Two Worlds – Chapter 271 (Part 2)

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<This was the worst idea ever,> Coop thought the moment he let go of Eve. She wasn’t a football of baseball, and they didn’t exactly teach human chucking at Basic, so her flight across the hallway was less than graceful.

<What the fuck was I thinking!> Cold fear gripped his chest as Eve approached the shield. Either she was going to go splat on the shield where she would be an easy target from the HVT’s bodyguards, or she was going to make it through. In that case, she’d be face to face with the armed and armored guards, which wasn’t any better.

Revenge on someone who’d wronged you was all well and good, but this was suicide. <And I let her talk me into it.> He cursed himself and his dick for getting himself into this situation.

Before he knew what was happening his feet were moving forward and he was charging the shield. The moment he started moving was the moment Eve hit the shield…and went right through.

The guards, who’d been cornered by the additional fire from GYSGT Cunningham and Sullivan, swiveled their attention to her. <Shit…shit…shit!> Coop tried not to look as he charged into the shield right behind her…and bounced off like a pinball.

His LACS tried to keep him on his feet, but even those servos were overcome by the sudden stop. He bounced backwards and landed on his ass.

{They’ve stopped firing,} the GYSGT relayed as she continued to pour fire into the shield.

{They solidified the shield. Nothing in or out, but Eve is already in there!} Coop scrambled to his feet and punched at the barrier. He might as well be striking the side of an assault carrier.

Calm had settled outside the shield, but inside was a whole different story. Eve had some mismatched, stolen armor, two nano-bladed knives, and she was wrecking havoc on the Windsor’s. She struck like a snake: quick, strong, and deadly. Coop watched as she plunged one of her blades deep into a soldier’s chest, ripped it out as she spun away, and simultaneously used him as a human shield as she charged forward into another enemy. She pushed the mortally-wounded Windsor into their partner to throw him off balance, and then turned to face one of the bodyguards. The woman had moved around the battling soldiers to get a clear shot, and she would have had it if Eve didn’t sacrifice one of her weapons.

Where she learned to throw a knife didn’t matter, but the bodyguard ended up with it hilt deep in her sternum. She toppled over dead, as Eve turned to face the officer protecting the shield. He had a pistol, and no armor, but a clear shot at her.

{FUCK!} Coop screamed as she charged and he fired. He couldn’t watch. All he could think about was getting to her.

Without thinking he drew his sword and activated the chainsaw function. The nano-blade hummed with deadly intent as he smashed it into the shield. He focused on the blade struggling against the shield. He didn’t see Eve get hit one…two…three times before she reached the officer.

The man was big, but not as big as Eve, and he might have had some enhancements, but they were nothing compared to the Ranger work she’d had done. She connected with the man like a linebacker and they both went tumbling to the ground. The man’s fist connected with her face, snapping it to the side, and he was rearing back to kick her, when her blade slashed down. With nothing but his smart-cloth uniform she severed his kicking leg just below the knee.

Blood fountained all over her as the cleanly sliced femoral sprayed the man’s life essence everywhere. The officer’s face went from red, pissed, and in fight mode to a pale white when he started to bleed out. His uniform was smart enough to try and seal off the wound, but with a bleed like that his chance of survival was getting smaller and smaller the longer he went without medical attention. Eve followed through with a kick to the side of the head and put the man down.

She turned and caught a flash of gold heading for her. She brought up her blade to parry and…

{NO!} Coop screamed and put everything he had into pushing his sword through the shield.

The HVT had dashed forward when she saw the opportunity, a nano-blade in her own hand, and struck at Eve while she was finishing off the officer. Eve tried to block, but she was slow as her own blood trickled out onto the floor where the one of the officer’s shots had punctured her makeshift armor.

Now it was Eve’s turn to stumble and fall back as her arm holding her final weapon flopped to the floor. The HVT had caught her midway between the elbow and shoulder. The armor there did nothing against the golden blade. Eve landed hard on the ground next to the unconscious officer. Their blood mingled as Eve’s own CMU’s constricted to form a tourniquet, but Coop could tell the fight was flowing out of her faster than her blood.

The HVT stood triumphantly over her. Her mouth moved, but he couldn’t see what she was saying. He focused on the shield and threw his full weight and power into it. It held like it had every other time…until it suddenly didn’t. His blade disrupted the integrity of the shield, opening a hole which he promptly fell through.

The crash of his armor hitting the floor made the HVT turn. Eve lashed out and kicked the woman in the shim, throwing her off balance, as Eve lunged for the portable shield generator that was making this situation so fucking complicated.

The HVT stabbed down to presumably finish Eve off, before turning to deal with Coop, but she only succeeded in pinning her to the floor through her calf. Eve screamed out in pain, but that didn’t stop her from smashing a fist repeatedly into the generator.

Punching a block of duro-steel, even from an HI trooper, wasn’t going to do anything, but fucking up the control panel was bound to do something. In this case, the shield flickered and the bottom half disappeared.

<Weird.> Coop thought as he trained his Buss on the HVT who was already moving.

{Freeze bitch! You fucking move and I’ll paint this nice hallway red.} The woman had been going for a side door, but stopped upon his command.

She held up her hands dropped her sword and kicked it away toward him. <That’s more like it,> he breathed a sigh of relief. <Finally, something…>

The universe’s grand plan to fuck with him continued as the wall behind them exploded inward. Ironically, the top half of the shield still working stopped most of the incoming debris before failing the rest of the way. Pieces of stone and mortar still fell on Eve and the woman as Coop came face to face with the thing that had destroyed the wall.

The Windsor mech loomed over the HVT like a protective mama bear defending her cub. It was also swinging its other forearm to target Eve, the GYSGT, and Sullivan. One blast from that thing and Eve would be nothing more than a fond memory.

{Get out of there, Cooper!} The GYSGT ordered as she and Sullivan fell back to get better cover from the mech’s weapons.

<Not again,> Coop told himself. He’d let the Gunney go once, and he knew the guilt he felt for that would eat him up over time. He wasn’t going to let the woman he loved go down to this hulking piece of shit.

So he did the only thing he could think of…he upped the ante. He could do it quickly with his HUD, but the IOR’s connection made it effortless. Truth be told, none of this would have been possible if he wasn’t in the GYSGT’s armor. They didn’t let people like him get their hands of what he was about to use as a bargaining chip.

“How about everyone calms the fuck down, ok,” Coop announced over his loud speaker as his armor ejected an artillery shell into his hands and he held it up. The symbol on it was unmistakable. Anyone knew what a mushroom cloud on piece of ordinance meant: antimatter.

The five-kiloton yield of the round the armor packed was really meant to be used as a city shield buster in coordination with other assets. What it would do to everyone in the hallway, palace, and inside the cities shield was going to make all the limb dismemberment clean and tidy in comparison.

Coop could see he’d gotten through to the HVT when her eyes went wide. He couldn’t read the mech, but he wasn’t moving, which meant he was waiting for orders.

“Who do I have the pleasure of speaking to,” the HVT relaxed her posture and put her hands in front of her where he could see them.

“You can just call me Boss Man,” Coop replied. He knew better than to give out his name and rank.

“That’s rather impolite,” the woman replied. “If we’re going to negotiate a way for everyone to get out of here safe and sound then I really should know who I’m speaking with.”

Coop’s mind whirled for an answer. “I’m Sergeant Clint Eastwood, United Commonwealth of Colonies Infantry.”

Coop stole the name for an old-timey actor his father loved to watch on the holo back in the PHA. Coop never got the interest when the footage was low quality and there were no special effects, but if he said that to Walter the man would slap him on the head and say, “do you feel lucky, punk,” before laughing at something Coop never understood.

“I’m Sergeant Madeline Albright, Royal Marines,” the woman replied.

“Whose got two thumbs, is full of shit, and a hypocrite…you do,” Coop shot back, which got a weak laugh from the too-pale Eve.

“Very well, I am Baroness Isabella Montegro, High Nobility of the Star Empire of Windsor.”

Coop thought she was probably still full of shit, after all, he’d still lied, but he let it slide.

