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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Two Worlds – Chapter 215

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“Look, shit-for-brains,” Coop took a deep breath and stopped himself from reaching out and throttling the uniformed man in front of him, “I’m not asking for you to unravel the mysteries of the universe here. I’m just inquiring where an injured criminal would go to seek medical attention and lay low. That’s all.”

“And as I have said before,” the policeman’s face was beat red, “that is not a simple question.”

Coop had been going back and forth with the sterling example of New Savanah law enforcement for the past fifteen minutes, and it was going nowhere. That about summed up Coop’s life since he cleared the house above the second weapons cache and called in the cavalry. The only problem was that the cavalry had tried to kill him when arriving.

Apparently, whoever dispatched the cops didn’t let them know what had occurred and who was already on site. When the cops showed up, they naturally started screaming and demanding that the man dressed in black armor with a submachine gun to get on his knees and surrender. Coop being Coop told them to go fuck themselves. No shots were exchanged from Coop’s end, but the cops had taken their shots. One had clipped Coop’s armor, but other than that, they’d had the equivalent of a hostage situation for ten minutes before the higher ups got their shit together. Even though the brass smoothed everything over, that didn’t mean everything was copacetic on the ground. After all, someone had taken a shot at Coop, and if Coop guessed who, it was the world’s most obnoxious cop standing right in front of him.

“Can I please talk to someone who doesn’t have their head firmly secured in their own ass?” Coop’s exasperation got the best of him, as he called out to anyone within earshot.

“Stand down,” a familiar voice called out as a second soccer-mom van pulled up, and the SGM exited with the rest of Bravo Team. Everyone’s face was obscured by their helmet, but Coop knew that voice anywhere.

The cop looked like a days-old pimple, ready to pop, but the SGM flashed something holographic at him, which readjusted his attitude right away.

“What can I do for you, sir?” The cop immediately became professional.

“You’ve got to be shitting me. What…” rough hands interrupted Coop and pulled him away. “That just ain’t right.” Were Coop’s last words as a hulking figure, that could only be Mike, led him to the edge of the cordon the local PD had in place around the weapons cache. A second perimeter was established at the first house Alpha Team originally raided, and a third at the exit point where Eve and GYSGT Cunningham were holding down the fort.

“Brief me on what happened,” Mike asked once they’d put enough distance between them and any eavesdroppers.

“Brief you?” Coop scoffed. “Since when do you need to be briefed?”

“Come on, dude.” Mike groaned. “Sergeant Major trusted me to get a full briefing on Alpha Team’s mission. Don’t buddy fuck me here.”

The last thing Coop wanted was to be a blue falcon. “Fine,” he took a deep breath. “We made entry at the first site down that way,” Coop pointed to the subtle blue and red lights flashing in the distance. We took out the lookout in the guard tower first before breaching the front door. The plans on file with the city didn’t match with what we saw, but we went about clearing the rooms one by one. The enemy had employed jamming technology, so we couldn’t get a SITREP out until we were finished. We had four KIA in the first house, while taking three prisoners. Those three might be WIA because we were a little rough after they tried to kill us.” Coop conveniently left out the part where he nearly put his boot through a guy’s chest. He was sure that part would come up in the after action review with the rest of the team. “The Gunney nearly cut a guy’s head off who took a shot at us with a plasma cannon in the tunnel between house one and two. He was definitely a KIA, which gives us five total. In the second weapons cache I took down one while Eve and the Gunney took down another three. There were no prisoners there. Those guys were meant to kill us, and if they didn’t succeed, stall us so the others could get away.” Coop made sure to gloss over the guy from the bar whose face he’d shot so it resembled pudding, rather than a human being, and then shot his GIC off. “So that leaves us with a grand total of nine dead tangos and three possibly wounded prisoners as far as I know. The Gunney and Eve could have taken down more guys at the third location. I just cleared the second house and didn’t find anyone else.”

Mike didn’t say anything through the briefing, and only nodded when he was done. “Ok, I’ve got it all down. Anything else?”

“Yeah, the local cops are morons. I asked where a possibly injured bad guy would go to lay low, and they’re acting like I’m asking them to solve some gravitational equation. I’m just trying to follow up on possible leads. That is their job after all. I’m just trying to help.”

That wasn’t totally the truth. Coop didn’t take kindly to people shooting at him, and even worse, getting away with it. His goal was partially out of self-interest. If he killed the guy trying to kill him, while the other guy was injured, then that other guy couldn’t try to kill Coop because he’d be dead. The fact that it lined up with their mission was a happy coincidence.

