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.

Previous

Aftermath is out!

The exciting continuation of The Harbinger Tales Saga, Aftermath, is now available on amazon kindle! Get it for only $3.99 or for free on kindle unlimited. Read the synopsis below.

Once you finish, please take a moment to write a customer review. Every review helps promote the book, and I greatly appreciate them!

Enjoy!

GET IT HERE

Aftermath Cover

What’s next?

That’s what Sam Daily has been thinking for months. His wife, Elle, has been gone since their defeat of the Rogue Harbinger, Faultline, and he doesn’t know when she’s coming back. Stuck in a world he still doesn’t understand, with abilities he’s only begun to explore, Sam is forced to figure out how to live a normal life after the vicious battle that cost him more than he knows.

But no good deed goes unpunished. Unbeknownst to Sam, powerful people are stepping into the game, and they detest Sam and what he represents. Caught in the middle of their schemes, Sam must continue his fight to survive with new allies against cunning enemies.

Aftermath is the second book in The Harbinger Tales Saga.

PCS to Eden – Facts and Fiction

Gerry watched in awe at the aerial battle overhead. The things coming through the Rift in the sky were so high up they looked like birds, but people didn’t shoot missiles at birds. Contrails of fire shot upward to meet the aviary threat. He got a better look at the creatures hurtling through the Rift as they charged toward the missiles.

<They look like people with wings.> Something tugged at his memory, but rolling explosions sufficiently distracted him.

“Holy shit,” Vicky mumbled as they watched the fireworks display in the sky.

Some of the men with wings had gathered together. <Flying phalanx.> He gave the formation a name, and felt the tug of memory again.

Multiple missiles hit them and broke the formation. Other’s scattered before the missiles could target them, and his eyes automatically followed the largest one. The man was dipping and diving with something gleaming on his back. Gerry’s eyes focus on the gleam.

He felt his stomach drop as gravity seemed to shift. His eyes were drawn to the gleam. They focus and zoomed until it was like he was standing right next to it. The winged man had a big golden chair strapped to his back. Gerry’s mind didn’t even process the ridiculousness of it. The chair held all of his attention.

At first, it just looked like a large chair. It was clearly made of gold, which made it the most expensive chair he could think of, but that wasn’t what captured his attention. When he really focused, it seemed like something was moving across the surface of the chair. The chair continued to draw closer until the only thing in his vision was the chair. On the surface were tiny symbols. Some moved in neat lines across the shiny surface. Others formed grid patterns and small pulses of something could be seen running along them. Other areas had lines and pulsed orbiting around certain symbols, like their own little solar systems, but dozens, maybe hundred, spread across the surface.

The man shifted and a new portion of the chair became visible. It was the part where a person would sit. Lines and grids dominated this section and all the pulses lead in one direction. At the top of the section, where the head of the sitter would be, a single symbol radiated. Gerry’s eyes watered as he took in that single rune. It seemed to transcend everything around it. It outshone reality, bathed everything in its shadow, and seemed like it was anchored to the core of the universe.

Without a doubt, it was the most beautiful thing Gerry had ever seen. He would be completely content sitting there for the rest of his life, as his flesh wasted away, looking at the intricate, living patterns and central rune that were the true essence of the chair.

<Throne.> Realization sparked inside his head.

The realization wasn’t pleasant. It started as a slight burning sensation behind his eyes that quickly sparked off an inferno inside his head. He wanted to scratch his own eyes out, but he couldn’t stop staring at the throne. The central rune still held his full attention as it tried to drown him in pain. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes the symbols were gone.

<No!> He wanted the pain back and the clarity it brought with it. He tried to focus and bring them back, but nothing happened. All he could see was the golden gleam of the throne and the man carrying it. <Gaius…?>

Fire engulfed his vision and he instinctually looked away.

“Look out!” Something strong hit Gerry in the side, knocked all the breath from his body, and him off his feet.

Vicky’s arms circled him as they went flying across the parking lot seconds before something big, black, and burning crashed where they’d been standing a moment before. Chunks of asphalt went flying as people screamed and dove for cover.

“Everyone back!” The leader of the soldiers guarding the generator darted forward with his weapon trained on the crater. “Clear the area! We need to…” the man never got to finish.

Something long and black jutted from the crater. It hit the soldier in the chest. His camouflaged body armor might as well have been tissue paper as a black spear impaled him in and explosion of gore. What was left of the soldier’s center, hanging together by a few strands of half-pulverized meat, was picked up and nailed to the wall of one of the cargo containers stored in the parking lot.

The tips of black wings and helmeted head rose from the crater as a man emerged. He reached up and pulled himself out of the crater. The sword in one of his hands scraped against the cracked parking lot. The people that weren’t already running were shocked into stillness as the man drew himself up to his full height.

He was easily seven feet tall with dark, foreboding armor covering him from head to foot. A ripple passed over that armor as the man surveyed his surroundings and small spikes began to emerge at strategic places. His eyes lingered a moment on Vicky before focusing on the small group of petrified soldiers.

They stood there for a tense second just staring at each other, until a soldier finally pulled the trigger. The sharp CRACK of the rifle shocked everyone into motion. The other soldiers opened fire and the civilians ran for it while Gerry and Vicky held their ground.

