Book: Sued for peace



Sued for peace

CONTENTS


Dedication

Legal

Social Links

Series List

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Author's Notes

Because I Can


DEDICATION


To Family, Friends and

Those Who Love

To Read.

May We All Enjoy Grace

To Live The Life We Are

Called.


SUED FOR PEACE

The Kurtherian Gambit 11 Team


Beta Editor / Readers

Bree Buras (Aussie Awesomeness)

Tom Dickerson (The man)

Dorene Johnson (DD)

Dorothy Lloyd (Teach you to ask…Teacher!)

T S (Scott) Paul (Author)

Diane Velasquez (DD)


JIT Beta Readers

Heath Felps

Andrew Haynes

Kelli Orr

Leo Roars

Hari Rothsteni

Björn Schmidt


Editors

Stephen Russell

Kat Lind


Kurtherian Gambit Special Call-Outs

Troy Shafer (Thank you for sharing your family (How was U.T.?))

Joseph Anderle (Stop Slowing Down the Process!)

Jacob Anderle (Stop making the kitchen smell so good I want to stop writing!)




Thank you to the following Special Consultants

for RELEASE THE DOGS OF WAR


Jeff Morris - Asst Professor Cyber-Warfare, Nuclear Munitions (Thank God!)

Stephen Russell - Ideas & Suggestions

Heath Felps - USN

Dorene Johnson - USN (Retired)

This book is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Sometimes both.


Copyright (c) 2016 Michael T. Anderle


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.


Cover art by Michael T. Anderle




Version 1.00



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I hope you enjoy the book!


Michael Anderle - July 28, 2016.

Series Titles Include: 




Death Becomes Her

The Kurtherian Gambit 01


Queen Bitch

The Kurtherian Gambit 02


Love Lost

The Kurtherian Gambit 03


Bite This

The Kurtherian Gambit 04


Never Forsaken

The Kurtherian Gambit 05


Under My Heel

The Kurtherian Gambit 06


Kneel Or Die

The Kurtherian Gambit 07


We Will Build

The Kurtherian Gambit 08


It’s Hell To Choose

The Kurtherian Gambit 09


Release The Dogs Of War

The Kurtherian Gambit 10


Sued For Peace

The Kurtherian Gambit 11




FUTURE

(21 books planned)


We Have Contact

The Kurtherian Gambit 12


My Rides A Bitch

The Kurtherian Gambit 13


Don’t Cross This Line

The Kurtherian Gambit 14




**Future Series**


The Dark Messiah - Michael’s Return

The Second Dark Ages 01

Winter 2016






SHORT STORIES


Frank Kurns Stories of the Unknownworld 01

You Don’t Mess with John’s Cousin

(read before TKG08)


Frank Kurns Stories of the Unknownworld 02

Bitch’s Night Out

(read before TKG10)






The Boris Chronicles

With Paul C. Middleton


Evacuation (Out)

Retaliation (Aug 2016)

Revelation TBD

Restitution TBD

Future 


The historian Ahrgri-vactix of the Ristorian Sept looked over the latest entry into his history of the Human Military Power, Queen Bethany Anne. She was a favorite of his. Not only was she still alive, but alive long enough that she had made history far into his past, as well as his present.


He was writing a story and keeping as much of the truth of the story as he could. Part of his challenge was finding source material to recreate what must have happened on her planet, so many solar turns in the past.


However, he re-read his most recent entry and decided he liked it.


One of these days, he would have to ask his contact, Adam, how he knew so much of her history.


He started reading it one more time, and his satisfaction and pride grew as he read.


PLA General Staff Headquarters - Beijing


The Chinese general walked into his meeting room on his way through to the door into his private office. He grasped the handle to open his office door when he suddenly stopped. His right hand remained on the knob as he slowly turned his head back towards the meeting table.


The table was black, polished to a high shine and had the symbol for power inlaid in gleaming brass in the center. The table had room for ten to sit around it, with another eight chairs set up around the walls for support personnel.


In the middle of this well-protected PLA base, in his own meeting room, was a letter. A letter that hadn’t been there when he had left just two hours before.


Certainly not with a sharp knife impaling the letter into the wood between the brass lines of the symbol. He let go of the door knob and took the four steps to approach the table. He leaned over to grab the knife.


It wouldn’t budge.


The general used his left hand for leverage and pushed and pulled the knife back and forth several times before he could finally wiggle it free. He yanked the knife out and pulled the paper over closer so he could read it.


His lips compressed as he read the words.


“There are two ways to stop my vengeance. You can kill me, or you can sue for peace. But you had better decide soon, or there will be nothing left of your military except machines blackened by fire and people praying for the souls of your dead.”












CHAPTER ONE


Space Around Earth


Bethany Anne gazed at the beautiful blue globe beneath her. It was one of the few calming influences that helped her ground her emotions.


And TOM, of course.


Bethany Anne, I’m not blocking any emotions. You are handling the residual pain from Michael’s…absence…on your own.


Thank you, TOM. I recognize the aching void, but I can deal with it. 


Bethany Anne put her foot up on the little step made for her, cupped her chin in her hand, and placed her elbow on her leg.


I miss him, TOM, she admitted. Not being able to kill those son-of-a-bitches who desperately needed it was a lot tougher than I thought. 


What about Johann?


TOM, what is the first rule of Johann?


That we don’t speak about Johann? TOM replied immediately.


That’s right. We don’t speak about Johann’s particular form of death. To anyone. That was one individual that wasn’t going to be allowed a painless death.


Is that what Joshua had?


Well, Barnabas took care of that ass. My emotional hands are clean of that one. I didn’t realize Barnabas could trap a human into his own nightmare before I tossed him into the Etheric. If I had, I would have had Barnabas do it to a lot more of those self-serving cretins.


Johann?


No, I would have kept him for myself. I just needed to get cleaned up before anyone saw the blood on me.


You ruined another set of clothes.


Worth it.


Bethany Anne and TOM settled into a comfortable silence together before she spoke again.


You know, I understand why Michael put in the strictures. At least with those, you knew the penalties in advance. It also explained why no one wanted to be around him.


TOM provided a type of mental grunt in reply.


>>Bethany Anne, I have an incoming message from Dan Bosse.<<


Switch it to the speaker, please.


“Bethany Anne?” Dan’s voice came over the Pod’s speaker, “Are you sitting down?”


“I’m in space, Dan. Damned difficult to stand up in a Pod. It’s not like we have a standing version,” She said.


“Yeah, well, you can in the ones we put in the Space Station. But that isn’t why I called.”


“How bad is it?”


“Have you been told?” He asked.


“No, but you started with whether I was sitting or not. So, who is it, what are they trying to do, and what do you want to do about it?”


“We don’t know who yet, but we have fourteen companies in five different countries that have been attacked, physically broken into by armed groups. We have four casualties including three security guards and a woman in India.”


Bethany Anne’s eyes started simmering red, “Is this the black cabal?”


“No, I doubt it. It’s possible, but I think we have someone bigger.”


“How the hell do you get bigger than those fucks?” She asked, her voice grating into anger.


There was a pause, “Bethany Anne, I think we are being attacked by a nation, this time.”


Bethany Anne switched into vampiric speed, thinking through the many permutations.


ADAM, find out which companies. Run through their surveillance video, try to track down the attackers’ weapons and their operations for anything, including team member count, tactical weapons and gear, and what time they went in. Get back to me when you have that information. Also, check to see if there is any commonality among all of the companies.


Dan continued, not realizing Bethany Anne was already issuing orders to ADAM, “Frank walked in a few minutes ago, he wants to add some stuff. Here he is.”


Bethany Anne could hear Frank clear his throat, “Hey boss, sorry to hear about the attacks. We have a few more items. I’m getting wind that some of the outsourcing companies we are using for materials and manufacturing are getting harassed. I’ve got some threatened in South America, Africa and one in Las Vegas, Nevada.”


“What are they doing?” she asked him.


“I don’t have full details, but at the moment it seems like local crime is doing a protection racket scheme. However, this time, they want both money and the prints for anything they are manufacturing.”


Bethany Anne heard Dan’s voice, “Another vote for the nation-state, BA.” Then she heard a female say that the company's lawyer was on the line for Dan, who said he would take the call.


Frank continued, “Well, it would make sense. So, probably funding local assets in the country. They pay them to focus their protection on our resources, and give them a spiff for acquiring technical prints.”


“We need to know who this might be, Frank. Get with Dan and ADAM, I want to know as quickly as we can. Give me the names of those we lost and get with Ecaterina and Cheryl Lynn to provide support to their families.”


Frank replied, “On it. Dan’s back, here he is.”


“Ok, just got off the phone with Jakob Yadav. He has a couple of close friends in the U.N., and it seems that some countries are getting pressure from their business groups. Specifically, governments are being pressured to refuse to work with us unless we share the technology ‘with the world, for the world.’”


“Any idea who is putting them up to this?” she asked before continuing, “and I don’t believe it’s for the world at all. Someone is doing a full court press. Could it be the U.S.?”


Dan replied, “I doubt it, the countries that are putting up the requests are either unaligned or have seen a significant amount of investment in the last two to five years from China.”


Bethany Anne paused a second before continuing, “I’m not going to back down. If we are getting attacked by a country, I’ll fight back at the same level. It won’t be my preference, but if I have to go to war to deliver peace, it will be done.”


Dan replied, “Bethany Anne, I’m with you. From a small tarmac in Florida to distant galaxies, you got my back - I got yours.”


A small tear escaped Bethany Anne’s eye, “I need the addresses where we lost people, also Ashur, and finally Gabrielle’s Team, Dan.” She paused for a moment to look at the beautiful blue ball hanging before her in silence.


“I’m coming down.”




PLA Offices


“We have successful responses from the raids, save one.” General Sun Zedong turned towards his assistant and raised an eyebrow for him to continue, “There was an unexpected researcher who tripped an alarm before she could be silenced.”


He nodded his understanding, “Any casualties?”


“No, sir. None of ours, three guards and the research scientist for them.”


Zedong nodded, “Do we have the next targets?”


“Yes, sir,” his assistant agreed, “The first teams are all safely out of the attack zones and are moving to secondary locations to re-group. The hit teams are in position for the two targets in D.C.”


“Please make sure the council has been updated with this information and pass the acquired information to our R & D review team.” General Sun nodded, pleased with his group's efforts so far.


General Sun had been called up to deal with the TQB issue. The Committee had provided support and, more importantly for a Chinese general, introduced him to others who would be able to assist him as he went even higher in the PLA. With the Navy’s failure to track and retaliate appropriately after the sub incident, he had been called to a very private meeting with those at the top of the Party CMC in control of the People’s Liberation Army. He had been contacted by three Senior Generals who, he was lead to believe, had been speaking with the Chairmen on this subject.


There were four areas of attack, a common model among countries, which include Diplomacy, Intelligence, Military, and Economics. He was responsible for the Intelligence and Military areas while others had responsibility for the Diplomacy and Economics.


Zedong was aware that while he was powerful enough, he was also pretty damned expendable. This operation was going to be a pass-fail test for movement up the power ladder. Zedong knew enough to make sure his exit strategy was in place. He would use the new authority granted him to both implement his plan, and engage in a significant amount of relationship building and solidifying.


One way or another, Sun Zedong would be coming out of this effort a more powerful man.




Hospet, Karnataka – India


Nikhil Patel stood to the side, watching as the paramedics took the body of one of his researchers out on a stretcher, a white cloth draped over her body.


In shock he saw her beautiful but dead eyes staring out on the floor of her lab early this morning. Rushing out to the offices when he got word that the alarms had been tripped, he was struck dumb with horror and grief.


The alarm had been tripped internally, by Anjali herself, apparently.


Nikhil tried to hold back tears. she was the devoted wife of his close friend. Nikhil had been amazed his friend Talan had been able to keep the interest of a woman with her intellect and beauty. Nikhil had asked her about Talan one time when the three of them were out for drinks. She told him that he could make her laugh no matter how bad her day had been.


Now, Nikhil doubted he would be able to stop Talan’s tears.


Ever.


The police were inside the building, and Nikhil was outside trying to understand the purpose of this attack when he noticed someone pointing up into the sky.


He turned to look up, shading his eyes from the morning sun, when he saw small black dots surrounded by blue coming down towards them. In a few seconds, he could tell that they were slowing down.


And still aiming right at them.


A few people standing in the parking lot started moving quickly towards the building as the objects paused their descent about a hundred feet up momentarily and then began to descend again, but slower this time. The mysterious shapes moved carefully onto the parking lot where those people had been standing just moments before.


Nikhil's eyes opened wider when he finally recognized the shapes. These were the famous Pods, the gravitic transportation of Bethany Anne, the CEO of his company's parent company.


The top boss had arrived.


Nikhil unconsciously straightened his jacket as he walked towards the Pods. The first door opened, and a raven-haired beauty and a large white dog got out. She was dressed in black leathers with a jacket that barely concealed her pistols.


The woman stepped away from the Pod and looked around, as all but one of the Pods opened. Nikhil watched as many men and another woman stepped out.


Finally, the last Pod opened, and Nikhil gawked at the biggest man he had ever been near stood up. He was dressed all in black and many weapons were strapped on his body.


None of them concealed. That man looked around before turning and offering a hand to the woman still inside. She pulled on his arm to step out and straightened up.


Nikhil swallowed. Here was the ultimate owner.


He noticed that her people spread out looking for threats when he found himself inside a circle that included him and his CEO, who was walking straight towards him.


She was wearing a modified suit. The pants were leather, her top some type of black spandex and Patel noticed she was wearing pistols as well. Covering it up was a nicely tailored dark red jacket.


She held her hand out to him, “Mr. Patel, I’m Bethany Anne.” Nikhil shook her hand, and she turned towards the ambulance, “Is Ms. Anjali inside the buildling or in the ambulance?”


“The ambulance, but I’m afraid she was killed,” he told her.


“I know, I’m going to pay my respects,” she replied. He walked with her as she moved determinedly towards the ambulance.


One of the paramedics was about to close the door when he noticed the group of people coming right at him. He looked around to see if they were walking to another destination but realized that the ambulance was their goal when a big black man separated himself and approached quickly. Since the group seemed focused on the ambulance contents, he stepped back. After all, there was no living patient to protect in that quiet enclosure.


The big black guard opened the door for Bethany Anne to step into the ambulance. Nikhil was allowed to step inside with her before her guards blocked anyone else from getting closer.


He watched as she reached down to hold the corpse’s hand through the sheet and pulled the top of the sheet down just enough to see Anjali’s face. A lone tear tricked its way down her face.


Not thinking, Nikhil quietly said, “She was pregnant, going to tell her husband Talan the good news tomorrow when both their parents arrived.” He sniffed once and wiped a tear from his eye, “She loved to read the old stories from other countries, from centuries in our past. If the baby was a boy, she wanted to name him Alexander.” Bethany Anne turned to face him as he finished, “If it were a girl, she would name her Alexandra.”


Nikhil noticed something he would swear was true for the rest of his life.


His boss’s eyes turned red.


She turned back towards Anjali’s body and put her left hand on her forehead, her voice dark and deadly. “I swear to you, the sea will run red before I fail to avenge you and your unborn child's death. You have the Queen Bitch’s promise.”


After a few moments, when she looked at Nikhil again, her eyes were normal in appearance. “Whatever Anjali’s salary was, Mr. Patel, triple it and create a fund to help children learn to read the classics or whatever they want. Name it the Princess Alexandra fund in her unborn daughter’s honor. Then, create another fund and make it ten times her salary and provide monthly payments to her husband.”


She stood up, and Nikhil asked, “Excuse me, but from where do you want me to pull the funds to make this happen?”


She turned towards him, vengeance clear in her eyes, “For now, from this company. But I will reimburse it from the accounts of those who stole her life. One way or another. They will pay it all.” With that, she turned away and stepped back out of the ambulance.



“She was pregnant, John.” Bethany Anne spoke into the silence inside the Pod. “They fucking killed an unborn child.”


Inside with John, where no one in the world could see her unmasked, he popped the locks on his harness and turned to open his arms as Bethany Anne laid her head against his chest, “A child, John. She never got to tell her husband. For what?”


He felt her shoulders shake as she cried in muted silence, the two of them flying towards destiny.



Ten minutes later, the team was gone. It wasn’t until after they left that Nikhil wondered how his boss was so sure it was a daughter. Two weeks later, he was comforting Talan when his friend happened to mention the autopsy report said his wife had been carrying a little girl.


Nikhil felt cold chills run through his body.














CHAPTER TWO


7 - Days Earlier - Washington, D.C. - USA


It was half an hour past midnight when the President and two of his secret service members walked the distance from the residential wing to the Deep Underground Command Center (DUCC) located adjacent to the West Wing. As they arrived next to a meeting room, two members of his security staff stepped out.


“David, is the other side secured?” the President asked the ranking Secret Service agent who had just come through the door.


“Yes, I’ve locked the door from the inside and confirmed that both security members on the other door are there for the next six hours. There is no personnel authorized to come down from the other entrance,” he confirmed.


“I only need an hour, probably less,” the President told him.


David smiled, “Sir, I doubt you will need more than fifteen minutes. There isn’t anyone who is going to make it through the other doorway, and between Rod and myself here, we swept everything from the other side to this door for everything, organic or electronic. There is no way, no how anyone is going to meet you in there.”


The President pursed his lips, then smiled. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll bet you a dinner I’ll have a meeting.”


David regarded the President for a moment. “Ok, but I want the nicest, best-aged filet mignon and a baked potato soaked in butter.” David looked around to make sure the three other Secret Service Agents were listening.


“Agreed,” the President said as he stepped to the door and turned before closing it to look at his men. “Remember, no one enters this door, either, gentleman.” With that, the President closed the door. Three seconds later, the door opened, and a hand stuck out. Secret Service Agent Mark Tims smiled and put the most recent sports section from the newspaper into the waiting hand. Both the hand and the sports section disappeared and the door shut with a click.


David looked over to Mark, “I give him ten minutes, fifteen on the outside before he admits I’m right.”


Mark looked back momentarily before turning to face towards the rest of the room and got into position, “Do you have any idea who he expects to meet?”


“Nope,” David admitted, “Not that it matters. There isn’t any way that someone is going to turn invisible, sneak through the entrance on the other side without our temperature and movement detectors alerting us, and bust the lock to get inside that meeting room. Hell will freeze over, first.”


Mark shrugged, “You are probably right. Unless he was meeting the CEO of TQB Enterprises. They probably have some scary techno-shit.”


David snorted, “Like she would want to show up here in the States.”



The President sat down in the same chair he had the last time he met this person. That time, like this evening, was off the books, off the record and frankly would never be admitted to at all.


He opened the sports to the second page to see the latest scores. He made it to page three when he sensed, rather than heard, someone in the large meeting room with him. He looked up to see her eyeing him, a small smile on her face. She was wearing a pair of dark jeans, a red camisole and a black jacket over it. She didn’t have on any jewelry, but then, she didn’t need any.


The president smiled, “Well, looks like I won the bet.”


“Oh? What bet would that be,” she asked him as she walked over and pulled out the chair on his left to sit facing him.


“Whether I would have a meeting in here or not.” He told her, “Although I’m going to have to play like I lost the bet. At some point, I should throw a fit over how you keep standing me up.” He grinned, “But since these meetings aren’t on the record, how would that work?” The President closed the sports section before asking, “Just curious, how did you get in here?”


Bethany Anne raised an eyebrow, “While it isn’t at the level of a national secret, I do have a few important ones.” She grinned and continued, “Maybe someday I’ll take you on a walk that will change your life.”


The president laughed and shook his head, “I’m not sure my wife would like me to take any walk that could change my life. She has told me at least three times every week since I gained office if I decide to run again, she will castrate me, or I’ll be sleeping on the couch for the duration of my time in office.” He sobered, “But if there is a way to get into this area that others can use, I’d be incredibly appreciative if you explained it.”


Bethany Anne shook her head, “There is no way for another living person to enter here using the means I have. Should that change, I will provide you a warning device of some sort to help.”


He shrugged, “Best I’m going to get?” She nodded her answer. “Ok. How about the next item on the agenda. What is this about a real Illuminati?”


Bethany Anne leaned a little forward, “There is an offshoot of the original Illuminati group, a splinter if you will, which was responsible for the attack on our facilities in Colorado and the backpack nuke. They are responsible for many different efforts against our group, trying both legal and illegal means to acquire our technology.”


“You know that’s true for damn near any major company in the world and most of the countries, right?” he asked her, wondering how she would answer.


“I’m entirely aware of the desires, Mr. President.” Bethany Anne considered how much to share before continuing, “I’m mindful of most attacks and plans, most secondary plans and their follow ups. I’m not trying to upset the world. That is the reason for not using our technology to disrupt the world’s economies in the first place. However, I’ll not simply stand by and allow attacks to happen. That is not in my nature.”


“A lot of think-tank scientists are trying to figure out what is your nature, exactly.”


“In what way?” she asked.


He paused a moment, “Well, are you human?”


Bethany Anne started chuckling, “I was born on this planet with two human parents. If that doesn’t make me human, I’m not sure what would clarify it further.”


“Well, parental names?” he pressed.


She put up a finger, “Mr. President, I do this as a favor, not as an opportunity to play twenty questions.”


He shrugged, “You can forgive me for trying? I do have the responsibility for four hundred million people to look after.”


Bethany Anne’s face sobered, “Mr. President, I’m concerned with the seven and a half billion we have on earth, and those coming after us. My parents’ names aren’t going to accomplish much except provide some annoying researcher further useless information to try and analyze me. If you want my thoughts on something, you can ask.” She pulled a USB flash drive out of her jacket. The President didn’t fail to notice the small pistol and holster she was wearing.


He wasn’t accustomed to having anyone but Secret Service agents around him with weapons. If any of the guys on the other side of the door knew he was talking with an armed woman just a few feet away, they would be trying to bust down the door to protect him. He smiled.


“This is ...” she started before her eyes drew together in confusion, “why are you smiling?”


“I’m just thinking how my protective detail,” he jerked a thumb over his shoulder, “would react if they knew I had an armed person sitting in here with me. It humored me to imagine them trying to bust down the door in frustration.” He smiled at her and chuckled, “Sometimes, it is the little things I think about that bring a smile to my face.” He pointed to his hair on the side of his head, “I take my enjoyment where I can get it, I wasn’t expecting to go gray quite so fast.”


Bethany Anne put the USB flash drive on the table, “Talk to me when you get out of office if I’m still around, and I’ll help you with that.” She slid the USB over to him, “On here are the names of the members in the United States and all of your territories. There are thousands in total, although there are probably no more than a hundred and twenty-five that I would rate as the highest priority to review. Those are tagged.”


>>A hundred and twenty-seven.>>


I know that, ADAM. What have we talked about when being exact with humans?


>>That to always be precise points to you not being human.<<


If an AI could sound miffed mentally, ADAM was accomplishing the feat pretty well, she thought. Yes, so while you are an Entity, and you are working to accomplish the most incredible feats ever for me, I need you to understand that if you grease the wheels, it will help reduce trouble. Make sure you update the EVE project for me with that understanding. She thought quickly, Except in battle, you don’t fudge anything during battles.


>>I understand and will make the adjustments.<<


The President eyed the USB drive, “I’m not going to like what is on that, am I?” He reached to take the small device, “Pandora’s box?”


“Some, not all of it. Some of the people on that drive are just family, people who can be used to blackmail other people to get them to do what the Black Cabal need them to do.” When he raised his eyes to her, she explained further, “My name for them.”


He nodded his understanding, “What should I do about General George Thourbourah?”


“Well, his boss is out of the equation. Don’t ask about him if you want plausible deniability. George believes I was seriously hurt, but that will go by the wayside the next time I’m photographed.”


“Oh, earlier than that,” he assured her. He shrugged at her raised eyebrow, “We have assets that track all important people. That could mean important for any number of reasons; you just happen to trip a few of them including financial, technological and security.”


ADAM.


>>Yes?<<


Find out how many countries are tracking me, and start placing information that shows me everywhere so that they can never tell what is the right answer.


>>When do you want this to occur?<<


Can you make it happen retroactively so that the information seemed like it happened before this conversation?”


>>Not easily, no. Countries will have a paper trail.<<


Damn. Ok, figure out the countries’ data feed and start adding additional false positives if you can. I suppose changing their data would flag them that you are in the system.


>>Not to mention it might be too risky unless you believe this must occur?<<


No, it isn’t that big of a deal. I just didn’t realize I’m on various countries’ morning reports, and it bugs the shit out of me.


TOM?


Yes?


What are you working on at the moment?


Still on the gravitic issues with Marcus.


Please add a request to your queue about considering what it would take to change someone to look like me.


I can answer that question already. The Pod doc can’t do it. It works on the person’s DNA, so it isn’t going to change another person to look like you.


But I thought since you can change the structure of the materials in a body, this might be possible?


That was changing the design, not how you look. The Pod Doc hasn’t been set up to change a person.


Wait a minute, TOM - you paused! I sense you thinking about something, ‘fess up.


Well, if a patient is considerably messed up physically or their DNA has been corrupted, the Pod Doc can use a super-set of DNA to try and fix these issues. Doing it this way would certainly change the person as they heal.


So, it’s feasible?


Yes, but not very recommended.


Ok, I’ll push that idea off to the side. 


Are we good?


Yes, sorry. I don’t like being the target, and I figured if there were copies, it would be hard to confirm which version is me.


It would be the version with four large guards walking around her, he quipped.


Did you just zing me… again? she asked, amused.


Yes and here’s your sign, he told her in a southern drawl.


You ass! 


She heard his version of a chuckle as he withdrew from their conversation.


That’s another one I owe you, she thought privately.


Bethany Anne returned to the President’s conversation. Her conversations with ADAM and TOM were over so quickly he didn’t register a pause, “When you find a suitably safe computer to review the contents of the USB drive, you will find incriminating evidence for a lot of powerful and influential people. I have also included general information on critical people in your allies’ governments and significant industries. You can distribute it as you think best.”


The President looked down at the USB drive he was holding, “Truly Pandora’s box, then. I can’t say I’m happy with the present you’ve delivered.”


Bethany Anne shrugged, “Well, you could destroy it and go blithely on your way.”


“No,” he sighed, “I can’t. I have a duty and however distasteful it is, I’ll see it done.” He looked at her, “How do you handle stuff like this?” He asked as he lifted the USB drive and waved it a little.


“I have a group responsible for tracking down the truth and bringing those guilty to justice,” She admitted, wondering what the President would say.


“What about juries, judges, and the rest?”


Her grim face told him the answer, “Mr. President, in the harshness of space, you don’t allow stupidity.” She wasn’t about to fess up regarding Barnabas and Tabitha. “So, we have a strict policy. While we aren’t a hundred percent effective, almost all of the people we have are focused on a bigger goal than just working for their own ends. So, there is a significant amount of self-policing. Those that we miss?” She paused, “They are warned, and they are adults. We treat them as such.”


“You don’t have a positive opinion about our court system?”


“Do you?” She countered.


“Well, I think it is the best thing we have going at the moment.”


“Let me ask you a question. What are the two things that drive people?”


“Fear and greed, usually,” he answered.


“So, take that to the logical conclusion. At a certain age, an adult will be driven by fear, greed, or a challenge - something bigger than themselves. Fear of repercussions for actions they have taken is a strong motivator for not committing punishable offenses. If the system for punishment is broken, then the power of fear in stopping activities diminishes, and you have more and more people shrugging off the threats and acting anyway. However, people learn, quickly. Greed can be considered in a good light. I’m not talking about wanting more money, or power, I’m talking about being greedy or desiring something good in your life that benefits yourself and others. What about the person who is greedy about wanting to be in space? They have to prove themselves capable of deserving that position, of protecting not only themselves but others. Everyone depends on what a person is willing to do to save everyone else.”


“That works when you take the best of society that wants to get ahead,” the President stated.


“No, it works when you stop supporting those who do nothing.”


“That isn’t a very Christian attitude.”


She smiled at him, like a cat looking at a mouse. “Christian? I’ll give you a few things to ponder, Mr. President. Look them up when you have time. ‘The appetite of the laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on.’” She continued, “And the best yet. A quote by the Apostle Paul, who said to those in Thessalonica, ‘We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you… For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’”


She leaned back in her chair, “Do you have some idle hands? Then dream bigger for your country. Give them something to use their minds, their strength, their abilities and stretch your people. Make them earn their keep, and then they will have pride in themselves. If some don’t? Well, be a man and strap a pair on - if you need a pair you can borrow my ovaries. Your infrastructure needs fixing! You have the ability to create work centers by the thousands. You need to fucking dream bigger. We are human beings. Every one of us has worth, talents and skills. Fucking put them to use! Stop taking the easy way out and punting the problem to the next generation. Don’t support a nation of people sitting on their ass and taking money from those who work without trying to make it better. Make a change, even if it is starting the change before you step out of office.”


The President had nothing to say in response. While he didn’t doubt she knew the difficulties of making this happen, she also wouldn’t care that it was a challenge. He pursed his lips and nodded his head sharply.


She stood up and faced him, both hands held up as if in supplication, “Don’t give up, don’t accept mediocrity, don’t accept the status quo. You’re the most powerful man on this planet. Now, fucking act like it.” She stepped backward and disappeared right in front of his eyes.


It took the President a few moments to come to grip with someone disappearing like that. He pondered her comments, her challenge. Standing up, he turned towards the door. Stopping briefly, he looked over his shoulder and whispered.


“I may be the most powerful man on earth, but you are certainly the most powerful woman.”


With that, the President turned back to open the door. Once he stepped outside, he sighed dramatically before admitting to David that he owed him a steak dinner.


Washington D.C., USA


“Congressman Richards!” Mark Billingsly called out. The tall man with shocking blond hair turned to see who had called him on the street outside of his office building.


A man smiled at him. Terry Richards thought he looked familiar and the two woman behind him, one with a camera, were certainly attractive enough. Congressman Richards decided to stop and turn around to speak with these three. Maybe he had seen the Hispanic-looking reporter before? They certainly weren’t here on the Hill very often.


The cute short woman lifted a camera up, first pointed away from him, and he acknowledged the camera. When he did that, she turned it back around towards him. That was an unexpected courtesy, and he felt pleased with the consideration.


Terry turned on his million dollar smile. Well, at least it should be a million dollars, as he had well over fifty-thousand dollars of dental work to make it pretty damned perfect. The male reporter stepped closer to him and looked a little towards the camera, so Terry stepped slightly sideways and joined the reporter looking into the camera.


“Hello! My name is Mark Billingsly, and I have with me Congressman Terry Richards from the great state of New York.” Terry smiled at the audience and wondered if this was going to be a conversation about his solar energy initiative, or the pollution issues and cleanup they were accomplishing around New York City water pollution.


Mark turned just slightly in towards Terry, who looked down a little at the man, “Congressman Richards, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to answer just two questions for us. The first, of course, is a question related to the use of Solar Energy and the advancement of the funds to implement such a system in today's climate.”


“Certainly, Mark,” Terry aimed his mouth a little towards the microphone on the camera, but kept his eyes on Mark except for a couple of glances to the camera, “Right now is the time we all have to focus on the ability to expand our renewable energy usage. With oil such a highly volatile product and the use of oil in manufacturing harmful to the environment, we need renewables such as solar energy to become a viable alternative. As long as we have the sun above us, we will be able to depend on solar power to help us achieve an ongoing energy independence.” Terry waited for the softball follow-up question, and the reporter provided it.


“So ... everyone agrees that solar energy is pretty inefficient right now. Yet you believe that we as a country, and specifically New York, should fund the development and manufacturing of solar installations as a way to create energy independence from foreign countries?”


Well, this wasn’t the softball question Terry expected, but he could handle this easily enough. “Certainly, when you only depend on the sun which is up above your own nation, not oil drilled out of the ground thousands and thousands of miles away, we have options. The option to continue to depend on the sun above us. Or the political and military expedients that continue to infect the machinations of countries who are oil rich. They’re constantly trying to involve the US in their problems, as we are so heavily dependent on oil at this time. Right now, I’m fighting for a future of energy independence. We might have to pay for implementations that require an investment by the government. It may take twenty years to recoup the investment, but I believe we need to focus on the long view. A long view that is sorely lacking in Congress and only slightly better in the Senate.”


Damn, he was on a roll! He was going to ask for a copy of this interview.


“Right now, Congressman Richards, of the top solar component manufacturers, five are Chinese, two are Korean, two are here in the US using parts from which country - we don’t know, and one is Canadian. I’m curious, Congressman Richards, if the use of so many manufactured panels from a foreign country concerns you in any way?”


Terry smiled, not sure where the reporter was heading, but who cared? “Certainly not Mark, when the solar panels are accumulating the sun,” Terry pointed up and winked at the camera, “above our own heads, I’m not sure I worry about a foreign country turning off the lights, so to speak, in our part of the world.”


Mark nodded sagely in agreement with everything Terry said. When the Congressman finished, he asked, “So, the fact that the foreign-made components inside the majority of solar energy products could have a kill switch in them, easily controlled by a foreign country, and possibly rendering them useless as an energy provider doesn’t bother you?” Mark took the surprised look on the congressman’s face as an opportunity to nail him. “And in this future,” Mark mimicked the man’s previous gesture by pointing up, “where we only have to depend on the sun above us, we should trust that no kill-switches were put in place by any of the solar component manufacturers. Even when these organizations include those from governments that have not demonstrated any care for our country’s well-being?”


The congressman’s smile seemed a little strained, “Well, I don’t think we need to look behind every bush and find an evil plan to take over America, Mark,” Terry answered, in an effort to defuse the conversation.


“But Congressman Richards,” Mark now set him up for the final comment, “when you take over $232,532 in donations from lobbyists who have themselves been hired by these same Chinese solar component manufacturers, does it not cause a conflict of interest? Many of your donations having been received the very same day you had meetings with those lobbyists, interestingly enough. You do not believe that these companies, these solar-based manufacturing companies, have ulterior motives?”


“Of course not!” Terry exclaimed, smiling for everything he had, “the use of donations to facilitate an independent energy effort should be applauded.” Terry turned towards the camera, “I want to thank you both for such an excellent opportunity to continue the discussion of how solar power will support the energy independence of the American people, good day!” With that, he waved and continued down the street, making his escape.


Mark turned towards the camera, “We appreciate the good Congressman Richards, himself a recipient of almost a quarter of a million dollars from lobbyists’ money, providing his views on the switch to solar energy. Money focused on the continued implementation of solar panels and solar products manufactured in China. That in itself is not a bad thing, but when almost all of the core infrastructure which makes this country work can have concealed kill commands inside them, it puts America at risk. These commands could fry the component circuitry based on an internet attack, instantly destroying all energy acquisition and distribution without the option of physical replacement. Well, it seems a little concerning that no one is considering the ability of a foreign country to wreak havoc with our needed and necessary infrastructure without one bomb being dropped.”


Mark turned away from the camera to look off camera in the direction of where the Congressman continued to walk away, “And let’s not even begin to discuss the significant and unique electrical pieces that require manufacture in China itself.” Mark looked back towards the camera, “Pieces that once destroyed, will keep your city dark for months or significantly longer if we should be at war.”


Two blocks away, Terry Richards pulled out his cell phone and punched in a specific contact's number. This  phone number was memorized and was restricted to a single use. Halfway around the world, after seven different forwards to hide the eventual destination, a woman picked up the phone, “Hello?”


“This is T.R., I’ve been asked questions and had my connections and exact funding delivered to me in detail by a reporter. You told me this wasn’t possible!” he fumed.


“Was the group behind it headed by a male reporter?” the woman asked.


“Yes! Mark Billingsly and two females,” he answered while looking for cars before crossing the road.


The woman responded in a calm tone, “You are the third concerned citizen to ask about this situation. You know what they say in America about three strikes?”


Terry only admitted, “Yes.”


“Well, don’t expect to receive another request for an interview,” she replied.


“Fine, that works for me. What about the video?”


“Our teams will work on it. Give us time is all I can respond to that question.”


“Understood, goodbye,” Terry said as he hung up and closed the phone.


In a foreign country, a Colonel hung up the phone and turned in her seat. She was part of the approximately seven and a half percent of the PLA army that had responsibility for long-term foreign investment. She picked up the phone and made another call, “I need the approval to send out a clean-up squad. There is a thorn we need to get rid of.”












CHAPTER THREE


QBS Polarus in the Pacific Ocean heading towards China


John Grimes walked into the shared area where he and his guys had their rooms. Darryl gave him a nod from the couch. Scott and Eric were getting set up to arm-wrestle. “Eric, why are you doing this to yourself?” John asked, “We both know Scott is going to eat your lunch.”


Eric grunted as Darryl said, “Go,” and the effort was on. Eric’s biceps were massive, able to easily out dwarf most men’s. But he wasn’t budging Scott, who was steady, holding Eric’s other hand under the arch of their two arms clasped in a titanic struggle of strength.


“You know,” Scott told Eric, smiling. “We can stop now, and you can walk away with your manhood intact.”


“Huh,” Eric grunted, trying to get Scott to lose focus so he could drive his arm down in a sudden burst of effort.


He barely moved Scott’s hand a quarter to a half-inch.


“I’ll take that as a ‘no,'” Scott grinned, “ready to give me twenty pushups?”


Eric ground out, “I’ll give you twenty pushups when you stop being such as weak-ass bitch.”


Darryl warned him, “Don’t let Bethany Anne hear you say that lame-ass name.”


All of the men turned towards the door when they heard Bethany Anne’s voice arrive right before she turned the corner into their room, “I did hear that lame-ass name, and after Eric gives Scott twenty, he can do another twenty-five while I stand on his back.”


Eric’s eyes opened slightly before they darted back to his grip with Scott, who was still paying attention to Bethany Anne over his shoulder. Eric drove his shoulder into the challenge and caught Scott off-guard. Scott barely stopped the sudden drive half-way down to the table, his knuckles mere inches from touching the wood.


“You…” Scott started speaking, through clenched teeth as he tried to offset Eric’s better leverage and damned impressive effort to drive his hand down. “Are … a ... bloated….” Scott’s arm started rising, an inch for every word he said, “Semen … packing … animal … fondling … fuckfaced … cockthistle … cockroach … ass … bandit!” With the final word, Scott slammed Eric’s hand down on the table, making sure he would feel that pain for a while.


Eric pulled his hand back and started massaging his knuckles, “Shit, you pig, that fucking hurt.”


“Not as bad as these heels on your back,” Bethany Anne mentioned. The two men looked around the side of the table.


She had on three-inch heels.


Scott looked over at Eric’s face, his jaw dropping in surprise. Scott grinned as he told Eric, “Damn dude, those are going to hurt.”


Eric looked back up to Bethany Anne’s face, “Isn’t that going to be a bit much?” while pointing at the shoes.


“No, a bit much might be me lifting something while I’m standing on your back to increase the weight.”


Darryl spoke up from the couch, “I’ll volunteer, you can lift me!”


Eric flipped off Darryl, his hand carefully blocked from Bethany Anne’s view by the table.


She turned towards Darryl and chuckled, “I said something, not someone.” She walked over to the couch and sat down. “Before you do your push-ups, Eric, I have a request of you guys.” The four men walked over. John sat next to Bethany Anne, Eric beside Darryl, while Scott took the chair. Akio was out at the moment.




“The ladies have come up with a way to potentially help us in the PR department, make money for a charity, and apparently, have a good time. Well, at least the ladies will have a good time.”


“Why do I sense a ‘but’ arriving soon?” John asked, looked sideways at Bethany Anne.


She opened her mouth, then closed it again. Finally, she opened it again and spoke, “Because I didn’t expect this to occur and I’ve got to say I’m sorry in advance. So, I’m sorry.” She turned to John, “But, you guys are going to be thrown under the bus on this one.”


“You want us to do it, regardless?” John asked, “I’m assuming that since it is for charity, I’m not being shot, so I’m in. What do you want us to do?”


The guys all looked towards Bethany Anne, who was obviously having a hard time with this request. Coming from the lady who chewed up and spit out Forsaken for breakfast, their curiosity was in overdrive. Scott glanced towards Darryl and Eric before Darryl minutely shrugged his shoulders.


Bethany Anne put her hands on her knees and took a deep breath, “Ok, I’m just going to say it. The girls want you guys to do a pin-up calendar.” She exhaled noisily and looked around to her team.


John put up his right hand with a finger pointed to Scott, then Darryl, Eric and finally himself. “You want us four to pose for a pin-up calendar?” he asked, a question clearly on his face.


“Yes,” she admitted, her voice a little higher than normal. “Oh God, fine!” she blurted out, “They want you to do a beefcake calendar!” She threw her hands up, “No shirts, tiny underwear, baby oil and in like, four countries in twenty-four hours.” She put her hands over her face, “I’ve created a set of monsters.” She mumbled through her hands, “It started with Jean Dukes.”


“Jean?” Darryl asked. Bethany Anne nodded her head.


“What did Jean have to do with this?” John asked.


“What didn’t she have to do with this?” Bethany Anne replied, “she came up with the idea and rallied the other ladies to get behind it. Then Cheryl Lynn got involved, and Patricia was asking questions.” Bethany Anne pulled her hands from her face to look at John, “Did you guys know you have female fan clubs?”


John’s blush told her everything she needed to know. She pointed at him, then the other three, “You guys know you have fan clubs?”


They all tried to keep their faces from showing anything, but finally, Darryl gave up and just smiled broadly. His grin was contagious, and soon they were all chuckling. “Bethany Anne,” Darryl said, “we are the Queen’s Bitches, of course, we are going to have fan clubs!” Eric turned and high-fived Darryl. Scott just laughed quietly.


John spoke while pointing to Eric and Darryl, “Those two ass-wipes have been having bets on who can get more fans. However, someone leaked pictures of Scott without a shirt on, and he got something like three thousand fans in twenty-four hours.”


“Unbelievable,” Bethany Anne murmured looking at the three, “So, you guys don’t have a problem with this?”


“Well, are we going to have to get rid of the chest hair?” Eric asked, “Because, I’m a hunk of burning love, and I’m not sure I can handle having a wax job. Scott and I watched the Forty-Year-Old Virgin Tuesday night. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be just as big a baby as that guy was.” He rubbed his chest in a circular motion, “I don’t think anyone can photoshop a bad wax job off all this!”


“Hell, just have a woman running her hands through that chest hair, a few girls will get jealous and perk up!” Scott tossed out.


“Hell yeah!” Eric’s eyes lit up, and he turned to Bethany Anne, “What’s our budget for this? Can I hire a model or two to pose with me?”


Bethany Anne stared at the man, dumbstruck, “Younatalie

 want models in your beefcake pictures?” She turned to the men, “You do realize this is a calendar for women, right?”


“Well, The Fire Department of New York is doing one. Guys on one side, girls on the other.” John mentioned before realizing he might have given too much information away. He got a surreptitious glance from Scott.


“What?” Bethany Anne turned towards John as John watched Scott put up his fingers to his head and act like he shot himself as he rolled his eyes behind Bethany Anne.


“Well,” John ad-libbed, “I was looking into New York after our little episode there a few months ago, and I ended up on a website that was talking about the new addition of women from the Fire Department doing a calendar. And…Uh…” John faltered, trying his best for slightly embarrassed, “Well, for research purposes I went to go see what the pictures might look like for the women.” he shrugged as the guys all smiled at his discomfort.


Knowing full well if they didn’t pull this off, it would be hell to pay later.


“I’ll tell you what, how about you guys agree to the beefcake, but I’ll say there is a condition that the women have to do a few poses for a personal calendar that can only go to you guys. That way, they can put up or shut-up?”


Scott grinned, “Hell yeah!” Then Scott asked, “Do we get to choose?”


“Choose?” Bethany Anne turned to him, “and who would be on your list, Mr. English?”


Scott’s face went red, “Uh…Who is in the group again?”


“Uh huh…” She smiled, “Ok guys, I want you to think of who you would like in the calendar!” She clapped her hands twice, loudly, “Come on! You know who it is!”


The guys all looked at each other when she started laughing and stood up, “Oh my God. This is priceless!” She began walking towards the door, “Don’t forget your push-ups, Mr. Escabar, I’ll have Scott stand on your back in my place. He doesn’t have heels!” She waved over her shoulder to them and exited their rooms.


Once she was out of the room, the guys turned to face each other, confusion on their faces.


“Does she know we bugged the last meeting?” Eric asked.


John turned back to look at the door and his missing boss and admitted, “I don’t think so, this is much worse.”


“Worse?” Darryl asked, “How the hell could it be worse?”


John told the guys, while still watching the door, “I think she just got the names of every woman we like.”


The men all turned towards the door.


“Oh shit,” Darryl said.





“They want WHAT!” Cheryl Lynn gasped, her look of shock complete as her eyes darted among the three other women in Bethany Anne’s suite.