“Noted,” Mike replied professionally.

“Noted?” Coop mocked his friend’s serious tone. Mike’s attitude was disturbing Coop just as much as the insurgents who tried to put a bullet in his ass.

“Just…” Mike exhaled. “I’m trying to make a good impression on the Sergeant Major. Guy’s a fucking legend. I’ve been talking to Sullivan about their last mission. He said the Sergeant Major led a covert strike in a Blockie PDC, during an invasion, and was able to blow up a ton of shit so the regular grunts could take the base.”

Coop had heard the story from a different perspective. “Is this the same mission where Sullivan got fucked up and Eve had to carry his ass to safety?”

“Umm…maybe. Sully didn’t…”

“Everyone on me.” The SGM’s voice cut off their conversation, and they quickly reconsolidated with the rest of Bravo Team.

“This just in from Alpha.” The SGM shared a link with the rest of the team that showed them video footage of Eve and the GYSGT clearing some type of factory. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much clearing to be done. Most of the workers had already scattered, and it was easy to see why. Two bodies were located on a straight-line path between the tunnel’s end and the building’s exit. One of the bodies was completely missing a head, while the other just had a giant chunk removed and a quart of brain matter on the ground beside him.

<That’s another two KIA, which gives us almost a dozen for the mission.> Coop was fine with that. It was eleven less bad guys to fire surface-to-air missiles at politicians that resulted in the burning of an innocent Coop with those politicians’ vehicle’s missile countermeasures.

“S2 is already reviewing satellite footage, but so far hasn’t found anything fleeing the factory during the target time period. However, witnesses claim a second, unknown group was onsite, and took two people captive.”

“So why isn’t there any footage?” Mike asked.

“Because the other side has tech to throw off our satellites,” Coop answered without thinking. “Or there are more tunnels.”

“A search of the premises shows no more tunnels, so it’s likely we’re dealing with another sophisticated enemy. Luckily, that narrows our suspect list.” The SGM reached behind his back and produced two sets of civilian smartcloth. He tossed one to Coop, and the other to Mike. “Get in the van and get changed. We’ll drop you a few blockes from the target establishment and it’s your mission to gain entry and recon for a possible raid.”

“Sergeant Major, if you don’t mind me asking, why us?” Coop wanted the entire picture before sticking his neck out…again. He still had his gelcast on, and was technically still on light duty.

<That didn’t matter with the first raid, and I doubt it will now.> Coop knew that much.

“I don’t mind.” The SGM surprised Coop with his answer. Coop thought he was going to be told to go pound sand. “Cooper, from what I hear, you have plenty of practice at this.”

<What?> Again, it wasn’t the answer Coop expected, but it was all he got.

Ten minutes later, Coop had changed into the provided casual civvies, and being driven through downtown New Savannah with an uncomfortable Mike right beside him. They were both a little worried. The SGM’s cryptic message didn’t help. It didn’t matter if Coop had done it before if he didn’t know what it was. Whatever it was, he wasn’t going to be able to be a Commonwealth soldier, so he needed to be someone else. When it came to being someone else the devil was in the details.

“So we’re brothers?” Mike asked.

“Cousins,” Coop corrected. “We don’t look enough alike to be brothers.”

“Ok,” Mike nodded and took a breath. Despite all his experience in the PHA and military, it quickly became obvious Mike didn’t have a knack for subterfuge. On paper, Coop didn’t either.

“We need to pick something that’s a lie, but close to the truth. We don’t have time to build an elaborate back story, so if someone asks questions we need to be able to answer it smoothly and avoid suspicion.”

“The only thing I’ve ever done is join the infantry,” Mike replied.

“Me too, so we’ll go with that.” Coop scratched his chin in thought. “We can’t be law enforcement because that’ll be more suspicious than soldiers. Private Investigators are also out because no one likes someone digging in their shit.” Coop thought for another few seconds before he snapped his fingers and smiled.

“We’re weapons testers with Blacktide Armaments,” Coop concluded. “We’re not management or anything like that, that’ll lead to too many questions. We’re just normal, hourly employees. We’re just trigger pullers and live on their moon facility. We’re down here in New Savannah for the Election Day weekend and all the parties that inevitably crop up. We’re here to get our drink on before returning to a life in zero gravity blowing shit up.”