“Ok, Izzy, how about you get your mech to step outside or I drop this and we all go boom,” he purposefully jostled the artillery round.

“That is unacceptable. If the Color Sergeant left you’d simply kill me and retreat. How about you let my soldier take me, and you can take you compatriot. We all leave her to fight another day,” she countered.

It was what Coop wanted to do, but it was the execution that was tricky. “Have your mech step back to where he busted in the wall. You and I will do a step at a time. I’ll get to her at the same time you get to your mech. Then you’re free to go. You try anything when you’re out of sight, I’ve still got the goods that go boom, so don’t be an idiot,” he ordered.

She nodded in agreement and they set the plan in motion. The whole thing was tense. Each step everyone expected everyone else to break the truce, but thankfully no one did. He got to Eve right as the HVT reached the mech. The mech scooped her up, with his shielded and armored back to Coop and ran off.

“What the fuck were you thinking,” Eve’s words were a little slurred. There was still blood leaking from her severed arm, and the bullet hole in her wasn’t helping.

“Shut up,” he snapped as he got out his first air kit to administer nanites, sterilizing agents, and Insta-Flesh. “I just saved your life.”

“Yeah,” she chuckled weakly. “Nice bluff. You and I both know that you need a code to arm the antimatter shells, and the Sergeant Major sure as shit didn’t give on to you.”

“They don’t know that,” Coop blushed behind his helmet. What she’d said was true. He’d bluffed his way through the whole thing. A trip to New Vegas might be in order once he got off this shit world.

“Pretty smart,” her lids were growing heavy. “Good think I fucked you right and good after Basic, or else you might not have done that for me.”

Coop didn’t know if he should be pleased or insulted, so he decided not to think about it. The GYSGT and Sullivan were approaching and setting up security. Pretty sure the SGM was on his way. They might of missed out getting Baroness What’s Her Face, but he saved Eve, which mattered a hell of a lot more in his book.

Hopefully, they’d get to go home now, but the infantry seldom let anyone do what they wanted to do.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 269

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“Hull breach on decks three, seven, and twelve,” information flew across the bridge. Ward brought up a 3D image of Aggie and rotated it on an axis to get a better view of the enemy insertion points.

Whoever was planning things from the Windsor’s knew what they were doing. The two ships that had stabbed into the assault carrier on deck three weren’t that far from the flight deck. If they could get troops there, they could trash Spyders and drone fighters with impunity, which would make getting the marine brigade on the ground next to impossible.

Only one ship hit on deck seven, which was uncomfortably close to his command bridge, while the other two hit further aft near engineering and grunt country. Ward wasn’t an infantry tactician, but even he knew what the Windsor’s were trying to pull off. Eliminate the threat to their planet, cut off the head of the snake, or make it so the ship couldn’t fly. A success in any of them would greatly reduce Aggie’s effectiveness to complete their mission.

“Commander…” he opened a channel to his infantry counterpart.

“A bit busy here!” the woman snapped back with the sound of gunfire in the background.

Ward toggled to the ship’s security feeds and watched. His marines weren’t caught completely unaware, but they were far from ready. During shipboard actions, marines mainly acted as damage control parties and search and rescue. There were security teams deployed to critical areas for just this type of thing, but that was more protocol than necessary. Having to repel boards was extremely rare, and Ward hadn’t even considered it during this engagement, but the enemy rarely does what you want them to do.

Windsor marines in rust-colored armor were pouring into his ship. The cameras started to go fuzzy and die as their EW systems kicked in and disrupted the local network. Or the enemy marines just shot the cameras. Either way, he was starting to lose eyes on his enemy. He watched as two squad-sized elements of Commonwealth marines caught up to a dozen Windsor’s in a narrow corridor.

It was a miracle the camera wasn’t hit as rounds started to fly. The Commonwealth rounds met resistance. The Windsor’s did not.

“Commander, the enemy has portable shield generators with them,” he caught sight of a Windsor near the rear of their formation carrying a small pack.

“No shit!” the marine leader snapped. “Fall back, fall back and secure the bridge!” Ward wasn’t sure if he was meant to hear the last part, but it was the last thing any Admiral wanted to deal with.

His mind shifted through tactical possibilities. There was a list of things a ship’s commander could do to help rebel boarders, but that responsibility was primarily on his marines. Unfortunately under the current circumstances, the enemy had better tech.

“I’ve got people heading for our armory to get the new alien gadgets,” the marine commander sent to him, but he knew it would be little use at the moment. The armory was a long way from the bridge, and the marines would have to get through a fifty Windsor’s that were going to try and stop them.

Ward’s eyes scanned the bridge of frightened spacers. If something was going to end them, it was more likely a bomb-pumped laser that would kill them all before they knew it. Having to surrender the ship to a bunch of invading marines hadn’t even crossed their minds. As he scanned, his eyes caught a station blinking red at the damaged section of the ship and their environmental status.

A light bulb went off in his head. He checked it over with the marine commander, and while she didn’t think it would work completely, she thought it was worth a try. She relayed the message to her marines, and he relayed it to his crew. He sent it to PADs, stations, and anything else his people would have access to without alerting the enemy.

<Prepare for gravitational flux and emergency vent.> He chuckled to himself as his fingers slid over his command chair’s systems. He had to authorize overrides and bypass certain system to get this done. His message might sound technical, but all it meant was he was going to turn off the gravity and open sections of the ship to space. Hopefully, it bought his troops some time to regroup and counterattack, because right now they weren’t doing so well.

“Ready when you are, sir,” the lowly lieutenant in charge of environmental controls was now the lynchpin in completing this plan.

Helmets were snapped on around the bridge, and people were strapping into their chairs. Marines all over the ship were magnetizing their boots to the deck so they didn’t go flying off when the venting occurred. The key was getting it done quickly. The Windsor’s undoubtedly had their own magnetized boots, so the gravity and explosive decompression needed to happen nearly simultaneously for this to have any shot of working.

“Execute in three…two…one…” He felt the slight pull of weightlessness against him a heartbeat before the ship groaned like a prizefighter had just punched it in the gut.

Just like the marine commander thought, it sort of worked. Cameras showed Windsor marines yanked off their feet and hurtled through the ship. Many smashed into bulkheads as the void tried to yank them out of Aggie. In total, there were less than a hundred and fifty enemy marines on the assault carrier. Maybe twenty were actually yanked from the carrier and tossed into the void. The main damage was done to those tossed around like pinballs. The violent impacts broke bones, snapped spines, and damaged equipment. In fact, several shield generators were destroyed in the purge, and that made all the difference. That and the sweat and blood of the Aggie’s marines.

 

***

 

CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

The Spyder weaved back and forth as it dodged fire from the city. All Mitch could do was sit back and watch as the bird fought against the planet’s gravity.

<Who tries to shoot down a medivac shuttle?> His opinion of the Windsor’s and their loyalists went down a few notches. <They’re no better than the Blockies.>

“We’ve got a rabbit!” The SGT’s yell broke Mitch out of his headspace and snapped his focus back to his sector of fire. He put his rifle to his shoulder and used his scope to zoom in.

A small convoy of vehicles being led by a large truck were making a break between two of the cordon positions. They were still a few kilometers out, but he could make out the Windsor unit markings.

“Clear a path,” the voice of the tank commander came over TACCOM.

Mitch understood. It was a perfect opportunity to test the tank’s big 125mm cannon, which the tankers had affectionately called the bitchslapper. It was a shot across open, flat terrain at a moving target. This was the type of shot the tank was made for, but Mitch still hesitated to move. His gut was telling him something was off.

He kept his eye pressed to his scope and watched the convoy. His HUD was able to calculate their speed, but even from a distance, he could tell they weren’t moving much more than sixty kilometers an hour. If he was running for his life, he’d be hauling ass, not rumbling along at what passed for a city speed limit.

“That big hauler is slowing them down,” he said to no one in particular. “Intel didn’t have that many Windsor’s in town. You could fit a whole company in that thing. If it’s packed, along with all the other vehicles, we’re looking at a full two companies of hostiles.” He shook his head, but never took his eyes off the scope.