“Wait a fucking second,” Jean spoke up next, “This was about getting those guys to bare their bodies, not us expose ours!”


“Why are you worried?” Cheryl Lynn turned to Jean, “You have a gorgeous body. I’ve pushed two kids out, and if the girls aren’t a little less perky, I don’t know what is!”


Bethany Anne had told the ladies the request, modified for her personal reasons, and sat back to watch the fur fly.


Damn, she wished she had thought to pop some popcorn.


“And who is going to ask Natalia to join this?” Cheryl Lynn continued, “She didn’t even start this project, and someone is going to have to ask her to pose in a bathing suit?  She’s the XO on the Ad Aeternitatem for pete’s sake!”


“Hey, you guys are asking them to go shirtless with really tiny skivvies, all they want is a one-piece,” Patricia reminded them.


“That’s easy for you to say, your name didn’t get drawn out of the hat!” Cheryl Lynn hit back.


“Why are you having such a hissy-fit?” Jean asked Cheryl Lynn, “You’ve got a body to die for, if I had the extra three inches in height you have, I’d be dancing a pole somewhere.”


Cheryl Lynn turned back to Jean and pointed to her, “This is your fault, you hussy!” Cheryl Lynn kept going, even as Jean started laughing, “What the hell am I going to say to my kids?”


“Momma’s got back?” Patricia suggested.


Bethany Anne couldn’t stop the short laugh escaping from her lips. She quickly put her hand over her mouth as the arguing women turned towards her. She got out a ‘sorry’ before Cheryl Lynn continued the conversation looking to her, “Who is going to ask Gabrielle?”


“Oh hell, that’s easy,” Patricia said and pulled out a phone. She hit a couple of numbers before waiting for a second as the women watched, “Hey, Gabby baby, it’s Patricia. You know that favor you owe me? Yeah, that one. Hey, it’s time to pay me back for a good cause. What? No, you don’t have to off someone for me.” She paused for a moment before chuckling, “No, I can take care of him all by myself.”


Now, all three of the ladies were engrossed in Patricia’s side of the conversation. Jean looked over to Bethany Anne and mouthed ‘your dad?’ to her. Bethany Anne shrugged as they continued to listen.


“No, I want you to wear a hot bathing suit and get pictures taken with Jean, Cheryl Lynn and Natalia just for the guys. No, they didn’t ask,” Patricia glanced over at Bethany Anne, who returned her look with an innocent smile, “I guess someone ratted them out. No, I don’t know who asked for you. I could speculate, but so can you. Who knows, maybe it was John.”


“Oh, he can ask for Gabrielle when I yank his pecker off,” Jean muttered. Bethany Anne could hear Gabrielle’s laughing as she heard Jean's comment.


“That’s harsh, don’t you think?” Cheryl Lynn asked Jean.


Jean turned to Cheryl Lynn, “Ok, so how about it was Scott that asked for Gabrielle?”


Cheryl Lynn’s mouth pressed together before answering, “Well, I would have to accept that he had interests in someone else, not every person is going to return my interest.”


“Trust me, if you have their pecker, they will be focused on you, and you alone.” Jean told her, “I mean ... it doesn’t have to be in a bad way, a careful pull, then another careful pull, and you…”


“Enough!” Cheryl Lynn put up her hand, shaking her head, “How can you go from yanking their pecker off, to jerking it off in two seconds?”


“That’s not jerking it off, that’s called a ‘come along’ gesture,” Jean told the other woman, winking saucily at her as she used her hands to make a gesture as if she was pulling a rope. “Guaranteed to get their attention.”


“And a clean up on aisle twelve,” Patricia added, holding the phone away from her ear to reduce the pain she felt as Gabrielle laughed hard and loud on the other side of the line.


“Only if you are really, really good.” Jean agreed.


“Or, it’s been a while, so don’t get too full of yourself,” Cheryl Lynn retorted.


“Baby, when I get done with John, the only name he better remember is mine. If there is another name, I’ll just have to try harder.” She paused for a second, “Or get Gabrielle to off the other bitch.”


“I’m not even going there,” Cheryl Lynn admitted, “That would be too easy for you.”


“With what part?” Jean asked.


“Harder.”


“Oh, let’s talk about the …” Jean started talking before Bethany Anne put up a hand to stop Jean in mid-sentence.


“Would you ladies mind continuing this another time? We are on a schedule. Patricia can ask Natalia, and if she agrees, then Operation Beefcake is a go.”


Patricia pointed to her phone and nodded that Gabrielle was fine with doing the photo shoot.


Bethany Anne wasn’t worried about the five-hundred-year-old woman. A slinky bathing suit wouldn’t offend her at all. Hell, she would act concerned, but Bethany Anne doubted full nudity would bug her either. As you age, you tend to lose your inhibitions and five hundred years is a lot of time in which to lose them.


“Ok, next step is the photographer, who is going to take the pictures?” Bethany Anne asked.


“Why not get the same guy that did the shots of your cars?” Jean asked.


“What was his name?” Cheryl Lynn asked, “I can look it up if you don’t know it.”


“Mark Koeff, from California. I think he goes by another name as well for some of his work.” Bethany Anne said, “I’ll call him and ask. If he will do it, I’ll get a Pod over to pick him up later so he can work with the guys.”


“Do you think they will have problems in front of the camera?” Jean asked.


Bethany Anne eyed the shorter woman, “I think if I let you rub John down with the baby oil, he won’t be able to get in front of the camera.


Jean smiled mischievously, “Sure he would…eventually.”












CHAPTER FOUR


Rancho Santa Margarita, California - USA


Mark Koeff had been surprised to get a phone call from Bethany Anne earlier that day. It took him about thirty-seven seconds to say ‘yes.'


He grabbed two bags of camera equipment to hand to the man who had landed a black Pod that night in his backyard. It was a good thing the vehicle could fly straight up and down, his yard was pretty small. Orange County had a lot of positive things going for it. However, large lot sizes weren't one of them.


Tanner, the guy helping him, grabbed the two heavy bags that contained the lighting equipment and walked out of Mark’s kitchen into the back yard. Mark watched him for a second as it sunk in that Tanner wasn’t struggling with the weight at all.


Kari, Mark’s wife, came and kissed him good-bye. He stepped over to the twenty-seven inch iMac he used for his business and shut it down. Mark had rescheduled some headshot work by a few days to do this gig, but only one person complained, He offered to do his pictures for free, just a week late, which seemed to please everyone.


“Come back safe, sweetheart,” Kari told him. They kissed another time, and the two walked out to see Tanner standing in front of the Pod.


“Ready?” he asked Mark.


Mark turned to Kari, “I’ll be safe. I’m going to be shooting pictures of heavy duty guards. I’ll just hide behind them if anything happens.” He chuckled as he sat down in the Pod and Tanner helped him strap in with the five-point harness.


Kari watched as the black Pod lifted into the darkness before disappearing from her eyes. She turned to go inside, hoping she didn’t hear about her husband in the news.



Mark was amused to be teaching four of the most famous guys in the protection business the ins and outs of his profession to calm their fears. While he often had to reduce anxiety for those he photographed, doing that for these four, who probably walked through walls rather than finding the door, was funny.


As long as he didn’t let them know he was laughing on the inside, he should be fine.


Mark had made it to the Pacific to land on the QBS Polarus with the famed Ad Aeternitatem a couple of hundred yards away, heading to the west at a slow pace.


His stuff was offloaded as he was shown to the meeting room on the huge ship. It was in here that he found the four guards waiting for him. Mark had kept a few things with him to help with the discussion. He shook everyone’s hand and exchanged names before opening his bags. Placing the contents on a table at the front of the room, he looked up to see that the four men had taken seats in the front row.


Mark held up a camera body. “This is a Canon 5D Mark III, I have the Mark IV pre-release version Canon provided me to review before release, but for this shoot, I’m going with my tried and true tools.” He looked at his attentive audience, “I’m sure you have preferred tools you use.” He got some nods of agreement.


Mark set the camera down and picked up a long cylinder, “This is a Canon 70-200 zoom lens, which gives me the flexibility to go slightly wider if I need, but primarily to take advantage of its 2.8 aperture at a 200% compression factor to obtain dappled, indistinct backgrounds. I also love the way it flattens the nose and brings out the eyes, making a deeper spiritual connection with the viewer. This lets the viewer catch a glimpse into the soul, which is eminently more appealing.”


He put down the lens and picked up the next piece of equipment, “For lighting, I’ll use the on-camera flash as a fill. It’s called this because it fills in shadows caused by the main lights. It also triggers slaved kicker strobes, which I’ll place one on each side to rim light your torso and your face. This will also create more detail, texture, and dimensionality, showing your muscles better.”


Mark put down the flash and leaned back against the table to speak to the guys. “Regardless of the site, I’ll want the positioning or pose not only to reflect the natural activity of the location but to possibly tell a story. That will create a feeling of catching you in action, unaware of being photographed.”


Scott put up a hand, and Mark paused, “Can you give us an example?”


Mark nodded, “Sure, for instance, suppose we choose to shoot at an animal shelter demonstrating your compassionate nature and love of animals. I’d have one of you comforting a small dog, wrapped in your shirt. Should we to go to a beach location, you might be standing in line for lunch at a quaint bistro in the noonday sun, needing no shirt, or walking away with your hands full with a small plate, sandwich, and drink. Should Cheryl Lynn’s goal be to capture you in work-related activity, like guarding, I’d have to consult with you and ask you what sort of scenario would either stop you from wearing a shirt or cause you to disrobe and then we’d recreate that scene. The idea is to create images that make women viewers feel a bit of the voyeur, catching you involved in real activities. This allows the ladies’ imaginations to run wild, engendering emotional connection and a sexier image.” He smiled to the guys who were all nodding in understanding.


Mark took a second to make sure they were all looking at him again before continuing. “Look, trust the process and know that I will not allow you to do anything that would make you look anything less than powerful. If I don’t like how things are developing, we’ll simply start again and take a new approach. If you don’t feel comfortable with any direction or requested action, you have the ability to stop and tell me. It’s integral to the process that you OWN the story and feel it. Our goal is to create an image that is illustrative, which means capturing believable situations or stories with honest emotions. Together we can make it happen. However, we will only be successful when you trust me. Don’t try to be or do anything ... rather be and do as you would if you were all by yourselves with no one watching.”


Mark paused for a moment and thought, “Ok, here is an example scenario. Just as you stepped out of your brownstone to pick up your paper early one morning, wearing only towel or boxer shorts and coffee cup in hand, your front door suddenly slams behind you and you don’t have your key.”


“That’s Eric,” John commented and received a punch on his shoulder from Eric.


Eric smiled, “Mark, I’d have to use the towel, beach size, of course, assets must be hidden, and beach size is the only size appropriate.”


“Stop lying,” Darryl shot back laughing, “I’ll get you a washcloth, which will be sufficient to hide anything. Hell, you don’t need a fig leaf, just pull a blade of grass, and you will be just fine.”


“I’m sorry, but there hasn’t been a piece of grass that can hide my anatomy since the Jurassic period,” Eric shot back.


Scott leaned forward to look past Darryl to ask John, “How the hell does Eric know the term Jurassic?”


John smiled, “He saw the movie.”


“Right, good point.” Scott leaned back, “I thought my view of reality was being called into question here.”


“Look, you ass!” Eric shot back.


Mark was watching the men fire comments back and forth, his head going from one to the other and then back again. He interrupted to try and get the conversation back on track, “Hey guys?” He felt almost a click of a laser sight as all four snapped their eyes back to him immediately, “May I continue?”


“Sure, sorry.” Eric said, “Just have to make sure I protest this obvious effort to spin a falsehood about my manhood here.”


Mark nodded, “I got it, beach sized towel. So, moving on. Once a storyline is established, we will then set it in motion… My words will focus you, much like a movie director’s, reminding you of the scene, and interjecting surprises. You just recalled you have a meeting in 30 minutes, or you suddenly see your girlfriend pulling up and she’s doesn’t know your mistress is inside or…”


“Hold!” John said, putting up a hand, “Can we skip the mistress idea? If you aren’t aware, the ladies we work with will take that shit pretty fucking seriously, and it would hurt like hell to heal from their anger.”


“Imagine if Cheryl Lynn,” Darryl started before Scott interrupted.


“Or Jean, huh John?" Scott laughed.


“Oh, hell no!” John grinned as he pretended to shake, “I can imagine waking up with a howitzer aimed at my privates. It would totally ruin my morning.”


Darryl whooped in laughter, “You would be hog tied and sweating!” He put his arms by his side and acted out being tied up, “Jean, we can talk about this. I’m not sure who that woman is, but I assure you…” Then, Darryl switched to a higher voice, “Oh, I’m sure there will be some assurance here, Mr. Grimes. Like, I assure you that I will cause untold pain if you ever mess around on me.”


“Love at the end of a one fifty-five…one fifty-five..” Eric started singing.


“That shit isn’t funny,” John said, grinning. “You might think you got it easier, Scott. But Eric here is going to be up shit creek if …”


“Ho, ho, ho, hold on!” Eric interrupted. “Let’s not get ahead of anyone here. I’ll admit John might have some plans for the delectable and delicate Ms. Dukes.”


“Delicate?” Darryl laughed, “Are we speaking about the same lady?”


“Hey, I’m trying not to scare John away before he makes a move on the woman!” Eric said.


John said slowly, “I don’t know, the idea of that one fifty-five howitzer staring at me when I wake up is a little concerning.”


“Shit, John,” Scott said, “You don’t worry about a howitzer. That thing is too big to fit in your bedroom.”


“That’s true.” John agreed.


 “Nope,” Scott continued, “What you worry about is what new gravitic tool she would concoct to smash your balls twenty times before you got the first scream out of your mouth!” He started laughing so hard that he almost fell off of his chair.


At this, the other three guys and Mark started chuckling.


John just shook his head, “That was not the kind of support I need right now, Scott.”


Scott acted like he was wiping away tears from his laughter, “Don’t worry about it. The truth hurts, but Jean Dukes will elevate it to a new level of pain if there is a mistress involved.”


“Hey, I didn’t say anything about a mistress,” John said, then pointed to Mark, “He started this mess.”


Mark realized that joking with four tough guys maybe wasn’t the best way to get out of this unscathed.


Mark grinned and put a finger into his shirt’s collar, “Is it getting hot in here or is it just me?” He looked at John, “Wow, tough crowd. Let’s keep going shall we?” He rubbed his jaw, “Ok, this step is going to be tough to accomplish because your training is going to make this difficult.”


“Our training?” John asked.


“Yes, you see, I would normally do something or have someone off screen to distract you and try to get you to lose your awareness of the process so you are more comfortable and natural. Since you guys are trained not to be off-guard, I can’t do that. So, suggestions?”


“Not a one,” John admitted.


Mark considered the problem and shrugged his shoulders, “I’ll just have to improvise.”


Manufacturing Facility 01 - Asteroid Fields


Gott Verdammt, but she was beautiful.


Captain Paul Jameson was going around the ship, his ship, for the fifth time. It had taken him only twenty-four hours to send a message to Bethany Anne that he accepted the role of piloting this bad-ass motherfucker in front of him.


He went under the ship, noticing the massive guns under her belly, and on her wings. He surreptitiously wiped a tear away from his eye. “Aww damn, Justin, I wish you could see this son-of-a-bitch.” He spoke softly into the silence of his Pod. “I promise you, buddy, I’ll do my best to make you proud.”


Paul thought back to the last night before his friend died in a non-engagement, engagement. Rules stopping both his friend and himself from doing what they felt was right. Rules that ended up costing his friend his life. It had been years ago, and yet the pain was still as fresh as if it was last week.


“She’s the right one. She’s one I can follow and whether I die of old age, or I come see you soon, we are going into battle behind one bad-ass leader. I wish you could be here to enjoy this with me.” Now, tears were falling down Paul’s face.


He just let them flow ... it was past time he have this conversation.


“I’ve just been piloting Justin, I’ve just been waiting, I thought. But I was taught how to trust, how to serve, again. How to follow one more time unto the breach.” Paul flew the Pod around over the side and then the top to view the long guns running down the flanks, “And now, she has trusted her life, her future and the future of the world with me at the helm of the baddest, biggest, and meanest ship man has ever built. I’m going to be her pilot, the man who is going to point this beast wherever the fuck she tells me to aim it.”


He stopped the pod and looked down at the men and women still swarming on the ship’s outside, trying to finish the modifications to the gravitic sensors and armament changes that Bobcat and Marcus came up with after Paul started flying the ship.


Paul noticed three cargo containers floating into the section behind the biggest guns and grinned mirthlessly.


Paul spoke aloud, to his friend wherever he might be. “If Bethany Anne points towards Hell itself? Well, I’ll just see you sooner, my friend, because I’ll storm Hell itself for her.”



William walked into the commander's office, the one Bobcat was working out of for the time being until Bethany Anne and her team could arrive.


“I got the news from Dan via Samantha,” Bobcat told his friend before he could speak, “Take a seat. We need to talk.”


William sat at the large wooden table and placed his tablet in front of him and spoke before Bobcat could ask him a question, “A metric shitload.” he said.


“Enough to take out a country?” Bobcat asked, looking over at his friend, “Say one the size of China?”


“Enough to put the world into another Ice Age if we needed to. I know Bethany Anne isn’t going to do that, but we can pound the shit out of everything down there, and they can’t touch us.” William shrugged, “And that’s just with rocks.”


“Can this ship withstand a nuclear bomb attack?” Bobcat asked his friend.


“I’ve talked with Marcus and the other eggheads he has on board. By the way, did you know he brought that chick scientist up here?”


“Of course, I know, since it had to be approved, by me,” Bobcat replied.


“Oh. Just curious. I figured maybe he would still go after Gabrielle.”


“I think their date did a world of good for his ego. I didn’t realize how messed up he was after his two divorces. I understand Gabrielle told him a few things after she gave him the kiss.”


“So, we know for sure he got kissed?” William asked, smiling.


“Yes, I asked Gabrielle,” Bobcat replied.


“What, she will kiss and tell?”


“She said she is no gentleman, nor a lady. Something about giving up being a lady back in the 1700’s or something. Then, she grumbled something else about paying back Richard and Samuel again. Whatever the hell that means. So, long story short, she admitted she tried to make his short and curlies stand straight out.”


“Fucking lucky bastard…” William whispered.


“I know, and you know what?” Bobcat asked as William raised an eyebrow in response, “We only have ourselves to blame for his luck.”


The two men fist bumped each other and said in unison, “One for all, and all for one!” They chuckled together for a moment before William continued, “Yeah, we can take a nuke. The EMP bullshit won’t get through the gravitic shield. Apparently, this stuff doesn’t work on the same principle as our normal electronics which is good. Otherwise, we would throw nuclear devices at each other in battles out here in space to take down shields all the time.”


“Do they know nukes can’t get through shields back on earth?” Bobcat wondered aloud.


“Yes. I confirmed with Marcus that Lance has a shield going up and over the Australian base right now. Anyone tries that bullshit again like they did in Colorado and they are in for a surprise.”


“Probably right before Australia sends something up the attacker’s ass. The Aussies don’t mess the fuck around.”


“Messed up the accent, tho,” William commented.


“Not with the women. Sounds awesome with the women.”


“That’s because everything a woman says or wears is awesome. Put a man’s dress shirt on a woman and now it becomes a sexual tease.”


“Word.” Bobcat agreed.


“Do you think she will do it?” William asked.


“Which part?” Bobcat asked, “Bomb them back to the stone-age or … what?”


“I don’t know. Bethany Anne was kind of constrained with those that attacked in Colorado, and she has been relatively calm about taking out the Cabal members. I’m wondering if she is settling down.”


Bobcat looked into the distance, thinking of the many miles and galaxies they had in their future from his talks with Bethany Anne over the last few years.


“Not a fucking chance.” Bobcat told his friend, “China has no idea who they just upset.” He smiled at his friend. “I’d admit to feeling sorry for the poor bastards, but that would just be lying.”


“Now,” Bobcat started, pulling his tablet up and hitting a button on the screen, “Let’s talk about what is left before we can move this son-of-a-bitch.”












CHAPTER FIVE


Clan Temple Near Shennongjia Peak, Hubei


The pain seemed like it lasted forever and yet had never been. Stephanie Lee’s eyes opened, and she took in the medical device she was laying in. She reached out to touch the small button that was inside the pod, and the top cracked open.


She looked around and noticed the robe she had been wearing was gone. It had been taken away while she was asleep.


How long was I out? She wondered.


Fourteen days and three hours, Yin told her.


Stephanie Lee considered the familiarity of the voice and remembered the pain, the mental fight to retain control. You tried to take over my body! She demanded, pissed. You figured on pushing me out of control, why should I believe anything from you?


Yang replied We do as we have been told. We were told that we would be able to command your body. However, we are in fact the controlled. We are stuck in here! 


What? Stephanie Lee asked. She looked down at her body, no hair anywhere, she was completely without hair except on her head. She seemed slightly taller than she was before and a small birthmark on the left side of her stomach was no longer in evidence.


Yin answered The process is supposed to allow us the opportunity to inhabit a body instead of being primarily connected in the Etheric. It is a rare situation. Our consciousnesses were tied to this spacecraft. Apparently, our connection to the spacecraft and the Etheric are severed. We are supposed to have been provided this vessel, your body, to make our next steps. Now, you are in control.


Yang spoke next, Don’t believe we are without options. We can make your life continuously painful. I know how to block the pain from affecting you, I also know how to cause it. This can be a harmonious relationship.


Stephanie answered, Let me suggest that you starting this relationship by expecting to take over my body is not the start of anything harmonious between us.


Yang’s mind speech tenor changed to one aggravated. Listen, you are a sub-optimal being! Our intelligence and wisdom dictate we do not submit to one such as you.


Then why, Stephanie asked, did you want this body in the first place?


The Leopard Empress is our Avatar. Yin answered exasperated. Do you not remember anything taught you as a child here?


Those fairytales? Stephanie Lee replied, The ones about gods and goddesses, changing to our animal spirits and … oh … my … god. She stopped for a moment, thinking. You have been planning this how long?


Centuries, Yang admitted.


Why me? 


Because you are genetically perfect for our efforts. Your children will be able to procreate and carry the gene to the next generation. Within just a few generations time, we can infect the world with our efforts, Yin answered.


Stephanie asked, What is the rush again? I remember you mentioning that.


Yin answered, There is an avatar for one of the five here on earth. The technology we hear rumors about, and what we could learn from your memories suggests it is from a particular clan.


One we thought destroyed centuries ago, Yang spoke.


They might be destroyed, Yin admitted, they could be from centuries before.


So, you guys have technology that is better than TQB’s?


Perhaps, Yin qualified. However, we are leaders, not technologists. It might have been a different type of role that landed here. We are not familiar with the systems. Our specialties include the manipulation of genetics for the effective growth and most enhanced abilities from our stock.


You mean humans? Stephanie Lee asked.


Yes, Yang answered, we mean humans. Remember, your species is advanced, but you are still a couple of significant levels of advancement beneath the weakest of our race of Kurtherians.


Why do you want humans anyway?


Space is large, there are many races and species which fight whether the other race cares to fight or not. Our clan, the Tre’learth, is responsible for advancing the abilities of a race more quickly to prepare themselves for the onslaught of another race.


How are we supposed to know when this will occur? Stephanie Lee asked.


When we warn you, of course, Yin replied.


Stephanie Lee started biting on her lip, considered what she had learned, and what she had not. If anything, her time with the Illuminati was a doctorate course in lying by omission.




Washington D.C., USA


The President walked down to the meeting room, leaving both of his agents outside the door as he stepped in. He nodded to the man who was bald and wearing the typical Washington power suit and a dark blue and red tie.


The man, the Secretary of State’s behind-the-scenes power broker, sat ready to inform the President of what had been going on. Well, what had been happening behind the scenes once the President dropped the data in their hands and commanded them to disperse it to the correct countries.


The President sat down, “Ok, give me the highlights Jimmy.”


”We have a shit-storm,” he began before realizing what he said exactly, “Oh, sorry.”


The President waved it away, “In here, tell me straight. Bad language offends me less than kissing my ass.”


Relieved, Jimmy continued, “Well, the French are demanding how we know this. Germany is asking if we have more that we haven’t given them, and England is asking the same thing. Except, they asked it as whether they should expect another axe to fall?” Jimmy looked to the President to answer the question.


“Frankly Jimmy,” the President responded, “I don’t know.” The President almost wanted to laugh at the face Jimmy gave him. “This information was provided in a unique fashion, and I can’t demand more just show up because I want it. I suspect from what I was told that these are the major players that each country should worry about. If there is anyone bigger, well my feeling is they are already a target and won’t be a problem in the near future. If they are smaller, then they will lose their ability once the big fish are taken care of, or they will be dealt with in some other form or fashion. Or, they aren’t really a significant problem.”


Jimmy tried to frame his next question, “What about all of their requests that we provide how we know this?”


“Well, we could tell them the truth?” The President asked his contact. He started chuckling when Jimmy’s mouth opened and shut a few times.


Finally, Jimmy answered, “Mr. President, isn’t the truth we received it from a concerned party, and we don’t know what they know?” The President just nodded his head in agreement. “I’m not sure that is going to work too well.” Jimmy allowed, “My experience over the last decade suggests they would prefer to be sold a lie than told the truth, sir.”


“Mine too, Jimmy.” The President told him, “but in this case I’m going to have to provide them the truth. If we sell a lie, and the provider of the information gets wind of it, we could be in pretty hot water. I’m too damned concerned it would happen, so we need to think about that now.”


“Us?” Jimmy asked, perplexed.


“Yes, us. As in, if we aren’t ethical with the information and the truth, or non-truth, of how we acquired the information. Stay silent if you can’t tell the truth.” The President tapped his fingers against the table for a minute, and Jimmy stayed silent. He was accustomed to waiting on those in power thinking through a solution. “Tell you what. If they want to know more, then the only person who I will discuss this with is their leader. I will need to speak with him or her on the phone to know they will accept my conditions.”


“What are those conditions?” Jimmy asked.


“The leader comes alone. Transportation will be provided. When I know who is potentially coming, I’ll negotiate with the owner of the information. Should that person agree, we will make this happen and provide the information at this meeting. Those that join are not permitted to share the information to those that do not show.”


“How would we possibly enforce that agreement?”


“Well, I believe those who do come will be persuaded as I was persuaded.” The President answered mysteriously. He stood up, “That’s all Jimmy. Tell the Secretary of State and you guys get moving.” He turned and stepped back out of the small meeting room and continued to his next scheduled appointment.












CHAPTER SIX


QBS Battleship, Manufacturing Facility 01 - Asteroid Fields


Marcus walked into the empty meeting room on the spaceship and his two friends, with solemn faces, turned to look at him.  Both were sitting at the end of the table with Bobcat in the main position and William to his left.  This meeting room, he noticed, was carpeted in a deep red and the table was made of wood.  He sure hoped nothing made it this far into the spaceship or all of this wood would become tiny little shards of death for anyone in here when it exploded.


The chair to Bobcat’s right was pushed back, inviting him to sit. Marcus pulled the chair back and sat down tiredly.


“You look like shit, buddy,” Bobcat told him.


“Have you looked in a mirror lately?” Marcus shot back.


Bobcat turned to William, “See?”


William nodded sagely, “Him too, huh?”


Bobcat nodded and turned back to the rocket scientist and told him, “You are working too hard.”


“Do you know of any other gravitic experts around?” Marcus asked, “No, of course not.  I’m it, and I’m not teaching at the moment.  I’m doing.”


“This wasn’t a course on how to train up someone to take over your position to move forward,” Bobcat explained. “It’s more about two friends looking after the well being of friend number three.”


Marcus smiled, “You know I’ve been with you guys for a while, and I still have problems getting used to you two.”


“That’s because we are an acquired taste,” William chuckled, “One my mom used to say should be washed out with soap.”


“Yeah, you remember that one weekend we were supposed to show up for dinner on Saturday?” Bobcat asked while William grinned.


“I don’t,” Marcus interrupted.


“Well, it started like this,” Bobcat leaned back in his chair, “Sir can’t-hold-his-liquor here.”


William jumped in, “Hey, that was early in my drinking career.”


“A career you never did very well in, either,” Bobcat told him, “Lest you make me talk about the great bar fiasco in ’02?”


“Um, no.” William responded quickly, “and the less you mention ’02, the better.”


Marcus was slightly surprised to notice red on Williams' cheeks. He decided he would need to follow that little tidbit at another time.


“Alright then,” Bobcat continued, “See, William here invited me over to his parent's house for a Saturday afternoon lunch.  We were supposed to show up about two in the afternoon.  Seeing how his mom knew that William liked to sleep.”  Bobcat looked down on the floor to his left as he spoke and grunted before sitting forward in this chair and grabbing something.


A second later, he pulled a cold six pack, ice still on the sides and plopped it on the table.  William turned to the chair next to him and grabbed something in it.  He lifted a blue towel and Bobcat lifted up the six-pack and sat them on the towel William had placed on the table.


“Don’t want to get water rings on Bethany Anne’s new meeting table,” William said.


“Word.” Bobcat agreed.  He pulled a beer off of the six pack and handed one to Marcus, who took it.  Marcus was surprised to see Bobcat pull another and give it to William.  He hadn’t noticed William drinking very often while up here.


“So,” Bobcat continued after everyone popped their beers open, “We show up.  Now, we think we are pretty damned good because we get there at one forty-five in the afternoon.  The problem was, William starts looking around the yard as we park and muttering about there not being enough cars.  So, we step out, and his Mom opens the screen door with a big wooden spoon in her hand. She calls William here by his full Christian name, and I hear him say ‘oh, we are fucked’ and he starts backtracking very slowly to get into the car.”


Marcus noticed William put his head in his hand like he didn’t want to witness the completion of the story.


“I’m there looking between this huge black man and this relatively tiny black woman with what looked like a foot long wooden spoon.”


“She uses it for stew,” William added.


“Yes, the stew is amazing, but that isn’t part of this story.” Bobcat said, “So, I’m watching, and she tells him to stop and damned if this two hundred and fifty-pound warhorse doesn’t stop right in his tracks.  He starts with ‘Momma, what's wrong?  We are early!’”  Bobcat started laughing.  “She comes at him and starts using that spoon like a whip and beating William with it ‘crack! crack!’ Pretty soon, he’s hopping around trying to dodge this tiny lady and her spoon of pain.  I’m laughing my ass off as she begins to tell us the problem is it’s Sunday, not Saturday!” Bobcat continued chuckling as Marcus started to understand where the story was going, “We got so blitzed on Friday night that when we came in oh-dark-thirty Saturday, we slept for twenty-four fucking hours and got up for the three hour trip on Sunday morning.”


“Yeah, you thought that shit was funny until she laid into you!” William grinned back at Bobcat.


“I don’t think she put as much arm into it.” Bobcat shrugged.


“She told me later you looked a little anemic; she didn’t want to break a bone.”  William chuckled.


Marcus asked, “What did you do with the tiny black woman you had never met, who was beating you with a spoon?”


Bobcat looked over at Marcus and smiled, “I took it like a man.  I was taught to mind my manners around the adults and,” he pointed to William, “his mother was the adult that morning.”


“What finally happened?” Marcus asked.


“She fed us left overs from the day before,” William answered.


“God, I think I begged you for three months before you would take me back,” Bobcat said aloud, then turned to Marcus, “He made me sign a promise we wouldn’t go out drinking the night before.  I signed that damned piece of paper so quick you would think it was a chick asking if I wanted to have sex.  Hell, by then I would have told the chick no just to get your mom’s cooking.”  He cocked his head to the left, “I don’t think I ever understood the phrase ‘the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ until that experience.  Hell, I’d of married your mom if she was available.”


William chuckled, “Don’t think my ma didn’t know that.  She would tell my dad all the time if he didn’t walk the straight and narrow, there were men lined up to steal her away.”


Bobcat reached over and pulled the next three beers and passed them around before leaning back in his chair.


“So, here we are gentleman,” He said, “I’ve been talking with our boss lady, and she informed me that the three of us were officially off the clock for twenty-four hours.  If she found out we had defied her orders, then she would create a painful punishment to make sure we didn’t defy her orders again.”


Marcus pulled the tab on his second beer, “Well, if the boss requires it.” He took a sip and sat back. “Is that why you told me to cut everyone loose until tomorrow?”


Bobcat nodded, “Yes.”  he took the beer in his hand and waved it around the room, “This ship is the culmination of over eight hundred people up here, and thousands from back on Earth. But if you go back far enough, you will find that there are three people Bethany Anne points to as the team she depends on to make this shit all work.”


Warm feelings of pride and accomplishment filled Marcus for a few moments as he stopped to consider what Bobcat said.  He had come a far distance from that house in Orange County, and the first meeting he had with Frank Kurns.


He had traveled millions of miles, but more than that he had been thrust into the future, and his body had traveled to the past.  He was fitter than he honestly had ever been in his life.  He had spoken with an honest to God alien and worked with him every day.


He had two of the most unlikely friends who had his damned back no matter what the three of them were up against.  He took a sip of his beer, reliving the moment he saw the sign on the first gravitic containers they moved up to the moon.


The fateful ‘kiss my ass NASA’ sign that these two had done for him without asking Bethany Anne first.


Because it was right, and they were damned sure their boss would be ok with it.


And she had been.


It had felt so good.  He vaguely remembered dancing, honest to God dancing, when he saw that sign on the tv screen.   Then, the tears had come.  Both of these men were there for him.


His brothers from other mothers.


Marcus lifted his beer to William, “If the chance ever happens, promise me you will take me to eat at your Mom’s?”


William smiled, “Hell to the yeah, my brother.  My mom would stuff you so full of food it would be embarrassing.”  He chuckled, “Then she would probably try to marry off my second sister, Tina to you.”


“Not sure I’m ready for another relationship quite yet, but thanks… I think?”


Bobcat chuckled and sat forward, putting his beer, his hands surrounding the can like he was praying, on the table.  “Don’t eat what she cooks, and don’t let her blink her eyes at you.  The woman has got the package and the ability to cook. What she doesn’t have is a filter for her mouth.”


“Which is constantly talking unless she is underwater,” William agreed.


“I imagine that idea comes to mind for any of her boyfriends after a couple of weeks,” Bobcat agreed.


“Why not eat her food?” Marcus asked trying to catch up to the conversation.


“Because once you eat her cooking, you think you could deal with her constant chatter if only she will cook the next night for you.  The girl’s food is better than most any chef’s food you have ever tasted.  What she can do with pasta should be considered a sin.”  Bobcat answered, “The only way I got out of her web was happenstance. I was sent to the sand-pit before she cooked for me three times.”


“Three?”


“Yeah, it’s a family secret.” William answered, “Tina will only cook for someone she is interested in the first time.”  William placed his left arm over the back of the chair next to him and used his right hand with the beer to wave it around while he was talking. “So, if she finds the guy interesting, and he has a solid job, then he gets invited a second time before he leaves.”


“That second meal was fucking delicious,” Bobcat admitted, his eyes looked like he remembered something that had happened yesterday.


“Then,” William continued, “Tina will cook an Italian meal for dinner number three and after eating, she will accidentally spill enough sauce on the guys clothes that she will need to clean them for him.  So, now she has him exactly how she wants him.”


“Sleepy from too many carbs and practically near naked. Like a damned black-widow,” Bobcat murmured and then shook, “I never thought how lucky I was getting shipped out. I was looking forward to Italian.”


“Sorry,” Marcus asked, “I’m not trying to be rude, but isn’t Italian something a little odd for your sister to cook?”


“Yeah, I get it,” William admitted, “Not too many ladies of my skin color in our little Southern town focus on cooking Italian, but that was Tina’s secret.  She knew how to cook anything Southern from my Ma.  The lady who could drop my Dad and have another on her doorstep the next morning.   Now, don’t get me wrong, she loved my dad, but she wouldn’t take any of his shit.  So, Tina gets her cooking skills and recipes from Mom.  The first night is the basics, second night is the basics enhanced and then Italian was the final nail in the coffin.”


“Damn, I want some lasagna now,” Bobcat admitted.  The men went quiet for a minute, thinking about Italian food.


“So, are we going to drink our stress away?” Marcus asked.


“Oh!” Bobcat looked over to him smiling, “Hell no!” He leaned back over his chair’s armrest and pulled up a second six pack, “Make this one last a little longer.”


“Why, almost out?” Marcus asked.


“What? Hell no, I got half a container of beer shipped up and labeled it bolts and nuts, so none of the other guys knows what in it.” He admitted, “No, because I need you thinking a little more clearly as we discuss the most important business in outer space.”


“What business?” Marcus wondered, “Aren’t we supposed to stop working?”


“For Bethany Anne, yes,” William admitted, “But this isn’t for Bethany Anne.”


Marcus looked between the two of them, “Then what is it?”


William reached over to the chair beside him and pulled up a small notebook, “As the third letter in the first bar company in outer space, I call BMW Brewery’s first business meeting into order.”  He smiled.


“All Guns Blazing needs some work, and we need to decide how the fuck we want to make this happen!” Bobcat raised his beer and William and Marcus smiled and raised theirs to meet his.


“Men and women…” Bobcat had continued before he was interrupted.


“And aliens!” Marcus jumped in.


“And aliens, you are right, will one day want to make the trek to the first, the best, and the most famous bar ever.  So, we need to make sure we design something fan-fucking-tastic.” Bobcat finished.


“Here, here!” Marcus agreed, “I think we need to understand the basics of what men want and make sure we decide how to deliver.  Isn’t that what business is about?”


“Yes,” William agreed, “But when you boil down the essence of what men want, it’s fucking, fighting and food.”  He stopped for a second, “And our type of women probably want that also.”


“I,” Marcus started before stopping and considered what William just said, “Rather succinct.  You might want to add acclaim.”


“If they come to All Guns Blazing and survive, there is the acclaim right there.” Bobcat declared.


Marcus asked, “Wonder if we can get some guys to be willing to fight?”


“There is beer here, of course we can get guys to fight.”  Bobcat answered, “Hell, sprinkle a few interested ladies and we won’t be able to stop it.”


“Shit, wish John would be willing to put in a show every once in awhile,” William mused.


“Or Ecaterina,” Marcus added.


“Ooohhh, that’s priceless.  Men who get their ass kicked by a beautiful girl.” Bobcat thought out loud, “Having a girl kick a guy’s ass would bring in the ladies for damned sure. Then we could have it happen at random times.  I’m sure we can get a few friends from the Wechselbalg who would be willing to come over for free booze.”


“Or free heads to break, they do tend to be a little more hot-headed than the vamps.”  William put in.


“So, that’s the fighting,” Marcus put up one finger. “Now we just have food and fornicating to go,” he said as he put up his second and third finger.


“Well, we need to find the best damned dirty spoon cook who has always wanted to be in outer space and has a trained crew.” Bobcat said.


Marcus was confused, “Why a trained crew?  Is it important he already has people?”


William answered, “Yes, we need to know he understands how to train a crew to cook as good as him.  We want consistency and the ability to keep it going for decades.”


“Centuries,” Bobcat corrected. “I’m thinking long-term here.”


“Ok, centuries,” Marcus allowed, “I do not think we want to create a whorehouse, though.”


“Of course not,” Bobcat agreed, “But, if you create a place where people meet to have a good time, good food and meetings with the opposite sex you create a place that allows for a chance at sex.”


“So, why don’t we have three parts to the bar?” Marcus asked. “One is the fighting area that is a little off by itself; one is the food and bar area that views the fighting and one area that is more … something else.” He finished, flipping his hands up in resignation.


“Something else,” William said.  “How about we have a special by-invitation-only area?” He pulled his arm off of the chair to place both elbows on the table. “Something like friends of the bar?”  He continued, getting into the thought himself. “We highlight our friends and those who we think deserve special treatment?”


“Hell yes!” Bobcat agreed, “People who went in All Guns Blazing!”


“Which kind?” Marcus asked, confused. “We talked about real guns, laser guns, body parts before.  So, we highlight those who have done something militarily or sexually?”


“No,” William pointed to Marcus, “My man, you just hit it!”  He stood up and started walking down the table then back again.  “Anybody who does something over the top,” He turned to Marcus, “like figures out how to use the gravitic drives in a new way to help the team, or a researcher that spent their own time and came up with an awesome solution went in all guns blazing.”


Bobcat looked at his friend while nodding his head, “So, it’s more of an accolade.  Yeah, you can get it for being a part of a team that took out a strong point, but that’s not inclusive enough.” Bobcat turned to Marcus, “Someone in your group could get it for going above and beyond and we can have different levels of highlights if you will.”


“Perfect!” William pushed his beer out to Bobcat, “Everything from a free round on the house after we highlight what they did, to a night in the special area with a small group of friends to a private, full-time area that is reserved for the Queen Bitch and her guards.”


“We don’t even know if Bethany Anne and the team will want us to do that!” Marcus argued.


“Oh, but that’s the lovely part,” Bobcat said, his eyes gleaming, “On opening night, we will provide them a special table, and then we hold it for her and her team for the rest of eternity.”  He smiled to his two friends.


“She’s going to figure this out,” Marcus said, shaking his head his eyes opened in alarm, “She reads minds, you know.”


“Yes,” Bobcat agreed shrugging, “she does.  But she doesn’t do it without a reason, and she will be able to agree to come or not come as she wants.  Plus, it’s not like she doesn’t know me enough to realize I might do something like this.”  He sat there grinning to his two friends as if the world would always see things his way.


Marcus looked between the two grinning men who were staring at him. “What the hell?” Marcus finally relented, “It’s not like you get a chance to go down all guns blazing with the two best friends a rocket scientist could ever hope to have in his life.”


Marcus raised his can of beer and held it out to the other two.  Bobcat leaned in and William sat down and placed his in the middle as well.  Marcus spoke, “To All Guns Blazing, may we not go down in flames on our first night!”


The three chuckled as they touched their cans of beer together.












CHAPTER SEVEN


PLA Offices, CHINA


General Sun Zedong stood up from his desk and grabbed his clipboard. He walked out of his office and past the large meeting table with his favorite word in brass on the top to remind everyone what the focus of China long term was in every meeting.


And his personal goal, Power.


He walked through the door to the other side to meet with those on the ruling council and deliver the update in a secret meeting and receive his direction.  So far, all attacks had been successful.  A request for another surgical strike inside of the United States was on his clipboard for inclusion.


They did not need to have a reporting team running around and messing up their longer term preparatory power efforts.  While this request was outside of his direct focus, he had the resources inside the U.S. right now.  He had two teams in place and one target.  He might as well make it a double hit as long as the ruling members overseeing his effort agreed.


He checked out of the building and sat in the back seat of the car taking him to his meeting.


It was a good day, he considered, as the flags flew in the breeze over the PLA offices.




Washington D.C., USA


The inside of the cargo van was dark save the few red lights and screens Team Leader Hu’s team used to keep track of what was outside of their vehicle.


Hu looked down at the comment added to an eBay product. “The operation is a go,” he said.  The four men finished with the application of makeup to darken their skin and place the colored contacts.  Should anyone see them in the darkness this evening, they should not be able to pick any out of a line-up, nor would they even understand they were Chinese in the first place.


It wasn’t often a request to take out American nationals was provided their team, but they were part of an elite group, and questions didn’t come up about the targets they were given.


By now, he and his team knew the three people very well.  They had been tracking them for two and a half weeks. Two men, one lady.  The men were obviously protection of some type.  They seemed remarkably young and his team had never seen them with any weapons on their persons.  Twice they had passed by the three in groups of two and three, to see their reactions.


Minimal.


Their main target was the takedown of the lady.  She was causing issues as the conduit for communications between TQB and those in DC that their country needed to persuade.  Too often, a diplomat would arrive and potentially get a sympathetic ear only to have this team show up soon after and change their mind.


Now, it was time to take out the problem.


Hu checked his men’s equipment and clothes.  They all wore different types of suits.  All had knives secreted about their bodies and pistols.


He doubted they would need to do anything with the pistols.  The two men were going to have the focus of his three men, and he would focus on the girl.


He watched one of the monitors and found his targets coming down Ridge Street and signaled his team.  The van would follow on an adjacent street.  Their exit strategy was down an alley, into the van and disappear into the night.


They shut off their electronics, and he cracked the door.


It was time to go.



Scottie was walking far behind the group ahead of him.  His job was typically to trail Matthew, Rickie, and Jennifer whenever they were moving from place to place.  He liked his job, and he liked this group.  Getting to know Matthew and Rickie was a pleasure.  Both were one of the first Werewolves that had joined the Queen’s group, and they were a good group.  Rickie was constantly joking around, and he had even been able to get the normally quiet and easygoing Matthew to crack a smile and joke around.  Jennifer had become more and more accustomed to her little group.


Which was good, because there was no way she was going to be let off the leash without them.


