PCS to Eden – Facts and Fiction

Gerry watched in awe at the aerial battle overhead. The things coming through the Rift in the sky were so high up they looked like birds, but people didn’t shoot missiles at birds. Contrails of fire shot upward to meet the aviary threat. He got a better look at the creatures hurtling through the Rift as they charged toward the missiles.

<They look like people with wings.> Something tugged at his memory, but rolling explosions sufficiently distracted him.

“Holy shit,” Vicky mumbled as they watched the fireworks display in the sky.

Some of the men with wings had gathered together. <Flying phalanx.> He gave the formation a name, and felt the tug of memory again.

Multiple missiles hit them and broke the formation. Other’s scattered before the missiles could target them, and his eyes automatically followed the largest one. The man was dipping and diving with something gleaming on his back. Gerry’s eyes focus on the gleam.

He felt his stomach drop as gravity seemed to shift. His eyes were drawn to the gleam. They focus and zoomed until it was like he was standing right next to it. The winged man had a big golden chair strapped to his back. Gerry’s mind didn’t even process the ridiculousness of it. The chair held all of his attention.

At first, it just looked like a large chair. It was clearly made of gold, which made it the most expensive chair he could think of, but that wasn’t what captured his attention. When he really focused, it seemed like something was moving across the surface of the chair. The chair continued to draw closer until the only thing in his vision was the chair. On the surface were tiny symbols. Some moved in neat lines across the shiny surface. Others formed grid patterns and small pulses of something could be seen running along them. Other areas had lines and pulsed orbiting around certain symbols, like their own little solar systems, but dozens, maybe hundred, spread across the surface.

The man shifted and a new portion of the chair became visible. It was the part where a person would sit. Lines and grids dominated this section and all the pulses lead in one direction. At the top of the section, where the head of the sitter would be, a single symbol radiated. Gerry’s eyes watered as he took in that single rune. It seemed to transcend everything around it. It outshone reality, bathed everything in its shadow, and seemed like it was anchored to the core of the universe.

Without a doubt, it was the most beautiful thing Gerry had ever seen. He would be completely content sitting there for the rest of his life, as his flesh wasted away, looking at the intricate, living patterns and central rune that were the true essence of the chair.

<Throne.> Realization sparked inside his head.

The realization wasn’t pleasant. It started as a slight burning sensation behind his eyes that quickly sparked off an inferno inside his head. He wanted to scratch his own eyes out, but he couldn’t stop staring at the throne. The central rune still held his full attention as it tried to drown him in pain. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes the symbols were gone.

<No!> He wanted the pain back and the clarity it brought with it. He tried to focus and bring them back, but nothing happened. All he could see was the golden gleam of the throne and the man carrying it. <Gaius…?>

Fire engulfed his vision and he instinctually looked away.

“Look out!” Something strong hit Gerry in the side, knocked all the breath from his body, and him off his feet.

Vicky’s arms circled him as they went flying across the parking lot seconds before something big, black, and burning crashed where they’d been standing a moment before. Chunks of asphalt went flying as people screamed and dove for cover.

“Everyone back!” The leader of the soldiers guarding the generator darted forward with his weapon trained on the crater. “Clear the area! We need to…” the man never got to finish.

Something long and black jutted from the crater. It hit the soldier in the chest. His camouflaged body armor might as well have been tissue paper as a black spear impaled him in and explosion of gore. What was left of the soldier’s center, hanging together by a few strands of half-pulverized meat, was picked up and nailed to the wall of one of the cargo containers stored in the parking lot.

The tips of black wings and helmeted head rose from the crater as a man emerged. He reached up and pulled himself out of the crater. The sword in one of his hands scraped against the cracked parking lot. The people that weren’t already running were shocked into stillness as the man drew himself up to his full height.

He was easily seven feet tall with dark, foreboding armor covering him from head to foot. A ripple passed over that armor as the man surveyed his surroundings and small spikes began to emerge at strategic places. His eyes lingered a moment on Vicky before focusing on the small group of petrified soldiers.

They stood there for a tense second just staring at each other, until a soldier finally pulled the trigger. The sharp CRACK of the rifle shocked everyone into motion. The other soldiers opened fire and the civilians ran for it while Gerry and Vicky held their ground.

The bullets pinged harmlessly against the man’s armor, but that didn’t stop the soldiers. It was the only sense of power they had at the moment, and even though they saw it doing nothing they still held down the triggers until the magazines ran dry.

It was a slaughter after that. The man moved in a blur and cut down the soldiers before they could reload. Blood splattered as high as the second story of the nearby hospital from the powerful blows that cleaved the soldiers in two.

Gerry just stood there unsure of what to do. He could feel the power in the other man. He understood it. It was familiar, but foreign at the same time. Memories tricked in as the man planted his boot on a body to help remove the impaled corpse from his sword.

A memory seized ahold of Gerry’s mind. There was a hot room filled with the smell of sulfur, large black and white squares, and an old woman that wasn’t a woman. He shook his head as the itchiness returned behind his eyes, but by then the man was standing in front of them.

“Bravo.” Vicky clapped her hands dramatically. “I’m Vicky and this is Gerry. Who do you serve?”

“I am a soldier of the personal guard of General Gaius Icilius, Commander of the forces of Seere.” The man’s back instinctually straightened with pride.

“Awesome,” Vicky let out a breath that she’d been holding. “I’m Victoria, the queen of the Soulless in this area, and also a servant of Prince Seere. We’ve been waiting for reinforcements since the big guy went down here. So, what’s the plan?”

The man looked at Vicky like she was something brown and squishy that had stuck to the bottom of his boot, but that wasn’t what had Gerry’s temper steadily climbing. It was that the man completely ignored him. Gerry knew this man should be bowing in front of him. He knew the man was beneath him despite the awesome display of power he’d just shown.

Gerry’s hands clenched and his white knuckles popped from the pressure. The man caught the soft pops and turned to look at Gerry. Gerry saw the man’s grip tighten on his sword a second before a loud rumbling announced another arrival. At the entrance to the parking lot a mechanical beast roared its defiance.

The armored man leapt into the air with two powerful flaps of his wings and shot toward the new comer. Vicky looked glad the man was gone. However she thought the interaction was going to go, it clearly hadn’t been headed in that direction.

“We should…”

BOOM

Gerry covered his ears as pain shot through them. He peeked between squinted eyelids and saw the armored man rocketing backward, covered in fire, and headed straight for the hospital. If this happened an hour earlier Gerry would have been inside when the man crashed into it with enough force to cave in a small section. Fresh screams filled the air as the ground shook and the tank rumbled into the parking lot with two dozen soldiers in its wake to press the attack.

“We really need to fucking move!” Vicky yelled, grabbing Gerry’s wrist and pulling him behind the container the first soldier had been nailed to.

They were out of sight when they heard a furious roar that was quickly followed by the sound of a second 125mm shell firing from the tank’s main gun, three-to-five round bursts from a .50 caliber heavy machine gun, and the single shots of the individual soldiers’ M4 assault rifles. Gerry was more concerned with how he knew the specifics of the weapons than with the battle raging behind them.

Memories started to form, but the burning returned. He shook his head to ease the pain and the budding images slipped between his fingertips.

“Well that was a colossal clusterfuck.” Vicky led the way across a second parking lot that was already empty of people and onto a street leading away from the medical campus. “I don’t know who the royal guard of General What’s-His-Face is up to, but they’ve gone rogue. We’re already up to our dicks in chaos here, anything else and the Divine is going to come down on then like the hammer of…well…God.” She was shaking her head back and forth while she walked.

Another loud boom echoed behind them along with the sound of tearing metal. It didn’t sound like things were going well for the humans.

“So, what now?” They were far enough from the fight that Vicky felt comfortable stopping. “My people are going to make their way back to the camp. We can head there now, or fart around here some more. I don’t know what your plan is, or if there is even a plan, but we could really use something. All hell is breaking loose…literally. Infernals from Hell are showing up and wrecking shit. So not cool.” She plopped down on the curb and ran her hands through her hair.

Gerry ignored her bitching and looked to his left. With the danger of the armored man gone, and the sounds of battle far away, he could feel what they needed to do next. There was a small pull tugging at his heart, and it was pulling him to the left. He took a step to the right and it pulled tighter, and he was sure if he started walking away to the right the tension would grow painful.

The pull was magnetic. He was being drawn toward something, and it didn’t take much to figure out what it was.

“This way.” He didn’t wait for Vicky to reply. He just started walking with the pulling sensation as a guide.

“What…where are we going?” She hopped up and followed a few steps behind him. When he didn’t stop she planted her feet and crossed her arms. “Tell me what the fuck is going on or I’m gone.”

Gerry didn’t even break stride. “I’m going to find something.” He could tell Vicky wouldn’t follow through with the ultimatum, and the hurried approach of her steps confirmed it.

“What are we looking for?” Her eyes kept scanning everything around them. The sounds of gunfire were picking up everywhere, and the occasional BOOM shattered the night.

“You’ll know it when you see it.” Gerry felt the tug shift and he took a right down an empty street. The people who’d survived the first disaster were taking cover as another fell right on top of them.

“That’s not cryptic or anything,” Vicky’s remark dripped with sarcasm, but she kept her eyes peeled.

They had to dart down an alley when another tank rumbled down the street, and a heavy machine gun swept over their position, but didn’t see them hiding behind a dumpster. The soldiers walking in the tank’s wake covered the alley but didn’t check it.

Gerry could taste the fear on them. The radio calls for help were hectic, coming more frequently, and often cut off abruptly.

“This whole thing is bullshit,” one soldier muttered as they passed. “LT is going to get us all killed.”

The tank and its infantry escort disappeared around the corner, and looked like they were heading toward the hospital. Gerry poked his head out and made sure the coast was clear before heading out in the direction of the tug. They had to hide three more times from passing patrols, each of which had a tank at the center.

