PCS to Eden – Confrontation – Conclusion

Ava knew she’d gone from hunter to hunted the second she ran into the war band of Amazons. They didn’t even ask questions. They unleashed hell on the angel of God without provocation. She fought with all she could, but Gerry had wounded her, and she’d spent enough of her energy on charging the Hand of God that she wasn’t ready to get in a prolonged battle with multiple opponents. She ended up using her most powerful weapon on the weaker women.

She screamed in defiance as she swept the powerful beam of energy back and forth. She caught a squad of Brawlers trying to surprise her from behind. They sizzled and popped like pimples when the Hand of God passed through them, but Amazon’s weren’t idiots. They dispersed and started hitting her from multiple directions. Smaller, weaker energy blasts started to cook the broken asphalt around her. It made her dance around and affected her own targeting. She took hits too, and each one was more painful than the last. Finally, a well-placed, Divine Steel round to the head brought her down. She’d been so concerned with keeping the remaining brawlers at range, and keeping the energy wielding Amazon’s heads down that she missed the sniper all together. The angels who taught her how to fight would have brought her down a peg – or five – for her lack of situational awareness.

She’d been able to take down half of her opponents with the now-expended Hand of God. It wasn’t the worst showing, but this was war. You didn’t get a silver medal for coming in second. You got dead. The Divine Steel round knocked her out cold, and the last of her healing power was expended pushing the bullet’s fragments out and repairing her damaged brain. When she finally came to, she was being dragged by two women through a remarkably clean lobby.

She didn’t recognize the building, but it looked like it had avoided the apocalypse that had engulfed the rest of Manhattan. When her captors rotated to fit through the elevator door, she saw Central Park just across the street. They were basically at ground zero, which could only mean one thing.

Ava tried to pull herself to a standing positon, but didn’t get far. One of the Amazon’s kicked her in the back of the knee to drive her back down. The other donkey punched her in the back of the head, which made everything spin for the rest of the ride.

With a soft ding the doors opened into an elaborate penthouse. Ava had never been to the Amazon’s seat of power in the city, but the line of thrones by the giant window overlooking the park could only be one thing. Most of those thrones were empty, but a few princesses looked on with interest as Ava was dragged in and tossed in the open space before them. They were all dressed for war in armor, weapons, and items endowed with ætherial power. The courtiers were gathered around the edges of the room, similarly armed, so she couldn’t tell the difference between them and the royal guards.

None of that mattered though. As Ava raised her head, and spit out a mouthful of Divine ichor, her focus was on only two people. Sitting on the steps leading up to the small dais, where the central throne sat, was Hippolyta. Sitting next to her, laughing at a joke she’d said, and sipping a glass of wine was Gerry.

“Ah,” the Amazon Queen finally took notice of Ava. “There you are.”

Ava couldn’t do anything but glare. “You…”

“Silence,” Hippolyta flicked her wrist and an unseen force slapped Ava across the face. It rattled her teeth and made her eyes water, but she snapped her head back to the Queen, her eyes burning with defiance.

“God will extinguish your pathetic species for this,” Ava spat back, and got another slap from the opposite direction.

“I don’t think so,” Hippolyta held out her empty glass and a servant immediately refilled it. “Gerald, dear, would you like some more.”

“Yes, thank you very much, Your Majesty.” Gerry replied.

Seeing him sitting there, smiling, chumming it up with the Amazon Queen while Maria was gone from existence made Ava want to puke. Instead, she lunged at them. She only made it a few feet before an invisible force slammed down on her from above. It flattened her like a pancake, breaking some bones, and knocking the wind out of her.

Gerry and Hippolyta didn’t even blink. They were in complete control, and there was nothing Ava could do. She tried to draw in more power. She tried to feel the warm embrace of her father that influenced every other place in Eden, but she felt nothing. The Amazon’s place of power was too well warded for even God’s influence to penetrate.

“This is exquisite, Your Majesty,” Gerry complimented the Queen with a charming smile.

“Eighteen Ninety-Eight was a fine year,” Hippolyta clinked her glass softly against his. “To new relationships.”

“New relationships,” he echoed, and they drank.

Finally, the two turned their attention to Ava. “Despite what the False God may say about us, or what you may think of us,” the pressure on Ava’s spine increased with every word from the Queen’s mouth, “my people are people of their word.” Of all the things, that Ava thought she would hear that wasn’t it. “Before all of this unpleasantness started,” she waved out the window to indicate the cataclysmic events that had destroyed the city and taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent humans, “we made a deal. The primary participants in the deal have left. Gabriel has been slain, and Beelzebub bloodied and bruised to the point of returning to Hell. However, neither act was executed by the other, so the contest remains open. As Queen, I deem it in good spirit for others to take the places of honor in this contest of power. For the Infernals, the Dux of Charlotte, Gerald Fuller shall step in as Beelzebub’s second. For the Divine, Ava, will fill the role of the departed Gabriel.”

Ava pushed against the tile as her rage built. Gabriel had died in front of her, murdered just like her innocent daughter, and there was nothing she could have done to stop it. She made it through half a push up before the æther smashed her back down again.

“Like I was saying. My word is my bond. The Amazons promised their allegiance to the victor,” suddenly the force pressing against Ava was gone. “So please, give us a victor to follow.”

Gerry was standing before Ava could even raise her head. He held out both hands and swords from the royal guards answered his call. The women tensed as their weapons left their sheaths, but a motion from the Queen sent them back to their posts.

Ava struggled to her feat. She felt the bones grating against each other in her back. She couldn’t even stand up all the way, so she face Gerry as a hunchback. He looked flush with power, unbeatable, and armed while she could barely raise her eyes to meet him, which was why it was so surprising that he tossed one of the swords to her.

She thanked God she was able to catch it and not look like a complete invalid. She knew she could never win, but she’d die with honor. Gerry kept a safe distance before giving her a bow. She couldn’t tell if it was mocking or not.

He came in for a quick exchange to test her. The clang of their blades echoed through the throne room. He nearly knocked the sword from her hand twice, but she held on. She was surprised when he backed off to study her.

A sensation passed over her. It made her feel claustrophobic and trapped, as if she was stuck in a small closet lined with coats that brushed up against her from all sides.

“We have a small amount of privacy now, and can speak our minds.” Gerry kept his blade up, but his stance relaxed. “None of this is personal,” his eyes scanned the room. “We’re both pawns in a much larger game.”

“You consort with Death. This game only ends with one way for you,” she spat back.

“Maybe, maybe not,” he shrugged. “What I do know is that I wasn’t thrown to the wolves as a sacrifice so someone didn’t have to fight.”

His blasphemy drove Ava to action. She attacked, but her thrusts her batted aside. He easily circled her, and cut a shallow gash in her thigh. She bled and kept bleeding.

“I’ve always thought you were extraordinary, and I am sorry about what happened to your daughter. I didn’t pull the trigger, but I put her in the path of the bullet.”

Ava didn’t know why he was saying this. He had her beaten. She couldn’t win. Why was he torturing her by playing nice? “She wasn’t shot,” Ava fired back. “She was lying helpless on a sacrificial alter where she got run through by incarnations of evil.” She attacked despite the tears in her eyes.

Her wild chops and thrusts lasted about three seconds before Gerry took her only remaining hand off at the wrist. She didn’t bother to stop. If she did, she’d go in to shock from the pain and bloodloss, so she swung at him with her opposite hand. He moved so fast, she didn’t even feel the sword slicing through her heart.

All of her strength left her in that instant. She fell forward limply, and to her great displeasure, he caught her.

“Don’t fucking touch me!” Her growl was interrupted by coughing up blood.

He ignored her as he placed her on the ground. She couldn’t move as he stood over her and started to chant. She could barely keep her eyes open much less understand what he was saying. Normally, she would have recognized the spell to absorb her essence before it returned to Heaven. Normally, she would have feared what came next. The afterlife of mortals was something she knew well: Heaven or Hell, but no one knew what happened when an immortal died.

Her last moments, when her body started to disintegrate, and the æther was pulled from her being were for her children. Not just Maria, but all of them. She wanted them to live in peace and happiness, but knew that wasn’t going to happen. Armageddon was upon Eden, and it showed no signs of letting up.

That didn’t concern her anymore. Her job was done. She would go join Maria in whatever afterlife awaited her.