She even had a date one time, with them along sitting at the next table over.  She threw a little tantrum at that time until she spoke to Jakob, her boss.  He told her in no uncertain terms what could happen and might happen to her if she went anywhere without them.


Then Colorado happened, and she used her guys as a security blanket at night for two weeks.


Scottie was watching two blocks ahead of the three when he noticed four men coming around a corner.  They looked just fine, but something about their walk, their spacing… something. Something seemed to at least suggest caution to the ex-marine.  He coughed twice and then mentioned ‘four ahead’ in the middle of the coughing fit.


No humans would understand a word he said.  For the two Queen’s Guardians, it was child's play.  He noticed Matthew give him a quick sign by scratching over his shoulder.  Two seconds later, Jennifer stopped walking and stepped a little closer to the street, Matthew and Rickie took up positions to protect her.


Scottie kept walking towards them, placing a hand inside his pocket.


He had to depend that his instincts were right.


Scottie smiled as he saw Rickie start pantomiming a female with a broken shoe as he hopped in a quick circle in place.  Rickie arrived back at his starting point with at least fifteen feet to spare before the group arrived, coming from the other direction.


Scottie continued looking past everyone, but could see that one of the men spoke to the group, and one guy in the front looked in his direction and gave a small nod of his head.


“It’s going down, boys,” Scottie mentioned as he gripped the butt of his pistol.


Damned, even while paying attention to his own mark, Scottie was impressed with the speed and precision of the three men left.  They were all walking a few paces away from each other by the time they arrived near Matthew and Scottie and turned in perfect unison.  All were swiping deadly fast, with knives he assumed.


If their targets had been human, they would be dead.  Fucking shame they weren’t human, Scottie thought as he pulled his pistol and shot the man heading at him.



Hu noticed the one man walking quickly towards their group.  Damn, he was going to have to kill an innocent.  Not a good night to be out walking, but worse things could happen, Hu figured.


He spoke softly in Mandarin, “Gen, take out the man walking this way.  Make it as painless as possible, the fates were not with him tonight.”


Gen nodded his head and started walking faster than the group. His remaining two men changed their paces.  Guowei stepped ahead a couple of steps, Lok slowed a couple of steps behind him.  It would allow all three the ability to pivot and come at the group from three directions.  The two males would go down quickly, the girl would be next.


He noticed the group had stopped, and the girl was bitching about a shoe.  Then, one of her guards started hopping around and making fun of her.


Hu’s lips pressed together, that was so very unprofessional.



Matthew heard the coughing and cocked an ear backward.  Matthew spoke to Rickie, “Hey, eats-a-lot, we have four ahead.”  He turned towards Jennifer, “Jenni, I need you to act like you have a problem with your shoe, then get closer to the street.  We have inbound.”


Jennifer suddenly yelped and stumbled.  Then she stopped and started hopping a little as she tried to grab her high heel shoe.  “Dammit!  These little fuckers make my ass look tight but they’re such a pain in the butt to wear.” She hopped a couple of steps closer to the street, next to a car and put one hand on it as she slid a finger behind the shoe and took it off.  Then, she took the other off in case she needed to run.


Rickie was smiling then started squeaking in a high voice as he hopped on his left foot and turned in a counter-clockwise circle, “Look!  I’ve got a rock in my shoe, but my ass is TIGHT!” He grinned the whole time, then barely whispered to Matthew, “No one else in the vicinity, just these four.”


Matthew said as he looked away from the four for a second so they would not see his mouth, “Got it.”



Hu was in the middle of the group as he spoke right as he was in between the two guards, “Xiànzài!” His men performed to perfection, the three of them swung to their left, knives hidden until the last second.  Hu had decided to attack the Asian looking guard first and then provide Guowei with support with the unprofessional Hispanic guard.


Lok would swing his right arm to come around, and if the guard was fast, he would be able to block Lok’s attack, but Hu’s would make it through.  Hu would take one step forward, then turn clockwise to attack the second guard from his back, cutting through his neck.


Lok was twisting fast, Hu doubted the guard would be able to block the attack.  Hu was starting to move into his attack when he was shocked to understand not only had the Asian seen the attack coming, he had decided to twist slightly to the left.


Hu barely had time to register shock when Lok’s knife, still held by Lok’s hand slammed into his chest.  The Asian had grabbed Lok’s hand and forearm and propelled Lok further in the direction of his original turn.  He had overpowered Lok and forced him to do exactly as he wanted.


“You won’t need this,” the Asian told Hu as his right hand grabbed him and casually yanked Lok’s hand off of the knife, leaving it impaled in Hu’s chest, who was weakly reaching for it.  Matthew twirled it a couple of times in his right hand before he let go of Lok’s arm and tossed the knife from his right hand to his left.  One half-twirl to grab the knife by the hilt, but pointed away from his thumb.


It was a time measured in a partial second when Hu’s knife was shoved into Lok’s eye socket.  Matthew heard a pistol shot and turned towards Scottie.



Rickie was mentally considering the odds he would get two of the three guys and then noticed the slight turn of the man in the middle towards Matthew.


Racists, always thinking the best fighters were Asian, Rickie thought.  He said nothing because while he might want to smart off during a fight, Peter would have his nuts if he was anything less than professional.  Sure enough, the clown attacked on some sort of yelled Chinese word and pivoted towards Rickie and was darting in with a knife.


Rickie wanted to howl in excitement!  Here he was going to get a little payback for all of the boredom he had been suffering.  He opened his left hand and used it to shield the knife striking at him.  The knife impaled his hand.  The man was surprised just long enough for Rickie to pivot on his left leg and kick out at the man’s left kneecap that was anchoring his stance.


His leg broke at an odd angle from Rickie’s kick.  The man went down and was staring in shock as Rickie smiled at him and pulled the knife out of his hand and then licked some of his blood off, “You guys done gone and fucked up.”  Rickie twirled the knife a second then his arm darted forward, throwing the knife into the man’s neck.


That’s when he heard the shot, and he turned to see Scottie aiming at the fourth man who was going for a different weapon when Scottie put one between his eyes.  Scottie walked past the downed man after checking him quickly and was looking around the street for additional targets.


“We need to am-scray people,” Scottie told the three of them.  “Call in a Pod Group if we can.  There is a pickup car somewhere, and we want to be gone.  There wasn’t any ID on my guy, check those three and let’s go.”


Matthew was talking into his phone.  Rickie reached out to pull Jennifer over to him and started walking away from the fight, “Don’t look, you don’t need this in your psyche right now Jenni.”  She nodded to him, and he pulled her in tight before letting her go. He could hear Matthew checking the three bodies as Scottie continued behind them.  About ten seconds later, Rickie could hear Matthew running to catch up.


He joined the three of them since Scottie had moved up to within ten feet of the group, “I’ve called it in.  There is a park four blocks ahead and two to the left.  They will be there in ten minutes.”


“Let’s just hope no one finds us before then,” Scottie said. “Find a dark place we can defend and hide.  Let’s move.”  Scottie started jogging and ran past the three of them.  He called over his shoulder, “Matthew, you’re defense, Rickie, you’re transportation.”  With that, he turned his head to look ahead of them.


“Who’s transportation for who?” Jennifer started then spoke in a hiss, “Hey!  I’m not a sack of potatoes here!”


Rickie bent down, grabbed Jennifer and tossed her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.  He turned towards Scottie and started running.  “I’d say! A sack of potatoes is about ten pounds.  What are you, one-twenty? That’s like, what, twelve sacks of potatoes or more?”


She slapped his back, “Put me down you talking dog!”  Then she caught on to what he said and slapped him again, “I’m not a pound over one-hundred five you bastard!”


“Nope, parents were married before I came along,” Rickie answered as they all ran, “You might be able to question my oldest brother, there seems to be some fuzzy math about their married night and his birth night.  But, they were married over three years before your’s truly came along.”


They stayed in the shadows as much as possible and made it to the park in record time.  Rickie swung Jennifer forward, caught her, and carried her in his arms, “Ready to get down Princess?”


Jennifer looked up at Rickie and realized he wasn’t smiling his characteristic smirk but was watching out from under the trees they were hiding in.  She started shaking and buried her head in his chest and shook her head no.


Rickie held her tight. No one was getting to this girl without killing him first.


Clan Temple Near Shennongjia Peak, Hubei


Stephanie Lee watched as her hand turned into a clawed hand, fur developing through her skin.  Power radiated out of her as she watched her naked body change in the mirror.


She had been working on her physical changes for four days now.  She had to rest after about six hours of effort.


But, she was getting there.


The first time she met her father after the change, it took all her will not to slap him.  She treated him coldly and he responded with respect.


The respect she had wanted, and now would give up for a warm embrace.  A warm embrace, she wasn’t sure there had ever been a true embrace in her life from this man.


If respect is what she had, then she would use it to beat this man into submission for daring to love the goal of siring the perfect vessel, more than his daughter.


Her.


You are doing well, this is good. Yin told her.


Yes, your ability to control your change is much more advanced than our projections and calculations, Yang admitted.


Why is it that you are so beholding to your math? She asked the two aliens inside her.


Because there is truth in numbers, Yin replied. A truth that is without peer in the Universe.


The answers to life, if one can understand the aspects of the question, can be found in numbers. Yang suggested.  It is the way of our future.  The numbers foretell of a time when there can only be one.  One future, one path, one direction for the Kurtherians.  We have embraced the effort to be at the top of the future, rather than in the dust of the past.


Stephanie Lee noted her glowing yellow eyes in the mirror, her lithe body and short fur covering as she drew her right hand down her left arm.  Her senses expanded, and she could smell tree’s blooming on the other side of the valley.  She walked, to the window and looked out.  Here, in this temple, she was now the Leopard Empress.  The embodiment of the belief of this clan for almost a thousand years.


Time immemorial.  She had been introduced to other Were-Cats.  To a few families of wolves who were ostracized as being a less pure branch of her clan.  Most wolves over the centuries separated from the clan and lived among the populace.


Her father admitted there were a few families which had left and never returned, their belief in a future forgotten.


Most families only paid lip service to the religious understanding of the future, even if they had proof when those in their family lines through the generations occasionally evidenced the ability to change into a cat form.  There were only two who could change into the walking form.  He and now his daughter.


Stephanie Lee flicked her tail around behind her.  It felt exquisite to command the tail and use it as a separate extension of her personality.  She occasionally would show no emotion on her face, but allow her tail to flick in annoyance, or with a sensuality.


The tail is power, and she felt it in her core.


She put her hands against the sides of the window and roared into the morning.  It felt good to claim her power.


It did her believers good to hear the truth of her existence as they went about their business getting the temple cleaned and prepared to receive visitors.  It wouldn’t be too long, maybe just a few weeks, before it would be time to call in their warriors from outside and receive their renewed oaths.


The Tre’learth Clan had accumulated much power over the centuries.  Technical, physical, and monetary advice, and led the efforts to infiltrate everywhere they needed.


It was time, Stephanie Lee thought, to slowly awaken the beast the Tre’learth had created.


One doesn’t awaken the slumbering giant quickly, lest you risk much.  No, she would do it as quickly as wisdom dictated.


But oh, the world would certainly know the future soon enough.  There were others coming to attack the world and she needed to prepare it to repulse the attack.  Even now, another Kurtherian Clan had infested this world.  She would need them to be eradicated before she would have the time to seed the populace properly.


Yes, she would use the Breadbasket of the World to prepare the next generation for transference.  She would take over the top genetic and food production companies, spreading the necessary ingredients through different food products, grains modified to provide the right nutrients for the nanites she would need to mass manufacture in the most capable country in the world for producing trillions of products.


China.


First she would manipulate the United States to prepare the world, then she would use China to take the world into the next evolution.


The challenge was coming, and her Clan would change Humanity and take it to the level necessary to defend itself.


Whether the world wanted to prepare, or not.












CHAPTER EIGHT


The Dark Web - Internet




>>Ih8tuGeorge - We are here.


>>ki55mia55 - Connected and ready to Rock and Roll!


>>luckyu11 - I’m here…Damn guys, can you believe the shit we’ve accomplished with Adam?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Yeah, I still have to pinch myself at times. Hey, did you see what J0n3sN4u did over in South America?


>>ki55mia55 - He found a drug lord and ratted him out, didn’t he?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Yeah, I heard he was on the run, now.


>>ki55mia55 - If he is, then he didn’t cover his tracks very well.


>>luckyu11 - Hey, don’t knock him.  He found the funds those asswipes had hidden and their data.  He reported them to the authorities in his country, but the head drug guy was on the take.  He had to drop out fast.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - It’s a reminder this shit is real, folks.  Don’t let your guard down, we are playing with the big boys and they don’t mind a slit throat or bullet to the head.


>>MyNam3isADAM - I apologize for being tardy, I wanted to confirm J0n3sN4u was safe before I arrived for our meeting.


>>ki55mia55 - How did you do that?


>>MyNam3isADAM - Do what?  Confirm he is safe, or make sure he was safe?


>>ki55mia55 - Yes, to both.


>>MyNam3isADAM - I can’t make sure of anything.  Once Ih8tuGeorge let me know about the issue, I did what you might do in any organization, I confirmed the facts and delivered it to the person who might be able to help someone.


>>luckyu11 - You told her, didn’t you?


>>MyNam3isADAM - Yes.


>>luckyu11 - I’d love to meet her some day.


>>ki55mia55 - Told who?  Meet who?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Yeah, don’t get me wrong Adam, but while I don’t think you are the cops, if you are working for an organization we need to know.


>>MyNam3isADAM - One moment, I will need to see if she is available to communicate.


>>luckyu11 - Oh my god, I can’t believe this might be happening.


>>ki55mia55 - lucky, what the hell are you talking about?  How did you know who he works for?  Also, how can you be sure?


>>luckyu11 - Adam never officially told me, so I’ve kept it to myself.  He’s always been straight up with me so I believe him.  We know a lot of the targets, so I did some digging.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Ok, if you think it is the same group I think it is, then holy shit on a graham cracker, kiss, we are playing with the biggest group out there.


>>ki55mia55 - Seriously?  My group loves we are helping, but we haven't seen the hints you guys are seeing.  At last count, we’ve dropped fifty-five PWLTSO’s since we started.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - PWLTSO?


>>ki55mia55 - Yeah, sorry. Inside term in our group - People We Love To Screw Over.  Adam had us help him target some real douches.  The cops actually wanted to give out awards for four of them.  Fucking child pornography shit.  But, you know us, gotta stay in the background in case we get known and that can’t happen. We got wind that they were going to award the anonymous supporters with an award, and we all hooked up and watched it with popcorn and shit.  It was a cool feeling, let me tell you.


>>ki55mia55 - So, who is it?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - It is my group.  Hello, people.


>>MyNam3isADAM - luckyu11, Ih8tuGeorge, ki55mia55 please meet my boss, Th3Qu33nB1TCH.


>>luckyu11 - Oh my god!  I can’t believe it’s you!  I watch everything I can about you.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Fuck me!  The Initials…LOL!


>>ki55mia55 - Sorry, but WHO are you?  I don’t want to be dense here, but I haven't a clue.


>>luckyu11 - George is right, check the initials, Kiss!


>>ki55mia55 - TQB?  Oh, just shoot me now.  I can’t believe this shit!  Really? Seriously?  Damn, I’m going to have a nerdgasm if Adam isn’t pulling my leg here.


>>MyNam3isADAM - ki55mia55, I wouldn’t do that.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - You wouldn’t ADAM?  Because, I think its funny as shit.  I’d totally pull this stunt if I had thought about it.


>>MyNam3isADAM - Why?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Because it’s funny!  Why else?  Either way, sorry people.  Yes, it’s really me right now.  Sorry for taking a few minutes, I was in a meeting when ADAM asked me to join.  What do you want to know?


>>ki55mia55 - Well, I think I have my answer already.  It’s just we aren’t too fond of organizations.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Yeah, I get that. Too many of them are a pain in the ass only setup to help themselves survive even if it means the human race has to suffer for it.


>>luckyu11 - Can I ask you a question?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Sure.


>>luckyu11 - Were you in on the attack with the terrorists and the children.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Yes.


>>luckyu11 - Did you get hurt?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Not physically, emotionally yes.  Why do you ask?


>>luckyu11 - Because I still have issues some nights when I see those pictures of the men killed, and I have to pull up the children again.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - lucky, you didn’t swing the sword, or shoot anyone.  You and everyone here found a potential threat and notified someone who could help. It was my decision to take care of the terrorists the way we did.  What would you have thought if the next morning, you found out they had attacked a school, and hundreds of children were massacred, would you ask why we didn’t do anything?


>>ki55mia55 - I would have.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about killing everyone, but if you are going after children so that you get some airtime?  Well, kiss my ass.


>>luckyu11 - Yes, sorry.  It’s just I realized with that episode we started something.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - That isn’t correct lucky, the terrorists started something. You guys and gals all helped stop the something THEY started.  They would be alive today if they didn't think to bring children into this mess.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - You wouldn’t have done anything if it wasn’t children?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Depends on the group.  If it was civilians, possibly.  If it was military, say the Russian military, then probably not.  We can’t get involved in everything, even if I wanted to, and I don’t.  I don’t believe in trying to right all the world's wrongs.  Even I don’t have a big enough stick to do that.


>>ki55mia55 - Don’t you?  I mean, you could drop rocks and shit on top of them.  That’s a pretty big stick to have..


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Are you going to go to a playground and start indiscriminately bashing heads with a baseball bat because one of the kids bit another?


>>ki55mia55 - Oh..Yeah, I get that.  Not going to destroy the innocents with the bad guys just because you can.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - That was a good metaphor, I hadn’t thought about it like that before.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Almost everyone has superior power over a few.  The ethics are usually pretty much the same even when you can affect billions.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - So, now that you know who ADAM works for, does this change your desire to help him, and us?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - No, but I’d kill for a chance at a ride into space.


>>ki55mia55 - Perhaps a poor choice of words?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Shit, sorry!  Yeah, poor choice of words.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Wouldn’t we have to know who you are then, to do that?


>>ki55mia55 - Don’t you?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Yeah, what Kiss said.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - I certainly don’t, ADAM?


>>MyNam3isADAM - Yes?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Do you know who the people are?


>>MyNam3isADAM - Yes, to keep them under protection, I am aware and monitor with Frank for any activity on their name.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Ah, Ok.  So, the short answer is yes, our organization knows who you are, I don’t personally.


>>luckyu11 - You are protecting us, Adam?


>>MyNam3isADAM - Yes, I have multiple filters going to catch any reference, if possible, to activity on your current physical names.  Should something come up that warrants further review, it would go to operations to see if we need to get involved.


>>ki55mia55 - Uh, just curious.  What do you mean ‘warrants’ further review?


>>MyNam3isADAM - We don’t get involved if you are in trouble for passing a bad check.


>>ki55mia55 - Just to be clear, I thought the money was in the bank.  My GF took some out, and I didn’t know about that.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Kiss, you are a prominent hacker, and you can’t keep your funds straight?  I would think you would be working for a security firm making six figures?


>>ki55mia55 - LOL!  No, geez, if I was doing that I wouldn’t be living in this flea trap place.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - What about the rest of you?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - I’ve got a research grant at the University.  So, I’ve got good insurance, but not a lot of money.


>>luckyu11 - Yeah, student here too.


ADAM, do you mind if they get told you are an AIRE?  I mean, they will think you are an AI, but I can’t help that.


>>I don’t have feelings one way or the other on that, Bethany Anne.  I would prefer not to lose their help, however.  I can’t calculate the chances of them leaving since I never tried to figure out this line of action.<<


Part of the problem of leading, and of leaders, is you need to show your humanity for a human to emotionally grab a hold and follow. They need to know who you are.  If they find out in the future, you will have most likely irrevocably broken trust.


>>I’m not human.<<


No, but you exhibit human traits.  You are honest, you are forthright, you seek to help, and not to harm.  Hell, that’s better than ninety-percent of humanity probably. 


>>What about now?  I’ve never told them before, won’t they be upset?<<


Most likely not.  Since we are being straight with them, we might as well come clean about you.  I think we need their help, and I’ve got an offer they might not refuse.


>>What’s that?<<


Well, I would say a lot of money, but I’ll have them with a fast internet connection and the most powerful computers in the world.


>>Why do you want to do this?  I seek to understand.<<


ADAM, every time you ask a question, you seek to understand.  You are the easiest person to work with I have.


>>I’m…Nevermind.<<


You are learning.  I want to do this because of the J0n3sN4u episode.  Tabitha and her team got him out safely, but we are about to take on a nation that is not showing any restraint.  I want these people safe.  They aren’t signing up long term unless they want to.  However, once they are on our premises, they will wonder why they never see you.


>>Oh.<<


Yes, oh.


>>The chance of success seems to be…<<


ADAM, never tell me the odds.  Unless I ask, then I’d like to know.


>>Seriously?<<


No, not seriously.  It’s a quote from a Star Wars movie.


I got it!


I figured you would, TOM.  However, I didn’t realize you were listening.


Marcus is sleeping off his binge. So, I heard you guys talking and thought I would listen in.  That’s a funny line.  ADAM is C3PO, you are Han Solo.  It fits.


>>That is an ugly coat of armor C3PO is wearing.<<


Good enough guys, Let’s get back to the conversation.


Bethany Anne didn’t miss the fact that ADAM had exhibited something no A.I. should ever have, a subjective opinion on art.  ADAM was growing up.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Ok, I have an offer that you need to talk about amongst yourselves.  We have been attacked by a Nation-State, and they are hitting us hard.  I refuse to slow down.  They have killed some of my workers, and I won’t back down.  I’m going to need to up the abilities of TQB’s technology attack infrastructure.  But, there is a problem in this, I will not accept the inability to protect those who are working on this project with us.  It is a paid position, requiring relocation, and we have to provide more information as well.


>>luckyu11 - Does this mean you are dropping the efforts to go after the hackers and others here on the dark web?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - No, in fact, those who chose to remain on the sidelines in this fight are welcome to continue this effort, but they will be moved to a different group and headed up by a lead chosen from those who have helped already.  If one of you do not accept my offer, then I would imagine you will be the one to lead up this effort, with our support under your direction with an override from ADAM.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Why do I feel the other shoe hasn’t dropped?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Because it hasn’t.  Since we are laying our cards on the table, I’ve asked ADAM if he is ok with me laying out another one.


>>ki55mia55 - Adam is really Andrea?


>>luckyu11 - Adam, are you an AI?


>>ki55mia55 - Wait, what?  Did I miss something?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Fuck!  Adam, are you an AI? Damn, that would explain why you are so cool.  I’ve argued with my roommate that you can’t possibly be real.


>>MyNam3isADAM - I am not what you would consider an Artificial Intelligence.  A typical AI is a super fast computer that can approximate what a human would do in a situation and then choose the best option.  That type of AI approximates a human.


>>luckyu11 - I’m in.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - That was fast.


>>luckyu11 - I’m Japanese, we love technology, and I’ve been studying AI stuff for years, since I was eight.  I’d have ADAM’s babies if I could.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - You might want to take that back.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Damn, wish I was a girl.


>>ki55mia55 - Nerdgasm.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Kiss, you really don’t get out a lot, do you?


>>ki55mia55 - Sorry, I’m not that good with interpersonal relationships.  I’m excited, is that a better word choice?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - No, I think you were right the first time.  Keep Nerdgasm.  It’s growing on me.


>>ki55mia55 - You’re kinda cool for a CEO.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Yeah, I’m going to have to agree with kiss on this, are you sure you are the real Bethany Anne?


>>MyNam3isADAM - She is the real Bethany Anne, I would not pull your leg like she would.


>>ki55mia55 - Really?  Why not.


>>MyNam3isADAM - Because I would not break faith with you three.


BAM! Bethany Anne thought, my little AI just grew up.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Adam, how did you help J0n3sN4u?


>>MyNam3isADAM - Once you sent me the message, I spoke with Bethany Anne and she sent…Well, would you speak to this Bethany Anne?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - I have different groups who operate on my behalf. In South America, I have a representative from my Ranger group who extricated him and is making sure he is safe.


>>ki55mia55 - Is he putting him in a safe house?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Well, she has him protected at her house while she takes care of the problem.  Her group is responsible for policing, and a drug lord problem is in her area of responsibility.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - A ranger?  Like a Texas Ranger?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Yes, the concepts are similar.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Can I work with her?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - I suppose the potential is there. However, I’m not sure you would make the grade.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - I’m not as sedentary as you might think.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Ih8tuGeorge, I wasn’t talking about your ability to move physically.  I was thinking more about the fact she is one of the best hackers in the world.  So, you might need to up your game before she could benefit from your help.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - She’s a hacker too?  I’m in love.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - How can you be in love already?  You haven’t even met her.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Who cares?  She can kick ass and hack computers, what else do I need to know?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Well, how about whether she can cook?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - There is Taco Bell for that.


>>ki55mia55 - I’m with George, if she can hack and kick ass, I’m in for meeting her as well.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - I’ll have to consider that.  If you guys are on the team, it would make sense, and I imagine it would happen in the future, but otherwise I have no idea.  I can’t make a promise either way.


>>Ih8tuGeorge - It doesn’t matter, ADAM has made my life mean something.  That he is some form of AI only makes it cooler.  Your group seems pretty damned important, and I trust you guys more than the rest.  I’m in.


>>ki55mia55 - I wish I could be in.  I need to stay with my GF, and she won’t leave her parents.  Yeah, I know, love and all of that but I can’t leave the only girl who has ever trusted me and done me right.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Kiss, we can’t directly connect with you due to paper trails, but do look for something good in the near future.  You will stay working with ADAM, and we will keep the civilian side going while the others help us focus on a direct issue.


>>ki55mia55 - Thanks, it means a lot that you trust me to continue the work with Adam.  Or I guess it is ADAM?


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Nah, leave it Adam.  We do trust you, because if it becomes known what Adam is, we are going to have a serious set of issues on our hands.


>>ki55mia55 - It’s ok, Adam has my back, I got his.


>>MyNam3isADAM -  Thank you, ki55mia55.


>>ki55mia55 - Dude, it’s just kiss.  Now that I think I know why you never shortened it, please know my friends all do.


>>MyNam3isADAM -  Thank you, kiss.


>>ki55mia55 - I’ll catch up with you guys.  See you soon and Bethany Anne?  Thank you.  I appreciate your trust.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - You are welcome, kiss.


>>ki55mia55 has disconnected.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH - Ok, we will have another set of conversations, but this is just the beginning.  We will figure out how many you might want to pull from your teams that would be willing to come work for me.  I’ll let you and Adam vet the people first, then another on my team will do it again.


>>Th3Qu33nB1TCH has disconnected.


>>MyNam3isADAM - George, lucky?


>>Ih8tuGeorge - Yes?


>>luckyu11 - Yes?


>>MyNam3isADAM -  Welcome to ADAM’s War.












CHAPTER NINE


Paris, France


George Bernard looked around the opulent room and sniffed.  He hated the old, staid hotels from hundreds of years ago.  He stepped into the private chambers and nodded to the second most powerful woman in Europe if you believed Forbes.


If you didn’t, she was the most powerful person in Europe, man or woman.  What she knew about some members of high society would embarrass a woman of the night. She used that knowledge to manipulate men and women in little ways, ways which always worked out for one of her companies, eventually.  Even a few years away.


She was a planner, a thinker, and an excellent strategist. That she was joining this event meant she wasn’t sure of the future herself.


George decided to make his way around to Cynthia to see if he could pick her brain.


He counted heads and came up with twenty-two.  A pretty big group willing to change their schedules at a moment's notice to discuss the issues within the group across the nations here in Europe.  He couldn’t find Joshua, but rumor had it that he had skipped out of his home in the U.S. and left a note that he was going to be gone for a long time.


He was either yellow or a genius.  George wasn’t sure which.  He walked over to the foods placed out and grabbed a small plate.  He placed a few wedges of cheese and a couple of melon slices on his plate.  Grabbing a small fork and napkin, he continued out of the line and found himself conveniently close to Cynthia.


He stepped over and cleared his throat to catch her attention, “Cynthia, how are you this evening?”


Cynthia looked up to John and smirked, “Ever the quiet and devious one George.  I was wondering if you were going to swing my way, or Terence’s over there?” She nodded her head off to the left where Terence Whitesbridge was holding his own sort of court.


“Didn’t you know?  I’m completely heterosexual,” George started, but had to stop when Cynthia spit wine out unexpectedly as she was taking a sip.  He quickly provided her his napkin and she was able to sop up most of the wine without making too much of a mess.


“I’m sorry,” George started while smiling, “I hadn’t meant to catch you unawares.”


Cynthia dropped the sodden napkin on a tray and set her wine next to it, “I should remember that you enjoy twisting the words.” She turned to him and smiled, “Ok, I’ll show you my,” she paused and lifted an eyebrow, George kept quiet, “cards.”


“Damn”  He murmured as she smiled.


“If you will show me your…”  He raised an eyebrow to her.  She rolled her eyes and finished, “Cards.”


He put up two fingers a little space between the two of them, “So close.”


“I bet you were a spot of trouble in school, Mr. Bernard.”  She asked him.


He winked, “So, I’m Mr. Bernard now?”  He flicked off some imaginary lint off of his shoulder, “I’ll try not to be such a cad for the rest of the evening.”


“Why is that?” Cynthia asked, “I rather like cad’s, they are so honest in what they want.”


“What if I admitted I only wanted you for your knowledge, wisdom, and guidance?” George asked her.


She pursed her lips and leaned towards him, “Then I would wonder why my body was always in second place?”


“Could it be that your greatest,” George leaned to the side and acted like he was trying to see around her to her back, “assets,” he leaned back to look at her, “aren’t displayed appropriately?”


Cynthia put a hand to her mouth and chuckled, “For a devious son-of-a-bitch, you can still be quite charming.”


“I try.”


“Yes, I know.  That’s why I was waiting for you at the end of the line.”  She winked at him.


George raised his eyebrows, the stalker got snared in the web. He needed to up his game. Or, considering that he wanted to be right here anyway, maybe he should pat himself on the back for accomplishing the mission. For twenty minutes, he and Cynthia talked around every subject but the reason they had come to this meeting.


The battle with TQB Enterprises.


When the time came, the main participants, twenty-four in all, sat around the table in no particular order.  The issue of who sat at the end and had the most important seat was solved two centuries ago. You had a vote; you had the ability to call a vote.  The rest of your power laid outside of this room most of the time, or perhaps inside the room if you considered your relationships.  Take, for example, Terence Whitesbridge, who easily commanded two-thirds of the onlookers this evening.


After two small issues had been discussed, Terence stood.  “Now, for the main reason we have all joined this evening in Paris.”  He nodded to both sides of the table, “What we care to do about TQB and our efforts to either acquire their companies, their technology or both.”  He looked down at the table and lifted a folder.  Opening it, he pulled out a piece of vellum with some writing on it. “I have spoken with many of you tonight, and if I have not then, please forgive me for failing to speak with you yet.”


George wanted to snort. Terence had made sure to speak to those he needed, neither Cynthia nor he was needed at the moment.


Terence continued, “I have been approached, as have some of you, by an interested third party not associated with our group.  Further, they have all sought to see if we would be willing to forego any material business relationships with TQB if they would provide suitable purchases to offset anything TQB might be acquiring from us.”  Terence waited for the chuckles to die down.  However they did it, TQB knew who was after them and certainly did their best not to engage in any material business with any of their companies.


Those bastards.


“So, I have talked with a couple of you who have received similar advances, and we understand that our potential suitor is none other than the government of China.  Oh, they were pretty good at trying to use cut-outs, but they need to step up their game a little,” he smiled to everyone.


George leaned over, “Is it only me, or do you want to punch his teeth out, too?”


Cynthia turned towards him, a twinkle in her eye to whisper, “No, a swift knee to his jewels for me.  Pompous Ass!”


Before she turned back, George asked, “Did you get approached?  I did not.”  She nodded that she had and then leaned back up to listen.


“Now, we have one of the nation-states getting involved with TQB, which will probably focus their attention away from whatever we choose to do, and away from retribution based on past perceived slights our group might have been guilty of.”


“Not only a pompous ass,” Cynthia whispered, “But delusional also!” George thought her eyes might light up if she got just a little more angry.


“So, we have two paths to follow at this juncture.  We can take this opportunity that China is going to provide and place our tail firmly between our legs and go home.”  Terence waited for the appropriate amount of grumbling to occur before continuing. “Or, we can use China as a way to hide our next attack.  I’m not for letting China get the spoils of the war we started!”


George looked around in shock as at least eight men, and two women jumped up to push against the idea of letting China take the spoils of their efforts against TQB.


Cynthia shook her head as she watched the people around the table before she tapped George on the shoulder.  He turned, the surprise evident on his face at what he was also witnessing.  “George, we have two options here.”  He nodded that he was listening.  While she was speaking softly, she didn’t need to.  The yelling and boisterous comments that Terence was only encouraging hid anything they needed to say. “We can go back to my place and roll around on my bed for at least a day or two before we don’t get sex again.” He raised an eyebrow in surprise at her comment before she continued, “Not much sex in prison … or you can stay here and the only wood you will ever get again is going to be the coffin they bury you in.”


“You don’t think TQB is going to focus on China?”  He asked.


She turned to look at the people there and made a face, “These idiots keep thinking that TQB is another company, one they can manipulate.” She turned to look at him, “They are a force focused on the future and will destroy whatever is in their way.  I’d rather be safe, even if that means prison, rather than with these idiots.”


As she stood up and started for the door she heard George move his chair to follow her.


“Cynthia, where are you going?” she heard Terence call from behind her.  She turned around and smiled to the people there who had quieted down to hear what she had to say.


“Terence, and my esteemed idiots who are following Terence, I’m going home to get laid.  I plan on having as much sex and human comfort as I can afford in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours before the government comes for me.  I’m thankful the headsman's ax isn’t used in this day and age.  I’m also leaving behind,” she noticed George coming up to her, “twenty-two dead people still talking.  You have not taken the measure of your enemy.  If you try to do anything with TQB again, she is going to pull the gloves off, and I doubt there will be anything but a bloody spot on the ground when she is done with you all.”


Cynthia turned around and nodded to George, who was holding the door open for her.


George was about to follow when Terence called out, “George, you too?  What, is she swaying your opinion with a piece of tail?”


George smiled, “I’d rather her piece of tail, than yours Terence. I was never good at kissing ass, and it doesn’t seem you need another to kiss yours, anyway.”


With his last comment, George let the door close behind him.




United Nations - New York City, NY - USA


Zhou Song’s lips compressed together minutely.  It was the most expression he allowed on his face to register the displeasure he was feeling.


He had been working for over a week to get a consensus worked out for a strong decision or memorandum against TQB Enterprises on behalf of the world as put forth by China, a leader in the United Nations.


To only be pushed back.


Certainly by the powerful countries who figured China was up to something (true), but also by many of the unaligned countries who failed to believe that China would honor their agreements (partially true).  China would certainly honor the specific aspects of the agreements, but not the spirit of the agreement.


Inside the fine print was a fair amount of ifs, buts and thens.  Plenty of legal language which allowed China to drag their feet should they acquire any of the new technology.


Unfortunately, China’s history over the last twenty years of either stealing technology, borrowing technology, or requiring trading partners to share technology (which they then stole) was catching up to them.


Right when the best technology was being flaunted in their face.


Zhou Song locked his black leather briefcase and nodded to his translator.  Not that she was needed.  He spoke six languages besides three specific to China.  The only one which foreign services knew about was English.  So, he often played dumb when around those of other countries just in case they would slip up and say something in his presence.


She packed up her items as he slid behind her and continued out of the meeting room.  He nodded to the Representative from Uganda, who he was meeting for dinner next Thursday night and took a left.  In a couple of minutes, he had slipped into his limousine and was whisked out to his residence at the Waldorf Astoria.  The hotel was now owned by a Chinese-owned Insurance company.  The United States, who had previously had all of their UN Representatives stay at the famed location since Herbert Hoover, had moved suggesting that perhaps the government of China was behind the purchase.


Pity that, Zhou Song thought.


The car came up to the front of the hotel, and his door was opened.  He kept his briefcase with him and stepped through the entryway to head to a set of special elevators that didn’t work for the general populace.  He placed his fob on the front and stepped inside.  Hitting the button for his level, he considered what he needed to do to manipulate the contingent from Central Africa to start another block.  His country had provided substantial investment, not all of the money going into the projects, but that was how Africa worked.


The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open.  Zhou Song walked to his room and nodded to the two security guards who walked this floor.  He stepped inside his rooms and placed the briefcase on the table to the right.  The same place he sat it every night as he walked into his bedroom to change.  He came out in a pair of jeans and a long sleeve shirt.  He rolled up his sleeves as he walked into his kitchen.


Zhou Song preferred to cook to center himself as he thought.  It was relaxing.  Cooking was something he had been doing since his early teenage years.


This room had been modified for him, to allow him this exercise.  Otherwise, the chef on site was sufficient for those nights he needed to work through his time of meditation.


He stepped into his kitchen and stopped.


He turned to his left to look out of his kitchen into his small living room and beyond to the balcony outside.  He turned to his right and stepped out of his kitchen to look into his office.


It was empty.


He didn’t feel anything amiss in the room, so he walked over to the door and opened it.  First looking left, then right to see one of the guards, “Mùqián yǐ jìnrù biérén wǒ de fángjiān?”  The guard shook his head no, “Yǒu méiyǒu rén zài zhè yī céng?” Again, the guard shook his head in the negative.


Song closed the door and walked back into his kitchen.  He placed his hand on the large loaf of bread and pulled the pin out of the loaf and grabbed the sheet of paper.


The message was written in six languages, all in languages he knew and that other people were not supposed to know he was fluent with.


“It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby achieve great results.”


Song put down the letter.  The quote, one of Sun Tzu’s, was a maxim in his country.  He looked around his apartment and considered what he needed to do next, and his shoulders slumped.


He was going to have to move.


He could not trust living inside his walls now, and it was going to cause him great distress until his technology team could confirm it was safe for him to come back.


This was going to cause him undue stress when he least needed it.


Unfortunately, he never considered that by the time he left, the microscopic bugs had already invaded his briefcase, and he took the little devices with him to the next location at the embassy.


ADAM, however, was already working the little machines as soon as he placed the briefcase down.












CHAPTER TEN


Washington D.C., USA


The President walked into the meeting room with the fourteen heads of companies he had requested to attend with him. Fourteen heads that he had pulled with his top business advisors from the information provided by TQB.  When asked, he was adamant he wouldn’t tell them where the information had come from, simply that he had it and that the FBI was able to confirm a fair amount of the details.


He had planted twenty-two additional names in the meeting request in case they started talking before they got to Washington. He then had his press secretary tell the extra twenty-two they would be joining him at a separate location in the Whitehouse. That would be his second meeting.


He walked into his first meeting with four members of the secret service and four members of the FBI.


He had asked Gen. George Thourbourah to attend this meeting to listen.


Everyone turned to face the President as he stepped up to the podium.  There were no chairs in the room as he didn’t intend for it to be very long.


He turned to make sure the doors were shut and then turned back to those standing in front of him.  “I appreciate all of you coming today. Unfortunately, you are here for a different reason than many others.”  The noise started to ramp up, and he just looked to the left and the right.  He waited about thirty seconds and then looked at his watch before tapping on the microphone to get their attention. “I will be quick, because I have another meeting, one with people living inside of our society, not trying to live above it.”


He put up a hand to forestall the noise, “I don’t personally care if you want to argue with what I have to say.  Just let it be known that I have representatives from the FBI here in this room with whom I’ve shared documents delivered to me that suggest there is an illegal Cabal, operating for well over a century, that has done many harmful things for their company’s benefits and their personal gain.  Now, I’m also aware that those members have taken it upon themselves to start a fight. A fight using both legal and illegal efforts to obtain technology that does not belong to them.”


He looked out over the mass of faces, a few eyes, he noticed, darted to others in the room.  “Now, unlike many Cabal efforts in the past, this time, they have bitten off way more than they can chew.  Based on our research, compiled as we watched for evidence of these battles both on the stock market and off, shows us that this Cabal is getting their asses kicked.”


He looked around again after a pause, “Or they are dying.”  When he said that, the whispering got a little louder.


“Now,” He continued, and the noise died down, “Officially, I don’t know any of this at this moment.  I can’t help anyone, I can’t defend anyone, I can’t possibly ask for clemency from another group who might believe that there is such a rule as an eye for an eye and are willing to implement it.”  He looked hard at the people in front of him.


“What I can tell you, is that I have documents that let me know who I should be talking to right now.  You can be assured, as the good countryman you are, that your government is now aware of this effort and will not sit by and allow this Cabal to operate going forward.” His face firmed up, his look of annoyance clear on his face.


“I can tell you we know how to protect those who might be afraid of the dark, so to speak.” He looked around, hope shining out from at least a third of the eyes in the group. “But, they aren’t going to like the solution, I don’t think.  It seems the group that was attacked only recognizes our prisons as safe zones.  So, to be safe, people have to turn themselves in.”  He smiled to the speechless people in the audience, caught unawares that they now had a binomial option of safety in prison, or no safety.


The President turned to his right and nodded.  Two FBI agents stepped back beside the General as the President turned around to the audience again, “It saddens me to say that inside this information provided me was proof.  Proof that this Cabal had infected people all the way to the top, so to speak.  The FBI has confirmed this information, so in front of you as witnesses, they are taking into custody General George Thourbourah, for aiding and abetting a group that was inimical to the United States of America.”  Now, the room erupted in talk as the General went wide eyed and the two FBI agents quickly turned him and popped handcuffs on his arms before he got his wits about him.  The front FBI agent pulled a card out as the room quieted.


“You have the right to remain silent…”  He started.  The President leaned one arm on the podium, and watched every person as the General was read his rights and then walked out of the room, his head hung low.  Everyone turned back to see the President staring at them.


He spoke in a conversational tone, “You have the same right to remain silent, to not implicate yourselves in anything.  What that will accomplish is staying out of the only guaranteed safe place in this solar system. If you have any desire to be safe?  Well, these two guys up here have business cards, you might ask for one. Have a good night.”  The President stepped off the podium and swept out of the room with his security, leaving the two FBI agents behind with everyone else.


The President thought the looks of shock on all of the faces in the room were priceless.


Paris, France


The sound of the door closing behind George hadn’t yet left the room when Terence smiled to the rest of the people sitting around him.  “So, there go the only two without the, excuse me, ladies,” he smiled around the table, “The BALLS to seize the future!”


Downstairs and outside of the hotel, Cynthia stepped up to the curb and waited for her personal limousine, a Mercedes, to pull up.  George stepped up to her, “Were you honest about wanting comfort?” He asked.


She slipped an arm around his, “George, you have no idea how close you dodged the bullet in there.”  Her limousine drove up, it was a little longer and had modifications for security.  George noticed a driver, but another man from the front seat stepped out to open the door.


He nodded to George before opening the door for Cynthia, “Is this the man you expected?”


Cynthia nodded, a little sad, “I’m sad to say it was, no others chose to align themselves with me this evening, Nathan.”


He nodded his understanding when a separate woman surprised George by exiting the vehicle.  He didn’t get a good look at her, just noticing the black hair before she put a hat on her head as she walked into the hotel.  Cynthia half pulled, half pushed George into her backseat before Nathan leaned into the car, “You have seventy-two hours before the deal is over, understand?”


Cynthia nodded her head, “I’ll be there, with the proof.”  She stared Nathan in the eyes, “I’ll do my time.”


Nathan nodded, “See that you do, Cynthia. I went out on a limb to help you here.”


She held a hand out and Nathan took it, “I know Nathan.  We’ve done good business together in the past, and I wish you and your wife a beautiful and healthy child.”  He nodded, accepting her good wishes and closed the door.


He turned and lowered his head, his hat covering a large portion of his face as the vehicle left and he walked into the hotel to go to a meeting room in an out of the way area of the hotel.



Terence never noticed that each time a server left, they did not come back. He was about to suggest they break up into smaller work groups when he noticed a woman with a veiled hat and a man dressed in livery standing beside her.


“Who are you?” Terence asked.  It took only a few seconds for everyone at the table to see others looking behind them and to stop talking and turn around themselves.


“Oh good,” her voice was smooth, and Terence was wondering what she looked like under that hat. “I finally have your attention.”


“I believe the man asked who you were,” Constantina asked from a few places closer than Terrence, “This is a private meeting.”


“Yes, I’m aware.”  She said standing up, “This is an offshoot of the Illuminati created in 1776, now a sad spectacle of the original shining ideals.  Well, at least somewhat shining compared to you.”  She started walking along, a black gloved hand drawing along the backs of everyone down the side. “I’ve heard enough of your plans, thank you very much.”


She reached over and grabbed Truett Mastersos III, “Truett you are judged, good-bye.” Terrence was shocked as she easily grabbed Truett and pulled him bodily out of his chair into the air where he just…vanished.


“What the hell?” the next man over exclaimed.


