Two Worlds – Chapter 322

Eve Berg

Location: North American Eastern Seaboard, Smokey Mountains, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Come on, Coop,” Eve sprinted through the mountain bunker and toward the shuttle bay. “Make a hole!”

A squad of grunts was marching through the hall, on their way to nowhere important, as she came barreling around a corner. Most got out of the way quick enough, but a PVT in the back must have had his head up his ass. The man was big, in full scales, weapon slung across his chest, and that didn’t make a difference when she shoulder-checked him. You could hear the air rush out of the PVT’s lungs as he was flung backward, across the hall and into the wall. He crumpled like a rag doll. His squad mates gathered around him, yelling at her things they shouldn’t say to an officer or a woman. They didn’t know much about the black stripes on her CMUs, and she really didn’t care she’d steamrolled the guy. She rushed on.

The bay opened up and spread out before her. The Spyders were still lined up wingtip to wingtip, but there was still plenty of room for what remained of the force sent out to rebuff the enemy. Most were on their asses, their helmets off, pouring water over their heads. Fighting made you sweat, but fighting an enemy that used lasers tended to turn it up a few degrees.

Her eyes ignored the grunts on the ground and gravitated toward the six-meter MOUNT near the door. It was standing there lifeless, dead, with a big fucking hole in its gut. <No!>

Tears annoyed her eyes as she surged forward. There was a group of techs, medics, and miscellaneous soldiers gathering around the mech; but they parted at her approach. The first thing she smelled was blood.

The coppery tinge to the air made her stomach flip; not because she was unaccustomed to it, but because of what it represented. “Report, sergeant,” she found the nearest NCO and demanded answers.

“Wha . . . ma’am,” he nodded to her. “It’s shot to shit and we’re trying to open it, but some stuff is fused.” A torch lit up, temporarily blinding her, and then sparks started to shoot around them as one of the techs went to work cutting into the armor. It wasn’t a quick process, and the smell of smoldering metal, singed circuitry, and the ever-present blood made several back away from the MOUNT for a moment to collect themselves.

“You better be alive, you bastard,” she muttered to herself.

Then, like the universe answering her prayer, “Fuck! Easy with that thing!” Coop roared from inside the MOUNT like a hungry bear awakening for hibernation.

“We’ve almost got it open, sir,” the tech informed.

“Good, because you’ve cut everything up from out there and nothing fucking works anymore,” Coop growled back.

With a final hiss, the torch finished its job and a section of armored plating fell away. The MOUNT wouldn’t be usable for some time, but the techs would get it operational again. They’d opened a section into the womb itself.

“Let’s get him out,” the tech ordered, reached in, and nearly toppled over as he yanked.

His hand came out holding a blackened, severed foot.

“Ahhhhh!” Coop roared from inside.

“Get him out!” Eve yelled, bodily pushing people aside to get to the opening. “Easy, Coop. I’m here.”

“It fucking hurts! Damnit, I’ve already had that foot regrown once,” he cursed as she grabbed ahold of his contorted body and started to shimmy him out.

“Medics get your kits ready. He’ll need fluids if nothing else,” she ordered. “Someone notify sick bay they have an urgent critical incoming. They’ll need to clean up his wound and start a new grow on his foot. He’s essential personnel. We can’t have him sitting out this fight.”

People rushed to obey her orders as Coop’s head appeared in the hole. He looked like death, which was probably better than she expected. Despite his alertness, his body was still in a state of shock. Only pure will and adrenaline were keeping him going at this point. He’d crash soon, and then it would be up to her to get him treatment.

“I came back,” he mumbled, his speech slurred.

“He’s going into shock,” she relayed as the medics mustered around her.

“I’m fine,” he replied as his eyes rolled back into his head and his body went limp.

“Christ, lose some weight, lard ass,” she grunted as Coop’s full enhanced weight settled into her arms. “Let’s get him down.”

Close coordination got him down and onto a gurney with anti-grav tech. The medics rushed off, and passed the CMDR as she entered the hanger. The base leader took one look at the MOUNT and shook her head.

“How long until it’s operational?” Eve asked the tech already inspecting the wreck.

“Give me six hours and it’ll be ready to go into the field. A proper replacement for this section needs supplies we don’t have. We can get some duro-steel over it, but it’s going to be a weak spot.”

“He’ll deal,” her eyes followed the burned stump of Coop’s foot as it rounded the corner. Then she hopped down to confront the CMDR.

“Ma’am,” Eve didn’t realize how tired she sounded.

“You’re all we’ve got, Warrant Officer Berg,” the CMDR looked even more tired than Eve sounded. “If the enemy pushes again, we’ll need you to be in five places at once.”

“I’ll make it work,” Eve’s thoughts went to Coop in sick bay and her child in some storage tank. Everything she cared about was in this mountain. “I’ll make it work,” she repeated with more grit.




Sonya Berg

Location: CWS Jack Frost, Alpha Centauri, United Commonwealth of Colonies


The Chief of Naval Intelligence was asleep with her head through a holographic readiness report. It had frozen when her forehead went crashing through it on the master spreadsheet: the completion percentage of the fleet concerning upgrades, and their total numbers. As the senior-most admiral in the system when the directive came down from the prime minister, Sonya was charged with getting the rebuilding program underway.

That made her very unpopular in Alpha Centauri. All civilian shipping was diverted from the area if it wasn’t carrying military equipment. Cargo freighters that carried the life blood of the civilian population were forced to settle into orbit and use shuttles to ferry goods down from their holds. It led to shortages, impossible traffic jams, and the people were letting her know about it. System government officials were in her office every day to complain. She just didn’t give a shit. In one more week, life in the system would go back to normal. The massive fleet would sail off into the black and retake Earth . . . or not. In that case, Alpha Centauri might be next. How those officials loved hearing that ultimatum.

Her door chimed as someone requested admittance. She didn’t even twitch. It chimed again with the same result. After the third chime the door opened through an override, and a man strode in. He looked around at what looked like a bureaucratic nuke had exploded all over the place. The man who entered behind the first man chuckled as he ordered the lights to full brightness.

“Admiral.” Sonya finally began to stir at the summons to consciousness. “Admiral!”

Her face shot up from the desk, temporarily blurring the data in front of her. “Who . . . what . . .?” her vision finally cleared enough to see who was in her office. “Now I know this is a dream. There is no way Gilmore and Ward would be together in my office. Those two men hate each other; couldn’t be more different, both personally and concerning naval doctrine. If they were . . .” she stopped abruptly after she pinched herself and winced.

“You were saying,” Fleet Admiral Xavier Gilmore couldn’t find anywhere to sit, so he stood in front of her cluttered desk. Admiral Michael Ward just leaned against the doorframe.

“That means we really are throwing the kitchen sink at the enemy,” she straightened her CMUs and got to her feet. “I apologize . . .”

The Fleet Admiral waved her off. “I’m the only one who can command this fleet,” he answered the elephant in the room. “We’ve got multiple fleets converging and being refitted. There are going to be too many chefs in the kitchen. Having me take overall command will avoid bruising any egos. Ward will be the deputy commander because he has the most recent successful combat experience.”

