A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 40

“I hate this.”

“Of course you hate it.” Iron Giant was fully healed and sitting up on a cot in the medical tent the DVA had set up. Dr. Sanderson had outdone himself and stitched the wounded Hero up in record time.

Daisy wished her healer was as good. The hole in her calf was all patched up, but it felt like her bone itself had crabs. It itched like a mother, and this wasn’t an itch she could scratch without ripping open her leg. The healer confidently told her it would feel better in a few hours before walking away. Daisy had to grit her teeth not to drop the man on the spot. Even now she had to bite the inside of her cheek to give her mind something else to think about other than the persistent itch.

“You’ve always been a woman of action, and the woman that could be called upon to take the steps to resolve this type of situation. It frustrated you that you can’t be the one to end this.” Iron Giant stated calmly as he watched the TV screens.

The DVA had set up a tactical operations center in the tent next to theirs, and they had perfect seats to the unfolding operation. As Daisy had so painfully learned today, she was not the best Hero to deal with this situation. Her absorption didn’t work, and she was no better protected than the average cop when it came to a gunfight with the infamous villain. Not even John, as strong as he was, was a good fit.

Surprisingly, this was a less-is-more situation. The Orlando PD and the DVA were taking the lead this time. Nightingale strength was against Supers, not humans. To them, she was just a well-trained and well-armed hostage taker, and they had procedures in place to deal with these situations.

“There goes the power.” Daisy remarked as the lights to building finally flickered off. If it was the summer it would have become unbearably hot in the building within the hour, but this close to winter it wouldn’t do anything. The step would really work to the authority’s advantage in a few hours when the sun started to go down.

“Nightingale, this is the Department of Variant Affairs. We want to talk with you to bring this situation to a peaceful conclusion. We are tossing a cell phone to the front door. Please take it so we can talk.” Agent Phillips announced through a megaphone.

Three officers slowly moved forward toward the door of the building while the DVA agent spoke. Two had shields that they were using to cover them against attack. The third was crouched in the center of the protective shell and was holding the phone. They made it to within five feet of the door, stopped, and tossed the phone lightly so it landed in plain sight of the door. Then, they slowly moved back. Once they’d put enough space between themselves and the door, the door cracked open and a scared looking woman stepped out.

Nightingale wasn’t stupid enough to come into the open and grab the phone herself, so she had one of the hostages doing it. The villain looked like she’d caught the woman relaxing on the local half-day. She was in pajama pants, with bunny slippers, and a tank top with a bath robe thrown over it. She looked terrified, but there was a glint in her eye that Daisy immediately recognized.

“Shit! Don’t…” but it was too late. The woman pushed off and away from the door, making a break for safety.

She got about five feet before a loud POP cut through the air. Her body went instantly limp, and she fell forward hard, hit harder, and didn’t get up. Daisy couldn’t see, but feeds from officers’ helmet cameras showed a big, meaty hole in the back of the woman’s head.

<Fuuuuuck.> Daisy exhaled. <I fucking hate not being able to do anything.>

There was more movement near the door. Another person stepped out, a man this time. He looked at the woman’s lifeless body, Daisy thought he was going to puke for a second, but then he bent down, retrieved the phone, and walked back inside.

“That could have gone better.” Iron giant has a sorrowful look on his big, metal face. Most people would think that a man made of metal couldn’t be emotional, they’d be wrong.

Two DVA agents enter the tent and walk straight to them. “Reaper, Iron Giant, we’re here to escort you back to the HCP.”

Iron Giant just nodded and got up while Daisy gave them a hard stare. “Like hell you are.” She got to her feet and pushed passed the two men and walked the short distance to the command tent. She burst in ready to raise hell but everyone was silent and focused on Agent Phillips.

“Yes…Yes…Yes…We could do that if you let some hostages go as a gesture of good will.” The agent’s tone was calm and collected, but her face quickly wrinkled in fury. She calmly set the phone down and took a deep breath. “That fucking bitch.”

“So, I guess releasing hostages is a no.” Hunter stood off to the side. In another time or place the statement might have been funny, but no one was laughing here.

“She said she’d send them out in pieces if I didn’t do exactly what she wanted.” The DVA agent ran her hand through her hair.

“And those demands are…?” Hunter pressed her.

“She wants us to back up the perimeter two blocks, which gives us no line of sight except the snipers on the rooftops. She wants a teleporter she chooses to come in and take her away. After that, and only after that, will she release the thirty two…now thirty-one hostages,” she corrected herself.

“So, what’s the breech plan?” Daisy stepped fully into the tent.

“Reaper, you’re supposed to be out of here,” Agent Phillips looked passed Daisy at the two suited men who’d followed her in. One reached for Daisy’s elbow, but the look she shot him made him step back reflexively.

“I’m of better use here than anywhere else.” Daisy countered and plopped down next to the big table littered with diagrams of the building. It took every ounce of will power she had to not itch her leg.

“I’m not sure what use you’ll be. Your powers are useless against Nightingale.” Another DVA agent spoke up. He actually sounded like he was happy about that, so Daisy shuffled him onto her shit list.

“Her’s…yes…everyone else’s…no.” She smiled. “When shit finally goes down one thing that’s always a risk is having civilians do stupid shit, step into the line of fire, and just generally be a nuisance when we try to save them. I’m the perfect person to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“She’s got a point.” Hunter stepped forward. “I can get teams into prepositioned places if we can get eyes in there and know where she is. We’ll be able to hit her hard and fast while Daisy drops all the civilians. We might have a few broken noses, but that’s better than SWAT shooting an innocent civilian.”

Daisy looked from Agent Phillips to Hunter, and knew she had them convinced.

“Fine. You can stay, but please stay out of my way.” Agent Phillips shot her a no-nonsense look.

“No problem.” Daisy leaned back casually in the chair and smiled.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 163

Eve Berg

Location: Launcher A, Yangon System, Eastern Block

“This can’t be good.” Eve stared at the scene in front of her.

Alpha Company 2511th Infantry Battalion, or what was left of it, was joining the flow of troops toward the ass-end of the Launcher. From what Eve had heard over TACCOM, the rest of the Launcher was under their control. A team had seized control of the command center thirty minutes ago. All enemy hardline communications had been severed, external defenses were now squarely under Commonwealth control, and most importantly, the quantum entanglement communicators that were the reason these big stations existed in the first place were offline. No one was going to be coming to help the system anytime soon.

The job was ninety-five percent complete, but that wasn’t good enough for ADM Ward, CAPT Simpson, GYSGT Cunningham, or little old CPL Eve Berg. The enemy still held engineering, which meant they could blow everyone to hell by overloading the reactors if they really wanted to. Knowing how the Blockies liked their last stands, Eve wasn’t willing to count out that possibility. So, she marched at the front of the formation with the GYSGT toward the enemy stronghold.

<Marching.> Eve shook her head as they passed battle-damaged corridors. She recognized more than one of the places where she’d fought over the last several hours. A grenade explosion here and plasma scorched duro-steel there. This place had been full of screaming and dying people not that long ago. <Now we’re marching through it like a conquering army.>

It was surreal, and she didn’t like it, but she shook her head and focused on the present. The fight wasn’t over yet, and the scene in front of her showed it.

An aide station had been set up and there was more than one dying soldier lying on the cold floor or hovering on grav-stretchers. The stretchers allowed the medics to maximize their use of space. The injured soldiers were stacked three high in some places.

“Damn.” The GYSGT looked around the hallway. One side was stacked with the living and the other with the dead. They were about even.

“Alpha?” A hurried looking LT appeared in front of them.

His helmet was off and sweat coated his face. His gloves were stained red, and he ran them through his drenched hair leaving streaks. It looked like a murderer had done highlights in his hair, but the officer didn’t even notice.

“Yes, Sir.” The GYSGT halted the formation.

Alpha had lost a lot in taking their section of that station. Half had died in transit, and another dozen in the fighting. That was an over sixty percent casualty rate. They were down to four understrength squads.

The LT saw this but his expression didn’t change. “We need you at the front.”

“Sir, my troops have been fighting for hours without a break. We’ve lost a lot. Give us half an hour to grab a bite to eat, resupply, and then we’ll be good to go.”

“Negative, Gunney.” The LT shook his head and little droplets of red flew through the air. “We’re getting hammered. We need you now.”

“How about you brief me on the situation while my men grab a few minutes.” The GYSGT’s tone was still respectful but firm.

Alpha felt like hammered shit. They needed a minute.

“Fine, but they need to be ready to move ASAP.” The LT relented, and waved for the GYSGT to follow.

“On me, Berg. No rest for the weary.”

Eve knew she was going to say something like that, but she still activated her LACS’ internal systems so a high-calorie energy bar and water found their way to her mouth. She munched as the LT explained the situation.

The LT was the OIC of Bravo Company. While Alpha had cleared their section Bravo had made their way here, fighting through light resistance, until making contact with the main force. The dead and wounded in the hallway were from them.

“The situation is a tactical shit-storm.” The LT didn’t sugar coat the situation. They had a small holo-projector set up just beyond the aide station. “Whoever designed this place planned for just this scenario. Bastard. ”

“Yeah, we’ve been seeing a lot of first-rate planning from the Blockies.” The GYSGT shot Eve a look.

Eve looked away like she suddenly found the wall very interesting. <I didn’t intend to blow up that section.>

“What we’ve got is a two hundred and fifty meter kill zone.” The LT fired up the projector which showed a detailed outline of the corridor. “It’s only about ten meters wide, so we can’t rush with a large amount of troops.” He drew a horizontal line and measurements started to appear. “We were ordered to try…and we did.” He pointed over his shoulder at the injured and dead. “Everyone made it over from Aggie fine, I had two WIA on the way here, but since then I’ve had nearly fifty casualties. More than half are KIA.”

Eve felt bad for the guy. After all, he’d just lost a ton of his soldiers. These were men and women he’d trained and gotten to know personally. He was a significant part in their lives, and him in theirs. Now, they were lying in the hallway all around him. She took all of that into consideration as she waited patiently for him to continue. There had to be more to the situation. There was no way a full Company was going to take those types of casualties without the deck being stacked against them.

The LT took a few deep breaths before highlighting the far end of the corridor. Intelligence populated on the side, and Eve read it over.

“We estimate between one and two hundred Blockies behind those prepared positions. They’re well-armed, well-supplied, and dug in good.”

“These are projections.” Eve stated when the LT paused again. What they knew was true and what was assumed was highlighted in different colors on the projection. “Did the drones not get a good look?”

“Drones only made it to within a hundred meters of the position, which was fifty meters farther than us.”