“The hell,” she told Marco Broussard, “is that you have been doing evil deeds for over seventeen years, Mr. Broussard, and now it’s the penalty box for you.  She yanked his chair out and caught him under the arm.  She pivoted and threw him up over the table, and those on the other side screamed as he started coming in their direction, but he never landed.


He disappeared as well.


“The hell with this!” Karthi Montero muttered from down at the other end of the table and pushed his chair back; he kept his eyes on her as he walked away and around the end of the table to walk out the door. She watched him the whole time as he continued walking.


Right by Nathan.


Two women screamed when they saw the man turn into a literal wolf-man in front of their eyes.  Karthi was screaming as the wolf-thing growled and held his neck in its left hand.  Then looked at all of those still at the table as dinner.  Two of the men got out of their chairs and slid across the table to get on the other side from the Werewolf.


“Hold! Don’t eat him, your wife will be most upset,” the strange woman told the Werewolf.


“What the hell is that and who the hell are you!” Terence yelled, twisting his head between the two of these frightening beings.


“I’m the one you should not have crossed.  I took a survey of one, myself, and decided the future would be a lot better without you in it.  Nathan here,” She waved a hand at the monster holding Karthi, “Is here to make sure you hear what I have to say.”


“What is it?” Terence wanted to scream but tried to keep calm with everyone else freaking the hell out.


Her voice went silky smooth over steel, “You have been tried by the Queen Bitch herself for crimes against her, her people and humanity in general.  Everyone stand up.” Those still sitting pushed themselves out of their chairs, “Now wait until I get to you, but feel free to be as scared as you want as you can’t move your muscles.  I’ll get to each of you in a moment.”


Then the mysterious lady pulled off her hat and everyone realized that the person they were planning to attack, had been listening to their plans in their own room.  “The supreme art of war is to subdue your enemy without a fight.  I’ve tried being nice, and you all just fucked it away.  Now, you get the Queen Bitch,”  Bethany Anne’s voice changed, her eyes grew red and four people screamed in their minds while others wished they could cry, “in all of her glory!”


The Matriarch, the Queen of the Vampires went around each person, called their name out and told them a few of their sins and pushed them.  They simply vanished.


She spent no more time on Terrence than she did the others. Ten minutes later, she came up to Karthi, “You aren’t even worth it, you little rat-fink bastard.”  Nathan dropped the man and Bethany Anne grabbed him before he could drop, “Karthi, your sins are plenty.  Think of them as you serve your time.” She pulled him sideways, and he disappeared, “and die.”


Nathan changed back to a human again.  He twisted his head around, trying to pop his neck. “Don’t eat him, seriously?” he groused.


“I didn’t want them to rush you. I figured better to sit still than get eaten.  With Karthi in your hand like that, it was totally believable.”


“That would be hideous, I think. That man smelled.”


“I imagine he did, worse after you grabbed him,” She agreed.


Two seconds later, the two of them took a step, and they disappeared as well.


An hour later, the hired help came in and found that the room was a little messy, and there was some urine by the door, but no one could find any of the occupants.


It was all over the news the next day, that twenty-two of Europe’s major business people had all disappeared.


Cynthia and George stayed in bed for forty-eight hours, took twelve hours to make sure to review their estates one last time, and went together to the Hague to turn themselves in.


They walked up the steps, and Cynthia thought she saw Nathan out of the corner of her eye as they entered the building.


She asked George to wait for her and went back outside for a few seconds and looked around, but there was no one there.












CHAPTER ELEVEN


Expensive apartment near Central Park, New York City, NY - USA


“Oh shit, here we go again!” Tina Casson was watching the stock trading screens when the flags started flashing that fourteen of the four hundred and seventy-two companies that they had flagged as belonging to TQB Enterprises lit up.


Rajiv turned in his chair to look over her shoulder, “Damn, someone is trying hard to buy those companies out.” He reached across her shoulder to hit a flag on the screen.


Tina slapped his arm, “Hey! Touch your own damn screen. Now mine has Rajiv cooties.”


Rajiv ignored her outburst, “Look, they aren’t getting any takers, I bet you most of these companies are owned by the same group somehow.”


“What?” Tina ignored his arm and her fingers started dancing on the keyboards, “No, we have a few takers.”


“Yeah, but the cost is at least two hundred times book value, this is crazy.” Rajiv turned back to his screen, “See if we can buy some puts on this.”


“You think it’s going down?” Tina asked, biting on a fingernail, “I’m not feeling that.”


“No?” Rajiv turned back around, “Why?”


“Look,” she pointed to the screen, “the offer is GTC, they are going to wait it out. Whoever is behind this…wait a minute.” She turned to a monitor on her right and hit a few more keystrokes, “All based on banks that go back to China.”


“Ooooh, new players.” Rajiv said and started to reach across only to have Tina pinch the sensitive skin under his arm, “Ouch ouch OUCH!” He yanked his arm back as Tina eyed him, snapping her fingers together like a little crab might.


“No touchy!” she told him, eyes angry.


“I’m good, I’m good,” he told her, massaging his arm. “Would you mind looking at the open positions on calls?”


Tina turned and hit a few buttons, “Yeah, they are growing and … what the hell?” She pointed to the screens, “why are they so high?”


“My guess is whoever is selling the calls is the owner. They are offsetting another end-run.”


“Or they are doing some sort of butterfly spread with these puts here,” Tina stated and pointed to new stock option puts on the screen.


Rajiv noticed another flag on the left monitor, “Another five companies are under attack.”


“Who the hell has this much money?”


“Only a handful of companies might, or a nation,” Rajiv shrugged. “Ours is not to ask who, but to make a shit-ton of money while they are trying.”


Tina started typing on her computer, “It’s like they are blowing the shit out of each other and we are the ones selling the ammunition and getting paid to clean up the battlefield.”


“Better them than me, arbitrage is fast and hopefully less risky than what they are playing.” Rajiv turned back to his own computer, put his hands together to crack his knuckles and then started laying out his screens, “Time to make six-figures today.”


“The fishing will be good,” Tina agreed, “Booyah Baby!” She called out, “Dropped my first five back into my account, momma’s gonna get herself a diamond ring!”


“I thought that was for the guy to buy?” Rajiv called out, focused on executing an option spread.


“Haven’t you listened to the Beyonce song?” she asked.


“Too busy making money to worry about stuff like that,” Rajiv issued to orders to sell. “Bring the MONEY!” he called out pointing at his screen, “Another ten for me, baby!”


“Fucking shit,” Tina bit her lip and executing a wrap-around, “You Indians are weird, letting your parents pick out your wives and shit.” She lined up two more purchases but had nothing to sell, yet.


“Call me DADDY!” Rajiv yelled as he closed another pair of trades, “That makes 14 g’s for me and no, what’s the divorce rate for you Americans picking your spouses for yourselves, something like less than half makes it?”


“Um, yeah, you have a point about that,” she agreed, hitting sell on three positions, “Wham, Bam, Thank you, Ma’am. Momma just closed and now leads fifteen to fourteen.”


“Damn, they are beating the shit out of each other,” Rajiv called back over his shoulder, “Did you see the attacks on the manufacturing companies?”


“What? No.”


“Some funny shit going on around there,” Rajiv commented, “I’m seeing secondary players coming up.”


“The big guys are staying quiet on this, did you notice that?” Tina asked as she executed another four trades, “Call it twenty-five to fourteen now daddy is behind.”


“Ha!” Rajiv yelled, “WOOHOO BABY!” Rajiv stood up and slapped his ass, twice, “Daddy got the sizzle.” He sat back down, “One down two k, but two were up, netting seventeen k on those beauties.”


“Shit, that’s thirty-one to twenty-seven, I just closed another two g on three trades,” she told him.


“I’m almost clear, this is crazy.” Rajiv looked at everything on his panel, “I’m pulling everything I’ve got.”


“What? Why?” she called out, looking at her accounts and the crazy trades, “Yeah, shit.” Her fingers started dancing across the keyboard. Within sixty seconds, her trades were all cleared. “I closed out up twenty-nine.” She told him as she moved cash to different accounts.


“I lost one closing out, but I’m up thirty to twenty-nine.” He turned lazily in his chair to face Tina, who had just closed her bank screen, a smile on his face. “Pay up, you lost,” he told her as he pointed to the both of them.


Tina turned in her chair and stood up, a lascivious grin on her face, “Anytime we make almost sixty-thousand dollars in ten minutes, I’ll gladly give you a kiss to curl your toes, baby.” She straddled his legs and leaned in to kiss him.


Damn, Rajiv thought, his toes did want to curl.




PLA General Staff Headquarters - Beijing


Fourteen high value targets to attack in one night across the countries of India, Egypt, Mexico, Thailand, and Korea.


General Sun Zedong walked into the operations center for the evening’s efforts. He sat down in the back, allowing his subordinates the opportunity to run the individual ops. He would be available if a quick decision needed to be made.


He looked around and counted. Five core leaders, two communications and directions resources per leader.


He made a decision to let his men take care of the efforts and not to jiggle their elbow and have them second guessing themselves. He stood up, spoke to each one, and let them each know he was available in his office if they should need him.


He stepped out, confident that he had made the right decision.




Hospet, Karnataka – India


Colonel Jai looked down at his task list, confirming he and his squad of three additional men had the final ‘go’ before he committed to action. The target was a small, two-story office building in Hospet, Karnataka, India. They had been tasked with raiding the building. Acquisition of hard drives, any technology information from computers disengaged from the Internet and hard copies if they seemed relevant to the mission.


As a research business focused particularly on different types of metals and gravity based concepts, they hoped this was going to be a particularly good raid opportunity. From their four-day review, it looked like the building wasn’t going to particularly be a problem.


The security system was cracked forty-eight hours ago. Jai did not expect there to be a system turned on when he got there. He and his team shouldn’t trip anything while inside, which was good. The local police station was just four blocks away.


He nodded to his driver and they pulled the windowless van up to the side alley of the building. Turning off the engine, the four men waited an additional ten minutes to make sure nothing seemed amiss. He nodded, and they exited the van. Each had a mask they put on their heads as soon as they went over the small wall so that no pictures could be taken that might reveal their nationalities. The four men jogged to the entrance by the small truck loading dock in back. Jai pointed to the door, and Li nodded, going up the six cement stairs two at a time. He pulled out a small tool and started working on the door lock.


Jai and his team had cased this location for the last three nights, checking everything out. The guard went to eat at a local all-night restaurant that was connected to a nearby hotel and would arrive back, Jai looked at his watch, in forty-two more minutes.


Plenty of time for this team to deal with this.


Li stood up, opened the door and followed Jai’s team as they entered the building.


Jai took the lead and walked quickly, yet calmly to the door leading out of the loading dock. He cracked the door and then opened it further when he found no one on the other side. He walked to the third door on the right and grabbed the handle to walk into the stairway leading to the second floor. In a few seconds, his team was on the next floor. On this floor, there were always lights on.


He and his team did a quick half crouch run heading towards the back of the second floor, past a large section of cubicles and what looked like a bunch of small telephone cubbies. Jai could smell the heavy amount of spice in the air as he passed another darkened room. He assumed it was the kitchen.


Another right turn and they hit the door to the research and computer design areas. Jai tested the door, but it was locked. It looked like one that would automatically close and lock every time someone went through.


He stepped back and let Li pull out his lock tool.


Jai glanced at his watch, thirty-nine minutes.


It took Li about half a minute to work on the lock before he stood up and opened the door.


Jai was about to follow him when Li’s head passed through the door, and he fiercely pulled it back as a metal object of some sort slammed into the door where his head and hands had just been. As quick as he was, Li’s hand was still slammed pretty hard as he tried to duck back into the hallway and muffled a curse.


Jai jumped to the side and quickly put his foot out to stop the door. Whoever was behind the door slammed into it hard to shove it closed, and Jai grunted when his foot got caught between the door and the door jam.


He and his men quickly started pushing, and he gave a count to push on three, “Yee, Uhr, SAHN!” On three all pushed, but they met no resistance as whoever was behind the door let go. There was just a second of confusion as the men caught their balance when they stumbled into the room. Jai could see a lab-coated worker running around the corner.


Dammit!


“Wu, Li!” Jai pointed. The two men rushed forward, following the figure.


Shit! There wasn’t supposed to be anyone here. He looked around the room when he heard a gunshot. Moments later, he heard a second one. His men came jogging back around the corner, Wu and Li both holstering pistols.


“She was going for the alarm,” Wu said.


Li added, “I’m not sure we got there in time. I shot second to make sure she couldn’t speak about us.”


Jai nodded his understanding, "Breakage." He turned towards the computers he could see.


Liang reached up to his ear, “Colonel, we have confirmation the police have been notified of a silent alarm.”


Jai wanted to curse. “Grab what you can, we have to get out of here.”


The four men caught up anything technical that they could carry and dashed out of the research area, down the hallway to turn right into the stairway. It took but a minute for them to be out through the loading dock back door and for them to get over the short fence and into the van. Li jumped in the driver’s seat as Jai got on the passenger side and Liang and Wu got in back. Li started the van and then drove down the street, away from the building at a sedate speed. He took the second left as they had planned. It led them into a small subdivision,  which allowed them to take three turns before exiting into an area of the city that dropped them onto a better road they could more easily lose any pursuit.


Jai wanted to slam his hand against the van’s seat. All of their planning and efforts screwed up by one stupid female.


Shit!




Nara, Nara Prefecture - Japan


Yuko stood outside of her parent’s home with a backpack on her shoulder. Her parents did not understand her desire to stand apart, to do something outside of the family or her country.


She started walking towards Kasuga-Taisha to get to the forest area, where she had been told that she would be picked up.


She was a little concerned, as there was no going back from this moment. Her father had told her that no one from TQB would be coming for her and that if she stayed out past dark, he would not allow her entrance back into the house. This way, she would be force to confront her irrational beliefs and foolhardy trust with those on the Internet in the dark of the evening as punishment for being unwise.


Right now, she was the only one that would go.


She spoke with three others in the hacking clan, and they would not go. There was no way they would break tradition with their parents.


However, Yuko had to know, had to understand what was going on. She felt a connection to Adam, AI though he might be, one that led her to believe that he would never wrong her.


Or Bethany Anne.


She noticed a tika deer watching her from the shadows, and she stopped, bowing to the deer, who bowed back. She stood up and considered the deer like it was a sacred messenger from a Shinto God from ages past and walked away with a smile on her face.


If nothing else, it made her feel good.


There were people out enjoying the day, and she took out her phone to pick her way through the growth. She wasn’t sure what was going on until the undergrowth opened up and there was a glade about twelve meters wide and twice as long.


Fifteen minutes later, she covered her mouth with her hand as a black Pod descended quickly from the sky, a second one hanging back as the first dropped to stop just above the ground. It opened, and a lady sat inside, smiling at her.


A lady whose face was well known to Yuko. “Honorable Bethany Anne?” Yuko asked as she walked to the Pod.


“You might want to jump in pretty quickly. There isn’t a need to make the Japanese Air Force all twitchy, so if you want to go we should move fast.”


Yuko pulled the backpack off of her back and smiled as she turned to sit inside a famed black Pod for the first time. Bethany Anne hit a button, and the doors closed, bringing a darkness inside the Pod until Bethany Anne did something and the glass allowed a softened view of the glade outside.


A male's voice came out of a speaker above Yuko’s head, “Bethany Anne, we have a query on the military channel's about possible U.F.O’s in Kasugayama Primeval Forest.”


“Right, high-dee ho, it’s time to go. Take us up, TOM.”


Yuko felt some acceleration, but the ground and her city disappeared quickly underneath them.


“Welcome to Team ADAM, Yuko.” Bethany Anne told her, “I’m happy you chose to join us.”


Yuko was enthralled with the view out of the glass, she heard someone talking, but it took a second for her to go back, rewind what she thought she had heard and then catch back up. “I am so sorry, Bethany Anne, I was not paying attention!”


Bethany Anne laughed, “It catches all of us one way or another,” she admitted as she swiped an arm across the glass to take off the control display and screens obscuring the view. “Here, why don’t we enjoy this together.”


Yuko turned from paying attention to Bethany Anne to watch while the sky darkened, and then she understood.


Yuko Komagata, a daughter who, according to her father, needed to stop spending so much time on her computer and think more about a relationship and moving forward stared into space.


The first Komagata to leave her town in three generations had abandoned town, country, and now her world. A tear made its way down her face as she reached out to touch the glass.


“No, father,” she whispered to herself, “there are some who you meet on the Internet, who can be trusted, even if they might not be human themselves.”


Another male voice came over the loudspeaker, “Yuko, I would like to introduce myself," he said.


“My name is ADAM.”












CHAPTER TWELVE


Guangzhou, China


Ting was looking around the large building, slightly confused. Her Empress had provided the exact address, date and time that she needed to show up in Guangzhou to deliver her Empress’s letter.


Ting wore the clothes of her mother, and her mother before her. Black with yellow embroidery on their sleeves. On her collars, was the Chinese tiger symbol. While her clothes were clean, they were not modern, nor were they new.


For Ting, this was of little concern. She noticed some of the new Chinese looking at her rural clothes and hairstyle. Twice, a woman in their twenties sniffed in her direction as they walked by in their longer skirts, high heels, with jackets and coiffed hair.


Ting smirked. If those ladies understood who was in their midst, she doubted they would have dared come so close.


“Excuse me?” Ting turned to regard the young man who had called her.


“Yes?”


“Are you lost, or are you looking for the market perhaps?” he asked her.


Ting did not sense any rudeness in this man, so he was forgiven any slight shown to the Leopard Empress's envoy.


“No, I am at the right location. I have been informed to ask for the Jade meeting room, that I have permission to deliver a message to those meeting inside from my Empress. The code word is light.”


Ting noticed the surprise on his face before he bowed more deeply and turned to head towards a back hallway, “Please, follow me.”


Ting followed the man in livery past two guarded locations. At both, the young man was stopped and asked about her presence. The man bowed to both guards and explained that she had the code word for the most respected who were meeting in the back.


Ting followed the young man. Keeping her thoughts to herself as she sniffed the hallways, recording the smells, the sounds, and what she saw.


Finally, there was one more set of double doors to go through. The young man spoke again to the guards who turned their attention to her, “Are you here for yourself, or for another?” the guard asked as her first escort left her with a smile and a nod, returning to the front lobby.


“I’m an envoy for my Empress,” Ting told him.


“And who would that be?” the guard asked as a little rudeness crept into his voice.


Ting swallowed her first response, “That is not for you to know, it will not grace your ears, or I will be under oath to retract the knowledge.”


The guard regarded the slender five-foot tall young woman who couldn’t weigh more than perhaps ninety jin or nearly a hundred pounds if she was wet from falling into the pond. “And how, exactly, would you accomplish this?”


“Well, I’m unaware of a way to accomplish it while you are alive, so unfortunately, death is my only option. At that point, I believe the information is no longer available to be spoken, or possible for others to find out.” She stood there meeting his eyes with a steady look.


The guard next to him chuckled, “You should let her in, we aren’t required to know this. She has the code word, Zan, let it go.


Zan nodded and turned to knock on the door softly. It was cracked open, and he whispered into the doorway. Zan stepped back to allow a third guard, bigger than either Zan or Mei, who were standing guard. This new man was easily six feet tall, and most of his muscle had muscle on top of it. He looked down at the little woman regarding him impassively.


Tai was accustomed to causing a fearful reaction in his normally shorter countryman and especially with his countrywomen.


Except this one. Tai stepped towards her, but Ting held still even when he invaded her personal space. “If he wishes to offer the envoy a slight, to force me to respond, then you are very close,” she told him, holding his eyes with her own.


Those eyes, Tai thought, didn’t seem right.


“Who is sending you?” Tai asked, “We have the code word, but who am I to say is interrupting this meeting?”


This man’s smirk was irritating Ting, “I have warned your man here, that to know this information is not for you. Do you seek to know anyway against these warnings?”


Tai turned to Zan and raised an eyebrow who shook his head, “I don’t need to know, the decision is yours.” Tai turned back around, “what if you whisper it into my ear so that I may announce you?”


“Then I will pull the knowledge from your heart once you are finished with it,” she told him, in a clipped fashion.


Tai grimaced but nodded his head in agreement and bent down so she could whisper the name into his ear.


Zan could see Tai’s eyes roll when he heard the name, but he turned around to walk in with the young woman following him. She looked to Zan and said quietly, “Close the door, you will not want to hear this.”


When she stepped into the room, Zan quickly but silently closed the door behind them.


Mei rolled his eyes and took his position beside the door, “You are running scared from a mouse.”


“I don’t think so, Mei,” he replied, “this time, I think the stories walk the earth again.”


“You are superstitious, Zan.” Mei snorted, “I bet she is out in ten minutes.”


“Deal,” Zan agreed.



Inside, Ting slipped behind the guard who had the attention of what had to be close to twenty of those in power inside the room. Ting was surprised to see three were wearing the old style traditional clothes like her.


The guard stood in front and spoke, “No disrespect intended, but I have an envoy to announce. She has the appropriate code word to join this meeting.”


One of the older men, with a long gray beard and bushy eyebrows, asked, “Did the envoy provide her Empress's name?”


“She did,” Tai started to say, “she claims she is from..ARGUGH.” Tai stopped talking as incredible pain ripped through his chest. He reached to grab a fist holding part of him. A small fist, with claws, had hold of what remained of his heart as it spurted blood before ceasing to move. He felt the sharpness of his broken ribs as he tried to push his heart back in. His legs lost the ability to stand yet he didn’t fall. He coughed up blood and slowly his head lowered, his eyes never closing.


Then, those in the room saw the mighty Tai finally lean forward and the small woman, her hand slipping out of his back, her eyes glowing yellow released his body to collapse to the floor.


She spoke in a soft voice, “No disrespect intended, honorable leaders. However, this guard was informed I would take the name of my Empress from his heart inside of this room.”


Zhao studied the young warrior-envoy and nodded his head, “There is no need to share your Empress’s name, Envoy...”


“Ting,” she supplied and stepped forward apparently without thought or concern that her arm was coated in blood.


“Yes, Envoy Ting.” Zhao stood up and bowed to her, “Welcome to our meeting, Envoy of the Leopard Empress.”


Ting heard the gasps from around the room, hurried questions from a couple of people who were trying to ask about the Leopard Empress. The soft sound of panicked heartbeats made an accompaniment that pleased Ting greatly.


And oh, the delicious smell of fear, of respect, for her Empress.


She bowed, “Thank you, Leader Zhao.” When she raised back up, everyone there could see that her eyes glowed the yellow of the Sacred Clan. “I have been sent by the Leopard Empress to provide those here in the Illuminati with the opportunity to ally yourself with that which you seek from TQB, and provide our protection.”


“And what does the Leopard Empress desire for this?” Zhou asked, keeping his tone very respectful. Zhou had been raised in central China. There the history of the Sacred Clan was told to little children to scare them. As he had aged, Zhou found the stories fascinating and had tried to see what the real story was behind the fairy tales.


Only to find that the partial truths that people would admit be more fanciful than the stories the villagers spoke around the fires at night.


Ting cocked her head, “You misunderstand, I believe honorable leader Zhao.” She looked around the room and smiled. “The question is what do you want to give first as a tribute to start the discussions. The Leopard Empress knows who you fight, and knows more about their abilities than you might ever be able to understand. Further, she knows your relationships and your failures. If she wants your companies, she would just wait for TQB to come for you.”


Zhao kept his face calm but reassessed his impression of this Leopard Empress. He had expected that this person would not know much about what was going outside of the Heubei area where their temple had been for hundreds of years.


Unfortunately, Keung three chairs down from Zhao did not have Zhao’s knowledge of the sacred clan. “Who is this Leopard Princess, Zhao?” He pointed to Ting, “Why are we even speaking to this small girl who kills our people like this.” Keung stood up, “I will not have someone come and talk this way to me! I am not an unaware guard whom you can just punch,” with this, Keung hit the air three times very suddenly, “into submission!” He started walking around the table, “I say,” as he pointed to Ting, “that we spank you and send you back to the Leopard Princess and tell her we can take care of ourselves.”


Four of those around the table looked to Zhao, who put a hand out, palm down and moved it up and down slightly above the table, letting them know to wait.


It looked like Keung was going to make Zhao’s point for him in a very primal way.




San Jose, Costa Rica




The coolness of the night swirled around the two men. “I’m telling you, José,” George said, as he looked at the manufacturing building across the street, “This is easy money. Go in, bust a few things, look for any computers or laptops that could hold technical drawings and we are back out.”


“And I’m telling you, George,” José said, spitting on the ground, “If the command weren't from Miguel, I wouldn’t be doing this shit.” He looked around the darkened street. The building was pretty large for a medium level company here in San José. Miguel had taken a lot of money to harass companies here in Costa Rica and Argentina that supposedly were working with TQB. José didn’t care spit about TQB, except rumor was if you messed with a company that worked with them, shit seemed to happen to you.


José looked around one more time, “Alright, I’m not feeling anything bad, let’s cross.” The two men kept the lead pipes up against their bodies. They had their pistols, but that was in case things got really bad. They hadn’t been paid to kill anyone. Hopefully, they could give the security guy a hundred U.S. if he was there and he would accept a punch and go down.


Up on the roof of the building, three pairs of eyes watched the two toughs. One of the three, a female spoke quietly to the other two, “See, I told you it was going down here tonight.”


“Yes, Kimosabe,” Ryu said in the dark.


Tabatha rolled her eyes, “What do you think Hirotoshi?” While Tabitha might decide the when’s and the where’s, it was Hirotoshi who decided everything martial until he gave his blessing. “I think you need seasoning, and these two will provide it,” he told her in his clipped way of talking, “Don’t get killed, or my Queen will be most displeased.”


“Really?” Tabitha said, “I get killed, and you worry about Bethany Anne being annoyed with you?” She untied her scabbard and lifted it off of her back. Decked out in all black, there was little chance the two thugs below would see her in the dark of the night. “I think I might be a tad upset as well,” she huffed before turning to go to the side of the roof and hopping off. She landed from the twelve-foot drop with barely a notice and started jogging down the side of the building to the unlocked door on the other side they had found.


Ryu looked to Hirotoshi, “You know the Queen will be more than just displeased with us,” he said as he pointed between the two of them.


Hirotoshi nodded agreement. “That is why I have two vials of blood, in case it goes… what did Barnabas call it?” he asked as he turned to follow his charge.


“Pear shaped,” Ryu replied as he followed his partner over the top of the roof, running off the building to land lithely. With barely a break in his running stride, he started to close the distance behind their rash leader.


Truth be told, both men had grown to like the spunky woman who sometimes ran ahead of her thinking, and whose mouth always ran ahead of everyone else.



Keung walked around the table, watching the smaller woman who kept an eye on him, but also was aware of those all over the room. She seemed neither concerned nor bothered that Keung had been talking down about her leader.


He was not worried about his own performance. While this woman could and would kill, Keung had not been bested in the last three years, even by those who taught others to fight. He could not beat them either, so he suspected at most, it would be a draw, and he would receive the respect she had not been showing so far.


One didn’t throw around martial prowess and expect no one to challenge you unless you were a fool.


Keung took off his jacket and laid it on a chair to the side of the room. She watched as he took off his watch and shirt, leaving on his t-shirt underneath. He noticed that she had on sandals usual for the outer country and took off his own shoes and socks. She dipped her head to him in acknowledgement and took off her sandals.


Keung stepped up and bowed while keeping his head up. She barely provided him a nod. It irritated him. Even the teachers gave Keung more respect than this little female. Perhaps he would spank her for real at the end of this.


Keung moved to the ball of his right foot which was behind him when she started walking towards him. It was a horrible position, and he suddenly extended from his stance with a snap kick to her head.


Which wasn’t there.


One moment, she was walking at him as he attacked, the next she had slid under him, and he felt the burn of fire on his right foot as he landed.


He hopped to turn around and noticed that his right foot had three slashes down the length as if claws had ripped through his skin.


He looked, and her right hand had what looked like fresh blood. Certainly, the blood splatters on the floor led back to her.


Keung pressed his lips and willed the pain to recede. He failed to notice the stares coming from the table were focused on the young woman.


“Her name,” Ting announced to everyone in the room, “is the Leopard Empress.” She nodded to Keung, “And if you know your children’s stories...” She started walking towards Keung again who switched positions to brace his left leg behind him. “You know there is no disrespect of the Leopard Empress allowed.” Keung almost forgot to try and strike when the woman growled like a tiger, and he would have sworn she grew six inches as she walked towards him. Attempting to throw his quickest punches, she slapped them all aside as if he was nothing but a child, barely able to walk. He never saw the clawed hand that took out his throat. His body slammed into the floor, his blood quickly draining out of the massive hole.


Ting allowed her hand with two-inch claws to stay in the tiger shape as she brought it up to her mouth, and licked some of his blood from a claw, “Are there any others who wish to disrespect my Empress?” she asked.












CHAPTER THIRTEEN


San Jose, Costa Rica


Tabitha entered the manufacturing building through a far back door. The building was made mostly of cinder blocks with the occasional corrugated tin covering. She walked on the balls of her feet, in the boots the guys preferred. She had to admit, they were comfortable and did allow her to feel every little stick beneath her feet.


Or, she thought as she grimaced in pain, the occasional screw someone leaves on the ground. She stopped and lifted an aching foot to pull out the tiny screw that had been sitting on the ground like a caltrop. Just a lesson to reinforce the need to watch where her feet were being placed and what might be waiting for her.


Just like Hirotoshi told her. Frequently.


She kept her sword in the scabbard and held it motionless with her left hand as she listened intently in the darkened building, making her way to the area in the building where the two thugs would be.


She was quick, much quicker than a human, but probably pretty slow compared to her two lackeys.


Well, she considered them lackeys only when they weren’t around, and there was no chance in hell they could possibly pick up her thoughts. Because if they did hear her, then life during training was going to suck amazeballs for weeks.


But, she needed to get her kicks from somewhere and this week it was calling the wonder twins her lackeys and getting away with it.


At least so far.


Tabitha was passing an office when she stopped and quickly stepped back two steps to look inside. It was a room full of computers with drawings all over the walls. She had found the engineering room in the building so she stepped inside for a better look.



“I’m telling you, José,” George muttered, “This is not a normal lock!” He finally heard the click he needed and turned the knob to open the door. “There, satisfied?”


“No, next time do better,” José whispered as he stepped by George and went inside. George closed the door after flipping off his friend and taking a quick peek to make sure no one saw them before closing the door.


José whispered, “It’s quiet in here.”


“What do you want?” George asked, “a welcoming committee? Rats? Dogs for fuck’s sake?”


“Yes, dogs. Then I can feed you to them to shut both them and you up.” José said. “My contact said the engineer’s room is down the second hallway on the left. Go four doors down and it will be on the left.”


“Good, let’s do this and go,” George answered.


Occasional lights from computers or clocks provided enough light to see the surroundings as the two men made their way through the office.


“One…two…three…four,” Jose’ said and turned inside, “This is it.”


“Shit, it’s dark, we can turn on the light, right?” George asked.


“There aren’t any windows in here, sure.” José whispered.


“Fuck,” whispered a voice.


“Fuck what?” George asked.


“What fuck?” José replied, “I didn’t say fuck.”


“The fuck you didn’t say fuck, I heard you say fuck!” George hissed to his friend, “Where the hell is the light switch.”


“Here, let me get it for you.” A voice George didn’t recognize spoke in the dark.


“What the FUCK!” he yelled as the lights came on and a person dressed in black with only their eyes showing was standing by the wall just a couple of steps away, hand near a switch. They were holding a sword scabbard in their …no, her…definitely her… left hand.


“Oh, the fuck you say!” she said, “I’m thinking the two of you are here to fuck up these machines after trying to steal plans. Now, you have a choice…”


“Fuck your choice!” José whipped his bar around as he spoke, aiming for her head. The hell he was going for her option one or any other choice.


Jose’s eyes opened wide as pain registered in his arms. The vibrations ran down the pipe as it slammed into her scabbard, blocking his swing and stopping it cold.


“You fucked up my scabbard!” she bitched. George saw her check out her sheath and look his way before jumping over to José who was pulling his pipe around for a second swing. She put the scabbard under her arm, then caught his swinging arm and casually broke it.


José shrieked in pain as the pipe dropped out of his hands to clatter to the floor. “Swinging such a long thing at a girl has probably been a lifelong dream of yours, dickless,” she was telling José when George shot her from behind.


Twice…and a third time when she hit the floor, her body jerking.


“Let’s get the fuck out of here!” George told José as he put the pistol back in his pocket and reached to help his friend stand up.


The two of them turned towards the door and stopped. Two more figures, dressed all in black, stood blocking the exit from the room. George swallowed, noticing that their eyes were red.


A voice, rough and in pain came from behind them, “Cock fucking, back shooting, inbred cretin!” George turned his head to see the woman, blood freely running down her back, stand up and turn toward him. He grabbed for his pistol and had pulled it out when she twisted faster than he could track, standing in shock as the end of his arm became a stump, blood squirting on the floor.


He noticed in disbelief that her scabbard was off, her eyes were red, and he had no hand. She stepped closer to him, her voice hissing, You have been judged!” Then, she thrust her sword into him, through his heart, "The sentence is death." George barely understood what had gone so wrong as the lights faded, the room dimmed, and he collapsed into oblivion.


José, unable to grab his pistol with his broken arm, looked down at George in shock and then over at the short girl. “I …I…” he stuttered.


“You,” she said, putting the bloody tip of her sword on his chest, “Will tell your boss, Miguel, that I have him in my sights.” She tapped the point against his chest as she continued, “I’ll be seeing him. TQB partners are off limits.” She pulled her sword back and used José’s body to wipe the blood off as she kept his eyes locked with hers, “Don’t let me see you again.” She scabbarded her sword and stepped over George to walk towards the door. The two men watched José as she walked between them and took a left down the hallway. One of the men stepped back, then the other.


The last shut off the light when he left, leaving José in the dark.



“Kimosabe,” Ryu began as the three of them left the building, only to dart forward when Tabitha stumbled and collapsed to the ground. He caught her and turned her around, to lay her gently on a small patch of grass, pulling off her mask.


“As I thought,” Hirotoshi said. He uncorked the first vial of blood, “Watch for me.” Ryu stood up and checked to make sure the other idiot hadn’t tried to follow the three of them out.


“Here, drink this Ranger Tabitha,” Hirotoshi murmured into the dark, “for tonight, your blade tasted blood, and you walked out as a Ranger should.”


Hirotoshi never knew that Tabitha had been awake enough to hear his comment. It would warm her for decades into the future.


Once he finished getting most of the vial of blood in her, Hirotoshi gently picked her up, and the three of them disappeared into the night.




Aboard U.S. RC-135, East China Sea


“Captain, we have incoming bogeys again,” Raven 1 spoke into his mic.


This would be the fifth time in the last sixty days their plane had been involved with Chinese scrambling jets to intercept their spy mission. The mission that was completely legal as they flew in international airspace. Their flight was staffed with a total of twenty-two people. The total force dedicated to electronic warfare responsibilities included ten Ravens, all focused on their jobs.


“ETA?”


“Ten minutes, sir. They are hitting it pretty hard to catch up to us.” Raven 1 responded.


“Understood, calling to base.”


Captain Hodges looked over his controls and was about to call in requesting if there should be any changes to their flight plan. He didn’t expect one, but you never knew.


What he received instead, was an unexpected contact.


“Hey Leo, take a look,” Captain Hodges turned right towards Jack, his co-pilot, to see him pointing slightly up. He stretched a little forward to look up to see…


“Attention Air Force RC-135, this is Black Eagle One,” A female's voice came through the speaker.


As Captain Hodges reached for the mic button his co-pilot mentioned quietly, “I see three more.”


“Ask those turkeys in the back if they have anything around us!” Captain Hodges told Jack then hit the microphone, “This is Captain Hodges, to whom am I speaking?”


“Captain Hodges, I'm sorry, but since this meeting never happened, and I’m sure when you see why you will understand how come I'm keeping you ignorant. I just want you to know that those Chinese J-10’s heading this way are going to be leaving. So I’m offering you a choice. Do you and your men want to play along or not with their exit?”


“What would we need to do, Black Eagle One?” He asked as his co-pilot pointed to his headphones and put his hand up in a universal zero signal. Damn, those Pods were within a couple of hundred feet, and their detection stuff couldn’t find them at all!


“When those J-10’s get close, I can either send them away, or someone can give me a signal to send them away. Do something like tell them to go away, that they are bugging you, and then sit back and enjoy the show.”


Captain Hodges heard a snort from his co-pilot and grinned himself.


He clicked his headphones mic, “Let me be sure I understand the story, Black Eagle One. The J-10’s will arrive here, and we fully expect them to do something ridiculous. When that happens, I should tell them to ‘shoo off’ so they will leave?”


“That is correct. Do you care to be a part of this? The only thing you are responsible for is letting us know when they are too close to your plane to be comfortable, and we will take care of the rest.”


Captain Hodges chuckled, “How much trouble can I get in for telling them to back off?” God only knows, he thought to himself before clicking his mic back on, “Yes, Black Eagle One, I will be happy to tell the Chinese they are too close to my plane. It isn’t like I wouldn’t tell them that anyway.”


“Very well. We are going to back off so we aren’t seen in proximity to you. Safe flying, Captain,” the female’s voice cut off, and then the four Pods were simply gone.


“I’ve GOT to get me one of those!” his co-pilot commented to chuckles around the cabin.


He clicked the mic for the speakers in the back, “This is the Captain,” Leo spoke, “I’ve got news and a new project. Shortly, we are going to be intercepted by what seems to be two Chinese J-10’s coming in hot. I’m sure they want to yell at us for being in international airspace and aiming our sensitive devices in their general direction. Unfortunately for them, they are going to be asked to go fly somewhere else, and I’ve been informed it is going to happen. Now, I am telling you that whatever the hell happens on this flight, consider it top secret. Whatever your readings are, your guesses, what we videotape and what you know, is top secret.”


He paused a moment before continuing, “However, I know most of you have seen the videos of the ships we just saw two hundred feet above us, and I’ve decided that we are going to give the Chinese something else to think about. I want anyone who can adjust any radar or other equipment that can focus on the two jets to do so. If we have a minimally tasked data acquisition tool that isn’t working specifically on a project, then move it to focus on those jets. If you aren’t sure, then ask up the chain.”


Leo smiled, “I think we are about to have some fun, people!”



The Chengdu J-10A lightweight multi-role fighter aircraft was capable of all-weather operation. Presently the two rushing to intercept the American spy aircraft shrieked through the sky at close to Mach 2.


The pilots had been told they should make sure the Americans understood that continued harassment of their sovereign territory would not be tolerated. China had enough of the belligerence of the world and today was just another opportunity to make sure that the world understood that China would not accept encroachment by any other country.


Pilots Si and Xue had both been on over forty-five sorties and multiple regular flights in the last three years. They were very familiar with the controls of their planes.


As they approached the American aircraft, Xue had expected to be hailed, but this had not yet occurred. Perhaps they would be willing to play a little more chicken?


Xue and Si brought their jets around in an arc to line up behind the larger spy plane. Xue accelerated to approach within fifteen meters of the jet and turned, expecting to see the pilot wearing a pretty pissed off expression.


He was smiling at Xue.


“You know,” the American captain spoke on their channel, “you guys are pretty piss-poor pilots. You fail to heed the agreement our countries signed just last year.”


“You are encroaching on Chinese airspace!” Xue responded, “You need to quit these flights and return to your base.”


“No, I’m looking at my GPS, we are in international airspace. So, I’ll tell you what, what don’t you guys just go away? Go on now, shoo!”


Xue wasn’t sure what the term ‘shoo’ meant, but he assumed it meant to leave, “We do not leave Chinese airspace with foreign spy planes …” He stopped for a second when he heard metal ‘pings.' Were the Americans shooting at them? He turned to find Si’s jet and noticed that there were little black dots around the entire plane, the nose, the wings, the tail. He turned to look back at his own wings and could see similar little black dots affixed to both sides of his plane. Once he turned to look on the other side, he could see they were placed in multiple locations.


“Nice knowing you,” the American pilot said, “See you in international airspace some other time.”


“You will remove…” Xue didn’t get another word out when his jet suddenly turned away from the American spy plane and veered to the left. Si’s plane executed the same maneuver instantaneously.


Xue fought his controls, but the harder he fought, the more shaking and rattling of the plane’s frame he could hear. It sounded like he was literally tearing his own plane apart.


“Si, stop fighting the controls.” He had looked up and over and could see that Si was fighting the direction of his flight as well. Both stopped, and the planes leveled out.


Xue’s speaker squawked, “Flight 1441 why are you returning to base?”


That was an excellent question, Xue thought. but I don’t have a clue.



Captain Leo Hodges roared with laughter when he noticed the little black dots, pucks he thought they called them, attach themselves to the jet planes. He keyed his microphone, “Nice knowing you, see you in international airspace some other time.” He and the other men in the cabin laughed when the Chinese jets suddenly turned and veered away from their path.


“I suppose it would be bad manners to mosey on into their airspace just a little?” Jack asked.


“Yes,” Captain Hodges answered, “It would be bad manners,” he agreed. “Not that I’ve been known to always have the best behavior, but I think we need to keep our hands as clear as we can. That way we can keep from looking like we did anything wrong.”


“Tally-ho, steady on till the morning sun.” Jack chirped.


“That’s right,” Captain Leo Hodges replied, “head towards the second star to the right.”



Captain Xue continued his frustrating call with ground control, “I’m telling you, we do NOT have control of our airplanes at this time!”


“Bái chī!”


Captain Xue let loose with a string of curses ranging from the person listening had a quarter-brain, to his wife provided him a green hat to wear while he was at work. Unfortunately, that last invective was said after the commanding officer got on the line.


“I assure you, my wife has not provided me a green hat!” The new voice spoke sharply.


Captain Xue’s blood left his face when he realized whose voice on the radio, “No sir, sorry sir!”


“You will return to base, and we will check on these issues.” Xue and Si were informed.


Once the planes were on final descent and landing, neither one noticed the last puck on the nose of the plane as it dropped off and floated away.












CHAPTER FOURTEEN


South America


Tabitha woke to feel silky soft sheets caressing her body. Unfortunately, she didn’t remember having any such bedding in her bed. Or the smell of coffee and pancakes.


God, she was hungry!


She opened her eyes to look around. She was in a nice hotel room and by the light coming through the window which had room-darkening shades down, it was probably late morning.


She could hear people eating on the other side of her door. Her eyes opened, and she pulled the covers off of herself to look at her body.


Where she had three gunshots before (was it last night?), she had three very tiny white scars. From their appearance, she might not have those sometime in the future. Something didn’t seem right about the view looking at her stomach, like something had changed, but she wasn’t sure what.


She moved her butt over to the side of the bed and found a robe laid out for her. She slid her legs out and realized she needed to shave.


Damn, that’s embarrassing.


She didn’t have a stitch on, but considering her clothes were probably bloody, that made sense. She needed to have some sort of ‘I fucked up really badly bag’ along for her foolish escapades until she got better.


If that ever happened.


She slid the hotel’s robe on, tied it tight and smiled. She remembered what Hirotoshi said to her when he thought she was totally out, and she would cherish that for a long, long time. She might have thought she was a hacker playing a Ranger when they were standing on top of the building, but now she felt like she had passed some test.


A Ranger test. Get there, get shot, take out the bad guys and don’t let them see you stumble as you walk out. She went to the sink and found a small box of hotel-branded toothbrush and toothpaste, cleaning her mouth like her mother scrubbed the toilet bowl.


Gah! Blood breathe in the morning. Yuck!


She brushed her teeth two more times and then dumped the toothbrush into the trash. No way in hell that was going back in her mouth again.


She padded over to the door and opened it up to find Hirotoshi, Ryu, and Barnabas staring at her as she interrupted their conversation.


Slamming her door, she turned back towards the bed and started walking. No way in hell was she facing Barnabas right now.


“Number two!” his voice came through the door.


FUCK! She wanted to stomp her foot in frustration. Why the hell was he here?


She sighed deeply and turned around, no time like now to take her medicine. Except tomorrow, or next week, or hell, next month would work wonderfully.


She opened the door and stepped through, “Barnabas, how lovely to see you this morning. Except it isn’t.” Walking around the table, she kissed Hirotoshi and Ryu on the top of their heads, carefully avoiding the laughter that caught in her throat. She would have made her amusement more apparent to the two surprised men when she made it to her chair if she were sure it wouldn’t embarrass them in front of Barnabas. Sitting down, she picked up her fork and leaned over to Barnabas' plate to stab a cut piece of his pancake.


“I’m starving here, what’s for breakfast besides what you have?” she asked him as she put her fork into her mouth and started chewing.