The bullets pinged harmlessly against the man’s armor, but that didn’t stop the soldiers. It was the only sense of power they had at the moment, and even though they saw it doing nothing they still held down the triggers until the magazines ran dry.

It was a slaughter after that. The man moved in a blur and cut down the soldiers before they could reload. Blood splattered as high as the second story of the nearby hospital from the powerful blows that cleaved the soldiers in two.

Gerry just stood there unsure of what to do. He could feel the power in the other man. He understood it. It was familiar, but foreign at the same time. Memories tricked in as the man planted his boot on a body to help remove the impaled corpse from his sword.

A memory seized ahold of Gerry’s mind. There was a hot room filled with the smell of sulfur, large black and white squares, and an old woman that wasn’t a woman. He shook his head as the itchiness returned behind his eyes, but by then the man was standing in front of them.

“Bravo.” Vicky clapped her hands dramatically. “I’m Vicky and this is Gerry. Who do you serve?”

“I am a soldier of the personal guard of General Gaius Icilius, Commander of the forces of Seere.” The man’s back instinctually straightened with pride.

“Awesome,” Vicky let out a breath that she’d been holding. “I’m Victoria, the queen of the Soulless in this area, and also a servant of Prince Seere. We’ve been waiting for reinforcements since the big guy went down here. So, what’s the plan?”

The man looked at Vicky like she was something brown and squishy that had stuck to the bottom of his boot, but that wasn’t what had Gerry’s temper steadily climbing. It was that the man completely ignored him. Gerry knew this man should be bowing in front of him. He knew the man was beneath him despite the awesome display of power he’d just shown.

Gerry’s hands clenched and his white knuckles popped from the pressure. The man caught the soft pops and turned to look at Gerry. Gerry saw the man’s grip tighten on his sword a second before a loud rumbling announced another arrival. At the entrance to the parking lot a mechanical beast roared its defiance.

The armored man leapt into the air with two powerful flaps of his wings and shot toward the new comer. Vicky looked glad the man was gone. However she thought the interaction was going to go, it clearly hadn’t been headed in that direction.

“We should…”

BOOM

Gerry covered his ears as pain shot through them. He peeked between squinted eyelids and saw the armored man rocketing backward, covered in fire, and headed straight for the hospital. If this happened an hour earlier Gerry would have been inside when the man crashed into it with enough force to cave in a small section. Fresh screams filled the air as the ground shook and the tank rumbled into the parking lot with two dozen soldiers in its wake to press the attack.

“We really need to fucking move!” Vicky yelled, grabbing Gerry’s wrist and pulling him behind the container the first soldier had been nailed to.

They were out of sight when they heard a furious roar that was quickly followed by the sound of a second 125mm shell firing from the tank’s main gun, three-to-five round bursts from a .50 caliber heavy machine gun, and the single shots of the individual soldiers’ M4 assault rifles. Gerry was more concerned with how he knew the specifics of the weapons than with the battle raging behind them.

Memories started to form, but the burning returned. He shook his head to ease the pain and the budding images slipped between his fingertips.

“Well that was a colossal clusterfuck.” Vicky led the way across a second parking lot that was already empty of people and onto a street leading away from the medical campus. “I don’t know who the royal guard of General What’s-His-Face is up to, but they’ve gone rogue. We’re already up to our dicks in chaos here, anything else and the Divine is going to come down on then like the hammer of…well…God.” She was shaking her head back and forth while she walked.

Another loud boom echoed behind them along with the sound of tearing metal. It didn’t sound like things were going well for the humans.

“So, what now?” They were far enough from the fight that Vicky felt comfortable stopping. “My people are going to make their way back to the camp. We can head there now, or fart around here some more. I don’t know what your plan is, or if there is even a plan, but we could really use something. All hell is breaking loose…literally. Infernals from Hell are showing up and wrecking shit. So not cool.” She plopped down on the curb and ran her hands through her hair.

Gerry ignored her bitching and looked to his left. With the danger of the armored man gone, and the sounds of battle far away, he could feel what they needed to do next. There was a small pull tugging at his heart, and it was pulling him to the left. He took a step to the right and it pulled tighter, and he was sure if he started walking away to the right the tension would grow painful.

The pull was magnetic. He was being drawn toward something, and it didn’t take much to figure out what it was.

“This way.” He didn’t wait for Vicky to reply. He just started walking with the pulling sensation as a guide.

“What…where are we going?” She hopped up and followed a few steps behind him. When he didn’t stop she planted her feet and crossed her arms. “Tell me what the fuck is going on or I’m gone.”

Gerry didn’t even break stride. “I’m going to find something.” He could tell Vicky wouldn’t follow through with the ultimatum, and the hurried approach of her steps confirmed it.

“What are we looking for?” Her eyes kept scanning everything around them. The sounds of gunfire were picking up everywhere, and the occasional BOOM shattered the night.

“You’ll know it when you see it.” Gerry felt the tug shift and he took a right down an empty street. The people who’d survived the first disaster were taking cover as another fell right on top of them.

“That’s not cryptic or anything,” Vicky’s remark dripped with sarcasm, but she kept her eyes peeled.

