Two Worlds – Chapter 238

Duchess Josephina Barrow

Location: Windsor City, Windsor, Star Kingdom of Windsor

The Duchess’ shuttle was just one of many descending from orbit down to the planetary capitol. As a matter of security, numbers gave her anonymity. No one would guess the Kingdom’s Chief of Intelligence was going to be taking a public atmospheric course down to the capitol. So far, Josephina wasn’t aware of anyone looking to eliminate her, but a person couldn’t do her job without a healthy dose of paranoia.

“Diverting to pathway one-one-three in three…two…one…” the pilot announced just before the shuttle banked and headed away from the main body.

<If another House wants to take me out this is the time,> she waited patiently for death, but it never came.

Thirty seconds later, “Escorts in place, and our course is laid in for the palace.” The pilot informed.

Josephina just shrugged and watched Windsor City pass below her. It looked like it was throwing the biggest party in the Star Kingdom’s history. Low altitude fireworks were going off all over the place, she could see people drinking and dancing in the street, and the Royal Coat of Arms was waving from every conceivable place. Patriotism was on display for everyone to see, and the returning spacers and marines of the Royal Navy, and various House fleets, were getting a warm welcome from their countrymen.

<The hospitals are going to be busy in nine months,> she grinned. The expanding Kingdom needed a population boom, and a party was the best way to kick it off.

She’d instructed the crew of her Fleet ships to do just that when they pulled into their parking orbits above Rose Bay. She didn’t say it in as many words, but she told them to go out and enjoy a job well done. After all, they had fought and given her the planet of Harper’s Junction. It was a sizeable feather in her cap when it came to House politics.

Of all the new planets seized in operation Grand Sweep, only three had been given to noble Houses to administer. One went to the Jaeger’s, Josephina got Harper’s Junction, and the Babington’s got a place called Sac’s Prime. The remainder of the new Dominions, as they were being called, were administered by the Crown. Despite being administered by the high nobles, the three planets still needed a defensive fleet primarily constituted of Royal Navy warships. Josephina had left half of her ships at Harper’s Junction to provide support, but the cruiser and destroyers were no match for the handful of battlecruisers and pair of battleships the Royal Navy had brought along. She envisioned her ships would provide commercial shipping protection when the goods started to flow back to the home world, while the Royal Navy did the real heavy lifting. Not that she thought there would be such lifting in the near future.

She didn’t know the totality of Grand Sweep’s success, but if her own victories were any indication, then they’d bloodied the nose of all their rivals simultaneously. On top of that, they’d timed it perfectly. The Commonwealth was still in the throes of its election, so no counterattack would come until the new Prime Minister took office in several months. Of course, when the retired admiral did ascend to the highest political office, Josephina knew counterattacks would be on the way, but it gave them plenty of time to prepare.

The EU was already sending delegates to sue for peace. The EU was never big on warfighting, and even their losses on Premier Etat de Napoléon weren’t enough to change that sentiment. The individual star system might build a force to send out against the Kingdom as a matter of honor, but she had no reservations about even a minor House being able to handle them.

The Blockies were the more immediate threat. They hadn’t been attacked outright during Grand Sweep, but some unexplored junction system, officially in their sphere of influence, had been annexed by the Kingdom. Terraforming crews were already on the way along with a squadron of Royal Navy battleships to secure the system and begin the process of making its single goldilocks planet habitable. In the newly christened Victoria System, Josephina predicted a counterattack within a matter of weeks. Thankfully, the battleships were state-of-the-art construction just out of the yards. It was their maiden voyage, and they would draw first blood against the Blockies.

She put all of that out of her mind as the kilometer-tall skyscrapers of Windsor City gave way to upper-class suburbs, and finally into a large belt of greenery that separated the commoners from the Palace. Even in a shuttle moving close to the speed of sound, there was a full minute of greenery before the craft banked, cut its speed, and came in from a landing just to the side of the impressive, ancestral home of the Windsor Family.

Several members of the Obsidian Guard flanked the landing pad. Josephina’s own guards still gave the monstrous men and women sidelong glances, but she’d been to see the Queen often enough that the two security details worked seamlessly.

One of the Queen’s many aides, Josephina vaguely recalled this one’s name was Anne, acted as a guide. Josephina didn’t need one, but it was customary for any guests to be accompanied by a trained member of the palace staff; especially if they were High Nobles. Anne didn’t speak, which meant she had dealt with Josephina before, she just led the way.

At first, she thought they were going to the gardens, but after a few turns it was clear there was only one place they could be going. Josephina didn’t let her confusion show as they made their way to the throne room.

“Her Grace, the Duchess of Rose Bay,” Anne announced to a surprisingly packed audience chamber.

A round of applause greeted Josephina, who immediately felt underdressed for the occasion. She came dressed for an audience with the Queen, her friend, not an audience with the Queen and what looked like a representative of every High Noble family in the Kingdom. Tokens of state glinted all around her from the sunlight streaming into the room. A quick scan of the room showed the Duchess five tiaras, several golden scepters, and even a subdued crown that was heading straight for her.

“Your Grace,” a tall, twenty centimeters taller than Josephina, but thin man bent low and accepted her outstretched hand. He lightly brushed it with his lips.

“Your Grace.” Once the man straightened, Josephina curtsied to him. They both smiled. “It’s good to see you Robert.”

Robert Jaeger, Duke of Dresselshire, patriarch of House Jaeger was Josephina’s friend and rival. The man’s power was second only to the Queen, and he knew it, but Josephina always found him to be a practical man. He was ruthless if crossed, but he still considered the full picture of any situation. At the moment, the Duke looked positively elated. Josephina couldn’t blame him. His House had a new planet to administer, and all the wealth that came along with that. His son was Prince Consort, and one day his grandchild would sit on the throne. Josephina considered herself in an advantageous position, but she had nothing on Robert. Not to mention his House Fleet was busy constructing its own superdreadnought. Josephina’s flag ship was a battlecruiser, and that had been more than enough to get the job done.

“It’s lovely as always to see you, Josephina. Especially on such a momentous day,” he gestured at the gathered nobles. Plenty of whom waved back.

“I must confess that I’m a little out of the loop. I just returned from Harper’s Junction. Conquering a planet tends to occupy one’s full attention.” The statement wasn’t as much a jab as a reminder.

Robert hadn’t gone with his House Fleet during Operation Grand Sweep. The man was approaching two centuries, and she couldn’t blame him for not wanting to get in the line of fire. Being full of piss and vinegar was a game for the young. What her statement was, was a subtle reminder not to interpret Josephina’s more casual dress, or lack of knowledge of the situation as a sign of weakness. She’d been busy fighting for her country. The immediate political maneuvers of court fell second to that.

Robert inclined his head in acknowledgment. “Her Majesty called for a gathering of all High Nobles. I assume it has something to do with the operation’s success…” Robert cut off his explanation and took a step backward.

Josephina raised an eyebrow, but saw how Robert’s eyes darted to her left. There was only one person that Robert would defer to in such a way. Josephina expertly executed an about face and curtsied as low as she could go.

“Your Majesty.” Josephina waited in the deep curtsey from Queen Victoria IV to signal her to rise. She might be childhood friends with the Queen, but in a setting like this, she was just another subject.

“Rise, Duchess Rose Bay,” the Queen softly commanded.

Josephina rose and couldn’t help but stare. Victoria was in the full robes of state. The pieces of clothing were outdated, uncomfortable, and apparently made a person sweat like a pig, but they were an integral part of tradition. The same tradition that stated they were usually only worn during coronations and a few other very special circumstances. Apparently, today counted as one of those circumstances.

“Please follow me…you too Duke Dresselshire.” The Queen turned, and Josephina was momentarily blinded as the light caught the crown jewels she was wearing.