One spotted them, but Vicky was able to play the damsel in distress well enough to convince the young officer to give them directions to the nearest shelter. Once they were gone, Gerry led them in the opposite direction. The destruction began to fade the farther they got from the center of the city, but was replaced by normal dilapidation. Wherever the throne had landed, it had been a shitty place before the whole city got stomped on.

The street was full of overgrown yards full of random bits of junk. The garbage hadn’t been picked up since the incident and was piled several feet high on the curbs. The rotting stench of spoiled food due to lack of refrigeration was everywhere. Gerry didn’t gag like Vicky. He knew he’d been through worse even if he didn’t know when. He kicked a stray can out of his way and the racket caused several heads to poke out of boarded up doors.

“Ever heard of sneaking up on the bad guys.” Vicky hissed as a group of young men approached them.

To Gerry, they looked like nothing more than boys.

“I know,” she sighed when Gerry shot her a look. “I am the bad guy…or bad girl…but that doesn’t mean I want to draw more attention to myself.”

“Yo,” the leader of the ragtag group of young men planted himself in the middle of their path. His friends spread out to either side of them and created a human wall. “You’ve got to pay the toll.”

“Toll, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Vicky rolled her eyes.

“You come over here, baby, and I’ll consider it paid in full.” One of the friends licked his lips and winked.

“Ewww, you’re like a perverted, retarded Little John.” Vicky dismissed him with a wave.

“Who you calling little?” The boy puffed up and pulled a knife from his pocket.

“Little John…from Robin Hood.” Vicky’s eyes widened when she only saw confusion. “Will Scarlett…the Merry Men…what the hell are they teaching you kids these days.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Gerry could feel the pull. It was close, and these boys were in his way. Something told him dealing with them directly was below him. “There is something close to here. It fell from the sky and is very valuable to me.”

Pupils widened as recognition spread through the group of men, and the rest of them pulled weapons. Only one had a gun.

“Looks like we came to the right place,” Vicky smiled.

“Fuck off and we’ll let you live.” Gerry noticed that the leaders hand was shaking as he said it.

“Tell me where the throne is and I’ll let you walk away from here with all your limbs.” Gerry replied.

“I told you it was a throne. That’s the type of shit the King of England sits on.” One boy whispered as he held his knife out in front of him.

“It’s a queen right now you idiot,” the boy next to him said.

Gerry could tell these boys weren’t killers. All he sensed was fear over a thin layer of determination, but one thing gave him pause. The original boy who said he would kill if they didn’t leave was telling the truth. He didn’t know what he had, but he wasn’t going to give it up.

“Victoria, if you’d please…” Gerry waved for her to get on with it.

All of the teenage boy’s weapons adjusted to cover her as she sauntered forward.

“Now, boys.” She placed her hands behind her back, thrust out her chest, tilted her head, and gave them a million dollar smile. “Be good, drop your weapons, and go home. If you don’t you’ll regret it.”

The boys didn’t seem to get that she wasn’t afraid of their weapons. If they knew anything about what they were about to get themselves into, that would have been the first red flag.

“Last chance!” The hand of the boy holding the gun shook harder, but Gerry felt his determination harden.

Vicky turned her full attention on the boy and smiled. “No.”

Gerry watched the boy pull the trigger, but Vicky was already moving. It didn’t help that the gun didn’t even fire. Gerry could spot the poor maintenance from thirty feet away.

“Shit, I…” the boy didn’t get to finish.

Vicky appeared in front of him and punched him in the chest. Her vampiric strength made the kid fold inward on himself as he was thrown back several feet. He was spasming before he’d hit the ground. Vicky’s punch not only broke his ribs, had one stabbing him in the lung, but it had also fucked up the rhythm of his heart. The gun clattered to the ground next to him, and his friends eyes darted from him to Vicky.

Run.” She added a hint of compulsion and the rest of the boys tripped over themselves as they fled.

Gerry walked over to the boy on the ground. It was clear he was dying, but Gerry could feel a sensation creeping up his spine as the final seconds of the boy’s life ticked by. Gerry grabbed the boy by the scruff of his shirt and pulled his upper body off the ground. The boy’s eyes were rolled into the back of his head, and blood was leaking from his nose and mouth, but Gerry could glimpse something in there.  A small flicker of something deep down that was working its way to the surface with each of the boy’s labored breaths.  Finally, the boy gave a final shudder, the smell of fresh shit filled the air, and a bright object pulsing with power leapt from his body.

Gerry reached out and caught it. He didn’t catch it with his hand. He didn’t even move. He wasn’t sure if anyone else could even see it, but when his metaphysical net snagged the object, raw electricity coursed through his veins. His back arched as power and energy flooded into him. It hurt, like someone ripped a big ass Band-Aid off a fresh wound, but the pain was coupled with pleasure. The world expanded, and memories flashed through his mind.

<Power…respect…Dux…the right to rule…> He was certain of all these things, but the by then the light was spent, and without context, the world dimmed back to dull reality around him.

The one difference was that he felt a hundred times better then when they’d released him from the hospital.

“Shit, Boss.” Vicky just stared at him. Whatever had happened, she’d seen it.

“Let’s move. It’s close.” He dropped the boy and his skull impacted the concrete with a small thud.

He stood up, took a few steps, and pain lanced through his mind. Visions flashed in front of his eyes and blocked out the rest of the world.

…He was young and his mother was whooping his ass for taking a toy he wanted from the department store. He took the pain but didn’t regret what he’d done. He really wanted that toy…

…He was older, sitting in school, and the only thing he could think about was getting the hell out of there. Some older guys were waiting on the corner. They’d give him some stuff, he’d run a few errands, and then he’d get paid a hundred bucks. No other kids in school were making a hundred bucks a day…

Gerry staggered as the visions assaulted him.

…He was even older now, he was one of the guys on the corner that handed little kids product. He knew how stupid it was to think that a hundred bucks was a lot. He had at least two grand rolled up in the pocket of his pants that were currently on the floor of his mother’s mini-van. Krystal Johnson was the hottest girl on the block, and she riding his dick like a pro. He reached up and grabbed a handful of those Double –D’s. She slapped his hands away.

“That costs extra,” she smiled as she bent down to kiss his lips. It ended with a nibble that nearly made him finish…

Gerry bent over and retched, but there was nothing in his stomach. He gripped his knees and tried to take a deep breath.

…Now, he was cowering in a building while two rampaging giants tore up Charlotte. He was sitting in the darkness without power. There was no electricity to work the fridge, so he ended up tossing out all the food. Then, in the middle of a run to the curb with two Hefty bags, something shiny dropped out of the sky and plowed right into his living room. Krystal and their baby were screaming in the other room.

“Shut the hell up!” he yelled and slammed the door in her face.

He looked at the big ass golden chair that had taken out his recliner and plasma, and all he saw was dollar signs…

Gerry was on his knees and he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

…Suddenly he heard voices in the street. He peeked out of his door just as a guy, followed by a fine as girl, kicked a can down the street. He looked across the street at his friend’s house and nodded. All his friends poured out of their houses. They were going to protect their payday. It was their way out of this shit-hole city. He didn’t want to threaten the chick with a gun, but he did. He told them to fuck off, and didn’t understand why they didn’t.

<Fucking crazy people.> He gave the stranger a final warning, they didn’t take it, so he pulled the trigger. <Shit.> The gun didn’t fire, and the next thing he knew the girl was punching him in the chest.

His world exploded into pain, and pain was all he knew until he closed his eyes forever…

Gerry gasped as he threw his head up and a diminished ball of light shot out of his mouth and into the sky. It zipped around for a few seconds, doing figure eights in the air, before plummeting down into the asphalt where it vanished with a soft puff.  Instantly, the visions stopped and the crippling pain vanished. He felt weaker, still stronger than when he’d left the hospital, but nothing like that moment between taking the ball and the visions beginning.

Vicky just stood there looking at him with her jaw dropped. “What the fuck was that?”

“I…I don’t know.” It hurt Gerry to admit it, but he had no idea what the hell had come over him. “Let’s go.” He quickly changed the subject and headed toward the dead boy’s house.

The bright side of this whole thing was that he knew exactly where the throne was.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 184

Benjamin Gold

Location: CWS Argo, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Ben didn’t think he was a slouch. Mentally and physically he was superior to most humans. The Gold genetic structure was the result of billions of dollars and decades of tweaking. He’d achieved a Ph.D. from one of the most respected schools in the galaxy in a difficult subject. He’d trained for nearly two decades in the fencing schools of New York, and that was only before he joined the Fleet. Now, he’d seen combat. Not only from the bridge of his gunboat, but on the ground as well. He’d been tortured by a maniacal pirate, he’d killed a man up close, shot several from a distance, and gone up with CPL Cooper against a small army of people who wanted to ransom him to the highest bidder. Despite his life of privilege, Ben had seen his share of adversity, and he believed that made him stronger.

As he sat on Argo’s bridge and studied the holo-tank he tried not to shit himself. No amount of steeling oneself could prepare them for what was bearing down on New Lancashire.

The Kingdom’s squadron wasn’t huge, in fact, it was small compared to some of the fleets Ben had seen, but he’d seen firsthand that size wasn’t everything. When a simple cruiser could wreak havoc on an entire task force, he shuddered to think what the squadron was capable of doing.

The information he was seeing was still several minutes out of date as Argo continued to burn at maximum speed toward the planet, but the assault carrier’s CIC had positive ID on the incoming bogies. They were advancing in a wedge formation. Leading that wedge were two dreadnaughts. One was HMS Francis Drake which had rendezvoused with the squadron when they entered the system. The other was unidentified, but its nearly two-kilometer hull clearly identified it as another ship of the wall. The only thing bigger on the Commonwealth side was Abe, but the old assault carrier easily had a few decades on these vessels.

Flaring out behind each dreadnaught were a pair of cruisers and a trio of destroyers – all bigger than their Commonwealth counterparts – for a total of twelve warships. <The two dreadnaughts could wipe us out.> Ben knew the truth. He just hoped the RADM and his staff would see the sensor footage and see reason.

