Two Worlds – Chapter 235

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings

<We’re not in Kansas anymore,> Coop thought with a smile.

He was even prouder that he understood the reference when Eve muttered it for the first time back in basic. Well…he understood most of it. He didn’t understand the literary reference, but he knew what Kansas was, and where it was. Kansas was a district in the North American Sector of Earth. Apparently, it had been an agricultural breadbasket back in the day, but had been transformed into a large concentration of PHAs in the last two hundred years. Space was a premium on Earth, and they could get food from any of the orbital farms, Mars, or any of the other moons that the Commonwealth had colonized in the first wave of the Expansion.

Coop and the rest of Alpha Team, SRRT Two, were a long way from Kansas right now. They were walking down what he assumed was Main Street of The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude in the latest combat armor. The LACS looked out of place anywhere except a military base or a war zone, but surprisingly, no one here gave them a second look. Coop didn’t know if that was a good thing. No one really knew the technological level of the primary species of the Hegemony, but to see the latest and greatest of humanity’s war machines and not bat an eye was telling.

<Hell…we don’t even know what the hell these things are?> Coop’s armor was recording the sight and he was sure the xenobiologists would be going over it for years.

Coop had made out nearly a dozen unique species so far. Most were as strange as the Twigs and Stormbreakers, who only had a passing resemblance to something on Earth, but there were a few more recognizable ETs. Including the Pups that Mike had described earlier. They were the most interesting because they watched the humans pass with their pointed ears lying flat on their heads. Coop had seen enough holo shows to know that’s what dogs did when they were pissed. Did it mean the same thing for the Pups, and if so, why were they so pissed?

<That’s for the diplomats to figure out,> Coop reminded himself and focused his attention back on the surroundings.

Main Street was expansive. It was equivalent to a ten lane highway back on any of the Commonwealth’s major planets, but no cars drove down it. Some hovered over it, just within the grav-field of the city, but the city’s officials seemed to purposefully keep them away. It ruined the view.

The second Coop had stepped out of their hotel and onto the expansive boulevard, he was glad he kept his IOR of its lowest setting. It was like someone turned on a holo channel in his head to sell things he didn’t want or need. When his eyes made contact with a shopkeeper, their stall, or their products’ information flowed across his vision. It was nearly overwhelming. The only comparison Coop could think of was multitasking in combat. They had to shoot, move and communicate. Here he had to process, walk, and maintain situational awareness. After a few minutes, Coop would rather be shot than deal with the information overload.

The worst was the propositions. Apparently the world’s oldest profession wasn’t constrained to just Earth. Aliens prowled the streets looking for interested customers, but the worst part was that when Coop’s eyes passed over them, and their info was processed through his IOR, he basically got a promo vid of alien porn. Ninety percent of it he just didn’t understand, but the ten percent he did was going to give him a soft off for life. One was just the creature spewing a green slimy substance the whole video.

{What the fuck!} Coop wasn’t able to uphold his military discipline and Eve rushed to his side. She took one look at what he was seeing and shuddered as well.

{Just set your IOR to inbound audio only,} she suggested.  

Coop was a little embarrassed he hadn’t thought about it, and toggled to his preferences. The IORs would be great once humanity had the hardware and software commercially available, especially on the entertainment planets like Disney’s World or Vegas. Now that Coop thought about it, this place seemed like an alien Vegas.

Buildings lined Main Street on either side. They seemed to be a mix of lodging, restaurants, and entertainment; which meant that whatever their differences, aliens and humans still needed to sleep, eat, and have a little fun. Coop suggested they duck into one of the larger entertainment venues, but the SGM shot him down. You weren’t going to find any decent intel in one of those big joints. They would make you see what you wanted them to see, and the mainstream entertainment venues undoubtedly worked hand-in-hand with the city’s officials to keep everything on the up and up. The SGM wanted some real intel, and Coop knew they’d have to go someplace a little shadier for that. So, he took a side alley once the tourist levels started to drop off and they got into blue collar territory.

{The best thing we can do is find the local watering hole and start buying people drinks. Everyone talks once you get a few drinks in them.} Thankfully, the SGM had been given some Hegemonic credits by the diplomats, so they had something to work with. Unfortunately, no one had any idea how far two hundred credits would get them.

{This place looks as good as any,} Coop gestured to a place off the beaten path that looked a little worse for wear.

{Buddy teams the whole time. If shit hits the fan we egress back to the rendezvous point. Do not fire unless fired upon. We don’t need some diplomatic incident. The Minister doesn’t strike me as someone who’d approve of gunboat diplomacy.}  Everyone acknowledged the SGM’s orders, and Coop slid over to Eve’s side.

He held out his arm like a proper gentleman, but all that got him was a dull clang when she elbowed him in the ribs and led the way. Coop followed her in. The place was half full, and immaculately clean. Coop’s sensors picked up a dozen small robots moving around the establishment and cleaning up after its patrons.

What passed for alien tables dominated the majority of the space. One wall was completely taken up by four large machines. Lines were formed at the machines which customers seemed to be ordering from. One guy stood watching them from what could only be described as a bar. The guy in question looked like a walrus fucked a pterodactyl, and then an HI trooper came over and repeatedly punched the thing in the face, which made it more of an amorphous blob with a barely discernable skeletal structure than anything else. The majority of the customers looked to be more of a collection of tentacles. The “tables” looked more like rock formations that the things stuck to and sucked on purple blobs they got from the machines.

{Ok, let’s get to work.} Coop had stopped when he went through the door, and it took Eve’s comment to get him moving.

He couldn’t tell if their entrance turned any heads, because the tentacle things didn’t have heads. Coop checked to see if his IOR was getting pinged by these creatures, and something was coming in. A closer look showed a written language that approximated a drunken Buffalo PHA rat with Tourette Syndrome trying to write his name in the snow with his piss.

Coop’s IOR still needed an upgrade because it didn’t have a translator for the tentacle people. So, he just waved. It must have been the right thing to do because the ETs went back to sucking on their purple blobs. Coop got behind Eve in line and waited his turn at the machine.

When he got to it, the machine spoke directly into his IOR. {Please classify Species.}

{Uh…human…} Coop replied.

{Unable to identify. Please classify species.} Five cubes appeared in Coop’s vision with information on them. Coop started to read them and identified that the Hegemony had segregated all its members’ species into five separate classifications. It had a lot to do with a species base make up. For instance, Coop knew he breathed oxygen and expelled carbon dioxide, not the other way around. He was also a carbon-based-lifeform not silicone-based. Coop knew enough for that to mean there were living robots out there somewhere. He just hadn’t seen them yet.

In the end, Coop was pretty sure humanity was a Class Five species by Hegemony standards. With that figured out, he browsed the menu. The dive bar they were in, or at least that’s how Coop thought about it, obviously hadn’t been briefed on humans yet because Coop didn’t understand anything on the menu. He opted for something that looked like meatloaf, which cost three credits. He paid the machine, if gave a small rumble, a ding, and the loaf of quasi-meat popped out.

{Don’t eat it,} Eve advised. She’d ordered some sort of soup, but whatever was in it was still alive.

Coop used his LACS scanners to get a good look at the hunk of meat and it turned out there was a high dose of arsenic in it. He didn’t think the machine had intentionally tried to kill him, but he was obviously going to have to wait until they got back to their palatial accommodation before he could grab something to eat. He considered offering it to one of the tentacle people, but for all he knew it was poisonous to them as well, and they could accuse him of attempted murder. Instead, he went over to the table Eve was leaning against. There weren’t any seats, so all they could do was lean against the weird rock formations.

{So, is this the most awkward date you’ve ever been on, or is it just me?} Coop tried to break the tension, and got a chuckle from Eve.

{No. I had a date with a guy from Basic once. Worst kisser ever,} she replied.

{Ouch…that’s cold, Sergeant.} Coop put his hand over his heart and was about to ask how the aforementioned guy was in bed when the SGM cut in.

{We’re being recalled.} The man was already heading to the door while the GYSGT watched his back.

{What? Why? I was just about to enjoy my loaf of poison.} Coop complained. Not because of the food, but because he was just starting to get into a good rhythm with Eve. It was almost like old times.

{The diplomats decided to engage in their own fact-finding mission. Apparently, one hit his panic button. Argo is triangulating his position, but he isn’t on this floating city anymore. Whoever grabbed him took him down to the planet.}

<Idiot.> Coop was out the door and moving with the rest of the team.

{It’s our job to go and get him. We’ll brief when we get back. Argo is getting scans of the area, we’ll develop a plan and then go get our man. We don’t leave humans behind.}  

Coop knew the SGM believed it, but he also knew the diplomats would leave one of the SRRT soldiers behind if it suited their political needs. Still, it wasn’t his job to give them a healthy dose of common sense. He just needed to go save this asshole.