Eve winced at the LT’s reply. <Swatters.>

“We missed the swatters until our HI trooper tried to send some 40mm down their throats. We’re pretty sure they were covered with camo-nets that got torn to shit when they opened up. They took out the shells and in the resulting confusion they took out our HI with these.” The LT highlighted two weapons stationed on either side of the corridor behind the Blockies’ position.

“You’ve got to be shitting me. They’ve got Lances.”

Eve pulled up the blueprints and studied the 3D image that began to rotate on her HUD. Lances were a 90mm Blockie heavy energy weapon. They fired a tight beam of ionized particles, like a lance, that could overwhelm LACS armor. Judging by the GYSGT’s surprise she didn’t expect to find anything like them on the Launcher.

<They probably wouldn’t have in the past, but these new designs…> she let the thought die out. It didn’t matter why the Blockies decided to put the energy weapons on this Launcher and not others. They were here and they needed to figure out how to deal with them.

Using her Ranger credentials to gain access, Eve pulled the vids from Bravo’s assault. She saw the movement to contact from several different angles. The men staggered and spread out as much as they could, but in a ten-meter corridor it was still a tight squeeze. They made a hole and the HI trooper launched a quick three-round-burst from his spine-mounted cannon. Apparently, the brass gave them the ok, but didn’t think Eve should be able to fire 40mm. She checked her irritation and went back to studying the assault.

The rounds didn’t make it halfway there before being intercepted, and in the tight space there was no room to maneuver. The explosion blocked the line of sight to the enemy only to be suddenly filled with two lances of bright-red light. The red light was thanks to the HUD’s optics. In reality, the 90mm Lancer’s beams were invisible.

One drilled the HI trooper right in the chest. He wasn’t able to activate the ES function of his armor before it overwhelmed his scales and punched through the duro-steel beneath it. The man toppled over like a great, metal tree while a second beam slashed across the corridor from left to right. More than one soldier lost a limb as the particle beams sliced through just about everything. That’s when the Blockie soldiers joined the party and added their own 1mm and 3mm chorus.

Bravo bounded back like professionals. They attempted to cover their buddies, and even took a few of the Blockies with them, but they had a hundred meters to cover, and that was a lot of open ground to run through with beams sweeping through your ranks left and right.

“You see my predicament?” The LT continued talking to the GYSGT. “I need more troops to take engineering. My Company is spent, and you’re next in the queue.”

“Maybe before sending the rest of my soldiers into the meat grinder we look for alternatives.” The GYSGT enlarged the projection. “What do we have here?” She pointed to the walls on either side of the corridor.”

“They’re packed full of crap: machinery, power conduits, environmental systems, water processing, coolant exchange; you name it and some of it is in there.” The LT shook his head. “We looked for access points to get troops around and hit them from the flank, but the people who built this place already thought of that. The only way to assault that position is down this hallway, and I need more troops to do that.” The LT’s mind was clearly already made up. He was frustrated, strung out, but still determined to kill the enemy.

The problem was that he’d closed his mind to other possibilities, and that’s why a fresh set of eyes was always a good idea.

“Take a look, Berg. I’ll be there in a second.” The GYSGT ordered, and turned to take the heat from the LT while Eve got to work.

She muted the argument between the LT and GYSGT. He was pissed that the NCO doubted his recon, and she was trying to smooth things over. Frayed nerves didn’t help, but Eve ignored them. She examined the streaming data directly into her HUD and got to work.

The LT was right. The space behind the walls on either side of the corridor leading up to the Blockie position was stuffed full of crap. Troops could theoretically get through, but they’d cripple the area, and maybe even the entire Launcher. Since that wasn’t in the mission, Eve looked at other solutions.

It came to her quickly, and triple checking some data showed it was viable. She didn’t hold it against the LT for missing it. He didn’t have the equipment to make it happen, so this was in his blind spot.

She switched her audio back on to tell the two leaders.

“…if you don’t get your troops on their feet now. I’ll…!”

“I’ve got it Gunney.” Eve stepped in quickly before the LT said something he regretted or the GYSGT did something that would mean she wasn’t a GYSGT after this op.

“Show me, Berg.”

Eve transferred the data over to the GYSGT’s HUD, and after a second did the same for the LT. “The LT was right. It’s tighter than a tick’s asshole in there and there is no way we’d be able to get troops through without the Blockies knowing.” She mollified the officer to stay on his good side. “However, it’s got enough room to fit a line of Crawlers through.”

Crawlers were small drones built for just this type of mission. They’d originally been developed by Gold Technologies for work in shipyards. Getting the equipment into places where a normal human couldn’t fit was always a bottleneck in ship development. The spider-looking Crawlers were able to haul and install equipment where humans couldn’t.

The Fleet saw the genius in the idea, and for lack of a better term stole the design and modified it. The nano-built critter with a powerful processor was cable of hauling several kilograms worth of material on its six rotatable legs. The ends of those legs were equipped with multiple, programmable, tools that could be manipulated by a trained operator. The SEALs and SAS got more use out of the Crawlers, which were excellent tools for sneaking around ships and gathering intel, but Eve had been given a full training course back at Ranger School. Now, she just needed to remember.

The GYSGT and LT looked over the path laid out on their HUDs. The LT looked like part of him was fuming at missing this, and being outsmarted by a CPL, but part of him looked relieved. He didn’t want to go back into that corridor and eat a bullet. This made sure he didn’t.

“Looks good to me, Berg. Lieutenant?”

“We’ll need the supplies, but with this mission’s priority I don’t think it’ll be an issue.” The LT replied as his shoulders slumped as he accepted the relief flooding through him.

“We’ve got a few snake eaters on this thing. I’m sure they’ll lend us their creepy crawlies.” The GYSGT looked at Eve. “Get it moving, Berg. Your plan, your mission, and your responsibility.”

Eve gulped, but that was her only hesitation. She got on TACCOM and put in the requisition.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 162

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: CWS Agincourt, Yangon System, Eastern Block

“Hot damn! That’ll put some lead in your pencil!” ADM Ward grimaced as the medic popped his shoulder back in its socket.

Agincourt was coming around from her brave, courageous, or suicidal run – depending on who you asked – through the forts and launchers to deposit the boots on the ground. The massive assault carrier had made the run while the rest of the task force engaged the orbital fortresses. Despite being attacked from multiple angles, the fortresses still did their best to turn Agincourt into star dust.

They failed, but the carrier had undergone a minor ass whooping. Just looking around the flag bridge told that story. Fire suppression foam coated the CAG station. The Combat Air Group Commander was in charge of the small fleet of Spyders on board as well as the armada of drones. None of the staff from that section was injured, but the equipment was toast. The CMDR and her staff had hauled ass down to the CIC where a secondary station was set up and manned by an LT in case the bridge got hit. Since no one wanted a shavetail in charge of the carrier’s mobile firepower, the CMDR was looking to rectify that situation immediately.

Tactical was also a mess. The holo-tank at the center of that department was down. It had been knocked out by power disruption and damage control was working to get it back up. Unlike CAG, they had a man down. A CPO had taken a nasty spill during the same hit that had jerked the ADM’s shoulder out of its socket. A team of medics were looking over the CPO, but one was already pulling out a black body bag.

Disposing of bodies hadn’t changed much in half a millennia. The man would be put in the black bag. Admittedly, the bags were better. The polyplast would vacuum seal the body to preserve it until the spacer’s burial wishes could be ascertained. Then, they’d either be transported home, shot into the nearest star, or whatever else that person’s creed required. The ADM had seen, and presided over, his fair share of funerals.

As reports kept coming in, he knew he would see more in the next few weeks. Agincourt was currently swinging wide of the fortresses and launchers. She’d done her part and taken her licks to deposit the infantry troops. A pair of battlecruisers was covering her flank as the flag ship swung around and surveyed the scene.

The fortresses were on their last leg. One was already breaking apart from the relentless pounding of dozens of battleships. The second was already beginning to flounder. Just about all of the missile ports had been battered shut. Impact after impact had depleted shields, broken ES armor, and warped the duro-steel into something not even approaching something that could safely fire a missile.  Trying to launch missiles from them was just going to do more damage to the fortress’ battered structure. The ADM assumed there might be crews working on ports on the dark side of the fortress, but it wouldn’t matter. Only a few energy weapons were taking pot shots at the powerful task force that was continuing to pound it into submission.

The fight hadn’t been one sided. The ADM checked his command holo-tank as status reports continued to stream in. They’d lost eight battleships in the fight. The space behind the advancing task force was littered with escape pods that made them look like a swarm of insects on STRATNET. Thousands of blinking emergency icons flashed in space, each relaying their occupant’s medical status. The ADM didn’t have more than a few seconds to spare looking at the escape pods. There was an entire team of spacers on every ship dedicated to looking over that information, contacting the occupants, gathering information, and then performing triage.

The ADM had done the job in two battles as a young officer. One as an ensign taking calls – this was back before they changed an O-1 to Lieutenant – and a second as a Lieutenant Commander coordinating the whole effort for a squadron of battlecruisers. The duty pulled at his heart strings, so although he couldn’t take much time looking at the holo-tank, he could take a moment to get briefed on it.

He opened a TACCOM channel to CIC where the officer leading the effort for Agincourt was working.

“Lieutenant Jefferson,” the voice sounded irritated, but the young officer saw the call was coming from the flag bridge.

“Lieutenant, Admiral Ward, brief me on the escape pod situation.” He waited a few moments while the LT got over the shock of talking directly with the fleet admiral.

“Yes…um…Sir…” The LT coughed and started reciting statistics.

One thousand twenty-seven escape pods

Three thousand three hundred and five confirmed spacers

Two thousand six hundred and ninety-three green status

Three hundred and eighty-seven yellow status

One hundred sixty-six red status that didn’t look like they were going to make it

And fifty-nine spacers that had gone black since entering the escape pods.

“How are they doing, Lieutenant?” The ADM could have looked the numbers up himself. He wanted to hear something from a man who’d talked to those spacers out there.

“What, Sir?”

“How are they faring? What are they thinking? What are you telling them?” The ADM didn’t have too much longer to speak, and his tone conveyed that.

“They’re scared, Sir. Most of them had their ships blasted out from under them. Some are hurt, and their buddies are trying to hold them together until we can retrieve them. They’re doing about as well as could be expected.”

“Good.” The ADM nodded to himself. “Keep working your way through those calls. Be professional, quick, but considerate. They’ll want to know everything, and you can’t give them anything. Reassure them that we’ll come for them as soon as possible.” The ADM knew he was telling the young officer how to do his job, but he had a little experience in this field, and he didn’t know how much practice the LT had.

