773.” They were in orbit with us and we teamed up for the trip here. I thought safety in numbers would be a good thing.”

“Did they ever come onboard?” Ben checked the data on the ship’s logs to see if the answers matched the ship’s history. So far so good, and he’d double check that data with records from System 1773.

“I don’t think so, but my mechanic and I did leave the ship to go down to the planet quickly. We weren’t gone more than an hour, but I guess they could have gotten on board.” The man looked troubled as he tried to remember events from a few days ago.

A message popped up in his PAD addressed from Geoffrey. It stated that there was some corrupted data from around the time New Day was in System 1773. It supported Pickard’s story.

“What occurred once you left System 1773?”

“It was business as usual.” Pickard shrugged. “We arrived at Cobalt Station, signed in, reviewed our contract, and set out for the asteroid field.”

“It says here you stayed on station for six hours. Why so long? A standard contract review can’t have taken that long with the administrators.” Ben had seen whole companies get bought out in a shorter timeframe.

“Well…um…” Pickard stammered and blushed. “My mechanic has needs, Sir.” He finally revealed. “Needs of the flesh and of the bottle. It’s not my place to judge, but I don’t hold the same tastes as he does. But he’s a great mechanic,” Pickard added hastily. “It’s tough to find good workers for the low wages the mining companies pay. If he needs to take a few hours to blow off steam then who am I to judge? As long as he comes to work sober I let him do what he wants.”

Geoffrey couldn’t confirm that story without connecting to Cobalt’s network, and they needed to be closer to do that reliably.

<We are going there anyway.> Ben sighed and gave the nervous-looking captain a smile.

“You’ve been through a lot today, Captain. I don’t want to take up any more of your time. We will return you to your vessel. You are welcome to follow us back to Cobalt Station, and I am sure the company has paperwork that you need to fill out.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir. But if I may,” Pickard looked hesitant, but Ben was beginning to think that was the man’s natural state, “could you give us a tow back to the station. With our damage I’d rather not push the old girl.”

“I am sorry, Captain.” Ben shook his head. “Regulation dictates that I cannot assist in that manner.” Ben felt sorry at the dejected look on Pickard’s face. “But,” he added, “I will send a message ahead for the station to send a tug your way.”

“Thank you, Sir. That will help a lot.”

“It was a pleasure to meet you, Captain. I wish it was under better circumstances. Sergeant.” Ben motioned for SGT O’Neil to transport the Captain back to his ship and retrieve the marines there.

That would take another hour and a half, which gave them time to finish up the inventory.

“Sir, sections 167 through 221 are all normal. Moving to section 222.” LT Briggs brought him back up to date on her progress.

“Continue,” he replied, and got to work on the paperwork.

 

Noah Grisham

Location: CWS Argo, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Noah had to work very hard to conceal the disdain that threatened to leak onto his face at any moment. His mark, Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Gold was sitting right in front of him and there wasn’t a single thing he could do. On top of that, the LCDR was like every other pompous asshole the pirate captain had ever met. He had blue specks in his eyes, golden hair, an enhanced physique, and everything else in this universe that the rich could afford while people like Noah had to squabble for scraps.

Benjamin Gold was half the reason Noah did what he did. He took from the rich, but he didn’t give to the poor. He kept that shit for himself. The worst part about all of this was that he could feel millions of dollars slipping through his fingers. Full Moon hadn’t even dented the gunboat’s hull.

<If that fucking moron had waited a few more minutes I would be the person on the other side of the table right now, and I wouldn’t be so kind.> Benjamin seemed to be under the impression that Noah and Able were victims in this whole incident. A point of view he had no problem in supporting.

The problem was that too much digging into the story would unravel it. New Day and Full Moon hadn’t only met in System 1773. They’d arrived together. That was going to create more questions. Questions that pointed in a bad direction.

<I’ve got to fix this and fix it fast.>

The one good thing about the chat was that Noah was able to get a decent layout of this part of the ship. It looked like the place where the marines hung out, which made sense if someone was going to board through the airlock then it was smart to have them funnel right into the heart of the ship’s defenders. Noah also confirmed they had between five and ten marines, and since he wasn’t a moron like the Full Moon’s now deceased captain, he was betting on the higher number.

<If I can get enough people together then we can take this tin can.>

The problem was getting enough people out here without being detected, getting them armed and coordinated, and then having them storm the gunboat when it was weakest.

