Two Worlds – Chapter 193

Eve Berg

Location: Capitol City, New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“…and they did it all while embodying our warrior’s ethos of selfless sacrifice, duty, and honor.” The man at the podium punctuated the end of his speech with a billion-dollar smile that caught the light of the cameras just right.

Eve snapped out of the daydream she’d been in as applause rose from the small crowd in attendance. She’d been at the position of attention, looking straight ahead, for what felt like a few hours, and to get through the insufferable platitudes of the military brass and political elite she had to think of something else.

Her, and about a thousand other heroes of the Yangon Campaign, were in formation in front of the Hall of Representatives. They’d received their awards before the pomp and circumstance began or else they’d be here all day, but the event coordinator made sure that they got plenty of footage of the shiny new medals on smartcloth uniforms. For effect, they’d gone old school and pinned on actual medals.

The LT who’d done Eve’s had successfully stabbed her in the tit with the pointy end, and started the whole event off on the wrong foot. Eve had been awarded a Bronze Star with a V for Valor. The citation in her record was long and full of big words, but it boiled down to two of her actions while in the Blockie system. The first was her plan to use Crawlers to get through the meat grinder the Blockies had going on Launcher Alpha. Her plan facilitated the taking of the section, which allowed the Commonwealth to secure the Yangon System for a period of time. The second action was her being part of the mission to infiltrate the PDC and saving SGT Sullivan’s life when the other ranger was knocked out cold by an explosion. The SGT was grateful and put her in for a commendation. That got attached to the one GYSGT Cunningham submitted, and resulted it the medal she was wearing today.

Eve’s time operating on Yangon had been done after the PDC op due to her injuries. She’s already been back aboard Agincourt for treatment when Third Fleet began their withdrawal from the system. The officers calculated the expected arrival time of enemy reinforcements without use of the Launcher network, and when that time hit the Fleet withdrew like a teenager pulling out of his date on prom night when her parents suddenly showed up. Some of the final Battleships out caught sensor data of the reinforcements popping out of Alcubierre. Third Fleet could have still taken them, but there had been enough death and destruction for one campaign. Even though Operation Winter is Coming was a resounding success for the Commonwealth they’d still lost ships and tens of thousands of soldiers and spacers.

<But we left Yangon a smoldering heap of shit. It’ll be decades before they start running at capacity again.> Eve kept reminding herself of that fact as she stood on the parade grounds in front of the brass and big wigs.

The Prime Minister gave one final wave before stepping down from the podium and going to kiss hands and shake babies. As the leader of the Commonwealth, he got to speak last, and boy had it been a yawn fest. It was a speech given to people who served by someone who didn’t know the meaning of the word. Maybe it was the speech, or the politically thick atmosphere, but Eve didn’t like the guy. First off, he was too good-looking. He had an artificial look to him that was a turn off. Eve had known for a long time she liked real men; men who’d seen a few miles and wore those scuffs and dents with pride. Just about everyone on the stage in high-quality smartcloth suits had that artificial look, and even a few in uniforms too. She caught a familiar sight of vivid-blonde hair, high cheekbones, and five golden stripes in her peripherals and deliberately averted her eyes.

“Battalion…” The command came from the SGM at the head of the formation

“Company…right face.” The GYSGT’s called as the order cascaded down. Eve executed the pivot she’d learned in Basic, practically forgotten in Ranger School, and had to re-learn for today’s ceremony. “Forward march!”

The thousand heroes marched in step away from the Hall of Representatives. There was a barracks a kilometer away that was their destination. While the elite got to be present at the actual ceremony, the regular citizens got to see the soldiers on the march back. There were tens of thousands of them lined up on either side of the road. Barricades and a few hundred MPs separated the soldiers from the civilians because not everyone was happy to see them.

Roughly half of the people were cheering. They held up “Welcome Home” and “Thank you for your service” holo-signs that glowed in a rainbow-array of colors. They tended to dominate one side of the road and had less police in front of them. The other side was full of people clearly protesting. Eve didn’t know what they were protesting about, but they looked pissed.

The protestors had fire in their eyes, and beyond that there was hate. Eve hadn’t met any of these people in her life, but was surprised by the pure resentment in them. The polyplast barricades were four meters high, but people still tried to throw stuff over at the formation of soldiers. The familiar sound of swatters firing filled the air for a second as the objects that cleared the top of the barrier were shot out of the sky. Drones overhead must have tagged the individuals responsible because teams of HI troopers pushed into the crowd and grabbed people. They were dragged back to the MPs who hit them with stun sticks and handcuffed them before a large armored bus came around to take them away.

<Shit.> Eve broke military bearing to watch the whole incident pan out. <What the hell is going on?> She’d spent a good amount of time in Capitol City on New Washington because of her mother’s job, but she’d never seen anything like this before.

“Eyes front, Corporal.” The SSG behind her instructed, and her head snapped forward.

The barracks they marched into had a five-meter barrier around the edge, so Eve lost sight of the protests. The formation came to a halt, got a quick speech from the OIC about having a forty-eight hour pass for all their hard work, and a longer safety briefing detailing the unrest and what neighborhoods to stay out of. At the end of that, a few people were called to remain behind, and the rest were released.

Of course, Eve was one of the few to get called.

“Well look at you, Berg, with that big V.” A voice called out, and Eve couldn’t stop from grinning.

“Hey Gunney, didn’t know you got to be part of the dog and pony show.” Eve turned and grinned at GYSGT Cunningham. “How was the rest of your invasion?”

“Honestly, not much else happened. We didn’t get first class transport to the planet after we took the Launcher, so we sat rotating on our thumbs for a while. Eventually a cruiser came and picked us up and took us to Yangon-Three, but we were only tasked with clearing some towns far away from PDCs. All it was were a lot of frightened civilians willing to do what we told them. We rounded them up, blew up what Battalion told us to, and then let them go back to a half destroyed town as we moved on to the next one. All of that made for a pretty uneventful vacation before we got swept up and headed back to Syracuse. Then word came down for this and here I am.” The GYSGT shrugged, and Eve saw the Bronze Star with Valor on her chest as well.

There was a momentary twinge of anger at the sight. Eve had done more than the GYSGT in the campaign, but they both got the same award. She knew why that was though. Higher rank meant a higher award, which was how it had always been. She was pretty sure any officer involved in action had at least received a Bronze Star, and there might even be a few Silver Stars among the officers in the formation around her. She killed that twinge of jealousy immediately. She liked the GYSGT. It wasn’t her fault what the people above her put her in for.

The GYSGT seemed to read something on Eve’s face because she sighed. “The brass always likes to trot me out for these types of things. With my twin sister being the intergalactic celebrity she is, it’s always nice for them to show me off. My sister usually responds with how proud she is, the news spreads across the holo networks, and its good publicity for the Infantry. Right about now, it looks like they need all that they can get.” She pointed over her shoulder, over the barrier, where they could still hear protestors yelling.

“Right,” Eve answered lamely. She’d totally forgotten that the GYSGT’s sister was some super model.

“Hey, Berg, Gunney.” SGT Sullivan was the next to join their little group. His medal wasn’t quite on the same level as Eve’s, but that was because she’d saved his ass. She hadn’t let him forget it either.

“How’s the ass, Sergeant?” Eve kept her face composed.

Among the SGT’s injuries in the PDC operation was a broken tailbone, which the rest of the SPECOPS soldiers translated into the SGT having broken his ass. The ribbing had been ongoing for the last several months, but the SGT took it like a champ.

“It doesn’t hurt when I take a shit anymore, so I guess that’s progress,” the SGT replied with a straight face that got a chuckle out of the GYSGT.

“What was that about taking a shit?” SGM Queen popped up seemingly out of nowhere.

“Nothing, Sergeant Major.” As the ranking NCO present, the GYSGT took charge.

“Are you sure, because I’m about to unload a steamer of an assignment on you three.”  The SGM didn’t look happy about it.

“We’re ready to rock, Sergeant Major.” Eve replied before she could help herself.

Since becoming a ranger, her life had been go…go…go, but for the last few months it had been hurry up and wait. She couldn’t take it anymore. She’d rehabbed her leg so she was good to go. She’d done the Commonwealth proud by doing her PR duty, but now she was ready to get back to real work.

“Good.” The SGM hit his PAD and the rest of theirs pinged in response.

It was a set of orders, but not in the standard WARNO, FRAGO, or even OPORDR format. It was an invitation.

“No.” Eve took one look at the inviter and shook her head.

“Yes,” the SGM replied back. “The uniform is business appropriate civvies, so if you don’t have something you’d better go and buy it. There is already a clothing stipend in your account of two thousand dollars, so use it wisely.”

Eve was too busy fuming over the invitation that she didn’t have time to think how weird it was to get a clothing allowance for that much for seemingly no reason.

“Get to it.” The SGM dismissed them, and the other NCOs rushed off to get it done. They had to report for inspection in three hours before heading out.

