A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 37

There was truth to the statement when someone “rung your bell”. Daisy could attest to that fact. She was lying on her back, stars were dancing in front of her eyes, the world was spinning, her chest was on fire, and it sounded like someone had stuck her head inside the Liberty Bell before repeatedly banging it with a very large hammer. She also had some cold sandwich meat sticking to her face.

<There’s a joke there,> she groaned. She should be dead.

Only her training and instinct had kept her alive. When normal people got shot, even in a vest, they tended to go down and stay down for a bit. Their life might flash in front of their eyes, and they’ll have a big “oh shit” moment. Some might even go into shock. If you actually took a bullet, shock was a given at some point.

This was not the first time she’d been shot, with or without a vest. She had her guts strewn all over the place before and still crawled away from that fight. What hadn’t happened before was getting shot while she was kinetically absorbing everything, her absorption not working, and then getting hit by the human equivalent of a freight train.

Instinct and training were the only reason she wasn’t a streak of red on the pavement. For over fifty years she’d trained her body to absorb…absorb…absorb in case of an emergency, so when she got hit by Stal, everything automatically activated. That didn’t stop some force from leaking through as she filled up her internal battery.

The whole scenario had caught her by surprise, but now that she knew what was coming, she could be prepared for it.

<Come on, Daisy. Get off your ass.> She growled at herself as she rolled onto her stomach and pulled her knees toward her chest. Things still hurt, but she had ten fingers, ten toes, and everything seemed to move the way it should.

She staggered to her feet just as she heard running footsteps approaching. <Move!> She funneled power into her feet and blasted down the street away from the destroyed sandwich shop and what she assumed was Stal coming to finish the job. The blast of energy allowed her to land without injury.

She found herself in a unique position, and one she’d had to deal with a few times when fighting strongmen types. She’d last dealt with it when battling Sief al-Din. Taking and exchanging hits became a science. She couldn’t take more than she could hold or she’d get turned to mush. That was the downside. The upside was that she could give as good as she got, and depending on the Super she was fighting, she might end up the harder-hitting of the two fighters.

<Let’s find out.> She was still a little wobbly on her feet, but she turned to face Stal…and immediately was forced to dive out of the way when Nightingale opened up on her.

Blobs of nullifying goo and bullets dipped in it flew her way. Her dive took her through the wall of another shop. People screamed and cowered as she came crashing into their midst.

“Everyone stay down and find cover!” It was hard to look like the good guy when you came crashing into a place, but yelling non-threatening, common sense information tended to help. “If there is a back room, get there now.”

As the civilians moved, Daisy applied force to some metal table legs. They bent, warped, and then snapped off of the faux wood plastic. It wasn’t much, but another layer of defense between her and Nightingale was going to make all the difference.

She crouched to the side of the entrance she’d made and waited. She was going to let the villains come to her. Heroes should be mobilizing and in route. With her injuries it was better to wait for backup.

A fist plunged through the brick wall. Stal knew what was happening and she wasn’t waiting around. The strongwoman was several feet to Daisy’s right, so she sprung, grabbed the woman by the arm, and did a judo throw. Stal demolished the wall on the way through, went up and over Daisy’s shoulder, and cratered the ground with a thundering boom that knocked over half the stuff in the place.

Daisy followed up her throw with a heel stomp to the face. She put a decent chunk of power into it, she didn’t care if she burst Stal’s head like a balloon, but the veteran strongwoman was fast. She got her arms up and crossed in front of her. The force of Daisy’s stomp still did a number on Stal, and blood flowed freely from where her arms had smacked back into her nose.

Daisy wound back up for a second stomp, but Stal grabbed her opposite foot and yanked. Daisy was swept off the ground and tossed away. The stuff that Stal hadn’t knocked over from Daisy’s throw was demolished as Daisy plowed through it and another wall. She ended up flying back out into the street as the front of the building collapsed behind her.

Stal had inadvertently buried herself, which bought Daisy a second to breathe…until she saw Nightingale pop back out with her gun trained on her.

Lightening rocketed out of Daisy toward the nullifier. The woman laughed as the energy died pitifully against her armor, but it didn’t last long. Daisy didn’t intend to hurt her, she intended to blind her momentarily. While light blocked Nightingale’s vision, Daisy pushed off and tumbled into an adjacent alley.

“Dispath, where the fuck is everyone?” She had five maybe ten seconds before Nightingale reacquired her, Stal dug out of the rubble, and Daisy was going to use that to bitch at the people that should be here helping.

She put her back to the wall and pushed herself back to her feet. She could see parts of the crumbled building shifting as Stal pulled herself out, and Nightingale was probably working her way in a wide arc to put as much distance between her and Daisy while still having a clear shot.

She had multiple options, none of them good. She could go through more walls, but the DVA and the citizens of Orlando usually frowned upon Supers busting up the place. She could go up, but you couldn’t maneuver well in the air, and if Nightingale was a decent shot, Daisy could get a whole lot of dead.

“Back up is on the way, Reaper.” Dispatch replied calmly.

“About time.” Daisy growled back, but she wasn’t sure if the other Hero was listening.

Her brain continued to cycle through options when Stal stepped back into view. She looked pissed. Her compression armor was covered in dust, and blood dripped off her top lip from the busted nose.

If Daisy had her pick, she’d rather face the strongwoman.

“Well come on then.” It was hard to be cocky with a busted rip, but she gave Stal the old ‘come here’ gesture with her fingers.

Stal was predictable. She charged toward the alley…and got hit by a flying car right at the mouth of it. It sandwiched her against the wall, she started pushing it away, but then a large metal man hammered into her.

“Cover Iron Giant!” Daisy rushed toward the two struggling Supers. One round from Nightingale was all it would take to kill the legendary strongman.

Nightingale had the same idea. Iron Giant and Stal hadn’t been struggling more than a few seconds before multiple shots rang out. Daisy’s heart skipped a beat mid-run, until she saw Iron Giant shift position to allow the car’s frame to cover him.

“Nightingale is falling back.” Iron Giant’s voice was strained. Stal was strong.

“Damn right she is.” Daisy’s grimace turned into a grin. Things were starting to look up. She moved to help him.

There was a loud crunch as something in the car gave between the two strongmans’ jockeying, Iron Giant jerked to the side, and Stal leveraged that to throw him away. Daisy jumped to restrain her, but Stal used the car as a bat and clubbed her in the side. She smacked hard into the wall, but thankfully didn’t go through.

Stal took the opportunity to retreat. She jumped away and landed close to Nightingale, who was unloading on an advancing SWAT team with riot shields. The team scattered for cover when they saw who they were up against. The team went for cover, but Stal didn’t advance. She used her body to cover Nightingale as they retreated.

“Get a perimeter up! Don’t let them get away!” Daisy grimaced. Yelling wasn’t doing her ribs any favors. “Where the hell is Hunter!” She did it anyway.

“He’s in pursuit.”

It was the best news she’d heard all day. If Hunter was already on Wraith’s trail then it was going to be difficult for the teleporter to get the other two villains to safety. All the Heroes needed to do was tighten the noose.

 

***

 

Lilly came out of the teleport at a run. She felt pressure build in her head like a sinus headache as she held in the blast of black. Having a sudden eruption of darkness on a rooftop, in the middle of the day, would be like sending up a flair signaling “come get the villain”. Since she wasn’t a tactical moron, and was trying to keep a low profile while she could, she dealt with the discomfort.

She pushed down all other concerns as she rushed across the rooftop. She practically slid into a kneeling firing position. She stuck the barrel on the concrete block for stability and scanned the street in front of her. After multiple explosions and Super fights, the residents of Orlando were sheltering in place. Anyone out on the street was law enforcement, criminals taking advantage of the chaos, or someone dumb enough that their death might be for the benefit of society. Lilly didn’t see anyone, and she panicked for a moment that she was in the wrong spot.

<Shit…shit…shit…> she took her eye off the scope and rechecked the message. <No this is where…> The screeching sound was all the proof she needed.

She reacquired the end of the street with the rifle’s scope and watched as a SUV made a lumbering turn around the corner. At first, she thought it was a junker that Morina had stolen, but a closer inspection showed it was a top of the line model…it had just been beaten to shit.

The sides were riddled with dents, scratches, and a few discernable bullet holes, all of the windows were shattered, and the tiers had been shot out. A trail of sparks followed the SUV down the street as it drove at its top speed: no more than thirty.

That was a bad sign when two police patrol cars and another black SUV whipped around the corner behind them. Their tires squealed, their exteriors were perfect, and it was pretty obvious that the SUV was armored.

<Fuck!> She didn’t like the odds, and she only had so much time before Hunter caught her scent again. <Cops first.>

The rifle’s scope had an automatic range finder, and it said they were eight hundred meters away. At her best, she couldn’t hit much over six hundred, so she had to bite the inside of her lip and wait the precious seconds as Morina’s busted ride crawled forward. By the time the cars came into range the two cop cars were pulling alongside Morina to get in front of her and cut her off.

BOOM

A decent-sized hole appeared in the hood of the cop car on the right and smoke began to pour out of the engine. The driver immediately hit the brakes and threw it in reverse to get out of the line of fire. The momentary confusion helped Lilly sight and take a second shot at the other patrol car. Her second shot still hit the engine, but it was much closer to the driver than on the other car. No smoke came out this time, but the cop still slammed on the breaks and threw it in reverse to get the hell out of there.

<Time to change position.> A trained spotter would be able to find her after those two shots, and the DVA SUV still had a clear line of sight to what was in front of them. <It doesn’t matter if I go left or right, just make a decision Lilly,> she urged herself on, scanned the area, and vanished.

She reappeared only about a hundred meters from Morina’s car and in a decent overwatch position. The busted SUV was still limping down the street, and the DVA’s SUV was hanging back cautiously after what happened to the cops.

This time Lilly stood up to get a better shooting foundation. She laid the rifle across a wooden beam, sighted, breathed deep, and squeezed the trigger. The first shot sparked off the asphalt, and she swore up a mental storm before calming down and taking her second shot.

<Bingo.> The bullet smashed through the rubber of the DVA SUV’s front right tire.

The vehicle lurched from the sudden loss of pressure, and then hit the brakes. There were undoubtedly calling for backup, and with Hunter on scene it could be seconds away. <It’s now or never.> Morina’s SUV had finally stopped moving, so Lilly made her move.

<Oh…that’s the good stuff.> She teleported in front of Morina’s SUV and unleashed the pent-up blast of darkness, and then she held it.

It felt easier than it had earlier, and she filed that little tidbit of information away for later use. She sensed all of the car’s damage, Morina in the passenger seat leaned over to Seth. A spike of jealously went through her before she really looked at Seth. Morina’s call said he’d been injured, but her awareness in the darkness finally showed Lilly how much.

<No…no…no…> She practically threw open the door. Seth’s eye lids were droopy and his eyes looked like they were on the verge of rolling into the back of his head. There was blood, a lot of it, and she’d killed enough people to know this much blood loss was bad.

Fear swept over her as she grabbed Seth around the neck and tried to ease him out of the car. Rage replaced the fear when she felt his slick blood on her hands, and she instinctually pushed. The darkness obeyed. The interior of her darkness cleared rapidly so it resembled the eye of a hurricane, while the darkness continued to hide them from view on the perimeter.

“Wraith!” Morina finally saw her. “So much blood.” The other woman was licking her lips impulsively.

“Get your shit together, Morina.” Lilly snapped, which seemed to shock the blood manipulator back into the moment. “We need to get out of here.”

Seth wasn’t able to stand, so she braced him against the car. “It’s going to be ok, baby. I’ve got you. Everything is going to be fine.” She whipped out her cell phone.