They had to dart down an alley when another tank rumbled down the street, and a heavy machine gun swept over their position, but didn’t see them hiding behind a dumpster. The soldiers walking in the tank’s wake covered the alley but didn’t check it.

Gerry could taste the fear on them. The radio calls for help were hectic, coming more frequently, and often cut off abruptly.

“This whole thing is bullshit,” one soldier muttered as they passed. “LT is going to get us all killed.”

The tank and its infantry escort disappeared around the corner, and looked like they were heading toward the hospital. Gerry poked his head out and made sure the coast was clear before heading out in the direction of the tug. They had to hide three more times from passing patrols, each of which had a tank at the center.

One spotted them, but Vicky was able to play the damsel in distress well enough to convince the young officer to give them directions to the nearest shelter. Once they were gone, Gerry led them in the opposite direction. The destruction began to fade the farther they got from the center of the city, but was replaced by normal dilapidation. Wherever the throne had landed, it had been a shitty place before the whole city got stomped on.

The street was full of overgrown yards full of random bits of junk. The garbage hadn’t been picked up since the incident and was piled several feet high on the curbs. The rotting stench of spoiled food due to lack of refrigeration was everywhere. Gerry didn’t gag like Vicky. He knew he’d been through worse even if he didn’t know when. He kicked a stray can out of his way and the racket caused several heads to poke out of boarded up doors.

“Ever heard of sneaking up on the bad guys.” Vicky hissed as a group of young men approached them.

To Gerry, they looked like nothing more than boys.

“I know,” she sighed when Gerry shot her a look. “I am the bad guy…or bad girl…but that doesn’t mean I want to draw more attention to myself.”

“Yo,” the leader of the ragtag group of young men planted himself in the middle of their path. His friends spread out to either side of them and created a human wall. “You’ve got to pay the toll.”

“Toll, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Vicky rolled her eyes.

“You come over here, baby, and I’ll consider it paid in full.” One of the friends licked his lips and winked.

“Ewww, you’re like a perverted, retarded Little John.” Vicky dismissed him with a wave.

“Who you calling little?” The boy puffed up and pulled a knife from his pocket.

“Little John…from Robin Hood.” Vicky’s eyes widened when she only saw confusion. “Will Scarlett…the Merry Men…what the hell are they teaching you kids these days.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Gerry could feel the pull. It was close, and these boys were in his way. Something told him dealing with them directly was below him. “There is something close to here. It fell from the sky and is very valuable to me.”

Pupils widened as recognition spread through the group of men, and the rest of them pulled weapons. Only one had a gun.

“Looks like we came to the right place,” Vicky smiled.

“Fuck off and we’ll let you live.” Gerry noticed that the leaders hand was shaking as he said it.

“Tell me where the throne is and I’ll let you walk away from here with all your limbs.” Gerry replied.

“I told you it was a throne. That’s the type of shit the King of England sits on.” One boy whispered as he held his knife out in front of him.

“It’s a queen right now you idiot,” the boy next to him said.

Gerry could tell these boys weren’t killers. All he sensed was fear over a thin layer of determination, but one thing gave him pause. The original boy who said he would kill if they didn’t leave was telling the truth. He didn’t know what he had, but he wasn’t going to give it up.

“Victoria, if you’d please…” Gerry waved for her to get on with it.

All of the teenage boy’s weapons adjusted to cover her as she sauntered forward.

“Now, boys.” She placed her hands behind her back, thrust out her chest, tilted her head, and gave them a million dollar smile. “Be good, drop your weapons, and go home. If you don’t you’ll regret it.”

The boys didn’t seem to get that she wasn’t afraid of their weapons. If they knew anything about what they were about to get themselves into, that would have been the first red flag.

“Last chance!” The hand of the boy holding the gun shook harder, but Gerry felt his determination harden.

Vicky turned her full attention on the boy and smiled. “No.”

Gerry watched the boy pull the trigger, but Vicky was already moving. It didn’t help that the gun didn’t even fire. Gerry could spot the poor maintenance from thirty feet away.

“Shit, I…” the boy didn’t get to finish.

Vicky appeared in front of him and punched him in the chest. Her vampiric strength made the kid fold inward on himself as he was thrown back several feet. He was spasming before he’d hit the ground. Vicky’s punch not only broke his ribs, had one stabbing him in the lung, but it had also fucked up the rhythm of his heart. The gun clattered to the ground next to him, and his friends eyes darted from him to Vicky.

Run.” She added a hint of compulsion and the rest of the boys tripped over themselves as they fled.

Gerry walked over to the boy on the ground. It was clear he was dying, but Gerry could feel a sensation creeping up his spine as the final seconds of the boy’s life ticked by. Gerry grabbed the boy by the scruff of his shirt and pulled his upper body off the ground. The boy’s eyes were rolled into the back of his head, and blood was leaking from his nose and mouth, but Gerry could glimpse something in there.  A small flicker of something deep down that was working its way to the surface with each of the boy’s labored breaths.  Finally, the boy gave a final shudder, the smell of fresh shit filled the air, and a bright object pulsing with power leapt from his body.

