Two Worlds – Chapter 150

Benjamin Gold

Location: CWS Argo, System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “Status on the asteroid, XO?” Ben asked LT Briggs. He was splitting his attention between the operation on the hunk of rock and the data streaming in from his ship’s sensors.

“Sir, Sergeant O’Neil reports twenty percent of the station is cleared.” The XO replied briskly.

“Twenty percent?” That tore Ben’s attention away from the holo-tank at the center of the bridge. “They’ve been at it for hours.”

“There has been one major counterattack by the enemy, Sir. The defensive positions erected by PFC Cooper were paramount in the battle, but we had three WIA, and it took some time to regroup and transport fresh troops. Now that the entire infantry contingent is onboard the asteroid, Sergeant O’Neil believes it will only take another two hours to clear it without any major setbacks.”

Ben bit the inside of his cheek before retorting. If Cobalt Station had shown him anything it was his lack of aptitude with infantry tactics. He needed to trust SGT O’Neil and Cooper to get the job done.

<It still does not make this any easier.> His mission was to secure the asteroid, but the real issue where the half-dozen signatures fleeing the scene of the crime.

More than twenty vessels had used the dirty thermonuclear explosion as a cover to retreat and avoid Argo. Of those twenty, fourteen had already reached the FTL limit and jumped away under their Alcubierre Drives. Ben had already put out the word with one of his FTL-capable drones that there were pirate vessels in the area, and with any luck one of the other patrolling gunboats or lighter warships would come across the fleeing criminals.

Six still remained in system, and he didn’t know if they were waiting to see how the battle on the asteroid played out, or if they had just been late getting the hell out of there. Argo’s two remaining drones had increased his sensor range – since the half-dozen ships were way farther than one light minute away – and were cataloging everything about the ships and trying to match them to anything in the database.

The signature an engine gave off was unique, but it could be changed with enough modification, and enough cash. After getting no hits on the first pass through Argo’s neural database, Ben had Geoffrey, the Semi-Intelligent Ship’s Interface, broaden the range and run anything within an eighty percent probability.

“Sir, we’ve got something.” The XO looked up from her station and there was something in her eyes. It looked like triumph with a hint of fear.

“Put it on my display.” Ben looked closely as the data populated and pulled out the important bits.

“We missed it during the first pass because of this,” the XO highlighted some of the exotic particles coming off the engine. “Those only occur with these parts,” a list of engine parts started streaming down the side of the holo-tank, and they all had one thing in common.

“Blockie parts,” Ben practically growled out the words. “It is the New Day.

“It’s confirmed at eighty-nine percent accuracy, Sir.” The XO and CO watched as the dot on the holo-tank drifted further and further away by the second.

“Put the nearest drone on them,” Ben commanded as he plopped back down in his command chair. He didn’t realize he’d been gripping the armrest, and it was partially warped under his powerful squeeze. “I want to know everything they are doing until the moment they jump into Alcubierre, and then I want a best guess on where the hell they are going.”

It was very difficult to get a distance and direction of a ship traveling through Alcubierre just by investigating their jump point, but it was worth a shot, and as far as Ben was concerned this fell well within the purview of his mission. New Day – or whatever name she was registered under– had facilitated the death of Commonwealth soldiers and spacers, kidnapped him, and ultimately resulted in the destruction of Cobalt Station and everyone aboard.

<So what is he doing here?>

The smart move would be to get the hell out of dodge and not come back in this decade, and by the look of the Blockie parts in his engines he’d partially done that, but why didn’t he stay away? In Ben’s experience there were two primary reasons people did stupid things. The first was love, and after seeing the pirate captain at work, Ben doubted the man could love anything. His little rebellion on Cobalt Station had ultimately killed hundreds of people. He’d ordered Ben beaten by his second in command, and he’d never blinked at any of the violence. These were not the actions of a man driven by love – except maybe narcissism – but that had a component of self-preservation that didn’t fit here.

The second, and more likely reason, was greed. That fit the pirate’s moral compass. Ben bet that someone had screwed the pirate captain over, stolen from him, or done something else that infringed on what the man believed he deserved. Revenge was a better motivator than love for the men in the ship millions of kilometers from Argo.

<I can kill two birds with one stone.> Ben thought as he studied New Day – now registered as Summer Solstice – and took in everything he could about her.

He was going to find the man who’d beaten his face to a pulp and stabbed a marine right in front of him, and then he was going to find the criminal who’d screwed him over. He was going to pull on that string until the entire criminal conspiracy, whatever it was, came tumbling down. That was the type of thing that would get him a positive performance review, and the type of thing that would help him sleep better at night. In what little way possible, Ben was trying to pay back what the marines had sacrificed to save him.

“Drones repositioning, Sir,” the XO informed. “ETA thirty-eight minutes.”

“Good work.” His eyes were glued to the holo-tank. “Good work everyone.”




Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Slow is smooth and smooth is fast…slow is smooth and smooth is fast…”

“Will you shut the fuck up,” Coop snapped at the PFC muttering behind him as the squad advanced down the hallway in the belly of the asteroid. “That shit doesn’t make any sense.”

As the most heavily armored of the soldiers on the rock, Coop was the logical pick to take point. SGT O’Neil was in the middle of the formation, and the other eight soldiers of the squad were spread throughout the hallway. There was a solid ten meter spacing between their two staggered lines. It was enough room that a grenade or other improvised explosive device going off wouldn’t kill more than one of them. They’d learned that lesson the hard way. They’d had two marines seriously wounded when they were bunched up and tripped a sensor that turned the hallway into a high-velocity shrapnel game of pinball.

The other PFC was mumbling the mantra because the SGT wanted them to take their time clearing the rock. After the local’s counterattack killed off half their people, they’d fallen back to dirty tricks and booby-traps. They were desperate tactics that were only delaying the inevitable, but if the bad guys knew they were going to lose then they were going to make the marines pay the price for the W.

Coop’s HUD cycled through different visuals: thermal, millimeter-wave, and the good old-fashioned eyeball magnified if necessary. It was giving the HI trooper a headache, but the bad guys were innovative in their IEDs.

His first clue that something was off was that something just didn’t look right. It wasn’t anything but a hunch, but he’d learned to trust his hunches. He held up his fist and the whole formation froze. They were in the open, in a hallway, and vulnerable, but it was better to be static for a few seconds than walk into another kill zone. Coop cycled through his HUD’s visual settings slowly to take a better look at what he was seeing. Nothing was coming up, but his gut was telling him something was off. One side of the hallway just seemed different than the other, and since these places were built on uniformity that was a red flag.

“What do you have, Cooper?” SGT O’Neil had walked up to join him and was speaking through his suit’s audio feature.

It was best to keep the burst transmissions to a minimum when dealing with an IED that might be set to explode at any random radio burst. It was a sloppy way to detonate, but a little luck and the sloppiness would work to the bad guy’s advantage.

“My sensors are showing jack, but look over there.” He pointed with his finger. “See that.”

The SGT was silent for a second. “Yeah…Yeah I do.” They both stood there for another few seconds before the SGT made his decision. “Demo on me. We’ve got something twenty-five meters up on the left side of the hallway. Squad, move back and take up defensive positions.”

Demo was a CPL who Coop thought was pretty hot, but was also sure was more interested in blowing things up than blowing guys. Plus, he had Lee, and that was about as much as he could handle right now.

“On it, Sergeant.” The CPL moved forward cautiously while Coop moved back and took a knee. His leg was throbbing from all the activity over the last few hours, and a ricochet off his knee during the counterattack hadn’t done him any favors.

Ten minutes later they got the all clear from the CPL and moved forward. The CPL was busy stowing the block of plastic explosive that had been hidden under camo-nets. The block of gray matter must have weighed half a kilo. That was enough boom boom to fuck up some people.

“Sergeant, where the hell did they get camo-nets?” This was the second time Coop had seen military-grade supplies in the hands of pirates, and it was making him reconsider his life choices.

Camo-nets were the ultimate in cover and concealment technology. They defeated a lot of the standard sensors built into armor, which was why Coop’s LACS hadn’t picked it up. They were even supposed to be invisible to the naked eye, but “supposed” was the key word there. A keen observer – like an HI trooper with enhanced eye-sight – could catch the slight distortion when the camo-net had to stretch or condense the scenery to hide whatever it was covering. The slight drawback of the netting was to get the full effect it needed to be the correct size. You couldn’t cut it without compromising its integrity, and from what Coop had seen the bad guys had a piece too big covering the explosives, which made the hallway look off on that one side.

“I’ve asked the Skipper to look into it, but we aren’t going to figure it out while we’re on this rock, so keep your head in the game, Cooper.” The SGT pointed down the hallway for Coop to take point again and press on.

<Someone needs to figure this shit out.> Coop grumbled to himself as the squad continued with their mission to find and destroy the enemy.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 149

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Sarge, I really don’t…”

“It’s Sergeant not Sarge, Cooper, and I don’t care what you think.” SGT O’Neil snapped over TACCOM from a thousand kilometers away.

Coop knew he’d gotten to the calm and collected NCO because he’d never heard the man snap before. It just showed how tense the situation was.

“I respect that you’re the man in charge on the ground, but your mission is clear and unchanged.” The SGT rolled over any objections Coop might have. “You will secure the LZ and then scout ahead with your two uninjured men. Your injured man will stand guard on the shuttle while the pilot makes the necessary repairs. I will be on the next flight over once he does and will assume command.”

“Why the hurry? We can secure the area and wait for your arrival. There is no reason for me to go skipping off to wherever when we can maintain a firm posture here and wait for your arrival.” Coop still didn’t understand why they would want to send three guys against people who were already confirmed to have heavy ordinance.

“Follow orders, Cooper. O’Neil out.”

<Fuck.> Coop sighed as he turned to look at his small team.

One was a PFC and the other was a PVT. The PFC had actually been in longer than Coop by a few months, but he wasn’t wearing a LACS, so he got a pass on running this shindig. A quick look at his record showed that was probably for the best. The most action this guy had seen were some bare titties at the strip club on New Lancashire.

<Ok, my orders.> Coop brought up the written transcript of the conversation that he’d just had. The key here was to follow the orders but not follow the orders and get his dick blown off for no reason. <…secure the LZ and then scout ahead…> Coop couldn’t stop a grin from forming. Technically, the LZ was secured. Coop had led the team to clear the hangar bay of any enemy troops and booby traps before he radioed the SGT, but that was a technicality.

<I do remember from HI school that ‘secure’ means more than clearing an area. In some cases, in which I truthfully believe I am in one of these scenarios, ‘secure’ means developing a fixed defensive position to cover said LZ. So, I wouldn’t be following the Sergeant’s orders without properly securing this area of the station with at least a final defensive position to fall back to when we eventually do make contact with the enemy.> That was enough rational for Coop, and he double checked the manuals in his armor to verify his hunch about the multiple natures of ‘secure’.

“On me,” he commanded his troops with his new-found authority. “Here is what we’re going to do.”

Coop was able to eat up forty-five minutes of time creating not one, but two positions. There were plenty of supplies left around the bay to work with. The pirates, smugglers, and all around bad guys who’d occupied this place had left in a hurry and left a ton of crap. The first position Coop erected around the grounded shuttle. It was a half-moon of supplies stacked chest height and several meters thick. It wasn’t going to stop a lot, but it was better than nothing. Of course, only two people could work on it at a time. The third person needed to maintain security during the construction, and the same was true of the second position.

Coop put a little more effort into the second one. The first one was more to get something solid in place to cover people getting on and off the shuttle if there was a firefight in the open bay. Since the shuttle only handled Coop or the three normal grunts, they were fucked all the way until Sunday if that happened, so this second position was much more important. The bad guys couldn’t be allowed to break through this point. It was the real final defensive line.

“Clear.” One of the soldiers pivoted around the corner and scanned the area.

“Find cover and hold. You’re our eyes and ears.” Coop ordered as he picked up supplies and hurried to work.

There was a small vestibule – most likely for decontamination purposes – between the bay and the main station. It wasn’t big, so it was a great place to put the defensive position. It was a natural choke point the enemy would have to get through. There were a few more entrances to the bay, but they were single-person doors, and Coop had mined all of them with a big, jerry-rigged 125mm surprise. Then, he’d dialed those locations in as TRPs to bring down the hurt on anyone who tried to stick their dick in uninvited.

He built three layers into the vestibule’s fixed position. The first was a firing position in the hallway with enough cover for his whole team to return fire against the enemy. The hallway only went in one direction, so they angled the material to reduce their exposure.

“If we had a fabricator we could make this thing totally bad ass.” The other PFC stated as they lugged heavy polyplast containers filled with something illicit, but non-explosive, into position.

“I’ll keep my eyes open.” Coop hoisted the crate up on top of another crate to give them more cover. “Let’s start on the secondary position.”

The second of the three layers Coop had in mind was at the far end of the vestibule toward the bay. If they thought they were being overrun from their first position they could fall back – past two more 125mm shells Coop had rigged as impromptu mines –to the second line of defense. This one was shorter and made a half-moon shape in front of the door to the bay. It was shorter so they could be jumped over easily, and the soldiers would have to fire from the kneeling position.

The third and final position was through the door and to the left, which was purposefully in the direction of the shuttle. This position was just more abandoned supplies stacked on top of each other. It wasn’t meant to hold. It was designed to be utilized as a fallback position as the soldiers reverse bounded back toward the shuttle. They would be able to cover their buddies from there while they ran for it.

Coop hoped it didn’t come to that as he looked down at his watch. “That’s lunch boys, take fifteen.” They didn’t have food, but everyone had earned a quick breather except the guy on watch by the first position. He couldn’t take his eye off the ball.

“Cooper, give me a SITREP.” The SGT ordered just as Coop was going to pop a squat.

“The LZ is secure, Sergeant.” Coop replied proudly.


“And…I’m giving the troops a quick breather after all the hard work they’ve been doing.” Coop put a little mock surprise in his tone. “We’ve created several fall-back positions in case we come under fire and need to hold the bay for emergency evac.  I think you’ll agree once you’re on the ground with us that getting caught out in the open in the hangar bay is tactically unwise, so I’ve done my best to mitigate that risk.”

Coop tried not to sound like a smartass, but a hint of it couldn’t stop from lingering into his voice. Technically, he’d done nothing wrong, but SGT O’Neil had been in the game long enough to see what Coop was doing.

“Good work, Cooper. Securing the LZ is vital to our mission, but now that that is complete I expect scouting to begin immediately. The pilot says he should be underway in the next twenty minutes, so I will be there within the half hour. I expect you to have detailed plans of the station for at least one hundred meters outside of the bay by the time I arrive. Are we clear?”

<Oh shit.>

“Chrystal clear, Sergeant.” Coop put a burst of false motivation into the response before the SGT cut the line.

<Well, I saved us an hour of stumbling around and doing a movement to contact on an enemy of unknown strength or disposition. I’ll put that one in the win box.> Coop thought as he rotated his shoulders and neck until his vertebrae popped in relief. He gave his troops five of their allotted fifteen minutes before getting back to work.

