Hailey’s Tale – Part 2

Hailey didn’t feel the needle being jammed into her neck. Sensation was still working its way into her body when the bag was removed and she was pushed forward. Only instinct saved her from falling flat on her face and breaking her nose. Dust coughed up around her as she smacked shoulder-first into the ground. Other puffs filled the air to her left and right. For a minute, the debris in the air was enough to obscure the weak moonlight trying to peak through the broken windows to her right.

“Get them on their feet,” a harsh voice ordered from the darkness.

Hailey’s mind was still fuzzy, and her vision was off. Her mouth tasted like she’d hadn’t had a drink in three days, and in the meantime, someone had used it as a fart box. She gagged at the taste in her mouth and tried to move her tongue around to create a bit of saliva. That only made the taste worse, and she dry heaved. However long she’d been out, it was enough for her to have an empty stomach.

“Pay attention.” The harsh voice’s command was followed by the soul of flesh hitting flesh. Hailey knew what someone being slapped sounded like, and that one sounded like there was some power behind it. “Good.” Whoever had pissed off the voice was being compliant now.

“Ladies,” the speaker raised the volume of her voice as she strode out to where they all could see her. “It’s time to make a choice.”

Hailey’s vision had cleared enough that she saw other women looking around confused at the statement of the woman who was clearly in charge. Hailey focused on that woman because she didn’t want to get slapped.

Whoever she was, she wasn’t from around here! She wore expensive smartcloth that had conformed into a pant suit. Her hair was the color of rust, and woven into a single braid that wound over her shoulder and nearly down to her waist. She was not beautiful, handsome was a better word, but her body was built for a gravity-heavy world. To the emaciated PHA women, she looked like a god, and the gun hanging from a magnetic shoulder holster only emphasized that.

No one spoke as the woman made her declaration, and it seemed that was the right move. “I’m going to give you an opportunity to prove yourself. An opportunity to make something of yourselves. Each of you was gathered because you can look the part.”

A quick scan by Hailey showed that everyone was reasonably attractive, and if not attractive enough, had natural curves.

“Think of this as an audition. If you pass, I’ll feed you, clothe you, train you, and help you make more money than you ever imagined. Everything you’ve wanted in your lives can be yours. You’ll have power for the first time in your lives. All you have to do is work for it.” She looked around at her audience, whose attention she firmly grasped.  “If you fail, then you have to go.” She snapped her finger, and the door behind her opened up.

Hailey counted as a line of shackled men stumbled into the room. Armed guards guided them, sometimes forcefully, until they were lined up in front of Hailey and her compatriots. The man directly in front of Hailey smelled like piss, which she knew was recent based on the staining of his pants. Most of his teeth were gone, and his gums were blacker than the night around them.

<Junkie.> Hailey knew the look even before a shiver seemed to shake the man from head to toe. <And in withdrawl on top of that.>

“Here’s your test.” The woman stepped back as the armed guards walked down the lines and yanked down the men’s pants. “The first five of you to release these waste of humanities’ bodily fluids gets a private audience with me. The next twenty five get a free ride out of the PHA. The remaining fifteen have to stay here, but you’ll be taken care of. The last five,” her face scowled at anyone who dared be in that grouping. “You’ll be made an example of.”

<What the fuck?!> Hailey knew what the woman was asking. She wanted the fifty women in the room to blow the fifty men in the room to show their aptitude. That confirmed Hailey had been grabbed by black hats and sold into some sex trade bullshit. This always wasn’t the first time she’d been forced to give sexual favors in lieu of something much worse.

Hailey looked at the guy she was supposed to blow and gaged despite herself. She was pretty sure the guy couldn’t get hard if his life depended on it, much less hers. He was a junkie to the core. At some point, he’d stopped being able to find a vein to shoot up with his drug of choice. It showed the man’s true desperation that there were needle marks on his dick. This guy was so hooked on whatever that he’d mutilated himself. There was no way Hailey was going to be able to do what the woman wanted her. There was no way she was every going to get out of the PHA, have money, power, or anything else she wanted in life. She was going to be in the bottom five and made an example of.

Hailey looked left and right to see women going to town on their assigned men with varying levels of experience. They looked desperate, and the guys either looked high or in withdrawal. Whoever the woman was who’d brought them her, she’d clearly scooped from the bottom of the barrel.

Anger bubbled in Hailey’s gut as she saw one woman succeed as a man gasped in pleasure. One of the guards grabbed her and led her over to stand behind their boss. Hailey looked at that woman’s triumphant smile and wanted to bash her face in.

Hailey didn’t do anything she didn’t want to anymore. If she had to die for that, so be it. She wasn’t going to be a part of some psycho’s sick game. She was going to go out on her own terms. <Fuck all you motherfuckers.>

She reached down into her boot and pulled out a serrated bit of metal. The man in front of her was oblivious to the danger as he swayed on his feet. He looked like he was about to collapse. She was surprised he could even stand, but thankful. It would be harder to do what she wanted to do if he was on his ass.

Hailey lashed out with all the speed the PHA had instilled in her. The metal flashed forward and neatly sliced to tip of the guy’s dick off. At first, the guy didn’t do anything. Then, it was like he was waking up from a deep sleep. He opened his eyes, blinked a dozen times as his drug-addled mind tried to make sense of what his body was telling his brain, and then he screamed.

He looked down at his partially-severed appendage, screamed for another second, and then collapsed. Blood continued to spurt from the end like the guy was taking a piss. Hailey had barely barked out a laugh before the guards were on her. One hit her hard from behind, forcing her back onto her face. The second got a hold of her wrist and torqued it to the point she thought it was going to snap. It didn’t, but the metal shiv she’d used to remove a chunks of the junkie’s manhood fell to the floor. The guard scooped it up and secured it, while the second guard wrenched her arms painfully behind her back and hauled her to her feet. Surprisingly, he didn’t take her out back and put one in the back of head like a rabid dog. Instead, he half-dragged, half-carried her to the front of the room to stand by the boss woman and the woman who could apparently win a gold if blowjobs were an Olympic sport. The sucker gave her a look that she’d just sucked on a lemon, while the boss woman just smiled.

“I did just say bodily fluid. I didn’t specify what,” the boss woman said softly enough that only the two victors heard.

If Hailey hadn’t just cut off the junkie’s dick to stay alive, she might have thought it was funny. Instead, she felt a cold shiver pass over her. She still had no idea who this woman was, but it was clear as day she shouldn’t be fucked with.

None of the other woman seemed to take the hint as they continued to work the dicks of the worthless men in front of them. One by one, they finished until only six women remained. All six were crying at this point. None of the men were even hard anymore. Finally, one of the women growled in frustration and bit down…hard. The man screamed, and punched the woman hard in the head with one hand while trying to cover his bleeding dick in another. A loud crack made Hailey jump as a bullet cleanly slid in the back on the man’s head and punched out a much larger hole in the vicinity of his forehead. It was hard to tell, since it was just a mess of brain and bone at this point. Ten more loud cracks echoed as the remaining five women and men were executed by the guards. That left Hailey and the twenty-nine other women standing with the boss woman.

“Everyone look at them.” The boss woman gestured to the men who’d just received various degrees of sexual pleasure.

Hailey took a good look and saw that most of them weren’t too different from the guy she’d refused to suck off. They looked like addicts or other various versions of sketchy individuals. If she was right, Hailey guessed that each of these guys had done something to piss someone powerful off. She just couldn’t guess why getting their rocks off was some type of penance.

“From this point on you will no longer be slave to any man. You will be part of something greater than yourself. You will be expected to work, to earn your keep, but you will be protected. Men will work for you to keep you safe.” The boss woman waved her hand and the room was filled with gunfire.

Nearly a dozen of the forty-five remaining men had their head blasted open before the rest knew what was happening. They tried to scatter, but with their legs restrained, they were only able to waddle a few meters before they caught a bullet. In thirty seconds there were forty five less scum balls in the PHA.

<So it wasn’t penance but a last meal.> Hailey shrugged. She’d seen people die, and even killed a person in self-defense before. She didn’t have any empathy for these assholes.

“Take them. Give them a hot meal, a soft bed to sleep on, and something pretty to wear.” The boss lady ordered, and the guards, turned executioners, gathered up the women and started to lead them out of the room. “Not you.” The boss lady stopped Hailey and the four other women who completed their task first. “You five are with me.”