Ward was still riding high off the successful raid on Yangon; even though that felt like a century ago. It was going to be a change for him to fight alongside the same forces he’d recently crushed.

“Give me a sitrep, Berg. Barebones is all I need. We’ll have enough briefings and workups over the next week to get into the weeds.”

“Barebones, sir,” Sonya wiped her eyes to clear the last of sleep. “We’re running on schedule for the most part. We’ve got two ships behind, but other than that we’re doing surprisingly well. Fleet techs are arriving on their own accord to help with the refits. We’ve almost got too many hands. People know what’s going on with Earth, and they want to help.”

The spirit of the Commonwealth’s people, even after the loss of Earth and a succession by major corporate interests, was beyond refreshing.

“That’s good news,” Gilmore nodded. “Because in one week we leave to retake Earth, so let’s get back to work.”

“We can sleep when we’re dead,” Ward added with a grin that Sonya shared. She buckled up for a wild ride.


Two Worlds – Chapter 321

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: North American Eastern Seaboard, Smokey Mountains, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “Pull back!” Coop yelled as he ducked behind a rocky outcropping.

A second before it looked like the world was nothing but beamer fire heading straight for him. Some of the grunts holding the perimeter followed his orders, others didn’t, or just weren’t fast enough. The barrage of energy was followed by dozens of beeps as his AI registered soldiers flatlining.

“Fuck!” he yelled as he poked his grav-cannon out and fired off some computer assisted shots.

For the past fifteen minutes, all they’d been doing was giving ground to buy time. The big guns supposed to be covering this sector needed to be fixed five minutes ago. They’d been hopping from cover to cover, gradually pulling back from shield barrier to shield barrier. They had one company-grade generator and a ton of squad-level ones to leapfrog the last kilometer back toward the mountain bunker’s entrance.

“Ballboy, Command, we need you to hold there,” the frantic voice of a PVT put on comms duty squeaked. “If they get any closer the cannons won’t have a bead on them.”

“Motherfucker!” Coop didn’t bother to respond. Half the force he’d come out with was dead, and the other half was cowering behind whatever cover they could find.

He toggled to his weapon’s menu and loaded up a shell from his next-gen accelerator. He needed to buy time with some boom-boom. In a not-so-smooth motion, he pivoted around the outcropping, smashed his heel-spike into the ground, and fired. Two beamers reached out to him by the time he got the AI-aimed shot off. Those quickly died as the ignited-atmosphere drew a line from Coop to the target.

“A pile of boulders?” Coop questioned the wisdom of the artificial brain until he saw the aftermath. “Clever girl.”

Piles of rocks were scattered all over the place leading up to the mountains. They’d provided decent cover for Coop and the grunts as they did their fighting retreat, but the AI saw another use for them. A beamer, with enough time, could burn through the rocks, but a hyper-dense projectile smashing into them created a claymore-like effect. Any BAMFs or roaches hiding behind the rock were obliterated, but the shrapnel created by the impact created a fifty-meter kill zone; and everyone out to a hundred meters felt it. The AI’s ingenuity had taken down at least a dozen BAMFs and just as many roaches.

The wailing of the BAMFs who’d lost their roaches resounded through the air. “Here they come,” he announced. This part they could deal with.

“Cannon’s going operational in ten,” Command finally announced back as Coop and company blasted the second wave of berserking BAMFs with everything they had.

“About fucking time,” a pair of shots to a BAMF to his left that a full squad of grunts was hammering with heavy weapons did the thing in, but it opened him up to take some punishments.

{Forward shields depleted.} His AI informed just as he pulled back. He earned a scorch mark across his chest for his trouble.

“Reroute power from rear shield. I don’t plan on getting shot in the back,” he punctuated the statement with his swatters swinging out to probe the enemy with hundreds of rounds.

He couldn’t really hurt a BAMF with the smaller rounds, but he could find any roaches trying to sneak up on him. That was exactly what happened as a shield sparked and camouflage failed less than a hundred meters from his position. He pounded the area with his grav-cannon until it was roadkill and then took out the BAMF that tried to avenge it. As he pulled back behind the cover of the rock, he felt an itch between his shoulder blades.

<What the . . .> an eeriness settled over the area. It was quiet.

“Redeploying company shield,” the grunts lugging the bigger generator took the lull in the battle to move to the rear. “Cover us.” No beamers reached out to tag the grunts as the rushed toward the rear with the metal box carried between the four of them.

<Something’s not right . . .> no sooner had the words formed in his mind than a whooshing sound told him all he needed to know. He turned his head to the sky and his sensors automatically dimmed. Three small suns were hurtling in an arch in their direction.

“Incoming!” he yelled. He threw a rally point up on the HUD of everyone in the AO. “I’ll cover you.” He covered the distance to another outcropping in a few bounds, slid into position, and scanned for targets as grunts hustled for his position.

As planned it had been right in the path of the generator team, who’d promptly dropped their heavy cargo and were busy booting it up. “Come on baby,” the SGT in charge of the team stroked the side of the box lovingly as it hummed to life. “That’s my girl.”

The glowing balls of plasma had reached the apex of their arch, and gravity was bringing them back down. “Hustle or die!” Coop yelled over the net as more grunts arrived.

The only thing working in their favor was the ET’s chosen form of artillery, large plasma balls, moved slower that its Commonwealth counterpart. Where it lacked in speed, the ET’s indirect fire weapons more for made up in destructive force. Anyone not inside the company force field, and the many squad-level shields being activated inside the company-grade shield was for sure dead. Coop put the rest of the grunt’s chance of living at sixty-forty even with all the shields. He’d probably be ok . . . he thought.

“Eight seconds,” he relayed to the grunts as the time ticked down in the corner of his vision.

As he stood there, using his bulk to shield a squad of grunts, he marveled at how indirect-fire tactics had changed in the last few weeks. Normally, it was scatter, hit the ground, find cover and hope you didn’t catch some shrapnel while praying the swatters did their job. Now, swatter-rounds just got turned to nothing by the plasma-artillery’s intense heat. Everyone had to huddle together under multiple layers of shields in the hopes they lived. If the shields failed everyone died, but anyone with several hundred meters of the balls not under shields was going to get cooked anyway.

“Shit, redirected power to rear shields!” Coop nearly forgot, and got a word into a prayer that the AI was fast enough before the world exploded around him.

Heat light and force blacked out his sensor array, leaving him in the darkness of the MOUNT’s womb. Since he was still breathing, and not boiling, he assumed the shields had stood up to the test. He’d have to wait for sensors to reboot before that happened.

That happened two seconds later as the world popped back into existence. {All shield emitters at ten percent power,” the AI informed.

<At least I’m alive,> and it looked like most of the grunts were as well.

“Company shield is shot, we should . . .” the SGT never even got to finish as a beamer flashed out of the destruction around them, punched through the degraded squad-shield and burned a fist-sized hole in his chest.

“Move!” Coop pivoted, putting his own bulk between the grunts and the beamer. He hammered the area with his grav-cannon and got the BAMF to maneuver. Unfortunately, two more lit him up from alternating directions.

