Two Worlds – Chapter 130

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 “Why the fuck is this room so big?”

“What the fuck did they think was going to happen?”

“Why the fuck are you talking instead of moving!?” The CPL cut into the chitchat and verbally planted his boot in a PVT’s ass.

Coop laughed to himself, but it got interrupted by the rumbling of the floor beneath his feet. The hangar bay of Cobalt Station looked like a third world war zone. About fifty miners lay dead and scattered throughout the space, with twice as many still fighting the advancing marines. Coop’s mines and the steady lobbing of smoke grenades was making it hard for the miners to inflict any more casualties. Even though they had M3’s, they didn’t have the armor networks to tie the weapons into. It severely degraded their effectiveness, but they didn’t seem to care.

Coop sighted a young-looking woman shooting the large rifle from the hip as she backed up and occasionally looked over her shoulder. A three-round burst of 3mm environmentally-friendly rounds hit her center mass and sent her toppling to the floor. His LACS neutral network logged that as his thirteenth kill of the day.

“We can’t sit here farting around anymore.” The CPL was pissed and Coop didn’t blame the older man. He’d been given command and walked right into a shitshow.

“Ballboy, get up there and plow the road. We’ll follow and cut a path through them. It beats the hell out of this slugfest.” Rounds pinged off the interstellar shipping containers housed in the bay.

Coop didn’t know exactly what the CPL meant by “plow the road”, but he had a few ideas. His giant Buss rotated the chambers to the grenade function while the remaining marines consolidated on their position. Coop fired off a few more smoke rounds – this time to either side of him – before reloading with something with a lot more bang. Then he told the CPL his plan.

“Hang on to your nuts boys and girls. We’re about to go for a ride.” The CPL stepped away from Coop and took cover behind a container.

Coop toggled to his weapons menu and did something MSG Smith had advised against in HI school. There were hundreds of weapons options to give an HI trooper maximum versatility and flexibility on the battlefield. Some were just downright ridiculous, while others could be a danger to the trooper and others. Coop wasn’t stupid enough to go that far, but his selection had the possibility to really fuck him up.

With his Buss set in rapid fire grenade launcher mode he pulled up the schematics of the station and zoomed in on the hangar bay. He got his location, got the exit door’s location, and planned to draw a straight line between the two points with grenades.

<This should be fun.>

“We’ll drop smoke every twenty-five meters.” The CPL ordered the rest of the marines while Coop lined up his first shot.

This little maneuver wasn’t going to kill the hundred remaining miners trying to kill them, in fact it was going to leave a lot of pissed off people chasing them. <But that’s why god made proximity mines.> Coop grinned.

They’d regroup with the rest of the marines, complete the mission, and then fight their way out. Coop would rather go at the rest of the pirates with a few squads of grunts than the seven they had now.

“Execute!” The CPL ordered, and everything in front of them started to explode.

Coop carved a path of destruction through the remaining hundred plus meters of the hangar bay. He used up the majority of his grenades doing it, but it was a hell of a show. The other marines dropped smoke every twenty-five meters on their flanks just like they said they would. It didn’t matter as much because any miners caught near the blast were to shell shocked to return fire until the charging marines were well past them. The whole deal only lasted a minute, but Coop was pretty sure he turned pyro in that short period of time.

“One and Two, this is Three. We’re through the hangar bay. Three casualties. The Spyder is down, I repeat, the Spyder is down. Casualty collection point is located at the Spyder.” The CPL added a STRATNET becon to the TACCOM message.

The red coded marine and the worst injured of the yellow had fallen back to the downed bird when Coop came up with his master plan to basically blow the shit out of everything. They’d rendezvous with the Spyder crew and hold up inside the war machine. The miners would have an impossible time cracking that bird if a half-decent defense was mounted, especially if they could get some of the secondary weapons systems back online.

That was a different group on a different mission. Coop and the CPL’s team had to clear this section of the station, find some stupid tin can captain, and get the hell out of here. They’d gotten through a hellish hangar bay, but they knew they’d only succeeded in kicking the hornet’s nest.

“Jam the door and let’s move.”

One of the marines took out a boxy device and placed it over the access panel that operated the door to the bay. He hit a few keys and a high-pitched whining noise filled the air. The little box scrambled the display and sent it into emergency lockdown mode.

“That’ll hold ‘em for a minute,” the marine grunted as he repocketed the box. It was also a useful tool to open up locked doors, and they all knew there would be a few of the ahead of them.

They formed two staggered columns – three on either side of the hallway with the CPL moving between them as needed – and started to clear the place room by room. The first two dozen spaces were empty quarters. They looked like single and family living units based on all the personal crap lying around. The owners were either holed up somewhere waiting for this all to end, or they were out there shooting at marines. Either way, Coop hoped they didn’t run into anyone. Room twenty-seven ruined that hope. Some douche looked like he was trying to take advantage of the chaos to liberate a few items that didn’t belong to him. He turned around quickly when he heard the door slide open and raised a two hundred year old pistol.

All the marine leading the clearing of the room saw was a man with a gun pointed at him, so all Coop saw when he entered was that guy’s brains blown all over the wall behind him. <Stupid dipshit. If they stopped screwing around we could be through and done with this. The more they fight the more they die.> Coop was starting to lose the adrenaline rush he’d had in the hangar bay. Killing stuff that couldn’t fight back wasn’t an enjoyable task.

The clearing was slow going because there were so many damn rooms. They were starting to look nervously behind them. It wouldn’t take forever for the miners to get the doors open and follow. Hell, if they couldn’t get the electronics to work there was the necessary equipment in the bay to pry the suckers open. Either way, no marine wanted to get shot in the ass. The longer they didn’t see the miners, the more nervous they got.

“Is there a better way to do this corporal?” Coop finally spoke up as they finished moving through some type of conference room. There was some good-looking chow on the table, so they must have been planning some sort of big meeting.

“If you can hack into the station’s biosensors and map the place for living organisms then we can skip these rooms and move on, but if I remember you’re a thirteen series correct? Did they teach you to hack between artillery sessions?”

Coop got the message. He needed to do his job and stop bitching. About eighty rooms later he felt like bitching a little more.

“AHHHHHH!” Screams erupted from room one-twenty-nine as the marines barged in. Coop was covering the rear, but he heard the CPL hurriedly try and talk someone down from doing something stupid.

That was about the time that Coop started hearing clanging coming from down the hall.

“Corporal, we need to move.” Coop had a bad feeling in his gut. “Corporal!”

“Keep your panties on, Ballboy.” The CPL exited the room supporting a young woman.

Her clothes were in tatters and she wouldn’t look anywhere but at the floor. Coop had a few guesses about what happened, but he kept that information to himself. The CPL was handling it, and Coop had bigger issues.

“That clanging is getting louder, Corporal. Let me have two guys and we’ll got check it out.”

The CPL nodded his head and Coop waved for two privates to form up on either side of him before they headed back down the way they’d come.

“I’ve got a solid mass heading this way,” Coop was a few hallways away when his millimeter wave radar started picking up something. “Let’s take it slow.”

It was a good thing they did, because two corners later they peaked around a ninety-degree bend and almost got their heads blown off.

“Where the fuck did they get this shit!?” Coop’s LACS identified the weapon that tried to cut him in half as another Buss, but the miners had mounted it on an old self-propelled bot and were marching down the hallway in search of victims.

To make matters worse, Coop could tell from the sound of the weapon firing that it was firing standard 3mm ammunition, not the friendlier rounds he was packing.

“Slow it down.” The CPL ordered when Coop relayed the news.

So Coop set an ambush. He staged two hallways away along the path the sled was traveling. He put some camo netting over two mines so they couldn’t be detected. It screwed with the sensors, but it wasn’t a big deal since he was going to manually detonate. The two regular grunts would mop up the mess after he blew the heavy weapon straight to hell.

When the miners rounded the corner, Coop was glad he’d covered up the mines and decided to manually detonate. They had an advanced group of three miners moving a good twenty meters in front of the Buss. If shit went down then those three would likely die first – and maybe by friendly fire – but it was a good counter to the mines Coop had been dropping everywhere.

<They aren’t a complete collection of back-system bumfucks.> Coop thought as the three scouts passed right over the mines.

Ten seconds later the Buss came into range and Coop initiated the detonation. Even around the next bend he felt the station shudder from the explosion. The commotion didn’t die down as injured men and women screamed in pain.

“Clean up on aisle two.” Coop joked as they moved into the hallway and dispatched the downed miners. It was as much a mercy killing as anything. The guys and gals were so jacked up they wouldn’t ever get fixed up this far out in the middle of nowhere. “Let’s get back to the guys.” They tallied another dozen kills between the three of them, and Coop made sure to put a few extra rounds into the Buss to make sure it never worked again.

They followed their team’s STRATNET icons to a large utility room the CPL had commandeered. The other marines had made a perimeter, and the CPL was in the center talking with someone with more authority.

“Roger that, Staff Sergeant. We’re on it.” The CPL finished up his SITREP as Coop’s impromptu team filed into the security perimeter. “Everyone listen up. Teams One and Two have finished their searches in their assigned sectors. The LT is down. Staff Sergeant is in command. We’ve got thirty percent casualties across all the squads. These fuckers have been picking us off with our own guns, but we’ve fucked them up pretty good. For every one of us they’ve shot we’ve gotten forty of theirs. ”

<Is anyone going to ask the obvious question? How the fuck did they get them?>

“No one knows how they got them, and I don’t give a shit. We’re here to do our job.”

“CPL…”

“Stow it, Cooper. We’re rendezvousing with Team One at this location.” The CPL cut off Coop and turned everyone’s attention to a waypoint that appeared on their HUDs. “We’re going to regroup and push deeper into the station. We haven’t found the missing skipper yet. Cooper, you’ve got point.”

<Great.> Coop kept his thought to himself as his neural network mapped the quickest way to the rendezvous point. After all, it was his job to take the brunt of an attack if it came.

They moved quickly and lethally through the station. A few loitering miners got what was coming to them, and a few innocents got told to hide in their rooms and lock the doors. Coop actually liked when they came across a person not trying to murder them. It was a minor relief that not everyone on this bucket of bolts was trying to kill them.

The fourteen other marines were waiting for them when they reached the rendezvous. The CPL huddled with the SSG and a SGT who’d taken over for the LT.

“Did the LT die?” Coop didn’t know of a sensitive way to ask the question to the grunt next to him on perimeter security.

“Nope, but he’s going to need a few new internal organs. I saw the medic shooting him full of medical nanites where his liver should have been.” The guy shrugged but kept his eyes on the hallway. It was big enough that five guys could run down it shoulder-to-shoulder; which was why Coop was on it.

They waited for the SSG to make a decision on what they were going to do next.

“Listen up, we’ve got a change of mission. We’ve suffered enough casualties that the destroyer’s skipper just wants us to locate and grab the officer that got himself captured. We’re going to need more marines if we want to take back the whole station, and they want to figure out how these Rim miners got their hands on modern hardware.

<Don’t we all.>

“We’re going down three decks into the engineering, processing, and sorting sections. It will get claustrophobic down there. These places aren’t made for humans to be traipsing through. It’s designed so bots can do repairs, but there are a few rooms down there if the bots need to get fixed. I’ve got four on the schematics, so we’re going to split up into four teams of three and one team of two. Ballboy,” he looked over at Coop, “you’re with me. We’re going to the main engineering control room. That’s where they most likely are, so be ready to do your HI thing and save the FUBAR officer who got us into this mess.”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Coop did a check of his weapons. He was low on ammo, out of grenades that could do any real damage, and he wasn’t going to set off a mine in a crowded space where big heavy machinery might crush him.

<Good thing my fingers are just as sticky as when I left the PHA.> Coop chambered a few hundred rounds he’d grabbed off the Buss he’d destroyed. He’d use them as a last resort, but they were better than nothing. <Fuck the station’s integrity. I’m not going to die for some idiot who got himself captured.>

“Let’s go, Ballboy.” The SSG had Coop take point again as they headed for the stairs.

Taking the grav-lifts would have been faster, but they would have been sitting ducks in those shafts. At least in the stairwells they had some maneuverability.

They went down three flights of stairs and immediately entered a space Coop could barely move in. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He has to turn sideways to squeeze between two pipes that were reading temperatures over fifty Celsius. Whatever they were, they were doing something.

“Two hundred meters on the left.” An arrow appeared on Coop’s HUD and the distance counter shrunk the closer they got.

They each took one side of the hallway and rapidly moved forward. There wasn’t any cover so they had to move fast.

It was a good thing they did. Coop and the SSG had just reached the door when Coop’s sensors picked up the gun pointing around the corner, and it wasn’t just any gun.

“MOVE!” Coop grabbed the SSG by the back of the armor and practically threw him into the room as the roar of another Buss lit up the hallway. Coop felt the impacts of the heavy rounds as he twisted from the throw and tumbled through the doorway.

Searing pair flashed through his side and he screamed. The armor’s medical systems went into overdrive. A brief diagnostic and explanation of the injury flashed in the corner of the HUD. He’d been grazed by a round, but it had penetrated the armor. Medical nanites were being injected and blood loss was minimal. He was still green as far as medical indicators went.

“Help.” The call was weak and coming from the corner of the room.

A large man in CMUs was strapped to a chair. His face looked like someone had used it as a punching bag, which judging by the blood splattered around him was probably accurate.

“Look out!” He tried to warn them, but it was too late.

Someone rushed the SSG from a dark corner and threw a punch into his armored gut. Normally, that wouldn’t have done jackshit, but the SSG doubled over from the blow and his surprised gasp was audible over TACCOM.

“Me and Staff Sergeant need some help down here!” Coop radioed for backup as he aimed his Buss at the uninvited guest.

The man jumped back away from the SSG with something long and dripping in his hand.

<He’s got a fucking nano-blade. How the hell did this asshole get a nano-blade?> It didn’t matter to Coop. A thirty-centimeter nano-blade lost to a fully loaded Buss every time.

“NO!” The big guy struggled against his restraints. “One stray shot and you could kill us all.”

The guy’s yell distracted Coop long enough for the knife wielding asshole to jump behind some machinery and disappear. Whoever the hell the guy was he had to be pretty small to fit behind there.

“Get him out of here, Ballboy.” The SSG was leaning heavily on some pipe with his hand against his gut.

“Come on Staff Sergeant, you know I’m not supposed to leave a man behind.” Coop walked over and easily cut through the restraints with the edge of his forearm blade.

“We need to move, there’s a guy with…”

“I know. There’s a guy with a Buss guarding the hallway.” Thankfully STRATNET had him pinged so backup would be ready for him. “Let’s get you out of here, Sir.”

“Thank you.”

The LCDR – if Coop remembered his rank stripe correctly – looked genuinely happy to see Coop.