“What if they ask us about the guns?” Mike was wringing his hands.

“Pull from your Basic and HI school knowledge. Master Sergeant Smith had us memorize just about everything in the Infantry MTOE, so just make up a name and fill in the details from a weapon you know something about.” Coop gave Mike a comforting pat on the shoulder. “We’ve got this.”

Mike nodded but didn’t say anything. His lips moved as he talked himself through his pretend story without uttering a sound. Coop just shook his head and closed his eyes. Lying came naturally to him.

The journey was full of stop-and-go traffic. Checkpoints were all over the place as the defense force and police cracked down after the terrorist attack. IDs were being checked by cops in riot gear on every corner. Inevitably, right when Coop began to slip into real sleep, the van jerked to a halt and the SGM turned around from his spot in the front passenger seat.

“Here.” He tossed them two IDs and accompanying money chips.

Coop marveled at the fake IDs for a moment. He’d heard about this tech before, but never seen it up close. The “ID” was actually two strips of polyplast. The first was a flesh-colored adhesive patch that, if Coop guessed correctly, was cloned from his own DNA. That patch went on first to cover his GIC. The second piece of plastic was the new ID part. That went on over the flesh-colored patch to give the impression of a GIC. They wouldn’t last forever, looking into it with a lot of detail would show the GIC wasn’t matching up with the bodily functions that a real GIC measured, but it should be enough to get the job done.

“These will get you through a cursory look. If they’ve got people who can get deeper it won’t hold up, so stay alert. The chips have ten thousand on them. It is Commonwealth money, and will appear on the team’s line item budget report, so don’t be too stupid with it. I’ll understand a degree of…discretion, but use your heads.” The SGM supervised as they covered their legit GICs with the fake ones.

The SGM’s pause caught Coop’s interest, but even more pressing was who the “they” was the NCOIC was referring to. <I’ll find out soon enough.> The last thing the SGM did was toss them fresh PADs as he kicked them out of the van. Thankfully, the PAD had a waypoint identifying their destination.

Their target was only a few blocks up and a street over, and they made good time even in the crowded streets. Mike spent most of the time mumbling to himself, either psyching himself up, or going over his cover story. On the other hand, Coop spent his time thinking about how quickly the SRRT had thrown together new identities and gotten twenty thousand in disposable cash. That was an impressive amount of detail to throw together in thirty minutes.

All of those thoughts vanished when they arrived at their destination. The building itself wasn’t obnoxious like some of the buildings on the street. It blended in well with the other, regular buildings, and it’s only ornamentation was a big sign reading OASIS in shimmer letters meant to mimic a soft breeze blowing atop the water’s surface. It was other things that stood out to Coop.

First, was the pair of armed men flanking the revolving door. The weapons were well concealed, but Coop spotted them. Second, were the beautiful women casually lounging around. They were drinking, smoking, laughing, and just giving off an air of relaxation and fun. To the experienced eye, Coop knew that was as good as a woman walking the curb and soliciting random guys for ten dollar quickies.

<It’s a brothel.> Now Coop got the SGM’s reference, and he wasn’t sure he liked that the SGM knew about that.

Coop led the way to the door but was stopped by one of the guards outstretched hands. While the guard stopped Coop, Coop saw the second one’s attention slide to protect the girls and suspected there was a third guard around somewhere that was watching the rest of the entrance.

“Membership.” The guard stated.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have one. Is it possible to…” Coop pitched his voice to near pleading.

“Visitors pass is a thousand…each.” The guard had obviously been through this sales pitch before.

“A thousand!” Mike’s shock was genuine. “But…”

“A thousand or take a hike.” The guard was big, not as big as Mike, but he held himself like he knew how to handle himself in a fight.

“Fine,” Coop sounded exasperated, as he handed over the chip and paid the guard. “It better be worth it.”

“Trust me. It is.” The guard took Mike’s money, stood aside, and ushered Coop inside.

<Yep. It definitely is.> Coop tried to keep his jaw from dropping as his gaze settled on the interior of the Oasis.

Previous

Two Worlds – Chapter 214

Noah Grisham

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

“Move your skinny chicken legs!” Able huffed as he scraped his head against the top of the tunnel. “Stupid fuckin…”

“Shut the fuck up,” Noah hissed back. The small, skinny pirate captain had no problem navigating the tunnels built for normal men. Clearly, the New Savannah Liberation Movement hadn’t planned far enough ahead and considered someone with military-grade augmentations might be in their secret tunnels with them.