Previous                                  Two Worlds – Chapter 236

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PCS to Eden – Crossroads Part 1

<This is weird,> Ava thought as she walked along the nearly-deserted streets of Manhattan.

She’d just tripped over a piece of debris, and it reminded her just how clumsy humans were…and how weak. Every time she came across a sufficiently large and heavy obstacle, she had to find an alternative route. She couldn’t just fly over it, or move it, and it made her pity the mortals. Their lives were so short to begin with and then they had to overcome all the minutia that the Divine could sweep aside with a thought.

<But they keep on thriving,> and that was when Ava realized why God loved humans so much. They were the weakest, least intelligent, and most prone to the whims of fate, but they kept on going no matter what. They invented, they created great art and culture, they burned it all down in a fit of jealous rage, and then they built something new from the ashes. There was something to be admired there.

<I still don’t want to stay this way.> The thought intruded on her praise of humanity. <They might be inspirational, but I’m happy being what I am.> In her current situation she was more concerned about self-preservation than self-actualization.

Manhattan was a war zone, and contained all that implied. Some of the tallest buildings destroyed during the fight in Central Park had crumbled and made debris piles as large as most of the shorter buildings. All of the electricity was out, and the smoke from the seemingly-infinite amount of fires blotted out the sun’s weak rays. Soon it would be night and total blackness would consume the city.

That was perfect for her plans. She was almost at the rendezvous where she would meet up with Gabriel. She would evaluate the situation and start the extraction while darkness still gave them cover. If all went well, they would be at the East River by dawn and crossing it. Midway across the river seemed to be the border drawn by the æther between the Amazon’s annexed territory and the rest of God’s Eden. If they could make it there then it would take a small army of Amazon’s to take them down. Michael would be waiting to help, so she doubted the warrior women would try anything.

<Now I just need to get us there.> Ava rounded the corner and found herself at her destination.

Normally, lights would be lighting up the entranceway and framing the columns spaced around the exterior, but it was all shrouded in darkness. She glanced either way to make sure no one was looking, and then sprinted up the short flight of stairs to the front doors. She hoped if anyone was watching that they just thought she was a frightened girl looking for refuge during the apocalypse.

Three doors marked the entrance to the building. Two looked to be shut tight, but the third, in the center, was hanging precariously by a single hinge. Someone had already been here; someone powerful enough to kick in the old, heavy door. Ava quickly went over her options. She could recall her power at any time, but it would take some time to gather her strength. Starting the process would light her up light a torch for the Amazons to track, and she didn’t know if that was worth it since Gabriel might have been the one to kick in the door in the first place.

She didn’t hesitate long at the door before heading inside human and powerless. It wasn’t as dark inside as out. Someone had lit candles and spread them around. That struck Ava as a risky maneuver when the building was the flagship location for the New York public library and all the rare books it held. A fire would be devastating.

<But then again most humans think the world is coming to an end, so a couple of old books getting accidentally singed isn’t at the top of their list of priorities. That’s where food and shelter are right now,> she thought as her eyes scanned the area.

Several bookcases had toppled over, but the damage was localized, which meant there had been a struggle. There wasn’t any blood, but Ava still avoided the area. The last thing she needed was to step in Amazon blood and lead a blood trail of breadcrumbs for them to follow. There were no other signs of struggle, so she started to meticulously search the building. Gabriel would be hiding, and judging by the destruction in the city he was injured.

It took Ava a lot longer than she was proud of to find the archangel, and when she did it was a little anticlimactic. She was trying to get from one section to another by squeezing through a tight space, and she literally tripped over him. The Messenger of God came up swinging, and if she hadn’t been toppling over, he probably would have killed her. Ava would need to thank her father for the good luck as she got to her feet.

“Take it easy, Gabriel. It’s me, Ava. Michael sent me to rescue you.” She backpedaled to stay out of his range and tried to calm him down.

Gabriel stepped out of the shadows and Ava grimaced. The archangel looked gaunt and emaciated. There were ugly red scars along his body, and dark circles under his eyes. He looked like he was just as much cut off from God’s æther as Ava was, but unfortunately he’d been in a knockout brawl right beforehand.

“Ava the Dominion?” Gabriel kept the giant tome he was using as a weapon raised in front of him.

“I’m actually a Power now, but I’m still that Ava,” she replied, and made sure her hands were where the archangel could see her.

“If you’re really Ava what was your daughter’s name?”  Gabriel still didn’t believe her, but his face softened when hurt flashed across her features.

“Maria,” Ava whispered and fought back tears.

“I’m sorry,” Gabriel lowered his improvised weapon. “But I don’t know who to trust here. Anyone could be anyone.”

That was true. It was simple magic to change your appearance, and the archangel was right to keep his guard up. The loss of an archangel in Heaven’s new war effort against the Infernals and Eden’s rebelling remnant species was unthinkable.

“We’re going to hunker down here for another hour until darkness completely sets in. Then we’ll use it to move seven blocks east to the river. From there, we’ll steal a boat or swim to the border.” Ava relayed her plan and Gabriel nodded. It was simple. Anything more complicated was likely to get them both caught.

“Take a nap, I’ll take first watch,” Gabriel offered. “You don’t look so good.”

Ava couldn’t stop the sharp laugh that escaped her lips. “Have you taken a look in the mirror lately?”

Gabriel conceded with a nod of his head, but when Ava took a seat next to him she felt sleep pulling at her eyelids. Walking all that way, avoiding the obstacles, and the roving Amazon patrols had taxed her more than she thought.

<How do humans do it?> she thought as she fought sleep’s pull.

 

***

 

“You want to go where?” Gerry asked .

They were back in his underground Demesne after their trip to the Wisconsin Satanic gathering…and the dairy farm down the street. Death was chewing on a wheel of cheese, sampling a dozen different wines from the collection they’d brought from Jeb’s house for VIPs, and flipping through the channels on the flat screen.

“Mmm York,” she said through a mouthful of Wisconsin’s finest.

“You want to go to New York City…in the middle of the fight between the angels, Amazons, and a Leviathan…right now?” Gerry couldn’t help but think this was a very bad idea. “God will know you’re here if you do.”

“God shmod,” she waved her hands dismissively of a Primordial whose power Gerry couldn’t’ fathom. “If he comes he comes. I’ll deal with him if I have to.” Her face suddenly became pensive and her eyes unfocused. “That would be pretty interesting if he did show up. It would confirm that he’d grown a pair since I last saw him, and then we’ve got all the fixings for a party.” Whatever party she was talking about Gerry didn’t want to tag along. “Plus,” she continued, “I want to see the leviathan. Cronus boasted they were the most powerful creatures ever created, and I want to see if he was right.”

In Gerry’s mind, that was not a good reason for venturing into the middle of a warzone between two enemy sides, neither of whom would like to see Gerry enter the fray. Especially since he was still pretty convinced one side thought he was still dead and that anonymity greatly assisted his operations in Charlotte. He opened his mouth to explain all of this to Death, but the look she gave him brought him up short. No matter Gerry’s reasoning, she wanted to do this, so they were doing it.

“Fine,” he relented, which brought a beaming smile to Death’s face, and wiped all Gerry’s fears away.

<She won’t let anything happen to me…right?>

“You bet I won’t,” she was already moving, and she swatted his ass playfully as she passed. “Who else is going to show me around if my Gerry Berry gets hurt.” She pinched his cheeks as she tossed the half-eaten wheel of cheese on the table.

Gerry couldn’t stop from blushing. As she sat there, hovering inches from his face, the only thing in the universe he wanted to do was kiss her. Her lips were like a magnet drawing him forward, and he started to do it, when a finger interposed itself between him and her.

“Don’t ruin the moment,” she pressed the finger to his lips, and his whole body trembled. “Anticipation is the spice of love, and I like my meals nice and spicy.”

Gerry didn’t know whether to be horrified or horny, and he didn’t have time to consider before she grabbed his hand and they disappeared.

Previous                                  PCS to Eden – Crossroads Part 2

Two Worlds – Chapter 234

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings

“I can get used to this,” Coop made the statement out loud.

He was standing in front of a window that looked out on a spectacular view. The top half was the blackness of space complete with the pinpoints of stars. The bottom portion showed the white clouds, blue seas, and green landmasses of the planet below them. Coop was also in an excellent position to see the planet change from day to night. He could see the light from the system’s yellow dwarf star slowly creeping along the surface, while still catching the breathtaking amount of lights on the night-side. The planet was clearly heavily populated, but the human delegation wouldn’t be going down during this visit.