There was no way to fight the approaching squadron, and that wasn’t even taking into consideration the biggest piece on the board. In the center of the wedge, spanning eight kilometers was the second biggest warship Ben had ever seen. The first was the oddly shaped behemoth idling close to the planet, but no one was telling him anything about the oddly-shaped vessel.

The Kingdom’s vessel sailing in the middle of the wedge wasn’t hiding its identity either. It was a big, brazen middle finger to the Commonwealth Fleet in the system. All the ships Ben had seen up to this point were named after important figures in their history. It made sense with their traditional culture, but it seemed with this new class of ship they were going back farther. They wanted something older, more powerful, and with an identity that spanned humanity’s memory. Not just the old UK.

“SD-06 HYPERION,” LT Briggs read the ID off the holo-tank that the ship was broadcasting. “What’s that?”

“Hyperion was the Titan of heavenly light who ruled before the old gods,” Ben explained. “He was one of the twelve children of the Earth and Heaven. He fathered the Sun, the Moon, and Dawn.” Ben pulled from his old classics classes back in undergrad. “If I had to guess, the SD stands for Superdreadnought,” he added.

It certainly looked like a ship worthy of the name. Its eight kilometers were sleek and beautiful in a deadly way. It had more shape than the standard cigar configuration common in Kingdom ships. Ben guessed the gently-sloping bulges on the hull held concealed railguns or energy cannons.  Unlike the dreadnaughts, it didn’t have a rotating external hull, but judging from the size of the thing it didn’t need the extra layer of protection. Long range sensors were still picking up the electronic signatures of repair nanites scurrying across its massive hull, but the most interesting facet of the whole ship was the last half kilometer. It narrowed and jutted forward like a blade. It reminded Ben of a sword fish his father had caught on vacation deep sea fishing on Disney World. Despite its menacing appearance, Ben wondered about its utility.

<Engagements start at eight million kilometers and move inward from there. Rarely do they reach distances where a half-kilometer battering ram would be needed. It looks specifically built to crush other vessels.> Ben gulped. After the paradigm shift he’d seen in naval warfare back in the Hahn System, this new ship design didn’t give him the warm and fuzzies.

“Get me the Rear Admiral,” Ben ordered. He needed to convince the RADM to save his people, and if possible, as many settlers of New Lancashire as possible.

The communication’s lag was still a couple of minutes, but within ten the RADM’s calm demeanor appeared on the holo. “Commander Gold,” the way he said the word didn’t bode well for Ben. “What is the status of the task force?”

“Destroyed or crippled, Sir.” Ben’s words rushed together. He needed to get through this portion and start to convince the RADM to evacuate the system. “Half the task force was destroyed and the other half was scrambling for the FTL limit when we transitioned. Captain Jacobson ordered me to pass the word on to you what had occurred so you could be prepared.”

“It’s a little too late for that.” The RADM’s face looked grim for a second before he replaced it with cool professionalism. “Thank you for the report, Lieutenant Commander. I will be sending Argo orders to be on our flank as we engage the enemy and harass some of lighter vessels on the edge of their wedge formation.”

“Sir, that’s a horrible idea.” Ben couldn’t stop the words from slipping out of his mouth, and the chatter on Argo’s bridge ceased immediately. Anger flashed across the RADM’s face, and this time it stayed there. “Sir,” Ben tried to remain respectful, “I’ve seen what one cruiser could do to a task force nearly ten times its weight. I’ve sent you the sensor footage of the battle. We only have one option here.”

“I watched that footage, Lieutenant Commander. What it showed me was a small, capable cruiser that had the drop on an unsuspecting force. Their weapons are formidable, but when you get caught with your pants down a pea shooter is pretty effective. I will not give this system over to backstabbing traitors. This is the capitol of our Commonwealth in the York Sector. We will not just let them take it without a fight.”

<He’s right there.> Ben thought. <There isn’t going to be much of a fight. The Kingdom is going to hit us and we’re going to hit the floor…end of story.>

“In addition, we have the cooperation of Commodore Zahn and his carrier group, which greatly increases our fire power. Gold Technologies is just as interested in protecting its property in York Sector as the Commonwealth. Maybe you should think more like your father, Gold.”

Ben had no idea if the RADM had ever met his father, but if he really knew the man he would have never suggested Ben be more like him.

<Is that what you want?> Ben gripped the edges of his seat with white-knuckled fury.

He’d already seen tens of thousands of his comrades die. They’d fought bravely, but they just didn’t have the technology to fight off a superior enemy. They’d been consumed with fire, crushed by gravity, or taken by the black void of space. None were pleasant ways to die, and Ben wasn’t going to sit around and watch as the RADM sacrificed tens of thousands more for ego, or because he misunderstood the tactical situation.

<You asked for it. You’ve got it.> Ben hid the smile as he thought like his father. <What would good old Dad do?>

“Yes, Sir. Awaiting your orders, Sir.” Ben didn’t wait for the RADM to cut the transmission.

The crew on Argo’s bridge was still silent as the ship hurtled toward New Lancashire. Ben released the arms of his chair and took a few deep breaths.

“Comms, get me Commodore Zahn on King Midas.” Ben knew exactly what his father would do. He just hoped this went as well for him as it would for Timothy Gold. After all, he was not his father.

“Commander Gold?” Zahn’s face appeared on the holo. He looked genuinely confused why the hell Ben was calling him. “What…?”

“Commodore Zahn,” Ben made sure authority flowed through his voice. “Shareholder override confirmation code Bravo-Gulf-Seven-Six-One-Seven-Seven- Zero. Confirm.”

Zahn just looked at Ben. His face had gone white. “Commander…”

“Confirm, Commodore!” Ben snapped, making several people on Argo’s bridge jump.

“Confirming,” Zahn grumbled. A few minutes later, “Confirmed, Sir. You have command.”

<I have command.> Ben always thought that would be a good thing. His experience so far had proved that wasn’t the case about fifty percent of the time.

“Stand by to receive orders, Commodore.” Ben typed furiously on his PAD. He already had a Fleet template up, and it would be easy for the Commodore to understand where Ben was going. Ben sent it in under a minute and stayed on the line to ensure the Commodore received it.

“Received, Sir. Executing.” Zahn cut the line.

“Sir…” LT Briggs stepped up beside him. “What do you want us to do?”

Everyone on the gunboat had seen what had happened in Hahn system. They didn’t want to die for nothing. <That’s not our decision.>

“Follow the Rear Admiral’s orders, Lieutenant.” He ordered calmly. “We’re officers in the Commonwealth Fleet, and we follow lawful orders.”

The LT looked at him with a blank stare for a second. “Yes, Sir,” she finally replied before turning back to talk to the helmsman about their course.

“Be ready for an incoming call, Specialist.” Ben turned so he could privately address the SP2.

Sure enough, within five minutes a priority call was coming in from Abraham Lincoln. SP2 Olvera let the call through and the RADM’s pissed-off face glared out at Ben.

“Gold, what the fuck do you think you’re doing! I’m going to string you up myself and pull your feet until that thick neck of yours snaps!” The RADM spit venom through the holographic interface.

“I don’t know what you mean, Sir. I’m proceeding to the coordinates you sent to harass the enemy’s flank.” Ben said exactly what he was doing.

“Don’t fuck with me, kid. Commodore Zahn just let me know that his carrier force was beginning evacuations of the New Lancashire, starting with Gold Technologies’ employees, their families, and then they would open up their holds to others if there was room. He also told me you ordered it.” A vein was pulsing in the man’s forehead, and the high-definition hologram was picking up every pump of blood.

“That is correct.” Ben answered calmly.

“Lieutenant Briggs, relieve Lieutenant Commander Gold of command and…”

“I don’t think so, Heather, stay where you are.” Ben held up his hand. LT Briggs froze like a person caught between a rock and a bigger rock. “Sir,” Ben turned his attention back to the RADM, “for the record, I have complied with all of your lawful military orders to the letter. I am proceeding to the rendezvous point and will conduct operations against the enemy fleet advancing into New Lancashire. You have no grounds to relieve me of command, and…” Ben held up his hand when the RADM opened up his mouth to scream something new, “what I do with my corporate assets is entirely up to me.”

“Bullshit.” The RADM shot back.

“Section eighteen of the Commonwealth Charter, the Galactic Trade and Securities Act of 2243, and two dozen lawsuits that have gone before the judiciary would say otherwise. You may give me lawful orders and I must follow them when they are in conjuncture with the military ordinance under my command. My place as a majority shareholder and my rights with Gold Technologies are outside your preview as a military commander. In summary, I can do whatever the fuck I want with my corporate assets and there is nothing you can do about it. THAT is what my father would do. He’d do what he wanted to do and not care about who he stomped on during the process…Sir.” Ben added the last word to remain somewhat respectful in a recording that was going to end up in court at some point.

“I’m going to drag you in front of a military tribunal,” the RADM threatened.

“They’ll find in my favor. The case law and precedent is there,” Ben answered confidently. “I’d be surprised if they even let it get that far.”

“I’ll ruin you,” the RADM upped the ante.

“Respectfully, Sir, if you continue on your current course of action we’ll both be dead in a few hours so it won’t matter.” Ben’s tone wasn’t joking. “If we do survive, I welcome the challenge. We’ve got the sensor recordings and our conversations in the record. Admirals might arrive at different conclusions when drawing on their own experiences, but average people are only going to see one small ship destroying a whole lot of big ships. Then, they’re going to see the enemy coming at us with bigger a ship, one of which looks like it could eat all of our ships and have room for seconds. After all of the loss of life in the last year: Third Fleet’s task force that got hit, and the ships we’ve already lost in York Sector, I’m sure people would be willing to sacrifice a half-terraformed world for hundreds of thousands of lives.”

The RADM just hovered in the air seething for a full minute. “You’re an asshole.”