<Or maybe they have.> Noah wondered. After all, if it was giving Able a hard time it was certainly inconveniencing whoever was chasing them; assuming they were Commonwealth. In the end, Noah didn’t give two shits who it was. Dead was dead no matter who pulled the trigger.

“We’re almost there,” one of their two local guides said as he made a sharp right hand turn.

An explosive soundwave roared past them just as they made the turn. Dust shook from the roof and clouded the passageway in front of them, but Noah was more concerned with the chunks of soil that broke loose. Whoever built this place knew what they were doing, but knowing what you were doing, and dealing with grenades detonating in your carefully designed space were two very different things.

<I try to sell some guys some RPGs and this is the trouble I get.> Noah huffed as they reached the end of the tunnel. It was a steel plate with a mechanism on the side identical to what had hid the tunnel back in the suburban basement. One of their guides punched in the code to open it, while the other discretely kept an eye on Noah and Able. Everyone was armed, but no one was pointing weapons at each other just yet.

<They got cocky.> Noah concluded as the steel plate swung forward on soundless, well-oiled hinges and into some type of warehouse. The other side of the plate was a shelf filled with chemicals.

When Noah sold the revolutionaries the data on the tracked air-cars, he didn’t think twice about it. He made a hundred grand easy, and the revolutionaries got to fight their little war. Noah never expected it to go so well, and that was the silver lining to the whole deal. When a group blew all their big guns on an attack that was successful, then they wanted more big guns, and who better to ask first than the man that gave them the critical intel in the first place. Noah, or Able as the pretend captain, had a good reputation now.

The problem was that the revolutionaries were now rushing things and making mistakes. Noah always thought it was a little convenient that one of the rocket teams made it back unscathed when the other three teams got blown into little, meaty pieces. That was why he refused to meet in the house itself in the first place. He needed to insulate himself from all of this liberation movement business. He was simply supplying a much-needed good, nothing more and nothing less.

The Commonwealth soldiers wouldn’t care who was a revolutionary and who was their arms dealer when they caught up with them, so for the moment, Noah and the revolutionaries’ goals were in sync. But once they weren’t, he was getting the hell off this humid rock. Things were getting too hot for him now. He’d have to follow up on his leads into who stiffed him another way.

“Shit.” Able grumbled, as the small group picked their way through barrels of chemicals toward an exit. “Smitty’s down.”

Noah leaned over as Able tilted his wrist-secured PAD toward him. The PAD had the vital signs of everyone on Noah’s crew identified in tiles that could be expanded to reveal more data. The tile with Smitty’s name on it was flatlined and grayed out. Since Smitty had stayed back to secure their retreat, that meant whoever was barring the Commonwealth’s way was out of action.

Noah growled to himself as workers at the chemical factory gave a nod to the revolutionaries passing through them. It seemed the liberation’s ideals had seeped into some of the planet’s workforce, or the movement’s success in killing high ranking planetary officials was finally allowing people to voice their complaints for the first time. Again, Noah didn’t give two shits. What this meant was that he was surrounded by a group of potential hostiles. The revolutionaries could easily turn on him and Noah and that would be the end of it.

His oh-shit-o-meter pinged even louder when a small group of armed people entered from the very exit they were heading toward. These people did not look like the kind who wanted to be friends. The scattering factory workers were proof of that.

Noah caught Able’s attention with a tug on his smartlcoth. The big mercenary raised an eyebrow, which Noah replied with a glance to his gun, followed by a glance at the two guides, and finally a glance to a different exit. Able caught the drift immediately and smiled. This was why he was here after all.

“We’re going to need a place to lay low.” Able engaged the guides in conversation, while simultaneously stepping forward to get in a better position.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got several…” that was as far as the guide got before Able whipped out his trusty sidearm in a practiced motion, and put a high-velocity round through the man’s temple.

The guide’s head seemed to vaporize as the projectiles hit it with such force it popped like a balloon. But that wasn’t the best part. Able had lined up his shot so the bullet went through the first man’s head and directly into the second’s. The second guide’s head didn’t explode as fabulously as the first, but a big chunk of it was missing, and he was dead before he hit the ground and his brains sloshed out onto the floor.