Hailey didn’t argue. She followed the larger woman out the back door and into a fancy air-limo that cost more than she’d be able to make in five lifetimes. Inside, the subtle nano-fibers conformed to her body. Sweet aromas in the air made her head swim for a second while she adjusted. Then she smelled the booze. Not the shitty distilled crap they made in the depths of the PHA. This smelled like the legit scotch from Scotland province or bourbon from Kentucky sector. Hailey reached for it, but stopped. She looked up to find the boss woman smiling at her. It wasn’t a happy smile. It was a predatory one.

“Feel free.” She waved at the impressive bar that was equipped with snacks.

Hailey greedily snatched at anything within arm’s reach. She didn’t even feel the air-limo lift off the ground and head away from the PHA. If she missed that, she sure as shit missed the guards tossing accelerant on the abandoned building and burning it to the ground to cover their tracks.

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PCS to Eden – Welcome to the Jungle Part 2

<Too many.> Ava grunted as she spun, and sliced clean through a hell creature leaping through the air. It had a contorted human body with limbs three times too long. Its entire head came to a point like a giant beak, with three beady, black eyes on either side of the protrusion. Its hands were long, delicate claws, and the thing had been looking to wrap them around Ava’s throat. It wouldn’t have worked even if the thing succeeded, and now its bisected remains fell into the burning fire encircling her.

Ava had started the defense of the city as part of the quick reaction force. Her job was to fly from besieged guardian to besieged guardian and help thin the enemies ranks, but as more enemies started to pour through, she found herself more firmly rooted to the defense of their main artery: the bridge. Her time distortion field had failed ten minutes ago when a powerful creature blasted through it. She’d summarily killed the heavily-armored avian man, but it was too late to get another one into place. Everything had descended into madness.

The guardians were islands in this sea of madness as their defensive circles helped protect them as they cut down scores of the enemy. <Where are they all coming from?> Ava wanted to hit them at the source, but she didn’t have a second to think.

Twin helixes of Divine fire spun around her to form a barrier of flame that the enemy had to penetrate to fight her. She watched as one creature stuck its clawed hand forward and lost it as the fire swept through. It reared back, clutching its charred stump, while the flesh from the elbow down plopped onto the bridge. At this point, she couldn’t see where the bodies ended and the bridge began. There was way more than a legion of enemy troops on the field of battle.

A snake-man-bird slithered its way through the fiery barrier and flung itself at Ava’s turned back. She felt the heavy impact of the creature and immediately pivoted. The force of her turn, coupled with the creature’s inability to get a claw into the groove of her armor, sent it flying. It hit another hell creature as it dodged the swirling fire, and both went careening backwards into the passing flames. The shrieks were drowned out by the roar of the enemy forces pushing forward.

“Back to back!” she ordered.

The order was relayed from guardian to guardian until their whole perimeter began to change. Fighting back to back was an old tradition. Two guardians would team up, link their defensive circles, and cover each other. It was designed for just these times when they were numerically overwhelmed, but the tactic had its downsides. First and foremost, it opened up the perimeter more. Holes started to appear as guardians moved into their new positions. Most of Beelzebub’s creatures continued to focus on the twenty-to-thirty foot guardians, but a few began to sneak through and into the panicking city.

“Bart!” Ava only had to yell his name.

Brilliant lances of light slashed through the air at Infernals trying to sneak through the perimeter. The display of power was a little too close to what Lucifer could do for Ava’s taste, but The Father of Lies wasn’t the only angel that her Father had created that could gather the power of light, intensify it, and use it to defeat their enemies.

The humans were even getting involved. Ava sensed them on rooftops nearby. Police officers dressed in black tactical gear were taking up positions well away from the battling guardians and Infernals. Just about every sniper in lower Manhattan was starting to take pot shots at the Infernals. They learned quickly to aim for the unarmored portions of the smaller creatures. After a few minutes, the crack of bullets was soon accompanied by the screams of the injured beasts. It was music to Ava’s ears.

Still, it wasn’t going to be enough. Quantity was a quality all its own, and the Infernals had the numbers. She was about to redeploy some of the other Divine units under her command when the ground shook dangerously beneath her feat. She kept her balance by throwing her wings out to either side, but the Infernals weren’t as lucky, and she took full advantage of that. A pulse of power went out from her, and her swirling, defensive fire exploded outward. The weaker beasts were incinerated outright, while the stronger were seriously burned. Its true purpose was to push back the tide of Infernals enough for her to bring her Hand of God to bear.

She used the power to do two things. First she blasted a path through the Infernals still storming the bridge. Hundreds were turned to ash as the focus æther burned through them. Second, she threw up a second time distortion barrier between her and the regrouping creatures. It was weaker than the first, and wouldn’t last as long, but it would allow her to reposition and help her besieged soldiers.

A second rumble went through the ground, and this time she had to grab the metal support of the bridge to steady herself. <What in the name of…?>

“Incoming from the river!” Bart warned from his higher vantage point.

Ava was already using the side of the bridge for support, so she took her eyes off the regrouping Infernals and peered into the murky waters of the East River. Normally, the water flowed out from the river, into the Upper Bay, down to the Lower Bay, and finally out into the Atlantic. That had all changed. The water had reversed direction and was moving up the East River toward Roosevelt Island and the Central Park area.

It was tough to make out with all the smoke and ash from the charred Infernals she’d just barbequed, but she caught sight of a dark shape beneath the surface.

“What is…? She never got to finish.

A scaled tail, twice as thick, and twice as long as Ava lashed out of the water and made contact with the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge that had stood for over a century didn’t even resist. The tale cut through it like it was made of tissue paper. Brick, mortar, and Infernals plunged into the water as the tail slid back beneath the surface like it had never even been there.

“Pass the word to all units to the north east of us. They’ve got something heading their way.” Ava knew the message was redundant. The commanders of the other units were going to see the new arrival for themselves in a second. The question was…what was it, and was it hostile?

Whatever it was, it had just changed the paradigm of Ava’s fight. With the bridge severed, and something big moving through the river, the Infernal forces avenue of approach had been severed. They wouldn’t be able to use the Brooklyn Bridge to cross into Manhattan unless they could fly, and despite being the minions of the Lord of All that Flies, not all of their wings worked.

“Bart, mop up the rest of the Infernals here,” she ordered. “I’m repositioning to the Manhattan Bridge. The enemy is going to try and get around us now.” She had forces in place there, but they were thinner than the center of her line. “Once the enemy is dealt with, shift your troops to the north east.” She was worried about the enemy taking the bridge and then rolling up the Lower East Side as they moved to link up with Infernal Legions pushing toward the city from New Jersey. If they got in the rear of the Divine units holding those lines, the defense of the entire island could collapse.

Ava jumped into the air, gave a few beats of her powerful wings, and was airborne. She scanned the sky and saw airborne units of the Divine Host and Beelzebub’s legion duking it out down in Brooklyn and even over in Jersey City. But that wasn’t what caught her eye. What immediately drew her attention was rising out of the water beside the United Nations Headquarters.

The sight stabbed cold fear into her gut. It was like a monster rising from the depths of an old, dark story. One by one, giant, clawed, reptilian feet emerged from the river and planted themselves at the rear of the eighteen acre complex where 193 nations conducted international diplomacy. The giant creature didn’t know or care what the building represented to humanity as all three hundred feet of it rose from the river and pushed ashore.

Its four, thick legs connected to a bulky torso that looked out of time in the urban landscape. It was reptilian and covered in black-gray scales that seemed to drink in the sunlight that was being blotted out by the growing fires and destruction of the city. Sticking out from the scales were boney-white spikes across its back and down its legs. The last thing to emerge from the river was its hundred foot tail, which was also spiked, and ended in a spike-covered ball thirty feet across.

Ava hadn’t been around to see the dinosaurs created by the Primordial who crafted Eden, but this giant looked like it was cut from the same cloth. Ava hovered in the air to the south of it as it shook off the river water. Droplets were thrown from its giant hide with enough force that they broke glass on the UN HQ. The creature gave its giant head an extra shake. The scales were thicker and more numerous around the neck, which caused it to flare out slightly.