The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude never touched the planet’s surface. It was suspended in the thermosphere where the atmosphere met space and was held aloft by giant grav drives, or at least that’s what Coop believed. He wasn’t going to see the workings of the city. He did see some supply umbilicals arching down to the surface, but other than that the thing could run on magic for all he knew.

{I still find that creepy.} Eve’s voice sounded in his head as she maintained communication’s discipline.

She was referring to the window itself. They’d learned that the Hegemony used force fields as part of its architectural designs. The room they were in was opulently decorated, but for all intents and purposes open to space except for a centimeter of energy. Coop felt ok because he was still in his LACS, but he’d never be able to sleep in here.

{Cooper, is your section clear?} GYSGT Cunningham asked from the opposite side of the spacious suite.

Coop wasn’t here sightseeing or settling in. He had a scanning wand in his hand and was supposed to be going over the place for bugs. Not the bed bugs that seemed to infest everything back during Coop’s childhood in the PHA, but surveillance tech. Since the Hegemony was obviously more advanced than humanity, Coop wasn’t sure they were going to find anything even with the wands turned up to maximum sensitivity. All that really meant was Coop’s job was ten times more difficult when the wand beeped a warning every time it picked up anything. It could have been the exotic particles from the previous occupant’s farts for all Coop knew. Still, he remained diligent in the hopes the SGM would be able to let them do a little scouting of the city when the diplomats were buttoned up tight for the night.

{We’re good here, Gunney,} Coop replied as he scanned his last flagged space with his LACS sensors on top of the wand to ensure it was secure.

Alpha Team was securing the teams quarters while Bravo Team was off with the delegation at a meet and greet, orientation, or happy hour. Coop really wasn’t sure. The Stormbreakers had universal communicators, but they were only universal as much as they were used with previously explored species. The devices that sat on the jellyfish-like portion of the ET’s anatomy got the basics of English Standard, but none of the nuances. That made communication difficult. Add to that, that much of human communication was nonverbal, and you had an issue even if the ETs understood the words.

<Not my problem,> Coop thought as he returned the wand to the equipment bracket they’d brought with them.

{Nwo what, Gunney?} Coop didn’t want to sit on his ass when here was an alien space city to explore.

{Now we wait and ensure no one infiltrates these rooms until the delegation returns.}

Coop tried really hard to hide his disappointment. <Hurry up and wait it is.> The concept was as old as the military itself, and now that Coop thought about it, probably as old as the Hegemony. He was sure, somewhere out there, that an alien grunt had just been rushed to complete a job only to have to sit on his gelatinous ass for hours after finishing.

Thankfully, it wasn’t hours for Coop. Thirty-seven minutes later, according to the internal chronometer his IOR provided him, the delegation returned. They were buzzing like a bunch of high school girls who’d just learned the cheer captain had been knocked up by the star quarterback. They didn’t even bother to acknowledge the armored soldiers around them as they set about unpacking all of their crap.

Coop couldn’t help but notice a lot of it was expensive clothing. <Like a floating jellyfish cares what quality smartcloth you’re wearing.> Coop rolled his eyes and was thankful no one could see him.

After a minute, Mike lumbered over and took up a guard position five meters from Coop. It wasn’t close enough to talk face-to-face without being heard, but they could have a private IOR chat. Coop had been playing around with the IOR’s organic version of settings, and was pretty sure he’d found out how to stop his duly appointed NCOs and Officers from listening in on him all the time. This was as good of a time as any to test it.

First off, he didn’t just acknowledge Mike in his mind’s eyes and start talking. He pinged him with a request to talk. The request had a privacy subroutine built into it similar to what Coop had done with his LACS back on New Lancashire. If the GYSGT or SGM wanted to listen in, they’d hear a different conversation than what was actually being spoken. Coop was pretty sure they’d figure out it was a ruse sooner or later, so his next project was figuring out how he could track who was in a conversation, but it would have to do for now.

Coop could hear the confusion in Mike’s thoughts when he accepted the invite to chat. {What are you doing?}

{Just testing something out. So, what did the diplomats talk about?}

{It was an introductory meeting. Not everyone was there, but a few representatives were present. There were two Twigs there than seem to be Bob and Carol’s supervisors. They were interested in their subordinates performance and future trade contracts. There was something that looked like a cloud of bugs that didn’t speak to us at all, but watched us closely. There were more Stormbreakers there seeking introductions, along with a new ET that looked like someone pumped steroids into a Jack Russel Terrier.} Coop felt Mike’s mental shrug at the last bit of info. Apparently, neither of them knew who this Jack Terrier was. {The diplomats were pretty psyched about the Terrier things. They kept talking about sperm or spermia-something. Apparently, scientists back home had stopped believing in it, but the Terriers give it a fighting chance.}

Coop had no more idea about this than Mike, so he made a command decision and brought in a smarter third party. {What are you up to, Coop?}  Eve accepted the invite with trepidation, but listened as Coop brought her up to speed.

{They’re talking about panspermia; it’s a theory that the building blocks of life were distributed throughout the universe by space dust, meteorites, asteroids, comets, or even ancient spacecraft. Many think that because these things would have a common origin; especially if microbes were being transferred from spaceships to new planets, that lifeforms would be somewhat similar. Since our only contact with sentient aliens has been the Twigs, that has thrown that hypothesis into doubt. They’re nothing like us or anything on Earth. Sure, the might have a tree-like appearance, but aside from that every part of their physiology is vastly different from any Earth species. The Stormbreakers are even more different from us than the Twigs. So, the diplomats are probably psyched because this new species they were introduced to seems to have characteristics similar to Old Earth’s dogs.}

{I thought Jack Russel Terrier was a pre-expansion holo star?} Mike stated.  

Coop could feel Eve roll her eyes, so he asked Mike to send him an image of the new species. It took a second for Coop to walk Mike through how to retrieve an image from his IORs data storage, which was essentially pulling the image from his memory and attaching it to an email, but he got it. Coop also queried his IOR’s default library to find images of a Jack Russel Terrier and put the images side by side. The resemblance was only passing.

The image on the left, from an old Earth picture of the dog, showed a small, happy creature. It couldn’t be more than thirty centimeters tall, and if that thing weight eight kilos soaking wet Coop would fork over half a month’s pay. The picture on the right was much more menacing. The face was more angular than the dog’s, with a thin coat of fine hair ranging from white to dark brown. The picture Mike sent Coop showed the ET’s mouth open and some not-so-friendly chompers. The ETs had clearly evolved as predators and had retained sharp teeth capable of tearing and sawing flesh.

They were also much bigger than the Earth dog. The IOR computed that the largest of them was one-point-six meters tall, which made them slightly smaller than the average human, but they looked much more muscular. They were rocking a bit of a hunchback, which Coop guessed was because their ancestors moved around on four legs. There equivalent of arms were disproportionally long, were equipped with four clawed digits, one of which was twice the size of the others, and another smaller with opposable characteristics to wield tools.

Even more interesting to Coop were their clothes. It looked like a mesh material that fit somewhere between armor and formal attire. If it was formal attire than it was just a style thing, but if it was armor then they were definitely militaristic. The only other people they’d seen in armor so far were his SRRT team. Coop wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

To alleviate the primal itch Coop got in the back of his brain that said “predator” whenever he looked at the new ETs, he decided to call them something harmless. If you said something enough times, even if it wasn’t true, you could start to believe it.

{I don’t want to be fighting the Puppies anytime soon judging by those claws.} Coop heard Mike laugh and felt Eve roll her eyes at his nickname for the smaller predators.

{That’s not even the best part,} Mike continued. {From what the diplomats were discussing the Stormbreakers are the aliens who developed the bioseeds and are going to be going through the Commonwealth and licensing the hardware and software for commercial use.}

{It makes sense.} Eve stated. {The Strombreakers have to communicate someway and I haven’t seen any eyes or mouths on them. My guess is some type of electromagnetic sensitivity that lets them project stuff as subtle as brain waves or as powerful as lightening.}

{Why are you a grunt again?} Coop asked. {That’s some science shit right there, Sergeant. Maybe you should put on a lab coat and join the other team.}

{Fuck you, Coop. Anyone can study these things. Not everyone can kill them if we need to.} Eve had a point there.

{Everyone listen up,} the SGM cut off the rest of the conversation. {The diplomats have a dinner with the Hegemony representatives and then a tour. Alpha will stay with the diplomats. Bravo will secure the room and recon.}

<Yes! About time.> Coop almost jinxed himself, but the SGM took pity on him. The LT was going to lead the security detachment. The GYSGT was going to remain with all the gear along with LCDR Gold and Aiko, while Coop, Eve, and the SGM took a look around.