Killing the guides was only phase one. Now they needed to get the hell out of there. The factory workers scattered. They might be sympathetic with the revolutionary’s cause, but they weren’t willing to die for it. The other group heading for them did the opposite. Weapons emerged from concealed holsters, and in one case, a rifle from under a trench coat. The group spread out to take cover as Able rounded on them to lay down suppressive fire. Noah’s mind calmly worked on an escape plan as he pulled his own pistol from the holster at the small of his back. He took aim at a bottle of some chemical on a shelf behind one of the new adversaries, but a glint of metal caught his eye.

“Able, cease fire!” Noah screamed before Able could get another shot off.

“What!?” The big guy’s reaction was classic Able, but if showed he was too busy targeting who to shoot than recognized who he was about to shoot.

“We’re dropping our weapons and coming out!” Noah yelled loudly and clearly to the group as he slowly got to his feet, dropped his pistol, and stood with his hands raised above his hands. “Do it, Able.” He hissed when the mercenary didn’t immediately follow suite.

They had a quick stare down as the other group quickly advanced and encircled them. Even if Able was going to fight, he’d be dead before he could get a few shots off. Able knew that, and his glare said as much. It wasn’t in the man’s nature to give up the initiative.

“Trust me,” Noah hissed.

Able gave a grumble, but eventually dropped his weapon and got to his feet with his hands above his head. The new group rushed over them and quickly secured them. They were rough, but that was to be expected. Noah and Able were physically patted down, wanded for any hidden sensors or systems, their PADs were confiscated, and they were put in restraints. All of this was done under the eye of a smoking hot woman with a gold badge affixed to her tactical vest.

At first glance, anyone would think this new group was cops, but Noah knew better. He’d operated in the Core Worlds several decades ago before teaming up with Able, which was why he was able to get the big guy from make a life-ending mistake. The golden badge was a roaring bear’s head with a sizable green emerald nestled in its jaws. Noah knew from experience that badge was worth twenty-five thousand dollars easily, and that the person wearing it was confident they could wear it openly and kill anyone who tried to take it.

“Let’s go,” the female leader instructed the group.

Able continued to grumble as black bags were placed over their heads. They took about a hundred steps, half of those outside the building, before being forced into a car. Noah did his best to count the seconds and turns that were made on their journey, but he lost count after twenty minutes of zig-zagging through the city, and one exchange. By the time they reached their destination, he didn’t have a clue where they were.

Wherever they had arrived was loud. It was full of women laughing. Noah caught a whiff of pheromone-laced perfumes and incense, which immediately gave him an chubby, and the jingle of gambling devices, followed by the occasional grunt of a man orgasming. Judging by the distance they walked while in the building, it was a very large establishment.

Despite all of the distracting sounds and smells, Noah caught the beeping of a security door being accessed. He wanted to tell Able to remain calm when they were violently thrust back into the light of the real world, but he just had to hope the big man kept his cool.

The two pirates were shoved roughly into chairs before the black bags came off, and bright lights overwhelmed their vision. Once Noah blinked away the yellow and white orbs that threatened to overwhelm his vision, he found himself staring down the barrel of a very large gun.

“Parley.” He stated calmly, looking around the gun at the person sitting in the high-backed chair at a table nearly overflowing with cash chips.

The person sitting behind the desk was a woman, a big woman. Not fat big, but tall and muscular. She was clearly someone who’d undergone physical enhancements…and in all the right places. She was a nearly flawless example of the female species. Noah thought nearly because he wasn’t into big women, and secondly, because of the scar that ran diagonally across her face. He had no doubt the person who’d done that was dead, but the old wound had clearly taken the woman’s eye. A mechanical, glowing orb sat in its place, and judging by the tightening of the fake-pupil, it was scanning him.

“Parley?” she laughed in a masculine baritone. “What makes you think a person like you deserves an honor like that?”

“Because I’m not some revolutionary liberation movement wannabe. My name is Noah Grisham, and I’m a captain, which gives me the right to parley. You can check me out. I was in the middle of a business transaction when I was rudely interrupted. First, by the cops, and second, by your men. My qualifications award me a parley at a minimum with an underboss.”

The woman’s eyebrow rose as Noah explained himself. She picked up her PAD and quickly did some research. If there was a time to make a break for it, it was when she was distracted, but Noah just sat there waiting patiently. Able looked a little restless, but half a dozen guns pointed at him settled him right down.

It only took the woman a minute to get the information she needed. “Hailey?” She asked the woman wearing the golden badge who’d led the contingent that brought them in.