She made sure to maintain a safe distance as she circled the newcomer, but it ignored her. It seemed pulled in the direction of Central Park, and after shaking away the water, continued on a least-time path to its destination; which took it directly through Midtown. The UN building survived the creatures lumbering advance, but the Visitor’s Center didn’t. One of its giant, clawed feet crashed down right through the roof. It continued forward as it pulled the foot back up, so it exited the building at an angle and caused even more destruction. That didn’t slow it down. As it moved steadily forward, Ava wasn’t sure anything would slow it down. At three hundred feet tall, down on four legs, and four-to-five hundred feet long, including its tail, it was the biggest creature Ava had ever seen. Even Michael would be dwarfed if the thing went up on its hind legs.

Ava was rarely at a loss for how to proceed, but this was a new one for her. All she could do was let Michael know what was coming, and hope he could take the thing. If he couldn’t, New York was going to become a boneyard of humanity, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

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Hailey’s Tale – Part 1

Hailey Marshall

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Take care of yourself.” She saw Coop hesitate before leaning in for a final kiss. It wasn’t as passionate as the ones from the previous night. There was a finality to this one. It was a goodbye kiss.

Deep down Hailey Marshall knew she would never see Mark Cooper again. He was going off to be a space marine like in the holos. He’d fight the evil Eastern Block across the galaxy, maybe get lucky and live to retirement, but most likely, he’d die on some shithole, partially-terraformed world. She didn’t want that for Coop. Not after all they’d been through together.

Coop wasn’t her boyfriend. That was just a term that corporations wrote on greeting cards and put in holos to moisten tween’s panties in the burbs. Hailey knew it was all bullshit. Coop was a friend who happened to be a boy. He protected her from the dumber assholes who tried to grab her ass or do worse, and she protected him from the whores whose snatch would rot his dick off, or wanted him to put a baby in them so they could get the extra BSA calories. It was a fucked up world, but they made a great team as they trudged through all the shit. They looked out for each other. Sure, the sex was awesome, but that was the cherry on top, not the cake.

Coop pulled away from the kiss, turned, and walked away without looking back. She tried to will the tears away, but they came anyway. She worried about him. Coop knew his way around the PHA, but the outside world was a whole different beast. She knew he was going to fall flat on his face like a newborn baby trying to walk for the first time, and he was stubborn enough to keep falling on his face until he couldn’t get back up. She admired that persistence. She just hoped it didn’t get him killed.

More important than her worry for Coop, was the unknown of what her own future held. She spun the six shooter in her hand, counted the three homemade rounds for the fifth time, and then snapped it closed. It made a satisfying click, and she stuck the gun in the back of her pants. The cold steel sent a comforting shiver up her spine. That was about the only good thing she had going for her. Coop might have talked to Jimmy up on eighteen, but Jimmy was a pussy. He’d fold the first time someone stuck a blade in his face.

She heard something mumbled through the thin polyplast wall. Coop was giving the final finger to his dad. That was something she regretted she couldn’t fix. Walter Cooper was a complicated man. He’d abandoned his son to secure their tower from the roving gangs, cartels, cops, and other insidious institutions that battled for control of the PHA streets. Coop never realized how lucky he had it living in a protected tower.

A dark memory rose to the surface. It was the middle of the night, and she awoke when a loud bang echoed through her apartment. She was only six, but she knew what the bang and vibration of her door getting kicked open felt like. She didn’t see her father rush out of the room, but she heard the stranger yell at him. Her father always told her to hide under the bed if she heard yelling, so that’s what she did. Someone else yelled, and then Hailey’s door was thrown open. Her mother rushed in with a look of terror on her face.

She opened her mouth to yell something, but then her body jerked spastically, her eyes rolled into the back of her head, and she collapsed to the floor. She hit hard without trying to stop her fall. A new shadow fell across the room, highlighted by the moonlight coming in from the window in the hall. She didn’t see who it was, but she’d never forget the smell on the person. It was body odor mixed with some toxic chemical concoction. It made her want to vomit, but she forced herself to swallow. If she gagged, it would only alert the attacker to her presence. She stared into her mom’s unconscious face before someone grabbed the unconscious woman’s leg and dragged her from the room.

Hailey was too young to know what happened next, but when she was old enough to figure it out, she wanted to hunt down those fuckers and cut their balls off. It was the least they deserved. Coop had never had to deal with the constant fear of being attacked during the night, raped, and he had his dad to thank for that.

The door slammed, and Walter’s laugh, brought Hailey back to reality. <He’s gone.> She took a deep breath, wiped away her tears, and put all the memories of her former friend, co-conspirator, and lover in a box in the back of her mind. She sealed it tight, placed it right beside the memory of the home invasion, and locked it all away.

<Suck it up,> she told herself before heading out of Coop’s barren room and into the rest of the apartment. Like Coop, she doubted she’d be here again any time soon.

Walter stood in the hallway staring at the closed front door. He looked so much like Coop had only thirty seconds ago, when Coop hesitated before the goodbye kiss, that she had to stifle a smile. Walter sensed her presence and turned to her, smothering the emotion on his face.

“He told me to look after you or he’d cut my balls off,” Walter shrugged as he returned to his chair in front of the family room’s holoscreen.

“I can take care of myself,” she replied defiantly.

“Sure you can.” Walter waved over his shoulder nonchalantly. She wasn’t sure if he agreed with her, or was mocking her. “But do me a favor and go see Jimmy. If you don’t, he’ll bug the shit out of me.”

She rolled her eyes, but agreed. Despite Walter and Coop’s complicated relationship, she’d always gotten along just fine with him. Plus, any favor she could call in was worth its weight in gold. Despite her boast, without Coop watching her back she felt more vulnerable than she had in years.

That reality became even clearer as she rode the elevator up to the eighteenth floor. Men watched her out of the corner of their eyes. Hailey knew she looked good for a PHA Rat, and tried to keep it that way. She was too skinny, but who wasn’t in the PHA. She meticulously maintained her platinum blonde cornrows. Not only did it give her a more exotic look, but it didn’t let bitches tear out chunks of her hair if she got in a brawl. Usually that didn’t matter because she was fast and knew how to fight, but now wasn’t a time to take chances. She kept her hand behind her back and on the handle of the pistol until she reached her floor. She disembarked without incident.

She breathed a sigh of relief in from her mask as she walked to Jimmy’s apartment. <Coop is gone for ten minutes and I’m already paranoid.> Experience told her paranoia kept people alive.

She knocked loudly on Jimmy’s door. Coop’s big friend must have been waiting just inside, because the seal’s deactivated with a hiss, and a rush of fresh air escaped as he immediately opened up. Hailey hurried inside, but not because she wanted to be with the big man, but because she didn’t want to waste the good air. Clean air was expensive in the PHA.

“Uh…hey, Hailey.” Jimmy was ten centimeters taller, and ten kilos heavier, than Coop.  He tried to lean casually against the door frame, but misjudged the distance. He stumbled when his elbow slipped off the lip of metal and clanged into the door with a dull thud. He tried to hide the pain as it shot up and down his arm, but failed miserably.

Hailey tried really hard not to roll her eyes. “Just because Coop wanted you to look out for me doesn’t mean I need your help!” she spat. Her emotions were still raw from Coop’s goodbye, her flashback, and the short conversation with Walter. “I can take care of myself, so don’t try anything. I’m not some slut who’s going to fawn all over you because you’re a big, strong man. Don’t expect me to suck or fuck you. If you do, I’ll make you less of a man if you know what I mean.”

Jimmy gulped as he reached up and adjusted his glasses. “Yeah…no…I mean yes…I mean, I know you can handle yourself. I’ve just got your back.” He held up his hands in a placating gesture.

<That’s what I’m afraid of.> Hailey could see it in the way Jimmy held himself, the way his eyes widened when someone started yelling, or his clumsiness when she first entered. He was a soft soul.

There wasn’t anything wrong with that, and maybe in another life it would have been a good thing, but this was the PHA, and an attitude like that could get you killed. <Still, if it comes down to it. It’s better to have two bodies instead of one, and even better when that second body can’t run as fast as me. At the very least he’ll provide a distraction while I escape.> Hailey didn’t feel nearly as bad about that thought as she should have. Unlike Jimmy, her soul was cold and full of scars.

 

2 Month’s later

 

<Stupid, Hailey…stupid…stupid!> Her breath came in staggered waves as she sprinted down the deserted street. Or at least they seemed deserted.

It all started with a stroke of good fortune. Jimmy was walking Hailey back from getting their weekly BSA rations. They’d been casually living together for a couple of months. Jimmy might be a pussy, but he was a good roommate. She could feel his eyes linger on her a moment too long, and she could immediately tell when the poor guy had blue balls, but to his credit, he hadn’t tried anything. He was actually a nice guy. She should have listened to him.