He made sure the conversation went to the LT’s senior rater, so they could add it to the kid’s evaluation report. It wasn’t often that a LT got to talk directly with an ADM. It made for a few good bullet points on the OER.

The ADM cut the line and focused back on the holo-tank. The final fortress seemed to have lost power and was spinning at an odd angle off into space. The launchers were clear.

“Get me a SITREP from Captain Simpson. We need to know those Launchers’ statuses before we move to support the rest of the fleet.”

It would take the Infantry Brigade Commander twenty minutes to get back to the ADM, but he spent the time looking over the other task force’s progression. The second half of Third Fleet was steadily progressing toward its objective. Yangon-2’s planetary defenses were responding. The information was out of date because of the extreme distances, but the ADM could see the Blockie defensive forces moving into position to intercept the inbound task force. The planet’s fortress was moving into position over the planet’s capitol, and all civilian traffic was scattering.

The outcome of the battle wasn’t in question. The Commonwealth task force outnumbered the Blockies over two to one, and the RADM that Ward left in charge was a competent commander. He was advancing quickly to meet the enemy on favorable terms. As the attacking force, violence of action was always paramount. The more time the defenders had to prepare, the harder it would be for the RADM’s forces to put them down. Despite his main force’s rapid push toward the inhabited planets, a screen of destroyers seeded with cruisers was spreading out towards the planet’s far flung infrastructure. ADM Ward watched the antimatter blooms of proximity kills on STRATNET as those ships took out refineries, drilling rigs, and any ships stupid enough to be in the area. Destroying system infrastructure was one of Operation Winter is Coming’s secondary objectives, and he was already seeing results.

“I have Captain Simpson for you, Sir.” The LCDR manning the communication’s station had a deep cut above his eye that had recently been sprayed with Insta-Flesh.

“Give me some good news, Jack.” The ADM kept his eyes on the holo-tank as the Captain spoke.

“Launchers Alpha and Charlie are offline. Our spec ops teams were able to get in and take the command centers while the main infantry thrust engaged the garrison forces. Bravo’s team was lost in transit, but we’re making a push to that command center now, and if all else fails, we’re close to taking engineering and we’ll shut off the power.”

“Sounds like things are going as planned.”

“Roger that, Sir. Hopefully in the next few hours all three launchers will be completely under our control.” The Captain sounded pleased with himself.

The ADM didn’t bother him by asking for casualty figures. This wasn’t the time, and those numbers would only change in the coming hours. “Do you need anything from us?”

“My men could use some resupply now that those fortresses are down. We’ve got LZ’s set up on all three. It’ll be a tough run into Bravo while that command center is still up, so start with Alpha and Charlie. I’ll let the CAG know when Bravo is clear.”

The ADM wasn’t sure if Agincourt would be the one offering the resupply. Their own engineering department was still doing damage control. If the ship was deemed too dangerous to continue to assault then it would station itself at the Launchers, but that wasn’t what the ADM wanted. He wanted to get back in the fight.

“We’ll keep you apprised of things up here. Regardless, we’ll take a support force here with the capability of recovering your men if we need to move the rest of the task force toward the planets.”

“Yes, Sir.” The Captain sounded a little apprehensive, but that was the nature of the Infantry-Fleet relationship. The grunts on the ground didn’t want to get left behind on a stationary target, but the skippers made those calls. More than one bad call over the centuries had led to some bad blood in the water between the two branches.

The ADM wasn’t worried about that though. Everything he saw said he had the upper hand, and once the last Launcher was shut down, he’d have dominance over transportation in and out of the system.

“Ward, Out.” He cut the connection and leaned back in his command chair.

His shoulder was sore, but he could move it just fine. Damage control was still making its rounds and reports were still coming in. The first battle was won, but the war was still on, and the infantry on those Launchers was still knee deep in it.

 

***

 

Lieutenant Daniel Wong

Location: Launcher Alpha, Yangon System, Eastern Block of Nations

Ox Platoon was coming back in ones and twos. Daniel made sure they got immediate medical attention. Even the ones that weren’t physically hurt got sent to the medics for evaluation. Combat like they had experienced could cut deeper than flesh.

Ox Platoon’s LT had fallen in battle, and Daniel silently mourned her loss. LT Hun had been a dedicated soldier and party member. He’d shared drinks and stories with her, and knew enough about her personal life to feel the sting of her death, but he couldn’t focus on that now. He’d lost contact with the MAJ over an hour ago. He was pretty sure the Collies had cut the hardline communications imbedded into the Launcher. Several shockwaves had flung him and his men off their feet during the battle for the Launcher, and one had come right before the blackout.

Ox Platoon didn’t die without a fight. He’d reviewed the armor data showing they killed just as many imperialists as they’d lost, but a one for one exchange rate was not going to win the day. Thankfully, Daniel had a few tricks up his sleeves before he went to join his ancestors.

“Place them here and here.” He highlighted points on his HUD and transmitted the coordinates to his men.

The placement would give him overlapping fields of fire on the single approach to Engineering and the core at its center. Since engineering was one of any spaceborne structures most vulnerable points, the designers of the Launchers had taken that into consideration. One broad hallway led to the section’s only entrance. For the imperialists to reach Dragon Platoon’s entrenched position they would have to walk through a hail of gunfire.

Daniel would make sure his men died with honor, and could look back on their lives with pride when they entered the afterlife. He would fight until his dying breath because there was no greater dishonor than surrender.

“Here they come.” His outermost sensors pinged as a large force approached.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 39

<Who knew muscles could be a bad thing.> Morina huffed as she dragged Seth across the ground.

Wraith’s final teleport had dropped them in the middle of nowhere, which was a good thing considering what they’d fled from. The location was a dirt crossroads with some signs pointing toward the nearest civilization. She had to wipe the grime off them to read, and it told her the closest help was ten miles away. That was good and bad.

It was good that people wouldn’t ambush them, and bad because Seth looked like he was going to die. The blood dripping from him was calling to her, but she fought against the temptation. Wraith would teleport her into a volcano if she exsanguinated her man. So, she did the only thing she could think of. She pulled them off the crossroads.

She did Wraith first because that’s what friends were for. After everything that had happened in the last few months, Wraith might be the only person she could call a friend. Morina had liked Nightingale, but she knew a predator when she saw one, and what that type of person was capable of. After all, she was one.

After she dragged Wraith over to the side of the road she went back for Seth. Wraith was fit and athletic, but she didn’t weigh more than a buck thirty. With her armor, maybe one-fifty. Seth was easily over two hundred pounds. He would be good at punching things and dragging other people, but dragging him was a pain in the ass.

<Come on tons of fun.> She heaved, slipped, and landed right on her ass; making the pain he was causing her literal.

She coughed from the cloud of dust thrown into the air by her impromptu sit, and waved her hand rapidly to clear it. It might be nearing the holiday season, and the rest of the country was starting to see chilly temperatures, but wherever they were in Alabama it was still hot and dry.

She gathered herself after the dust cleared, grabbed Seth under the arm pits, and continued her slow trek to the drainage ditch where she’d placed Wraith.

She didn’t hear the person approach over her own grunting and the scrape of Seth’s body against the ground, but she did catch the clink of the weapon being taken off safe and pointed at her.

<Shit.> Her power swelled inside her, but she held it in.

She might be able to stop the blood from leaking out of her from a gunshot, but that wouldn’t fix the hole and whatever internal destruction the bullet wrought. Instead, she dropped Seth and raised her hands.

“We’re looking for a healer.” She figured saying they needed help was better than attacking him.

The fact that she didn’t get shot was a good sign she was headed in the right direction.

“These two.” The voice didn’t have that southern I-screw-my-sister drawl that the movies always portrayed people from this area having. In fact, she thought she heard some New York swagger in the person’s tone.

“Yep. One got shot and the other is purely exhausted.”

“I can fix the girl up for five hundred, but the guy is going to depend on the damage. I only take cash.”

<Shit…shit…shit…> She didn’t have anything on her, but knowing Wraith, she did.

“My friend has the money. It’s in her pockets somewhere,” she explained. “I can get it for you?”

“No sudden movements or I put a hole in you too, and then if you’re telling the truth I’ll charge you double to patch you up.” The person replied. “Keep your back to me.”

They circled each other so that the guy had a clear shot and Morina would have to turn to engage him. She couldn’t attack what she couldn’t see. She had an errant thought that this healer might know who she was, or at least who Wraith was, but the fact that he hadn’t shot them or called the cops was a good sign.

Being a Super and having a medical practice out in bumfuck nowhere told her that this guy might have his own secrets. It was common knowledge that people in this part of the country weren’t as accepting of Supers. There tended to be more Super-related crime, less tolerance from the authorities, and more animosity between Supers, humans, and then both weren’t fond of Powereds.

<Yeah, this guy is definitely sketch.> She knelt slowly and started to rummage through Wraith’s pockets.

Her eyes were rolled into the back of her head and she didn’t budge as Morina practically felt her up to find the cash. There were a lot of pockets with everything from duct tape to spare magazines for her pistols in them. She stayed well clear of the holsters on her thighs, and eventually found what she was looking for.

A wad of cash was rolled up tight and held in place by a rubber band. The outside bill was a hundred, and judging by that there was either a few grand in here or the bills got smaller. She pulled off five bills and slowly extended them behind her. The healer’s boots crunched against the dry ground as he snatched the cash away without touching her hand.

“Take ten steps forward,” he ordered.

She complied and waited for him to do what he said he would do, or shoot her. At the moment, she wasn’t sure which way it would go.

“What the shit!” Wraith’s gasp broke the tense silent. “Awwwwww that hurts like a bitch!”

“Sorry, it’s a side-effect of my healing.” The healer apologized.

“Feeling like I’m about to have diarrhea made of fire is a side-effect. No wonder you don’t get much business.” Wraith snapped back, but the apparent discomfort quickly faded.

“Hello, can I look now?”

“Sure.”

Morina heard the click of the weapon being put back on safe, and she turned to face the man.

<Damn.> He wasn’t wearing blue-jean suspenders with a beer gut and straw hat.

The healer was in a professional looking three-piece suit minus the jacket. The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and he had some nice muscles too. The glasses on his face highlighted his hawkish nose, but Morina didn’t mind, and his hair was an unnatural white color. He had a sleek hunting rifle tucked under his armpit, and he was extending a hand out to help Wraith up.

A spike a jealousy ran through Morina’s mind before she stomped it out. She didn’t know this guy from Adam, she shouldn’t be jealous that he was being nice to Wraith and not her. Plus, Wraith had Seth.