Mika picked up on the first ring. “Wraith, what the fuck is going on out there?”

“No time. I need you to get me the location for the nearest healer NOW!” If it wasn’t for the darkness around her, Lilly’s voice would have echoed throughout the town.

“Yeah…um…on it. The nearest freelance one isn’t even in Florida…”

“I DON’T CARE! Just give me the address and a picture.” She screamed back.

Despite the emotional fuel the situation was giving her, the darkness was starting to fail. Gunshots began to cut through the space around them, so she pulled her pistols and fired back. She wasn’t hampered by the blinding darkness, but the cops and agents were still taking cover behind their vehicles. One cop went down when he gripped the metal door at the same time one of her next-gen taser rounds smacked into it. The guy went rigid and toppled like a tree. The other guys were quick on the draw and made sure to not be touching metal as Lilly returned fire. The doors were more than enough cover to stop her shots.

“Morina!” she tossed the other women her rifle, and holstered her weapons. The darkness was more of a weak fog now, and any second they were going to have clear shots. “Cover us!” Lilly wrapped one of Seth’s arms around her shoulder and half carried, half dragged his ass to the front.

They were still totally fucked if someone came at them from the other direction, but this was the best they could do.

Morina had no idea how to shoot the rifle. All of her shots went wide, and barely kept the cops’ heads down.  Lilly snatched it back when she had Seth behind the bulk of the SUV, aimed, waited for a target to present itself, and fired.

She caught the cop in the shoulder. He’d live, but his arm was going to be pretty fucked up for a while. Seeing another one of their number go down made the law enforcement guys pause, and it gave Lilly a second to think.

Thinking was hard though. They were closer to the rest of the fighting than she realized. Lightening seemed to crackle every few seconds and it sounded like two tanks were smacking into each other like rams fighting over a mate. That was on top of all the gun fire.

“Ok, we need to…”

BOOM

The SUV lurched as something powerful hit it.

<What the fuck?!>

A second BOOM and the front windshield shattered. Lilly dared to look up. What she saw was a hole clear through the armored SUV, and at the end of that round’s path was Hunter holding his big-ass rifle.

“We need to get you of here now!” She hadn’t checked for Mika’s message yet. She didn’t have time.

She pulled two grenades from her vest. The first was plain old smoke, and she lobbed it in Hunter’s direction. The throw sent him scrambling for cover, but the hiss and rapidly spreading gray cloud wasn’t exactly intimidating. That was what the second grenade was for. Lilly grabbed Seth under the arm and pulled the pin. She slid it under the SUV, grabbed Morina, and was gone in a blast of darkness.

She didn’t even get to see the frag grenade rip into the underbelly of the SUV, or the resulting cascade of explosions that sent the vehicle flying a few feet into the air and rolling on its side right over their teleportation point. All she knew was that they had a few minutes.

They reappeared on another rooftop, but she held in the darkness. She didn’t want them to know where she was just yet. Even so, she held her hand up above her head and gave any watching satellite the finger.

Despite everything that had happened, the objective was still the same. She needed to beat Hunter at their mutual game, and she needed to get Seth to the healer. She spent valuable seconds checking the phone and getting the picture of their next destination, but that still left throwing Hunter off their scent.

Another few seconds and she knew what to do. It was going to suck monkey dick, but it was the only short-term solution to getting out of there with the chance Hunter wouldn’t find them. Hunter’s tracking gift was pretty incredible. His ability to follow the tears in space created by teleporters like bread crumbs was unmatched, but there was a weakness. Lilly could overload his ability. She could confuse him so he couldn’t decipher anything without a lot of time and effort.

The plan had its drawbacks. It was going to whoop her ass good, so the only thing standing between them and prison was Morina.

<I can do it.> Lack of confidence had never been an issue with Lilly, and today wasn’t any exception.

“Morina, take Seth over to the edge.” The blood manipulator did as instructed while Lilly advanced to the center of the rooftop.

She cracked her knuckles and neck, rolled her shoulders, and took several deep breaths. It was going to get hard to breath in a second. Then she started teleporting, over and over again with minute differences. She disappeared and reappeared…disappeared and reappeared… over and over again in nearly the same place. It was like machine guns blasts of darkness. She did it until she felt light-headed, then she walked over to another section of the rooftop and did it again, and then went to another spot and did it again, and again, and again.

She covered the rooftop in teleportation rifts. When Hunter got here it would be like looking into the most jacked up kaleidoscope ever and trying to find the needle in the haystack of needles.

The trick was taking its toll. Lily felt her consciousness slipping from her grasp as everything seemed to whirl. Darkness crept in at the corners of her vision. Exhaustion seeped deep into her bones. Teleporting took energy, and her body was literally eating itself now to get power.

She’d lost count, but she’d done at least a hundred teleportations in a few minutes when she finally called it quits. She stumbled toward Seth and Morina like a drunken sorority girl.

“Ok,” she grabbed for Seth’s shoulder, completely missed, and ended up toppling into them. Since Morina was already supporting Seth’s two-hundred-plus pounds it didn’t end well.

The small blood manipulator was quickly overpowered and pushed back. With nothing behind her but a half wall and a ledge, she was easily pushed over by Seth and Lilly’s superior weight. She screamed like the she-devil she was, but her fingers dug into Seth.

Lilly was still practically lying on Seth as they plummeted toward the ground, and it was the minor surge of her body’s last drop of adrenaline that saved their lives. She remembered Mika’s picture with the sudden burst of clarity, locked on, and teleported away.

Her last conscious thought was how hot and muggy rural Alabama was before she passed out.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 157

Benjamin Gold

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

 “Enter.”

Ben did it all by the book. He marched forward and snapped to the position of attention in front of the RADM. “Lieutenant Commander Gold, reporting as ordered, Sir.”

RADM Nelson barely looked up from the PAD he was working on. “At ease, Commander. Take a seat.” He waved at one of the chairs surrounding the conference table.

Of all the times Ben had met the Task Force commander, he couldn’t remember actually being in the smaller man’s office. The RADM preferred to do his work in the small conference room right off the bridge. It made sense. If anything happened he was right there to take command of the situation.

Ben popped a squat in the nearest seat, but didn’t relax. His butt was right on the edge of the nano-laced fabric. The RADM didn’t give him a second glance for two whole minutes as he finished reading whatever was on that PAD.

<I hope it’s my report.>

After the action taken in System 1861, Ben was forced to spend most of the trip back, and the first few days back in New Lancashire, compiling a lengthy report on what occurred. Enlisted soldiers and NCOs might make fun of officers for this aspect of their job, but the truth was that it was integral to anyone who’d been involved in the action.

Without Ben’s report no one got the recognition they deserved. They didn’t get points for promotion. They didn’t get medals or awards. They didn’t even get combat pay, so the more detailed Ben was the better for everyone. He had reviewed the recordings from the marine’s armor as part of the process, and put together the sequence of events for the RADM to make a judgment on the effectiveness of Argo and her attached Infantry in completing their mission.

“Good work, Gold.” The RADM leaned back in his seat and gave Ben a small smile; emphasis on the small. “From what I’ve seen, Argo and her crew performed admirably. You isolated the problem, assessed your options, and took swift action. I’d put this one down in the win column.”

“Thank you, Sir. I…”

“That doesn’t mean it was done flawlessly,” the RADM interrupted before Ben could get going. “You lost too many marines in taking the station. There are some inconvenient gaps in the footage during the recovery process, and the little trick those pirates played allowed a lot of people to get away. This isn’t a cut the head off the snake and the body withers scenario. Sure, you cut off this head by taking the rock and seizing everything, but people got away and they’ll pop up somewhere else to annoy some other skipper or admiral in the future.”

“Understood, Sir.” Ben had learned long ago when arguing with his father that sometimes it was just better to take the hits. Hindsight was twenty-twenty.

“I’ve reviewed your recommendations, and I’ve approved the combat pay. This certainly meets the qualifications, and it will allow the fallen marines’ families to receive the proper benefits. As for the awards, I’m authorizing a general citation of accomplishment for the crew. From the report and footage you all did your jobs to standard. All other awards are denied.”

Of all the stuff that the RADM had said, that hit the hardest. Ben could take the older man being hard on him, his actions hadn’t been perfect, but it really riled him up to see him put down the men under his command. They’d followed his orders to the best of their ability and adapted to an unpredictable situation. They deserved something more than a few extra bucks in their bank account on the first and fifteenth of the month.

“Yes, Sir.” Ben bit the inside of his cheek and balled his fists underneath the table.

The RADM raised an eyebrow, but let the insubordinate tone go. “We need to look at your next assignment.”

“I’ve got training scheduled with Charlie Company of the 2223rd, Sir.” Ben hastily added. He’d made the deal with the Infantry LT to get Coop, and he wasn’t going to renege or else his word would be useless in the future.

“I’m assigning you to the next iteration of the Strike Force, Lieutenant Commander.” The RADM clearly didn’t care what an Infantry battalion had on their training schedule. “It’s about time Argo got to engage in some proper gunboat operations. You will be the forward scout for the operation. Meet up with Captain Jacobson for your deployment orders, but I suspect you’ll be setting sail soon, so if you’re going to do training I’d do it now.”

“Yes, Sir.” Ben was glad he wasn’t getting his reputation totally thrown under the bus.

“Don’t screw this up, Commander,” the RADM offered some parting words as Ben got to his feet, and snapped back to the position of attention. “I won’t be just Argo and a handful of marines who’ll pay if you screw this up. There are nearly ten thousand spacers and marines in that strike force, plus a ship from our newest ally. Don’t pull a Cobalt Station, Gold.”

“Yes, Sir.” Ben stood there rigidly until the RADM broke eye contact in a clear sign of dismissal.

<Message received, Sir. I did ok on this last mission, but I am still on your shit list.> Ben shared the sentiment.

His six-month tour was two-thirds of the way done. He couldn’t wait to get out of this place and move on to his goal of the Diplomatic Corps. He’d much rather be making deals than under RADM Nelson’s hounding gaze twenty-four-seven.

“Everything good, Sir?” Chief Yates was waiting outside the conference room hatch with the RADM’s aide. The aide scurried inside while Ben and his NCOIC headed back down toward Argo.

“He’s giving combat pay and a ship-wide citation, but nothing else.”

“Hardass.” The CPO looked like he’d wanted to spit.

“We’re on the next strike force mission though, so conduct a readiness check at 1500. I want to make sure we’re ready to ship out when I get the order.”

“We still doing the training with LT Wentworth?” The CPO remembered the name of the woman who drove the hard bargain for Coop’s inclusion.

“Get a message down to her and tell her to haul ass up here if she wants to get her qualifications done anytime soon.” Ben shrugged. He wouldn’t have any information until he talked with the strike force’s CAPT.

“Yes, Sir.” The CPO nodded and started drafting an e-mail on his PAD.

Training was an NCO thing, so the CPO and infantry GYSGT would figure out everything and then tell the officers what was going to happen.

“Any word on Lee?” Ben moved onto the next uncomfortable topic. He was just glad the RADM hadn’t added it to the list of things to ream him on.

“The MPs transported her up to the brig here. The master at arms have her under guard until it gets resolved.”

<Just what I need.> Ben did not want to go into battle without his engineering apprentice, who, if his suspicions were correct, actually did most of the work that kept Argo running.

“I did reach out through the petty officer network,” Yates grinned casually like he hadn’t subverted chains of command and forgone lines of communication. Ben didn’t think much of it. The POs did it all the time. After all, they ran just about everything. “Some little birdie told me that the case should be resolved by the end of the day.”