Slowly, but then faster and faster, her body dissolved into clear, pulsing power. Gerry stood over her, his body metaphysically swelling with her essence. In the end, it wasn’t much. Ava was nearly completely depleted of æther as result of the battle. When he was done, all that was left of the former Power was a golden gauntlet. Gerry reached for it, but it shot into the air like a bullet, crashed through the roof, ignoring the protection wards as is they weren’t there, and disappearing into the overcast sky.

“Hmmm,” Hippolyta frowned at the hole in her roof. The material quickly started to rearrange itself to fix the structural damage.

She turned to regard Gerry. Her face wasn’t as warm as when she talked down to the now-deceased angel. “You are victorious, Infernal Lord, and so I grant you my assistance as promised.”

There was a tension in the room as she spoke those words. All eyes were on Gerry. “And as I promised, the only assistance I require is for you to rule as you see fit.”

A collective exhale swept through the room. Gerry and the Queen had come to a deal, but both had prepared for the other to renege. The honesty was a refreshing change of pace.

“Come with me,” Hippolyta rose gracefully to her feet and extended a hand.

Like the eighteenth century gentleman he was, Gerry took it and followed her to a side door. It opened before they arrived. What he saw brought him to a stop. A giant bed stood in the center of a room on another dais not that different from the one in the throne room and surrounded by mirrors. Gerry would have paid the surroundings more attention, but with a rustle of fabric and a clink of metal, the Queens clothing fell away from her.

She looked over her shoulder, her eyes smoking with desire, while a soft glow coming off her creamy skin. “Are you coming?”

Gerry’s own clothing disintegrated as he moved to sweep the Queen off her feet and take her to her bed. It didn’t matter if war was waging all around them. It didn’t matter if Michael was planning a counter attack to retake Manhattan. It didn’t matter that they didn’t particularly like each other. Both were caught up in their lust for one reason or another.

As far as Gerry was concerned, the Queen of the Amazons grinding on top of him as she clawed at his chest was the perfect end to a perfect day.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 241

Hailey Armstrong

Location: Oglethorpe’s Paradise, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Please,” the young man shook with fear.

Another man advanced on him. He wore expensive smartcloth, his breath reeked of whiskey, and he didn’t stop. He grabbed the young man by the wrist tight enough to elicit a whimper.

“Please,” the young man repeated as he tried to pull back, but couldn’t. “You’ll regret this.”

Hailey saw the predator’s reaction to his prey. Hailey knew a lot about what was happening less than twenty meters from her. It was about power and control more than sex. The older man was rich and powerful. He was used to taking what he wanted when he wanted it. Today was no different in his eyes…except he’d picked the wrong victim.

“What did you say?” The man spit out his words and slapped the young prostitute with the back of his hand.

Hailey caught a flash of blood in the holo-sign’s light as the man’s ring cut the cheek of the working man. “Ok, that’s enough.”

She’d been standing motionless in the shadows watching the scene unfold. It was her job as Asset Protection to protect the merchandise; whether that was drugs, weapons, money, or people, but there was a fine balance to that Hailey hadn’t considered until she’d started doing fieldwork. When it came to people, appetites of client and worker varied considerably. Some liked it a little rough. Sometimes a slap was playful, or a choke was sensual. Hailey had to weigh the profits and repeat customer potential against any slight damage to PFH’s property. Medical technology was able to repair a lot of damage in a few hours.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those situations. The older man was making unwanted advances. He’d promised to pay, but hadn’t paid upfront yet which was company policy. Above all, this was clearly a hard no, and for a street worker like the young man, he could make that call if he thought the john wasn’t going to pay up. Even the street workers were taught to do a cost benefit analysis, and Hailey agreed with the young man in this instance.

“Let’s take a step back and go about our night. We are still hours away from last call, so let’s go grab another drink.” She attempted to defuse the situation while still making her organization more money.

After the issue with Coop back in Savannah City, Hailey had been rotated out to Oglethorpe’s Paradise, a resort city where PFH had vast interests. On the legal side of the fence, PFH operated a majority of the clubs in the city; it sold a lot of booze, and even owned a few craft beer breweries specializing in tropical brews. They pushed their products at the bars and controlled the whole production and revenue stream from start to finish. For most organizations, that would have been enough. It wasn’t for PFH.

PFH pushed more than drinks in their clubs. Dealers with patented synthetic drugs rotated through establishments at random to avoid detection by the police. Working girls and boys also made their rounds and brought in another chunk of revenue. PFH made sure to hit tourists from every angle when they hopped off the shuttle.

“Sell, sell, sell.” The Boss for the city held an orientation back at HQ when Hailey first arrived. “Make their fantasies come alive. Do they want to drink and party like they’re on New Vegas? Make it happen. Do they want to get high as a kite and fuck someone who looks like their daughter’s best friend? Make it happen. The customer is always right!” The man’s shrieking had driven Hailey midly insane, and she was glad she didn’t answer to him. Asset Protection was a different department from Sales, and she had her own boss who was much more down to earth.

“Your job is to protect the company’s assets. Be able to rationalize the choices that you make, and if they’re common-sense decisions then I have your back. If not, then you’re fucked.” The woman had given her own little introduction.

In the situation before Hailey, it was pretty basic common sense, but the problem with drunk people, with pupils as big as a dinner plate, was they lacked common sense.

“Fuck off, bitch. Or you’re next.” The man dismissed Hailey, which only made her sigh. Normally, people looked as her balisitcally-reinforced smartcloth and slight bulge on her hip and knew to back off.

“Ok, let’s go.” Hailey continued to walk toward the man.

“I said,” the man’s balled into fist and he telegraphed his punch like he was running a thirty-second commercial on a holo-show, “fuck off!”

Hailey easily ducked under his wild haymaker, and delivered a quick blow to the man’s jejunum. The precise placement made the man double over in pain and puke up a fountain of high-price vodka.

“We done?” Hailey asked as she stood calmly next to the man as he emptied his stomach.

“No!” The man replied as he tried to tackle her.

Hailey sighed, twisted out of the way and came up behind the man while slipping her arm underneath his chin and applying pressure. The man tried to fight her, but she kicked him in the back of the knee and and knocked him down.

“A little more pressure and this night ends with you in the hospital or in the morgue. It’s your decision, so make a good one.” Hailey’s voice never rose above a mildly-bored tone, and that drove the man crazy.

He continued to struggle, so she continued to apply pressure until he went limp, and then she dropped him face first onto the ground.

“Geez, you could have moved faster on that,” the young man touched his bleeding, bruised cheek and stalked off.

“You’re welcome,” Hailey called after him. “Make sure to take our customer satisfaction survey after you finish taking dicks up your ass.” The man disappeared around the corner, but not before giving her the finger.

<I really hate this job right now,> Hailey gave the unconscious man a parting kick before walking around the another area of her sector of responsibility. <Thamks a lot, Coop.>

The only reason Hailey was on hooker patrol was because of the radio silence from Coop and his people over the last month. She’d given them a solid lead on the guy who’d humiliated her, and put a hole in their teammate. She expected to hear back right away, and maybe even participate in the takedown, even if that was a long shot. She didn’t expect to not hear anything back at all. That got her bosses worried about the uneasy truce between PFH and Coop’s people. Someone up the chain went into damage control mode and packed her off to the resort town as a result.

It not only hurt her credibility in the Asset Protection community, but it hurt her bottom line as well. She made commissions of the raids she’d done on the drug labs, and a small cut of the new chemist’s profits since she was the one that brought him into PFH’s fold. She was still making cash on PFH’s dealing in her PHA back on Earth, but that barely put a dent in her monthly payment. To avoid interest racking up on her loans, she needed to bring in more cash, and that wasn’t going to get done protecting the hookers. If she really wanted to, she could get all dressed up and sit at one of the upscale bars to attract a few clients of her own, but she had to get her department head’s approval for that, and they were too short staffed right now.

<When Coop gets back I’m going to whoop his ass.> She promised herself as she walked the streets full of drunken revelers. She got a few catcalls along the way, but she ignored them. She had a job to do, even if it sucked donkey nuts right now.

 

***

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Argo

 

“I can’t wait to get back.” Coop collapsed ass first onto his bunk in Argo’s ever-crowded grunt country.