Wraith smacked the guy’s hand aside and climbed to her feet. She stumbled a bit, put her hands on her knees to steady herself, and took some deep breaths. “Is the nausea common too?” she asked.

“Yeah, it’ll pass just as fast as your intestinal pain.” The healer took a step back and watched the two women casually. The weapon was pointed harmlessly at the ground, but the way he handled it said he knew how to use it.

“I’m good.” Wraith straightened up and took one final deep breath. “Now help him.”

“He needs more than just an influx of energy.” The healer didn’t move from where he was standing. “I need to evaluate the wound, and probably clean it before patching him up.”

“What type of healer can’t disinfect wounds with his healing power?” Wraith turned to glare at the man.

“The only healer that you’ve got, and one who’s willing to turn a blind eye to your suspicious circumstances.” The guy had a point, and Seth didn’t look like he was going to survive another teleport.

“Fine, where do you need him?” Wraith kneeled next to Seth and with a surprising amount of tenderness started to check his vitals.

“My office is a short walk this way.”

Morina looked where he pointed and saw a dirt road that she’d missed up until now. If she looked at it from the right angle she could make out a small building nestled in the trees.

“Ok, Morina, help me.” Wraith grabbed Seth under the arm pits and she grabbed the legs. Together, they carried Seth down the dust driveway and into a surprisingly modern and clean room.

The outside of the building was clearly disguised to look like a mix between a shack and small house. Inside, it had a small ground floor set up as an office, and a large basement that the healer seemed to live in.

The healer bypassed the small office and took them downstairs and to a big room in the back. He opened the door and they were standing on the edge of an operating room.

“Get him on the table and get those clothes off,” he instructed.

“Whatever you say, Doc.” Wraith led the way on striping down her boyfriend.

“Mazel tov,” was the only thing Morina could think to say when she saw his junk.

“Now out, I need to work.” The healer ushered them both out of the room and shut the door behind him.

“Now what,” Morina crossed her arms across her chest and looked around the living room.

“Now we wait.” Wraith plopped down and turned on the TV.

It didn’t take Morina long to figure out her friend wasn’t even watching the daytime soap opera on the high-definition plasma. Her eyes kept darting to the door, her foot kept tapping against the tile, and she kept having to stop herself from chewing on her cuticles.

Wraith was worried, and Morina really couldn’t do anything to help.

 

***

 

“SNIPER!” Someone yelled as Iron Giant hit the ground as John.

<No shit!> Daisy didn’t waste any time in reacting.

They knew who the sniper was, where she was, what she was armed with, and exactly how many hostages she was holding. Unfortunately, some people were a little trigger happy after everything that had happened today. Law enforcement started taking shots at the building Nightingale was holding up in.

“Cease fire! Cease fire!” The police captain and DVA Agent Phillips were screaming over the Dispatch link.

Daisy took the moment of cover the return fire provided and dashed into action. Her legs pumped kinetic energy into the street as she pushed herself toward John’s prone body. She stopped on a dime next to him, ignoring the whiplash it exerted on her body, and picked him up in a bridal carry. She’d never be able to do this with Iron Giant, but little old John Ditmar was a different story.

“D…D…” blood leaked out of John’s mouth, and Daisy’s uniform was already slick with his blood.

“Hold on!” She turned around, and nearly took a bullet to the head. The turn was the only thing that saved her, but she felt the air parting against the bullet right next to her face.

“Cover me!” She yelled.

A force field appeared between her and the building Nightingale was using as a sniper’s nest. Daisy pushed off at the same time the second round hit the energy barrier. The barrier shattered as the bullet dipped in Nightingale’s nullifying goo and cracked into the pavement just to Daisy’s right.

<Fuck!> this wasn’t the first time Daisy had been under fire, but it might be the first time the bullets could actually kill her.

She was tempted to jump to safety, but that was an amateur mistake. You didn’t have any maneuverability in the air, especially while you were carrying someone as fragile as the currently very vulnerable Dean of West Private’s HCP. The jump up might be quick, but once she reached the apex, and started to come back down, Nightingale would be able to pick her off easy.

She needed to make herself a hard target to hit, and to do that she need some help. “Jetwash, you pompous ass, create a distraction. Blind her with wind, kick up enough shit so she can’t see, or draw her attention!” Daisy screamed the order.

Unlike her, the wind manipulator could easily maneuver in the air.

“Force Field, keep throwing up barriers. I don’t know if they’re deflecting shots a little, but even an inch helps.” Daisy knew Nightingale was a top-notch shot, so the last miss probably had something to do with the barrier’s temporary interference. “Get a healer ready.”

Daisy was running in a serpentine as she said all of this. She tried to keep out of the buildings line of sight as much as possible, but with the way the street was designed there just wasn’t anywhere to hide.

The wind started whipping and dust was kicked up enough that it made it hard to see.

<Not me you idiot!> It looked like something out of those old dust bowl films rolling onto the street, but instead of focusing on Nightingale it affected everyone.

Daisy ran right into it, and her visibility was cut to nothing immediately. Even worse, the dust stung at her eyes and made it difficult to see at all.

“Someone talk me through this. I can’t see shit!” Daisy had slowed to a straightforward walk as the dust swirled all around her.

<God, I hope she doesn’t have some type of heat vision.>

That got answered soon enough. A round tore through Force Fields barrier at a different angle. Nightingale had compensated, but her aim still wasn’t perfect. Instead of punching into Daisy’s center of mass, or John, it went into and through her calf.

Daisy dropped John who went rolling away into the dust storm while she cursed up her own storm. <Don’t stop!> She knew a lack of movement meant death, so she started to crawl.

Opposite leg and arm went up and she pulled herself forward, and then the other two. Every other crawl pain lanced through her as her open wound scraped against the ground. She searched out in front of her with her hands until they finally made contact. It wasn’t John. It was someone’s boot.

“Reaper, Ma’am.” A man in a SWAT tactical uniform stepped in-between her and Nightingale’s position with a large riot shield. “This should give us some cover.”

More police officers rushed forward and made a shield wall to protect the two injured Heroes.

“Iron Giant first.” Daisy grimaced as two more officers helped her to her feet. “He’s hit a lot worse than I am.”

“We’re on it, Ma’am.” The first officer to arrive nodded to another team of barely discernable black blobs moving in the dust cloud only a few feet away. “On my command we move!” He yelled to the rest of his team.

On three, the team started to shift. More fire rained down on them from Nightingale’s position, but their riot shields did what Daisy’s power couldn’t. Rounds pinged off the shield but didn’t penetrate. The team moved slowly and cautiously. They were respectful of Nightingale’s skill as a marksman. The fact the villain was hitting anything in this storm was amazing. Force Field threw up barriers more as a way to light the way to safety than protect them. Finally, after a few tense minutes, the team rounded a corner, the dust died down, and they were out of the villain’s line of sight.

“Healer!” The SWAT commander yelled as a pair of costumed Heroes approached Daisy and John. Dr. Sanderson was one of them.

“I’ve got him.” Golden mist stared to pour off the good Doctor as he crouched protectively over John.

Daisy didn’t recognize the other Hero, but his method of healing made her itch like a motherfucker. While she was waiting for the sensation to claw her own leg off to pass, Agent Phillips found her.

“Reaper.” The woman’s tone and voice made it clear she was pissed. “How about we don’t run out into the middle of an open street during an active shooter incident, where your powers are useless, and then we have to put more lives at risk coming out to save you.” She took a step closer. “Plus, do you know how much shit I would catch from my brother if you didn’t get out of this alive.”

“I’m sure a ton.” Daisy just shrugged. “I couldn’t leave Iron Giant.”

The DVA agent didn’t try to lecture her there because she knew it wouldn’t do any good.

“So what now?”

“Now we wait for the hostage negotiator to arrive, we set up a perimeter, cut the power to the building, and try to get the hostages to safety. Anything you can give us there?” Agent Phillips looked in the direction of the building.

“Thirty-two people not including Nightingale.” Daisy relayed what she was seeing with her sixth sight. “Do you think she’ll come quietly?”

“With her record…not a chance in hell. If she gets caught she’s going back to Avalon, and I don’t want to think what the government there has in store for the old regime’s chief torturer.”

“Good point.” Daisy suppressed a shiver.

<Things are about to get interesting.> She looked over at where John was transforming back into Iron Giant. <Or at least more interesting than a few minutes ago. It’s been a while since I’ve been in on a hostage negotiation.>

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Two Worlds – Chapter 161

Eve Berg

Location: Launcher A, Yangon System, Eastern Block

“Push! Push! Push!” Eve yelled over TACCOM as she moved down a hallway. Rounds flew from behind her toward a Blockie position, and rounds flew from the Blockie position toward her.

She was the front of the charge, the tip of the spear. Her V3 LACS acted as a duro-steel shield to keep her team safe while she walked her plasma-tipped rounds back and forth across the Blockie’s position.

There was a scream from one of the men following behind her as he went down, but her HUD only dropped him to yellow medical readiness, so she pushed on. Rounds started to ping off her armor with increased frequency as the Blockies saw the threat looming closer and closer. She waited until her gut told her she’d been out of cover for too long before diving into a hallway branching off of her quickest avenue of approach.

STRATNET pegged it as a dead end, but it wasn’t one at all.

“Shit,” Eve cursed as she scrambled up against the wall. Two members of her team followed her lead.

“Vixen-Two to Spartan-Seven, over.” Eve radioed GYSGT Cunningham.

“Go ahead, Vixen.” The GYSGT’s return call sounded stressed, but that was to be expected. They were trying to accomplish a herculean task.

“I’ve got another jammer somewhere near my coordinates.” She pinged STRATNET as she spoke to see if the GYSGT could pick up her location at all. “The hallway is not a dead end, I say again, not a dead end. It goes for fifty meters and then comes to a T. I’m going to need more men if you want us to scout any further.”

One of her teammates leaned around the corner and fired at the Blockie position to keep some pressure on them.

“Fuck!” The GYSGT exhaled.

They were still trying to clear their sector of the Launcher, and the plans they had were not accurate. These must be a new generation of Launchers because all of the data the invasion force had was obsolete. They looked the same from the outside, but the internal layout was totally different. The ones they were invading were designed better. Defensive positions had been built into the design, and there had to be one at every intersection. That meant Eve and her people had to fight tooth and nail for every meter of this metal tube. It was a force multiplier to the enemy, and the 2511th had already suffered four KIA and twice as many WIA just trying to find the way to their objective.