“That’s good.” Ben was happy for the good news.

He’d read over the case information provided to him by the arresting planetary authorities, and it didn’t look like Spacer Lee was an accessory to murder. It didn’t even look like Coop was a murderer. It read like self-defense, and that was the verdict Ben was hoping for.

Coop had helped him out twice now, and it would be a shame to have such a talented fixer end up in a military prison because some jealous guy tried to shoot him. Ben just had to trust the military justice system would see the facts and rule accordingly, because right now he had to get Argo ready for its first real task-force-level offensive operation.

He was going to be swamped.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Coop had been in prison before. More than once in fact during his Rat days, but prisons in the PHA were different.

<These are cleaner, so point for the brig,> he thought to himself. <But despite having multiple Rats crammed into the drunk tank that place was still bigger, so point PHA.>

Coop tried to shift position and knocked his sore knee against the metallic shitter in the corner. He cursed, tried to shake it off, and bumped his elbow into the metal bed.

“Son of a bitch!” he yelled, losing his temper and lashing out.

Now the bed post had a fist-sized indentation in it, and Coop’s knuckles were sore. He shook out his hand and continued cursing.

The brig of the MP station on base was built for single occupant, regular-sized men. Coop was way above average, so he felt like a person living in a doll house. His feet hung off the bed, he had to maneuver himself into the corner to take a proper shit, and the door leading in and out was way too small for him. The MP who brought him in was a nice enough guy and apologized for the inconvenience. Apparently, they had appropriately-sized cells for HI troopers but they were occupied. It had been a rowdy few days in Town Center.

Coop didn’t consider himself claustrophobic, but this whole experience took him back to Isolation Week in Basic. It was driving him crazy. At least on a warship, even a small one like Argo, there was always some cute spacer to chase that took his attention away from the confinement. Here, all he could do was wank into the toilet, and after Aiko that was just boring.

Coop was about the throw another punch into the crippled bedframe, but the door slid open and a large shadow blocked all the light from entering.

“I knew this was going to happen sooner or later.” SSG Hightower towered outside the cell.

“I didn’t do anything,” Coop automatically went on the defensive. “Dude tried to kill me, Staff Sergeant. What was I supposed to do?”

“I’m not the man you need to convince.” The giant SSG moved aside so two smaller MPs could usher Coop out of the cell and into handcuffs.

Coop had been in handcuffs several times as a rambunctious Rat, but never these. For people with enhancements two set of cuffs were used. The first went around the wrist like every pair since the beginning of time, but they weren’t metal. They were made with some sort of nanite-drenched fabric. It made them as comfortable as wearing CMUs, but at the MP’s command current went through them and hardened the material to improbable strength. They had more in common with the ES function on his LACS armor than the handcuffs he’d worn back in the PHA. The MPs called them flexcuffs.

Even though Coop had tried, and failed, to budge the flexcuffs, the MPs didn’t take any chances. The second pair was metallic, but smaller. They locked around his thumbs and a short, metal chain looped through the flexcuffs. Coop had tested these too, and immediately realized that was a bad idea. If he pulled too hard he was positive he was going to break both of his thumbs, and that would suck donkey dick.

Coop didn’t resist as the MPs put the flexcuffs and thumbcuffs on him. He was innocent after all. There was nothing to worry about, or at least that’s what he kept telling himself. Despite his certainty, he couldn’t shake the feeling like he was being led to his execution.

The MPs walked him away and the SSG followed to where his fate would be decided, which turned out to be the LT’s office. Instead of the LT sitting at the desk there was a stern-faced LCDR watching Coop with sharp eyes as he entered. The LT was off to his left with an unreadable expression, and an MP LT stood to the right. He looked bored.

“I call this military tribunal to order.” The LCDR didn’t have a gavel to smack, so he used his fist. The guy wasn’t Ranger or Recon, so he didn’t have enhancements, and the ensuing echo was appropriately weak. “Lieutenant Commander Thad Benson, Commander, 2223rd Infantry Battalion, presiding along with Lieutenant Jacobi Wentworth, Commander, Charlie Company 2223rd Infantry Battalion, and Lieutenant Han Johnson, Commander, New Lancashire Military Police Company.”

Coop just stood in front of the three officers with the MPs at his side and SSG Hightower at his back.

“How do you plead, Private First Cooper Mark Cooper?”  The LCDR looked Coop directly in the eye.

“Um…not guilty, Sir. The dude tried to shoot me in the fucking face. I was just defending myself and Spacer Lee.”

“A plea of not guilty in entered into the record.” The LCDR waved for Coop to shut up and turned to the MP LT. “LT Johnson, present the evidence.”

What the MP LT stated was music to Coop’s ears, which was probably why a JAG officer wasn’t present on Coop’s behalf. Forensically, it was a self-defense no brainer. They had Bradford on tape buying the weapon illegally. They’d tried to capture the smuggler Coop had sold the guns and drugs too, but he’d fled the system, so Coop dodged that bullet too. Witness statements from Coop, Aiko, and the motel clerk corroborated the evidence and matched, which they obviously did because it was the truth. The particle residue on Bradford’s hands sealed the deal when both Coop and Aiko tested negative. The case was so overwhelmingly in Coop’s favor that he wasn’t sure why they were doing a tribunal in the first place.

“Thank you, LT Johnson.” The LCDR still waited until the MP LT had presented all the evidence. “Based on the incontrovertible evidence it is within my delegated authority to declare Private First Class Cooper not guilty in the eyes of this tribunal.” The two LTs added their verdicts of not guilty into the record as well. “For your actions, Private First Class Cooper, you are being docked two weeks’ pay and sentenced to a week of extra duty.”

Coop didn’t see that coming. “Why, Sir. I didn’t do anything wrong?” His protest slipped out before he could stop himself.

LT Wentworth gave him a hard look, but the LCDR waved her off. “Mr. Cooper you still killed a citizen of the Commonwealth.”

“Respectfully, Sir, I’ve killed a lot of people. That’s my job.” Coop couldn’t stop himself.

SSG Hightower jabbed a knife hand into Coop’s kidney. “Shut the fuck up, Cooper, and take the punishment,” he whispered in Coop’s ear.

“It’s your job to defend the Commonwealth against enemies, Private Cooper, and the Commonwealth has invested a lot of time and money so that you can do that well. Do you agree?”

“Yes, Sir.” Coop puffed out his chest with pride.

“Since your training is so excellent, by your own words Private Cooper, why did your assailant have to die? You could have broken limbs and taken the weapon. You could have incapacitated him with the extensive hand-to-hand combat skills you’ve been taught. Hell, you could have chucked a lamp and knocked the fucker out.” The LCDR grew more heated as he went on. “You did not do any of those things, Private Cooper. You killed him. Your pay will be used to ship the deceased’s body back to his home system, and your extra duty will be some quality time for you to reflect on your actions. In addition, I want a report on all the different ways you could have incapacitated instead of killed. Deliver it to Lieutenant Wentworth at the end of your extra duty time. Only once your punishment is completed will I sign off on your promotion to corporal.”

That got a grin out of Coop. He’d totally forgotten about his promotion, and something told him that the LCDR couldn’t take that away from him or he would be making sure he stayed a PFC.

“This tribunal is adjourned.” The LCDR smashed his fist on the desk, turned off his PAD’s recording feature, and walked out without another word.

“Release him.” The MP LT clearly had better things to do because he left right behind the LCDR.

That left only Coop, his LT, and SSG.

“Way to shit the bed, Cooper.” The LT looked pissed. “Staff Sergeant, select the most boring and monotonous details available and assign Cooper to them. You can also consider yourself on CQ duty this entire weekend, and that paper better be a fucking religious experience to read or you’re going to do it again and again until you get it right. I’m not turning some half-assed attempt into the Commander.” She sat down and jabbed her finger into her PAD to open up her work. “In case you’re wondering, all of this is being done on top of your regular duties. If I hear you slacking I’m going to pull that second chevron, Cooper, I swear to God I’ll do it.”

Coop knew everyone wasn’t fucking around. “Yes, Ma’am.” He braced to attention.

“Get out of my sight.”

Coop hopped to it, and had barely made it out the door before the SSG grabbed him by the shoulder and half dragged him to his office.

“Here.” He grabbed a large polyplast sign. “This is the latest general order form the base commander. You will stand out on the main road through base with this to educate the military population. You will do this until relieved. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal, Staff Sergeant.”

“I will be watching, Cooper. If you slack off, or take off, I will make you regret your existence.”

“Consider me motivated, Staff Sergeant.” Coop replied back.

“Get the fuck out of my sight.”

Coop ran out of the office and out to the main street to begin his punishment. He had no idea how humiliating it was going to be.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 156

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Holy shit!” Coop struggled to catch his breath.

He was covered from head to toe in sweat. His neck had a kink in it, and his wrists were beginning to chafe from the cords she’d used to bind him to the bedposts. There was still some numbness left in his toes from the grand finale, but other than that he was immensely satisfied.

“Yeah…I know…right.” Aiko was breathing heavily and had collapsed on his chest.

She moved to dismount. They were both so slick with sweat all it took was her shifting her body weight to slide to the side, but she got caught in the mess of sheets and didn’t make it far. She maneuvered to get free, and ended up kicking him right in the dick.

“Aww shit!” Coop grunted. “If you want an encore performance you need to take it easy.”

“Sorry, baby.” She untangled herself more gracefully, and gave him an apology kiss. The kiss turned into a playful bite at the end, and that helped banish the soreness in his nuts.

Coop watched as Aiko walked away toward the bathroom. She was fine, but her ass wasn’t the only great thing to look at. You couldn’t tell when she wore her uniform, but the small engineering apprentice had quite a few tattoos covering her body. Some were phrases or quotes. Several of those were strategically placed to be covered by her bra-line. Dress and grooming standards could be pretty strict if she had a skipper who was a hard ass. Coop didn’t think Ben was too bad, but he had chastised her once about it. Putting the strings of words where they would only be visible when you were naked was a pretty smart way to get around it.

She had several on her upper legs and lower back. Some were images of something that was important to her. Coop had gotten a pretty good view of them over the last few hours and he was surprised to find they were traditional.

Tattoos had been big for centuries, and had gotten cheaper and cheaper to get throughout time. Since the GIC was essentially an advanced bio-tattoo, everyone had at least one. The cheapness of tattoos came from automation. Coop remembered a few kiosks in the PHA where getting a tattoo only cost about five bucks. Those were for the preprogrammed options. You could bring your own, but that cost more.

Aiko’s weren’t like that. They were traditional: done by an actual artist.

<They must have cost a fortune.> Some of them were very detailed, and his bet was at least ten grand for the lower back alone. He couldn’t guess the other because he hadn’t spent as long examining them.

“So, are you going to let me out of these?” Coop asked when she reappeared from the bathroom.

An evil grin spread across her face as she sauntered forward.

“Can I at least get a cup of water,” Coop begged. He was all for round three, but a guy needed to get some fluids back in him.

“What are you going to do for it?” she asked.

Coop was about to tell her all of the things he was going to do to her when a knock on the door interrupted them. It was not a normal knock, it was a pounding.

“I know you’re in there. Open up, Aiko.”

Aiko looked at the door for a second with confusion before recognition sparked something. “Fuck!” Her eyes scanned the room looking for something.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Things had just gone from mildly kinky foreplay to serious in a few heartbeats.

“Shit…shit…shit!” She rummaged through the crap they’d thrown everywhere before, during, and after sex before finally finding what she was looking for.

A deadly looking knife.

She advanced on Coop.