<It ain’t a bad thing for an officer to owe me one.> Coop was already thinking about when he could call in that token when he heard a gunfight erupt in the hallway. The loud booms of the Buss drowned out the M3s.

“Let’s go, Ballboy. We don’t got all day.” The CPL’s voice demanded from where the relief team had taken up covering positions.

“You provide cover fire and I’ll run for the stairs. Don’t shoot my big ass though. This hallway is tight.” Coop radioed back, and then looked at the unarmored LCDR and the injured SSG. “I’m going to carry your ass out of here, Sir. Staff Sergeant…”

“Don’t pick me up like I’m your bride, Ballboy. I just need a helping hand, and I’ll help with that cover fire.” The SSG looked like he needed to be carried, but Coop knew plenty of guys that would rather die than admit weakness.

<It’s your funeral.>

“Cover fire in three…two…one…go!”

Coop busted out into the hallway just as reinforcements started to light up the other end of the corridor. The SSG twisted and fired his M3 one-handed. Bullets flew by so close that Coop sucked in his gut even though it wouldn’t do anything. The reinforcements had a good angle on the bad guy and were able to keep him pinned down as Coop hauled the beaten LCDR and wounded SSG several hundred meters towards safety.

They made it about three-fourths of the way there when Coop heard what no infantryman ever wanted to hear.

“GRENADE!”

Coop had a full three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view with his HUD and he knew the grenade was going to land about ten meters from him. There was nothing he could do about it but ride the blast.

Instinctually, he poured power into his armor’s artificial arms and threw the SSG and LCDR ahead of him. If Coop was lucky they would exit the blast radius. With them taken care of he activated the ES system in the armor. The nanites hardened at a molecular level right as he poured power into his legs and jumped. He’d ridden enough blast waves that he knew how to…

The grenade detonated and Coop felt a tugging sensation that would have left him with major whiplash. Instead, he felt unbelievable and agonizing pain in his leg until his body couldn’t take it anymore and he passed out.

Previous

Two Worlds – Chapter 129

Noah Grisham

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

 The last thing the pirate captain expected sitting in the bowels of Cobalt Station’s engineering and ore processing center was his PAD to vibrate with an incoming call. At first he just looked at it with confusion. Able was the only other person in the room who had a PAD, and he was busy spinning his laser pistol around his right index finger. He looked like a gunslinger from half a millennia ago. He obviously wasn’t the person calling.

The only other person in the room was his mark, Lieutenant Commander money-pants. The mark’s face was starting to bruise from where Able had smacked him around. Blood was dripping from a split lip onto his lap. His head was lolled forward in the way only an unconscious man’s could. There was no way the gunboat’s captain was making a call to his captor.

Noah’s mind churned and he wondered if this was the hostage negotiator call. That would be bad for a number of reasons. Most of all, it meant they knew where he was. Noah and Able were hiding their captive in the belly of the station for a very good reason. They didn’t want anyone to know where they were. That was so a squad of Collie marines couldn’t shoot them full of holes and blow their guts all over the walls. It was in his mortality’s best interest not to engage with any negotiator.

Curiosity got the best of the captain. If they already knew he was down here then there was no reason not to answer the call. <I might be able to talk my way out of this clusterfuck.>

Because it was a clusterfuck. They’d been able to grab the mark, but the head of security managed to get killed in the process. Since the guy didn’t trust the pirates – for good reason – he hadn’t given them any of the codes. The station’s defenses were offline. The people who hadn’t mutinied had locked themselves behind blast doors with the master controls, so even if Noah wanted to get in and hack the systems he couldn’t.

In the meantime, those rebellious miners who’d joined the mutiny for a small sum of cash and the promise of freedom were doing their best seventh century rendition of Vikings pillaging and plundering. They were eating, drinking, and fucking like there was no tomorrow; which was what today was going to be if Noah didn’t find a way off this tub of bolts.

All of this led him to hit the accept button on his PAD. “Hello.” He answered sounding like everything was going as planned.

“Mr. Grisham.” The voice was digitally altered and unrecognizable, but that didn’t stop a chill from going up Noah’s spine. He’d gone to considerable lengths to hide his true persona under a shit ton of fake data. If this guy had gotten through all of that then Noah’s pirating days might just be over.

“You have me at a disadvantage, Mr…?”

“You can just call me Sir.”

Noah bit his lip as the condescension made it through the filtering application. “What can I do for you, Sir?”

“You can listen. I hired you for a reason, and you have done your best to screw up the best laid plans.”

<So the guy that hired me finally shows his face; metaphorically speaking.>

“I didn’t screw up shit.” Noah instantly went on the defensive. “A control-freak asshat jumped the gun and got himself blown to bits. I then improvised this grand little mutiny, and got a whole station of people to turn on their corporate overlords. I not only got the mark, but have been able to keep a military vessel off my ass for the last day. If you ask me, that’s doing a pretty good job all things considered.”

“Considering you hired the aforementioned captain of the Full Moon the only impression I have of you is a poor taste in choosing your associates. That is not something to brag about and certainly not something to be rewarded.”

Noah felt his face heating, and he had the sudden violent urge to kill someone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t take any action with the other two people in the room.

“You seem to know everything.” Noah finally shot back. “What is your grand plan to get Mr. Gold off this god-forsaken station?”

“Storage locker Alpha 711. Go there now, gather the supplies, and prepare yourself. You have less than an hour before a Commonwealth destroyer full of marines attempts to retake the station.”

That was news to Noah, and despite this rich asshole’s critique, Noah gladly took any information that kept him breathing.

“Able, storage locker A-711. Grab everything and bring it back here.”

In typical Able style he just grunted in the affirmative.

“Any other words of wisdom?” Noah turned his attention back to the mysterious caller.

“Don’t die, and bring me Lieutenant Commander Gold alive.” With that said the line disconnected. Noah still didn’t even know how he got the call in the first place.

A minute later Able returned and showed Noah what was in the large storage locker.

“Fuck me.” Noah stared wide-eyed as a smile curled his lips. Get these to the miners upstairs and tell them we’re about to have company. We might just get through this after all.”

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: System 1776, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop was ready. He wasn’t just ready, he was fucking pumped.

<Game time!  Let’s do this shit!> It felt like everything over the last several months had been leading him to this moment.

This wasn’t some welfare riot by a bunch of Rats throwing flaming bottles and firing centuries-old guns that couldn’t even scratch his paint job. This was the real deal. Pirates had taken control of a mining station and kidnapped a Commonwealth officer. The captain’s ship was keeping the situation contained, but they couldn’t retake the station themselves. They needed a group of asskickers to do that job for them.

And Coop was the biggest and baddest asskicker along for the ride.

“Cooper, get your head out of your ass.” The LT in charge of the mission snapped.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, Sir. Just prepared to lodge my foot up some ungrateful miner’s ass, Sir.” The marines around him laughed. They were a good group of guys.

“Save that fire for the enemy, Cooper.” The reprimand was mild, and the officer turned back to the holo-display in the destroyer’s only conference room. It was more than a tight fit for the thirty marines in full battle rattle.

“We have three teams. I will lead Team One. Team One will ingress here. This is where they tried to blow up the Argo. We will drop from the Spyder, attach to the hull, and blow the panels here, here, and here.” A 3-D display shone red where the panels are and simulated them blowing away from the station’s blueprints. “We will be charged with clearing this section.”

“Team Two will be led by the Staff Sergeant. Team Two will ingress along the hull behind where the pirates and miners are expected to be. Intelligence has them gathering in the central mall and berthing areas of the station. You can guess what they’re doing.”

<What I’d probably be doing.> Coop didn’t hold anything against the miners.

He’d known a few Rats that had been miners before. It was one of those professions where you ended up in a PHA if you weren’t born there.  It was a pretty shitty existence. You go out with a small crew to some god-forsaken asteroid and either man the computers for twelve hours shifts of you’re down on the surface using portable lasers to saw off big chunks of valuable shit. You didn’t get to keep any of it. All of it goes toward the company’s bottom line, and the suits watched everyone like a hawk. They basically strip searched everyone when they got back to the stations. You got paid shit, and you blew what little you had on rent, food, and maybe a little female companionship. Women miners were a rare breed, and they were often as dirty as the shit they were mining.

<Or at least that’s what they tell me.> Coop got all of his information secondhand, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t find a nice miner’s daughter and do some drilling of his own if the occasion called for it.

“Team three. Cooper this is your team, even though the corporal is going to lead it. You will ingress at the most likely point of entry: the main hangar. This is where they will be expecting an attack. You ten are going to be the sword that distracts the enemy while Teams One and Two are the daggers that cut their hamstring and stab them from behind.” The officer looked very confident in his briefing.

“We don’t know much about the enemy. We’ve got overall numbers for the station, but we don’t know how many mutinied. There could be twenty or two hundred bad guys waiting for us. It doesn’t matter either way. We will follow our SOPs, clear everything like we were trained, and be back in New Lancashire for PT tomorrow. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Good. Team leaders, report final checks when completed. We’re a go in fifteen.”

“Team Three!” The gung-ho CPL came over their team net.

“Weapons check!”

“Green.” Coop had done his diagnostics. He didn’t need to do one every ten minutes.

“Armor check!”

“Green.”

“Commo check!”

Coop toggled through the variety of responses including pings on TACCOM and STRATNET. CWS Breckinridge was their node for the mission, so as long as the destroyer was sailing they’d be good to go on all of their networks.

While the CPL radioed in their final status update, Coop scrolled through his own options. His environmentally friendly load eliminated his traditional role as the units HI support. He wasn’t going to be firing any artillery rounds inside the station, but he needed to be ready to provide support in a large space like a hangar bay.

<Let’s see.> He mused. <What should daddy bring to the party?>

The rules of engagement were to only fire when fired upon, and to not break too many things. The company was certainly insured, but with the defense contract the government might be liable for some of the damages, especially if those damages were avoidable. That meant it came out of the sector budget, which would lead to a pissing contest between the Ministry of War and the sector government.

Coop didn’t give a shit about any of that. He’d put a mine right on the most expensive thing in the whole station if it kept him and the other marines from taking a headshot. They didn’t have any intel about the enemy’s weapons capabilities, but they had killed a marine already. That meant shit was serious.

“Everyone on the Spyder!” The thirty marines followed the OIC’s orders and trotted toward the destroyer’s single bird.

The small warship didn’t have a dedicated flight deck like the assault carrier, or even a separate section for the assault shuttle. The fifty-ton war machine was nestled into a section just inside the hull. The hull could retract on command and birth the little shuttle into space. Since destroyers really weren’t meant to carry lots of marines or be a transport it was an acceptable design. It didn’t really work out so much when you were strapped for ships and needed to make lemonade with some really tiny lemons.

<At least we’ve got plenty of space.> Coop plugged himself into the onboard charger to get another ten minutes of battery life. He doubted he’d need it, but better safe than sorry…or dead.

“Ok, marines, let’s crack this nut.” That got some boots pounding on the deck while Coop made sure his Buss was on the grenade setting.  He was going to need some shock and awe to get this thing rolling.

“Three minutes!”

Coop didn’t even realize they’d dropped out of the destroyer’s belly, but they were racing toward the station. He had no external links to the shuttle so he couldn’t see what was going. There were no sudden course changes and jolts, so no one was shooting at them. It was a shame. It felt too easy.

“Everyone better be buttoned up like a tick’s ass.” The SSG yelled as O2 levels began to drop. The troop compartment was being slowly depressurized so nothing exploded when Team One needed to exfil to their ingress point.

Dropping off Teams One and Two was pretty uneventful. They just hopped out of the Spyder’s ass end, engaged their magnified boots and hauled ass toward wherever they were going to get into the station. They might be protected from the cold bitch that was space in their Dragonscales and combat-ready CMUs, but it got uncomfortable after about fifteen minutes in the void. Coop had no such limitations, even in a V1.

“Hangar bay is open.” The CPL announced as Coop felt a slight increase in the shuttle’s acceleration. “We’re going in hot, so be ready to haul ass.”

Coop unhooked himself from the charger. He was at 100% and ready to kick ass. He felt a slight pull in his navel as the shuttle did a hairpin turn within the hangar bay. He felt the ground shudder beneath him as the Spyder’s autocannon opened fire.

<So much for me being the one to break something important. > The assault shuttle’s 30mm cannon rounds were going to fuck up anything before Coop even got a chance.

“GO! GO! GO!” the CPL yelled as the rear ramp clanged onto the ground.

Coop was the first out the door. His HUD automatically updated with the Spyder’s targeting data. There were a lot of red icons in a space several football fields long and wide, so he picked the biggest collection, aimed his Buss, and pulled the trigger. A soft thump reverberated through his armor as the 40mm anti-personnel grenade launched from his Buss, over a ton of cargo containers, honed in on the STRATNET data for the enemy, and dropped down into the middle of their shitty formation. Coop felt the rumble of the explosion in his boots as five tangos dropped off STRATNET.

<And that’s my cherry being popped.> Coop didn’t stop moving, or searching for another target, but it was a surreal moment. He’d fired in anger against another human being trying to kill him. It felt only slightly different from braining the Rat back in Old Chicago, <but I sure as shit ain’t gonna be written up this time.> Coop switched to his 3mm plasma rounds and fired several three-round bursts at a group of containers fifty meters in front of him. Three miners – by the look of their heavy clothing – ducked behind cover. Only two made it. One went down with a much smaller hole than usual from a 3mm round, but if he wasn’t dead yet the nanites in the environmentally-friendly bullet were seriously fucking him up.

“Man down!” The call came over STRATNET, and sent a cold shiver down Coop’s spine.

The ten-man assault force had spread out when their boots hit the ground. Coop was going up the center while the lighter-armored marines took the hopefully less defended flanks. Coop checked STRATNET and saw a PVT who’d gone from green to red. As ten percent of their fighting force, even one loss was big.

“SHIT!” Another marine went from green to yellow.

“Ballboy, lay down some smoke so we can regroup and figure out what the fuck is going on!” The CPL sounded stressed, but that was unavoidable when you had a fifth of your force get hit in the first minute.

Coop did more than shoot. He launched the smoke grenades to give the dispersing marines some cover, but he also went to his weapon’s menu and selected his new options. His LACS sensors cut through the smoke, and the 3-D mapping of the hangar bay was already complete; so the computer was able to select several advantageous positions to place mines.

Coop’s armor shuddered as the mines launched, magnetically locked to the containers, and went active with friend-or-foe identifiers. Anyone with a STRATNET beacon could pass through just fine. Anyone else would be taking the escalator straight to hell.

“I can tell you what the fuck is going on.” Another PFC spoke up while Coop was covering them. “These fuckers have modern weaponry that’s what’s going on.”

“How the fuck…?”