They took a shortcut on the way home. It was an uncharacteristically sunny day. The cold and shadows had been driven back for the moment and with it some of the gangs. She knew for a fact the concealed hole in the side of the abandoned building was rarely used, and apparently, someone had the same idea as her. The air duct was big enough that she could walk in hunched over, and with the light piercing in through the rusted-through metal, she could see clearly down its length. The bundle in a brown duffle bag wasn’t something you saw in abandoned air duct every day, especially when it was filled with high-grade pharmaceuticals.

Jimmy said to leave it, but she didn’t listen. She wanted to live on something other than scraps. She wanted to take a shower with actual water instead of scalding air. She wanted to take a ride in an air-car instead of crawling through an abandoned building’s HVAC system.

Her wants got the best of her. She should have known it was a dead drop for some powerful people. Selling stolen merchandise, especially when she didn’t know who it’d been stolen from, wasn’t her strong suit. Just like avoiding an ambush when trying to sell the merchandise wasn’t Jimmy’s.

Hailey’s old, horrible thoughts about him being nothing but a sack of meat that facilitated her escape became a reality. Neither of them had heard or seen the woman that emerged from the shadows of the meeting location. The first indication Hailey had that something was happening was when the tip of a blade erupted from Jimmy’s chest, and his head exploded in a mess of bone, blood, and brains. It hadn’t been necessary to shoot Jimmy in the head after impaling him, but whoever this was decided to send a message. Hailey didn’t wait around to see what the assassin had in store for her.

Hailey’s legs burned with lactic acid as she fled. <There!> She spotted an alley, and took the ninety-degree turn at full speed. She ricocheted off the far wall with her bare shoulder, scraped a few layers of skin off, which drew a steady trickle of blood. She’d feel it tomorrow, but she ignored the pain. There would be no more tomorrow if the assassin caught her.

She didn’t stop to listen for the assassin’s approach. She hadn’t heard her before when she’d been paying attention. So Hailey doubted she would hear her now with her heart pounding like a bass drum in her ears. She ran down the alley and didn’t look back. The building on her right was partially collapsed. This was an abandoned factory district, back from when Buffalo’s economic fortunes had turned around in the early twenty-first century. Now, it was a dilapidated wasteland, but it was a great place to hide.

The alley ahead of her came to an abrupt end. A sheet-metal wall of the factory on the right had collapsed. Jagged metal barred her way, except for a small opening near the bottom. Hailey didn’t even slow down as she doze forward into the small hole. She felt the sharp edges cut into her clothes and flesh, but she scrambled forward. She sliced the palms of her hands and scuffed up her knees as she crawled. After fifteen meters, she emerged out of the other side safe and alive…for now.

<I need to get home!> she thought frantically, as she pressed her bleeding hands into her shirt.

She took a cautious look over her shoulder and found nothing. She turned back around and expected to see the assassin standing right in front of her with a pistol pointed between her eyes, and a blade ready to plunge into her heart…but again she saw nothing.

<Maybe this was my lucky break, not the duffle bag.> There were tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of narcotics in that bag, and she hadn’t given it a second thought when she fled. Someone clearly wanted the drugs more than her, and she was fine with that.

She looked around to gauge her position and knew she was lost, so she pointed herself east and started walking. It was nearly dark by the time she came within sight of her tower. It was that ominous time between light and dark when the real evil started to emerge. That’s how her momma always described it. In reality, the cops were undergoing a shift change so there were fewer of them on the streets. With the light going down, and the resulting diminished visibility, those with nefarious evening plans were getting prepared. Those people who just wanted to live their lives were busy getting inside before the second group got their act together and the first group came back out in force. What that left were quiet but mean streets, and it wasn’t somewhere that an attractive, wounded woman wanted to be.

<Almost there.> Hailey had been motivating herself for hours as she navigated the familiar and unfamiliar portions of the PHA. She was tired, hungry, frazzled, and she just wanted to get home. Although, Jimmy’s apartment wasn’t going to be home.

The cops might have not found the body yet, but if they did, the access code to his apartment would be suspended pending an investigation that would ultimately lead to someone new taking the room. That left Hailey homeless. She couldn’t go back to her parents. Mom was a junky and dad was in jail last time she checked, which only left one real option.

Walter Cooper said he’d keep an eye on her. It was time to see if that leant itself to the hospitality of his home now that Coop was off doing whatever. If he did, that was great. If not, at least she was still in the tower and had twenty-four hours to figure out her next move.

She came to the intersection a block away from the tower and stopped. She pressed herself close to the wall and looked around the corner. She saw nothing. It looked safe to cross, but she still gave it a minute. If someone had been tracking her they could have timed her crossing the intersection. Waiting a minute was going to throw that off and reveal them.

She waited sixty seconds and nothing happened. At a sprint she ran across the intersection half expecting gunfire to cut her down. The assassin was still out there. Just because Hailey couldn’t see her didn’t mean she wasn’t lurking.

Nothing reached out to end her life, and Hailey slammed into a wall on the other side. Her heart threatened to beat out of her chest, and her blood sounded like Niagara Falls in her ears. <But I’m almost there.> She could see the outline of the guards protecting the entrance to the tower. They had weapons slung and eyes scanning the area. Soon they’d see her coming, and if she was lucky, recognize her and come to help. She just needed to get closer.

She took a few steps forward and then everything went black. It was like someone had pulled something down over her eyes. Something synched tight around her neck, <That’s exactly what happened!> Panic flooded her mind, but she resisted it. She knew exactly what was happening.

They were called Black Hats. Hailey didn’t know how they got the name. It could have been that at some point they wore black hats, but it was probably a reference to the black bags they put over their victims’ heads. Bags that were filled with powerful sedatives, which was why she clamped her mouth closed and threw a vicious elbow in the direction she thought the man was. She aimed low.

There was a grunt as her elbow made contact with flesh. She knew she’d hit her target, because she could feel the person’s legs with her elbow and tricep, but it didn’t result in the satisfying scream a man gave when you hit him in the nuts.

<They aren’t all men?> She tried to control her fear, but it surprised her.

Black Hats were the middle men to the various criminal enterprises that recruited in the PHA. By “recruitment” she meant kidnapping and selling into slavery. You’d think slavery would be gone in the 25th century, but you’d be wrong. It wasn’t based on race or any of the other traditional factors. It was about the strong using the weak to do shit they didn’t want to do themselves, or have to pay others to do. There was no better place to get slaves than from a place no one would miss them, and where the cops wouldn’t really investigate.

Hailey always thought of it as a man’s job, since the sex trade was the big draw for PHA girls, but apparently women participated as well.

Hailey’s lungs started to burn as she continued to throw elbows at her attackers. She figured out it was plural when the bag around her neck tightened after she’d hit the black hatter right in the snatch. She lashed out with her feet and hit nothing. She reached behind her to claw at the person’s eyes, but they deftly avoided her. She struggled with everything she had, but she couldn’t do the thing that would have helped her the most…screamed.

A fist slammed into her gut like a battering ram and forced the last trickle of air from her lungs. Hailey’s body didn’t have a choice but to involuntarily respond. She gulped in a big helping of air, and felt the drugs hit her body immediately. Her limbs went limp, and all the struggle went out of her.

Even her thoughts became fuzzy and incoherent. <Fuuuuuuck,> was that last thing she could think before the pseudo darkness of the hood became the blackness of unconsciousness.

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PCS to Eden – Welcome to the Jungle Part 1

The building shielded Michael as he swelled. His armor grew while he was hunched behind the evacuated apartments near Central Park. The ground rumbled beneath him as Beelzebub and Gabriel continued to pummel each other close by.

<Hold on.> Michael focused on the power swelling inside him. Once he joined the fray, Beelzebub’s time would be short lived. Either he’d have to retreat and leave his legions, or die here in a foreign realm.

Beelzebub was a creature born of Hell and the Primordial being that created it. Thus, Michael had no love for the creature. It wasn’t a fallen angel that Michael had once fought beside. It was a creature of pain, terror, torture, and loss. Any reservations or respect that Michael had for his fallen brothers didn’t extend to the Lord of All that Flies.