“No. My father is an asshole, I’m just trying to save lives and preserve our fleet strength for a battle of our choosing,” Ben replied back. “What are your orders, Sir?”

This was the moment of truth. Would the RADM be a stubborn ass and get everyone killed,or would he see reason?

“Put Argo on the ground and get as many people off New Lancashire as possible. We’ll conduct a fighting retreat to the Launcher and regroup in a better defended system.” The RADM seemed to deflate as he spoke.

“Roger that, Sir. Argo out.” Ben disconnected and looked out at his crew. They all looked a little star struck. “Get to it, everyone. We’ve got people to save and not enough time to do it.” Ben clenched his jaw as he looked back at the holo-tank.

The Kingdom’s formation was getting closer and closer. They were still a few hundred million kilometers out, but they were steadily closing the distance. Ben did some of the math quickly off the top of his head, and double checked it on his PAD.

<This is going to be close.> Even as he thought it, he knew it was an understatement.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 183

Duchess Josephina Barrow

Location: Windsor City, Windsor, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“Your Majesty, I…”

“I’ve heard your arguments, Mr. Burke, and I’ve made my decision.” There was a finality in Victoria’s tone that only a Queen could possess.

Josephina sat in the armored limousine as it coasted several hundred feet above the estates just outside Windsor City. She’d made this trip hundreds of times in her life, but only a few in the last decade. The demands of her position precluded her from taking advantage of the city’s proximity to their destination.

In the air-limo, aside from the Queen and Duchess, were three members of the Obsidian Guard. Their hulking frames looked squished even in the spacious confines of the lavished limo. Two were female and were standing just shy of two and a half meters. Their hair was bone white and was woven into a complex braid that hung down their backs.

The members of the Guard were another breed of humanity. Genetically altered for warfare and the protection of the Queen, they had also developed their own customs in the private compounds where they were born, lived, trained, and died. The hair was one of those cultural differences. It was a signifier of their skill as warriors. The longer the braid, the longer they had gone undefeated. Sex didn’t matter. Men and women wore the cultural badge proudly. The two women on the Queen’s detail had braids reaching the middle of their back.

An Obsidian’s body was a work of art, and it went beyond their muscular physiques. The Guards weren’t made to be artists, but their most artistic had the honor of tattooing significant events of that warrior’s life down their spines. Events like their first kill, marriage, a child, or the loss of a loved one in battle were sculpted into their pale flesh with black ink. Since the first tattoo on the back of their neck was traditionally their first kill, anyone who caught a glimpse of it saw just how brutal these warriors could be.  Normally, the tattoos would be covered, and braids coiled in their armor, but today was a casual affair. All the members of her guard were in black smartcloth suits.

The two women sat opposite the Queen. Next to her was the Guard Captain. He had a braid so long he had to loop it around his throat to keep it from dragging on the ground. The rumor was the man had never known defeat. Josephina privately wondered how safe it was to have a choking hazard conveniently wrapped around the throat of the Queen’s chief bodyguard, but she also knew the Guard Captain. Anyone stupid enough to get within ten meters of the Queen he’d choke to death with his own braid. It wasn’t a hazard to him, just another weapon in his arsenal.

Josephina hadn’t heard the Guard Captain say more than a few dozen words in all the time she’d known him, which was frustrating to say the least. He was a giant, closer to three meters than two and a half, and he filled the entire seat next to the Queen, which was why Josephina and the other occupants were seated lengthwise with a good view out the starboard window. His eyes were critical, but they sat on a handsome face with a jaw looked like it had been carved from duro-steel. His nose was perhaps a little too crooked, and his eyebrows a little too bushy, but Josephina couldn’t help but find him very attractive. Not that it mattered. His loyalty was to the Queen until death, and nothing would get in the way of that. If necessary, he’d use Josephina as a human shield. That reality kind of put to bed any romantic sentiments.

“Yes, Your Majesty, however…”

“Give it up, Burke.” This time it was Josephina’s turn to interrupt the man sitting next to her.

Sir Desmond Burke, youngest brother of the late Baron Burke, and uncle of the current Baroness, was the Queen’s Private Secretary. He held the keys to the Queen’s schedule, which despite his Low Nobility birth, made him one of the most influential people in the Kingdom. He was a squirrelly-looking man, whose dark, ebony skin had taken on an ashen complexion in his late age. He had just celebrated his one hundred and sixty-fifth birthday. His age was made clear by the old-fashioned horn-rimmed glasses he preferred to wear rather than receiving corrective surgery. It made him look like a dullard to anyone who didn’t look closely. Josephina always studied people closely.

She knew that Sir Desmond Burke, Order of the Quill, and recipient of the Queen’s Medal for Valor wasn’t a sniveling government bureaucrat. Burke had been a spy who’d worked for the Windsor family for over a century. He’d built a network of informants that crossed the Kingdom’s planets, he knew where all the bodies were buried, and he’d put a few of them there himself. As a result, he’d propelled his family from a backwoods Shire that was only famous for their proprietary species of apples, to a staple of the Low Noble Houses, and one of the only ones to hold the ear of the Queen. Unfortunately, at the moment, his advice wasn’t going over well, but he knew his place, so he sat there and kept his mouth shut.

The limo banked sharply toward it destination, but Josephina wouldn’t have noticed unless she was looking out the window. The four fighters escorting the Queen pulled into a hover as the limo settled into a hover just a few centimeters off the ground in the middle of a large cheering crowd. Police manned the outer perimeter at a twenty-meter distance. The inner perimeter, at ten meters, was manned by the club’s private security detail, and the final defensive layer sat inside the limo itself.

The Guard Captain held up a hand, opened his door, got out, and closed it quickly behind him. The minute the door opened, rapid cheering reached the ears of everyone inside. Despite herself, Victoria couldn’t stop a smile.

<Let’s just hope your popularity holds.> Josephina prayed and the Queen’s door opened.

Burke got out first to take a look around. He might look a little befuddled to the subjects eagerly awaiting the chance to get a glimpse of their queen, but Josephina knew that he was scanning for threats just as hard as the Guard Captain. The pair of glasses he wore were equipped with powerful optical sensors. They had the same tech as modern battle armor packed into them, which made his quick three-sixty turn an integral part of the security measures. Exiting after Burke was one of the female guards. She scanned the crowd looking menacing, and then nodded to the Queen.

“Victoria,” Josephina reached out and touched her old friend’s forearm before she stepped out, “are you sure?”

The Queen nodded resolutely, before stepping out and drowning in a sea of cheers. The second female guard followed the Queen, so hardly nobody even noticed Josephina stride up the steps of the Windsor Fencing Club behind the Queen’s entourage.

Josephina ran her hand across one of the pillars of the centuries-old building and smiled. Victoria and Josephina had spent a lot of time at the fencing club when they were young; back when Victoria was Crown Princess and Josephina the oldest daughter of a Duke. They’d come here to have fun, flirt, even steal a few kisses, but most of all to train. The club was the first step on a road that would lead them both to their ultimate goal. Today, several young nobles, and talented subjects would be embarking down that same road.

The annual House of Windsor Royal Fencing Tournament was a prestigious event where the Kingdom could see their noble youth shine. The competitors were male and female, seven years of age, and were some of the best the Kingdom had to offer. Other tournaments were being held throughout the Kingdom, but getting to the Royal Tournament was the pinnacle of achievement for these young people. If they did well at a tournament, among other qualifications, they would be offered admittance to an Academy. At an Academy they would be taught how to lead and command millions, how to survive the harshest conditions, and how to wage war on the Kingdom’s enemies. If they survived the rigorous curriculum, they would go on to be officers in the Royal Army, Navy, Marines, or commanding the forces of their noble house.  If they received a royal commission, they could do anything from being an adjutant under notable officers to leading men into combat. The opportunities were endless when you achieved, and were indoctrinated, into the Order of the Sword. Having OS at the end of a title opened a lot of doors.

<Josephina Barrow, Matriarch of House Barrow, Duchess of Rose Bay, Countess of Westwoodshire, Order of the Sword.> Josephina recited her own noble titles and smiled. <This place brings back old memories.> But it also brought fresh threats.

As she entered the lavish club’s interior, she saw dozens of other noble houses that had members competing in the competition. Dozens of banners were draped from walls, and families tended to cluster around those banners. The biggest collection was under a blood-red and black banner. At its center was a circle of gold. Inside the circle a muscular arm was bent at a ninety-degree angle emphasizing a bulging biceps. From this bicep hung the head of a wolf. The wolf’s teeth were sunk into the flesh of the bicep, and its eyes were filled with rage and hunger, but no blood leaked from the wound. It was the emblem of House Jaeger, possibly the second strongest House in the Kingdom, and the House of Prince Consort Albert Jaeger-Windsor, husband of the Queen and father to her children.

Personally, Josephina didn’t like the Jaegers, even though the Barrows and Jaegers were on good terms. She saw them as opportunistic, power-hungry, and always positioning themselves for the future. The marriage of the current Duke of Dresselshire’s eldest son to the Queen entrenched them in the royal family for the foreseeable future. She also knew through Burke’s network that the Jaeger’s weren’t fond of her rapid rise and success.

Dresselshire, the Jaeger’s ancestral holdings, was the largest shire in the Kingdom, and held one hundred and seventy million subjects. It was also an epicenter of commerce and industry. The Jaeger’s had also pioneered early asteroid mining in the system and were considerably wealthy. Their private House fleet of ships was second only to the Royal fleet, and included two dreadnaughts.

In comparison, Rose Bay held less the sixty million inhabitants, and Westwoodshire didn’t add much. Its location made it a crucial port for sea trade, and a wet navy base stationed there was charged with protection of the seas for the entire hemisphere. In the last few decades, Rose Bay had started to increase their tech base, and royal contracts for research, development, and production had spurred it into the fastest growing province in the Kingdom. To the old powerhouse, that was threatening.