“Fuck,” his shields were already down to five percent as he returned fire. “Get to the bunker,” he yelled, just as the first retort form the Commonwealth’s big guns reached him. The destroyed landscape in front of him exploded as something big, fast, and with a lot of umph hit where the beamers were coming from. It didn’t matter if they were spaced dozens of meters apart.

“Let’s move!” he continued to use his bulk to cover the grunts as the big guns walked fire in front of their defensive lines. Even with the big guns in the fight, the enemy wasn’t quitting.

A beamer reached out and tagged Coop as he was running. With his shields shot it punched through the outer armor and into the secondary shield around his womb. The BAMFs knew just where to hit them. He twisted as his secondary shield’s strength dropped. An angry red line drew itself across his chest as AI auto-loaded his accelerator. He sprayed the area with his grav-cannon, but the beamers had a larger effective range than he did.

“A hundred meters to go,” he growled to himself. It was getting toasty in the womb.

He needed to round a bend to get to the bunkers entrance. He crossed thirty meters of that space as his AI fired the accelerator without his command and threw him forward. His meters-long arms wind milled as he tried to keep his balance, and only partially succeeded.

“What the fuck?” he yelled at the machine, as he dug himself out of the soil and kept moving. The beamer had gone silent when its owner got pulverized by the hyper-dense accelerator round, but there was another ET there to take its place. The angle was a little difference, which made all the difference in the end.

All Coop felt was his environment suddenly got from warm-summer day to surface of the sun. Excruciating pain ripped through him, which immediately threw him out of sync with the MOUNT. The big war machine stumbled.

{Get us back,} was his last mental command to the AI before he blacked out still twenty meters from the bend.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 320

Prime Minister Deja Simmons (ADM Retired)

Location: New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies

The Prime Minister wrapped up her prepared comments and gave the traditional Commonwealth sign off for her public address, “May God bless the United Commonwealth of Colonies.” She held the practiced smile for several seconds until the camera tech told her she was clear. Then she made sure the red light on the device was off and turning away from her before she swept everything off the meticulously-arranged desk, and tossed her hard-copy notes at the wall. They fell impotently to the ground, much like she felt at the moment.

“Get the fuck out, now!” she roared, as her staff burst into motion and cleared the techs from the room.

It was the PM’s office in her government residence. PM’s had addressed the public for centuries from that location. It was welcome and reassuring, and for the first time, Deja had been able to reach out to all corners of the Commonwealth at once to deliver her message. It was a message of defeat and failure. It was message to say Earth had fallen to an unknown enemy. It was a message to state that nearly a third of the Commonwealth had decided to go it alone when the galactic superpower needed to unite and be strong together. It was a message she hoped had Thomas Gold and his cronies ready to crawl under a stone and hope she never came for him.

“Ma’am,” High Admiral Gilmore stood in front of her, his face a stone mask. “We’re ready for you.”

She took a moment to collect herself before nodding and following him out of the room, and down to the impromptu war room. No press lined the hall as usual after an address like this. She didn’t need the distraction. The press could think whatever they wanted, she didn’t give a shit right now.

Men and women in uniform jumped to their feet when she entered, but she waved the back to their seats. Everyone’s face was stoic, as it should be. This was the worst day in the history of the Commonwealth, and what they did now would determine the fate of humanity.

“Give it to me straight?” she stared at each man and woman levelly. “How fucked are we?”

“Definitely seriously, but not supremely, the woman at her right replied without missing a beat.

Deja recognized Admiral Rachel Azure. She was Admiral Garrett’s deputy. <Why is she . . .?> the thought stopped abruptly.

Garrett had been on Mars. By luck alone she’d been able to get out of there before the aliens cut off her ability to retreat. Garrett had not been so lucky. Last she heard, he’d been digging in with Admiral Reyes on Mars’s surface to coordinate its defense. Deja doubted the old war dog was still alive, which put Azure in charge of the Commonwealth Infantry Corps.

“Thank you, Admiral,” Deja remembered vaguely how blunt the tall woman was. She was sure she’d get to know the knew addition to the military’s chiefs intimately through the next few months ahead.

“Things do not look good,” Gilmore chimed in more respectfully. “Communications from Earth are completely cut off, and with Gold’s treason, we’ve lost the ability to communicate through his QE network. My guess is we’ll receive an envoy from this new Confederation shortly to negotiate return of that service and other treaties between the Commonwealth and Confederation.”

The ADM saying the words made Deja sick, and apparently Azure agreed. “Give me a few divisions and I’ll shove a rifle down Gold’s throat and pull the trigger myself.” The ADM was barely able to contain her rage. “We can hang his head on a plaque in the Hall of Representative with ‘Do not Fuck With Us’ written in big bold letters. Then, we can keep his tiny little dick as a personal memento of his colossal fucking mistake.”

“We might not have a choice,” Gilmore replied, and he sounded like he regretted it, but he went on to explain before Azure erupted again. “We can’t lose Earth, ma’am,” he said bluntly. “We can lose all these systems to the Confederation, but if we lose earth we’re done. The single planet holds a significant amount of humanities population, not to mention industrial capacity. Beyond that, it’s our home. Everyone shares a link to Earth. If we lose her to aliens, more systems will pull away, and you’ll be the prime minister of New Washington and nothing more.”

Deja gripped the armrest of her chair until her knuckles turned white and audibly cracked, but she knew the High Admiral was right. “What do you suggest?”

“We’ll need to negotiate with the envoy. We need communications access back. We don’t need to acknowledge the Confederation, but we need to talk to other systems. That’s step one, step two deals with the garrisons. Most of these worlds have a token fleet garrison. None have an active fleet base because they know we’d crush this kind of rebellion. Likely, some of the garrisons are going to join the Confederation, but the ones that don’t are going to be in a tense standoff with corporate forces of system militias. I advise we pull those garrisons and redeploy to Alpha Centauri.” A holo-tank sprang to life. “If we only get half the garrisons to return to us, that’s still sixty plus battleships that we can get back into action.”

Normally, that was a large amount of tonnage, but after ADM Berg’s description of what happened to First and Second Fleet; Deja didn’t even know if that could make a difference.

“Fifth Fleet is based out of Alpha Centauri, and they were scheduled to begin refitting their fleet with the more modern ships a month ago. They’re knee deep in the refit. We just need to push it to the next level; I call it Operation Turnaround. In the next six weeks I advise the Defense Production Act be put into effect. Every available mine, smelter, fabricator, arms manufacturer, shipyard, and their mother are going to produce one thing and one thing only: what we need to equip the largest fleet in human history to take back Earth.”

The holo-tank updated and Deja’s jaw dropped at the projections. <This will make or break us,> her practiced eye noted quickly, but she liked it. It was decisive, showed violence of action, and better yet, gave humanity something to rally behind.

“Production on fleet upgrades will cease everywhere but these four anchorages. They will continue, and then their fleets will rendezvous at Alpha Centauri. Seventy percent of our fleet supply vessels will take our existing stockpile and make for Alpha Centauri the moment you give the order, and will continue to make round-the-clock flights to get the yards what they need.” The next slide popped up, and Deja became less enthused. “We go coordinate with the Euros and Blockies as well. Earth is their mother world as well. We convince them to bring as much force to bear as possible. It is unlikely they will be able to get as upgraded as us; they don’t have the infrastructure of agreements in place with the Hegemony, but each upgraded battleship is another few dozen energy cannons to point at the enemy. I’m confident I can convince some of my counterparts to contribute.”