“I can’t give you anyone else, Vixen. Complete your current mission and hold. I’ll get back to you. Seven out.” The line went dead, and Eve was back to hearing nothing but gunfire.

<This blows.> Eve took a deep breath, a sip from her LACS’ water pouch, and thought over her situation. <Blowing.> Her own negativity gave her an idea.

They weren’t supposed to use grenades unless in a dire situation, but the whole clusterfuck of an operation was turning into a dire situation. She was losing men and time trying to take a position, while a previously unknown layout had just been revealed to her. As far as she knew, there was an entire Company marching up to engage her.

She rotated her Buss to the 40mm grenade launcher and selected anti-personnel from her weapons menu. “Cover me.” She let her teammates put enough fire downrange to keep the Blockie’s heads down. She stepped out into the hallway, sighted the launcher, and let it rip.

40mm grenades made a pretty big boom. They were supposed to. They needed to kill troops behind cover, hardened targets, or armored soldiers. Eve was ready for that as she moved back behind cover. What she wasn’t ready for was the explosion that threw her to her knees despite a solid duro-steel wall and thirty meters between her and the target.

“Berg! What the fuck was that?!”

Eve didn’t answer. She was too busy shaking her head and picking herself up off the ground. Her armor was fine, and her teammates were green. That was her first priority. The next was to assess the damage. She peeked around the corner and her jaw dropped. The end of the hallway was just gone.

The built-in defensive positon wasn’t even a pile or twisted metal and rubble. It had been clearly blasted away. There was a gaping hole in the wall behind it with sparking circuits and a growing fire.

“Advance!” Eve rushed forward.

Her teammates followed closely. One took up a position covering the rear and the new corridors they’d discovered. The other cleared the objective with her…or what was left of it. The three Blockie soldiers manning the position were dead, and only one had been shot. The others had taken a wave of what looked like superheated plasma to the back that burned them extra crispy.

“Clear.” The defensive position was at a dead end designed to cover the entire hallway they’d come down. Eve had made a new door, but she didn’t dare head in there. “Find something to suppress this fire. Double-time,” she ordered. STRATNET showed that the GYSGT and her team were heading in her direction.

“Seven, this is Vixen. We’ve seized the objective.” Eve relayed a SITREP to the NCOIC.

“No shit,” the GYSGT rounded the corner at the end of the corridor with a small team of soldiers. She approached the scene, and even though Eve couldn’t see the expression on her face, she knew the GYSGT was scrutinizing everything. “You used a grenade didn’t you?”

“Yes, Gunney.” There was no point in lying. Her LACS had recorded everything. With the discovery of the new corridor branching off of this one I needed to take this objective as soon as possible while securing my flank. I fired a 40mm frag grenade into the enemy position and completed the mission.

“Looks like you did more than that.” The GYSGT peered around Eve at the still-smoldering corpses.

“It had a greater-than-desired effect,” Eve stated.

“I’m not busting your balls, Berg.” The GYSGT reached out and clapped her on the shoulder. “You did well.”

Eve was a little surprised. She didn’t expect the GYSGT to chew her out in the middle of a fight, but she expected at least a reprimand. “Uh…thanks.”

The GYSGT shook her head. “Check STRATNET, Berg. Maintain your situational awareness.”

Eve expanded her view of the Launcher and smiled when she saw what the GYSGT was talking about. A solid two hundred by two hundred meter area of the Launcher that had been unexplored black was now visible.

“The drones started transmitting back data right after we felt the whole station shake from your unauthorized use of ordinance.” The GYSGT’s voice was stern, but Eve expected that was for the LACS’ recording devices. “However, your escalated use of force has given us critical information.”

Eve’s HUD received a detailed blueprint that she didn’t understand.

“We’ve had intel people examining the Launcher, and it is clear this is a new generation of them. Not only are the imbedded defensive positions strategically located throughout the structure, but they’d hardwired a lot of the defensive communications and EW countermeasures. That is why we’re having such problems with TACCOM and STRATNET. Our nodes are getting blocked by jammers they’ve built into the Launcher. When you took out this position, Corporal, you knocked out a jammer and some type of power source to this sector. That’s why it exploded, and that’s why we need to be careful using grenades in the future.”

“Yes, Gunney,” Eve played the properly chastised team leader to a T.

“I want your team with me, Berg. We’ll hold here until the drones give us the all clear and then we’ll move to make a major push south once we link up with Bravo Company.”

Eve hadn’t heard much about Alpha’s sister company fighting adjacent to them, but she knew they could use the bodies. They’d only been encountering fire-team to squad level resistance. Eventually, they’d have to come up against the main body of defenders.

“Any word on the other Launchers?” Eve asked as they passed the time waiting.

“Shit if I know or care. Or job is here, that’s what we need to focus on.”

“Yes, Gunney.” That was the end of the conversation as the drones gave them the all clear and they hustled to a new rendezvous point.

 

***

 

Sergeant Major Queen

Location: Launcher A, Yangon System, Eastern Block

SGM Queen stuck his head around the corner and surveyed the hallway. A pair of Blockie Nutcrackers stood guard in front of the door to the Launcher’s central command center. The pair of guards’ heads were on a swivel, but their sensors passed right over the SGM’s position and kept on scanning. Over the last twenty minutes the SGM and his strike team of Rangers were using their V3 LACS for all they were worth. The brigade of troops from Agincourt had one mission, and the SGM had another.

That was how the SGM’s career had been for the last decade. He’d done his time as the NCOIC of an entire Corps, which left his professional development in a bit of a predicament. Most soldiers who made it to such a lofty position took the pension and retired. They’d usually seen enough shit – both combat and bureaucratic – that they were ready to retire to Fort Couch and live a life of leisure.

Sitting around on his ass getting old and fat was not SGM Queen’s idea of a life of leisure. He always believed he was going to die in battle, and that hadn’t stopped after being the senior NCO of a million men. So, he went looking for a new challenge.

He’d always known the in’s and out’s of SOCOM, but had largely decided to stay out of them and focus on leading soldiers. Now that he’d mastered that leadership it was time to turn a new page. The more delicate and clandestine operations handled by SOCOM were not divvied out to random squads or companies when they came around. Even within the Ranger, Recon, SEALs, and SAS certain teams were legendary.

In the Rangers, the largest of the SOCOM branches, there were only a handful of companies that dealt with the real black ops missions. The SGM’s reputation had been enough to get him into Selection. The uniquely horrible training was designed for men a quarter his age, but he was just too stubborn to give up or die. After completing Selection, he’d been assigned to lead one of those prestigious company’s squads. A SGM leading a squad seemed like overkill, but he quickly learned it wasn’t. In the last decade he’d done everything from surveillance of Blockie Giga Proxies inside Blockie territory, to assassinations, and even exploration of uncharted space. He’d seen some real shit, and had to deal with none of the bureaucratic bullshit of his old positions.

The invasion of Yangon was his first mission back in action after some mandatory down time. Of course, that downtime was an iteration as a trainer at Ranger School coupled with a under-the-radar recruitment mission. He got to refresh some of his old leadership skills, and look for the next generation of space snake eaters. He’d found a few likely candidates, and it looked like one had just blown a sizable hole a few kilometers away.

He could tell because she’d knocked out something big, and the chatter from the command center was hectic.

<Now or never.> He took a deep breath and his mind focused on his objective.

“Move.” The word came out as a whisper, but the four men behind him sprang into action.

Their enhanced legs, coupled with the power of the V3 LACS, hurtled them down the corridors. They were halfway to the guards before the two men realized something was wrong. Their sensors might not be seeing anything coming at them, but they were definitely hearing the pounding of metal boots on metal floors.

“Take them.” The formation of the advancing Rangers changed.

Three of them, with the SGM in the lead formed a single-file line, while two popped out to the side and went to a knee. Once they were clear, they targeted the guards with their Busses and started to blow the shit out of them with plasma-tipped rounds.

Little explosions filled the hallway in front of the SGM, but he didn’t pay any attention to them. He needed to get to the door before the command center figured out what was happening and locked down. He trusted the rest of his team to deal with the threats.

Their attack caught the Blockies by surprise. They’d spent the last twenty minutes sneaking behind their lines, so the last thing their Nutcrackers were expecting was an assault team shooting the shit out of them. Still, they reacted quickly. There wasn’t anywhere to go in the hallway, which was supposed to work to their advantage, so they tried to compress their profile as much as possible and return fire. Their sensors still weren’t picking up the armor, but the flashes of the plasma-tipped rounds exiting the Busses gave them something to target.

<Shit!> One of those rounds fired at his men ended up hitting the SGM in the shoulder. His armor sparked, but held as he stumbled. The problem was his camouflage was damaged, and that gave the Nutcrackers a new target. As the closer of the three targets, he became their primary focus.

The two Rangers behind him adjusted to the new situation. They peeled around him and went blades hot. The two Rangers providing suppressive fire ceased when the Rangers with their blades out entered their field of fire. The sudden lack of fire surprised the Blockies just as much as the sudden suppression had, but they didn’t stop targeting the SGM who was continuing his charge toward them.

The SGM took one more round in the thigh before his Rangers reached the enemy. Proximity warnings designed to measure how close bullets were flying to you went off on the Nutcrackers’ HUD’s a moment before blades breached their suits and flesh.

<This armor really is something.> The SGM limped the rest of the way to the door and shoved his own blades in the way to keep the blast door for clamping down. The round to the thigh hadn’t penetrated but the force of the explosion had bruised or broken something.

“Stack up!” With the two Nutcrackers down the rest of the Rangers hurried to join him.

His leg protested like a motherfucker as the hydraulics of the door tried to overpower his enhancements and V3’s powerful exoskeleton. That pressure let off a bit when another Ranger got his shoulder under the door.

“Bumper!” the third man yelled as he placed an industrial-looking box on the command center’s door panel.

The unit went to work as a sickening wailing sound and smoke filled the area around them. The bumper units the SOCOM soldiers used didn’t mess around. They first tried to hack into the system, but if that failed they went manual. Their neural networks were filled with all sorts of data on enemy defensive blueprints, and used those to break in.

“Three…two…one…” the SGM counted down for the fourth and fifth man.

It was going to be a shitty breach, but there wasn’t much the SGM could do about it. The interior doors flung open and a hail of gunfire filled the small space. Rounds hit one Ranger, ricocheted into another, and then another before finally finding their way into the hallway. The five-man team endured it all.

The SGM continued to hold the door, despite feeling like he was going to break in half, while grenades were chucked into the room. These weren’t frags. Frag grenades were going to tear shit up and make it impossible to accomplish their mission. They were flash bangs.