“It looked like corpies,” the bombshell blonde with amber eyes answered. “They took out the safe house we were watching and smoked the insurgents out of their tunnels. I had the extraction team waiting at the exit, where these two popped two others before surrendering to us.”

“Who were the two they popped?”

“Confirmed liberation movement members,” Hailey answered.

“Well then, Mr. Grisham,” the underboss’ demeanor altered like someone had flipped a switch. “It seems thanks are in order.”

“What?” The woman’s sudden change, which was accompanied by sidearms being holstered throughout the room, was too much for Able to handle without opening his mouth.

“The New Savannah Liberation Movement killed individuals they were not allowed to kill.” Hailey responded for the woman behind the desk.

“The governor guy?” Able followed up.

“No, the six girls who were at the party and in those air-cars.” The underboss replied, and the temperature in the room dropped a few degrees.

“Wha…?” Able started again, but Noah cut him off.

“I’m sorry for your loss, but can I assume we’re safe for the time being?”

“Paying customers are always safe in my establishment.” There was special emphasis on the word paying.

Noah smiled, and inclined his head at Hailey. “How much for her?”

Hailey growled, but the underboss held up her hand and instantly silenced the younger, smaller woman. “A hundred thousand for the night.”

“Deal.” Noah smiled at the surprised expression on the two women’s faces. Clearly, they thought the number was big enough that he’d decline.

The underboss’ face recovered before Hailey’s. “Hailey, get in something more appropriate.” To the younger woman’s credit, she didn’t hesitate before leaving the room to prepare. “I’ve reserved Room three for you…for another twenty thousand.” The underboss made a play that betrayed her favoritism for the other woman.

“Fine by me.” Noah grinned and paid up. He was blowing all the cash he’d made from the revolutionaries’ intel purchase, but he didn’t give a shit. This Hailey woman had thrown a bag over his head, manhandled him, and brought him to this place against his will. Now it was time for her to pay.

“Noah, what the hell is happening?” Able kept his mouth shut until they were out of the back office and headed toward the reserved room.

They passed through an ornately-decorated lobby full of men ranging from handsome to fugly, but only beautiful women. The establishment had a tropical theme, which made sense given the planet, and the women were dressed appropriately skimpy. It didn’t matter that they were high priced whores.

Noah just gave the big mercenary a pat on the shoulder. The pirate captain didn’t hold Able’s lack of knowledge against him. Able had grown up under the stricter moral laws of the Maccabee Alliance, and then spent most of his criminal career in the Outer Rim, with the occasional jaunt into the Mid Worlds. His experience in the Core Worlds was limited, and he lacked the understanding of the well-oiled machine on mankind’s longest-settled planets. Even when it came to crime.

Noah pointed up to the roaring bear visage on the ceiling that could have been painted by Da Vinci himself. “It’s the symbol for Putinski Family Holdings. On paper they’re a legitimate business, but that is simply a front for one of the three biggest criminal syndicates in the Commonwealth.” Noah knew this because he’d done business with them once upon a time. “That’s why I didn’t let you shoot at them. We’re already on the Commonwealth’s shit list, also probably Gold Technologies’. Now, the liberation movement is going to want to kill us. The last thing I wanted was for PFH to be on our ass as well. If that was the case, we wouldn’t make the spaceport before someone scattered our brains all over the sidewalk.”

They arrived at his paid-for room, and he flipped a thousand-credit chip to Able. What he was going to do inside the room was for Noah’s eyes only, but he was going to make sure the big guy had some fun. Able smiled at the chip and wandered off to do whatever he wanted.

Noah pushed open the door, and came face to face with the finest, tightest ass modern medicine could create. He thought Hailey was naked for a second, but it turned out there was a barely noticeable G-String for his viewing pleasure. She looked over her shoulder with a smoldering ‘come hither’ look, but he could still see hate burning behind her eyes.

<Even better.> He directed for her to get on her knees and get to work.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 54

They landed…hard. Lilly hadn’t meant to drop them off a few inches off the ground, but with the weight differential to take into consideration, and the small fact they were under fire when she teleported definitely threw things off. An inch or two didn’t seem like a lot, but it made all the difference when you expected to land on the ground. Instinctually, she took a step forward to brace herself. She was supporting Seth because she wanted to help her boyfriend. Ironically, Morina, who was already prone when they teleported got off easier. She just plopped the inch or two to the ground. She was already unconscious, so she didn’t even notice.