Internal alarms started blaring in Coop’s LACS. MISSILE LOCK flashed across his screen. Thankfully, his neural networks worked faster than he did. His railgun swiveled toward the threat and burped out a defensive salvo. Coop would have to look at the data after the fight to see how many missiles were fired, but they were of the hypervelocity variety.

The hangar bay was suddenly filled with explosions and shrapnel as the railgun rounds met the missiles in a flurry of destruction. The rest of the marines hunkered down behind cover, but that didn’t stop a third grunt’s medical status from declining to yellow.

“We need to…” Coop’s yell got interrupted by a high-pitched whine.

The smoke was still gathering in front of the marines, but he had a clear view of what was going on behind them. The Spyder was listing dangerously to the left and smoke was pouring out of one of the engines. The pilot looked like they were fighting to keep it airborne, but it looked like they’d taken a bad hit. The only reason it hadn’t been destroyed outright was because the hypervelocity missiles hadn’t had time to gather speed. Still, the Spyder had been wounded.

“Make a hole!” The pilot sounded calm and collected despite fifty tons of death about to eat the cold steel of the hangar bay deck.

Coop turned his attention back to the front where the missiles had come from. The LACS and the Dragonscale armor had zeroed in on the origination point of the attack.

“Covering fire!”

Coop didn’t have to be told twice. He let loose with his Buss on full auto even as the ground shuddered beneath his feet from the Spyder’s emergency landing. The already damaged armorplast between the marines and the missile team disintegrated under the squads combined fire. It took a little while longer with the less effective rounds, but they got the job done. After a mad minute, the CPL had them cease fire, and reestablish sectors of fire to deal with the remaining tangos in the bay.

They wouldn’t be dealing with anymore missiles today…hopefully, but that didn’t erase the fact that they were down three men with one seriously injured, and had a broken Spyder.

The CPL detailed someone to stay back with the PVT reading red, but the two yellow codes were able to keep moving. The CPL assigned them rear security. “Push forward!”

Coop did just that, and started blasting away the remaining miners and pirates in the hangar bay as the marines leapfrogged forward in three to five second rushes. When he reached the first body he noticed a familiar weapon in the dead man’s disintegrated hands.

“Corporal, they’ve got M3s. Where the hell did they get M3s?”

“Beats me, Ballboy. Quit talking and keep killing. We aren’t out of the frying pan yet.”

That became abundantly clear when a 1mm round clipped Coop’s faceplate. It didn’t penetrate, and that unlucky SOB who fired it would never see another sunrise, but it still rattled Coop. It would rattle anyone who just got shot in the face.

<What the fuck is going on here?> It didn’t take a genius to realize things weren’t going as planned.

Previous                                               Next

A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 19

“Why does this always happen to me?”

Seth had no idea what Mason was talking about, but he had other things on his mind. Team Four, recently rechristened the Blue Barracudas, had to sprint to their door for the start of the first team trial. They made it with a little over thirty seconds to spare, but they had to take the rest of that time to actually get through the door.

The door itself was like any regular doorway Seth had ever seen. It was a little on the tight side, which was a problem for Mason, but everyone else was able to squeeze through just fine. That is, until the actually entered the room through the door. Calling it a room was factually incorrect. It was a dead-end hallway that barely fit the entire team. They were squished soup to nuts against each other. Lorelei Gilford had a few choice words to say about that, and Ashley Bates had her face set in a murderous scowl. The only girl who didn’t look pissed to be sandwich between two boys was Erin, but she was busy muttering to herself.

“Everyone calm down. The hallway is going to open up at some point for us to enter the arena.” Seth tried to keep a semblance of order.

“Shut up, Seth. DID YOU JUST GRAB MY ASS!” Gilford screamed.

“No, because I’m in front of you!” Seth roared back.

“Not you, dumbass. Simon, I swear to god if you’re grabbing my ass I’m going to blast your balls off.”

“That would mean you’d be looking at my junk, Gilford. I’ll take the chance.”

The bickering went back and forth between those two, and Seth could sense Mason shaking his head.

<Give it up for teamwork.> Seth was sure they were going to fail miserably at this. The team was already fighting, Erin wasn’t exactly a strong leader, and no one except Mason and maybe Rowan liked Seth. <We’re so screwed.>

Seth had no idea just how screwed until the floor opened up and the Blue Barracudas went tumbling down some shaft. That was when Mason had his woe-is-me moment. Seth was about to ask what the hell was going on when the shaft opened up and brilliant, hot light hit them all…right before they hit open air and the sensation of gravity getting them in a death grip took hold.

Seth did the first thing he could think of, he summoned two funnels of air and tried to slow his descent. It’s a lot harder to do than people might think. He succeeded in arresting his downward movement, but traded it for sideways momentum, which threw him off the trajectory the professors had aimed them on. The rest of the Barracudas fell head over ass into a small pond, while Seth came down hard on the sand.

He felt his ankle crack, and he screamed in pain. <Motherfucker!>

His vision blurred for a second as he spat the coarse sand out of his mouth and tried to get to his feet. That didn’t help things, and he plopped back down.

“Seth! You ok?” Mason appeared dripping wet from the pond.

“I think I broke my ankle,” Seth grimaced as the anger built in his gut. “Why can’t they have us walk through a god damn door into the arena like normal fucking people? Why do they have to drop us through the ceiling? It’s stupid and pointless shit, and doesn’t help us at all.” Seth looked and gave the middle finger to the open air above them. “Yeah you heard me. You guys are dipshits.”

“Feeling better.” Mason frowned, but didn’t wait for an answer. He scooped Seth up, and gave the broad spectrum elemental manipulator a shoulder to lean on as they waked back toward where the rest of the team was gathering.

Now that his anger was starting to fizzle, Seth was able to recognize how hot it was. A brilliant white ball in the sky had to be turned to the max. It must have been ninety-plus degrees in the arena. It had a tropical theme. There were lots of palm trees around the pond.

<Wait, not a pond.> Seth replayed the fall through his mind. <That’s just the corner filled with water around our island.>

Fittingly, the Barracudas arena for their first match was mostly water. Small islands were scattered throughout arena, and Seth was pretty sure they were in one corner of the playing field.

“Now what?” Gilford had her hands on her hips and he wet hair pulled behind her ears. “I’m not a good swimmer.”

“We need to figure out what we are going to do.”

“Welcome to our little slice of heaven.” Coach McMillian’s voice echoed throughout the space. “I hope you enjoyed the flight in.”

It was a rhetorical question, but Seth still muttered, “No.”

“Whatever you thought of your entry method, put it aside and focus on the game.”

“Game?”

“Capture the flag.” They could all hear the smile in the close combat coach’s voice. “You remember it from when you were kids don’t you? It’s one of my favorites.”

A section of the beach slid open and a sea-blue flag with a number 4 on it rose into the air.

“Team three has one just like it. You need to capture the enemy flag and return it to your stand. You have three hours to complete this challenge. If no one wins then it goes into both of your columns as a loss.”

“That doesn’t really seem fair,” Ashley spoke up.

“When you’re a Hero facing a criminal you either win or lose. There is no middle ground.” The coach’s voice was hard. “Any other questions?” There were none. “Good luck.” His voice vanished, and the team turned to look at Erin.

She looked thoughtful and determined, but still not totally with it.

“We’re sitting on an island,” Seth got the ball rolling. “There are a few more I remember seeing, but if I had to guess Team Three is probably at the far side of the arena. We just need to figure out how to get there

“We need to figure out how to get water.” Mason wiped his brow which was damp with sweat. “We’re all going to be hurting in three hours.”

“I’ve got that.” Seth smiled. He limped over toward one of the palm trees and flexed his power. There was a slight tremor and a coconut nearly brained him. “Big guy.” He picked it up off the ground and handed it to Mason.

Mason carefully drilled a finger into it until he felt no resistance, then he lifted it to his face and let the luke warm liquid drain into his mouth. It wasn’t the best tasting stuff in the world, but it would get them through a few hours. Seth and Mason repeated the process until everyone was rehydrated.

“That’s great.” Ashley wiped some of the liquid off her face. “But we still need a plan to island hop over the where team three is.”

“Simon?” Erin turned to the gravity manipulator. “How many people can you carry?”

“Well…” he looked at the group. “Four probably, but only two if I’m taking Mason.”

“We need a team to go get the flag and a team to guard ours.” Gilford stepped in. “I should be on the strike team. My ability will be a good counter to Kimberly’s.”

“HA!” Seth laughed. “Kimberly is way more powerful then you. You’d be a good distraction.”

“Fuck you, Seth.”

“Simon, Mason, and Lorelei will go and search for team three’s flag.” Erin finally spoke up. “Simon can transport, and in this situation Mason and Lorelei are our best offensive weapons.”

Gilford looked down her nose at Seth and smirked in victory.

“The rest of the team will stay here for defense. You are injured Seth,” she cut him off before he could say anything. “My ability is ill-suited to this terrain, as is Ashley’s.”

“Yeah, not a lot of bugs. And the one’s I brought aren’t really meant for this environment.” She shrugged.

“And me?” Rowan asked.

“You’re going to be a key point in the defense. You’ve one of the few people who aren’t injured and whose powers are unaffected by the terrain.”

“Gotcha.” Rowan nodded.

No one argued Erin’s reasoning. What she said made sense, so they got to work. They’d already wasted enough time. Seth was surprised he hadn’t seen Jacqueline Eton flying around or Becca running on water yet.

<Can she do that?> He wondered. <We’ll find out soon enough.>

Mason, Simon, and Lorelei lifted off and vanished over the trees which left Seth alone and nursing his ankle with a useless bug lady, a person who didn’t have an inanimate object to animate, and a dude whose power he still didn’t really get.

“I’ve got some bugs on them, so we’ll be able to track them and get a heads up if something happens. I’ve also got some spread out around our island. They won’t live long, but they should give us some advanced warning over the next hour.

“I’m trying to make us harder to find.” Rowan’s brow had more sweat on it that usual.

“Good thinking.” Erin was just standing in the middle of the group looking into the sky.

Seth limped over and plopped down next to the flag stand. There was barely any breeze so the sea-blue fabric hung limply beside him. <This should be fun.> They were basically hiding while Mason and company went out to do the heavy lifting.

Despite the circumstances, Seth didn’t really care. He wasn’t going to give a spectacular showing with his ankle, not that he cared about dancing like a trained monkey for the professor that dropped him through the ceiling. The nicest thing about this whole trial was that he was able to forget about Liz, Izzy, and every other shitstorm that had descended on his life in the last few months. Today, he just got to lounge on a beach while other people did the fighting.

He got to enjoy that peace and quiet for roughly half an hour. That’s when the sounds of fighting started to reverberate through the arena. Ashley confirmed it through the loss of her bugs, so they were forced to sit there on high alert. Every time one of Ashley’s perimeter bugs kicked the bucket they prepared for the worst, but nothing came. Time after time after time it was just nature snuffing out those bugs.

Seth was starting to think of her as the girl who cried wolf. Of course, all it would take was that one time it wasn’t a false alarm to screw them all royally. Lightening flashed in the distance, things sounded like they were exploding, and occasionally the ground shook. Since they were currently god only knew how far underground, the earth trembling was a bit worrisome.

Seth didn’t know how long it all lasted, but eventually everything fell still, which meant they had to play the waiting game. Either Mason would walk through those trees with Team Three’s flag in his hands, or Kimberly would show up to blast them back into the Stone Age. They were prepared for either one.

Seth tried putting some more weight on his ankle and had to bite the inside of his lip to stop from screaming. He plopped back down on the sand at the flag’s base and cursed under his breath.

“Just lost another one.” Ashley said as she felt one of her winged minions bite the dust.

No sooner were the words out of her mouth then a line of sand was thrown into the air. It made a perfectly straight-line right from the tree line to the flag base. Seth could even swear he saw a bit of the blue as the sand exploded upward.

“Gotch-AHHHHHHH!” Becca’s voice screamed as she dove for their flag…and passed right through it.

As far as flag-snatchers went, Becca was an obvious choice, she was too hard to hit when she was running, and she was the perfect person to get in and out before the other team knew what hit them. She was so blatantly obvious that Rowan put in countermeasures as soon as Mason and company set off.

That basic countermeasure was a bait and switch. He cloaked the actual flag while creating the illusion of another. Becca passed right through that illusion, was thrown off because she never hit what she thought she was going to, and ended up skipping across the water behind them like a stone being thrown across a river.

Seth took care of the rest. He reached out with his power and felt the water respond. Becca was about fifty feet away and trying to get the hair out of her eyes when the water rose up and smashed back down on top of her. He stirred the underwater current beneath her so she was sucked to the bottom and bashed against the metal floor a few times. When he thought she was unconscious, the artificial sea vomited her back up onto the sandy beach. Seth was thinking about other ways to keep her down when the sand exploded in front of him. Now it was his turn to go flying through the air into the water.

Unlike Becca, the water acted like a giant pillow for the elemental manipulator. It caught him and safely deposited him back on the beach. That wasn’t the safest place to be. Kimberly had just rushed through after Becca and was tossing exploding spheres at everyone. The Blue Barracudas were scattering to avoid the deadly blasts, which was giving Kimberly free reign of the beach.

<Can’t do that.> Seth switched things up, summoned a fireball and threw it at her.

Electricity lanced out of nowhere and hit his ball of fire. The combined energy caused an explosion of heat and light that caused Seth to backpedal.

“Nice try, Abney. But I’m gonna stomp on your nuts now and put you out of your misery.” Anna Fletcher walked onto the beach.

In his current condition, Seth didn’t really stand much of a chance against Anna, so he stalled for time. “Just you, Kimberly, and Becca. Did Mason kick the rest of your team’s ass?”

“It took a hot minute, but I gave the big guy a shock he’s never gonna forget.” She smiled back.

Seth returned the gesture with an added fireball. Anna dodged it and sent a wave of electricity toward him. He jumped, rolled out of the way, and nearly passed out from the pain in his ankle. Spots danced in his vision as he tried to focus. His limbs refused to work. He could barely cough the sand out of his mouth.

“That was a lot easier than I expected, Abney. Not on top of your game right now? We’ve all kind of noticed.” Anna walked toward him, but still kept a healthy distance. “I’ve seen you around. You’re moping and drinking and drinking some more. I’m surprised you can still run five miles in the time hack they set for us.”

“What can I say, I’m naturally gifted.” Seth groaned as he rolled onto his back.

“You’re a natural fuck up.” Sparks sprang between her fingers. “Why don’t you do the class a favor and get out while you’re ahead. No need to embarrass yourself or the HCP.”

“Hmm interesting.” Seth pretended to think about it. “Here’s my counteroffer.” He grinned just as a shadow fell over them.