Michael’s transformation into his combat form topped out at three hundred feet. Even down on one knee and huddled into a ball, you could still see his armor peeking out over the top of the building. Luckily, Beelzebub was too busy dealing with Gabriel to notice. Like any good tactician, Michael surveyed the battlefield before blindly jumping into the fray. His eyes swept the park, which was now deserted, and didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Still, the single pass didn’t seem right. There was something off-putting that he just couldn’t put his finger on. He almost ignored it because it was on the opposite side of the park from the battling giants, but he went with his gut.

With a single chant and a small expense of power Michael’s vision flashed through the various human and ætherial spectrums. He looked for anything out of the ordinary, anything that would signify some Infernal manipulation. It might even be the rift torn through the Veil that Beelzebub used to arrive here. Admittedly, Michael’s knowledge of his Infernal enemy was limited, but he didn’t recall the Lord’s ability to traverse through realms like he could. Beelzebub was built to be a brawler, which was exactly what he was doing.

<Something doesn’t smell right.> Michael wasn’t thinking about the aromas of destruction surrounding him.

This whole attack simply didn’t fit Beelzebub’s profile. All reports said the Infernal Lord was content with duking it out in Hell for all eternity. All he wanted was chaos and combat. Sure, coming to Earth gave him a new battlefield and enemies to compete with, but he’d never been onboard with Satan’s plan to conquer Heaven. Beelzebub didn’t covet something he’d never seen, or a place he’d never been.

<There!> Michael spotted it, just as Beelzebub lunged and tackled Gabriel. They went sprawling and hacking at each other as they crashed through Belvedere Castle and into Turtle Pond. The water steamed and evaporated from the heat created by the force of their blows.

Michael almost sprang to the rescue, but movement caught his eye. Something else was in the park. It was cloaked, and difficult to see in even the most obscure ætherial frequencies, but it was there. As Gabriel and Beelzebub struggled back to their feet, flinging water across the park, the thing repositioned.

<Sorry, Brother.> Michael remained insubstantial as stayed low and scurried away from the fight. He planned to flank the newcomer and come at him from the side. Best case scenario, he caught the thing by surprise and defeated it quickly. Worst case scenario, well…the worst case scenario was always that he died and didn’t have enough æther left to be reconstituted in Heaven, but that was a part of the job. Either way, he’d be flushing out the mysterious party in this equation.

Michael moved quick and used the city as cover. He had no idea if the stranger could see him in his insubstantial form, so he played it safe. He still slid through a few buildings when the opportunity presented itself to get there quicker. Humans said they felt a sense of peace wash over then when an angel passed through them like this. If that was true, everyone was having a sudden burst of ‘everything’s going to be all right’ right in the middle of this madness.

It didn’t take long to move into position, but both Beelzebub and Gabriel were dripping blood from deep and shallow wounds by the time he was ready. The distortion in the æther hadn’t moved since its first repositioning, so Michael felt safe to attack. He burst through a building and went substantial just as he reached the other side. His sword slashed through the air in a blur toward his target, and…

A brilliant flash of light nearly blinded Michael. He instinctually threw himself to the side, and that saved him. He felt the heat and power of something pass close by, as spots swarmed his vision. He blinked quickly to get his vision back as he went into a combat roll and came up with a conjured shield between him and the enemy. The shield wouldn’t last long, but it would stop another attack long enough for Michael to get back on his feet.

“Practicing our acrobatics, brother.” A new voice cut through the mayhem.

<Of course.> Michael dispersed the shield and reabsorbed some of the remaining æther as he got to his feet to face the new combatant.

Standing in place of the slight distortion was Lucifer, Father of Lies, The Morning Star; but he was different. He was taller, broader, and closer to Michael and Satan’s weight class than his previous combat form. Michael quickly figured out why.

“Do you feel good about stabbing our little brother in the back all for a little more æther?” Michael stood ready to fight, but casual enough to relay to Lucifer that he was willing to talk.

Lucifer frowned at the question and simply shrugged. “All for the greater good.”

“And that?” Michael pointed behind them.

Lucifer’s energy blast, which stopped Michael’s attack dead in its tracks, had still needed to go somewhere. The building directly behind Michael had a fifty-foot hole in its center. The blast had clearly incinerated important structural components because it was literally starting to implode. Floor by floor, the building folded inward on itself until it completely collapsed. Despite the evacuation, Michael still sensed human lives being snuffed out. Michael felt the rumbling of more buildings collapsing in the wake of the first one. He’d felt the heat and power of that blast. He wouldn’t be surprised if Lucifer’s attack hadn’t gone all the way through the city before burning a hole through the Hudson River and into the planet’s bedrock.

“You dodged. I was just trying to hit you, Michael, so feel free to pile all those lives on your conscience.” Lucifer smiled, and Michael remembered immediately how much a dick he could be.

“Why are you here?” Michael knew he’d feel responsible for all those deaths, but right now he had to keep his mind clear and focused on the dangerous Infernal in front of him.

“I’m just out for a stroll, a little fresh air, and taking my mutt for a walk.” Lucifer gestured to Beelzebub, who had Gabriel pinned and was trying to ram his serrated beak through the Archangel’s helmet and into his head. Despite his best efforts, Gabriel deftly avoided every strike.

“So you made the Amazon’s arrange this? Why?” Michael’s grip tightened on his sword and the æther flexed around him.

“Have you ever tried to make the Amazon’s do anything, Michael?” Lucifer tisked and wagged his finger. “They were more than happy to arrange a battle royale between us and you.”

“You didn’t answer my second question. Why? Why do all of this?” Michael could feel his own rage building.

“Your aren’t this naïve, are you?” Lucifer actually looked at Michael like he felt sorry for him. “Can you serious not see how the rest of the elder races see our pompous asshat of a Father?” Lucifer’s assessment of Michael’s facial expression confirmed it. “Good old Dad might have it all wrapped up in a pretty bow upstairs, but he’s royally fucked up the rest of the realms.” Lucifer laid into God. “To start, he took over this realm, killed it’s Primordial, and subjugated the strong in favor of the weak. He’s had the Amazons living on scraps for the last thousand years, so it isn’t a surprise they’re going to lash out. Then there are us Infernals, driven from Heaven for disagreeing with his will. All he wants you to do is toe the party line, and if not, he burns that bridge with fire and brimstone.”

Michael knew it was more complicated than that, but he let Lucifer monologue. Gabriel seemed to be gaining the upper hand. If he could finish Beelzebub, then it would still be two-on-one, just this time against The Morning Star.

“Dad might think he’s playing the long game, but he’s burned and awful lot of bridges, and now people are pissed. The Veil is coming down, and the Infernals are coming to town. You’re scrambling to find allies of former enemies, but immortality leads to long memories. You aren’t going to find any, Michael. You’re going to find all the Infernal and elder races allied against you for once. So go fly home to Dad and tell him his days are numbered; because we’re coming for him.”  Lucifer spread his wings wide as they burned bright in preparation for another attack…

The ground moaned and lurched. Even at three hundred feet Michael stumbled. Lucifer did the same, and his shot went high and to the right. It steaked through the atmosphere and off into space; taking a lot of space junk and a few active satellites with it. It also disrupted Gabriel’s hold on Beelzebub. The feathery Infernal was able to get his taloned feet under the Archangel and launch him off. Gabriel landed hard against an apartment building on the edge of the park, which shattered on impact. The Archangel was slow to get to his feet, but so was Beelzebub.

“Michael!” Gabriel panted as he limped over to him. Beelzebub mirrored the move with Lucifer. “What was that?”

The whole island of Manhattan seemed to groan in protest as it shifted. All of the combatants present with wings flared them out to maintain their balance as an earthquake struck city.

“You hit something?” Michael accused Lucifer.

The look on the Infernal Lord’s face said he had no idea what Michael was talking about.

“No.” A voice amplified by the æther announced as light swirled and condensed into an image Michael didn’t recognize.

“Great Queen.” Gabriel picked up the diplomatic slack, but his voice didn’t hold any of its usual flair. “You lied.”

“I did no such thing.” The Amazon Queen feigned shock, but no one bought it, there was too much excitement on her face. “I said you could duel for our allegiance, and as far as I can tell that has ended in a draw, so we own allegiance to no one.”

“How about I burn down your house around you and we’ll see who you want to ally with?” Lucifer chimed in as his wings grew bright again.

“I don’t think so.” Despite the threat, Hippolyta was still smiling. “You’re going to have your hands full in a second.” With that said, her floating visage vanished as another rumble shook the city.