Eve just sat there for a few more minutes trying to control her temper. She wished to get back in the game, but she should have been careful what she wished for.

<I’d rather go back to Yangon than have dinner with my mother.> Eve took several deep breaths before closing the electronic invite and heading back to her room to get ready.

Business appropriate attire for this occasion meant dresses for the ladies, and Eve didn’t have anything like that in her arsenal, which meant shopping with the GYSGT.

<This day can’t get any worse, can it?>

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 49

“Nine-One-One, what’s your emergency?”

“Hiya. I got a parking ticket and I want to know where to go to pay it?”

“A parking ticket?”

“Yeah, you know, one of those things in an orange envelope. It got left on my car. I’m not from around here and I need to pay it before I head out of town and don’t forget about it.”

“Ma’am, this is an emergency line. You shouldn’t call nine-one-one to figure out where to pay a ticket.” The anger in the dispatcher’s voice leaked through her professionalism.

“Oh, my bad, so where should I go.”

“We’re located at…” the dispatcher sent over the address, gave the caller another admonishment, and disconnected.

“Fuck you very much,” Lilly made sure the call was disconnected. She was standing next to the dead truck that she’d left Seth in. Morina was waiting impatiently in the Bronco they’d stolen.

“Are we just going to keep heading west, or are we going to get him?” The blood manipulator didn’t look like a strung-out junkie like she had been an hour ago.

Lilly hoped to be long gone by the time the cops found the bodies of Morina’s unfortunate victims, but they had to do something first. “We’re going to get him.” She hopped back into the Bronco and slid it into drive.

The car didn’t have a GPS, but it did have an actual map, which Morina was completely inept at reading. Lilly ended up doing double duty. It was a comical sight as she steered with one hand down the back-country roads and held the map against the wheel with another. It was a challenge until they reached the interstate, and from there it was a pretty straight shot.

The building loomed large off the highway, but Lilly didn’t stop. She drove past it a couple of times to get a good lay of the land. It held three distinct sections, all of which had their purpose labeled on the building’s siding with ten foot metal letters: Police, Jail, and Courts. Lilly didn’t know if Seth would be in the jail or police sections. She had no idea how long it had been since her boyfriend had been picked up.

On the third pass she exited the interstate and took the off ramp that led to the building. She was conflicted about how to proceed. On one hand, time was of the essence. If the cops identified Seth, the DVA and Heroes would be on scene in minutes. On the other hand, going in without a plan could lead to disaster.

One good sign was that the parking lot at the front of the building was empty, and the gated lot on the side was full of patrol cars. That meant the station was running a skeleton crew and so was the shift. Most of the cops probably had the holidays off, or were simply on call. In a quiet town like this, they could get away with that.

Lilly pulled the Bronco into a parking spot right in front of the door and shut down the engine. She pulled a hoodie from the bag of Walmart clothes they’d pick up and pulled the hood up over her head. She’d spotted a few external cameras on her approach, and she could avoid them easily with the clothing. Plus, it was a bit chilly out, so it didn’t look suspicious.

“Wait here. I’ll let you know if I need help.” Lilly focused, and a small blast of shadow emitted from her hands. When it faded, two weapons took its place. One was the fancy taser she’d used since really promising Seth to not kill people, and the second was a legit pistol. She didn’t know what she was going to be up against in there, but she’d rather be prepared. Just because she shot someone didn’t mean she had to kill them. Both of the weapons went into the back of her jeans.

“How will I know you need me?” Morina looked content to stay in the car, but she had a good point.

“You’ll know,” was all Lilly replied with as she hopped out of the car and headed for the door.

The two weapons rubbed uncomfortably against her ass as she pushed open the glass door with the county seal on it and peered around the lobby. As she suspected, it was empty, and the only other person was a female deputy on duty behind a pane of bulletproof glass. Lilly didn’t know that for sure, but who would build a new police station and then make the person watching the lobby vulnerable to anyone who walked in with a gun. Since that was what Lilly had planned to do, it was mildly irritating.

“Can I help you?” The deputy put down the book she was reading and sat a little straighter.

Lilly finished scanning the room and smiled at the deputy. “Hey. I got a ticket and like I want to pay it. I’ve got some credit left after gifts and like I want to get it taken care of.” She knew the excuse was lame, but she tried to play up the bimbo angle to put the deputy at ease.

“Sorry, you’ll have to go to the court building, but they’re closed for the holidays until the twenty-sixth. I also know Judge Johnson likes to take the twenty-sixth off to hit the shopping deals in Birmingham, so your best bet, if you want to contest the ticket, is the twenty-seventh. If you’re going to pay, just talk with the clerk on the twenty-sixth.”

“Wow, thanks,” Lilly added a little bit of slack jaw as she pretended to take in all the information. She looked behind the deputy at the wall of pamphlets covering everything from STD information to talking with a medical professional about rape. “Can I have one of those?” Lilly pointed to the one about teenage mothers.

She saw the deputy have to physically restrain herself from rolling her eyes, but she got up and walked the ten feet to grab the pamphlet. That was when Lilly made her move. The deputy had turned her back to the modestly disguised supervillain, but that wasn’t really the deputy’s fault. There was thick bulletproof glass between her and what appeared to be a dumb teenager who managed to get knocked up and had a parking ticket to pay. Lilly credited her acting skills in selling that bullshit.

Once the deputy’s back was turned, Lilly’s hand darted to the taser tucked in the back of her pants, and teleported to the other side of the glass. She reappeared just to the side of the deputy’s chair with the taser pointed right at the deputy’s back. The woman didn’t even notice the slight displacement of air Lilly’s arrival created.

Lilly took aim and fired. At first, she aimed at the woman’s back. It was the biggest target, but the tightness of the woman’s shirt had nothing to do with the size of her tits. She had a vest on, and hitting that wouldn’t have done jackshit, so Lilly aimed for the next biggest target.

The gun discharged the nodes with a small pop, which quickly traveled the distance, and hit the woman right in her ass.

“Uuuugh.” The deputy’s body locked up as the volts flooded her system. She toppled forward and hit the wall hard. It sounded like a gun shot in the silent station, so Lilly rushed forward to restrain the woman.

She quickly grabbed handcuffs and cuffed her hands and feet. The deputy’s eyes were still unfocused as Lilly rummaged through the doors and found some tape. It was packing tape, not duct tape, but it would have to do. She wrapped the tape quickly around the deputy’s head, but made sure to leave her nostrils clear. By now, the deputy had regained her composure and was struggling against the restraints, so Lilly clocked her in the head and knocked her out cold.

“You ok, Emily!” A voice called from the hallway outside the door.

<Come on.> Lilly sighed, and quickly glanced at the security monitors the deputy would have been watching if she wasn’t tied up and unconscious.

The cameras showed the lobby, the exterior cameras, some back door, the hallway outside the office, and the hallway the people they arrested took to what Lilly assumed was processing. Those two hallways intersected, and at that intersection stood another cop.

“Emily?” The cop asked, but Lilly kept silent.

She watched the screens closely until the cop slowly drew his own weapon and walked in what she assumed was the direction of the office. Lilly counted to three and then teleported out of the office and to that intersection.

She held in the darkness when she appeared and felt the tightening sensation, but it gave her a clear shot of the other cop. He didn’t notice her appearance, so Lilly did the same thing she’d done with the first deputy: she shot him right in the ass.

The bullets were right on target and delivered their electrical payload. “Fuck!” The man went down to one knee, and dropped his gun, but that was it.

“Oh shit,” Lilly cursed when the man got back to his feet. He wavered a bit, but he stood tall and turned around to face her.

Lilly reacted out of instinct. Her other hand darted to her back, grabbed the real gun, brought it on target, and fired. Two bullets hit the man hard in the chest. He staggered again, but didn’t go down. The vest had something to do with it, but there was more to it than that.

<Super,> she thought just as the man went to pick up his own gun off the floor. He was quick, but Lilly was already gone.

She looked to her right and teleported to the next intersection. It gave her a few seconds to read the signs and figure out what to do. <Processing or jail.> Those were the only two places Seth could be, so she followed the arrows. She teleported from intersection to intersection, which put more and more distance between her and Super cop, but she could hear the heavy pounding of his feet in hot pursuit.

Processing turned out to be empty, so she headed for the jail. She teleported just as she heard a BOOM behind her. She appeared on the opposite side of a thick-looking door, but a burning sensation had traced its way across her thigh. She looked down and red bubbled to the surface of the flesh wound.

Anger flared in her chest, and she wanted to teleport back for another surprise attack, but this time she’d shoot him in the fucking head. <Later.> She procrastinated, and focused on finding Seth. The cop had to stop and open doors. She didn’t.

It didn’t take her long to find the jail. It was bigger than she thought it would be, but nothing like the Supermax facility she’d been in. Even better, there weren’t many people in it. She counted three. Two looked like they were sleeping off a Christmas Eve that had gotten little too merry, and third was Seth. He looked upset, but that turned to surprise as an explosion of darkness revealed her arrival.