Coop and the PVT met the other PFC at the first line of defenses. “I haven’t seen anything.” The PFC shrugged and relaxed a little now that three of them were there.

“Ok, we’re going to push forward slow and steady,” Coop explained. “Any sign of anything we stop and evaluate. If we make contact, return fire and wait for my orders.” He wasn’t even sure what those orders would be yet.

<METT-TC> He remembered from his training. <The situation depends on the mission, enemy, terrain, troops, time and civilian consideration.>

Coop took the first position as they moved forward. He was against one wall looking ahead at his sector of fire. The other PFC was moving with him along the other side of the wall and covering his sector. The PVT moved behind Coop and turned around every couple of steps to check the rear. It wasn’t an issue now with the hallway being a dead end, but it would be an important job once they worked their way farther into the asteroid.

Coop had done a ton of operations like this in training, and even in real life on cobalt Station. The key to it all was trust. He needed to trust the other soldiers to cover their sectors so he didn’t get shot. Even in HI armor he was vulnerable to certain weapons. This kind of operation was done best with guys who trained together for months or years; guys that had time to build that comradery and trust. If Coop was being honest, he didn’t trust these other guys. He was by no means an experienced veteran, and he didn’t want to be leading this team, but he’d seen twice as much shit as these guys put together. He desperately wanted to know how they’d react under fire, and the time to learn that was not coming under fire on this rock in the middle of bum-fuck space.

“Corner.” Coop announced as they came to a ninety-degree bend in the hallway.

The two guys moved to stack against Coop’s wall while he slid his muzzle around the corner. The feed from the rifle didn’t show anything, and his LACS neural network ran the imagery through every spectrum.

“Clear.” He stated when green blinked on his HUD. “Let’s move.” They moved around the corner and assumed the same positions.

“Door.” The other PFC announced halfway down the hallway.

“Stack up.” They moved along the same wall again.

Once they were ready, the PFC in the first position hit the panel to open it. “It’s locked. Utilizing bumper.” The little device came out of one of the soldier’s pouches.

It was a basic model meant to overload the basic security of doors. It wouldn’t work against anything heavily defended, but for a door in the middle of a random hallway it would do fine. The PFC attached it to the panel and hit the device with the palm of his hand. There was a low-pitched whine before the door slid open. The three soldiers moved in quickly each covering a separate part of the room. It didn’t matter, the room was empty.

Three “clears” rang out before they relaxed and headed back to the door.                 

Coop felt a little better after the clearing exercise. It showed him that these other guys seemed to know what they were doing. That little bit of trust helped, and then evaporated when the PVT just walked out of the door and back into the hallway.

Where he wasn’t alone.

At the end of the hallway was a big guy with a shaved, bald head, big, busy beard, and a big ass gun in his hands. It was so big he couldn’t brace it against his shoulder to fire. His biceps, triceps, and forearms strained as he held the circular weapon at his hip where green light gathered and pulsed.

Coop thought the PVT was a retard for just walking back into the unsecured hallway, but he had to give the guy credit. The PVT rounded on the big guy quickly and put three rounds within a few centimeters of each other on the guy’s chest. It was good shooting, and he painted the wall behind the guy with gore, but not before the entire hallway was bathed in green light as a ball of energy fired from the weapon. It was four times the size of a basketball and it hit the PVT square in the chest with a hideous sizzling sound.

TACCOM was filled with the sounds of the soldier’s screams as the blast ate through his armor and into his flesh.

“That’s a Maccabee plasma cannon,” the other PFC reached for the PVT, but Coop pulled him back.

The guy who fired the shot might be dead, but they didn’t know who else was out there, and so far everyone Coop had come up against in this place was packing heavy ordinance.

<Mission, enemy, terrain, troops, time and civilian consideration,> flashed through his mind as he assessed the situation. <Fuck it!> He concluded.

“Fall back to the corner,” he ordered.

They exited the room smarter than the dead PVT with their weapons pointed toward the enemy’s corpse. There was no movement, but Coop wasn’t taking any chances. He kept his finger on the trigger and Buss trained on the corner with one arm, while he grabbed the PVT by his armor’s collar and dragged him back to around the corner.

“Shit!” The other PFC was breathing hard and alternating between looking at the PVT and down the hallway.

“Eyes front and watch for targets!” Coop did his best impression of a drill sergeant while he tried to raise SGT O’Neil on TACCOM.”

“What do you have for me, Cooper?” The NCO sounded hurried.

“We’ve made contact and I’ve got a KIA. PVT Blackbird took a plasma cannon to the chest.” Coop kept his eyes on the other PFC’s feed from his rifle.

“May god have mercy on his soul.” The SGT sounded old and tired.

<God’s going to need plenty of mercy to go around if you don’t get your ass in here!> Coop thought.

“What’s you ETA, Sergeant? I’m down to just two combat-ready soldiers.”

“The shuttle is halfway back to Argo. I’ll be on the ground in twenty minutes tops. Hold your position, Cooper.”

<Really? I was thinking about taking a nap and getting a nice long shit in before you arrive.> Coop rolled his eyes.

“Roger that, I’ll see you soon.” Twenty minutes was a long time to wait.


A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 33

“These are the charges?”

Seth sat next to his lawyer and couldn’t help but fidget. He was in a room he’d been in before. The cells to imprison Supers were just behind him, and until recently he’d been sitting in one of them. He hadn’t been allowed to leave the room when a Detective, the Assistant District Attorney, and his lawyer showed up. He’d been put in hand and leg cuffs, removed from the cell, and then cuffed to a table in the center of the room.

While he sat there uncomfortably in front of the stern-faced Detective and the ADA, his own lawyer looked completely calm and collected. He did this for a living, and even if this was the worst thing he’d seen, he made it took like any other day. He flipped through the document, calmly and carefully studying each page. Seth tried to peek at the thick stack of papers, but as he leaned over the chains tightened with an audible clink.

Everyone looked at him, so he eased back onto his seat.

A good ten minutes passed before his lawyer put down the papers and folded his hands on top of them. “Is this it?”

Seth couldn’t stop the grin from forming. The Detective looked like he was about to blow his lid, and the ADA just stared back at him professionally.

“What do you mean ‘is this it’? We’ve got that punk kid red handed, on the phone, with a terrorist. That’s conspiracy to commit terrorism right there, not to mention aiding and abetting a fugitive; hell, if we pushed hard enough we could probably get a treason charge with the stuff your client has access to.” The Detective spat out ‘your client’ like something putrid and rotting.

“Have you actually read the transcripts that the DVA recorded?” Seth’s lawyer flipped to several pages in the center of the document. “Feel free to peruse the smoking gun you so erroneously think you have.” He shoved the document toward the Detective, who suddenly didn’t look so confident. “My client actually gets her to admit to the murder of Mr. Morningstar, and then delves into the type of conversation a love sick young man has when struggled with the terrible reality of his relationship. At which point the DVA agents assaulted him.”

“Apprehended him during a criminal act through less-than-lethal means,” the ADA corrected. The woman had a shrewd look on her face. “This is not a trivial matter, Counselor” she continued. “This is not the first time the supervillain known as Wraith has contacted your client, and that establishes a pattern. You might be able to select a sympathetic jury, but you are forgetting about the person on the other side of that phone call. Wraith assisted terrorists in destroying a large chunk of this city. Anything to do with her being brought into a courtroom is going to be a piece of cake for me.”

“I’ll ask the case to be transferred to another jurisdiction. My client would not get a fair trial in Orlando.”

“Good luck with that.” The ADA scoffed.

The two lawyers sat glaring at each other for a moment. Seth’s in anger, and the ADA like a shark that smelled blood in the water.

“I need a moment to converse with my client.”

The ADA nodded and led the law enforcement contingent out of the room.

“Ok, so what’s the plan?” Seth turned to the well-paid man who’d been getting him out of trouble for years.

“The plan is to make a deal,” the lawyer stated. “Let me tell you why.” He forestalled the argumentative expression of Seth’s face. “The ADA and I have laid our cards on the table. First, they don’t have a lot on you. You instigated the phone call, so that’s a problem, and she’s right that you have a pattern of establishing contact with her. I can see them moving forward with aiding and abetting and conspiracy charges. All the other stuff, especially the treason threat, is them blowing smoke to scare you.”

“So, what does that mean?” Seth’s foot was tapping repeatedly on the floor which made the chains jingle.

“Like she said, if you get tried in Orlando I find it very unlikely you will get off scott free. At a minimum you’ll get charged as an accomplice, and if anything happens involving Wraith between now and the date of your trial they might try to hang that around your neck too.”

“We never talked about anything like that for fuck’s sake. I told her to stop killing people.” Seth fumed.

“I know, Seth.” The lawyer looked genuinely compassionate. “I’ll do what I can for you, but your best bet is to make a deal.”

<I don’t want to make a deal when I didn’t do anything wrong.> That’s what Seth was thinking, but deep down he knew he didn’t want to do anything to hurt Lilly. Despite everything she’d done, to him and others, turning on her felt like a betrayal.

“What type of deal would this be?” Seth considered it.

<There’s no harm in hearing them out.>

The lawyer got up and went to go get the ADA, they had a few words at the door, and when they got back to the table the ADA’s entire expression had changed. She didn’t look like a woman who had him by the balls. She looked more like a caring mother whose kid had just gotten in trouble for fighting at school.

“Mr. Abney,” her entire tone was different. “Thank you for hearing us out. I am authorized by the district attorney to enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement with you to capture the supervillain known as Wraith. Would you be interested in helping Orlando, Florida, and the United States of America in capturing a known terrorist?” The way she phrased the question backed Seth into a corner.

<Clever.> He hesitated before responding. <If I say no then they can put the Detective on the stand at my trial and he can tell everyone that I said no to help capture a known terrorist. If that doesn’t make me look guilty then nothing will.>

“What do you have in mind?” Seth evaded the question.

Seth’s lawyer stepped back in when the ADA handed over another stack of papers. He read them and explained them to Seth.

“They want to conduct a sting operation. They want you to wear a wire and get Wraith to appear at a specific time and place. This way they’ll be able to get multiple teleporters on sight to lock down the area, thereby eliminating her ability to escape. They will also have the Protectorate, DVA, and local police on scene to take her in peacefully.”

“If possible,” the ADA added quickly. “Our behavioral profile of Wraith suggests that she will not be taken lightly, but we always prefer the method that involves no loss of life or destruction of property.”

Seth took it all in and thought about it. The lawyers went back and forth about the details while he just sat there in thought. For both of them, it was already a foregone conclusion that he was going to agree.

<Who wouldn’t?> he thought. <Who wouldn’t save their own ass in a situation like this?>

It was about this time that Seth finally realized his quest to become a Hero was over. Even if he helped out the ADA to catch Lilly, he doubted any HCP would want someone with his record. It just wasn’t in the cards for him anymore, and if he was being honest with himself, he was happy. A weight lifted off his shoulders in that moment of realization. He was still a Super, he had some top-tier training, and a fantastic ability. He could do a lot of things in this world, but being a Hero wasn’t going to be one of them. It just wasn’t going to happen.

There was a lingering sense of failure in all of it, but he knew that would pass with time. They’d wipe his memories, he’d forget all of the people here, and he’d be able to move on. <Maybe they’ll be able to erase Lilly too.>

The thought popped into his head, and he immediately, violently rejected it. The viciousness of his own thoughts surprised him. He wanted to punch anyone who tried to do that to him right in their fat, stupid faces.

<Mason, Kyoshi, Becca, Angela, Anika,> he didn’t mind too much about the last two, but the first three had been good to him. <Izzy.> It surprised him when a weight slammed down on his chest.

He’d only known the freshman a few months, and he’d been a world-class jackass to her, but she’d had his back even when most of his friends had abandoned him.

“Seth.” His lawyer’s call brought him out of his thoughts.

He’d have to figure out things with all of his old friends later.

“I think we’ve come to an agreement.” He turned to the ADA. “Let me go over it with my client. If he has any questions I’ll ask you, and if we’re in agreement then I’ll call you back in to witness the signature.”

That was good enough for the ADA. For the second time, she led the law enforcement group out of the room.

“This is a good deal, Seth.” His lawyer immediately went into convincing mode. “All you have to do is get her to a certain place at a certain time, wear a wire to collect any additional information she’ll divulge, and that’s it. They’ll bump all of your charges down to misdemeanors. You’ll have some substantial fines, but it’s nothing your family can’t handle, and then some community service.” The lawyer pushed the document toward him. “In my professional, and considerable, opinion I’d sign this thing as soon as possible. Then I’ll get you out of here.”

“I…” Seth was interrupted by a loud popping noise. “What was…” there was another one.

It sounded like someone was shooting of fireworks in the distance. <Is that part of the funeral?>

The Detective answered the question by rushing into the room with his gun drawn.

<Apparently not.>

“Step away from him.” He leveled his gun at Seth, and motioned for the lawyer to step away.

“What’s going on?” Fear crossed the lawyer’s face.

“There’s been an attack. He waved his hand to get the lawyer to step away from Seth. “You,” he directed Seth with the barrel of his gun. “Back in the cell now!”

“Jesus, ok.” Seth held up his hands. “Small problem, Genius.” He tried to stand and the restraints locked to the table barely allowed his ass to leave the chair.

“Shit!” The Detective cursed and called for backup.

That’s when they all heard the first person scream.


Morina didn’t creep. Creeping up the stairs like a common cat burglar only made a person look like they didn’t belong. Since there were cameras in the stairwell, and she didn’t want anyone to know she was coming, she needed to blend for as long as possible.

She’d made sure to clip the badge to the front of her pants when she took it off the detective she murdered and exsanguinated. She walked with one hand in her pocket, which pulled back the front of the ill-fitted blazer, so the golden glow of the badge was clearly visible to anyone looking.

She didn’t pass anyone until she was one floor below her target. An officer in dress uniform with a black ribbon across his badge was making his way down the stairs. Morina moved off to the side, but kept looking straight ahead. Her natural inclination was to look down and away to hide her face, but that would look suspicious. Instead, she looked confident, like she belonged, had a badge on her belt, and a gun on her hip so the policeman passed by her with nothing more than a nod. She returned it and kept on going barely able to contain her grin.

The door to the top floor didn’t look like the other ones she’d seen on her walk up. It looked thicker and more intimidating, but it didn’t matter. The keycard scanner was the same.

Morina swiped the card, the light turned green, and she stepped into the Protectorate HQ. She was less than impressed. She always imagined the nexus of Hero and DVA activity in the city to have more activity. Underneath the underwhelming emotion she knew this was a good thing. Less people meant fewer bodies she had to go through before she reached her target. Morina wasn’t some kick-ass secret agent like Wraith. She didn’t do large-scale battles.

A few DVA personnel turned their heads when she entered. She gave them a nod, they returned it, and went back to their work.