The wave was at least twenty-five feet tall. The fake sea behind them wasn’t deep, but it would do the trick. Seth had always been better manipulating vast amounts of water than nuanced precision. A tsunami wave was doable even in his injured state.

The last thing he saw was the fear and outrage on Anna’s face before she pumped him full of fifty-thousand volts. Ten seconds earlier and it would have disrupted the wave, but he’d been able to buy time with a little friendly banter. Even though he was knocked out cold the wave still crested and collapsed right on top of Anna. She joined him a few seconds later.

It was a sacrificial move. The Barracudas were already screwed. There was no way Erin and Ashley were going to be able to take down Kimberly, so the least Seth could do was remove Anna from the equation. Then Rowan might be able to pull something out of his bag of tricks.

The first part of Seth’s plan worked. He took out Anna, and gave the rest of his team a fighting chance. In another way, he made the situation even worse. His little show of force had the unintended consequence of revealing their flag’s location, even though Rowan had masterfully cloaked the stand. It was hard to hide water parting around something or dripping off of thin air. At that point, all Kimberly had to do was grab the flag and engage in a fighting retreat back toward where a makeshift boat was waiting. She made it look like child’s play as she basically set fire to the island and blew stuff up all around the remaining members of the Barracudas.

Once she was in the boat and propelling herself away with micro-explosions there wasn’t really much they could do but watch her go. Twenty minutes later Coach McMillian declared the Dirty Half-Dozen the victors. No one from the Barracudas was willing to point out the fact that Team Three had seven instead of six members.

The one bright spot in all of this was that when Seth was returned to consciousness his team only blamed him for about forty percent for the loss. He didn’t help things, but they all conceded that they were outmatched and the situation didn’t help them out at all. They all promised to practice more and get better.

<It doesn’t matter how good you are. Sometimes you just can’t beat the guy who’s a lot stronger than you.> Seth kept that to himself though. People weren’t outright hating him right now, and he wanted to hang onto that for a minute.

 

***

 

“So what’s the plan guys?” Lilly twirled her pistol on her index finger. It wasn’t loaded, so it wasn’t a flagrant breach of weapon’s safety. The weapon on her hip was the one loaded and ready to ruin a person’s day.

“We wait. When time right we…” Stal made a cutting gesture with her thumb across her neck.

The Russian strongwoman was a woman of few words, and unless the occasion called for it, not a lot of action. She spent most of her time with a bottle of vodka and watching Seinfeld reruns. She was paid to be the brawn of the operation not the brains.

Lilly didn’t worry about Stal, it was Nightingale that scared the piss out of her. That was saying a lot since Lilly had been in prison next to a blood manipulator with a habit of draining people of their bodily fluids and bathing in them.

Without her black spandex-like armor on, Nightingale was a pleasant-looking woman in her late forties. She wore glasses and spent a lot of her free time in a little laboratory she’d set up in a corner of the warehouse. Lilly didn’t think anything of it until Stal went out on a food run, and came back with tacos and an unconscious man over her shoulder. She handed the tacos off to Wraith and dumped the man at Nightingale’s feet. Nightingale handed over a hundred bucks and dragged the man over to her little shop of horrors. That was what Lilly was calling it after she saw Nightingale disappear behind a plastic curtain with an interesting collection of serrated objects and several syringes full of something. Then the screaming started.

<It’s the normal-looking ones you’ve got to watch out for.> Lilly wouldn’t have known Nightingale from Eve if she passed her on the street, but after less than twenty-four hours in the woman’s presence it was clear she was someone who liked inflicting pain for pain’s sake. <She probably gets off on it too.>

Lilly’s phone rang as a Seinfeld episode went to commercial. Thankfully, no one was screaming right now.

“Yeah,” she answered in a voice deeper than usual.

“It’s Nano.” Mika replied from Armsman’s private island halfway across the globe. “Just thought you should know that I’ve been monitoring a massive expenditure of energy in the vicinity of the West Private University over the last couple of hours. I looked at the school’s online event calendar and there is nothing out of the ordinary happening, so I’m guessing they’re up to something in the HCP.”

“And this helps us because…?” Lilly asked.

“I don’t know, but it’s some good intel. I’ve written a short algorithm to send you a text whenever the power levels spike above a certain threshold. If the levels are up then the HCP folks might be busy, and you can do whatever it is you’re thinking about doing.”

<Killing a self-righteous bitch for my father.> Lilly’s could already imagine her hands around Reaper’s throat. <No.> She shook her head. <It’s got to be slow and agonizing.> She needed to make the bitch suffer.

Seif al-Din didn’t say that she couldn’t be a little fucked up when he got her. Only after he did whatever his sick twisted self wanted to do was she allowed to kill her.

“Anything else?” Lilly used a tone of voice so there was no mistaking what she was talking about.

“All I’m seeing are purchases for booze, food, and rent.” Mika replied.

“No more shopping for that little slut?”

“No.”

“Good. Maybe it wasn’t anything after all.” She’d have to find out for certain at some point so she could get her man back.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you for weeks.” Mika sounded tired now.

“Yep, gotta go.” She cut the line. She’d been on a little too long, but was reasonably sure she’d be fine. She’d switched phones since she called Seth and brought the DVA down on him.

<The DVA!> Lilly had an idea. She might be able to kill two birds with one stone…literally.

Previous

I’m on TDY from Hell – The Newbie in Town

Gerry sat with his hands steepled on the table in front of him. It was a thinking man’s pose for a man dealing with some serious circumstances. He’d reoriented and redecorated the room since Caroline left. If he was going to entertain powerful guests on behalf of Prince Seere, his demesne needed to look the part.

He sat at the head of a great table that would have looked right at home at a royal banquet. His chair faced the elevator door so he could see everyone and everything entering the room. Grimm’s bed was to the side, but the hellhound sat alertly by its master.

The first to answer the summons was Jeb. The greedy Infernal was dressed to impress. He was ready to supply anything his Dux needed, and he could get resources and people moving with a few taps of his tablet. Big Lono was the next to arrive. He didn’t bring anything aside from his considerable bulk and a bag full of cheeseburgers.

Jezebel was the second to last. Gerry gave her a slight nod of respect for her recent work. The mayor of a major city being murdered – literally with his pants down – was causing enough commotion and chaos to divert all attention away from the Infernals. Better yet, it was a feast for Gerry. The city was rife with tension that was ready to boil over. People were in an uproar, and he took in the ætherial results.

She was in a tight pencil shirt, black bra, with a white blouse that looked about a second away from bursting. Her hair was styled and held in place by two hair pieces that Gerry was pretty sure were poisoned daggers.  She was equal parts deadly and sexy, which was what he’d come to expect from an Infernal powered by lust.

Last but not least was Vicky. She opened her mouth to say something when he allowed her to enter the demesne, but one look around the room and she snapped her mouth shut. She knew when to speak and when to wait until spoken to. Tonight was one of the later.

None of the lieutenants knew what was happening. Gerry liked it that way. It kept them guessing, and ensured they weren’t able to manipulate his plans to their own ends.

He waited until they were all seated before speaking. “We will have visitors shortly.”

Gerry had been feeling the changes in the æther throughout Charlotte over the last hour for any indication that Lucifer’s Dux had arrived. So far there was nothing, but that was normal. A foreign Dux entering enemy territory would come ready to fight. Whether it was against the Divine or other Infernals, a Dux would only remotely trust others, and he’d bring along the power to ensure things ended in his favor. Even with orders to behave, Gerry was very wary of the newcomer.

He didn’t feel him until there was a spike in power in the building’s garage.

<A warded vehicle.> It was the only way to get in and out of the city without the Divine noticing while channeling Infernal powers.

Gerry wasn’t going to be at a disadvantage. He opened himself up to his demesne’s power. Reality flexed around him as a sea of energy poured into him. It had been so long that Gerry felt like he’d been drowning and finally broke the surface. His lieutenants took a step back as they saw the change. His human form flexed and nearly tore in two as power surged through him.

Gerry didn’t fully transform into his Infernal true form, but he did grow half a foot, and every vein bulged underneath taut skin. He looked like a roided out monster right now, but he didn’t care. He needed to be ready.

He felt the other Dux ascend up toward the penthouse. Even far away from Charleston, and his own demesne, this other Dux was strong. He’d ruled that territory in the name of Lucifer for over a century. His ætherial signature made that loud and clear.

Finally, the door opened, and two people stepped through. Although; calling them people was a bit of a stretch. One was a woman who was as drop-dead gorgeous Jezebel. Her pale skin, golden hair, and deep blue eyes were a stark contrast to Gerry’s sun-kissed lieutenant, but the two demons of the fourth choir caught each other’s eyes and glared. Jezebel’s teeth curled back in a snarl, while the other woman actually hissed. It revealed two rows of needle-sharp teeth.

Her boss might be comfortable enough in an enemy’s stronghold, but she was not. She’d partially transformed into her combat form, and made everyone know she was a biter.

“Please forgive my lieutenant,” the man standing next to her was just as good looking.

He had wavy black hair, cunning gray eyes, and a goatee flecked with silver.  His smile was aristocratic, and Gerry got the sense he looked down on everyone in the room. That was pretty common of a demon of the seventh choir. An Infernal powered by pride tended to think highly of themselves.

“No offense is taken. Welcome.” Gerry replied diplomatically and gestured to the chairs at the far side of the table. “My name is Gerald and I am the Dux of this city.”

“I am Lucian, servant of Lucifer, and I come to do my Lord’s bidding.”

<No mention of anything mutual.> Gerry expected that. If Lucifer’s plans diverged from Seere’s at some point during this operation then he had little doubt that Lucian would stick a dagger in his back.

“Would you like any refreshments?” There was a fully stocked bar behind the table.

“Scotch, neat, the older the better.” Lucian smiled, but it never touched his eyes.

Jezebel rose from her seat without a word. It was previously agreed that she would be the one to serve the drinks. Of course, they hadn’t anticipated that the other Dux would bring along his own escort.

“I’ll have a Manhattan.” The female Infernal ordered with a smile.

Jezebel only got the other Dux a drink, and Gerry didn’t blame her. They needed to establish an order here, and that meant putting the other Dux’s minion in her place. He even grinned with approval at Jezebel’s not-so-innocent smile when she resumed her seat.

“Now that you have your refreshment we can get town to business.”

The other woman barred her mouthful of fangs, but a silent communication between her and Lucian shut her up. “Yes. We have a mission to accomplish.”

With a thought, the dossiers that Prince Seere had left Gerry appeared on the table. “This is our target.” Gerry took the picture of the target off the top. As he slid it across the table it duplicated itself and slid into place so everyone had the picture. “Step one of our operation is to find this woman.”

“We are willing to pay for information.” Lucian interjected. He pulled out a metal briefcase, spun it so everyone could see, and opened it to show the stacks of Benjamins inside.

“How much?” Vicky spoke up, which had the other Infernal woman looking like she wanted to eat the smaller Soulless.

“Half a million,” Lucian said it like it was nothing, and for someone who’d been around as long as him it was.

“Pass it over then.” Vicky smiled. “I know who she is.”

Every eye in the room snapped onto her. Suddenly, she looked extremely self-conscious. She had a lot of powerful people’s full attention.

“Please, continue.” Lucian smiled after a second and slid the case to her.

Gerry nodded for her to go on. He didn’t sense any lie in her words.

“The girl is name Mary…or Marcy…maybe Maria. Whatever her name is she goes to my school. She’s my homework bitch.”

“Homework bitch?” Lucian tasted the words with a confused expression.

“She’s that person who does things for me I don’t want to do. In this case it’s homework. I’ve got better shit to do with my evenings than algebra.” Vicky smiled. “She’s kind of annoying, but she just made me half a mil, so I’m not complaining.”

“How well do you know this woman?” Lucian leaned closer.

Vicky looked to Gerry for guidance, and he nodded for her to go on.

“Not very well. Like I said, she’s my homework bitch. I’m a senior and she’s a sophomore. She rides my coattails. I’ll throw her some cool party details or a juicy bit of gossip every once and a while, but aside from that I don’t give two shits about her.”

“Marvelous.” Lucian clapped and smiled. “You were a hair away from death and you didn’t even realize it.” He sounded like he was on the verge of laughing.

“This woman is a Nephilim, Vicky.” Gerry answered the confused look on her face. “You are lucky to be alive.”

The already pale Vicky got a shade paler as that sunk in. Jezebel and the other Infernal woman both smiled at her misfortune, until they both noticed they agreed on something, then they went back to glaring.

“You will continue to go to school like nothing is different.” Gerry instructed. “Now that we know who she is we need to capture her and make preparations.”

“Why can’t I just kill her? Now that I know what she is I’m sure I can get the drop on her.”

“Silence!” Lucian snapped. “You will do no such thing.”

“We need her alive for now.” Gerry reiterated. “But her being at your school offers us an interesting opportunity.”

As far as Gerry knew, only him and Lucian had the full details of what was required. The wheels in his head were turning, and he had an idea. “Your homecoming is coming up correct?”

“Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything?” Vicky looked confused.

“Is she going to be there?” Lucian inquired.

“I don’t know, but I will, and if she’s hunting me then I guess she will be too.” Vicky shrugged.

“Then it has everything to do with everything.” Lucian replied, seeing where Gerry was going with this.

“I have all of the location information.” Gerry promised to send it to the other Dux. “We’ll make preparations for everything.”

“Homecoming is in two days.” Vicky informed. “If you’re going to need me to do something you’re running out of time.”

“We don’t require you to do anything.” Lucian brushed aside her comment.

“Just go about your normal routine and act like everything is normal. Show up to homecoming and we’ll take care of the rest.”

“Is that it?” Vicky asked with a sour expression plastered on her face.

“Jezebel, Lono, and Jeb will need to get onto the premises before the dance to do some warding. Can you accomplish that?”

“Yes.” She looked eager to do something other than dress up and win homecoming queen for the twentieth time.

“Facilitate that, and your job will be complete.” Gerry held up a hand to end the conversation before Vicky could reply.

“It looks like this is going to be easier than expected.” Lucian smiled. “I have established a base of operations on the outskirts of town. My people are warding it as we speak. We will conduct some additional reconnaissance and eliminate any human interference.”

“The humans have been sufficiently diverted.” Gerry inclined his head toward Jezebel. “If we can meet a two-day timeline then we should be fine.”

The two Duxes stared at each other for several seconds before Lucian nodded in agreement. “It is your city, Dux Gerald. But we will recon the school for any additional threats.”

“Very well.” Gerry stood, signaling the end of the meeting. “I have another pressing appointment that I cannot be late for.”

Lucian and his female companion didn’t need to be told twice. They didn’t want to be in the enemy’s demesne for any longer than absolutely necessary.

“Stay.” Gerry ordered Grimm after everyone left and he marched toward the elevator.