“What…?”

“Don’t talk, just do,” she hit the button on the door. “Get out of here. I’ll lead him away. Get to the bronco out front.” She didn’t wait around. The cop was closing in.

As she promised, she led the cop away from the cells and toward the back of the building. It looked like it was where they did all the maintenance on the police cars, and that gave her an idea. She concentrated, and two grenades appeared in her hands. She pulled the pins and tossed them under two cars, just as the door exploded outward. The cop came out looking pissed and ready to kick her ass. He scanned the area with his pistol raised, spotted her, and was about to pull the trigger when the two cars went up like fireworks on the Fourth of July. The explosion made him stumble, and by the time he looked back she was gone.

Lilly appeared just outside the driver’s side door of the Bronco. Morina looked comfortable in the middle seat, while Seth was in the passenger’s. He slid down low, like that would help hide him.

“Let’s go.” She jumped in the driver’s seat, gunned the engine, and peeled out of the parking lot.

Alarms were blaring all over the place now, but she ignored them as she hit the interstate and headed west as fast as she could. She needed to put as much distance between her and the station as she could, because they were right back where they started.

This Bronco was going to be on every news station in the state. They were going to set up check points, monitor bus stations, and the airports in the area in an effort to box them in. All that meant that at a minimum, Lilly needed to steal a new car, or they needed to lay low for a while until Seth was healthy enough to teleport.

Either way, the last half day had been a gigantic waste of time and effort.

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PCS to Eden – Revelation

Sitting on the throne felt like when Prince Seere had ripped Gerry’s soul from his old body and made him a Dux, only a thousand times worse. His mind, body, and spirit were filet with unfathomable power over and over again until he felt like nothing more than a thoroughly roasted cinder. He wanted to cry out for help, get off the throne, or do anything other than sitting there and being torn to pieces repeatedly, but he couldn’t. To the world, he looked like he was perched there calmly, but it was all a lie. He was being butchered by the throne.

He was there for an hour, a month, a year…and every second was agony. The throne stripped him down to his atoms, and then rebuilt him only to break him down again. Gerry had been to Hell, he’d thrived in Hell, but this was so much worse. He didn’t even know what this was. All he’d done was take a seat.

Time lost all meaning. It just became the cycle of being torn down and built back up again. Each time he thought the tearing down wasn’t as extreme; it came back twice as worse the next time. Almost like the throne was toying with him.

<Just kill me and get it over with.> He screamed after an eternity of misery.

The power continued to uncaringly wash over him, to kill him, to birth him, and…to change him.

The changes were subtle at first, so subtle he didn’t even notice he’d changed until the pain started to ebb. It was still excruciating, and it was the type of pain you couldn’t become numb to, but he definitely felt a change. Was the pain lessening, or was he getting stronger?

Another wave of suffering washed over him. It felt like his spleen was ripped from his body, rung out like a damp towel, and then roughly reinserted in place via his esophagus. He struggled to breathe, although his body was getting plenty of oxygen, as it sat motionless on the throne.

Another decade of misery passed. The pain was getting deeper. It moved beyond the physical. The latest wave felt like someone had taken a razor to the throat of his dreams. Everything had come flooding back to him the moment his butt hit the golden throne: his dull human life, the excitement of being an Infernal Knight, and his Death as a Dux; but it was a curse not a blessing. The pain magnified his failings, cast aside his successes, and stomped on his ambitions. He felt powerless and helpless as everything he feared replayed in front of his eyes like a montage of loss. He sat their frozen and had to endure it all. He couldn’t fight back and he couldn’t resist. All he could do was bear it as the pain dug deeper into his being.

It felt like a century passed before the wave of power finally hit his core…and impossibly intensified. It felt like a small sun was born in his gut and roasted everything about him into nothing. Only after eons of that did the pain finally subside and clarity snapped into place.

He shuddered physically and metaphysically as a healing breeze passed through him. The memory of the unending misery collapsed inward on itself until it became only the handful of minutes it truly had been. He tried to release a breath of relief, but he was still frozen in place.

Then somebody turned the lights off.

Sudden blackness overwhelmed all of his senses. There was nothing he could feel, touch, taste, hear, or see around him. It was an empty void…until…a sudden surge of energy at the center, and there was light all around him, but it wasn’t the rundown home where the throne had crashed through the roof. It looked like the cosmos.

“If you are sitting here then I am dead.” A voice Gerry thought he’d never hear again surrounded him.

A ghostly visage manifested to his right side, and Prince Seere stared down at him. His face was not proud and strong, but full of regret and pain. His scorched eye socket was still bare, and his wings were drooping in defeat.

“The circumstances of my death do not matter. All that matters is that I am gone. All that matters is the throne.”

Gerry had trouble coming to terms with that. He vividly remembered Lucifer standing over his fallen Lord. The Morning Star was supposed to be his ally, his brother, and instead he drove his sword through Seere and stole his power.

<Doesn’t matter my ass.> Gerry couldn’t come to grips with that. Not now. Not so soon after remembering what Lucifer and Ava had wrought on Gerry personally and Seere’s kingdom.

“Revenge is a slippery slope. Do not go down it until you are ready,” the spectre of Seere continued. “You will not be ready until you understand. This is the truth, not the snippets I’ve given you in the past, but the whole truth and nothing but it. Without it, you will never succeed.”

The spectre turned and pointed toward the lights. They had once been everywhere, all around him, but now they were coalescing into seven clusters.

The closer Gerry looked the more he was drawn into the little globes of brilliance. He made sure not to get to close because he knew he would drown in them. He could sense their power. He felt omniscience and omnipotence coming from the supreme specks. Those lights were the building blocks of everything. Even Gerry himself had been created by what was coalescing before his eyes.

“This is the birth of the universe as we know it. It starts with the great release of æther from the Prime Source. Don’t ask me what it is, I doubt anyone but the Primordials know.” The spectre waved its hand and the scene sped up. “The Primordials sat there for eons collecting power.” In front of them, the lights grew stronger and stronger, but even among the lights some were brighter than others. Eventually, the lights started to move and interact. They floated around, bumped into one another, until finally one collided with another in a very unfriendly way.

“The birth of violence and war.” The spectre emphasizes the dancing of light between the two blobs until one dimmed and the other brightened.

Gerry didn’t feel any pain as the two supreme beings fought to the end. It was simply an exchange of power for them. One was stronger, the other weaker, and the most powerful prevailed while the loser faded into oblivion. It was awe-inspiring and frightening to watch.

Soon after the first Primordial ceased to be, there was another attack and assimilation. What started as seven became five: two Greater and three Lesser. The Lesser Primordials banded together and provided a solid front against the two Greaters. As time progressed, there was some small skirmishing between the remaining Primordials, but nothing like the sublimation of the original two. Each time the Lessers came to each other’s aid, and while the two Greaters could have easily emerged victorious, they never worked together.

Finally, all five of the remaining Primordials dispersed. Gerry felt an overwhelming since of exhilaration from all five of these all-powerful beings. They’d grown tired and weary of their routine and were embarking on something new.

The two Greaters split. One flew off into the darkness while the other set up shop. Gerry didn’t know how he knew, but he could tell the Primordial was embarking on creation. The three Lesser lingered longer and seemed to take their time deciding what to do. Eventually, they split as well. Two approached the one Greater and began their own creation from a respectable distance, while the third Lesser maintained a safer distance before settling into its own creation.

Creation was visibly taking a toll on the Primordials. The light of ætherial power that had coalesced around them in the eons after the Big Bang was glowing dimmer as it was used to fuel their creations. The Primordials had a lot less juice after toiling over their realms, but even then, Gerry couldn’t comprehend their strength. To a feeble mortal they still filled every definition of a god: all-seeing, all-knowing, and still all-powerful.

“The birth of the various realms.” Seere’s spectre pointed at the construction taking place. “And eventually, betrayal.”

Gerry suddenly had the sensation of something hooking him behind the naval and yanking him forward. He rocketed into the chaos of two Primordials. The space around him parted like cloud cover until he hovered above a great battlefield.

Angels fought against all manner of creatures of myth. Gerry saw a great dragon rear up and rend an angel in two with powerful, glittering claws. It took a battle ax to the neck for its trouble. Silver blood splashed over the scene as the beast reared in pain, but it swung its head around and chomped down on the angel that had mortally wounded it. As it whipped and thrashed the angel until it chewed through the armor, half a dozen more angels jumped onto its back and hacked away at it. Blood flew like silver rain all around it, until it finally fell.

The angels had a moment of triumph before a volley of black arrows crashed into them. Many bounced off their armor, but more than enough found weak points. They fell from the back of the dragon they’d just slain and were jumped upon by fierce-faced women. The women removed blades from between their breasts and slit the angels’ throats.