Steel groaned as buildings unused to earthquakes failed to ride out the turbulent energy. Many fell like dominos into one another. Michael couldn’t even hear the screams of the dying as an exodus of souls headed to Heaven, Hell, and back into the reincarnation cycle.

<This is a massacre.>Charlotte had been bad, but this was one of the world’s most prominent cities being torn to pieces.

If there was any question before, there wasn’t now. This was Armageddon, the end of days.

<And it looks like someone else if throwing their hat in the ring.>Michael followed the widening eyes of Lucifer and Beelzebub to look behind him.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 216

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

Coop stepped through the rotating door and had to give his eyes a moment to adjust. The street, despite being night time, was brightly lit. Half of that was due to the moons in the sky, while the other half were the street lights blazing. The only difference between night and day was that the humidity had been cut in half. The owners of the Oasis must have had a keen sense of the environment outside, because the inside of their establishment was dimly lit and intimate.

As the door rotated shut behind Coop and Mike, the hustle and bustle of the outside world was abruptly cut off. Inside, it was replaced with the sounds of trickling water, laughter, and soothing tones. Coop felt his tense shoulders instinctually relax, as pleasant aromas wafted through the air around him. They added to the relaxation, while at the same time giving him a half-chub.

<That’s a solid business plan,> he thought as he took a few more steps inside the building. <Get your clientele horny right off the bat and you know they’ll pay.>

Coop only made it a few steps before another man, not as big as the bouncers outside, but infinitely better dressed, blocked their way. Standing next to the man was a beautiful woman dressed in a short, tight skirt that drew the eye almost as much as the blouse straining against her chest. She wore glasses, that Coop was sure she didn’t actually need, and had two metal pins sticking out of the messy bun she’d tied her hair up in. Her look screamed sexy assistant.

“Thank you for purchasing our visitor’s pass, gentleman.” The man smiled in a way only an expert salesmen could. “Since you are not members of our exclusive establishment, I’m going to have to review a few rules and regulations.”

<No touchy without paying.> Coop guessed because he’d heard that one before.

“We take the confidentiality of our members very seriously, so I’m going to have to ask you both to surrender your PADs.” The gentleman kept on smiling as the sexy assistant held out a box, which Coop was sure had electromagnetic shielding. “If you wish to become members, and submit to the necessary background checks, then you will be more than welcome to carry your PADs on future visits.”

As the PADs were their only line of communication to the outside world, Coop was hesitant to give them up, but he didn’t let the guy know that. “You’ve got a great place here,” Coop said instead as he placed his PAD in the box. The assistant gave him a smoldering look as he did so.

“Thank you, gentlemen. Now just one more thing…” the man took a step back while the woman pulled a compact sniffer from her belt. What happened next was the most pleasurable search Coop had even been through. The way the woman pressed herself against him and Mike as she patted them down and wanded them for contraband was clearly designed to get them hot and bothered. The routine benefitted the establishment twofold. First, because it enforced tight security, and second, because it probably got people to spend more money than they usually would.

<Yep, there is no other reason for her to do that.> Coop melted a little when she cupped his nuts during the pat down.

The sexy assistant gave a quick nod to the salesmen, and he gave them a smile. “Enjoy the Oasis, gentlemen. Please do not hesitate to call if you need anything. My name is Cameron, and I’m here to work for you.”

<I want someone else to work on me.> Coop caught the sexy assistant’s eye as she turned to leave.

She returned the look by batting her eyelashes, but Coop doubted the nine grand he had left was going to be enough to secure her company. He sighed as they walked away, but that meant he could turn his full attention to the surroundings. He knew the SGM would be yelling at him about situational awareness now, so Coop made sure to map the place in his mind.

<Entrances and exits,> Coop started by identifying multiple ways he could get the hell out of there if shit hit the fan. <Threats.> He counted half a dozen armed men scattered around the large lobby area. The bulge in their pants wasn’t the same as Coop’s. If Coop had to guess, these guys were given some counteracting agent to keep the aromatherapy from getting to them. You couldn’t pull security if you had a one track mind. <You can counteract the chemicals, but there isn’t much you can do about that.> As Coop walked deeper into the lobby, a central fountain came into view.

To call it a fountain wasn’t the best way to put it. It wasn’t some gaudy modernist construction, or memorial to some fallen hero or battlefield. This fountain looked more like a vertical coral reef. Coop only thought of it as a fountain because there was water coming out of the top and draining downward.

The structure had been carved in such a way that there were multiple pools where water collected along its height, and the Oasis, being what it was, barely clad men and women of excellent physical prowess splashed in those pools.

<And here is their version of a catalog of goods.> Coop admired the sight, but kept an eye on the security surrounding the place. Just like he thought, and despite the securities’ immunity to the chemicals in the air, a hot woman’s ass in a thong just couldn’t be ignored by anyone.

“Pick your jaw up, Mike.” Coop elbowed his battle buddy in the ribs. The big guy was gawking at two women splashing each other and giggling in a pool at his eye level.

The exaggerated way they threw their wet hair over their shoulders, and smiled out into the lobby, confirmed to Coop it was an act, but he had more practice in this arena than Mike. The girls were wearing enough to leave something to the imagination, but were sufficiently skimpy to show prospective customers a taste of what they could look forward to.

Coop snapped his finger and another well-dressed man appeared at his side. “How much?” Coop pointed at the women who still held Mike’s attention.

“Our basic package begins at six thousand an hour for Ms. Carmen’s company. She is a skilled masseur, therapist, and yogi. She is available to attend to all of your needs.” The salesman looked from Coop, to Mike, and then back up to the ladies in the pool who were now staring directly at them.

“If your friend would like the pleasurable company of Ms. Carmen and Ms. Jasmine, that will cost fifteen thousand an hour. Any skill that Ms. Carmen may not have mastered, I can assure you Ms. Jasmine has.”

As the man spoke, the two women waded through the hip deep water toward the edge of their little pool. One was wearing a white bikini while the other was wearing a black, lacey thing. Coop could practically see the three of them together right now. Their gig would be opposites: pleasure and pain, an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. One would massage your tired body while the other handcuffed and whipped you. He bet they were worth every cent of the fifteen grand the guy was asking, and he was tempted to pay it.

“My buddy here will take the basic package with Ms. Carmen.” Coop gave Mike a pat on the back. “You deserve it,” he grinned at his bigger friend when Mike turned to him with wide eyes. “You saved our ass on that last test, and that let us hit our deadline. Without you, we’d all be working overtime without pay right now to catch up.” Coop wove elements of their cover story into his statement, but didn’t have to talk for long.

The salesman had waved Ms. Carmen over at Coop’s instance, and her graceful approach occupied Mike’s full attention. <Lucky bastard.> Coop watched the water drip from her mocha skin, and the sway of her hips as she approached. <Have fun.>

Ms. Carmen didn’t have to say anything. She just took Mike by the hand, and accepted the key from the salesman who muttered, “Room six.”

Coop looked up to the rings of rooms around the central fountain that went up several stories. He saw room six on the second floor, and made a mental note of it. He tried not to pay too much attention as Ms. Carmen led Mike in and closed the door.

<Ok,> Coop took a deep breath, got control, and continued to scan the room.

Now that they were in the belly of the beast, it was better to have Mike getting his rocks off than surveilling the area with him. The Oasis wasn’t exactly a place that buzzed with activity. Two men walking around casing the area would stand out. One guy looking around who had a buddy in a room was much less conspicuous. As such, Coop headed over to the bar at the far end of the room. Smartly dessed men and women chatted up the clients while sipping beverages from all over the galaxy.

Every working man and woman in the joint was attractive. You couldn’t be in this high-end business and not be sexually appealing. If Coop had to guess, the people at the bar were the less expensive options. The women and men in the fountain’s pools were the people the management was pushing. <And at six grand an hour…> Ms. Carmen was making more in a night than Coop made in a year.

Coop stopped doing the math because it was just going to depress him. Instead, he focused back on the mission. He was here to see if the New Savannah Liberation Movement had people here. Either people injured during the multiple raids executed by the SRRT, or just people in general. Someone could always be here and claim they weren’t at the scene while an attack was taking place. That didn’t make them any less guilty in Coop’s eyes. Coop and the rest of the team had memorized pictures of the high-ranking members, so he spent some time ordering a drink and scanning the bar.