There wasn’t much for the SRRT to do on a three week voyage back to the Commonwealth. The SGM tried to keep them occupied, but the tasks available were menial and tended to make the combat soldiers more frustrated than anything. Coop had helped clean the ship, bow to stern, three times, he’d spent countless hours in VR, and he’d even qualified on Argo’s energy cannons if the ship’s AI ever lost control and the targeting needed to be done manually.

He even hit the small gym as often as possible, but with the lack of activity, the small compartment was always packed. He found that nothing pissed him off more than the diplomats sitting around chatting when they should be working out.

“You and me both,” Eve muttered from her bunk beside his.

After the light flirting, Coop had given up his prime sleeping spot to be closer to his old fuck buddy. The flirting had continued over the last few weeks, but nothing more than that. They’d reached an acceptable detente in whatever their relationship was.

Eve was sitting on her bunk, with her hands behind her head, and starring up at the bulkhead. She barely blinked, which Coop knew to mean she was accessing something through her IOR. Knowing Eve, she was probably reading some sort of manual, or taking some class to gain points toward her next promotion. They shouldn’t be sergeants, but that didn’t mean the overachiever in her wasn’t already preparing for staff sergeant.

“Um…Sergeant.”

Coop pulled his attention from Eve’s attentive expression and turn to look at the speaker. It was the diplomat Coop had first beaten up, and then saved from getting face fucked by an alien.

“Sir.” Coop got to his feet respectfully.

Ever since his abduction, the diplomat had been subdued and withdrawn. The GYSGT had passed the word for the soldiers to subtly keep an eye on him. The NCO had been around long enough to see the indications of PTSD, and until they could return him to a Commonwealth medical facility to look at his mind and alter the pathways created by the trauma, they didn’t want him doing anything to himself.

“I just wanted to say thanks…for…you know…” he couldn’t even talk about the trauma he’d gone through, and Coop had no desire to put him through that.

“It’s ok, Sir. It’s my job.”

“Still…” The man held out his hand, and Coop took it. When Coop released his grip there was money chip nestled securely in his palm.

If the diplomat had given the chip to anyone else on the team, except for Mike, Coop was sure they would have given it back and said something about duty. Coop wasn’t the rest of his team. He smiled and assured the diplomat he made sure the rest of the team knew about his gratitude, because that was what the money was for. The rich thought in those terms, and if that was how the guy wanted to thank them, Coop was fine with that.

“You’re not keeping that are you?” Eve asked, although her expression hadn’t changed.

“I’ll donate it to charity,” Coop replied, which only got a scoff from the other SGT.

<It’ll be to something for former PHA rats to get their life together. It’s not my fault I fit that category.> Coop looked at the chip so his IOR could translate the data and give him the value. He nearly dropped it when 100,000 appeared in his vision. <Well thank you Mr. Diplomat.> Coop grinned at the small piece of tech, and with a slight of hand he’d learned long ago in the PHA, he made it disappear.

Less than five minutes after the GYSGT appeared with a sour look on her face. At first Coop thought it was because she knew about the hundred grand chip, but when she didn’t walk right up to him, he knew something else was going on.

“We’ve got orders,” she announced to the rest of the team.

<NO!> Coop hadn’t even thought getting diverted was a possibility.

“We’re dropping the diplomatic team off at Thurgood Station where Gold Technologies reps will be waiting with replacement LACS. We’ll get a brief on upgrades before we head back out.”

“What’s going on, Gunney?” Coop had to ask. “We’ve been on mission for nearly two months. Didn’t anyone tell the brass we deserve a breather?”

“That’s exactly what the Lieutenant and Sergeant Major relayed to the powers that be, but shit has truly hit the fan in our absence. We’re at war with the Kingdom of Windsor, and there is a mission on the table that only the SRRT can handle.”

“Last time I checked we were already at war with the Windsor’s,” Coop deadpanned. “I was at New Lancashire after all.”

“This is war with a capital W, Cooper. The Kingdom attacked the Commonwealth. We suffered several military defeats, and to add insult to injury, the Kingdom annexed half a dozen of our planets. I’m sending you the brief now. Read it and don’t ask any more stupid questions.” The GYSGT marched out of the bay without another word.

A ding in Coop’s head announced the document’s receipt over his IOR, but he didn’t open it right away.

{Out of the fire and into the furnace.} Eve had pretended to be asleep during the confrontation. {We’re an indispensable asset, Coop. We don’t work 0900 to 1700 anymore. Get used to getting pulled away at a moment’s notice.}

Eve might be right, but that didn’t make Coop feel any better. <How am I supposed to spend my hundred grand if I can’t even get back to civilization.> He wondered as he closed his eyes and brought up the briefing.

The GYSGT was right. Things really had gone to shit since they’d left.

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PCS to Eden – Confrontation Part 2

Ava and Gerry stood motionless for a moment in the wake of the primordials abrupt exit. They were like two kids waiting to see if the adults were gone before they could get into trouble. Except they were kids who hated each other’s guts and wanted to murder each other.

When he felt safe God wouldn’t smite him on the spot, Gerry’s combat instincts took over and he moved. Everything around him seemed to slow to a stop. Even Ava. He charged her head on as power flooded through his body. He was already halfway to the angel before she reacted, and even that was slow. He couldn’t help but laugh.

It was now clear what Death had done for him. She had leveled him up to archangel status. There was no other way to explain the drop he was able to get on Ava. Her fancy hand cannon suggested she’d undergone her own upgrade, but that wasn’t enough to compete with him now. The fear of facing the woman he’d nearly been killed by evaporated and was replaced with confidence.

He was in striking range before he stopped laughing. Ava was swinging in her defense. A haymaker was making its way to his head. His mind whirled as he saw the path of her blow, where it was going to hit, and the likely path his head would take if she made contact. A wave of dizziness passed over him as his mind tried to cope with the sudden pattern recognition data it was processing for him. He lost his concentration, and the world sped back up.

Luckily, he got his arm up in a blocking position.

Ava’s punch made contact with him and an explosion of force rocked the block. It traveled through Gerry’s arm, around his body, and into the ground and air behind him. The ground cracked and crumbled around him, while hurricane force wind battered the building next to him. There wasn’t much left to destroy, but the debris kicked up into a cyclone that whipped between the buildings before dying down.  

<Ah Ha!> Gerry yelled in triumph when his body wasn’t liquefied by the blow. In fact, it felt considerably weaker than the blows he’d taken from Gaius in training back in Hell.

In that instant, he knew he was going to win this fight. He was stronger, faster, and was able to see where she was going to hit before her hits even landed. All of those new abilities rolled together were a recipe for success. His ego surged.

Ava saw the smile on his face and growled like a rapid animal. It didn’t save her from the uppercut he drove into the bottom of her chin. Her head snapped back, and she rocketed away from him on a course for the moon, that took her in a straight line through a nearby building. It barely slowed her down. She exploded out of the other side in a shower of masonry, but didn’t even flinch as she arched across the city.

<I knocked her out cold.> Gerry laughed as he watched her limp body grow smaller and smaller.

Finally, she came to, and shook herself awake. Her wings flared out to her sides to stop her forward progress, but she was already halfway to Harlem.

<Wings.> He felt his body respond to his command. His bones stretched, his muscles shifted, and two brilliantly white wings sprouted from between his shoulder blades. He gave them a powerful flap, and rocketed after her.

Ava was still regaining her composure when he hit her like a missile in the abdomen. He felt bones snap, muscles spasm, organs rupture, and wetness on his wings and neck when she coughed up half a gallon of Divine ichor from the trauma. He felt the breath violently expelled from her damaged lungs, and the groan of pain that racked her whole body.

He pealed her off his shoulder, grabbed her by the neck, and chucked her toward the ground. She hit just outside Central Park with enough force to make a twenty foot crater, and didn’t get back up right away.

Gerry hovered in the air over her drunk on the power flooding through his veins. He’d crushed Ava so badly, in just under a minute, that he felt sorry for her. God had sacrificed her like a lamb to the slaughter to avoid a brawl with Death. He’d pinned his chances on taking back Manhattan on an outclassed angel. God have to have known that Death gave Gerry Gabriel’s strength. Was God really that heartless? Or was he really that frightened of his sister?