“Hey, what the fuck!” He yelled as he strained against the cords. The bedpost groaned in protest before shattering under his strength.

“Coop! What the fuck!” She yelled back as she used the knife to cut the cords holding his feet. “You’re paying for that.”

Now, he felt stupid as he looked back and forth from his hands to the crippled bed. “Sorry, I thought you were coming at me.” He shrugged.

“If I wanted to gut you I could have done it during the show,” she grumbled as she finished cutting him free.

Coop looked back on the past few hours and counted no less than a dozen times she could have stabbed him. Hell, he was blindfolded a quarter of the performance. “That’s fair. I’ll pay the damages.” He was flush with cash, so he didn’t mind.

“Aiko! Open the fucking door right now!” The pounding was growing louder, and the door was shaking in its frame from the blows.

“Aiko, what the fuck is going on?” Coop looked back and forth between her and the door. “Do you want me to deal with that?”

He was tugging his CMU’s back on and standing up to his full height. He’d have to duck and turn sideways to get through the small door the irate person was banging on. He felt confident in his chances.

“No…no, I’ll deal with this. He’s my husband.”

That stopped Coop dead in his tracks. “What?”

“My husband, Bradford.”

“Bradford,” Coop scoffed. “What kind of name is Bradford?”

Aiko shot him a looked and he shut up. “I was stupid, got married right out of high school. I was ‘in love’,” she put the last two words in air quotes. “He was the cutest guy in school and had college and a job lined up with his father’s company. It was like everything fell into place.” She shrugged as she continued to pull on clothes. “I didn’t see the signs that he was a jealous possessive asshat until about six months in. I tried to get out, but he beat me, and his father threatened to ruin me too. It would have been embarrassing to the family if, and I quote, ‘an Asian whore didn’t think she was good enough for our respectable family’. So, I got out the only way I could. I walked down to the recruiting station, joined up, and took a shuttle out to Basic the same day.”

“Good for you. Guy sounds like a real shitbag.” Coop looked for her to the door. “You sure you don’t want me to…” he rammed his fist into his open palm.

“No, I got this, but stick around please.” There was resolve in her eyes, but worry too.

“Sure thing.” Coop finished getting dressed, and then plopped down on the bed, crossed his legs and put his hands behind his head. “Just ask if you need a hand.”

“Thanks.” It was a genuine thanks with an implied ‘I’ll fuck your brains out later’.

“Aiko, open the fucking door or else.” The door rumbled in its frame some more as she approached it.

“What do you want, Bradford?!” she remotely opened the door with the motel-supplied PAD.

Bradford was a bigger guy. Not Coop big, but big enough to suggest some sort of embryotic enhancements. Judging by Aiko’s story about his father, that seemed like a good possibility. Aiko looked small and thin compared to him, but she stood her ground with her hands on her hips, while Bradford’s eyes scanned the room.

His eyes settled on Coop, so Coop gave him a little salute.

“Who the fuck is that?!” Bradford pointed at Coop like he was fingering a perp in a lineup.

Coop would know the sensation since he’d been in his fair share during his PHA Rat years.

“That’s my fuckbuddy.” Aiko deadpanned, which brought a grin to Coop’s lips. “What the hell are you doing here Bradford? Was me joining the Fleet and moving halfway across the galaxy not a big enough message for you?”

“Sounds pretty big to me,” Coop agreed casually.

“Fuck you!” Bradford’s eyes never left Coop. “This is between me and my wife.”

“I’m not your wife!” Aiko shrieked back. “I’m nothing to you. Don’t you get it? I’ve moved on and I’m not coming back.”

“The hell you aren’t!” Bradford reached for her.

Aiko jumped back and Coop got to his feet in the same moment.

“I think the lady’s said her piece.” He took a few steps forward. “How about…”

“I told you to shut the fuck up!” Bradford screamed and pulled something from underneath his coat. “Now who has the upper hand, big guy?”

Coop found himself staring down the barrel of a pistol, and not just any pistol. <You’ve got to be shitting me.> He was willing to bet all the money he’d just made that Bradford was holding one of the pistol’s he’d just sold to those black market traders a few hours ago.

“Bradford, what the hell are you doing?” Aiko screamed as her eyes zeroed in on the pistol. She was probably thinking the same thing.

“Shut up!” He yelled back and tried to backhand her with the weapon. She slid back just out of the way, and Coop jumped into action.

<Big mistake.>

Bradford clearly wasn’t used to threatening people with a gun. Rule number one was to not take the gun off the people you were threatening. Especially if one of those people was an HI trooper with enhanced fast-twitch muscle fibers.

As Coop leapt across the room, Bradford noticed his mistake. He tried to bring the weapon back on target and ended up firing off a round in panic. Coop felt the heat of the energy blast fly past him. If that blast hit him center mass it would probably kill him, or at least fuck him up enough for Bradford to finish the job.

<No way am I getting killed by some guy named Bradford.>

The shot went wide, and before the pistol could recharge Coop was on top of him. He hit Bradford like a battleship at ramming speed. The smaller man was picked up off his feet, and both men flew backward in a tumble of limbs.

They hit the ground and Coop immediately fought for position.

“Stupid fucker…” He was able to get a mount, and then had to roll away. Bradford was able to get the weapon up before Coop could pin his hand.

A second energy blast went up and through the ceiling. It was a good thing the motel was only one story, or someone’s night out could have turned into a very bad time.

“Stop shooting, Bradford!” Aiko screamed as she jumped in to try and control the hand with the weapon in it.

She wasn’t fast enough. He pointed the pistol in her direction, but before he could do anything, Coop drove his elbow into Bradford’s face.

Bone and cartilage crumbled under Coop’s powerful blow. One of Bradford’s eyes burst, and he immediately went limp. As Coop pulled his elbow back and looked at the damage, he couldn’t blame the other guy. He’d be passed the fuck out too if his face looked like that.

“Jesus Christ, Coop.” Aiko kicked the weapon out of Bradford’s hand and jumped to her feet like he was going to regain consciousness at any second and lunge at her.

“I stopped him from wasting you, so you’re welcome.” He grunted as he got to his feet.

They could both hear sirens in the distance, and both of their eyes went to their belongings where over fifty grand of illegally obtained cash chips was sitting.

“We need to get out of here.” Coop rushed to the cash and started pocketing it. The sirens were still off in the distance, so they had time.

Aiko didn’t reply as she bent over Bradford.

“Come on, we need to get going now.” Coop repeated.

“We can’t.” she replied. “The hotel room is under my name, so the cops are going to come and find me one way or another.” She stood up and faced Coop. The look on her face was dire. “Bradford’s dead, Coop. There’s no pulse.”

Coop just stood there for a second waiting for the shock to set in, but it didn’t. This wasn’t the first time Coop had killed a person in anger, and it wouldn’t be the last. He didn’t even feel sorry. The guy was a piece of shit. The only thing that Coop was worried about was the cops asking questions and finding the money.

“Ok, it was self-defense. His prints are all over the gun. There are two blaster marks where he tried to kill me, so this is a pretty open and shut case.” Coop convinced himself in a few seconds that everything was going to be ok. “We’ll get chewed out for screwing, but I’m not part of Argo’s crew anymore, so it’ll be a slap on the wrist. What we need to do is hide the cash fast.” The sirens were getting closer.

Aiko stood frozen for several seconds before shaking her head. “Ok…ok…” she seemed to be coming out of the momentary freeze of having her dirtbag husband killed in front of her. “Hiding places…hiding places.” She looked around the room.

“It’s got to be somewhere outside. The cops are going to tear the room apart as they gather the evidence. The roof?” He suggested.

“No, a blaster mark went through the ceiling so they’re gonna look up there.” Aiko shut that idea down.

“I got it!” Coop stated a moment later. “Grab me that knife and a bag.”

Aiko did as she was told and followed him outside and around to the side of the building. There were no cameras in sight, and they didn’t see anyone out this early in the morning. She handed him the knife and he went to town digging a shallow hole with the blade. It didn’t take him long to get deep enough to fit the bag full of cash chips inside.

Coop covered it back up and stomped on it to get it even with the rest of the ground around them.

“Go call nine-one-one and report what happened.” He ordered.

“What? They’re almost here.”

“It will look better if we report the attack. We can blame the delay on shock.” He ushered her back to the room, but left the door open while she made the call.

She was still on the line when the cops busted into the room with their weapons drawn.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 155

Eve Berg

Location: CWS Agincourt, Uncharted System, Eastern Block

“Situation!” GYSGT Cunningham stood at the front of the gathered men and women next to a portable holo-tank.

All across the Agincourt’s expansive flight deck dozens of other voices were ringing out. All of their voices were raised over the mechanical churnings of a Fleet about to go into battle. Cargo sleds were moving back and forth behind the GYSGT to and from the small fleet of Spyders not far away. They mostly carried a variety of small missiles and explosive 40mm rounds for the nose cannons, but every once and a while the sled carried consumables, spare parts, or extra M3s from the Spyder’s internal armories. All of it was a bit distracting for Eve as she tried to listen in on the specifics of Alpha Company 2511th Infantry Battalion’s upcoming mission.

“As you ladies and gentlemen know, we are about to embark on one of the largest military operations in memory. The Blockies walked into our house and sucker punched us. I know, myself and others were there.”

Eve knew the GYSGT was referring to her. The two of them were the only people in Alpha
Company and its accompanying Ranger contingent who’d been on Rogue Island and in the doomed task force that came to their rescue. Eve blocked those memories out before they could surface. Scavenger bots racing toward her, and her not being able to escape was one of her most frequent nightmares.

“Now, it is our turn to kick them in the nuts, and we’ve brought half a million of our friends with us.” A war grunt rose from the Company before they settled back down.

“Mission!” The holo-tank activated and showed the giant Y of an Alcubierre Launcher. “Second Corps, Fifth Division, First Brigade is tasked with boarding, capturing, and disabling the three Alcubierre Launchers in the Yangon system identified as: Launcher Alpha, Launcher Bravo, and Launcher Charlie. First Battalion, Alpha Company’s objective is Launcher Alpha.” With a swipe of her fingers, the GYSGT dismissed the two other Launchers and enlarged Alpha.

Eve was surprised at the amount of detail available on the Launcher. The Commonwealth and Blockies designs were different based on preference, but the same underlying architecture was the same. The Launchers were giant Y shapes with tens of kilometers between the two upward prongs. That allowed incoming and outgoing traffic to arrive and depart through the beacons. When arriving they honed in on the beacon. When they were departing, they tapped into the system network, located their destination’s beacon, and plotted a course through the network. It was the fastest form of space travel devised. The Launchers, and their network, were the circulatory system of a major starfaring nation.

<And we’re going in to cut their jugular.> Eve suppressed a grin. This was a hell of a lot better than fighting little murderous robots.

“Concept of the operation will be broken down into three phases: boarding, neutralizing the garrison, and lastly disabling the quantum tech. It is of paramount importance that the quantum entanglement technology be disabled as quickly as possible. I will say that again for anyone who was not paying attention the first time.”

Eve was sure everyone was paying attention and the GYSGT was just rubbing in how important their mission was.

“It is of paramount importance that we disable the quantum entanglement tech ASAP. If we do not, the Blockies are going to drop their own Fleet on our ass and we’ll be playing defense instead of offense. When we’re this far from home that might as well be game, set, and match.”

Everyone felt the truth of those words. They were pretty deep in Blockie space, and if they had to run they weren’t going to get too far with the exotic matter reserves, and even then, they’d have to stop and refuel while all the Blockie forces in the sector hunted for them.