The Queen’s crown had been carved from a giant diamond, and was far more beautiful than anything metallic could ever be. That didn’t stop her from having a scepter of pure gold adorned with emeralds and rubies. If for some reason someone missed the crown there was no way they could miss the pink diamond the size of a fist nestled between the Queen’s breasts; breasts, which at the moment were swollen with milk. You had to look closely, but there was a discernable bulge under the robes of state.

As they walked, Josephina did a quick calculation to determine her friend and liege had just entered her third trimester. The Queen led them out of the audience chamber into a small antechamber. Small being relative to the other room. It was still a good eight hundred square meters of open space.

“Thank God,” the Queen said the moment they’d closed the door behind them. Servants scrambled around her to remove the heavy robes. Underneath, Victoria was wearing a more sensible smartcloth dress which allowed her to breathe. “That’s better.”

She turned to Josephina and enveloped her in a hug. The baby bump was now noticeable and got in the way a little, but the Duchess still accepted it. “I still can’t believe you led the attack on Harper’s Junction.” The Queen shook her head.

“I can’t believe you cut off that man’s head in front of his subjects.” Robert threw in his own two cents.

“They aren’t subjects like the Kingdom’s subjects, Robert,” Josephina explained. “They didn’t love the governor like we love our Queen. In fact, they hated him. Killing him helped me galvanize his opposition, smooth the way for a transitional government under our control, and let the people know we are serious. We can either be the hand that shelters them, or the hand that crushes them. All but a small portion of the population made the correct decision.”

“And the part that didn’t?” The Queen asked as she took a seat and accepted a refreshing glass of fruit-water.

Josephina envied the effortless grace that the Queen exuded, even when six months pregnant, but it was more due to the countless losses she’d tallied against the Queen than anything else. The Winsdor genome was designed to be royal.

“They’re being taught the error of their ways,” Josephina failed to mimic the Queen’s grace, but she was glad to get the same cup of fruit-water. It was stuffy in the throne room.

“Not so fast,” the Queen waved her finger. More attendants burst from hidden doors and swarmed Josephina and Robert. “Daphne has already undergone this mild torture, so you will all just have to bear it. We need you looking your best for what’s to come.”

Some people might refer to the next thirty minutes as pampering, but the Queen was right to call it torture. Josephina was stripped naked, dressed in robes similar to the robes of state the Queen had just discarded. They didn’t have quite the riches sown into them, but they were easily the most expensive piece of clothing Josephina had ever worn on her body. The attendants also attacked her face with a variety of concoctions and puffs of air that she would have thought were poison if anyone else had done it. Thankfully, the bioseed that had been imbedded in her brain, along with every other member of the Royal Household and High Nobility, informed her they were simply nanites designed to eat away dead skin and improve complexion.

The Queen walked around the two of them while her attendants tortured. She sipped her water and made small talk, which Josephina saw as an effort to distract them from the discomfort. It didn’t really work, but she appreciated the effort. Thirty minutes later, a stately man entered the room and said they had five minutes. That elicited a sigh from the Queen before she went over and donned her robes of state once again.

“Victoria, what is happening?” Josephina hissed as they were led out a back door that would take them around to a small waiting area directly behind the thrones.

The Queen just smiled and gave her a wink before a man was in front of her giving a list of instructions. Josephina barely paid attention at the tsunami of words, but thankfully her bioseed caught the gist and converted it to text for her to reference at her leisure…which meant forty-five seconds later when old-fashioned trumpets started to blow and a herald announced their presence. The pageantry of it all told her it was being recorded for the Queen’s subjects.

“…Her Royal Highness Victoria, fourth of her name, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, of the planet Windsor and all Dominions among the stars, Queen, Defender of the Faith, Order of the Sword…” the titles went on for another few seconds before Victoria took the throne, and Josephina, Robert, and Duchess Daphne Babington of New Cardiff all took their predetermined spot at the bottom of the dais, but still above the other seated high nobles.

“My loyal subjects,” Victoria began with her husband Prince Albert Jaeger-Windsor on her left, in a slightly lower position, and her eldest daughter, Crown Princess Georgiana, heir to the throne, was slightly lower on the right. “Today is a day of celebration. Today is a day of victory. The ships of our Royal Navy, and the forces of our Noble Houses have returned to us victorious. They have staggered the barbarians at our gates. They have bloodied the usurpers, land grabbers, and carpetbaggers that have sought to rob our Kingdom of its birthright among the stars. Today we have stood united and declared in one mighty voice, NO, and we have begun to take back what is ours.” The Queen had to stop as thunderous applause filled the room, and likely, the entire planet.

Victoria smiled at the adulation, and let it run its course. “We are no longer a single system Kingdom…”

Josephina had known they weren’t a single system kingdom for over a decade, but the classified nature of their major shipbuilding nexus was a closely guarded secret.

“…and as such we need to adapt to changing circumstances.” Victoria gestured to the three people standing beneath her. “I present to you Duchess Rose Bay, the Duke of Dresselshire, and Duchess New Cardiff. Each of these three nobles personally contributed to the success we have seen today. Without them, the military victories would not have been possible, and for their actions they will be rewarded. Because of their efforts, and the effort of our military forces, we are no longer a simple kingdom…we are an empire.”

Josephina could have heard a pin drop in the room. Victoria’s smile engulfed everything else.

“From this day forward, the Star Empire of Windsor will rigorously defend its right to sovereignty, to live as we wish to live, to trade, and to thrive. As your Empress, I will defend those rights and liberties until my dying breath, and so will the nobility that govern.”

“All Hail, Her Imperial Highness, Victoria, First Empress, by the Grace of God, rightful Ruler of Great Britain, Queen of the Windsor System and all Dominions Systems among the stars , Defender of the Faith, Order of the Sword…”

Josephina noticed the title changes and followed the rest of the high nobles in the room by going to their knees in front of their newly christened Empress. Everyone in the room could feel the momentous occasion that was upon them.

“As your Empress, I understand the need to delegate responsibility, and so I present to you these accomplished and distinguished High Nobles.” Victoria approached the Josephina, Robert, and Daphne. To her right was a member of her Obsidian Guard holding three crowns. They weren’t as grand as the now-Imperial crown on Victoria’s head, but they weren’t half bad. They were a mix of gold and silver with precious stones in the colors of the High Noble Houses they were about to be bestowed upon.

Victoria stopped in front of Josephina first. “Josephina Barrow, Matriarch of House Barrow, Duchess of Rose Bay, Countess of Westwoodshire, Order of the Sword, from this day forward I dub thee Queen of Harper’s Junction, henceforth known as Barrowsford. May your line bring glory to the Empire. Rise Queen of Barrowsford and swear your loyalty to your Empress.”

The bioseed displayed the oath of loyalty across her vision, and Josephina recited it without issue, but her mind was going over the political ramifications of what Victoria was doing.

<If you’d been here you could have counseled her on this,> she chided herself, but knew there was no going back.

Logically, how the Kingdom – now empire – was administered was going to have to change, but Josephina never imagined this. Victoria had just created another level of nobility above the high nobles, and in the process elevated herself as well. It was political genius, but Josephina worried about the future. Robert Jaegar was a good man, but what about those who came after her. The Jaeger’s were ambitious by nature, and now that they were Kings by imperial decree, she worried all of this would go to their head. Plus, all of the heavy metals waiting for them on Sacs Prime – now the planet Jaegerton – were going to make them an economic powerhouse. Josephina wasn’t too worried about the new Queen of Babington. Daphne was more of an administrator than a spy or warrior. She’d fit well into the new role.

<Remember that Victoria took over half of the planets herself and put them under Imperial administration. That more than outweighs all of us new Kings and Queens combined.> Still, Josephina would have cautioned her close friend about the change.