<It’s too easy.> Gerry was convinced it couldn’t be that simple. He just needed to figure out what God’s plan was.

He looked back down at Ava, who still hadn’t moved, and was sure he had a moment to savor the æther. Death was right. There was an extra sense to everything around him now, and all he had to do was reach out and sample it. It was more than just power to be used for power’s sake. There were subtle undertones to it now, tastes that gave purpose to something that was simply bland before. Everything around him was a masterful feast just waiting for his will to shape it.

He’d used a bit of energy to pulverize Ava, so he took a deep breath and felt the æther respond to fill the void. The mix of cloves and Sriracha was gone now. He must have devoured all of it in the area, but a new aroma was everywhere.

There was a slight buzz in the air; like that comfortable sense of bliss after a fine bourbon. It tasted like the air smelled after a good rain. It was life, abundant and free with a touch of lilac. The bouquet was exquisite, and it was everywhere. While a big metaphysical breath, Gerry inhaled the new selection of power and his chest swelled as the power filled him.

That was about the time a powerful energy blast swatted him from the sky.

 

***

 

Ava opened her eyes, only to close them again to wipe away the blood. Her whole body ached. Even her fingernails felt like they’d gone head to head with a jackhammer and lost. With a grunt, she pulled her arms free of the crumbled street all around her. Her shoulder was still dislocated, while her forearm was mending itself with a series of soft cracks. She looked up and saw a small dot hovering above her. She knew she needed to move. She knew she couldn’t stand toe to toe with the mew Gerald Fuller. The realization pained her on so many levels.

<That bitch, Death, did something to him.> As a Power, Ava’s abilities were formidable. She outclassed most of the angels in Heaven, but it was abundantly clear Gerry was far stronger. She couldn’t stand and fight him. She needed a different strategy. What worked last time wasn’t going to cut it. She wasn’t going to be able to drive a flaming sword through his heart and watch Divine fire consume his evil.

She needed to strike from the shadows – quick and fast – before retreating, regrouping, and slowly inflicting death by a thousand cuts. His slow death made her smile.

She needed to engage in guerrilla warfare to win back Manhattan, but even then she had a sinking feeling it wouldn’t be enough. That was when God smiled on her and a ray of violet energy blasted Gerry from the sky. She could tell it hurt him by the roar of pain he emitted.

<Good!> Anything that caused that asshole pain was a friend of hers.

She also saw an opportunity. She tracked his descent, and set off at a run. If she could hit him while he was down, then she stood a better chance at victory. She stuck to the ground to avoid Heaven’s other enemies lurking in the city. It was taking her longer to get to him. She had to conserve her strength as her body knit itself back together along the way. More importantly, it took valuable energy that was not replenishing. Despite her father’s entrance, the area lacked the æther she needed to refuel. She only hoped Gerry had the same limitation.

Thankfully, the approximate area of his crash was mostly free of the wards the Amazon’s had littered across the island. She could tell by all the scattered scorch marks that his violent landing had destroyed the magical protections. She tallied the destruction and thought they’d been able to pull enough æther off him to weaken him.

That brought a smile to her face. In anticipation, she started charging her Hand of God. If any weapon could kill the Infernal bastard, it was that.

 

***

 

“Oww,” Gerry grumbled as he pulled himself out of the long furrow he’d dug into the street. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs before the æther took care of any lingering injuries.

<Something smells like fried chicken.> He looked over his shoulder to see a chunk of one of his newly-sprouted wings had been incinerated. <Damn.> He banished the wings with a thought, and they sloshed off his body like garbage. <Gross.>

He stepped out of the hole and cracked his neck. The smell of lilacs filled his nose as he pulled in more æther to get back to full strength. Whatever attacked him wasn’t Ava. He had eyes on her, and her new weapon’s discharge wasn’t purple. Something new had joined the fight. He wondered for a second if God had reneged on the deal.

He got his answer shortly.

Two dozen women appeared from hiding. They had completely surrounded him. Some had weapons out and pointed at him. Others’ hands were glowing with various degrees of energy, and a few just cracked their knuckles as if they were hoping for a brawl. Despite their disposition, they all waited for orders. He guessed they’d come from the woman in the honest-to-god crown.

Gerry recognized her, but his memories from just before Death powered him up were a little fuzzy. “We’ve met before, right?” he asked lamely.

The woman was clearly insulted by the question; as most women would be when they believed they should have made an impression. With a wave of her fingers, the other women attacked. Hundreds of bullets, tipped with Divine Steel, sprayed from dozens of SMG’s. Energy blasts pelted him from above in a rainbow of colors. Lastly, the brawlers moved forward while the fire shifted to cover their advance.

The energy blasts he could handle. They barely singed the hair on his skin. The bullets were something else. A few got through before he recognized them as a threat. Divine Steel was Divine Steel. No matter how powerful Gerry was, it was still specialized metal blessed by a primordial and capable of killing Infernal Lords.

One bullet cut into his arm. It cut through his bicep in a spray of blood. Another hit him in the quad, and neatly severed his femoral artery. If he was human, he would have bled to death. Instead, he laughed at other’s mortality.

The wounds closed themselves and the bleeding stopped. He threw up an energy barrier of his own to intercept the bullets. They couldn’t damage if couldn’t hit, and despite their initial effectiveness, they were still being fired from mundane, mortal weapons. That eliminated that threat.

Next were the brawlers. They moved in confident and sure of themselves. On punch and Gerry educated them on their overconfidence.

“Enough!” The leader yelled and another powerful energy blast cut through the air.

Gerry caught the blast in the chest. It threw him backward into a nearby building where he saw purple stars. <So, she’s who brought me down.> The skin on his chest had blistered, boiled, and burned off in some places to reveal the muscle beneath. Fresh æther moved in to fill the void, and his wounds closed.

“Everyone stand down.” The command from the woman brought everything to a halt.

“Finally,” Gerry brushed some debris from his shoulder. His clothing above the waste had been completely obliterated by the woman.

He faced the dozens of women shirtless and unafraid.

“State your intentions.” She kept her chin high, despite his ability to fight them all to a draw.

“I’m just here to win a bet,” he kept it simple. “I was fighting with an angel, and kicking her ass – thank you very much – before you shot me down.”

“You have no claim on this city?” she asked.

“I don’t care what you do with the place, ma’am,” he added the hint of respect at the end. The last thing he needed to do was get bogged down by these women. Defeating Ava was what would end all of this.

“You were with Eris?” she asked. “Does she have any claims on this city?”

“I don’t think she gives a shit about anything that happens here or anywhere else,” Gerry replied truthfully.

“Very well. I am Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and I will help you to defeat the false god’s servant so you can leave my lands.”

<Hippolyta,> now he remembered.

“Sure, let’s do that.” He agreed.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 240

Jodi Harrington

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

Jodi tried to ignore the vibration in her pocket as her encrypted PAD pinged for the second time. She’d had to excuse herself from a negotiation about potential trading rights with a high-ranking Stormbreaker to receive word that the SRRT team was seeking permission for an orbital strike. Not a big one, but one that would certainly be picked up by the Hegemony species present.

It put her on the spot. She had to make a policy decision that would be adhered to for a long time. What happens when citizens of the Commonwealth get in trouble with the Hegemony? The diplomat who’d been taken by what the Stormbreakers called the Tuschimi species, and what her own people called Squids, had not done anything wrong. That made her decision making process a little easier. The Commonwealth hadn’t done anything wrong. The Squids had started this. Her security detail was just ending it. She approved the strike package and returned to her previous conversation.

Now her PAD was pinging again, and she was in another high-level discussion. This time it was with an entirely new diplomat from a previously unknown species.  Like most other species the diplomat was taller than humans, about three meters, but unlike others, he didn’t look like he would crumble under Earth’s gravity.

The species seemed to have some natural type of armor plating, which gave it a rough appearance of the extinct Earth-rhino. The alien’s skin was covered in barbs and spikes that looked deadly. It was a quadruped, but all four lower limbs jutted out from the torso, which gave it a much more humanoid look than a rhino. A ring of eyes covered its head so it could see in all directions at once, and the fleshy area of its neck, and vulnerable head, could be sucked back into the more heavily armored portion of its torso like a turtle.