Gerry reached out and caught it. He didn’t catch it with his hand. He didn’t even move. He wasn’t sure if anyone else could even see it, but when his metaphysical net snagged the object, raw electricity coursed through his veins. His back arched as power and energy flooded into him. It hurt, like someone ripped a big ass Band-Aid off a fresh wound, but the pain was coupled with pleasure. The world expanded, and memories flashed through his mind.

<Power…respect…Dux…the right to rule…> He was certain of all these things, but the by then the light was spent, and without context, the world dimmed back to dull reality around him.

The one difference was that he felt a hundred times better then when they’d released him from the hospital.

“Shit, Boss.” Vicky just stared at him. Whatever had happened, she’d seen it.

“Let’s move. It’s close.” He dropped the boy and his skull impacted the concrete with a small thud.

He stood up, took a few steps, and pain lanced through his mind. Visions flashed in front of his eyes and blocked out the rest of the world.

…He was young and his mother was whooping his ass for taking a toy he wanted from the department store. He took the pain but didn’t regret what he’d done. He really wanted that toy…

…He was older, sitting in school, and the only thing he could think about was getting the hell out of there. Some older guys were waiting on the corner. They’d give him some stuff, he’d run a few errands, and then he’d get paid a hundred bucks. No other kids in school were making a hundred bucks a day…

Gerry staggered as the visions assaulted him.

…He was even older now, he was one of the guys on the corner that handed little kids product. He knew how stupid it was to think that a hundred bucks was a lot. He had at least two grand rolled up in the pocket of his pants that were currently on the floor of his mother’s mini-van. Krystal Johnson was the hottest girl on the block, and she riding his dick like a pro. He reached up and grabbed a handful of those Double –D’s. She slapped his hands away.

“That costs extra,” she smiled as she bent down to kiss his lips. It ended with a nibble that nearly made him finish…

Gerry bent over and retched, but there was nothing in his stomach. He gripped his knees and tried to take a deep breath.

…Now, he was cowering in a building while two rampaging giants tore up Charlotte. He was sitting in the darkness without power. There was no electricity to work the fridge, so he ended up tossing out all the food. Then, in the middle of a run to the curb with two Hefty bags, something shiny dropped out of the sky and plowed right into his living room. Krystal and their baby were screaming in the other room.

“Shut the hell up!” he yelled and slammed the door in her face.

He looked at the big ass golden chair that had taken out his recliner and plasma, and all he saw was dollar signs…

Gerry was on his knees and he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

…Suddenly he heard voices in the street. He peeked out of his door just as a guy, followed by a fine as girl, kicked a can down the street. He looked across the street at his friend’s house and nodded. All his friends poured out of their houses. They were going to protect their payday. It was their way out of this shit-hole city. He didn’t want to threaten the chick with a gun, but he did. He told them to fuck off, and didn’t understand why they didn’t.

<Fucking crazy people.> He gave the stranger a final warning, they didn’t take it, so he pulled the trigger. <Shit.> The gun didn’t fire, and the next thing he knew the girl was punching him in the chest.

His world exploded into pain, and pain was all he knew until he closed his eyes forever…

Gerry gasped as he threw his head up and a diminished ball of light shot out of his mouth and into the sky. It zipped around for a few seconds, doing figure eights in the air, before plummeting down into the asphalt where it vanished with a soft puff.  Instantly, the visions stopped and the crippling pain vanished. He felt weaker, still stronger than when he’d left the hospital, but nothing like that moment between taking the ball and the visions beginning.

Vicky just stood there looking at him with her jaw dropped. “What the fuck was that?”

“I…I don’t know.” It hurt Gerry to admit it, but he had no idea what the hell had come over him. “Let’s go.” He quickly changed the subject and headed toward the dead boy’s house.

The bright side of this whole thing was that he knew exactly where the throne was.

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Scheduling Update

Hey Everyone!

Just wanted to give everyone a quick update on some scheduling updates I’m making. You’ve probably guessed it by now, since it’s happened the last few updates, but i’m having to cut down on A Change of Pace with everything I have going on. I have to prioritize a bit with life and i’m electing to get my original works out more. Kind of the same thing Drew ended up doing when Superpowereds Year 4 ended. But fear not! I’m confident I can get in an update every other week.

I pride myself on not only the quality but the consistency of the chapters I publish and I don’t want people to continue to get their hopes up for a chapter every Sunday night and get let down.

As of now, there are no other changes. Two Worlds will still go up Monday and Wednesday nights, and the new PCS to Eden (I’m on TDY from Hell Book 2) on Friday.

Those who become patreons in the SGT category get a Two Worlds chapter early on Friday, and there is always the opportunity to donate for bonus chapters.

Also a heads up to everyone that i’m 90% certain Aftermath: The Harbinger Tales Book 2 will be released this coming Friday, March 30th, 2018! Super pumped. It’s always hard to top the original, but i think I’ve done a good job if i may say so myself 😛

Shoot me any questions you have in the comments.

Thanks for reading

-Scott

PCS to Eden – A Whole New World

“Not again.” Gaius looked below at the streaks heading directly toward him.

