PCS to Eden – Obedience

Gerry felt the pressure building. It started as an itch just below the skin that he couldn’t quite scratch. From there it evolved into a metaphysical-stretching sensation that seemed to envelope his entire body. The thrones lack of a governor was starting to show, and he was pregnant with power.

He did everything he could to release it. He fortified the lake house several times over. He dished out power to the other Infernals who’d come with Gaius from Seere’s fallen kingdom. He’d even given Gaius a fresh dose of strength, and ensured their strength would replenish after it was used. Gerry purposefully didn’t make their power levels close to what they had been when Seere controlled an entire kingdom in Hell, but it was more than enough to deal with some pesky humans.

Still, it wasn’t enough. He even upgraded Grimm. The Hellhound now had his own semi-combat form. He’d swell with power from the size of a large dog to the size of a large horse when Gerry uttered the correct spell. He was pretty sure the humans, and even some Divine, would shit their pants when they saw an eight-foot-tall Grimm sprinting toward them with his soul-sucking maw dripping spittle and large enough to snap off a man’s head in one bite. He was so imposing that Gerry was considering making him a playmate.

“Lord,” one of the legionnaires stepped hesitantly into the throne room and rendered a deep bow.

Behind the legionnaire stood a frightened-looking man whose eyes kept darting around the throne room. His tongue darted out and licked his lips, and he kept fidgeting with the bottom of his blazer. Combined with the sharp angles of the man’s thin face, it made him look like a snake. He wore heavy black eyeliner and a bunch of rings adorned his fingers. The silver skulls on his pointer fingers clashed with the business casual attire, but Gerry didn’t judge the man’s appearance.

“On the ground, meat.” The legionnaire grabbed the man by the collar and pushed him to the ground until he was prostratated with his forehead pressing against the cold tiles.

“I h…h…humbly serve you dark lord. I only w…w…wish to be of service.” The man’s teeth chattered like the temperature had suddenly dropped fifty degrees.

The legionnaire looked up at Gerry and rolled his eyes. The human was clearly a Satanist, devil worshipper, or any of the other sects that worshipped the darkness. Gerry gave a heavy sigh and waved his hand for the legionnaire to let the man stand.

<This is what we’ve been reduced to.> The networks Gerry and his lieutenants had in place before Satan and Michael played Godzilla with Charlotte were in-depth and thorough. Now, those networks were in tatters, and they were forced to rely on intel from human posers, or humans with little magical skill. If Gerry had to guess, the guy in front of him had an inkling of magical skill and he thought because of that he was worthy to be in Gerry’s presence.

“Speak,” Gerry commanded lazily, as Grimm growled softly from his bed near the foot of the throne. The amount of pillows and toys in the large bed cut down on Grimm’s intimidation factor while he was laying down.

“D…Dark Lord I come bearing news.”

“Speak plainly human, and don’t waste my time.” Gerry let his impatience slip into his tone.

“Yes, Lord.” The man gulped, but continued on. “I’m sensitive to the powers of good and evil in this world, and my gift has told me the powers of good have greatly decreased in the city within the last hour.”

Gerry just raised an eyebrow at the statement. He’d need his own people to confirm whether or not this was legit. This could always be a ploy to lure the remaining Infernals into an ambush, but if it was legit, it was too good to pass up.

“We are well aware of the situation in the city,” Gerry wasn’t going to lose face in front of a Marilyn Manson wannabee. “What do you think you deserve by coming here to tell me something I already know?”

“Well…” the man nervously started to lick his lips.

“Do you want money, sex, power, women, or men?” Gerry stared at the man’s reactions closely. He didn’t need to read minds to see what the man was thinking. “Power… you think you deserve power.” Gerry laughed, and Grimm looked up at him happily, with his tongue lolling out the side of his mouth in shared joy.

The man frowned, but quickly wiped the emotion away. “Lord…”

“Sure…while the hell not.” Gerry had too much power anyway.

Gerry reached out and seized the man on an ætherial level. In the real world, the man surged to his feet. His spine arched to the point of snapping, and he threw back his head and screamed with a mixture of pain and pleasure. From the man’s reaction, you would have thought Gerry was pumping æther into the guy.

Gerry wasn’t. He let a trickle seep into the man, and even that was too much. A human body without significant magical talent couldn’t control the æther. Sooner rather than later, the power would corrupt the man like cancer and he was literally explode from the strain. Gerry hadn’t given the man a gift, he’d turned him into a walking bomb, but the man didn’t know that.

“Thank you, Dark Lord, thank you.” The man scrambled backwards bowing his head repeatedly in the process until he was out of the room.

“Check if he’s right,” Gerry commanded the legionnaire. “If the Divine abandoned the city to deal with New York then it’s an opportunity we can’t pass up.”

“Yes, Lord.” The legionnaire bowed and left, which let Gerry turn his attention back to the seventy-inch 4K UHDTV mounted on the wall.

Choppers were circling Central Park where two powerhouses were going at it. Gerry recognized Beelzebub from when he fought his creations. The feathers, wings, and talons were hard to forget.  The angel he was fighting wasn’t Michael, but was clearly an archangel judging by his armor. The angel’s sword sang nearly faster than the eye could follow as he danced with the Infernal Lord. They flattened everything in their path, just like Satan and Michael.

“Watch out for the…” Beelzebub was too slow and caught a gauntleted fist in the chin. The force sent out a shockwave that knocked a few choppers right out of the air, while the other struggled to stay airborne. The stream switched back to the news anchors in studio who were frantically trying to figure out what was going on.

<Hell on Earth is what’s going on.> Gerry couldn’t help but smile as he leaned back on his throne. <And right now things are looking up.>

Once he found Prometheus he’d have two of the old gods on his side, and with the Divine potentially having redeployed their forces, he could retake and secure the city before they returned. When they returned, they’d have to deal with a strong, dug in opposition. Or at least that was the plan for now.

Things had a tendency to change at a moment’s notice.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 211

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“Index,” GYSGT called out.

The holographic display on their HUDs vanished to show the original architecture of their surveillance position. Coop and Eve popped off their helmets and wiped the perspiration from their foreheads. Even with the cooling system turned up high, the New Savannah evening humidity still leaked in.

“I think we’re good to go.” The GYSGT nodded to her two team members, and went to inform HQ.

For the last few hours, as they waited for nightfall, Alpha Team of SRRT-Two had been running rehearsals for their assault on the insurgent’s stronghold. They’d been able to get the blueprints of the property from public records, and through their helmet’s tech, been able to imprint those surroundings over the apartment they were currently occupying. The GYSGT then had them run mission after mission. Each time she changed the variables. In some, they took fire before they every made the front door. In others, they had to fight their way through forty bad guys. Coop hoped that wasn’t how this one actually turned out. He’d died in that one.

The gear they were wearing was good, but it wasn’t military tech, and that left him feeling increasingly vulnerable. A round to the neck in the simulation had driven that point home.

“This thing is chaffing like a motherfucker.” Coop grabbed the top of the exo-steel breastplate and pulled down.

He doubted anything the insurgents had would pierce the new, alien metal, but it only covered all the important bits of his torso. Ballistic gel underneath let it conform more to his frame, but every time he ran it hiked up and pushed uncomfortably into his neck.

“We’ll get through this quick,” Eve’s words were neutral as she cleared the training magazine from her weapon, and inserted one with live ammo.

Coop followed her example and did the same for all his weapons. He opted for the submachine gun and a pistol on his hip. He stuffed the rest of the pouches on his utility belt, which sat just below the armor, with more magazines and a protein bar. Eve raised an eyebrow at the last item.

“What? Combat makes me hungry.” Coop shrugged, and she just shook her head before going back to her own armaments. She’d equipped herself similarly, but had also compressed the sniper rifle she’d been using for surveillance and strapped it to her back. Coop didn’t know why she was doing that. Even compressed down to half its original size, it could still get snagged on a doorway and get her killed.

“Hey,” Coop’s voice was uncharacteristically serious as he began, “I know you kind of hate me and everything, but this is the real deal now. Can I trust you to watch my back?”

Eve looked a little taken aback by his bluntness, but they quickly morphed into anger. “You can always trust me to have your back, Coop. I’m a professional soldier. I don’t let shitty personal squabbles get in the way of doing my duty.” Her eyes were as intense as a battleship’s energy cannon, and it forced Coop to look away. “Plus, I don’t hate you. I’m just disappointed.”

“Ouch,” Coop couldn’t stop from chuckling. “Ok mom.”

Eve’s face contorted again, but then unexpectedly softened. “You know,” she couldn’t stop from grinning, “if I was your mother that would make you one sick bastard.”

It took Coop a moment to catch up and remember the weekend after Basic. “Awwww…that’s disgusting.” His face pinched but he couldn’t help but smile.

“Still,” Eve’s face went from hot to cold in an instant. “Don’t think we aren’t going to talk after all of this. You’re going to sketchy places, doing sketchy things, and with an increasingly sketchy woman. You’re on an elite team now, Coop. Don’t fuck up your life for something that isn’t worth it.”

Coop wasn’t sure if she was talking about the ten grand for the info he’d given, or Aiko, but either way it was way too close for comfort. <If Eve has been keeping track of me then who else has?> He never got the chance to ask.