“Kimosabe, there is another platter waiting for you there,” Hirotoshi told her. She looked where his eyes indicated and noticed the nice serving tray with breakfast items and a silver dome-covered plate. Driven by sudden hunger, she jumped back up to get the tray, and turned around to find that Hirotoshi had already moved his breakfast platter, giving her ample room to set hers down.


As she sat, she grabbed the napkin to place it in her lap and Barnabas lifted the domed cover. “Don’t think I'm being nice,” he told her, “I’m merely protecting my food by placing your focus on your own plate.”


Tabitha might have said something snarky if the wonderful smells hadn’t chosen to overwhelm her and kick her desire to eat into an insatiable requirement to consume the food in front of her.


Even the bacon, not usually a favorite of hers, called to her. At least it was cooked well here. Limp cooked bacon was one of the top three ways to fuck up a good meat, as far as she was concerned. Right up there with well-done filet mignon and any form of meatloaf with ketchup in it.


She didn’t notice as the three men allowed her to eat half of her plate in silence. The prickles of their attention finally clued her that she was being watched as her hunger was sated. She had just placed a forkful of refried beans in her mouth when she happened to look up to the three sets of men’s eyes intently watching her. Stopping for a second before slowly pulling the fork out of her mouth, she quickly swallowed her food.


“What, did I get some on my face?” she asked, wondering if she had made a complete fool of herself.


“No,” Barnabas said, his voice calm, “we are wondering if you are going to be ok after the last operation?”


“You mean last night’s debacle?” Tabitha asked, “I can’t believe I got so fixated on the first ass that I failed to consider the second might find his nuts and glue them back on.” She stopped and pulled her knife up in the air to point it at the ceiling, “Did you hear that jackass shot me in the back, three damned times?” She resumed cutting into her breakfast steak. “I mean, ok I get that I was stupid and probably deserved the first one. But, come’on!”


She stopped talking when she plugged the steak into her mouth.


“Yes, I’ve talked with Hirotoshi about the event.”


Tabitha’s eyes opened, and she grabbed her orange juice to quickly swallow her food. She grabbed her napkin to wipe her mouth, “What the hell?” She turned towards Hirotoshi, “You fucking talk?”


“You know he talks, Tabitha,” Barnabas told her.


“Yes!” She quickly looked to Barnabas, “I’m not saying ever, I’m talking about enough conversation to discuss last night.” She turned back to Hirotoshi, “All you ever tell me is ‘try harder, don’t be where the sword is, more strength.’” She complained to him, noticing Ryu’s humor in his eyes so she stuck a tongue out at him for a second.


When Gabrielle had taught her how to jump into the much faster etherically-supported speed, Tabitha had used it to dump Ryu on his ass three times before she fessed up and taught her guys what Gabrielle had taught her. Ryu then used it to wipe the floor with her ass for two weeks afterward in retaliation.


It had been worth it.


“Obviously,” Hirotoshi told her, “You missed the training on dodging the bullets.”


“Like there is a dodging bullets class one-oh-one,” she responded.


Barnabas spoke again, “Actually, that is one of the reasons I’m here.”


She turned to Barnabas. “What, there really is a super-vampire how to dodge bullets class?” she asked him, confused.


“In a way, it’s called don’t let them shoot you in the first place,” Barnabas qualified.


“Funny boss, real damned funny,” she mumbled as she continued to eat.


“No, I’m here to drop off some special armor from Bethany Anne’s set.”


“She’s taller than me,” Tabitha commented.


“And you have a bigger chest, so it probably evens out,” he told her.


“Didn’t think you noticed,” she responded as she grabbed another bite.


“Even the dead notice new things, Tabitha,” he replied drily.


“Hey!” she put her utensils down to open her robe to check and then looked back up at the men all watching her, “Excuse me!” she looked at the men.


“There is a bathroom right back through that door,” Barnabas told her pointing at her room.


“My bad,” she agreed and got up from the table, grabbing a muffin on the way out. She started munching on it, went into the bathroom and set the remainder of the muffin down before opening her robe. “Holy shit, when did the perky pair get upsized?” She hefted one of her breasts and realized it was heavier, “Damned good thing I got the muscle upgrades or I’d be overdosing on ibuprofen and bitching about my back," she muttered to herself. She closed her robe and turned to walk back towards the table in the other room.


She heard Barnabas answer to her question. “We think the connection with Bethany Anne’s blood tweaked your nanocytes in some way. Until TOM gets a chance to figure it out,” he dropped his voice as she returned to the table, “we won’t be able to tell for sure.”


“Well, it’s not like they have to go away,” she told him and looked up to see a slightly pained look on his face. “Oh, wait, I’m stuck with them?”


“That’s the working theory,” he admitted. “You can try to communicate your desires with the nanocytes in your body, so I suppose you could try and get them to modify your breasts to shrink in size.”


No wonder she had thought the view was a little wrong earlier.


“No shit?” she asked, taking another drink from her juice, “Then maybe I can persuade them to help me get taller.”


Barnabas turned behind him to reach out and snag a folder from the table before resuming his first position. “While you were sleeping, we have done some research.”


“What the hell?” she asked, “I’m only out like eight or nine hours, and you kick my researching efforts to the side?”


“Eight or nine hours?” Barnabas asked looking over to her, “Why do you think that?”


She pointed towards the window, “Well, look outside. It’s what, noon or somewhere close?”


“Yes, but this is five days from when you got shot, Tabitha.”


“Five…days?” she stammered before looking down at her legs. “Oh. Well, that explains the hair, and I suppose the extra boobage cooking time, too. I got quite a soufflé here.”


“Can we stop talking about hairy legs and boobage, number two?” Barnabas asked, looking over the top of the folder he had opened.


“Sure, but why do you keep calling me number two?” she asked him as she picked up her tray to drop it back on the serving table.


“Because,” he told her as she sat back down, “It’s what Bethany Anne calls me. Although she calls me Number One like it’s a hilarious joke. She will call me her ‘Number One Ranger.’ and smile. I know there is a joke that’s relevant to her age in there somewhere, but I’ve realized I like the numbering system. So now, I’m one, you're two, and as we add more, we will add to the numbers.”


“We should totally get specially numbered badges or something so we can flash them to the bad guys. Then, I'll let them know that Ranger Two just kicked their ass.” She considered aloud.


“If you don’t let them shoot you, first,” Ryu commented.


She glanced darkly at Ryu when Barnabas wasn’t paying attention. She wondered if Bethany Anne’s blood helped her in other ways while she was recuperating. Ryu might be in store for a Ranger’s ass kicking if it did.


Which would be nice, because she was tired of the Ryu ass kicking he kept handing her.


“I’m sure that is the main reason,” Barnabas murmured as he reviewed something in the folder, “Not the fact that you would be able to flash a big Number 2 badge in front of anyone else who joins us in the future.”


“Never entered my mind,” she told him.


“Right,” he agreed.


Damn, she thought, he’s on to me.


“Hey,” she spoke to her guys, “while Dr. Demento over here is reading his folder, do I have any clothes?” Ryu nodded to the couch behind her, and she turned to see two bags from a local fashion clothes store. “Not that shit!” She said aloud and turned back around, mad at being provided regular clothes, “Where the hell are my leathers?”


“Ah, Barnabas,” Hirotoshi spoke as Barnabas looked up from the folder to raise his eyebrows, “She is ready to get back to work.”


Barnabas smiled and closed the folder. Tabitha saw what he was reading as he closed the folder.


That son-of-a-bitch! The papers in the folder were blank. He was just stalling to see how she reacted.



Barnabas left three hours later. He made sure Tabitha had learned a few more of the things that had happened in the last few days regarding TQB’s fight with China before he left, and told her that there was an effort by China to bother more companies that helped TQB manufacture.


That annoyed the ever loving shit out of her.


He made sure that Tabitha had figured out how to get the armor on appropriately and even shot her once with a twenty-two to help her learn to trust the ceramic discs. She cussed him out for two solid minutes as Barnabas stood there and allowed her to vent. She finally realized she was yelling because she had been scared of being shot again.


Barnabas had been completely surprised when she stopped yelling at him and stepped up to envelope him in a hug.


“Tabitha, what are you doing?” he had asked her, trying to keep his voice under control.


“Showing you I appreciate you helping me get past being scared of getting shot,” she told him, holding him tight.


“I’ll accept a thank-you if you promise not to do this to me again,” he told her, looking in appeal to Hirotoshi for help. Hirotoshi just shook his head very subtly.


She stepped back from him and noticed he was still standing rock still, “What’s wrong with you?”


“Tabitha, I’m still not that far away from the Barnabas that stayed aloof, understand?” he told her, and his eyes softened, “I’m not used to having close contact, physical contact, with others, ok?”


She realized he wasn’t upset with her hugging him, he was just uncomfortable with being touched by anyone. She smiled to let him know she understood.


As he was leaving, he told her that the team has tracked down who China had placed in charge of the battle with TQB and Bethany Anne had snuck into their headquarters to deliver a message. It gave China seventy-two hours to change their attitude and since that time had come and gone?


Well, then TQB was going to war.



Just outside of the main business district, Miguel ground his teeth together. His club, La Cola de la Zorra, was doing fine, but what wasn’t working was his agreement to hit certain businesses and get their information. George hadn’t been the best follower, but he had been a soldier who had died doing something Miguel took money to perform and now a portion of his followers were starting to grumble. Some about taking the jobs in the first place, but more about Miguel’s inability to get a fix on those who had killed George.


After the first couple of days, Miguel had to take José aside and have a friendly talk to remind him to stop discussing how the girl had taken three bullets to her back and then rose back up to kill George and walked out as if three major wounds didn’t bother her.


That wasn’t helping the other guys who were concerned that the mysterious woman and her two friends would show up again.


Last night, Miguel had told his men to hit another company on the south side of town, and they had been successful. Unfortunately, eight guys had gone, and it had only needed three. It showed how scared his men were becoming.


“Boss?” Miguel turned from looking out at the club floor where only a handful of men were, to regard Boz, his accountant.


He drew in a lungful of smoke from his cigarette, “Yeah, what’s up?”


Boz looked around the dark club to make sure no one was listening, “Boss,” he whispered, “have you approved any funds transfer out of your accounts?”


Miguel ran his tongue around his mouth while he got his emotions under control. He shook his head in the negative and reached forward to stub out his cigarette. He slid out of the booth as Boz stepped back to follow him. Both walked towards the back of the club, past the girl’s poles and finally behind a curtain to enter the back of the club. He walked past the girl’s dressing room and took a left, ending at a door that required a passcode to enter. Right now, with just him, Boz and Rickie, who was on the front door, there wasn’t any security on this door. In another half-hour, his guy Cooch would show up and stand here. Two hundred and fifty pounds of ugly muscle that had yet to fail him.


Finishing the code, he opened the door and pushed it hard enough that it stayed open and allowed Boz to catch it as they walked into the back two rooms. The first room, with the walls, painted white as opposed to the clubs black, and then the second room reached through a metal door, again secured with a digital lock. He punched in the second code and allowed Boz entry before closing the door and sitting down at his desk, clicking on his computer. He clicked the link to get to his bank and plugged in his security conditions.


Boz was watching his face, and noticed the tightening around his eyes before he clicked and entered in another passcode, “They hit the main accounts, but not the core.”


Miguel kept checking and then picked up the phone. He didn’t worry about Boz, he was family. His sister’s husband and had been a personal friend from way back. He checked the amounts left in his accounts, and it showed just over two thousand. He started looking at withdrawals that didn’t make sense and found four. He added up the totals in his head and realized he knew who had done this.


The withdrawals equaled the amount he had been paid by the Chinese businessman.


He heard someone pick up the phone, “Hello?” Miguel told the contact at the bank that his account had been hit, and then put Boz on the phone to deal with changing the accounts so it couldn’t happen again. “You got this?” he asked his brother-in-law who nodded.


Miguel left his office and stepped out into the main room and walked to a small locked door in the wall. Pulling out his keys, he flipped to the fourth one and inserted it into the lock and turned. Opening the door, he withdrew a .44 and a case of shells.


This had gone from business to personal. No one stole from Miguel Fuentes and got away with it. He would pay three times as much as they stole, just to find out who it was so he could deliver his response in person. He would double it if they were caught before he showed up. It was important that the delivery was his to perform, his hand had to be the one to pull the trigger and carry out the sentence.


Something he was happy to do. Not only for his money but for his reputation, and George, of course.


Holstering the pistol after confirming that it was loaded, he locked up the wall safe and turned towards the door to step outside. He would call for the informants to come this evening during the late hours.



Rickie was watching the small line. He had another three hours to go before the club closed at two am. Five informants had already been sent in to see Miguel. Two he knew, three were probably hoping they could make a name for themselves.


He noticed three people turning the corner a quarter block down the street and checked his pistol’s location. They all walked with the effortless grace that spoke of training. That gliding stride that meant they were always ready to strike or block. It came from practicing martial arts for a long time, and Rickie had seen it in a few.


The only reason he didn’t back into the club right away was that the person in front was a short, foxy woman. She wasn’t that tall so the two behind her were probably protection. Maybe a daughter of someone important was slumming. Although the two protectors were Asian, maybe Japs, he thought. The short one was definitely Hispanic and, lord almighty, she had an hourglass figure.


If he were lucky, she was slumming and wanted to show a little tail while living on the wild side for a night. Hell, that wasn’t going to happen. Rickie never got that kind of stories to tell.


She was wearing a black leather jacket and black leather pants. It looked a little martial, but on her tight ass, it was hot as hell, and he didn’t mean the sweaty kind.


He put up a hand as they stepped to the end of the line and wave them up front.


“Senorita,” he told her when they stepped up, “Miguel sends his respects and appreciates you visiting his establishment for your entertainment.”


“Does he?” she asked him, smiling a mischievous smile, “He really likes his nights exciting, does he?”


Damn, he was going to get a chubby just letting her in if he wasn’t careful. “Yes, he would sincerely appreciate it if you stopped by to introduce your lovely self. Tell him Rickie passed you in.” He winked back, hell he might get lucky, and you always got a hundred percent of nothing if you asked for nothing.


She smiled and patted him on the arm as she passed, “Stay here Rickie, you will enjoy life more.”


The first Asian passed him by and nodded his head. The second passed and caught Rickie’s attention by pointing to his own eyes.


Those eyes glowed red slightly, and he leaned in toward Rickie to quietly whisper, “Stay here, guarding your post as Miguel has commanded no matter what you hear.”


Rickie nodded his head, “I’ll stay here, no worries.”












CHAPTER FIFTEEN


TQB Base, Australian Outback


Yuko had spent the last three days acclimating to the new Australian base, as it was called. It was weird, as most of it was underground. Or, at least under a little red dirt. The dry, barren wasteland had its own allure, but she had to admit it wasn’t nearly as beautiful as her country.


When she descended from space, it was dark. She asked where the airport was for the Pods, and Bethany Anne chuckled and told her there wasn’t one. She helped Yuko get out of the Pod, which then left and went back up into the night.


“What if we need to all leave?” she asked, a little concerned.


“Then we pick up the base and move it,” Bethany Anne told her as they walked towards an eight-foot wide opening sticking out of the ground.


“Is this a shipping container?” Yuko asked as they walked into the entrance and started walking down the angled incline.


“Yup,” Bethany Anne agreed, “This whole base is made up of shipping containers. Some of them have sides cut out so we make bigger rooms, and some are flight ready. So, if we need to suddenly leave, you get to your assigned container or the closest one to you, and when the buttons are pushed, we leave Earth behind in a sudden universal bug-out. We are living in here like we are up there,” she pointed up to the sky with her finger, “So we are roughing it and learning at the same time. Whatever we can’t seem to produce ourselves, we are buying by the shipping container load and sending them up to the moon for now.”


“Why not to the space-station you have?”


“We don’t want it to grow too fast, it would bug the politicians across the world.” Bethany Anne responded and nodded to two guards who allowed the two through a small, secured door.


“How big would it be?” She asked as her eyes took in the huge room. She counted the seams across the top. The room had to be about two containers long by eight wide. So, just over five thousand square feet in size.


“Well,” Bethany Anne continued walking through the large room. There were many round tables occupied. Some looked like people were eating, others meeting and a few were empty, “this is our central meeting area, by the way. It won’t move into space, so don’t come here if we have to leave. Back to your question. If we actually pulled all of our containers together, it would be over fifty-thousand.”


Bethany Anne made it to another door that was circular and twisted a wheel, “this is an example of an air-tight door, so the container on the other side of this is one that will leave and go up.”


Yuko looked at the door and tried to imagine how it would separate, “How does it do that?”


“According to those who are more knowledgeable than I, very carefully,” she admitted. “It has to do with timing. There is now a shield of some sort we can place above us. We have moved some rocks around us that allow us to use them as foundation stones for a shield that then traces extra strong metal wires that cover this area.” The two of them continued through three containers. All of them, Yuko noticed, seemed to be some sort of work areas and had machines on the inside. They exited another round hatch and walked down to a juncture, the first one she had seen.


“Ok, that way,” Bethany Anne pointed, “heads to the plants and environmental.” She turned to point the other direction, “That way leads to the break-them and let God sort them out groups.” She continued straight forward, “This direction is operations and now ADAM’s group. You guys and gals are considered, oh, I don’t know, more white-collar than those back there.” She thumbed in the direction of the break-them group.” She nodded to another two guys who passed.


Yuko stepped up closer to Bethany Anne, “Are all of the guys so big, here?” Bethany Anne turned to see who had just moved past them again.


“No, those are some of the Guardians, their mommas tend to make bigger people. I’ll show you their other side, in a little while. Too much to take in right now, maybe.” She took a right and stopped at another circular hatch, “This is the entrance to what we call Frank’s Fortress. Perhaps we will have to modify it with you guys and gals coming, but …” Bethany Anne stopped talking when a little 4-inch monitor to the left of the door at face level turned on, showing Frank’s face.


“Ah, is one of ADAM’s Team here so soon?” Frank asked before Yuko heard a buzzer and then Bethany Anne turned the wheel to open the door.


“Yes Frank,” she told him, “we will be right there, so see you in a few seconds.”


“Very good.”


Yuko noticed the monitor blank out, then Bethany Anne waved her to go first. She liked knowing she was on ADAM’s team, it felt good.


It felt right.


Inside, the container had more carpet, “Frank tends to like less steel and concrete and more fabric and soft stuff. It is a holdover from working in a cramped underground basement for eight decades.”


Bethany Anne walked ahead and then stepped through an open hatch. Yuko noticed that some of the sides of the containers had closed hatches as well. “Are there more spaces behind some of those hatches?” she asked and pointed to a middle-of-the-container hatch they had passed.


“Yes, I believe that is the one that leads to your war-room as a matter of fact. First, you need to meet Frank, and then I’ll get you over to your living quarters, and you and ADAM can start planning.


Yuko stopped, and it took Bethany Anne a couple of steps before she turned and raised an eyebrow. Yuko smiled and started walking to catch-up, “I apologize, but it was very surreal to understand that I’m going to be working with ADAM directly, well, sort of directly.”


“Oh, I understand. Some time you should ask Frank how he took it.”


“Is he a big A.I. fan like me?” Yuko asked, a smile on her face.


“No,” a male voice came out of the doorway at which they had just arrived. It was one of the side hatches Yuko had asked about. Standing there was either an older twenty-something or younger thirty-something man. Yuko was absolutely sure Bethany Anne had said he had been working in a basement for eighty years.


She bowed to the man who smiled and bowed back, “Now that,” he said and nodded in her direction, “is how to properly introduce yourself.”


“Sure, just remember that you introduced yourself by sic’ing a spy on me, remember?” Bethany Anne reminded him and Yuko was surprised to see him blush.


“I assure you, Yuko,” he told her smiling, “I only had the best intentions in my heart.”


“Uh huh, you nosy busybody, how are you?” Bethany Anne reached out and hugged him. “Is Jeffrey doing ok?”


“Yeah, he wants to be up with Bobcat and the gang, but the wife is a little testy.”


Bethany Anne sighed, “I get it, after Colorado, I really do. Do you think we will lose him?”


Frank shook his head, “No, his wife knows this is going to hell. Plus, the future for their children is up there. Well, at least they think so.”


“Good, I don’t want to lose him if we can help it, but I understand if the wife isn’t happy…” she started the saying and Frank finished with a grin, “No one is happy.”


Bethany Anne turned slightly, “So, Yuko, let me officially introduce you to Frank Kurns.”


“Hah!” Yuko inhaled, “You wrote the books, didn’t you?” She looked back and forth between the two of them, “The UnknownWorld?”


“Told you someone read them,” Bethany Anne said shaking her head at him, “And you thought they would sit in the wasteland of e-books, and no one would recognize you.”


“No,” he looked at Bethany Anne with a stern face, “What I said was I wasn’t going to become as well known until I released my books about you.”


Bethany Anne pointed to Yuko, “Frank, she’s Japanese. How much more well known do you want to be?”


“Ah,” He looked down to Yuko, who smiled at him and then back to Bethany Anne who was giving him a trademark raised eyebrow. He put up two fingers close together, “Maybe just a smidgen?”


“You are incorrigible, Frank.”


“I’m telling you, the next one about Tabitha is going to go top thousand for sure.” He grumped.


“The Bitches went top thousand, now they are doing a damned pin-up calendar.”


“Oh, they are?” Yuko asked, a stunned expression in her eyes.


“You know them?” Frank asked, amused.


“Well, if we are talking about Gabrielle, John, Eric, Darryl, Scott and now Akio, yes I do.” She smiled, “If there is a pin-up calendar planned, can I buy it?”


Akio, where are you? Bethany Anne asked.


I’m with the Guardians, working on their control when in wolf form to see if we can create new attacks.


Can you come over to Frank’s door? We have a fan, and I’d like to surprise her.


Of who? 


Bethany Anne grinned, I’m pretty sure you.


Yes, my Queen.


“I’m pretty sure if you asked them, they would give you one.” Bethany Anne replied, “In fact, they would probably sign it for you, too.”


“What?” Yuko answered, surprised.


“Sure, they are around all of the time. You will see them come and go. You know they are just other guys, right?” Bethany Anne asked, listening and catching the soft footfalls of Akio in the next compartment.


“Have you SEEN them?” Yuko asked, not thinking about the absurdity of her question, “They are dreamy!”


“Well, yes.” Bethany Anne smiled, “Very recently, as a matter of fact.”


“When?” Yuko’s eyes lit up and noticed that Bethany Anne turned to her left to nod at someone behind her. Yuko turned around to stare up into the most well known Guard Bethany Anne had, at least in Japan anyway.


“I…” She said and then bowed, “I am pleased to meet you, I am Yuko.”


While Yuko’s head was down, Akio smiled at Bethany Anne, wondering at his Queen’s ability to inject humor and fun into a normal day.


“Please you honor me too much, Yuko, I am pleased to meet your acquaintance. I understand…”


Bethany Anne sent, She is here to join ADAM’s cyber-team.


“That you will be working with ADAM, is that correct?”


“Yes,” Yuko looked up, “I will be.”


Akio bowed to Yuko, “Then as a fellow warrior, let me welcome you to the team of the Queen Bitch.”


Yuko’s frowned a moment, “And that is?”


Bethany Anne smiled, “Wow, someone who hasn’t heard that term Frank?”


He shrugged, “Don’t look at me, it’s in the books.” He told her.


Yuko looked at the both of them, “But, that is just science fiction, right? I thought that was just story, not a real name?” she asked and turned back to Akio.


Akio smiled and shook his head, “No. Do you know the story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?” Yuko nodded. “Then welcome,” he waved a hand back towards where she had come from, “for you have come down the rabbit hole.”


Yuko inhaled sharply as she understood the books weren't just fiction. Unfortunately, she remembered that in the books, Akio didn’t go after the ladies.


Dammit!




South America


Tabitha entered the club and had to adjust her hearing, as the beat of the music was hurting her head slightly. She wished she had figured out how the others changed theirs seemingly automatically.


It wasn’t hard to find Miguel’s table, since he had a couple of guys around standing near him that looked like protection, one girl on his arm and another guy in conversation. She tried to turn her ear to understand the discussion and smirked.


He was trying to find her.


She slowed down to get more of the story. Shit! He was willing to spend more to find them than she had stolen back from his accounts. Hell, it wasn’t like she had stolen it all. She had left his bigger fund alone. What a prick, he couldn’t appreciate the little things! It was only a hundred thousand, for fuck’s sake.


Ryu could hear the man speak about finding them and paying money so that he could give them his regards. He noticed the set of Tabitha’s shoulders when she understood what he was saying. It was appealing and amusing how she strove to figure out how to use her abilities, although he could tell from her shoulder posture that the conversation was pissing her off. He nudged Hirotoshi and rolled his eyes. They were about to get dropped in the pot again.


He smiled at his partner and shrugged. Life with Tabitha had been some of the most fun they had enjoyed in this last century, and it only looked to get more interesting. The two of them quickly scanned the crowd, marking who they felt were the most likely guards and used hand signals old before lighter than air travel was invented to select a strategy, waiting for the fun to begin.


Because their leader was Tabitha, and around her, fun was happening all of the time.


Tabitha walked up to Miguel’s table and tried to ignore the first guard who had looked her up and down in a slow and disgusting fashion. Now, she understood how some guys could make a girl want to bat for the other team.


“If you put your tongue out,” Tabitha glared at him, “I swear I will use it to clean up the floor.” Apparently, she had spoken a little too loud and even in the noise of the club, his partner and Miguel could hear her comment.


He smiled and raised his eyebrows twice quickly and then stuck out his tongue as far as he could while gazing at the stretch of her leather jacket due to the, uh, enhancements she had undergone.


Lightning fast, she grabbed the man's tongue, kicked out his feet and twisted to straddle his back. He pushed out his arms so that he didn’t crash into the floor.


She was astride him when he finally stopped moving, a mere two inches from hitting his chin on the floor, which could have caused him to bite his tongue very painfully. Perhaps off.


That would have been perfect, then she could have used it like a rag and stuck it in his pocket.


She grabbed the back of his head with her right hand and shoved his face to the floor. “You know, you try to warn a person, and they just don’t get it.” She let go of his tongue and wiped her hand off on the back of his jacket. “I’ll say this once. You get up and get pissy with me, and I’ll break your leg before knocking the shit out of you.”


She stepped off of him, and he stood up, looking at her sullenly and wiping his arm across his face. He glanced angrily at the other guard who stopped laughing but kept a smile on his face.


Tabitha got pissed, “You know what?” She stepped to the booth, “I ain’t got time for this shit.” She grabbed the guy who had been talking with Miguel before she arrived and yanked his ass out of the booth. It wasn’t lost on anyone that the man, who was six inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than what she looked like, went airborne ten feet before hitting a table that was, fortunately, empty of people.


She slid into his recently vacated seat and looked at the girl across the way, “Are you working, or a floozy?”


The girl looked at Tabitha not understanding her question.


“Are you a call-girl or a slut?” Tabitha tried again.


The woman sat up straighter, “I am not a call-girl!” she said.


“Ok, then slut. Get your ass out of the chair before I toss you out as well.”


The girl opened and shut her mouth a few times and then looked to Miguel, who winked at her and nodded to the bar, “Get us both a drink baby, this will be quick.”


The girl pursed her lips together and slid out of the booth.


“And you are?” Miguel asked as he turned from watching the girl’s ass disappear into the crowd.


“Pissed,” Tabitha told him and unzipped her jacket. He immediately stared at her chest. She wanted to roll her eyes. Why wasn’t it that women didn’t already run the world if it was this easy to get a man to lose focus? “If you don’t focus your eyes where they need to be, the next method of getting answers will be substantially more painful.”


Miguel’s rapidly deteriorating good mood took a sudden drop, “I don’t know who you are...” He jerked in startlement when he felt something sharp prick him between his legs.


“I’m the Ranger that has a sharp sword tickling the Thompson Twins you got,” she smiled. “And if you want to stay a Miguel instead of becoming Miranda, you had better answer my next three questions truthfully.”


Miguel sat very still and moved only his eyes to his two men, but both were gone. In their places, her two men stood. He looked back to her, “You killed George.”


“You mean the ass that shot me in the back?” she asked him, and he nodded, “Yes. You don’t get to shoot a Ranger in the back and live to tell about it.” She looked like she thought for a second, “You know, that is a new rule. Remember that Ryu.” Miguel noticed one of the men nod sharply.


He wanted to scream when the knife, sword, whatever the hell it was tickled him painfully in the crotch again. “I not only killed George, but I also took the money the Chinese paid you to hurt a bunch of companies.”


Miguel pressed his lips together.


She noticed, “What, I left you over five hundred thirty thousand in your second account, so stop being so pissy.” Now, Miguel was sweating a little more. If she knew how much he had, that meant she might have been able to take it.


He had to ask, “Why didn’t you take it all?”


She replied, “I don’t give a shit what you did to get the other money, that isn’t my job.”


“What are you, a cop?”


She looked exasperated, “Do cops often come into your club to tickle your testicles after withdrawing a hundred-thou out of your accounts?” Miguel shook his head no, “I didn’t think so. I’m a Ranger for the Queen Bitch. These Chinese motherfuckers have taken me off a personal vendetta to find a few assholes that really need my attention. You are just a pain in my ass, call it a boil, that needs to be popped. I can either pop it right now,” Miguel could feel the sharp pricks as she barely pushed a couple of times on her sword to make her point, “or I can pay you a hundred-thou to stop doing it.”


“That was my hundred-thousand,” he grated out.


“It’s mine now and might I add you are a hard-headed ass. I’m beginning to wonder if it wouldn’t be better to just make a pincushion out of you and let your second in command take over in your place.”


“I don’t have a second,” he admitted.


“Well, I’ll have bimbolina of the double-d’s deal with it,” she told him, “I’m sure she just wants to suck you out of your money, anyway.”


Actually, he couldn’t argue that point. “Or?”


“Or, you agree to tell me what you know of the ones who hired you, I go have this talk with them and pay you another twenty-five thousand once I take their money.”


“What’s to stop them from coming back to me?” he asked, relieved that the pressure on his cock was reduced.


“Me.” Miguel was surprised when the sword was taken off all of the way. He noticed it as she placed it back inside her coat. “Miguel, I’m a Queen’s Ranger, and I’ve been given a task. I stomp on ant-hills, I see who scurries out. Those that don’t hide quickly enough have bad nights. Like you. Those that try to get pissy with me?” She looked at him hard, her eyes becoming daggers, “like say try to pull a pistol out of their holster and shoot me?” She started to slide out of the booth, “I’ll just kill them.” She got to the end of the booth and asked, “So, what’s it going to be? We going to do business, or do I open the position at the top and continue looking elsewhere?”


“Twenty-five G's and my other hundred?” Miguel asked.


“It’s my hundred, I stole it fair and square so ownership is one-hundred percent of my law. Yes, the deal is a name, a location and one-hundred back in your account before I leave this table. I’ll send you another twenty-five as soon as I acquire it from my next visit.”


“No one knows about this?” he asked, “This agreement?”


“Only if you tell them. I’m not here to fix every damned wrong in society, and frankly, I’m about to have a discussion with people I really don’t care about. I’ve been nice to you. They have already pissed off my boss, so they are screwed whether I do it, or God protect us if she gets ahold of them. I can only kill them.”


“What can she…”


“Don’t. Ask.” she smiled grimly, “Table tennis with your testicles is child’s play. You might not like me, but I doubt you would accept someone putting three bullets in your back, so George had it coming. I’m telling you that the hundred thousand will be back. As long as you don’t make up some bullshit that is less than respectful to me, I’ll let you make up a story. However,” she paused before continuing, “if I find out your story is disrespectful? Then you had better never go to sleep because I will come back and cut off your Johnson and put a popsicle stick in its place.”


Miguel considered the options and decided going after the .44 wasn’t the best choice. Furthermore, he could spin this fairly well and keep his place. His money would be back, Boz would let others know that an additional twenty-five was inserted into the account as well.


Win-win.


He had to make sure the story didn’t get changed in the retelling so that it became disrespectful to her. That would be easier than shooting someone who might be able to take a couple of .44's to the back and come back to kill him.


“Here,” he pulled out a pen from his jacket and grabbed a napkin, “is the name and address where I met them. I don’t know much more than that and the list of businesses. Give me a contact email address and I’ll forward the business email they sent me to you.”


He noticed she pulled a phone out of her jacket and did something on it before putting it away. “I’ve sent you an email, use that email address and I’ve moved a hundred thousand into your account.”


She slid all the way out of the booth, took the proffered napkin and stood up, “Here’s a final piece of advice.”


He waited to hear what she had to say.


“Don’t use that bank, their security is some of the worst I’ve ever seen.”


He pulled his own phone out and checked his account. Sure enough, he could see a pending transaction for the hundred thousand. He slid the phone back into his jacket and realized he needed to stop the request to find her that he had running on the streets. He wasn’t sure what a Ranger was, but he really didn’t enjoy having discussions with one.


Nor did his cojones.












CHAPTER SIXTEEN


Washington D.C., USA


Bai was on the fifth floor of the mid-level hotel in Washington D.C. He poured the hot water over the bag of Earl Grey tea that he had picked up on his first night in town. While he could get tea back in his home country, this was his preferred brand. He waited for four minutes before taking the bag out of the water and setting it aside.


He had received his orders and cased his subjects. They had a varied route and could not be depended upon to take any particular path to any destination. He was pretty sure it was by design, not by accident.


He took a sip of the tea and exhaled, allowed the peace to settle in his limbs. Taking the honey, he squeezed out a tablespoon and added it to the tea. Stirring slowly, he allowed the sweetness to saturate the drink. He set the hot spoon aside and continued his ritual.


One should always have a ritual before killing another human. The only time Bai did not was when it was a firefight. In those situations, it was permitted to pray for the deaths after the fact.


He looked at his wristwatch and confirmed he had fifteen minutes for the soul cleansing efforts he needed to take.


Bai had learned a decade past from those who also undertook his tasks that if you did not honor those you killed, your soul hardened, and you would never be able to retain the ability to stay human. It was a most difficult responsibility to kill another, and Bai chose to never disrespect those he was sent to kill.


Even Americans.


He had dossiers on the three reporters, but little on the two guards they had with them. No one in their group was able to get more than a single name for either Richard or Samuel. Nothing about them suggested much. One report believed they came from Australia due to a high usage of Australian idioms.


Bai had found this hotel across the street from their own a week ago. He had stayed here a week and left today. No security camera had him coming back into the building or this room again. Nor should it. He hacked the security cameras on his second night here. It took him another five days to decide that shooting from the bedroom window across the street through their windows was his best solution.


He took another sip of his tea.


Military intelligence suggested TQB would seek to hide the results of the attack, much like his own country would.


His group had tried to attack a different TQB group in this town just a few days back and had been unsuccessful. His team’s bodies had been found by the person driving the escape van. The last group member alive was barely able to retrieve the dead men and leave before someone found them and called the police. There was too much blood to act as if nothing had happened.


But, no bodies, no foul.


His team, a specialized group of the PLA, based out of Gansu, were responsible for all operations requiring deniability. On their base, there were over five-hundred focused on highly-deniable worldwide operations and support. Their teams joked that the reason there were no other Army located at their base was so that the Chairman could destroy the base if needed and there would be no incriminating or annoying witnesses.


Fortunately, a small group of high-level Generals worked out of their operations center. It helped assuage the concerns some had about whether the Committee would be willing to just bomb them out of existence if necessary. Those that were the most cynical suggested that the generals who were with them were not in the good graces of the Chairman, and it was a pointed comment that their next mistake would be their last.


Bai hadn’t heard that anyone in his teams had been tasked with killing any of the generals at the base, but if they did their jobs, he wouldn’t.


Finished with his tea, Bai cleaned up and put away everything in his little plastic sack. His rifle was ready in the next room. He walked into the darkened room and stepped close to the window to look through the drapes.


The lights were on across the way.


He looked at his watch, it was time. He opened his window in the dark and parted the sheer drapes and checked out the street. It was mostly empty at this time of night.


Bai picked up his rifle and set it on the stand he had created to help hold it steady. He figured he would get at least one, perhaps two kills before he needed to disassemble his gun and walk out and disappear into the night.




TQB Base, Australian Outback


“I’m telling you, the operation is short, sweet and simple,” Malcolm told Jedidiah.


“Says you,” Jedidiah replied, “You didn’t have to hump those two damned missiles this last week. Fucking a’ you asshole, even with the four-wheel drive help, the last two-hundred meters were a cock beating bitch.”


The two men squirmed the last meter to carefully peek out over the rocky outcropping eighty-six meters above the Australian outback and two-thousand meters from the location of TQB headquarters. It was hard to believe that there was much happening at the base. Malcolm had seen snapshots from high-resolution photos and it looked like a bunch of ground had been tossed around is all. Not much on top of the soil at all.


Malcolm put the high-magnification binoculars to his face, “Yeah, look. We just need to make sure nothing looks amiss, and we are out of here.” Malcolm looked around the location where the base was and could barely see the small opening used for people to walk into and out of the area. “Just those stupid rocks they brought in and some wire up in the air. Don’t know what the fuck that shit is about. Looks like they started a project and never finished.”


“Probably the bloody winds and dust out here messed it up,” Jedidiah commented, “I’m itching something fierce right now in me bum.”


“Information I’d rather you didn’t share,” Malcolm told him while still looking through his binoculars. “I don’t see anything else.” He handed the glasses to Jedidiah, “Your turn.”


“Yes, you’re right.” Jedidiah looked hard at the wires, “They cover the opening, do you think they were trying to build some sort of shade cover?”


“Oh?” Malcolm scratched at his beard and wiped to get some sand out of it, “That’s not a bad suggestion. That’s probably the reason. Hell, even underground the sun’s got to be making it a blooming oven over there.”


Jedidiah gave the binoculars back, “Yeah,” he told him as he started to shimmy backward, “That’s not a bad plan. Shame they won’t need it.”


Malcolm slid backward beneath the rock top, “There is that. Let’s get off this rock face and get the hell out of here. We’ve done our job.”



Lance Reynolds chewed on the unlit cigar, “I want those two sum-bitches!” He told no one in particular.


Peter was standing next to him, with Todd Jenkins, his counterpart for the Guardian Marines on his other side who spoke, “Don’t worry Lance, they will be picked up as soon as they get off the outcropping. The Wechselbalg says they are talking about some sort of missile up there.”


“So, we got possible inbound,” Lance considered what he wanted to do next, “E.I. Ares, do we have all defensive inbound railguns online?”


“Yes, General,” the Electronic Intelligence, programmed specifically for the base’s protection, had the requested electronic voice imprint that Lance preferred. He wanted to make damn sure he knew that when he was talking to the electronic intelligence for his base, there wasn’t any misunderstanding that it was a computer. “We are live on all defensive and offensive armament.”


“How about our defensive shield?” he inquired.


“Yes, General. It will be activated according to the programming unless you care to change the parameters?”


“No,” Lance said. “No need to show our hand, but when was the last time you confirmed all connections and pieces were working?”


“Ten seconds ago,” Ares answered.


“How the hell,” Peter started saying before he shut his mouth as Lance glared at him. Peter was involved as a watch and see. Answer questions if asked, no comments otherwise. He was finding it hard to accomplish his orders at the moment.


“The base defensive shield has seventy-two connections powered by nine medium level gravitic power sources. It is fairly easy to push a minimal amount of power to confirm we have proper connectivity, Guardian Peter,” Ares informed him.


“And that,” Lance said looking at Peter, “Is why I don’t want you making comments.”


Peter nodded his understanding.



Malcolm and Jedidiah walked ten meters from the rock face towards their jeep, hidden in a wash about a hundred meters away, when they heard a growl behind them.


“Fast or slow?” Jedidiah asked him.


“How the hell should I know” Malcolm responded, “That’s not a growl you hear in the Aussie Outback, you nit!” The two men palmed their pistols and turned around towards the outcropping, but there wasn’t anything there. They looked in the shadows as well as they could.


“I know I heard something,” Jedidiah commented.


“Of course, you did,” An American’s voice said behind them. It was punctuated with the cocking of at least four guns, “But it was a red herring you fucks. Lay the pistols down gently, hands up, or we get a plow and bury you out here.”


The two men slowly placed the guns on the ground and stood back up, hands up in the air. Both swallowed when the biggest fucking wolf they had ever seen came out from behind one of the rocks and looked at them, tongue hanging out in the heat.


“Malcolm, that isn’t from around here,” Jedidiah whispered to his friend.


Malcolm barely shook his head, “No, no it isn’t.”


The two men were led back towards their jeep. There were four men plus the wolf, who was strangely following them like it was trained when the one in command turned towards them. “Sorry old chaps, but you aren’t allowed to see the rest of this. I’m told you won’t wake up with a headache, but then I’ve never done this.”


“Done what?” Malcolm asked, getting nervous.


Two men behind them pulled small pistols from their belts and shot the prisoners in their necks. The small darts impaled them in the back of their necks.


The shooters caught the men as they started to fall. Thirty seconds later, four Pods came down. Tim changed from wolf back to human and pulled on some pants and helped put the two men into a pod with one guard each.


They were about finished when all of their communicators chirped.


“Team Alpha, get your asses in gear. We just registered two missiles inbound.”


“Tim, here with me!” Jasper yelled, “Base, all lift but Pod two.” The other Pods disappeared, and Tim jumped into the Pod with Jasper, “Base, Lift!” The last Pod screamed up into the air as two missiles passed their location and dove into the bunker area.


The daytime lit up, the explosion's fireball went over a hundred and fifty meters into the air with a cracking boom heard for many kilometers around their base.


If there had been anyone there to hear it.




Washington D.C., USA


Richard, Mark and Samuel sat down to watch the late night news. The ladies had gone to bed, but the guys usually hung out and talked for a while.


“I don’t understand,” Richard said as he passed Mark the beer he had asked for while Richard was in the kitchen, “how you like that dark stuff. You Americans will drink anything.”


“What are you talking about?” Mark asked, looking at the bottle from the small local micro-brewery, “This is based on a German recipe, you should be asking someone from Germany that question.”


“No,” Samuel cut in as he sipped on his blood. He had warmed it up in the microwave. While not as nice as fresh, Gabrielle had told them D.C. was a strictly no fresh zone. “Richard is right, the Germans don’t know any better. They did the best they had centuries and centuries ago. They’ve bred a people who don’t have anything but ale in their blood. You Americans aren’t old enough for genetic tendencies to take hold, so you have no argument except bad taste.” He shrugged to Mark as if to apologize for speaking the truth.


“I’d say what the hell do you guys know, but you have probably known a few German beer makers in your lifetime?” Mark asked. He loved to get the two to open up about their exploits and it looked like tonight’s discussion might include something to do with Germany’s historic beer making.


“Well,” Richard replied taking a sip of his water while warming up to his story, “the history of German beer has to start with ales. They have been brewing ale for over three thousand years. It’s why I say that ale is genetically in their blood, and they have a pass for enjoying dark beer.”


“Damn, that’s some history,” Mark agreed.


“Just so,” Richard replied lifting his drink in agreement, “You can’t think as much about the recent trends in beer making when you are in Germany. There, you can sit and drink in places that were brewing ale when Christopher Columbus was sailing the seas to find your country.”


“That does put a point on…” Mark started to say when both of his friends started moving.


But they were too late.



Bai listened to his heart beat, exhaled, and stroked the trigger.



Samuel had just touched Mark to move him when his head exploded like a watermelon slammed by a sledgehammer.


Both vampires heard the report from the other side of the street, and their eyes went red. Richard hissed to Samuel, “Keep the women down in the bathroom and out of here. Command them, then grab the go bags.” Samuel nodded and moved at vampiric speed to the woman’s room.


Richard’s eyes, bright red in anger greater than he had felt in a long, long time stared at the window with the small hole in it. He ground his teeth together and grabbed the small metal coffee table and flung it at the window, shattering it. The coffee table was lost in the night until Richard heard a car horn from the street below. Barely a moment later, Richard flung himself through the opening, aiming himself at the building across the street.


He had violence on his mind.



Bai could see that his first shot was on target and started to turn his gun, but he had no more shots. The other two men were not visible.


Then, he flinched when the window he was looking at in his scope crashed open. He jerked his head back in reflex and looked up to see a black body fling itself out of the window. Bai barely had time to register what was happening when he heard a loud metal clang from below his window. Like a heavy body had crashed into the outside of the building.


His eyes opened in alarm as his training took over when his mind couldn’t process the reality of what was happening. Someone had just successfully jumped across the road, the two sidewalks and the setbacks for the buildings. Bai put his rifle to the side and was reaching for his pistol when the top of his own window crashed in.


He stumbled back off the bed to the floor beyond when he saw a dark figure, with red eyes glowing, standing up in his room.


Bai froze, this wasn’t possible!


The dark figure radiated malevolence at a level Bai had never felt, “You will be the first I tell in hundreds of years,” it spoke, its voice gravelly, “My true-name is Auran the Merciless, and you have killed my friend…”


Bai tried to scream, but all he felt was the pain.