He didn’t know what they were. This Earth was not the one he’d left behind all those centuries ago, so he did what any good leader did, he looked to the subject matter experts. Everyone in the group was younger than him, some a lot younger, but there was still more than one reaction to the things streaking up toward him.

One group coalesced together and formed a flying phalanx. The ones with shields interlocked in the front to put a wall between them and what was flying toward them. To Gaius, they looked vaguely like the bazooka rounds the Legion used, but they didn’t move the same way.

The second group of soldiers scattered, but some of the streaks chased them. As they grew closer he could tell they looked like long, metal tubes belching fire and smoke.

“Missiles!” The youngest among the legionaries screamed and flew in every direction.

For a second, Gaius was torn between what to do. Strength in numbers was logical, but without knowing the enemy’s capabilities it could lead to greater casualties. With that in mind, scattering and then reconsolidating felt like the better decision.

<Damn these missiles are fast.> The fact the remnant of his airborne forces were flying directly at the things didn’t help, but there wasn’t any time to yell orders. Gaius changed directions quickly and dived.

It didn’t make any difference. He avoided the missile aimed for him. It passed several feet away, but it still exploded. Fire and searing metal engulfed his body, and he roared with pain. The concussive force of the explosion knocked the throne from his back and sent him tumbling through the air. He couldn’t tell what was up and what was down as pain lanced through his injured side. Some fire and shrapnel had made it through into his flesh. His healing took over, but it took several critical seconds to clear his head.

He inhaled sharply and flared his wings to either side. One tugged uncomfortably, almost to the point of breaking, but it held, and the spinning stopped. He immediately scanned the area for more threats and saw a second volley on its way, but it was targeting the other airborne soldiers.

The flying phalanx had shattered on impact. The shields helped deflect the shrapnel, but the fire and concussive blast ripped through the closely packed formation. From the looks of it, only a few seemed to be dead, and their lifeless, flaming bodies were plummeting toward the ground. The rest were doing exactly what Gaius did, trying to get their bearings.

“Everyone, on the ground!” he roared before another wave could cripple them even further.

Now, everyone scattered and dove for the shelter of the ground.

<The throne!> Gaius looked all around, but he couldn’t see the golden light of his former Lord’s source of power.

He made the mistake of hovering in place for a few seconds too long.

The first bullet’s hammered into him before he saw the tracer rounds. They didn’t penetrate his armor, but he wasn’t braced for the impact, so the force of multiple hits bashed him across the sky.

“General!” A battered squad of four legionnaires surrounded him with shields raised and the hammering stopped.

“Get to the ground and eliminate the threat!” Gaius temper flared and his power made his body swell. He was going to kill the pesky humans who pecked at him like annoying bugs.

He pushed himself and the soldiers towards the nearest humans. Two of the legionnaires led the way why he continued to build his power. The legionnaires held their shields and deflected most of the incoming rounds. A few found their marks and the legionnaires cried out in pain as blood splashed backward onto Gaius, but he didn’t care. If they started to falter he pushed them forward.  Rage fueled him toward his goal.

That goal was a prepared position manned by a squad of scrambling soldiers. Gaius vaguely recognized the .50 caliber machine gun surrounded by a ring of sandbags, and the guns the soldiers were wielding were similar to what skirmishers in the Legion were armed with.

He landed hard, cratering the asphalt, and pushed the two now-injured legionnaires into position to block the incoming fire. His whole body was straining with power now. “Go around,” he commanded the other two. They leapt into the air, deflecting bullets with their shields, and drew some fire from Gaius and the two wounded men.

The big machine gun went from firing three-to-five-round bursts to unleashing an unending torrent of metal as Gaius drew closer. He held the two legionnaires in front of them. When they tried to retreat after taking multiple hits, he grabbed them by the back of their breastplates and pushed them forward.  They died screaming as he used them as sacrificial shields. When he was close enough to the enemy position, he slid one body close to his chest to cover the damage in his armor, and tossed the other straight into the group of humans. His dead legionnaire hit the emplacement like an artillery shell. Sandbags burst and tossed clumps of sand into the air as the dead legionnaire plowed through them. The human soldiers were bowled over. Most were killed outright when the dead legionnaire hit them with enough velocity and mass to shatter their spines, while others were only crippled with broken limbs. The big gun fell silent with no one to man it. The only thing left was steam wafting off the barrel of the hot weapon.

Gaius advanced on the two remaining humans. One tried to beg but was choking on his own blood, so Gaius gave him a swift death by impalement. The sword went through the man and into the asphalt, but with his enhanced strength Gaius was able to yank it back out. The second man didn’t die easy. He pulled his sidearm and unloaded the whole clip into his chest. It sparked off the Infernal Iron without doing any damage. Gaius grinned behind his helmet. The human had courage.

“Fu…Fu…Fuck you!” The man struggled to get the final insult out before Gaius picked up the man, crushed his skull, and tossed his body through a nearby window.

He could still see a twitching foot sticking out of the wreckage as he assessed the scene.

“Rally to me!” His powerful roar, full of Infernal power, echoed through the city.

His legionnaires immediately responded. Many descended from the sky while other sprinted through the streets toward their General’s call. He stood waiting for them with his foot on top of the broken sandbag pile and dead humans strewn around him.