“Phase One, Boarding.” The GYSGT didn’t let her soldiers think about that possibility for too long. “We’re taking a two-pronged approach.” The holo-tank shifted out to show a large space around the objective. “Launchers Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie have two fortresses in a stable orbit around them. The brass’ plan is to engage the fortresses and then have Aggie run the gauntlet and dump us on the targets.”

<Having the fleet flagship slip between two fortresses like that is ballsy, but I wouldn’t expect anything else from Admiral Ward.>

Eve had the pleasure of meeting Third Fleet’s commander several times over the last several years. He was good friends with her mother, so whenever they were in the same system he usually came over to eat or vice versa. As the youngest child, and only one still in the house at the time, Eve had been forced to tag along. She liked Admiral Ward, but she hoped his aggressive tactics didn’t get her killed.

“We will be using a combination of Parasites and Spyders.” The GYSGT could barely hide her grimace. Eve shared the sentiment.

Parasite pods were specially designed pods for ship-to-ship boarding operations, and the ride in them was about as fun as a combat drop into a hostile atmosphere. It was also dangerous enough that doing a single run in a Parasite was enough to earn the occupants the Master Combat Drop Badge.

Each Parasite could hold anywhere from one to five soldiers depending on the pod’s design and soldier’s classification, and if Eve’s suspicions were correct, if she made it through this then she’d have that shiny gold badge on her CMU’s for the rest of her career. That was guaranteed to label her as a bad ass for life, but the cost of that honor was great.

“Our Ranger attachments and select soldiers from the Company will be inbound to the target on the Parasites, while the rest of the Company loads on our two Spyders.” The holo-tank zoomed back in on Launcher Alpha. “The cannon cockers are going to aim for this section of the target.” The screen highlighted a section of the Launcher midway between where the prongs separated and the butt of the structure. “Hopefully they don’t miss.”

<Fanatstic.> Eve took a couple deep breaths and didn’t let the other soldiers see she was in sudden need of finding a restroom.

Parasite craft were specifically designed to breech hardened targets. They were built to be stealthy, maneuverable, and hard to hit, but that all became relative when you were getting closer and closer to the target. The front of the Parasites was what gave them their name. Multiple nanite and diamond-tipped drills glistened at the head giving it a carnivorous, insectoid look. It was those drills’ job to defeat anything from laminate plating to the ES nanite armor of a warship.

The good news was that once it got to the hull the Parasites were relatively safe from shipboard weaponry, but that didn’t mean the ship’s internal contingent of marines couldn’t come out and try to blow the Parasite off the ship. It had happened before and would happen again.

<Just hopefully not to me.> Eve said a quick prayer to whoever’s guiding hand decided her fate.

“Our Spyders: Bulldog-One and Bulldog-Two are going to land here.” The GYSGT continued with the briefing. “The plan is for the Rangers to secure the LZ so we don’t take casualties boarding. If they are not able to hold the LZ then we will fight are way onboard, because, as I said before, it is absolutely paramount that we disable that quantum tech.” She searched the Company for anyone who looked like they didn’t get that pivotal point yet.

Eve did the same, and was happy to conclude she didn’t see someone with their head so far up their ass they’d survive in vacuum by breathing their own farts.

“The layout for Launcher Alpha is unknown.” That brought a round of groans, which the GYSGT silenced with a look. “But we have taken the external features and matched them up as closely with known enemy Launcher as possible, so we have a good idea of the path we’ll need to take. Enemy force strength is unknown, but estimate is at least a battalion.”

Eve was ok with that. She knew the entire brigade was hitting the three targets, which meant three or four Commonwealth battalions per Launcher. Three or four to one odds was a good decision in her book.

“Our primary objective, Alpha Company, is to move to the main generator, which is believed to be in the engineering section at the bottom of the Launcher.” The holo-tank zoomed again and highlighted the very tip where a large chamber, surrounded by smaller chambers, was supposed to be.

“Our blueprint from similar Launchers shows that there is a sizeable space outside this section that is likely some type of garrison berthing. Intelligence assumed that at least part of the garrison will be defending those reactors. But,” she continued over some mumbles, “if we can take that reactor and shut down the power, then we might be able to take the quantum tech offline. Once we complete that, we will hold the position against counterattack until reinforcements arrive or the station is cleared.”

<It always sounds so simple,> Eve mused as she replayed the plan in her mind. <Why can’t plans ever be this easy during execution?> It wishful thinking.

“We’re going to have some friendly forces, so don’t think we’re going this alone.” That brought some relieved looks to some very worried faces. “Bravo Company’s breech point is on the opposite side of the structure, so once we make it onto the Launcher we’ll rendezvous with them and proceed to the objective. Also, Juliet Company of the 2512th is landing just above us.” The GYSGT circled a section of the Launcher. “Their mission is to clear and set up a blocking position so no one can sneak up and fuck us in the ass.”

That got a few chuckles, including Eve. That would not be the good type of buttfucking.

“Squad and team leaders have the assignments for who is going in the Parasites and Spyders so hold those questions until the end. Moving on to service and support.”

Eve kept half her mind on the brief and the other half on her PAD. The OPORD the GYSGT was going over had been disseminated to everyone. Eve didn’t care much about a lot of the supply classification for the 2511th. She cared about what she was going to be taking into battle.

Due to the delicate nature of where they were going to be operating, the brass, in all their infinite wisdom, was not giving them any 125mm or hypervelocity missiles. Eve understood why, but it still pissed her off having her main weapon taken away from her. The V3 LACS were still formidable with their railguns and her Buss. They were being given some low-yield demo to help blow open doors and secure their position against counterattack, but they were pathetic quantities against the destructive potential of what the Rangers were being denied.

“Can you believe this bullshit?” She highlighted the section and showed it to SGT Sullivan, her squad leader.

“Typical,” the season Ranger barely glanced at it. “Don’t worry, Berg, you’ll get your boom boom back when we hit the PDC’s on the surface.

<That’s true.> Unlike Alpha Company, the Rangers would be too valuable to sit on the Launcher for too long. The GYSGT and her soldiers would get some downtime after they took the objective. Eve wouldn’t be so lucky.

The last two sections of the OPORD went pretty quick. They’d been training in VR with all the command and signal protocols already in place, so that was nothing new, and it was a given that service and support was going to be slim. The GYSGT went through them in under ten minutes, and after ten more minutes of questions the Company broke up to get back to prepping for the assault.

“Sullivan, Berg,” the GYSGT waved them over before they could make their escape back to SPECOPS country to square away their LACS for the hundredth time.

“Gunney,” Sullivan took the lead since he was the squad leader.

“I wanted to give you two your assignments before you get out of here. You already know you’re going to be in Parasites. Sergeant, I’m leaving it up to you how you want to divide your team. Here is the breakdown of the pods we’ve been assigned. My only request is that you give me Corporal Berg to help liaise between our two units.”

Eve raised an eyebrow in surprise, but the SGT didn’t even bat an eyelash. “Sure thing, Gunney. Berg, coordinate with her and then report back.” With his job done the SGT headed out, and left Eve alone with her old Basic instructor.

“Gunney, why am I shot gunning this in a Spyder with you when the rest of my squad is riding in on Parasites?” She couldn’t keep the anger out of her voice.

“Who said anything about riding a Spyder in?” The GYSGT gave her a firm look. “You and I are going in on a Parasite just like the rest of your team. It’ll be us and one of our HQ commo guys, and a couple riflemen to keep the commo guy company. The LT is going to bring the rest of the Company in on the Spyders.”

“Oh.” Eve’s anger faltered. “Then why me?”

“Because I trained you Berg, and I’ve seen you in action. If we’re going to get in a firefight with just a few of us, I want you watching my six.”

“Oh.” Eve repeated. “Thanks.” Her voice rose with uncertainty at the end of the word.

“Don’t mention it…really…don’t mention it. My LT is a bit of a ballbuster, and if he knew I was playing favorites he’d write me up.” The GYSGT flashed a grin.

“I’ve got your six, Gunney. I’ll liaise the shit out of this.” Eve grinned back, and then went to square away her gear so she could do just that.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 36

The flaw in Seth’s plan became clear within twenty seconds. Morina had no idea how to climb down. Her legs were flailing beneath her and she was using nothing but arm strength to go hand over hand. Within ten feet her arms were shaking like she was standing naked in sub-zero temperatures.

“Wrap your legs around the cable.” Seth instructed.

“What?” Her breathing was ragged, and the only thing that kept her from plummeting to a broken leg was adrenaline.

“Look up,” he commanded, and once she was looking at him he showed her what he was talking about. “Now pinch your feet together with the cable in between.”

Her arms stopped shaking immediately. “Where the hell did you learn that?”

“High school gym class. Everyone had to learn to climb a rope.” Seth rewrapped his leg around the cable and prompted her forward.

She was still shaking from exhaustion, but she made it down without falling.

“Now what? Are you going to melt another hole?”

They were standing in front of another pair of elevator doors. Sounds were drifting down from above them now. The tactical team sounded like they’d been able to put out the fire and were repelling down to the empty elevator. It would only take them a moment to figure out where they’d gone, and another moment after that to stick a gun through the hole and start picking them off. They needed to move quickly.

“We’ll do this one the old-fashioned way.” Seth stuck his fingers in the groove and pulled the twin doors open. They opened enough for him to squeeze his head into, but refused to budge anymore.  “Help me,” he cursed.

Morina grabbed one side and threw her whole body weight away from it. It helped a little, but not a lot.

<Piece of shit!> The anger flared, and with it his metalokinesis.

There was a shriek of warping metal as Seth pushed with his mind. The twin doors shot open and stuck open long enough for them to scramble through before he pulled and they slammed shut.

<Good luck getting out of that.> He knew he’d jacked something up in the opening mechanism. The tactical team was going to get to the bottom of the shaft and be stuck. <Unless they blow it open.>

“We need to move.” They were in a dark underground garage, but motion-sensor lights began to activate.

Government vehicles sat parked all around them. There was even an armored troop carrier squeezed into the back, but he ignored it. They needed to divert attention not draw more to them.

“Keys…find one with keys.” Seth called out and they went to work searching.

It was always amazing what people would do when they thought their vehicle was in a secure space. Nearly every car was unlocked. They pulled the doors right open and rummaged around looking for the keys. They checked center consoles, glove compartments, and under the pull-down mirrors. The cars might be unlocked, but so far no keys.

Seth was getting more and more worried as the line of cars grew smaller and smaller until finally, “Got one!” He checked under the weather mat on the driver’s side and found a set of keys.

It was to a big GMC SUV, black, with tinted windows, and he hoped it was armored but didn’t bet on it. Either way, the thing was going to guzzle gas, so they wouldn’t be able to get more than a couple hundred miles.

“Let’s go.” He hopped in the driver’s seat and started her up.

The SUV roared to life and he felt her power flow through him. If they were going to escape, this was the car to do it. Morina hopped in the passenger’s side, and he gunned it.

The smell of burning rubber filled the air and the SUV shot forward, passed all the other cars, and toward the ramp that would lead to freedom. At some point they crossed some invisible barrier, and Seth heart leapt into his throat. One second they were speeding toward the exit, and the next sections of the wall were popping out to reveal Gatling guns.

“Get down!” He yelled, but Morina was way ahead of him.

They couldn’t hear anything over the sound of the engine, but a whine emitted from all of them before a hailstorm of bullets rained down on the SUV.

It felt like angry gods were pounding on every square inch of the car, and the two of them would have been swiss cheese if the vehicle didn’t have some type of armor. Sparks flew and the front windshield quickly became a spider web of cracks, but the American-made auto beast just kept rolling.