{I can see you overthinking this whole thing.} Victoria’s voice suddenly popped into Josephina’s head. {For once will you just sit back and enjoy the moment, Your Royal Highness.}

{If you say so, Your Imperial Highness.} Josephina made sure a mental grin accompanied the thought. After all, she was a Queen now. That was something she hadn’t expected in her wildest dreams, and judging by the jealous looks on many of the High nobles faces, they never expected it either.

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PCS to Eden – Crossroads Part 3

“We’re almost there,” Ava panted as she continued to half-carry the injured archangel toward freedom. They were only a block away now, and she could see the river through the final line of buildings. “We’ve made it.”

She felt complete satisfaction that things had worked out the way they were supposed to. She’d completed her mission while thinking outside the box. She’d done things other angels would have walked away from because it put them in danger, but she was willing to take the chance to save an archangel.

When it came down to it, Heaven couldn’t lose the Voice of God any less than they could one of their most formidable generals and leaders. Gabriel was irreplaceable, and Ava had brought him to safety.

She was flying high on their victory that she nearly missed Gabriel’s whispered words. “No we didn’t.”

“Wha…”Ava frowned at him, but when she turned her eyes back forward she saw their path was barred.

She didn’t recognize the woman, but she radiated power. She assumed it must be Hippolyta, the Amazon Queen, by the way Gabriel was looking at her. Ava only gave the woman a short glance before her gaze settled on the man standing next to her.

<Impossible.> Her brain was slow to connect the dots. The face, body, expression, and even the power she felt emanating from him wasn’t supposed to exist.

The man looked just as confused as she did as he looked at them. His eye passed over Gabriel, and settled on her. The recognition in them confirmed Ava’s worst fears.

“YOU!” She screamed in anguish and anger as Maria’s killer stood alive in front of her.

Rage blotted out all conscious thought as she grabbed at her Divine power and pulled. She didn’t care if every Amazon in existence came bearing down on them because of it, but she needed power to end the man who killed her daughter once and for all.

She screamed at Gerald Fuller. There was no meaning behind the words other than a way to release the pain at seeing him. She felt her power slowly return to her and she funneled all of it into her greatest weapon. The Hand of God began to glow as she directed every scrap of energy she could into it.

“Ava…” Gabriel’s tone held a warning, but she didn’t listen.

There was only one thing on her mind, and only one thing that could quench the inferno of emotion burning within her. Gerald Fuller, fake martial magician, and Infernal agent needed to die…again.

 

***

 

“Geez, what did you do to her? Not call her in the morning?” Death elbowed Gerry in the ribs as waves of energy continued to pour off Ava. She was the exact last person he expected to see when he woke up in the morning.

The man who was leaning on her for support Gerry didn’t recognize, but by the look in his eyes, he recognized Death, and his expression was properly terrified.

“What should we do?” Gerry whispered. He could tell Ava was clearly building toward something, and his gut told him it wouldn’t be good for his health.

Death closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Can you taste it?” she seemed to be talking more to herself than him. “There is nothing better in the world than pure, unadulterated rage. It’s like a fine wine. You bottle it before letting it sit and fester. The longer it goes, the better it tastes. I’d put this bouquet at less than six months, but there is a trace of sorrow to it that gives it a floral scent. Can you taste it, Young Gerry.”

The only thing Gerry could taste was the bile rising in his throat. Every instinct he had was telling him to get the hell out of there, but his fear of Death outweighed his fear of Ava. <She said she’d protect me.> He tried to bolster his courage, but the glow from Ava’s had was making that more difficult by the second.

The seconds passed and no one moved. Ava continued to seethe and her hand grew brighter and brighter. Soon it was like trying to look at the sun, and Gerry had to look away. A whining noise started to build in the air. It reminded Gerry of the times right after a volley of musket-fire knocked out his hearing. Gradually, sound would return, but accompanied by the same whine. The man with Ava was trying to say something to her, but Gerry couldn’t hear it over the noise. That was confusing. When he wanted to, his power allowed him to use his senses far more efficiently than humans.

“It’s the æther.” Death said as she read his mind. “It’s being pushed and pulled inward. She’s bending the will of the cosmos far more than she should. She must really hate you, Gerry Dear. What did you do to her?”

“I helped kill her daughter.” He answered tonelessly. The whining evolved into a ringing that was growing painful.

“Wow. I didn’t see that one coming.” Death actually laughed, and that was the straw the broke the camel’s back.

Ava let out an unintelligible scream and a ray of light blasted from her hand.

<Death was right,> was Gerry’s last thought as he saw reality ripple around the blast. Whatever this was, it was a serious upgrade from the last time he faced off with Ava. <And last time she killed me.> Gerry closed his eyes, put his trust in Death, and waited for the inevitable.

 

***

 

“DIE YOU BASTARD!” Ava screamed as she fired, but something was different this time. Everything around the beam seemed to bow outward as reality stretched. She would have paid more attention to it, but her eyes were fixed on Gerald Fuller, and every iota of her being was praying for a horrible death consumed in Divine energy.

Before the beam made it to Gerald the woman he was with stepped in front of him and opened her mouth. Ava assumed it was to scream, and she wondered why this woman was sacrificing herself for such a piece of shit, but then her beam shuddered.

<What?!> It was like something had locked onto the pure energy.

Then Ava saw the woman’s mouth. Something dark was stirring within and she could feel the insatiable hunger radiating from it. Her attack, which had been aimed carefully, gave another jerk, and changed course for the woman’s mouth. When the beam finally struck her, Ava expected some cataclysmic explosion. Instead, the beam simply disappeared into her mouth. The energy from the Hand of God, one of the most formidable weapons in existence, was swallowed whole by this mysterious person.

As reality flexed back to normal, and the ringing from the Divine energy subsided, Ava didn’t know what to do but stand there and look confused. <How?>

To add insult to injury, the woman belched loud enough to knock loose debris free of nearby buildings. Now, Ava wanted to hurt her too.

“Do not move. Do not breathe. Do not speak. And for the love of our Father do not antagonize her.” Gabriel commanded as he slid in front of her. The gesture made his frail body seem even weaker, and it went against her mission, but when she tried to push him away he held her back.

As the woman made her way toward them, with Gerry in tow like a show dog, Gabriel bowed at the waist. A silent jab in the ribs made Ava do that same.

“Hello, Auntie. Please forgive the misunderstanding. What brings you to Eden?”

 

***

 

Gerry watched as the man Ava had been supporting stepped in front of her and bowed. He caught the word ‘auntie’, but his head was still ringing from the exchange of power. It might not have done anything to him, but he was seeing the equivalent of ætherial spots in his vision as the æther realigned itself. Whatever weapon Ava had used could do substantial damage to this realm if used wrong.

What was even more wrong was Death simply swallowing the attack like she was chugging from a keg. He had so many questions he wanted answered, but he knew better than to ask. The smile on Death’s face showed she was enjoying herself, so he’d just have to find out later.

“Is that you, Gabriel?” She practically skipped to within a few feet of the man. “Look at you, you’re all grown up. What’s it been ten, twenty thousand years?”

“Closer to a hundred, Auntie.” The man called Gabriel replied respectfully.

<Oh shit.> Gerry put two and two together. <Auntie…with Ava…been around for at least a hundred thousand year…this is the Archangel Gabriel.> Now Gerry felt like he should be doing some bowing.

“And you,” Death’s neck elongated to the length of an anaconda as she peered around Gabriel at Ava. “You’re a ballsy young one aren’t you? I like that, but is your courage a product of youthful naivety, or do you really have the stones.”

Ava’s face was red with anger, but she kept her mouth shut.

“Come on! Speak for yourself. I can feel you want to. You want to scream it from the rooftops. You want to howl at the moon. Tell me child. What do you want?”

“I want that fucker’s head!” Ava’s composure broke and she pointed at Gerry.

“Ha Ha,” Death clapped and looked pleased with herself. “Finally some honesty.”