Most of the people at the bar looked like the wealthy who were stepping out on wives or girlfriends, or people who were single, ready to mingle, and just had more money than they knew what to do with. There was one guy at the bar who held himself like a soldier, and looked like he could take a few of the guards in the place before he was gunned down, so Coop only gave him a quick glance. He didn’t match anyone Coop new in the liberation movement, but Coop kept the man in his peripherals just in case something went down.

“Hey there, Honey!” A woman sauntered up slid into a seat next to him. The way she kicked out her leg, showed plenty of skin, and crossing them was meant to draw the eye, and bring out the wallet.

Coop smiled and let her do all the talking. That was the beauty of the moment. He was one of a limited pool of customers who’d show the financial wherewithal to be in the building. Usually, Coop was competing for the strippers’ attention at the local joints. This was a refreshing change of pace. The only problem was that these people were professionals. They could tell when they didn’t have your full attention.

“It was nice talking to you, Honey.” The woman stood there expectantly for a few seconds until Coop tipped her a hundred bucks. He didn’t want to get a reputation as cheap.

A few minutes after the woman departed a man approached. “Hey there, Honey.”

Apparently, Coop was getting a different type of reputation.

“Sorry, not my type.” Coop quickly fended him off, but still tipped him. It wasn’t the guy’s fault. He’d been sent over to meet a need that management thought was not being met.

The guy gave him a thank you nod and headed off, which left Coop alone again.

“We don’t usually see people drinking alone here,” the bartender, a cute strawberry blonde, stated as she sprayed an expensive-looking glass with a nano-spray that cleansed it at the molecular level.

“I’m more here with a friend to make sure he had a good time.” Coop shrugged. “But I’ll take another drink and your name.”

“Janice,” the woman smiled as she poured him another customized beer from the row of taps.

“Ok, Janice the Bartender. What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”

The woman blushed, and was about to respond, but a commotion behind them caught everyone’s attention.

“Son of a bitch… get off…I paid for… I’m gonna kick your ass…” the complained curses were cut off with the familiar sound of a fist striking flesh.

Coop looked over his shoulder to see a half-dressed man doubled over and coughing up blood. He was coming out of room seven, right next to Mike, and had two guards holding him by the shoulder. One was removing his fist from the guy’s gut, as they started to drag the man away.

“Harsh.” Coop grunted as he turned back around to Janice.

“This is a professional place. Management doesn’t mess around.” She topped off his glass.

“Who is management?” Coop asked casually. Janice clamed up immediately, and Coop saw he’d over played his hand. “I’m just looking to see how much it would take to become a permanent member. If I could talk to you every night it might be worth it.” He recovered smoothly.

Janice sighed with relief. “I’m not sure what the membership fee is, but I don’t always work the bar.” Her eyes darted to the rooms and back to him. “I’m not cheap though.”

“Everything seems worth it here,” Coop grinned back.                          

Coop continued to chat with Janice for the rest of Mike’s hour. He tried to gently milk her for info, see what her motivations for working here where, where her loyalties lie, and what her likes and dislikes were. Coop never knew if he would need to go back undercover, so he wanted to be ready if he ever came back.

When Mike emerged from room six, he looked like he’d just won the lottery. Coop gave Janice a four hundred dollar tip for her time, and went to meet him. The way the rooms were built into the building was in a circular pattern wrapping around the central atrium with the fountain in the center. To get from room one to six, Coop had to walk in a circle passed the other five rooms. Mike met him halfway in front of room three.

“Looks like someone got lucky.” Coop wiggled his eyebrows. Mike just couldn’t stop smiling.

“Fuck the budget. That six grand was totally worth it.” Ms. Carmen hadn’t exited yet, and Coop contemplated switching off surveillance duties with Mike. Two set of eyes were better than one after all, but they were interrupted by the door to room three opening.

“…get something to eat while you’re at it!” A voice called out behind a woman exiting.

The woman, like all the others was breathtaking. Her sun-kissed skin was slightly damp with sweat that made her gleam. She had a white robe on, but the robe was cut obscenely short, and created a V at the chest which showed off a significant amount of cleavage.

Coop, Mike, and the woman all looked at each other in surprise, which was normal when someone unexpectedly enter your personal space. Mike shrugged it off and politely took a step back, but Coop and the woman didn’t move. Something tickled Coop’s memory. The woman’s face resembled something; he just couldn’t put his finger on it.

The woman had a similar look of confusion on her face. “Have we…?”

They both froze and stood their speechless for a moment, and then, simultaneously, both of their eyebrows spiked nearly into their hairlines.

“Hailey?!” Coop was excited, but had a lot of questions. The first being how the hell she got out of the PHA.

Hailey, on the other hand, didn’t share the same reaction. “Help!” she yelled before she lashed out in a front kick, caught Coop in the upper chest, and sent him flying over the railing behind him.

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Scheduling Update 7/16/2018

I hope everyone’s summer is going well. I just wanted to take a little time and go over some upcoming schedule changes so that no one is caught by surprise. I’ve kept it close to the vest but I’m about a week or two away from becoming a Dad!

I’m super psyched, but I’m also realistic about what that is going to do to my posting schedule. As of Monday 7/16/2018 I’m dropping down to one Two World’s chapter a week. They will post on Mondays. I’ve got some chapters saved up and I want to stretch them as far as possible. I know I’m going to want to write despite the chaos that is about to erupt in my home, but I might not have the chance, and I’d rather all my dedicated readers something than nothing.

Patreons who meet the $5 Sergeant level donation will continue to get advanced chapters on Friday night or Saturday morning, and donations that reach the bonus chapter amount will be honored until I have nothing else to give. At which point I will stop allowing donations.

The same is true for PCS to Eden. I’ve got some chapters written already, and will continue to post one a week on Friday.

A Change of Pace – Season 2, which has been posting once every two weeks, is going to be posted when I have a new chapter written. I don’t have anything written going forward for it yet, and if the baby doesn’t come this next week than I should have something to post next Sunday. After that who knows.

My writing priority is as follows: Two Worlds, PCS to Eden, and lastly A Change of Pace.

I hope everyone will stick with me for the next couple of months as I work to balance my writing, my full-time job, and a newborn. I do not want to be one of those web serial writers who falls of the face of the earth. I know I’ve got a lot of dedicated fans who’ve been following Coop, Eve, Gerry, Vicky, Daisy, Lilly, and many others for the past few years. I intend to keeps things chugging along, but it’ll be at a walk instead of a run for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already, my published works are always available on Amazon Kindle. Two Worlds: Rags & Riches is available for only $0.99, and can get you started on the ever-expanding Two Worlds universe. The Harbinger Tales and it’s sequel Aftermath are both available on Kindle Unlimited for free, for eBook purchase for a few dollars, and paperback for $9.99 and $10.99 respectively. I highly recommend them, even if my opinion is biased, if you’re looking for more of my stuff to ready while you’re waiting for me web schedule to get back to normal.

As always, a review once you’ve finished reading is greatly appreciated. It helps draw new readers to the books, and is the best form of marketing for an indie author like me. Tell your friends, and I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing.

You’ll here more from me when I have it. Until then, enjoy!

-Scott

 

PCS to Eden – D is for Defense

Ava grunted as she kept the gateway between Charlotte and Lower Manhattan open. She could feel her power draining fast from her Hand as her two companies of guardians quickly marched through the eighteen-wheeler sized hole in space-time she’d created. Once the last man was through, Ava stepped through the gateway and released the hold she had on it. There was a loud SNAP as reality sought to correct itself, and when she looked back behind her all she saw was traffic. The traffic was backed up as far as she could see.

Ava heard a few people screaming, but that was normal when two hundred armored angels suddenly appeared. The gateway had also done some damage. The abandoned cars spanning several lanes of traffic had been neatly cleaved in two by the energy from the gateway. If they had been occupied the humans would have been split and cauterized into two well-preserved halves, but the owners of those cars were long gone. The human’s primal instincts were kicking in, and they were running away from danger.

The gateway had landed well back from where the bridge met the water, but the bridge itself didn’t end there. It extended almost to city hall before off ramps let cars disembark, and there were multiple layers of overpasses to deal with. Tactically it was a nightmare. Ava couldn’t just order a defensive line on one street to help stop the Infernals, she was going to have to layer her defense, which meant spreading her already thin forces even farther apart.

“On me,” she yelled and flapped her wings to gain altitude. Her soldier followed her and the air filled with angels. She didn’t bother to use the energy to go insubstantial. There wasn’t any point anymore. Archangels were doing battle close by, so a flock of normal sized angels wasn’t too out of the ordinary.