“Do something!” Morina screamed. Her arms were covering her head and she was as close as you could get to huddling in the fetal position while sitting in a seat.

“What the fuck am I supposed to do?” Seth was trying to gauge where they were through the windshield and it was growing more difficult by the second.

“You can manipulate earth…we’re underground…put two and two together numb nuts.”

She had a point, but that didn’t mean it was a good idea.

<Ok, I can do this.> Earth was not one of his better elements. He didn’t have fine manipulation of it down like he did with fire. <This doesn’t need to be subtle.> He grinned despite the destruction flying all around them.

He flexed his power and targeted everything behind him. They’d passed half the guns firing at them, and doing what he was planning on doing was going to keep the tactical team from following them using their vehicles as well as silence those guns. He reached for the earth, felt it, and pulled. There was no specific target, no plan, he just pulled everything behind him down.

The whole underground parking structure seemed to wobble. It was either that, or the serious bout of exhaustion that flooded through him was making his vision waver.

“Shit.” It might have been the latter because Morina emerged from her protective huddle and grabbed the wheel.

Whatever Seth’s condition, it worked.

The earth began to crumble behind them. Smaller chunks started to rain down and deflect the rounds that were still trying to blow through the SUV’s armor. Those smaller chunks were followed by larger chunks until everything collapsed. The flashes of tracer rounds died behind them, and whatever power source was driving the guns in front of them must have been knocked out because they went silent too.

They were safe and home free, but stuff all around them continued to rumble.

“What the hell is that?” Seth’s foot was still pressed to the ground, but Morina was driving now.

<So tired.> Seth could feel unconsciousness gripping at him. <This shouldn’t be happening.> None of it made sense until he looked down and saw red gradually spreading across his orange jump suit. One of the rounds must have finally beat through the seemingly bulletproof windshield and struck him in the chest. With his fight instinct in full gear, he hadn’t even noticed.

Even if he had been one hundred percent, Seth probably wouldn’t have been able to stop what happened next. Unlike wind, water, or even fire, earth was complex and interconnected. You pull one stone out and it moved ten. That’s what was happening here. Seth had pulled a lot of earth down, and now something needed to fill the void.

“Come on you stupid piece of shit!” Morina was screaming at the SUV.

It was still roaring forward, but taking that many rounds had still done some damage. There was a grinding noise coming from the engine block, and them pushing the car as fast as it could go wasn’t helping.

Slowly at first, and then more quickly, the tunnel around them began to collapse. Even in his injured state, Seth could see the literal light at the end of the tunnel, and it was blocked by two patrol cars with four officers using them as cover. After driving through high-powered machine guns, Seth wasn’t worried about a couple cops with pistols. He pushed the pedal down to the floor.

The SUV charged forward and the cops opened fire. He couldn’t tell if they did any more damage, but they dove out of the way when the SUV flew out of the opening. They smashed hard into one of the patrol cars and plowed it aside. Morina pulled the wheel to the right and the battered and broken SUV charged down the mostly-empty street with its battered and broken driver trying to stop the sucking chest wound with his own hands.

“Fuck…fuck…fuck!” Morina cursed over and over. She couldn’t see shit and they were all over the road.

Seth was barely holding onto consciousness, and the SUV sounded like it was on its last leg. It all came grinding to a halt when they went up over a curb and hit something unyielding. The airbags deployed, punching Morina in the face, and sending a splattering of Seth’s blood across the front of the car.

“Come on…son of a bitch…” Morina struggled to untangle herself from the seatbelt and the airbag. She pulled out a knife and stabbed the airbag to deflate it. Then, she reached over, put it in reverse, and yelled at Seth to hit the gas. He did. She threw it back in drive, and yelled at him again. He complied again despite being nearly dead.

She reached into her pocket for her phone with one hand while driving with another. The display was cracked, but it didn’t matter. She hit the first number on her speed dial and hoped someone picked up. If not, she and Seth would both be looking at an eternity in an underground cell.

<Well, maybe not him.> She thought as she looked at Seth’s blood-soaked body, and back toward the parking garage he’d destroyer. <But I sure as shit will.>

They hightailed it away at the SUV’s new top speed of twenty miles per hour, but they weren’t going to outrun anyone like that. She really hoped someone answered.

 

***

 

Lilly came out of her teleport into a roll. It didn’t matter that the blast of darkness concealed her exact point of arrival because it blatantly announced her general location.

She felt the rounds of Hunter’s cannon rip through her darkness. His aim was off. He was shooting blind and hoping to hit something. That was a good sign. <Is it?> she automatically questioned. <Is he spraying and praying, or is he making me think he is so I get complacent?>

In the middle of a teleporter fight that type of thinking could only be fleeting.  All it took was one wrong step and the other guy would get you; especially when two top-tier teleporters like her and Hunter were going mano-womano.

Teleporter combat was different than other types of Supers duking it out. Sure, other classifications of Supers might have to think like chess players – always thinking a few moves ahead – but teleporters were playing that chess game where there were three of four boards stacked on top of each other, and you could move pieces between them. Teleporter combat was three dimensional and hinged on a lot of different factors.

The first was speed, and Lilly was fast. She came out of her roll, planted her foot and pushed off with a burst of power. It threw her clear of where she was as Hunter continued to saturate the area with lead. She used her new-found command of her power to make the darkness linger as she slipped into an alley and out of sight. That was the second aspect of teleporter combat – the nuances of their powers.

Some teleporters were straight up transporters from Point A to B. Hunter was more in that classification than Lilly, but if she thought that way she was going to get a bullet in her ass. Hunter was second to none in being able to track other teleporters. In that regard, Lilly wasn’t exactly a slouch. She could use other teleporters’ rifts to travel to where they were. It was an unpleasant, bumpy ride, but she could do it. Nevertheless, however good Hunter might be at tracking, Lilly had her darkness manipulation, and that helped level the playing field. That led to the third aspect of teleporter warfare to take into consideration: the battlefield.

<To stay or go, that’s the fucking question?> She ducked into the side door of a building and took cover behind a counter.

Hunter would want to keep the battlefield local and use line-of-sight teleportation. He had backup here, and as an American Hero it would lead to international incidents if he ended up in other countries. The obvious thing for her to do was get the hell out of there, and normally she would have. Hunter’s power was one problem. He could follow a lot easier than other teleporters, which didn’t give her the advantage that bouncing around usually would. Second, she had responsibilities here. Stal and Nightingale were still around, not that she really gave two shits about them after the crap they’d pulled. She was more worried about what Damasdouche and Seif al-Din would do if she abandoned them. Last but not least, she was still waiting on word from Morina.

Worst case scenario she’d bounce, but for right now, she was going to fight one of the greatest teleporters of this generation. <There’s a reason they call him Hunter.> She tried and failed not to think about it as she caught her breath.

She pictured in her mind’s eye what was happening. Her darkness was fading, Hunter was clearing the area, he was teleporting down to a position with a better line of sight to where she’d teleported, he was checking the area for the rift of her teleporting away, he wasn’t finding any, he was advancing down the alley closest to where she’d appeared, he found the open door and…

There was the clink of metal hitting tile. <Shit.> She teleported away just as Hunter’s grenade detonated and shredded half the items in the small store. <If these people don’t have super insurance after what’s happened in the last few months then they’re retards.>

She appeared on a roof top and started sprinting away. Without even thinking she raised one of her pistols and fired blindly behind her. She didn’t know if she hit anything as she reached the other half of the building and leapt off… only to find herself looking down at the barrel of Hunter’s gun. She teleported and he fired at the same time.

He missed, but she was sure she’d peed herself a little.

<I need to confuse him.> It was easier said than done, but she went to work.

She executed half a dozen teleportations in a handful of seconds. That would slow him down. He needed to clear every point she’d visited before moving on. She came out of her final teleport back on the rooftop where the whole shitshow had started. She still had a bunch of her weapons in place and continued her ruse to confuse him. She grabbed a rifle and some ammo, but sent half her ordinance to one location, the other half to another. She made sure the booby traps were good to go once she left, and then she teleported to a third location. Not only would Hunter have to deal with a surprise when he arrived, but even after combing through the rubble he’d have three different options. Two led to dead ends, and she planned to be long gone from the third as soon as possible.

<You can be the fastest, strongest, best Hero in the world, but nothing…nothing…beats a teleporter’s preparation.> Her father had always told her that, and her personal experience validated it.

There was a reason she was able to stay a step ahead of the Heroes and DVA before hitting twenty. There was a reason she was wanted and infamous. She was always prepared. She always had an exit strategy, and she always had a trick or two up her sleeve.

She gave the roof one last look before vanishing. This time she held the darkness in, which resulted in an extra-large explosion at her destination across town. It was a mostly empty alley across for a rebuilt coffee shop, but nobody seemed to notice her arrival.

It was a good thing too, because her phone started vibrating like it was trying to get her off. She fished it out of her tactical vest and saw there were several missed calls and text messages. Each one had more capital letters, exclamation points, and profanity than the previous, and now the sender was trying to calling her again directly.

“Morina? What’s wrong?”

Her stomach dropped as she heard the blood manipulator’s frantic explanation, and all the preparation went right out the window.

“Where?” Was all she asked before there was a small puff of darkness and she was gone again.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 154

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

<It just had to be this place, didn’t it?> Coop looked across the semi-crowded street at the squat ployplast building on the corner. <The night started so promising.>

Sandy’s e-mails had really gotten his blood flowing, but when he arrived at her apartment she wasn’t there. A quick message later and it turned out she was pulling an emergency shift and wouldn’t be able to see him until the following night. Talk about a chub breaker. He’d been looking forward to some quality time with the flexible physical therapist.

He’d been feeling sorry for himself when the message from Aiko arrived. She gave him a time later that night and an address to meet at. They were meeting in a public venue so the people they were selling their goods to didn’t feel threatened. It didn’t matter if you were a nineteenth century outlaw in the Old West or a twenty-fifth century renegade in the Rim, relationships were still built on trust, and no deals were done without some sort of relationship. The irony was these were the hardest type of people to build trust with.

Aiko’s message suggested bringing a little cash to help speed things along. Nothing said “let’s be friends” like buying the entertainment. Normally, Coop was against spending his hard-stolen money on others, but the guns and drugs were going to fetch him a lot more than the five grand in chips he’d smuggled off Argo, so he pocketed fifteen-hundred and went to the address on the message.

He’d spent the last ten minutes standing outside the establishment wracked with indecision. The place was called The Pit Stop due to its location within spitting distance from the civilian spaceport. Coop could still smell the fumes from an old-model shuttle that had launched a few minutes ago. A few people walking around the area were wearing breathers like the one he’d had back in the PHA, except nicer.

Most of those people were giving The Pit Stop a wide berth, and for good reason. The entertainment establishment was affectionately known to the locals as The Pit. It got that nickname because it was where the dregs of the colony ate, drank, and got their rocks off. The Pit’s permit called it a casino. There was a small gambling suite just off the entrance, but Coop would be surprised if it comprised a tenth of the building’s square footage. It was what went on in the back that made the real money.

That was another reason the more morally-minded locals had nicknamed it after Hell, because this was where sin flourished. Coop didn’t give two shits one way or another. His hesitation was entirely practical. The Pit was one of those establishments the local commander had deemed off limits to military personnel. There had been too many fights and questionable encounters for the Commander’s taste, so he used his God-given authority and put a stop to it. Not that it actually put a stop to it, but it greatly reduced military boots that went through those doors, and it gave him legal powers to nail the ass of any violators of his order to the wall.

All of that made Coop think twice before entering. <Why do I have to stand out like a sore thumb?> It was one of the rare times he regretted being HI, but it was a fleeting moment.