Death turned around to regard Gerry, and Gerry’s eyes watched as Ava tried to make a move against her, but Gabriel held her back. His grimace showed just how hard that was for him, which meant he was weak.

“I’m inclined to give you the opportunity.” Death decided a few seconds later.

“What?” Ava looked surprised.

“What!?” Gerry was sure he was more surprised.

“Of course, we need to level the playing field.” Death whipped back around and was smiling again. “I can feel you gathering your forsaken æther. That was smart to avoid detection with Gabriel as weak as he is. You might have even made it if I hadn’t been looking for something to play with.” Ava’s triumphant expression dropped as Death continued to speak. “With your power level poor Gerry is no match for you, and I abhor an unfair fight. We need to even the odds.” Death’s face was particularly terrifying as she turned her attention to Gabriel. “What do you say, Gabe? The old ways were always the best. I think a little ritual sacrifice is in order.”

Gerry saw Gabriel gulp. <Who are we going to sacrifice?>

“Should we get on with it?” Death rubbed her hands together with anticipation.

“Auntie, please.” Gabriel didn’t sound like a mighty archangel as he begged.

“Stiff upper chin, Gabriel.” Death chided. “Show some backbone in front of the younglings.”

“I…”Gabriel didn’t have a chance to respond. Before anyone could react, Death was in front of him and had punched her hand through his chest.

The crunch of bone and sucking sound of blood and slippery muscle was something Gerry would never forget.

“No!” Ava screamed out, but Death flickered her wrist and Ava went careening sideways. A sonic boom announced she’d broken the speed of sound before she impacted the nearest building. The whole structure shuddered and looked on the brink of collapse, but froze with another hand gesture from Death.

Her attention wasn’t even on the attack or the building. It was completely focused on Gabriel. The archangel’s face was deathly pale and he was struggling to draw breath. Death was chanting something under her breath. The words sounded deep and bottomless, like they weren’t being spoken by a simple woman at a Manhattan intersection.

“A…a…auntie,” Gabriel gasped.

“Shhhhh,” the sound was surprisingly motherly as Death used her free hand to comb his hair to the side. “It’s almost over.”

Gerry felt whenever “it” was over. There was a monumental shift. Serious vertigo hit him and sent him tumbling onto his ass. When he looked up, or at least what he thought was up, Death was standing over him cupping something between her hands.

“Come here, Gerry dearest,” she cooed and something unseen grabbed Gerry and hoisted him into the air. “You have a part to play in this game, and I’m going to give you the power to be more than a pawn.”

Then, slowly, like she was making a point, Death took the shifting mass of energy in her hand and punched it into Gerry’s chest.

Gerry screamed out, but he had no voice. Everything in him was burning. A raging inferno was devouring him from the inside out. Death had put a cancer in him, and the disease wasn’t waiting around. It ate through him with ruthless efficiency.

 

***

 

Death dropped Gerry to the ground, and watched him writhe in pain. His eyes were rolled into the back of his head and he was foaming at the mouth. She was mildly impressed that he hadn’t passed out or died yet, which was a good sign. The longer he was conscious the shorter the process.

She stood back and looked within him at the gift she’d bestowed. <Mmmm not quite right.> Like a hacker manipulating computer code, Death delved into Gerry’s programming and started to make changes. Changes that would make the game that much more enjoyable.

She felt the building’s foundations begin to shift as the lesser angel regained her senses. She was still weak. She’d given her all when she tried to kill Gerry, but she’d neglected herself in the process. She had only a slim bit of power when Death gently swatter her away. It was enough to shatter her body, and delay her return enough so Death could focus on the task at hand.

<Nearly there…Last chance.> She smiled and looked around. <Nothing…fine.> She did the equivalent of his the save button and Gerry went still.

There was utter silence before a thunderclap shook the city. “About time.” Death threw her hands in the air. “For the love of You. You’d think I’d have to burn down your little sandbox before you came out to play, Brother.”

Death turned around and smiled at God.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 237

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

Coop didn’t panic when the lights went out. Despite a few evaluation reports from tight-ass NCOs, he considered himself a good soldier, and he knew there were procedures in place to deal with situations like this. Step one was to reboot the system, followed by reestablishing communications, and a full weapon system diagnostic before getting back into the fight.

Coop tried to access the LACS through his IOR and then manually. Both were unresponsive. <Well the designers didn’t give us a procedure for this.>

Coop’s best guess was some type of EMP weapon to take the suits offline, but LACS were supposed to be shielded against that type of attack…or at least the human version. <The best military equipment the human race has to offer, and some of its best soldiers, and we get taken down in some Squid shithole without even firing a shot in anger. That’s gonna look great in the history books.> Coop fumed.

{Eve…Gunney…Sergeant Major…Lieutenant? Can anyone here me?} All he got was silence.

<Fuck it.> Coop tossed caution to the wind and began executing the shit-out-of-luck procedure.

If everything went to hell in Little Red Riding Hood’s handbasket, the designers had enabled an emergency molting feature in a LACS. This would allow a soldier, in an emergency situation, to shed the armor and continue the fight on foot. The realignment of armor plating and severing of internal circuitry required to execute the maneuver deadlined the LACS until a properly equipped armory could make repairs. Right now, the only armory Coop knew of that even knew the SRRTs and V4A’s and B’s existed was back on New Savannah. If Coop did this, he was going to be hoofing it for the rest of this tour.

<It’s not like I have much of a choice,> Coop thought as he began executing the complex set of maneuvers he hoped he’d never have to undergo in combat.

Coop understood the necessity to have super awkward maneuvers like this to not accidentally molt a HI trooper during combat, but now that he had to get out of the LACS in a hurry, he cursed the engineers for their foresight. He felt like a drunken ballerina as he contorted and twisted to reach manual release mechanisms built into the armor. He could barely reach some of them, and he was pretty sure he pulled a muscle or two in the process.

The armor began to loosen around him the farther he got in the process, which made things easier, but before he got to the last step he paused. <My buss was in my right hand and I had a pistol on my left hip.> He mentally went over where his offensive weapons were, followed by the nearest grouping of grenades. The artillery shells were worthless now. He couldn’t just pick them up and throw them at the enemy.

Coop took a few breaths to psych himself up and get his blood and anger flowing. Something out there had knocked his LACS to the ground. He didn’t remember being notified of any incoming projectiles or energy blasts before his armor went offline, but that didn’t mean whoever had kidnapped the diplomat wasn’t waiting just outside the suit with a plasma cannon to turn Coop into fresh human BBQ. For all he knew, eating him might be a delicacy to the Squids.

<Three…two…one…> With a final pull and heave, Coop pushed the entire back half of the LACS off and emerged into the red-tinted light of the planet.

He took a lung full of what passed for air in this place, and tried not to cough. It was breathable…barely…but it tasted like he was swallowing farts from someone who’d eaten way too many chicken wings. He only let the stench distract him for a second as he scanned for his weapons and any enemies. He’d only completed half of his three hundred and sixty degree turn when something hard hit him in the back. For a second, he’d thought he’d been shot, but then something black and slimy slipped under his chin, around his neck, and started to squeeze.

“Motherfu…” Coop’s curse was cut off as the black tentacle clamped down.

It was stronger than Coop thought, but not strong enough. Coop reached back to grab the Squid he felt clinging to his back. The thing scurried around trying to avoid his grasp, but it wasn’t big enough to evade and choke at the same time. Coop got a hold of it and pulled it off his back, but it did not release his throat. If anything, Coop pulling it away only tightened its grip. Instinct took over and Coop chomped down on the extended tentacle.

The squeal the Squid gave as Coop’s teeth passed through it slimy skin was satisfying. The lime green, putrid blood that shot into Coop’s mouth was not. It made the planet’s pungent air smell like galaxy’s finest aromatherapy.