“How?” Azure asked. “They’ll want us to shoulder the majority of the load, they always do.”

“Simple,” the High Admiral forwarded to the next image, and Azure’s eyes narrowed and a predatory smile split her lips. “Even when our combined fleet beats back the enemy. We’ll still need to uproot the enemy soldiers on the ground. We’re talking about several months of occupation. Judging by the numbers we were seeing from ships that size, there could be a quarter million enemy troops on Earth. If our technological disadvantage is taken into consideration, we’re going to need to deploy two thirds of the entire Infantry to take back just our territory. We’ll obviously help our European allies after we regain our lands, but we will not venture in Blockie controlled space. Everyone is going to need to chip in if they want to save their slice of home.”

“You’re an evil bastard, Gilmore,” Azure nodded to the High Admiral in respect.

“Ma’am,” Gilmore returned his attention to her. “We can only make this happen if we move now, with a purpose, and manage the chaos as effectively as possible. To get the Euros and Blockies to coordinate, we need a hard deadline. We’ll all need to move as one, and hit the enemy in conjunction. I’m going to need you to decide on a timeline and give me the go as soon as possible.”

Three options were presented, each with their pros and cons. The quickest deadline was six weeks; it offered less upgraded ships, less coordination with allies, but a quicker response for Earth’s population. Option number two was eight weeks, and was a solid middle ground. The data was still inconclusive if the combined human fleet would be able to bring enough ships to defeat the enemy. Option three was twelve weeks, three months, and twice as long as option one. It offered the greatest chance of success based on the data from Second Fleet’s battle, but who knew what would be left of Earth by then.

Deja took ten minutes to make a decision. “Option Two. You’ve got eight weeks to get me Earth back Admirals.” Her eyes bore into the leaders of the Commonwealth armed forces. The threat was clear. Come back victorious or on your shield. This was do or die.

“Get me, Berg,” Deja had to fire her old friend, but a change of command couldn’t happen in the middle of Operation Turnaround. “Let’s see if we can’t sneak anything in-system and get some intel to our fleet commanders.

The Commonwealth was committing five full fleets to the effort. Within the first week the Blockies had committed another three, while the Euro’s were coming forward with a full fleet and several assorted task forces. Those task forces were smaller ships, but the Euros would make up the entirety of the massive fleet’s screening unit.

Nine full fleets, thousands of ships, millions of men, not to mention the millions of marines that would be launching in the biggest orbital drop in human history. Everything about the planned assault was the biggest in human history.

<The death toll will be as well.> Deja knew, and she would be crucified on the altar of public opinion for it all, but she didn’t care. She was an admiral first, a politician second. <Hold on Earth. We’re coming.>

Even after all that was done, she’d need to deal with Gold.





Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: North American Eastern Seaboard, Smokey Mountains, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Yeah, we’re totally fucked,” Coop rubbed his eyes and looked back at the holo-tank. If the CMDR disapproved of his defeatism, she didn’t say anything. In fact, Coop was pretty sure she was asleep with her eyes open.

“No,” Eve chewed her fingernail. It was a bad habit she’d started up in the last few weeks. In terms of bad habits, Coop couldn’t really judge. He’d taken to drinking heavily in his downtime.

It had been four weeks since Earth had fallen to the alien bastards. Hardline comms were still spotty at best, but intel came in from all over the globe of civilians being massacred. The ETs were slowly exterminating them, and there wasn’t much the remaining military forces could do to stop them.

The only place they were safe was behind their massive shields in the mountain bunkers. Those were stuffed tighter than a virgin on prom night, and they were taking in any refugees that happened to make it to their front doors. It had been three days since they had one of those, and the reason was right outside.

The main assault force of the alien invasion had completed a sweep of their AO and headed back to face any remaining opposition. Intel was still limited on the enemy forces, but Coop estimated anywhere between five and eight thousand enemy troops were camped on either side of the Blue //ridge mountains, and were doing their level best to smoke out the cowering humans.

<We aren’t cowering,> the pain in his shoulder reminded him of that. Eve and him had been leading counterattacks to keep the aliens guessing and cautious. They’d just returned from one two hours ago, and it already looked like they’d need to leave within the hour the repel the aliens’ response.

Of the entire First Battalion ACR, only six MOUNTs were confirmed to have survived the enemy landing. Eve’s whole team was dead, and of Coop’s team, only Camilla survived and that was just barely. Her MOUNT was barely functional, and she was in a medically-induced coma, but she’d made it to a complex down in Tennessee.

The only other MOUNT on the east coast was in a bunker up in the Catskills, with the others hunkered down in the Rockies out west. The ACR’s officers were gone. CMDR Snow had been killed in an orbital strike on one of the many FOBs set up to respond to the alien’s invasion. He’d survived the strike itself, but not the landing wave of BAMF’s that followed.

Humanity had a heathy respect for the tech imbalance and lethality of the BAMF’s, but their own people had been doing their research. Coop had sat through more than one briefing on the biology of the ET’s trying to kill his homeworld. Most of it was standard bipedal, carbon-based life form crap. He’d seen the ugly fuckers face-to-face. He didn’t need a biology lesson when he knew running them through with his blade would kill them easily enough.

The part that had been interesting was when the science weenies came out and told them the BAMFs were actually female. Eve and grinned a little at that point, when Coop’s jaw just dropped in surprise. He said something about big-ass bitches and got a punch for his trouble. Even more interesting, the biologists had uncovered interesting parts of the aliens’ brains that suggested some type of bonding linkage between BAMF and roach. The scientists called it a bonded pair. Of the handful of nearly dead samples the MOUNTs had returned to them for study, there was an empirical connection between certain BAMFS and roaches. More interestingly, when a roach of BAMF in a bonded pair was killed, there was a massive dump of hormones into the surviving member’s body. They learned that the hard way when a just-about-dead BAMF broke through its restrains and killed two of the experimenting scientists. It took two HI troopers to put the thing down after that, but it gave Eve and Coop ideas.

Kill the roaches, and the BAMFs went into hormone-driven berserker rages, which made them more dangerous but less coordinated. It was tough fighting, but they’d come out on top every time so far; although, their armor had resembled swiss cheese a few times. If the BAMFs died, the roaches tended to suicide, so as long as you kept an eye out for the sneaky bastards you could kill them pretty easily. It was a fight they were slowly losing, but they were making the enemy pay dearly for every meter. The MOUNTs maintenance teams were keeping score of their charge’s victories, and notching kills on the servicing equipment. So far, Coop was up by two with a total of eighty-seven kills.

Their Battle AI’s had volumes of data on BAMF fighting styles. Enough that the two pilots could conceivably put the MOUNTs in autopilot and let the armor fight the battle. Neither warrior was entirely comfortable with that, but with them going on ninety-six hours without sleep, they might have to give in out of necessity.

“You saying no doesn’t make us any less fucked,” Coop yawned. “I’m going to go get a stim and suit up.”