The grenades emitted the flash and bang they were named after, but a helmet with dampeners could overcome that easily enough. What a helmet couldn’t do was stop the neural-seizing shockwave that spread out of the point of detonation. It was some high-tech shit, and it worked on the members of the crew that weren’t in some sort of armor, which was about ninety percent of them.

“Take’em!” The SGM and the Ranger holding the door tried to lift it as a high as possible so the three other members of the team could rush in and spread out.

The SGM’s LACS already had some warning signs popping up on his HUD. Several sections of scales had been damaged, but there were still no breaches. That didn’t stop him from feeling like hammered shit.

The team swept into the room and pushed forward. The little resistance that remained fought bravely, but had to retreat and ultimately barricaded themselves in a supply closet in the rear of the room. That didn’t end well. With the precious computer systems safe, the SGM had no qualms about using frags.

“Clear!” sounded four times from the corners of the room.

“Get to work. Shut it down, grab the data, and let’s get the hell out of here.” The SGM had stepped into the room and let the blast door slam shut behind him. They were trapped in the command center, but they were exactly where they wanted to be.

<We’ll make our own exit.> The SGM limped to the nearest consul where a short man – an officer judging by the rank insignia on his uniform – was slumped over the display with blood leaking out of his punctured and scorched armor.

The SGM tossed him to the ground and wiped the sticky liquid away from the port. He slid a cord out from his armor and jacked it in.

This command center was a literal treasure trove of intel. They’d have the Launcher blueprints, archived sensor readings of fleet movements in and out of the system, intel on the ground forces awaiting the rest of the invasion force, and most importantly, data about other Blockie Launchers’ quantum entanglement coordinate codes. That data could be used for surgical or general strikes deeper into the Eastern Block’s core systems. They’d caught the Blockies with their pants down in Yangon, much like the Blockies did to them at Rogue Island, but the SGM and his team were going to make sure they bent the Blockies over and butt fucked them hard for what they’d done to parts of Third Fleet.

He looked down at the bar on the side of his HUD. <Only two percent.> They were going to be here awhile, and he could already hear the Blockies losing their shit on the other side of the blast door.

“QE down, Sergeant Major,” one of the Rangers reported the Launcher was now officially offline. No one would be coming to help Yangon through the Launcher A.

<Still two percent.> He read the status bar again.

“Have this place ready to blow when they breach those doors. We don’t want them turning anything back on once we’re gone.”

“Roger that.” The Ranger who disabled the QE systems went to work popping mines out of his V3 and setting them up where they’d do the most damage to a relief force storming the command center.

The SGM just hoped they were gone before the Blockies were able to cut through the blast door, because they wouldn’t be taking any prisoners. Nobody was.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 160

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Step up to your individual firing positions.” Coop instructed with about as much interested as a person explaining the anatomy of a slug. Not even a space slug, just a normal boring-ass Earth slug.

A squad lumbered forward in their heavy kit. Their Dragonscale breastplates were polished and shining brightly in the weak light of New Lancashire’s main sequence star, and their CMUs were on their combat setting with armored inserts. LT Wentworth believed in training like they were in battle, and that likely meant a heavy kit for the regular grunts.

Coop watched the squad settle into a prone firing position and shook his head. You didn’t have to see a soldier’s CMUs on the Dress setting to know if they’d seen some shit. Sometimes, those little imperfections in a person’s armor were just as big a military resume as the medals and ribbons. You didn’t turn in your scales when you moved from unit to unit. As long as the armor was operational and still within regulation, you took it with you throughout your career.

Coop’s V2 armor had its own dents and scratches from the latest scuffle back on that rock. Even though the armorer had patched everything, it never quite matched up with the original paint job.

“Right and left limits are being designated now.” Coop hit the start button on the sequence for the squad’s armor to link with the range through STRATNET and TACCOM. He quickly built individual and a squad channels so he could talk to them as a unit or give individual advice.

“Squad, we are going to group and zero your IAWM3s before running through a basic qualification table.” LT Wentworth, who was serving as the OIC and safety officer began her little spiel. “You have been equipped with three magazines; one for grouping, one for zeroing, and another for qualification. At this time please grab your grouping magazine, insert it into your weapon, chamber a round, but keep your weapon on safe.”

<What did I do to deserve this?> Coop grumbled to himself as the squad inserted their grouping magazine. <Oh yeah…>

He knew exactly what he’d done. He’d killed that douchebag who tried to roast his head off with one of the blasters he’d sold to some black-market dealers for a pretty penny. Granted that douche had been Aiko’s kind-of-husband, and Coop had just finished boning the limber spacer, but that was semantics. Dude tried to kill him, he killed the dude instead; case closed.

Thankfully, the Infantry couldn’t nail his ass to the wall for defending himself, but with his reputation, Coop was looked on differently than a lot of other soldiers. So, the Battalion Commander took half his month’s pay to ship the corpse back home, and had him do extra duty assignments. It was Gunney Topper’s bullshit details all over again. He’d just finished, and this range time was supposed to be a welcome relief.

<No good deed goes unpunished.> Something Berg told him a lifetime ago surfaced in his mind after he’d shot an impressive ninety-five out of a hundred and earned himself an Expert Badge.

After several engagements against riotous civilians, pirates, and pissed off miners with modern weapons, shooting at a holographic image of a soldier in the distance wasn’t so hard. Unfortunately, the price for having that new badge on his CMUs was to impart his wisdom on others. So, instead of getting to sit in the shade and have something to eat, he was standing just behind the firing line and telling these green grunts how to hit a target.

“Corporal Cooper!” LT Wentworth snapped Coop out of his daydream.

“Sorry, Ma’am.” Coop shook his head and continued the sequence on the range program. She’d probably been calling his name for a few seconds, but when someone yelled “corporal”, he wasn’t tuning in yet. He’d only gotten his second chevron yesterday.

“Squad, there are four targets set up in the shape of a square. You will fire three rounds at each of the three targets. Aim at the same place on each of the targets. The standard is to put all three rounds within a one-centimeter space. When you are ready, take your weapon off safe and engage.” He gave the ten soldiers a moment to sight on their targets. “Range is hot!”

Through his armor and the interface with the range program, Coop was able to see everything the soldiers were doing. He had a god-like view. The program showed him the angles of fire and how much the barrel moved. He was able to tap into the soldier’s armor and see how they shifted their weight and what their breathing was like. He could even read the sensors in their gloves to see how they were literally pulling the trigger.

“Don’t yank the trigger, Private Kowalski.” He announced over a private chat with one of the soldiers. “It’s throwing your shot off every time.” The PVT’s shots were way outside the one centimeter grouping they were looking for on the first target. “Gently pull it, and use the meaty part of your finger. Get comfortable. This is going to be the most relaxed situation you engage the enemy in, so you better shoot straight or you ain’t gonna hit shit in an actual firefight.”

“Yes, Corporal.”

Coop pushed down the weirdness the PVT’s response sent up his spine. He didn’t like this kid, who was only about eighteen to twenty-four months younger than him, looking at him like he was some expert. Sure, he’d killed some people in some pretty inventive ways, but all this NCO leadership crap really wasn’t his cup of tea. He was only doing this as punishment.

“Better.” He cut the line when the PVT put three rounds about a centimeter and a half from each other. It still didn’t meet the standard, but it was better than before, and it was the SGT’s job at the other end of the firing line to get with the soldiers to recalibrate their weapon’s computers and adjust their scopes.

The squad went through grouping and zeroing with his doling out little kernels of wisdom here and there. Those who didn’t group and zero were recycled to do remedial training with Gunney Weitz.

“Squad, you will now run through a normal qualification table. This will not be the only time you shoot for qualification, but that doesn’t mean you can suck on this one. Use the tips you were given during zeroing and grouping and put them to good use. One hundred targets will appear at distances ranging from fifty to one thousand meters. The targets will be visible for three to five seconds. You have one hundred rounds. You may use them at your discretion. A passing score is seventy out of one hundred hits. Different badges of achievement are available: seventy-five to eighty-four hits is a Marksman, eighty-five to ninety-four hits is a Sharpshooter, and ninety-five to one hundred targets is Expert. Acknowledge when you are ready to begin.” He didn’t bother to wish them good luck, he just initiated the program when everyone acknowledged.

This was only the third squad of ten. Coop was going to be out here all day, and that was only the beginning. He took his eyes off the range and looked up. Even with his LACS’ magnification he couldn’t see Argo up there in orbit, but that’s where the Company was headed. LT Wentworth had worked some magic, or sucked some dick, to get Charlie Company to qualify in all the spaceborne standards, and Argo was their training vessel.

It worked out perfectly for him. He had a shit ton of cash chips to hand over to a certain engineer. Who knew, he might even get a handy in return. Their last encounter had been rudely interrupted by the aforementioned deceased douche that had landed Coop in this detail in the first place. In his mind, it seemed like more than fair payment.

 

***

 

Eve Berg

Location: Launcher A, Yangon System, Eastern Block

Eve’s head hurt, her lower back ached, and her knee felt funny. All things considered, having only a few bumps and bruises after having a grenade dropped right at her feet was a best-case scenario.

Activating her ES armor and holding it for the duration of the explosion had saved her life. She been picked up and thrown from the force of the explosion, and tumbled around the Parasite pod. She was also pretty sure, in the mayhem, that GYSGT Cunningham’s flailing boot had kicked her in the face; thus the headache.

She’d lost ten percent of her battery holding the ES armor, but it was worth it. She was alive.

“Report.” The GYSGT’s voice was strained. There was a slight possibility that Eve’s own flailing, armored limbs had beat on the NCO just as much as she’d beaten on her.

“I’m in one piece.” Eve disengaged the armor and read the reports streaming in over her HUD. “We’ve got a hull breach.” Now the two Rangers began to move with a sense of urgency.

Parasite pods were tough, but most of this toughness was on the outside. Inside it was more vulnerable, and that frag grenade had torn shit up. They needed to get out of the pod yesterday.

“Fuck, Reynolds is down and he’s leaking meat!” The GYSGT was pushing toward the front of the pod where Eve and the communication’s soldier were. Eve was on her feet now, but the comms guy wasn’t getting up ever again.

Blood had soaked the metal around him. One of his legs had been torn clean off above the knee, and the rest of that exposed side of his body looked pulverized, but the worst sight was his head. High-velocity shrapnel had punched through the center of his helmet. It didn’t have the momentum to punch through the back, so it ricocheted around and turned everything above his neck into a flesh, bone, brain milkshake; which was now sliding out of the hole in his helmet.

It was fucking disgusting. Eve gagged, and was thankful that she couldn’t smell what was going on around her or she sure as shit would have been puking her guts out.