It went on and on like that. Creatures killed and were killed in the greatest display of combat Gerry had or would ever see.

“The Conquering of Eden,” Seere explained. “These are the true colors of my Father. The true intentions of God.” The scene zoomed out as the spectre pulled them both back, but in the distance Gerry could make out two giants doing battle. They dwarfed everyone else, and their blows shook reality itself.

They resumed their original position looking down on the recently constructed realms and the invasion of Earth, and Gerry saw what he’d seen after the Big Bang that created the Primordials. The Primordial that created Earth began to fade and eventually extinguished while God grew brighter.

“The æther in this throne holds history: mine, the ones who came before me, and now yours. If you have survived to see this message then you have been deemed worthy. The æther reserves of my throne are now yours, but if I have died then they are severely depleted, so be cautious, chosen one. Study the past. Do not make the same mistakes that I did. See the truth. See what happens to those my Father called family. Search for a new solution to this eons-old problem, you will know it when you see it, and take your rightful place in the pantheon of power. I have limited answers for you, but ask any questions you might have.”

The ghostly visage of the fallen Infernal Lord stood their patiently, much more patiently than he had in real life, and waited for Gerry to make the first move.

“Um…” Gerry coughed. His throat was raw.

“You good, Boss?” Vicky asked as she materialized at his side with a glass of water.

There was enough sediment at the bottom of the glass the choke a person, but Gerry downed it all eagerly. “I’m fine. I’m better than fine.” Gerry took his first breath of fresh air, in what felt like a millennia, and cracked his neck from side to side.

He could feel the change. He could feel the power of the throne pulsing through him. What he’d been before: a man, Infernal Knight, and Dux all felt feeble compared to what he could do now. He felt like a god. He felt like he could do anything.

<Be cautious, chosen one. Do not make the same mistakes I did.> The words of Seere’s ghost passed through Gerry’s mind and helped reign him in.

“So…” Vicky just stood there holding the empty glass. “What now?”

Gerry expanded his mind and surveyed the area. He searched a few blocks in either direction looking for threats, and found some. Angels, cloaked in their æther, were searching for the throne. They weren’t alone. Making a bee line for the front door was an old, familiar face.

“Now, we see an old friend.” Gerry sat back down on the throne and casually crossed his legs. Vicky just stood beside him, until her ears picked up the group approaching. Her head snapped around to look in the direction of the door just before someone powerful burst through it.

Several men and women in armor followed in his wake and quickly clogged the small hallway. They were forced to advance one at a time into the room where Gerry sat nonchalantly on the throne. The man at the front opened his mouth, but shut it abruptly when he saw Gerry.

“Gerald?”

“Hello, Gaius. Welcome to Eden.”

“You’re alive. Reports had you dead on the field of battle with Lord Seere.” The men behind Gaius looked confused and unsure what to do, so they fell back on their training. They spread out to secure the home. One grabbed the unconscious girl half-embedded in the drywall and removed her from sight.

“I’m better than ever.” Gerry smiled back.

“That’s good to hear.” Gaius looked around Gerry to the throne he was sitting on. “Now, I need you to get off that throne. We need to get it out of here. The enemy is searching for it.”

“They’ve already found it, but it doesn’t matter.” Gerry stretched out his arm and summoned the æther. He etched a rune into the wall of the house on either side of the throne and pumped a little power into it. A searing blue light emitted from the runes in a short burst before dulling to a soft glow.

Gerry looked around Gaius to where a pair of angels stood in the doorway of the home. Both had their eyes on the throne Gerry was sitting on. They traced its intricate details until their eyes met Gerry’s. They seemed surprised that he was able to see them, but it didn’t last long.

“Fuck!” Gaius had just noticed the two angels and was dropping into a defensive stance.

A quick look at Gerry’s old captain told him Gaius was not the man he used to be. He was worn down, weak, and his supply of æther was dangerously low. There was no way he was going to defeat two Guardians. Gerry could also see the Guardians’ power. It was significant, but nothing special. Their Divine æther sang to him, and it was a song he couldn’t ignore.

“By order of the Archangel Michael and Power Ava surrender the stolen throne or…”

Gerry didn’t have the patience to keep listening. He raised a hand and snapped his fingers. An overwhelming surge of æther erupted from the throne and channeled through him at his targets. One moment the two Guardians stood there ready to fight, and the next they exploded. Gore and Divine ichor splattered the siding of the house and funneled in through the doorway to paint the hallway gold. The force of their explosion was so intense, some even reached all the way to Gaius. The man stumbled back in shock and turned to face Gerry.

Gerry ignored him. He focused on the æther. The throne activated through his will and pulled at the Divine æther like a magnet as it tried to escape back to Heaven. If the angels had died farther away they might have had a chance, but their close proximity spelled their eternal doom. Their essences were pulled in and consumed by the throne.

“Sorry for the interruption. I…” Gerry started to stand but a rush of exhaustion cut him off and plopped him back down on the throne. He gripped the armrest tight as a bout of nausea gripped his gut. It lasted several seconds before passing, but it still left him feeling slightly ill.

<Too much power.> It was easy to determine the cause. <But it had to be done.>

Gaius was not the type of man to give over command easily. Only an overwhelming show of force would earn his temporary loyalty, and killing two Guardians with a snap of his fingers was the best solution to Gerry’s immediate problems.

“Grab the armor and the weapons.” Gerry ordered. “Their commanders will know they’re dead soon and come looking for their killers. We need to be long gone before that happens.”

There was still a slight hesitation from Gaius’ troops before moving to execute Gerry’s commands. Gerry could forgive the momentary lapse for now, but when shit really started to hit the fan they needed to obey without question.

“Give me that sword,” Gerry commanded one of the soldiers who had pulled the Guardians blade out of the angel’s exploded flesh. “Now.” He added when the soldier looked at Gaius again.

Slowly, the soldier approached Gerry, knelt on one knee, and presented the sword of Divine Steel to him. A trickle of power leaked from Gerry to the sword and it conformed to his liking. Even with all the power the throne offered. Gerry still felt safer with steel in his hand.

“Let’s move.” Gerry stood and ushered the soldiers out.

“What about the throne?’ Gaius’ face betrayed his unease at Gerry giving all the orders, but he didn’t really have a choice at the moment. He’d seen Gerry’s power and knew his own was hopelessly outmatched.

“It’s coming with me.” Gerry wasn’t going to leave his power source behind, and he instinctually knew how to move it.

Gerry reached out with his mind, seized the æther, and squeezed. The throne responded with a shudder before quickly shrinking down. Gerry knew there was likely a tradeoff for this type of action. Something smaller just couldn’t hold as much æther, but he had no intention of keeping it this way for long. He just needed to get it and his new followers somewhere safe.

“Vicky, do you have shelter ready?” He confirmed with the Soulless.

“Hiding in the refugee camps will make us harder to find than a needle in a haystack of needles.” She grinned back, but her eyes kept darting nervously between all the Infernal soldiers around her.

“Good, lead the way.”

Vicky did. She led the coalition of Infernal General, Infernal Soldiers, and whatever the hell Gerry was now. He didn’t want to say he was an Infernal Lord with all the power and responsibility that implied, but the more he thought about it the more than might be the case.

His title would have to wait. Right now he needed to get to safety. Even a new Infernal Lord wasn’t safe with the powers being wielded in Charlotte. He could feel danger in the air, and he had no intention of testing his true newfound strength just yet.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 192

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 SPECIAL REPORT flashed across the bottom of the holo in red. “Coming to you live from Abercorn Square with our reporter on the scene, Patrick Cumberland.” The scene shifted to a good-looking man in a casual suit standing in front of a still-smoking building.

Everyone sitting in the room recognized it. It was one of the voting centers that Charlie Company 2223rd Infantry Battalion was assigned to protect. The scene of the damage, and first responders on the scene, led to a lot of sour looks.

“Today was an important day, a day that is crucial to our democratic process.” The reporter began as he pointed at the building behind him. “That day was brought to a screeching halt as six bombers from the infamous New Savannah Liberation Movement caused death and destruction like what is seen behind me.”

Flame retardant foam was being sprayed through a hole in the ceiling by a man on a hovering platform. The thick substance was suffocating the fire quickly and efficiently, but it couldn’t stop the damage that had already been done.

“Reports are still coming in, but unconfirmed eye-witness accounts say that the death toll from this cowardly attack will likely rise. As of right now, there are three confirmed dead, and over twenty seriously injured that were transported to local hospitals. Nearly three times as many have been treated for minor wounds by military and civilian medical personnel and released.” The reporter lowered his head in what looked like a moment of silence. “The planetary government had condemned these attacks as the murderous will of the few against the wishes of the vast majority of New Savannah citizens. The Governor has promised increased security at polling places so voters can feel safe, and the Police Commissioner has a scheduled briefing in thirty minutes to address claims that some of his officers were involved with the terrorist activities.