“Let’s move.” Cunningham reappeared in the room and headed for the door. She was already locked and loaded. “We breach in fifteen.”

There was no time to grab anything else, since they still had a few kilometers to travel to the target, and there was no time to disguise what they were. They headed out into the hallway in full battle rattle. If not for the lateness of the day, a ton of people would have seen them, but since most were sitting down for dinner, they only saw a few.

“Police, ma’am, just doing a security sweep please return to your home.” The GYSGT confidently instructed a woman who practically froze as they walked down the hallway. The woman scurried into her place without even looking for a badge.

They quickly descended to the underground garage and the minivan. Piling in now was a little harder with their weapons and armor not in a duffle bag, but they made it happen. The GYSGT took the driver’s seat, which she had to move back to its rear-most position. Eve took the second row, and lined up with the door that would be facing the target house when they arrived. Coop got the trunk, which was just fine with him. The door would spring open, and he’d have the van as cover if the enemy opened fire on them right away.

Cunningham hit the maximum tint on the windows as she headed out. It would look suspicious to people on the street, but there weren’t a lot of people out, so it was a risk they were willing to take. Speaking of risks, Coop fiddled with his reduced gelcast. He picked at it like a child as the target drew nearer and nearer. Technically, he was still on light duty, but there was no way in hell he was going to miss this. Even with his reservations about the plan.

“Three minutes,” the GYSGT called form the front. The car was driving itself, so it left her free to prepare. “Chamber a round, but leave it on safe until we’re a block out.”

Coop hit the button and felt the slight rumble of his weapon moving a lethal round to the chamber. <Go time,> he thought. <This isn’t PHA Rats rioting back on Earth, or pissed off asteroid miners. These are legit domestic terrorists who’ve assassinated a planetary governor.> Coop knew the ramifications of what they were about to do. It wasn’t only about getting the people responsible. It was also about sending a message. That message was ‘Don’t fuck with the Commonwealth’.

Coop recognized when they entered the target block because he’d been watching the place for days. He’d even done old-fashioned, hand-drawn terrain sketches to pass the time. He recognized the swing attached to the big tree on the corner.

“Weapons hot, suppressors active.” Coop followed the GYSGT’s orders. He disengaged the safety and pressed the button that would reconfigure the barrel to suppress the sound of the electromagnetic gunshot. Even after hundreds of years, humans still couldn’t fully silence the sound of a weapon being fired, but it would have to do.

“Three…two…one…GO!” The GYSGT counted down as she brought the van to a stop in front of the target house. Somewhere else in the city Bravo team was rolling up on another target and rushing to kick down the door.

The vehicle jerked to a stop. Three doors flew open, and Alpha team flowed through their well-rehearsed exit. The GYSGT stepped out and immediately targeted the guard booth in front of the house. Her weapon sputtered as she fired on full-auto into the presumably ballistic-resistant glass. Being resistant didn’t mean bulletproof. It held for a second under her withering fire before it began to crack, and as she continued to fire, those cracks spread. She didn’t give the guard booth more than five seconds of attention, before dropping the weapon. Her sling caught it and magnetically pulled it to her side as she grabbed a grenade from her belt. Like a major league pitcher, she cocked back her arm, and launched it toward the weakened glass. Like they planned, the glass broke on contact, and the gas grenade exploded inside with a muffled pop. If anyone was in there, they were paralyzed by a nerve agent for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Coop popped out of the trunk and provided one hundred and eighty degree security to the south. Eve sprang out of the side, gave a five count as she swept the area to the north, and then rushed the front door of their target just as the GYSGT’s grenade exploded in the guard house. Coop and the GYSGT quickly collapsed their perimeter and followed.

Eve was on her knees by the front door’s electronic entrance screen with a bumper already attached. The device filled the sensors with so much garbage code it should send it into reset mode and open. Instead the screen beeped red and something clunked inside.

“Fuck!” Eve hissed. The bumper had failed, which meant this door had high-grade security. On the bright side, it meant they were in the right place, and they had a backup plan.

Eve yanked a two-centimeter thick cord of explosives from her back and quickly went to work sticking it to the door. Every second counted, but Eve had trained for this, and was ready to go in only a few.

“BREACH…BREACH…BREACH!” she yelled. Silence wasn’t going to mean a thing in a second.

Coop shuffled to put a little more distance between him and the shape-charged explosives. In theory they were only supposed to blow inward, but even a small difference between theory and the reality of explosives could be deadly. He went to a knee and tried to make himself as small as possible, while keeping his armored plate rotated toward the explosion, while maintaining security.

BOOM

His helmet’s audio dampeners automatically activated, but he still felt the shock of the explosives.

“GO!” It was the GYSGT again over their TACCOM channel.

Coop pivoted and entered the home through a solid wall of smoke, dust, and debris. His optical suite cut through the interference, but got nothing. It didn’t feel right. He reached to his belt, grabbed a sensor drone, and tossed it down the hall as he was first through the door.

<Fuck!> He cursed as two things became immediately clear.

“We’ve got a door on our right two meters in, and this place has jammers.” He relayed as he moved forward to post up against the door that wasn’t on the blueprints.

“Take it with Berg, I’ve got the hallway.” The GYSGT shifted to the opposite side of the narrow walkway while Coop and Berg stacked up. The door’s entrance screen showed it was on lockdown because of the explosion, so Coop pulled out his own bumper, slapped it on, and hoped it worked better this time.

After a second, the door beeped green and slid open. Coop assaulted forward to avoid giving a potential enemy the chance to react. He went left and Eve went right. The room looked like an office of some sort. There was a bookshelf of legit hardcopy books, some high-end electronics, and a nice desk that a man was overturning to give himself cover. Coop’s finger acted before his brain and sent a three-round burst from the submachine gun’s barrel.

The first round was low and to the left, but it cut through the table with a loud, splintering crack. The wood might have stopped a personal defense weapon, but not the military-grade firearms Coop had. The second shot was on target but low. Coop saw pain register on the man’s face as the bullet hit him below the belt. The third round hit center of mass which painted the wall behind him red. The man topped over and fell out of sight behind the table, but Coop was already continuing his sweep.

“Clear,” Eve called from behind him.

“Clear, one tango down,” Coop answered.

“Check him,” the GYSGT was still posted in the hallway. “Secure his weapon.”

<Weapon…shit!> Coop wasn’t sure if the guy even had a weapon. He’d just reacted when he saw the guy throwing up cover between them. No regular person did that, but the briefing they’d been given said they were only to kill if the tangos posed a threat. Otherwise, they wanted prisoners to interrogate. <Fuck me.> Coop moved quickly to round the table to view his handiwork. <Oh thank you Jesus!> as he rounded the table he spotted a black piece of metal on the floor. It wasn’t just a weapon. It was a laser pistol, an illegal laser pistol.

Coop quickly secured it and followed Eve back into the hallway. The whole thing, start to finish, took about fifteen seconds. As last one out, Coop covered their rear as they advanced down the hall so no one snuck in through the destroyed front door and shot them in the ass.

The next two doors they went through had been on the schematics and were empty. The three soldiers breached the kitchen, but also found it empty. The sensor drone Coop had thrown should have mapped the whole home by now, but he was still getting nothing but static. They cleared the first floor and then headed to the second. They were only halfway up the stairs when energy blasts ripped into the staircase, shattering wood, and starting a small fire.

“Grenade.” The GYSGT stated casually as she tossed a flashbang. She let it cook for a second and then ricocheted it off a wall to get the right angle. There was a yell of surprise before intense light and sound overwhelmed everything. The team was protected from it, but the neurological overload had knocked the enemy flat on their asses.

Coop jumped over the fire, bounded up the stairs, kicked the weapons away as he moved through the two men’s prone forms, and took up a covering position as Eve and the GYSGT came up behind him. They took out restraints and hog tied the two men before throwing hoods over their heads. The hood contained a powerful sedative that would keep the men asleep until the GYSGT wanted to wake them up.

As the two women worked, Coop did his own extra task. “The source of the jamming is coming from the last room on the right,” Coop informed as the GYSGT and Eve came up behind him. They tapped him on the shoulder and they moved forward.

They quickly cleared two more rooms, both empty, before moving on to the room where the jamming was originating from. They stacked up beside the door, and found out why you were trained to stack up beside the door and not in front of it. Laser blasts cut through the polyplast and burned into the far wall.

<Fuckers are going to burn down their own house.> Coop was the breach man, but decided to change it up. He collapsed to his side, and pushed out into the doorway. His sensors immediately, adjusted his optics so he saw perfectly through the large hole in the door. He saw a young woman with a laser rifle standing next to a bulky device sitting on a bed.

Coop saw her before she saw him. As she turned her rifle toward him, Coop fired a single round through her chest. The woman pulled the trigger reflexively as she collapsed and put a big hole in the ceiling.

Coop rolled to the side and back to his feet to cover the hallway behind them as Eve and the GYSGT stormed the room. “Clear,” they announced, followed by the deactivation of the jammer. The sensor drone went to work and a holo-map of the home began to appear on Coop’s HUD. It spread second by second until the whole house came into view…or so Coop thought. Then the holo kept expanding.