<That doesn’t make…> his thought was cut short as a concussive force smashed out the front of the hauler. It mangled the driver’s cabin, but he didn’t see any bodies fly out.

The force continued forward, ripped through open terrain and smashed into a rock outcropping over a kilometer away. The hard stone, that could deflect bullets and provide cover from artillery, was pulverized and turned into shrapnel by the blast. TACCOM started to light up as unit commanders demanded sitreps about what the hell just happened. Mitch didn’t have access to STRATNET’s biodata, but he knew soldiers had been taking cover in that rock formation. There was no way they could have survived that hit, but more importantly, there was now a gaping hole in their perimeter.

The tank’s gun swung toward the hauler as calls for fire rang out from other units in the area. Through all the chaos, Mitch kept his eye on the hauler. The back blast had slammed the truck to a halt, and whatever damage had been done clearly broke something important. It didn’t look like it was going to move again.

<That’s good. Last thing we want is some type of weapon…> his thought was yet again interrupted by a five meter, rush red war machine ripping its way out of the truck’s cargo bed.

Mitch felt his asshole immediately clench at the sight of the Windsor mech. Horrible memories of explosions, fire, and death flash through his mind before he could get a grip.

“Wait,” he sent to the tank commander.

“What the hell are you…” now it was Mitch’s turn to interrupt.

“We’re going to have indirect fire raining down on that whole convoy in a few seconds. Wait for the mech to get distracted before taking the shot. Believe me, you do not want that thing getting up and coming over here. We’re all fucked if it does.”

“I’ll turn that big statue into scrap metal,” the tanker replied confidently, “but its good strategy to hit the enemy when they least expect it, and where it hurts the most.”

Mitch knew that was all the reassurance he was going to get. “Team, make sure grenades are ready, because our little 1mm rounds aren’t even going to tickle that thing,” he sent to his fire team as he started pulling grenades from his armor and placing them on the ground within reach.

“Incoming,” the SGT sent just as Mitch was placing his last frag in the side of his foxhole.

He barely heard the whistle of incoming arty, but the mech’s sensors clearly did. The big machine swung around and its swatter armament went to work picking off the incoming shells.

<Now…now…now…!> Mitch screamed until he heard the retort from the tank’s main gun. He was close enough it felt like someone had stuck his head next to a gong and pounded away. His helmet’s audio filters didn’t do shit.

“Hit,” the tank commander stated proudly as the graviton round smashed into the enemy formation.

It must have been a hit because several of the follow-up arty rounds smashed into the Windsor convoy, engulfing it in fire and death. Despite the hit, Mitch couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief while dust and debris obscured the area. He kept his eye to his scope and watched for concrete confirmation the threat had been eliminated.

“Next time, Corporal, make sure you…” the tank commander’s words cut off as the sun hit the glint of metal among the dust.

The mech had pulled itself to its feet and was angled toward their position. If faceless machines had emotions, this one radiated anger.

“Aw shit,” Mitch managed to get out before the mech charged.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“We’ve got to almost be…” Eve led the way around a corner, just as another group appeared about twenty meters away.

“Wait up, we need to…” Coop rushed after her, and thank god he took a few extra steps. That put him in the positon of being slightly ahead of her. By the time he realized what the other group was, they’d already leveled their weapons at them.

Instinctually, he threw himself in front of Eve as they opened fire. Rounds cut through the air all around them, but most smacked into his shield.

“For fuck’s sake, Eve. Next time wait!” he yelled as his shield started to dip from the pounding. Whoever these guys were, they were holding down the trigger.

“Contact!” Coop finally sent out over TACCOM, like Sullivan and the GYSGT didn’t know that already. “Moving back to cover!” he inched backward slowly to ensure he kept his bulk and shield between the rounds and Eve.

<Not exactly how I imagined us pressing our bodies together,> he thought to himself. He knew better to voice it out loud when the bullets were flying.

Sullivan had stepped out into the hallway and was taking the group under fire, while the GYSGT took pot shots with the wall as cover.

“They’ve got shields!” Both yelled as their rounds were stopped dead by sizzling, blue energy.

Coop thought quick and ejected a smoke shell from his back. He tossed it half the distance between the two groups before its program kicked in and it detonated with a bang. The explosion was small compared to any of the other shells the V4 carried, but in an enclosed space it sounded like he’d set off a nuke.

{What the fuck, Cooper!} The GYSGT screamed at him over the IOR. He’d probably blown out her eardrums, but that didn’t stop her. {Berg, you and numb nuts fix them in position. Sullivan and I will move around their flank and we’ll hit them from both sides and capture whatever HVT they’re protecting.} She didn’t wait for an acknowledgement before sprinting across the opening.

With Eve safely behind cover, Coop brought his Buss to bear and sprayed 3mm plasma-tipped rounds at the enemy. They cut through the smoke to give a little bit of visibility before it refilled the void.

{I can’t see what the fuck I’m shooting at,} she complained after a minute of shooting blindly into the fog.

{Sure. Saving your life is a mere inconvenience compared to seeing what you’re shooting at.} Coop snapped back.

She ignored him as they kept up their fire to fix the enemy in position. Finally, they heard more firing coming for a different direction. Cunningham and Sullivan had finally gotten into position and were forcing the enemy into a literal corner. So, of course that was when the palace air scrubbers kicked in and sucked up all the smoke between them and the people shooting at them.

There were only a handful. All had thrown themselves between the incoming fire and a woman crouched behind them.

{That’s her,} Eve’s words lost all emotion as she saw the scene before her. {She’s the one.}

{One what?} Coop concentrated his fire and tried to drill a hole through their shields. It didn’t work. {The one we’re trying to kill, because that’s pretty fucking obvious.}

{No!} She reached up and smacked him on the metal shoulder, which made her wince. {That’s the bitch in charge of all this. She’s the one who tortured us!}

{In my experience, the big dogs don’t get their hands dirty.} Coop kept up his firing, but it was going nowhere.

{I’m telling you. She was dressed as a sergeant when she was interrogating me. Whenever she came into the room with the guy who was actually fileting me, he deferred to her. He tried to act like he didn’t, but he did. I’ve been around my mother enough to know when someone is trying to pretend.}

He wasn’t sure what she meant, but he knew her mom was some super spook, so that would have to do.

{I get it, she’s an HVT, but that doesn’t change our circumstances. They’ve still got a shield between them and us. What’s your plan smarty pants?}

Eve only paused for a second. {Throw me.}

{Did they drill into your fucking head or something?} Coop switched barrels on his Buss and tried firing an energy blast into the shield. It didn’t do much more than his bullets had.

{No, you asshole. You shoot your load of grenades at that thing, cover their line of sight in explosions, and then chuck my ass through the shield. No one in there had full armor so they need the shield to be porous to breathe for more than a few minutes.} She reached across Coop’s armor and removed a pair of knives he liked to keep on him. They wouldn’t do shit fighting against a mech, but the nano-blades would make short work of ordinary soldiers.

{Toss me in there and I’ll cut her fucking tits off.} Something glinted in her eyes that made Coop more scared than he usually was of her.

{No way,} Coop shook his head.

{Coop!} She screamed in his head so loud it made him wince. {Do not take this from me!} He looked back at her as saw tears in her eyes. {I will marry you, have your children, and have a three-way with the Gunney if you stop being a stubborn ass and throw me into that shield so I can kill that bitch!}

He knew she wasn’t serious, but that fact that she’d even suggested it showed how serious she was. They’d only rescued her and the other SRRT members ten minutes ago, and since then, she’d been a trooper, so he didn’t stop to think about the real damage her capture had caused.

The Windsor’s had messed her up. They’d tortured her, and god only knew what else. Eve Berg was a warrior who’d been violated. Maybe not sexually, but she’d been physically and emotionally tormented by her captors. She needed this for her sanity even if it meant she didn’t make it out. More importantly, he knew she’d never forgive him if he didn’t do this for her. It would always be a betrayal in her eyes.

Oddly, Coop had an inkling of where she was coming from. If someone did that to him, he’d stop at nothing until he had that person’s balls in his gauntlets. He sure as shit would enlist Eve’s help to do it, and he’d expect her to have his back.