<Too easy.> What wasn’t as easy was remembering the layout she’d tried to commit to memory.

She could remember the slight variances in the blood of her victims spanning multiple years, but a building schematic was a challenge. If it wasn’t something she was obsessed with, she lacked the motivation to commit it to memory. She’d only tried because this was a favor to Wraith, and Wraith had saved her from that horrible prison.

<She rescued me and now I’m rescuing him.> They’d be even after this, and Morina would only stay on because she wanted to. If at all.

She thought she remembered where to go, and made a beeline for it. Halfway there, a group of people emerged; an older, balding man with a golden badge around his neck and a woman in a business suit. She could smell their scent and had to look away. The balding man’s blood was thick and pressurized. It wouldn’t be as tasty. The woman’s was cleaner, but still had that tight sensation to it. Both these people were stressed out and overworked.

<I can help with that.> She stopped at a desk and pretended to look for something while keeping an eye on the people.

“Can I help you?” One of the men was approaching her with a confused look on his face.

“No thanks,” she replied as she fiddled with files and picked up one. “I found it.”

“Can I see your ID please?” The man’s body was starting to tense, and she could feel his heart starting to pump faster in preparation.

She needed to do something to alleviate his suspicions and put him at ease. So, she turned and gave him a big smile. “Sure thing.”

She reached for her pocket, he tensed, but then she pulled out the swipe card she’d used to get in. “I’m just grabbing a file for a case I’m working on.” She held up the brown folder and smiled again.

It worked. The man relaxed and reached for the ID card. “Sorry about this, but it’s protocol.” He had to flip it over since she’d handed it to him upside down.

“No problem,” she kept the smile up until he looked down at the card.

That’s when she moved. The man’s eyes were still widening in surprise when she drove the pocketknife she’d sliced the dead detective’s wrists with into his gut. The blade wasn’t long, so it didn’t do a lot of damage, but what it did do was open the door for her power.

The man tried to scream in pain and warning, but his whole body seized up.

“You don’t look so good,” she brought over a chair and forced his body into it. “You should relax a little. All work and no play makes you suits dull boys.” She twisted the knife in his gut and pulled at his blood.

She savored it as she added it to her reserve just beneath her disguise. She didn’t pull it all, just enough so he passed out. There were so few people working that no one even noticed.

She was still good to go, but now she needed to move. An unconscious DVA agent wouldn’t go unnoticed for long, and she still needed to get the hell out of here. She took the folder with her and headed toward the door.

That’s when the first boom echoed throughout Orlando. Heads snapped up and eyes were drawn in the direction of the explosion, which just happened to be the opposite of where she was headed. The woman and Detective were waiting outside again, and the Detective rushed into the room leaving the woman alone and vulnerable.

Her eyes were drawn to the distance booms like the rest of the cops, but they slid onto Morina as she approached. “Officer, what…?”

She didn’t see the glint of steel flying forward because it was already covered in blood.

The knife cut into her one…two…three times and Morina felt her spirit sore with each stab. She was so overcome with the ecstasy of the kill that she forgot to cover the woman’s mouth. She screamed bloody murder, ironically before Morina forced her own blood into the woman’s throat to shut her up.

<Shit!> She continued past the choking woman and into the room.

“Hey! Help me get him in the cell.” The Detective had his gun trained on her target: Seth Abney.

Morina immediately saw what Wraith did in the man. He was tall and strong. His jawline was impressive, and his blood was rich, healthy, and had that special tang to it that Supers and Powereds always did.  If he wasn’t Wraith’s special friend, she’d slit his wrists and bathe in his blood all day long.

“Roger!” Morina said the first thing that came to her mind, but the Detective believed it enough to turn his back on her.

She took the opportunity to drive the knife into his skull. His knees grew weak as the sharp steel punctured the bone and drove into the meatiness beneath. That gave her direct path to his brain. Blood slipped from her forearms into the open wound. The Detective was frozen with shock as she used the stolen blood to put pressure on his brain. The man seized violently and collapsed on the table top.

Seth Abney looked up at her in horror while the man in a suit sitting next to him jumped up and put as much distance between him and her as possible.

“Wraith says hello.” Morina smiled and began digging around in the comatose Detective’s pockets for the keys.

“Wraith?” Seth and the man huddling in the back corner said at the same time.

“Don’t go with her, Seth.” The man in the suit said as Morina found the keys. “If you leave here there is nothing I can do for you. If you stay, I can get you out of this.”

Indecision crossed Seth face, so Morina reached over the table and slapped him hard.

“I’ll tell you how this is going to go, pretty boy. I promised Wraith I’d free you, because what they have waiting for you is literal hell. You’re never going to get free of this. You’re on their list. They’re going to use you up, then fuck you over, then watch you get fucked by the system day after day after day, and then they’re going to point to you and tell the world how they caught the bad guy. Then they’re going to go behind their closed doors and laugh at your stupidity. They’re going to screw you, and you know it, all because you loved someone.” She nearly gagged when she said ‘loved’, but she knew that was what he needed to hear.

Morina didn’t admit that her small rant had more to do with herself than him. They’d fucked her and sent her off to rot all because they didn’t understand the pull of blood. The substance rippled underneath her clothing and she restrained from gasping with delight. She ended up putting a hand down on the table to steady herself, and it landed right on a stack of papers.

Seth reached for it, but his chains didn’t allow him to stretch that far.

“What’s this?”

“That’s what is going to get him out of this situation.” The suit in the corner, obviously a lawyer, stated. “I’m making sure he is being taken care of. He doesn’t need Wraith.”

“You were going to make a deal?” Morina’s tone dropped dangerously low as she picked up the stack of papers. “What were you going to agree to, Seth?”

“Nothing, I agreed to nothing,” Seth replied. “My lawyer was working on a deal, but I never saw it. They chained me up and put me in here like an animal. Please, let me out.” He raised his hands which clanged against the restraints when he couldn’t bring them above chest height.

“Seth, no.” The lawyer made his final plea.

It was his final one because red mist shot from Morina’s outstretched hand. It splattered all over his face and started to crawl into his nose and mouth. Now, all the lawyer could do was scream and claw at his face as the blood gradually asphyxiated him.

“Please,” Seth pleaded again, but he was unable to hide his revulsion from her.

Morina looked at the paper and then at Seth. <What would Wraith want?> It didn’t take her long to figure out. <Wraith would want to deal with this herself.>

Morina shoved the papers into her blazer pocket and found the correct key. She undid his feet first and then his hands. Seth shrugged out of the chains and rubbed his wrists. “My name is Morina, but you can call me the Blood Bitch.”

“Ok,” he didn’t look at the dead, twitching lawyer or the Detective with the knife sticking out of his head. “What’s the plan to get out of here, Blood Bitch?”

“You’re a manipulator aren’t you?” Morina asked.

“Yeah.” Seth raised an eyebrow.

“Then manipulate shit.” She deadpanned and headed for the door.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 148

Noah Grisham

Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

The place was in pandemonium. It was like a fox was in the chicken coup and biting off chicken heads left and right. Noah hadn’t ever seen a real fox, but they must have been ruthless creatures if whoever coined the phrase was telling the truth.

Alarms had started blaring once the Collie ship slingshotted around the planet. For a second they thought they’d dodged a bullet, only to find the bullet headed right at them faster than they expected. Everyone with a ship had abandoned the place when the distraction went off. Noah had been as surprised as anyone that they had old-school nukes, but the plan was great. Faruk knew his shit. It wouldn’t buy them a lot of time, but all the Collies would be able to get were some emission signatures, and if they were close enough some visuals.

“Shit!” By the time Noah and Able made it to the hanger they couldn’t locate anyone named Alvarez, and everyone was too busy getting the hell out of there.

When they got back to the arms dealer the shop was closed up and he was nowhere to be found.

“At least we have a name.” Able commented with a shrug as he walked toward Dawn. The guard Faruk had posted was long gone, but no one had done anything in the chaos.

“Can we make it?” Noah asked when they were both on the small bridge of the mining ship.

“If we leave now, yes.” Able was already powering up the engines. “They’ll get a good look at Dawn though.”

“We can always make adjustments.” But that wasn’t what Noah was worried about.

So far, this was his only lead on the people who’d fucked him over. All he had was the name ‘Alvarez’, definetly a fake name, and suspicions. That only went so far. He needed something more concrete that he could use to take action on. He needed people to pay for what they’d done, and there was a chance that if he ran he’d never get the vengeance he was looking for.

<What can you do if you’re dead?> That ultimately made up his mind.

“Get us out of here.”

The Dawn fled System 1861 like everyone else.




Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Argo, System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Lock and load boys and girls, the Devil is playing his fiddle and we’re invited to the party.” SGT O’Neil walked down the center of the group of soldiers.

The soldiers were loading weapons, running last-minute diagnostics on armor, or just shooting the shit with each other over private TACCOM channels. For a few of the green privates, this was their first rodeo, but not for Coop.

“What the hell is he talking about?” Coop was more of the shoot the shit type of person before an operation. There were only so many times you could run a diagnostic and get a green thumbs up.

“Sarge is from the Papal Planets. He’s got a scripture quote or something about the idle hands being the devil’s playground for just about everything. It’s annoying as fuck.” One of the ship’s assigned marines responded.

“Yeah, what the fuck is a fiddle anyway?” Coop scoffed.

“A fiddle is a bowed string musical instrument sometimes called a violin; although, they’re usually more primitively constructed or smaller than proper violins.” SGT O’Neil walked up to the two soldiers and stood between them. “There are countless stories of the Devil using music to seduce his victims.”

“Roger that, Sergeant. You’ve got nothing to worry about here. I’m not into dudes.” Coop replied with a straight face.

“Who said the Devil is a man, Cooper?” The Sergeant left Coop scratching his head as he moved on to check on the other soldiers in the assault team.

Argo was decelerating for an intercept with the asteroid, but the rock taking pot shots at her with energy beams was making the process longer than expected. Coop wasn’t worried though. He’d overheard the CPO on the bridge telling Ben that the beams looked like they were being aimed by a five-year-old, and even if they miraculously hit Argo they wouldn’t do much more than scratch her paint. They were meant to dissuade someone without military-grade ES armor.

“Ten minutes, marines.” The SGT announced, so apparently things were moving along quickly now.

The issue they’d run into while planning the operation was the insertion portion. There were three possibilities the skipper and marine NCO came up with. The first was to fly Argo into their hanger and use the railguns as point defense against anything and anyone the pirates threw against them. That plan had been quickly shot down when it had been pointed out that they’d fired two nukes at them and there could easily be another one set up as a self-destruct mechanism to get rid of any evidence on the asteroid. That was not something Coop liked to hear as one of the people who would likely be inside the asteroid when it happened.

Option number two was a short space walk on the crust, followed by blowing the doors, and then insertion. This was a better idea than putting Argo in danger, but it would still leave the marines vulnerable to attack or any countermeasures on the surface of the asteroid. A cursory scan had already shown a few poorly-hidden mines.

Option number three – the option eventually approved by the skipper and SGT O’Neil – was to use the gunboat’s small shuttle. It put the fewest number of soldiers at risk and would allow the marines to get a foothold on the asteroid by ferrying soldiers back and forth. It sounded good on paper, but it sucked ass for Coop. The shuttle was only big enough for the pilot and maybe three tightly-packed marines, but the SGT wasn’t going to send three lightly-armed soldiers into an unpredictable situation. They were going to send Coop.

“That’s why you get paid the big bucks.” A marine patted Coop’s hulking armored frame when he got the good news.

“I don’t get paid any more than you do. This is bullshit,” Coop shot back, but kept the last bit to himself.

Now, he was stuffing himself into the back of the shuttle. The thing was used to transport VIPs back and forth, and had not been designed for a fully-armed HI trooper. “I ain’t fixing this shit.” Coop announced as he scraped up the walls, cracked some display, and tore up the lining of the seats.

The pilot didn’t say anything. His hands were shaking. The shuttle had minimal point defense lasers and no offensive weaponry. It was not designed to do what they were about to do, and the only thing protecting the pilot was his CMU’s on combat mode and a helmet. If they got hit he was fucked, but Coop might survive.

“Uh…we’re ready.” The pilot gulped.

“Hey, calm down.” Coop told the man forcefully. There was no way he was going to die because the guy was so nervous he forgot how to fly. “You just get me there and I’ll do the rest.”

The reply was the shuttle dropping out of Argo and jerking as it left the ship’s internal gravity field. That didn’t help the shuttle’s interior. Coop was surprised he didn’t poke a hole through the thin hull.

The asteroid loomed large in front of them. There was some debris floating around it where Argo’s armaments had taken out the energy cannons and anything else that presented a threat to the shuttle. The gunboat was still standing guard as the shuttle shot toward the ball of rock, but there wasn’t much it would really be able to do if they missed a laser. The CPO might be good, but he wasn’t faster than light.

The pilot took evasive action on the approach, and by the time they reached the metal doors of the asteroid’s main hanger bay Coop was a little woozy. The shuttle didn’t have the internal gravity field that the gunboat did. It didn’t have much at all.

“They left the front door open,” the pilot gulped as the tiny shuttle slipped through the massive doors. Argo would have been able to easily get through those doors.

Millimeter wave radar painted the hanger and updated Coop’s STRATNET. It was exactly what they studied before the operation. A central runway ran half a kilometer down the center of the hanger. On either side of it were little cubby holes where you could either park a small ship or stack supplies. All Coop saw was a lot of dead space where a fire team could be sitting waiting to fire a shoulder-launched missile down the shuttle’s throat.

“Drop me off here.” Coop instructed the pilot once they’d passed the giant door.

“I’m supposed to take you to the end.” The pilot’s hands had relaxed, and Coop took that as a bad sign. Things weren’t better now, they were even more dangerous.

“Get me on the fucking ground now!” Coop’s tone did the trick and the pilot put the shuttle in a shallow dive while twisting it around one hundred and eighty degrees.

“Pressurizing.” The pilot’s compartment sealed itself off from Coop’s spot in the rear while all of the air exited. His LACS was environmentally secured, so he didn’t notice the change aside from some changes in the sensor readings. “Good luck.” The skids hit the ground and the rear hatch popped open.

If Coop – or any other soldier – had their way they would have moved with a purpose to the next available cover or concealment. Instead, he had to squeeze his big metal ass out of a small hole. A sniper could have fucked him up good in the critical seconds it took to unass from the shuttle, but thankfully no one punched his ticket.

“I’m in.” His breathing was heavy and his leg was a little sore as he moved from cover to cover clearing those big open sections.

<I could have used some drones.> He’d asked for some of the pencil-sized copters that would expand his awareness while sitting there alone, but was denied. They only had a dozen aboard, and they were saving them until more boots were on the ground.

He’d cleared a quarter of the area before the shuttle reappeared with the rest of the fire team he was leading.

