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Chapter 26 Demon of Dissent 3/3

"10:00! 2:00!" Beelz pinpointed tangos beyond the walls.

Meanwhile, Jessica kept hers and David's heads down. Bolts of light scattered the interior in an exchange of dense fire that carved a storm. Operatives and Azareans fired, fell, and fired again. During one keen instant, a grenade explosion interrupted the spray, and a holographic shield flew overhead with the arm still attached.

Then it stopped, and in the reprieve, Beelz scanned the floor for casualties. When the dust finally cleared and the wind once again howled, several operatives lay dead.

"Where am I?" David mumbled. Apparently, the chaos had revived his awareness... and fear. The same applied to the rest of the waking—now excited—prisoners.

Alert, Jessica trudged across the room, where she found Shannon and Valerie together. "You guys all right?"

"I am a little bit," Valerie coughed.

Shannon remained flat on the floor. "I need to go to the bathroom."

Breathing a dear sigh of relief, Jessica stood up and sauntered toward the smoke and decay. She found David sitting upright, looking sober and unscathed but dazed.

"Are youalright?" she asked him.

"I don't know." His squinting eyes careened until they fixed on her face. "You're the Tacquizza girl," he slurred. "There are no deliveries here..."

"There's not going to be much of 'here' left."

Outside the gaping hole in the wall, a charred and battered airship rose into view. Quickly, every man and woman who could still lift a gun brought their weapons to bear, until Raptor poked his head outside the cabin. In the Lieutenant's worn expression, willpower remained, and he invited anyone who could see him.

It was time to leave.

Valerie, Shannon, and the Sub Terra survivors escorted Goliath's prisoners to the edge of the tower's new exit. Raptor resided in the first of two airships off which he leaped to help others safely step aboard. The first ship would depart with a cabin full of wondrous and forlorn faces. The second took the place of the first, its pilot delicately balancing its hull over the tower's edge. During that interval in which grateful strangers rambled inward, Jessica watched David carefully.

"I think it's time you quit your job," she told him, offering a hand.

"Wait!" he remonstrated. "This is Goliath, right? Just—."

"We'll make room for you if we have to, David," Beelz said.

David grabbed Beelz by the shoulders. "You're here for something else," he panted. "Sixteen years, I've hung my cap in the enemy's locker. Whatever comes next, with my knowledge of Goliath's global network, I know we can make it count. And I can..." David flinched over his shoulder, saw Jessica, then returned his pallid expression to Beelz and whispered something in the woman's ear.

Right then, Beelz closed her eyes and nodded somberly.

When David turned around, the express resolve in his eyes reminded Jessica of the last thing she needed to address. It started with Beelz, to whom she solemnly said, "I guess you'll be staying until the next airship comes?"

"If," Beelz emphasized. "You don't have to think about that anymore."

The tower ledge brought horizon beyond New Sumer, dark as it may have been. Against the peak breeze, past the capsules and to the airship, Jessica paused where Valerie and Shannon were waiting. Raptor waited beside them, and despite fatigue in his eyes and cuts on his stubbled face, determination still accompanied his parting words.

"There's room for a few more!" He nodded to the cabin, at the huddled group of scared individuals. Some were middle-aged, others were very young, and one... one was Azarean.

What's the common denominator?

Raptor continued half-heartedly, bending his brow. "In case you didn't realize, you've done more than enough today!"

"You and everyone else! I think we have what we need!" She turned to her friends, grinning ear to ear. "Tell me you're ready to leave this place!"

"We have to go!" the piloted rushed.

"I'm ready when you are!" said Shannon. "Whenever. Wherever."

"Of course, you are!" Jessica laughed.

"Jess,areyouready?" Val prodded. "This was your plan, remember?"

"I know!"

"Whoever's going, get going!" Raptor exclaimed.

Jessica stepped onto the airship, followed by Shannon then Valerie.

With everyone on board, Raptor punched the side of the cockpit. Jessica counted the seconds and, gravitating from the ledge, regret, sorrow, and a sense of failure punctured the peace in her heart. Like a virus, they infected her thoughts.

"Take off your boots before there's an accident," she told her friends, then kneeled. Valerie and Shannon carefully removed each pair of prototypes.

"I'm afraid of heights, anyway," said Shannon.