He needed to shower and exorcised any  lingering Infernal remains from his æther. If he walked into his meeting with the Dominion smelling like an Infernal, then that was going to be the end of his mission and time on Eden. He wasn’t careless enough to make that mistake before engaging in one of the biggest moments of his life on the eve of one of the most important mission of his existence.

If he was a lesser man he would have been nervous, but he’d fought countless wars in Hell. How did a conversation with an angel match up to that.

His thinking just went to show he had no idea what he was walking into.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 128

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

“That shitter better be clean enough to eat off of, or I will make you lick it clean. You get me, Private?”

Coop’s back was turned to the SGT in charge of the work detail, so he was able to close his eyes, grit his teeth and take a few deep breaths. It took a considerable amount of willpower to keep from reaching back and snapping the man’s neck.

<I’m a highly trained, lowly motivated, HI asset and they’ve got me scrubbing down the latrine with a toothbrush. This is the definition of a gross misuse of resources.>

“Roger that, Sergeant. You’ll be able to eat your momma’s cooking off this metal throne when I’m done with it.” Some motivation was better than no motivation, but right now Coop had zero motivation.

It had been a few days since the MPs tossed his room and they hadn’t found anything. Usually, that would have been good enough to get him off the hook, but Gunney Topper had a stick so far up his ass he was tasting wood. Extra duty was the punishment for not getting caught in the Gunney’s book, so Coop had spent all his time on CWS Abraham Lincoln doing pointless, pedantic shit. Scrubbing the shitters with a toothbrush was just the latest treat.

<There’s a nanite-infused spray that would get this whole place spick and span in about five seconds, and it would be cleaner than anything I’m able to manage. I wonder if I could complain to whatever department this fat fuck is in. Maybe he’s violating some health code.>

Coop thought it couldn’t get worse yesterday when he had to trim the artificial grass turf in the recreation section of the assault carrier with a pair of scissors. Why someone had designed artificial grass to grow was still beyond him, but he sure as shit knew he wasn’t setting foot on that field unless he had to. He had a suspicion the second the grass exceed the ornery SGT’s standards, Coop would be back there with his scissors and ruler cutting again.

<Gunney can’t do this forever.> Despite the clusterfuck Coop was currently engaged in, he knew all he had to do was buy his time. Eventually, someone with more authority than the GYSGT was going to ask why a sixth of the battalion’s entire HI contingent was on his knees scrubbing away other people’s ass bacteria.

Coop also knew the GYSGT would push it was long as possible. The GYSGT didn’t like Coop, and he’d let everyone know it.  Coop could do everything right and he doubted he’d get a favorable evaluation, which didn’t bode well for his career prospects.

<All because of something that allegedly happened a thousand light years away.> The fact that Coop did it didn’t matter. The important part was he hadn’t been caught. <Looks like innocent until proven guilty is just something they write on paperwork. It actually means jackshit.>

“There ain’t nothin’ like a little elbow grease to wake you up in the morning.” The SGT reminded Coop about the other shitty part of this whole situation. It was 0400 ship-time, and the detail would be working until PT at 0600, and then would be back to more menial, demeaning tasks by 0900 until 1700.

<Please great gugala mugala in the sky, get me out of this fucking place.> Coop offered up his heathen prayers without any expectations.

The universe answered.

Three sharp warning bells rang and amber light flashed throughout the bathroom.

“Everyone up! Get to your units NOW!” The SGT didn’t have to tell Coop twice. He ditched the old-fashioned toothbrush and ran for it.

The problem was that it took a solid five minutes to get from the latrine he was cleaning to where his unit was supposed to muster. He was cleaning the shitters in spacer country when he needed to be in marine land. So, of course the GYSGT wasn’t happy when he was the last soldier to sprint into formation.

“Where the fuck have you been, Cooper? Never mind,” he waved off any response Coop had ready. “You and I are going to sit down and have a talk about how things work in my unit when we get through this little brush fire.” He stared daggers at Coop until a holo-screen appeared in the air with a stern-looking LCDR.

“Gunney,” the officer gave Topper a nod before looking out at the collection of soldiers. “We’ve got a situation. While on a routine patrol of System 1776 one of Abraham Lincoln’s gunboats, CWS Argo, engaged and defeated a pirate ship that was attempting to rob or destroy a vessel contracted with Cobalt Mining Company. Argo was successful in eliminating the threat.” That got a few grins from the infantry grunts. However, upon inspection of the station per our contract with the organization, the Argo’s captain was kidnapped by more pirates lying in wait. A marine and spacer were killed, and many of the corporation’s on-site officers are unaccounted for and presumed dead. The pirates attempted to destroy Argo, but the gunboat’s crew swiftly responded to the attack. They are securing the area until we can send in additional reinforcements to retake the station.”

“That is the situation, Marines.  Our mission is to retake that station, find the captain, and eliminate the threat.”

“Sir, yes Sir!” The thrill of upcoming battle made Coop’s nuts tingle.

“The OIC and NCOIC for the mission will brief you more on the execution, but you are going to be walking into the unknown. Nevertheless, my intent is for you to go in there and kick some ass. Understood?!”

“Sir, yes Sir!”

“Out-fucking-standing.” The LCDR grinned. “I will give you one bit of good news.” The LCDR’s eyes swept the assembled soldiers. “PFC Cooper is going to be accompanying you.” Those eyes targeted Coop.

“Sir, I…”

“We need HI on this op, Gunney. No arguments.” The LCDR stomped on the Gunney’s attempt to fuck over Coop, and Coop took a certain amount of satisfaction from that.  “PFC Cooper if going to be there to kick down doors and smoke out these cockroaches with the rest of you. If you get in trouble you get behind his fat ass.” That got some laughs, and even Coop found himself smiling.”

The LCDR cut the link from wherever he was and left Coop alone with the Gunney’s wrath. It was clear from the look on the GYSGT’s face that he didn’t want Coop anywhere near an Op like this, but he wasn’t about to go against the battalion commander’s orders.

“You better not fuck this up, Cooper.” He got right up into Coop’s personal space while the rest of the grunts went off to fetch their gear. “Do exactly what the NCOIC tells you. Don’t fucking showboat. Get the job done, or I’m going to strip your enhancements myself and force you to peel potatoes for the rest of your military existence.”

“Potatoes get pealed, Gunney?” From the look on the NCO’s face you would have thought Coop said he was going to butt fuck the NCO’s mother.

Before the GYSGT could chew into his ass, Coop and the thirty soldiers assigned to this Op headed down to the unit’s onboard armory. The regular grunts went through weapons issue, while Coop went for his LACS.

“Any chance you’ve got a shiny new V2 in here for me?” Coop grinned at the female CPL manning the cage.

She did not find Coop charming, and laughed in his face as she led him to the old V1. While everyone got ready, Coop submerged himself into the swamp ass slime of the older version’s interior. Thankfully, it didn’t smell that bad. He went through his startup diagnostics, and then buttoned up before stepping up onto the contraption.

“Commo check.” The CPL spoke into TACCOM as she began to input his suit’s data into the local node and link it to the ship that would cart the strike force to System 1776.

“Good copy, reading you five by five.” Coop replied back as he cycled through his sensor settings.

“Call sign?” The CPL asked, and expected an immediate reply but never got one.

“I don’t have one.” Coop would have scratched his armored head if he wasn’t flexing to test the mechanically augmented strength of his LACS.

“Pick.” She said simply, and a whole list of call signs started to run down his screen.

“Call me Maverick…no I want Penetrator…no wait, Mutilator that’s the one.” Coop could feel the drool collecting as some kickass call signs flew by.

“BallBoy it is.” The CPL stated matter-of-factly and locked it in.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Coop yelled into his armor, but no one was listening.

His equipment updated and officially listed his call sign in TACCOM and STRATNET as BallBoy.

<God damnit, stupid fucking bi…>

“Commence loading.” The CPL cut off his mental rant.

He instinctually triggered the OPEN/CLOSE PORTS icon and felt the hiss of air as the suit opened to receive the ammunition. He watched the ammunition streaming in and did a double take. He wasn’t getting a standard combat load, but he wasn’t getting the non-lethal he’d received for the Chicago riot either. He’d only read about this type of load before.

“They’re giving you an environmentally-friendly load because we don’t want to fuck up this company’s shit and get sued. “

Environmental loads were designed to be used in a fragile environment. Where you could use standard duro-steel 1mm rounds on a planet or on a military warship, that wasn’t always the case with fragile civilian run space stations. Their hulls were thinner, they had a ridiculous affinity to have armorplast windows instead of steel bulkheads because it looked pretty, and in general they always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time which led to them getting shot. So, the Commonwealth had done their best to avoid ruining them and their shit.

The rounds fired in an environmental load would still penetrate and kill and unarmored human. Their velocity was just much slower, and they were designed to slow down after hitting and penetrating a target. The difference was they were nanite-tipped – similar to the non-lethal rounds – but a whole lot deadlier. The previous nanites would just irritate the crap out of you. These would actively try to kill you. They were hunter-killer models. They would look for the damaged parts of armor, find ways to breech it, and attempt to kill its host. HI and regular grunts had counter-nanites to fight these environmentally-friendly but lethal nanites, so they’d be ok. But a run-of-the-mill pirate was going to be monumentally fucked.

“You’re set.” The CPL stated when the rattling stopped and she pulled the giant cord that updated all his neural-nets. “The mission doesn’t call for any high-velocity missiles or 100mm arty rounds. They have assigned you 6 mines though, and you can access them in the same menu as the missile launcher.”

Coop went in and renamed the missile system to avoid any confusion.

“Your rail gun is fully loaded with ten thousand rounds, and I’ve got your Buss with a double load. All the 3mm you could ever want, plus extra grenades where the 100mm rounds would usually go. That should be enough for you to clear a station the size of Cobalt’s without having to get sloppy.”

Coop updated his menus and identified sixty more grenades then what was already loaded into the Buss. He might be wearing antiquated armor, but he was ready to fuck up some minor league kidnapper’s day.

A SSG and LT were in charge of the Op, but the two leaders didn’t talk until they reached the airlock for their ride. The CWS Breckinridge was a destroyer they were stuffing the three squads into for the short ride to System 1776. Judging by what Argo had reported, a single destroyer should be enough to secure the system and ensure the pirates paid for what they’d done.

That was a clear take away from the mission brief Coop got in route. These pirates had fucked with the wrong people, and they were to be made an example of.

<If that’s what you want, then I’m the man for the job.> Coop couldn’t wait to kick some ass. <I’ve been scrubbing shitters for long enough. Time to get some.>

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Two Worlds – Chapter 127

Eve Berg

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

Eve sprinted through the door a moment before it violently clanged shut. “That’s everyone I could grab.” She reported as she dropped the two spacers she was carrying over her shoulder.

“Chief, how many were assigned to the flight deck?” SGM Queen was standing next to a Chief Petty Officer with blood on his face and his arm cradled to his chest.

“Assigned spacers, NCOs, and OIC were three hundred and twelve, but that doesn’t count any of the flight crews or anyone else who could be down here for a multitude of reasons.” The CPO grimaced as CWS Hoplite bucked angrily beneath them.

“What’s our count?” The SGM likely already knew the answer, but he wanted a second opinion.

“I’ve got two-twenty-nine in a variety of statuses on STRATNET.” Eve answered. “That isn’t counting the twelve we just grabbed.”

A dozen bodies were on the deck around the two Rangers. They were red on STRATNET, but Eve could see their chests rising and falling. Some of those breaths were shallow, and she doubted the spacers would even make it to sick bay, but she’d done everything she could to save them.

“Dear god.” The CPO muttered as he looked behind the Eve and the SGM.

An armorplast window stood between the three soldiers and a rapidly deteriorating flight deck. A gaping hole had been ripped in the side of the ship. There were black scorch marks from the explosion visible throughout the giant space, and remnants of the fire suppressing foam coated everything. Burnt husks of Spyders littered the area – but not for long.

Despite her injuries, Hoplite had made the jump to Alcubierre and now had a whole new set of problems. Containment was their biggest issue now. Eve couldn’t see the psychedelic nature of an Alcubierre Bubble tearing through space-time beyond the battleship’s shattered hull, but it’s effects inside the hanger bay were noticeable. Those same burned out remains of assault shuttles were being pulled across the flight deck. They couldn’t hear the screeching of metal against metal, but it was still there. Eve watched as the cockpit of a mostly destroyed Spyder got pulled closer and closer toward the large hole before finally getting sucked out into oblivion.

“We need to go.” The CPO stated as the armorplast began to rattle in its frame.

“Good idea.” The SGM and Eve each grabbed four spacers – two over each shoulder and two under each arm, and ran for the next compartment.

The honeycomb design of modern Commonwealth ships was designed just for this type of incident. The ship would automatically seal sections of itself off to maintain its integrity. It would sacrifice the few to save the many.

The CPO helped where he could. He threw one spacer over his good shoulder and followed much more slowly. “Get the last three and I’ll…” the chief was cut off as the thick door separating him and the two Rangers violently snapped shut.

“No!” Eve jumped back toward the door and looked for a way to open it, but there were no grooves to get her finger into, and the entry pad next to the door blinked red every time she tried to scan her way in.

“He’s gone, Berg.” The SGM grabbed her shoulder and spun her around, which was no easy feat in LACS. “Let him go, we’ve got more shit piling up.”

Since there was really nothing Eve or the SGM’s Ranger training could do about the current clusterfuck, they’d been ordered to assist with damage control. The flight deck hadn’t been their first stop.

“We need to get to E deck now!” he grabbed her gauntleted forearm and pulled.

She followed, still seeing the haunted look on the CPO’s face as Hoplite’s internal damage control software deemed him expendable. She made sure to put a medical beacon in STRATNET for the eight spacers they were able to save, and then tried to force it out of her mind.

<Today was a hell of a day to pop my cherry.> Not only had someone tried to kill her in anger, but she’d killed, and seen more death than she imagined possible in the last twelve hours.

She followed the SGM through crowded, smoke-filled corridors. The crews were desperately fighting to keep the battleship together, and were constantly moving people as the ship sectioned itself off. If Eve’s bad luck held, E deck was the next place they needed to get the hell out of.

The SGM and her practically shouldered people aside with no thought or care toward their rank or responsibilities. They were the two biggest people in the corridor and they were heading toward the danger. That was all that mattered right now. They avoided the grav-lift because that was just a bad idea as the lights flickered on and off from power surges. Instead, they did thing the old-fashioned way by sliding down some ladders and stairs to get to the bowels of the warship.

What they found wasn’t good.

“Go to millimeter wave.” The SGM instructed when the smoke was too dense to see through with the human eye.

Eve cycled through her settings, and saw nothing but blazing red as she passed over her infrared and onto her millimeter wave radar. That coupled with the STRATNET map of E deck told them where they needed to go.