“Where the fuck are you going?” Coop radioed the pilot when the small craft overshot his position. “Get the fuck back here and…”

The LACS HUD went from clear to red as his armor detected the missile launch. It all happened so fast that Coop’s neural network was the only thing fast enough to respond. Thankfully, Coop was paranoid as fuck after seeing the blueprints of the hanger and knowing he was going in alone.

The pilot was just starting to bank when the missile fired from the far side of the space. Coop took a small amount of satisfaction knowing that he’d made the right call in getting dropped off at the end of the runway, because they’d have eaten that missile and there wasn’t anything he could have done about it.

He was able to do something about this one.

The railgun swiveled and put up a wall of lead between the shuttle and missile. The missile exploded about twenty-five meters from the shuttle, which saved it from destruction but still fucked it up a bit. The small craft spun wildly in the air before the pilot got it under control. It was a good thing it spun away from Coop’s position or else he wouldn’t have been able to get a lock on to the rocket-team’s location.

His armor vibrated as an anti-personnel shell rotated into his 125mm tube and the computer calculated the trajectory. Coop took a knee, but kept his Buss and railgun trained in the direction they’d taken fire from. He felt the tremor through his armor, and spike of pain in his leg, as the cannon fired. There wasn’t a lot of height to the hanger bay, so the shell came in on a shallow arc and detonated about head-level. Ceramic bits spewed out in a torrent of death that would turn any human into finely puréed meat, but the missile’s onboard camera took a picture of the scene before detonating. Whoever had fired the missile had hauled ass after trying to sucker punch the marines, so he destroyed a whole lot of nothing.

“We’re clear. They shot and booked it out of here.” Coop hustled over to where the pilot had put down the shuttle.

One of the onboard marine’s status icons was yellow. He’d been smashed around the interior after the explosion and broken a few things. The rest of the team was green though, and they spread out quickly to form a loose perimeter.

<What is it with me and hanger bays?> Coop wondered as he took stock of the situation.

It didn’t take long to figure out the shuttle was down for a minute. A few pieces of shrapnel needed to be pulled from the hull and patched before it could fly again in space. That left him with three total fighters including him. The injured marine could be useful in a pinch, but by the dark stain on the crotch of the pilot’s CMUs, Coop guessed the Fleet guy wasn’t going to be of much use in a firefight.

“We need to clear the rest of this hanger, look for booby traps, and secure the entrances and exits.” Coop gave the order because either Argo was going to pull in, or the shuttle had nine more runs to make, and one good hit was all it would take to turn it into a flaming ball of wreckage.

“You two on me.” Coop took point. “Let’s get it done.”

<The quicker we get it done the quicker the Sergeant can get here and take over.> Coop wasn’t a fan of this taking charge crap.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 147

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Argo, System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Anything yet, XO?” Ben was sitting in his command chair anxiously tapping his fingers against the armrest.

Everyone else on the bridge was busy at work analyzing the data sent in by the drones, or running Argo. Currently, the gunboat was decelerating toward the planet it was going to orbit around while the drones scanned the locations.

Coop watched all through the helmet sensors in his LACS. He was standing guard with another PVT. It was standard operating procedure to have a marine guard stationed at the hatch to the bridge when in enemy territory or even unknown space. Some skippers had the marines on guard twenty-four-seven no matter where they were. Thankfully, Ben didn’t have that big of a stick up his ass, but he’d still requested Coop to be on guard detail once the ship starting heading into the system after transition.

<Speaking of asses.> Coop adjusted his view and magnified. The XO was currently bending over something and… <Jackpot.>

The way the other PVT chuckled showed that he was enjoying the same sight. There really wasn’t much else to do on a small gunboat out in the middle of nowhere. VR porn only got you so far.

“Contact.” The XO’s curt alert dramatically changed the atmosphere on the bridge. A ripple of tension rolled outward from her.

Coop couldn’t blame them. They’d fought pirates once before and won the traditional battle, but they’d lost the war. They lost their captain, several marines, and then got benched for months because of it. It was in every spacers’ best interest to do well on this mission or their negative evaluation reports would follow them through the rest of their careers.

“What do you have?” Ben looked cool and collected – like a leader was supposed to – but Coop saw the change. The most telltale sign was that he’d stopped drumming his fingers annoyingly against the seat.

“I’ve got faint radiation readings coming from location alpha.” She made a swiping motion and the information traveled to the skipper’s display. “They’re still falling, but you can see there is an undertone of EM and even some basic radio waves.”

Coop zoomed in on the data from his post. He didn’t understand most of it, but there was a chart with numbers and shit on it. All the HI trooper needed to know was that there was a line with a zero. If there was no one home then the various signals Argo’s scanners were set to detect would come back with jack squat. Instead, the lines were elevated and fluctuating. Like the XO said, they were going down, but Coop knew what that meant.

The same thing happened back in the PHA. The Rats didn’t need any fancy equipment to pass the word that the cops were coming to do a welfare and contraband check. Lockouts passed the word when they saw the po-po blocks away and everyone sprang into action. Even the geriatric old bastards did their part. The black market goods sold in plain view in the lobby were packed away into secret compartments throughout the tower. That’s what Coop was seeing here. He was seeing the local black market trying to shut itself down real quick when they knew the cops were coming.

<Huh.> Coop had trouble thinking of himself as a sort-of-cop, but as long as he didn’t get the short end of the stick he really didn’t give a shit. He might even be able to use this to his advantage.

The various gangs and even tower complexes sometimes had a few cops on the payroll. As Rats they didn’t have much, but they could scrounge up a few bucks, some recreational narcotics, or even a fine woman for the cops to look the other way on something that would otherwise get a Rat busted. That was the life Hailey had been looking at before Coop took her as his own.

<Fuck…Hailey. I wonder how she’s doing.> It had been the first time Coop thought about his old fuckbuddy in a long time. It felt like another life, because it was another life.

Anything that happened before Basic belonged to weak-ass Coop’s life. Now, he was HI trooper Coop, the biggest baddest motherfucker in this system.

He shook his head and cleared it of the vision of the amber-eyed girl from his past and focused on the present. Being the cop in this situation might be a good thing after all.

“They’re trying to power down, but they’ll fire back up the moment they know we’re onto them.” The XO was still clicking away at her terminal. “I suggest we set this course.” A dotted line appeared in the holo-tank in front of the Skipper.

“Good thinking.” Ben mused for a second, but made a few tweaks. “We’ll use the planet to block our signature while we power up for a slingshot maneuver. We’ll use the planet’s gravity to cover the ground between it and the asteroid in half the time.”

Half the time still constituted seventy-three minutes, but that was the nature of space. It was really fucking big.

“When we’re within a light minute I want an active scan of that rock. Let’s give the marines something to work with.”

<Thank you.> No soldier liked to go into an op blind like this, and some planning was better than no planning at all.

What they did know off the bat was what was in the files when the Commonwealth was hollowing out the big rock to begin with. The design was pretty simple. There was a bay in the front that acted as a buffer to space and a place to dock supply ships when they came in the grab the stored supplies. Behind that was a central cavern with the bulk of the supplies. Smaller nooks and crannies would be drilled for more sensitive items like weapons and ammo, and secured according to regulations. A vault door really wouldn’t do much to stop a determined thief, but it would at least slow them down.

This particular asteroid was a hair over two kilometers long and three quarters of a kilometer wide. It fell somewhere in between a weirdly shaped battleship or assault carrier. Having been on the latter, Coop knew that meant there was a lot of empty space in there for people to be hiding shit that went boom.

<All the more reason to have good intel when we head in.>

The minutes droned on and on as Argo executed the slingshot around the planet. Coop felt the floor rumbled a little when the little gunboat hit the appropriate coordinates and the engines went to a hundred percent thrust. The compensators handled it perfectly and they didn’t get liquefied as they used the planet’s gravity to increase their speed and fling them toward their ultimate target.

About five minutes after exiting the planet’s dark side on their new course they saw the pirates respond.

“They’re coming back online.” The XO informed as the sensors started to pick up a lot more activity. “Targeting radar is painting us!”

The crew had been at battlestations since they initiated the slingshot, but Ben still hit the button and red lights started to flash along with a claxon’s wail.

“Defensive measures only, guns.” Ben ordered.

“Aye, Sir. Playing defense only.” The older CPO at the weapons consul acknowledged.

“Missile launch! I’m reading two bogeys coming at us at zero-one-zero and three-five-zero. They’re…”

Coop felt his sphincter tighten when the CPO didn’t say anything for a moment.

“They’re…barely holding together.” The senior NCO tried hard not to laugh. “I could knock these out of space with a wet fart.”

“See to it, Chief.” Ben was smiling as Argo continued on its course.

That smile disappeared when both missiles prematurely detonated twenty-thousand kilometers away.

“Radiological alarm!” A new blaring rang through the ship. “ES armor engaged.”

“Idiots.” Ben shook his head as Argo continued on its heading. “Who the hell uses thermonuclear warheads anymore?”

Coop had a guess. No one used thermonuclear anymore because they were dirty, and a nuclear blast didn’t pack as much punch in space as it did on a planet. No one used them on planets anymore because of the dirty part. They had antimatter bombs now. They were just as powerful if not more, and there was very little of the follow-on cleanup.

<But that’s what those assholes are counting on. They want to make a mess.> Coop watched through his sensors as Argo monitored to two new suns that were burning brightly in space before them.

The shockwave of the two blasts ratted Argo for a second, but they powered through it. There hadn’t been any chance that was going to hurt the gunboat. The Commonwealth built them sturdy.

As expected, sensor readings coming from the asteroid were shit until all the radiological material from the blast dispersed into space, and then Coop’s assumption became reality.

“Jailbreak!” The XO frowned at her terminal as the information updated on the holo-tank.

The holo-tank cleared and Argo started picking up a dozen ships hauling ass away from the asteroid. Coop couldn’t help but be impressed. The tactics might be on a bigger scale, but he’d seen this done before. When Rats in the PHA didn’t get word early enough of a raid, or they couldn’t bride the cops, they initiated a distraction. Usually it was something small like a fire, but full on riots had started as a result of a housing block not wanting to get their shit searched.

<Half a galaxy away and nothing changes.> Coop couldn’t help but respect the people on that rock he was going to kill, but more importantly, he couldn’t help but give himself a pat on the back. He’d seen this coming when the professional spacers hadn’t.

“Damn.” Ben had a sour look on his face, but everyone knew there was nothing they could do.

Dozens of ships were bugging out in different directions. There was no way Argo could catch more than one or two of them with her superior engines. Ben had to make a choice, and Coop thought it was a pretty easy one.

“Re-direct the drones and get as much data as you can on those ships. I want emission signatures, engine IDs, and profiles. If you can give me a visual of the ship I want a Polaroid picture of the hull number stamped into the stern. I want the Fleet to be able to track these guys down in the next few weeks.”

“Yes, Sir!” The crew could tell their captain was irritated.

Seventy minutes became an hour and then forty-five minutes. As the time wore down and the remnants of the distraction faded from their sensors Argo got a much better read on the station.

“I’m reading multiple generator sources with conduits to the surface. It could be environmental or weaponry.”

“Institute minimum evasive actions. What is our new ETA?” Ben made a decision.

“Sixty-one minutes.” The XO pushed several buttons, but Coop didn’t feel any change in the ship.

“How long until we’re close enough to do a scan for lifeforms?”

“Forty minutes, Sir.”

Ben rubbed his chin as he evaluated the data. “Sergeant O’Neil, I need a deployment plan for your people.” He called out to one of the few marines on the bridge. “Cooper, get in here.”

“Moving, Sir.” Coop held back his smile. He was starting to like being in the loop while all the other grunts sat around twiddling their thumbs and waiting for orders.

The holo-tank split in two and a 3-D picture of the asteroid popped into existence complete with all the data they had on it. Coop thought it looked like a giant bean. Stuff was highlighted on the surface, but his focus was on the front door.

“These things are designed to only have one way in and one way out.” The ship’s marine detachment SGT poured over the information. “The only way in is through the front.”

“We could make another way.” Coop’s mouth got the best of him.

Both the SGT and Ben turned to look at him.

“What I mean is…”

“No, I get your meaning, Cooper.” The SGT gave him an ‘it’s ok’ look. “We could make a hole in the asteroid for a second entry point, but that involves a lot of risk to Argo and the asteroid. We aren’t a battleship that can take a lot of hits. We’re designed to be fast and avoid getting hit, so sitting and firing at a target to make a hole isn’t what we were built for. Plus, if we go too far we could crack the asteroid in half and kill everyone, or not go far enough, and our team would be trapped and useless on the surface. Do you want to do a two-klick hike on the surface of an asteroid during a battle?”

“No, Sergeant,” Coop replied just as they felt the ship shudder.

“Enemy has engaged.” The CPO informed. “They’ve got three energy cannons that were camouflaged on the surface in the two-hundred-terawatt range, but their fire control sucks. I’ll take them out when we get closer and have a better firing solution.”

The CPO spoke casually as Argo flew into a storm of energy blasts that would erase Coop from existence like he’d never even been there in the first place. <I hate this spacer shit.> He wanted to be able to see bullets coming his way and make his own decisions on how he lived or died.

“The hanger bay it is.” Ben nodded and the SGT concurred.

<Who cares if we crack the rock in half? They’re just pirates we’re going to kill anyway,> was Coop’s thought on the topic, but people above his pay grade had already made a decision. It was his job to do or die, and he did not intend on dying on some worthless rock in the middle of nowhere. He was going to send those poor pirate bastards to meet the reaper.

“Go lock and load, Cooper. Mission briefing in ten.” The SGT dismissed him, and he quickly obeyed.

He went back to see the armorer. He saw Lee at a corner intersection. She was busy doing engineer shit, but she shot him a smile and a wink. The meaning couldn’t have been clearer. It said come on back to me and I’ll show you one hell of a good time. He intended to do just that.

He knew the drill with the armorer. The gunboat was pretty damn new because there wasn’t even dust on the auto-loader for the LACS. Coop watched as the numbers ticked up as he got a full combat load for the first time in his career. No non-lethal or anti-riot crap. This was a true-blue combat load.

He practically salivated over thousands of 3mm plasma-tipped rounds for his Buss. The bullets would hit with the punch of a heavy weapon and ignite the plasma for a big, satisfying boom that would turn the target into mush. That was on top of a fully loaded 40mm grenade tube with extra rounds in his armored compartments ranging from buckshot to high explosive. Those would finish anything the plasma rounds couldn’t. He had his eight hypervelocity missiles in the launcher and a railgun fully packed with fifteen thousand rounds. Lastly, he had his 125mm spine-mounted artillery tube. He got his twelve thermobaric, ten kinetic HE penetrators, ten anti-personnel, and five electronic warfare shells, but they refused to give him the one-kiloton antimatter round. Since setting that thing off inside the asteroid would kill everyone and break the big rock into several much smaller rocks, Coop couldn’t really hold it against them. He took another anti-personnel round instead.