<She’d do it for me.> The realization showed him just how tight their relationship was. They were at the point where they trusted to help with each other’s personal vengeance. That was a sign of a hardcore relationship, but failure to help would lead to unquestionable resentment.

{Fine,} he quickly relayed the plan to the GYSGT and Sullivan before blocking out their comms so he didn’t have to hear their orders for him to stop. {Just…don’t die.} It was all he could think to say to Eve, and it would have to do.

He switched to his grenade barrel and set it to rapid fire. His weapon thumped repeatedly as the rounds flew toward the enemy. They smashed into the shield and detonated with a flash of fire that engulfed the dome of energy. When his last grenade left the barrel he slung the weapon onto his back, maglocked it with a thought from his IOR, and grabbed Eve. She grunted in discomfort, because to make the twenty meter throw without snapping a wrist or ankle, he had to grab her by the crotch and armpit.

<Again…not what I had in mind for our reunion,> he could only laugh about the situation to keep his mind off the fact that he was about to throw the woman he loved to her near-certain death.

He did a rotation like a discus thrower and tossed her with all his significant might.

{Please don’t fucking die.} He uttered a short prayer as he bent to pick up his weapon and see what happened.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 263

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Missile launch! Two-Zero bogies at negative two-four-five degrees, ninety-thousand kilometers and closing!” The assistant tactical officer’s fingers flew across his personal holo-tank.

One of the many upgrades to the Aggie, and other ships in Task Force 5.1 was that the information integration was next generation. Instead of pounding away at stations or PADS, each officer on the bridge was immersed in their own semi-transparent bubble of data. It allowed them to fight the ship, steer it, communicate, conduct EW ops, or whatever else their job required while still having visibility on the rest of the bridge. In case of an outage due to catastrophic damage, they also had a manual PAD hardwired into the ship, but it was much more effective in the immersive holo-tank.

“Shit,” ADM Ward cursed as he cycled through views and data. “These fucking stealth pods are killing us.”

‘Kill’ was a bit of a strong word, but death by a thousand cuts was just as dead as death by beheading. One just happened a lot quicker. It was common defensive doctrine to seed missile pods along avenues of likely approach into a system. The Windsor’s had done this, but their tech was next level and causing a headache for the Commonwealth tactical officers. Thankfully, the Commonwealth had launch the attack quick enough that the system couldn’t be saturated with them, or maybe the Windsor’s didn’t have many of them. Either way it didn’t matter. He just needed to find a way through the minefield.

They’d been taking these random, close-range missile launches on the nose for the last hour, and it had forced them to adapt their formation. Instead of the assault carrier and battleships being at the center of the formation, they were now in front. For the other carrier groups, with only a few gluon powered ships in the formation, the carriers themselves were taking point in total disregard of centuries of naval strategy. Just seeing the ships, with fifteen thousand souls on board, driving headfirst into enemy missile fire was enough to give any ADM an ulcer. Carrier Group Alpha was lucky, and Aggie was driving behind the two battleships and providing a second layer of point defense for the more vulnerable, smaller classes bringing up the rear. Still, it was warfare turned on its head for any seasoned officer.

At ninety thousand kilometers, the missiles launch took almost no time to reach the lead battleship. He was keeping a close eye on the power readings as the twenty missiles barreled down on the behemoth.

<Correction…nineteen.> One of the missiles seemed to have malfunctioned and fallen behind.

The nineteen missiles blazed in and the battleship engaged. Only a handful of countermissiles were in a position to fire and reach their target in the short lifespan of the engagement. The rest were handled by the point defense lasers and railguns, and enhanced EW. Although, they were saving the EW capabilities until they really needed it.

The point defense lasers cycled faster and were more powerful thanks to the ship’s new power source. They lanced out at the speed of light and obliterated the missiles, or at the very least, boiling their sophisticated silicone brains so they became useless hunks. The latter detonated prematurely and fired their bomb-pumped ordinance into empty space. Only one missile made it close enough to actually threaten the battleship, but the hypersonic railgun rounds put a wall of duro-steel in the things incoming path and it disintegrated before detonating.

<That should have detonated sooner.> Ward had his Command AI run the calculations, and he was correct. The optimum attack profile should have detonated the missiles 1.32 seconds earlier.

All around him the bridge was clapping and sighing with relief. It was starting to grate on all their nerves whenever the enemy suddenly popped up and took pot-shots at them. Even an assault carrier could suffer from one lucky hit.

“Eyes front! Look sharp!” he barked from his position at the center of everything.

Three seconds later, his snap was completely warranted.

“Missile launch! One-two-zero bogies at one-eight-zero degrees, one-six-three thousand kilometers and closing.

<Son of a bitch!> ward snarled as the enemy successfully launch an up-the-shirt volley. It was about to take his carrier group directly up the ass. Even worse, the more vulnerable, smaller ships were its target.

“EW protocol Alpha-One-Zero,” he decided to stop holding his cards back. “All vessels below battleship class need to increase speed and try to draw parallel with us. We’ll fall back along with Monty and try to cover them.”

The battleship Bernard Montgomery, or Monty for short was already cutting speed to try and take the brunt of the missiles’ attack. Aggie would follow suit, but it was the battleship’s job to take the hits. He had ten thousand marines to get to the surface.

It was going to be nearly a full minute until those missiles reached his carrier group. Either he’d be in position or he wouldn’t. It was a smart trap by the Windsor’s and he’d walked right into it. He needed to trust his crews to pull through and fight the battle. Despite being a long way from his time as a tactical officer, or manning a missile tube or energy weapon, he still felt the pull to be more involved, but that was just a recipe for disaster. The ADM couldn’t micromanage. That would just get everyone killed.

“Bring up the Windsor’s fleet movements,” he subvocalized. He AI automatically switched from the incoming batch of missiles and focused on the real threat.

The task forces combined AIs had been crunching the numbers on the enemy disposition since entering the system. Coupled with the data received from the spy ship, they had a pretty good idea what they were about to go up against. The Windsor’s had forty-one ships in Harper’s Junction. They were forming up a couple million kilometers from the planet and hadn’t committed to any action yet, but their time for planning was running out. Of the forty-one ships, eleven were battlecruisers, with the remainder being cruisers and destroyers, with more of the latter. On paper, the Commonwealth should be able to wipe their ass with this puny force, but Ward knew better. Their ships were bigger, stronger, and better-equipped than their commonwealth counterparts…or at least they used to be. He’d watched holos of one of their battlecruisers fighting three Commonwealth battleships to a standstill in Queensland.

<That’s not going to be the case this time,> he knew, but it still filled him with the familiar dread of losing his sailors to achieve the mission. He didn’t let anyone see that as he watched the enemy gathering their forces.

He barely felt the rumble of the incoming missile salvo finally reach him, which was a good thing. Damage reports filled the side of his holo and he focused on those.

They’d done a good job of getting in position, but good wasn’t perfect. One of his cruisers hadn’t been fast enough and had been nearly crippled. They were down to twenty percent of their normal speed, and quickly falling out of formation. Some other ships had minor damage, but they would be able to conduct repairs and press into the fight.

“Have a destroyer fall back as an escort, and they can start to make their way toward Bravo’s position,” he ordered. The AI took that and calculated the escort that would have the easiest time completing the mission while not taking too much away from the carrier groups overall strength. It took less than a second before the orders were signed, sealed, and delivered over TACCOM to the appropriate destroyer captain. The ship broke off to swing back around toward the cruiser, which the carrier group continued forward.

“Have we had any luck cracking that stealth?” he asked his bridge crew.

No matter what the holo movie’s said, perfect stealth was impossible. Things like missile pods needed energy for launch and fire control. Those telemetry links took power, and if the pod was advanced enough to maneuver, it needed even more. Space was big, which helped, but it was virtually impossible to get rid of all emission signatures. They just needed to look close enough, and in the right place, to find it.

They took two more launches into their faces before they had enough data to make some educated guesses, and even then, the new algorithms the AI was using were spotty and had them jumping at shadows. Luckily, an energy blast didn’t cost much, and if it was a potential, big cluster of pods, they could spare a missile for a more precise hit.