“I can answer that question for you right now…fuck yes they were,” Coop called out to the room and got some grim chuckles in return.

“Lock it up, Cooper.” SSG Hightower called from the front of the room without much enthusiasm.

Coop just smiled like only a man who’d just escaped death could, and leaned back in his seat. He grimaced as the motion pulled at his injuries. The bomb that had blown a hole in the voting rec center’s roof, and killed a few more than three people by Coop’s count, hadn’t been a big one. It wasn’t an artillery barrage by the Blockies or Windsors. It was some guy, probably an engineer with limited materials, who’d made a homemade bomb in his garage. Ideally, the cops with sniffers that were supposed to wand random individuals going into the voting centers would have caught it, but they were in on the terrorism.

<I’d bet my paycheck that the Police Commissioner if going to say something about a few rogue elements within his ranks, but it was three out of five where I was.> Coop didn’t feel bad for killing them, they’d obviously been up to no good.

Coop had been far enough away from the initial explosion that he hadn’t been in serious danger. He’d still been hit by the shockwave and falling debris from the roof, but that just led to some bumps and bruises. He’d been knocked out for a few seconds, but when he came to he jumped into action to help the trapped civilians. If not for his enhanced muscles, they would have been trapped under building material and asphyxiated due to the smoke, but he’d been able to lift off the smaller-to-medium sized chunks and pull people to safety. He’d done that until the QRF and civilian first responders were able to get inside. Then his adrenaline rush ran out and he started to feel like he’d gone a few rounds with SSG Hightower. Coop would be good as new in the next few days, and he hoped he be put on limited duty until then.

“Cooper is correct.” LT Wentworth didn’t rebuke Coop like the SSG did. “The police force has been compromised. It will take time to vet the thousands of officers on duty in Savannah City alone, and the Governor has made it abundantly clear to Rear Admiral Stillwater that these elections are to continue on schedule.”

Coop had a hunch that was the case after the reporter’s info dump on the planetary governor’s wishes. RADM Stillwater, the lead Commonwealth officer in the system, had his head so far up the Governor’s ass that he was titty-fucking the guy’s balls. Since the RADM was a fat ass, chair-borne ranger Coop expected he would go along with anything the Governor wanted.

<How the hell does a guy like that get to be a Rear Admiral anyway?> Coop still hadn’t figured that part out.

The LT had continued on despite Coop’s thoughts on their fearless leader. “To make up for the lack of officers, the battalions on planet are being ordered to deploy to cover additional voting centers. In some cases, that means that the fire teams that were assigned to locations are going to be dispersed in buddy teams to cover more centers.”

“Because when we get hit hard like we did it is always a smart idea to disperse our forces and thin the line even more,” Coop grumbled under his breath.

“What was that, Cooper? Speak up.” The SSG had caught some of what he was saying.

“I was wondering, Ma’am, if we’re pulling anyone off the QRF to beef up our numbers?” Coop’s mind worked quick to come up with a reasonable question.

“No. The QRF will remain at full strength so they can respond accordingly.” To the LT’s credit, she didn’t look too happy about the allocation of forces, but she had her orders. “Any further questions can be directed at SSG Hightower. Dismissed.” Everyone got to their feet and executed a lazy salute before starting to file out of the room.

The emergency briefing was for all of the team leads in the field. Coop had left Nickelbaucher, Stern, and Goldsmith at the scene to secure the voting machines, but Mike got to tag along because we was also a CPL, and Coop needed a battle buddy to help his aching ass to sick call before the meeting. Coop hadn’t thought the SSG would give Mike the ok to join, but he didn’t think twice about it.

“Cooper, Enders, on me.” The LT called as the other troops began to file out of the room and back onto the complex nestled in an older section of Savannah City. Now, Coop thought something might be up.

The LT didn’t wait to see if they were following. She headed out a separate door and into a well-maintained hallway. The PVTs cleaning the building respectfully moved aside with a chorus of, “Good morning, Ma’am”, and respectful nods to Coop, Mike, and the SSG. The LT made a ninety degree turn when they exited the comfort of the building’s air conditioning and headed toward the center of the complex.

The contracting companies that did R&D research on the planet did it up right. They were all gathered together on a massive complex in the older part of the city. Coop suspected it was an easier commute for the executives from their mini-plantations in the suburbs, but he wasn’t completely sure. His only time outside the complex had been into the city to sample the nightlife, and to his duties at the voting center.

Even though they were all gathered together on the massive complex, there were clear divisions. Areas were sectioned off with fencing and manned with security personnel wearing the insignia of the company they worked for. The big G of Gold Technologies and, and B superimposed on a tidal wave for Blacktide Armaments were the two most prominent companies. They were at the center of the complex with the smaller contractors clustered around them. The military’s section was mercifully close to the center as well, because by the time they covered the few hundred meters to the central administrative office of the complex, Coop had beads of sweat rolling down his back toward his ass crack.

<I don’t know how these people do it,> Coop sighed when they pushed through the front door of a building that looked surprisingly a lot like a Civil Administration Building back in a PHA.

The building was a neutral zone for all the companies to come together and interact, as well as the RADM’s office and the planetary government’s oversight group. Coop thought the latter was a pretty cushy job. These corporations paid for the election campaigns of the people on the planetary government, so they owned them in everything but name.

“Lieutenant Wentworth,” the LT announced herself to a pretty receptionist in a tight smartcloth skirt as she scanned her GIC.

“Corporal Cooper, Mark Cooper, but you can call me Coop.” Coop smiled as he jostled to the front of their little group.

The receptionist gave him a tight, rehearsed smile. “This way.” She led the group down a hallway, through multiple security checkpoints, and finally to a large lift built into the very center of the building. She didn’t say anything as they boarded, and by the time Coop turned around, she was already walking away. He didn’t mind appreciating the view until the lift clanged closed.

“Cooper, Enders,” the SSG barked to get their attention. “Eyes on me.” Coop turned to follow the order and caught a tablet that was tossed at him.

“Gentlemen, these are nondisclosure agreements,” the LT explained. “The gist is that you will not speak to anyone about what you see or do down here. If you do, you will be charged with treason and death by hanging. For traitors with your physical enhancements they like to find lower gravity worlds to hang you on. Your neck won’t break from the fall so it’ll take hours for you to choke to death. It’s not a pleasant way to go, so keep your mouths shut.”

Coop squinted at the electronic document. It was in tiny, legalese script. He didn’t understand half of it, and didn’t care about the part he did understand. The Infantry already owned his ass, if it wanted its pound of flesh all it had to do was ask. Coop pressed his GIC to the document and signed on the proverbial dotted line.

“Thank you, gentlemen, now raise your right hands and repeat after me.” Coop cocked an eyebrow, but followed the LT’s instructions. “I, state your name, do solemnly attest that I will, as in duty bound, honestly defend the Charter of the United Commonwealth of Colonies against all enemies, internal and external throughout the galaxy; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will observe and obey all orders of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth and the orders of the admirals and officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

“Wait…what?” Coop recognized the oath. He’d first taken it at Basic and then again at each of his promotions. If his experiences were correct only one thing could be happening.

“Just repeat the oath, Cooper.” The SSG looked genuinely pissed at what was happening, which confirmed Coop’s suspicions.

Coop repeated the oath section by section, and lowered his hand at the end. <What the fuck is going on?>

“Congratulations, sergeants.” The LT shook both of their hands as their CMUs updated to show the three chevrons of a SGT.

Coop opened his mouth to ask a question, but a glare from the SSG told him to shut the fuck up, so he did. A second later the lift’s thick doors opened up and they entered a cavernous room well below the surface of the planet. Coop recognized a few familiar things right off the bat.

First was the 125 meter bulk of CWS Argo sitting in a docking berth with engineers swarming around her. The second was the large outline of a man, with his back turned toward them, with a golden stripe down his CMUs. He was talking with an engineer and pointing at different sections of the gunboat. Third, was a tight, familiar ass, staring back at him from another set of CMUs. He didn’t even need to look up to see the luscious black hair and edges of tattoos that were visible just below the collar of her uniform. Coop had seen Aiko Lee’s tattoos up close and personal, and he’d never forget them. Last, and certainly least impressive, was a pot-bellied man with four golden stripes on his CMUs. RADM Stillwater looked like a pig, and if you dyed his skin pink and gave him a little curly tail Coop would kill him and cook up some bacon for the rest of the complex. The RADM was standing on the other side of the engineer from Ben Gold, and nodded his double chin at whatever the LCDR was saying.

“Oh, they’re here.” The RADM looked back and jumped a little in surprise. “Come over, hurry up.” He waved from them to come closer.

Ben and Aiko turned around as well, and Coop couldn’t help but meet his old lover’s eyes. They still held that subtle fire in them, and if Coop played this right it could be one hell of an enjoyable assignment.