Coop didn’t even consider why the SGM had chosen him, but he was sure it wasn’t for his good looks.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 233

Location: Aurum System, Gold Technologies Corporate Territory, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Lord Daemon Wright, Duke of Cockshire, stood on the bridge of the cruiser Othello and smiled. Trailing behind the cruiser in a wedge formation were six destroyers, three of the same new, advanced construction as Othello, which consisted of three fourths of House Wright’s naval strength.

House Wright was not a large house. They’d ruled over Cockshire since Windsor was colonized, but they’d never advanced much in social standing or in favor to the crown. The dukedom was large, but mostly agricultural, and lacking of much industrial capacity. Daemon wondered if that was why the royal cartographers had christened his holdings Cockshire. The name had dogged his family for generations. Thankfully a rooster wasn’t on the family crest or they would be the laughing stock of the high nobility.

<Not anymore.> The Duke’s spine straightened as he looked at the two hundred and seventy degree holo that surrounded his position on the flag bridge. The Duke was not a navy man, even though he’d done a tour in the royal fleet to get to know his subjects. Even then, he’d been an engineer. That was his strength. <This situation doesn’t require strategic finesse, just the brute application of force.>

House Wright had been given a part of Operation Grand Sweep; a part that the Duke found lacking. They’d been tasked with taking – and this irked the Duke to no end – an agricultural world with limited defenses and population. There was no honor and prestige to gain by attacking defenseless farmers. He’d made his complaints known to the Lord Admiral, but the man sidestepped the complaint by citing supply needs for future offensive operations and other logistical matters.

The Duke didn’t want to be a logistical footnote when the history books wrote about their grand offensive. He wanted to be the highlight, so he set his sights on a nearby world.

Aurum was the corporate capitol of the Gold Technologies empire. Representatives from the corporation had made overtures when the Queen was building her forces, and the merchant shipping guilds had been forced to grant shipping rights to the carpetbaggers. That animosity never went away as more and more Gold Technologies ships supplied goods from the blasphemous Commonwealth into royal markets. The Duke found Windsor craftsmanship to be superior in every regard, and he’d tried to enact local legislation to stem the flow of the inferior goods. He hadn’t made much headway before the royal call to war abruptly ended the trading, but now he had a chance to strike his own blow.

Othello’s small task force had transitioned in as close as possible to the capitol planet to maximize the element of surprise. They’d carried there acceleration over from the portal and were hurtling toward their target. As the approached the more populated space, the light-minute radius of their sensors began to populate. Nearly a hundred cargo ships were abruptly changing course to flee before the Duke’s forces.

“Engage anything in range of our beam weapons. Let’s not waste missiles.” Like everything else on the new construction, Othello’s lasers were better than anything humanity had produced before. Despite that, you couldn’t overcome physics. The laser might be much stronger, but you couldn’t fight beam dispersion that eventually decayed the laser’s effectiveness.

Othello had four lasers per broadside, less than similar Commonwealth cruisers, but the designers had correctly assumed the Kingdom’s ships would be chasing their enemies for years to come, so they’d mounted two cannons at the bow of the ship giving it a total of ten. Othello compensated for having fewer laser cannons by having a half dozen more missile launchers. With the enhancements in missiles technology imparted by their alien trade partners, coupled with shielding, Othello was capable of taking on anything the corporation could throw at it.

The Duke didn’t feel anything as the cruiser opened fire on nearby freighters. The lasers had a maximum range of one and a half million kilometers, which put only three ships in range, but three was better than nothing. The beam weapons raked the three ships from bow to stern. One, a quarter million ton hauler, blew apart as their reactors went critical. The other two spewed hull plating, atmosphere, and people as they spiraled out of range with barely enough power to perform minor course corrections. It wasn’t a satisfying attack for the Duke, but it would have to do.

“Your Grace, enemy ships accelerating to meet us at bearing three-five-two. They’re twenty million kilometers out.” The flag captain informed from the bridge.

The ship’s new onboard AIs began refining the ships’ signatures for the next thirty minutes until the Duke had a good idea what he was facing. All of the ships were in the Kingdom’s database because the ships had all been identified before at New Lancashire, now the freshly subjugated New Britain.

At the center of the enemy formation was the GSFS Midas. The assault carrier was smaller than the Commonwealth version, but it still could dish out more hurt than a mere cruiser. Surrounding the carrier in a diamond formation were four battlecruisers. Just like the carrier, the battlecruisers were smaller than their Commonwealth counterparts, and way smaller than the Kingdom’s designs. The battlecruisers were only thirty percent larger than Othello. Lastly, two destroyers occupied positions on the flanks.

When all the numbers were added up, it was seven on seven. When the tonnage was added up, the Gold Technologies ships outweighed the House of Wright’s forces by a considerable margin. When missile and beam weapons were tallied, the Gold Technologies carrier group had a two-to-one advantage in missiles and a three-to one advantage in beam weapons. When combat effectiveness in the new world of naval warfare was measured, the House of Wright held all the cards.

Since the corporate fleet tended to deal more with pirates and close up action, the high beam weapon count made sense. As such, the Duke’s plan was to engage with missiles. The Kingdom’s missiles had better drives, a longer range, and a more explosive payload than the corporations. They’d batter the corporate forces until drawing into closer ranges where their shields would protect them. If any of the carrier groups ships survived when they sailed within one and a half million kilometers, the Duke would finish them off with laser cannons.

“We’re being hailed, Your Grace.” His communications specialist, who was his sister’s, daughter’s, youngest son stated. Just like the Duke nearly sixty years ago, the young lord wanted to gain some valuable life experience, but his mother didn’t want him in harm’s way. So, he was sitting safely on the flag bridge of a modern cruiser that was supposed to be attacking an agricultural backwater.

“Video on the holo.” The Duke took a deep breath and put on an expressionless face.

“Unidentified vessels, this is Commodore Zahn of the Gold Technologies Security Fleet, you have unlawfully entered corporate territory. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.” The man on the screen looked surprisingly calm in the face of the Duke’s force.

<The man must not know what we’re capable of.> The Duke fought back a grin.

“Commodore, this it Duke Daemon Wright, Sixth Duke of Cockshire, Order of the Sword. Stand aside or perish.” The Duke wanted to keep it short and sweet. There wasn’t any legal loop hole he was trying the sell the corporation’s lawyers. This was war.

The CMDRE’s calm expression cracked for a moment, and a chuckle escaped before he could regain control. “Wow, I never thought I’d meet the Duke of Cock, but I’ve done my duty and warned you. If you pass this line, we will consider your intentions hostile and engage. Good day.”

“It’s Cockshire!” The Duke roared at the CMDRE as the insufferable man disconnected. He looked at the holo as a green line was drawn in space in front of them. It was three million kilometers away. The Duke’s force would be there in less than twenty minutes. “Full speed ahead, Captain.”

“Your Grace…”

“I said full speed ahead! I want that man’s head on my wall inside the hour!” The Duke was seething.

“Yes, Your Grace.” The CAPT cut the connection and the numbers on the side of the Duke’s holo ticked down as the time to the line was recalculated to fourteen minutes.

Those fourteen minutes dragged by. The ship was already at battlestations, but the tension in the air was now palpable as there was a countdown clock to combat. The Duke couldn’t help but grip the sides of his command chair as they reached the line and crossed it. When nothing happened, he grinned at the rest of the flag bridge.

“All bark and no bite,” the Duke laughed. “Othello, target the assault carrier. I want us to be the ones to end that man’s existence. The destroyers can pair up and target the three nearest battlecruisers. Once we finish them off we can move on to the remaining three ships.”

“Yes, Your Grace, repositioning…” red lights and a blaring claxon interrupted the CAPT.

“New contacts! Fifty…seventy five…one-twenty…two-eight…three hundred and ninety five new identified threats bearing down at us from one-three five and two-two-five!” There was and edge of panic in the tactical officer’s voice.

“What?! Where did they come from? What are they?” The Duke spewed questions like a broken hydrant.

“They’re moving fast…they’re…BRACE FOR IMPACT!” The man didn’t even have time to relay what he was seeing.

The tactical officer’s first impression was that they were missiles. Their acceleration was so high that they couldn’t be anything else. It would also explain why they hadn’t seen them. The enemy commander had lured them into a trap. Stealth missile platforms must have been placed along avenues of approach to ambush any unwanted visitors. Nearly four hundred missiles bearing down on them would usually be cause for alarm, but a quick glance at his screen showed Othello and the destroyers’ shield were at one hundred percent, and their point-defense clusters were already opening fire and taking out the missiles…except then the missiles started maneuvering.

“What the hell?” Was all the time the tactical officer had before smaller red icons emerged from what he thought were missiles and the pulse of computer confirmed beam weapons filled the space around the House of Wright’s ships.