“Enemy movement!” Ward pulled his head out of the last sensor sweep for pods and switched his displays.

<Finally.> They were still sixty million kilometers out from the planet, fifty-six from the enemy, and forty-eight from effective missiles range, but that distance was going to close fast now that the dance was in motion.

He watched for a full minute in silence as the Windsor’s formation started to move and separate. By then, he could tell what they were up to.

“Get me the commanders on the QE,” he ordered, and a few seconds later the AI had the FTL comms with the other carrier group commanders scattered across the system. The new system was dubbed, simply, QETACCOM, and it was still in the testing stages. Of course, some civilian engineer thought an engagement was a great testing ground.

“Gentlemen,” the three RADMS nodded back to him. The commander of Bravo looked a little sheepish, and he should be after that dismal arrival, but Ward had more pressing issues than chewing his ass. “It looks like they’re coming out to play. As you can see, they’ve split their forces in two. One is heading to Alpha, and the other to Delta.” Alpha and Delta had the two fastest approaches, so it made sense to target them first. “Charlie, you’re going to increase to flank speed and get your marines on that planet. Hold the orbitals for as long as you can and provide fire support for the landing. If you can’t hold, you can’t hold, but make sure your marines are ready for orbital retaliation. I’m sure the Windsor’s will leave a surprise or two on the dark side, so keep your eyes open.”

The RADM nodded and cut the link. He had a landing to manage.

“Bravo, you’re going to get your shit together and reinforce us.” Ward studied the holo-tank for another second to see what the AI’s had determined.

That was the great thing about these new AI’s, they gave much more detailed probabilities. With all the info in their databanks they were looking for whatever Ward had programmed them to look for, and things he hadn’t asked for, but became relevant as the situation changed. It looked like the AIs had determined that six of the eleven battlecruisers were on route to engage Delta and five of the six had a high probability of being state-of-the-art builds. That made sense. Delta only had an assault carrier, one battleship, and one battlecruiser that were upgraded. That was way too fair of a fight for Ward to accept. The Windsor’s own AI’s must have spotted the force discrepancy and targeted the more vulnerable formation. The remaining four battlecruisers, and significant portion of the smaller ships, of which five cruisers were high-probability new builds, were headed for Aggie. If he had to guess, they were meant to be a harassing force to slow him down, and limit his planetary invasion options while Delta was eliminated, and then the surviving Windsor’s would hit his engaged ships from the flank.

Thankfully, Bravo’s transition had sucked. He would never tell the RADM his, but it might have turned out to be a good thing.

“Reinforce Delta, and move your ass. Ward out.” He cut the line and let his people get to work. Delta was going to take a beating, but the RADM in charge was already cutting speed and slightly altering course to lengthen the time before an engagement. He couldn’t do too much, or he wouldn’t be a threat and the Windsor’s would change tactics, but the more time Bravo had to arrive the better.

All of the tactics and strategy involved filled his mind as he prepared for his carrier, three battleships and one battlecruiser to go up against nine, smaller, upgraded Windsor ships, but he kept an eye open and watching Charlie. They were unhindered as they quickly advanced on Harper’s Junction. Their battle would be on the ground, something Ward didn’t envy. He was a spacer and not a ground pounder for a reason.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 253

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<Relax.> Coop tried to focus his mind on the task at hand.

It was hard to concentrate when he was surrounded by shit.

Literally, him and a squad of rebellion soldiers were stuffed into the back of a truck hauling shit to a fertilizer plant…or at least that was the cover story if they ran across any checkpoints before their target. It was also the beauty of the disguise, because who is going to look closely at a truck full of shit.

<Don’t breathe,> he told himself. Despite all his enhanced body could do, he couldn’t survive without oxygen.

After a few minutes of holding it, he screwed up his face and inhaled. He was wearing a mask, one identical to what he’d worn back in the PHA a lifetime ago, so he knew how well it would work. It blocked out some of the noxious fumes, but he could still taste the shit as the air worked its way down into his lungs.

He fought down a gag and studied the men and women around him. He didn’t like what he saw. <They’re so small,> was his dominant thought. He took for granted he was used to working with professionals. HI troopers and the SRRT were beasts of the human race, usually standing at least two and a quarter meters tall, and built like tanks. Since he’d actually seen a tank in action, he knew the analogy was appropriate.

The tallest man in his ramshackle unit was a hundred and seventy centimeters and couldn’t be more than eighty-five kilos soaking wet. At least they all had on Dragonscale armor, even if it wasn’t sized properly and looked awkward on them. Better awkward than dead.

Coop felt just as awkward sitting in the back with them. His V4 LACS was deadlined until an armorer could get in and make some repairs. Since SSG Hightower was the team’s certified armorer, Coop was shit out of luck. Instead, he was in a standard set of Dragonscale.

Up until this point, he’d liked it when women wore short shirts that showed off their toned abs, hips, and maybe a little side boob, but now, he wondered why they didn’t feel completely naked. The armor barely went to his own belly button, which left his intestines, and other critical organs, vulnerable to enemy fire. The GYSGT had jerry-rigged a fanypack-looking contraption over his gut and filled it with the ballistic plates that were tucked into the compartments of his CMUs for protection. The only problem was, the plates they had weren’t meant for someone his size, so despite being the biggest, strongest, and most experienced person in the impromptu-squad, he was the least protected.

That was a whole new feeling for him. He hadn’t felt this vulnerable since Basic.

He pulled on his flexible neck gator to alleviate some of the built-up heat. He’d been smart not to seal his armor just yet. If he did, he’d seal in the stench as well.

“Two minutes, passing phase line alpha” the GYSGT’s voice echoed over the team’s comms.

“You heard her. Let’s lock and load,” Coop pulled up his new Buss and ran a quick diagnostic. The weapon was a model older than what he’d lost in the Windsor ambush, and didn’t have all the features he was used to working with.

<Stop complaining,> he admonished himself. <It has a decent targeting suite and still shoots, that’s good enough for this mission.> His HUD beeped green, but he kept the weapon on safe until they were good to go.

One by one the members of the squad gave him a thumbs up. They were all armed with M3s, which was better than the crap they’d had before. When everyone was green, he radioed their readiness to the GYSGT. She was in charge of the overall operation. Coop was just in charge of one of the moving parts.

“Let’s go over this one last time,” he ordered as the truck hit a bump and everyone was jostled around.

“We’re been over this a hundred times before,” the person next to him whined like a little girl.

For the life of him, Coop didn’t understand why the GYSGT had put Masha Kulikov on his team. The skinny man belonged on a university campus somewhere with a holo-sign protesting something or other. He didn’t belong on a battlefield. Coop knew that the second the other man didn’t properly handle his weapon.

<The farmer’s daughter even knew how to do that.> He’d rolled his eyes at the time.

Masha was a man of words not action, and getting him involved with action was likely to get him killed. Since he was one of the rebellion’s leaders, he felt it was his duty to act, so it became Coop’s duty to keep his ass alive. That was a tall order with what their part of the operation entailed.

All across the sector multiple operations were going to hit the enemy simultaneously. They would by no means cripple the Windsor’s ability to wage war on the planet, but it wasn’t meant to. It was meant to be a message that the planet’s populace wasn’t going to sit down and take this unlawful occupation and annexation. It was also meant to test their response. The rebellion had people in position to watch and see how the Windsor’s reacted. Their reaction would prove valuable intel in planning the next attack, and the one after that. Eventually, when the Commonwealth fleet arrived, the GYSGT and rebel leaders hoped to have enough intel to cripple vital aspects of the Windsor’s defense so the infantry could come in and liberate the planet.

<Or at least that’s the plan,> Coop thought everyone was getting a little ahead of themselves. They needed to live through the next five minutes first.

“Passing phase line Bravo. We’re all clear,” the driver of the shit truck announced as the truck started to round a corner.

“Go!” Coop hit the button.

Micro-explosions busted open the back of the truck. Semi-solid shit slopped out onto the roadway along with the members of his strike team. The truck kept going for a few more meters as the driver engaged the auto-drive and bailed out.