"Me too." Jessica grabbed their slippers... then leaped from the ship's cabin. To her friends' horror, she fell toward the cavity, back to the top levels of Goliath Headquarters. That last second left insurmountable distance between herself and the airship. Over her shoulder, she imagined Shannon and Valerie's distraught faces carried away from danger. "I'm not done yet."

Her friends' voices screamed through the comms.

"What are you doing?" cried Valerie.

"It was the only way to keep you alive."

Shannon's voice cleaved into her ear. "That's not fucken fair!"

"Probably not."

"You don't have to do this!"

"No, I don't."

"Jess..."

She removed the earbud. Beelz, Raptor, David, and the remaining rebels spoke to her with the white of their eyes, and she nearly swore she saw admiration. At that moment, another ship's beak rose over the ledge.

Turning with the wind, the metal bird revealed Monarch onboard. Milliseconds later, Jessica realized something was wrong. Because he stood on the edge, alone, with terror-stricken eyes.

"Complete the missio" A blade impaled monarch's chest, bending his expression to anguish. The blade's edge then retracted, leaving the commander to fall, hand over his heart.

Behind him stood Malvis, gnashing teeth with a devil's leer and facial scars. The mere sight of the alien choked Jessica's reaction, but Beelz reacted swiftly and accordingly.

"Blow it to hell!"

Every man or woman with a gun opened fire, Malvis' shield glaring from its repulsion. He stood upright in the face of the heavy barrage; red dead defiance smeared on his face.

"Eve!" Monarch screeched. He was still clutching the bottom of the airship. The man simply refused to die.

Malvis seemed none-the-wiser as he drew and rapidly fired his pistol, sniping multiple operatives in the blink of an eye.

Frantically, Beelz bit the safety pin off a grenade and lugged it at the cabin, but Malvis and his quick reflexes smacked it below. Monarch intercepted, clinging to the deck with one arm. He offered the grenade under a meek smile, letting Malvis grimace before the two sides of his face ignited.

The blast demolished the airship and sent it into a seemingly endless spiral down to the city streets. From up so high, it was an abyss.

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Chapter 26 Demon of Dissent 2/3

With cat eyes, Jessica watched as they attached explosives to every support beam. The LEDs blinked from green to red.

Beelz and her men repeated the action on the next floor, which housed a grandiose lounge in front of a glossy white conference room. Every corner was home to an animated plant: a swirling stem whose sleeping petals housed blue bioluminescence; a cactus-like curiosity came with razor-sharp, pink leaves; a white vine stem sprouted dancing dandelions; fungi with glowing green caps that extended over one another like a lava lamp. They were the kinds of off-world wonders Jessica wished would decorate her room, but she had to abandon curiosity long enough to note the gigantic pillars around the conference table – They almost blended into their surroundings yet seemed oddly redundant.

Without a wasted beat, Beelz's crew set more explosives and returned to the stairs en route to floor 85. During their upward trudge, Monarch's anxious and heavy breath returned.

"Sub Terra, listen to me! Our Azarean friends have a new gunship. Don't expect this operation to last much longer!"

Sure enough, the view from up high gave an overlook of Monarch's forewarning. Jessica planted goggles on the horizon, utilizing night vision to see a massive craft flying far beyond the limits of the cracked window. Bigger than the rest, its large wingspan carried the promise of catastrophe.

Thus, despite every fascination, she couldn't afford to study Goliath's outer mysteries. One glance teased a myriad of secrets: glass around refrigerated canisters, vials with the image of a T-Rex; just the tip of an iceberg since there was also a robotic arm stuffed in its own cylinder, then a transparent orb holding sentient black goo. From green-glowing meteorite rock to an entire showroom for an antiquated car. Secrets. None of it made sense, and the strange pillars from the last floor erected up to this floor and into the ceiling. Level 86 presented something else entirely.

86 immersed one in its likeness to an alien realm. Dimly lit by slithering trails of neon along black walls, it had an antechamber with magnificent doors leading left and right. Cautiously, Beelz approached the right before it slid open in four directions. The next room was no different.

Jessica finally understood the purpose of the redundant pillars. Up here, they had shed their white shells in lieu of black spires spangled with a mysterious, luminous energy that flowered into the ceiling. Whatever circuits powered these alien generators powered the current room and whatever else waited above. Still, something stranger landed in front of her.