Coop made sure his priorities were straight. He threw the Squid down on the ground and then drove his boot onto it with a satisfying squish. The thing popped like an over-filled water balloon. After the threat was dealt with, Coop was free to bend over and puke up everything he’d eaten since arriving on this god-forsaken planet.

Even as he puked, Coop staggered over to his armor and wrenched the pistol out of its magnetic lock. The weapons scanned his GIC when he grasped it and allowed him access. An ammo count and targeting sights popped into his vision as the weapon linked with his IOR. He scanned the area again, and saw something black flying through the air at him. Apparently, the squids could jump. The ET had all nine of its tentacles spread wide. They varied in size, but the longest wasn’t more than half a meter. Where all the tentacles met was a ball of tissue. Some sort of mouth opened from that ball and let out a warbling shriek. Maybe it was pissed because Coop killed its girlfriend.

Coop didn’t give two shits. He assumed that the ball of tissue at the squid’s center also held their brain, so he put his targeting icon on that and pulled the trigger. The high-velocity dart wasn’t plasma tipped, but it had more than enough velocity to punch right through the unarmored and unshielded squid. The thing exploded and spread green blood-goo everywhere.

“Fucking disgusting,” Coop spit to cleanse his pallet of ET blood and vomit. By the time he did that the rest of the team had started their own combat molts.

The GYSGT was out first, followed by the SGM, Eve, and the rest. Mike was one of the last out, and he looked a little worse from wear.

“Grab whatever gear you can carry,” the LT was taking the loss of their LACS in stride. “Cooper, Enders, make sure you get those area shields up and running. Without the LACS, that’s the only protection we’ve got now.”

Coop almost argued that there was no way the portable shields were still good if the LACS were dead, but a touch of a button showed the shields were good to go. He’d leave it to smarter people than him to understand how they were still operational when the LACS were nothing more than scrap metal. Instead, he grimaced for two other reasons. First the portable shield weighed a few hundred kilos. Lugging that thing around was going to be a pain in the ass. Second, the LT was right about their lack of protection. Coop grabbed a few grenades and magnetized them to his smartcloth. He put his pistol back on his hip and grabbed his Buss. He put some ammo into pouches he also got from his LACS, and then cannibalized some circuitry from the offline suit to thread through openings to construct a utility belt that he slung diagonally across his body. The shield generator went on his back. He shifted it to make it comfortable, but with the cords there was always going to be something pinching him. SOP if they came under attack was to take cover, unsling and entrench the shield so it couldn’t be targeted, and then return fire. As Coop surveyed the area, there wasn’t a lot of places to take cover.

The team was in the middle of squid slums. Since the ET’s were much shorter than humans that stacked their dwellings high into makeshift towers. Even from where they stood, Coop could see black shapes scurrying in and out of openings in the small boxes. The way they moved using their tentacles sent a shiver down Coop’s spine.

<At least they die easy.> He told himself.

“We need to move to cover. Form up into wedges. Alpha first followed by Bravo. Keep your spacing, but stay within the shields’ range.” The SGM ordered, and that was Coop’s signal to turn on their defense.

The shield hummed to life as Coop connected with his IOR. He made sure the power levels were in the corner of his vision at all times, but not in the way of his targeting apparatus. He wasn’t on point since he was humping the shield. That honor fell to Eve. She pushed out to just under twenty five meters from Coop and stalked forward. She had her sniper rifle out. A regular human carrying the long-barrel rifle would have looked ridiculous, but in the hands of a Ranger it was positively deadly.

Eve posted up against the side of a building and leaned around the edge to scan with her scope. She wasn’t looking for more than a few seconds before the shield sparked from an impact. The retort of Eve’s rifle returning fire was much louder, but it was only a single shot.

{One ET down,} she sent over the IOR. {But we’ve got company.} No sooner had she said it than the whole front portions of the shield lit up from incoming fire.

<Well this sucks.> Coop scanned the area and saw hundreds of the little, Squid fuckers moving around their flanks to completely surround the SRRT. They held small, oddly-shaped weapons in their hands that seemed to fire something similar to a dart.

Currently, hundreds of those rounds were impacting Coop’s shield. He stole a quick glance at the power reading and was happy to see it still at one hundred percent. Whatever the weapons were they weren’t powerful. No sooner had he drawn that conclusion than something big impacted the front of the shield. Fire spread outward around the dome and set several nearby towers on fire. The shrieks of burning Squids filled the area.

<Well shit…this can’t get any worse can it?> The shield’s power level now read ninety-seven percent.

 

***

 

Ezekiel Mackintosh

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

 

“This is a disaster!” the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth angrily brushed the table in front of him with his outstretched arms. Data chips, polyplast hardcopies, and a cup of coffee went flying.

“Sir!” Connie Price, his chief of staff, gently put a hand on his shoulder.

The conference room at the CEOC was empty except for the two of them, which was good, because Connie didn’t want anyone seeing their leader this way.

“Half a dozen systems, Connie, with over a dozen planets between them.” The PM buried his head in his hands. “Between those planets is close to eleven billion Commonwealth citizens, a hundred trillion in private, corporate, and Commonwealth property, and that doesn’t even cover our casualties.”

Word had finally filtered back to the rear areas that the Windsor’s surprise attack was over, but the results were catastrophic. The PM was lamenting over the six former Commonwealth systems that had been forcibly annexed by the Kingdom. Those were complete losses, but on top of that were the losses in people, Fleet assets, property, and diplomatic relations in the ten other systems that had been attacked and abandoned after being ravaged. System defense forces in all those systems had been completely annihilated if they decided to fight, which most did. That left all these systems defenseless to the Blockies and pirates unless the Fleet moved in. The PM had ordered High Admiral Gilmore to do just that, but these systems were only going to get a few destroyers and maybe a cruiser for the more important ones. All the systems were roughly in the same area of space, and the fleet tasked with guarding them had been seriously mauled at Queensland.

Nearly all of the Eleventh Fleet ships that had been anchored at Queensland were now combat ineffective. Almost half were nothing more than finely-dispersed debris at this point, but the rest were battered husks in need of months in the yard and new crews. The numbers were still coming in, but well over a hundred thousand soldiers and spacers had been lost, and the PM expected that number to keep going up. The High Admiral was pulling elements of the Core Worlds fleets to reinforce the destroyed anchorage and sure up diplomatic ties with the Oceanic Alliance. They’d lost nearly all of their fleet as well.

The one bit of good news was that doctrine for fighting the Windsor’s technological advantage was emerging. The Windsor’s ships were hard to kill but they could be killed. Overwhelming firepower was the key, and all focused on single targets to overwhelm their shields. At the same time, all firepower needed to go on the defensive when volleys came at the Commonwealth and allied ships. The Windsor’s range was twice as large as the Commonwealth’s latest missiles, their EW countermeasures were formidable, and the game was over if they got into energy cannon range. The tactics weren’t good, and the ratio of Commonwealth to Windsor ships destroyed was horrendous, but it did work and was able to rebuff the Windsor’s from the system. Or at least that was what Connie had the media telling the Commonwealth’s citizens. The fact was they’d probably executed a strategic withdrawal and reinforced the conquered systems.

The task force the PM sent to help at Premier Etat de Napoléon had fared a lot better because they barely engaged the enemy. They’d still lost a pair of battleships and a chunk of their escort destroyers and cruisers, but now the EU had their feathers ruffled over the losses. On top of the steaming heap of dog shit the PM had dumped on his own starfaring nation, now their alliance with the EU was frayed. That wouldn’t be good if the Blockies came calling. ADM Berg was still trying to see if the Windsor’s hit the Blockies at all, but he hadn’t heard back from her yet.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m done.” The PM slouched back into his chair. “No one is going to re-elect someone who lost systems. It doesn’t matter what the rest of my record is. This was the largest defeat the Commonwealth has ever been dealt, and it was dealt by a single-system polity. There is no recovering for me. The Eagle Party will win the remaining elections, Simmons will be the new Prime minister, and the Progressive agenda will be over for the next decade.