“That’s your sixth stim today,” Eve frowned as he turned to leave.

“I can sleep when I’m dead,” he called back casually.

“You come back alive or I’ll bring you back to life and give you a good spanking before killing your ass again,” she shot back without any hit of jest.

“You promise?” Coop couldn’t help himself.

She gave him a hard glare, but her lips eventually slid up into a grin. Battles like this always got them both horny as hell. It probably wasn’t healthy, but they were going to die soon anyway, so neither really cared about their long-term mental health.

“Let me know if you need me,” she answered instead. They wouldn’t reveal their only other combat-capable MOUNT unless they desperately needed to. “Looks like you’ve got a company-sized force heading for Section Twenty-Two. The guns there are offline from some residual energy that leaked through in the last orbital strike. Maintenance said they should have them up within the hour.”

“Keep the bad guys contained until the big guns can blast them, check,” Coop gave her a lazy salute and headed out.

He had some ET’s to kill.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 319

Benjamin Gold

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

Everything was perfect; beyond perfect. It took place on a terrace overlooking the ocean on a private island. A literal ton of rare genetic-hybrid flowers surrounded everyone with a sweet smell as they literally bloomed during the ceremony. It was a personification of the new life Ben and Jacobi were beginning. Trained doves were let loose as they said their vows, and did a choregraphed routine to everyone’s amazement. Everyone they loved and cared about was present, smiling, and happy for them.

Still, it felt all wrong.

“You may now kiss the bride,” the official presiding over everything was an old man, with a genuinely kind face, who’d said some very moving words about marriage and love.

Ben had only been half paying attention, which wasn’t a good look. He tried to keep a lid on the anger bubbling in his gut, but it was hard. What his father had done was such a violation.

<Yeah, how dare he give you the wedding of the century,> he could practically hear the response if he complained to anyone about this. The only one who felt his pain was standing right in front of him.

As he refocused on her, everything else seemed to fade away. Jacobi was absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. The mother and mother-in-law of the bride had gone to work on her hours before and returned an angel to him. The sight of her quenched the anger, and as her lips met his, he forgot about everything else going on around him.

“I’m an honored to present, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin and Jacobi Gold.” Ben couldn’t help but smile at the old official.

The crown erupted into cheers as Ben and Jacobi walked back down the aisle lined with flowers and smiling guests. Ben couldn’t help but smile. Hearing their names linked together sent a flood of positivity through him that felt like it would last forever.

It lasted until he hit the end of the aisle where his father was waiting; along with his mother and Jacobi’s parents.

Her mom was crying as Jacobi went to them and was enveloped in their embrace. <That’s what family should be,> he couldn’t keep the wistful look off his face as he stood before his father. The man made no move to embrace his son. His mother reached out and rubbed his arm thoughtfully.

“That went well,” he looked out over the people waiting to leave the terrace for the reception in the estate’s main ballroom. “I’ll meet you inside.” He looked hungry, and not in the ‘I’m going to eat a good steak’ kind of way.

Thomas peeled off with Ben’s mother on his arm, while Jacobi came up behind him with her parents. “I guess I should call you son now,” Jacobi’s father looked a little flush in the tuxedo he’d been given for the occasion.

He was a chubby man, who worked as a surveyor for a minerals company back on East Newfoundland. He made a decent living, but was in a separate universe as far as Thomas Gold was concerned. To make the man happy, and not interfere with anything ever again, Thomas was probably going to buy the company and put the elder Wentworth on the board or something. He’d live what he thought was the high-life until he died, and the Wentworth’s would owe the Gold’s their prosperity.

That was how a Gold thought. By looking in Greg Wentworth’s face, Ben could tell the portly man was just happy his little girl had found someone who loved and cared for her.

“I guess you should,” Ben was surprised when Greg opened his arms and drew him into a hug. He was substantially shorter than Ben, but it didn’t matter.

When the embrace broke, Ben saw his wife tearing up. <My wife,> he smiled at the thought. It felt right.

That was when the people started exiting the terrace for the reception. Ben and Jacobi formed the end of the receiving line with her parents as the people passed through. Gifts were bestowed on them, probably worth more than the GDP of some planets. Neither of them cared, but their last name was Gold. That demanded a proper offering.

Many of the men disappeared from the reception hall as they entered, shown away by Curtis and a small army of security personnel. Ben watched them go with a raised eyebrow. Jacobi saw it and just shook her head. It might not be the wedding they wanted, but it was still their wedding, and she didn’t want any more drama. With close to a thousand people in attendance, you hardly noticed a couple dozen missing.

“Mr. Gold,” Curtis stepped to his side as the receiving line drew to an end. “Would you please come with me.”

Ben shared a look with Jacobi, and she nodded. If he was going to blow up at his dad, better it be away from everything. “Lead the way,” he motioned for Curtis to go.

The former SEAL led Ben through an outer perimeter of guards stationed at the door leading out the of the ballroom. From there, he saw several extra layers of manpower and technology, including something that made his IOR go offline. Since that had never happened before, it freaked him out just a little bit. Eventually, he reached a study where about thirty of the richest and most influential men and women in the Commonwealth sat comfortably with refreshments. Ben took a place by the door.

“Welcome all,” Thomas stepped to the center of the room. “I can’t tell you all how happy I am to see you here on the day of my son’s wedding.” Eyes swiveled to Ben as murmured congratulations were echoed. He just nodded and smiled.

“This is a momentous occasion,” there was a vibration to his father’s step that Ben rarely saw. The man had boundless energy, but it was never on display.

Ben scanned the room. Everyone was nodding along with his father, even the few uniforms present.

“We are about to embark on a journey, and together, as one unified front, we will change humanity.”

<I’ve never seen him smile like this. Even when Hope was born, and sure as shit not at the wedding.>

“Have you all had a chance to peruse the document?” Heads around the room nodded. “any questions?”

There were dozens, and most went over Ben’s head. Some of the biggest financial minds in the galaxy were here, so that’s where their minds went. Ben watched them all, getting a sense of where this was going, and felt the simmering anger returned, along with a healthy doze of dread. He wasn’t sure until the RADM in charge of the Commonwealth detachments asked his questions. Then he just wanted to leave the room. He looked over at Curtis, who just shook his head.

“It is settled,” Thomas smiled like a kid in a candy store. “With your signatures, our combined assets will assert their rights under Article 50 of the Commonwealth Charter. The information will be instantly delivered through Gold Technology’s QE communications network to New Washington as well as all the system governments. Is everything in place on your ends? I do not expect a violent reaction, but there is no telling how the former Admiral will react to this. She is a hammer, and if all she sees are nails, she only knows one way how to deal with them.”

“We’ve taken the actions you suggested,” a woman in the crowd, who Ben didn’t recognize, replied. “We’ve pulled our representatives so they cannot be used as leverage, and as agreed, the loss of some corporate property has been factored in to our fiscal calculations.”

“It is regrettable, but unavoidable,” Gold sighed. “I hope to negotiate for the return of a portion of that, but I expect the next year to be rough.”