The data dump she’d received when she arrived in the hangar bay had basic data on all the species within the Hegemony, and the turtle-rhinos were an interesting one. Despite their formidable appearance, the species was non-violent by nature. All of their physiological features had evolved from being the prey on their home planet. Only their continued defensive evolution and the application of highly developed brains had kept them from extinction. When their natural predators couldn’t keep pace with their defensive evolution they had to fall back on more inferior food sources that eventually made them extinct.

The turtle-rhino’s historical experience as prey had greatly influence their psychology, and had driven them to become one of the Hegemony’s premier providers of weaponry. Their golden egg was a system defense system that would shred the entire Commonwealth Fleet without breaking a sweat, but there was no way the Commonwealth could afford it. Instead Jodi was busy discussing what she knew the Commonwealth could purchase and quickly apply to their existing ships to stave off aggressors like the Blockies and Windsor’s.

That was when her PAD started pinging, and she wished she’d undergone the IOR procedure before setting sail. In delicate conversations with previously unknown species it helped if her pocket wasn’t vibrating every second; especially when the species she was conversing with had sensitive senses due to being hunted for most of their existence.

The turtle-rhino’s head dipped into its protective shell when it felt the vibrations through the air.

“I apologize.” At least the Stormbreakers had fitted her with a Hegemony translator programmed with all its member species’ languages.

The Turtle-Rhino replied that it was not irritating. Jodi wouldn’t call herself an expert on reading turtle-rhino body language, but the species hadn’t evolved a good way to lie. It was clear he was agitated, and that didn’t bode well for the arms deal she was trying to arrange. Thankfully, their host came to her rescue.

The Stormbreaker talked to the Turtle-Rhino about the human’s lack of knowledge about their kind, which came off mildly insulting to humanity, but it continued with an old story about the Turtle-Rhino’s own first contact with the Hegemony. Apparently, the delegation of Turtle-Rhinos had spent the entire conference with their heads in their shells and been biologically unable to come out and talk with the other Hegemony species.

The Turtle-Rhino huffed in what was either laughter or indignation, but either way it calmed down, and even dropped its price on the arms Jodi was requesting.

“Thank you,” she said to the Stormbreaker whose alien name meant Meaningful Thought in English standard.

{It is for the good of all, human Jodi, for the Hegemony of Sapient Beings to be strong. Even the Urg understand that.} Meaningful Thought relayed as the storm at the center of his being flickered with lightening.

“The Hegemony is very impressive,” Jodi complimented. It was an understatement. The Hegemony was a behemoth of economic, political, social and military might that the Commonwealth would need millennia to catch up with. She was just glad that, in terms of galactic real estate, the Commonwealth was in a backwater area. If it had been prime territory, Jodi had no reservations that some Hegemony species would have showed up with a Battle Fleet instead of a trade ship.

{How did your soldiers conduct themselves on the surface?} The Stormbreakers weren’t big on easing into a topic, but the statement still caught Jodi by surprise.

It shouldn’t have, but her slight hesitation would have told a human about her unease. She wasn’t sure if Meaningful Thought picked up on that. Still, there wasn’t any reason to lie to the alien. It probably had more detail on it than she did.

Jodi pulled out her PAD and checked her messages. They showed the mission had been accomplished. The diplomat was in shock, but relatively unharmed. One of the SRRT soldiers was injured in the fighting, but everyone had come back alive. The biggest failure was equipment related. All of the teams V4 LACS had been rendered useless and they had to destroy them on the surface of the planet.

“They conducted themselves bravely, and accomplished their mission.” Jodi replied proudly.

<If you get caught, own it like you weren’t trying to hide it.> It had been a mantra of hers for decades.

{As we assumed they would.} Meaningful Thought replied with a fresh wave of electricity within his body that looked a lot like happiness.

“You knew all this time?” Jodi felt things slip into place.

{Yes.} The alien answered simply. {I believe you humans call it a test.}

“What were you testing?”

Meaningful Thought’s statement told her how the Squids were able to kidnap a human diplomat off the Golden City in the first place. They’d been allowed to.

{The aptitude of your species when confronted with a problem. All new species are given a similar test crafted to create a reaction. You behaved as I believed humans would. You identified the problem, developed a solution, and executed the plan. You decided to do it yourself and not ask for our assistance. That level of independence is rare when a species is confronted with the realization that they are not only not alone in the universe, but that they are also technologically and militarily inferior. Most just come to us for assistance. The Urg did so in their test. } Without body language to go by, Jodi didn’t know if this conversation was a good or bad thing. She was going to ask Meaningful Thought about it, but he was already floating away to get some more food.

As far as she could tell, the Stormbreakers ate by some form of osmosis. Items were absorbed through their membrane, attacked by some of the alien’s many tendrils, and even shocked with lightening before being drawn in and absorbed by the central cloud of the alien’s being.

It was all very strange, and Jodi felt herself wanting the company of humans. She wasn’t a xenophobe by any means, but being around stuff so strange made people want to grasp the familiar. The gathering was only supposed to go on for another hour, and then she could return to Argo to check the conditions of her staff member and the injured soldier.

<But first…> she found the Turtle-Rhino, or Urg as Meaningful Thought called them, and asked for a few addendums to their deal.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

“So I come through the door and BAM!” Coop slapped his hand on the table loud enough for his diplomat audience to jump. “I see him.”

The two women were much older than him, and probably not interested in the way Coop was, but at least he could tell an entertaining story to endear them to him; especially when it involved saving their boss’ life.

“Now remember, the Squids have got him,” Coop placed his arms down at the side of the chair like he was tied up against his will, “and they’re basically having their way with him.” Coop brought his fist up to his mouth but then stopped.

“Hey, Eve, you can fit your whole fist in your mouth. How about you show these lovely ladies what the Squids were doing to our diplomatic friend.”

“Go fuck yourself, Cooper,” Eve didn’t even open her eyes from where she was lying on her bunk. She just gave him the one-finger salute.

Coop waved her off and looked back at the two women; apparently, they didn’t think this was as funny as he did. <Fuck it.> He wasn’t going to get anything from them anyway. <Next time I’ll just let your boss get face-fucked to death.>

“Attention on deck!” The SGM saved Coop’s floundering by walking in before LCDR Gold and the Minister. Coop thought the Minister looked a little frazzled around the edges, but she had just ordered an orbital strike against a friendly group of super-aliens.

“At ease,” the LCDR let the room relax as he studied them. Everyone from the SRRT was there except for Sullivan who was in sick bay getting his leg patched up. “I want to congratulate you all on a job well done. You all are being credited as the first group to go into combat against an alien aggressor. Remember and be proud that you accomplished your mission.” The LCDR gave them all a nod and stepped back so the Minister could address them.

“I want you all to know this was a test from the Hegemony.” Her words caught Coop, and clearly others, by surprise. “They let our man get taken by the Squids to see what we would do. I didn’t get a good read on their reaction, but they might have been proud of us.” Coop thought that was a good thing, but judging by the Minister’s face it wasn’t. “Taking the initiative by violence is not something we want the Hegemony to see as a good thing. What if someone decides to take that same initiative against us?”

<Way to rain on our parade,> Coop kept the thought to himself.

“You did well, but I want you to remain vigilant for the rest of the conference. There is no telling what the Hegemony will throw at us next.” The Minister looked like she wanted to say more, but Aiko sprinted into the room with a frazzled look on her face.

Coop hadn’t seen her frazzled many times before, even when her evil ex was trying to kill them after their fuckfest. Something was definitely wrong.

“QE from New Washington with immediate recall orders,” she relayed as she glanced around the room. Her eyes slid over Coop like everyone else, but he thought they lingered just for a second. Like she was glad he was still alive.

“Damn it,” the Minister left abruptly leaving the SRRT and her diplomats with more questions than answers.

“So,” Coop turned to the two female diplomats. “If we’ve got some time on the ride back maybe I can show you what the Squids were doing to your boss personally.” He didn’t even dodge the slap because it would end up hurting their hands more than his face.

<Worth a try.> He turned to Eve and shrugged while she laughed at him.

{How about you?} he sent over the IOR.

Eve just rolled her eyes and turned over on her cot, which ironically, gave Coop a great view of her ass.

<She didn’t say no,> he walked over to try and woo her some more. The shitstorm of this security detail would be totally worth it if he got to bone Eve Berg again.