“There’s a basement!” Coop yelled and headed for the stairs. He heard the stomping boots of Eve and the GYSGT behind him.

The original plans didn’t have a basement. No homes in this area were supposed to have a basement because of the water table being so close to the surface.

<But who are terrorists if not rule breakers.>

“Hold up, Cooper!” the GYSGT called out before he rushed through the kitchen and toward the entrance to the cupboard, which the sensor drone revealed had a false back wall to a staircase. “Stop with the John Wayne shit.”

“Wayne who?” Coop asked, but still came to a stop.

“Don’t be reckless,” Eve interpreted. “We go in as a team. It doesn’t matter who’s down there if they kill us.”

“Yeah,” Coop took a deep breath and got his adrenaline under control. “Ready when you are.”

There was no handle, so Eve brought out the explosives again.

BOOM

She blew apart the fake wall and they descended into darkness.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 210

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

Surveillance was part art, part science, and Coop had spent the last two days getting a crash course in it. When they’d arrived at their observation point, in the middle of the night, and in an inconspicuous minivan, he thought they were going to spend a few hours on target at most. He thought they’d show up, set up all their fancy optic suites, and catch the bad guys red handed doing some shady shit.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

“New target.” Coop did his best to stifle a yawn as someone new walked into his view. “Caucasian male, brown hair, hazel eyes, one hundred and seventy-one centimeters, eighty-seven kilos, trying to tag him.” Coop angled the lens to get a clean shot of the man’s GIC on the underside of his wrist, but despite the heat, the target was wearing long sleeves.

“Designated Tango-Eighteen.” GYSGT Cunningham sat in a chair at the opposite end of the room, while Eve was in a similar position at another window. “Berg?”

“Couldn’t get it,” the long, slender rifle tucked into her shoulder could hit targets up to several kilometers away, but today they were just using it to get high-def pictures to compare against local databases. “Sending you what I’ve got.”

A holo appeared in the air in front of the GYSGT. She placed her hand inside the image and swiped until she found the best photo to attach to her report. “What did you see, Cooper?”

This was the part of surveillance where it became more art than science. The tech they had could tell them a shit load about the guy from nearly two kilometers away without him ever knowing they were there. Coop got his height, weight, eye color, hair color, and if he’d gotten the GIC they’d have the man’s complete records. But that only told half the story.

“He was alert but confident.” Coop had watched the man approach the house since the time he turned the corner. Coop had seen people walk like this before. “Maybe system militia training,” Coop hypothesized, “but he definitely just scored. It could be drugs, poon tang, or another insurgency plot, but he’s got something that’s giving him a hard on for life.”

“Poon tang?” The GYSGT raised an eyebrow. “I’m not putting that in the report.”

“Sorry,” Coop shrugged, which took the lens off the target house for a second before settling it back down. “I didn’t want to offend your sensibilities.”

“I’m going to shove my boot up your fourth point of contact and we’ll see how your sensibilities fare.” Eve threw in her two cents.

“Fine,” Coop sighed. “Looks like he might have gotten some tight New Savannah ass recently.”

“We could all use a little tight ass about now.” Eve grumbled, and Coop couldn’t help but laugh.

“What else, Cooper?” The GYSGT cut in.

“He’s got a pistol on his hip,” Coop got that from the optics, but that wasn’t what the GYSGT wanted to know.

“On the surface that could peg him as an insurgent, but the analysis shows there’s a ninety-three percent chance it’s an authorized personnel defense weapon. Can’t tell from here if it’s been modified, but with all that’s happened on the planet in the last few days, I don’t think it’s unusual for people to be walking around with a little more protection,” Coop answered.

“We have an ID yet?” Eve asked. This might be a training opportunity for Coop, but Eve had already gone through this at Ranger school. To her, this was a refresher that got old about six hours in.

“Yep.” The GYSGT didn’t bother to show them. “Anything else, Cooper?”

“He was looking over his shoulder a lot, like he was expecting to be followed. My vote is he’s an insurgent who just got laid and is heading back to his lair,” Coop gave his impression.

“Berg?”

“I agree. Not necessarily with the laid part, but he does give me the impression something is going to go down soon.” Eve shot Coop a little glare.

That was the other tough part about these surveillance ops. It involved long periods of time stuck together in confined spaces. For people at odds, it could lead to two outcomes. The first was shit getting even more tense and awkward, and the second was them working through stuff. Coop wasn’t really sure which group they were in. She’s snapped, glared, and laughed at him during the last two days, so the jury was still out.

“You’re both right.” Cunningham projected a new holo into the air between them to show Tango-Eighteen. The picture and brief description told them he was fairly high up in the New Savannah Liberation Movement. “That’s nearly twenty confirmed members that we have in a single location. I’m sending my report up now, and I suspect with the current threat environment we’re going to get the green light to go in soon. We’re going to relax our posture until then. One on watch while two grab some chow and Z’s.”

“I’ve got the first watch,” Eve volunteered.

“Thanks,” Coop hopped up from the thin mattress he’d been lying on for the last several hours. “I’ve got to take a shit.” On the bright side, the apartment they’d taken over was newly renovated, so it was a clean crapper, not some dump. No pun intended.

When he got back to the main room, Eve was where he’d left her, and the GYSGT was chowing down on a high-protein, high-calorie energy bar from her MRE. The life of any enhanced human was a life of caloric intake to feed their enhanced bodies, so wherever Coop went he made sure to pack extra food. He had no idea how long he’d been on the recon, so he packed as many MRE’s as he could without looking suspicious. Two days in, he still had variety, which was the most exciting thing in his life at the moment. Except for talking to Eve again.

“Do you want Chili with beans or shredded barbeque beef?” Coop popped a squat next to Eve and took two MREs out of his pack.

“Barbeque.” Eve stated without taking her eyes off the rifle’s scope.

“Ohhh,” Coop sucked in air between his teeth. “I want the barbeque.”

“Then why’d you ask?” she snapped.

“I’ll tell you what,” Coop stroked his chin like he was deep in thought. “If you play a game with me, then I’ll let you have the barbeque.”

“Pass,” she replied immediately. “I’ll just have whatever else is in the pack.”

“All I have left is Lemon Pepper Tuna,” Coop was ready for her reply, and stopped short of grinning as she grimaced.

“Fuck it, fine,” Eve grumbled, “but if you make it weird I’m going to chop little Coop off.” She pulled a wicked looking knife from her side and twirled it between her fingers without even looking.

“Don’t worry.” Coop tried to act like the knife didn’t bother him. “We’re going to play a game that had been around for hundreds of years. It’s a game that people in our positions have played millions of times. It’s a game that…”

“Coop, stop blowing smoke up my ass and get to it.” Eve cut him off with an eye roll.

“Fine.” Coop coughed for dramatic effect. “We’re gonna play marry, kill, fuck.”

“Ah for fuck’s sake.” Eve made a casual swipe at him with her knife. It was slow and telegraphed enough that if Coop got cut it was his own fault.

“So, let’s meet our contestant Eve Berg.” Coop put on a holo announcers voice. “Resident bad ass, Eve Berg was the top graduate of her Basic class, which had some other top performers if I may say so myself.” Coop deftly dodged another swipe and continued. “A kick ass ranger, with combat experience and a fetish for sharp objects…” this time he nearly got tagged by the blade, “…Eve Berg has an important choice to make today; a choice that will affect the rest of her life. Who would you fuck? Who would you marry? And who would you kill?”

“What are my choices?” There was resignation in her voice, but Coop also thought he spotted a slight smile on her lips.

“Your three lucky, or unlucky for one of them, contestants are Sergeant Major Queen, Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham, and the ruggedly handsome, brilliant, and savvy Sergeant Mark Cooper.” Coop made it sound like an imaginary crowd was going wild, so this time he missed a fist that solidly connected with his ribs.

“Ugh,” he grunted from the impact. “Choose wisely.”

“I’d marry the Gunney,” Eve answered quickly. “Having another woman around the house, and not having to deal with any of your kind’s shit, Cooper, talk about Heaven.”

“Half the universe just gave a collective moan,” Coop sighed dramatically. “You’ve still got two choices left.”

“I’d fuck the Sergeant Major. Rumor has it he has a huge dick.”

“That’s an image I’m never getting out of my head,” Coop grumbled, but not only because of the NCOIC’s anatomy.

“That means I’ve got to kill you, Coop,” Eve shrugged, and turned her attention fully back to her scope, and put a hand out for her shredded barbeque beef. “Next time, give yourself a fighting chance.”

“Thanks,” Coop pouted as he tossed her the MRE. His plan had royally backfired. <But at least she didn’t actually stab me. I’ll take that as a win.>

“Stop grab assing you two, and get over here.” The GYSGT cut off any further pleasant thoughts. “Command just gave us the green light. We move in two hours to take the house and any prisoners inside. Bravo Team is hitting a second location at the same time. Mission objective is to round up most of the liberation movement’s leadership. If we can cut the head off the snake now, then the rest of the movement’s violent faction should wither and die. Plus, it gets the SRRT concept a gold star along the way. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

<Not us if we get blown up or shot in the ass.> Coop didn’t point out the obvious, or that fact they weren’t going in with their LACS or usual weapons set up.