“That’s everyone.” The RADM clapped his hands together. “First, I want to congratulate everyone who has been recently promoted to work on this assignment. Emergency Order Sierra 58915.215 stated that no one below the rank of E5 is permitted to be part of this team, but since our options are limited, we’ve elected to promote everyone to the required grade.”

That answered half of Coop’s question about why the hell he was an NCO now. He looked over at Aiko and saw she was now a Petty Officer Third Class. She’d jumped up two grades from a Spacer. Coop didn’t even know they could do that, and then he really thought about it, and knew the top brass could do whatever the hell they wanted.

“Several members of your team are still inbound from other parts of the Commonwealth and will be here shortly, but until then we can get started on some of the official preparation, so let me introduce you to your trainer.” The RADM waved behind him.

From the opposite side of Argo floated a familiar shape on an anti-grav platform. “Greetings, my name is Carol.” The alien introduced herself with a rustle of her back cilia and a twitch of her internal worm thingies.

<Fucking Twigs,> Coop kept his thoughts to himself, but he felt his stomach drop into his feet. <This can’t be good.> The last time he’d seen the ETs, the planet he’d been on had been invaded and he got bitch slapped by a five-meter mech.

Nothing good could possibly come from Carol’s presence on New Savannah.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 191

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop had been correct in his initial survey of his area of operations. Because of where he was standing, compared with the rest of the buildings in the area, there wasn’t a great spot for snipers to take pot shots at his team. There was foliage cover for one hundred and forty degrees in front of him, the mass of the building blocked the one hundred and eighty degrees behind him, so that only left the sides. Even then, the buildings weren’t placed at advantageous angles, so it only left a tiny sliver of space where someone could take a reliable shot.

Based on how Coop was standing, the bullet came in on an inopportune angle, whose path was further complicated by the Dragonscales doing what they were designed to do. The armor registered the inbound round way before Coop reacted. The scales on his helmet slithered into action, and created a path of least resistance for the bullet to take. So, when it smashed into Coop’s head, just above his right eyebrow, it was easily deflected and went spinning off into the pavement several meters away. It never breeched the armor.

Of course, then there was the kinetic energy to consider. The bullet was fired from an ancient chemically-powered rifle. The low velocity of the round added to how pointless it was to take a shot at an infantryman standing guard in modern armor. If it had been a regular electromagnetically-thrown round, then Coop might have ended up on his ass and crawling for cover. Instead, all he had to deal with was the increasingly irritating ring in his ear and the dull throb just above his eye from the impact.

The end result wasn’t what the anarchist shooting that rifle wanted. It wasn’t a dead Commonwealth soldier killed in an election process they saw as tainted. What they got was a pissed off Coop, and even then they didn’t realize how lucky they were getting off. It was lucky because he wasn’t wearing a LACS with an artillery cannon that could take down the building.

“Contact!” Mike yelled through the net.

“Two hundred and eighty five degrees, two hundred meters, on the edge of the roof.” Nickelbaucher yelled from his position on the side of the building.

STRATNET immediately took the data, adjusted for Coop’s position, and displayed the red icon on his HUD. Coop didn’t even hesitate. “Motherfucker shot me in the head!” he roared as he pivoted and brought his weapon to bear.

Normally, infantry wearing Dragonscales were armed with the Infantry Assault Rifle Model Three, or M3 for short. The weapon threw out 1mm darts at a velocity of three thousand meters per second, which could turn an unarmored human into finely pureed mush. It could pump out two hundred rounds a minute on full auto, but most troops preferred to fire in single or three-to-five round bursts. That way you didn’t blow your whole load. The only reason you’d ever fire two hundred rounds in a minute was if the enemy was right in front of you. Coop had been in a couple of those situations in his year with the military, but he’d never been armed with an M3, and he wasn’t today.

The commander of Commonwealth forces on New Savannah might have been a total tool when he didn’t let the contingent’s HI troopers wear their HI armor while conducting security operations, but at least he let them keep their weapons. As such, Coop had been lugging around his larger and heavier Buss for the last few days.

The Blunderbuss, or just plain old Buss, was a bigger, harder-hitting weapon than the M3, with the added versatility of its four chambers. Like an old-school revolving pistol, those four chambers allowed the HI trooper wielding it to put down different types of ordinance on target.  The go-to ammunition was 3mm plasma-tipped rounds. The bit of plasma at the end of the high-velocity round caused an explosion on impact that was designed to do damage to other armored troopers. Regular grunts didn’t stand much of a chance. Chamber number two was for 40mm grenades of all flavors. Anything from smoke to HE could be launched into the middle of an enemy formation for maximum effectiveness. Chamber three held an energy cell capable of firing a five-megawatt energy blast. It packed a punch that would have shot clean through the building the sniper was standing on. Chamber number four was dealer’s choice. Some HI liked to fill it with regular 3mm without the plasma-tipped addition. Coop thought that was a load of horseshit, and never did that. He’d either fill the fourth barrel with more plasma-tipped rounds or more grenades depending on what the mission was.

The mission parameters for this operation were to protect the voting centers without endangering the community around them. Chatter from anarchist, fringe elements within the population was light, but there was a possibility that what had just happened could happen. In that case they were supposed to fortify the position, call in the quick reaction force, and engage only if absolutely necessary. Coop counted getting shot in the head as falling into the latter category.

Coop completed his ninety-degree pivot and sighted the rifle instinctually. STRATNET helped by showing him where his bullets would go in a perfect world. It hardly ever worked out that way, because in what world did the bad guy ever stand still to be shot, but it was a good concept. The Buss was calibrated to his armored neural network, but Coop had found that it never really lined up perfectly. A Buss was supposed to be used with LACS armor, that was where it worked best. At the moment, Coop didn’t give two shits as he brought his optics to rest on the anarchist, who was repositioning for a second shot, and pulled the trigger.

The Buss burped out three rounds that seemed to cross the two-hundred-meter distance between Coop and the bad guy instantaneously. Coop caught the brief movement of the other guy pulling his trigger before the other guy, and the roof around him, exploded. The LT had suggested the regular 3mm darts for their detail, but Coop had respectfully disagreed.

Coop didn’t think it was a big explosion. Sure, a half meter of concrete had been pulverized, a small circle of fire about one meter in diameter expanded around each point of impact, and bits of debris were starting to rain down on the street below. Maybe it was because some of that debris was red and meaty that people were starting to freak the fuck out.

Coop’s eyes were on the guy’s rifle as its half-burned husk smacked into the ground with a loud CLANK that had nearly dissipated by the time it reached Coop’s audio sensors. “Threat eliminated,” he let the rest of his team know even though STRATNET had already updated with the information.

“I wouldn’t say that.” Mike radioed back, just as Coop picked up the click of a second weapon being taken off safe much closer than he was comfortable with.

Instinct was a big reason Coop had only lost part of a leg so far in his military service, so he followed his gut. He went low, sweeping one leg behind him while he pivoted with the other. The move caught his attacker by surprise, while the attacker’s round, meant for Coop’s head, went into the concrete above him. Coop was a lot stronger than the average person, and that showed when the local cop tried to shoot him at point blank range did a complete sideways three sixty in the air. It was actually a little more than that, because the guy ended up impacting the ground with the side of his head. The force of Coop’s kick plus the man’s natural weight led to a sickening crunching sound. Coop only gave the possibility that they guy was still alive a quarter-second thought before his own Buss was back up and pointed at the four remaining cops. Or at least it was supposed to be four.

The cop’s squad leader had a still-smoking hole in his forehead, and another was down and screaming with a leg wound that was pouring out blood. Coop knew the artery was severed, but he didn’t move to help. His mission was to secure the voting center and that’s what he was going to do.

The third cop had his pistol out and was moving it to target Coop, so Coop didn’t make it easy. There was only about ten meters between them, so Coop pushed off at an angle. The cop was already committed to his initial action, pulled the trigger, and a round went screaming into the concrete where Coop had been. By the time the cop was turning to reacquire him, Coop was already arresting his motion and changing direction again after covering half the distance between them. A normal human’s leg would have shattered under the strain, but Coop’s reinforced skeletal structure just protested at the discomfort, which he promptly ignored. Adrenaline was pumping through his system and he doubted he’d feel getting shot.

After juking, and closing the distance, Coop went for a straight-on approach to finish it. He still came in low, so the cop would have a tougher shot. The cop squeezed off another round that clipped Coop’s armor around the collarbone area. The armor did its job again, but Coop felt some numbness spread down his left arm. That didn’t stop him from throwing that same arm out and slapping the gun out of the cop’s hand. Coop guessed he’d broken the man’s hand based off the pain on the guy’s face, but he only got a quick glimpse of it before he drove his armored fist through it.

The clear polyplast faceplate of the cop’s HUD exploded on impact, and it was more durable than the flesh and bone of the guy’s head. Coop stopped the forward progression of his fist after letting it go a few centimeters past the guy’s nose, which was completely flattened.