Lilly’s attempt to brace ended miserably. The floor she expected to be there was not, she instinctually thrust out for something to grab a hold on. Seth slipped from her grip as her center of balance was compromised and gravity took over. Instead of helping her boyfriend, he went crashing into the side of a metal cage. The scream of pain that had already been building in his lungs intensified.

<Shit…shit…shit!> Lilly grabbed the same cage and caught herself, but wasn’t able to get to Seth before he toppled over. The room was filled with the sounds of his agony, and she just hoped the neighbors weren’t home. If she heard the noises Seth was making, and was a normal law-abiding citizen, then she’d call the cops.

Unfortunately, she had bigger things to worry about than her boyfriend’s level of pain. She knew what the people who attacked them were capable of, and she needed to move.

“I’m sorry, babe. Hold on,” she pleaded as she saw the tears streaming down Seth face. He was trying not to scream, and wasn’t particularly successful.

She grabbed him under the shoulder and started to pull him towards the door. The cage wasn’t big, just big enough to hold a few people that followed her after she teleported, so she didn’t have to go far.

Even then, Seth’s muscle mass didn’t help. She grunted and groaned as she dragged him inch by inch out of the cage. She tried to lift him up as much as possible over the metal lip at the door, but that was easier said than done. She wasn’t able to get his lower spine and tailbone area lifted over the lip, so she ended up dragging him. He let out another groan as his hamstrings passed over the hard metal, and then his head lolled to the side.

“Seth?” She finished dragging him, and gently lowered him to the ground. “Seth?” She asked again as she bent down and looked him over.

She put her ear down over his mouth and looked down at his chest. She felt the rush of air against her cheek and saw his chest rise and fall. He was still alive and breathing. He’d just passed out. She felt he was good for the moment, so she went back to grab Morina. The blood manipulator was much lighter than her big boyfriend, and she was able to sling the woman over her shoulder and march out of the cage. Morina’s head might have impacted metal bars once on accident, but Lilly didn’t think much of it. She was still pissed at the Super.

<Trying to ram a kinetic absorber!> She fumed. <If that isn’t the stupidest fucking shit I’ve ever heard then I don’t know what…> She let the thought rail off as she closed the cage door behind her and activated the power.

The bars electrified, and if anyone teleported into the cage, the electricity would branch out and attack the intruders. Lilly didn’t know the science behind it, but the villain she’d bought this from was respected and had no reason to fuck her over.

With the cage activated, she only felt a tiny bit less safe. <Reaper is an electric absorber as well.> She remembered. Anyone that came with her would be cooked well done by the current, but the legendary Hero wouldn’t be slowed down. <We need to move.>

She dropped Morina over to a nearby couch and turned back to Seth. Her boyfriend was still lying on the ground, but he didn’t look so peaceful anymore. He was twitching like the cage had sapped him, and foam was coming out of his mouth.

“Oh fuck!” She leapt forward and tried to restrain him from lashing out and hurting himself more. If he made contact with the cage that was game-set-match for Seth Abney.

She tried to remember was to do if someone was having a seizure, but without any supplies there wasn’t much she could do, and a quick look showed things only seemed to be getting worse. She had a decision to make and she needed to make it fast.

Option one was to get him to the nearest hospital. She wasn’t in the US anymore, so she wouldn’t be hunted immediately by any Heroes, but that wouldn’t last long. The hospital would want all of his data, and if she feigned ignorance they would get it through DNA and other methods. As a former HCP candidate, Seth would be in the system. She didn’t know if he’d been updated into Interpol’s systems as wanted, but if he was, the international police Hero equivalent would come to arrest him. From there he would be deported back to the US to stand trial for several felonies, including assault on Heroes. Judges tended to throw the book at the people who attacked public servants, especially ones who’d been trained as much as Seth had. He was too much of a risk to be put back onto the street. He’s be facing a long time in prison no matter how fancy a lawyer his family got him.

Option one sucked, but option two wasn’t going to be much better. The second option was for Lilly to get Seth to someone who could help…off the radar. Since she didn’t know anyone locally, that meant another teleport, which if the action was partially responsible for his current state, would only worsen his condition. But the bright side was that he could get medical attention and be safe.

The decision came down to whether or not Seth wanted to spend time in jail. Granted, a European jail wasn’t too bad in the short term, but going back to a supermax like Florence ADMAX was like going to hell. She was never going back, and she doubted Seth wanted to go there for the first time. Of course, this all depended on Seth surviving another teleport, and judging by his seizure, that chance diminished by the second.