In fact, they looked more like corporate mercenaries than Commonwealth troops. <And that’s on purpose,> Coop realized, as the GYSGT started to gear up. Again…she stripped out of the civvies they’d been wearing for two days, right in the middle of the room, and shrugged into her SEALs skin before putting on the exo-steel body armor.

It was the second time Coop had seen her body in three days, and he had to admit, he’d probably make the same decision Eve did. Unfortunately, Eve had a better chance of getting with Cunningham than he ever did.

Coop decided to give the two women a modicum of privacy, because he was a gentleman, so he went and geared up in the bathroom. When he returned, they got to work planning the op.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 53

Lilly’s eyes darted around the scene. <Fuckety…fuck…fuck…fuck!> She took in the four unconscious sheriff’s deputies and replayed their call for help.

“Destroy the damshcams and bodycams now!” She yelled to Morina and Seth.

Lilly whipped out her gun and proceeded to put several rounds through the windshield and into the dashboard. She looked back to see her two co-conspirators just standing there. “Now!” she repeated trying to instill a sense of urgency in them, because if they didn’t hurry they were fucked.

Eliminating the dashcams and bodycams robbed the responders of a teleportation location. Since they were in the middle of nowhere Louisiana, she doubted a DVA teleporter, or Hero, would have the location memorized. If she could take away their mode of transportation, then they stood a chance.

Other thoughts whirled through her head, like archived footage of the location or nearby security footage, but she pushed those thoughts aside. The live stream footage of those cops’ location was the immediate threat. It would take time for law enforcement to dig into other footage to get a good teleporting location.

Lilly went to holster her weapon and nearly dropped it and toppled to the ground as the earth roiled beneath her. A pillar of rock shot from the earth and smashed into the underside of the other patrol car’s engine block. It looked like the planet was playing a game of flip cup with the car as it was flung into the air and came back down to smash on the roof. The pillar receded, looking like it was never there in the first place, and was replaced by a wave of fire that washed over the overturned vehicle. Seth stood on the other wave of flame and calmly waved it back and forth and completely bathed the car in destruction.

“Move!” Lilly yelled again seconds before the flames reached the gas tank and ignited the fumes. The whole car went up in a fireball that lifted the vehicle a foot off the ground. <A little overkill, but that’ll do.> She smiled at her boyfriend’s destructive abilities. Then she turned to find Morina.

Morina had a tire iron from the remaining cop car’s trunk and was smashing the unconscious cops in the chest with it. Plastic and bits of electronics flew into the air as she destroyed the black, blocky bodycams on their chests, but Lilly was sure a few ribs were broken too. If not for their body armor, Morina would have beaten those cops to death.

“That’s enough!” Seth yelled as Morina moved from man to man and rained down blows. “You’ve got them.”

Morina looked up at them with a crazed look in her eyes. Sometimes, and with all they’d been through together, they forgot Morina liked inflicting pain on people. She liked draining them of their blood and bettering her own life at their expense. Lilly knew Seth might be accepting his life as an outlaw now, but she knew her boyfriend didn’t see himself as an evil, or even bad person. It was more crimes of circumstance and love that landed him in this predicament.

“Enough, Morina,” Lilly echoed Seth’s sentiments. “We need to get out of here now. We bought some time, but we aren’t out of the woods yet.” She ran back to their stolen car and got in the driver’s seat. “Let’s go!”

Her two companions rushed to follow her, but by the time their doors slammed closed, they had company. A man and a woman appeared in the road just ahead of them. They were facing the opposite direction, which allowed Lilly to act before they were all eliminated. She envisioned her teleportation location, which was exactly where she was sitting, and teleported. She disappeared and then reappeared in the exact location, but the blast of shadow that exploded outward from her was what she really needed if this what who she thought it was. She waited the second for it to expand to its full radius, and then willed it to stay. It did, and hid them from their newly-arrived enemies.

Lilly wanted to throw it in reverse and get the hell out of dodge, but Morina had a different plan. “Ram her!” The blood manipulator snarled. She was sitting between Lilly and Seth, and when Lilly didn’t automatically comply, Morina stomped Lilly’s foot into the gas.

Rubber burned for a moment before the car lurched forward. It was less than fifty feet from where they started to where the Hero stood, but the car had gotten up to a solid twenty miles per hour in the time period.

“Fucking idiot!” Lilly screamed back as she tried to move her foot, and when she realized it wasn’t possible, braced for impact. Unlike Morina, she knew who she was facing. Thankfully, they were only going twenty when they made contact.

The car impacted Reaper and got stopped dead in its tracks. The air bags deployed and smashed into Lilly’s face. Her nose broke on impact, but that was better than Morina. The girl wasn’t wearing her seat belt, or in a seat that was protected by the airbag. They flew forward into the windshield with a sickening crunch and stopped moving.

“Ugh!” Seth groaned.

A spike or worry resonated through Lilly’s gut. Seth was fragile enough as is. Getting in an accident was the last thing he needed. As it turned out, worrying about Seth was the last thing that needed to be on her mind. Her grip on the shadow was beginning to slip, and the darkness was starting to leak away. She tried to hold it, but it was like trying to hold water in her hand; bit by bit it dripped away. Soon it cleared enough to see the outline of the Heroes.

Reaper was dressed in black fatigues. The crash hadn’t affected her a bit. It hadn’t even wrinkled her clothes. The engine block had been stopped by her abdomen, and her outstretched arms had kept the car from wrapping around her. It was a smart move. She still had full momentum, and wouldn’t get tangled in the wreckage, but she didn’t move. She stared straight ahead into Lilly’s unmasked face.

<Fuck me.> Lilly saw genuine hate and anger in Reaper’s eyes, a second before Lilly felt like something tried to grab her mind.

On reflex she teleported.

She reappeared right where she’d started, but a fresh wave of darkness blanketed the area around them and obscured the Hero from view. Reaper’s influence on Lilly’s mind vanished.

“We need cover!” Lilly yelled, but got no response. She crawled over Morina’s sprawled legs and grabbed Seth by his shirt. The car shifted as Reaper pulled herself from the front grill’s wreckage. “WE NEED COVER!” Lilly yelled again, right into her boyfriend’s ear.

She felt him nod through the darkness, just before a much stronger shudder ripped through the car.

“No! God damnit!” Lilly cursed as something hit the underside of the car and flipped it.

It was the sheriff deputy’s car all over again, but this time they were on the receiving the end of it. The car tumbled backwards, landed hard on the roof, and the now unbuckled Lilly fell hard on her back. It knocked the wind from her, and the shadow started to dissipate. She couldn’t wait until she could see the Heroes again.

She teleported outside of the vehicle. She could feel her surroundings through the shadow, so she was easily able to reach through the broken window and pull Seth out. She sensed him being cut by the jagged glass still sticking in the window frame, but she didn’t have much of a choice. Seth’s retrieval was easy. Morina’s was going to be more difficult.

Lilly sensed the Heroes entering the outer perimeter of her shadow. One had a large rifle pressed against his shoulder and was sweeping the area in front of him looking for movement. Reaper had her hands outstretched and pointed in the direction of where she thought the car was. She was right on the money.

“Down!” she yelled at Seth. She grabbed him and pulled him down behind the cover of the truck before the blast of electricity fanned outward.

She felt the blast in her teeth. Her muscles cramped up and her hair stood on end in the worst bad hair day ever, but the truck blocked the majority of the blast. The boom of the rifle and the smack of it tearing into the car followed shortly after. Thankfully, Lilly felt the bullet miss Morina, who she still hoped was alive.

“Another distraction please,” she asked Seth. “Maybe this time something that might make them back off and not put us on our asses.” The shadows were staring to slip again, and the Heroes weren’t that far away.

Brightness emerged from the darkness as flames shot from around Seth toward the Heroes. Lilly could tell from his aim that he was going for glancing blows, and trying to drive them back, not kill. The man with the rifle teleported away before the fire reached him, confirming it was Hunter. Reaper dodged by jumping away. The single leap took her outside Lilly’s ring of shadow.

“Do a sweep to keep them off my ass!” Lilly ordered, as she concentrated on the inside of the truck. She felt heat pass over her as Seth bathed the area in flame. “Get down!” she yelled and yanked him hard a second before a bullet tore through the space he’d just occupied. “Shoot and move! Shoot and move!” she shook her head.

<I can’t believe they didn’t teach you that in the HCP.> She reached into the car and grabbed Morina by the leg.

It was harder to drag a limp body than people thought, and it took all of Lilly’s strength to pull the blood manipulator from the vehicle, but even once Morina was out, there was still the question of what the hell they were supposed to do.

There was really only one solution. It just sucked ass. Lilly checked Morina’s pulse. Despite her injuries, it was strong. The blood manipulator was just unconscious, but without an x-ray it was impossible to tell how bad her internal injuries were. Then there was Seth. He continued to blast away at random through her shrinking shadowy protection. He popped up for three-to-five seconds, blasted away, and then ducked back down behind the cover of the truck. It was smart, but it could only last so long. She could practically feel Hunter getting into position for a better shot at them.