“I’ve got casualties.” Eve practically tripped over a body within ten meters of the entry hatch.

The woman was breathing, but her skin was a fiery red hue. Dehydration was the least of this woman’s worries.

“We’ve got to keep moving, Berg.” A STRATNET icon appeared nearly a hundred meters farther into the deck. “That’s where we need to go.”

Eve still took the five seconds to toss the female spacer through the hatch for others to carry to safety before following the SGM deeper into hell. More people were down, unconscious, or straight up dead as they worked their way deeper into the depths of the ship. It was tough to pass them by, but they had their orders.

Finally, they reached another hatch and pushed it open to the sounds of men and women screaming commands as machinery screamed back at them.

“Levels are rising. Pull capacitors eight through twelve and get some liquid nitrogen in there now!” TACCOM identified a senior chief specialist was the one shouting commands.

“Is that the fucking main reactor?” Eve asked as crews hustled thick, coiled hoses from a rack on the wall toward a truly monstrous machine.

“Yep. That’s the thing that generates the energy that allows this big tin can to manipulate gravity and propel itself through space. Right now, it’s the only thing powering the Alcubierre drive.” The SGM answered patiently as they stood there waiting for someone to tell them what to do.

“Don’t we have backups?” That would be the logical design feature.

“Of course there are redundant reactors, but most of them got blown to shit or are offline. We’re lucky this one didn’t get damaged or we wouldn’t have been able to make it out of that system.”

Eve decided to shut up and count her blessings.

“You two, help with the hoses!” The SCSP yelled for them to move their asses.

The group carting the hose nearly fell over when Eve and the SGM lifted it practically by themselves, and helped them get it shoved into the slot and pumping the cooling fluid into the reactor twice as fast.

“Levels are stabilizing, but I want another hose in there pronto.”

Eve and the SGM handled that task to free up the other spacers for more important work.

“It still can’t hold out forever. We might be able to make it back to Syracuse if the universe doesn’t take another shit on us.”

It seemed like the universe had something else in mind. Less than two minutes later a loud screeching noise emanated from the reactor a second before something exploded. Even worse, was that some of flaming remains crushed the SCSP who’d been leading the recuse attempt to begin with.

“Fucking shit!” The SGM roared as he hefted the flaming wreckage off the flattened body of the SCSP. “Can’t you give us a fucking break?”

<Nope.> The screeching sound was beginning the build again and the subject matter expert on the reactor had more in common with a pancake than a human being now.

“She’s gonna blow!” someone with enough stripes yelled, and everyone began hauling ass to the door.

Thankfully for everyone Eve got there first, because Hoplite seemed to see the same danger as the mechanics. The door started to seal off the compartment, but Eve stopped it. If it was anyone beside a Ranger in V3 armor they probably would have been sliced in half by the powerful mechanism, but Eve was able to brace herself.

“Go!” she yelled to the crew who had to bend over and pass underneath her armpits. “Ahhhh!” Her naturally enhanced strength sagged after less than a minute and she had to tap into her suit’s power supply. Even then, her battery power started to drop rapidly. Hoplite’s systems had caught onto the door’s failure to close and were pouring more power into the hydraulics.

“Fucking move people!” She screamed as her elbows began to bend against her will. Right before they buckled she spun and put her back to the door. It still closed halfway, and nearly pinned her to the opposite bulkhead, but more power and the use of her legs allowed her to pry it back open.

She kept an eye on the compartment’s readings as the rest of the crew tried to escape. The radiation levels were spiking to dangerous levels. They didn’t have long.

“Go, Sergeant Major!” She yelled, forcing the NCO to crawl underneath her to pass through the door. Once he was passed she looked at the small group of spacers still waiting to get through.

Their status had already dropped from green to yellow as the radiation penetrated their bodies. For a moment, Eve was torn between what she knew needed to be done and what she wanted to do. She wanted to save all these people, but she knew they were already as good as dead.

<I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.> She’d expected to kill today, but she hadn’t expected to leave more than a dozen people to die the horrible death of radiation poisoning.

Her suit was down to less than twenty percent power when she finally wrenched herself sideways. A PFC reached out in horror and had his hand neatly sliced off as the door took advantage of her absence. The last thing Eve heard from the room was the young man’s screams.

“Let’s go, Berg. On your feet.” The SGM was one of the only few not affected by the radiation poisoning, and more than a few people were leaning on his massive metal frame for support. “You did what you had to do.”

Those words were hollow as more people sought out her LACS for support. Together, the two armored Rangers walked the dying engineers back toward the stairs up to one of the secure decks. They only made it halfway there before a giant shudder hit the ship and a wave of nausea passed through them.

“We just dropped out of Alcubierre.” The SGM stated the obvious half a second before the lights went out and gravity ceased to work. “We’ve lost all power. We’re dead in space.”

Eve could just imagine the massive one and a half kilometer warship spinning through inky blackness, lost in the pathways between the starts.

<Well, we’re fucked.> Eve couldn’t imagine how things could get any worse.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 18

“Whoever it is, I’m going to whoop some major ass.” Anna Fletcher boasted loudly in the corner of the women’s locker room.

If it was anyone else making such outrageous statements the other women of the HCP sophomore class might take offense, but they all knew Anna, and they also knew she could cash the checks her mouth was writing.

“It will be interesting to see what the matchups are.” Erin answered from her corner in a rare moment of coherence.

Several of the other women around the room didn’t take that as a good sign. When Erin was sane, she was there to play. Angela and Kyoshi watched the friendly banter and minor trash talking from their lockers. The school had changed it so that people on the same team were stationed next to each other. It gave a small semblance of privacy to discuss strategy or any other team related business without the whole locker room overhearing you.

“We have contingency plans for dealing with each team.” Angela spoke softly to the three other women on her team. “But I’m sure we won’t have to wait long.” Her eyes were drawn to the entrance which had just swung open.

“Yep, it’s me again.” Coach Meyers stood in the entryway with an all too familiar grin pulling at her lips. “You’ve got two minutes to finished getting your shit together. Starting NOW.”

All idle chitchat ceased as the women rushed to get into their gray uniforms. It was harder for some woman than others, and Angela knew for a fact it was during time like these where several in her class wished they were a little smaller in the breast department. Sports bras could only do so much against the tight, durable, fire-resistant fabric of the standard HCP uniform.

“Are you ready?” Angela turned to Kyoshi, Fiona, and Natalia individually to gauge their mindsets.

All of them looked confident, determined, and ready to kick some ass.

“Let’s move!” Coach Meyers spun on her heel and marched off. Everyone scurried to follow. She took them on the same path toward the large underground city they’d done multiple scenarios in the previous year. The key difference being that last year was an every-man-for-themselves scenario. This year was all about teamwork.

“Keep your hands and feet inside the elevator.” She scolded when they reached the massive lift that would take everyone down to the subterranean levels. “I’d hate for someone to lose a hand before all the fun starts.”

No one lost an extremity, and the lift slowly descended down…and down…and down.

<We’re definitely below the city.> Angela thought as they finally came to a halt.

The lift opened into another waiting area with big screen TVs scattered around and a large wall sized projection that showed a rough map of several arenas. Angela only got a couple of seconds looking at it before it winked out of existence.

“About time, I thought you got lost.” Coach McMillian was standing with the boys in the center of the room.

They all looked determined, but Angela could see the extra sweat on their brows that had nothing to do with the air temperature.

“Everyone team up. You’ve got five minutes to make any last preparations. Once that time is up the scoreboard will show the matchups and where you need to run. You will have three minutes to get to your starting points. If you don’t make it to that stating point in time you lose. You win as a team and you lose as a team.” Coach McMillian’s eyes were serious. “That is how it works in the real world, and that’s how it works in here. Take care of each other, get the job done, and as always don’t kill your fellow HCP students. You guys have promise, and I’d hate to see you behind bars.”

The teams started to gather when he finished his remarks, and Angela got her full contingent together. “Anything?” She directed her question at Kyoshi.

“Everyone is wondering the same thing we are. Who are we facing? How do we beat them? How does this effect our rankings? What happens if we lose?” She could have gone on and on.

“We aren’t going to lose.” Angela declared, and as far as she was concerned her word was law. “We’re going to be smart, aggressive, and get the job done. Just like Coach McMillian instructed. We all know our roles for a multitude of scenarios. We are a talented and competent team. I have no doubts we’ll have a win under our belt in the next few hours.”

Angela’s pep talk had heads nodded around the group, and Alex Webb was even pounding his fist into his other hand. His body was already starting to swell with excitement. Angela did her best to keep the team focused over the next five minutes. She quizzed them on what their roles would be in difference scenarios they may face, but she’d been too on the nose before. Everyone answered her questions flawlessly. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do. Now, they just needed to know who they were going to be going up against and what role they would actually play in their first team challenge.

At five minutes on the dot the scoreboard illuminated and showed the matchup and where they needed to go. It didn’t give the team a lot of time to think. The starting points varied from a hundred yards to half a mile away.

Angela only needed a glance to get the information she needed. <Team two it is, and we need to go down C corridor for a quarter mile.>

“Plan A, everyone.” She let everyone know just before she took off down one of the four hallways that had just illuminated themselves.

She watched as Jason’s team went down D corridor. The two captain’s eyes met for a split second, and they nodded to each other. If this was going to be a fight, it only made sense for the class’ numbers one and two to go at it again, and it was a fight Angela was determined to win.

A quarter mile in three minutes wasn’t taxing for sophomore HCP students. They made it with a minute to spare, so they started to separate into their assigned roles. Jason’s team was tough, and he’d designed it in a similar way to Angela’s. She’d have her hands full just with Jason if they ever came across each other. Without her to back up the rest of her team they could be in some real trouble. Anika had the traits of Kyoshi and Webb. She could give advanced warning as well as put up one hell of fight. Angela would have to get in the mix, or detail two of her team to take down the multifaceted Super.

Teresa Shaw was also going to be a problem. Her shifting made her versatile, and Angela didn’t know if Webb would be able to take her alone. Liam Garrison and Emilia Scarborough would be a little easier to deal with. She knew Oliver had some surprise in store from the tech department, and if Natalia was able to get either of them in eye sight then it was game over.

Danny was the obvious counter to Natalia. His duplicates could be sacrifices to get close and take her out while the real Danny was nowhere nearby. It would be up to Kyoshi to find Danny and maybe even take him out.

Angela wasn’t overly concerned about Janet Ibsen and her light rope, but she didn’t want to dismiss the girl. That rope had a lot of strange properties that could come back to bite them in the ass.

No matter what the matchups, the linchpin in Angela’s plan was always Fiona. Having a teleporter who could take direction from a telepath and offer unparalleled movement around the battlefield was priceless. That was why Angela had jumped down the rankings to grab her. Knowing her father, and having fought against a monster like Wraith, Angela knew the true value in a good teleporter. Although, Fiona was limited to carrying two people at a time right now, those two people could make all the difference.

“Everyone ready?” Angela took a deep breath as the large steel door opened in front of them. It was ominous enough that she thought a swarm of bats was going to fly out any try to suck their blood.

Nothing did, so Angela took the first step into the waiting darkness. Once everyone was through the opening the doors closed behind them, and they closed a lot faster than they opened. It also swarmed them in total darkness.

<I can fix that.>

Angela reached with herself, grabbed the burning warmth of her power, and pulled. The whole room illuminated for a second as Angela vanished in the brilliant white light and was replaced by her angelic shifted form. Her form had a soft glow to it that helped, but it didn’t penetrate like the white burst of her transformation. Not that it mattered.

“We’re in a giant box.” Fiona sounded nervous at suddenly finding herself trapped.

Angela couldn’t hide her own confusion. It was humid in the confined space, and she thought it was some sort of tunnel leading to a tropical landscape where they’d have to fight dehydration as much as the other team. However, her transformation had clearly showed they were in a large steel box with no exit except the one that had already closed behind them.

<Is this a test?> She wondered.

“What’s that?” Blake was the first to notice the change in the room.

Angela had been so focused on trying to figure out the professors’ tricks that she didn’t even notice water gradually beginning to rise from the floor beneath them.

One of the scariest things her team could imagine was drowning to death in a dark underground chamber, and she didn’t blame them. They scrambled for the walls as the water level continued to rapidly rise. Fiona was screaming as the water reached knee height and it became more difficult to run. Webb and Angela were able to power through it, but when they reached the walls it didn’t offer any relief. They were smooth metal just like the door into this death chamber was.

Angela jumped up and flapped her wings to gain some altitude. The whole room was starting to fill like a giant bath tub, and her team had nowhere to go.

<What’s the point of this.> Angela summoned an energy mace and flew toward the door at the back of the room. She hit it a few times, but it was thick and made of solid steel. It didn’t budge, and she wouldn’t be able to make any headway before the water consumed them all.

“Fiona, can you get us out of here?” Angela asked, but got no response. “Fiona?!”

“She can’t swim.” Webb shouted back. He’d transformed into a creature of white bone and red muscle. It looked like something out of a horror movie, but Fiona was scrambling up onto his shoulder like he was her guardian angel. “What the fuck is going on, Angela?”

For the first time in a long time Angela had no clue what the hell was happening, and that didn’t help things as the water continued to climb.

<They won’t kill us.> Fiona might not have reached that mental point yet, but Angela knew it. <The worst thing that’ll happen is we fail something, but we’ll live.>

Of course, those words offered zero comfort when the water was high enough that they all needed to start treading water to keep their heads above it. Everyone except Angela.

<They’ve got to be feeding the water in from the lake.> It was the only thing she could think of that would allow this much water to be pumped in this quickly.

It only took a few minutes to completely fill the room, and soon even Angela wasn’t able to avoid it. The team huddled together at the center of the room with their faces pressed sideways against the steel top of the room. Angela was still waiting for it to stop before they ran out of breathable air, and they figured that out in the next ten seconds.

Everyone took a deep breath, and water completely filled the room. That was when Angela started to panic. Her energy weapon blazed brightly in the murky water as she bashed it against the ceiling. Like to door it didn’t give, and for a split-second Angela felt a hopelessness she’d only felt once before: when she thought her father died.

That momentary pang of incredible sadness vanished as Angela and the rest of her team were violently sucked through something by some unknown force. She tumbled head over ass against a hard surface for a few seconds. She tried to hold in her final breath, but her head was spinning and she was pretty sure she was about to puke.

Then she felt the greatest sensation in the world: air. She took a gasping breath as she flew through the air, and in that second and a half it took her to realize she wasn’t under her own power she splashed back into the water.

Her eyes adjusted and she looked around frantically to see where she was and if the rest of team had lived. Heads started to surface from the water and she counted off her whole team before she took a breath of relief.

“What the fuck was that?!” Fiona disappeared from the water and reappeared shaking on the shore lined with a small rock beach and beyond that thick coniferous trees.