“These weaklings are nothing compared to us.” He instilled courage in his remaining legionnaires as he kicked over a body. “Find the throne! Do whatever it takes! Eliminate all obstacles. We must have it if we are to see Lord Seere’s kingdom live on!”

A ragged cheer went up from the battered soldiers. They’d fought through Hell, dodged giant beasts, and evaded those clever missiles. They were tired, half-broken, had lost their kingdom and many of their friends in the last few hours. Lesser men would have just lay down and died.

<We are soldiers of Seere!>Gaius reassured his own faith in their destiny. Their Lord might be dead, but Gaius sure as hell wasn’t going down without a fight, and that meant taking as many humans, angels, or whatever else this world could throw at him before he fell.

The engagement had been short, but it had taken its toll. The power expended would never return, more was needed for healing, and their depleted numbers promised that Gaius’ defiance wouldn’t last long against a serious attack. All of that didn’t matter. He intended to use what time was left wisely.

He tried to remember where he lost the throne and divided up his soldiers to search in grid squares. They would search in groups even though it would take longer. The humans were going to respond, and the legionnaires needed to be able to fight effectively. Now that they were out of the sky, and away from the missiles, they would fare better in small units. A legionnaire was still faster, stronger, and more experienced than a human soldier. Their armor would defend against simple bullets. Only something with more firepower would be able to take them down.

<Speaking of firepower.> Gaius picked up the large machine gun and its long belt of ammo. He could wield it one handed, but the trigger wasn’t the same design as the simpler rifles his men were collecting from the dead humans.

He channeled a trickle of power and the large barrel levitated into the air. The belt of large bullets floated out to the side and he aimed down the barrel’s sight to a point at the end of the street. He grasped the trigger at the rear of the weapon and gave it an experimental squeeze. A few rounds burst from the barrel with a heavy THUMP…THUMP…THUMP sound, and a car at the end of the street rocked back and forth from the impact.

Gaius smiled and let the weapon fall back so it was only supported by his own raw strength. <This will do.> It would allow him to engage the humans more effectively while only using a fraction of his strength. < There is something poetic about killing someone with their own weapon.>

He looked around to a small honor guard of his best equipped troops that still stood with him. They’d taken control of the human weapons, and had their swords, spears, and bows secured.

“We’ll start over there.” He pointed to the vicinity around where he believed the throne to be. “We need to move quick or else…” his order was cut off by the sound of multiple explosions.

He automatically looked into the sky where fire was spreading everywhere as missile after missile struck a large figure coming through the golden Rip. A brief glance told him it wasn’t the giant creature from the Veil.  There was no way something that large would fit through the Rip…but a flying serpent would.

<Damn.> Gaius kept a calm expression on his face while he watched missiles detonate, and hoped for the best.

On the crown of the large beasts head stood the armored woman with spiked gauntlets. She smashed them together and the shockwave prematurely detonated most of the incoming ordinance. The few that made it through, she slapped aside casually so her steed and the small army of skeletal warriors were unharmed.

As Gaius watched the fight another BOOM shook the air and he caught motion out of the corner of his eye. His power allowed him to track the two flying metal aircraft making a wide turn around the city and lining up an attack run on the serpent. More missiles streak from under their wings and dashed across the night sky toward the armored woman, followed by the low, staccato rumbling of heavy caliber rounds fired from the planes’ guns.

<Things just got interesting.> The humans might not be coming after him after all. They had bigger problems at the moment, and that was fine by him. <Let them kill each other.>

Gaius needed to find the throne. The longer he could search unimpeded, the better the chance he could secure a foothold on this world.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 176

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Abraham Lincoln, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “Holy shit! I can’t believe this is happening.” Coop was practically bouncing up and down in his LACS armor.

“I know, right?” Mike stood next to Coop in formation.

They were standing on the flight deck of the assault carrier, which was nearly barren for the occasion, and it was one hell of a special occasion.

Coop still marveled at how fast the ship’s crew had gotten everything ready. He could feel the ceremonial atmosphere in the air. Normally, the flight deck of the three-kilometer carrier would be crammed with Spyders, their crews, supplies, and have a healthy amount of grease and sweat permeating everything. In the last two hours, the CAG had scrambled all of the aircraft in the carrier and transferred them to other ships, or put them on the ground. Only four remained.

“You could see Uranus with the shine coming off that thing.” Coop joked as he used the three-hundred-and-sixty-degree sensors in his helmet to watch the immaculate Spyders’ crews spraying some nanite-based polish on their birds, and frantically scrubbing the hulls under the watchful eye of a Chief. Based on the man’s constant yelling at the spacers, his attention to detail was extreme.

In front of the four Spyders, which were lined up wingtip to wingtip, stood two companies of marines at parade rest. One company had their CMUs on their dress settings, but they were still armed. The M3s were sitting with their butts on the ground, on its owner’s right-hand side, and extended out so the soldier’s arm was straight. The soldier’s left arm was behind their back and held firm against their lower spine. Coop hadn’t seen rifle drill without armor since Basic, and he thought the shit was pretty pointless.