<Doesn’t change the fact that the biggest thing I have in my House Fleet is a cruiser and they’ve got two dreadnaughts.> Josephina smiled and nodded respectfully as she passed the Jaeger’s and continued to her own family. She couldn’t even consider the difference between her twenty-four thousand lancers and the hundred-thousand-strong private army that was loyal to the Jaeger’s.

“Auntie Jossie!” The seven-year-old girl standing in her fencer’s gear raced up and gave Josephina a fearful hug.

“Katrina.” Josephina smiled and hugged her tightly back. “You looked prepared.”

“I am!” Katrina raised her nano-blade in the en garde position and swished it vertically in front of her. The air hummed as the molecularly-honed blade passed through it. “I’m going to be in the Order of the Sword just like you.”

“I’m sure you will.” Josephina liked her forth sister’s daughter. She had spunk.

“Did you come with the Queen? Is she excited to see us fence? Is she as pretty in person as on the tele?” Katrina descended into the rapid-fire questioning without waiting for answers that could only be achieved in Parliament or by a young child. Before Josephina could even think to answer a bell chimed in the distance.

“Your Majesty, Lords, Ladies, and Gentlemen the tournament is about to begin.”  The commentator beckoned everyone through an archway that led out into the dueling grounds at the rear of the club.

“Good luck, Katrina.” Josephina gave her niece one last hug and headed back to join the Queen’s entourage.

The rear of the building had a traditional style to it. The dueling pitches, ten in total, were clearly outlines by holographic lines on grass whose seeds had been taken from Scotish Highlands back on Old Earth. It was a rugged strain that had been genetically manipulated to endure the tens of thousands of boots that trod all over it. Overlooking it all were several boxes draped with House livery and ordered by ancestral heritage. At the very top was the Windsor Box, which was more of a row that spread across the dueling grounds from end to end. At the center was a legitimate throne for the monarch and several lesser seats for her entourage. Josephina took her seat to Victoria’s right, Burke sat to her left, the female guards stood to the rear on either side of her chair, and the Guard Captain stood directly in front of Burke. People might think it an indication of his lower status, but again they’d be wrong. He preferred to be out of the spotlight, and there was no better way to achieve that than to be blocked by the Guard Captain’s considerably-broad shoulders.

House Jaeger’s box was in the row below the Royal one, and House Barrow’s was two below that. In terms of ancestral seniority, Josephina’s house was not high on the list, and their seating arrangements were an actual box. A lavish box, but still a box. At the very bottom, sitting eye level with the ring that circled the dueling grounds, were the families and friends of the commoners who’d qualified for the tournament.

For the most part you couldn’t tell the difference between the different classes of the children set to begin their matches, but subtleties were starting to make themselves known. At seven, the commoners tended to be slightly smaller and skinnier. Any genetic changes their families had been able to afford were minor or cosmetic. On the other hand, the nobilities’ children were already starting to fill into their superior physiques. The children from House Jaeger were already standing over 160 centimeters tall and were clearly taking all their vitamins. They looked like they would be able to tip over an assault shuttle with their bare hands when they reached adulthood. Even young Katrina, who was still growing into her willowy frame, was going to be beautiful in appearance and with a blade in a few years. Her eyes already sparkled with a keen mind that Josephina could relate to.

All of this was to be expected, but what was out of place was the amount of press. This event was always televised, but it wasn’t as popular as a Royal Football League match. The only people interested in this were the military, nobles, and royal admirers. Those viewers didn’t account for the army of press ringing the dueling grounds. That was Burke’s doing. Even though he didn’t agree with the Queen’s approach, he’d executed her orders.

“Your Majesty, esteemed member of our Kingdom’s noble houses, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the two hundred and ninety-fourth House of Windsor Royal Fencing Tournament.” A scattering of polite applause followed the commentator’s announcement. “We have some very exciting matches among the future leaders of our Kingdom. I…” The commentator would have continued, but Victoria had raised her hand and stood from her throne.

With very little exception, the Queen didn’t do much during these events. She would sit down with the winner for a brief audience, and speak with the other nobles, but she never made a proclamation, and that was exactly what Victoria planned to do.

When the Queen stood so did everyone else, so everyone scrambled to their feet looking a little confused, and in the case of a few nobles who’d been hitting the bar, a little wobbly.

“Subjects of my Kingdom.” Victoria’s voice was strong even without the microphone she’d been fitted with back in the club. “Today we gather to see the best of us.” She waved down to the fencers and smiled. “I see several familiar faces among our contestants, and I wish them the best of luck.” The Queen’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, third in line to the throne, was among the contenders. “These young, noble men and women embark on something significant here today. They will take the lessons they learn here to our Academies. They will learn to be the best men and women they can be, and how best to serve my Kingdom, but what they learn is going to be far more important than anyone here realizes.”

A hush fell over the crowd. Josephina kept a close eye on several of the noble families. You couldn’t deploy a sizeable contingent of the Royal Fleet without notice, so word was going to slip out despite security protocols. She hoped some of the nobles would give themselves away, and she could send Burke’s resources to root out those moles.

“For the past decade I have enforced peace and tolerance on our people, and all of that was for good reason.”

Josephina was well aware of the squabbles that noble houses tended to get into, and were often resolved through minor warfare. That license to fight for honor and riches came from a royal warrant, and no such warrants had been issued since the United Commonwealth of Colonies and the Eastern Block of Nations had arrived in the Kingdom’s backyard.

“For the last ten years we have been bargained with, instructed in what to do, played for fools, and conveniently maneuvered by the United Commonwealth of Colonies and the Eastern Block of Nations. These Collies and Blockies thought because of their vast empires throughout space that they could tell our Kingdom what to do. They thought they could put spies in our midst and learn about all of our hard-fought achievements in science, technology, and warfare. They thought they could impugn our honor. They thought that they could influence my subjects with their view on governance. They thought, for the second time in half a millennium, that they could steal what is ours.”

Josephina could feel the rage emitted from the people in the boxes around her. Each of those families had been forced off Earth because the Collies wanted to get rid of an aristocracy that had been a part of the United Kingdom and Europe for over a millennium. Their way of life was called a barrier to progress and outdated, so they were pushed aside and forced to the edges of human space. It was an old and deep-seated dispute between the Kingdom and the Commonwealth that the Collies didn’t understand.

“No more!” The Queen’s fist smacked into the railing with a loud CRACK that made everyone jump. Despite her lithe frame, the Queen’s bones had the genetic enhancements of her royal status. “WE will not bow to usurpers, land grabbers, and carpetbaggers. WE will forge our own destiny. WE will live as WE see fit, and the Collies and Blockies can be rest assured that WE will defend our way of life until our dying breath.” Victoria removed her had from the splintered railing and calmly folded it across her waist.

“It is my duty as Victoria the Fourth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, of the planet Windsor and all Dominions among the stars, Queen, and Defender of the Faith to inform you that a state of war now exists between my Kingdom and the United Commonwealth of Colonies and the Eastern Block of Nations.”

A pin could have dropped it was so silent.

“The Royal Fleet, led by Lord Admiral Kent has already deployed to defeat the enemies’ fleets occupying what is rightfully ours. Our cruiser, HMS Benjamin Disraeli, has already single-handedly defeated the Commonwealth’s main offensive strike force and destroyed the Eastern Blocks mobile maintenance station assigned to their forward operating units. Lord Captain Armstrong, Count of Snowden, showed tremendous bravery and courage in crippling our enemy’s ability to make war. Lord Admiral Kent will continue with victories that will push the enemy out of our space, and continue applying pressure until the teeming masses of the Commonwealth and Eastern Block are sick of paying the butchers bill against our mighty Fleets.”

Victoria looked absolutely, confidently regal as she faced billions of subjects across several planets. <Why shouldn’t she?> Josephina kept her face neutral and waited in the background as the Kingdom’s leader imparted strength to the populace. <Thanks to our newest trading partners, we have the best tech among mankind. We’ve got the best ships, the best weapons, the best defenses, and we’ll roll right over our enemies.> She saw all the benefits, but it was her job as the Chief of Her Majesty’s Intelligence to see the complete picture.

Whatever this Hegemony was, she didn’t know why it wanted the Star Kingdom to defeat its rivals, and she didn’t trust anyone whose motives she didn’t understand.

<All in good time.> She’d eventually get to the bottom of it. Right now, she needed to support her monarch and friend.

“GOD SAVE THE QUEEN…GOD SAVE THE QUEEN…GOD SAVE THE QUEEN…” she joined the chant that had started up across the Kingdom as Victoria concluded her speech that was the official declaration of war to her people.

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Scheduling Update

Hey Everyone!

Just wanted to give everyone a quick update on some scheduling updates I’m making. You’ve probably guessed it by now, since it’s happened the last few updates, but i’m having to cut down on A Change of Pace with everything I have going on. I have to prioritize a bit with life and i’m electing to get my original works out more. Kind of the same thing Drew ended up doing when Superpowereds Year 4 ended. But fear not! I’m confident I can get in an update every other week.

I pride myself on not only the quality but the consistency of the chapters I publish and I don’t want people to continue to get their hopes up for a chapter every Sunday night and get let down.

As of now, there are no other changes. Two Worlds will still go up Monday and Wednesday nights, and the new PCS to Eden (I’m on TDY from Hell Book 2) on Friday.

Those who become patreons in the SGT category get a Two Worlds chapter early on Friday, and there is always the opportunity to donate for bonus chapters.

Also a heads up to everyone that i’m 90% certain Aftermath: The Harbinger Tales Book 2 will be released this coming Friday, March 30th, 2018! Super pumped. It’s always hard to top the original, but i think I’ve done a good job if i may say so myself 😛

Shoot me any questions you have in the comments.

Thanks for reading

-Scott

PCS to Eden – A Whole New World

“Not again.” Gaius looked below at the streaks heading directly toward him.