<I’ve got to hit it when it’s docked at the station.> There was no other way unless he hired a flotilla of pirates to try and take down the gunboat in action.

That would just lead to the same problem. Pirates didn’t play well together. They’d fight among themselves before, after, and maybe even during the attempt to kidnap Commander Gold. There was no way Noah could trust them to get the task done, and there was no way to get it done with just him and Able.

<That’s why this is a fifty-million-dollar job.>

Gold dismissed him after their short conversation and exiled him back to his ship with the watchful marine. He couldn’t do anything now. He needed to bide his time and make some calls. Able had made a few less than reputable contacts on the station. They might be able to help.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 15

When Daisy thought “clandestine meeting with a secret agent” this wasn’t what came to mind. Orlando at its core was a tourist and college town. With Disney World a stone’s throw away, along with three big schools, it was a city that never really slept. The bars were open late to grab the college kids and that meant that restaurants had to be open late too.

The address Night had told Daisy to meet her at was a pretty nice restaurant. Nice enough that the hostess gave Daisy a judgmental look when she walked in wearing athletic clothes. She wanted to be loose, comfortable, and ready to throw down if need be. She didn’t give a shit if she met the dress code.

“I’m meeting someone.” Was all she could tell the hostess, which didn’t help with the judgmental looks.

“Ms. Meyers?” The hostess asked hesitantly after a second. Daisy nodded, and the young woman’s demeanor completely changed. “Welcome!” Her face brightened to what must earn her nice fat tips from the men at this fancy establishment. “I’ve got you in a private room in the back. Please follow me.”

Daisy didn’t let her confusion show as the hostess grabbed two menus and led the way to the back. The private room had two booths and a big square table in the center. It could easily fit thirty people for an anniversary or birthday party, but with just one person it felt like a waste. The hostess placed the menu at one of the booths and Daisy took a seat.

“Your server will be right with you, Ms. Meyers.”

Daisy didn’t reply. Her mind was busy studying the room. There were only two entrances – which meant two exits. One was the way she’d entered and the other was a door back to the kitchen. It made sense to have a route straight to the food if you were serving a party. If shit went sideways, that was the way she was getting out of here, and she bet that was how Night was going to enter. Covert agents didn’t tend to enter through the front door.

She also took note of the shadows in the room. Night’s power had to do with darkness, so it only made sense to keep an eye on that. Daisy would bet her entire yearly salary that Night was listening in right now.

Five minutes turned into ten and then fifteen as Daisy waited patiently. A cute-as-a-button waitress came to take Daisy’s order but all she got was a water. She’d just eaten and had no plans to have a second dinner.

“Are you sure you don’t at least want an appetizer, Ma’am.” The waitress pushed, turning up the charm in the hopes of actually making some money tonight.

“I’m fine thank you.” Daisy replied, her eyes still glued on the entrances.

The waitress left again and the clock ticked on as Daisy waited. After nearly half an hour, Daisy started to wonder if this was some type of setup. Her kinetic abilities were activated, so she gathered two orbs of electricity beneath the table in case she was ambushed. They would have the combined effect of a flash strong enough to temporarily blind the enemy while still knocking them on their ass. That would give her the time she needed to finish them or run. She was on good terms with the DVA since the attack on the city and she didn’t want to ruin all the goodwill just yet.

“Can I…”

“I’m fine. Please just…” Daisy stopped mid retort as she noted the difference between the new voice and the voice of the waitress.

She didn’t jump up and get into a fighting stance because that would make her look bad. She did dial up the power on the orbs if the new arrival tried anything. The new woman taking a seat across from Daisy looked to be in her fifties or sixties, which matched how old Night would be. Her raven black hair had a couple of silver strands in it, which highlighted the cold glint in her eye and a face that didn’t give anything away. Her features were distinctly Asian, and her outfit was a mixture of her traditional culture and modern American. It looked expensive too, way more expensive then something Daisy could buy on her teaching salary.

She also wasn’t alone. Two big, bulky men covered in tattoos had entered with her. Each took up a position near the two entrances. Anyone who wanted to enter the room would have to go through them first, and they had bulges in their blazers that said anyone trying to force their way in would lead to something ugly.

Night studied Daisy in the few seconds the seasoned Hero took in her new surroundings. “You really don’t remember me.”

Daisy was sure she imagined it, but she thought she heard a hint of sadness in the tone.

“Mastermind really did a number on you.” That sadness was gone and replaced by a shake of the head. “I still don’t understand why you wanted to forget all that we did. The secrets that we know are one of a kind.”