All of that was about to change. Elevation gave Ava some perspective of the battlefield so she could make her decisions. “I want a defensive line on FDR Drive from the Manhattan Bridge down to the Staten Island Ferry.” Ava hung in the air and gave orders. “Give me one hundred meter spacing along the Drive. The bridges are going to be natural choke points, so I want layered defenses there. Use the abandoned vehicles to create natural barriers. Anything we can do to bottleneck and slow the enemy down is going to be advantageous. We need multiple fall back positions leading all the way back to Park Row, and we need to be prepared for spillage onto side streets  like South, Pearl, Gold and Madison if enemy elements get past our initial defensive positions. We need to get this place warded and warded yesterday.”

The guardians in command of squad-sized elements nodded and went about executing those orders. The formation of flying angels broke apart and individuals started to land along the prescribed lines. Their bodies swelled and grew until they’d transformed into their combat forms. An intimidating line of twenty-foot, armored soldiers grew out of the abandoned cars, which they began to push around like Hot Wheels.

Within minutes a makeshift wall of metal stood between the East River and FDR Drive. It wouldn’t stop anything, but it would slow the enemy down. With that task complete, the guardians went to work on their defensive circles. One by one, the guardians stuck the tip of their flaming swords into the cement and slowly drew a circle of fire around themselves. The soldiers’ eyes were clamped shut in concentrations as they chanted and drew wards in the air around themselves. Those wards solidified in the air around them, becoming just as substantial as the cars they’d built the wall with, and as more time passed more wards began to surround them.

Angels were some of the finest soldiers in existence, and a key part of their defensive doctrine was creating a circle of power they could draw from in the middle of a fight. The circle could either be fixed or movable, with each method trading strengths and weaknesses. Ava and her guardians had been unable to use their defensive circle techniques in either of the battle around Charlotte because they required time to establish. As a mainly reactive force, the Divine Host didn’t get to utilize one of their most potent techniques as often as its soldiers wished.

Ava watched her troops establish their circles as she grew into her own combat form. She stopped her growth as thirty feet, because anymore was just going to single her out as a target. She knew her true from was nearly tripple that. The power that came with being a Power was much more than she was used to as a Dominion, and she needed to use it responsibly.

The Hand was still recharging, but she knew something she could do to help. The guardians assigned to the Brooklyn Bridge didn’t have nearly as much to room to work with as the ones along FDR Drive. They were position two abreast from where the bridge met land all the way back to Pearl Street. It was a solid defensive tactic. When the two guardians exhausted their power or were in fear of being overwhelmed they would step back and two fresh soldiers would take their place. That meant there would always be fresh soldiers fighting against the Infernal’s bottlenecked force, and if the enemy abandoned pushing against the strong defense here, Ava could pull soldiers from the back of the formation as a rapid response force to reinforce other weaker areas.

Ava landed between the first line of guardians working on their defensive circles and the ten-foot-high wall of cars that had been piled up to block the bridge’s path into Manhattan. She extended the Hand out in front of her and said a few select words. The air shimmered in front of her and began to undulate like the water of the East River below them. With a grunt of exertion she pressed and the shimmering barrier expanded to five feet thick and to the height of the car-wall.

The Hand puttered out as she ran out of æther, but she was satisfied with her work. The two guardians first in line to meet the enemy grinned at each other when they saw the barrier. It was something beyond their skill and power, but it would allow them to deal the Infernals crippling blow after crippling blow if they continued to assault this position. Ava just wished she could have put the barrier along her entire defensive line.

“Enemy spotted, one thousand meters and closing!” Bart’s voice rang out from where he’d positioned himself on the top of a tall building just to the right of the bridge.

The wind shifted and the smell of rot, sulfur, and madness washed over Ava and the rest of the guardians. Unlike the soldiers of Seere they’d faced earlier, Beelzebub’s minions were twisted forms of humanity that had been driven over the edge long ago. They didn’t care about anything except the most animal of needs, and they were driven by half-crazed generals that knew defeat meant eons being pulled apart and reassembled by their Lord. That meant they were ruthless and without mercy.

Ava knew this was going to turn into a bloodbath as the bridge began to rumble beneath her feet as thousands of stampeding hooves, talons, paws, and feet charged towards her position. As much as she knew she shouldn’t be right here on the front lines she couldn’t help herself. She wanted to strike the first blow against the invading Infernals.

<For Maria,> she told herself as the flames of her sword licked against the asphalt making it bubble. She didn’t have a defensive circle established, but she didn’t need one.

Heavy footsteps drew her attention back to the wall of cars just before it exploded outward. Something powerful had hit them from the other side and just kept on going until it hit the barrier she’d established. The barrier didn’t stop anything dead in its tracks, but it wasn’t designed to do that. A full barrier took a lot of energy and tended to wear out quickly as it was pounded away on. If something powerful enough came along they could simply shatter it and leave something or someone completely defenseless. Ava didn’t want that, so she pulled on her knowledge, experience, and greater power to do one better.

The ten foot high by five foot thick barrier was a time-distortion field. Anything caught in the field slowed down to one-tenth of its normal speed, so that creature that had just charged through the car-wall had gone from a sprinting beast to a something crawling at somewhat slower than a walk. Ava gave the beast one quick once over to see where to deal the most damage. It had an armored hide, but it was natural armor, not Infernal Iron. Its legs looked thin and week, but it had a lot of them, like a centipede, to keep it up and moving.

Ava took one step forward and pivoted, torqueing her core in a swing that had more in common with a baseball swing than a sword fight. The creature was till moving at a crawl when Ava’s sword made contact. The hide held for half a heartbeat before it began to scorch and weaken under the flame. Then the blade pierced the flesh. Ava’s blade was not constrained by the same warped reality that she’d created in the field, so her sword finished passing through and killing the creature just as the blood splatter began to explode out of its side, and the force of her attack picked the thing up off its feet.

It wasn’t until it cleared the distortion field at the edge of the bridge that it practically exploded with gore out into the East River and down onto FDR Drive, but by then the next set of enemies had already entered the field and died as Ava reversed her swing and slashed back through the area. Infernals died by the half dozen with each swing of her sword. It was like shooting fish in a tea cup with a shotgun.

She only took a few swipes with her blade before she stepped back from the distortion field. Steam was hissing away as her blade’s fire burned off the gore from her vanquished enemies. The two guardians first in line looked eager to get in on the action and they began to chop, stab, and slice into the field as more enemies poured into it.

“On your right!” someone yelled before something hard smacked into Ava’s helmet.

She caught herself on the bridge and heard the scuttling of something sharp against her helmet. Her hand darted up, but grasped nothing but air. The scuttling continued as she tried to catch whatever was on her helmet, until finally there was a screeching noise followed by a loud bellow. Whatever was attacking her had tried to scratch through her Divine Steel helmet, and likely injured itself. Ava took advantage of the things pain, but this time she didn’t try to reach for it and grab it. Instead, she smacked herself hard in the side of the head. The clang of metal on metal rang in her ears for a second, but there was also a satisfying squish. She pulled her hand back and it came away with dripping, black, tar-like blood.

She didn’t get any time to celebrate.

“FDR Drive to your left!” Bart relayed coordinates where her guardians needed assistance.

Ava looked over the side of the bridge and saw the enemy streaming down away from her barrier. They’d quickly adapted to her tactics and were taking the route of least resistance right into her waiting guardians, but it was easily fifty-to-one odds, and Ava needed to plug the gaps.

Without hesitation, Ava went insubstantial and sunk down through the bridge, only to shift back into reality as she hit FDR Dive below. She saw the flaw as she looked up. For every Infernal advancing on top of the bridge there was one crawling along the metalwork below it. There were easily a hundred enemies already dropping off and landing to engage her guardians.

“Hold the line!” she yelled and cut down two Infernals that got to close to her flaming blade.

She was going to have to rethink the disposition of her soldiers, and was about to call out new orders when the ground rumbled beneath her feet. The whole island seemed to sway as the earthquake hit, but Ava knew Manhattan didn’t have earthquakes. She looked over her shoulder back in the direction of Central Park, but couldn’t see much over the buildings between her and where the Archangels were fighting the Infernal Lord.

The ground rumbled again, and Ava hoped Michael and Gabriel were winning, but she didn’t have time to wonder. More Infernals were pressing forward. She had her own work cut out for her here.

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