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PCS to Eden – Confrontation – Part 1

Gerry felt feeling slowly returning to his extremities. He’d blacked out. He knew that much. He didn’t know for how long, or in what shape he was in. All he knew was that Death did something to him. Something instinctually wrong.

He pushed his way to his feet, shook his head, and tried to get his bearings. He felt like someone stuck his head between two gongs, gave a group of eight year olds a metric ton of sugar, and let them get all their energy out at his expense. He shook his head to try and dislodge the pain, but it didn’t work. It should have worked. He was very aware that his Infernal nature should have used the æther to heal something as mundane as a headache, but it persisted.

“You need to make a selection, Gerry Dear.” Death was standing close by. “Choose what tastes good.”

Gerry didn’t understand her, but her bringing attention to it made him feel what she was referencing. There were distinct differences all around him. He wasn’t sure how they ‘tasted’, but his head was really starting to pound, so he grabbed the nearest one. The scent of cloves filled his nostrils, and he felt like he’d eaten Sriracha.

Death looked on with approval. “It’s easiest to choose what’s most familiar. We’ll broaden your pallet in time.” She turned away from him and focused on a man standing about twenty yards away.

“No hug for your big sister?” Death smiled and took a step toward God. God stepped back, and Death’s smile broadened. “Are you still scared of me, Brother?”

<God?> Gerry gulped and had the sudden urge to puke.

He had never seen God before. He doubted anyone outside of Heaven had really seen the Primordial, but he was not impressed. God wore a standard brown robe tied together by a plain piece of rope at the waist. The rope had to work a little harder than normal because of the gut on the deity. It made him look like Saint Francis’ fat brother.  His face was nondescript, his brown hair was unimaginative, even his eyes were dull. If Gerry passed this guy on the street he wouldn’t have given him a second glance.

“I’m not here to impress you,” God’s eyes looked past Death and straight at Gerry.

Gerry couldn’t help but pee himself a little bit. God might look plain, but the power and majesty in his voice was anything but. Gerry had been spending so much time with Death that he’d forgotten what it was like to be facing an unfriendly primordial.

“Play nice you two,” Death chided them both, and brought their attention back to her.

“You’ve created an abomination,” God spat and the city rumbled from his agitation. “It’s against everything we swore to obey.”

“Swore to obey,” Death doubled over with laughter. “What are we obeying anything for? Please, enlighten my, Brother.” Death crossed her hands across her chest and tapped her foot against the ground. With each tap a building collapsed in the distance. “I look around and I see a broken toy, and it’s not even your toy!” she laughed. “You stole this toy from your brother and you broke it. You can’t control the pieces on your own chessboard, Brother. They instinctually go against everything you have strived to teach them, and some of the worst offenses, they do in your own name. Talk about irony.” She barked, pulverizing an adjacent building down to its molecules. “Admit it, Brother. You killed your own brother for these things and they are an utter disappointment to you.”

“Enough!” The East and Hudson Rivers rose several feet and flooded into the city before subsiding. The space around God rippled with his sour mood.

“Looks like I struck a nerve,” Death looked over her shoulder and gave Gerry a wink.

Gerry headache was gone. In fact, he felt like a million bucks. The scent of cloves still lingered, and he felt an after taste of spice on his tongue, but he felt like he could take on the world.

<But not God. Definitely not God.> He was pretty sure that Death and God could read his mind, and he didn’t want to irritate either of them.

“Don’t talk to me about murdering our siblings. You started that.” It was obviously God was visibly trying to constrain himself.

“Don’t put that waste of æther on a pedestal,” Death waved her hand in front of her like she was banishing a fart. “He made you look like a hellion. Do you remember him?” Death put her arms at her side and stared straight ahead. “Everything must be precise. No deviations are acceptable. You are one one thousandth of a centimeter out of position.” She made a robot voice before turning and spitting on the ground. “I did existence a favor by getting rid of him. But you, little brother, you killed poor Cronus. The curious one of us. He might not have agreed with you, but he respected you.”

“You’re impossible!” God shot back. “Whenever I do something its wrong, but when you do the same thing its ok.”

“That’s the gist of it,” Death smiled sinisterly. “So, what do you say?” She cracked her knuckles and the planet seemed to hold its breath. “Are we doing fisticuffs and putting this place out of its misery?”

God looked like he wanted to. He really did, but Gerry saw something in his eyes that he’d never expect to see in a billion years: fear. God wasn’t sure he could win a fight with Death. Death had been telling him that since Gerry met her, but it was an out-of-this world experience to see it confirmed by God himself.

“I’m waiting,” Death sounded eager and bored at the same time.

God took a deep breath, visibly shook himself, and looked away in the universal sign of defeat.

“Ah well, maybe another time.” Death smiled, turned her back on God, and gestured for Gerry to follow.

No.” The command stopped Gerry in his tracks, but got nothing more than an exasperated sigh from Death. “He is an abomination. He can’t be allowed to stand.”

“Oh he’s gonna stand,” Death challenged, “on his own two feet with a big swinging dick.” She looked excited that they might brawl after all.

“You took Gabriel from me. You took my son. I demand retribution.” God looked pissed, but not pissed enough to go to war with his sister.

“Hmmm,” Death pursed her lips and seemed to be deep in thought.

While she pondered. The leviathan rumbled into sight. Like a dog seeking its master, her eyes found Death. Death smiled, “Get him, Girl.” She pointed at God.

The beast new what that meant, and with a challenging roar, charged the Lord of Heaven. It was almost comical. The five hundred foot gargantuan was stampeding toward a fat man dressed like a monk who didn’t top six feet. To a layman it looked like she was going to scoop him up and have a pint-sized snack, but Gerry knew better. Even though he’d watched the leviathan had driven Michael, Lucifer, and an injured Beelzebub from the field of battle, it was no match for a primordial.

There was a loud crack, like lightening had struck the earth at Gerry’s feet, followed by a blinding white light. When Gerry’s vision returned, and spots stopped dancing like sugar plum fairies in his vision, the leviathan was slain. It wasn’t just slain. God had fileted the beast. All that was left was clean bones that toppled down the street. They still destroyed everything in their path, but they skid to a halt just short of God. The dust didn’t even settle on his robe.

“Well, there you have it. An eye for an eye. I took one of yours, and you took one of mine.” Death clapped her hands, and the bones turned to powder.

“The beast was Cronus’ not yours,” God argued.

“Cronus has been dead for a long time. No one knows that better than you,” Death retorted. “And it was clearly following my orders, just like Gabriel was following yours when you came here, along with the other minor angel you sent with him. She’s around here somewhere.” Death likened Ava to misplaced keys.

Ava took the moment to push herself out from under some rubble. She still looked battered from Death’s slap, but she was alive. God waved her over, and after placing a hand on her shoulder she looked as good as new.

“Father, I…”

“Shhhh.” God shook his head and silenced her. “I know.”

“Like I said, our business is concluded here.” Death stated. “See you around.” She grabbed Gerry’s hand and…

“Wait.” This time it wasn’t a command, but when Gerry turned back around he did not like the twinkle he saw in God’s eye. “Do you fancy a wager, Sister?”

Death’s body vibrated with anticipation. “Always, Brother.”

“You and I will retire from the battlefield and let our champions fight in our stead. Winner takes control of this island.”

“Deal,” Death answered immediately. “But no alterations to them starting,” she placed her hand on Gerry’s shoulder and he felt a rush of energy, “now.”

God grimaced, but didn’t make any moves towards Ava.

“We’ll leave you two to it,” Death gave Gerry a smack on the ass like he was about to run out of the tunnel for Monday Night football. “Here’s a chance for some payback.” Death whispered the incentive.

Gerry didn’t know if God had any words of wisdom for Ava, because when he turned around, the primordial was gone. All that was left was him, and a small vortex of dust stirred up by the void suddenly created by the departing primordials.

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End of Year Plans

Hey Everyone!

Since we are in the home stretch of 2018, I thought i’d take a little time since my kid woke me up at 4:30 am to share my plans for the end of the year and maybe a glimpse into 2019.

Posting

Right now, with the chaotic holiday season barring down on me, the posting schedule is going to have to shift a tad. Two Worlds will be dialed back to one chapter a week, on Mondays, starting 11/19/2018. With everything going on its just becoming a little much to get the chapter written, edited, and up to par twice a week. I’ll resume two days a week in 2019. Reaching the bonus chapter amounts of $25 (currently sitting at $20) will still get you a bonus chapter, and patreon contributors at or above $5 will still get a look at the advanced chapter. So no worries there.