“I need a full SITREP, Berg.” The GYSGT grunted as she pulled herself forward.

<Right.> Eve took a deep breath, looked away from the body to her surroundings, and started running diagnostics.

Thankfully, she had no armor breeches and was still green on battery power. Her 250mm cannon had sustained some damage, and she would need an armorer to repair and certify it for use, so she was down her main gun, which wasn’t a big deal because she didn’t have ammo for it anyway. Her railgun was green, and surprisingly the damage to her Buss was superficial. She reported all of that to the GYSGT.

“Good, because my railgun and Buss are shot to shit, but I’ve still got my cannon, so I’m totally fucked.” The two Rangers now had the combat effectiveness of half a soldier. This boarding wasn’t off to a great start. “Let’s get out, seal the opening and head to the LZ.”

“The node is damaged.” Eve picked up the comms equipment and jacked a cord from her armor into it. “We’ve still got intermittent STRATNET, but TACCOM is just static. It sounds like someone is dragging a dagger across duro-steel.”

“Bring it. They’ll either repair it or destroy it. Either way, we can’t leave it for the Blockies.”

Eve was easily able to strap the tech to her back since her cannon was offline. The GYSGT grabbed Reynold’s functioning M3 when she passed. It would have to do, and it worked well enough that she hoisted it to her shoulder and staged to the side of the opening. They could both hear a commotion outside. Several were cries of pain in a foreign language.

“You go right. I’ll go left. On three…”

There was a reason the two regular grunts were supposed to be the first out the door. In LACS, only one of the Rangers could fit though the hole at a time. So Eve might be covering the one hundred and eighty degrees to the right, but she’d be stepping out of the hole a second or two after the GYSGT. It was poor tactics, but it was all they had to work with. Eve just hoped their armor would continue holding out for them.

“…two…one…” The GYSGT went first, and Eve hauled ass right after her.

There was a shout and then gunfire from behind her, but Eve trusted the GYSGT to handle it. She cleared the hole the Parasite had bored into the Launcher and sighted three Blockies. One was on the ground and clearly injured from the grenade she’d thrown. The second was helping his buddy, and the third was covering them. The Blockie was already dialed in on the GYSGT and pulling the trigger. 1mm darts flew by Eve’s head, and it was only experience that allowed her to ignore them. The Blockie was already retargeting on her, but he’d never get the chance.

A three round burst from her Buss hit the Blockie soldier center of mass. Three small explosions of plasma followed. She could tell one was a surface detonation held back by the armor, but the other two were deeper. The Blockie went down smoldering from the chest.

The second Blockie, the one trying to help his buddy, dove for his rifle. Eve hosed him down with half a dozen rounds. That only left the third, unarmed guy. Her sensor deemed him clear, so she took the chance and pivoted around to help the GYSGT. Only her armor and M3 firing as fast as it would cycle were driving the Blockies back. There were only two of them, but they were pressing her from both directions and making her shift fire. Eve ended that by putting down one Blockie by tracing four rounds up from his center chest to head. Even with his armored helmet, she painted the bulkhead behind him with brains. The other soldier wisely retreated.

With the left clear, Eve swiveled back to the injured Blockie who was crawling for one of his fallen comrade’s guns.

“Hold fire. We need intel.” The GYSGT stopped Eve from killing the enemy. Instead, she marched over and stomped on the hand reaching for the Blockie version of the M3. Even with a helmet on, Eve could hear the soldier’s screams. “Grab him and let’s move.” The GYSGT set a rally point two hundred meters away. “We’ve got less than five minutes to secure the LZ before the rest of the Company arrives. Bravo pod is already in route.”

It seemed the second Parasite coming in didn’t have a welcoming committee waiting for them. Even with the Blockie slung over her shoulder they made good time. They didn’t encounter any more resistance, but that was probably because they were heading away from their objective.

They reached the maintenance airlock just as SGT Sullivan and his team of Rangers were setting up a perimeter. He took one look at Eve and the GYSGT and had someone else put on prisoner duty so they could have breather. Eve saw her reflection in the SGT’s armor. The looked like crap, and Eve had a fresh trail blood leaking down her front from the injured Blockie.

She used the time before the Spyder’s arrived to catch her breath while the rest of the team pulled security and went to work trying to disable some of the defensive systems remotely from a nearby terminal. A quick search showed that one of the Rangers was armorer qualified, so she took up his position on the perimeter while he checked her cannon.

“No go.” He told her after a minute looking at it. “I need time and equipment to give it a proper look, and it’s not a mission priority right now. Make do with what you’ve got.” He was a CPL with more time in grade than Eve, so she couldn’t tell him to go fuck himself for the condescending way he relayed the information.

She hustled back to the GYSGT. As the liaison one of the perks was that she didn’t have to do any of the more menial shit.

“Spyder is incoming.” She relayed a moment later. “Docking in three…two…one… be ready. If they’re going to hit us it’ll be while they disembark.”

The maintenance hatch was small. Only big enough for one soldier at a time to fit through, so the first soldiers to step aboard went to reinforcing the perimeter.

Eve didn’t hear the conversation between the GYSGT and the Spyder’s pilot, but she couldn’t keep her mouth shut when they closed and locked the hatch behind the last member of fifth squad.

“Second Spyder docking somewhere else?” Eve maintained situational awareness, but her eyes were on the GYSGT.

“Nope.” The reply came over a private channel. “Second bird got turned into space dust on the way over. This is all we’ve got.” The GYSGT didn’t elaborate. She called for all the squad leaders, SGT Sullivan, and Eve to huddle up and form a new plan.

<Fifty grunts and ten Rangers to take a Launcher’s core?> Eve didn’t like those odds. It sounded way too much like one of those fight to the last man holo-dramas where everyone died and they were remembered for their bravery. <Doesn’t help the poor bastards who got killed.>

Eve just hoped she didn’t become one of them. She’d already had one close call, and the party hadn’t even started yet.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 38

“Becca!” Mason pushed his way through the panicked crowd.

He hadn’t gone far. He’d met EMS personnel moving toward the bomb site less than a quarter of a mile away. He’d handed the injured woman over to them, and then brought a few others back to the site. Right now, he was acting as a bouncer. He pushed people aside, told them to get out of the way, and even took a few punches from frantic men trying to get out.

<Why isn’t anyone moving?> It was weird that everyone seemed to be bottlenecked. The crowd was starting to expand outward and get deeper, which was making things that much harder for emergency responders.

Once Mason finally pushed his way back to the front he saw why. There were two reasons. First, a building had collapsed and blocked the alley where the dumpster had exploded. Second, a barrier of light stood just beyond that. It flared as people pounded their fists futilely on it. Several people were even standing on top of the rubble and trying to bash their way to freedom.

<Good luck.> Mason had seen those barriers before. He knew an HCP professor’s power when he saw one.

He didn’t have long to shake his head at the humans before panicked calls started flying through his head. <Mason, hurry! It’s Becca and Anika.> An image of the building collapsing right on his two friends played right in front of his eyes.

He went from trying to find a less physical way through the throng of people to bodily pushing them aside. None of them could stand up to his strength, and he tried to leverage that while not making it too obvious he was a Super.

<Some things are more important than others.> He reached out a massive hand, palmed the side of a guy’s face, and pushed him aside. He crashed into the people next to him, and they only kept standing because the people were so closely packed.

“Make a hole! EMS coming through!” Mason tried to make it sound official, but that didn’t stop people from cussing up a storm at the giant black guy who was flinging people around.

Once they finally got to the rubble, he realized there were two types of people present. The first group was the one he’d seen while approaching. They’d climbed to the top of the pile of brick and mortar and were banging their fists against the barrier. Other people like them tried to climb up after them, and the people at the top pushed them back. In more than one case, a person went falling back down to the bottom of the pile and was scuffed up pretty bad. Mason fought the urge to go up there and throw everyone off. He understood they were in full survival mode, but there was no chance they were getting through Force Field’s barrier.

The second group of people were the one’s following Kyoshi’s lead. They were combing through the debris trying to find anyone who’d been injured in the attack. If what she had relayed to him was correct, then more than one person had been caught in that urban avalanche.

Kyoshi was discretely leading them to the survivors. She’d say she thought she heard something over there, or brick shifted over here to cover up her telepathy. He wouldn’t be surprised if she was pretending to be an angel and saying comforting words to those trapped beneath the rubble.

Despite all Kyoshi had shown him, Mason couldn’t stop from playing favorites. He’d watched Anika jump in front of Becca and both be pulled under. He wanted to help them first.

<Where are they?> He asked when he’d nearly reached the pile. People were starting to get the message and moving out of the way as he approached.

<Left side of the pile nearly halfway up.> Kyoshi couldn’t pinpoint the location more than that until he saw what he was working with.

<Guide me.> He broke through the small perimeter around the debris and went straight to work.

The pile was big. Mason wasn’t the best at math, but there had to be hundred if not thousands of tons of materials blocking the former alley. Lifting that wasn’t going to be a problem. He was a mid-level strongman, and for a sophomore in the HCP that was still getting stronger, that was pretty damn good. The problem was getting it off without crushing the people beneath it. Becca and Anika might be tough, Anika more so, but enough weight would crush the petite speedster, and she couldn’t run away from this one.

<There.> Kyoshi told him when he was right on top of the spot where their two classmates were buried. <Slow and steady, Mason. They’re conscious, and they’ll tell me if anything shifts while you dig, but please be careful.>

<Always.> He started slow, one brick at a time until he’d gone down a foot.

He tossed the bricks behind him toward the group of onlookers. They yelled at him at first, but a glare over his shoulder shut them up. <Nut up or shut up as Coach Meyers would say.> He went back to work, and a few people actually started to help by clearing the bricks away that he’d already cleared. Every extra body helped.

He dug and he dug. Because of where Becca had been helping the injured she was in the deepest part of the rubble. Becca and Anika relayed instructions through Kyoshi, and it was a big help. Becca could dial up her perception and see how his efforts shifted everything around them. The insight was invaluable, but it was still slow going, and that was their biggest problem.

<Mason, I don’t want you to freak out, but you need to move faster.>

He was in the middle of shifting a partially-intact piece of wall that weighted at least five hundred pounds, and he was doing it with the added difficulty of looking like he wasn’t doing anything.

<What do you mean?> Despite the warning, he was starting to freak out a bit.

Then it hit him. It didn’t matter how strong Anika was, or how fast Becca was. They both needed one thing to survive: air.

<They’re running low, and trying to conserve as much as they can.> Kyoshi heard him come to the correct conclusion and did her best to calm him. It didn’t help much.