Seth was clutching his side as he fought, which only made what Lilly knew she had to do that much harder. The only one who wouldn’t feel a massive amount of pain from what they were about to do was her. <I just hope this works.>

“Brace yourself!” she yelled to Seth. She knew it wasn’t going to do any good, but hoped it made her boyfriend feel better.

She grabbed him by the shoulder, gripped Morina’s ankle with her other hand and concentrated on a destination far away. In a blast of shadow the three fugitives vanished, leaving behind a destroyed truck, two Heroes, and the lingering sound of Seth’s scream.

***

“Did you get them?” Daisy asked when the fire finally stopped. The shadow had started to fade enough that she was working her way through the frustrating mist that obscured Wraith, Seth, and Blood Hound’s life lines, but a fresh blast of darkness blotted out anything she could feel inside the shadows.

“I don’t know.” Hunter’s scopes weren’t any more effective than Daisy’s sixth sense in penetrating the darkness. He was firing blindly based upon where the blasts of fire emerged from the shadows.

At first, he thought he’d tagged Abney with a shot, approached, and almost got roasted when the broad spectrum elemental manipulator started firing again. Daisy was pretty sure Seth was just trying to keep them back, and not really trying to hurt them, but she couldn’t let that influence her thinking. Her former student was resisting arrest and assaulting Heroes. She couldn’t let him get away. Unfortunately, that was proving harder than they thought, and the growing inferno around them wasn’t helping.

The blasts of flame hadn’t hit the Heroes, but nearly a full three-hundred-and-sixty-degree fire was blazing behind them. The lush Louisiana vegetation behind Daisy and Hunter had taken a little bit to start burning, thanks to the dew and humidity, but now it was crackling away and spreading. Hunter had already radioed for the fire department, but it was going to take hours to stop the flames from spreading without the help of a fire absorber. The DVA was working on it, but there were other crises around the country that had to manage.

Daisy got her answer when the blast quickly began to recede instead of remaining to obscure their view of the fugitives. Within twenty seconds, the shadows had completely dissipated to reveal nothing. If Daisy was being honest with herself, she was wondering why Wraith hadn’t teleported away with her two friends when Daisy and Hunter showed up. She was sure the teleporter had her reasons, and they probably had something to do with injuries, which made tracking the villain down and taking her into custody that much easier. Wherever they were, they were hurting.

“Do your thing and track them.” Daisy said as she did a complete walk around the car to make sure they were actually gone. “What are you waiting for?”

Hunter had stopped at a point behind the car and had his hand outstretched into the air. “Last time I tried to follow Wraith she nearly blew me up. I can’t just follow her like that. Her MO states there’s going to be explosives on the other end, and if it’s in a populated area, me following will only get innocent civilians killed.

Daisy opened her mouth to argue, but then snapped it shut. Wraith would do something like that. “Fuck!” she cursed instead. “What can we do?”

“Wait for backup, maybe get another Hero who can contain an explosion and any secondary effects,” Hunter replied.

“How long will that take?” Daisy thought she knew the answer, and it wasn’t going to help her worsening mood.

“Hell if I know. Dispatch is working the issue now.” Hunter shrugged.

Daisy took several deep breaths to contain her growing anger, but still ended up punching the overturned truck. Her fist went through the engine block and started leaking oil all over the place.

<Great! Now I’ll have the EPA on my ass.> She steamed, crossed her arms across her chest, and tried not to break anything while they waited for others to arrive.

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PCS to Eden – Here We Go Again

“Congratulations. We have retaken the city.” Ava couldn’t stop from smiling as her gathered troops cheered at the good news.

They were assembled at the fifty yard line of Bank of America Stadium, which looked like it had been carpet bombed. The stands at each end zone were a twisted wreck of concrete, plastic, and metal. A deep gouge had been cut lengthwise down the center of the field and drew a straight line to more destruction. Michael had pushed Satan through the stadium during their titanic struggle, or maybe it was Satan that pushed Michael. Either way, a location that would have normally been used by local, state, and federal authorities for humanitarian aid purposes was not available.

It was a perfect assembly area for Ava’s troops after fighting throughout the city. The fighting had been tough in some parts and easy in others. The enemy troops; whether they were skeletal soldiers, Seere’s last legionnaires, or the serpent steed itself, had different levels of skill and power. Ava took care of the heavy hitter, but that meant her soldiers didn’t always have her support. They’d lost a handful of guardians in the fight, and that loss weighed on her. The physical wounds from the battle against the Infernals at the school had healed, but she could still see the deaths of her Guardians in her dreams; specifically Lucas.

She could still feel the shift of æther as he leapt past her to get to Lucifer. She’d hesitated when confronted with two Infernal Lords, but he hadn’t. Lucas had tried to get to them before they could complete the ritual that was leading to the end of life as humans knew it in Eden. He was a hero for his actions, but that didn’t stop Lucifer from scorching him to ash. She’d never see Lucas again. He’d been wiped from the universe, but most of the Guardians she’d lost in the battle for Charlotte would live again. Only two wouldn’t.

She’d examined that scene along with ætherial forensic specialists to see what had happened. It was easy to find the two points of detonation based on the splatter of Divine ichor, but physical bodies could be reconstituted in Heaven. She wanted to know what happened to their ætherial essence.

“Something ate them,” was the conclusion the specialist came to as they traced the fading path of those Guardians’ æther. There was the metaphysical equivalent of claw marks in the fabric of reality as the angels’ essence fought to escape and eventually failed.

The specialist wondered what could do something like this on not only a physical but a moral level, but Ava already knew the answer to that. A Divine Throne under the control of an Infernal was more than capable of such cruelty. The real question was who was controlling it, and that was something Michael would want to know.

Seere’s throne was unique among objects stolen from Heaven during the Rebellion. The instrument couldn’t be controlled by just anybody. God had specifically tailored it to Seere back when he was a Throne disbursing justice across the realms. It didn’t work for anyone else.

<Is Seere really dead?> She’d asked herself as she surveyed the scene.

Everything pointed to the Infernal being dead and gone. Ava had wounded him, but Lucifer had finished the job. There hadn’t been any sign of the Father of Lies since the battle, but the latest intelligence reports suspected he was consolidating his newfound power in Hell. Maybe the power that was taken from Seere allowed him to manipulate the throne, and eviscerating two guardians certainly was his style.

There were too many unanswered questions and not enough time to figure them out. The forensic specialists had the evidence and were carting it back to Heaven for further tests. Ava would check up on it later. Right now, she needed to focus on her soldiers and the good work they’d done in ridding the city of Infernal influence.

Today was supposed to be a celebration. She was going to present awards to those who’d distinguished themselves in combat. She was going to recognize the bravery of everyone and the fantastic things they’d accomplished. She’d even made sure some libations had made their way to the worthy guardians. After fighting hard they deserved a moment of peace.

That moment was shattered before Ava was even able to give out the second award. A tearing noise echoed through the stadium as a truck-sized cube expanded in the space behind Ava’s makeshift podium. Out of the portal stepped Michael in full armor.

“Ava and Razael, on me. Bartholomew, prepare your troops for deployment, but leave one squad to defend the city.” Michael called out orders without pausing.

<A squad!> Ava didn’t let her shock or frustration show. It had taken over two hundred good soldiers to sweep the city. Now, he was ordering her to leave it in the hands of ten.

She hurried to catch up with Michael’s longer stride. He stopped a good distance away, and made a quick few motions with his hands. Ava recognized the symbol of the power thrown into it. It was a ward against eavesdropping.

“The situation is as follows,” Michael’s tone was grave. “Early today, Gabriel was dispatched to the Amazon Queen in Manhattan to broker an alliance, and if that wasn’t possible, at least a non-aggression pact. The Amazon’s power and influence in this realm if going to be vital to stemming the tide of Infernal advances that are starting to pop up all over the globe.”

Ava didn’t know much about the Amazon’s aside from their skill in hand-to-hand combat and their powers with æther, but she could see their importance in holding Eden.

“Approximately twenty minutes ago, Gabriel and the Infernal Lord Beelzebub engaged each other just outside Central Park.”

“Oh Father.” Ava’s draw dropped. She hadn’t been to Manhattan since the 19th century, but even then that area was crowded.

“Exactly,” Michael nodded. “To make matters worse, the attack was timed with the weakening of the Veil in the area. “Nearly a full legion of Beelzebub’s monsters have made it through the Veil and are advancing into the city. The Dominion of the city is marshalling his forces to respond, but against those numbers millions will die in the collateral damage. We are marshalling all forces on the Eastern Seaboard to rendezvous in the city. Our mission is simple, defeat the Infernals and protect the city. I will assist Gabriel and counter any additional Infernal Lords that try and take advantage of the situation. Ava, you and Razael will take your two companies and secure lower Manhattan starting at the Brooklyn Bridge and back to City Hall. I want defensive wards in place in case you need to execute a fighting retreat.”

Ava worked on processing the information but knew she’d need visuals once they got on the ground. She doubted the city looked anything like she remembered. They were still working on that bridge when she’d last flown over the smoke-filled island.