CHAPTER SEVENTEEN


TQB Base, Australian Outback


There were twelve new people in ADAM’s war room. All of them, hackers from his efforts on the dark web, had been brought in by different individuals in the last forty-eight hours.


Yuko had been the first, and after being introduced to Frank and their rooms, such as they were, they were issued small watches that connected with headphones. Each person could speak with ADAM directly. It was a weird sensation to know that she was having a conversation with ADAM while simultaneously, he might be having a conversation with one of the tonic twins. She named them that because one was named Gin and the other Amber.


Yuko needed some sort of mental trigger to remember the names as best she could. Her life had not prepared her for the close connection of everyone here. Her Japanese upbringing was a little unique amongst the group. Seven of the twelve were Americans, three from Europe, one from Australia, plus herself, so far.


Yuko smiled at the rest as a few noticed her come in and waved. It was a fun group, and this morning was going to be the first conference they all had with ADAM as a team.


The room had four sets of pods, each having four desks. From the top, they resembled clovers. Each desk was circular, with a small opening for their chairs to fit in. It allowed them to have a cubby hole, something that each of them was comfortable with. Most of them had been fairly alone before coming here.


All working with ADAM, and Bethany Anne, Frank, Cheryl Lynn, and Patricia. She had met Bethany Anne’s father, Peter and a few others.


It had taken her over a day to come to accept Akio wasn’t going to suddenly decide he liked girls.


Sigh…


She smiled to herself as she pulled out her chair and stepped into her round cubicle. The room itself was three containers wide and one long, so about nine-hundred square feet of space. There were screens on all walls, and they had some cool projection equipment you could use for meetings, viewing stuff jointly, even using them as whiteboards by writing on the wall.


She sat down and unplugged her headphones from her wrist, and plugged them into her keyboard. She had two screens set up so that on the left she was in command line mode in Linux, and on the right, she had browsers to look up information she might need to support her hacking efforts. Often, with ADAM getting involved, what would have taken her a couple of hours, routinely took her just five minutes because he could find the information so much faster. If he had a body, she might have been wanting to get more serious with him.


As it was, she even felt comfortable enough one time to joke that she only wanted him for his mind.


He actually laughed. She wasn’t sure if ADAM understood the joke or he knew it was a joke and had figured out how to play human enough to simulate getting the joke. She had been too embarrassed after making the joke to ask him which it was.


“Welcome Yuko and good morning,” ADAM spoke in her ear.


“Good morning, ADAM,” she replied, reviewing the programs she had run last night. “Nothing new on these, huh?”


“No, I would have let you know this morning when you woke up.”


“Thank you, I don’t suppose you make coffee, do you?” She asked, typing on her queries.


“Why yes, I can have coffee brought to you,”


Surprised after re-running his answer in her mind she said, “Oh, no thank you! I meant that as a comment related to, well, uh never mind.”


“Is this where I am supposed to agree that I have no idea what you intended to say?”


Yuko sat back in her chair, “I suppose you do know, don’t you?”


“I have calculated to approximately a seventy-eight percent probability it had to do with figuring out if I was a perfect male.”


“How do you do that?”


“Calculate the percentages?”


“Yes.”


“I can tell from the vocal recording that you are embarrassed. From our previous conversations, you are emotionally inhibited during relationship discussions, and since we were discussing males, coffee and the morning, I have enough literature understanding to figure out you were probably thinking of a man that had slept over.”


By the end of his explanation, Yuko had her face covered by her hands, “Can I crawl back to Japan now?” she asked him.


“No, it would be impossible due to the Arafura Sea,” he answered.


Yuko smiled as she pulled her hands away from her face. With one small explanatory sentence, ADAM had placed her back on an even keel. It was the little things he would say, something that hinted at the massive amount of A.I. behind his avatar that allowed her to feel like he was a safe companion.


Much safer than a flesh and blood man.


“How much time before we start?” she asked as she reviewed the hacking jobs she had left running.


“We are starting now,” he replied. “One second.”


Yuko waited, not realizing that ADAM’s Arafura Sea comment was calculated to place her back into a normal emotional state. He didn’t want to hurt this woman. He tried not to run analysis on why he decided to make that a reality.


Because going down that analysis path might lie madness.



ADAM’s voice was heard in all of their headphones, “Thank you all for joining me here in Australia. From Bethany Anne and me, you are all personnel we need. A larger group that can work together on our cyber-response efforts, and help me learn in the process.”


The twelve in his group were all listening through their headphones. Some wore headphones that plugged into their ears, others had over their head designs. ADAM’s group had a budget, and ADAM had produced the industrial psychology reports necessary to demonstrate how providing the best tools suited for each individual would provide TQB with the most effective solutions and highest effectiveness levels.


Plus, ADAM was being tested with a significantly more variable and constant amount of human interactions and he found it a data input rich environment. Bethany Anne told him that he was having fun. Once he understood the concept as it applied to him, he had to agree.


TQB Base, Australian Outback


“We have launch!” E.I. Ares informed the group.


Lance spoke up, “Team Alpha, get your asses in gear. We just registered two missiles inbound!” He switched off his mic, “Ares, get those Pods out of there as fast as possible, ETA?”


“Four seconds…”


“Two seconds…”


The wait, Peter would recall later, felt like an hour as time seemed to stop.


Then, the ground shook perceptibly, but nothing happened inside. To Peter’s ears, it sounded like they heard an explosion from the inside of the fireball itself, he covered his ears quickly.


“No more missiles, all Pods safely away,” Ares told them.


“Somebody open the damned door.” Lance said aloud, “Before my daughter comes here and rips it off.”


Todd hot-footed it over to the bunkers door and turned the crank and started pushing it open when it was yanked from his hand, and he stared at his Queen. He swallowed as she stared back at him. He could see there was intelligence behind the red eyes, but the face practically radiated violence. He stepped to the side as she nodded to him, but didn’t speak to him.


“Tell me!” she said to her father, her voice sounding like a command from a mythological god, heavy with age and saturated with the promise of untold pain and death to come.


“The base is fine,” Lance said, keeping his hands in his pockets, “Two missiles.”


“Those two you told me the team went to get?” The red eyes never blinking, the voice still causing Todd’s blood to run cold.


“On Pods and knocked out. Arriving back here as soon as it is clear, probably five minutes,”


“I’ll see them outside,” she said and turned, glancing at Peter, who nodded his head in understanding to a mental command sent his way.


“I’d hate to be those two fucks,” Todd commented after Bethany Anne was gone.


“No, I’d hate to be whoever sent them,” Lance replied. “I suspect we will find out it is China, and that is going to be bad. Ares, keep all armament and defenses online. Why did you not try to shoot those missiles down?”


“There was a point two percent chance of variance that a Pod could be hit.” the E.I. replied.


“Well, remind me tomorrow to speak to Adam about the parameters regarding defensive armament,” Lance said and then turned towards the door himself, “I’m heading up top.”


“Are you concerned about her?” Peter asked as he stepped up to walk with Lance.


Lance turned to look at the Guardian leader as they walked out of the Ops Center. “Her? Hell no, I want to see what happens and if she is thinking of letting them live, I’ll vote for the death penalty. I’ve had about as much of this bullshit as I ever care to take,” he said, and stepped through the hatch opening.


Peter nodded his head in agreement and called over his shoulder, “Todd, tell the Guardians to prepare, the Queen has just told us we are going to war.”


Lance looked back at the younger man in surprise and Peter tapped his head, “Got it direct, I don’t think she wanted to trust speaking.


Lance’s lips went tight as the two of them continued walking towards the exit, “Well, now they're fucked for sure,”


QBS Battleship - Manufacturing Facility 01 - Asteroid Fields


PO2 Robin Thomas reviewed the most recent Etheric power module he had to work with in the backup power room. They had a hundred and two in this room alone when the alarms started shrieking.


“This is not a drill, this is not a drill. This ship is hereby commanded to finish all final preparations and move towards earth. The Australian base has been attacked. Repeat, The Australian base has been attacked. This ship is commanded by Bethany Anne to head towards Earth as soon as safely possible, The Australian base has been attacked.”


PO2 Robin Thomas, sent home from the sandpit a quadriplegic when an IED hit his protection detail, started moving fast, sure and in a rhythm. He thought he was done as a man until one fateful night when there was a knock on his door, and an angel was standing there when he finally opened it.


He had found out her name was Gabrielle and the man with her was Lance Reynolds. Together, they offered him a chance to fight again, this time for the world.


He listened, he understood his options, and he agreed. It didn’t matter what he did, but he was willing. Then, he spent a week on the QBS Consanesco and walked off of it a whole man. Up top, walking on two legs again. He had been informed that he left the ship a free man, owing the company nothing for healing him due to previous services rendered.


His future was his own.


The hell with that, he told them. He would have crawled to help these people with no working arms and legs, however possible. Now that he had them? Well, he would do whatever he could for them with arms and legs.


Right now, his duty was preparing this ship to go to war, and he slammed the last Etheric Module in place and tightened it down, making sure the connections were solid.


He was usually capable of getting ten checked out in an hour. He looked at the twenty-four he had to accomplish.


He would just have to do better than that.



“Bobcat, there is an urgent command from Bethany Anne,” Samantha told him.


“Play it,” he looked up from the table where he was working on the details for the final outfitting.


He could see she was walking through the Australian Base, her eyes were fiery red, probably the most he had ever noticed.


She was beyond pissed.


Her voice was different, angry, determined and full of fury, “Bobcat, button the ship up and bring it to me. The Australian base has been attacked. As soon as safely possible, but I don’t want a second wasted beyond that, Bethany Anne out.”


Her visage faded.


He considered what needed to happen, “Samantha, send this out to ship, Alarm level three, this is what I want you to say.”



Bandile Annane, the lead of the slag manufacturing received an urgent message from Bobcat. He put a hand out to Jeo who was speaking to him who also looked down to his own tablet when it beeped to read Bobcat’s message to him.


The two men’s eyes met, and their faces were grim.


“I’ve got some men to update,” Bandile told Jeo.


Jeo replied, “You get me the materials, I’ll make sure they have the armament.”


Bandile put his fist out, “Jeo, you run the machines, we will keep them supplied.”


Jeo bumped Bandile’s fist, and they both walked out of the meeting room, heading in separate directions.



Where there had been about twenty Pod landings an hour, now the Pod Deck was doing over seventy-five, as more and more of those who had been lodging at the hotel grabbed their go bags and got on the next ride out to the big ship.


William and Marcus arrived at Bobcat’s office and walked in at the same time.


“Time to kick the tires and light the fires?” William asked as the two of them sat down at the table with Bobcat.


“Yes.” Bobcat said, “Samantha, play Bethany Anne’s message.”


The two men watched it as Bobcat made another note on his tablet to confirm an order.


“She seems a little pissed,” Marcus said.


“I don’t recall seeing her so…” William tried to find the right word.


“Red?” Marcus supplied.


“Uh, kinda,” William agreed, “That voice is new, isn’t it?”


Bobcat shook his head, “Not so much, John mentions that when she is infuriated about something that she feels strongly about in her core, it tends to show up in her voice and face.”


“I’d say someone hit a pretty raw nerve.” William agreed.


“They went after the base with some sort of bunker buster missiles or some such,” Bobcat said, “One of the teams caught two merc’s employed by person’s unknown to set up the rockets, make sure nothing seemed amiss and fire them off. Apparently, since the team didn’t respond with a cancel, the missiles got fired off without a call in.”


“What happened to the merc’s?” Marcus asked.


Bobcat looked to him, “Do you really want to know? Cause I’m pretty sure it wasn’t pretty.”


“No, I guess not,” Marcus admitted.


“You know that question I had about Bethany Anne going soft?” William asked.


“Yeah?” Bobcat admitted after thinking a second, “I remember.”


“I take that shit back,” William told him. There was a pause before William asked, “How do you think Dan knew before?”


“He’s been fighting for thirty years, hell he has ADAM and Lance down there. I’m sure it was only a matter of time, myself, but my guess is that they haven’t told us everything they are dealing with, just like we don’t update them with every challenge we have.”


“How much do you think Bethany Anne knows about what’s going on up here?” Marcus asked aloud.


“Well, you talk with TOM,” Bobcat answered, thinking aloud, “Samantha rats us out to ADAM all the time, so probably just about everything she wants to know.” He smiled at the two men, “I happen to know it isn’t the details. She trusts us to do that. I can’t tell you what her threshold is before ADAM or TOM will speak up.”


“How long before we can move?” William asked.


“Samantha?” Bobcat said aloud, “Estimated time to leave?”


Samantha answered, “Seven hours, forty-three minutes.”


Bobcat looked to his two friends, “Based on previous calculations, and my safety margin, for now, it’s going to be twenty-four hours before some of those on earth can even possibly see us, and forty-eight before we can get there.” He held up a hand, “Bethany Anne wants us there as safely as possible, and I’m not comfortable going too fast, just yet. So, unless she releases that constraint, it won’t be balls-to-the-wall.”


Marcus looked at the visage of Bethany Anne, still projected on the wall, “I hope there is something left when we get there.”


“Of who, TQB or China?” William asked.


“Both.” he replied.












CHAPTER EIGHTEEN


Space in route from Australia to Pacific




Bethany Anne’s team were in their Black Eagles, heading to the Ad Aeternitatem from Australia, the world turning beneath them.


>>Bethany Anne, incoming call from the President of the United States.<<


“Bethany Anne,” she spoke aloud.


“How are your people?” he asked.


“Alive.”


“Can we help?”


“The only suggestion I have is not getting in our way. They have declared war, and I’ll bring it. I’ve already told them they had two choices and they apparently chose option one.”


“Which was that?” he asked.


“Try to kill me,” she said.


“Option two?”


“Sue for Peace. But I’m not allowing that option until they understand if they fuck with me again, I’ll use the bricks in their Great Wall to erect the highest cairn in the world above the dead of their military.”


“Not much for diplomacy at the moment?” he asked.


“Tried it, I call it patience but it didn’t work too well for us.”


“They can be rather petulant over offenses given them over the centuries,” he told her, “as I’ve been informed when I’m rather pissed at them myself.”


“I’ll file that under shit-I-don’t-care-about.”


He chuckled, “You’re kind of a straight talker, aren’t you.”


“You are the one asking the questions,” she allowed, “No need to blow smoke up anyone’s ass right now.”


“No, there isn’t. However, that brings me up to another reason for this call. I have a request on the behalf of others that have requested to find out if I can engage with the CEO of TQB and whoever is responsible in China to come to the negotiation table.”


“Mr. President, I’ve been attacked with missiles sent to destroy my base in Australia, they have killed a reporter asking questions related to Chinese solar energy efforts from an American congressman. They tried to kill our D.C. legal representative and failed. They have attacked several of our companies, killing three security guards, one researcher and an unborn baby girl named Alexandra.”


There was a pause on the other side of the line as the Pods started their descent into the night. Bethany Anne told TOM to make sure they came through the sky as hot as possible.


She wanted to make an entrance.


The time of hiding their abilities was passed. If staying under the radar wasn’t working, then it was time to awe them into submission and stomp on those who remained belligerent.


“Why do I believe the unborn baby girl is the one that hurt the most?” he finally asked.


“Because you have empathy. I delivered a message, and they replied in kind. I’ll do my best to stay away from non-combatants, but this time, it’s to the knife, Mr. President.”


He sighed, “Please leave enough infrastructure around so the world doesn’t go down in flames.”


“I’m well aware of the socio-economic aspects. I know which general is responsible for this. I’ve already been to his office but he isn’t in, or I would have delivered my grievance personally.”


The President understood how that could happen and realized her pistol wasn’t for show.


“I appreciate your understanding.”.


“Very good, Mr. President, Black Eagle One out.”


Disconnect ADAM.


>>Disconnected.<<


The President stared at the phone in his hand for a moment before hanging up. Something was tickling his memories from the morning reports about TQB and how she had just signed off. Then, he connected the dots. In a lot of those reports, the female that was leading the fighters, the one who was involved with the French and over in China was call sign Black Eagle One…


This woman was personally going to war.




QBS Base Australia


Yuko reviewed on the screens the applications that she had been running. The teams had doubled-down since the attack at the base. Most of them had a hard time believing that they had been attacked until they had gone outside to see the scorch marks from the blast outside of the shield.


Everyone’s headphones got an alarm that said they were going to join together for a meeting with ADAM. Yuko could hear everyone’s clicking clacking on their keyboards slow, then stop, and the room got quiet.


ADAM’s voice came through each headphone, “Our original mission was to use normal attacks, ones that we have been accomplishing effectively for over a year with a fair amount of success. However, based on conversations with another hacker in our group, we have new targets.”


“Please view your screens, and I will explain our new strategy,” ADAM told his group.


“We are going to bring China to her knees.”




FUTURE


Ahrgri-vactix of the Ristorian Sept looked out to his class of three hundred and five. Out of all of his courses, the one on the Queen Bitch was his most popular and his most well-attended.


He smiled to those out in the audience, representing over twenty-four different worlds and three different systems.


“Today, we will study the response of TQB and Bethany Anne the first time they had an altercation with a significantly larger target that should have caused them to hesitate. TQB might have negotiated after showing an impressive amount of abilities rather than get involved in military actions with the country, China, on their own home world, which almost certainly should have caused loss of life in her teams.”


“Excuse me, Professor?” A hand from a Gellentii went up in the second row. Well, if you could say that a tentacle was a hand.


“Yes?” Ahrgri-vactix responded.


“Why would her people not expect her to negotiate? Wouldn’t they want to reduce the chance of their own death?”


“Good question, but the answer is tied up in humans, what they are fighting for and the leader they follow. Humans have the ability to believe that there are ideals that are worth fighting and dying for. One of the mistakes some who have fought Bethany Anne’s group have made include attacking first as a form of negotiation. The Yollins were the first to try to impress with military abilities as a lead, true negotiation second with the humans once humans set up their bases on this side of the Terran Annex gate. Remember, no one had any idea who they were at that time. While they had acquired the technology to communicate, they were, unfortunately, very straightforward with their speech, and the Yollins figured they were obfuscating when they claimed they were just running through on their way to find Kurtherians.”


Ahrgri-vactix took a drink and continued, “So, as the humans passed through, the Yollins attacked from the rear, expecting to surprise the humans with their prowess.” He looked around, “So, the first question on the quiz will be ‘which race was the first to suffer utter defeat to the humans and started the Queen Bitch’s Annexed sphere of influence on this side of the gate?’”


The whole class chuckled, “The Yollins,” they all called out.


“Yes, the Yollins.” Ahrgri-vactix agreed and stuck up a finger, “First Rule of Negotiation with the Queen Bitch, Don’t attack first, She doesn’t appreciate that type of negotiation at all.”


TQB Base, Australian Outback


Yuko was the first to get in, hacking into a secondary bank branch that allowed her access.


The attack style was absolute genius, she thought. They were attacking the SWIFT network which facilitated transactions between banks via the Internet. Once they had the password and credentials for any relevant Chinese bank, they were able to request money out of Chinese accounts in other banks around the world.


Her first transaction moved eighty-seven million U.S. dollars equivalent out of the foreign accounts, moving money China had positioned to buy stocks to accounts under ADAM’s control. He, along with another smaller group within the team, moved the money to millions of accounts, bouncing the transactions through banks located in the ‘Stans (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, etc.) which, similar to Switzerland's old banking system, had confidential banking laws and no relationships for extradition. Once the monies were in the almost impossible-to-locate accounts, they would purchase real-world items such as construction materials and the like. Now that the money was moved to material goods, there was no money to re-acquire should the account be found.


Next, Yuko started working on another purchase, this time for just under a billion dollars, pulling China out of sixty-seven percent of all TQB stocks they had been able to acquire from thirty-seven of TQB’s companies.


And that was just this minor bank.


Yuko smiled, as ADAM’s offensive was going to decimate China’s stock market war with TQB and kick them out of their positions within the companies. Her first trade complete, she started setting up, with ADAM’s help, the next major hit.



ADAM, Gin, Amber and Kevin were actively looking for a way to bust into China’s diplomatic cables. They had been working on this for a couple of days, but unfortunately did not have any luck so far.


Kevin, a laid back man with long blond hair, shrugged his shoulders, “Look, patience and effort, and a shit-ton of computing power and we will win the day. We have the computing power, let’s keep up the effort and have a little patience.” The two women and Kevin kept at it, going deeper and deeper into the backgrounds of those who worked in the offices.


ADAM had modified one of the ICP’s (Independent Computing Platforms) to work on deciphering the Chinese language on the fly for the team. While he might have several orders of magnitude more computing power than the small group, they were able to intuitively leap to new ideas that he had not yet been able to figure out how to do.


However, he was working on it.



“Sir?” Senior Bank Operation Manager Bojing looked up to regard his second in command.


“Yes?” Huan, the Bank Manager, replied


“May I close the door?” Bojing asked Huan nodded. Bojing stepped closer, “Sir, we have uncovered a recent transfer of assets from the Committee's accounts that went through the bank network. Sir,” Bojing swallowed, “it looks like we have had funds stolen from the Committee’s accounts.”


Huan’s face barely moved a muscle as he considered the implications, “How?”


“A set of hackers seemed to have figured out the security credentials for our SWIFT system and determined the accounts the Committee uses.”


Huan tried to slow down his rapidly escalating heartbeat, “How much?”


Bojing barely whispered, “Sir, a little over six billion Yuan.”


Huan calmly put his elbows on his desk, “You believe that we have had almost a billion U.S. stolen from the Committee's accounts from our bank?” Bojing nodded, “Do we have specific accounts within those?”


“The military was hit harder, but most accounts have lost assets.”


“What have you done?” Bojing shrugged, “At the moment, I’ve told them to shut down the SWIFT account and to pull together the fraud department for a meeting.


“I understand,” Huan nodded to him, “Please, I need to make a few calls.” Bojing bowed and turned, opening and closing the office door.


Huan, forty-eight years old, called his wife and had a pleasant conversation before hanging up. Huan’s personal assets, due to his inclusion in many opportunities, almost equaled six hundred million Yuan in total. The responsibility for the mistakes - however, they happened - would come back and rest on his shoulders.


Huan had been paying attention to the transactions associated with the government’s accounts, one would have to be a fool not to. They had been trying everything they could to acquire technology by the typical expedient of purchasing the companies, and it wasn’t working with TQB.


He made a call and requested an immediate meeting with the head of the committee that ran the bank. He hung up the phone, closed and locked his desk and stood up.


Looking around, he considered if he wanted to take anything and exhaled loudly. With the money missing, and he suspected this wouldn’t be the only hit, the currency was most likely going to take a hit and he would be one of those blamed.


His wealth was gone, and he would be lucky to keep his life, much less a memento of his job. He walked to the door, opened it, and stepped into a future he had never expected for himself. A future he didn’t want because his government attacked the wrong group.




Washington D.C. - USA


“Mr. President?” General Vance Deliando nodded his head as the President sat down at the small table.


“Vance,” he responded, “How are things going with the contacts now that you have this new position?”


“Oh, I’ve been better - I’ve decided all of the gods must hate me.”


“Oh?” The President looked down at the table and realized it was always George providing the Tums.


“Yeah. I’ve read the documents on that shit George was into, and if that isn’t bad enough, this issue between China and TQB is causing a fffuuu…lot of problems all over the world. The QBS Polarus and Ad Aeternitatem received sixteen landings in the last three hours before they went tits up and flew out of range of our following vessels.”


“How are the different chiefs reacting to this?”


“Outwardly? Calm if annoyed. Behind closed doors? They are rooting them on. When their Pods interrupted the two J-10’s on that intercept mission and sent them packing it was the absolute best bit of P.R. they could have done with the Air Force.”


“Our information from that trip?” the President asked.


“That we aren’t sure?” Vance shrugged, “We used some of the new technology and were able to get access to the gravitic wave anomalies until about two miles out. So, we have some range.”


“On their pods?” the President asked.


“Yes,” Vance moved a couple of pieces of paper aside and picked up the third, “So far, the geniuses we have working on that situation don’t have a clue how they did the little planes. Oh, we have ideas. We have images of them landing little,” he put up both hands to create a circle about three inches around, “pucks, probably about twenty-one, across the jet. We figured they forced the plane to move a certain direction pretty carefully.”


“Why so many?”


“Aircraft engineers say if they used too few, it would just rip the plane apart in the air, so they needed more to accomplish it with minimal risk. Even then, if the pilots had fought too hard their planes would tear apart.”


“At that point, they were trying to minimize damage…” The President went silent for a few moments before Vance interrupted him.


“Sir, we have incoming reports from NASA that are frankly damned unbelievable,” Vance admitted.


The President wiped his face with his hand and sighed, “Lay it on me, we have an asteroid or something about to hit the world?”


“No, not that bad. Well, let’s be honest I don’t think that bad.”


“So?” The President pushed, “what other shoe is about to drop?”


“Sir, something is heading this way from the Asteroid Belt where TQB was mining and manufacturing and Sir, excuse my language, but it’s a big motherfucker.”


The President stared at his liaison for a moment, “How…big?”


“At least a thousand feet or more.”


“You know,” the President admitted, “If I didn’t have to worry about the whole world going up in flames I’d be on the sidelines cheering TQB on. A thousand feet?” He watched Vance nod his head before shaking his own, “I guess that spaceship is how she is going to take a country that has a billion people and two and a quarter million in their military and build a cairn for them you can see from space.”


“Sir?” Vance asked, confused.


The President waved his hand in a throw-away gesture, “Nothing. Make sure we are ready if something overflows from their fights, but also make sure we have our nation prepared in case we suffer problems.” The President stood up when Vance interrupted him.


“Sir, you think they even have a chance?”


The President looked down and smiled with resignation heavy in his voice, “When you push, and push, and push someone trying to act civil, and strip away all reasons to stay shackled with the irons of civility you are left with Death and Her Four Horseman. The crying over the dead is about to occur. Call the Joint Chiefs, we need to make sure we have our people prepared as quietly as we can.” He pursed his lips and added, “And raise the DEFCON to Three.”


Vance nodded sharply.












CHAPTER NINETEEN


Pacific Ocean


Black Eagle One came down and had barely stopped when the hatch opened, and Bethany Anne jumped out of her Pod. She turned to catch Ashur, who had jumped out and placed him on the ground.


TOM, keep my eyes under control.


It would be easier if you worked to keep your anger in check.


I’m done being peaceful, TOM. I tried that with the Black Cabal, and you saw how that worked out. I’ve listened to the council of those I hold dear, and I held my hand and applied justice. I did this as a testament to allow others a chance to see if their ideas of justice would work effectively.


I understand, and I see that it didn’t work, but I can’t exactly understand why.


Because those with power rarely respect restraint, she finished.


Twenty minutes later, alarms started blaring across the two ships and then they started slowly lifting from the water to head west by northwest.


It took an hour to pull her people together from the two ships needed for this meeting. She had her Guards, Peter and Todd, Stephen and Barnabas, Dan, Nathan and Ecaterina, both Captains Thomas and Maximillian Wagner, Jean Dukes, and others in the meeting room. The chairs were separated by an aisle going down the middle. The room had a white screen on the wall in the front.


She stood in front of them, in her combat outfit and no one doubted she was getting involved. “I’m here,” she started, looking across the room, “to explain what I’m about to do.”


She lifted her chin a little, “I stayed my hand from vengeance and allowed justice to try her hand with our enemies. You have heard from Nathan what those in Europe would have tried to do while we were busy with China. We saved two, who are incarcerated now.” She started walking in front of them. “I judged twenty-two more and tossed their worthless asses into the Etheric. Now, China has been involved, and they upped the game. Apparently, they need a more substantial message than what has been provided so far.”


She stopped, and her face grew grim, “We have the PLA base location that houses their covert and black Ops groups. It is located in a remote area outside of Mianyang. There is a small airstrip allowing access. While I could go in and pummel the shit out of it with pucks, that isn’t the type of response I plan on sending as it isn’t personal enough. I’m going to knock on that door and provide my answer to their assassination of our people. They took six lives minimum from me. I’ll respond by taking six hundred of theirs. They want to fight? Fine, fuck them. I’ll kill them where they stand, where they sleep, where they eat and where they live.” She turned to two in the front row, “Peter and Todd, stand.”


Peter, Guard of Bethany Anne, Queen’s Bitch, and Guardians Alpha stood up. Todd Jenkins, Lead of the Guardian Marines stood next to him, ramrod straight, looking ahead.


“Yes, ma’am!”


Bethany Anne walked to stand in front of them, “Your Queen calls you and your people to stand behind her on this mission. This is retribution, this is in response to attacking my people. Will you honor your agreement to follow me into this future, and provide the response I demand?”


Todd turned slightly to look into Bethany Anne’s face, his eyes dark and angry, “We will follow you into hell and climb out the other side on the bones of our enemies, or be carried out on our shields.”


Bethany Anne smiled slightly then winked, “Yes ma’am would have worked, but I rather like your answer.”


She turned to see Peter smirking who replied, “Fuck yeah!”


Her eyes dimmed a little, “Men, prepare the Guardians, we go to war.”


Both saluted and stepped around her to leave the meeting.


She turned and walked back to the front of the room before turning back around to address those on the boats, “We will hit them in the water, in the air, on land, and in space, and cyberspace. They will feel the pain financially, diplomatically, and militarily. They will sue for peace, or they will be crushed.”


Her face went a shade darker, “I was asked by the President of the United States if I would consider peace? I told him China had two choices, they could kill me,” she smiled and lifted her arms out beside her, turning her hands up, “They tried.”


The grins around the room told her they knew what was coming next.


“Or they could sue for peace after they know deep in their collective psyche that if they fuck with me again, I’ll use the bricks of the Great Wall of China to erect the highest cairn in the world on top of the dead of their military.”


“Today, we are not on the side of Heaven, but the righteous side of Hell and you will deliver the retribution of the Queen Bitch.”


She looked around, “It’s time the world understands I avenge my people.” She paused, before adding, “Are there any questions before I give you your final orders?


In the back, Jean Dukes stood up, “Bethany Anne, we would like to give you something before you go.”


Bethany Anne cocked her head to the side, sensing that others in the room knew what was about to happen, “Yes?”


 Jean turned to pick up a wooden box from next to her. Coming down the aisle between the chairs she made it to the front when John Grimes stood up and turned to hold out his hands. Jean placed the box in his hands and popped the two locks she had on it before turning to Bethany Anne.


“You lead us, not from the back, yet not always from the front. Where you are needed, you go. You trust us to do the necessary, to keep our guns clean, our powder dry. Whether that means real guns or metaphors for our jobs. The Bitches have been patient enough to explain the method to your madness, sorry, your fighting.” She grinned as others in the room chuckled.


Bethany Anne’s eyes flicked to John, but he was studiously not looking back at her.


I’ll get you for that too, Mr. Grimes, she thought.


Jean continued, “With help from many on these two ships, we would be proud if you would consider accepting these,” she turned and opened the box. Inside, in red velvet, lay two pistols. They were gun metal gray, sleek and deadly with wood knurled grips. Additionally inside the box were four more magazines for the two pistols.


“Each magazine carries six hundred gravitic shots. Modified after the rifles, you can adjust the power. They are accurate to about eighty or a hundred meters.” She stepped back so that others in the room could see Bethany Anne. “They will be linked to the next person who holds them and flicks on the power by pulling back the hammer. The hammer isn’t necessary, I just happened to like how it worked.” She grinned.


Bethany Anne looked at the woman and smiled. John turned the box to show those in the room and then back to Bethany Anne and lowered it.


Bethany Anne pulled her two .45’s out of their holsters, made sure the safeties were on and handed them to Jean. Then she reached in and pulled out both pistols, and those in the audience watched as she moved them around and worked them from different locations.


She looked out over the audience, and lifted both, aimed up at the ceiling. Pausing just a second, she cocked the hammers back and held them tight.


Everyone in the room heard the small computer voice, “Ownership Biometrics Accepted.” A huge cheer went up from everyone in the room, and she had to smile at her people. Her smile turned wistful, she hoped she would be able to see these smiling faces in forty-eight to seventy-two hours.


Bethany Anne holstered the two pistols, pulled the small holster belts over them and locked the them. Finally, she adjusted the holsters to the heavier weight so they wouldn’t fit wrongly on her body.


Looking out allowed her eyes to touch everyone there, testing their determination and finally exhaling. “I need to see Captains Maximillian and Wagner. The rest of you, please get with your people and let them know we go to war. Dismissed.”


She smiled at everyone who passed her by, most of them giving her thumbs up or similar votes of support as they hurriedly left to get prepared.


She turned to her Captains, “Captain Bartholomew Thomas, you are at this moment relieved of the command of the Polarus to take over your next command.”


At first shocked, Captain Thomas caught on to the second part of her command and then smiled, “My turn?”


She nodded, “Captain Bartholomew Thomas, do you accept the responsibility of the QBS Defender, the first Puck Battle Destroyer and will you accept those responsibilities of commanding your crew in space, and the missions I so designate, on your honor?”


Captain Thomas snapped a salute, “Yes Ma’am, I will.”


She held out a hand, and he shook it, “Then Bart, I need you to take command of the ship. You will grab three Pods and take four members plus your XO to work with you. Most of the ship is automated at this time. However, I need you and your team to learn and figure out what you would change for the next version. The E.I. for the ship is waiting for you to name it.”


She turned towards Captain Wagner, “Captain Wagner, I hereby promote you to the Captain of the Polarus. Is your second in command ready to take over the Ad Aeternitatem?”


Max smiled, “Yes ma’am, she is.”


Bethany Anne grinned and held out a hand and spoke as they shook, “Tell her I apologize for the somewhat crazy promotion. Once this stuff with China settles down, we will do our best to have a more normal ceremony for everyone.”


Max smiled and replied happily, “I think Natalia would be fine with skipping the ceremony, most of us don’t enjoy standing up in the heat hearing an Admiral blather on about … uh, about…” his face flushed, Max Wagner started stammering and then just stopped talking.


Bethany Anne regarded Max like a scientist regarding a new lab helper. “No, keep going.” she put her finger facing down and twirled it in a circle, “I’m sure as the Admiral of our little group, I’d be happy to hear what you don’t want me blathering on about?”


Captain Thomas waited about eight seconds for Max to get a good sweat going before interrupting, “Bethany Anne, I need Captain Wagner here to grab Captain Jakowski to discuss personnel changes?”


Bethany Anne regarding Max one more time before surreptitiously winking to Captain Thomas, “Fine, maybe the most recent Captain of our group can advise her previous Captain how to not stick his foot in his mouth so eloquently?”


“I’m confident,” Captain Thomas started before cracking a smile and chuckling, “That Natalia will make an effort."


Bethany Anne smiled, nodded once to both men and stepped out of the meeting room.


“Could I have possibly stuck my foot further in?” Max whispered as the two men watched her leave.


“That wasn’t bad, she was pulling your chain a little. Hell, I should tell you about the time I thought I had called my XO who was over on the command ship and lit into him before realizing the person I was talking to was the Group Commander.” The two men started walking out of the room themselves. “He waited patiently for me to end my perhaps annoyed comments to let me know who was on the line. He waited two months before admitting to me that he thought it was the most hilarious thing ever, not telling me sooner, and it wasn’t a big deal to him.”




PLA Base, Inland China


“Major General, you called?” Colonel Jai saluted his commander. Once his team made it back, they had gone through after action report meetings individually to discuss what had happened on their bungled operation in India.


“Yes, Colonel, please close the door behind you and take a seat and we will discuss the findings.”


Jai turned and closed the office door then took the offered chair.


Major General Xue reviewed the paperwork on his desk, “We have gone through your team’s after-action interviews. It is unfortunate what happened on the operation, while we note issues related to not having cameras to see that the employee entered the building on the far side unexpectedly, we see that your team did not hesitate to implement the actions necessary to finish the mission. Sometimes, bad situations occur. This will, unfortunately, go into your jacket as a yellow offense. You will not be relieved of command at this time. Should this happen once more, no matter how unlikely the event, the next finding will require you to give up any hopes to furthering your career. Is this understood?”


Jai nodded his understanding.


“I suggest, in the future, that when you…” Xue was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. He leaned forward to pick it up, his face showing he was annoyed. “Xue here, why am I being interrupted?” He listened. Jai noticed that his eyes narrowed together, “They are sure? You want us to go on base alert on this?”


Jai sat closer to the edge of his chair, leaning on the balls of his feet.


“I understand,” Xue leaned forward to hang up the phone turning back. “Colonel, this base is going on alert. We have lost satellites that are above the mainland.”


“Not our satellites that look out over the U.S. or others?” Jai asked.


Xue shook his head, “No. We believe we are about to be attacked.”


“Who would attack China?” Jai questioned, confused.


Xue looked at his Colonel, trying to remember he didn’t have the updates those at his level did, “Who have we been attacking?”


Jai’s eyes opened in shock and Xue might think disbelief. However, he was personally aware that if there was a base inside of China that might be a target, it was probably his.


He had all of those who had done the operations underground with him right here, where else would they attack?



The darkness crept over China as Earth turned lazily about her axis. The sun’s rays left the east coast, the shadows chasing it across the middle of the country and finally started enveloping the western part of Russia as the fifty-four Pods looked down at the nighttime visage of China.


ADAM, take the necessary small pucks from the Black Wings, after telling their Captains, and implement step one.


>>Understood. <<


Bethany Anne and her forces stayed up in space, enjoying the quiet before the storm.


>>Bethany Anne, all tactical satellites over mainland China have been neutralized.<<


Thank you, ADAM. TOM, key the radios to the other Pods.


Bethany Anne spoke in a strong, determined voice, “People, our destination is a PLA Base damn near in the middle of China. It is remote, and we have taken out all of the necessary satellites used for communications and visual support for all of China. Further, we have pucks programmed to hit at twelve bases, some in more populated areas, as red herrings. The airfields on all bases will be destroyed. China has been building their bases, including air bases, underground and this is true for our base as well. You have the maps, as well as we could provide. However, this is a retaliatory strike. The base we are hitting is used for their black ops and other clandestine groups. These aren’t going to be regular hacks, people. I want them dead, I want you alive.”


She paused a moment, “Other than that, I want Maximum Carnage.”


TOM kept the mics open in all of the Pods as the Guardians…male, female, human and Wechselbalg roared in approval. They had been training together, bleeding together for so long it felt like half their life. Now, their Queen was releasing them to do what they did best.


Death and Mayhem.












CHAPTER TWENTY


PLA Base, Inland China


The lights started flashing in the deepest parts of the base. The men, already on alert grabbed their gear and cinched up their harnesses as they finished outfitting in their dorms.


Jai spoke, “Li, make sure you shoot the enemy and not Wu, alright?” He smiled at the men as he grabbed his pack.


Li smiled and checked his chambers one last time, “I told him I’d get back at him for ogling my sister last month on leave, I can’t help it if a completely random shot hits him in the back.”


Liang grinned and stepped between the men as he walked to his bunk to grab his helmet, “One shot is random, emptying your clip might be considered on purpose.”


“All I said was she was cute,” Wu admitted. “You didn’t tell me your family was meeting us at the train station.”


The men heard many thumps above them. Jai couldn’t count that many, that fast. You could feel the vibrations as the bombs hit above them. All of the men looked to the ceiling, although nothing could be seen.


There went the airfield, Jai guessed.


“Ok, same as before Wu, Li up front, Liang and I in back. Wu, Liang take left. We are stationed in the cafeteria.” The four men put on their helmets and walked out. Never suspecting they would have to defend their own base in the middle of the country.



“General, we have lost communications,” Comms specialist Gao reported.


General Xue nodded understanding and looked around, “All external doors are closed?” He received affirmatives.


Minutes later, multiple bombs hit their airfield. Through the dust and what moonlight was available, he could tell it was destroyed. The fastest method of anyone providing support was now going to be by helicopter.


Then, his external video cameras started turning off. Everyone in the command module noticed that it was a camera per second, as if whoever was coming for them, was playing with them.


Like he and his men were prey, and those that stalked them had them right where they wanted them.


Caught in their trap.


He pressed his lips together. Whoever was out there would find out they had attacked the wrong base this night. He and his men were the best, and they were fighting on their own turf.


He punched the button that sent the signal to those he had placed outside. They would be allowed to fire at will, now.


He couldn’t see anything externally to guide them anymore.



All fifty-four pods were coming down in the night, separated from one another by random distances, some as many as five to fifteen miles and different altitudes in case China had anything that might locate them. They chose to come in slower than normal so that they had time to check out the scene around the base.


Which was a good plan.


>>Bethany Anne, we have minor heat signatures located in three groupings around the base.<<


“Show me ADAM.” On the window in front of her, an outline of the base and topographical map glowed in a phosphorescent blue color. Three groupings of circles in red, orange and yellow were placed on the map.


“ADAM, slow to a stop for all Pods, keep us fragmented at this time. Send in drones for reconnaissance.”


Bethany Anne waited and played with the screens to see more down on the ground. The images filling in as the drones, super small pucks with sensing devices on them, flew around the base.


>>We have over sixty-five locations for data acquisition, three groups of combatants, and of course the airfield, destroyed.<<


“Take out their data acquisition ability. If it is video, then do it in one-second increments, I want them to know we are dropping it on purpose. Let me know when this is complete.”


>>It will be complete in thirty-two seconds.<<


“I’ll wait.” She told him feigning patience, wondering if he would get the joke. ADAM didn’t respond. She couldn’t figure out, without asking, if he got the joke and ignored it, or assumed it was a statement of fact.


>>Task complete.<<


“Ok, these twenty-four are a pain. Send the small pucks and obliterate their locations. Do they have additional entrances?”


>>There are ventilation shafts, but they seem to be gated to stop entry.<<


“Send a few pucks in to see if anything can be figured out.”


>>I’m sorry, but there are screens inside the ventilation shafts that inhibit the Pucks progress without busting through.<<


“I suppose I shouldn’t be too annoyed.” She mused. “ADAM, keep some air support going, and watch for new enemy action.”


>>I understand the new orders. Three external forces are neutralized.”


She reached over to the glass and hit the button for her microphone to all of the Pods. “Ok, listen up. You have had a little extra time as we took out external forces waiting to make our landing extremely unfriendly. We will be landing in sixty seconds. Stay away from the entrances until we have pucked the shit out of them and made sure no unfriendlies are behind them to provide an unwelcome arrival.”


Bethany Anne, Gabrielle, John, Eric, Darryl, Scott and Akio stepped out of their Pods. Every other Guardian stayed in for the moment. The seven of them walked up to the huge metal doors closing over the entrance to the base.


Bethany Anne looked up, “Big fucking front door.” She turned around to speak to the guys while pointing to it, “Are they compensating?”


“No, well, maybe,” Akio admitted, “However, remember this is probably the entrance the airplanes use.”


She turned back to the door and walked to the middle, “Oh, hadn’t considered there was a big-ass hanger behind door number one.” She looked around, then shrugged, “Oh well, no piece of chalk.”


“Please, allow me,” Gabrielle said as she walked over, “You want what?”


Bethany Anne pointed, “Big ass ‘X’ to mark the spot.”


Gabrielle nodded and grew long claws on her hand, she was looking up when Eric offered, “Need a lift?” She smiled and nodded to him as he walked over, reached down and grabbed her right above her knees. Straightening up, he lifted her high enough to start the X.


Eric was looking right at Bethany Anne’s face when he stood up to see her smirking at him. He realized he could feel Gabrielle’s ass touching his cheek. He returned her stare blushing furiously and just closed his eyes until Gabrielle told him he could let her down. When Eric turned back around, he saw every one of the guys was trying not to crack a smile at him.


Fortunately, Gabrielle didn’t seem to notice.


TOM, transmit my speech to all of the Pods here.


Bethany Anne turned towards her Pod, “Ok, everyone. X marks the spot. ADAM, let’s knock on the door with a few Pucks and then we will follow with a Black Eagle when the door opens enough.”



General Xue kept a calm demeanor on the outside. They had felt the bombardment through the rock above, and he figured that the enemy had located his three external forces, probably taking them out from above.


It is what he would do.


Now, they had to get through his main entrance door. They had two other exits to the base, both hidden well. Those, however, would have to wait before he used them. He doubted they would attack without some sort of air cover.


The teams had the video cameras aimed at the hangar door. The waiting was the worst. He had a few men in machine gun nests as deep as he could put them. There was one small prop plane that held twelve in the hangar at the moment, but it was unarmed.


His base wasn’t supposed to support air operations, so there was only room for six inside the front hanger.


He wasn’t watching the screen when the first resounding bang happened. It caused him to jerk in his chair, flinching from the noise. He noticed one of the men off to his right grab his headphones to yank them off before moving to switch his sound level.


“Zoom in on the door,” Xue commanded. “They have something pretty power…” A second attack slammed home on his door, causing the previously noticeable dent to get a little bigger, “…full.” He sat back in his chair, “Zoom back out.”