All Connie could do was pat Ezekiel on the back. She knew he was going to lose. There was no denying that after this attack. “You’ll still be the opposition leader, Sir. You’ll be the thorn in Simmons’ side like she is to you.”

That wasn’t much comfort, but Ezekiel would have to live with it. He only had a few months left on the job, and he’d be playing clean up the entire time. He just hoped his overtures to the Hegemony were going better than their situation at home.

Previous                        Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 236

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

“I can’t believe this,” Eve fumed as she led the way back into the collection of suites the human delegation had been assigned.

“I know! What fucknut thought this was a good idea?” Coop replied just as the remainder of the room came into view.

Clustered around a holo was the SGM, Minister of Commerce, the LT, and LCDR Gold. Judging by the glare being directed at Coop, the fucknut in question was the Minister. Thankfully, Coop had people looking out for him.

“On me,” GYSGT Cunningham yanked Coop by the shoulder into the opposite room where the rest of the SRRT was huddled.

“Whew…dodged a bullet there,” Coop wiped his forehead and grinned.

“More like you’re going to take an energy cannon up the ass in the near future,” Eve replied. “That woman is one of the most powerful in the Commonwealth, and you just called her a fucknut.”

Coop took a moment to think about that and shrugged. In terms of strategic use of resources, Coop knew they couldn’t do a whole lot against him. The infantry and fleet needed people who were Splitstream capable in their SRRT teams. So far, there were not a lot of active personnel with those genetic and psychological adaptions, of those who did they needed to evaluate those that could work on a tier one team, and then they needed those people to volunteer. Out of the millions of people in the Infantry, Coop was one of a few hundred who’d joined the new project. Calling a Minister a bad name wasn’t going to get him booted off the team and onto some shit duty…he thought.

“What happened?” Mike was in the room, and it didn’t look like Bravo had been brought up to speed on the situation.

The GYSGT brought them up to speed, and Mike just shook his head. “That was stupid.”

At that moment the SGM, LT, and LCDR burst into the room; thankfully, without the Minister. “This is your WARNO.” The SGM cut straight to it. “The situation is as follows. While conducting diplomatic reconnaissance…” Coop struggled to hold in his laughter at the SGM’s description, “… one of the diplomatic team was abducted by one of the other alien races in the city. Per protocol, he activated his panic button. We had a good track on him until we lost signal here.” Instead of a holo-map of the city, the SGM pulled up a map of the planet below. “All members of the Alpha and Bravo excpet for one individual will participate in this rescue operation. Staff Sergeant Hightower, you will keep the rest of the diplomats locked down until we resolve the situation.”

If the SSG was unhappy about not participating in the operation he didn’t show it. He just said, “Yes, Sergeant Major” like a good NCO.

“Enemy forces are unknown, but we believe we’ve identified the species that took out man.” The SGM popped up to a new image, and Coop recognized the tentacle creatures from the bar earlier. “Our mission, is for Alpha and Bravo to covertly travel to the planet’s surface, recover our abducted diplomat, and make a general statement to those involved about fucking with the human race being a bad idea.” The SGM’s statement got some smiles around the table.

“Sergeant Major, would it be more diplomatic to alert the Hegemonic authorities to the abduction and request their assistance in returning the kidnapped diplomat?” Eve asked.

Coop thought it was a reasonable question. After all, why should they risk their asses to save the fucknut who got kidnapped by a group of calamari.

“That’s a no go, Sergeant,” LCDR Gold stepped forward and the SGM yielded the brief to the senior officer. “There are diplomatic agendas at work. First, we’re a new species in the Hegemony. We’re one day into the talks, and we don’t want one of our first official acts to be asking them for help. We want to be seen as a strong, independent species, and your suggestion goes against that. Second, we can’t be seen as secondary to the species that took the diplomat. Sergeant Major has more on that.”

“Thank you, Sir.” The SGM didn’t look completely thankful for his briefing being interrupted. “The species that took our diplomat, which I will refer to as the Squids from here forward, are very low on the totem pole here and throughout the Hegemony. The one thing they do have going for them is that there are trillions of them. They screw like bunnies and have spread their numbers throughout Hegemonic space. The Squids are an impatient, reckless, and impulsive species according to the data we’ve gathered on them. Most of the squids here in the city are actually slaves. Thus the servitude part of the place’s name.”

“Slaves? Didn’t slavery go out of style a thousand years ago?” Coop wondered out loud.

“No, Sergeant Cooper.” The LT replied a little more heavy handed than Coop thought was necessary. “Pirates and mercenary groups throughout the Commonwealth regularly ambush ships, take people hostage, and turn them into the modern day equivalent of slaves. There are even rumors out there about big corporations running luxury cloning operations and breeding people for physical pleasure. So, while the days of people being whipped as they built pyramids of pick cotton are gone, the practice is still very much alive.”

“Like the LT said, the Squids are victims of their own impulsive nature here.” The SGM brought the conversation back on track. “They love to gamble, and half this city it made up of the alien version of casinos. The Squids bet big, get over their head, and end up paying back the casino owners with their freedom. From what we’ve found out, as delegates we’re living in luxury up in this rarified atmosphere, but most of the Squids reside in the seedy underbelly. Whoever took our diplomat lives down on the planet, which isn’t much more than housing and the necessary suppliers to keep the indentured Squids, and other species who get in over their heads, alive.

“Well,” Coop shrugged. “I would have thought a millennia’s-old galactic collective would be a little more civilized, but who am I to judge. How are we going to kill these fuckers and get out of here clean?” Coop wondered.

“Law enforcement’s patrols of the area where we lost our diplomat’s signal are very infrequent, so we should be able to get in and out without being noticed by the authorities. To put it bluntly, it’s a bad neighborhood.” The SGM replied.

{Brings back memories doesn’t it?} Coop sent Mike a message over his IOR and got an affirmative response.

“Everyone needs to make their way back to Argo so we can finish going over the execution details and depart for the mission,” the SGM powered down the holo and started to move.

“Sergeant Major, don’t you think our hosts will spot our ship leaving? That is going to bring unwanted attention to the mission,” Coop tossed out the flaw he immediately saw in the SGM’s plan.

“Who said we’re taking the ship down, Sergeant.” The SGM didn’t even look back, but Coop could tell he was grinning. Coop didn’t like where this was heading.

Half an hour later Coop was geared up and ready to kick some ass. The team wasn’t taking any chances. They had no idea what they were walking into, and they had no idea of the technological level of the enemy they were about to face.  Just because the Squids were peons in the eyes of other Hegemony species didn’t mean they wouldn’t have weapons that could tear a hole through a LACS. The SGM didn’t want to take any chances.

Coop ran the diagnostic and checked the safety on his Buss for the second time. Usually, he was a one and done type of guy, but the amount of unknowns in this situation didn’t sit well with him. The SGM undoubtedly felt everyone was feeling the same way, so he was compensating for that fear by issuing more grenades to everyone and authorizing the team leaders to ensure some of their team had some real bang bang in their arsenal. Since Coop was in the V4As, that meant he was loading up the LACS’ compliment of seventy artillery shells. The only thing he wasn’t being loaded with was anti-matter ordinance. Setting one of those off would alert the authorities that something wasn’t quite right. Still, Coop had enough thermobaric rounds to turn a small city into a burning husk, and that made him feel a little better.

<Of course, they didn’t help against the Windsor’s.> He remembered the high explosive weapon’s lack of effectiveness against the Kingdom’s massive, armored mechs.

Coop looked at his shield’s readings again to make sure he was one hundred percent good to go. He was, and so was the rest of his team. Everything seemed good to go.

“Coms check,” the SGM stated over TACCOM.