“We’re hoping to have three battalions of friendly forces on the ground by the time you reach your objective. The main enemy advance looks like is going to come over the Queensborough Bridge, but battalion-sized elements are being dispatched to secure all avenue of approach onto the island. You will have three other Divine Companies in the Lower Manhattan area of operations: two at the Williamsburg Bridge and one covering the Holland Tunnel. Ava, you will have operational command of the five units. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir,” she answered immediately. It didn’t even cross her mind that the number of soldiers she was in charge of had more than doubled.

“You will hold until relieved, but if you cannot hold, then destroy the bridges and tunnels and fall back north to a form a final defensive line at Houston Street.” Ava didn’t like the sound of Michael’s last order. It was always good to prepare for all contingencies, but the was an air of certainty in the way he talked about it that made her feel like they were going to be facing way more than an Infernal Legion.

“Your rear should be secure. Several companies will be holding the right flank of the main defensive line from FDR Drive all the way to Bryant Park. Everything south of 42nd Street to your location should be peaceful. All you should have to deal with are frightened humans.”

<All of the frightened humans in Chelsea, Korea Town, Greenwich Village, the East Village, and  Lower Manhattan,> she named some of the big neighborhoods she knew of offhand. The humans might turn out to be just as big of a problem as the invading Infernal. She knew from experience that scared humans could cause a lot of trouble.

“Are your mission parameters clear?” Michael asked with a tone that said he didn’t expect to repeat himself. There were stress lines on the Archangel’s face, which was never a good indicator.

“Yes, Sir.”

“Good.” Michael waved his hand, the ward dissolved, and the remaining power from it flowed back into the Archangel. With another complex gesture, he created another portal from Charlotte to Manhattan. “The Hand will make your gateway. I can’t spare the strength. Happy hunting.” There was no apology on his face as he stepped through the bend in the fabric of reality and it winked shut behind him.

Ava had never created a gateway before, but the Hand seemed to have a mind of its own. All it required was Ava’s willpower to direct it. It took nearly ten minutes to collect the required power, but Ava successfully created the gateway to their assigned location. It was as wide and tall as an eighteen wheeler, and allowed her two hundred angels to march through ten abreast. Bart went first with the vanguard, and she brought up the rear with Razael. She glanced over her shoulder at the nine guardians being left behind under the command of one of Razael’s cherubim. They all looked upset at being left behind. Ava understood that, but she had a sinking feeling in her gut when the gateway snapped closed behind her.

The personal wielding the power of that throne was still out there, and she didn’t know if that small force could hold the city. The last thing she wanted to do after coming out of another fight between Infernal Lords and Archangels was to fight to retake Charlotte.

She just hoped Michael knew what he was doing.

 

***

 

Michael stepped through the rift he’d created in the fabric of reality. Essentially, he’d folded space together so only a single step separated the stadium in Charlotte from the chaos in Manhattan.  There wasn’t a universal name for this ability. Different angels called it different things: teleporting, traveling, portaling, ripping, rifting, or bending, but not all angels could do it.

God did not create all his children equally. Aether needed to be appropriately rationed out to angels based on their tasks. Guardians did not need to be traveling all over the place when they were essentially garrison troops for a city. For the same reasons, Dominions didn’t need the ability. Select Powers had the talent, but it was based on seniority and how volatile their area of operations was. Thrones were the most common angels with teleporting ability, but it didn’t involve ripping gateways open. Their talents were limited to themselves, and with time and training, might grow to encompass a few others they were in contact with. All Archangels and Seraphim had the ability so they could move large bodies of troops from one place to another, but what most of the troops walking through those gateways didn’t understand was the power it required to make them in the first place.

Like all of the realms created by God and his siblings, they were comprised of æther and metaphysically alive. The æther didn’t appreciate being ripped and folded to make these gateways, so it took considerable strength to open one and keep it open. The bigger it was the more difficult to hold it, and Michael pitied the fool who got caught straddling the divide if it suddenly snapped closed.

Making gateways in the same realm were less difficult than opening one between realms. To cut through the barriers protecting each realm required a massive amount of power, which was why Eden, Heaven, and Hell had been relatively isolated from themselves aside from key moments in history. The current invasion, like the one that Michael helped lead against Cronus, took advantage of a time when the veil between realms was thin or weakened. He could now say with certainty it sucked to be on the receiving end.

Michael stepped through his gateway and immediately smelled smoke and tasted ash. The city was already burning, and it was only going to get worse. When traveling through a gateway like this he couldn’t do it while unsubstantial, so humans screamed in absolute terror as a winged, armored man stepped through a hole from a different part of their world.

An old man fleeing the destruction grabbed his chest, stumbled, and toppled over. Michael reacted on instinct and caught him. This was the end for the man’s soul on Earth. Michael saw that by looking into the man. He’d lived a good life. It wasn’t good enough to gain entrance to Heaven, so his soul would be recycled and reincarnated back into someone new. It was better than being dragged down to Hell, but the look on the man’s face made it look like he thought the last thing he was going to see was the face of the devil.

“It’s ok.” Michael took a moment to comfort the man. His armored helmet retracted to show the dying man he wasn’t talking to a monster. “Everything is going to be alright.” He let a little of his Divine essence show and tears trickled down the man’s cheeks.

Michael gently placed his hand on the man’s chest, wiped away his pain, and let him die in peace. Then, he gently lowered the man onto his back and folded his arms across his chest. <He is not the first and will not be the last. He will be one of many.>

Heaven and Hell would see a boost in their numbers after today, but Michael couldn’t think about that right now. He needed to focus on the mission: killing Beelzebub. If they could take down another Infernal Lord the squabbling that would follow in Hell would allow the Divine Host more time to organize its defense of Eden.

In the midst of the chaos Michael became insubstantial and slipped out of sight. If anything, that made the humans freak out even more, but he put them behind him as he rose into the air and launched himself toward Central Park. It wasn’t hard to miss his target. Beelzebub was a winged monstrosity whose screech was shattering glass while his claws pulverized concrete. He and Gabriel were caught in a deadly dance, and both had dealt critical blows to each other. Michael saw more than on deep gouge in his brother’s armor.

Michael ducked behind a nearby building and began his transformation. He was vulnerable to Beelzebub’s full power while he transitioned into his combat form, so he wanted to wait until he’d gained his full strength before revealing himself.

It kept him hunched behind the building as he exploded upward to his full three-hundred-foot height. His transformation made all the humans around him scatter in fear. Their screams made those present during his gateway arrival look like obedient children.

Thankfully, the area was pretty well evacuated as Michael took his first steps toward engaging Beelzebub. A two-on-one fight between the Infernal and Archangels wasn’t going to last long.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 209

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“That’s the guy.” Coop pointed at the screen with finality.

“Bullshit,” Eve leaned over his shoulder and stared at the image hovering in the air in front of them.

Coop gulped when her breasts brushed his shoulder, but didn’t say or do anything. They were still on rocky ground. Instead, he allowed Eve to reach into the image and manipulate it. She rotated it, zoomed in, zoomed out, and ran a filter to try and enhance the image. All of that only got her the same grainy picture that Coop had started with.

“I still don’t see it.” She leaned back and crossed her arms across her chest.

“What don’t you see?” GYSGT Cunningham walked over to Coop’s station to check in on the other members of Alpha Team.

Coop thought once the SGM wrapped up with their plan to covertly insert, recon, and eliminate the asshats who killed the Gold party VIPs, the SRRT would be kicking down doors and shooting domestic terrorists in the face. Instead, Coop’s ass had been firmly planted in a comfortable chair for the last three hours while they reviewed hours upon hours of footage tracking the bad guys. Coop thought he had something, but no one else seemed to see it.

“Ok, let me put this in terms an idiot could understand.” The statement earned him a glare from Eve, and he instinctually protected the gelcast. “Do you see this here?” Coop had saved an image and opened it for the GYSGT. “This is a GT 2433 Knighthawk XX. I’d be surprised if there were more than fifty of these on the whole planet.” Coop looked to the two women to see the proper awe on their faces, but both just shrugged. “It’s a brand new Gold Technologies model, and they’re saying it’s unhackable. Of course,” Coop furrowed his brow, “nothing is unhackable, it just hasn’t been hacked yet, and I doubt someone planned a hacking of this car during a party that happened on a whim with less than thirty six hours notice.” Coop looked up for more of a reaction, and still got nothing.

“They didn’t get into this car’s systems remotely, so the only way they could have known where the VIPs’ vehicles were heading, due to their randomized security routes, was if they got something physical on the vehicle. That would take access to the parking lot, which was only accessed by the valets, so that’s where I started.”

Coop pulled the images back up. The parking lot used for the VIPs for the party had been an old, hardened bunker. It was big, meant to shelter attack aircraft before PDC shields came into play. The thing was built to take a pounding, but in this instance, they were a problem. They only had an overhead view, and even then, they were getting some glare from one of the moons that was just in the wrong place.

“Ok,” Coop cued up the video. “So I started looking at the valets, and I found a discrepancy.”

“Or so he says,” Eve huffed, and Coop glared back over his shoulder.