Lilly took one last look over at Morina, who looked to be sleeping serenely on the couch. The blood manipulator was still alive, and came second in Lilly’s hierarchy of people she needed to take care of.

“I’ll be back.” Lilly whispered to the inert body as she grasped Seth’s hand and visualized her destination.

She was breaking the cardinal rule her father had taught her about the teleporting and avoiding Hero detection, but she didn’t have a choice. This was an emergency. She grabbed Seth under the shoulders again and got him to a sitting position, then, while executing a squat, she got him to his feet. He was still twitching, but wasn’t thrashing anymore, so he was able to support his weight and get his arm around her shoulder.

<Ok.> She took a deep breath and locked in the destination. She double checked her landing coordinates to ensure she had the proper weight ratio in her mind so they’d not have the bumpy landing they had before.

On her exhale, Lilly and Seth vanished in a flash of darkness. They appeared a few seconds later on a beautiful tropical island where the sun was already set. Stars illuminated the sky, and the moon glowed above her. It would have been incredibly romantic, if her boyfriend wasn’t nearly comatose in her arms.

Lilly started dragging him forward, but the sand was deep, and it made taking even a few steps exhausting. After half a dozen she gave up. “Help!” she yelled at the wood line of palm trees. “For fuck’s sake get out here and give me a hand!”

There was no answer for a full minute until a figure burst out from between the palm trees.

“What the damn hell, girl!” Armsman appeared with Nano hot on his heels. “You know they’ve got a satellite passing over her in less than five minutes?!”

“Then all the more reason to move your ass and help me get him inside!” Lilly shot back.

“Is that Abney?” Nano asked, walking up next to Seth to grab his other arm. The much younger and smaller Nano wasn’t a great help but he allowed them to shuffle forward a little faster than what Lilly had accomplished on her own. Armsman looked like he wanted nothing to do with the unconscious young man.

“He looks like a rapid dog.” He glared. “And why they hell did you bring him here?”

“He’s one of us now.” Lilly was getting tired of shouting. “He broke out of jail, took a bullet in the process, and fought off two Heroes. He went toe-to-toe with Reaper and Hunter and held them off long enough for us to get away.” Lilly embellished a little, but her uncle was all about reputation. If someone was going to be staying in his house, he needed to be a proper villain.

“Reaper and Hunter…” Armsman smelled the bullshit, and it showed on his face.

“He kept them at bay while I used my shadow to trump Reaper’s reaping. After that, I got us out.” Lilly was dripping sweat now that they were in the hotter climate. “I vouch for him, so for fuck’s sake help me!”

“Your judgment has always been clouded when it comes to this one,” Armsman gave a sideways glance at Seth, “but if he really helped you fight against the Heroes I’ll give him temporary asylum.”

With that decided, Armsman took over for Nano and they made much better time. They entered the subterranean complex and hustled Seth to the medical area. Hellgate was still there, right where Lilly had left him, and it hit her hard for a moment that the two men she cared about the most in her life were unconscious and injured. It made her heart tighten, but she didn’t have time to dawdle. They hooked Seth up to the various instruments and allowed the auto medic to do its job. The automated life-caring machine wasn’t as good as a healer, but it was the best technology had come up with. It had to split its attention between Hellgate and Seth, but when her father remained stable she was sure the machine could handle it.

“Ok, I’ll be back.” She stated before quickly vanishing.

“Wha…” was all she heard from Armsman before the dark comfort of the void surrounded her.

It lasted only a second, and then she was on another beach and running. She put three more destinations between her and Armsman’s island, each time putting space between her ingress and egress points, before she arrived back at the flat. Morina was still there and unconscious, as was the rift in space-time from her emergency teleport.

<I’ve got to fix that.> She employed a tried and true practice.

She did a few dozen rapid teleportation’s around the room. She created a maze of rifts that Hunter would have to go through to find the real one, and even then, she had multiple teleportations going to multiple beaches around the globe. It would be a miracle if Hunter was able to track her to Armsman’s island.

With her earlier mistake rectified, she ignored the wave of exhaustion threatening to overwhelm her, scooped up Morina, and did several more teleportations to get her back to the island. She made sure to arrive in the trees without her signature explosion of darkness so any satellite overhead wouldn’t pick her up. She took her unconscious friend underground, and for the first time since fleeing Orlando with Seth felt a modicum of peace and security. As a villain she had to cherish these few and far between moments.

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