By the time the pirate’s asteroid base came within a couple of light-seconds of Argo’s sensors Coop was cocked locked and ready to fuck some shit up, and judging by the data streaming in, the enemy was ready to dance.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 32

“Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, friends and family of the deceased, and to the citizens all over these great United States…welcome. We stand here today to honor a fallen Hero. Mr. Morningstar was a man who embodied truth, justice, duty, honor, and self-sacrifice for the good of the many. He gave his life defending us, and for that we are forever grateful.” The mayor bowed his head for a moment of silence.

“Mr. Morningstar was not the strongest Hero. He was no Titan or Iron Giant. He couldn’t wield the elements, he couldn’t run faster than a speeding bullet, or fly. He was a man with the gift for making people see the light, to submit rather than fight. Mr. Morningstar’s ability stopped battles before they began, and it spared our great city many times from incidents of untold mayhem and destruction. Even though he wasn’t a flashy Hero, Mr. Morningstar worked hard to become leader of the Protectorate. He guided the team in the defense of this city for nearly two decades. The average citizen will never know all that he did for this community, but a few of them have chosen to step forward and speak to us about how Mr. Morningstar touched their lives for the better.”

“Blah…blah…blah…” Lilly sat on a rooftop over half a mile away listening to the speech on the radio. She could see the Mayor if she peeked over the lip of the roof, but it was safer to stay seated.

Nightingale and Stal were busy lounging behind an industrial-sized air conditioner. Between them were the tools of the trade: guns, knives, IED’s, grenades, even a baseball bat. It was all spread out and meticulously memorized by Lilly, so she could call upon it at a moment’s notice.

“Why we wait?” Stal wasn’t a person comfortable with inaction at times like these, and it was fraying at the strongwoman’s nerves.

“Soon,” Lilly replied casually. “Once I get the call we’ll get started.” She looked down at her phone hoping the text message was there, but the screen was still black.

“This plan is foolhardy.” Nightingale replied, but didn’t make any attempts to get up.

“We get to kill two birds with one stone. That’s not foolhardy, that’s fucking brilliance. If we pull this off we’ll be legends.”

“Dead is still dead.” Stal responded, but didn’t seem to believe her own warning. Being a top-tier strongwoman tended to have that effect on a woman’s sense of vulnerability.

The mayor continued to babble on, and Lilly split her attention between the radio and her tablet. Nano was pumping in data and footage of the event. A split screen showed the approximate position of the Heroes based on what he could make out in the footage. Lilly didn’t see Reaper, but the armored Seraphim was on a rooftop adjacent to the stage, and Hunter was only a few steps away from the mayor. He was the emergency evac guy, she was sure of it.

<Let’s see if you can dodge this.> She smiled behind her grinning volto mask.

As if the universe was giving her the go ahead her phone vibrated in her palm. She looked down and saw the two most beautiful letters GO.

“Let’s do this.” Lilly took a deep breath and became Wraith.

What came next was going to be tough. It would push her teleportation abilities to the limit.

It was easy for her teleport herself, something, or even a group of people from one place to another. It was simple and second nature. Today required her to teleport multiple things to multiple locations simultaneously. They needed a good distraction because a good distraction would cause a good panic, and a good panic would get them what they wanted.

<Reaper.> That was the end game. Ge the bitch who’d made her Dad a human vegetable.

It wasn’t going to be nearly as easy as it looked, or they’d planned for, especially considering her self-imposed constraints. The best distraction was death and destruction, but she wasn’t going to do that. She’d made Seth a promise and that was being put to the test today. She’d already failed once before and she was not going to do it again.

<Speed and focus…speed and focus…concentrate.> she took several deep breaths and looked at her portable armory.

Six grenades were laid out separately from everything else. She focused on those six metal cylinders and etched them into her mind. Once she was confident she had them all, she peeked over the lip of the roof and down the street. They had a pretty straight shot to the where the mayor was ushering people up to speak, and that helped a little. She found the six predetermined locations that she’d scoped out during the recon for this mission and tried to lock those locations into a corresponding grenade.

She felt the migraine start immediately. It was like trying to sit in on half a dozen Ph.D. level classes at once, take notes, and remember everything. Lilly liked to think that it was her skill and power that allowed her to do it, but it was probably her sheer stubbornness that ended up getting the job done. She felt the teleportations lock into place like tumblers on a safe.

“Now,” she grunted, and Stal and Nightingale rushed forward to pull the pins.

They’d rigged the grenades for a delayed reaction so they didn’t go off in their faces, but it was still going to be close. Nightingale pulled the sixth pin, and with a near-debilitating jolt of effort six puffs of darkness spirited the first step of their plan away.

Lilly’s vision wavered and she had to brace herself against the roof’s tiny wall, but it cleared quickly. She turned her attention to the tablet just in time to see the cameras pan up and the first grenade to go off.

Flash bangs were a hell of a tool for SWAT teams making entry into hostile territory, so Nightingale decided not to try and reinvent the wheel, but to use it on a larger scale. The grenades appeared around the stage and down the crowded street filled with easily-panicked people.

<Boom goes the dynamite.>

The first grenade detonated. Light and sound assaulted the people below it. The mayor grabbed his ears, shut his eyes, and then tackled the young woman currently standing at the podium talking about how Mr. Morningstar had gotten her off drugs or some other pointless shit. Lilly didn’t care. She was too busy watching the progression of the grenades. Number two went off about twenty five meters from where number one exploded, but immediately came up against a barrier. The light and sound ended up assaulting it instead of the people below it. The force field flashed violently, but it was short-lived before the grenade’s energy dissipated.

Grenades three through six met the same resistance.

“What the hell, Nano. You didn’t tell me they had a force field manipulator present.” That would have changed their entire game plan.

“I didn’t know,” he shot back clearly stressed. “I still don’t see any recognizable Hero doing the manipulating. They’ve got to have someone undercover or in plain clothes. They’re prepared for you, Wraith. They know your tactics.”

<Fuck.> Lilly cursed.

She’d become predictable. This tactic wasn’t too different from what she’d used when robbing that armored car in Nevada. A grenade dropped from above followed by a frontal attack to get the target.

“What now?” Lilly posed the question to the team.

“We’re prepared for this.” Nightingale replied casually as she pulled something from her pocket.

“What…we are?” Lilly didn’t remember this part of the plan.

“We knew when you started talking about stun grenade that you’d gone soft.” Stal stood up and cracked her neck. “We let you go through with your little plan while making ours.”

“Your purpose is now transportation, Wraith. Can you do that?” Nightingale asked calmly as she watched the crowd below.

The thousands of people had naturally panicked. The force fields were up and protecting them, and the cops were telling people to stay calm, but human beings didn’t stay calm when shit was exploding everywhere. They took the path of least resistance and got the hell out of there. The grin on Nightingale’s face said that was exactly what she wanted to happen.

“I was the distraction to the distraction.” Lilly figured it out slower than she was comfortable with.

“A two pronged attack,” Nightingale stated as she raised a shiny, metal device in her hand. “Get the sheep running and instill a false sense of security in the shepherd. Then…” she pressed the button and a hideous ripping sound rocked the city.

Lilly looked down and saw smoking and screams rising up from the east. The alley had been away from the main procession, so security was light, and never accounted for hundreds of people using it as a quick exit.

The dumpster where Nightingale and Stal had placed the bomb turned into an improvised claymore where the power of the explosion ripped off chunks and propelled them into the tightly packed crowd. The explosion rose up, hit the force field overhead, and ricocheted back down into the crowd.

Wraith was shocked. <How’d they play me like this,> was her primary concern. Her secondary worry was what Seth was going to think about this, and the people actually in the explosion were a distant third.

Lilly felt anger rise in her chest at being manipulated, but that was quickly wiped away by a second explosion. Another dumpster in another alley that people had rushed into became a death-dealing device.

There was complete and utter pandemonium on the streets below them, and that was exactly what they needed to get their mission done. Lilly held her temper in check as she grabbed the two other villains and they vanished off the rooftop in a blast of darkness.




The Detective was walking across the open vestibule with his hands full. He had a cup of coffee in one hand, a donut in the other, and a file held securely between his chin and chest. He knew it was stereotypical for a cop to be having donuts, but it was impossible to get anything else right now. The whole city was shut down for the funeral, traffic was backed up everywhere, and the only good place to get a snack was a bakery around the corner. Because of all the madness, they were struggling to keep up with the demand, and apparently the easiest things for them to make was donuts.

<I’m not waiting an hour for a turkey and ham sandwich.> He would have shaken his head, but then the file would have spilled all over the place.

It was a rape case, and he was on his way to interview a suspect. His eyes were trained on the locked doors across the vestibule that would take him down to the cells, but a peculiar sound pulled his attention to the left.

Standing in the middle of the vestibule looking confused and scared was a teenage girl…and she was crying.  As a father, the Detective immediately detoured over to the woman in distress.

“It’s ok,” he quickly approached her and had to figure out the best thing to do with his full hands. Carefully, he grabbed the file with his donut-hand and moved it under his armpit. “What’s wrong? What can I do to help?”

“I…I…need to report a crime.” The girl sniffled.

“Ok, everything’s going to be just fine. You’re safe here, no one is going to hurt you, and we’re going to help.” The girl responded positively to his words with a small smile. “Officer!” he called to a passing patrolman. “Please escort her to my desk.” He turned back to the girl. “I’ll be right back to take your information and find a solution to your problem. Just wait their patiently and I’ll be back soon.”

“Ok,” she wiped her nose with another sniffle.

Morina watched the Detective give the Patrolman some instructions. <Hehehe,> she mentally giggled. She was in the center of the city’s law enforcement apparatus and they had no idea what was about to happen.

“Come with me.” The Patrolman didn’t look as concerned as the Detective, but as long as he did what he was ordered to do there wouldn’t be any problems.

He led her away from the Detective and toward a security station. She emptied her pockets and walked through a scanning device. She didn’t have anything but some keys, her wallet with fake ID, and a cell phone. She passed without incident, and after a quick look through her purse all of her belongings were returned to her. On the lower levels of the police HQ, they were more worried about someone bringing a gun or knife onto the premises, not a Super. Morina was the weapon.

After the scan she was given a visitor’s lanyard and escorted into a metropolis of cubicles. Judging by the sea of gray cubes, she bet it was usually pretty crowded in here. Today, there weren’t more than a handful of people at work. It was all hands on deck for the funeral.

<Exactly as we suspected.> She took a seat at the Detective’s desk and waited.

A couple of other detectives registered her presence, but the quickly went back to their work. A colleague taking victim statements was a routine part of their job.

She waited ten minutes before she got back to her feet and walked toward the door.

“Excuse me.” A hawk-eyed woman stepped into the path before she was halfway across the room. “Can I help you?”

To Morina’s ears it sounded more like, “What are you doing?”

“Um…bathroom.” Her eyes darted back and forth to convey fear…and the woman bought it.

“You need an escort.” She looked around for someone, but it was so empty there wasn’t anyone else. “Ok, follow me.”

The woman led the way through another door and into a long hallway that seemed to run the width of the building. Morina noticed more offices, the signs for the bathrooms, and a stairwell at the far end.

The other woman veered right at the sign for the ladies restroom and pushed open the door. It seemed like she was being very serious about being an escort. She leaned up against the row of sinks and crossed her arms. Morina quickly averted her eyes submissively and entered one of the stalls.

She needed to think quickly. Unfortunately, she wasn’t Wraith, Stal, or Nightingale. She wasn’t some super-secret agent type. If she ran into problems she just killed them dead and hoped that was the right call.

The itch that was gradually eating its way through her self-control suddenly became overwhelming. Before she knew what she was doing, she pulled a bobby pin from her hair and stabbed it deep into her forearm. A small squeak escaped her throat as red sprouted from the wound and started to dribble onto the floor.

“Are you ok in there?” The female detective asked.

Morina saw her feet move closer underneath the stall door.

<More,> she breathed heavily and pulled the pin up her forearm. The dribbling became a stream.

“Jesus Christ!” The Detective must have peaked in and saw Morina mutilating herself because she threw her shoulder into the door and the fragile lock popped right off.

The detective quickly moved forward while one hand darted to the toilet paper and hurriedly started to unravel a big wad. “Hold on!” Her other hand grabbed Morina’s wrist and stopped her from doing any more harm.

The Detective’s eyes were filled with worry as she put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding. Her full concentration was on Morina’s arm, so she missed the blood on the floor collecting and rising into the air behind her.

“You’re…” the detective looked Morina right in the eyes, and she could tell by her reaction that the Detective knew something was off.

Instinct took over. She kept one hand on the blood-soaked toilet paper while the other went to her gun. She turned around to scan for threats and that’s when a few ounces of blood smashed into her face and worked its way down into her throat.

She backed up in surprise, and Morina sprang on her. The blood flowing from her arm stopped on command, and she hit the woman in the chest with her shoulder. They both went tumbling to the ground. Both of the Detective’s hands went to her throat as the blood blocked her windpipe and started to suffocate her.

Morina took the opportunity to go for the woman’s gun that was in her now-unstrapped holster. Through her panic, the Detective quickly put two and two together. She went for the gun too, and it became a struggle for the L-shaped hunk of metal. Morina needed to keep the Detective from getting a round off and alerting the station to the infiltration. The Detective wanted to get a round off to bring help, or more ideally, shoot Morina dead and stop the blood from choking her. Time would be the deciding factor.

The Detective was stronger than Morina, but Morina had moved first. Both of her hands were already on the weapon. Instead of trying to pull it out and risk accidentally firing the weapon, she threw her weight into forcing it farther down.  The Detective threw her elbows into Morina’s neck and back trying to knock her off. It knocked her to her knees, but she didn’t let go, and it pulled the other woman down with her.

<Hold on.> she repeated the words spoken to her only seconds ago when the situation was wildly different.

After thirty seconds, the Detective’s strikes started to weaken. Morina was huddled successfully in the fetal position around the weapon. After a minute it was basically over. The Detective could hardly lift her arms. The fight had deprived her of oxygen more quickly, but Morina still held on for another minute to be certain. When she finally dared to look, the Detective’s eyes were glazed over in death.

Morina’s whole back hurt from the pounding she’d taken, and she’d bashed her knee when they fell. It was hard to get up, and her initial movements were jerky, but she eventually shook off the brunt of the pain. She undid the holster from the corpse. She didn’t have the slightest idea how to use a gun, but she clipped it to her hip like she’d seen in the movies. Then she grabbed the body under the armpits and dragged it into the farthest stall from the door. She hoped no one would notice the dead woman until her job here was done. Next, she grabbed the Detective’s blazer, badge, and ID card. The blazer made her look like she belonged a little more, as did the badge, and the ID was going to get her where she needed to go.

Lastly, she found a pocket knife the dead women kept on her, and opened up her victim’s veins. Blood didn’t gush out of her without a beating heart, so it didn’t go everywhere and turn the bathroom into a bloody Jackson Pollack painting. Morina pulled it out of the Detective and guided it up to her. It filtered up under her clothes and clung to her body like liquid, red armor. She used her ability to coagulate it into a semi-solid instead of pure liquid, so she didn’t look like she was bleeding out from every area of her body. She pulled out all five-plus liters from the corpse and coated the concealed parts of her body in a thin layer of blood that looked a lot like dark cherry Jell-O. The sensation of it against her flesh was ten times better than sex, so it took her a moment to get a hold of herself.