PCS to Eden is starting to finish up, so i will probably be done in the next six weeks. Those will continue to post once a week on Fridays. If i have extra time, I can try to crank out a few A Change of Pace chapters. As you know it has been on a bit of a hiatus for the last few months. Working a 40 hr work week, having a baby, and posting three separate serials a week just wasn’t feasible, and i wanted to concentrate a little more on my original works. Finishing up PCS to Eden will free up some time, but i kind of need to find my voice again with COP. It’s been awhile. I’m not firmly committing to anything, but i’d like to put at least a few chapters together if I can.

Publishing

Part of the reason I can’t commit fully is because I’m hard at work on new content to be published. Right now, I’m just waiting for the hospital bill to come in on my kid’s birth. She was born back in July and all I’ve received so far is the anesthesiologists bill. I’ve got money put aside for another publishing, but i’m not willing to go through with it until I see the damage from the hospital.

The first one i’ll do is either a cleaned up version of the next section of Two Worlds, or I’m on TDY From Hell. I’d welcome anyone’s input on what they want to see cleaned up on their E-readers hopefully in the first half of 2019.

That brings me to my current work in progress, Title TBD. Title TBD has a little of everything i like to write: military themes, supernatural, magic, a touch of superhero, and a dabble of GameLit aspects, which i’m trying out for the first time. You might ask how all that can be fit into one book, and my answer is for you to buy it when it comes out to find out 😛 I’m only at a little over 20K on the word count, so there is still a lot to go, but I have a lot of ideas and its flowing. Hopefully it’ll be ready by later 2019, but that’s a long time with everything I’ve got on my plate, so again no promises. That seems to be my mantra lately as an independent author.

I hope that brings everyone up to speed and prepares you for some short term changes. I don’t like to shift my schedule too much, but reality calls and I need to be realistic. I was just surprised i was able to start cranking out new chapters of everything so soon after my kid was born.

As always if you want to support my independent writing career feel free to donate for bonus Two Worlds chapters or become a patreon. Both links are on my Home Page. You can also pick up my published works. Here’s a LINK to get you to all three. They’re all under $2.99 last time i checked or free on Kindle Unlimited. After your read, or if you have already read, please take the time and leave a short review. Word of mouth is the best advertising i can afford, so please share the wealth and help attract new readers. As always thanks to anyone who has done, is doing, or plans to do any of the above! 🙂

If you have any questions feel free to post them and i’ll get back to you as soon as i can.

Happy Holidays to everyone and here’s hoping for a productive 2019!

-Scott

Two Worlds – Chapter 239

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

“We’ve got to push left!” Coop ducked behind some kind of trash can as incoming rounds smacked against the crappy masonry around them.

As the number of enemy tentacle creatures increased, so did the volume of fire they were able to pour into the field generators Coop and Mike were carrying. The portable shields were better than sliced bread in Coop’s opinion, but they weren’t perfect. When concentrated fire was put on a spot it broke down the energy’s integrity and allowed stuff to get through. For the tentacle assholes’ tiny projectile weapons, that amounted to thousands of rounds a second, but when you had several thousand of them closing in on you from all directions even a moron could coordinate that fire.

Add to the rounds getting through their shield and their lack of armor, the SRRT also had to deal with the improvised barriers the enemy was throwing in their path. They had the diplomat’s beacon reading loud and clear now, and he was less than half a kilometer away. Crossing that half kilometer was turning into a shit show as every street intersection they came upon had an improvised road block thrown up…and on fire.

“We’re running out of streets, Cooper,” the SGM grunted, but didn’t yell. If anything, the NCOIC was cool under fire.

Coop knew from his IOR that the SGM was posted up against a building less than twenty meters from him. The whole team had been condensed down to a thirty meter perimeter to maximize the shield’s integrity. Sullivan and Mike were with him while Eve and GYSGT Cunningham were sticking close to Coop. The snap of Eve’s rifle going off less than a meter from Coop’s ear told him there was one less Squid out there to worry about.

“You’re seeing what I’m seeing, Sergeant Major!” Coop was a little less composed than his leader.

The Squid’s road block was random crap piled up about a meter and a half high and then set on fire with some rancid chemical concoction. Even from fifty meters away, the things smelled like asses – plural – because one ass just didn’t do the smell any justice. The last thing Coop wanted to do was get any closer to that steaming inferno of shit.

“We’ve already got to double back as is, and time is of the essence. They know we’re here, so they might just kill our guy and bury him in a shallow grave. We need to get there now.” The SGM relayed as a series of waypoints appeared on Coop’s IOR. It was a battle plan and a route to get to the diplomat all rolled into one. “On my command we punch through this barrier and push forward.” The SGM said it like he was inviting the whole team to brunch. “Three…two…one…execute!”

Four HE grenades exited Busses and impacted the barrier like the wrath of the Squid’s sea god. It blew the barrier, and anything within ten meters of it, into even more finely dispersed rancid shit. Coop ducked behind his cover to avoid the debris, but some still fell down on his back. He tried not to gag as he got to his feet and pushed forward.

There was no resistance getting to the former roadblock, or to the corner beyond that, but once they rounded the corner they came under renewed fire. Judging from the volume the Squids sounded pissed. The whole world in front of the team seemed to blue-out as the shield flared from thousands of incoming rounds. Coop dove for cover, which wasn’t remotely fun or graceful with the heavy generator on his back, but it saved his life.

“Shit!” {Shit!} The exclamation came through Coop’s ears and then his mind.

“Sullivan’s down,” the LT relayed with a little more emotion in her voice than the SGM. “It was in and out clear through his leg. Nanites will repair the artery and I’ve got him from there.” The LT might be the OIC, but everyone, including her, knew this was the SGM’s show.

“Gunney, I need you to take Alpha and make a path. We need to go two hundred meters and then make a right at the intersection. The diplomat’s beacon is in the third building on the right.” All of the SGM’s orders had been in the battle plan he’d relayed through the IOR, but it was a new way to communicate, and sometimes old habits took over.

“Cooper, you and me are on grenades. Berg, I want you to switch weapons to something with a higher rate of fire. If these fuckers rush us I don’t want them on top of Cooper and me before we can switch ammunition.”

She gave them ten seconds to lock and load before standing up and firing a three-round-burst of HE grenades at the enemy. Coop followed her lead, but aimed ten meters farther. They alternated back and forth to turn the whole street into a kill zone. The Squids might be stupid by Hegemony standards, but no one is that stupid. They gave up shooting for pot shots and charged.

Eve went down to one knee for better stability and let the Buss do the work. On full auto it was a buzz saw. Where bullets had trouble penetrating the shield, slow moving creatures did not, and the Squids poured through the blue barrier only to be chewed up and spit back out.

“Reloading,” Eve informed what felt like seconds later.

Coop and the GYSGT, who’d taken cover while Eve butchered the ETs, popped back out and started lobbing grenades. The Squids tried another charge, but by then Eve was ready for them.

“Coming up on your six,” the SGM informed as Bravo team trotted up behind them when they reached the intersection. “They tried to hit us with charges from behind at the same time. I think they thought they could catch us by surprise.” The SGM shook his head at the ET’s tactical blunder.

All around them it looked like someone had blown up a warehouse full of rotten sushi. Dead Squids covered every centimeter of space. Coop and the rest of the SRRT were squishing their corpses underfoot as they advanced.

“Ok, it should be the third building on the right,” the LT glanced around the corner and immediately pulled back as more rounds punched into the shield right in front of her face. “How’re those shields doing, Cooper, Enders?”

Coop hadn’t checked the generator in what felt like hours, but was actually minutes. “We’re down to forty percent, ma’am.” As if on cue, something big hit the shield and dropped it three percent.

“They’ve got plasma weapons!” The SGM yelled out. “This must be their HQ where all the big guns are located.”

More rounds started to land on top of the shield and dropped its battery life even further. “Fuck they’ve got mortars!” Coop exclaimed as he looked around for cover. The problem was that there wasn’t any.