On the other side of the turn, about twenty-five meters further was a roadblock manned by Windsor soldiers. It was one of four that barred anyone unauthorized from getting to one of the main powerplants that provided energy to a nearby city. It wasn’t the capitol, that would be too bold for their first joint operation, but it was an ambitious target nonetheless.

Coop could imagine what was happening as the driverless truck completed the turn and picked up speed. It couldn’t pick up a lot of momentum in twenty-five meters, but every kilometer per hour counted. It took a few seconds before the soldiers realized the truck wasn’t stopping and they opened fire on the hostile vehicle. Unfortunately, there was only so much they could do against sheer mass and momentum.

There were only a handful of cracks before a monstrous boom shook the ground Coop was busy rising off of. In addition to fresh shit, the truck was packed with explosives.

“Let’s move!” Coop was the first up and charging around the corner. Twenty-five meters wasn’t much, and before the enemy had even recovered from the shock of the explosion, he was among them.

The acrid smell of the explosion mixed with the smell of burnt shit permeated everything. To make matters worse, smoldering shit was everywhere. It might seem random, but there was a method to the madness. The shit had been flying so fast, anything shielded would have stopped the flying poopoo in midair. As Coop vaulted a cracked and crumbling barrier, he knew right away who was shielded and who wasn’t. An even better plus was that those who were shielded, and therefore the deadliest to deal with, had to spend precious second trying to scrape off the crap impeding their view.

If Coop was in their position, he would have turned up the shield’s power and frequency so it blocked out everything, even air at a fart’s speed from getting through. Unfortunately for these poor bastards, but fortunately for Coop, he was better trained then they were.

A scan of the area showed Coop that only one soldier, probably the commander, and the heavy weapon on top of a lightly armored vehicle were shielded, so he quickly lobbed two grenades through the weakened barrier and aimed his Buss at the nearest enemy. The guy was on his knees, struggling to get back to his feet when Coop sprayed him with plasma-tipped rounds.

His armor held surprisingly well before the explosive plasma ate through his vulnerable neck area and the man died with a screamed gurgle. By then, Coop was already moving for cover while the rest of the rebels engaged the other soldiers.

That was when his timed grenades went off. The heavy weapon had only fired a short burst when it was engulfed in flames. The metal of the barrel warped under the explosive pressure as the man behind it was pulverized and nearly pureed by the rebounding pressure of the explosion ricocheting off the shields.

The commander was probably midway through calling for backup when his grenade exploded and tossed him aside. Looking at him, Coop wasn’t sure if he was dead, but if he wasn’t, he was hurting bad. Either way, he was down for the count, and Coop turned his attention to the remaining Windsor’s.

They only had a fire team guarding the checkpoint, and without their shielded commander and heavy weapon, they were quickly overwhelmed by the rebels. They might have held their own longer if Coop wasn’t hitting them from within their lines with his powerful Buss. Within forty-five seconds of the initial explosion it was all over.

“Sit-rep!” He yelled as he started his after-action mission. He needed to grab any intel and weapons he could get his hands on.

He instantly went to the lightly-armored vehicle. It was open, but bio locked. He jumped in the open-bed back and grabbed one of the gunner’s dismembered hands. He put it on the control panel and everything turned green.

<Well isn’t this my lucky day.> It had been a long time since he’d committed grand theft auto.

The follow up vehicle with back up rebels appeared around the curb and stopped story of the ruined barricade. Another squad jumped out and started grabbing things as well. Medics also headed to help their wounded friends. The short burst the heavy weapon had fired off had killed and mangled some rebels.

Coop started up the vehicle and it lurched off the ground. It wasn’t smooth, his grenade had fucked something up, but an armored vehicle was an armored vehicle, and one with anti-grav to boot. The rebels desperately needed one.

“Put the wounded in the back,” he ordered as the medics started helping the injured to their feet. “Ten seconds and we’re out of here.”

These things had to be done quickly. It wouldn’t take long for orbital support to be brought into the equation, and that just meant death for anyone caught in the open.

There was a lot of clattering as people, weapons, and tech as the vehicle was loaded up. It was a little more than ten seconds, but when the sensor indicating the back was closed blinked green, he hit the accelerator. There was a hidden tunnel about five kilometers away that he hoped was big enough to fit the vehicle.

<Now all we need to do was get there.> Coop was not a man of prayer, but he thought this was as good a time to try as any. <The friend or foe indicator is still good, so that might buy us a minute.> He thought as he sped down the highway.

Who knew, if there was a creator, he’d probably just see a bright light and meet him face to face.

Previous

Two Worlds – Chapter 245

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Argo, United Commonwealth of Colonies

{On your right!}

Coop’s breath was ragged as he finished off one opponent. He was lightly armed in something similar to Dragonscales. It would have been simple enough to put a few plasma-tipped rounds from his Buss into the guy, but the shields made that a non-starter.

<Fucking shields!> Coop was still pissed as he rotated as fast as he could. He had only enough time to see a wall of red, set his feet, and bring his arm up before it felt like Atlas dropped the world on his shoulders. <Son of a …>

Even in the newly improved LACS V4A, the biggest individual war machine in the Commonwealth’s arsenal, the Windsor’s mech still towered over him by a few meters. With the disparaging mass difference, Coop was just glad his arm didn’t snap and allow the mech to cleave him in two. He still had to put all his augmented strength behind the block, and if the angle was worse, the mech would have easily overpowered him.

The ground still cracked around him from the force of the blow. Pain radiated through his shoulders, down his spine, and into his knees. Coop knew he needed to move fast, so he reacted based on training. He used the mech’s height and mass to his advantage. He twisted, which caused a painful pop in his back, but it allowed the mech’s giant nano-blade to slide off his own sword and into the ground. Using his core Coop spun and chopped at the mech’s midsection. His blade sang through the air, but came to an abrupt stop a few centimeters from the mech’s rust-colored armor.

“Fucking shields!” Coop repeated as he pushed against the flashing blue barrier. The shield gave under the pressure, but not enough to pierce the armor.

Thankfully, the tech wizards at Gold Technologies had studied the recordings they had from New Lancashire, and the recent offensive mounted by the Windsor’s, and they’d come up with a counter. Coop activated that counter through his IOR a second after his nano-blade made contact with the shield.

The developers called it the chainsaw feature. Coop didn’t get it, and when they explained how the devices were used to cut down trees centuries ago, Coop still didn’t get it. He hadn’t seen a tree for the first time in nearly two decades, and he didn’t see the point of a cutting instrument when you could just fire a clear laser-burst and cut it at the base more efficiently. His comments sufficiently rained on the engineers’ parade, but they eventually explained the gist of it to him, and he got to see it himself while testing his new V4.

Through some mechanical process utilizing the power of the LACS’ miniature gluon power plant, and some grav-tech, the molecularly-honed edge of the nano-blade had been configured to spin. The high-speed rotation created the sawing motion that sought to disrupt the integrity of the enemy shields. It was a pretty sweet technique, and he had quickly fallen in love with it.

A slight whirring noise filled the air as Coop activated chainsaw mode through his IOR. The mech’s shield sparked brighter and there was infrequent resistance as Coop applied pressure. The shield still held for about three seconds, before the new and improved nano-blade made it through. Of course, the mech didn’t just lie down and take it up the ass while Coop was trying to fuck up its day. Coop’s blade had barely eaten a centimeter into the mech’s armor when the behemoth swatted at Coop like he was an irritating fly. Since Coop was holding the blade with both hands to maximize the power he put into the chop, all he could do was duck his head and raise his shoulder to avoid his skull taking the brunt of the blow.

It worked, but it felt like God bitch-slapped him. He lost the blade, which was still wedged into the mech’s armor, but he was able to execute a combat roll and look somewhat graceful. In doing so, his mind whirled with possibilities. He liked to think he was quick on his feet, and this time, he had a plan just as he got his feet back under him.

<The IOR might be a pain in the ass while walking down the street, but it’s good for at least two things: porn and quick decision making.> Since the IOR basically recorded everything you ever did, unless you subverted the settings, Coop had a wonderful first-person recording of his trip to pound town with Eve. Since they were on opposite teams, opposite shifts, and opposite anything else the SGM could think of, it had kept him sane for the last few days.