He didn’t know what they were. This Earth was not the one he’d left behind all those centuries ago, so he did what any good leader did, he looked to the subject matter experts. Everyone in the group was younger than him, some a lot younger, but there was still more than one reaction to the things streaking up toward him.

One group coalesced together and formed a flying phalanx. The ones with shields interlocked in the front to put a wall between them and what was flying toward them. To Gaius, they looked vaguely like the bazooka rounds the Legion used, but they didn’t move the same way.

The second group of soldiers scattered, but some of the streaks chased them. As they grew closer he could tell they looked like long, metal tubes belching fire and smoke.

“Missiles!” The youngest among the legionaries screamed and flew in every direction.

For a second, Gaius was torn between what to do. Strength in numbers was logical, but without knowing the enemy’s capabilities it could lead to greater casualties. With that in mind, scattering and then reconsolidating felt like the better decision.

<Damn these missiles are fast.> The fact the remnant of his airborne forces were flying directly at the things didn’t help, but there wasn’t any time to yell orders. Gaius changed directions quickly and dived.

It didn’t make any difference. He avoided the missile aimed for him. It passed several feet away, but it still exploded. Fire and searing metal engulfed his body, and he roared with pain. The concussive force of the explosion knocked the throne from his back and sent him tumbling through the air. He couldn’t tell what was up and what was down as pain lanced through his injured side. Some fire and shrapnel had made it through into his flesh. His healing took over, but it took several critical seconds to clear his head.

He inhaled sharply and flared his wings to either side. One tugged uncomfortably, almost to the point of breaking, but it held, and the spinning stopped. He immediately scanned the area for more threats and saw a second volley on its way, but it was targeting the other airborne soldiers.

The flying phalanx had shattered on impact. The shields helped deflect the shrapnel, but the fire and concussive blast ripped through the closely packed formation. From the looks of it, only a few seemed to be dead, and their lifeless, flaming bodies were plummeting toward the ground. The rest were doing exactly what Gaius did, trying to get their bearings.

“Everyone, on the ground!” he roared before another wave could cripple them even further.

Now, everyone scattered and dove for the shelter of the ground.

<The throne!> Gaius looked all around, but he couldn’t see the golden light of his former Lord’s source of power.

He made the mistake of hovering in place for a few seconds too long.

The first bullet’s hammered into him before he saw the tracer rounds. They didn’t penetrate his armor, but he wasn’t braced for the impact, so the force of multiple hits bashed him across the sky.

“General!” A battered squad of four legionnaires surrounded him with shields raised and the hammering stopped.

“Get to the ground and eliminate the threat!” Gaius temper flared and his power made his body swell. He was going to kill the pesky humans who pecked at him like annoying bugs.

He pushed himself and the soldiers towards the nearest humans. Two of the legionnaires led the way why he continued to build his power. The legionnaires held their shields and deflected most of the incoming rounds. A few found their marks and the legionnaires cried out in pain as blood splashed backward onto Gaius, but he didn’t care. If they started to falter he pushed them forward.  Rage fueled him toward his goal.

That goal was a prepared position manned by a squad of scrambling soldiers. Gaius vaguely recognized the .50 caliber machine gun surrounded by a ring of sandbags, and the guns the soldiers were wielding were similar to what skirmishers in the Legion were armed with.

He landed hard, cratering the asphalt, and pushed the two now-injured legionnaires into position to block the incoming fire. His whole body was straining with power now. “Go around,” he commanded the other two. They leapt into the air, deflecting bullets with their shields, and drew some fire from Gaius and the two wounded men.

The big machine gun went from firing three-to-five-round bursts to unleashing an unending torrent of metal as Gaius drew closer. He held the two legionnaires in front of them. When they tried to retreat after taking multiple hits, he grabbed them by the back of their breastplates and pushed them forward.  They died screaming as he used them as sacrificial shields. When he was close enough to the enemy position, he slid one body close to his chest to cover the damage in his armor, and tossed the other straight into the group of humans. His dead legionnaire hit the emplacement like an artillery shell. Sandbags burst and tossed clumps of sand into the air as the dead legionnaire plowed through them. The human soldiers were bowled over. Most were killed outright when the dead legionnaire hit them with enough velocity and mass to shatter their spines, while others were only crippled with broken limbs. The big gun fell silent with no one to man it. The only thing left was steam wafting off the barrel of the hot weapon.

Gaius advanced on the two remaining humans. One tried to beg but was choking on his own blood, so Gaius gave him a swift death by impalement. The sword went through the man and into the asphalt, but with his enhanced strength Gaius was able to yank it back out. The second man didn’t die easy. He pulled his sidearm and unloaded the whole clip into his chest. It sparked off the Infernal Iron without doing any damage. Gaius grinned behind his helmet. The human had courage.

“Fu…Fu…Fuck you!” The man struggled to get the final insult out before Gaius picked up the man, crushed his skull, and tossed his body through a nearby window.

He could still see a twitching foot sticking out of the wreckage as he assessed the scene.

“Rally to me!” His powerful roar, full of Infernal power, echoed through the city.

His legionnaires immediately responded. Many descended from the sky while other sprinted through the streets toward their General’s call. He stood waiting for them with his foot on top of the broken sandbag pile and dead humans strewn around him.

“These weaklings are nothing compared to us.” He instilled courage in his remaining legionnaires as he kicked over a body. “Find the throne! Do whatever it takes! Eliminate all obstacles. We must have it if we are to see Lord Seere’s kingdom live on!”

A ragged cheer went up from the battered soldiers. They’d fought through Hell, dodged giant beasts, and evaded those clever missiles. They were tired, half-broken, had lost their kingdom and many of their friends in the last few hours. Lesser men would have just lay down and died.

<We are soldiers of Seere!>Gaius reassured his own faith in their destiny. Their Lord might be dead, but Gaius sure as hell wasn’t going down without a fight, and that meant taking as many humans, angels, or whatever else this world could throw at him before he fell.

The engagement had been short, but it had taken its toll. The power expended would never return, more was needed for healing, and their depleted numbers promised that Gaius’ defiance wouldn’t last long against a serious attack. All of that didn’t matter. He intended to use what time was left wisely.

He tried to remember where he lost the throne and divided up his soldiers to search in grid squares. They would search in groups even though it would take longer. The humans were going to respond, and the legionnaires needed to be able to fight effectively. Now that they were out of the sky, and away from the missiles, they would fare better in small units. A legionnaire was still faster, stronger, and more experienced than a human soldier. Their armor would defend against simple bullets. Only something with more firepower would be able to take them down.

<Speaking of firepower.> Gaius picked up the large machine gun and its long belt of ammo. He could wield it one handed, but the trigger wasn’t the same design as the simpler rifles his men were collecting from the dead humans.

He channeled a trickle of power and the large barrel levitated into the air. The belt of large bullets floated out to the side and he aimed down the barrel’s sight to a point at the end of the street. He grasped the trigger at the rear of the weapon and gave it an experimental squeeze. A few rounds burst from the barrel with a heavy THUMP…THUMP…THUMP sound, and a car at the end of the street rocked back and forth from the impact.

Gaius smiled and let the weapon fall back so it was only supported by his own raw strength. <This will do.> It would allow him to engage the humans more effectively while only using a fraction of his strength. < There is something poetic about killing someone with their own weapon.>

He looked around to a small honor guard of his best equipped troops that still stood with him. They’d taken control of the human weapons, and had their swords, spears, and bows secured.

“We’ll start over there.” He pointed to the vicinity around where he believed the throne to be. “We need to move quick or else…” his order was cut off by the sound of multiple explosions.

He automatically looked into the sky where fire was spreading everywhere as missile after missile struck a large figure coming through the golden Rip. A brief glance told him it wasn’t the giant creature from the Veil.  There was no way something that large would fit through the Rip…but a flying serpent would.

<Damn.> Gaius kept a calm expression on his face while he watched missiles detonate, and hoped for the best.

On the crown of the large beasts head stood the armored woman with spiked gauntlets. She smashed them together and the shockwave prematurely detonated most of the incoming ordinance. The few that made it through, she slapped aside casually so her steed and the small army of skeletal warriors were unharmed.

As Gaius watched the fight another BOOM shook the air and he caught motion out of the corner of his eye. His power allowed him to track the two flying metal aircraft making a wide turn around the city and lining up an attack run on the serpent. More missiles streak from under their wings and dashed across the night sky toward the armored woman, followed by the low, staccato rumbling of heavy caliber rounds fired from the planes’ guns.

<Things just got interesting.> The humans might not be coming after him after all. They had bigger problems at the moment, and that was fine by him. <Let them kill each other.>

Gaius needed to find the throne. The longer he could search unimpeded, the better the chance he could secure a foothold on this world.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 182

Benjamin Gold

Location: CWS Argo, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Five minutes until transition,” Spacer Apprentice Gilbert announced from the helm.

Ben’s fingers drummed steadily against his armrest as Argo rocketed through space in its Alcubierre bubble. He was deep in thought, not only for what he needed to do, but what he’d seen.

<Thousands of spacers dead…our offensive firepower in the Sector gutted by our allies…and those same allies taking on the Blockies…> The jumbled data in his head didn’t make any sense.

It was clear the Star Kingdom of Windsor was making a play for the York Sector, but after that was where things got confusing. It would have been smarter to ride the Commonwealth’s coattails until the Blockies in the area were completely crippled. That way they wouldn’t be fighting a war on two fronts. Any commander in human history would say it was better to fight one enemy than two, especially if both the enemies you were fighting were the predominant interstellar powers. Attacking the Commonwealth task force was premature and reckless.

<Their tech…> Ben didn’t know what to think about that. He’d seen a single cruiser kick major ass. Granted, the Commonwealth ships hadn’t seen the surprise attack coming, but the offensive and defensive advancements the Kingdom had at their disposal altered the paradigm of warfare.

<Even then…> It didn’t matter how good your tech was if you didn’t have depth.