It looked like the team had been deposited in a pond roughly the size of the room they’d been trapped in. <They refilled the pond and we were just along for the ride.> Angela had a strong urge to punch Coach McMillian in the face, but she’d knew she’d never tag him. The speedster was way too fast for her.

“It was a test. An underhanded and sadistic test, but still a test.” Angela kicked with her feet and took to the air. She stayed low, just above the pond’s surface, to avoid giving away their position.

“Correct Ms. Martin, but I’d hardly say it was sadistic.” Professor Willis’ voice spoke from all around them. “It was a test to see how you handled yourselves under pressure. You did fairly well, better than some but worse than others. Now it is time to focus on the game.”

“Game? What game?” Kyoshi had just reached the shore, and her normal serene face looked pissed.

“The best game ever.” They could practically see the Subtlety teacher’s smiling face. “Capture the flag.”

Out of the ground next to them rose a green flag, about the size of the American flag, but with a big black 1 on it.

“This is your flag. Team two has one just like it. Your objective is to defend your flag while capturing the enemy’s flag. You have three hours to complete the game. Any questions?”

“Yeah, what the hell is wrong with you?” Webb finally got to the shore carrying Natalia on his back. The woman was clearly shaken.

“Nothing, Mr. Webb. The real question is why are you busy asking me questions when the other team is already on the move.” There was no click of the line closing, but Angela was sure the old spy would want to end things on that note.

“Ok,” she controlled her tone to make it neutral and leader-like, but she fully agreed with Webb. “I’m going up to get a lay of the land. Fiona, climb on my back and start memorizing some locations. Everyone else, guard the flag. We’ll be right back.”

It took a little more coaxing to get Fiona onto Angela’s back, but when she did the shifter didn’t hesitate. She sprang into the air and rose above the tree before zipping away from the pond. The last thing she wanted to do was give the enemy team a location on their flag.

From their elevation, Angela was able to make out the boarders of the arena. The sky overhead was some type of screen that displayed blue skies and a slowly setting sun. There was even enough artificial light coming off of the golden ball to make it feel real. The rest of the arena was quite large, more than a mile long and just about as wide. It made a circle from what she could tell, and contained mostly trees. There were a few clearings here and there, along with another two ponds, but other than that it was all trees.

<So much for me being able to scout ahead.> Jason and his team weren’t stupid enough to sit in a clearing and wait to be seen, and it was more than likely that their flag was in the forest somewhere.

“I’m good.” Fiona still looked a little green from almost drowning, but she was quickly pulling it together. “I’ve got enough locations that I think we’ll be…”

A wave of pressure hit Angela light a freight train and tossed her backward. Miraculously, Fiona hung on as they were flipped through the air.

“Go!” Angela called over her shoulder. “Take Webb and Blake with you to the farthest point opposite our own. That’s the best place to start looking.”

Originally, Angela didn’t think much of the muscle mimic’s ability to contribute to a stand-up fight, but after a look at the environment she’d reconsidered. It was going to be tight quarters for this challenge, and although he might not be able to take out a heavy hitter, Blake was skilled at getting around. Angela knew the muscle mimic had thoroughly studied parkour and rock climbing, and she wouldn’t be surprised if tree climbing was in there too. The other Super might very well turn out to be a critical asset during this challenge.

<They’re testing us all in our own way.> She understood as she felt Fiona’s weight disappear from her back. <They take away some of our advantages and make us use our heads. My flight would be the key to this fight without all the foliage, and they want to see how I handle the change.> She was pretty sure she was doing the right thing, but only time would tell.

She regained control of herself and stopped the spin. She dove low to avoid any more blasts from Jason – there wasn’t anyone else who could have hit her that hard from that far away – and discretely make her way back to the flag. Her contribution to this challenge might very well be on the defensive side of the game.

“Oliver, do you have any type of advanced warning sensors on that thing?” She asked when she landed.

“Sure do,” he smiled and produced several camouflage balls from the weird contraption on top of his uniform.

“Take Natalia and set up a perimeter of them a few hundred meters out. I want as much advanced warning as possible.”

“I can do that.” Kyoshi stated as the two Supers rushed into the forest.

“I know you can, but when one Anika jumps us and Jason starts blasting away, I don’t want you to have to worry about keeping track of someone trying to sneak around behind us.” Angela’s request for Oliver wasn’t because she didn’t think Kyoshi was capable. It was because she didn’t want the class’ most powerful telepath have to split their attention six ways when the fighting started.

Kyoshi’s most powerful gift was still the ability to possess a person, and she needed complete concentration to pull that off.

<I just hope Fiona, Webb, and Blake find something.> She was putting a lot of faith in her scouting team.

Twenty minutes passed with nothing happening. Oliver completed his sensor perimeter and returned to watch it on a tablet built into the tech suit he was wearing. He had to get permission to wear it into the trial in the first place, and then they’d been dunked in pond water. Amazingly, everything still worked. It was metal, but not sleek and shiny. It looked like he’d raided a junk yard and cobbled together something. Angela saw hydraulics, pistons, and oddly placed pieces of metal all over his body. She knew better than to ask what all of it did and get dragged into a techie conversation she couldn’t understand. She knew all that she needed to know, and Oliver was no stranger to giving suggestions or showing off his tech; especially to the ladies.

“I’ve got…” Was all the heads-up Angela got before a woman-shaped blur put her shoulder into her stomach and launched her backward.

It didn’t quiet knock the wind out of her, but it certainly caught her by surprise. <Anika.>

Becca’s girlfriend skidded to a stop just short of the pond and rounded on Kyoshi, Oliver, and Natalia. She kept her eyes down to avoid the Natalia’s paralyzing power, which opened her up to an attack. Surprisingly, it was Oliver that ran up and punched her.

Angela instinctually flared her wings to stop her backward movement, and beat them furiously to get back into the fight; so she got to watch it all unfold.

Oliver reared back like they’d been taught countlessly in class. He put his weight behind the punch, rotated his core to maximum effect, and let loose. At the last second before his fist hit Anika’s face his suit reacted. The pistons fired, driving forward some of the mysterious bars on his forearm. By now Angela was close enough to see that Oliver’s fist was wrapped around a small perpendicular piece of metal welded to the bars, and on top of that were some of the most ghetto, badass looking brass knuckles Angela had ever seen; especially since they were probably made of steel instead of brass. With the power of the hydraulics he’d developed into his suit, Oliver hit Anika with machinery-enhanced strength. It caught the other Super by surprise, picked her up off her feet and tossed her a couple of yards into the trees.

“Fuck yeah!” Oliver pumped his other feet as Anika laid there stunned for a moment.

Unfortunately, the victory was short lived. A wave of gas floated over the area as Liam Garrison appeared at the tree line. Kyoshi knew what was coming and dove into the water to swim away, but Oliver, in his super suit wasn’t quick enough. The gas overtook him, and after a brief choking noise he collapsed.

Teresa Shaw stepped up next to Liam as he ended his gas attack. She looked like some type of bear-wolf hybrid. Her jaws dripped saliva as she sniffed the scene. Angela didn’t wait for anyone else to arrive, they were already down a man, and she had a feeling things were only going to get worse. She rocketed back toward the gathered enemy team, but pulled up short. A few flaps of her wings blasted the toxic fog back toward them. Liam was unaffected by his ability, but Teresa’s animal form whined and beat a hasty retreat. Angela made sure Liam did the same by throwing an energy spear at him.

She made sure to blunt the ends, but it would still hurt like a bitch and break bones if he got hit.

“They’ll regroup and be back soon.” She called out to her dispersed team.

Oliver was down and out for the count. There was no word from the scout team, Natalia was coughing like she might have gotten a small whiff of the fog, and Kyoshi…

<Where’s Kyoshi?>

<HELP!> Rang out in Angela’s head just as she felt a chill pass over her body.

She looked over her shoulder and saw a big chunk of the pond was frozen over, and a hand was stretched toward their flag. Emily Scarborough had snuck around to some side of the pond, out of the range of Oliver’s sensors, and taken a swim. Apparently, she’d run into Kyoshi at some point because the advanced mind was half frozen in ice. The pond was not the place to be facing a cryokinetic.

<I can’t hold her much longer.>

Angela took a look closer as she leapt toward the Super trying to steal their flag. Emilia was struggling to reach it, but shimmering air seemed to surround her arm. Kyoshi was holding the cryokinetic for as long as possible. Judging by the pain on Kyoshi’s face, and what Angela knew of how her telekinesis worked, it was a living hell for her friend.

So she put an end to it. A punch to the gut doubled Emilia over, and an arm wrapped around her neck choked her unconscious in a few seconds.

“Good work, Kyoshi.” Angela offered the visibly exhausted telepath a hand as she used an energy spear to break the ice.

“Th…th…th…thank y…y…you.” Kyoshi’s teeth chattered from the cold.

“Guy’s we’ve got incoming!” Natalia shouted before they could even catch a breath.

Angela heard it as much as she felt it. The ground was rumbling beneath them twice a second, and it was getting closer. Angela jumped into the air to get a better look and didn’t have to go far. The trees were parting about a fifty yards out and moving quickly toward their position.

“Everyone clear out!” She waved as she looped around and back over the pond.

<If somebody wants to try and charge us then let’s see what they’re made of.> She beat her wings furiously to gather speed and summoned a shield in front of her.

She guessed where the enemy would attack and shot toward it like a bullet. She was on target.

Theresa Shaw emerged from the tree line – actually it was more along the lines of destroying the tree line – as some type of elephant-dinosaur mix. She flung the final trees out of the way and charged into the small clearing around the lake. She was headed right toward the flag – with Liam ridding on her back – when Angela hit them.

The concussive blast tossed dirt, rocks, and broken tree limbs outward. Oliver’s prone body ever rolled a few feet from the shockwave.

Angela felt the hit reverberate through her body. She felt her shoulder break, and she lost the mental capacity to retain the shield. She was thrown to the side and ended up taking out a few trees of her own in the process.

Teresa didn’t fare much better. She staggered backward from the hit, shaking her head side to side, before collapsing in a heap. She quickly began to shift back to her normal state, but she was out cold.

Liam fared worst of all. He was thrown from Teresa’s back by the impact. He nearly cleared the whole pond, but landed just shy of the far bank. Professor Livingston appeared out of nowhere to grab him and drag him out of the water before he drowned. Angela wasn’t sure if that was going to count against them because she was seeing stars and having trouble concentrating much less moving.

She had enough wits about her to realize that the only combat capable person they had defending the flag was a frostbitten Kyoshi, and she was huddled in the fetal position of the flag’s base, as Anika advanced on her.

<I’ve got to get back there.> Angela thought, but no matter how much she wanted it her legs wouldn’t obey. She started to crawl, but it was a solid hundred feet, and more people appeared before she made it even halfway.

Thankfully, they were friendly and carrying a big flag with the number two on it.

“What the hell happened here?” Webb had a bit of a limp and looked like he’d been pummeled recently, but he was still up and moving.

“It doesn’t matter.” Fiona stated proudly as she took the other flag, teleported to the opposite side of Anika before she could react, and put it into a second slot. “We win.”

The professors confirmed it a few seconds later and white-clad medics descended on the scene. Angela just transformed back to her human form and walked over to the rest of the team. She wished she could have done more than to charge headfirst into some mythological beast, but it had given the scout team enough time to grab the flag and get back here. Just as she expected, the teleporter made all the difference.

A win for the team was a win for all of them, and that was something Angela could live with.

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I’m on TDY from Hell – Change of Mission

Today was turning out to be a pretty good day. Before noon Gerry had fulfilled another contract. As far as contracts went it was an easy one, and he wasn’t complaining. He’d been randomly drawing the contracts from the pile he’d been given at the church. In his eyes, it was just further proof that he was having a good day.

This contract had to deal with a ghost. It was a legitimate poltergeist that hadn’t moved on from Eden to Heaven or Hell. It was an anomaly that happened semi-frequently. One of Hell’s kingdoms didn’t have their claws in the soul yet, and it wasn’t good enough to get into Heaven this time around. It was slotted into the queue for reincarnation, but just wouldn’t let go. It had some unfinished business, and in this contract’s case it was a woman who’d been scorned.

In Gerry’s experience not even death cooled a woman’s fury. In some unlucky bastard’s case, it made it even worse. If he wasn’t a minor magic user in Charlotte’s supernatural community he would have gone the rest of his life thinking he was haunted. He would have been labelled a nut job, and probably ended up in a psych ward. There he would have slit his own throat or hung himself with his bed sheets.

Lucky for him he had Gerry, and Gerry knew how to get rid of ghosts. First off, the small amount of æther from their soul clinging to Eden was repelled by pure iron. Infernal Iron would have destroyed it, along with Divine Steel, but regular old iron did the trick momentarily. One good swipe through the woman dispersed her, and it took a minute to reconstitute.

Next up was salt. Salt formed a boundary that kept the spirit out. Gerry used both the iron and salt to his advantage. He trapped the ghost in an abandoned home and then annoyed it by smashing it into pieces with an iron rod a few dozen times. That got her seriously pissed off and ready for a fight; which allowed Gerry to make a connection between her and Seere’s kingdom.

In Gerry’s opinion, he’d spent too much time on dealing with the city and not enough sending his Lord quality souls. This contract was a chance to kill two birds with one stone.

“What are you doing!?” She’d screeched when she felt the anchor between her and Seere’s realm snap into place.

Gerry didn’t bother answering her as he deftly dodged the chairs she was throwing around with her mild telekinetic abilities. He sent a text and didn’t have to wait more than a few seconds. The ghost screeched as she died – again. Vicky had been standing by with the woman’s dug-up bones for at least an hour.

“I’m sitting out here in the middle of the day, in my school uniform, covered in dirt, all so that you can dispatch one restless spirit.” She bitched, but didn’t decline the offer to help. If she did this, he promised her a small favor.

Flames devoured the poltergeist as her salted bones burned and she was sucked down into Hell.

<All you had to do was move on.> Gerry shrugged as the metaphysical fire ebbed into nothing. <Now you’re screwed.>

That had been his morning. Early afternoon had been filled with training and planning. Gerry didn’t need any training. It hadn’t taken him any time at all to master being a martial magician. Grimm needed the training. The hellhound was devilishly cunning and not even remotely stupid, but he was still a very large dog. It took Gerry a few times rubbing Grimm’s nose in his own piss to get it through the big mutt’s head that he needed to go outside to use the bathroom, or at least to the specially designed bathroom that Gerry constructed with the demesne’s growing æther supply. It had also taken a few well-placed smacks on the nose to ensure Grimm didn’t kill everything that entered the apartment.