It quickly became clear Othello wasn’t the target as the destroyers took the full brunt of the attack. Hundreds of lasers and micro-missiles smashed into the four destroyers bringing up the rear. The Duke had ordered the three new builds to be dispersed between the older ships to ensure the obsolete models had better protection. That was sound thinking when developing a movement plan that would shift into a wall of battle, but not for an ambush.

The two rearmost destroyers: King Lear and Henry VIII were old models. The missiles and lasers that hit them tore them to pieces in seconds. The two destroyers in front of them were Twelfth Night and Merry Wives of Windsor both new builds. Both destroyers bucked as dozens and dozens of missiles and lasers smashed into their shields. They both held out better than King Lear and Henry VIII. Twelfth Night’s side of the wedge did a better job with point defense. She was still combat ready, but she was venting air and trailing debris after the attack. Merry Wives of Windsor’s side of the wedge was less effective. Her acceleration cut to zero and she started to coast ballistic. Compensators and positioning thrusters were still online because it didn’t go into a tumble, but it took the engineering crew more than an hour to reroute power to get the engines back online.

To the surprise of the Duke and everyone else in the House of Wright’s fleet, their combat strength had nearly been cut in half in the surprise attack. Even more revealing was that two of the new destroyers had been damaged to an extent.

“Missile launch!” The Duke’s head snapped back to the holo where the space around the approaching carrier group suddenly filled with over four hundred missiles. These had to be missiles this time because their acceleration rate was higher than the previous contacts.

The Duke recognized he was in deep shit as a forty second count down clock appeared until missile impact. He was an avid hunter, and in a primarily agricultural shire, he hunted frequently and was quite good; so he understood what had happened. The initial attack had come from behind. It had come in fast and hard and cut his proverbial Achilles Heel. Now he was bleeding and unable to maneuver his forces as well when the enemy went for the jugular.

“Evasive maneuvers!” He yelled as the clock hit thirty seconds. He gripped his chair with white knuckled furry and prayed he’d survive.

 

***

 

Commodore George Zahn

Location: GSFS King Midas, Aurum System, Gold Technologies Corporate Territory, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Mad” George Zahn sat back in his command chair and sipped the cup of coffee. Unlike coffee back in the Fleet, this cup didn’t suck. Good coffee was one of the perks of being in corporate security. Another perk of working with Gold Technologies was that his employer always wanted him to have the best. It had been an exhausting five months in the docks getting refit, but now he could see it was worth it. He was also hoping his strategy to have pre-placed fighter drone squadrons in standby around the system was going to get him a healthy bonus. It also helped that George always knew how to push a person’s buttons.

His ambush had worked perfectly. He’d lured the brazen Duke of Cock-whatever headfirst into the ambush. Hundreds of drone fighters armed with updated micro-missiles and beam technology had sprung the ambush and cut the enemy forces off at the knees.

“What’s the tally?” he asked as he put the coffee on a grav-coaster. The little piece of tech was expensive, but would keep the much upright and the coffee inside it during minor tremors.

“We’ve got one hundred and forty-seven red drones, another seventy-two are showing as damaged, but operational. They’re heading back to dock.  One hundred and seventy six drones are still reading as green and are coming about. ETA to next pass is fifty-eight minutes.”

“Have them return to dock.” George did see the point in wasting more drones. He’d already lost fifty five percent of the contingents and the battle would be over before they came back for another pass. That was the downside of the high-speed passes. That acceleration would throw the fighters far and wide and limited second wave options, but anything moving slower would be easy pickings for the enemy’s point defense.

“Volley one ETA twenty-two seconds.”

George still marveled at the speed of the new missile drives. He’d fired from twelve million kilometers, fifty percent longer than the previous effective range of capitol missiles, and that wasn’t even the edge of his effective range.

<This duke isn’t exactly a tactical genius either.> George watched his holo as the enemy forces scattered, which was the worst thing they could do when over four hundred missiles were bearing down on them.

“Stagger volley two, so we have time to recalculate after volley one’s even spread.” George sipped his coffee and waited for the impact.

He didn’t bother targeting the drifting destroyer, but targeted the four remaining combat effective ships. One destroyer went up after only a few missile hits. The other two hung on and took a pounding, but eventually were knocked out: one permanently, with the other one becoming nothing more than battered, powerless husks.

“That’s a hell of a cruiser though.” George had to give the designers props. The ship had just had the shit kicked out of it, but it was still limping along after dozens of hits.

It even fired off twenty-two missiles back at the carrier group. The missiles were just as good as George’s so he didn’t take them lightly, so none of them made it to the ships.

“Should we call off volley two?” the operations officer asked as more missiles barreled down on the injured cruiser.

“Negative. You know the boss’ standing order. We need to keep our tech under wraps.” He watched the wave kill the cruiser with extreme prejudice. “Get boarding parties to the damaged vessels. If they’ll live, take prisoners, if they won’t, put them out of their misery. After you’re clear scuttle the ships. Send Diamonds are Forever after the drifting destroyer with those same orders.” George finished off his coffee with a sigh and headed to his quarters just off the bridge to fix another cup.

His crew could handle the rest of this without him, and no one would ever know the Windsor’s tried to attack Aurum and got their asses kicked.

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PCS to Eden – Homecoming

Vicky leaned back and propped her feet on the table. She grabbed the remote in one hand, her beer in another, flipped on the TV, and took a long gulp. Every once in a while she shot a sidelong glance at the ætherial map of Charlotte dominating the majority of the table in the war room, but for the most part her attention was on the two store employees who were obviously infatuated with one another, but couldn’t come right out and say it. Hilarious hijinks ensued, and that was what the people of Charlotte really needed right now; a good laugh.

If Vicky had been a dude she would have a had a hand down her pants scratching her nuts, but she was a hundred-plus year old lady with decades of refinement. Instead, she let out a powerful belch, and continued to lean back until the chair was balanced on the rear two legs. Once she was stable, she went to one leg. As a Soulless, her balance was impeccable, but not even a vampire could be prepared for the sudden appearance of five people in front of her.

“Holy shit!” The chair tipped backward and Vicky hit the ground hard before rolling to her feet. “Who the hell are you?”

Gerry collapsed onto his knees and drew a ragged breath. The sensation of Death teleporting them was even worse than the first time Seere did it to him. He valiantly struggled to hold down the bile bubbling in his gut, and barley succeeded.

Next to him, Gaius’ eyes snapped open and he grunted as he tried to get to his feet. He had to grab a chair to steady himself, but being back in the presence of æther helped. Gerry immediately grasped for his demesne’s power supply and drank it in. The power flooded into him and everything popped back into focus.  It was like he’d been wearing blinders since starting his flight to Death’s island, and now he could see again.

Jezebel and Pete were the last to get up. Pete groaned but didn’t open his eyes, and Jezebel peaked them open just enough to see her surroundings. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you looked at it, the first thing she saw was Death.

“Hello beautiful,” she murmured as she pushed herself up onto her elbows.

Death cocked an eyebrow and smiled down at the Infernal lieutenant. “Aren’t you a pretty thing. And you,” she pointed at Vicky, “you look like a little doll I just want to take home and play with.”

Death’s power was washing over Vicky now, and the Soulless was rooted to the floor, so she didn’t even move when Death came over and pinched her cheeks. “So precious.”

Vicky just ended up giggling like a schoolgirl. Jezebel looked on with envy, which caught Death’s attention. “Maybe later,” her own smile held promises that made the lust-filled Infernal blush. “But I want to see what’s new before I jump straight into the sack.”

“How long have we been gone? Has anything changed?” Gerry was recharged and regrouped, so he wanted answers.

“It’s only been a few days,” Vicky replied. “The military is stepping up patrols in order to find who shot the stinger at their choppers, but they haven’t found shit.” She was talking to Gerry, but couldn’t take her eyes off Death. “The situation in New York is pretty much the same. There’s more fighting in Europe and Asia, so the cat’s out of the bag on the whole secret supernatural society lurking just beneath the surface of the humans.” She shrugged. “As you can imagine the Vatican is a pretty popular place right now. They’re basically screaming ‘I told you so’ from the rooftops and pointing at all the angels that are flying around. Of course, all of the Satanists are also closing ranks and bowing to their Infernal masters. Apparently, their headquarters is someplace in Wisconsin. I guess they thought the Devil would like some cheese when he came back to Earth.”

“I like cheese,” Death spoke up. She’d moved round the table, observing the room, and didn’t look interested in Gerry’s conversation up to that point. “Let’s go to Wisconsin.”

“You want to eat…cheese?” Gerry couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice.