A nation like the Commonwealth or Blockies couldn’t survive without depth. They needed offensive fleets to take the fight to the enemy. They needed fixed defensive structures and ships to protect important systems, and they needed an armada of vessels to guard the trade routes that were the life blood of their economies. It didn’t matter if the Kingdom’s cruiser could take down five times its number, because the Commonwealth could throw twenty times right back in their face.

It all reeked of recklessness, and from the time Ben had spent with members of the Star Kingdom’s High Nobility, he knew they were anything but reckless.

<I’m missing something.> Ben scratched his head, but the clock on the holo-tank was dropping quickly toward zero. All he needed to do now was relay the information and let the Admirals figure out the plan.

“Status?” Ben did his best to sound supremely confident.

“All departments are green, Sir,” LT Briggs replied. The destruction of the task force had shaken the XO at first, but her professionalism was back.

Ben nodded and waited for them to reenter normal space, “three…two…one…transition.”

Argo gave a buck as she entered normal space that would have thrown anyone not strapped in to the deck. “Report!” Ben yelled.

“Gravity fluctuation.” LT Briggs replied as her fingers flew across her console. “Stabilizing.”

The shudder that had ripped through Argo subsided. “Damage control? Engineering?”

“We’re green, Sir.” Spacer Lee’s voice replied from the back of the ship. “Just a bumpy arrival.”

The reason for the bumpiness quickly became apparent. “Navigation,” Ben said through gritted teeth. “Why are we half a billion kilometers in the wrong direction?” Their proximity to a planet that was not New Lancashire was what had caused the fluctuation.

The holo-tank’s star chart automatically updated and quickly told Ben that they were nowhere near where they were supposed to be. In fact, they were in the worst possible place to transmit their message back to Abraham Lincoln and RADM Nelson.

Their one-minute light bubble of data continued to expand, but Ben had bigger plans. He’d carried over as much acceleration as possible from the transition to get back to the assault carrier as quickly as possible. That was now working against him. He was rocketing through space in the wrong direction, and that space between him and his target were rapidly increasing each second.

“Helm, slingshot around the planet.” He did the math on the fly, and hoped it would work. “Comms, find me a relay. I don’t want to broadcast this system wide and start a panic. Plus, Neville Chamberlain is still with the main fleet body. The last thing we need is a dreadnaught ripping into our people at point blank range.” Ben shuddered at the thought. “Get to it!”

Ben’s frustration leaked through as he yelled at everyone to get back to work. A slight tremble went through the ship as she course corrected at high speeds, but from the projected course it looked like Gilbert was making it work. They’d slingshot around the planet and be on a least time course back toward New Lancashire.

“Lieutenant Commander Gold, I would like to inform you that micro corrections made by myself during transit decreased our time in Alcubierre by twelve percent. I have detailed the data for further study. The saving on exotic matter fuel alone will save the Commonwealth Fleet billions of…”

“Not now, Geoffrey.” Ben cut off the Semi-Intelligent Ship’s Interface. Increasing the efficiency of Alcubierre transit was not at the top of his to-do list.

“Got it, Sir.” SP2 Olvera announced from her communications station. “I’ve got a platform in the belt on a remote smelter. Sending military override codes now.”

The relay on the smelter was sixty million kilometers to their stern, and the time to transmit to it was shrinking the closer Argo got to slingshotting behind the planet. It was a six minute and forty second round trip for Olvera to get confirmation that she had control of the smelter’s comms relay.

“Send it.” Ben breathed a sigh of relief as the data stream left the Argo just before it disappeared behind the dark side of the planet.

The message had to go the long way: sixty million kilometers to the relay and then another three hundred million to Abraham Lincoln’s comms suite for a total of a twenty minute transition time. Argo had already emerged out of the dark side and was rocketing back toward New Lancashire when Ben’s message reached the Abe’s officer of the watch.

“All Commonwealth Fleet assets, this is Lieutenant Commander Gold of CWS Argo. The task force assigned to destroy the Blockie mobile dockyard in the Hahn System has been destroyed. They were stabbed in the back by the Star Kingdom of Windsor’s cruiser Benjamin Disraeli. All hands are presumed lost. The cruiser then proceeded to attack the Blockie force and the dockyard. Sensor data of the engagement before we transitioned is attached. It is my professional opinion that the Star Kingdom is attempting to take control of the York Sector. All Fleet vessels should prepare for an attack, and the HMS Neville Chamberlin should be quarantined, boarded, and taken if at all possible. The engagement showed the Star Kingdom has advanced offensive weapons and defensive countermeasures beyond what we originally thought. Swift preparations need to be taken if we are to survive. Lieutenant Commander Gold, out.”

Ben was still several hours from rendezvous with the planet and awaiting a response when LT Briggs went rigid in her chair. “What is it, XO?”

Ben was busy watching the tactical outlay. The ship had automatically received an update from STRATNET when their ID was confirmed and a signal finally reached them. It showed that they weren’t in danger yet. In fact, HMS Neville Chamberlin seemed to be running drills on the edge of the system, but it was a large unknown vessel sitting close to Abe that his focus was drawn to.

“We’ve got an FTL footprint, Sir.”

Ben’s eyes snapped to the hyper limit and saw the large blob manifesting. The data was still being compiled, but even a midshipman could see whatever was arriving was going to be big.

<Has already arrived.> Ben corrected himself. The time lag was still fifteen minutes. Whatever was bearing down on New Lancashire had arrived ten to twelve minutes ago.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Nope.” Coop waved his arms and shook his head back and forth. “No fucking way with a side of I’ll shove your head up your ass if you’re even thinking about this.” Coop glared at Mike as they walked off the Spyder that had transported them back down to the planet.

The meeting with Bob the alien had concluded after the ET explained Splitstreaming. Another meeting was scheduled for later, along with a tour of Bob’s big-ass ship. After the success of the initial meeting the RADM didn’t think it prudent to have a squad of HI involved, and even if he did, Coop wasn’t going to be part of that detail. Coop’s big mouth had fucked him again.

“Report to your Company when you return, Corporal.” The MSG had sneered when Coop boarded the shuttle, and Coop knew nothing good was waiting for him on the ground.

That was still better than the Splitstreaming conversation. Coop would take extra duty over that ET’s idea of a mode of transportation any day of the week.

“I don’t know.” Mike shrugged his massive shoulders. “Sounds interesting.”

“Interesting…INTERESTING!” Coop was freaking the fuck out.

As Bob described it, Splitstreaming was a common means of transportation within his Hegemonic Empire of touchy feely crap. The method of transportation involved the disassembly of an organic being to the atomic level, digitizing the data, and then transmitting it across space through encoded quantum entanglement frequencies. At the end of the journey, which could cross the known galaxy in seconds, the person’s biological structure was rebuilt at the arrival point and everything was hunky-dory.

Coop wasn’t brilliant, but he also wasn’t stupid, and this Splitstreaming crap didn’t pass his bullshit-o-meter. “No way! You couldn’t pay me enough to fucking dissect my ass and beam it across the galaxy. Are you kidding me, Mike? You would actually be down for that? Whatever comes out the other side isn’t even you anymore.”

“I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no,” Mike replied calmly. “I’m just saying I don’t know. Plus, I might not even be eligible.”

To make the whole process even more screwed up, Splitstreaming required certain genetic and psychological components. Not everyone would be able to do it, and it was possible the human race wasn’t compatible with the procedure. There was a chance you’d go crazy or your head might just explode upon arrival. Coop didn’t know if the last one was true, but he’d seen some new stuff today, and it looked like anything was possible.

Coop was hoping humans just couldn’t do it. Not only did he not want to get streamed across the galaxy, but the ability for Blockie troops to arrive in Commonwealth cities at random was messed up. It turned the rules of war on their head, and Coop was more comfortable with the way things were.

“I’m going to my room,” Coop announced. He was tired of talking about how much the world was going to change. Just thinking about it was exhausting.

“Master Sergeant wanted you to go to HQ,” Mike reminded.

“I’ll go to HQ.” Coop waved him off. “But I want a second to myself first.”

<I need to mentally prepare for my ass chewing.> Coop hid the real reason. He wouldn’t be surprised if he lost his team over this. People with a few gold stripes tended to get pissed if you stepped out of place.

It wasn’t a long walk to the barracks, and although it was a little hard to fit through the door in his armor, he managed to squeeze in. He still had plenty of battery life, so he just shuffled out of the LACS in his room, and went to take a nervous shit and wash his face. The cold water felt good right about now.

“COOPER!” SSG Hightower stuck his head in the bathroom just as Coop was finishing up pinching off the load. “Go down and see the Lieutenant, NOW!”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant. Right away, Staff Sergeant.” Coop was full of false motivation as he flushed and went to wash his hands. The SSG stood at the door with his arms crossed and waiting. “I’ve got to maintain hygiene standards, Staff Sergeant.” Coop took his time washing his hands and whistling the Commonwealth anthem.

“Stop being a smartass and let’s go.” The SSG smacked him in the back of the head as he passed. “Suit up and meet me down there or else…”

The SSG didn’t get time to say what he’d do if Coop dragged his feet. For the second time in twenty-four hours the wailing sound of the base alarm rolled over the city of Town Center.

“All military personnel, report to your assigned staging areas. All civilian personnel, please report to the nearest shelter. The Planetary Defense center is now at Defense Condition One. This is not a drill.”

“What the fuck now?!” Coop looked up at the ceiling with exasperation.

“Let’s move, Cooper!” The SSG was already sprinting down the hallway.

<Just one second.> Coop shimmied into his armor and buttoned it up tight. Once it was on, he reached over and effortlessly lifted up the bed. He extended one of his forearm blades and slowly carved away the bottom of one of his bed’s leg posts. Inside a hollowed part of the post sat a money chip and half a dozen empty ones.

The room could still be inspected whenever the LT wanted, so Coop had to be a little ingenious with the hiding place for all his hard-earned cash. He sprayed a nano-solvent on the bottom every time he removed or replaced anything, and scanners manned by bored soldiers on CQ wouldn’t pick up anything.