“Cover charge is ten.” The big bouncer at the door was scanning the street for the local cops who seemed to be on a permanent stakeout somewhere nearby.

Coop pulled out one of his chips and tapped it to the Bouncer’s PAD. Ten dollars was taken from the chip and transmitted into the club’s account and Coop was waved through. The vestibule was about what anyone would expect of a gambling parlor. The space had an old-timey feel. They were going for a western saloon look. Coop wasn’t knowledgeable about the time period, but if the low-cut tops of the waitresses was any indication he wanted to become a fan.

A long bar with some attractive bartenders dominated one wall. There was a double-door of faux wood that was open and led into the gambling area. They had all the classics: blackjack, slots, roulette, and they were all packed. A few people looked up at Coop, but dismissed him. They had the look of more well-to-do spacers who were just on a short layover in Town Center before flying back out. Likely, they didn’t know what went on here, and their business kept the Pit looking somewhat honest.

“Can I help you, Sir?” A man in a period-appropriate tuxedo asked when Coop just stood in the doorway for a few seconds too long.

“I’ve got a reservation, number 69697,” Coop recited the number from Aiko’s message.

“Yes,” the man gave Coop an up-down appraisal. “Follow me please.”

The man led the way through the small gambling parlor, past another man playing some catchy tunes on an ancient piano, and to a duro-steel door with two well-muscled men standing next to it.

“Reservation number?” The bigger of the two asked. Coop gave it to him, and he checked it against his PAD. “Enjoy yourself.”

Coop passed through the metal door and entered a small space. All that was in it was another door a few meters ahead. A slight tingling sensation passed over him, and he was sure he was being scanned by something. He’d thought about bringing some type of weapon, but ultimately decided against it. You couldn’t build trust with someone while you were planning to kill them at a moment’s notice. It went against Coop’s instincts, but he needed to make this work. It could be his biggest payday ever.

The far door slid open and his senses were immediately assaulted by lights, sound, and smell. He was honestly surprised he didn’t have a seizure as he stepped into the large space that made up the main part of The Pit. Scanning the room, he now knew first hand why they called it The Pit.

The Pit was a themed establishment, and that theme was kinky shit that got people off. Right inside the door, right in Coop’s line of sight, a pair of dirty-looking spacers were sucking on some striper’s toes. She looked bored and was checking something on her PAD, but the two guys were going to town on her big toes, and that was the most innocent thing he saw.

“Hey there, big boy.” A stripper ran her hand across his chest as she passed and circled provocatively around him. “I’m free if you want some alone time.”

The woman was in some type of latex costume made to look like a horse. Two holes in the chest were cut out so she could pop some nice, surgically-enhanced boobs through them. A section of the stomach was also cut out to show off her toned abdomen. The horse head she was wearing was a little weird, but everything else above the waist looked good to Coop. Things went terribly terribly wrong when he looked farther down.

She was wearing some sort of contraption around her waist that culminated in a foot-long strap-on made to match the anatomy of what she was dressed up as.

“Um…no thanks.” After all Coop had done and seen, he didn’t think he was capable of blushing as fiercely as he was now.

<I don’t even want to imagine what alone time with her is supposed to be.>

“Gotta go,” he slipped away from the horse-stripper and started to navigate through the crowd. There were tons of seats, both public and private, surrounding a central dance floor where close to a hundred people gyrated against each other. Ployplast bubbles hung from the ceiling on duro-steel strings and were occupied with naked ladies, naked men, and naked lady-men. One look up and Coop knew he was going to have nightmares about giant penis chasing him, so he kept his eyes down and found an empty, private table as far back from the ruckus as possible.

Like a good soldier, he was a bit early to do recon and assess his options if things went sideways, so he sat there for fifteen minutes in uncomfortable awkwardness. He did order a drink from one of the more tamely-dressed women. She had on fake ears, whiskers, and gloves that made her hands look like paws. The coupe-de-gras was a tail just above her ass. By the way it twitched, Coop was pretty sure it had been surgically grafted onto her lower back.

<How much cash does she make here?> he wondered. Surgical grafts weren’t cheap.

Aiko answered that question when she arrived. “Some guy just paid me fifty bucks to smell my feet.” She laughed as she plopped herself down into his lap and planted a kiss on his lips. “Joke’s on him,” she smiled when she pulled away, “I ran all the way here from the spaceport.”

Coop’s nose wrinkled automatically.

“No…” Aiko’s eyes went wide and she looked from Coop to the room in front of them. “Are you popping your fetish club cherry?”

Coop never got a chance to answer because cat-stripper returned to take more drink orders.

“Melissa!”

“Aiko!” The two women apparently knew each other.

“Let me see.” Aiko made a turnaround motion with her finger. “How’d it turn out?”

“You tell me,” Melissa, aka cat-stripper, wiggled her ass back and forth to show off her tail.

“Awesome!’ Aiko reached out and touched it. “They did good work.”

“Management wanted me to ask when you’re coming back.” Melissa turned around and pouted. “Your act was a big crowd pleaser.”

<Coming back…act…?> Then it hit Coop like a runaway cargo shuttle. They weren’t here because their potential trading partners had asked for it. They were here because Aiko felt comfortable and knew the staff.

It was brilliant on Aiko’s part, and put them in a position of tactical superiority, but Coop was surprised he hadn’t noticed this. He’d been boning her on the regular for the past week and nothing like this had ever crossed his mind.

“Next time I can get any decent amount of shore leave I’ll make sure to let them know.” Aiko shrugged.

“You’re here now?” Cat-stripper looked hopeful in the kind of way that said her tips would go up dramatically if Aiko did her thing. Whatever her thing was.

“Sorry. I’m here on business.” Aiko turned her down, and as if on cue their guests showed up.

There were two men. One was a grungy looking spacer-type. The other was in an upscale smartcloth suit. The latter was a little of a surprise to Coop. He looked more like a lawyer than a smuggler or black-market dealer.

The two newcomers sat down and didn’t say a thing. They just stared at Coop and Aiko. The silence was almost as awkward as the guy in the next booth over getting jerked off by some dude with tentacles sprouting out of his back.

So, Coop decided to break the ice. “How about a round of drinks for the table?” He looked at Melissa before transferred a hundred bucks onto her PAD. In this type of establishment, a hundred bucks went a long way with drinks. The drinks weren’t the expensive things.

The drink order did the trick and got the guys talking.

“We heard you have a proposition?” The lawyer-guy spoke up once Melissa came back with chilled beers.

“We do,” Aiko cut Coop off before he could reply. “We’ve got a dozen glowsticks, some premium herbs, and a hundred fireflies”

“We’ll need to take a look.” The lawyer looked around.

Coop knew what he was thinking. <No way she got the guns and drugs in here. The scanner would have picked them up.>

So, of course she had to prove them all wrong. She pulled out one of the laser pistols, a bottle of the pills, and one of the plasma-tipped rounds.

<I guess it pays to know the management here.>

“I need collateral.” Aiko didn’t hand them over right away.

The spacer grunted and tossed over two chips, each with a grand on them. Aiko swiped them and slid the pistol, pills, and bullet across the table.

No one around them noticed. Anyone who wasn’t engrossed in their own fantasy world was busy watching two people in one of the hanging bubbles start to sixty-nine each other.

The lawyer looked over the gun and bullet while the spacer took the pills. Coop’s eyes narrowed and he shifted himself so he could lunge across the table and grab the spacer if he needed to, but the man just pulled out some type of testing kit. He extracted one of the pills and placed it in the kit, but Coop still didn’t relax.

Meanwhile, the lawyer was disassembling and reassembling the pistol with surprising speed. “They have power packs?” The lawyer put down the gun and gave the bullet a quick check. It wasn’t hard to figure out it was legit.

“Fully charged.” Aiko nodded.

“This stuff is premium.” The spacer stated as he pulled the pill out of the kit and tossed it in his mouth.

<Fucking idiot.> Even PHA Rats knew the number one rule of dealing was to not get high on your own product.

“Good” The lawyer slid the weapons back across the table and the spacer did the rest with the pills. Aiko reciprocated with the chips. Apparently, that pill the spacer took was a free sample.

“Let’s talk price.” Aiko steepled her hands in front of her. “Five-thou per glowstick, five a firefly, and two-fifty a bottle.”

“Two-thousand per stick, two a fly, and one-fifty a bottle.” The lawyer countered

“Four, four, and two-twenty-five.” Aiko countered back.

Coop just sat there and watched the two of them go at it for a few minutes. He’d done the work of getting the shit in the first place, so it only seemed fair that Aiko do the rest.

“Thirty-two-fifty per glowstick, three a firefly, and one-ninety a bottle. That’s my final offer.” The lawyer sat back and waved his hands in a final motion.

Aiko sat back and crossed her arms defensively across her chest before leaning over toward Coop. “Hey,” she whispered into his ear. “Pretend we’re talking about something important.”

“I do have an important question.” Coop whispered back. “What is the act Melissa was talking about, and when do I get to see it?”

“If we make this deal then we’ll find a place tonight and I’ll show you.”

Coop gulped and nodded back to her.

“I’ll tell you what,” Aiko addressed the two men across from them. “We’ll agree to thirty-two-fifty for the glowstick, and three a firefly, but we’ve got to ask for two hundred a bottle. However,” she held up her hands for the men to be patient. “For your inconvenience we’ll make sure that this young lady shows you both the best night of your lives.”

Melissa had just walked up with refills, and raised an eyebrow at Aiko. Aiko gave her a nod, so Melissa made sure to bend over nice and good when she gave Coop his drink. That gave the two men a prime shot of her ass and tail.

“Deal,” the spacer accepted immediately and grabbed a handful of her ass.

The lawyer looked a little pissed at his associate, but he nodded his acceptance. With negotiations closed all that was left was payment and delivery.

When everything was tallied up it came out to fifty-eight-thousand- one-hundred dollars. The lawyer pulled a parcel from his smartcloth suit and began to count out chips on his side of the table. An impressive stack built up once the full payment was doled out. Aiko used her PAD to confirm the chips’ legitimacy.

“The goods are in a warehouse a block from here, unit twenty-two alpha. The entry code is 584984152.” She fulfilled her end of the deal.

The lawyer made a quick call on his PAD and they waited patiently. The chips sat on the table between them in the meantime, and the spacer started chatting up Melissa. Five minutes later the lawyer received confirmation that his people had obtained the goods.

“Pleasure doing business with you.” He stood up and shook hands with Aiko, gave Coop a nod, and left.

“Uhumm.” Melissa coughed as the remaining spacer started to get more handsy with her.

Aiko slipped her a chip worth two grand. “Give him the full treatment.”

Melissa nodded and led the spacer away, which left her and Coop sitting there with a bit over fifty-six grand. It was easily the biggest payday of Coop’s life, and no one had tried to kill him in the process.

Aiko just leaned back casually and gave Coop a mischievous grin. “Not bad for a couple of days work.”

“Not bad at all.” Coop put his arms around her and pulled her in close. Their lips touched and fire raced through him. He thought they were going to do it right then and there it was getting so hot and heavy.

“Let’s take care of this first.” Aiko swept the chips toward them.

Their deal was seventy-thirty, so they each were supposed to walk away with thirty-nine-thousand-two-seventy and sixteen-thousand eight-thirty respectively, but when Coop counted his out he only had thirty-nine grand.

“You short changed me two-seventy.” He frowned and gave her a level stare.

She just stared back like the cat that ate the canary. “You wanted to see my show, and that shit doesn’t come free.” They pocketed their earnings, left the Pit, and found a hotel.