Everyone in the room nodded, but Ben just shook his head. He was a witness to history: a bloodless coup that was about to hobble the greatest civilization in the history of mankind. It made him sick.

One by one, the people in the room: all CEOs, Presidents, or Chairmen and Chairwomen of the boards of the biggest corporation in human space; stepped forward and pressed their GICs to a reader. As far as technology went, the GIC was antiquated. The IOR was vastly more secure and didn’t involve the government writing all over your body. Still, the GIC was required for the Commonwealth’s systems to authenticate the petition.

Ben watched as green icons appeared next to names. Last, but certainly not least, Thomas Gold stepped forward and affixed his digital signature to the document. His name appeared the largest at the top; like Hancock on the Declaration of Independence.

<That’s how they see this,> Ben shook his head. <They think they’re throwing off their oppressors, but all they are doing is trying to up their bottom line by getting rid of regulation.> He had always been a staunch member of the Eagles Party, but this was too much. All the points Jacobi had made during the last election seemed much more founded now.

With a simple press of a button, the document vanished from the holo; off the tell the galaxy that it had fundamentally shifted. Thomas turned to the new members of the ruling Board of Directors. “Welcome to the Confederation of Corporate Interests.”




Admiral Sonya Berg

Location: CWS Jack Frost, Alpha Centauri System, United Commonwealth of Colonies


She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She closed her eyes, counted to ten, and reopened them. Prime Minister Deja Simmons was still addressing the Commonwealth on the emergency QE band; currently, the only instant Commonwealth-wide communication system available. All of Gold technologies QE buoys had dropped offline midway through the PM’s address.

Having known Deja for decades, Sonya could see the barely contained anger on her face. Sonya was pretty sure she looked exactly the same. At the time when the Commonwealth was at its weakest, when humanity was being tested by alien invaders, Gold had gone and done this. It was beyond depraved. The man was the lowest of the low, and if he was standing here right now, she would have chocked the life out of him herself.

<Confederation of Corporate Interests my ass,> she growled, as the list of systems that were part of the coup scrolled below the emergency alert headline of the address.

It was a coup; it didn’t matter what Gold’s Article 50 declaration stated; especially since Article 50 declaration had to be approved by the Council of Representatives. The list of systems stopped scrolling, and she was sure her heart skipped a beat, and not in a good way. Nearly a third of the Commonwealth had seceded to this new confederation.

<How could we let it get to this point?> as a lifelong member of the Eagle Party she knew she’d had a hand in this. It was not her intention, and it had never been a goal of the weight she’d thrown behind certain political candidates when the asked for her endorsement, but it was the outcome nevertheless. <I should have seen this coming.>

With a surprise attack on Earth, and the secession of dozens of systems, she was fairly confident she was going to be out of a job. It didn’t matter how tight she was with the PM. Intelligence failures like this had consequences.

<Fuck!> she wanted to punch something, but sitting on the flag bridge of Jack Frost was not the place. Thankfully, everyone’s eyes were on the address, so they didn’t see her hands gripping her chair.

An incoming transmission lit up her IOR and she accepted it. She half expected it to be orders to rally the troops and storm Aurum, but it was confirmation that the refugee fleet had safely deposited their hundred thousand civilians on Alpha Centauri’s surface. There were no follow up orders, and no way to talk to the PM just yet. The old admiral was still going on about how dark a day this was, that it was a stain on the soul of humanity.

<Good writing,> Sonya gave props to the speech writer who’d whipped this up on short notice.

She took several more deep breaths and braced for what was to come. Whether it was back to Earth to take on the aliens, or to take on this new confederation, or even to keep the Windsor’s at bay. Something was going to happen. The PM knew the importance of violence of action. That last thing she was going to do was sit on her ass and wait.

As Sonya looked around the bridge, she saw the sentiment mirrored on the faces of her staff. They wanted to do something.

<Then let’s do it,> she waited for the speech to end and the orders to arrive.

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Clans of Atlantis Sneak Peek Part 2

When Doves Cry by Prince was playing over the radio as the cops drove down Hollywood Boulevard toward the station. The night was alive around them as neon signs advertised the latest and greatest consumer products, where to eat, or what the next blockbuster hit was going to be. Gus focused on the hit song, ignored the muscular men holding machines guns on every billboard, and replayed the sexual encounter with Rose over and over in his mind. It had been hurried, frenzied, and definitely enhanced by the cocaine. Whatever her babble about dopamine and stimulants meant had been right on the money.

“You think you can come here and do whatever you want,” the cop driving the car was griping. Gus knew better than to talk without someone from his consulate present, but that didn’t stop the cop from badgering him. “You think you can fly into my town and assault my people and walk away scot-free. You broke a man’s arm, kid. Shattered it in three places. I’ve seen people get hit by cars with less damage than that. What did you do, hit him with a chair.”

The cop hadn’t mirandized Gus when he was arrested, so anything he said wasn’t inadmissible in court. His kingdom’s legal system didn’t operate the same as every other countries’, so his father made sure he understood how things worked in the world’s great foreign powers. Personally, Gus thought it was stupid for the state to not allow the admission of information a criminal freely stated if the cop didn’t read him four quick sentences before talking to him. But this was the USA and the yanks championed their freedoms.

“Crown prince? That means your daddy’s the king. King Daddy is going to bail you out of this while the other guy can’t work for months. Can’t feed his family. Can’t even jerk himself off.” Gus couldn’t help but snort at the last example. “You think that’s funny, tough guy!” the cop turned to slam his palm against the mesh, metal barrier dividing the front and back seats.

“Yeah I do,” Gus kept the thought to himself, while the other cop told his partner to settle down.

With late night traffic – no matter what time it was in LA there always seemed to be traffic – it took nearly twenty minutes to reach the station, and by then the vultures had already gathered.

“Shit,” Gus tried to hide his face as paparazzi crowded around the patrol car, which just happened to drive in through the public entrance. They snapped picture after picture of him.

They were all compromising. His shirt and jacket were off, which was going to sell on the gossip rags faster than the cocaine he’d just snorted. “Shit,” he hoped none of the white powder remained on his face. He was so hurried to get it on with Rose he’d never even checked. Snorting some off a woman’s ass wasn’t exactly in his sexual repertoire.

“Yeah, that’s right,” the cop snickered. “Wave to your adoring fans. You and daddy can’t hide this now.” The cop even smiled and waved at the cameras until they made it through the main gate where other uniformed officers held back the journalistic scavengers.

“Let’s go.” They pulled Gus from the back of the car and slowly perp walked him through the front doors. At this point, all Gus could do was stand straight and tall. He ignored the flashes to his left, but couldn’t quite keep the look of irritation off his face. They were barley through the front door when a squad of armed men surrounded them.

They all wore dark, fashionable suits with Kevlar vests underneath. More importantly to Gus, none of them were cops. They all wore the coat of arms of House Drake on their collars. Each and every one of his House’s personnel armsmen looked like they could eat the two LA patrolmen for breakfast with room for seconds, and both cops realized that as their faces morphed from pleased to terrified in a nanosecond. There was a tense few moments where everyone just stood there, before the circle of armsmen parted to allow two people through. One looked to be the station captain while the other was the second to last person Gus wanted to see.