“Seriously, look at these two.” Coop played a video of a man jogging in with the motivation of someone who wanted a good tip. Several minutes later, a car drove out, and the car exchanged hands at the valet stand. Coop froze the frame, and loaded two preserved frames. One was the guy running in, and the other was the guy dropping off the car. “See…different guy.”

The GYSGT squinted to get a better look. The two men were dressed in exactly the same clothing, the computer had calculated the man’s height to be the same, within a few centimeters difference, and the face was too pixelated to get a clear image. Both images weren’t clean overhead shots. They relied on light bouncing off other reflective surfaces. The computer could extrapolate from the available data and render images. Those images were different, but they were an eighty-one percent match, which given that this mission was going to involve some heads rolling at the end, probably wasn’t enough to get the brass to sign off on a kill list.

“Maybe.” The GYSGT didn’t commit either way, which didn’t help Eve or Coop one bit. “Still, follow the lead and see if it leads anywhere.” Cunningham walked away to relay the info to the SGM, while Eve sat back down at her own station and got back to work.

For once, Coop did what he was told. He tracked the guy, minute by minute, until the attack, where he ran for his life just like everyone else, but it got interesting when he ran out the front gate and didn’t come back. A vehicle picked him up about half a kilometer from the front gate and drove into the city.

<I’ve got you now…> Coop felt a surge of vindication and triumph for all of two seconds before the car pulled around the side of a familiar establishment. <Oh fuck me.> He easily recognized the bar he’d been at right before the party.

The computer logged everything, so Coop made sure to go about his keystrokes like it was normal. He zoomed out, and resumed his attention on the defense complex in the aftermath of the rocket attack.

“You find anything, Cooper?” The GYSGT asked once Coop shut down his system.

Coop knew he couldn’t lie. Cunningham would double check and catch him, and then his life would be shit, so all he could do was lay it off. “Looks like a dead end, Gunney. Guy hit up a bar after the attack. Hell, I’d have done the same if I didn’t become a human candle.” Coop held up his arm and grinned.

“Ok, get over here.” The Gunney waved to where the rest of the SRRT was gathered around the spook LCDR’s terminal. Coop had been so absorbed in his own shit that he hadn’t seen the huddle up.

“As many of you might have noticed,” the LCDR had already started her briefing. “We could have eliminated all four of the rocket teams surrounding the complex with the QRF, but we let one team slip out before we locked the perimeter down. We did this so we could back track their movements to their headquarters, or at least a weapons cache of some kind where we can confiscate their arsenal and capture any HVTs.”

<Why would they hightail it right back to HQ after killing off the enemy leaders? They live here, they probably know the government has eyes in the sky, so the last thing they would do is expose themselves. I’d be lying low for days after pulling off something like this.>

“We don’t expect them to return to their bosses right away,” the LCDR continued and restored Coop’s confidence in her IQ,” but we’ve had a satellite sitting on them since they hit the city. Right now, they’re in this building and haven’t moved since they got there.”

Coop took one look at the surroundings and knew kicking down that door was going to be a shitshow. It was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There was even a ‘slow down for young children’ holo-sign blinking down the street. He bet if he watched most of the footage, he’d see a bunch of kids going to school and getting on the bus at the corner. On top of that, the house was secure. A three meter barrier wall separated the house’s grounds from the main street. It looked like a common feature for the rich on this planet. There was even a guard post for hired security. The satellite had no line of sight on what was in that small hut, and any attempt to get a different angle was met with tinted glass polymer meant to defeat just this type of surveillance. For all Coop knew, they could have an armored guy with a Buss sitting in that hut.

“We’re going to need surveillance on that building,” the SGM stated.

<Not me.> Coop was on light duty for at least another twenty-four hours due to his injury.

“Alpha Team, you’ve got the detail,” the SGM delegated, and Cunningham nodded.

“Let’s go, Berg, Cooper.” She headed for the exit.

“But…” Coop knew his plead sounded pathetic before it even left his mouth.

“You’re going to be sitting on your ass behind high-powered optics, Cooper. Light duty can’t get any lighter than that,” she interrupted, and gave him a pointed look as she passed that said he better follow.

Coop did, all the way down to the gear lockers the SRRT had on the same level as Argo.
Each team member had a personal walk-in cage filled with the latest and greatest gear. Half the stuff Coop hadn’t even been trained on yet, but the engineers and supply techs had organized everything the same in every cage, and the SGM had told them to keep it that way.

Of course, the GYSGT knew what everything was and where to find it. “Bay Three is the optical gear. Grab the helmet set, the standard binos, and the scope on your far left.”

Coop did as he was told. His V4A LACS sat in its cradle waiting to be taken out for a test drive, and ultimately adjusted, but if experience taught him anything, it was that the brass wasn’t going to sign off on the SRRT using their new LACS on this one. They were going to do this the old-fashioned way.

“Grab the bags on the right, right inside the door, and store your gear.” The GYSGT grabbed one of the thick bags and started to carefully place the expensive gear in it.

Coop followed her example. There were built-in compartments on the inside of the bag. Once he put a piece of equipment inside the compartment seemed to puff out with protective material.

“It’ll also defeat sniffers as long as they don’t have you open the bag. There’s a gel in the lining that contains any chemical signatures and the individual compartments are temperature controlled, so no heat signature.”

Coop looked at the bag and wished he’d had it back when he was smuggling shit onto New Lancashire. It would have saved him hours of programming, and the constant fear of getting busted.

“Weapons are in Bay Four, but nothing miltaryesque. We’re going to be trying to blend in, and we need to take the surroundings into consideration.” The GYSGT was already placing a few things in her bag.

The main cage door required a GIC scan, and the weapons section required secondary verification. Coop immediately saw why. There had to be two dozen weapons and ammunition for all of them in Bay Four. He saw the standard IAW3 and Buss sitting in their cradles, but a whole lot of pistols, smaller submachine guns, and what he swore was a straight-up laser cannon adorned the walls.

<I can’t wait to use that.> He kept the drool in his mouth as he grabbed a pair of pistols, and a stubby submachine gun. The pistols would be good for close quarters, as would the submachine gun, but with a higher rate of fire and more stopping power. He stowed them in the case and watched it inflate to hide and protect the items. He also grabbed a few thousand rounds of ammunition. Just in case.

“Lastly, grab the suits on the left of Bay Five.” The GYSGT unlocked the bay leading to her LACS, but didn’t go for it. Instead, she emerged with some type of black smartcloth and something that looked like plain Dragonscale armor.

“What is this stuff?” Coop held the fabric between his fingers. There was a distinct difference between its material and the CMUs he was wearing.”

“It’s an exo-steel breastplate for protection and SEALs skin.” The GYSGT carefully folded and packed it away. “It was developed for the SEALs. It helps defeat sensors and countermeasures so they can crawl around on a ship’s exterior hull…”

“SEALs do what now?” Coop nearly dropped the way-too-thin fabric. “We’re not going to…”

“We’ll do whatever they ask us to do, Cooper,” the GYSGT stared him down until he nodded and packed the last of his gear. “Get changed fast. Our ride’s waiting out front.” She tossed some civilian smartcloth as him, turned around, and started to strip.

Eve had a little more tact, she at least went into the privacy of her cage before changing, which left Coop staring at the very naked, very toned ass of his team leader. It was one of those ‘I shouldn’t be looking, but I can’t look away’ moments. Even though the GYSGT didn’t swing his way, that didn’t make it any less hot.

“Hustle, Cooper.” The GYSGT seemed to sense him staring, so he retreated to his own cage and quickly changed.

He emerged looking like some mid-level manager who was on his way home for a surprise lunch with the kids. His size, enhanced muscular structure, and gelcast made him stick out like a sore thumb, but at least he was dressed for the part.

Coop followed the two women of Alpha Team up to a van parked in front of the building.

It screamed soccer mom, but the GYSGT didn’t. She screamed MILF that would snap your neck for looking at her the wrong way, and from now on, Coop only had one image of the senior NCO in his head. The rest of the guys in Basic would have given their monthly pay to see that Gunney’s bare ass like he had.

As hard as that was to push out of the forefront of his mind, Coop had to do it. He needed to get his head in the game as the GYSGT drove the van out the back gate, randomly around the outskirts of the city for half an hour, and finally into enemy territory…suburbia.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 208

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“Doesn’t this place have fucking swatters?” Coop fumed.

Sunlight had already peaked over the horizon and two of New Savannah’s three moons had set. The temperature had already crept back up from slightly bearable, to an instant recipe for ass soup, and the lingering chaff in the air around the defense complex wasn’t helping.

“It does.” GYSGT Cunningham stood in front of him. “The S2 section is investigating to see why they were late to this party.”

Coop’s temper didn’t let up, if anything, it intensified. Only some of that had to do with the colossal clusterfuck that had occurred as all the VIPs exited the Gold’s shindig. A few of the VIPs ended up having a blast…literally.

“Those swatters should have been spun up and ready to go. For fuck’s sake, you can put the damn things on auto and just let them sit there to do their job!” For the millionth time, Coop had to resist the urge to scratch a new hole in his arm. One was enough at the moment.