{Coms check,} he reiterated over their IORs.

“Everyone listen up. We’re going to drop here.” A holo of the area they would be dropping into appeared in front of them. “We’ll set up a perimeter, regain our bearings, and then move forward to the diplomat’s last known location here.” He pointed at an area two hundred meters away. “Intel from the Minsters team suggests that the panic button might still be transmitting, but it’s jammed. If we can get close enough then we should be able to pick it up again.”

<That would be lucky of us.> Coop didn’t plan on it being that easy.

The SGM pulled the team leaders aside to take a look at everything. The SGM would be in command of Alpha with the GYSGT in the number two slot, while the LT handled Bravo. SSG Hightower was back with the diplomats, and Coop was sure the big man was pissed. This was the first offensive action against ETs the Commonwealth was going to engage in. Sure, it amounted to engaging their version of PHA Rats, but first was first, and the SSG was missing out.

Coop patted his armor to ensure the grenades were easily accessible and pondered what to arm his Buss with first. Coming out rapid firing 40mm grenades sounded like the best option, but he was sure he’d catch hell for blowing up some poor squid’s fish tank. Instead, he’d opted for 3mm plasma-tipped rounds. They’d still get the job done, and they’d eat at a shield’s energy faster than regular rounds. Coop wasn’t looking forward to going up against a shielding enemy again, but at least this time he was shielded too; twice shielded in fact. Coop was also assigned to carry an area shield which was provide an extra layer of protection for up to twenty-five meters around the team. Mike was carrying another one for Bravo, so if they kept their spacing right they’d give the team an extra bubble of protection.

The downside was the thing was fucking heavy on top of his LACS and all the other crap he was carrying. The V4A was supposed to be the pack mule of the SRRT team, but that didn’t mean it didn’t suck, in fact, the more Coop thought about it the bigger the target he’d be.

<Too late now.> He thought as the SGM waved them forward. The SRRT hunched over, shuffled, and squeezed sideways through Argo’s corridors until they reached one of the off-limit’s areas. LCDR Gold was there waiting for them to scan his GIC and put in a code.

The heavy blast doors opened up to reveal a spacious area…probably the most spacious area on the entire ship. Since Coop had spent three weeks stuffed into infantry country with a bunch of puffed-up bureaucrats, seeing this much empty space didn’t improve his mood. In the center of the empty space were four sets of circles. They were a gleaming silver, slightly raised from the floor, slightly extended from the ceiling, and big enough for a man in a V4A LACS to stand on.

Once Coop caught sight of them he felt his sphincter involuntarily pucker. He knew what these were, and the rest of the SGM’s plan fell into place. The SRRT team was going to live up to its name today. They were going to use splitstream tech for the very first time as far as Coop knew.

<And we’re going to do it on a combat jump into enemy territory to rescue a diplomatic fucknugget. You couldn’t make up this shit.>

“Alpha team onto your launch pads.” The SGM led the way by stepping up onto the nearest dais. Coop gulped and picked one at the back.

LCDR Gold and Aiko took their places at the controls and started pressing buttons and flicking switches. A lot of stuff was being pushed and flicked, so much that Coop hoped they didn’t mess up some sequence and turn him inside out in the process.

“Launching in twenty seconds,” Gold started to countdown while Aiko watched her screen.

She looked up for a second at Coop, but her expression was neutral. He took that as a good thing. One indication either way meant something was wrong or the tech wasn’t going to work on purpose. It was a dark thought, but Coop knew Aiko was capable of doing some harsh shit. Four SRRT members being obliterated in a failed splitstream launch would be easy for her to walk away from even with an investigation.

<Stop it.> Coop chided himself when Gold reached five. <Get your head in the game.>

“…two…one…initiate.” The LCDR did something and Coop’s whole body went numb.

It only lasted for a fraction of a second before feeling returned. Too much feeling. Coop felt like someone had wound up and punted him right in the nards. He immediately started to puke. Through sheer force of will he was able to stop it from spewing out of his mouth, but swallowing it only made him gag more. The only thing that got him through this was not wanting to have puke on his HUD, and that acidic stench in his nose through the whole mission.

“Ok,” the SGM’s voice told Coop that even the NCOIC wasn’t immune to the cosmic forces at work. “Give me three-sixty security and secure the site for Bravo.”

Coop did what he was told while looking around. The area they were in made the PHA look nice. The place was a fucking pigsty. Coop quickly checked the air to see it was barely habitable for humans. There was a lot of sulfur in the atmosphere, so if Coop ever had to take his suit off the whole world would smell like farts.

Coop was looking outward when Bravo arrived. One second his IOR showed them out of range up in the floating city above them, and the next it registered them inside the perimeter Alpha had established. It was creepy, and totally revolutionized warfare. Coop didn’t have time to contemplate the greater strategic picture. He focused on the mission and scanned his sector of fire.

It took thirty seconds for Bravo to get their shit together before the SGM called out the order of march. “Alpha followed by Bravo… bounding overwatch…go.”

An icon appeared on Coop’s HUD showing where the SGM wanted him to go, and he started to move toward it while Bravo covered them. Coop made it about five meters when the whole world suddenly went black.

“What the fuck!” he yelled. He was still conscious, but his LACS had gone dark.

{What the fuck!} he repeated over his IOR, but just like with TACCOM he got nothing.

“Shit,” he whispered to himself before something impacted the side of his LACS hard enough to tip it over.

Previous Next

PCS to Eden – Crossroads Part 2

Panic.

It was not something Ava was used to feeling, but no matter where she turned she felt eyes on her. As a human, there was nothing else she could do but keep her head down and keep moving.

<How to humans live like this?> She hadn’t understood it before, but now she got a glimpse of why humans didn’t trust one another. She couldn’t get a glimpse of what someone was going to do before they did it. She couldn’t determine intentions by small alterations in body language, and worst of all, she knew she couldn’t defend herself if push came to shove. Technically she could, but there was no guarantee she would win.

All the fear, mistrust of others, and vengefulness humans were capable of made a little more sense now. She still didn’t agree with it. Dialogue would fix a lot of those problems instead of just guesswork, but she had a better idea where they were coming from.

<It might be good for angels to walk a mile in a human’s shoes when this is all over.> As their protectors, it was probably a good idea if they understood human nature better.

Ava arrived at an intersection and hugged the brick wall of a still-intact building. She’d been steadily making her way to the river with Gabriel, but it was slow going. Even at night, New York City was still the city that never slept.

She poked her head out around the corner and looked both ways. With all the building and street lights out, she could only see as far as the light from the fires let her. It wasn’t far, but she didn’t see much. Still, she didn’t rush out right away. She sat there for several minutes and strained her human senses to their maximum.

“Ok, I think we’re clear.” She grabbed Gabriel by the arm and started to drag him across the street. They were three quarters of the way across when a clang echoed from close by.

The sound soon revealed itself as a beer can being kicked down the street. Of course, only the best kicker in the NFL could kick the can as far as the woman walking down the street and laughing, and she only gave it a half-hearted punt. Ava couldn’t help but watch the can arc through the air as she hurried up her pace and dived behind a parked car. The car’s hood had caved in from falling debris, and what used to be fire-engine red was now dull gray, but it successfully hid them from the approaching Amazons. Or so she thought.

“Come out, sister. We won’t harm you.” There was a slight slur to the Amazon’s words.

<Great. They’re a little tipsy. You don’t let drunk humans drive tanks, so why would Hippolyta let her people drink. There could be a Divine counterattack any second.> Ava set tactics aside and tried to become one with the car.

“We know you’re there, sister. We can smell you. Don’t be afraid. We’re here to liberate you from the patriarchal rule of man.” There was a giggle identifying a second Amazon.