Curiosity lived in the strange containers littering 86's four rooms. Curiosity resided in their size. Capsules were scattered across the floor, each with a cable from a wired network that circulated and linked back to the room's epicenter. Valerie and Shannon gaped at the sight, so Jessica knew she wasn't the only one unsettled. Even Beelz seemed docile, standing in the midst of the charcoal caskets. Her green eyes, their temporary absence, and silence betrayed rumination.

Done contemplating, Beelz wandered further inside. Part of Jessica even hoped she would leave because, when no one was looking, she logged into the central terminal. The next process required a bit of guesswork, but she had developed an affinity for language early in life: human, computer, and otherwise.

"There are humans in these," Valerie scoffed.

"I know," said Jessica.

"I-knew-it-I-knew-it-I-fucken-knew-it."

Shannon, rubbing her arms together, crept closer to one of the capsules. "Sick... Who could these people be? Why would Goliath keep them here?"

"Experiments? Wait. No—no, the message. That list that Amon pulled from the chip! Whatever the bullshit reason, they can't be left like this."

Beelz unexpectedly doubled back. "There's nothing to be done—" she said, rounding the corner, then stopped and stared grievously at Lynx. "What are you doing?"

Jessica returned a glare. Abruptly, the pods simultaneously cranked their tops and propped open.

"We're being overrun!" Monarch cried.

Beelz met Jessica with canines and a death stare. "You weren't supposed to do that."

"I did it," she replied then tapped her earbud. "Monarch! We're done. Order everyone out and extract us."

"Bullshit!" Beelz pressed her comm. "Monarch?"

No response.

"Are you calling off the whole mission?" asked Valerie.

"I'm getting us out," said Jessica.

Shoulders flexed, darting eyes and forming a fist, Beelz seethed onward. "You don't get to make that call! You're welcome to be a waste of space elsewhere, but Dissent is ending this today."

"These people may be the answer to everything, Beelz! Goliath, the regime, Spearhead, Asgard, Malvis—we can expose all of it. That's obvious, even if we're floors shy of the top. If there's even a one-percent chance of saving these people, if there's even a one-percent chance of their helping, it's worth getting everybody out alive while we can."

"Not all of us will fit in the ships, Lynx."

"I didn't think we would."

With a grunt, Beelz's grip loosened. She rubbed her forehead with the next order. "Help them out of the pods." Her squad followed the order without question. They took after Shannon and Valerie, who were already uplifting strangers from their caskets.

Jessica's friends never lacked initiative, even in her silence, which was a double-edged sword she had to face down. But as the crew of comatose strangers rose to consciousness, she goggled at a familiar face.

David?

"David?" exclaimed Beelz.

David Mourner was feebly lying in the hands of an operative when Beelz jumped to his side, holstering her sidearm. Disbelief colored Jessica's pale face as she crept closer to the sorry sight.

"This is what happened to you..." Beelz murmured, lifting the rest of him outside the capsule. Quivering, David's eyelids slowly opened. Brown irises on a pale face besmirched by utter surprise or shock. Jessica could only imagine the side-effects of hibernation in one of those things. Lumps in her throat, she scrounged the energy to speak.

"You know him?"

"He's one of our own," said Beelz. "He deserved better than this."

"He was the informant..."

Those were like the last piece of a puzzle. She panned across the room as more docile humans came to. Theirs were faces she had never seen before, but she pondered the stories they could tell, the secrets they could spell. That's before Beelz's watch blinked red.

Beelz noticed it, too.

"GET DOWN!"

Fire incinerated. Goliath headquarters had a new gaping hole, outside of which hovered an Asgard troop carrier. Beneath turbine screech, armed to the teeth, Azareans jumped into the tower. Beelz tossed her echolocation grenade, and lasers began flying in all directions. The strong winds were felt but unheard, debris reigned, and the floor fell to the mist of endless gunfire.

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Chapter 26 Demon of Dissent 1/3

Jessica was already floating to the 82nd floor, skipping past Monarch and his as they scrounged the divided blocks. They were searching—so far as she could tell—every nook and cranny of Goliath Headquarters. Beelz and her team had to be above the rest.

Past the sensations of weightlessness and wind, she entered the 82nd floor through a gaping hole in the wall, to land on scattered chunks of more wall. She was welcomed by muzzles, again, Gemini Squad's assault rifles. Clad in dark greens and their weight's worth of gear, they lowered their weapons as soon as a black figure stepped at their behest.