Death just rolled her eyes at him. “You’re so worked up about your little war that you’re forgetting to live, Gerry.” She made a tsk-tsk sound and shook her head. “There are few better things in life than a dairy product acidified by bacteria and brought about by the coagulation of milk protein.”

“Is she serious?” Vicky asked.

“Of course,” Death smiled. “Do you think the God invented cheese? He wouldn’t know fun if it hit him in the nards with a nine-iron, and Cronus was too busy making other things. He let me tinker here every once and while and I like to think some of my creations have made their mark on history.”

“Gerry, who is this chick? She’s claiming credit for inventing cheese.” Vicky squinted at Death, who wasn’t paying her any attention.

“Vicky, everyone, this is Death, the primordial that created Hell. Everyone, this is Death.”

There was utter silence for a moment before Vicky broke it. “Hey, Death. Nice to meet you.”

Death just flicked a hand dismissively as she studied a picture on the wall. Everyone else was bug-eyed and looking back and forth between Gerry and Death.

“So…cheese…” Gerry didn’t know what else to say.

“Yes!” Death clapped and skipped back over to Gerry.

“I’ll drive this time,” Gerry held up his hands defensively.

Death just smiled with a mischievous glint in her eye. “Good for you, Gerry. Take control, let loose, have a little fun.” She slipped her arm into Gerry’s and waved at everyone else. “We’ll be back.”

With that, Gerry and Death vanished. They left behind several very confused lieutenants who all turned to whose idea it had been in the first place to find the lost Primordial.

“What?” Pete asked. He was still recovering from his time on the island and the rough trip back. “I didn’t think we’d actually find her.” His statement didn’t stop the stairs.

“I’m out of here,” Jezebel rubbed her temples. “I’m going to fuck your grandson. Let me know when they get back.”

“TMI, but thanks for sharing,” Vicky pretended to vomit before leaving the room via the secret exit to the club she was running.

That just left Gaius and Pete. The general took several deep breaths before leaving without another word. Pete just sat where he was until he caught sight of the TV show playing in the background. He laughed and settled in to relax. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen, and there was nothing he could do about it.

 

***

 

“Wisest of the angels, whom your fate betrays, and, fairest of them all, deprives of praise. Satan have pity on my long despair. O prince of exiles, who have suffered wrong, yet, vanquished, rise from every fall more strong. Satan have pity on my long despair.”

The group praying was far larger than Gerry expected. There had to be five hundred people gathered in what once – ironically – was probably a church. Instead of Jesus crucified, there was a pentagram with a goat’s head at the center in the position of prominence. The man at the front was dressed in black robes and was yelling at the crowd with zealous faith burning in his eyes.

“Praise to you, Satan! In the heights you lit, and also in the deeps where you now sit, vanquished, in Hell, and dream in hushed defiance!”

“This guy is totally plagiarizing,” Death whispered from her spot next to Gerry. “This was written by a dude in the Fifties.”

Gerry could never forget the power that was near him, it was impossible to ignore a barely contained tsunami just waiting to envelop you, but when he turned to reply, he was surprised to see a bag of popcorn in her hand.

“Where did you…?” he began.

“Made a quick pit stop,” she shrugged as she grabbed a kernel and tossed it ten feet into the air. She effortlessly slid under it and caught it in her mouth on the descent. To Gerry, it reminded him of those videos of Great White Sharks jumping out of the ocean off the coast of South Africa to eat seals. He couldn’t suppress the shiver.

“Take it easy, Gerry,” Death made the situation worse by giving him a smack on the ass. “Remember, this is supposed to be fun.” She boldly strode forward and shot a smile back over her shoulder at him.

<Oh no!> Gerry gulped, but didn’t dare move.

“The prince of exiles has heard our prayers and returned to us!” The satanic priest began his homily, but stopped when Death hopped up onto the alter. ”Umm…sister, if you could.”

“Nah,” Death smiled, and the Satanist disintegrated into dust before everyone’s eyes.

It took a moment for everyone to react, but then the screaming started. It was quickly overpowered by a gust of wind that slammed the doors closed, and sickening hiss of metal being fused together.

While people screamed and beat on the doors, Death hopped up onto the alter and let her feet swing a foot off the ground while she whistled and watched the crowd in full panic mode. She flicked the goat’s skull off the alter, and it rocketed into the wall at just under the speed of sound. She smiled at the explosion of bone and drywall before she popped more popcorn in her mouth.

Everyone sit your asses down.” She commanded after a minute. She didn’t yell, but her command voice could not be denied by anyone, not even Gerry. Everyone quietly took their seats, and waited for her to speak.

“I’m here to drop a truth bomb on all of you, so listen up.” She punctuated her statement with mouthfuls of popcorn. “First, God is a parasitic little bastard who wants to take the fun out of everything and then use you as his own Triple-A batteries. You guys don’t seem to like him too much though, so that’s cool by me. Second, praying to Satan is hilarious. He’s basically God’s spoiled firstborn who threw a tantrum when he didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. The guy cannot take constructive criticism, and you praying for him to intervene on your behalf is pointless because he only cares about himself.” She studied the gathered people around her. “Lastly, and I know you all know this deep down, but the only person you can trust is yourself, so stop gathering to ask someone else for help and get your shit together. If you need money, go get some. If you want some ass, go get some. If you’ve been wronged and want payback, go get some. Believe in yourselves, little humans, and your lives will be much less pointless.” She smiled at the last bit, and everyone in the church instinctively smiled back.

“Well, that’s it for me. This has been fun. Does anyone know where to get the best cheese in this place?”

It was a second before someone spoke up with the name of a farm not too far from the church.

“Cool,” she hopped off the alter, walked back to Gerry, and put her arm back in his. A second later they vanished and left a lot of confused people behind.

Slowly, Death’s words sank in. A man turned to a woman, not his wife, grabbed her ass and stuck his tongue down her throat. She replied in kind and started to undo his pants. The wife, who was standing right next to the man, screamed bloody murder, pulled a small pistol out of her purse, and shot her cheating husband in the back of the head. She was targeting the woman who’d been about to give her husband a hand job, but the woman’s hand slapped the gun away. She jumped on the wife, and they both started to claw each other’s eyes out. That was only one of the incidents to occur in the hall that quickly descended into madness.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 232

Ezekiel Mackintosh

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

 

It was supposed to be a light day – politically speaking – for the Prime Minister. He had an early workout session with his personal trainer. He always ran through the parks near the PM’s official residence. Journalists tended to camp out along his potential trails and shout questions. He never answered them, but he made sure they got good pictures of their PM keeping in shape. It did a lot to counter the stereotypical image of the lazy politician.

After a quick shower he had an early breakfast scheduled with a minor CEO about mining rights. Ezekiel wouldn’t say as much, but he’d steer the man toward Mackintosh Shipping to haul to raw ore the CEO was looking to mine. With shipping licenses in just about every system, and a virtual rubber stamp to get anyone he wanted, the PM’s company was well suited to move the cargo of the Commonwealth. In governments of old that might have been a conflict of interest, but it was the spoils of political victory in the current Commonwealth as long as you didn’t get caught with blood on your hands. Ezekiel always made sure his rates were the best in the system the potential client was looking at, so if someone made a scene, all he had to do was point at the cold hard numbers. The dollar signs did all the talking.

The meeting lasted until lunch where he was going to dine in his residence with Connie to prep for the fundraiser that evening. Everyone who was anyone would be there, including his current political opponents. The votes were still coming in from across the Commonwealth, but the votes on New Washington were already in. The Prime Minister’s Progressive Party had dropped from holding the largest percentage of politically appointed seats on the planet. It had held thirty-eight percent, with a number of other parties filling in the other sixty-two, but most notably the Eagle Party. Now, the Eagle Party was sitting with a comfortable forty-one percent, while the Progressives had dropped to thirty-seven. It wasn’t a big loss for the Progressives compared to the smaller parties, who’d lost big in some cases, but any loss of ground to the Eagle Party was cause for concern. The popular phrase was “as goes New Washington goes the Commonwealth”. Ezekiel hoped that wasn’t true.

Admiral Simmons was going to be downright intolerable tonight. Her whole party was going to be drunk on victory even though the Progressive candidate had retained the Council of Representative’s seat for New Washington. Ezekiel made sure the victorious candidate was going to be at the event and strategically placed near the PM for when the Eagle Party representative eventually came over. A shot for the morning paper of the triumphant Progressive next to the woman trying to unseat the PM was just good PR.

Things would have been much simpler if Deja Simmons had lost re-election, but she’d handily defeated her opponent with seventy-four percent of the vote despite the money the Progressive Party threw into her opponent’s war chest. The former admiral was just too damned popular.