It had been a disaster when Gerry decided to try pizza for the first time. The elevator operator allowed the pizza delivery boy to bring up the pizza. The poor kid hadn’t even seen Grimm bound across the room before his jaws were around his throat and his head became Grimm’s newest toy. That had earned the hellhound an ass whooping, but from then on Grimm waited for Gerry’s word on whether or not he should kill would-be intruders.

Gerry was also ninety-five percent certain Grimm still had the kid’s head lying around the penthouse somewhere.

That was the early afternoon shenanigans. Late afternoon was turning out to be the best yet. Caroline was free, and Gerry was just bending her over an armchair in his sitting room when he felt a powerful presence at the edge of his demesne.  It made him pause mid-thrust, which had the cute call-girl protesting.

“Quiet.” Gerry unsheathed himself and pulled his Chi out to form a shield.

As a precaution, he snapped his fingers and Caroline lost consciousness and slumped back over the armchair. If this was nothing, he’d snap his fingers again and they’d pick up right where they’d left off. If this was something, then her frail – but perfectly proportioned – human body wouldn’t last long.

Gerry didn’t care if he was naked as the day he was first born a human. He’d fought in everything from his birthday suit to the Infernal Iron armor of a knight of Hell. He was ready for anything…except what was standing at the entrance to his demesne.

“Gerry!” Prince Seere passed through the demesne’s defensive perimeter without missing a step. The Infernal Lord was the rightful lord of everything his inferiors possessed, so this was really the Prince’s demesne.

“My Lord,” Gerry immediately went to one knee in submission, and dismissed the shield.

“A clever bit of magic, but it’s weak and mortal.” Seere frowned as he looked around the room.

“It allows me to blend, My Lord. I have gained the humans’ trust and am gradually expanding your kingdom here in Eden.” None of that was a lie. From what Gerry could tell, he’d regained a decent amount of what had been lost with only a small expenditure of resources.

“And you’re enjoying the pleasures of the flesh.” Seere took a deep breath and grinned.

Gerry blanched.

“Don’t worry,” Seere waved aside Gerry’s grave expression. “I don’t hold it against you after being in Hell so long, and certainly not when she has an ass like that.” Walls didn’t mean anything to an Infernal Lord as he admired the view. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I have a new task for you. A task that takes priority over everything else you’ve been striving for.”

“A new task, My Lord?” Gerry caught himself before he said anything that sounded like he was questioning the Prince. “I am here to do your will.”

“That’s what I like to here.” Seere smiled and waved his hand.

A manila folder appeared on the polished wooden tabletop. “That’s your mission.”

Gerry got to his feet and went to look at the folder’s contents. “A girl?” The front page was a young woman with tan skin, golden hair, and acne still on her face.

“Not any girl, a Nephilim.”

Gerry frowned at the picture. He knew the angel half-breeds were in the area, but he didn’t have any accurate reports of where any were. If the Prince was able to walk right in here and give him a solid lead said a lot about his current intelligence gathering apparatus. If someone wasn’t screwing someone important, or buying drugs and clubbing he was out of the loop.

<I need to work on that.> He had ideas, but they would take time to implement.

“What is your will, My Lord?”

“Find her, torture her, gather any relevant information, then kill her according to the ceremony listed in the folder.” Prince Seere sounded like he was ordering takeout. “You will not be working alone on this. This is a join operation between Lucifer and I.” Darkness seemed to grow form the corners of the room as Seere stared Gerry down. “You will not speak to anyone else about the true nature of this mission. Not even your own people. This is to be handled carefully and personally by you and the Dux of Charleston. He has been given permission to enter my territory. Treat him with respect, expect respect from him, and you will both be richly rewarded.”

“Service is reward enough.” Gerry replied.

“Stop kissing my ass, Gerry.” The light returned to the room as Seere smiled. “Just get it done.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Just like that the Lord of Hell left. Gerry wasn’t stupid enough to think that the Prince came all the way up to Eden to just talk with little old him, but it was still an honor to receive a visit; especially since it didn’t seem like he was in trouble.

<It’s exactly the opposite.> He was doing such a good job that he was given additional responsibilities. <Don’t let it go to your head.> He cautioned as he returned to the unconscious Caroline in the other room.

He snapped his fingers again and she jolted awake. “Why’d you stop?” she whined as she pressed her ass against his growing erection. “Did you fuck me until I passed out again?”

“Yes.” Gerry lied as he spread her legs and reinserted himself.

She squeaked as he went to town on her again. Despite his rapid pounding his heart wasn’t in it. His mind was elsewhere thinking about the other Dux coming to town, the girl he needed to capture, torture, kill, and everything else that would go into an operation aimed at snatching a Nephilim. The half-angels weren’t known for being wimps.

Gerry made sure to catch Caroline when her legs spasmed so hard her knees buckled. They finished shortly after that, and she collapsed right back over the armchair where he’d left her before.

“Clean yourself up.” He walked over to the bathroom to clean himself up. “I’ve got people to see and places to be.”

Grimm was looking back and forth between his master and the human.

KILL?

Gerry shook his head before disappearing into the bathroom where he called all of his lieutenants and told them to meet him at the penthouse for dinner. They needed to bring all of their assets to bear on this mission. Something in Gerry’s gut told him that if this mission went sideways then he’d find himself right back in Hell as a lowly skirmisher all over again.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 126

Lieutenant Heather Briggs

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

 LT Briggs stifled a yawn as she reviewed the holo-bubble in front of the captain’s chair. You could view it from anywhere on the gunboat’s small bridge, but there was something purely awesome about sitting in that specific chair.

<One day,> she thought wistfully as she took a sip of coffee.

It was the middle of the night-watch on the ship’s schedule, and after the pulse-pounding battle a number of the crew were in their quarters sleeping. The exceptions were the captain and his small boarding party that had gone onto the station. Chief Yates was still up running diagnostics on his gunnery systems and reviewing the sensor data from the fight. Like any good athlete he was critiquing his performance. In his case, it was throwing megaton antimatter missiles instead of a pig’s skin. Spacer Gilbert was also on watch at the helm where he looked on the verge of falling asleep.

She had to be there as the OIC when the captain was off the ship. Chief Yates was there by choice. It was just Gilbert’s bad luck that he pulled watch after a fight. Other than the pair of marines standing guard at the entrance hatch to the gunboat the rest of the crew was out like a light.

They thought they were secure, but they were at their most vulnerable since they’d entered the system.

Argo, this is O’Neil, contact! We’ve got…”

Chief Yates sprang up in his seat. The LT looked at the comm’s station with a perplexed look, and Gilbert’s head snapped up from where it had momentarily rested on his chest.

“Say again, Sergeant?” Briggs keyed the transmit button.

“Contact! Multiple casualties. Send QRF.”

Training took over and the LT’s hand smashed into a big red button on the captain’s chair. Red light started to flash and a blaring siren wailed as the battlestations alarm went out throughout the small ship.

“Geoffrey, isolate their location.” The ship’s intelligence system was tapped into the station’s databanks already, and from there it was child’s play.

“Sergeant O’Neil and the captain are pinned on C-level, corridor twelve. Twenty-one hostiles are assaulting their fragile position with a variety of weaponry.” The emotionless tone kind of creeped the LT out.

“Corporal, ETA?”  She radioed the marine in charge in SGT O’Neil’s absence.

“We’re haulin’ ass, Ma’am. My boys will be suited up in under a minute. I’m pushing the hatch guards forward. To make a path for us.”

She was amazed that the marines could go from sleeping to combat in under a minute, but this was the stuff they trained for.

“Contact…fuck!” It was a new voice on the comms that TACCOM identified as one of the hatch guards. “We’ve got hostile pushing…” The line went dead.

The LT pulled up STRATNET data and the Private’s icon was showing an ominous black.

“Shit! Bobby is dead. He’s fucking dead!” A second, young and frantic voice screamed over TACCOM.

Suddenly, the sound of gunfire filled the gunboat before being abruptly cut off.

<What the hell?>

“Biez, what the fuck are you doing in here?” The LT heard the CPL’s voice through TACCOM and as it echoed through the ship.

She didn’t hear the PVT’s reply, but there was a lot of cursing coming from the CPL. “Ma’am,” we’ve lost the docking tube, one KIA.”

She knew what KIA meant, but as for the other stuff. “What’s the plan, Corporal?” she projected confidence even though this was marine territory not hers.

“We take it back and kill these fuckers, Ma’am.”

The LT believed he would have done it if it wasn’t for the violent shaking that rocked the ship. Red icons nearly overwhelmed Gilbert’s station as he fought for control of the ship. Stabilizing thrusters fired everywhere as the ship wobbled out into space.

“Geoffrey, what the fuck!” Gilbert cursed at the ship itself.

“Apologies, Spacer Gilbert, but…”

The ship’s explanation was cut short as a second larger shockwave spread through the ship. The LT threw her arm out to grasp the side of the chair and succeeded in not falling flat on her face. She couldn’t see the ship spiraling out of control, but she could tell Gilbert was fighting inertia by the way his fingers danced across his control panel.

“I observed the hostile planting direction mines at our end of the docking tube, Lieutenant Briggs.” Geoffrey explained as they fought to control the ship. “With our ES systems in standby mode there was an eighteen percent chance of a hull breech. That was more than my core programming would allow for.”

The LT found it hard to yell at the AI when it had saved them from a possible death-by-mine, but that still didn’t fix the problem. The range indicator showed Argo was three kilometers away from the station and the distance was growing by the second. Gilbert was regaining control, but that didn’t matter when the captain was still onboard the station. No matter how bad the LT wanted her own command, no XO wanted to get it this way.

“O’Neil. We’ve been forced away from the station. Provide rendezvous location for alternative pickup.”

There was a tense minute where there was no response, and the LT feared the worst. They’d already lost one marine to a surprise attack, and O’Neil said he’d had casualties. The gunboat couldn’t take too many before it became combat ineffective.

Argo… we have a problem.” The SGT’s voice was strained and grave when he finally replied. “The god-forsaken security guard grabbed the captain. He’s gone. I don’t know his location or if he’s still alive. I’ve got the security guard’s body. He’s dead, God rest his soul, but I still can’t get a lock on the captain.

The LT double-checked STRATNET but it showed the captain was offline. His tag was integrated into his smartcloth uniform, so it was likely that whoever had grabbed him had made him change. If he was dead, and in uniform, it would show black.

“He’s still on the station.” Chief Yates spoke up. The LT saw him reviewing all sensor data for the last half an hour. “Nothing has left.”

“Lock it down.” The LT immediately ordered. “Chief, no one leaves that station. Comms,” the LT looked over and saw Olvera at her station, “broadcast to everyone within shouting distance that the space around the station is a no-go zone until further notice. Gilbert, give me a patrol course around the station; minimal distance.

“Aye, Ma’am.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Roget that, Ma’am. Plotting course, distance fifty kilometers.”

While the bridge crew went to work, the LT pulled up the command functions on the command chair. First, she activated the ES shielding. The nanites hardened at a molecular level and gave the gunboat much better protection. Active sensors started to sweep the station every few seconds. Nothing was going to get out of there without them knowing. That coupled with the targeting radar that Chief was pinging all over the place definitely had people on the station shitting their pants.

Whether or not Argo would actually fire on that station was another question. A question that was far above her paygrade.

“Comms, send the following message back to the fleet. Enemy force of unknown size had taken control of Cobalt Station and kidnapped CWS Argo’s commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Gold. Activities and goals of enemy force are unknown. We are trying to establish communications. Assumption is that enemy force is pirates, considering we just engaged and destroyed a pirate vessel. Enemy weaponry is unknown. Get it out now.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” SP3 Olvera finished comprising the report, stowed it into a drone, and shot it out of the Argo. It would take nearly twelve hours to get the message delivered, but within a day they could have enough marines here to storm the station and rescue the captain.

All attempts to communicate with the captors failed. All attempts to communicate with the station at all failed. Their sensors picked up plenty of activity, but it seemed like the mutineers were busy reveling in their conquest. After a few hours they were smart enough to shut down the databanks to cut Geoffrey out of the system. Up until then they gathered as much information as they could about the captors. At least that’s who the LT thought they were. There was still no sign of the captain anywhere.

All Argo could do was circle the station like a hungry shark and wait for reinforcements. It wasn’t what anyone on the gunboat wanted to do, but they really didn’t have any other choice.

 

***

 

Benjamin Gold

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

 Ben’s head rocked back as the big pirate’s fist slammed into his jaw. Whoever the guy was, he was enhanced enough to rattle Ben’s reinforced musculoskeletal structure. That either meant he was military or rich enough to afford the best in the Commonwealth. If Ben was going to judge a book by his cover, he’d guess military.

“What do you want?” Ben asked, and got another fist to the jaw in response.

He felt something in the back of his mouth pop and tasted iron. He gathered his saliva and spit out a glob of fresh, red blood. “I can’t help if I don’t know what you want.”

The man reared his fist back again…

“That’s enough.” The smaller man, the mining ship’s captain spoke and the bigger man listened. “We don’t want to harm the merchandise.”

“I have kidnapping insurance.” Ben informed.

It was common for anyone in his family’s position. The risk of a rival company or small nation grabbing one of the Gold clan because they were pissed about something was fairly high. Ben’s father had many enemies, so it helped to have a couple million ready to go if someone was able to get their hands on one of the Gold children. Of course, no one had anticipated Ben getting grabbed while on active duty serving in one of the most remotely explored systems in the galaxy.

“That’s pennies compared to what we’re getting.” The small man waved off Ben’s statement. “So here is what we are going to do. You are going to sit here, shut the fuck up, do exactly what me or my big friend says, and maybe you’ll make to out of this with all of your fingers and toes attached.” The small man smiled like he really wanted to cut on some toes. “If you fail to do any of these things then…”

The fist came out of nowhere and rocked Ben’s world. His vision dimmed around the edges a bit from the hit, but he focused enough to not pass out.

“Do we have an understanding?”

Ben nodded. He hadn’t been told to speak, and knew it would only get him punched in the face again.

“Good. Now stay.” The pirate sounded like he was commanding a dog before walking out of the room.

The big guy backed up to lean against the far wall, but consistently swiveled his eyes back to Ben. His occasionally distraction gave Ben the opportunity to check out his surroundings. It was hard to hear over all of the machinery running around them. They were somewhere in the bowels of the station. Most likely around where the initially began the refinement process of the asteroid shards.

<And out of sensor range. There is no way they’ll spot me through all of this.> They’d also made him strip out of his uniform, so right now there was no way to find him.

The book called for an assault in force of the station to retake it and kill or arrest the culprits. If Commonwealth marines did that then this was the last place they’d get to. <And I’ll be missing ten digits by then.>

Ben returned his attention to the far wall when the big pirate’s eyes scanned back to him. He needed to figure out a way out of this place soon, or this was going to be very unpleasant.

There were some things that were worse than dying.

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