She wore slick plates on long legs leading up a utility belt of magazines and other gadgets; then black on a bulletproof vest, all the way up the headphones. Eyes below red hair harbored a burning evergreen. Beelz, stoic, pensively ticked her handgun against forehead goggles.

"Let me guess; 'You're lucky we didn't shoot you'?" Jessica mocked. "That's what you were going to say, right?" She stood up and faced down Beelz's entourage. Meanwhile, Shannon and Valerie tumbled inward, pedaling frantically to control their gravity boots until they unceremoniously hit the floor on either side of her. The fall failed to stop either of their gripes.

"Do that again, Jess, and I will murder you!" Shannon said.

"You crazy ass Puerto Rican!" Valerie jeered.

Neither could muffle the sound of encroaching airships.

"Step away from the windows," Beelz ordered.

Eyeing the redhead, Jessica and her friends stepped further into the damaged room and watched as two gunmen set down a mysterious box. One button-press later, the box sprouted a tripod with a mounted turret.

Beelz held her earphone. "We're transmitting the data." She was likely contacting  Amon and Boros on a separate line. It may have had something to do with the man on the terminal behind her, stealing data. She was still thinking ahead, about the long war.

"Ships will be in range soon," somebody warned.

"Engage noise dampeners." Beelz clicked her headphones. Her squadmates pressed hidden buttons underneath their helmets, spawning blue LED lights on their visors. Their commander then gestured with a two-finger point, as soon as she made eye contact with Jessica. "There's an Asgard squad above us" she warned. Two squadmates took cover by the turret, the rest scattering throughout the room as she lowered her goggles.

A series of loud bursts carved holes in the ceiling, from which multiple grenades dropped. Jessica dived with Shannon and Valerie behind the nearest desk, evading the rumble and thunder. The grenades started spewing smoke when lines of rope unraveled from the ceiling and windows.

"Asgar—"

Beelz thrust Jessica to the ground and tossed a grenade with the other hand. "Cover your ears!"

Jessica punched her own earlobes when the sphere bounced from the ground to the ceiling to the wall, around the room, at high velocity. It fiercely echoed and stirred the eardrums so terribly that, when Asgard descended via cables, their surroundings devolved into a chaotic quagmire. The enemy covered their ears, yelping, one after another blasted off their cables by Gemini gunfire. The action was so automatic, Jessica almost scrunched her shoulders into fracturing. Beelz's team gunned down every Azarean despite the smokescreen.

The gunfire eventually stopped, and Beelz's voice reentered comms. "Our units on the ground are going to have trouble."

From all around, airships descended and hitched beside the occupied floors to retrieve anyone who would not or could not stay. Their proximal engines stirred mild tremors along the tower beams.

"We'll be sure to assemble a warm welcome party for Asgard's arrival," Monarch relayed.

Jessica poked her head out of cover and discovered all the rebels alive and well. Valerie did the same, scowling through her rifle sights. Shannon shivered while peeking more carefully.

"Is it over?" she asked.

"Worst comes to worst, we'll disable the elevators and access points, but don't expect that to stop them," Monarch continued. "Godspeed, Lynx, Beelz."

He said that like he's not coming back.

When the smoke finally cleared, Asgard corpses littered the 82nd level in a variety of awkward positions. Some were sprawled over the furniture; others swayed back and forth on their cables. Everywhere else, nothing but bullet holes and seared remnants.

"Data extraction complete," said Beelz's hacker.

Beelz turned to Jessica. "Lynx."

"Beelz"

"Tell me you used that scanner."

Jessica scowled. "Yes, I scanned Malvis's eye like you were hoping."

"Then you just made our lives easier. Which doesn't negate as many variables as I would like... but we've wasted enough time." Backpack swung over her shoulder, Beelz crouched and rummaged through the contents. She retrieved an item and raised it in the palm of her hand like a newborn. It was cubic, small, and portable. "Your ideal 3-D printer," she said.

Jessica delivered the rod; Beelz extracted a microchip from the bottom slit then placed it in the printer slot. They watched an eyeball manifest on-screen. Several ticks and a beeplater, Beelz opened the cube and retrieved what looked impeccably like the real thing. She examined the eye between her fingers as if it were a flawless diamond.

"There's nothing like using your enemy against your enemy" she mused.

"So long as it works," said Jess, wincing at the eye's lifelikeness.

"Too bad it's not the real thing."