The last time the alarm went off, Coop had been at the air field and quickly shipped up to the assault carrier. If things had gone to hell, he wouldn’t have seen that cash ever again. He wasn’t going to make that mistake twice. Fate gave him a second chance, and he wasn’t going to squander it. He grabbed the full money chip, sprayed the solvent, and dropped the bed. There was a slight rattle from the empty space due to the retrieved chip, but he could fix that later. Right now, everyone had bigger things to worry about.

Coop put the chip in one of his armor’s compartments and raced after the SSG. If he died today, at least he had tens of thousands of dollars close to his heart. He thought that was poetic.

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Two Worlds: Chapter 181

Eve Berg

Location: Yangon-2, Yangon System, Eastern Block

Eve screamed.

She screamed because there was nothing else to do. It was an act of defiance and a way to release the pants-shitting terror that was spilling out of her. She couldn’t think of anything better to do as she charged headlong into the enemy troops surging from underground right in front of her. She rapid fired all of her missiles at the openings to stem the tide of death rolling toward her.

SGT Sullivan was still out cold on her shoulder, and she had to reposition him as she charged into the belly of the beast. It didn’t help that she was firing her Buss from her hip like some old-fashioned holo action hero. Her LACS targeting software was helping her hit some of her targets, but it was a shitty way to fight. Unfortunately for her, she was shit out of luck at this point.

Eight loud BOOMS shook the ground as her missiles found their marks. Blockies screamed as they were ripped apart by the explosions, doused in flames, or buried under collapsing tunnels. Eve kept on shooting. She’d blown her load on closing those tunnels, but that didn’t stop the two dozen soldiers who’d survived, that were standing between her and freedom, or the thousands of other Blockie troops in the PDC who were coming to check out why everything was blowing up.

<Go through them.> Her mind told her.

There was no fancy tactic to utilize here. She was in the open with no more cover for a hundred meters in any direction. Everything behind her was on fire, everything immediately in front of her, that wasn’t standing, was rubble, and everyone that still was standing wanted to kill her.

A terrible clicking sound filled her ears as the Buss ran dry at the worst possible time. The Blockies, who’d been trying to take cover behind chunks of rubble, immediately noticed and started returning fire. It became merciless in the seconds it took Eve to rotate her weapons chamber. She stumbled mid-stride when several rounds smashed into her legs. They were the 1mm of the Blockies’ standard infantry weapon, so they didn’t penetrate, but the kinetic force of those rounds had to go somewhere.

Eve bit her tongue and tasted blood as she attempted to get her stride back under control. When you could move as fast as an air-car it was important to control your movements or you’d wreck. Eve couldn’t wreck with the injured SGT on her shoulder. Not only would he be totally fucked, but the Blockies would swarm her like hungry ants and tear her to shreds.

<Don’t fall…don’t fall…don’t fall…> she prayed as she got her feet under control, retargeted the enemy with her Buss, and returned fire.

Small booms started to rake the Blockies’ impromptu firing positions as her 40mm grenades started detonating all around them. Her shooting wasn’t great, but a 40mm grenade with a five meter kill radius didn’t need to be completely on target. The bad part was that a Buss didn’t hold nearly as much 40mm ammo as it did 3mm rounds, so it felt like she’d just started firing when the barrel ran dry again.

“Berg, on my command go up and peel to the left at a two-hundred-and-seventy-degree angle,” the SEAL team leader’s voice ordered over the coms.

Eve bit back a couple colorful responses of inquiring where the SEAL had been when she was fighting for her life, and instead toggled back her acknowledgement. Then she went to work. Yangon-2’s gravity was slightly below Earth standard, so when she jumped she jumped higher.

She was three meters off the ground when she activated her grav-skates. They hummed gently to life and kept her on course as she skated away the prescribed angle. At the same time she activated her LACS’ armor, and with a special emergency code, slaved the SGT’s armor to hers and activated his cammo as well. Her being relatively unseen didn’t do shit if the SGT was painting a big “shoot here” sign on her back.

She was blending and pumping her legs furiously to gain altitude on her prescribed trajectory when the SEAL’s answer to her problem came roaring in. Three low-flying 250mm artillery rounds shrieked in and blasted the remaining Blockies to whatever underworld they believed in.

“Fuck yeah!” Eve screamed as her starved body sucked in oxygen and the thumping of her pulse in her ears began to fade.

A waypoint appeared on her HUD and she took a least-time approach. The Blockies were still scouring the area for her, and she needed to get out of the sky fast. The rest of Team Two was waiting for her on the ground in a small perimeter.

Eve hit the ground in the middle of their formation in a textbook landing, but her leg crumpled underneath her.

“Shit,” she cursed.

During the brief, but intense, battle, she’d minimized all her screens to focus on the targeting software. The most important thing at that moment was to kill the bad guys, but it came at the cost of her situational awareness. Now that she was the relatively safe with the rest of her team, her armor insisted on telling her how fucked she was.

“I’ve got a suit breech!” she pulled up the first window blinking red. Apparently, her armor on her left leg hadn’t held as well as she thought it had. “And…” she saw the medical window blinking and felt her stomach sink.

It was a seeing is believing moment. The moment she pulled up the medical status of her suit was the moment pain lanced through her leg. Her vision wavered, and she toppled over onto her back. The combined fire of the Blockies had punched through her scales and duro-steel beneath as she charged them. Only one, maybe two rounds had punctured her suit, but it tore up her leg between pelvis and knee pretty good.

Her armor’s automated medical systems had kicked in and pumped her full of antibiotics and pain killers. The cocktail was meant to keep her kicking until she could get to a proper hospital. Tourniquets had already been applied, so she was going to live, but she couldn’t stop looking at her leg. Her armor had run a complete diagnostic and it looked like a three year old had tried to drill a hole through her. The round came in at an angle, smashed through her flesh and hit bone. Her femur wasn’t completely shattered, but a good percentage had been pulverized by the round, and the tiny sliver of metal was still there on the scans. It was half sticking out of the back of her leg. It had put another hole in her hamstring, and was now surrounded by a coating of Insta-Flesh sprayed on by the armor to stop the bleeding.

The only thing that was keeping her conscious was the pharmalogical cocktail, and the only thing keeping her walking was the LACS.

“Come on, Berg, on your feet.” The SEAL knew her medical status had gone from green to yellow, but he didn’t care. She either helped her fight their way out or they’d all die, and one little pin prick from a 1 mm round wasn’t going to mean shit when the met up with Blockie nutcrackers.

The SEAL helped haul her onto her feet. She reloaded her buss with a fresh magazine of 3mm before acknowledging her readiness. They needed to move fast. Not only for all of them to stay alive, but Eve’s drugs were only going to last so long, and when she finally ran dry she’d better be with a medical unit.

The SEAL grabbed SGT Sullivan and draped him over his shoulder. “We’re moving in thirty, so get ready.”

Eve wondered why thirty, but didn’t ask. It gave her time to stuff a few more 40mm grenades in her tube. They’d saved her life once already and there was no telling how helpful they’d be on their breakout.

Thirty seconds later a nearby earth-shattering explosion nearly made her drop her weapon. More than a dozen smaller explosions followed, and all hell broke out on STRATNET. Red icons were running around like ants after a pissed off human kicked their ant hill. Eve didn’t get time to see the damage because the SEAL was already skating into the air and leaving her behind. She made sure her cammo was active and followed.

A sharp sting struck her leg every time she used it in a skating motion, but she powered through the pain. The team rose up just high enough to go over the top of the wall and disappear into the city.

<The fucker did it!> Eve laughed as she looked back before dropping over the wall onto the city side.

The shield protecting the PDC from orbital strikes was crumbling. She didn’t know how, but SGM Queen had completed the hardest of the four objectives. Smoke was rising into the air from some of the more fortified positions, meaning the other teams had done their jobs, but there was still plenty for Fourth Brigade to do.

The brigade-level shield was already flickering from Blockie artillery trying to push it back, but the ten thousand Commonwealth troops were already on the move. They smelled blood in the water and they were going to complete their mission. Sonic booms filled the sky as railgun rounds from ships in orbit shrieked in to kill the bigger targets, but she didn’t see any of them impact before everything disappeared from view.

“We’re rendezvousing back at the original LZ. We’ve got a bird inbound to take us home and get you looked at, Berg.”

“Fantastic,” Eve grunted back as the pain steadily built as they skated a few meters over the bombed-out cityscape.

Whatever else happened with the invasion of Yangon, Eve was going to be out of the fighting for a bit. She needed the docs to grow some more bone, pick out the bad bits, and stitch her back together. She didn’t like to think about it, but her Dad had suffered similar injuries over his lengthy career. He’d be down for a few weeks of recovery, then a few weeks of rehab, and then it was back to work as normal.

<A Purple Heart.> It was something no soldier ever wanted to receive, but many in her line of work ended up earning several. She just gave the whole thing a mental shrug and concentrated on getting back to the LZ.

A flight of drones passed over them as they skated. They were moving at supersonic speeds and on a bombing run toward something. That meant that the PDC’s air-defense capabilities were offline and the Commonwealth now ruled the sky.

<Mission accomplished> She didn’t need to look back at the embattled PDC, her eyes were glued to the Spyder already idling behind the small hill where they’d started the mission.

SGM Queen was already there. She had no idea how he’d beaten them, and she didn’t care. The pain meds were starting to lag, and unpleasantness was beginning to spread. There were a handful of medics on the Spyder, and Eve wasn’t the only one injured. They were triaging the SPECOPS soldier by priority. One took one look at Eve and marked her Urgent Surgical.

<Well that’s great.> She ground her teeth as the meds continued to wear off on the flight back up to the fleet. By the time they got her into sick bay she was a raging bitch, but that was nothing a knock-out shot couldn’t handle. It was also necessary to get her mangled limb out of the armor and her ragged ass into surgery.

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