Ava looked at Gabriel. The archangel put his hand flat and wobbled it back and forth to show he wasn’t sure they could take them, and even if they did, an alert would get out. Ava was human and Gabriel was severely weakened. Ava was probably more of a liability than anything, but she was the person the Amazons had identified. She tried to convey her plans with her eyes and hand-and-arm signals. She planned to distract the two drunk warriors and pull their attention away. Gabriel would ambush them and try to disable whoever was the stronger of the two. Once they were out of the way it would be two against one and they’d have a better chance. If they won that fight, then they’d run like hell for the river and hope they made it.

Ava held up her fingers and counted down, <three…two…one…> She stepped out from behind the car and didn’t have to work hard to look afraid.

She opened her mouth to reply to the Amazons, but the ground rumbled beneath her and threw her onto her knees. An ear-splitting roar raced through the city, extinguishing fires, and drawing all eyes toward Central Park. The Amazons, who’d been pleasantly tipsy moments before, snapped back to full readiness. They ignored Ava’s weak human form and sprinted back the way they’d came.

“Huh,” Gabriel hauled himself to his feet once the Amazons turned the corner and were out of sight. “That was lucky.”

Ava agreed, but only in terms of their survival. The Amazons might have left them alone, but that was only because they had bigger fish to fry, and anything bigger than capturing an archangel wasn’t going to be good for the Divine Host’s plans to retake the city.

“Should we check it out?” Gabriel deferred to her judgement because this was her mission.

Ava consulted her mental map of the city. They’d gone three blocks to their destination judging by the location of the Chrysler Tower to their left. The roar they heard could have only come from one think, the leviathan in Central Park. The park was twenty-plus blocks away, and they’d have to get through an army of Amazons to even get close. As much as Ava wanted to gather intel there was no way it would end with them getting out of there alive.

“No, we need to get out of here. Whatever is going on is the perfect distraction, so let’s move.” She propped the archangel up using her shoulder and set off toward the river hoping she’d made the right decision.

 

***

 

Gerry had never been to the new New York City. He’d participated in what was eventually called the New York and New Jersey Campaign of the Revolutionary War. That was where he’d died, but back then NYC had been a town of twenty-five thousand people not over eight million. The sea of concrete, glass, brick, and asphalt was a little overwhelming. He’d been extremely impressed by Charlotte when Lord Seere first had him take over Infernal operations in the city, but New York was another beast entirely.

“I know, right.” Death looked around her and breathed in the scents of destruction. “People call me evil, but look at this. How many things did humans have to kill to build this city? Don’t get me wrong, it’s magnificent, but they’re a pretty hypocritical group, and my brother isn’t helping. Did you know he’s been telling his representatives on Earth for centuries to pass along the message that dogs don’t go to heaven. What kind of shit is that?” Death threw up her hands in frustration. “You’re going to call me evil, but big, benevolent God is going to give Skippy the boot at the pearly gates. Now that is fucked up.” Death continued to ramble as Gerry looked around.

It quickly became obvious they were standing in a depression, a big one. He had to crane his neck to even see the top of it. He’d seen pictures of the leviathan causing destruction and mayhem on television, but he wasn’t prepared for just how big the thing was up close. If the giant footprint was any indication, he wasn’t even sure Death could handle the massive beast.

“Size isn’t everything, darling,” Death had added an aristocratic drawl to her voice for some reason, and he was totally unprepared for her to grab his ass. She laughed when he jumped. “You’re so innocent. This is going to be fun.”

Death’s feet left the ground as she levitated out of the footprint, and Gerry jumped up to follow. The æther felt different here, so he conserved his strength and jogged along as Death hovered over the ground. Together, they quickly crossed Central Park toward a small mountain.

<Wait…what…?> Gerry didn’t remember a mountain in Central Park. Then the mountain moved.

A vividly-golden eye twice as large as Gerry was tall opened as Death approached. The mountain, a.k.a. the leviathan, shuddered as its enormous body began to move.  It had been curled up like a dog and asleep, but it sensed something in Death that made it warry. Soil and a lot of debris fell from the creature’s hide as it unfolded itself until all five hundred feet of its glory was on display. Its tail lashed back and forth with agitation; swatting aside hundred-year-old trees and anything else that got in its way. As Death approached, it let out a challenging roar that shook the bedrock of the city. Its eyes never left Death as she casually floated toward the great beast’s head. Her own eyes were locked on the leviathans in an intense stare down of willpower. After several minutes, the leviathan looked away. The alpha had been identified.

“You’re a good girl aren’t you,” Death approached and ran her hand across the leviathan’s head. A ripple passed down the entire length of the creature’s back, like Death’s hand was actually much larger than it appeared to be. Gerry could see the intelligence in the creature’s eyes, the acceptance of its new position in the hierarchy, and even satisfaction as Death’s hand continued to stroke her head.

“Girl?” Gerry asked. He was keeping a safe distance.

“Of course she’s a girl. She’s such a pretty girl,” Death was using baby talk, but the leviathan didn’t seem to mind. “All we need is a boy and we can make some babies. That would be fun, wouldn’t it?”

Gerry imagined dozens of the five-hundred foot creatures wandering around the world and didn’t one hundred percent agree with Death. If she heard his thought, she didn’t care. Her eyes swung around to a side street leading to the park where dozens of armored women had gathered.

“We’re about to have company. Just stand there and look pretty.” Death commanded, and suddenly Gerry was several hundred feet closer to the leviathan without any idea how he’d gotten there.

The mighty creature looked down at him and sniffed. Whatever the test, he seemed to pass, because she turned her attention to the approaching army. At the head of it was a beautiful woman in a regal crown. That beauty was marred by the expression on her face, which turned downright hateful when she caught sight of Gerry. She barked some orders, pointed at Gerry, but when she turned around Death was inches from her face. The woman nearly fell over as she toppled backward.

“Don’t fret, Hippolyta. You’ll get wrinkles.” Death waved dismissively to the amazon Queen.

The anger on the queen’s face was snuffed out like a candle in a hurricane. “You!” There was only fear in her voice now.

“Me.” Death smiled a smile that was fitting on someone christened as death. “Boo!” The Amazon’s jumped and she laughed.

“What do you want, Eris?”

“Mmmm the old names,” Death smiled and looked behind Hippolyta. “Looks like you’ve been busy. Been doing a lot of man eating have we?” She sniffed the air and the women gathered behind Hippolyta flinched.

None seemed to have met Death before, but the name Eris seemed to stir some primal fear in them.

“We thought you were dead and gone along with our father?” Hippolyta had regained some of her regal demeanor, but she was still cautious.

“No. I’ve been around tinkering here and there. Found some people on a beach,” she gestured at Gerry, “nursed them back to health, saved their lives, and imparted the secrets of the universe. You know, all that jazz.”

Several dozen women, with very hungry looks on their faces, looked at Gerry like he was a tasty morsel ready to eat. Death had imparted no such secrets to him, she was just screwing with everyone.

“I will have to ask you all to not touch my little treat. The punishment for doing so is…unpleasant.” Death did the equivalent of peeing all over Gerry to mark her territory. Despite that, Gerry didn’t feel very safe.

He had to juggle a primordial, a leviathan, and now dozens of Amazons. What else could happen?

As if on cue, Death’s head snapped around and look to the south east. Her smile stretched across her entire face. Gerry had never seen her smile so wide, and wasn’t sure he wanted to know what was causing her reaction.

“I’ll be right back,” Death gave the leviathan a final pat and grabbed Gerry’s hand. “Hold down the fort, Hippolyta. Shit is about to get really interesting.” With a smile bordering on deranged, Death and Gerry vanished to reappear some twenty blocks away.

Previous                                Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 235

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Uh…human…} Coop replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous                                  Two Worlds – Chapter 236

PCS to Eden – Crossroads Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maria,” Ava whispered and fought back tears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

“You want to go where?” Gerry asked .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous                                  PCS to Eden – Crossroads Part 2