It occurred to Coop, a few seconds too late, that there might be something bigger going on here. Some of the cops had turned on each other and started shooting. Maybe it was just a few of these guys going postal, but all Coop saw was the threat in front of him that needed to be eliminated.

<It’s something for S2 to figure out.> Coop thought about the intelligence officer who was probably going to get fired over this clusterfuck, but that didn’t affect him. What did was the door to the voting center swinging shut behind the final cop.

Coop could only think of a few things the cop could be doing, only one of them good, so he didn’t waste any time. He vaulted over the crumbling body of bad cop number two, past the screaming pleas of cop-shot-in-the-leg, and headed for the door. He didn’t slow down because it would just waste valuable seconds to open the outward-swinging door. Instead, he just went through it.

The polyplast-glass mix that the door was made of exploded everywhere as Coop jumped through it. People screamed, but they were already screaming. The space was normally a community rec center. It had a small vestibule area with an awards case sitting next to a large square opening in the wall. It looked like a receptionist normally sat there, and there was a door leading to an office behind it where the rec centers normal administration was conducted. Today, there were streaks of blood on top of the receptionist desk, a woman’s body on the floor in a growing pool of blood, and the door had several bullet-shaped holes in it. Coop gave it a quick scan, his armor gave him a flat-line reading from the woman on the floor, so he kept on going. A large set of double doors opened up and led to the main gym area. It was huge. They had a regulation football and soccer field sitting next to each other. On a planet as warm as New Savannah, it was a must to play indoors.

On those fields were dozens of sign-in tables in front of voting booths. The booths reminded Coop a lot of the testing blocks back in military section of the PHA. They screamed privacy, but right now they were being used as cover. Bad cop number three was advancing toward them, dual wielding two pistols, and firing indiscriminately into the crowd of a few hundred that were present to vote in the Primary.

The cop didn’t hear the glass break over his own guns firing, and he obviously thought his buddies were going to take care of Coop. What his plan was for the other Commonwealth troops on scene was beyond Coop, but Coop didn’t waste any time. Every second the guy was pumping three or four rounds into the voters.

Coop didn’t even bother bringing the weapon to his shoulder. The shot was easy, less than twenty meters, and the aiming function on his armor was good enough to make that work. Coop sighted the Buss in the center of the cop’s back and pulled the trigger from the hip.

The cop’s armor was weak sauce. It was effective against the Personal Defense Weapons the Commonwealth allowed civilians to own, but it couldn’t stand up to military ordinance; especially a Buss. Coop only had to fire a single round. The 3mm plasma-tipped projectile penetrated the back of the cop’s armor like it was recycled toilet paper. It even made it into the cop’s body before detonating. The result was the cop’s chest exploding in a ball of fire that severed both arms, legs, and his head. The force of the explosion threw them all away like some type of sick confetti surprise. Since the explosion ate up most of the internal organs and liquid in the man’s torso there wasn’t a lot of blood, but “wasn’t a lot of” didn’t mean none. If anything the civilians were screaming even louder now.

“Citizens, please remain calm. The situation has been dealt with. You are safe. Medical personnel are on their way to treat the injured.” Coop reassured, and then quickly changed frequencies to his team net. “Mike call for medics, fill in the LT, and forward the info from this to any other units around us. Who knows if this is just round one. If the local cops are in on it then this could turn into a planet-wide shitshow really quick.”

“Done…done…and done. QRF is inbound with medics, ETA ninety seconds, but you may want to look at this.” Mike sent a link and Coop opened it.

He recognized it immediately. It was a live stream of the chaos at the voting station…his voting station. The camera was panning around, showing the chaos, and came to rest on Coop. Coop watched him watching himself. He raised his arm, moved it back and forth, and watched the Coop on camera do the same thing. Then words appeared on the screen.

LIBERATION FOR NEW SAVANNAH

<Oh fuck,> Coop thought just before the bomb went off.

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PCS to Eden – Deployment

Ava looked out over a sea of steel. Well…not a sea, but there were two hundred and six Guardians and Dominions in unblemished Divine Steel armor with swords, spears, and axes glinting in the light of Heaven’s swirling æther. The central mass of the soldiers were Guardians grouped in two roughly hundred-angel companies. Behind them stood a few Dominion officers, all braced at the position of attention with their chins high and their chests puffed out. Bart stood behind her and to the left, and she could feel the anticipation radiating off him.

She scanned the formation of the troops she was about to lead into battle with a serene face and her hands clasps behind her back. Despite her calm expression, she couldn’t help but continuously clench and unclench her fists. Her cloak hid the repetitive action from her troops, but not from the man standing directly behind her.

This wasn’t Ava’s first time leading soldiers into battle. She’d been a Dominion for nearly two hundred years, and half a millennia as a Guardian before that. The Rebellion against Satan and the Infernal Lords was a little before her time, but she’d killed two Duxes in service of Charlotte, and gone toe-to-toe with the Father of Lies himself. Not many angels of her age and rank had that experience on their resume.

She clenched her fists again and felt the lack of a difference in the texture of her palms. The Hand of God was a brilliant gold that contrasted with the pale white of her flesh, but to her senses there was no difference. Her Father had crafted his gift so she wouldn’t feel like she’d lost a piece of herself.

<Maria.> The Hand of God might be the tool to avenge her fallen daughter, but that wouldn’t bring her back to life. She’d died too young and too suddenly at the hands of truly evil beings. <Today, I get to pay them back tenfold.>

Her attention snapped back to the waiting soldiers. “You all know what is coming.” She paused for a second before stepping forward and walking down the line of Guardians. “The mission we are about to embark on will be the first of many as we drive back the Infernals that have brazenly invaded Eden.” She watched as many Guardians spines straightened as she passed. Word of her planting a sword in the back of the Great Dissenter had spread through Heaven like wildfire.

“The situation in Charlotte is dire for the humans we are charged with protecting. Their city is broken, tens of thousands of their families and friends have been killed, and now they are being invaded. Our mission is to end that invasion. We will strike hard and fast to cut the head of the serpent so the body will wither and die.” The last sentence was originally supposed to be auditory flair, but they had confirmed a serpent steed had broken through the Veil and was laying waste to portions of the city.

“This is not an isolated incident,” she continued. “Three separate Infernal clans are on the ground wreaking havoc and sowing fear: the depleted remains of Seere’s Legion, soldiers of Cain, and a small contingent from the Mother of Serpents.” She saw more than one face grimace at the information. It wasn’t fear that drove the emotion, but disgust that those Infernal Lords were desecrating their Father’s creation. “It is our job to show them that they are not welcome.”

She slowly slid her sword from its scabbard on her back and held it high in the air. Her soldiers cheered and drew their own blades in preparation.

“You all know your deployment assignments. You all know what is at stake. Move quickly, quietly, and unseen. Destroy the enemy and return the city to its human owners.”

Heads nodded all around her and jaws were set in determination. Power began to pulse from the guardians and dominions as they drew from their essence to prepare. Ava did the same. She knew how she liked to fight, and she’d trained for eons to perfect her skills. Now, she had more power than ever before, and that wasn’t even counting the Hand of God.

“You can use it like a cannon.” Michael stepped up beside her and gestured to her golden appendage. “It will emit of beam of pure energy with massive destructive potential. You can fire smaller, weaker bursts more rapidly, or strong blasts the take longer to recover from. It all depends on the situation.”

Ava already knew all of this. God himself had given her a brief rundown on the Hand’s abilities.

“I can handle it,” she replied as a steady stream of energy flowed into the Hand.

“Remember you mission.” Michael continued as he stood calmly beside her. “Avoid detection as much as possible, eliminate the threat, and get home safely.”

Ava didn’t agree with the first part of her orders. Humanity had been introduced to true monsters, and she thought they needed to see the glory of her Father to know he was there protecting them. She knew if she was in their position she would want to know her prayers were being heard, but she was a soldier. She didn’t have the luxury of always getting what she wanted. The orders came from God himself and she would obey.

“You’ve got this.” Michael smiled and gave her a brief clap on the back before walking forward into the throng of soldiers.

They cheered the Archangel as he passed among them. Several reached out to touch him or asked for his blessing. The humans had dubbed him the patron saint of soldiers for a reason. Michael stopped a few times and said an encouraging word to soldiers he knew, and some he didn’t. Ava just sat back and watched as the Commander of the Divine Host effortlessly inspired his troops.

<How does he do that?> She’d tried to give a rousing motivational speech before this, and she’d hadn’t received half this level of excitement.

“You ready?” Bart’s appearance snapped her out of her moment of envy.

“Yes.” She took a deep breath and look back to study her command element.

As the only Power, she was in command of the forces on the ground. Michael was in overall command of the mission, but wouldn’t travel to Eden unless absolutely necessary. His battle with Satan had been recorded and seen by billions. If he appeared again, it would only cause more chaos.

Bart was her second in command and was sticking by her side. Two of his most skilled Guardians were accompanying them, along with the squad leader of the Cherubim Michael had assigned to them.