At the moment, it was the quick decision making aspect that he was referencing. Using the IOR, Coop toggled to his weapons system, activated his spine-mounted 250mm cannon, and had a round chambered when he came out of the roll. He braced himself upon completion, which made him look like a kneeing man offering up his neck to the mech’s sword, but what it really did was angle the cannon right on target. Through the LACS sensors interfacing with the IOR, Coop didn’t have to look where the face of his suit was directed. He could have been aiming out the ass section if he needed to.

The mech had wheeled on Coop, and wasn’t bothering to take Coop’s blade out of its side. It knew the real threat was Coop, with him out of the picture, the mech could take the blade back to its armory and learn the secrets of the chainsaw function.

<Maybe another time.> Coop sent the command to fire, and the HE round shot from his cannon. At the same time, he activated his ES shielding. The nanites of his armor fused on a molecular level just as the HE round impacted the mech. Due to Coop’s position, and the height difference, an inferno erupted right around the mech’s crotch area.

“Endex!” the voice of God announced.

The dusty plain Coop had been fighting in dissolved around him to reveal a black VR station. Coop took a deep breath and squeezed his fists tight together. He’d just gone from mortal combat with a Windsor’s mech to sitting alone in a quiet space. The VR crash was unavoidable, but he had found ways to cope over the year since he’d been in the infantry.

He flexed and opened his fist a few times before shaking his whole body like a wet dog. Once his breathing was back under control he got up and exited the cube. There were two in Argo’s grunt country, and the SGM had battle buddy teams rotating through them to test their new LACS features since they couldn’t do it in the real world.

“Cooper!” GYSGT Cunningham’s voice cut through the adrenaline that was slowly fading from his veins. “What the fuck was that?”

“I was staying alive, Gunney,” Coop replied a little harsher than he should have to his team leader.

“The exercise parameters stipulated you were only to use your new nano-blades.” The Gunney crossed her arms under her impressive chest and glared at him. “We want to get a good baseline on where you are with your swordsmanship, where you need improvement, and the new weapon’s effectiveness against the enemy.

Coop thought the last one was a stretch since they were doing it in VR, but he knew they were loaded with the latest and greatest data the Commonwealth had on Windsor tech. What he’d just been through was the closest he was going to get to a mech without facing off against an actual one again.

<I’ll pass.> He had no intention of doing that again if he could help it.

“I can help you with that,” Coop continued. “The chainsaw feature is good, but unless three other team members are holding the guy down, we’re not going to have time to saw through his shield and armor. It’s a good try by the Gold tech weenies, and it’ll fuck up the Windsor’s regular troops, but the mechs are still going to be a tough nut to crack.”

The Gunney scowled back at him, but her eyes unfocused for a minute before she sighed in defeat. “I’ll give you your formal review later. You have bridge guard duty in ten minutes. Get suited up and hit the armory.”

Coop didn’t need to be told twice. It would have been nice to get a shower, and not stink up the place, but there wasn’t any time. He walked the short distance to the armory where SSG Hightower was on duty. He signed out an oversized Dragonscale vest to him, and then an M3. The guard duty was largely a traditional, ceremonial deal. If shit really went down, the rest of the SRRT team would have time to suit up with their specialty gear before the enemy arrived.

“Ma’am,” he passed the LT in the corridor and greeted her with a salute. It was the first time he’d seen her today, so he’d just give her respectful nods from here forward.

“Good morning, Sergeant.” It was only a little after 0900 shipboard time. Coop had been up since 0400, but the officers didn’t keep to the same schedule. If anything, the LT looked like she hadn’t slept yet.

The SRRT’s new mission, since dropping off the diplomats at Thurgood Station, was a recon of an enemy occupied system. Harper’s Junction was one of the systems taken in the Windsor’s latest offensive move, and it was the SRRT’s job to go get up-to-date intel on ship disposition as well as troops on the ground, and civilian resistance efforts before the Commonwealth Fleet showed up and fought to retake commonwealth soil. There was no word on when the counterattack would come, but Coop hoped the warring politicians in the midst of election season could put their differences aside and come at a mutual enemy as a unified force.

<Might as well wish for a blowie from the Gunney.> Coop thought he had a better chance at that, despite the GYSGT batting for the other team, than politicians getting along.

He reached his post next to the bridge hatch and settled in for the next few hours. He slung the weapon across his chest, muzzle down, and made sure a round was loaded but the weapon was on safe. He did the same for the sidearm on his leg holster. Both were good to go.

That left Coop alone with nothing but his thoughts. The bridge was pretty quiet. Argo was taking a roundabout route to where they would portal out of the system and to Harper’s Junction. They’d portal into a nearby system and then jump with their Alcubierre Drive into Harper’s Junction because there was no QE signal to lock on to. Gold Technologies had sent one of their buoys, but they’d received a self-destruct message before losing the signal two days ago. That added days to their timetable, but it didn’t affect their mission much.

Once they arrived at the edge of the enemy-held system, they’d spend a while coasting in ballistic at maximum stealth. They knew the Windsor’s ship had state of the art tech, but with Argo’s own upgrades, and the extra precautions, LCDR Gold thought they’d be able to pull it off. Once they were close, the SRRT would beam down to the planet and link up with the local resistance. They’d gather intel from the ground while Argo did the same for the space surrounding the planet.

This was the part Coop didn’t like. It was the LT and LCDR’s call if the SRRT team came back to Argo or stayed on planet and worked with the resistance until the fleet showed up. Coop didn’t want to be on an enemy-held world one second longer than he had to. It didn’t matter how fancy his gear. He’d read up on Harper’s Junction once he learned that was where they were going. The population wasn’t overly fond of Commonwealth governance before they got annexed, and he sensed they wouldn’t be fans now.

He just shook his head at no one in particular in Argo’s empty corridor. <Well I might as well have a little fun,> he thought as he pulled up his IOR, subverted some of the settings with the code he’d been working on for a while, and pulled up some recordings of him and Eve from memory. To anyone checking in on him, it would look like he was religiously scanning the corridor for hostiles. When in actuality he was watching Eve’s tits bouncing beneath him as they made ferocious love to one another.

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PCS to Eden – D is for Defense

Ava grunted as she kept the gateway between Charlotte and Lower Manhattan open. She could feel her power draining fast from her Hand as her two companies of guardians quickly marched through the eighteen-wheeler sized hole in space-time she’d created. Once the last man was through, Ava stepped through the gateway and released the hold she had on it. There was a loud SNAP as reality sought to correct itself, and when she looked back behind her all she saw was traffic. The traffic was backed up as far as she could see.

Ava heard a few people screaming, but that was normal when two hundred armored angels suddenly appeared. The gateway had also done some damage. The abandoned cars spanning several lanes of traffic had been neatly cleaved in two by the energy from the gateway. If they had been occupied the humans would have been split and cauterized into two well-preserved halves, but the owners of those cars were long gone. The human’s primal instincts were kicking in, and they were running away from danger.

The gateway had landed well back from where the bridge met the water, but the bridge itself didn’t end there. It extended almost to city hall before off ramps let cars disembark, and there were multiple layers of overpasses to deal with. Tactically it was a nightmare. Ava couldn’t just order a defensive line on one street to help stop the Infernals, she was going to have to layer her defense, which meant spreading her already thin forces even farther apart.

“On me,” she yelled and flapped her wings to gain altitude. Her soldier followed her and the air filled with angels. She didn’t bother to use the energy to go insubstantial. There wasn’t any point anymore. Archangels were doing battle close by, so a flock of normal sized angels wasn’t too out of the ordinary.

All of that was about to change. Elevation gave Ava some perspective of the battlefield so she could make her decisions. “I want a defensive line on FDR Drive from the Manhattan Bridge down to the Staten Island Ferry.” Ava hung in the air and gave orders. “Give me one hundred meter spacing along the Drive. The bridges are going to be natural choke points, so I want layered defenses there. Use the abandoned vehicles to create natural barriers. Anything we can do to bottleneck and slow the enemy down is going to be advantageous. We need multiple fall back positions leading all the way back to Park Row, and we need to be prepared for spillage onto side streets  like South, Pearl, Gold and Madison if enemy elements get past our initial defensive positions. We need to get this place warded and warded yesterday.”