A few hours later, Coop was convinced he’d just witnessed the greatest show ever, and two-seventy was definitely a bargain.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 153

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Fall in!” Chief Yates roared.

The crew of Argo, and its Marine contingent, rushed out of the ship carrying all of their earthly belongings. Everyone was dressed in the duty uniform of the day, which for Coop meant he was in his LACS armor.

“Stand by for inspection!” The CPO did an about face to where LCDR Gold was standing. Gold took command of the formation, and did another about face to where a stern-faced MP Officer was waiting.

“Ready for inspection.” Ben announced, and Coop couldn’t help but gulp.

This wasn’t the first step of the inspection process, the first happened back on the ship before they suited up. CPO Yates and SGT O’Neil roused everyone up once they popped out of Alcubierre back in New Lancashire. The two NCO’s did a visual inspection of each marine and spacers’ personal items, ran their own sniffers over everything, and did a pat down.

Coop was good with everything but the pat down. He and Aiko had successfully stored the guns and drugs where no one would find them, hopefully, but there was still the issue of the money. Coop had about five grand in chips that he needed to get off the ship. He trusted Aiko as a fuck buddy, but he didn’t trust her to hold onto even more cash. She already had the job of going back to get the guns and drugs after the MPs finished their search. It would be way too easy for her to say the MPs picked up his cash during the search, and he’d be shit out of luck.

So, after politely refusing her offer to hold onto it she dropped some more wisdom on him. “The way to beat the pat downs it to put whatever your hiding where it can’t be found, or make it look like its part of you.”

“I already told you I’m holding onto it,” he shot back.

She held up her hands to ward off his growing frustration. “You’re not getting me, Coop. I’m not saying someplace they can’t find it in the ship. I’m saying someplace they can’t find it on your person.”

“On my person? What…” It took a second for the lightbulb to go off. “Oh no…no…no…no…no. I’m not shoving these chips up my ass.”

Aiko just shrugged. “Then you need to disguise it to look like its part of you.”

That turned out to be the more complicated of the solutions, but it was going to cost a lot more than five thousand bucks for Coop to get violated like that. He’d put that number in seven figures if ever.

The solution to that was in sick bay, so Coop quasi-faked having some leg pain and went to get checked up. Having so many guys dead and injured actually helped, because things weren’t locked up and stored properly. There was just too much going on, and the medicals needed supplies readily available. They couldn’t be going back and forth to the supply closet locking things up every time they left the room. So, while the medics were poking, prodding, and scanning Coop’s newest appendage, Aiko slipped in and stole some Insta-Flesh.

Insta-Flesh was a concoction of nanites and stem cells that was sprayed on wounds with the primary purpose of sealing them. There were some coagulative attributes that stopped the bleeding while nanites bound the cells to whatever other flesh cell they were trying to fix. It could be used for scraped knees or a bullet that tore through part of an internal organ. The stuff had virtually eliminated soldiers bleeding out on the battlefield. Half a dozen companies made a variety of them, but the one they stole from sick bay had the Gold Technologies G on the bottom of the bottle.

“Ok, what now?” Coop asked when they got back to the privacy of her quarters.

“I see one of two options,” her eyes gravitated below the belt. “One, you tape this to your dong and just say your thick when the Chief feels you up. Two, you stick it to your gooch and spray a crapload of this stuff on over it to fool scanners when he gets all up in there, and believe me he will. He’s close to retirement and he’s not going to get fucked by a couple junior enlisted smuggling shit.”

Coop looked at his stack of chips, and they made the decision for him. Stacked together, the five grand in chips was less than eight centimeters.

“I can’t do number one, and you know why.” He pointed at his crotch. “I’m three times the size of that. What am I going to tell him when he pats me down and sees only the bottom third is thick? ‘Sorry, Chief, I’ve got a dick tumor’. Yeah, that’ll go over well.” He rolled his eyes. “We’ve got to do number two.”

“Fine by me.” Coop didn’t like the glint in her eyes. “Bend over, Cooper. This is about to get interesting.”

Coop spent the whole process worried she was going to try and stick something in his ass, but they were short on time, and he couldn’t hang around in her quarters for too long. The NCOs might be turning a blind eye to their extracurricular activities, but if they started to slack on their duties they wouldn’t be so accommodating.

So now, Coop stood in formation with the rest of the crew and marines with five grand secured by tape and sprayed with a healthy amount of Insta-flesh between his nuts and asshole.

<The sacrifices I make for my country.> Thankfully, Coop was in full armor now. He’d passed the CPO’s pat down, and now he just needed to beat the MPs.

Like a good leader, Ben submitted to the testing first. They ran two wands over him. The first was a standard sniffer, but he didn’t recognize the second.

“Stand with your arms spread above your head and your feet more than shoulder-width apart.” The MP Officer instructed.

Ben did what he was told, and they ran the second wand meticulously over his body – including over the gooch area.

<Oh shit.> Coop didn’t budge since he was still at the position of attention, but he felt stress-induced diarrhea building in his gut.

He watched the MPs go person by person through the formation, and it was torture. Coop was in the middle of the rear squad of marines, which meant he was able to envision every possible shitty scenario of how this was going to play out while the MPs went through Argo’s crew and the two other marine squads.

 Once a person was cleared they were free to leave. Argo’s people went back on board, but the attached marines took off. Coop watched as Aiko passed her inspection and went back onboard. She didn’t even glance in Coop’s direction.

“Private First Class Cooper.” An MP SGT was the one who finally got to inspect Coop. “I see you’re promotable. Congratulations.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.” Coop kept his tone as calm as he could.

<Nothing to see here, nothing at all.> He thought to himself to instill a little positive motivation in the moment.

“You’ve seen everyone else do it, so spread’um.” The SGT started directing the sniffer wand over him before he’d even complied.

Coop had meticulously cleaned his armor as ordered by SGT O’Neil. There were bound to be particles of something illegal on it after the firefight, and the NCO didn’t want Coop testing positive. That cleaning paid off when the MP SGT pulled the wand away with a satisfied nod.

“Open all compartments and hatches.”

Coop had expected this next command. He hit the OPEN ALL PORTS function on his HUD, and the escape of released air sounded like a long, high-pitched fart.

“Damn, Buddy, you need a shower.” The MP waved a hand in front of his face.

With all the work that had to get done, and catching a few Z’s, Coop hadn’t had time to shower since the battle.

“That’s the first thing on my to-do list.” He grinned back.

The MP was thorough. He stuck his hand in all the compartments and used the second wand to scan them. He even looked down the barrel of his 125mm artillery piece. Coop knew for a fact that thing was spotless.

“Ok, almost done.” The MP had Coop close all of the ports and stand there with his arms and legs spread while he did another pass with the second wand. He traced Coop’s body with the device, and when he got to the crotch area Coop held his breath and waited.

The MP passed right over the area and ten seconds later… All clear. You’re free to go, Cooper.”

<Thank the gooch-gods!> Coop gave the MP a nod, threw his bag of belongings over his shoulder and walked toward the hangar bay’s exit.

He gave it five minutes and several decks before he pulled out his PAD. He’d only been gone a few days but he had hundreds of messages. Most of them were marked routine company mail and he scanned them to get a look at what Charlie Company 2223rd Infantry Battalion had been doing in his absence. It looked like weather had pushed back their range qualification, so he was going to make that after all. After shooting at people and large, antiquated naval artillery pieces he was down for shooting at some holographic imagery in a calm environment.

There was an email from LT Wentworth telling him to report to her at his earliest convenience. It didn’t say anymore, so he looked at that coming meeting with trepidation. He continued to scroll up and found an email from Sandy. He gulped when he saw the title was in all caps. He had hacked into her PAD while she was asleep and raised his MEDPRO status to green so he could get paid and go on this mission with LCDR Gold. It had been worth it, but he’d probably burned the bridge.

He opened the message and nearly walked right into a wall. It was a picture of Sandy…naked…with a come hither look in her eyes.

<Don’t mind if I do.> Coop knew where his first stop was going to be.

While he continued to look at the photo his PAD pinged with a new message. It was from Aiko. All it had was an address and a time. Coop looked it up and his smile grew even bigger. It was one of the raunchiest strip clubs in Town Center.

<I can do this.> Coop thought as he planned out the evening. <I’ve got to report in first, unless I get back to base after duty hours.> He could make that work by taking a late shuttle, but he’d still have to sign back in with CQ. <Then I’ll head over to Sandy’s to get my nob polished, and then off for a lap dance and a little black market trading. I’m going to be a very rich and very satisfied man in the next twelve hours.>

Coop wasn’t someone to count his chickens before they were hatched, but he had a good feeling about this. What wasn’t feeling great was the cash hidden where the sun didn’t shine. That shit was beginning to chafe.

 

Eve Berg

Location: CWS Agincourt, Uncharted System, Eastern Block

 

“Come on, Bro. Don’t let this bitch beat you!”

Eve didn’t let the comment get to her. She had her hand wrapped around the hand of the soldier in front of her. He had a Marine Recon tat on his upper bicep that was engorged with blood, stretched taught, with veins popping out.

“Don’t listen to that chicken shit, Berg. Beat his ass!”

There was only so much a human being could do on the long voyages between the stars, and that was true for the special operations soldiers aboard CWS Agincourt. They had to make their own fun. The simulated ranges, working out, and dry runs of the assault on the Blockies’ Alcubierre Launchers that they were going to be engaging in had gotten old fast. So, some ingenious NCO had the idea for a tournament – an arm wrestling tournament.

Since they were all receiving combat pay, and that money was burning a hole in everyone’s pocket because they were sitting in Alcubierre most of the time, the stakes on this match were high. Eve was a big girl, but the Recon marine was bigger. She’d found he was also overconfident and thought he could brute force this whole thing. He was wrong, and she was about to make him pay. She had the better grip, the leverage, and she was slowly driving the guy’s hand toward the opposite side of the table.

The table was reinforced, bolted into place, and padded to keep it from shattering under the force of the two soldiers going at it.

<Almost there.> She could see the guy’s eyes bulging out of his head. He had no idea what he was going to tell his buddies. He was about to lose to a Ranger, and a girl at that. <Tough luck, bud.> A few more centimeters and she pressed the guy’s hand into the pad.

“That’s game!” A Fleet petty officer was refereeing in an attempt to keep the games honest between the different SPECOPS branches.

Cheers went up from the Rangers. The Recon guys all looked sullen, while the SAS and SEALs studied her win and planned accordingly. They’d figure out her strategy, and she wouldn’t be able to pull it again.

“Way to go, Berg!” It didn’t matter at the moment because right now she was the champ.

The money rolling into her account proved it. She’d been 9:1 odds, and she’d put five hundred down on herself. She was seeing dollar signs in her vision.

“All Hands, five minutes until transition. I say again, All Hands, five minutes until transition.” The ship wide intercom announced.

“One more!” The gathered operators yelled, so a SEAL and SAS guy took their seats at the table and went at it.

Eve didn’t pay it any attention. She’d brought honor to her branch, and now it was time to get her head back in the game. She pulled up the operations order on her PAD and scrolled down to their current phase of operations.

They were about to enter an unnumbered and uncharted system deep in Blockie space. It would take eighteen hours to reach their next departure point. During that time the attached supply ships would make their final resupply of the Third Fleet. They were scheduled to conduct those operations over forty-eight hours. During that time, all of the final readiness checks for the attached Infantry division would be conducted, because they had a sixteen hours Alcubierre transit before they arrived in Yangon. Then it was show time. The biggest invasion in recent history would be underway, and Eve was right at the tip of that very big spear.

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