Slowly at first, but then more quickly she moved to the door and peeked her head out into the hallway. It was empty, so she retreated back in and took out her phone. She quickly typed GO, and then exited the bathroom and headed toward the stairs. The pad lit up green when she scanned the Detective’s ID, and she rushed upstairs to the top floor.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 146

Eve Berg

Location: Syracuse, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 A soldier walks into a bar. It sounded like that start of a bad joke that either ended in getting shitfaced or a bar fight. As Eve surveyed the clientele of the drinking establishment she concluded it could go either way. There were a lot of people in the gray CMUs of the Commonwealth. A decent chunk was Fleet, but there was a fair amount of Infantry there as well. On top of that, about a quarter of the room was filled with men and women in the black and gold of the Syracuse Defense Force (SDF).

From what she heard, the SDF was a legit defense force. The institutions mandated by Commonwealth law ran the gauntlet between professional fighting organizations and useless groups of bodies that ate up resources. The Commonwealth by nature didn’t butt into individual systems a lot, but there were some points they were iron clad about. Military matters were one of them. A system needed to maintain its PDCs and orbital fortresses. The Commonwealth usually paid to construct them, and in some systems even manned them, but the Fleet and Infantry only had so many bodies to throw around between hundreds of systems. It preferred to muster its strength at staging points like Mars, Asgard System, Wolvesbain, and a few others rather than deploy piecemeal across the galaxy. A lot of systems were tasked to defend themselves with a small garrison of regular troops to help train when they weren’t conducting other mission essential tasks.

Syracuse was a major industrial system for the Commonwealth. It was a junction system, and had incalculable raw materials to be mined. On top of all of that it was a sector capitol which didn’t amount to much except for an increase in funds. Because of its importance, the Infantry kept a brigade and a half permanently stationed on Syracuse, manned half of the two-dozen PDCs, and routinely had a decent amount of warships in orbit. Even with that, the brunt of the system defense fell to the SDF. They had squadrons of capitol ships, several divisions-worth of trained soldiers, and their gear was nearly up-to-date. They were a fine fighting force by any measure, but having the entire might of the Commonwealth fleet and its attached Infantry in their system was making them a little uneasy…and testy. They were proud of their little army and navy, and they didn’t like being looked down on by anyone.

It was a given that when one proud fighting group met another proud fighting group there was bound to be some tension, and the quicker Third Fleet got on its way the better.

Those men and women in black and gold stuck to themselves in the back of the room while the rowdier Commonwealth soldiers and spacers bordered on loud and obnoxious. A woman with Eve’s looks and build stepping into the mix didn’t help. It was an endless stream of catcalls as she made her way to where her party was waiting for her.

GYSGT Cunningham was sitting next to a pretty woman eve didn’t know. From the way she uneasily looked around her, Eve guessed she wasn’t military. <A date?>

On the other side of the GYSGT was another familiar face. SGM Queen had a disappointed frown on his face. If Eve had to guess, he’d learned the GYSGT batted for the opposite team when she showed up with her lady friend tonight. That ended any campaigns he might have been planning.

“Gunney, Sergeant Major,” Eve ignored the latest crack about her fine ass and took a seat.

“Private…I mean Corporal Berg.” The GYSGT’s smile was just a little too big to be completely sober. She reached across the table and gave Eve a forceful pat on the shoulder right where her new two chevrons were.

Eve could help but wince a little. Sick bay had fixed her up lickety-split, but the new bone material needed time to set. She just couldn’t do any strenuous physical activity for the next twenty-four hours or get in any more fights. The forceful slap just jostled her a little, and got a luahgt out of the GYSGT.

“She handled it like a champ.” The SGM help up his glass to Eve before taking a gulp and raising his hand. “Next round is on me.”

<Shit, free booze. I should get promoted more often.> Eve didn’t ask for anything fancy or imported when the frazzled looking waitress got around to them. Something domestic and cheap was fine with her. The SGM was still an NCO even if he was an order of magnitude higher than her in rank, experience, and pay grade. They didn’t make as much compared to officers.

“So, Gunney, why am I here?” Eve finally broke the silence after a beer.

The Gunney had been giggling and whispering stuff in her date’s ear, something totally un-Gunney-like, but sweet in its own way. Still, this was everyone’s last weekend on this rock before spending the net month in space followed by an undeterminable amount of time fighting for their lives. Some people in this bar might not even make it back. It was only natural for people to want to enjoy themselves. Eve might like the GYSGT and SGM, and didn’t want to serve under many others when the bullets started flying, but she still ahd her own plans for the weekend. That did not include spending a lot of time with senior NCOs.

“You’re on my team, Berg. I asked for you because I trained you and know you can handle yourself.” The GYSGT said matter-of-factly. “I just wanted to let you know the shitstorm we’re going to be stepping into. Babe, could you go grab us another round please?” The GYSGT flashed her a credit chip with a healthy amount of dollars on it. The girl read between the lines and went to the crowded bar so the soldiers could talk.

“The 2511th’s Alpha Company is a good unit. It’s got a solid LT who’s been with the unit for half a decade. It’s got the added benefit of having a person other than its NCOIC being the HI for the unit. That helps my job tremendously. Command and control if difficult enough when I’m also dealing with the company’s indirect fire missions.” Her face grew solemn with some memory before she shook herself. “But even if my company is great, it still doesn’t mean things are going to go smoothly. Mission to seize Alcubierre Launchers is some of the most dangerous missions there are.”

<Well thanks for asking for me personally.> Eve tried not to roll her eyes when she learned she’d been voluntold for something so dangerous.

“The power sources on these things are unimaginable. Kilometers-long generators power the devices that gan slingshot full fleets into FTL. There is also exotic matter everywhere. They have quantum devices to receive instantaneous signals halfway across human-explored space, and those are just a few things. These are literally mankind’s greatest invention and its most valued possession rolled into one. The fight we are going to engage in will be bloody, brutal, and we’ll take a lot of casualties, which is why I’ve got a full five-person Ranger fire team attached to my company.”

<Fan-fucking-tastic.> Eve drank what was left of her beer, which was nowhere near enough after receiving all this intel.

“Because of the shitstorm we’re about to walk into, I just wanted to sit down with you and get your feelings.”

<Did the Gunney just ask me about my feelings?> The shock must have shown on Eve’s face, because it got another laugh out of the NCOs.

“You’re not some boot fresh out of Basic that doesn’t know their fart from a NBC attack,” the GYSGT smiled and leaned back in her seat. “You’re a valued member of my team who’s been in the suck a lot for someone your age, and I want your impression of things. You can even tell me you’re pissed I volunteered you for this. I don’t give a shit if you are, but I won’t hold it against you if you want to rant a little.”

That was when the GYSGT’s date showed up with the beers. Eve grabbed hers before it hit the table and chugged it.

<Out of the frying pan and into the fire.> She set the bottle down when she was done, belched, and then got into it with the Gunney.

The night ended with a bar fight and getting shitfaced, so it seemed those corny bar jokes had a ring of truth to them after all.




Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Argo, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “Attention, prepare for transition in t-minus one minute.”

When the announcement for their transition into System 1861 came over the intercom Coop was taking a dump. Something the cook had whipped up wasn’t sitting well with him. He’d heard a rumor back on Abe that if you were taking a shit during a transition it would clear out your system. He had no idea if it was true or not, but the painful rumbling in his stomach was something he needed to get rid of. This could evolve from a simple scouting mission to a combat operation in a heartbeat and he didn’t want to shit his suit.

He didn’t want to go to sick bay and be that little bitch complaining of a stomach ache, so he was determined to do everything he could before going there. He’d never hear the end of it from the regular grunts, and as HI he was supposed to be the toughest of them all. He wasn’t going to be taken down by some bad soy.

“Hello, is anyone in here?” The voice was female and vaguely familiar. It was LT Briggs, the Argo’s XO.

More than one marine had taken a run at her over the past few days, and she’d professionally rebuffed them all. Coop didn’t even try to go there. Spacer Lee was just about all he could handle. She was a bit of a freak and he loved it. However, not actively chasing the hot officer and letting her see him like this were two totally different things.

“Yes, Ma’am.” Coop tried to act as nonchalantly as possible while sitting on the porcelain throne with a audibly rumbling stomach.

“We’re about to transition…”

“Roger that, Ma’am.”

“Ok,” there was a short pause. “Good luck.”

If Coop was any other self-respecting person he would have been mortified. He was still embarrassed. A hot girl knowing what was happening would always have that effect, but it was bearable.

Thankfully, he didn’t have to think about it much because less than five seconds later everything shifted as Argo dropped out of FTL into System 1861.

“Holy shit!” Coop gripped the railing of the metal stall. He now had proof that the transition shit was legit.

After taking a minute to collect himself, Coop cleaned up and headed toward the bridge. The Argo’s small space didn’t have a lot of room for anyone aside from the bridge crew. Normally, it would have been the marine squad leader. There were a few of those present, but it became clear quickly that the skipper trusted the HI trooper onboard. So, Coop was privy to stuff that a normal PFC wasn’t.

He was still a PFC. The CPL paperwork hadn’t gone through yet, and even if it did, he wouldn’t learn about it until they got back to New Lancashire. That sucked for this mission. If they got into some shit that qualified them for combat pay Coop would get paid at the PFC rate. The War Department was stingy like that.

Coop studied the holo-tank in the center of the bridge as it slowly expanded to a light-minute out from the gunboat. The ES armor was active for transition, but once it became clear there wasn’t an ambush waiting they dropped the shielding to divert more power to the engines.

“XO, how long has it been since the last warship passed through this system?” Ben asked from his command chair in the center of the bridge.

“Eight years, Sir.” The XO was at her own station watching her screens and adjusting sensors to get a better view of the space around them.

“What was the status of the system then?”

“Abandoned and unoccupied, Sir.”

“Prepare to launch drones.” Ben was leaning back in his seat and staring intently at the holo-tank.

Coop found the whole thing boring as hell. That was space combat. Staring at a holo-tank watching icons disappear until you got yourself blown up. Ground combat might be terrifying, but it beat sitting on your ass all day long.

“Drones prepared, Sir.”

“Don’t get them too close to the targets and program them for indirect approaches. We’ll set course for this world.” Ben selected the icon for the third planet in the system. It was too far out to be a goldilocks world, but with a little work it could be terraformed.

More importantly, it sat outside of the interior asteroid belt where two of their three potential targets were located. If there was anything at those two targets, parking Argo in orbit around the planet gave them an excellent tactical position to intercept or outright destroy. In the planet’s current orbit, they’d be lined up perfectly.

Coop took that as a good sign of what was to come.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 145

Noah Grisham

Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Noah kept his head on a swivel as he walked down the landing ramp of Dawn and into the bay. The tang of artificial air was sharp, but even more recognizable was the small group of men heading in their direction. Able stood next to the small pirate captain in his armor with a blaster held casually in his hand. After a little discussion, it was determined that he would leave the Collie heavy weapon in the ship. Toting around that giant cannon was going to raise a few eyebrows and dry up some information sources when word got around. Noah was here for answers, and he was determined to get them at any cost.

“Welcome friends!” The man at the front of the approaching party smiled widely at Noah and Able. “Welcome to Last Resort.”

<Interesting name,> Noah thought, even if it was accurate. Being in the ass end of the galaxy and living in a hollowed-out asteroid was definitely a last resort for however many people were here. If this was his station it would be called Means to an End.

“Thank you.” Noah kept his thoughts to himself as he reached up to clasp the man’s hand. Even in this part of the galaxy a hand shake was still the best way to show you had no ill will toward another.

“My name is Faruk, and my mercenary band is responsible for the well-being of this station.”

<Translation: I run this place and I get my percentage from anyone else doing business here.> As was customary, Noah pulled out a hundred-credit chip and handed it to the mercenary captain.

“I hope my ship will be taken care of.” He looked at the men behind Faruk and then over at his newly-repaired ship.

Faruk looked over the credit chip. “Blockie currency is devalued against the Commonwealth dollar. One-fifty will get you what you’re looking for.”

Noah could feel Able tense up behind him, but he smiled and dug into his pocket for more cash. Instead of pulling out another hundred-chip and having them transfer funds around he pulled out two twenties and a ten. It made it look like he had less cash than he really did.

“Thank you, friend.” Faruk took the one-fifty and nodded his head. One of the men accompanying him walked over to the Dawn and took up a sentry position next to it. Noah knew the guy would pop a squat the minute they were out of sight, but having him there was all the security Dawn needed. If Faruk was really in charge, his man simply being there was enough to deter anyone from messing with his ship.

“What brings you to Last Resort, my friends?” Faruk was all smiles as he and Noah led the way while their two guards walked behind them.

“Weapons.” Noah smiled. “We’ve got a pipeline open with the Blockies and are looking for somewhere to store and sell. Last Resort was highly recommended, so we came to check out your operation.”

“We would be more than happy to accommodate new investments in our little paradise.” Faruk’s smile grew even broader. His pearly-white teeth contrasted sharply with his bushy, black beard.

“Your mercenary company provides security for the station?” Now Noah started fishing for information.

“I have forty well-armed and highly-trained men who keep the peace,” Faruk assured.

<So at least twice that.> Noah read between the lines. Faruk wasn’t stupid enough to give away actual intel on his little band of misfits, so he’d give a number high enough to make Noah feel comfortable while concealing his true strength.

“Our cut is twenty percent off the top and you’ll have to pay to lease the space, but everything else is profit for you, and I guarantee you that you will find plenty of business here.”

They’d been walking through a series of dimly lit corridors carved through the asteroid’s metal-infused rock, reinforced with civilian-grade duro-steel beams, and sealed with a thin layer of polyplast before arriving at a large, grimy-looking blast door. When Faruk said “here”, the door opened on well-maintained hydraulics into a brightly lit, colorful exposé. It looked like pictures of a bazaar on Earth from hundreds of years ago. Little shops had been carved into the rock while poorly constructed polyplast carts rolled through the pathways. It was a hodgepodge of people, goods, and smells as what Noah estimated to be a thousand people tried to buy and sell the black market products.

If Noah was actually going to sell something in the future, this was the place he’d be coming to if he didn’t burn bridges with Faruk today. Today was all about information.

“Do you like what you see, my friends?” Faruk’s smiled seemed permanently plastered on his face.

“Very much,” Noah’s return smile was genuine. “If you don’t mind, I would like to scope out my competition.”

“Not at all. I will leave my associate Barry here to be your guide. I hope you find our accommodations will meet your business needs. When you are finished, tell Barry and he will call me so we can make a deal.” With his final piece said, Faruk stepped backward, blended into the crowd, and vanished.