“Please release our delegate,” the tall woman in a spotless white dress with a mane of golden hair commanded the two officers. They started moving even before their captain gave them the go-ahead nod. That was the kind of confidence and authority projected by the Kingdom of Atlantis’ lead ambassador to the USA.

“This entire charade is entirely unacceptable,” once she was sure Gus was out of cuffs, she rounded on the captain. Her eyes bore into the old man whose face was dominated by a bushy salt and pepper mustache. “You will be hearing from our Diplomatic Office, and a formal denouncement of your actions here tonight is being lodged with your State Department.”

The captain might be cowering, but the arresting officer seemed to finally find some back bone. “Wait just a minute! Your guy assaulted an American citizen!”

The ambassador wheeled on him, and he shrank back down like a baby turtle facing an apex predator. “If you bothered to wait to review the evidence of the alleged crime before calling out your media puppets, which we know all about Officer O’Malley, you would know that we have the entire incident on video. Not only does it show the man you interviewed surrounding our delegate with some of his friends. The audio also clearly shows them lobbing racist insults at him before first assaulting him. Our delegate merely acted in self-defense, and now you’re turned this into an international incident because you wanted your fifteen minutes of fame and were too stupid to think before you thought out the consequences for your career.”

At the mention of consequences, the cop looked at his captain. “You’re going to want to call your union rep, Tom,” the captain didn’t look happy about admitting that.

Honestly, Gus was impressed by how his father’s handpicked woman to one of the world’s great powers had spun the whole story in his favor. Technically, they had surrounded him and insulted him. At no point had Gus felt threatened by the soft pretty-boys, or really insulted by their mischaracterization of his race and ethnicity. He conceded that they had assaulted him first by laying hands on him, but he’d definitely escalated things by breaking the man’s arm.

“He still deserved it,” he thought. A young man’s hair was a symbol of his growth into manhood, and grabbing it was like having your dick grabbed…and not in a good way. The man whose arm he’d broken didn’t understand the egregiousness of his insult, and Gus didn’t care.

“Your Royal Highness,” the Ambassador was now addressing him directly, “we’ve cleared out the break room. Afu will take you there so you can clean up and changed.” She directed him to a room off to the side.

Afu left him alone inside the room to do just that. He scrubbed his face with water from the sink to get rid of any narcotics residue. There wasn’t much he could do to get the smell of sex off him, but he undressed and tried his best to wipe the sweat and various bodily fluids off himself before slipping into a fresh suit. Lastly, he looked himself over in the partially-reflective glass of the vending machine. He still looked better than most people hoped to in their entire lives, but at the moment, the trouble he was in was starting to hit him hard. Rose was fading into the back of his brain as he contemplated the coming shit storm.

When any other royal in the world went off and did something stupid it made the front page just like this would. Being media fodder was part and parcel of their birthright. The difference between Gus and someone like Prince Charles was that Atlantis wasn’t like the UK. The Windsor family was largely toothless. The House of Drake, who’d sat on the Emerald Throne for half a millennia, still had real power.

The Kingdom of Atlantis was technically a constitutional monarchy with three branches of government set up under the Clan Unification Constitution. A bicameral parliament divided between the House of Commons and the House of Clans made up the legislature. They elected a Prime Minister from their ranks and held large powers over domestic issues and passed laws and taxes on those issues.

The Judicial Branch handled issues brought before them in a hierarchy of importance starting with the Trial Court, Review Court, and lastly the High Court where the King’s Bench took up cases. The King’s Bench was three separate judicial bodies of nine members each. Issues were randomly brought before one of the three Benches for deliberation. In issues of the utmost national importance, or cases of high treason, the entire twenty seven members of the High Court would gather to hear the case. They were intended to be a check on the power of the legislature and King to ensure they didn’t depart from the Constitution.

Lastly was the Crown branch of government headed by the King and his Court. The King was supposed to grant continuity of government policy on defense and diplomacy while his appointed Court advised him. The King was Supreme Commander of Atlantis’ Armed Forces and Chief Diplomat of the Kingdom. Unlike most monarchies, the King did have a term limit. The term limit was still fifty years, just enough time to keep that desired continuity, while periodically bringing in new blood to move the kingdom forward as the rest of society and the world changed. Gus’ father, King Maximillian the Second was twenty-four years into his reign, and as Crown Prince and Heir Apparent to the Emerald Throne, Gus would take over for his father in 2010. It was literally in another millennia for Gus, but the implications were still clear. The next king of Atlantis, who would rule over an estimated seventy million royal subjects, had just been arrested in LA and paraded into a police station, shirtless, and possibly with cocaine on his face.

The king’s word was law when it came to the military and international policy, and Gus knew he was going to feel the hammer of those words sooner rather than later.

“Sir,” Afu appeared at the door holding out a thin, black rectangle fifty centimeters across.

Gus’s breath caught in his throat. He knew the hammer was coming, but already? His hand trembled slightly as he reached out to take the tablet. The USA was just getting around to cellular phones the size of a man’s forearm, but Atlantis had long known, and kept secret, their technological advantage over the larger and more populous nation.

The tablet linked to a satellite in orbit and provided a secure signal for someone to talk to Gus from anywhere in the world. The tablet read his fingerprint and scanned his iris the moment he accepted it, and the coat of arms for House Drake began to spin on its high definition screen. The familiar dragon’s head seemed to glare at him in judgement as it waited for the connection to open. Likely, the armsmen were ensuring that all electronic surveillance of the breakroom was being shut down under the guise of confidential diplomatic communications, which was technically true since Gus was traveling on a diplomatic passport.

When everything was deemed secure, the dragon’s head emblem vanish to be replaced by a beautiful face. “Mom,” Gus couldn’t help but drop his eyes in shame at the sight of the Queen.

“My little hot head,” her words were hard, but when he looked up his saw a mischievous glint in her eyes. The same pure, sky blue as his own. He was sure he’d had the same glint more than once during his seventeen years. “Your father is…” she was cut off as someone jerked the tablet away.

Gus found himself face to face with his father, the King. Stubble covered the bottom of his face. It was nearing midnight in LA, but Atlantis was three hours behind them. They’d probably just finished some kind of state dinner when they received news of their only child’s arrest.

“What the hell is wrong with you Augustus!” he looked like he was about to breath fire as smoke curled seeped from his nostrils. “Do you have any idea what an embarrassment you are to me, to your mother, to your entire nation?” the king’s voice grew louder until he was roaring. Gus was surprised the tablet didn’t shatter in his hands. His father was a powerful man.

“Max, please,” his mother pleaded off camera, but a glare from the kingdom’s ruler shut her up.

“I am recalling you immediately. There is already a plane on the runway at LAX. You will be in on it within the hour, or I will let the LAPD do with you as they wish. The rest of your tour is cancelled. If you’re insist on acting like a youngling then I will treat you like one. You report to Boot tomorrow morning.” He didn’t give Gus the chance to reply. He cut the line without a goodbye.