A translucent gelcast, encasing a few liters of blue goo, covered his arm from shoulder to elbow. From what the rest of the team told him, the medics had stabilized him quickly once they arrived and transported him to the complex’s small hospital, which was overrun with much more seriously injured people. A doctor quickly fit him with the cast, poured in the nanite-rich solution, and kicked him out to make room for one of the VIPs whose legs had been crushed. That was fine with Coop. He didn’t want to be there anyway.

The one thing Coop regretted was not taking the drugs the doc offered him. He warned Coop that the itching and irritation of the nanites repairing his damaged tissue would be unpleasant, but Coop shrugged it off. He thought he could take it. Now…he felt like ripping the arm off and beating the swatter operators to death with it.

<If I was all doped up I wouldn’t be able to help catch who did this.> He reminded himself as he bit his tongue and settled with digging his fingernails into the tabletop.

“Intel didn’t know the New Savannah Liberation Movement had that type of ordinance.” SGM Queen announced as he walked into the room with a purposeful stride.

Everyone in the room hopped to their feet as LT Wentworth and LCDR Gold followed. Except for Coop. He just held up his gelcast as his excuse. The two officers didn’t seem like they cared, but the look on GYSGT’s face said she was going to rip him a new asshole when this was all over.

“This is the same intel section that is investigating the swatter fuck up?” Coop asked. “Sounds to me like our lovely S2 section is oh for two today. Maybe someone else should take over so they can get their shit together.”

“Stow it, Cooper.” SSG Hightower and the GYSGT snapped at the same time.

“No, that’s quite alright.” A third officer entered the room with a PAD in hand and LCDR stripes on her CMUs. She quickly waved the SRRT off before they could get to their feet. “As the sergeant so aptly put it, we fucked up.” As she tapped her PAD, screens began to spring to life around the room.

The screens looked like overhead satellite footage of the city. Coop could make out the general shape of the defense complex, along with the number of city parks within the city limits. Judging by the lighting, this was real-time data.

“Ma’am, this is my team. Team, this is ma’am. No other form of address is necessary.” The SGM made the introductions.

<Oh great. A spook.> Coop just couldn’t wait to see how this turned out.

“Good morning…at least for some of you.” Her eyes fell on Coop and his cast, and Coop couldn’t help but glare at the not-so-subtle dig. “It goes without saying that any and all information you receive today is classified.” She waited until getting a nod from everyone in the room before continuing. “New Savannah is a modern planet, with the full resources of the Commonwealth at its disposal. As such, we have an integrated human and signal intelligence network in place. It is standard operating procedure anywhere where we conduct R&D research for the fleet. The various corporations have their own intelligence apparatuses, and they’ve dutifully handed over any intelligence they’ve collected. The result is a comprehensive look at what occurred last night.”

The screens began to blur as they rewound from the live feed, passed a few bright flashes, and finally settled into what Coop assumed was occurring right before the attack. Coop was surprised they caught the whole thing on camera, but then he stopped and really thought about it, and wasn’t surprised at all. When something big ever went down in the PHA the cops always caught who did it. Now it made sense how. They were always watching.

“Gold Technologies scrubbed through their SIGINT of everything happening before and during the party, and found one call that raised a red flag.” The LCDR played a recording of a person, using voice-altering tech, negotiating fees for intel on air-car tracking. The speakers didn’t directly say what they were doing, but hindsight being twenty-twenty after the attack, everything fit.

“We might have caught it earlier, but the node this went through was processing millions of calls, and the speakers weren’t using any of the code words built into the algorithm, so we missed it.”

<Oh for three.> Coop wondered how the LCDR still had a job.

She fast forwarded the video until right before the attack and zoomed in on the area around the defense complex area. “The unknown speaker made their deal with the liberation movement, and they moved people into position here, here, here, and here under cammo netting to completely encircle the complex.” She highlighted a few nondescript locations in red. They looked just like the surrounding environment on the footage, which was what cammo netting was supposed to do.

Coop looked around the room, but no one looked like they were going to ask the obvious question, so he’d have to bite that bullet. “Where’d they get the cammo netting?”

“Stolen off a vehicle disabled in one of the voting booth bombings.” The LCDR answered without missing a beat and moved on.

She fast forwarded a little farther until the first blossom of a shoulder launched surface-to-air missile sprang to life on the holo. “From what we retrieved from the launch sites, we confirmed they were firing Javelin X’s.” A schematic of the weapons system sprang to life in front of them.

HI school had Coop memorizing a lot of different weapons systems. The Javelin X’s had been one of them, and all the stats came flooding back to him. It was an older weapons system, but a favorite of anyone who couldn’t get modern military tech. Its genius lay in its guidance system. It was the first surface-to-air system developed that allowed the firer to target anti-grav waves, which made it great for shooting down anything flying without old-school fuel thrusters. It also had IR targeting, so it could shoot down those with fuel thrusters, and a line of sight option. Weapons had grown a whole lot smarter in the hundred and fifty years since the Javelin X’s production ended, but the Commonwealth had made a lot of the weapons, and many of them had ended up in the wrong hands.

It had a maximum range of thirty kilometers, and a highly explosive warhead that would punch a hole in a Spyder if it was able to hit one. Judging by the short distance the rocket teams fired from, shooting those air cars was like shooting fish in a barrel. Coop had never seen fish in a barrel, but he assumed they were easy to kill.

Coop watched the holos continue playing. The rebels waited until a good number of air-cars were mobile before rapid firing. That was the other beauty of the Javelin X. The multiple payload missiles. A single warhead fired from the launcher, but once it locked onto its target and got within a certain distance, the warhead threw out ten smaller missiles, thus the roman numeral X in the name. The manufacturers of the original design knew it was a constant arms race to keep up with the latest defensive tech, so once the enemy figured out a way to spoof the Javelin X’s systems, the manufacturers wanted to have a backup. That backup was quantity. Point defense, a swatter, or one hell of a pilot was what you needed to get away from those missiles, and judging by what Coop saw on the holos, a lot of the VIPs didn’t have that.

“The liberation movement was smart about it. This was their golden opportunity for a decapitation strike on the planetary government and fleet personnel. They made it count, and they pulled out all the stops.”

Coop watched as an air-car expertly avoided a missile by executing a ninety-degree turn around a building that must have taxed the internal dampeners to the breaking point. Unfortunately, the missile computed that it couldn’t make the same turn and detonated once it cleared the building. The blast didn’t destroy the air-car, but it caused enough damage to the engines that an emergency landing was required, and judging by the video, at least one person was injured.”

The LCDR zoomed back out to the bigger picture where the air-cars were employing their defensive countermeasures. Those countermeasures were fairly effective despite the quantity of threats they had to deal with. Still, Coop saw several air-cars go down as fiery wrecks. He didn’t see the SRRT running for cover on the holos, but he saw the cloud of chaff covering most of the defense complex.

“Casualties?” Lt Wentworth asked.

“As of when I walked in here…fourteen, including the planetary governor, Admiral Danvers with most of his staff, Savannah City’s police commissioner, and several other local politicians and business leaders.”

“Sounds like they completed their mission.” Coop didn’t mean to say it too loud, but everyone in the room picked it up. “I’m just saying…they went for a decapitation strike, and they killed the planet’s political and military leaders. I’d be worried about local defense force ships coming under enemy control now.” Coop’s eyes looked upward. He’d never seen orbital bombardments, and he was eternally grateful for that.

“There were a few scuffles on a few ships,” the LCDR spook answered. “But it doesn’t look like the movement was able to penetrate the crews well. The cops and soldiers on the ground are a different story. We’re already receiving reports that towns, cities, and even an entire province in one case are declaring independence from the Commonwealth.”

“That’s for the local defense forces to handle.” The SGM stepped forward to retake control of the conversation. “What this whole shitstorm gives our team is a golden training opportunity. Lieutenant Commander.” He waved for the officer to continue to play the footage.

After the rocket teams rapid fired their payloads, they scattered. Spyders on alert five, were in the air within a minute and hunting them down. Three of the four teams found themselves on the business end of an air-to-surface missile or a 35mm cannon with explosive shells. However, the fourth team made it to a nearby road, and into a vehicle that hauled ass toward the city despite several occasions when a nearby Spyder could have lit them up.

“Cooper, what did I say our mission parameters as a Splitstream Rapid Response Team were?” The SGM turned on Coop.

“Uh…” Coop quickly searched his memory, “isn’t it sabotage, covert insertion, reconnaissance, and target elimination.”

“Are you asking me a question or is that your answer, Cooper?” The SGM just stood there waiting.

“That’s my answer, Sergeant Major.”

<If I’m wrong, at least I’m answering wrong with confidence.> Coop mentally shrugged and waited to get chewed out.

“Correct.” The SGM turned back to the rest of the team. “We’re going to study this intel, execute a covert insertion, recon the objective, or objectives, and when given the green light, eliminate the targets. Questions?”

Coop had an unrelated question, but he didn’t raise his hand. Everyone in the room looked like they were ready for some payback, and no one wanted to hear him ask where the nearest bathroom was. Getting the guys who’d successfully destabilized the local political and military landscape was a lot more important than the shit Coop needed to take.

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