Ezekiel was just getting ready to shower and get into his high-quality smartcloth tux for the event when his PAD started to chime. It wasn’t just the chime of an incoming message, but an emergency wailing. The PM had heard the notification on so few occasions he knew something must be terribly wrong.

He’d barely reached the PAD when his security detail burst into the room with Connie right behind them. Her face was uncharacteristically pale. “We’re under attack!”

Ezekiel reflexively looked up, but Connie shook her head. “Not here, but…hurry!”

The PM was still in his casual smartcloth sweats when the security detail hustled him into the underground tunnels that led away from the PM’s residence. One set went to the Hall while the other went to the CEOC. At a run it took them less than two minutes to get to the emergency operations center. Despite his physical fitness routine, the PM’s chest was heaving when they arrived at the thick, armored door guarded by a squad of Rangers in LACS. Once they were through the door, and into the CEOC it got even more chaotic.

Whoever had said that we love chaos because we love to produce order was a moron. Chaos was just chaos, and chaos reigned in the CEOC main room now. The giant star map denoting known space was full of red lights. People were congregating around terminals, supervisors were shouting, and managers were trying to regain order and keep the information flowing. Ezekiel bypassed that and went right into the executive conference room that they always used for sensitive meetings. He was one of the last people to arrive.

Senior politicians and military officials, in various states of attire, were moving through the room and doing their own shouting as a smaller, more-detailed holo showed what was happening. Unfortunately, without context, all the PM was looking at were red lights among the stars.

“What have we got?” The PM took the chair at the head of the table. His comment was completely ignored, as his entrance had been. Usually the room was called to attention when the head of the government entered.

Ezekiel felt his face redden in ager. “What have we got?!” This time his voice cut through the chaos and people turned to regard him.

“Sorry, Sir. We didn’t see you there.” High Admiral Gilmore, also fresh off an election victory on Asgard, didn’t get ruffled by the PM’s raised voice. “Everyone take their seats.”

Ezekiel hid his heated cheeks by looking for Connie. She handed him his PAD and pretended to say a few words to him. It bought him time for his embarrassment to pass. The High Admiral had easily quelled the chaos in the room, while Ezekiel just screamed at everyone like a child throwing a tantrum. In didn’t help his mood that Deja Simmons was sitting near the end of the table as a member of the Council’s Military Action Committee. That, and retiring with five golden stripes leant her opinion a lot of weight at the table.

“Sonya, we’ll start with you.” The High Admiral took his seat to the PM’s right as the Commonwealth’s Chief of Naval Intelligence got to her feet.

The ADM looked like she’d run here straight from the gym. Any other time, the PM would have admired her toned athleticism, but right now wasn’t the time. The ADM pushed her sweat-soaked bangs out of her eyes and pointed at the holo.

“At approximately 17:19 New Washington time we received a QE burst from Queensland.” The holo of stars vanished to provide sensor data.

The PM was a novice when it came to reading such data, but even he could see an invasion fleet with one of the Kingdom of Windsor’s massive Superdreadnoughts spearheading the assault.

“So we know where they’re hitting us now,” the PM stated as the data fast forwarded. “We have most of the Eleventh Fleet anchored there as well as the Queensland’s own navy.” Judging by what the PM was seeing the Commonwealth outnumbered the invaders six to one. “If we need to we can call in reinforcements. A task force from Seventh Fleet is on maneuvers five light years away. It’s only two squadrons of battleships and their screening elements, but that’s more firepower to throw at the enemy.”

Admiral Berg let the PM finish before continuing. “Sir,” her voice was grave, “between 17:19 and 17:38 we received twenty one more QE bursts from systems throughout the Commonwealth.” The ADM brought back up the star chart and highlighted the systems in red. Three fourths of the red dots were logical expansions outward from the Kingdom’s homeworld, but eight of them were knives into the heart of the Commonwealth.

<Oh fuck…> The PM’s fears and angers about elections faded as he read the names on those systems. <Queensland…Harper’s Junction…Sacs Prime…and even Premier Etat de Napoléon. They didn’t just hit one place. They’re hitting everywhere.>

As the PM thought about the consequences of the attack for the whole Commonwealth a data dump was received and six more dots were added to the mix. These ones were marked with amber and denoted allied systems under attack.

<Oh god.> The PM realized the Kingdom of Windsor was going for all the marbles.

Currently, thirteen percent of the Commonwealth was under attack. That might not seem like a lot, but it was billions of citizens, tens of trillions of dollars in commerce, an unimaginable amount of private, commercial, and government owned property, not to mention the body blow these military defeats were going to deal military readiness of the Commonwealth and her allies.

“How…?” The PM was only able to get the one word out.

“We know that the Windsor’s made contact with the Hegemony before us. They probably secured credit and standing like we did and used their starter loans to enhance their technological base. My assets have also been talking about a Royal Navy construction yard somewhere outside the Windsor System. We haven’t been able to locate it, but it would seem we’re seeing the fruits of a deacde of labor.”

The PM thought it was a pretty big fruit. The fleet attacking Queensland was only thirty-five warships strong, but they thought they had a pretty good estimate of the Windsor’s Fleet size. If they were willing to throw this much at one of nearly thirty systems they were attacking, then intel’s numbers were way off.

“Good for them,” the PM’s statement was full of bitterness, so he closed his eyes and composed himself. “What’s the worst case scenario here?” he wanted to know that before he looked at more optimistic outcomes.

“Worst case is that we lose all these systems, all our military assets in them, and they defect to the Kingdom. With our own technological upgrades coming in we would be able to mount a counterattack to retake them in twelve to fifteen months.” The ADM didn’t sugar coat it.

“We do think that is unlikely,” the High Admiral jumped in. “Sonya’s own assets have reported that we’re only seeing troop deployment by the Windsor’s on a handful of planets. The QE beacons provided by Gold Technologies are staying on station as long as possible, but their signature is hard to hide. They weren’t built for stealth or maneuverability and are being systematically destroyed. We’re going to need to get more clandestine eyes and ears in the system.”

The PM knew where the High Admiral was going with this. This was exactly what the project he’d been working on was designed for.  “Ok, deploy the twenty teams to targets of your choosing.”

“We have nineteen currently deployable, Sir. One is providing security with the delegation.” The High Admiral corrected, but the PM waved off the small change. “We can have them in position within two days to give us more detailed updates, and then we’ll be able to make plans. I’ll put all military forces on high alert in the meantime.”

“Do it.” Ezekiel rubbed his eyes. “Admiral Berg, I need as much intel as humanly possible. We need to know what the Windsor’s goal for all of this was. Was it just a massed attack to tell us to back off, or are they after something more?”

“Yes, Sir.” The ADM nodded.

“Connie, we need to call an emergency session of the Council. Admiral Simmons, as the opposition leader I think we should draft a joint address. The people of the Commonwealth are going to be looking for unity at this time of great peril.”

The retired admiral turned politician nodded. The PM knew, deep down, she would do what was best for the Commonwealth. They just disagreed what that was from policy perspectives, but in this they were united. He wasn’t naïve enough to think two weeks from now her press office would be drafting statements about his failure to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth, but that was a problem for two weeks from now. At this moment, politics had to take a back seat to reality.

“We’ve got a lot of work people. Let’s get to it.” He nodded at the gathered officials and turned to Connie. “Cancel my appearances. We aren’t leaving here until we have this under control and there is good news to tell the press.” He had no idea it would be three full days until he left that CEOC, and even then it was to address the Council, not because there was anything good to share.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 231

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings

“Holy Shiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” Coop screamed as he reached the hatch, pushed the grav-sled through, and stepped on nothing but air.

Like any rational being, Coop expected the space port they’d just arrived at to be a physical structure of some sort. Instead, everything around him seemed to be made up of white stuff somewhere in the consistency of clouds. The grav-sled hadn’t registered a difference, but Coop sure as shit did when he stepped out, realized there was nothing beneath his feet, let go of the grav-sled, and then started to plummet to death. His arms wind milled out of instinct, but he knew it wouldn’t do anything. There was nothing between him and oblivion except a thin layer of this cloud stuff that…

Coop didn’t get to finish what thoughts were going through his head because the second his body made contact with the white cloud stuff it hardened. Instead of screaming all the way to his demise, Coop had the breath knocked out of him as he landed chest-first on whatever the hell this stuff was.

<Owww,> Coop’s forehead ended up bouncing off the surface, which left his ears ringing and stars in his vision.

“You’ve got to be shitting me.” The GYSGT was close by, and Coop imagined the woman face palming in embarrassment.