“A secret is best if its only kept by one person. The more people that know, the dicier it gets, and in my experience, that usually ends up with people missing body parts.” That got Daisy a small smile from her old acquaintance.

“That’s a conversation for another day. It is not why I’m here.” The neutral expression snapped back into place. “I’m here because your actions are hurting my organization. It is costing me considerable capital to stay one step ahead of a consortium of our old nemeses. They are motivated, well-funded, and for some reason have detailed accounts of our actions since leaving Uncle Sam’s service. My question to you is: who the fuck did you piss off and how do we make them happy again?”

“That’s a long list of people. Take your pick.” Daisy smirked.

Night didn’t think that was funny. “It would have been someone recent. A person doesn’t just drop considerable resources to track down a retired elite team just for kicks. There has to be a catalyst event. Something you did to piss someone off.”

“I’ve been pretty low key recently. Other than the attack on the city I’ve only run into a few petty criminals. If you’re saying someone is paying big money for these assholes to hunt us down then there is no way it’s them.”

“You were here during the attack?” Night changed her line of questioning. “Did you kill someone you weren’t supposed to? Or did you not kill someone you should have? Blood feuds tend to be the best fuel for this type of revenge.

“Well I tried to kill…” Daisy’s thoughts came to a grinding halt. “Oh shit.”

“Who did you try to kill?” Night leaned forward, excitement finally creeping into her stoic features.

“Seif al-Din and I fought. I busted him up a bit, but he kicked my ass pretty good. Then he basically stated he wanted to put a baby in me to make a race of superior Supers. I told him to fuck off, and that’s about where I lost consciousness.”

“His organization would have the resources to connect with, hire, and finance the people hunting us. He is our most likely candidate.” Night sat back with a pensive look on her face.

“So, al-Din is trying to kill me…again.” Daisy rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “Just great.”

“Maybe not.” Night’s gaze shifted and she looked like she was seeing through Daisy. It only lasted a few seconds before her eyes snapped back to the present.

“You said his plan is on a master Super race with your reaping and his regenerative properties. That’s something that wouldn’t just happen with a one-time romp in the sack. To get a child with both the parents’ abilities would take serious scientific interference.” Night scratched her chin. “How a Super gets which power is still unknown. Some children inherit their parents’ ability, an aspect of it, or they get something totally new. Neither of your parents had anything close to your reaping ability, so there is no guarantee that a coupling of you and al-Din would result in what he wants without large scale intervention.”

“I’d need an intervention if I ever got together with that psycho.” Daisy mumbled.

“What that means is that al-Din isn’t trying to kill you. He’s trying to capture you.”

“He wants to make me his baby making, experimental sex slave! Fuck that!” The disgust on Daisy’s face actually made Night chuckle. It was a weird sound.

“It makes sense. He’s gathering intelligence on you by finding your old colleagues, interrogating them, and then eliminating them. It also takes out your potential allies, and is probably a bonus for the people chasing you. Our team injured them or their cause in one way or another over the years. Sometimes the best payment for a mercenary team is sweet revenge.”

“You sound like you know a bit about that.” Daisy was picking up a few things from the way Night spoke.

Night didn’t reply. She just smiled. A look that made her previously neutral expression look downright dangerous.

<What the hell does she do now?> She made a mental note to ask Mastermind when she went back down to the HCP.

“This has been very enlightening.” Unexpectedly, Night got to her feet. “We should talk again in the future.” She handed Daisy a midnight-black business card. On the back was a number in red and nothing else. “Call if you wish.”

She moved toward the door to the kitchen and her guards closed ranks around her.

“What the fuck? Wait!” Daisy got up to follow, but when she pushed through the door they were gone.

“Fucking teleporters.” She mumbled when a quick search showed they had vanished into thin air.

When she went back to the room the waitress was standing there looking a little pissed. She thought Daisy had dined and dashed without actually dining. Daisy threw a twenty on the table for her and left. She waited until she was out of the building until she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number. It went to voicemail which was expected. Mastermind was closing in on a hundred and it was way past his bedtime.

“You won’t believe what just happened. Call me.” She left a short message and walked to her car, staying alert as she did.

Apparently, people were looking to kill her friends and kidnap her. If she was being honest with herself, it wasn’t the most nefarious thing people had planned for her throughout her career. As far as timing went it sucked ass. Things were finally getting good with her life, and now someone wanted to take that all away again.