That left them alone with Barry. Barry was a big boy. He had a heavy-world build, was nearly as big as Able, and was strapped down with an assortment of weapons. He had everything from an Imperial blaster to an Old West six-shooter, but from the slight glow coming from the antiquated pistol Noah guessed those old-school rounds were plasma tipped. You didn’t find many of the exploding bullets outside the starfaring nation’s militaries, which said Barry wasn’t someone to be underestimated. He had a ballistic-weave vest on under his coat, and he scanned the area in a way that screamed former military. Noah would need to be careful around the big man, but at the moment he had his uses.

In total, Last Resort had five gun dealers. It would be a tough market to break into if Noah really was going to sell guns on the asteroid. Each of the dealers was filling a niche and seemed to have an understanding between each other. Two dealers sold handguns. One favored traditional rounds while one tended toward energy. The traditional dealer had everything from 22nd century chemically-powered tech all the way to modern electro-magnetically propelled rounds. They were nothing compared to the velocity of the M3 or Buss Able had tucked away back in Dawn, but they’d fuck up your day if you were caught in some turf war over pointless shit. The same was true of the energy pistols. They didn’t fire more than four rounds before you needed to switch battery backs – and those were sold separately – but they’d still burn through an unarmored man. Able’s armor would stand up to both those types of ammunition pretty easily.

One dealer traded more in ammo than weapons. He still had a handful of guns for purchase, but he had an ammo supply that none of the other dealers could match – including battery packs. He was the guy that had the plasma rounds for sale. He wouldn’t show the goods, but Barry vouched for him. Still, Noah would be surprised if he had more than a few dozen rounds stockpiled.

The last two dealers dealt with assault rifles and the more serious armaments. The first dealer they went to – like the pistol dealers – traded more in energy weapons. He had a single-shot plasma cannon from Able’s homeworld that the mercenary practically drooled over. Even though Barry was as much their handler and their tour guide, Able and him got along well. Mutual appreciation for things that went boom went a long way toward forming bonds.

While the energy cannon dealer had an impressive collection, he wasn’t the guy Noah was looking for. It was the last dealer they checked out that had the answers.

The shop was successful enough that it had a polyplast wall and door separating it from the rest of the bizarre bazaar. There was an old-fashioned bell attached to the door so when Noah opened it a soft jingle echoed through the small space. Another polyplast wall stood behind the counter. An old man exited through that door and gave his customers a smile. Noah tried not to grimace. It looked like someone had drawn a knife across the man’s face at some point in the past. Ugly scars ran outward from the corners of the man’s mouth all the way to his ears. It made his smile downright unsettling.

“How may I help you?” In addition to that the man was missing more than one finger. It was typical. Thieves tended to have fingers cut off as punishment in a number of systems throughout the galaxy no matter what nation they belonged to.

“I’m looking for rifles.” Noah didn’t whisper, but he kept his voice down. Able was distracting Barry for the moment. Each man was trying to stump the other on their firearm knowledge. It was a serious competition.

“Look around,” the man gestured to the display cases and walls, “I have plenty.”

“Not just any rifle.” Noah leaned forward onto the counter. “I’m looking for M3’s. I’ve got a job that requires a lot of fire power, and word on the street is that you can deliver.”

The man tried to keep his face neutral but pride got the best of him. <Bingo.> Noah knew he had the right guy.

“If you’d come through here a couple of months ago then I would have had hundreds of the things to sell you, but I’m all out right not.”

“Can you point me to the guy that sold the rifles to you in the first place?” Noah saw the indecision creeping along the other man’s face before he even finished speaking. “I’ll make it worth your while,” he tried to draw the arms dealer back in. “Five hundred…no seven-fifty for the name?

The offer brought a thoughtful look to the dealer’s face. “For a grand up front, I’ll give you the name, no refunds, and if you come back looking for trouble I’ll put a hole in you and your big-ass friend over there.” He gestured at Able.

Noah winced internally at the cost of the information, but he ended up pulling out ten hundred-credit chips and handing them over. The guy he was after was worth tens of millions, and even a little bit of revenge was priceless.

The dealer verified the currency was legit before tossing it into a safe under the counter. “The guy said his name was Alvarez, but he was a creepy dude. He came flying in here one day with crates of military-grade hardware to unload. He found me and I took it off his hands for next to nothing. Two days later a mining crew showed up for the crates and paid me double the street value for them. I nearly closed my doors that night and booked a flight to the Mid-Worlds for retirement with the payday I made.”

<Less reminiscing and more details old man.> Noah kept his temper in check.

“I unloaded the crates from a converted mail courier with an EU registration. You wouldn’t be able to tell from a distance, but I could see where hull panels had been replaced with the discardable versions that pirates like to slap over improvised energy cannons or missile launchers.”

Noah knew those well, and he was sure the guard stationed down at Dawn was documenting how many his converted mining ship had on its hull.

“Did Alvarez say where he was from, where he was going, anything that will help me find the guy?” Noah was laying it on a little thick, but he didn’t care. Alvarez was the link, and he needed to find the guy. The fact that the dealer thought he was a spook didn’t bother the pirate.

“No idea,” the dealer shrugged, “but he might still be here. I saw him two days ago doing business with a few other traders. You could check with Faruk to see if his ship is docked.”

Noah didn’t remember seeing a mail courier in the bay when they parked Dawn, but it was a big space with multiple levels so he might get lucky.

“Thanks.” Noah spun away and moved toward the door. “Able, Barry, I’m finished here and need to talk with Faruk.”

Barry just nodded as they left the store. He pulled out his PAD and texted the asteroid’s boss.




It couldn’t have been more than two minutes since Barry left with the two customers before the bell chimed again. The arms dealer looked up from where he’d been crouching behind the counter to see a familiar face.

The man didn’t even look up, he was on his PAD typing away.

“Alvarez! Some guys were just in here asking about you. I think they want to make a deal for…”

The dealer didn’t have time to react as Alvarez swiftly drew a pistol and put a supersonic dart into his forehead. It was fired through a suppressor, so it just sounded like a soft cough followed by the heavier thump of brain matter and skull hitting the polyplast wall behind the counter. The dealer fell against that same wall with only half a head before sliding to the ground and out of sight.

Another few clicks of the PAD and Alvarez was hacked into the store’s security system, erased the surveillance footage, changed the sign on the door to closed, and activated the cleaning nanites to tidy up the place.

<That was easy.> He kept one eye on the door as he put the finishing touches on his report. It contained nothing specific, but enough for the intended reader to know that the mission had been accomplished.

Alvarez’s name wasn’t Alvarez. He didn’t even naturally look like the guy the dealer knew as Alvarez, but after the fuck up in Windsor he’d been forced to find a new face and a new backer. He’d gotten both, but instead of infiltrating an opposing state he was busy running guns on some off-the-books project.

He expected it though. He’d been kicked to the bottom of the heap, and now he had to work his way back up. With the arms dealer’s final statement, that job became just a little bit harder. The dealer was the last loose end, but since he’d talked there were now more people that needed to be eliminated.

With a final flourish of his hands he finished drafting the classified report and sent it to his ship’s neural network. Upon detecting another friendly STRATNET beacon, the ship would transfer the message and the report would leapfrog its way back to New Lancashire where it could only be opened by in-person scanning of the GIC of Rear Admiral Hank Nelson.

Alvarez didn’t expect there to be an issue even with the latest complication. In a few hours marines would be storming Last Resort, and knowing Faruk, the mercenary company running the asteroid wouldn’t go down without a fight. If the spy got lucky, his new targets would get blown away with the rest of them.

<The bloodier the better.>

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 31

There were two very different conversations going on during the morning of Mr. Morningstar’s funeral; three if you call the political chit-chat a conversation.

“No…no…no…We need more light!” A man cried dramatically on the stage as he looked up at the dark morning sky. “Today just had to be the day the universe decided to not cooperate with me.” He brandished his hands frantically at the clouds blocking out the sun.

The man stomped around the quickly erected stage just in front of the church where the fallen Hero’s private ceremony would be held. The stage was the brainchild of the Mayor. Preapproved people would be allowed to take the stage and use the microphone to tell the gathered crowd what Mr. Morningstar had meant to them, or how he had personally impacted their life. Having a stage meant having a stage manager, and the only one available had been a rather eccentric one from UCF. By the way he was running around and yelling at people you would have thought this was the Olympic opening ceremony.

That was what was happening on the ground. Very different words were being uttered all around the stage.

“Eagle-Two, comms check, over.” The SWAT captain wasn’t standing too far from the stage manager, but he was completely ignoring the other man. Where the stage manager looked like a whirlwind was about to pick him up and carry him off somewhere, the SWAT captain was a mountain of immovable granite with cold eyes scanning the horizon.

“Coms check, TOC, I read you five-by-five.” The sniper three hundred yards away on an overlooking rooftop replied.

“Show me you don’t have your head up your ass, Eagle-Two.” The Captain’s words were threatening, but they implied some sort of punishment the sniper would not enjoy if he wasn’t on the ball.

A second later a red dot appeared on the Captain’s chest. “Stay awake up there, Eagle-Two, the sun decided not to cooperate and I can feel a fall chill in my nuts.”

“That sounds like a personal problem, Cap. You might want to get that checked out.”

“Keep talking, Eagle-Two. I’ll get to you in a second, Eagle-Three.”

“Roger that, Sir.”

Daisy smiled as she took in the world around her with her sixth sense. For half a mile she could feel the life-threads of everyone. This early there weren’t a lot of people, but the number was steadily growing.

<The Mayor’s brilliant idea isn’t going to help.> The last thing the city needed was some grieving single mom talking about how Mr. Morningstar saved her baby to get her head blow off by Wraith mid-sentence.

It also meant overtime for Grace. As the primary telepath on scene, it was her job to vet everyone going up to take the mic.

<We need more bodies.> Daisy came to the same conclusion she had several times today. There were just going to be too many people.

The Mayor’s office was projecting over fifty-thousand people to turn out. To monitor them and keep them safe there were three hundred officers, two SWAT teams, the Protectorate, and half a dozen independent Heroes that were coming in for the occasion. There would be more off-duty Heroes in the church for the private service, but they weren’t there to protect the public. They were there to grieve, but they would help if shit started to slide downhill.

Daisy felt the pressure building in the back of her skull as she tried to keep everything in sight. The pressure would only get stronger when fifty-thousand life-threads needed to be monitored, and the very last thing the DVA, OPD, or the Mayor wanted her to do was drop everyone like she had at the prison. That was a one way ticket to losing her newly-granted certification.

“Minority community turnout is going to be hit or miss.” One of the Mayor’s aides stated from not too far away. “Polls show that they like the Protectorate overall, but of their members, Mr. Morningstar was their least favorite.”

“He was from an older generation and he didn’t really care about connecting with the community as much. I have reassurances from KaBoom that the team is willing to work in a new direction under his leadership.” Orlando’s mayor, Thaddeus Miller, was a former defensive tackle for the Miami Dolphins. He’d gone to UCF before sending twelve seasons in the NFL, and then going into politics. He’d started off with city council, was now the mayor, and insiders thought he had his eye on Congress or even the Governor’s Mansion in the next four years. He was a big man, with a shaved bald head that was shined daily. Even in the low light of the morning there was a slight gleam coming off the man’s brown dome. There was just as much of a gleam coming off of his perfectly-white teeth, and those were always on display in a smile. His life as a four-time pro-bowler had prepared him perfectly for politics.

“What about…” the aide didn’t say it, but that was enough confirmation for Daisy.

She was an unknown in this political situation. With something that was so going to be so public, politicians tended to not like unknowns; especially wildcards, and every report the Mayor was reading on her said she was unpredictable.

<I’m right here, dumbasses,> she bit her tongue. Her job right now was to literally step in front of a bullet if someone took a shot at the political leader of the city, and all they were worried about was what she would say when confronted by cameras. <There were some things about this job that I did not miss.>

<Easy there,> Grace’s voice popped in the back of her head. <Thad is actually a pretty good guy when you get to know him.>

<Thad?> Daisy’s eyes never stopped scanning the windows surrounding the stage. <And just how well have you gotten to know him?>

Daisy didn’t get a response, but a mental impression of a giant middle finger was answer enough. She suppressed her smile and continued to do her job.   

“Ms. Reaper,” the Mayor abandoned his little chat and walked over to her.

“Please just Reaper, Mr. Mayor. Ms. Reaper makes me sound like I should be on the Halloween version of a syrup container.” She accepted the Mayor’s handshake and didn’t know if he was doing the macho squeeze thing or not. She was on absorb-mode for all kinetic energy.

He barked a short laugh, gave an up and down shake and then let go. “Reaper it is then. I just wanted to welcome you to our fair city and thank you for everything you are doing today and going to do in the future.”

“Wrangling for my vote already, Mr. Mayor. Reelection isn’t for another eighteen months.” Daisy had a habit of sticking her foot in her mouth, especially when her attention was elsewhere, but in this particular instance she could really care less.

The Mayor followed the comment with a much longer laugh. “You can never start too early, Reaper.” The big guy’s smile was a bit startling. “Good luck today.”

“Thank you, Mr. Mayor.” That was all the time he had to talk to her, but she shadowed him until he was in the armored SUV and headed back toward his office. That was where her assignment ended. “Dispatch, he’s on his way out.”

“Thank you, Reaper.” The computer-synthesized voice of Dispatch hadn’t changed at all since the first time to support Hero came on the scene more than a decade ago. “You are relieved of your duties. Next assignments begin at twelve-hundred hours. You are free until then.”

“Thanks for the break.” Daisy didn’t take the earbud out, but she did pull out her phone and make another call. “Hey, baby, you want to grab a quick breakfast before we get sucked into this black hole of a protection detail for the rest of the day?”




“Damn, it’s freezing.”

Becca looked at the Floridian out of the corner of her eye and couldn’t help but smirk. It was low sixties – maybe high fifties – and the woman was acting like it was an ice age. Coming from the Midwest, where wind chill could drop the temperature fifteen or twenty degrees during the winter, this was nothing. All of her friends seemed to be thinking the same way.

Mason was used to New York, Kyoshi hailed from San Francisco – which wasn’t as warm as people thought – and Anika’s family had spent a lot of time in Montana only to recently move to the Midwest. This weather was nothing.

The residual body heat of everyone present would set in eventually. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of people crammed on the sideways of the major roadway. In front of them was a line of police officers spaced every twenty feet. They were all in their dress uniforms: crisply ironed pants, a jacket with medals and badges pinned to it, and white gloves. They looked every inch the competent police force, and that was only highlighted by the weapons on their hips. Every third officer also had an assault rifle slung over their shoulder. Their eyes were scanning the crowd religiously. Just like the HCP students in the crowd, the officers were aware of the high threat level of this ceremony.

The civilians were blissfully unaware aside from a few questions about the cops’ guns. Not everyone liked the sight of such a heavily armed force. Becca kept her eyes forward and was grateful for them. If things turned bad, then they were going to need all the firepower they could get.