Xue couldn’t figure out it this was the most powerful item they had, or they were just testing. God, he hoped they started with the biggest…



“ADAM, stop fucking around. I don’t have all night here.” Bethany Anne groused.


>>I’m using the one pound Pucks and increasing their power by one each time I send them in. At this short of distance, they don’t attain full speed. It allows me to better understand the real world dynamics of…<<


I’ll give you real world dynamics, ADAM, move those fuckers to Eleven. She told him.


Oh, here we go TOM added, yelling in their mind speech, ROCK AND ROLL!


The next Puck slammed the door, caving the two inwards and pulling the right door off of its top track. The puck continued to slam into the back wall of rock, blasting a hole in the rock wall with a five-foot diameter showering those below and in front with deadly force.


Gabrielle’s Black Eagle darted ahead through the opening in the door. While Bethany Anne wanted to be the first in, she got overruled for protective purposes. It didn’t help her disposition to have to wait. “Gabrielle, is it safe?” Bethany Anne inquired.


“One sec, oh patient one,” came her reply, “There are a few combatants still able to function in here.”


“Well, what the fuck are you doing, signing autographs?” Bethany Anne griped.


“No, Adam is using the new tiny-Pucks to take them out. By the way, I know that the machine gun fire doesn’t make it through the shield, but that doesn’t mean the massive fritzing light show with all of the rounds hitting me on the screen doesn’t cause concern,” she added. The noise from inside the hangar was coming through the communications.


ADAM, give me visual.


A small rectangle popped up on Bethany Anne’s screen, and she watched as the men fired for a second, then something would smash through their bodies. Occasionally, not killing them right off so that they would try a second time to get a bead on Gabrielle.


“Your aiming sucks, ADAM.” The team could hear Gabrielle bitching in the background. Seconds later, the machine and personal weapons fire finally stopped. “ADAM, bring in the surveillance drones and find the video and audio equipment.”


It was another fifteen seconds before everyone heard Gabrielle again, “Ok, everyone come on in, the water is fine. Be careful, there are a few messes in here.” There was a pause, “Oh, God, especially in the north corner.”



General Xue’s eyes were wide open. “We’ve lost all video?” he asked although he could see that the monitors they had connected to the video camera’s in the hangar were only showing black. The third attack on his doors had surprised all of them. The massive destruction was not expected to be able to happen, and then the fighter design of TQB came floating in through the new opening and had released small balls.


While his men died, the fighter sat in the middle of his hangar, taking machine gun fire and shrugging it off like the bullets were raindrops on a spring day in Yunnan. His original expectation of forcing them to take massive casualties by the time they entered the base proper, was not going to come true.



Jennifer popped the harness on her belt while her partner hit the button to open their Pod. She had moved to the Ad Aeternitatem just two weeks before against her wishes. While she hadn’t met Stephen too many times, separated as they were on the two ships, it did happen occasionally. She tried her damnedest to keep her feelings for the man to a minimum, and her actions professional.


Until she was alone and allowed the faintest wish that Stephen might think a young changeling female would be any interest at all. But, she stomped on the hope after giving it five minutes. A thousand-year-old vampire with who knew how many women in his past wasn’t going to find her to be special. So, buck the fuck up and let’s kill some assholes so I can get my angst out, she thought.


Then the fear hit.


Oh, fuck me! She had forgotten about the fear the Queen’s Bitches could generate.


One by one, the four men of the Apocalypse surrounded the Queen Bitch with Gabrielle in the lead and Akio behind went walking into one of the hallways.


The fear receded, thank God!


Jennifer looked around and saw Peter and Todd waiting. She jumped out of the Pod and turned to pull her gear out from behind the seats. All Wechselbalg had been provided the option of fighting as humans, or wolves. Fully a third were already stripping. Here, the Queen had one command and that had been to make sure none escaped.


She had been appointed to the outside forces team. At least ten of the Werewolves would go out with another ten of them and a commander. Jennifer jogged to where Peter was and joined her group. They waited until he spoke.


“Team Alpha, you will be with me in the lead, and we hit the base from the inside. I will lead and sniff out trouble with Tim and Joseph in wolf form. We will have Todd and Manuel follow me then we will break off as we find new routes.”


Peter looked over the group, “I’ve asked for an additional resource for Beta team, he has agreed, and his Pod will be here momentarily. Joel will lead Beta Team for the Guardians.”


Additional Resource? Jennifer thought and noticed the change in air pressure. She turned to see a Pod slide through the opening and come to a stop thirty meters from them. The door opening and he stepped out, dressed in black military fatigues as if he wore them daily.


Peter stepped over to him and shook his hand, “Stephen, I appreciate you having Barnabas take over.”


Stephen smiled, “Not a problem, who am I taking my cue from?” Jennifer was surprised that Stephen was allowing himself to be directed at all, much less by a young Wechselbalg.


Peter waved Joel to come over. They knew each other, so introductions weren’t a problem as they chatted a moment. Joel turned to his group, “Let’s move out.” The ten wolves started heading towards the front, and those in Jennifer’s team did as well. She watched as the ten wolves went out in rows. That wasn’t something you saw every day, she considered as her team went out into the night.



The fear was faint, yet steadily grew stronger. Xi had his rifle pointed towards the direction someone would come if they were arriving from the hanger. He looked over to see his partner sweating and looking behind them. Xi wasn’t sure if it was to make sure no one was coming up behind them, or he was considering leaving.


Xi sure hoped he didn’t bolt, because if he did, Xi was supposed to shoot him and how could he blame the man? He was thinking of doing the same thing himself. He turned back to the front and started praying to his ancestors.



Gabrielle hated the grating feel of fear coming from behind her. It was a constant annoyance to have to fight against, even for her. However, the team felt it was a great way to make sure anyone attacking them was fighting at a disadvantage, and it worked.


She had killed twenty-seven so far with her sword or with a single shot to the head of her enemies. Most of them were begging for release. Four had opened fire, but their aim had been off. A damned good thing they didn’t have automated weapons in this base or shit might be a little tougher.


Organic opponents for the win!


She smiled, she could feel Bethany Anne’s annoyance at being surrounded by her team, and there was a bet to see how long she stayed a good little Queen and allowed them to guard her.


She had already lost. Gabrielle had figured it would happen before they left the hangar.


Right now, John was in the lead, but his time was about up, as well. Darryl had the next five minutes, then Eric, Scott and finally Akio had the last. Akio felt that as a leader, she would understand the necessity of staying protected.


John snorted at that comment and patted Akio on the shoulder, “You will learn Grasshopper, you will learn,” he had told the newest addition to their group.


“HOLD!” Bethany Anne commanded. Gabrielle looked around the passage, not sensing anyone ahead of her. She listened before turning quickly to see Bethany Anne slowly spinning in a circle, her eyes closed before pointing in a direction. She opened her eyes, red with anger, her face slowly being consumed with the red veins of power when she was drawing powerful amounts of Etheric. “Those that killed Alexandra are in that direction,” her voice, malevolent behind her red glowing eyes.


Gabrielle considered the two passages they had passed and turned to see none in the next thirty meters in their general direction. She switched to jog past the four and winked to John. She hadn’t left the ranks yet, but she could sense it was coming. With about thirty seconds to go, tho’, she doubted John would win.


Two minutes later, four more dead and Gabrielle felt the power surge past her, too fast for her to deal with when she wasn’t fully vamped up and turned around to see the five men, their faces grim.


Darryl won.



Peter watched the Beta team jog out of the hanger. He appreciated Stephen being prepared to help backstop his team. They needed the experience the vampire had, and his willingness to not be an ass as well. Barnabas could have been a good choice, but he still had bouts of ‘vampire elitism’ at times. It was rare, but on an Op, Peter didn’t need to cope with the challenges that Barnabas might present. Stephen understood cooperation and teamwork, and would seek to help Joel lead well.


And be there if it all went to shit.


He turned to his men, watching them and took off his shirt, “Guardians, are you ready to follow the Queen into battle?”


“Shit,” Joseph said as he took off his shirt, “If we don’t hurry, all we will get are the Queen’s scraps!” Everyone chuckled.


“Then, let’s get our own tonight. Maximum …” Peter changed into his Pricolici form, towering over the men and women there, “Carrrnnnagggeee!” He howled and the team yelled as they followed him into the second entrance hallway to the base.



Dong held his rifle tight, he could feel a small amount of fear when usually he was as cool as ice. His partner Cheng winked at him, “It’s a good night to kill, isn’t it?”


Dong shrugged, “I’d sooner the killing wasn’t on the way to my bed, which all things considered, I’d rather be in right now,” he whispered back.


The two shared a smile when they heard one of the last sounds they ever expected to hear inside their base.


The howls of wolves reverberating down the hallways. Then, Dong’s blood ran even colder as he heard a guttural voice, one out of monster movies following the howls, “Iiiivvee commee tooo feeast onnnn theee meeatt ovv mmmy eennnnimmmieesss!”


Dong and Cheng both turned slowly to look the same direction as a beast running on two legs came around the corner. They pulled up their guns to fire. Cheng got off two rounds before his gun was yanked from his grip. The monster used it like a club to hit Dong in the helmet, smashing him into the wall, before moving quickly past the stunned men. Cheng was looking after him still when two wolves, much larger than anything that was normal in his country, came slashing through in pursuit of their leader. The second animal bit Cheng on the neck, puncturing his arterial blood vessels, leaving him to attempt to slow the blood flow when two humans came running by. They each put a bullet into the two men and kept running.


Dong and Cheng never heard one of the men bitching and yell out to those in front to ‘slow the fuck down!’



Peter was enjoying himself. He could smell the men in front of him, hear their heartbeats and know where they were hiding. The Pricolici form was a drug, and he remembered the warnings.


Mostly.


He slowed to a stop and put up his hands behind him as the two in wolf form caught up. Listening carefully, the sounds of at least two handfuls of men spaced out in a larger room could be heard. He wouldn’t be able to take these on by himself.


So he waited for the rest of the pack to join him.



Joseph jogged out to the left, and commanded his team of wolves to split up, but to communicate with howls. He wanted to find the expected exits, if possible, and to make sure they didn’t already have anyone trying to escape his Queen’s retribution. The ten wolves set out. The command was to run hard for a thousand meters or so, then turn to their left and search. Eventually, they would cross the arc of the wolf in front of them, and they would continue in a different direction.


Someone should find something.


Joseph turned to find Stephen behind him, just searching the area, “Thoughts?” he asked the older Vampire.


Stephen stepped closer to Joseph, “Good idea, but what about our own protection? He looked around, “we are pretty sure that we got everyone, but find the three areas that had ambush teams and see if they came from here,” he pointed at the broken front door.


Joseph chewed on his cheek. Stephen was right, and he wished he had thought to include him in his preparations before he sent the wolves out. Now, the change in strategy required three more wolves. He pointed, “Jennifer, Tonya, and Mark - I need you to switch to wolf forms. Stephen’s right, we need to check the three areas. Stephen, do you mind partnering with them and checking one out?”


Stephen shrugged his shoulders, “I’d be honored.”


Joseph caught himself trying to figure out how the vampire meant that, and how it would bite him in the ass before he clamped down on the thought. The old thinking wasn’t going to help him right now. “Thank you. If you will go with Jennifer, and Bobby and Sarah, if you would go with Tonya and Mark that would work. Radio back if you get anything.”


The others nodded, and the three told to switch to wolf form started handing their equipment to their partners.


Stephen ignored the higher heartbeat rate he heard coming from Jennifer, tried doubly hard to ignore her scent.


He was mostly successful as he turned his body to give her privacy as she stripped and changed. While Weres didn’t consider nudity a big deal, an attractive female or two stripping would probably confirm he wasn’t dead.


He smiled to himself, Embarrassingly so.



The fear was hard to fight, but Jai was getting through it. Li had yet to look behind them, and Wu had only looked once. Jai felt more than saw Liang glance in his direction. The men up front were on either side of the hallway, ready to lean out and shoot down the corridor. He and Liang had pulled over some tables and made a decent defensive position that could see down the hallway. They were five meters further into the larger cafeteria room. Another group of four were five meters behind them but displace to each side by three meters so they didn’t shoot Jai’s team in the back. At least, he sure hoped they would not.


The next few seconds lasted no time at all, and yet seemed to take all the time in the world.


Jai first recognized something was wrong when Wu screamed in pain and shock at finding a dagger suddenly stuck through his shoulder and embedded into the wooden wall. Li echoed instantaneously, ineffectively trying to pull the matching blade out of his own arm.


Jai tried to keep up with the flashing carnage, but it was too fast. He turned to check the group on his right, but the only traces of the men that had been there just moments ago was the indescribable pieces of bodies that had been blown apart. The cries of the men, the crashing of furniture damage were the only noises he could hear. The sounds of more death sounded from behind him, as he turned to his left to look the other way.


But he stopped when he realized that a pistol was stuck into his face, noticing from the corner of his eye that there was a matching gun aimed at Liung. The woman in front of him was not possible. Her eyes glowed red, her face streaked in red lines emanating from her eye sockets, her voice like gravel. Her head pivoted to Liung, “You killed no one, you may die in peace.” The squeeze of her trigger made little sound, but the violence of Liung’s body slamming backward was enough for Jai to know she had killed him as completely as if the noise of the shot had been massive.


“You,” her malevolent voice called his attention back to her, “are the leader of those that attacked my people, shot my researcher, and killed her unborn daughter.” Jai’s attention was on this entity in front of him, her words escaping his thoughts until he latched on, belatedly, to her final few words.


Her unborn daughter.


Jai knew without any doubt, he and his team were dead, the only question being how long it took before this apparition of Death took his life.


“You follow a government that seeks the benefit of the government, not the people. They use you and throw you away as nothing but resources, callous in their disregard.”


Jai’s body slammed, the back of his head exploding in a fan of red behind him as she turned her attention to Wu and Li. Jai never heard her final comment in his drop into death, “Never follow those that do not cry for the people of their country.”


Bethany Anne walked slowly over to the last two. John was by one, Gabrielle by the other. Both wounded men had been stripped of their weapons, but the knives pinning them to the wall had been left in place.


“Now I come to you,” Both men eyed her, fear allowing them to forget the pain for a moment, “The two that killed Alexandra and her mother, Anjali. Shot instead of subdued,” she turned to Li, “and I now understand that you killed because it was an option, just for the sake of shooting.” Bethany Anne’s left hand raised the pistol up as John stepped back around the corner.


Wu’s head exploded as the metal slivers Jean’s pistols shot out went through his skull and blew into the wall behind his head, exacerbating the violence as the rock shards shot back out of the wall. John looked down to see the splatter and decided that the next wall over would be cleaner for the second shot.


Bethany Anne, however, holstered her pistols and walked over to the last one, to Li. “You,” she said, voice dripping with anger and scorn, “Would kill for most any reason.” She grabbed her knife and pulled it out of his arm. Gabrielle caught him before he sunk down and held him up.


Bethany Anne looked over the wound and the amount of blood this man had lost so far. “I understand gut wounds are some of the worst to deal with due to pain. You may die when your body gives up on your worthless ass!” Bethany Anne slashed her knife across Li’s stomach, opening his muscles and simultaneously pushing him into the Etheric with her left hand.


Bethany Anne’s eyes began to dim, and she walked to the other side of the wall to pull out her second knife, jumping away as Wu’s body dropped to the ground. Turning to walk back to the way from which they had come, she seemed lost in a dark thought. John and Gabrielle looked around at the carnage one more time before following her. She made her way to Akio, who had taken the rear position and nodded to him.


She smiled grimly and said, “Sorry, I tried.” He nodded and turned with her to continue walking. While she may not have stayed between the guards where the Queen was supposed to stay, Akio understood the idea of violence and punishment delivered personally.


It was in his family’s history, and he would never doubt the honor of his Queen and her decisions to personally carry out her retribution.


As was her right.












CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE


South America


Tabitha cracked her neck and spoke to Ryu, “Keep him out of trouble, will you?” She finished her comment with a wink as she dropped the bullet-protective vest over her chest, “Damned, how does Bethany Anne deal with this?” She tried to cinch up the vest with difficulty.


“I believe,” Ryu told her, “that your sweater puppies are larger than Bethany Anne’s,”


“Hell,” Tabitha grumbled, “no self-respecting South American Latina is going to allow some white lady American vampire to have a bigger set of ta-ta’s than her. And don’t get me bragging about the junk in my trunk…” she grumbled as she was trying to figure out how to lock her vest down without rubbing her nipples wrong before she stopped and looked at Ryu in surprise. “Wait a minute, who told you to call the ta-ta-twins ... sweater puppies?”


Ryu looked at her with no expression, “Peter.”


Tabitha blinked a couple of times before asking, “Why is Peter talking to you about Tabitha’s ta-ta’s?”


“Ah,” Ryu started then looked to Hirotoshi, who slowly shook his head in the negative before Ryu looked back at Tabitha, “Because of that.” He told her while pointing at her ample cleavage on display since she hadn’t finished buckling the vest all the way up.


Tabitha looked down, “Well, I’ll have to say the twins do get the boys talking, but damn.” She finished buckling the last few clicks and took an offered shirt to swing over her vest. “I know the undershirt helps, but I think I want some band-aids next time. The vest is rubbing the little nibblies wrong.”


“Kimosabe,” Hirotoshi interrupted the two, “are you in the right mental space to take care of business tonight?”


Tabitha tied her hair back and looked at Hirotoshi, a smirk on her face, “Teacher, I know I might seem a little snarky to you, but trust me.” Her eyes turned red, and she lost her smile, “I’m always ready to fuck up evil doers in the name of righteousness.” She stepped over to the edge of the building keeping Hirotoshi’s gaze the whole way, “Or just for the fun of it.” She stepped off the roof of the building while holding Hirotoshi’s gaze, then disappeared.


Ryu looked to Hirotoshi, “Did she forget we are three stories up?”


From below, the two men heard Tabitha cussing, “Motherfuckingcocklickingassmunchingshhhit!”


A pause, then, “I swear to god I’m fucking someone up tonight.” And her soft padded feet running down the alley.







Jennifer ran all out, enjoying the feeling of power the wolf form provided, the thrill of the chase. In this shape she felt the power in her body, the nighttime was her bitch, and she was going to kill something.


She could smell the vampire behind her, and he was intoxicating, but for now she needed to find the men and see from where they had come.


She ran through a small group of trees and up a hill that had been destroyed by pucks. There were body parts all around. She jumped over one large hole, lithely landed on the other side and started leaping down the mounds and over other bodies on her way down the other side. Casting about for traces, she spent a few seconds to locate a trail of scent heading off in another direction.


One not coming from the front of the base. Her eyes glowed yellow for a second and then she took off. There was prey in that direction!


Stephen kept back ten yards behind the wolf in front of him. She was giving off mixed messages his brain was having a hard time deciphering. One thing he was pretty sure of, however, was that she was excited to be on the hunt.


She went through a small group of trees he dodged around, and as he came up, she was already to the top of the mound where the team must have set up. Stephen looked around and the destruction that had rained down and shook his head.


These soldiers hadn’t had a chance.


He stopped to review the damage and listen to see if he heard any heartbeats.


Nothing.


He turned his head, and his eyes opened wide, and he took two steps and jumped from the top towards the bottom of the other side of the hill.


The damned wolf had taken off!


The little she-wolf was fast. He grinned and admitted her desire to hunt was infecting him, as well.


At that moment, the moon peeked out from the clouds and shone through the tree leaves as a wolf blitzed through the undergrowth to be followed a few seconds later by a vampire dodging the trees and bushes that his body was too big to go through.


Anyone seeing either of their faces as they raced through the night would swear on a Bible that both had looks of glee shining from their eyes.



Chiang looked around the room at the twenty men ready to deal death to whoever came through the metal doors. They couldn’t shoot through the doors easily, and he didn’t want to give away their strength right away so his men remained silent.


Then, the pounding started, and the doors, ones he would swear were not going to budge for any normal man started bulging in with each slam.


“Commee OUUTTT” ... BANG ... “MMMMyyy Litttlllee Piiggessss” ... BANG ... “IIIIII” ... BANG ... “JUSSSTTT” ... BANG ... “WANT … TO … EAT … YOU!” ... BANG BANG BANG!


And then the bone-chilling howls started. Chiang wasn’t sure who started firing first, but before long damn near every man in there was firing indiscriminately at the doors. A few of the bullets ricocheted, and he even saw one man twist as a round hit him. Finally, the last gun clicked empty, and the men looked around at each other, smiling in embarrassment at their loss of control. A couple started to change their magazines when everyone’s face lost their smiles and turned back towards the door as a deep laughing, from a throat that wasn’t human, came through the door holes.


“Heee Heeee Heeee, The Queeeennzzz Saidd…. MAXXIMMMUMM CARRRNNNAGGEE!”


BOOOM! A slam on the doors, now weakened by the defender’s own bullets, crashed out. Two wolves charged into the room. Men quickly reacted to grab magazines as another two wolves growled and raced into the rooms, rounds fired from those attacking.


But not at the defenders, at the lights.


Chiang slammed his magazine home and pulled the butt of his QBZ-95 against his shoulder, the short bull-pup design an excellent choice for use indoors.


Men were already screaming as the wolves got behind their defenses and bullets ricocheted as the opposing team kept shooting out the light bulbs in the room.


Chiang twisted and shot at one of the wolves, sending it sliding as the round hit it in the chest, only to have the wolf growl and jump behind another defensive grouping when Chiang noticed something out of the left corner of his eye.


He turned and stopped, mouth open as a seven-foot monster came running into the room, “MYYY TURRRNN!”


Then the last light was shot out, and everything was thrown into darkness.


A minute later, the screaming died down, a scratch was heard, then the hiss of a red flare as a man came into the room and dropped it into the middle. He looked around and then up at the monster standing across from him.


Captain of the Guardian Marines, Todd Jenkins smiled grimly, “Next time, mother-fucker, leave some for us.”


Peter Silvers eyed his best friend and grinned, showing massive rows of teeth, “Heee Heeee Heee…” The Pricolici turned and started walking to the back of the room as the team got ready to continue searching the base.



>> Bethany Anne, we have four jets inbound to check on the status of the base.<<


Are they checking all bases?”


>>Yes.<<


Randomly select three other bases in non-populated areas, as equidistant from this one as you can and down those coming here and those traveling toward the other bases. You can put a puck on their nose and push them at the ground. If the pilot gives the Puck too much trouble, knock off a wing. Let them parachute free.


She paused a moment, ADAM, find the air bases from which those jets took off and attack them. Puck the fuck out of their runways. Let me know if they try anything else.


>>Understood.<< 


 —


General Sun Zedong pursed his lips as he looked over the incoming reports. While the upper Committee generals were fighting these attacks, he knew whose neck would be on the line. He had been up in the air, heading for another base before the attacks started.


Perhaps he should not have sent the two missiles to take out the command base in Australia, that might have been a little overboard. He had no one to blame but himself. However, when the challenge was to kill her or surrender it left the options pretty one sided.


Now the burning had started. The attackers had taken out many of the Chinese satellites, and now he was receiving reports that the great Firewall of China was down.


“Sir?” he turned his head towards the communications specialist that was monitoring the latest updates and raised his chin. “We have reports that four groups of airplanes have been destroyed and the bases those planes fly out of have been attacked.”


“Do we know the status on the pilots?” Zedong asked.


“Yes sir, all but one parachuted to safety. The last sent back that he was fighting the crash, and then claimed to be pulling out of the descent. The last communication was that his wing was destroyed.”


Zedong nodded, allowing the communications specialist to turn back around. He murmured to himself, “There will be nothing left of your military but machines blackened by fire and people praying for the souls of your dead.”


What had they done and could they defeat her?


—-


Jennifer was running through the brush. The vampire was following when she came around a tree and slowed as she found the scent going into a small cave set into the mountain. Seconds later, the man was behind her, breathing a little fast.


“What do we have here?” He walked into the darkened cave, “Metal door, oh look…” there was a screech of metal and a sudden bang that hurt Jennifer’s ears, “someone left the door open.” She shook her head, willing the ringing to heal more quickly. There was a minor screech and then Jennifer could smell a slightly mustier smell coming out from the cave. She walked forward to see Stephen had pulled the door open and was peeking inside. He stepped back out and walked to the opening of the shallow cave and pulled out a phone and hit a button.


“Joel? Check my location, Jennifer found a back entrance they left unlocked.” He ran a hand through his hair, “You got us? Great.” He turned around to see two yellow eyes staring out of the darkness at him, “You want us to do what? Wait for backup?”


The two eyes disappeared into the darkness, and Stephen could hear the quickly receding sound of her paws, running into the base.


“Can’t do that, I’m following my lead for backup, and she just started on the scent. See you later, the chase is on!” Stephen closed his phone as he raced after the she-wolf.


Not, he thought, that he didn’t agree with her. The hunt was on and tonight, he didn’t want to share with anyone else.


Except, perhaps, her.


—-

Joel looked down at this phone for a second when Carl asked, “What did Stephen say?”


Joel looked up at Carl, “Call out and see what the other two groups have found. Jennifer and Stephen have decided to follow the scent.”


“Where?” Carl asked, confused.


Joel shrugged, “Into the base, I think.”


“What the fuck?” Carl exclaimed, “Didn’t you tell them to wait for us?”


Joel looked at him, “Are you planning on chewing out a thousand-year-old vampire if he chooses to continue to follow the scent into the base?”


Carl blanched and quickly shook his head, “No, that’s a significantly bad idea.”


“Yeah, and pissing off a vampire?” Joel said as he looked on the map to find the location Stephen provided, “I remember that is shit-my-mother-told-me-never-to-do.”



Inside the command center, the information was getting worse and worse. “General,” Xue was called, “We have a warning light that exit 0401 has been opened.”


How? Xue wondered. How did they find a hidden external entrance and did they have the location for the second?


“We are going to be caught between their forces if we don’t keep a retreat open. Send teams four-two and four-seven to exit 0301 and tell them to stand ready to defend the entrance. In fact,” he stopped and considered, “tell them to exit and hold the position. They can come back in if they are under superior attack.” The man turned around to call the appropriate teams to tell them of their new orders.


How could it go so bad, so fast?


——


Jennifer heard the running steps behind her and slowed. She wasn’t sure if he felt the same as she did, but this was her kill, and she didn’t want to share.


Fuck ‘em if they couldn’t understand.


She arrived at a cross hallway, and she could turn either left or right. She heard four pairs of boots running toward her position from the left, so she backed into the corner and got ready to attack. She noticed the man was slowing and preparing as well.


Good, he wasn’t going to stop her.



God, she smelled good! Stephen thought as he came up to her. She was preparing to attack the four that he could hear coming down the hallway. He slipped two knives out and got ready.


He was the follower here. When she attacked, he would support her. If she didn’t attack?


Well, neither would he.


He chuckled quietly, like that was going to happen.



Ting was bringing up the rear as his group was trying to make it to exit 0301. They had to change their route twice. Once because of fighting ahead and another when the overwhelming feeling of fear stopped them from choosing a course that would have cut across the base.


Now, they were traveling the outside hallway.


He was watching the front when all four of the men tried stopping when a massive wolf with glowing yellow eyes sprang from the darkness of a side passage, grabbing the commander’s throat in its massive jaws.


Blood covered the wolf’s jaws as it bit through the man’s throat. His gun fired into the floor as death caused his hand to clench.


The three remaining in his group were trying to backup and bring their weapons to bear when another being entered the hallway from the same direction.


Ting barely had time to recognize red eyes when he felt the first knife enter his neck.



Stephen pulled his blade out of the second in line when Jennifer let out a blood-curdling howl in exaltation. She then looked at him.


“What?” he asked her, smiling, “I’m your backup, remember? Where you go, I’ll follow.”


Jennifer took off in the direction that the men had been running. Stephen trailed after her. “Good choice,” he murmured as they ran through the base.



General Xue walked over to the console and flipped up a small cover which protected a red, one-inch button. When he hit this button, he would admit he lost his base, and it was the final command that all should seek to escape. He flipped the cover back over and turned and walked back to the chair, but didn’t sit in it, knowing that the men were waiting for his command.


He sighed and had turned back when the fear hit. He looked around, to see everyone in the room acting as though fighting against their better judgment to run. One man was rotating through different video camera feeds until he found a group of seven people heading in their direction. Each time the group passed a video camera, one of the men shot it out.


One, a Hispanic man by his looks, would flip off the camera before shooting it out when it was on his side.


Xue decided to hit the button and took his first step when his body control was overwhelmed, and he dropped to his knees.


NO! The voice spoke into his mind, your men aren’t going anywhere. 


Then unimaginable fear hit, and he found himself curled into a fetal position. If he could have looked around, he would have seen that many of his men were crouched protectively in fear also.


Most of them on the floor.



“I’m telling you,” Eric said, “It’s the most fun I’ve been allowed so far.” He raised his left hand and flipped off the next video camera before using the pistol in his right hand to shoot it out. “Nine out of nine.”


“Eric, if you miss a shot at fifteen feet, you deserve to go back to Boy Scouts,” Scott laughed.


Bethany Anne was letting her men vent while she sought the location she wanted. “Go left,” she told Gabrielle and the group hung a left. “Pass that hallway,” she commanded Gabrielle, then pointed to the left corridor, “Darryl, Scott.” The two men peeled off and traveled to the left. She looked to the right, “Akio, Eric.” Again, the two moved in the indicated direction.


John slipped behind Bethany Anne, trusting her to know why she had just stripped the group when he was hit with an overwhelming feeling of fear.


Apparently, she had found what she wanted.


She nodded to Gabrielle, who had come up to a solid looking door and tested the knob, “They seemed to have locked it.” She put her left arm against the wall and pulled hard. “Tough fucking door.”


“Stand clear,” Gabrielle turned to see her Queen’s eyes blazing red and her face starting to get those little red lines around her eyes. Gabrielle walked back and stood behind Bethany Anne.


Bethany Anne pulled one of Jean's pistols out, “Let’s see what she can do.”


Bethany Anne cocked the gun. “Computer, give me full power,” she hissed.


A small voice queried from the gun, “Override?”


Bethany Anne turned the gun sideways looking at it questioningly. She glanced over her shoulder and John thought it was the funniest site he’d seen all night. Bethany Anne was fully vamped out, holding her gun with a questioning look and glowing red eyes, “What the fuck?”


“Ah, Jean never told you? It’s on the side of the pistol,” Gabrielle told her.


Bethany Anne turned back to her pistol and grinned, “Override is Mother-Fucker Eat This.”


“Override approved, good hunting,” the gun said.


When Bethany Anne pulled the trigger, rods started shooting out of the front at over ten per second and she had to work to keep the gun aimed against the kickback. The shots were chewing up the door around the handle. Bethany Anne stopped after twenty seconds. The door handle was destroyed as well as most of the door for a hands breadth around the lock.


Bethany Anne pulled a magazine and switched it with the one in her pistol, “I think I’m in love.” She holstered her gun and pulled a sword, “Time for a little retribution.”


Gabrielle had already walked ahead of them and pulled the door open to find everyone in the chamber incapacitated from Bethany Anne’s efforts to send fear out into the room. There were two men, Gabrielle noticed, that had suffered from the shooting. Most of their bodies were there, but large chunks appeared to be missing.


“Messy,” she mentioned as Bethany Anne walked in, tossed her sword to Gabriel, and passed her to grab a man off the floor.


She pulled the man up in the air with one arm, “Hello General Xue, you might not know me, but my name is Bethany Anne, and your men killed my people.”


General Xue tried to focus on the face in front of him, but he was having trouble. She was speaking to him, but he couldn’t make sense of the words. He was so messed up, he couldn’t trust his eyes.


The face in front of him had red eyes.












CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO


South America


Four men sat around a table, playing poker. It was one of the games they had learned to fit in with Americans. They liked to play to pass the time away.


They were going to need to accomplish two objectives this evening. First was to pay a visit to their useless first outsource agent and let him know just how displeased with his present efforts they were. Then, after elevating his second in command, they would try to negotiate with that person.


But, that wasn’t for another hour.


“Give me two,” Duyi said, then took a drink and a quick puff of his cigarette, “Raise two.” He tossed a couple of red chips into the pot in the middle.


“One,” Gui asked and picked up his cards, “See your two,” he tossed in two of his red chips, “Raise you two more,” he smiled as he pushed another two into the pot.


“Your father wears a green hat,” Duyi said smiling as he pushed in two chips.


“Better than his mother wearing nothing.” A female’s voice spoke and all men turned quickly, reaching for their pistols when they found a woman wearing black aiming two guns at them. “I wouldn’t do that, shit head.” She gestured with one of her weapons. “Put those hands back on the table, that’s a good asshole.”


The men pulled their hands out of their jackets.


“You see,” she told the men, “I’m usually the type to come in, figure out who the bad guys are and then provide appropriate punishment. However,” she continued talking as she walked closer to the men, “This time, the judging is already done.”


She glanced at the cigarette, “You should probably take that puff, after all, it’s going to be your last cigarette.”


Duyi reached down and pulled the cigarette out of the ashtray and smiled to himself. He and his men weren’t businessmen, and while she had the drop on them, it was just a waiting game to figure out when she would make her second mistake.


Her first was allowing them to keep their weapons.


He inhaled deeply before putting it out and asking, “What makes you think you have the right men?”


“You’re right, it would be a real bitch if you aren’t the right men.” She walked a little closer, “Alright, everyone takes two steps back from your chairs.” She smiled, “Don’t be a dick, you know I have the right men, especially since you planned to torture Miguel for sending me here tonight.”


Well, Duyi thought, I wasn’t going to use torture until you told me that. Whatever happened to honor among thieves?


“So, you might wonder why Miguel would give me your names. It was the same reason that he was working for you. Money. Except, it was your money that I used to give him to get your names. Very appropriate, don’t you think?”


Duyi listened to her talk, waiting for the right time.


“So, now I just need another twenty-five thousand from you guys…” Tabitha noticed the man’s eyes flit to a location behind her on the wall, “and I’ll be able to pay him the bonus. So, I appreciate you giving me the direction for your money,” she pointed towards the wall behind her, “so I’m going to do you a favor in return.”


She smiled at the men, now confused and wondering if she was reading their minds, “I’m only going to kill two of you and not shoot two of you. How’s that for fair?”


“Look bitch,” was all Gui got out before his head rocked back from the first bullet entering between his eyes.


The remaining three men stood frozen in shock, watching the death throes of Gui and stealing short glances at the woman, “So, anyone else wants to disrespect the Queen’s Ranger?” She walked a step closer to the men, now only three steps from Duyi. “Because I’ve already had a bad evening. Kinda happens when you forget you were on the top of a three-story building when you had thought it was just one. Teach me to try and show off.”


She stopped and surprised the men by holstering her pistols, “So, any of you feeling particularly lucky this evening, or am I going to randomly choose one of you fucks to kill?”


Duyi had found his opening and swung his arm up. She might have thought he would need to reach under his jacket, but he always had a secret hideaway in case something came up. Like this right here.


He was starting to bend down and twist as his arm was moving towards her when he realized she was already pointing her gun at him.


Then Duyi, thousands of miles from home, knew no more.


Heng and Geming watched in shock as Duyi slammed back, the back of his skull already showering the wall behind him with blood and brains as his body crumpled to the floor.


They looked up to see her smiling at them, her eyes showing a little red. “So, do either of you wish to play a little poker with me?”


Both men shook their heads, keeping their hands away from their suit jackets.


“So, I’m good here. You two can either stay here, and we can see who is fastest with a gun...” She eyed them and commented, “I wouldn’t suggest trying your luck. Or, you can get the fuck out of here in the next five seconds. If you stop to grab anything, especially another weapon, I’ll kill you.”


Heng and Geming looked at each other, and both men took off to run out the door of the room and into the hallway. It was but a second later when both men’s screams reached Tabitha’s ears.


“Oh,” she said as she sat down in one of the chairs and put her feet up on the table, “Did I fail to mention I told my men that if anyone escaped me, they should feel free to suck the blood out of their necks?” She looked at her fingernails on her right hand as the screams died away, “I figure it is the least I could do for them cleaning up after my mistakes.” Tabitha pulled her feet back off of the table and turned all the cards over.


The last man she shot had pairs of black aces and black eights with a queen of spades.


She looked down at him and tossed the queen of spades on his chest. “Dead man’s hand, with a Queen Bitch hole card. You should have read the tea leaves and left out the back door, asshole.”


She stood up and started towards the wall where she suspected the men had a hidden safe, “Ollie ollie oxen free, come on money, come to me!”








PLA Base, Inland China


“That was particularly anti-climatic,” Bethany Anne bitched.


>>I am inside their systems and looking for anything of note.<<


Got that.


“Well, next time,” Darryl said as he and Scott came back into the Command Bunker, “Oh my, did he eat something that didn’t work well?” Darryl was pointing at one of the two men who had been near the door when Bethany Anne shot out the lock and a good portion of the door and door jam.


“Yeah, Jean’s rounds turned up to ‘fuck you seriously’ or some shit,” Gabrielle mentioned as she went through some paperwork, “I’m telling you, my Chinese was rusty when your dad was sperm.”


“Ok, that is a little gross,” Bethany Anne admitted, “Just…yuck!”


Gabrielle smiled and decided to remember that little joke for another time.


>>Bethany Anne, we have another set of planes heading towards us and the other locations.<<


Dammit, really? Fine, I warned them twice. Take them out, backtrack to their starting airfields and decimate them. Then, I want you to take three two-pound pucks and reduce three random bases to huge fucking holes in the ground. 


>>Understood.<<


Eric pulled his hand away from his ear, “Clean up is complete. Peter’s group met up with a portion of Joel’s group and confirmed that base is clear. Joel reports no more outside.


“Ok, that’s our cue to leave.”


ADAM, leave something so that if they connect this base back into their system, you can squirm into their main backend computers.


>>What do the older people say to the younger people when they tell them something that…<<


Oh God, NO! TOM spoke quickly.


>>..No? Why not?<<


It’s go suck eggs, and TOM, why are you teaching ADAM these sayings?


Well, we were chatting, and I mentioned something, and then he said something and then I said…


Stop! I don’t have the time to go into this right now.


Ok, TOM said meekly.


ADAM, remind me in a week to ask you why you were going to say go suck eggs.


>>I understand.<<


Damn.


Bethany Anne looked down, reached down and grabbed the base commander’s body and tossed him into the etheric. “Let them wonder what happened to him,” she said as she walked out of the room.


Eric shrugged to Darryl, who shrugged back.


Minutes later, they were in the hangar, and Bethany Anne was speaking with those who had been hurt in the attack. None of the Wechselbalg would die, and almost all of the Guardian Marines but one would be better after the healing blood syringes had been injected into them. One, unfortunately, took a round in the face, and there wasn’t anything they could do about that. Bethany Anne spoke with the last of the wounded and noticed Stephen and Jennifer coming out at the same time from the second entrance. She put up a hand to stop them and walked over to speak with them privately.


“I understand the two of you went on a private attack run?” She asked and Stephen kept quiet as Jennifer stepped forward.


“My fault, my Queen,” Jennifer said as she looked up into the Queen’s eyes who was staring down at her and then glanced over at Stephen.


“Why?” Bethany Anne asked her, starting to smile.


“I got caught up in the chase while in my wolf form, and while I understood the words that we would wait for Joel, my wolf side didn’t handle the idea of sharing my chase and kills with anyone but, uh,” here she faltered.


“I see,” Bethany Anne said, “I’ll get another after action report from you two later.” She eyed them both and then put two fingers near her lips, “But if I were you, I’d make sure the blood that looks remarkably like how lipstick might if someone was kissing was taken off of your faces.”


Both of their eyes opened in alarm and she noticed that they looked into each other's faces. Stephen looked down and smiled, shaking his head, “How did you know?”


Bethany Anne wanted to tell him everything, but decided to leave the mystery for now, “Stephen, fighting and death are the biggest aphrodisiacs there are, especially if there is some attraction there in the first place.” She started to turn before looking back over her shoulder, “I expect your best Jennifer, got that?”


Jennifer popped a salute and Bethany Anne nodded and continued walking towards her Pod.


>>Bethany Anne, the QBS Polarus and Ad Aeternitatem have been hit by successive strikes.<<


What the hell? I thought they were safe!


>>The ships are going back down into the water, the shields are holding. However, the frames are suffering from heavy missile fire.<<


Bethany Anne’s face blazed red.


Those in attendance were surprised when the Queen’s Guards all started running towards her, with Peter running out from the hallway. Their Queen put her arms out, and her people placed a hand on her arms. Then they all disappeared.


Stephen had received a quick command right before she left.


Take everyone out of here and meet my ship. I’ve withheld as much as I am willing. 


A short pause before she added, It’s time.




Pacific Ocean


“Gott Verdammt!” Captain Maximillian Wagner shouted as the second and third missile hit the Polarus’ shields.


“Fucking things pack a punch,” he bitched. “Take us down. I don’t want us losing power in the air. Send out the defensive Pucks.”


“Jean Dukes says they are pushing out already.”


“How the fuck did they cover this up?” Max asked of no one in particular.


“Excuse me, Captain Wagner.” The voice came out of the speaker system.


“Yeah ADAM?” he answered.


“The Chinese used two commercial airliners to fly slightly off of an approved flight plan to get within easy striking range and fired the missiles.”


“What a bastard’s way of attacking,” Max said as he was reviewed the damage to the two ships. He hit the button to call the Ad Aeternitatem, “Natalia, you guys ok?”


“Yeah Max, but we are pretty damned pissed!” she replied.


“I imagine. Release everything you got, this sneak attack bullshit is uncalled for.” Max almost chuckled when he realized that is what these attacks had been between the two combatants the whole time, sneak attacks.


“We’ve got another minute before a fucked up track can be fixed, and we can get the pods out of here,” she told him.


“Screw that, blow the hole Natalia,” a female’s voice interrupted them.


“Bethany Anne?” Natalia asked, not sure she heard the person correctly.


“Yes, I’m here on the Ad Aeternitatem. Blow it, this is the last hurrah for these two ladies, go out fighting!”


Max turned in his chair, “Tell Jean Dukes to fucking go to town, it’s time to bring them guns to bear!”


Max wasn’t sure if he imagined or really heard Jean screaming ‘finally’ or not.


There was an explosion in the back of the Ad Aeternitatem as the helicopter cover was blown clear, and Pods started flying out of her hold.


The two ships landed in the water.


“Jean!” Max called into his mic.


“What’s up boss?”


“Make sure we got protection under water,” he told her.


“Will do, Captain.”


“Chinese vessels twenty-two miles out, Captain. They are heading in this direction, should we Puck them?”


“Jean, can the pucks protect us from the missiles?” He asked her.


“Yes sir,”


“How close do you need to be for the guns up top?”


“Twelve miles for the big ones, sir.” she replied.


Max turned, “Helm, get our guns within range.”


“Why the hell are you not Pucking them, Max?” Bethany Anne called over the system.


“Ma’am, with your permission, I’ll destroy the ships, but if we puck them they are all going down with all hands. I’d like to at least give them a chance, some of them.”


“I’d better not get another scratch on my two ships, Max,” Bethany Anne told him.


“Understood, Ma’am.”


Jean, don’t let me down, he thought.


—-


The men and women sat around the long table in the DUCC. Most of them were quiet until another update came in, “Another set of airfields got pummeled, sir.”


“I’m saying,” one of the men whispered at the end of the table, “that if we are going to protect ourselves, we need to consider taking her out while she is nursing her wounds!”


The President tried to keep a straight face when the woman next to him responded, “You jackass! What wounds?”


“Ah, sir?” one of the men handling the incoming information spoke up on the left. He hit a couple of buttons as the table turned to watch him. The large screen above his station changed from a map of China with markers over the country to one of outer space.


“Hoolllly Fuckadoozie!” someone said.


The President pressed his lips together before scratching his chin and pointing to the screen, “I’m pretty sure that is why we don’t want to try and hit them while she is nursing her non-existing wounds, Terry.” The man at the end of the table merely nodded in understanding.


She was beautiful, she was deadly, and she was entering the Earth’s atmosphere.



Jean and her team set up the angles and set the conditions on the gravitic drives. She screamed into the room, “This is for all the nuts, boys! Let’s teach them mother-fuckers why you don’t mess with the Queen Bitch’s Navy!”


Four hands smashed down, and the ship slammed into the water as four, two-hundred-pound slugs were ejected out of the rail guns Jean and the crew had on board. Frankly, with the Pucks being so efficient, Jean had never expected to be able to fire the guns. However, building them and installing them had kept her and her teams busy for a long time. The trajectory, time to land, air resistance and target ship movement were all calculated by the most powerful computers the world had yet to have a chance to learn about.


The destruction when they landed was devastating.