NCOs were walking down the lines and correcting any deficiencies. The NCOs of the second company had already done their inspection. The second company was in perfectly polished Dragonscale armor. Their scales gleamed in the overhead lighting, and they each had their M3s angled across their chest with their muzzles down. The two companies were a powerful sight. Two hundred enlisted, NCOs, and officers dressed to impress with their Spyders standing guard behind them. Coop could see that pilots were sitting in those cockpits with their full flight gear. They weren’t meant to be seen, but their purpose was clear. Everyone might be dressed up all fancy, but Coop saw magazines in those M3s, and he was willing to bet a month’s pay that the cannons on those Spyders were ready to fire.

The HI contingent was no exception. They were loaded for war. Coop had a standard combat load of 125mm artillery shells. His Buss was loaded with lethal rounds, none of the non-lethal crap, and he had a full complement of extra magazines. His shoulder missile launcher was topped off, and his rail gun had been filled to just short of bursting.

<It’s tough to tell if this is a ceremony or planetary invasion prep,> he thought.

“Scrub a little lower, sweetheart,” Coop toggled the switch to communicate privately with the spacer currently giving his armor the same rub down as the spacers on the Spyders.

She didn’t respond, but she flipped him the bird with her hand holding the aerosolized spray can that contained the polish. Mike saw the gesture and laughed, and the spacer moved on with her polishing and specifically avoided the crotch area.

“Don’t ruin the moment, Coop. This is history.” Mike was right about that.

For the first time in human history, mankind was making contact with a legitimate alien. These weren’t the Arachnids on Arachna, or single cell organisms like the ones found on Saturn’s moon, Europa. This was a legit, starfarring alien race.

The ship that had come through the Launcher had nearly made Space Traffic Control shit itself, and Coop could see why. The ship had settled into position a million kilometers from New Lancashire. It was still well within weapon’s range, but the alien craft hadn’t made any attempt to engage. It just sat there. The word on the grape vine spreading through the ship faster than light was that the aliens were in contact with Admiral Nelson, and this pomp and circumstance seemed to confirm that.

<There no other reason a dozen HI, two companies of jarheads, and their birds would be sitting on an empty flight deck surrounding nothing but a large wooden table.> Coop’s sensors even told him it was real Redwood from Earth. <Fancy.>

At the table sat the Rear Admiral. He looked calm and composed, but Coop was pretty sure the old guy had to be having mild indigestion at a minimum.

“Fucking ET in the flesh is going to be walking through that door any minute now,” Coop relayed to Mike.

“Do you think he’ll look like us?” Mike asked.

“You mean a picture of masculine virility,” Coop shot back.

“No, a big dumb ape who keeps asking the polish girl to give him a handy in front of the senior military commander of the whole damn sector.” Mike shut him down hard and fast. “I’m wondering if it’s going to look human at all.”

“Hmmm.” Coop didn’t have a good comeback or answer to that, so he just grumbled and turned his attention back to the alien vessel.

It was definitely alien.

Abraham Lincoln was the biggest Commonwealth warship in York Sector. It was three kilometers long, had armor five meters thick, boasted thirty-five energy cannons – five of which were in the ten petawatt range, and two-hundred missile tubes. It was a beast, and could put a lot of firepower on target.

If the alien ship was a target, then it was the biggest damn target Coop had ever seen. The thing was ginormous. It was in a roughly crescent moon shape, but unlike the clean, metallic geometry of a human warship, the alien ship looked sloppy. It jutted out in places, was indented in others, and didn’t look metal at all. In fact, the hull of the alien vessel was shit brown in color. It was almost laughable, until you realized you could fit over six Abraham Lincolns between the two end points of its crescent moon shape. Coop’s HUD measured the ship nineteen point seven kilometers from tip to tip, and a third of that in width. The ass side of the ship started off thick and tapered down to a four-hundred-meter-wide point. That still made it thicker than a destroyer at it smallest point.

<That’s one hell of a boat.>

Abe had its gunboats out and collecting data on the ship, but Coop didn’t have access to that; even in his position as special protector to the RADM. That was the HI’s job in all of this. They were getting all pretty to look good for the alien ambassador that was going to arrive, but their mission was to protect the RADM. If shit went sideways on this first contact, which over fifty percent of the holo-movies said it would, Coop’s job was to kill ET and protect the boss.

“We have a craft incoming, places everyone.” The RADM announced, and the crews polishing everything made a beeline for the exit.

Coop’s polish girl hesitated just a second to wipe down his crotch area quickly. She’d made a point of avoiding it earlier after his comment, but she didn’t want to get chewed out when one of her assigned HI suits had a dirty crotch. She made it quick and joined her fellow spacers in disappearing from the flight deck.

“You all know the battle plan,” the MSG in charge of the dozen HI troopers relayed. “Two grab the Rear Admiral, two will be human shields, four advance and go blades hot, and four engage from a distance while covering the Admiral’s escape.”

Coop was one of the HI assigned to go blades hot.

It would be definite overkill against a human opponent, but they had no idea what the alien’s capabilities were. All they knew was they were capable of FTL travel and their ships were big as hell.

“Craft preparing to dock.” The next step of the phase began.