Over her shoulder, Jessica caught a mirror of nausea in her friends' faces. Either from battle fatigue or Beelz's coldness, it was hard to tell. Above glass shards, hoping for clues, she decided to fasten her goggles and check the ceiling. Unfortunately, X-ray vision revealed nothing.

"I can't see through the top."

"Y por que no?" asked Valerie.

"If you're utilizing X-Ray vision, which I presume you are, then it's a good and bad sign," Beelz droned. "High chance a lead surface shields whatever's up there."

"Then the laws of mass distribution say there's very little storage," said Jessica.

"Good to know." Beelz gyrated her gun arm.

The tripod turret began firing through the window then, almost muffling Monarch's voice when he shouted through comms.

"Asgard is landing in force! Back to the chokepoint!"

A flick to the eardrums, loud crashes resounded from the bottom of the superstructure, while a muffled cacophony of engines, projectiles, and explosions formed the faintest tremors.

"Jess, let's go!" exclaimed Valerie, pointing to the bodies trudging up the stairs.

At the next door, Beelz cracked the security lock then let the grenade loose through a slit in the door. It briefly thumped across the walls before magnetizing directly back into her glove. "Clear!" she said.

In a world where Azareans go deaf and Beelz wears weird-ass earphones, I'm guessing that's an echolocation grenade... with bounceability.

Past more sliding doors, Gemini Squad found yet more dark rooms sealed behind glass screens. Beelz advanced in the middle of it all, in the middle of fire teams, as they cross-checked their surroundings. Then came to a halt. Several started reaching inside their hardshell backpacks.

"Are those what I think they are?" asked Shannon.

Beelz, like the rest of her team, was lifting armed charges. "They're parting gifts," she said, offering up the brick. "We don't have time to secure more intel, but we can make sure this place and its experiments die."

"The enemy's numbers are growing, Beelz" Monarch's voice interrupted. "You have a limited window while we hold Asgard—watch the flank and give it everything you got!" The turret on the floor below them wouldn't stop firing. And through the windows, loud volleys left streaks of deadly light in the dark.

Time to expedite this chaos.

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Chapter 25 Curtain Fire 3/3

Stumbling in stutters, the lab coat used his keycard to access the safe room. True to his word, the black walls slid above a transparent screen surface, to reveal a pair of large canisters shrouded in vapor. While Raptor examined the refrigerated environment, Jessica tapped the scientist's shoulder.

"What did you mean when you said these are meant for Azareans?"

"W-Once they graduate final testing, the strains will be mass-produced," he answered. "Th-that's what they told us."

"Who's 'they'?"

"Guys," Shannon called, rising up the stairs with the pilot around her shoulder, "are we there yet?"

"Medic, give that man first aid," said Raptor.

The closest squaddie untucked the pilot from Shannon's arms. "Don't worry, I have him," she said softly, then laid him aside and retrieved a medical kit from her hardpack. The pilot gave Shannon a bitter-sweet thumbs up in parting. That's when Raptor grabbed the scientist.

"Do you keep records of your experiments?"

"Without an interface, all I have are my hand-written rambles in my desk." Unfortunately, a brief survey begot nothing but broken terminals and scattered debris.

"We don't have time for this," Jessica drawled.

Sweating, the scientist reached under a charred cubicle and retrieved an oblong case, which he hand-delivered to Jessica. Inside, she found nothing but a chip and scribbled sheets. "Equations," she said, handing the papers to Raptor but keeping the chip. "Kudos if you can solve them. But later." She started toward the next set of stairs. Raptor pushed the notes into the arms of his nearest subordinate.

"Lynx, wait, you don't know what's up there!"

Ignoring any and all protest, her feet took her to the top, where at long last she found a floor not utterly wrecked by the fighting. It even had that new room smell.

When Raptor caught up to her, he let low the rifle and tapped his commlink. "Beelz, come in."

"Now's your window to extract any wounded," the woman replied.

"Where are you?"

No answer.

Jessica, meanwhile, explored the uninhabited room of carbon fiber racks and sleek, streak-free tables. None of the low seats had legs. The silicon rows held no screens, just dark pads, and touched a pathway that split the area in two. Running parallel to the terminals, a glass screen delineated dimly lit storage lockers on the other side.