“Stop looking around,” Kyoshi whispered as Mason’s head seemed to be in a nonstop three-hundred-and-sixty-degree scan.

“Can’t help it,” the strongman grunted. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

All of them had the feeling. There were just too many chances for something to go wrong. There were too many windows, too many rooftops, and too many shadowy corners where threats could suddenly appear. It was the eternal pain of dealing with teleporters. They were all thankful Professor Meyers was here.

A drum could be heard in the distance. The beat was a solemn march. Becca knew from the safety briefing that the drummer was at the lead of a small contingent of officers and Heroes accompanying the casket of Mr. Morningstar. The casket was being pulled by a horse through the crowd-lined streets to the church where the private ceremony would be, and the politicians would be saying a few words.

“Shhh.” Becca shushed the both of them. This wasn’t a time to be talking. This was a time to be remembering and thanking the fallen Hero for his service.




“I can’t see.” Isla was cranky, and the six-plus-foot guy standing in front of her wasn’t helping.

A group of the freshmen HCP students were standing together at a safe distance from their HCP classmates. Professor McMillian had told them to spread out, but still travel in at least pairs. They needed to be vigilant about safety without drawing attention to themselves. The SI infraction rules were still in effect. If anything happened, the professors wanted them to run for safety.

“Let the Heroes handle it.” McMillian had said that at least a dozen times in their safety briefing.

“Sorry.” Aiden stepped aside so Isla could get a better view, but there was still a random woman in front of him that was taller than Isla’s unimpressive five feet two inches.

The drumming was growing closer, so they wouldn’t be staying for much longer. It was physically impossible for them to get any closer to the church and speaking area. They were nearly a mile away and packed into the sidewalks like sardines. They expected things to break up quickly once Mr. Morningstar’s funeral procession passed. The town had the afternoon off, and once people paid their respects they were planning to take advantage of the slightly longer weekend.

“Most of these people don’t care.” Scarlett Vaan stood with her arms crossed and a sour look on her face. “Most people are more interested in the time off then what happened. They want to forget about it, push it into the past, and move on.” She just shrugged when the younger freshman shot her shocked expressions.

“Most people like to avoid conflict,” she looked Isla straight in the eyes. “They feel they need to be here, but unless Mr. Morningstar directly touched their lives in some way their feelings for him and his death are only skin deep.”

“That’s a sad way to look at people. Psychology is giving you a jaded look on life.” Aiden shot her a warning look over his shoulder. The silver-haired woman was drawing some attention with her statements.

“Yeah…it’s the psychology.” Scarlett raised an eyebrow, but the drumming was almost on top of them now.

Everyone shut up and turned to face the procession. Whatever people thought about the situation, or the people involved, they all felt a certain way about death. It was only human to pay some sort of respect to the fallen, and whatever their feelings about humanity, they could do at least that.

It took a few minutes for the procession to pass at a slow march. Once it was a respectful distance away people started to get out of there. Scarlett led the charge. Isla stuck around a little longer as people streamed around her. There was something in the air that had the hair on the back of her neck standing up. She didn’t know if it was the circumstances, the HCP, or what was going on in her not-so-personal life, but the sensation was there.

If felt like something was watching and judging her and the city or Orlando. Her shiver had nothing to do with the cool breeze blowing through the city as she turned to leave.




“Do you still have eyes on Reaper?” Lilly was in her Wraith heavy-combat load.

Her costume, armor, pistols, knives, grenades, assault rifle, and sniper rifle were either on her person or strewn on the rooftop around her. They were over a mile away from the stage that had been constructed. It was way beyond her range to take out someone important – like the mayor – but it would serve as a staging area. She wasn’t going to pull armaments from her little bunker out west when Hunter would undoubtedly be on scene, so she’d hauled all of the stuff here, and set up booby traps for anyone who tried to take the roof by force.

“We have eyes on her near the stage.” Nano informed over the encrypted earbud the assault team was wearing.

Stal and Nightingale were on the rooftop next to Wraith getting set.

“Why does that matter? We have armor.” Stal announced patting the black, nullifying armor they were all wearing.

“It matters because the armor isn’t perfect. Belial still got taken down.” Wraith snapped back. Her nerves were on edge. The list of Heroes at this powder keg was a who’s who of people that wanted to kill her. “And some can easily target something next to us and kill me or Nightingale. We don’t have your durability.” Wraith was specifically thinking about Seraphim.

The bitch had it out for her despite the ass whooping she’d delivered during their last meeting.

“Fine.” Stal harrumphed. She didn’t pick up any weapons. Her hands and feet were WMDs, especially in a crowded place like this.

“We go in five minutes.” The procession had just begun. “Is she going to be ready?”

“She’ll be ready.” Wraith referred to the missing member of their little team. Morina had a different mission, and she was almost in position.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 144

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Over the last few months, Coop had learned something very important about himself: he would much rather be stationed on a planet than on a ship. In terms of career progressions, it wasn’t the best feeling to have, but he didn’t really give a shit. Being stationed at a base on a planet gave you good chow, real booze, and a good selection of women. Being stationed on a ship meant the same shitty recycled food day after day – no matter how good the cooks were – booze that was distilled in some backdoor engineering compartment, and the only women around were other Infantry or Fleet. In Coop’s personal experience, the risk was greater than the reward when it came to getting into someone else’s CMUs. He’d only managed it once, but it had been one hell of a ride.

When he stepped off the shuttle and onto the Abe’s flight deck he frowned. He was wearing his newly-broken-in LACS V2 armor, so no one could see his face, but he probably would have gotten chewed out for how he was looking at people.

<Let’s get this over with.> He was here for the five grand and to continue to cultivate a relationship that was already paying dividends. It wasn’t a bad idea to have a good officer or two in your corner when he inevitably stepped in some shit. Coop knew himself pretty well by now, and he’d eventually have to call in some favors.

People moved aside as Coop took the passages toward the gunboat bays. The few Infantry guys he passed gave the suit a not-too-friendly frown. That was because it was brand spanking new without any scratches or dents in it. That meant he was either some asshole walking around in HI armor when he didn’t need to, which equaled asshole, or he was lucky enough to get new equipment, which equaled lucky asshole. Either way, the infantry grunts Coop passed weren’t the friendliest bunch. Not that he cared. He had other shit to do.

Argo was docked at the ass end of the carrier back near the engines. She would be the last ship to launch in case of an emergency, and it had that untouched look that showed it hadn’t seen much of anything in the last few months. Argo was bigger than he thought she would be. She seemed squeezed into the bay, but other than that she was a good-looking ship.

A small team was walking around the hull doing a visual inspection when he walked up. One was a fit, cute woman with the platinum stripe of an LT. He headed toward her for obvious reasons, but was cut off by a SGT.

“Private Cooper?”

Coop had checked, and before he left the BN commander hadn’t signed off on his promotion yet.

“Yes, Sergeant.” With a quick sideways glance at the LT he turned his attention on the marine.

“Welcome aboard. I’m Sergeant O’Neil, the ship’s contingent NCOIC. We’ve got a couple of other squads aboard for the mission so it’s going to be tight quarters. Head in and stow your gear. You’re the only HI we have, so the bunk by the charging rack is all yours. We’re having a briefing at 1100, and then the skipper will address everyone at 1300.”

“Roger that.” Coop had the SGT opened up in a small side window while the majority of the HUD was showing what his rear sensors were seeing.

The LT was still leading the inspection team, and she was bending down to check something low. <Now that’s an ass.> It seemed Coop’s morning quickie with Sandy hadn’t quite satisfied him. <What is it with hot LTs?>

Coop started moving after that because the SGT had stopped talking and moved away. It looked downright strange for him to just be standing there in the bay by himself, so he moved toward the outer hatch. He took a left when he entered the gunboat. There was just enough clearance for him in his armor, but when he moved from section to section he had to duck down. Being HI on this tiny ship was going to be a bit of a pain in the ass. The bright side was that he had a little more room than the other grunts. His bunk next to the charging rack was bigger, and had about a quarter-meter extra space for him to plop his shit in. From the looks the lounging PVTs gave him, they’d hoped no HI was going to show up, and they’d be able to grab the bunk later.

Coop stowed the LACS in the charger and did a proper diagnostic as he shut down. It was still a new suit and he wanted to catch any bugs if he could. He hadn’t been in the armor long enough to trust it completely, but he was still glad he wasn’t in a V1 antiquated piece of shit.

With nothing left to do until 1100 he decided to tour the ship. It was small enough that he was probably going to be able to get through all of it in half an hour. The grunt country was pretty standard. There were a few VR spots to do training – enough for a squad – but not enough for the two dozen guys he’d seen camping out on the makeshift cots. There was a common area next to the bunks with a holo-screen and some pre-recorded programs on the system, but that was pretty standard on a warship. A few of the other infantrymen were sitting around the holo watching some sort of comedy. Forward of the grunt country was Fleet territory and the bridge. He didn’t want to go there quite yet, so he headed to the stern where engineering and the engines were located.

Coop had learned there was nothing quite like a good mechanic, and being friends with them, especially on a ship, was always a good idea. They usually produced the moonshine that ship-board poker games used as currency if the people were short on cash. He didn’t have to go far to find a group of marines surrounding one engineer.

There were three of them – all sporting PVT or PFC ranking – and they circled the lone engineer on three sides. Coop could see why. She was pretty hot, Asian – which equaled exotic – and had her CMUs pulled down to her waist. She had on a sports bra of some sort, and was covered in grease and other mechanical fluids, but it was still bare skin and perky breasts. The marines were like moths to the flame.

“Oh yeah,” she replied to a question. She was leaning casually against a bulkhead, so nothing had gone over any lines, but she was prepared if they did. She had a large wrench in her hand that was just as capable of breaking skulls as fixing machinery.

“You better believe it.” The marine was grinning like he’d just scored a game winning basket.

“I am a trust-but-verify kind of girl, so let me see it.”

“What?” The young marine was clearly surprised at her comment.

“Yeah.” She continued to smile. “You said you’ve got a big snake in your pants, so let me see it.”


“Yeah,” she frowned. “Are you scared?”

Coop would have just whipped it out, but he didn’t have much shame. These kids clearly had some self-respect left.

“Hey.” Coop cut into the conversation.

He only had PFC rank on his shoulder, but he was at least half a meter taller and thicker than the biggest marine present.

“Hey,” they called back tentatively.

“I guess we’re meeting up at 1100 but the Sergeant is going to do a surprise inspection before then.”

“How do you know?” They were understandingly suspicious of the new HI trooper trying to talk them away from an exotic engineer who’d just admitted she wanted a guy to whip his dick out.

Coop tapped his ear and smiled. “I’ve got better hearing than you. I’d hurry up if I were you. He’s coming by soon.”

He didn’t know how long the other marines had been on the ship, but apparently it was enough time to have made a mess. They hurried off with a sense of urgency, and left coop along with the half-dressed engineer.

“So,” Coop smiled and mirrored her casual lean against the bulkhead. “I’m Coop. I like your look.”

“Really,” she smiled, but still held the wrench in her hand. “That’s your best line.”

“Not a line, just the truth,” Coop kept up the smile. He’d played this game before. “It’s nice to meet you…”

This was the test to see if it went any further or if she blew him off.

“Spacer Aiko Lee, I’m the engineering apprentice, and you, Coop, are a very big boy.”

“I’m the heavy infantry trooper assigned for this mission.” Coop smiled confidently.

“Are you proportional?”

“Want to see?” Things were on the very edge of getting hot and heavy. Coop might even like the next few days on the ship.

“Cooper! Glad you made it.”

<Oh come on! You’ve got to be shitting me.> Coop kept the irritation off his face as he turned to face the familiar voice.

“Thank you, Sir. I was properly motivated.” Coop braced to attention as Ben Gold entered the corridor.

“Lee,” the LCDR turned to the engineer. “Has that stabilizer been double checked yet?” Unlike every other guy so far, his eyes didn’t gravitate toward her partially-bare upper body.

“On it, Sir.” Her face was serious again.

“Re-read 670-1 while you’re at it.” The LCDR quoted the military dress regulation as a subtle way of not condoning her appearance.

The look Lee shot Coop as she left said that they weren’t finished here, and he took that as a good sign as he followed the LCDR.

“I double checked your readiness status as of five minutes ago and you’re all green.” Ben smiled, but didn’t ask for details. The less he knew the better.

Ben led the way up to the forward portions of the ship. He showed Coop the Fleet spaces, the bridge, and they ended up in the skipper’s office.

“This is for you.”

There was a ding on Coop’s PAD and it revealed a new deposit into his bank account.

“Don’t worry about it being red-flagged. My financial people know the financial security regulations better than anyone. Those are all coming from legitimate sources that are within war department guidance.”

True enough, Coop checked the deposit and it came from a casino. Gambling was a common past-time of the soldier, and as long as it wasn’t done on duty it was ok. Even if it happened on duty, a blind eye was likely going to be turned; especially if it was a friendly game between soldiers.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Hopefully we won’t have any problems during our mission, but if we do that is why you’re here. Our armory is fully stocked with everything you armor will need. You’ll report to SGT O’Neil since I have you slotted as part of the ship’s marine contingent, and he’s been instructed to ensure you are good to go. Do you have any questions for me before we get started with this mission?”

Coop knew why the LCDR wanted him in here. Coop had literally saved the guy’s ass, and despite his brief dip into the world of a ground-pounder, Ben Gold was still a pretty-boy, rich-kid, Fleet jockey. He wanted to feel safe, and if Coop was the way he was going to do that then the HI trooper was cool with it. He had five-thousand reasons to be happy.

“No, Sir. I’m good.”

“Excellent. Report back to SGT O’Neil. You’ve got a briefing coming up soon, and I’ll address everyone else before we hit Alcubierre.”

Coop stood and gave the LCDR a sharp salute before doing an about face and heading back to grunt country. The guy was paying him good money. The least he could do was show him respect. Plus, if this went well, there would be other opportunities for extra income while they were stationed in the same AO.

Coop’s good mood took a bit of a hit while he sat through the SGT’s briefing. They were headed to a system in the middle of nowhere to clear some half-finished asteroid storage areas of possible illegal activity. It all smelled a little too much like what happened back at Cobalt. Even worse, they still had no idea how the pirates had gotten those modern weapons. That shit wasn’t supposed to happen, and Coop didn’t want to walk into a clusterfuck a second time.

<At least this time I’ll have a proper load.> Part of the brief was a heads-up on their supply situation. No environmentally-friendly rounds this time. This wasn’t some corporate run station they had to treat with kid gloves. They were going in hot. Everyone there was a hostile, and Coop was looking forward to some real 3mm boom-boom this time.

Despite the uneasy feeling in his gut, there wasn’t anything else for Coop to complain about as Argo slid out of Abe and headed for the Alcubierre Launcher. It was a quick couple of days’ work for a big paycheck, and now he had Lee to look forward to. When he had a free moment he’d find the engineering apprentice and play “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”.

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