The guardians in command of squad-sized elements nodded and went about executing those orders. The formation of flying angels broke apart and individuals started to land along the prescribed lines. Their bodies swelled and grew until they’d transformed into their combat forms. An intimidating line of twenty-foot, armored soldiers grew out of the abandoned cars, which they began to push around like Hot Wheels.

Within minutes a makeshift wall of metal stood between the East River and FDR Drive. It wouldn’t stop anything, but it would slow the enemy down. With that task complete, the guardians went to work on their defensive circles. One by one, the guardians stuck the tip of their flaming swords into the cement and slowly drew a circle of fire around themselves. The soldiers’ eyes were clamped shut in concentrations as they chanted and drew wards in the air around themselves. Those wards solidified in the air around them, becoming just as substantial as the cars they’d built the wall with, and as more time passed more wards began to surround them.

Angels were some of the finest soldiers in existence, and a key part of their defensive doctrine was creating a circle of power they could draw from in the middle of a fight. The circle could either be fixed or movable, with each method trading strengths and weaknesses. Ava and her guardians had been unable to use their defensive circle techniques in either of the battle around Charlotte because they required time to establish. As a mainly reactive force, the Divine Host didn’t get to utilize one of their most potent techniques as often as its soldiers wished.

Ava watched her troops establish their circles as she grew into her own combat form. She stopped her growth as thirty feet, because anymore was just going to single her out as a target. She knew her true from was nearly tripple that. The power that came with being a Power was much more than she was used to as a Dominion, and she needed to use it responsibly.

The Hand was still recharging, but she knew something she could do to help. The guardians assigned to the Brooklyn Bridge didn’t have nearly as much to room to work with as the ones along FDR Drive. They were position two abreast from where the bridge met land all the way back to Pearl Street. It was a solid defensive tactic. When the two guardians exhausted their power or were in fear of being overwhelmed they would step back and two fresh soldiers would take their place. That meant there would always be fresh soldiers fighting against the Infernal’s bottlenecked force, and if the enemy abandoned pushing against the strong defense here, Ava could pull soldiers from the back of the formation as a rapid response force to reinforce other weaker areas.

Ava landed between the first line of guardians working on their defensive circles and the ten-foot-high wall of cars that had been piled up to block the bridge’s path into Manhattan. She extended the Hand out in front of her and said a few select words. The air shimmered in front of her and began to undulate like the water of the East River below them. With a grunt of exertion she pressed and the shimmering barrier expanded to five feet thick and to the height of the car-wall.

The Hand puttered out as she ran out of æther, but she was satisfied with her work. The two guardians first in line to meet the enemy grinned at each other when they saw the barrier. It was something beyond their skill and power, but it would allow them to deal the Infernals crippling blow after crippling blow if they continued to assault this position. Ava just wished she could have put the barrier along her entire defensive line.

“Enemy spotted, one thousand meters and closing!” Bart’s voice rang out from where he’d positioned himself on the top of a tall building just to the right of the bridge.

The wind shifted and the smell of rot, sulfur, and madness washed over Ava and the rest of the guardians. Unlike the soldiers of Seere they’d faced earlier, Beelzebub’s minions were twisted forms of humanity that had been driven over the edge long ago. They didn’t care about anything except the most animal of needs, and they were driven by half-crazed generals that knew defeat meant eons being pulled apart and reassembled by their Lord. That meant they were ruthless and without mercy.

Ava knew this was going to turn into a bloodbath as the bridge began to rumble beneath her feet as thousands of stampeding hooves, talons, paws, and feet charged towards her position. As much as she knew she shouldn’t be right here on the front lines she couldn’t help herself. She wanted to strike the first blow against the invading Infernals.

<For Maria,> she told herself as the flames of her sword licked against the asphalt making it bubble. She didn’t have a defensive circle established, but she didn’t need one.

Heavy footsteps drew her attention back to the wall of cars just before it exploded outward. Something powerful had hit them from the other side and just kept on going until it hit the barrier she’d established. The barrier didn’t stop anything dead in its tracks, but it wasn’t designed to do that. A full barrier took a lot of energy and tended to wear out quickly as it was pounded away on. If something powerful enough came along they could simply shatter it and leave something or someone completely defenseless. Ava didn’t want that, so she pulled on her knowledge, experience, and greater power to do one better.

The ten foot high by five foot thick barrier was a time-distortion field. Anything caught in the field slowed down to one-tenth of its normal speed, so that creature that had just charged through the car-wall had gone from a sprinting beast to a something crawling at somewhat slower than a walk. Ava gave the beast one quick once over to see where to deal the most damage. It had an armored hide, but it was natural armor, not Infernal Iron. Its legs looked thin and week, but it had a lot of them, like a centipede, to keep it up and moving.

Ava took one step forward and pivoted, torqueing her core in a swing that had more in common with a baseball swing than a sword fight. The creature was till moving at a crawl when Ava’s sword made contact. The hide held for half a heartbeat before it began to scorch and weaken under the flame. Then the blade pierced the flesh. Ava’s blade was not constrained by the same warped reality that she’d created in the field, so her sword finished passing through and killing the creature just as the blood splatter began to explode out of its side, and the force of her attack picked the thing up off its feet.

It wasn’t until it cleared the distortion field at the edge of the bridge that it practically exploded with gore out into the East River and down onto FDR Drive, but by then the next set of enemies had already entered the field and died as Ava reversed her swing and slashed back through the area. Infernals died by the half dozen with each swing of her sword. It was like shooting fish in a tea cup with a shotgun.

She only took a few swipes with her blade before she stepped back from the distortion field. Steam was hissing away as her blade’s fire burned off the gore from her vanquished enemies. The two guardians first in line looked eager to get in on the action and they began to chop, stab, and slice into the field as more enemies poured into it.

“On your right!” someone yelled before something hard smacked into Ava’s helmet.

She caught herself on the bridge and heard the scuttling of something sharp against her helmet. Her hand darted up, but grasped nothing but air. The scuttling continued as she tried to catch whatever was on her helmet, until finally there was a screeching noise followed by a loud bellow. Whatever was attacking her had tried to scratch through her Divine Steel helmet, and likely injured itself. Ava took advantage of the things pain, but this time she didn’t try to reach for it and grab it. Instead, she smacked herself hard in the side of the head. The clang of metal on metal rang in her ears for a second, but there was also a satisfying squish. She pulled her hand back and it came away with dripping, black, tar-like blood.

She didn’t get any time to celebrate.

“FDR Drive to your left!” Bart relayed coordinates where her guardians needed assistance.

Ava looked over the side of the bridge and saw the enemy streaming down away from her barrier. They’d quickly adapted to her tactics and were taking the route of least resistance right into her waiting guardians, but it was easily fifty-to-one odds, and Ava needed to plug the gaps.

Without hesitation, Ava went insubstantial and sunk down through the bridge, only to shift back into reality as she hit FDR Dive below. She saw the flaw as she looked up. For every Infernal advancing on top of the bridge there was one crawling along the metalwork below it. There were easily a hundred enemies already dropping off and landing to engage her guardians.

“Hold the line!” she yelled and cut down two Infernals that got to close to her flaming blade.

She was going to have to rethink the disposition of her soldiers, and was about to call out new orders when the ground rumbled beneath her feet. The whole island seemed to sway as the earthquake hit, but Ava knew Manhattan didn’t have earthquakes. She looked over her shoulder back in the direction of Central Park, but couldn’t see much over the buildings between her and where the Archangels were fighting the Infernal Lord.

The ground rumbled again, and Ava hoped Michael and Gabriel were winning, but she didn’t have time to wonder. More Infernals were pressing forward. She had her own work cut out for her here.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 214

Noah Grisham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Trust me,” Noah hissed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who were the two they popped?”

“Confirmed liberation movement members,” Hailey answered.

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

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

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

“The governor guy?” Able followed up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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