Sure there were the ramshackle dwellings the Squids called home, but those didn’t protect them from overhead bombardment. The only thing keeping the SRRT alive was the quickly dwindling shield.

“Close ranks!” The LT ordered the exact opposite of what you were supposed to do when under indirect fire. Coop was about to politely educate her on this fact, but she beat him to it. “I know it sounds bat-shit crazy, but do it. I want us close together to maximize our shield protection. Once we’re close I want Cooper’s shield to form an outer layer protecting us. Enders, you collapse your shield bubble to form an interior layer. That way when Cooper’s fails yours will still be ready. Hell, it might even have a few minutes to recharge.”

Coop shut his mouth after the LT explained her decision. It was smart, and Coop kicked himself for not thinking about it. Despite the clever use of the shields, it only bought them a few more minutes to live. The mortars kept pounding away at them, and if they stuck their heads out into the next street, heavy plasma weapons would open up on them. Coop didn’t even know if they’d make the target house before those weapons chewed through their shields and cooked them all. Then the Squids would get to feast on BBQ human for the first time.

“We need to get rid of those heavy plasma cannons,” Coop said more to himself as he peeked around the corner.

The Squid at the controls saw Coop and took a shot. The weapon took out the building Coop had been hiding behind, and another few percent of the shield’s power as Coop scrambled backwards. It wasn’t for nothing. His IOR had mapped the cannon’s location inside the cover of another residence at the other end of the street over a hundred meters away.

“No shit, Sherlock, and how about you keep your head down!” Eve grabbed Coop by the scruff of his CMU’s so he wouldn’t do something stupid again.

The gesture was surprisingly protective and intimate given their situation, but Coop didn’t have time to think about it. He needed to figure out how to stay alive. The answer turned out to be simple. It was the same thing a team would do if they were taking indirect fire in any other situation. The real issue was, would it work in this diplomatically sensitive instance.

{Argo, this is Ballboy, call for fire, over.} The only way Coop could do it was over his IOR. Thanks to their command features, the LT, GYSGT, and SGM all snapped their heads in his direction. The LT opened her mouth to say something, but the SGM put his hand on her shoulder and shook his head.

The meaning was clear. It was the right tactical decision. In fact, the SGM had already thought about it, but bringing it up to Argo and the non-warriors in charge of this diplomatic mission was something else altogether. Coop had made the call, so it was Coop’s ass on the line. Coop was surprised the SGM was covering his ass like that, the NCOIC didn’t strike Coop as that type of person. Then the SGM met Coop’s gaze, and Coop knew that wasn’t the case. Coop had simply beaten him to the punch, and despite the shit situation they were in, Coop couldn’t help but beam with pride.

<Maybe I really am pretty good at this soldiering thing after all.>

{Coop, is that you?} Aiko’s voice popped into his mind. {What the hell is going on down there?}

Coop and the team had been out of contact with the ship since the start of the mission. There was supposed to be a communications blackout because this was a never-even-happened black op, but everyone probably got a little nervous when their LACS beacons went offline.

{No time!} Coop’s irritation leaked out over the transmission, but that was because another round of mortars landed on their heads and dropped his shield below thirty percent. {I need a fire mission at these coordinates.} Coop sent the information his IOR had gathered. {I need a tight-beam burst from Argo’s energy cannons, one hundred meters, from here to here. The big gun we need taken out is here, but the drag is going to take out any opposition between us and where the hostage is being held.}

{What the hell are you talking about? Stop fucking around, Coop.} Aiko’s disdain was coming over loud and clear.

This was not the time and place, and when another round of mortars fell on them, because the enemy had them zeroed, Coop snapped. {Aiko, I need you to pull your head out of your ass right now. This isn’t me fucking around. We’re sitting ducks here. If you do not authorize this call for fire the team is going to fucking die – D.E.D. dead. I know you hate my guts, and I think you’re being a bitch, but it doesn’t fucking matter. Order the fucking strike now or pass me to Gold!}

{I’m here, Sergeant.} The LCDR sounded like he wasn’t sure his IOR was working.

{Thank you, Sir.} Coop reassured him. {Now can we get that fire mission rolling?}

{I’ve passed it up to the Minister. She’s in command of the overall mission, not me. It’s her call.} The LCDR’s response didn’t fill Coop with optimism.

{Anything else you want to get off your chest while you’re at it, Cooper?} The LT asked as the wait dragged on and things continued to explode all around them.

{Yes, ma’am. You need to pay me more.} Coop deadpanned. It took a second, but then Eve chuckled, Mike grunted acknowledgement, and even Sullivan chimed in and seconded the motion.

Even the GYSGT suggested some type of increased hazard pay for the SRRT team. They were discussing how much when the LCDR got back to them.

{Fire mission approved. Argo is moving into position, ETA three minutes.} By divine intervention the diplomat had been taken hostage almost directly below where they’d been staying in the Golden City, or else it could have taken more than an hour for Argo to get into position. That was time they didn’t have, and even three minutes was cutting it close.

Coop’s shield failed before Argo fired. The entire SRRT team, one of twenty, qualified and trained teams on the latest and greatest tech in the Commonwealth, was huddled together where a simple frag grenade could have killed them all. Then, a blinding flash lit the sky and the ground bucked beneath them. Atmosphere did a lot to disperse beam weapons, so they were nowhere as deadly as they were in space, but the newly-upgraded energy cannons on Argo were more than enough to cut through the flimsy materials in the Hegemony PHA, and the even more flimsy Squids living in them.

The loud explosion of the heavy plasma cannon being destroyed at the end of the street was all the motivation the team needed.

“MOVE!” The LT led the charge up and across the street to the target house. The street below them was nearly bubbling from the energy dissipation, and the charged corpses of the Squids caught in the line of fire crumbled into ash as they SRRT rushed to stack against the door. “Go!” The LT kicked down the door and peeled away to cover their six.

Coop was the first through, and his Buss spit out plasma-tipped rounds at the space filled with stunned Squids. A few seconds later the space looked like a slaughter house, and any Squid that was still alive was slithering for safety.

“He’s beneath us. Find the stairs!” The SGM was one of the last in the building as Coop and company went from room to room exterminating the remaining enemy.

Eve ended up finding the stairs, but they weren’t stairs at all. It looked like some sort of gelatinous goo. You stepped in it and it sunk down or propelled up depending on the floor you were on. It took the SRRT team members thirty tedious seconds to get from one floor to the other. Coop suspected that the Squids could swim through the liquid and move faster, which was why he stood guard when Eve descended behind him.

The downstairs consisted of a long corridor and a single door. Coop’s IOR registered that the door was thicker at the far end, but that a grenade would do the trick. It did. The grenade, one of Coop’s last ones, blasted apart the door, and Coop followed the blast of shrapnel into the room. What he saw ended up seared in his memory.

There were a handful of Squids, but unlike the Squids he’d dealt with so far, these ones moved slower and had a slightly duller color to their bodies. Coop guessed it had to deal with age, and he might as well be facing the Squids’ council of elders. Not that Coop gave two shits.

One of the squids was attached to the restrained diplomat’s body. The man’s eyes were bulging as the Squid had a tentacle stuffed in his throat and both nostrils. Coop didn’t know if the Squids were torturing the man for information by suffocating him, or if they were throat-fucking him, and he didn’t stop to ask. His sector of fire didn’t contain the diplomat, so he concentrated on blasting his handful of old Squids. They moved slower, were easier to track, and Coop painted the walls with their blood. When he turned around, Eve had one hand on the Squid covering the diplomat’s face, and the other was using her combat knife to cut the thing to pieces. Finally, the thing died and sloshed to the ground.

<You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.> Coop couldn’t hide his displeasure at seeing the diplomat who’d been captured was the same fucktard from Argo who ordered Coop to switch bunks with him.

<Sullivan took a bullet for this waste of oxygen.> Coop grimaced, and promised himself to double down on the extra hazard duty pay plan when he got back to the ship.

{Argo, this is Wentworth. Jackpot…I say again…jackpot. Immediate extraction would be most appreciated.}

Immediate wasn’t totally immediate. The splitstream tech needed space and specific dimensions to work within, so it took nearly twenty minutes for them to find an LZ and to get streamed back to Argo.

As they waited, Coop thought it was weird the Squids didn’t press their attack. He didn’t argue with their decision not to. He just found it odd they gave up so easily.

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