He finished shifting the giant piece and got back to work. He was a little more reckless now. He took chances. He moved bigger amounts and didn’t always wait for feedback from Becca. If he didn’t move faster the feedback was pointless anyway.

Several hurried and fairly tense minutes later he finally broke through the outer pocket of the space created during the collapse.

“Sweet Jesus,” Becca coughed as fresh air replaced the stale carbon dioxide in the small space.

“Is she ok?” The sense of relief was short lived when Anika didn’t move.

She was lying on top of Becca. Her body had taken the brunt of the wall’s weight when it collapsed on them.

<Anika is unconscious but otherwise unharmed.> Kyoshi relayed as she checked the other woman. <I would get her medical attention though. Any loss of consciousness should be taken seriously.>

“You push and I’ll pull,” Mason directed Becca, and together they wrestled Anika out of the rubble. “Hold tight.” He walked Anika back down to the waiting EMS teams that had set up a makeshift triage unit at the edge of the rubble.

He dropped Anika off with them and went back to grab Becca. She was already climbing out of the hole when he arrived. She was covered in grime from head to foot, she had some cuts and bruises that would need some serious disinfecting, but other than that she looked fine.

“Did she make it?” Becca’s eyes scanned the area and immediately widened at the sight of the energy barrier behind them.

“They didn’t say, but it looks like Anika will be fine.”

“Not her,” Becca shook her head. “Anika’s tough. She’ll be fine. I’m talking about the woman who lost her leg. Is she going to make it?”

After the chaos of the last twenty minutes, Mason had forgotten about the woman they’d helped form the original explosion. “I left her with the EMS personnel back there,” he waved in the direction of the stage. “They didn’t tell me anything, but she looked like she was going to make it.”

Truthfully, he had no idea what the woman’s status was, but he sensed Becca needed a win. The perpetual positivity always present in the speedster was absent at the moment. She just didn’t look like Becca, and it had nothing to do with her whole body being dyed gray by the debris.

Whatever was on the speedster’s mind, she pushed it aside and started helping despite her own injuries. Mason followed in her wake with Kyoshi helping from the rear. It didn’t hit them until they were nearly done that this was what a Hero team up would look like in real life. The strongman and speedster in the field coordinating with local law enforcement to get the job done, while the advanced mind was in reserve helping piece together the puzzle or think of solutions to the problem.

Suddenly, capture the flag seemed kind of stupid in comparison.

 

***

 

“Keep the pressure on them!” Daisy yelled as another forked bolt of lightning shot from her fingertips. It crackled and died all around the two fleeing villains, but she could see it was starting to take its toll.

The smooth blackness of Nightingale’s compression armor on Stal was beginning to crack and dull. I had more of an ashen hue to it now, and that meant they were getting somewhere. Now that things were getting under control with the search for more dumpster bombs, more Heroes were pouring in to join in the action.

Stal and Nightingale dodged between buildings to avoid her lightening, but Jetwash caught them in an alley. The wave of hurricane-force winds broke around them, but all the crap it kicked up still slammed into them. Nightingale stumbled and fell as a crunched up beer can hit her in the ass at over one hundred and fifty miles per hour. Stal grabbed her by the belt without breaking stride and carried her away from the Hero. She didn’t leave without a parting gesture. She grabbed a pizza box from a passing dumpster and tried to make it into the Frisbee of Death. She chucked it at the flying Hero, and he barely got out of the way.

The Heroes hurried to reposition, and met the two villains with ranged attacks when they emerged on the other end. Stal stumbled under the brunt of the force, but Nightingale caught some flak. She got spun around by a beam of energy that exploded next to her. The sudden hole blocking her path forced her to go through a doorway to an upscale apartment building. Stal didn’t see her change course and she took that energy beam in the chest but kept on pushing.

“Separate them, keep them separated. Iron Giant, go…go…go…”

It was the moment the Heroes had been waiting for. Together, the two villains were strong, but apart their weaknesses could be taken advantage of. Stal was physically strong, but her nullifying armor was beginning to fray. Once it was gone she was vulnerable to Reaper’s particular talents. Nightingale was always protected from those same talents, and her nullifying bullets posed a problem to any Super, but anything non-powered she was as vulnerable to as any normal human.

Iron Giant pumped his powerful legs and spirited forward. The sheer strength of his bounds turned him into a silver blur as he tackled Stal just as the energy attack was letting up. Meanwhile, Daisy poured a ton of electric energy into the doorway of the apartment building. The building’s super was going to be pissed, but that’s why they had insurance. Keeping Nightingale’s head down while Iron Giant removed Stal from the battlefield was more than worth a melted entryway.

Iron Giant and Stal grappled. The big shifter got a leg behind Stal feet and tripped her. She went down to the ground, but used the shift to yank the hero off his feet. They both went down on their sides and started slugging for an advantage. Daisy watched out of the corner of her eyes as she poured volts into the building.

“Someone tell me about this building. I need a count of civilians, exits, and preferably someone up to cover the roof.” While the move the Heroes had just pulled isolated the villains away from each other, it also put a psychopath in a confined space with innocent civilians. Right now, Daisy had to assume they were all hostages.

Daisy knew what they needed. “Dispatch, where the hell is Hunter?”

“Hunter is…” the report got interrupted by a stone-crunching BOOM. Stal had somehow gotten her feet underneath Iron Giant and thrown him back and through the wall of a nearby building.

Stal was scrambling to her feet, and looked like she was about to jump away.

<No you don’t.> Daisy heightened her perception gauged the jump and fired herself off toward the fleeing strongwoman just before she jumped.

Her aim was a bit off. She hit Stal in the knees, but the kinetic energy transfer was more one way. Technically, Stal kneed her in the face, but she turned Stal’s vertical leapt into a head-over-ass tumble where she just ended up landing back on the street. That was mission accomplished as far as Daisy was concerned. Stal was still shaking her head and getting back to her feet when Iron Giant landed on her like a man-shaped cannonball. The street cracked under the impact and a big fissure spread for about fifty feet before stopping.

<She’s got to be down.> Daisy thought before the concussive waves of Super punched started to shake the area.

“Dispatch, say again. Where’s Hunter?”

“I’m hunting Wraith.” The teleporters frustrated voice replied. “With all the chaos going on, OPD and the DVA have been spread thin and someone hit HQ. Preliminary reports say it was Blood Hound.”

“Why would Blood Hound…?” Daisy stopped mid-sentence.

<No.> She hoped for once that she was wrong.

“Seth Abney is gone.” Hunter confirmed her worst fear. “He burned down half the Protectorate’s office and aided Blood Hound in the escape, but when he saw him it looked like he’d taken a bullet in the process.”

“We need to get him back.” Daisy’s professor mind overrode her Hero intuition.

“I’ve got a lead, but Wraith is up to her usual tricks. I’ve got about a hundred teleportation points to check here and then I’ll go after her.”

“Negative.” KaBoom’s broke into the conversation. “We need you on scene to help contain Stal and Nightingale.”

“Fuck that!” It slipped out before Daisy could stop herself.

“Think about it, Reaper.” KaBoom didn’t back down. “Wraith is a bad apple, sure, and I want her just as much as the next guy for what she did to Mr. Morningstar.”

Daisy didn’t think about it until this moment, but Wraith had fucked the old Protectorate leader again. First, she’d killed him, and now she’d literally blown up his funeral.

“But this is Stal and Nightingale,” KaBoom continued. “Stal is wanted in the US, EU, and a dozen other countries for everything from B&E to murder. Nightingale is a convicted war criminal.”

Once the Republic of Krezic fell, the new rulers of the Super-ruled Island had trails for all the government Supers who’d been the iron thumb of the regime. The US reviewed the facts of the case separately and agreed with most of the convictions. An extradition treaty had been signed to return those criminal supers if they were ever captured. Nightingale was right at the top of that list, and it would do wonders for the US’s relationship with the fledgling Super nation.

“We have to prioritize,” KaBoom’s voice was confident and unyielding, like a leader’s should be. “Hunter, how long until you have a fix on where Wraith went?”

“If I have to shift through all the portals…twenty minutes. Less if I find it early.” Hunter’s tone already said what the outcome of this conversation would be. There was no fighting it.

Daisy wasn’t willing to let is go that easy. A confident voice over Dispatch wasn’t enough to convince someone of her experience. “Do we have another teleporter that can review the portals while Hunter helps us subdue the threats? This way he can return to the scene and pursue the other murderers and fugitive as soon as possible.”

“I’ll relay the request to the DVA. They’re hanging back and letting Heroes handle the two takedowns. I’m sure Agent Phillips wants to do more than stand around and wait.”

<I’m sure too.> That was good enough for Daisy. Right after they took down Stal and Nightingale they’d turn their attention on Wraith.

Daisy turned her attention back on the fight. Iron Giant had Stal by the ankle and was swinging her over his head and repeatedly bashing her into the ground. Daisy stumbled slightly from each blow.

“Iron Giant, aim for the armor. Once that breaks I can take her down.”

The giant shifter didn’t give any indication that he heard, but the bashing shifted a bit so that the majority of the force was hitting Stal’s armor.

Daisy concentrated on her sixth sense. Life-threads popped into existence all around her. While Iron Giant continued the beat down, she checked Dispatch’s data on the apartment building. It was five stories with half a dozen apartments on each floor. Dispatch was still pulling the rental records, but there could be anywhere from thirty to over a hundred people in the building.

<That’s not going to be pretty.> Daisy didn’t look forward to that, but she focused on Stal for the moment. Cops, DVA agents, and Heroes were already securing the building. Nightingale had nowhere to go.

Daisy felt the moment Stal’s armor cracked and she got a glimpse of the life-thread. Daisy immediately squeezed through the metaphysical space in the armor and grabbed the thread. It was like grabbing searing hit steel, but she’d had practice bringing down Supers stronger than Stal.

Stal cried out, which she hadn’t done even as Iron Giant beat her down. She fought back, lashing out at Iron Giant with her feet, but his arms were too long and he was too tough. Stal didn’t have the leverage to bring all of her strength to bear. She might be a world class mercenary, but Iron Giant was a world-class Hero. It was only a matter of time.

Stal’s blows grew weaker and weaker as Daisy leeched the strength out of her. After several minutes, Stal went limp and Iron Giant let her go.

“Target down,” his deep voice rumbled. “Send…”

A single gunshot rang out and Iron Giant went down in a spray of blood. Iron Giant became John by the time he hit the ground, and Daisy didn’t even wait for cover fire before she sprinted into the open to help her fallen friend.

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