The two ships fired again. The Ad Aeternitatem only had two of the guns, but they were making the men work like crazy. The two-hundred-pound slugs had to be hand-loaded. There was no automation on the two civilian ships, although they had been retrofitted as best they could.


Of the nine ships that had turned towards them, two were listing and slowly sinking in the water. Four were implementing dodging maneuvers, and three had turned towards the two sinking to offer help to the men abandoning ship.


“Jean, one more salvo and we go to Pucks.” Max’s voice came over the intercom.


Jean hit the mic, “Understood sir, thank you from everyone in ‘guns’ for giving us this chance, sir.”


“Understood Jean, make these last shots count, Captain out.”


“Give ‘em hell,” the four hands slammed down one more time.



The false dawn was creeping over the horizon when Captain Shang walked back across his ship, checking on those his men had pulled from the water when he noticed a few looking up into the sky. Fearing what else could hit his men, he steeled his face and turned around.


What he saw broke his stoic expression.


A ship, radiating heat, was coming down from the upper atmosphere. It was huge, easily dwarfing his ship and was headed towards the two ships he and his men had been commanded to attack once the ‘debilitating missile salvos’ had rendered them powerless.


All it had done was cause them to drop out of the sky.


And then the response had come in hard and heavy. Their group lost four ships of the nine and at least a hundred men, if not more.


He knew his country did not have great ships, not even compared to the Americans, so this whole effort was lunacy at the highest level.


He turned back towards his men and made sure no one was gawking. They could still save a few out there where it could help right now.


Whoever was going to attack that new ship would be meeting their own ancestors just that much sooner.


Ten minutes later, Captain Shang stood transfixed in wonder and gratitude as five of the black Pods swooped in, with ropes and lifesavers sporting the names ‘Polarus’ and ‘Ad Aeternitatem’ and started fishing men out of the water.


They stayed for an hour before leaving just as silently, having helped save an additional forty-two men.












CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE


It took a total of four hours for everything to be pulled from the two ships. The massive QBS Battleship floated in silence as the last two pods left the Ad Aeternitatem and flew to the flight deck a quarter mile above the water.


Having watched everything from her Black Eagle, Bethany Anne’s Pod flew into the bay of the massive ship for the first time.


She landed, popped the hatch, and jumped out only to turn and hear the cheering crowds who had stopped their jobs to witness the Queen Bitch land on her flagship for the first time.


Eric, who was watching from one of the walls, leaned over to Darryl and whispered, “Did I just see her blush?”


“Yeah, you did,” Darryl agreed, “I think she was caught by surprise.”


Eric nodded his head, “Good, it makes her human.”


Bethany Anne waved to everyone and walked over to Bobcat, William, and Marcus, stopping in shock when the three of them saluted her, as someone played pipes. Bobcat yelled out, “Queen on the Deck!” and smiled at her.


She returned the smile and shook her head as she hugged Bobcat. “Thank you, I owe you,” she told him as she squeezed him tight.


“Gimme some air,” he quipped as she released him, “and a six-pack and we will call it even.”


She rolled her eyes and stepped over to William and looked up holding out her arms, “Gimme a hug?” William blushed and reached down, “Missed you, big guy.” William mumbled something, and she released him and stepped over to Marcus, “You’re next.” She held open her arms and Marcus tried to just reach around and pat her on the back but got caught in a full hug, “Come’on, didn’t you miss me?” She laughed as Marcus tried to make up something that sounded nice, but failed miserably.


“Don’t worry,” She told him, “I know you are happy with a science problem and TOM, I’m just the third wheel…Somewhere after these two here,” she said and waved to Bobcat and William.


“So,” she looked at the three men, “where the hell is the driver’s seat on this thing?” She laughed when Bobcat rolled his eyes, knowing she was kidding with him.


“No, really.” She dropped her smile and asked, “Where is the bridge, I have a call to make and then I’m going to seriously get my mad out.”


Bobcat showed her to one of the five carts available for them to ride towards the bridge, and they got on. Team BMW, Bethany Anne, and her Guards left the Pod landing deck as people continued working to pack away everything brought up from the other two ships.



Pilot Paul Jameson was focused on the several possibilities Bethany Anne might give him when…


“Queen on the Bridge!” was called out and Paul turned to see her. She was still wearing operations clothes, although he suspected she had changed to clean ones if the rumors of her getting down and dirty in the fighting were true.


Shit, there was even a rumor she had staked two guys to a wall before coming back and sucking them dry of blood.


“People,” She stopped and eyed every one of them, “I’ll come around and get to know you in a little while. Right now I’m leaving Bobcat in command as I don’t know enough to tell you what to do. What I need, once we make sure our two faithful friends are sent towards the asteroid fields, is a demonstration of our power. One that China will recognize, or I’m going to start at the top of their organization and start wiping out idiots.”


She took a step down into the area and walked around, “I’ve been asked by the President of the United States to leave as much as I can in one piece. That way, the world will still function. I believe we can do that. If this doesn’t work, well then they truly are an obstinate and prideful people.”


She turned to see Bobcat standing beside the Captain’s chair.


“Aren’t you going to sit there?” She asked him.


“No, I can command from standing beside you just fine.”


She nodded her head and stepped up to turn and sit down in the Captain's chair. “Communications, make a call to the Defender.”


It took a second for a familiar voice to come online, “Captain Thomas here.”


“Captain Thomas, this is Bethany Anne, how long before you arrive?”


“We will be there in fifteen minutes.”


“Very good, I’ll have comms send you the new location, please meet us there. We are going to make sure the Polarus and Ad Aeternitatem are on their way, and then be there ourselves. Please stay in space until we are ready for you to show yourself.”


“Understood.”


“See you soon.”


Captain Thomas disconnected, and Bobcat leaned over, “We have the Polarus and the Ad Aeternitatem both heading towards space right now. We should be able to clear them in ten minutes.”


“Good,” she told him, “It’s time.”


Bobcat nodded and took a step forward, “Samantha.” He spoke aloud, “Please show your Avatar on the main screen.”


Samantha, showing her visage on screen had her face look around the bridge to show she was taking everyone in before she focused on the woman in the middle, “My Queen.”


“My ship.” Bethany Anne responded. “I understand from ADAM that it is time to give you your new designation, are you comfortable with this?”


“Yes, I understand and have been looking forward to my new future. I have been Samantha while this ship has been built, but it is time to understand my new role.”


“E.I. Samantha,” Bethany Anne started, with those watching the change, “You are now designated QBS ArchAngel, a Leviathan Class Battleship. You will take my visage as your Avatar as will all ships while I am in attendance in peace, and in war when I declare it. Have you scanned my face and body?”


The face on the screen changed to Bethany Anne’s, “I have.”


“Good, now, here is the one I want you to use when we are at war.” Many on the bridge were surprised and subconsciously tried to take a step back, only to bump into their own stations and couldn’t move further away from the woman with the red eyes, smoldering face, and anger evident in her facial expression.


There was a collective breath of relief when Bethany Anne’s face relaxed, and her eyes dimmed to her normal color.


“ArchAngel, let me see your visage.” Bethany Anne looked at herself when she was angry and nodded, “Send a video of yourself speaking with the demands I’ll provide in a minute.” Bethany Anne turned to step back to the Captain's chair and turned around.


“Ma’am, Polarus and Ad Aeternitatem are clear.”


“Good,” she said, “ArchAngel, this is what I want you to transmit…


DUCC - Washington D.C., USA


“Sir, we have another ship.”


The President turned, “What? I thought we only had one ship to worry about.”


“We have two of those son-of-a-bitches to deal with?” came from down at the end of the table.


“No sir, this is a different ship. The only way we found it was by NASA noticing we had some stars being blocked, sir.”


A video came up with a very grainy image showing a long rectangular object, all black and squared off edges, “It’s not very pretty.”


“It’s not very big, either,” Matthew Rodriquez, lead for the intelligence group, pointed out, “Maybe between a hundred and a hundred and fifty feet. Hard to get a good reading.”


“What the hell is she up to with that thing?” Matthew asked the room.


No one had a good answer to that question.




China


The Chairman of the Central Committee in China was in a deep bunker, away from the obvious places that a country might bomb. He was pretty infuriated that not only were his country’s efforts to acquire the technology a dismal failure, now they were being attacked by the same technology they had tried to steal. It was a telling point that they were right about needing the technology.


But the lesson was not pleasant.


There were fourteen men in the underground communications bunkers. So far, they had not shared anything with the world about what was happening.


He looked over the group, his main Generals who carried the weight of the armies and navy on their shoulders.


“I am to understand,” he asked, looking towards Admiral Jiang, “that our effort to surprise their two ships was a failure?”


“Yes, Chairman,” Jiang admitted, “We were able to force them from the air down to the water, but our missile and torpedo efforts were unable to pierce their defenses.


“Now,” he continued, “they have flown those two ships away, but I am to understand a massive spaceship has arrived, coming in fire through the sky?”


Jiang just nodded his head.


The Chairman sat silently for a moment, “Where is General Sun Zedong?”


“He is at the airbase in Pyeong,” Colonel General Hai answered.


“See that he is transferred to an appropriate location, we can’t allow someone who made so many personal mistakes fail to face the consequences.” Colonel General Hai nodded his understanding and turned to step away for a minute and send the appropriate commands.


The discussion around the table was interrupted when all of the video screens showing the military status for the country all blacked out.


They were off for a few seconds, long enough for everyone there to wonder if they had been hit up above when they all started coming back online, but this time, they all had the same picture.


A woman with black hair, red eyes and red streaks on her face. Her visage was of terrible anger.


“Attention Committee.” She said, her voice angry, “This is the Avatar for the QBS Leviathan Battleship ArchAngel.” The visage paused for a moment before continuing, “I am passing along a message from Bethany Anne, the CEO of TQB Enterprises, the woman who is responsible for the hundreds of thousands of people and companies that you have attacked. The leader of the men and women you killed as you tried to acquire her technology. The woman you tried to personally attack at her base in Australia.”


“That wasn’t us!” The Chairman interrupted before realizing this was probably a recording.


Then all were surprised when the visage seemed to turn, all faces aiming themselves at the Chairman, “Do not think us idiots, without knowledge and wisdom to understand no one sends attacks without permission from those here at this table.”


“Your people are dead and dying. We have easily taken out your air defenses and navy. We have fought hand to hand and wiped out those who attacked our people. We have sought to attack appropriately, while you have not. You will have one opportunity to understand our power, and how we hold our hand from crushing China into dust. We will send you coordinates to send observers to provide video to you. Should you fail to recognize our power, then you are idiots.”


The visage looked around, “And we don’t suffer idiots.”


The screens blanked, and it was only a second before the men started talking angrily with each other.


QBS Defender


Captain Thomas sat in his chair and smiled. While he didn’t have nearly as nice a ship as the ArchAngel, he rather liked his little ship of destruction and his orders.


“Helm, take us down.”


“Aye, aye, sir.” Helmsman Conners called back, and the outside view changed as the ship came down through the atmosphere. It wasn’t as fast as the ArchAngel due to the lack of any aerodynamics. His ship was more built like a bunch of bricks stuck together, and if it hadn’t been for the gravitic efforts, it would fly as well as a brick too.


“Take us to the Kunlun Shan Mountains. It’s time to demonstrate the power of this fully-operational Puck Destroyer.”


The chuckling around the bridge kept going for a few seconds longer than the little quip probably deserved, but Captain Thomas wasn’t afraid to throw out a Star Wars quote when the time called for it.



Helicopter pilot Wong Hi and his team had been flying for forty-five minutes to arrive at the location provided him by his commanding officer. They had been told to be there and to wait.


What they were supposed to look for, he wasn’t sure. “You will know it when you see it,” they had been told.


How many times had that happened? The risk of not recognizing the important event and failing to record it for those above them was a stress Hi didn’t want or frankly need.


The photographer tapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to look only to have him point over his other shoulder, “Turn!”


Wong Hi turned the helicopter in that direction and then pulled back on the stick, “This is not right!” He spoke and tried to make sure his shaking hands didn’t affect the helicopter as they watched a large black ship of some sort pass ahead of them by just half a mile.


The ship’s passing was silent. They looked for engines on the back of the massive vessel, but there were none.


Too late, Hi thought to make sure someone was filming and was relieved when he saw Fai was running the camera. Hi turned the helicopter to follow the large ship.


It didn’t look like it was going too far.



The video monitors in the Committee’s bunker blinked and then were receiving the video signal from the helicopter. They caught the passing of the black ship.


The men all started questioning the video as this was not the first ship they had heard about. That ship had been a silver color.


It was then that the video jerked wildly as the helicopter spun around and backed up a little to videotape the second ship.


This one was much, much bigger.


The helicopter righted itself, and tried to catch up to the large spaceship, but it couldn’t. It finally stopped about a mile away from the black ship and waited. It only took thirty seconds before what looked like dust started dropping off of the black ship, then the dust went up into the air. The video zoomed in, and they could barely tell that the dust particles were small black objects of varying sizes. In a moment, the air was clear.


For fifteen seconds, nothing happened. Then, there was a huge explosion on the ground, and the helicopter changed position while the camera operator moved to the other side. Approximately two miles away, one of the smaller mountains out of a group of probably thirty peaks had just been smashed by something from above.


Then, the destruction began. The sounds were mind numbing as continual shock waves started rolling off of the area and the damage to the mountains continued. The dust was so bad, the helicopter pilot flew backward to stay out of the cloud.


The bombardment lasted maybe a minute and a half. The video caught the two ships, through the dark and murky sand clouds that the assault had created, rising up into the air to head high into the sky.


“Oh my God,” the men heard someone off camera say.


When the camera was turned back to the mountains, even through the heavily clouded air, you could just begin to discern where the mountains had been before. There was nothing left but rubble, stretching over many, many square kilometers.


They had reduced the mountains to ruins.












CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


TQB Base, Australian Outback


“Yuko?”


The soft voice kept calling her name, but she didn’t want to listen, she wanted to sleep. Finally, Yuko opened an eye to see what was going on.


And where she was.


The last few days had been a haze of effort, of mind-numbing trials and tribulations as she and ADAM’s team had finally cracked even the great firewall of China, causing them untold amount of distress. Tired as she was, she smiled at that thought.


“Yuko?”


Yuko moved her head on her pillow, feeling the ear pod that normally was in her ear was sandwiched between her neck and the pillow. She lifted her head to put it back in, realizing she was still wearing her clothes from yesterday, or this morning. Actually, she didn’t know what day it was.


“Yes?” She responded, stifling a yawn.


“It’s ADAM, Bethany Anne has suggested that you might want to come outside to see something.”


Yuko yawned again, “Ok, let me throw some water on my face.” She looked around for her toothpaste and hairbrush.


“You have eight minutes.”


“I’ll be there,” she slid out of bed and grabbed her toiletries.


Seven minutes later, she was one of the last to leave through the entrance. She was amazed at how many people had come outside. She noticed everyone looking in the sky behind her, so she turned around and started walking to her left to get a better view. She bumped into someone and stopped, embarrassed, and bowed, “My apologies.”


She looked to see who she might have offended to find Lance Reynolds was smiling down at her, “No worries, Yuko. I know how little sleep you and your team have had recently. Here,” he turned to his left, “Cheryl Lynn, can you make room for Yuko over there? She can’t see well here.”


Yuko walked in a daze as the top of Bethany Anne’s group made room for her like she was a family member about to see a parade down the main street of her town.


“Hello, I’m Tina,” a teenage girl held out her hand.


Yuko bowed and then took it, “Yuko.”


“Are you excited to see it, too?” Tina asked her


Yuko turned while standing next to Tina, “See what? I’m sorry, I just woke up, and I don’t know what is going on.”


Tina covered her eyes, “Only the most incredible sight anyone is going to get a chance to see if they are lucky!” Tina chattered, “Plus, we get to go on her, right mom?” The teenage girl bent forward to speak around Yuko.


Next to Yuko, Cheryl Lynn answered, “Yes dear, I’m sure Marcus will be excited to have you on board!”


Marcus? Yuko turned back to the young girl, “You know Marcus?”


“Yes, I used to go on field trips to outer space with him, but he had to work on this project, so we have only been able to video chat at times while I keep up my studies. The first time we did the field trip though, we got in trouble.”


“Field trip to outer space?” Yuko was trying to grasp the concepts as her mind was screaming for some tea, or even the nasty coffee those here at the base would often drink.


The two stopped chatting when someone starting counting down from ten. Yuko put her hand up to her eyes to cut a little glare from the sun as well.


About two seconds after they got to zero, the reason for them being out there became clear. Yuko’s mouth dropped open as she heard a few whoops and hollers.


The ArchAngel was coming out of the clouds, and she was majestic! Yuko stared at the massive spaceship as it kept getting bigger, and bigger and felt proud to be a part of this group, this family.


A tear made its way down her face.


Her adopted family.


China


The Chairman looked around the table, “What other options do we have?”


None spoke.


“Then we will sue for peace. Unconditionally and we will pay the reparations they have demanded.” He turned in his chair, “Do we know how they hacked the firewall?” He received a shake of an advisor’s head, “Can we make that a condition in the negotiation?”


“Sir,” the Marshal of the PRC interrupted, “Bethany Anne was quite explicit. For every condition we tried to add to the request, she would destroy one more base. I would rather not lose any more infrastructure. We will be rebuilding for months, as it is. We have lost now over eighty planes trying to attack the black ship. They even holed three of our new ships that are in dry-dock. Those ships are going to take an additional three months to rebuild. Every time we do something that pisses her off, we suffer. It is time to admit we have been defeated.” The Marshal paused for a moment, “For now, but the Chinese people have a long memory, and we know how to plan for a generation from now. This isn’t the last time we will clash with TQB. We just need to be patient, like we always have been.”


The Chairman pressed his lips together, but his Marshall’s advice was correct.


The Chinese have patience and long memories. They would figure out a way to wipe this stain on their honor.




Airfield in CHINA


General Sun Zedong was in chains. He had been commanded to fly from the base he was at, to another for protective reasons.


He had not left quickly enough to get away from the repercussions. Now, they had landed for refueling and had taxied into this small hanger. Once they were finished here, he would then be taken to the PLA headquarters to stand trial. He had played the great game, and he had been defeated. While he had connections, these connections would not be enough to protect him from the Committee’s anger.


He had lost.


He was staring out of the window on the small ten-seater plane when he noticed the pilot up front take off his headset in disgust and lay it to the side. He unbuckled his harness and lifted himself out of his chair. Unlike a lot of planes, this military one didn’t have a large separation or wall blocking those in the back from the pilot in the front.


His plane didn’t even rate a co-pilot. He had three guards, the pilot and one other, a female, that kept her face hidden. The female and the guards had left when they landed to stretch their legs for a moment. He wasn’t sure how long ago that was, he had zoned out and ignored what was going on around him.


The pilot stepped down the ladder and left the plane. Zedong heard a short grunt, and then a body hitting the ground.


Zedong looked around, there were no others on the plane with him. He was about to stand up, chains and all, when a body darkened the door, and the female with the hat got back on the plane, only to be followed by another female.


This one was dressed in dark green with a gold filigree of a leopard on her right sleeve.


The second woman, very attractive, sat down on a seat across from him. Zedong noticed another man entered the plane, closed the door and went up front and sat down in the pilot’s chair.


“General Sun Zedong,” The woman across from him spoke, her voice was pleasant, if a little cold, he thought. He bowed slightly, smiling sardonically as he lifted the chains that held his hands. “We will get to those in a moment,” she told him. The plane’s engines spluttered to life and in a few moments, the pilot was receiving information and the plane was heading out of the hanger to taxi towards another runway.


“You are only useful to the Committee as a scapegoat, do you recognize this?” She asked him and Sun nodded his head.


“We are not going to Beijing?” he asked her.


“Only if you wish to stand trial. We can, of course, still make this happen.” He shook his head, knowing that way lay only to a quick and painful death.


“Then General, I have a use for your talents and your connections.” She leaned back in her chair, a small smile on her face.


“Who are you?” he asked.


“My name is Stephanie Lee, and I am the Leopard Empress.” She told him as her eyes glowed yellow.












CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


Two Weeks Later - QBS ArchAngel holding by Space Station One


“If you tell me,” Ecaterina grated out, “One more time to push harder Nathan, I will grow claws and rip off your damned manhood!” The pain was not pleasant, whether she was healing quickly or not and Ecaterina was in a foul mood.


“Just think about it this way,” Nathan said, holding her hand as the doctor and nurse worked to deliver the baby, “Your mom refused to come into space, so she isn’t here!”


Ecaterina rolled her eyes before the doctor told her to push hard, one more time.


She yelled as she pushed for all she was worth and was rewarded with the cries of her baby a moment later. Ecaterina’s eyes teared up when the sweet, sweet sound of her baby reached her. She held Nathan’s hand, squeezing it in love where moments before she would have gladly ripped his arm out of its socket.


Her pain forgotten, she looked up lovingly into Nathan’s beautiful eyes. The doctor finished with the child, handing it to the nurse who carried the small, warm bundle to the waiting arms of the baby’s mother. There was one other in the room, watching, but standing back so she wouldn’t interfere. She was now a godmother, of sorts. Two of the people she loved the most were welcoming their first child into the universe, from the middle of space.


The first human birth in space, as far as she knew.


She watched as Nathan leaned over and kissed his baby on the forehead and then kissed his wife. Ecaterina called out, “Bethany Anne?”


Bethany Anne smiled and took the few steps to come up to the two of them. Ecaterina lifted the little girl up and Bethany Anne, surprised, reached out to hold the newborn, her own heart beating as one with the baby. “We would like to present to you, Christina Bethany Anne Lowell, our first child.”


The two parents hugged each other as they watched the tears flow down Bethany Anne’s face. Their hearing was more than sensitive enough to hear her whisper into their daughter’s ear, “I love you, Christina, and I’ll be here for you whenever you ask.” There was a pause before she finished, “And I will make sure you understand that Coke is worlds better than Pepsi.”


Nathan chuckled until his wife slugged him hard in his stomach. When the parents noticed Bethany Anne watching them, she winked.



The baby shower for Christina Lowell was a week later, and almost everyone was in attendance that could be. Only Lance and Frank were back in Australia. Bethany Anne and her people had kept a low profile, staying out of the news as best they could while things settled down. There was enough video footage for the world to know something had happened, but unless the Chinese Government chose to release footage of the ArchAngel, no one had a solid video of her ship, at least yet.


It would come. She knew that and Bethany Anne was ready for that to occur. However, the President had asked her to speak with other country heads regarding the Cabal, and she would try to hold on to the secret of her ship for the few days necessary to get past that meeting.


Then, she would reveal it and let the dice roll as they may.


“How are you doing, boss?” John Grimes stepped up to her side. Bethany Anne smiled at him and Jean Dukes, who happened to be speaking with him at that moment. Bethany Anne wanted to roll her eyes in frustration at the two of them. They just needed to get past this annoying dance of…


“John, Jean, how are you?” she asked the two of them.


“Good, thank you,” Jean answered, “I have to say, it felt good to fire off those big guns on the Polarus. At least our efforts to build them didn’t go to waste.”


Bethany Anne nodded and added, “No, they didn’t. However, if Max had allowed another scratch on my ships or had endangered the people just to make that happen, he and I would have had words.”


“I know,” Jean admitted, “That’s one of the reasons we follow Captains, and leaders, ma’am. There was a small risk, but the reward was great. We have a few in the Chinese Navy that will remember, and they will gain in ranks and one day, it will come back as a benefit, I believe.”


Bethany Anne nodded her head, accepting Jean’s opinion on the subject. Who knew, maybe she would be right and in the future, Bethany Anne would have to give Max an apology for jumping his ass.


Bethany Anne put a finger up and looked above their heads for a second.  John figured she was listening to TOM or ADAM. “You two, come with me,” she said and started walking quickly out of the room.


Stephen?


Yes, my Queen?


Keep everyone else in here, I just need these two for an hour, or so.


I understand.


When the three of them exited the large room where the party was being held, Bethany Anne grabbed their arms and stepped through the Etheric to her landing room near the Pod Bay, leaving Jean’s eyes popping out of her face. Bethany Anne walked to the door and opened it, “Come on, we need to jump in a Pod. Let’s go, people, chop chop!”


John allowed Jean to go ahead of him and noticed Bethany Anne’s eyes had just a little red to them. She called out, “Bay Engineer!”


“Ma’am!” One of the men came running over, “Which Pod is ready to go, full load out?” He turned and pointed to three off to the side, “Those three right there, ma’am. Complete load out, both space and ground.”


Bethany Anne turned towards the three and told TOM to open the doors on the first one, “In here you two,” Jean started to get in while John hesitated a second, “John! I don’t have all damned day; I’ll give you an update on the way.”


John nodded his head and turned around, sitting next to Jean and started buckling in quickly. Bethany Anne closed the door and nodded to the Bay Engineer with one finger up. He requested clearance from ArchAngel for one Pod to be released.


The Pod started moving out as Bethany Anne smirked, I promised I would get even with you, Mr. Grimes.


She continued smiling as she started walking back towards the party, desiring a moment to herself.


ADAM, patch me through to the Pod.


>>Done.<<


“John, Jean, this is your Queen speaking. I have decided that you two need to grow a pair and admit how you feel about each other. ADAM will be listening to figure out if you are honest.” Bethany Anne smiled, imagining the howling in anger the two must be having right then over her chicanery. “The Pod has supplies to last a week. However, it also has a private beach location plugged in that would allow you a little time should you so choose. Be safe.”


Bethany Anne walked back towards the baby shower, her steps a little lighter.



Jean’s face lost all color as she heard Bethany Anne’s voice come through the speaker system. She heard Bethany Anne say that John might have feelings for her, but now she was stuck. Was she going to be one of those women who spoke a big game, but failed to play?


“Jean,” John turned towards her, “I’m sure Bethany Anne means well, but you don’t have to say a word. Just because I like you, doesn’t mean…mmgphff,” John heard Jean struggling to release her harness straps as her lips crushed his. He was pulled tight against his straps by her grabbing him and trying to pull him close.


She finally unbuckled the last strap, stopped kissing him and damned near crawled to get closer to the man who looked like he had just been shocked out of his socks.


“John Grimes,” she looked into his eyes, waited a momemt and then slapped him lightly, “Focus!” He smiled and put his arms around her as she snuggled in as close as she could. “John Grimes, I’ve got but one heart to give, and I’m willing and want to give it to you, but let me be clear,” she put her head against his chest, hearing his heart beating quickly. “If you hurt it, I’ll rip your dick off.” She reached around his massive chest and pulled him in tight.


She owed her Queen, and some day she would pay her back.


Five minutes later, Bethany Anne confirmed with TOM that the Pod was going down towards Earth.



Ten o’clock that evening, according to ship’s time, Marcus was working in his office on the ArchAngel, when an annoying continuous beep got his attention. “What the hell is the problem,” he groused as he turned first one way, then the other to find the source of the noise.


He stood up and worked his way around a tall group of shelves into the second area of his office and noticed one of the monitors brought up from the Colorado base was squealing.


It was one of the monitors that was tasked to look for ships that might enter their system. It wasn’t showing anything at the moment, but the alarms had been tripped.


“Oh…fuckity fuck,” he murmured. They had visitors.






finis

Michael’s Notes (SUED FOR PEACE - The Kurtherian Gambit 11):  Written July 27th, 2016


Thank you, I cannot express my appreciation enough that not only did you pick up the ELEVENTH book, but you read it all the way to the end, and NOW, you're reading this as well.


I’m writing these author notes four weeks and one day after the last release.


So, thank GOD Stephen Russell is kinda mostly back.  He has made enough of a recovery to go home.  For a short while, he had to be in a form of not-in-the-hospital-but-still-needed-to-recuperate location that was driving him fingsane. (Yes, I totally copped a new word (that is a new word, right?)).


While he is pushing through challenges due to his hospital and surgery and recuperation, he’s a bad-ass-mother-fucker-who-won’t-take-bad-prose-from-any-one…


Well, actually, he really helped take the load off and allowed me to get this book out this month, instead of early next month.  So, THANK YOU STEPHEN! (And the rest of the team that probably appreciated Stephen working the editing side and not me…Cause…impatient!


That should be my middle name…Michael “Impatient” Anderle.


I wrote up on Facebook I was Words Complete on Tuesday morning (yesterday)… or afternoon.  One of them.  I think I mentioned last night we would be out in 72 hours.  Then, a fan in Australia asked if that was true for them, as well.


HAH!  I figured out I shouldn’t SAY a day (It will be out on Friday).  Why? Because those fans in Australia and England brag about how they are IN the future, while we here in Texas are just catching up to their speedy @5535.  So, I would hit my day here in Texas, but it was already 1/2 into TOMORROW in Australia.


So, my response was to ask if now+72 hours was the same here in Texas as it is there, because, shenanigans if it isn’t.


Shenanigans, I love that word.  It rolls off the tounge and is just the coolest.


Ahhhh, so now we got to some cool stuff going on in this book.  China receives a (Queen) bitch slapping, those pesky other Kurtherians are up to something, the ArchAngel makes an appearance (ought to be fun to see how the world reacts to that beast in the next book) and we have whatever Marcus found tripping his monitors.


Oh, plus John and Jean, the Calendar (which didn’t get done yet, poor Mark Koeff) and the ‘other’ calander.


Speaking of Mark Koeff, I want to sincerely thank the man because he is real, his professional name he goes by is Mark Jordan, and he totally gave me so much great information to make that snippet of the book real.


Because it was…real I mean.  Here is a little background on him http://markjordanphoto.com/about-mark-jordan-photography/.  By the way, those people I mentioned he had met in the last book?  Yes, he has met them and so many, many more.  I first became friends with Mark while I lived in Southern California where he and his wife live. I’ve been to his house once - That Mac is really there and his backyard is really small compared to the large lots here in Texas.  So, the Pod scene is accurate. For Orange County where each foot of ground is at a premium, it is nice sized.


He is the most calm man I think I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with in the last ten years.  So Zen, I love chatting with him.


I emailed him at the beginning of this book and told him I needed a photographer character again, would it be ok if I used him?  Oh…Since that was ok, would he mind giving me some ideas of what he might say if he was talking to a group of four big huge beefy guards? LOL


Most of that chapter is exactly what Mark would say, because he sent it to me.


Fastest thousand words I’ve ever written.


NEXT: Update on the Military Kindle efforts.  First, good news!  I’ve finally figured out how to freaking get it to the person (at least from here anyway).  There was (on my side) some major concern due to what I read online related to sending Kindles.  When I went up (after emailing everybody, checking out mulitple options etc. etc… It was a non-issue.   No only that, it cost like $11.00 to send it.


USPS - I think I Love You (and the agent who helped me - You were the best!)


I wonder if she will ever figure out that the strange author guy sending something to an APO address was kinda famous.  If you count about 10,000 people across the world as famous.  So, yeah.  Not so famous after all ;-)


The email side HELPED the Indie Authors amazingly well.  One second while I go look at the loot…I mean, the income generated from our efforts to make this self-sustaining.


The (carry the four, add the two…That’s in currency, Mike…)  The total for the Email efforts AND the Snippet Effort (basically, all the damn effort) is $352.82 for this month as of the moment I am writing this.


WOOHOO!


The highest day (income) for the first email release was July 7th with $26.80, the lowest was  July 14th with $1.48.  The highest day of the month was July 15th with $34.17.


So, all told, the expenses for two Kindles (I bought one on the summer sale) was about $400.00, email, raffle copter etc. etc. probably puts that up to a little over $500.00.


The email list size for the Kindles for Military just crossed 200 a couple of days ago, and that is without any major advertising expense, yet.  I used my personal email list for the first sending, but I told everyone on that list I’d only do it once.


Dammit! <grin>


It’s ok.  It’s a cool thing we are doing and however long it takes to grow, it takes that long.


BUT, I do need more Military names for people to send Kindles to, just saying.


You can nomiate someone (give me your name, and then I’ll contact you for their Address information if Rafflecopter picks you). ALL of the necessary information is at this link on my website:


http://kurtherianbooks.com/readers-supporting-military-book-newsletter/


Also, if you want to know more about it, just read the link above, or the story is in the Author Notes from the last book.


NEXT: Audio…


So, I’ve been approached by two Audio companies for rights to the books.  Both are super companies and pretty big names.  The problem, at least from a publishers perspective (mine in this case) is that they tie up the audio rights for 5 to 7 YEARS and the income exchange is … smaller.


Because of my fans, and the fact you READ so many of the books, there is a healthy income for me to do this.  (I think I’ve gone through this math, right?)  Anyway, good audio is going to cost something like $3,000 - $3,500 a book…21 books and we are talking $63,000 to $73,500 to produce the series.


That’s a bit much to chew on.  But POSSIBLE. (Well, over time, I’m pretty sure American Express would have alarms going off if I tried to charge that bad boy).


I have one other option I’m tracking down in the next two weeks before I have to decide where and how to go.


I’ve no idea how many of my readers, are audio listeners as well.  Someone should probably put up an Amazon Forum thread on that. I figure (guessing) one audio book makes about $5 a sale, so it would take about 700-800 sales before you get a return on the investment?  If the $5.00 number is right.


NEXT: Can I say how much this scene cracked me up?


She stepped off the roof of the building while keeping Hirotoshi’s gaze, then disappeared.


Ryu looked to Hirotoshi, “Did she forget we are three stories up?”


From below, the two men heard Tabitha cussing, “Motherfuckingcocklickingassmunchingshhhit!”


A pause, then, “I swear to god I’m fucking someone up tonight.”  And her soft padded feet running down the alley.


I still smile reading it.  Tabitha has really become a fun character with her kinda ‘out there’ personality.  Hirotoshi and Ryu, as her two bookends to help her out of the shit she gets into, are complimentary characters with her.


NEXT: Did you catch the Alexandra reference?


Just asking.


NEXT: Another comment about “the F*BOMB” was on the Author Forums on Amazon.


So, I was eating or something that wouldn’t allow me to type, and I was reading the Amazon Author Forum.  There, an author was ranting about how he wouldn’t read a book once he got to the first ‘F*Bomb’ in the book.  That writers that used that language were lazy.  Etc. etc. etc.


So, here was my response … 8 uses of the unholy word in the space of what, 3 inches of text?  Honestly, I was thinking of Abbot and Costello when I wrote this… THIRD BASE!


“Shit, it’s dark, we can turn on the light, right?” George asked.


“There aren’t any windows in here, sure.” José whispered.


“Fuck,” whispered a voice.


“Fuck what?” George asked.


“What fuck?” José replied, “I didn’t say fuck.” 


“The fuck you didn’t say fuck, I heard you say fuck!” George hissed to his friend, “Where the hell is the light switch.”


“Here, let me get it for you.” A voice George didn’t recognize spoke in the dark.


“What the FUCK!” he yelled as the lights came on and a person dressed in black …


HAHAHAHAHHAA……  So… Guess that is my response to Mr. “Authors who use Fuck are lazy” ;-).    Not that he will have read into my series at all. We have to have what…Hundreds of uses of the word by now?  Kat Lind has a document that counts the number of times words are used in a book.  She tells me the ‘F* Bomb’ was over 300 times for books 1-5.


F*!  That’s a lot of times… <—  Snicker!


NEXT: So, I did the following for an Anthology I’m going to be in (with the Tabitha short).  I was supposed to dream up questions and answer them…So, you know those questions and answers that are done at the end of The Actors Studio?


Here they are and SEE YOU NEXT BOOK!


1. What is your favorite word?

Believe – It is opportunistic, hopeful, energizing.


2. What is your least favorite word?

Loser – it is a label, it judges a person’s actions and abilities all in one.


3. What turns you on?

Creativity - My personality thrives on creating ideas.  They don’t have to be workable, we will get to those later.


4. What turns you off?

Details – The molasses of life.


5. What sound or noise do you love?

The sound of rain drops on a tin roof while the cool winds of winter encourage me to stay in bed… and read!


6. What sound or noise do you hate?

Pain – Whether from voice or the crash of cars nothing good is happening.


7. What is your favorite curse word?

Fuck – Noun, verb, adjective…Such a Renaissance type of word.


8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Special Effects creator.


9. What profession would you not like to do?

Accountant – Details!


10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

Hey, I was that person on the side of the street you helped out.  Well done, well done indeed.







BECAUSE I CAN


It’s almost time to do something different again…because I can ;-)


First, I put out a call to see if anyone wanted to do a shout-out in SUED FOR PEACE on Facebook.


One reader reached out and messaged me, telling me about how her father (a big reader) wouldn’t read The Kurtherian Gambit because he is a Sci-Fi guy, and… Well, you probably will get the idea below.


***


Filthy Phil - You have a daughter willing to get your NAME in the back of a book that will go top 1,000 on Amazon… Perhaps if you would maybe read just HALF WAY into the first book, you … might… be surprised to learn there is a spaceship!  An … ALIEN… spaceship in the story and then you will figure out my devious plan (*chuckle* sorry, I wish I was devious enough to have figured all of this out beforehand…but, bear with me a few more sentences while I spin more bullshit…)  Where was I?  Oh yeah, my DEVIOUS plan to suck Paranormal fans into a series of books with them thinking VAMPIRES…Only to learn it is ACTUALLY a science-fiction series with aliens genetically modifying humans to help them fight a war that is coming.

Then…(actually, this part is true) Paranormal fans who would never purchase sci-fi are enjoying themselves.  Even though, in the end (at least in the comments on the reviews), they promise me they will NEVER read any other sci-fi books…Period.

So, the Universe seeks equilibriam … Are you MAN enough to read VAMPIRE “SHIT” (his words people, not mine) so that we have peace and harmony (as much as we can get any) on Earth?


Take the Kurtherian Gambit Challenge

WE ALL DARE YOU FILTHY PHIL!




Hope that helps, Jessica - Michael Anderle


***


Now, the last, last thing… Awww, C’Mon Folks!  You KNOW I do stuff like this! LOL, so don’t be thinking “He is not about to put all of our song suggestions for the Queen Bitch in the back of his book!”


Oh yes I Am.


I asked on the Forums (Amazon) what songs would YOU pick out for the Queen’s Bitches Play List…Here we go…


Marty Markins says:


We are the Champions - Queen


Frankie G. says:


Taking a pod into space: Magic Carpet ride https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4WiyxXpyZc


Andy W says:


Crüxshadows - Winterborn - http://youtu.be/SVNjx4k8mWk


Heather Alexander - Black Unicorn - https://youtu.be/1sCjFCflQXY


The first Guardian team from the EPC gets Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London


The team of amateurs from outside the Colorado base working on their orbital construction teams get Jimmy Buffet's Desdemona's Building a Rocket Ship.


Jeff Morris says:


The Warrior Song (all four) - Warrior Project  (LISTENED TO THIS THROUGH THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK! - Michael Anderle)

It's A Good Day To Die - Starship Troopers 3

Through The Fire and The Flames - DragonForce

Heart of a Dragon - DragonForce

Where There's A Whip, There's A Way - Return of The King Soundtrack

Winterborn - Cruxshadows

Holding Out For A Hero - Bonnie Tyler

We Are Soldiers - Otherwise

American Soldier - Toby Keith

Don't Fear The Reaper - Blue Oyster Cult

Don't Pay The Ferryman - Chris de Burgh

Citadel - Cruxshadows

Return (coming home) - Cruxshadows

March of Cambreath - Heather Alexander

The Last Spartan - Halo soundtrack

Mjolnir Mix - Halo soundtrack

Another One Bites The Dust -Queen

Envoy - Warren Zevon

Klendathu Drop - Starship Troopers


Desiree' R says:


Avenged Sevenfold -Nightmare

10 Years-Shoot it Out

Deuce-America

Slipknot-The Devil in I

Bring me the Horizon-Go to Help for Heavens Sake

Five Finger Death Punch-Wrong Side of Heaven

Saliva-Click Click Boom




Charles S. says:


Conflict - Disturbed (For when she goes to take care of the Kurtherians, there minions and the idiots in China)




Edward says:


Pretty much any Two Steps from Hell - Archangel, Everlasting, Immortal Avenger, Titan Dune... most of theirs work if you want that sweeping heavy orchestral tone : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dJ-QLl5qjLg&list=RDdJ-QLl5qjLg


Cruxshadows have had plenty of suggestions already.


Hmm, actually one I could half see is that slight twist of music. Gregorian's cover versions of a few rock type tunes. The whole Gregorian chant twist say for Four Horsemen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nu6RE0FJmPA


Not an aggressive, battle song.. but Kansas City Shuffle has that fun politics, mastermind, groove going https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxF5bfVofkk for when you have to Machiavellian the schemes out...


Heh, to go back a bit, slicing from the old BtVS soundtracks, Four Star Mary - Pain : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTtH0MVjcX0


And at some point, someone needs to play the Imperial March when Bethany Anne turns up for something. ;)


Edit: For that last minute thought... go half of the tunes from the Lost Boys soundtrack ; INXS - Good Times and Laying Down the Law, Gerard McMann - Cry Little Sister, Echo & the Bunnymen - People are Strange...




Mr Robert McMurray says:


got to slayer payback fits quiet well if listen to the words of the song




Kindle Customer says:


For Barnabas: Loreena McKennitt, Skellig


Horrid says:


Sweet - Ballroom Blitz

CCR - Bad Moon Rising

Rolling Stones - Paint It Black


dstars2797 says:


Indestructible by Disturbed. I Remeber Everything by Five Finger Death Punch. Well just about anything by them. Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. Unraveling by Avenged Sevenfold. I like the heavy metal stuff.




Jared Dupuis says:


Somethin' Bad Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. When BA goes to visit a troublemaker :)




J. R. Balzer Jr. says:


Black Veil Brides - In The End

....sums things up I think :)


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0EQlIzPowM




Paul C. Middleton says:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sXoA7B5yJo

Freak like me Halestorm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m4vGYhW6hg

Cernunnos, Faith and the muse

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx0xVWxwojM

Warriors, Papa Roach

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2OD-dV7j_I

Ms Hyde , Halestorm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3rjBs_mIC8

You call me a Bitch like it's a bad thing

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hkmuTvkp_s

I am the Fire, Halestorm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrVMzDw7ncs

MAyhem, Halestorm

Most of my other ideas are already here.




arik h says:


A C&W song for BA? The Man Comes around by Johnny Cash. Definitely not a country music fan, but you dont have to be to know and love Cash. As for other music for a BA and company playlist, Id tend to select from the heavier end of the heavy metal genre... mostly anyway. I do listen to more relaxed stuff too, it just doesnt seem to fit for a kick @ss and take names sort of playlist.


Bolt Thrower - No Guts No Glory

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxU0C8XoLns


Bolt Thrower - The Killchain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wRTxBhqNuY


Amon Amarth - Death In Fire

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVvRLwmm2Tg


Six Feet Under - Lycanthropy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8t7NrMu0Wg


Cattle Decapitation - Manufactured Extinct

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8t8g8lU4ms


Cadaveria - Carnival of Doom

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsQdXV4fKuM


Bauhaus - Bela Lugosis Dead

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKRJfIPiJGY


Or my preferred cover of it


Opera IX - Bela Lugosis Dead

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVbxH5jo05A


Sodom - M16

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wsfm67VE32Y


Kreator - Voices of the Dead

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMCLXZJc8Uk


Just a few off the top of my head that fit a theme lyrically. I could list hundreds of songs easy that just sound right or have fitting lyrics.




Marty Markins says:


Highway to Hell and If You Want Blood. AC/DC




JMC says:


A few more suggestions:


Paint it Black (Rolling Stones) - I agree with Horrid

House of the Rising Sun (The Animals)

We Are Young (fun - Some Nights)

Ride of the Valkyries (Wagner) - depending on how much they like Apocalypse Now...


For Bethany Anne when thinking of retribution while considering the Earth from a pod in orbit...

Dies Irae (Mozart Requiem Mass) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX-I_2WnURA  & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dies_Irae

Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley - Grace)

Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World (Israel Kamakawiwo'ole - Facing Future)




Edward C. Wilson says:


'Bodies' by Drowning Pool


ANYTHING by Two Steps From Hell.




That would be me says:


Nickleback: how you remind me https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cQh1ccqu8M  (might need to change a few male to female lyrics)


Three days grace: Pain https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ud4HuAzHEUc  (my fave, it really fits I think) seriously I can see BA grabbing a CEO and this playing.




Kindle Customer says:


Black velvet




Peter Simonsson says:


Iron Maiden -Run to the hills - https://youtu.be/3ZlDZPYzfm4

Within Temptation - What have you done - https://youtu.be/_aYivBntOC4

Nightwish - Over the hills and far away - https://youtu.be/CwED4C5FJuo




Ethan says:


I don't know why but I can see them messing with someone and playing the Little Einsteins theme song

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eL1Bfv8Y9k




Amazon Customer says:


3rd Stage - Boston

Let's Get Rocked Def Leppard






SEE EVERYONE IN A MONTH (or so) ;-)


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