Coop felt his cheeks heat with embarrassment, so he continued to look down for a moment. What he saw was weird shit. If he lifted his head off the ground, if you could even call whatever he was laying on ground, it dissolved back into its wispy, white, cloud-like makeup. However, the moment Coop lowered his nose to touch it, it hardened back up.

When the cloud stuff hardened it looked more like marble than clouds. It was still a white, but veins of gold spread through it. If Coop hadn’t thought he was falling to his death twenty seconds ago, he would have thought it was pretty cool.

“On your feet, Sergeant. We’ve got company.” The SGM was already halfway back into his V4 along with the rest of the SRRT.

Coop scrambled to his feet and started getting his LACS ready. The diplomats were huddled together behind the makeshift perimeter the SRRT had established. Most were looking at the ground as well, and making scientific guesses as to what it was. The most common idea Coop heard was something to do with nanites.

All of the talking stopped when two things emerged from the other side of the area Argo had landed in. A wall of the white stuff seemed to simply dissolve and allowed two beings to enter. Coop was busy squeezing into his LACS, but he got a good look at the two things before he vanished into the darkness of his suit. A few seconds later, the V4 started to boot up, and he had visuals on the ETs again. This time he was getting a lot more data too.

Their greeters were easily five meters tall. They dwarfed even Mike in his LACS, but they didn’t look like anything Coop had ever seen. The closest equivalent he could come up with was a giant jellyfish exterior that contained a thunderstorm. It didn’t do it justice, and from Coop’s limited understanding of biology he wasn’t sure how it was possible, but that’s what it looked like.

His LACS’ sensors were giving him more data. The exterior “skin” of the ET was a proto-plasma a few centimeters thick. Inside that was a swirling mass of black and dark gray that the V4’s neural net was having a hard time identifying. If Coop zoomed in closely, it looked like something was writhing in the vaporous black-gray thundercloud at the heart of the creature, but…

“Shit!” Coop involuntarily stepped back as a fork of blue-white lightening stabbed outward from the creature’s central cloud. The protoplasm parted and gave way to the energy before it hit the creature’s shielding. The spot flared bright blue for a second before the lightening exhausted itself, and the roiling cloud returned to normal.

In Coop’s vision, not his LACS’ HUD, but his vision by way of his IOR, a message appeared.

{Welcome human delegation. We are pleased to have you as our honored guests. Please follow us.}

“Short, sweet, and to the point,” Coop commented, as the five-meter tall ET’s made a small U-turn and headed back the way they’d come. “Now what do we do?”

“I’m receiving a data dump,” the Minister of Commerce stated with barely contained excitement on her face. “Whatever technology they’re using it easily connects with our PADs.”

The ETs were still moving away, but Coop wasn’t going to follow without orders. This place was weird. A floor that wasn’t a floor and then giant jellyfish that threw lightening…it was better if he didn’t draw any attention to himself.

“They are called Stormbreakers,” the Minister informed. “They co-founded this planet with another species over a thousand years ago, and are one of the eight prime species of the Hegemony.”

{Well, that prime species is about to leave us in the dust,} Coop kept his thoughts to himself, but he sent the message to Eve.

“Ma’am.” The SGM inclined his head toward the backs, which weren’t any different than the fronts, of their retreating hosts.

“Go ahead,” LCDR Gold stuck his head out of the hatch. “Petty Officer Aiko and I will secure Argo and meet you once everything is settled.”

“Good thinking, Commander, we’ll contact you.” The Minister and her staff were already on the move.

Coop lengthened his stride to catch up, and take his forward position. Bravo team had taken up a box formation around the delegation. Alpha pushed out another ten meters and was in a diamond formation. The SRRT team had overlapping fields of fire and could quickly get their bulk between incoming rounds and the delegation. Coop was the right side of the diamond while Eve was on point for everyone. Despite being in a hangar that looked a little like a holo-show’s version of heaven, she was keeping her head on a swivel and her weapon at the ready.

<Not sure what good it’ll do.> Coop had seen that their tour guides had shielding, and he was willing to bet it was a hell of a lot better than theirs.

Still, he did his job and kept an eye out for any threats. Eve reached the door first, and just like for the Stormbreakers, it dissolved in front of her and revealed a hallway.

<What the hell is it with these people?> Coop stopped suddenly as he looked at the hallway. The floor was the same white stuff, but it totally lacked sides and a ceiling. That was curious since his sensors were reading another enclosed space.

{Everything good, Cooper?”}The GYSGT’s question popped into his vision.

{Yeah,} Coop replied as he stepped forward. Eve was already walking confidently down the hallway, but he just had to see what was going on.

Coop stepped into the hallway where the ground solidified with those same golden veins. He reached out to where nothing seemed to be until his hand made contact with something. The whole section of shielding that the Stormbreakers had worked into the architecture of the space port flashed blue.

<Cool.> Coop leaned over and looked down toward the planet. <Well that’s not very golden.> They were at least a few thousand kilometers from the surface, but he still got a pretty good look at the city below him. Sure the building design was weird, but it appeared traffic was universal, and air-vehicles were backed up leading in every conceivable direction.

{Keep moving, Cooper.} The GYSGT was only a few meters back and Eve was way out in front.

Coop took his eyes off the city below and moved forward quickly. He was almost back in position when a glint caught his eye. He looked up, and stopped walking. They weren’t above The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude. They were below it.

Stretching as far as Coop could see in both directions was a solid mass of gold. Not the vapor-floors that they were walking on now. It looked like all the gold in the universe had been mined, transported here, and molded into a city that floated up among the clouds.

<Now this is what I expected from an advanced alien civilization.> Activity in the golden city was off the charts. Coop only just watched for a few seconds at the tens of thousands of vehicles moving around like busy bees above them.

Aware that he’d stayed in one place too long he kept on walking, only to stop again when the rest of the diplomats caught sight of the jaw-dropping place above them.

“It can’t be real gold.” Coop overheard on of the diplomats. “There is no way twenty-four carat gold could survive long term at this elevation. This has to be some hybrid building material.”

The man’s comment ruined the experience a little, but Coop was sure there was still plenty to see in this place. After all, they were in the equivalent of the parking garage. They were here to participate in high-level discussions, so he couldn’t wait to see what the view from the penthouse was.

 

***

 

Duchess Josephina Barrow

Location: Harper’s Junction, Former United Commonwealth of Colonies, Currently held by the Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

Josephina stood on the steps of the planetary capitol building. Two lines of red-armored soldiers kept a crowd of tens of thousands at bay along the main boulevard. She’d just completed a speech, recorded and sent to the Commonwealth government on New Washington, but meant for the people of Harper’s Junction.

She’d done her research on the planet when it was assigned as House Barrow’s part of Operation Grand Sweep. She knew resentment was high on the planet. They didn’t like the way the Commonwealth did business, and they didn’t allow the military in their space for that reason. Thus, when the battle began, she ordered Ides of March to keep the damage to a minimum. Instead of destroying Harper’s Junction’s small navy, they’d merely crippled them. Loss of life had still been significant, but that was the cost of admission in naval battles.

The understrength battalion on the ground had been a tougher nut to crack. With time to dig in and set booby-traps and ambushes, almost two dozen of House Barrow’s lancers had lost their lives before the battalion was forced to surrender. Whatever the Commonwealth’s fledgling trading agreements with the Hegemony, it hadn’t trickled down to Harper’s Junction. The battalion’s armaments were now obsolete, and they only had the success they did by massing fire on single targets in exchange for massive losses of their own. Josephina had to give the Major commanding the Commonwealth forces credit where it was due. He fought bravely until the end.

Now her House’s forces were in control, but she still faced the indisputable fact of interplanetary warfare. There was no way she had enough troops to control the entire planet. Ides of March and her House’s other ships were in orbit to provide fire support, but she only had enough troops to provide a small presence in the major cities. What she needed to do was win the hearts and minds of the people. She didn’t need them to fight for her, just not fight against her when the Commonwealth counterattack eventually came. She’d decided to do that the old-fashioned way.

She brought her sword up high and swiftly chopped downward. The nano-blade’s molecular edge cut through the man’s neck like it was made of tissue paper. Blood spurted from the stump of the former planetary governor’s neck, while she kicked the head down the steps of capitol building. There was silence for a moment before the crowd started to cheer.

The former governor was unpopular with the regular man and woman on the street. He was thought to be in the pockets of the corporation and the bureaucrats back on New Washington. He absolutely was, and Josephina ending his life might bring her a little more credibility in the eyes of the population.

As the stench of shit from the governor’s voided bowels wafted through the air, she ordered the people to return to their homes. They would be allowed to live as they always did, just with new leadership. Behind her, the Commonwealth flag was lowered and replaced by the Kingdom of Windsor’s flag, and below that, the crest of House Barrow.

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