“Company…atten-hut!” The two units behind the HI and RADM snapped to the position of attention. Their job in the worst-case scenario was to encircle the enemy and take over if the HI failed. Of course, if a dozen HI failed then puny M3s weren’t going to do shit. The Spyders were the ‘break in case of emergency’ option. They were just supposed to open fire on the ET if all else failed.

While the grunts got squared away, Coop used his HI access to tap into the external cameras and watch the alien craft approach. It looked vaguely like a bulbous tear drop. He upped the magnification and saw that unlike the smooth hull of a human ship, the alien’s had more in common with sandpaper, and as it approached the docking port it…rippled.

<What the hell?> The craft’s front part seemed to open up like a giant maw before clamping down around the port. Coop expected to hear warning klaxons, but nothing rang out.

“Visitors docked. Disembarking and heading our way.” It was the nearest docking port to the flight deck, so it didn’t take long for the aliens to appear.

It only made Coop more confused. “Ugh, it looks disgusting.”

The alien was large, easily three meters tall, but it was stooped. To Coop it didn’t look like any animal he’d ever seen. In fact, it looked more like a gnarled old tree than an animal. Its skin – or bark – was bone white, but sections looked like they’d crumbled or fallen off over time. In place of the white material was something black, slick, and wiggling. If Coop had to put his finger on it he’d say they were worms. Thousands and thousands of thin, black worms that looked somewhat muscular if he zoomed in.

The alien didn’t look too disgusting until Coop caught sight of its back. Thin brown cilia the same color as the ship’s hull, covered the back side of the alien. It had no discernable face, ears, eyes or nose. Coop had no idea how it perceived the world around it, or communicated. Then he looked down and saw that the alien wasn’t even walking on the floor. It was hovering about half a meter off the ground.

<What the…> Coop looked closely under magnification, and it seemed like the space around the alien was slightly warped. Not enough to be perceived under the naked eye, but it was visible when Coop looked closer.

“You see that?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Mike was transfixed on the alien too, as was just about everyone on the flight deck. “What do you think?”

Coop was about to answer when two black objects moved around to either side of the alien. These looked something similar to what Coop expected of a technically advanced race. They were onyx black, seamless spheres, twice the size of a basketball, that hovered about a meter in a half off the ground, so about waist height if the alien even had a waist. Coop got the sense he was being watched by those spheres even though he couldn’t see anything but smooth black.

“Cooper, Enders, if things get FUBAR you take the sphere on the right.” The MSG assigned Coop and Mike to go blades hot against the unknown piece of tech.

That gave Coop a bad feeling. Attacking something you didn’t understand was the quickest way to get dead in this line of work, but orders were orders. Coop watched their assigned sphere very closely while the RADM got to his feet.

“Welcome to my ship, honored guest. My name is Rear Admiral Hank Nelson, and I am the senior representative of my government in this sector of space.” It was clear from the way the RADM spoke that he expected the alien to understand what he was saying. That confirmed that they’d been talking before, and everyone seemed to hold their breath waiting for the response. Coop knew he was.

“Salutations, Nelson. My research on your species indicates military males commonly refer to each other by their last name or rank. Would you like me to address you as Nelson or Rear Admiral? My sensibilities are not affected either way.” The voice that replied was computerized and obviously from some sort of translator device.

<Research?> Coop’s paranoia kicked into high gear. If this hovering tree-worm was doing “research” what did that entail?<Probing…?>

“Rear Admiral is acceptable.” Nelson replied back. “Please have a seat.”

“I cannot sit, Rear Admiral. My species does not have a vertebral column like Homo Sapiens, but my research indicates your statement to ‘take a seat’ is an offer to put me at ease and begin negotiations.” Instead of sitting the alien hovered over until it idled on the opposite side of the wooden table. “Very well, Rear Admiral, I am seated and ready to begin.”

“Thank you.” Judging by the look on his face, the RADM was finding this thing’s methods of communication just as confusing as Coop was. “How should I address you?”

“My species does not have names. We identify ourselves through physical markings and communicate through sounds waves generated by impacting parts of our anatomy against each other. My research indicates that nothing Homo-Sapiens do parallels this, but for this interaction I have adopted the human name, Bob.”

“Bob?”

“Is Bob not accurate? We strive to be precise in our research prior to interaction with new species, but every sentient lifeform has ingrained cultural peculiarities, and margins of error do occur.”

Coop felt a shiver pass up his spine. It was weird to be reliant completely on verbal communication from something that didn’t even remotely look human. Coop didn’t realize until now how big non-verbal signals were to speaking with someone.

“Bob is fine.” The RADM clearly wanted to move on. “Welcome to the United Commonwealth of Colonies, Bob. We are honored to have you among us, and desire peaceful and prosperous relations between our two species.” It sounded like the RADM was reading from some kind of script.

“I am most pleased to be in your Commonwealth, and I wish nothing but a prosperous relationship between the human species and myself.”

Coop felt a collective sigh of relief pass over the gathered soldiers. <But…> Even though the thing was speaking over a translator, Coop just felt there was more coming.

“However, pursuant to Clause D of the Compact of the Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings, I cannot speak on behalf of the other member races.”

“Ah shit.” Mike cursed.

“And there’s the kicker.” Coop knew it all felt too easy.

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