His name was Razael. Ava only knew him by reputation, but everything she’d seen so far said he was a hardened, competent soldier. He also knew this was her show, and hadn’t overstepped his bounds during the planning phase. In fact, he’d had several good ideas that reigned in some of Bart’s more hair-brained strategies. The result was a detailed, but flexible, battle plan.

Michael finally passed through the other end of the now-disorganized units, and their superiors yelled and hurried into their deployment formations. The two hundred plus angels broke into smaller squads and spaced themselves out.

<Time to see if this works.> Ava said a quick prayer as the first squad approached Michael.

Travel between realms wasn’t designed to be easy. When the primordial founders of the realms first constructed them, they didn’t want their neighbors peeking over the metaphysical fence all the time, so the developed protections. The Veil between Eden and Hell was one such protection. At one point, there had been something similar between Eden and Heaven, but her Father had torn down that barrier when he conquered the middle realm. Travel between Eden and Heaven was now much simpler, but it still required power and authorization. God kept a very close eye on the ætherial gateways opened in Heaven.

Michael was one of the few who could open gateways without question, and that was his primary purpose here today. A hum cut through the air around them all as Michael drew his hand downward through the air. It looked like he was unzipping reality, because on the other side of the gateway was a rubble-lined street. The smell of fire and spilled gas leaked through and into Heaven.

“Go…Go…GO!” The squad’s leader yelled and urged his troops forward. They quickly disappeared through the gateway, and with a reverse motion Michael zipped it back up.

<So far so good.> Ava consulted her mental map of their deployment pattern.

That squad had been deposited on the outskirts of the city. It would secure its immediate area, wait for word the rest of the Divine forces had deployed, and then begin to push inward and eliminate any threats along the way. The fact that Michael had easily opened and closed the gateway meant there weren’t any wards nearby.

One by one the squads deployed until only Ava’s command team was left. Michael didn’t have more encouraging words or advice as Ava stepped up to him and he unzipped reality for the final time.

“Good luck, I’ll be eagerly awaiting your SITREPs.”

Ava nodded and stepped through the gateway. Her senses were immediately assaulted by the sound of automatic weapons fire from nearby. She went insubstantial the moment she passed through the gateway and took up a position covering her soldiers as they joined her one by one. Razael was the last through before it closed behind them.

They spread out quickly to form a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree perimeter. Shields and swords were out and ready to be used, but there immediate area was clear. Ava recognized the intersection they’d arrived in. She’d been her dozens of times in the last few years, and it had been decimated. To the right there used to be a building complex. Offices filled the top floors while the bottom was lines with shops and eateries. It was always filled with people rushing to be someplace, or taking just a moment to enjoy a bite to eat. Now, it looked like someone had dragged a hundred-meter sword through the middle of the structure. Windows were blown out and half the structure facing the street had collapsed. As bad as it was, it was nothing compared to what was across the street.

It had been a strip mall with everything from an outdoor sporting goods store to a popular gourmet coffee shop. Ava remembered having lunch with many of her children at that coffee shop. Now, the building was utterly destroyed and a large footprint had taken its place. Satan and Michael had advanced through this area during their battle, and you could tell.

Another crackle of gunfire pulled Ava’s attention. She could tell from the sound that it was growing more panicked. “Let’s go!” she led the way as the small team formed up in a wedge formation. She was at the tip because she was the strongest, while Bart and Razeal covered her flanks, and the remaining Guardians brought up the rear.

The fighting was two blocks away. Half a dozen humans in the camouflage of the US Army were cowering behind a burning tank. The tank looked fairly new except for the jagged gash nearly splitting it in half. The panicked gun fire was coming from inside the hull where a man was desperately emptying his sidearm into a hulking armored being.

Ava could smell the Infernal taint coming off the armored creature. The creature jerked its sword out of the wreckage and threw its shoulder into one side of the wreck while pushing the other side with both hands. The human was furiously pulling the trigger and putting round after round into the creature’s armored helmet at point blank range. It was doing nothing. The thing’s head wasn’t even budging.

With a great ripping sound, the tank began to open like a tin can. Ava saw the human piss himself as he tried to reload the empty pistol and carelessly dropped the magazine. It clattered onto the steel floor before slipping through the ever-widening crack and vanishing from sight.

“Hey, over here you big, ugly motherfucker!” One of the soldiers screamed as he ran out from his position behind the tank, waving his arms, and firing his rifle into the creature’s face.

The armored Infernal stopped ripping the tank in half and turned to face the heckler.

“That’s right, I’m talking to you princess. What’s a shithead like you doing in a nice place like this?” The human continued to fire his weapon, but to no effect.

The Infernal abandoned the tank and squared off against the human. That’s when Ava moved. She leapt forward and quickly beat her wings to increase her acceleration. The Infernal didn’t even turn to acknowledge her approach, which confirmed Bart’s theory.

<They don’t have any warding set up.> She couldn’t help but smile.

She waited until the last moment to become tangible again. She hit the Infernal shoulder first, in the chest, like a runaway Mack Truck. It sounded like a small explosion as Divine Steel met Infernal Iron, but in that match, Divine Steel always won. The Infernal folded over her shoulder as its armor crumpled. She could feel bones break, the air forced out of the thing’s lungs to be rapidly replaced by blood from the cascading internal injuries.

The Inferal was bent at a ninety-degree angle over her shoulder when she dug her feet in and came to a sudden halt. Physics did the rest. The Infernal rebounded, unfolded off her, and went flying into the mass of the tank. The soldiers taking shelter behind it were wise enough to run for it when a beautiful woman in gleaming silver armor appeared out of nowhere and immediately kicked the shit out of the monster than was tearing a tank in half.

They were clear of the battle tank when the Infernal collided with it. The force of the hit picked the tank up off its tracks and rolled it over on its top. The turret scrunched under the sixty-plus tons of war machine, and the metal clatter of unused shells filled the air as they fell out of their racks. That sound only made the humans run further and faster away. All except one.

The brave man who’d distracted the Infernal from killing his friend just stood their wide-eyed and jaw dropped.

“Be not afraid.” Ava gave the man three comforting words and a smile before she advanced on the Infernal.

Despite its injuries the creature was trying to get to its feet. Despite the damaging blow the thing had held onto its weapon. It used the large broadsword to steady itself as it struggled to get to its feet.

“Bitch.” The Infernal removed its helmet to reveal a woman with blood leaking out of her mouth. Twin dribbles of black flowed down her chin and dripped onto the broken street, and she spit out a thick glob before giving Ava a deranged smile. “Come on then,” she raised her sword. “Let’s get this over with.”

A small amount of pity passed through Ava’s heart as the Infernal woman charged. It was uncoordinated, clearly painful, and ultimately pointless. Ava easily swatted the sword from the woman’s hand and drove her own blade into the Infernal’s chest. Black blood exploded out of her mouth as her whole body spasmed before going still. The woman’s black-stained teeth smiled up at Ava as she stood over the dead woman.

“Good work.” Razael appeared beside her to collect the dead Infernal’s sword. He gave it a few practice swings, frowned, and tossed it on top of the armored hulk.

He then proceeded to remove his own sword, traced a tight circle around the body, produced a vile from a pouch on his hip, and emptied a few drops onto the corpse. He spoke a few words of Enochian, and everything within the circle went up like a bonfire.

“We need to get rid of the evidence.” He stated as he placed the vial back in the pouch. “We need to preserve Eden’s integrity.”

<That explains why Michael wanted you along.> The Cherubims were not only skilled fighters to help with the battle, but they were also the cleanup crew.

Ava saw the importance of the task, but wondered why Michael hadn’t said anything to her. She didn’t have much time to think before more gunfire could be heard up ahead. She didn’t need to give the order to move out. Her team formed up behind her and headed back into battle.

Battle by battle, block by block the angels were going to tighten the noose around the necks of the Infernal invaders until they were all dead and burning like the husk of the woman behind her.

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Aftermath is out!

The exciting continuation of The Harbinger Tales Saga, Aftermath, is now available on amazon kindle! Get it for only $3.99 or for free on kindle unlimited. Read the synopsis below.

Once you finish, please take a moment to write a customer review. Every review helps promote the book, and I greatly appreciate them!

Enjoy!

GET IT HERE

Aftermath Cover

What’s next?

That’s what Sam Daily has been thinking for months. His wife, Elle, has been gone since their defeat of the Rogue Harbinger, Faultline, and he doesn’t know when she’s coming back. Stuck in a world he still doesn’t understand, with abilities he’s only begun to explore, Sam is forced to figure out how to live a normal life after the vicious battle that cost him more than he knows.

But no good deed goes unpunished. Unbeknownst to Sam, powerful people are stepping into the game, and they detest Sam and what he represents. Caught in the middle of their schemes, Sam must continue his fight to survive with new allies against cunning enemies.

Aftermath is the second book in The Harbinger Tales Saga.