<Typical.> She was used to it by now so it didn’t take long for her to go from upset to ready to kick ass to keep that from happening. <The best defense is a good offense.> She’d also been around long enough to know she couldn’t sit on her ass and wait for the enemy to show up.

She needed to take the fight to them, screw up their plans, and take care of the problem. Currently, that was a bit of a problem, but she might be able to fix that. She made another call.

“Hello.” Despite the early hour John sounded like he’d been awake for hours. Being a Hero on call for decades developed certain habits.

“It’s Daisy.”

John was silent as he waited for the other shoe to drop.

“We need to talk about my Hero certification.”

 

***

 

Lilly was frustrated; physically, emotionally, and sexually. She’d just busted out of prison only to end up in another one. This one was on a tropical island with just about every amenity you could ever desire, but it was still a prison. She was constantly being told what to do and what not to do by Armsman. Deep down she knew he was doing it for her own good, but that didn’t hold much weight in her mind. Not being able to do something because “I told you so” had gotten old when she was five.

<No one tells a teleporter to stay put.>

Then there was Mika. The little technopath was censoring the data she was getting.  He still had a lot of the same assets in place from when he’d been running surveillance last spring, so he was still able to get tons of data on Seth and the old crew. He just wasn’t sharing all the juicy bits.

Lilly grumbled to herself as she got into the prone firing position. She got comfortable and squeezed the rifle into her shoulder. It was a foreign feeling after going so long without shooting. The rifle was already grouped and zeroed so all she had to do was get it on target. She picked one close as a confidence boost.

<One hundred yards.> The recoil of the rifle slammed into her shoulder and she saw a hole appear in the shoulder area.

She moved to two hundred, then three hundred, and only missed when she got to four hundred. It was ok if she was rusty. She wasn’t great with the long shots, and she’d only killed that mafioso bonehead from five hundred yards. She wasn’t that off her game.

<But I am.> She felt the frustration still there and simmering.

Armsman was off to the mainland running some sort of errand. Mika was in his fortress of geekitude doing god only knew what. All of that left Lilly to her own devices, and since she was never really one to pass up an opportunity she seized the moment.

A flash of comforting darkness appeared in the tropical paradise and when it dissipated she was gone. She reappeared in a dank and dusty bunker that really needed to be aired out.

“Ahhhh,” Lilly breathed it in and nearly choked.

Despite all the searches and seizures the DVA had done with her assets, they still hadn’t found her weapons arsenal. This place was locked up tighter than a tick’s ass.

<Just a few things to hold me over.> She mused as she searched the place for what she wanted.

The weapons she’d set aside for the Orlando operation were still on the table all these months later. The only thing missing was the electromagnetic rifle. The DVA had confiscated that bad boy. There were still plenty of other weapons for her to choose from, but she kept it light. She wasn’t going to lay siege to a city again. She grabbed a dainty .22 pistol. It wouldn’t do a whole lot of damage, but it would create a small distraction if she needed to make a quick exit. She also picked up a couple of knives and hid them in a few easy to reach places on her body. That was all she needed for today. She stopped by the entrance and grabbed a baseball cap and some big aviator glasses. They were enough to disguise her identity from a stranger. If people took a closer look, then that’s what the guns and knives were for.

As a spur of the moment decision she grabbed a wig and tucked her blond hair into it. Eventually, she’d need to get back to her natural brunette color, but for today she was going to be a red head. A look in the mirror told her she only vaguely resembled the notorious Supervillain Wraith.

Another explosion of blackness took her to one of her lesser known teleportation points in the city of Orlando. It was by the coffee place Sprout, and she’d only used it to send a raging bitch to Africa that one time.

<I wonder what happened to her?> she mused. <Probably eaten by lions.> She smiled and started walking.

The problem was that she didn’t know where any of her old friends were. That was the stuff Mika censored. Not that they would call her a friend anymore.  She couldn’t go back to Townhouse 117. Not only because they didn’t live there anymore, but also because the DVA definitely had eyes on the place. That was the reason she didn’t jump into her usual alley down the street. She was pretty sure Hunter had tracked her through that one.

So she started walking. The weather was better than the island. It wasn’t sweltering heat, and with the college in full swing she was easily able to blend in with the rest of the student population. When a girl wasn’t looking, Lilly swiped her backpack to complete the collegiate image. She made sure to double check and ensure the girl’s cell phone wasn’t in her bag. She wasn’t going to lead Heroes to her again through a technological lapse in judgment.