Gus’s jaw had dropped in surprise, even though he knew he shouldn’t be. All citizens of Atlantis went through Boot Camp once they turned eighteen. Universal military service was enshrined in the Constitution. It didn’t require service past boot, other than a once-a-year refresher training until you turned twenty-five unless. If you chose to, you could sign up for extended tours of active duty service. Anyone could make that decision, but everyone had to complete boot. Gus’s previous report date was in two months, which was plenty of time for him to see the world and tour the kingdom’s diplomatic outposts in the world’s great powers. Being trained since an early age, and fluent in English, German, Russian, and Mandarin, he’d looked forward to getting to know the other cultures, including their women. Now, less than a few hours after breaching the age limit of participation, he would be secluded in the tropical jungles of his homeland to learn how to defend his kingdom, and more importantly, work together with other influential clans and families that would be crucial to his reign when he became king.

The crown prince going to boot was a big deal, and clans had been vying to get their offspring into the same recruiting class as him to help develop those bonds. The king had just fucked up everyone’s carefully laid plans, and it was likely complete chaos in Atland tonight. Friends Gus had been looking forward to seeing again might not even be in his class now, and as crown prince, he was expected to serve in some capacity after boot. He was supposed to be worthy of the title: Supreme Commander. The length of service was still up to Gus, but the expectation was years.

“Why did I have to break that guy’s arm,” he wondered as he sagged into a chair and put his head in his hands. Thankfully, the room was relatively quiet and the privacy allowed him to brood without further embarrassing the kingdom.

“I swear, you should have seen the way she looked at me,” a muffled voice broke through the calm Gus was trying to achieve. He recognized it as his favorite LAPD officer. “She stood there all holier than thou and I swear she put a curse on me. That’s why the union rep is on his way. I’m pretty sure she put one on Cap too.” Laughter covered up whatever else might have been said, but Gus stopped listening and rolled his eyes.

This type of thing happened every time he dealt with people who really didn’t understand his country. A long long time ago, before records were kept in earnest, Atlantis had been the world’s sole superpower. They were more advanced than other people, and from their island kingdom in the Pacific they touched all corners of the globe. It helped when you’d already mastered steam power when everyone else was struggle to harness the wind.

At the behest of the then-Atlantean rulers, the Greek philosopher Plato had been invited to the Kingdom. Even across the globe, Atlantis had heard of the man’s brilliance. Much of what the world knew about Atlantis, until its rediscovery in the mid-nineteenth century, was due to Plato. He had mentioned the Kingdom in his Timaeus and Critias dialogues, and certainly embellished in some ways to pander to his audience. There was no God Poseidon who made his son Atlas king and namesake of the Kingdom. Although, royal records did identify a member of House Drake named Atlas had received Plato and been his guide during his time on the island. The Kingdom also didn’t sink into the ocean in a night and a day, nor were its people a mixture of God and man, but Gus could see how the philosopher made the mistake.

Traveling as fast as the ancient Atlanteans did across the sea, it might have appeared to the old man that the Kingdom simply vanished. He also might have written it for dramatic effect, or out of vengeance because he wasn’t invited back. Gus didn’t know why the ancient Greek did what he did, he just hated the misguided legacy the man left behind which constantly misinterpreted his people. They were not god-men, but they were touched by the Creator.

It was written in the ancient religious texts of his people that the Creator created the air, land, and sea before sculpting the first people, the Atlanteans. He made some from the fires of the mountain of creation, others from the land itself, some from the dense jungles, and a few from the sea itself. Atlanteans were special. Gus didn’t know why, but they just were. In typical human fashion, when the other people of the world learned these rumors they tried to quantify, categorize, and assign meaning to something Gus believed couldn’t be chronicles by scientist norms.

The everyday American called it magic or witchcraft. Some of the more extreme called it devil worship or occultism because it didn’t conform to other monotheistic religions norms. The casual layman scholar referred to is as perplexing supernatural mystery. It didn’t help that the Kingdom’s isolationism and strict immigration and communication laws didn’t address the issue. It only fueled conspiracies across the globe. The closest people had gotten to identifying it were the Germans and their legends of Were’s, but even that wasn’t right. To Gus, his people were just what they were and had always been…different but special.

The crack about the Ambassador putting a curse on the cop was total bullshit and what he’d come to expect from morons without any culture insight or desire to even look for the truth. Spell casting and hocus pocus was Hollywood’s creation. The whole thing was also something he’s been trained to ignore and ordered not to feed the rumor mill, so he took a few deep breaths to rid himself of his mounting frustration. He also took the opportunity to swipe his hand through the air and wave away the growing haze of smoke he’d produced. The last thing he needed was the fire alarm going off.

Thirty seconds of deep breathing and putting on his game face preceded him opening the door back to the main hallway. His armsmen were blocking the entrance and the Ambassador was already addressing the legitimate press gathered outside. Gus handed the tablet to Afu and headed for the door as the bodyguards surrounded him.

“We’re confident…” the Ambassador was brought up short as he threw open the doors and the press started screaming questions at him.

He smiled at them and tried not to look cocky or overconfident. “Today, we’ve witnessed what can occur when two cultures misjudge each other.” He made sure he was addressing the reporters as well as the cameras. “I was minding my own business when I was accosted by a number of gentleman. Things likely would have ended with nothing but words if an egregious culture insult was not committed. I was forced to defend myself, and while I take full responsibility for my appropriate action, I do lament the pain I’ve caused the intoxicated gentleman. This is a learning moment for all Atlanteans and Americans. As a diplomat, it is a conversation I look forward to continuing. I believe we all have a lot we can learn from each other. Thank you.” He turned toward the waiting car with the twin flags of Atlantis flying above the front lights, and ignored the flurry of follow-on questions.

The Ambassador followed him to the car, and didn’t speak until it was closed. “Well done,” she smiled. “Hopefully it will alleviate the building pressure.”

She wasn’t only talking about the assault. The USA and Atlantis were at odds at the moment. The Philippines Islands, who’d been an American possession since the Spanish-American War in 1898 – with a slight break after being conquered by Japan in 1941 – had been lobbying for independence. As a fellow Pacific Island nation, Atlantis was backing the Philippines. Not only out of solidarity, but also to check the USA’s influence and naval power in the Pacific. The USA obviously wasn’t pleased with the kingdom’s stance, and protests had cropped up at its consulates across the country. As the armored limo made its way between the police station and LAX, protestors had started to gather. Most signs just said STAY OUT OF IT, but others were more derogatory and called Gus’s people animals and deviants. WHAT ARE YOU HIDING! was on more than one piece of colorful cardboard paper attached to a two-by-four.

It didn’t look like his diplomatic comments were going to alleviate anything with the everyday American, but that wasn’t his intention. He wanted to placate his father, and maybe buy more than a few hours to prepare for the hardest experience of his young life. Arguably, he was more prepared than anyone else could possibly be going into boot, but he knew he couldn’t have prepared for everything.

No call came in to him or the Ambassador as they entered the private area of LAX where a jet was waiting for him. He stepped out of the limo like a man condemned and marched up the steps. He took one last look around the empty tarmac, spared one fleeting thought for the nearly forgotten Rose, and stepped inside.

“Home, here we come.” He reclined in his seat and closed his eyes, determined to catch an hour or two of sleep before he had to face the music.

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