As she walked memories started to creep to the surface. <We kissed over there. Held hands as we walked this path, and I’m pretty sure we fucked under that tree right there.> After so long in confinement, seeing these old things was hitting her harder than she thought. <This was a bad idea.>

She headed away from the school with no real destination in mind. She just couldn’t be around that place right now. She knew how she was when she got too emotional. She’d probably act out and start an active shooter incident if someone looked at her sideways, and that wouldn’t be good for her cover.

She walked for another hour before giving up on trying to figure out where everyone lived now. Instead, she aimlessly wandered with the masses away from the school. It would take her too long to get to the city, but she could still get away from West. She followed the shores of the lake West sat next to and finally sat down on one of the beaches the school had built.

She felt exhausted from the trip down memory lane, and plopped down into the sandy goodness.

<What do I really want?> She finally asked herself. <Yeah, I want to see him again, but what does that really mean. Do I want one final trip to pound town? Do I want to pick things up where they left off? Do I want to end it on my terms? What the hell is wrong with me?> She finally cut the thought process off before she became the whiner she detested.

She still remembered their last conversation. She remembered when that asshat Mr. Morningstar had manipulated him into that room. She remembered how the old bastard had hurt him and her with the big reveal. She remembered how he’d done it with a straight face and a smile. She knew he thought he was doing Seth a favor by showing off their capture of her, but all he’d done was sign his own death warrant. The old man was right up there on the list next to Hunter for people she needed to kill.

<Stop pussyfooting around this and just do something.> She forced herself to look past their last talk. She pulled out a disposable cell from her pocket and dialed a number from memory.

“Hello.”

Seth’s voice was exactly how she remembered it, and it made her freeze. The tortured look on his face blazed in her mind.

“Hello?” He asked again.

When she didn’t answer he hung up.

<Great.> She released the death grip she had on the phone and thought about burying her head in the sand. <Come on Lilly. You’re better than this.>

She dialed the number again.

“Hello.”

“H…” was as far as she got this time.

“What? You’re breaking up.”

“Hi.” She sounded like she was being strangled.

“Who is this? I don’t recognize the number.”

“It’s…”

<Wow. Great job me. I’ve become a complete moron around him.>

“Stop calling this number or I’m calling the cops.”

“But…”

“Is this you Izzy?”

The question felt like he took a hot branding iron to her heart.

“No.” That word came out loud, clear, and strong before she hit the end button.

Lilly knew what she needed to do now. The conversation had been a wakeup call for her. She needed to find out more about who this Izzy was. She needed to gather intelligence. She needed to know the girl’s life better than her own, so when the perfect moment came she could end that life and remove the threat.

Because Izzy was a threat.

The pain Lilly felt when Seth said Izzy’s name was all the proof she needed. She still loved him, and she needed to end every other bitch that even thought about getting close to him.

A standard ringtone interrupted her murderous thoughts. She looked down at the phone, saw Seth’s number, and immediately answered it.

“Hello?”

<Great. Now I’m able to talk.>

“Liz?”

She hung up immediately, threw the phone into the water, and teleported away in a blast of darkness. She put half a dozen jumps, and multiple continents between her and that phone call so that no Heroes could follow her.

<Stupid…stupid…stupid…> She’d panicked. <I need to get my shit together.>

She was still brainstorming ways to do that when she walked back into Armsman’s underground home far far away from Orlando. Her uncle as back and by the look on his face she could tell he knew exactly where she’d been.

He didn’t have to say anything. All he had to do was stare at her. The look on his face screamed STUPID GIRL, but she just shrugged it off and headed for Mika.

“How bad?”

“The DVA is shitting a chicken and crawling all over every place you’ve ever been.” He replied. He kept his eyes on the screens. His way of saying he was pissed too. “You probably also screwed over Seth Abney. The DVA picked him up right after your call. You had to have known they were monitoring his cell?”

“Goodnight, Mika.” She wasn’t in the mood to discuss this.

She’d try to see the guy that she loved, and instead she’d failed to say more than a few complete words to him. To make matters worse, she’d alerted the DVA to her continued interest in the area. If her father was conscious he would have kicked her ass for being so stupid.

Suddenly, her prison sentence in a tropical paradise wasn’t looking so bad.

<Whatever.> She thought rebelliously as she locked the door to her room and collapsed on her bed. <I’ll do whatever the fuck I want to.>

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