When Shannon and the other operatives arrived, Raptor gave the signal to investigate. Pisces began a vigilant search, scanning every nook through their weapons' sights. Stung by curiosity, too, Jessica reached the round panel planed on the cusp of the glass.

"Scan anything hanky, Babel?"

"A standard fingerprint algorithm," he replied.

"Looks like an armory. Maybe, we can just break the glass," Raptor said.

"And risk triggering some kind of payload?" Jess scowled. "Nuh-uh."

" If you can crack it, by all means."

"If you'd like," started Valerie, "I can cut off one of the hands below us and see if that works."

Ignoring Valerie's suggestion, Jessica powered the Vambrace. "Accessing all previous entries," said Babel, preceding violet doodles on the interface. Jessica manipulated them with simple strokes, sifting through a sea of alphanumeric.

"I realize now, Azareans are either amazingly ignorant or arrogant," Jessica hummed. "They write their administrative functions with their own language, and think the grace of its complexity alone would stop a human from accessing their TPUs." Everyone gaped within a snapshot of cluelessness. Contradictorily, Jessica hummed whimsically. With sequence after sequence that she swiped, the Vambrace incised and constructed a set of neon fingerprints on the pad.

"Access granted."

"I really need to get one of those," Raptor and Shannon said together.

Jessica was the first to step inside. With proximity the closest locker door turned transparent, revealing the contents of an Asgard uniform. A weapons rack jutted from the wall; pistols on the bottom, rifles on top. They were in an armory. A second rack extended. Empty. Perhaps because the weapons were downstairs. She wasn't interested in weapons, however. Further down, the last set of lockers revealed metallic slippers. "Take a look at this," she said. Curiosity placed a pair in her hands, and so she promptly sat down to remover her shoes

"Girl, you sure you want to do that?" said Shannon.

"I have a healthy curiosity, Shannon. If these are what I think they are, they're worth taking."

"Slippers?"

The cryptic footwear slipped over Jessica's socks with ease. As soon as she stood up, she triggered the metal's folding. Seamlessly, several layers adjusted around the girth of her feet and ankles. Once the boots had attached themselves, she softly kicked the floor.

Nothing happened.

"Tag it and bag it," said Raptor. Everyone else grabbed one of everything from the armory.

"No need to let it go to waste, right?" Jessica chaffed.

"The resistance we've seen so far means Goliath's got plenty more to defend. You gotta get up there as soon as possible."

"And we're wasting time."

"We're waiting for the all-clear sign."

"Which won't come until Beelz, Monarch, and the rest of your friends have their run of the—WUW!" Jessica was levitating. Awestruck, she pedaled her feet mid-air, trying to balance on an imaginary surface. The boots' propulsion worked well enough, proven just as Monarch's voice blasted through the comm channel.

"We have incoming!"

Jess floated over to the windows beyond, in anticipation of the next nightmare. She could almost hear them in the distance, like before.

Asgard.

There were enough wings on the horizon to swarm the upper superstructure with troops. Rather than panic, renewed vigor carried Jessica back to the armory, where she procured two additional pairs of slippers. These she handed to Shannon and Valerie before strapping her goggles and stealing a weapon from the rack.

"Where you at, Beelz?"

"Where are you going?"Raptor interjected.

Beelz replied first, curtly. "Investigating 82nd. Standby."

"I'm coming up," said Jessica. She aimed and fired at the window. Unfortunately, she couldn't shoot for shit; the gun recoiled out of her grasp, leaving her sheepish before and after the glass shattered. But she was glad to be rid of it. "Goddamn, that's very different from SIRE."

"I hope you're thinking this through, Lynx!" exclaimed Raptor.

On the edge of broken glass, Jessica stuck her head out into the open air and set sights on the dark curtain of upper Goliath. She pulled back and, with a single hand jive, beckoned her friends forward.

"Are you asking us to do what I think you're asking us to do?" Shannon said nervously. "I hope you're not asking us to do that."

"Same anti-gravity principle as the McFly Mark II," Jessica said, pointing at her boots. "If so, the soles should stop us from falling."

"That's a pretty big 'if.'

"She is correct," said Babel. "Propulsion will respond to leg, foot, and phalange articulation."

"Perfect. You get all that?"

"Nope," said Valerie.

"Cool." Jessica hopped out the window.

"Wait, you crazy bitch!"

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Chapter 25 Curtain Fire 2/3

Raptor went first, then Valerie.

Jessica positioned herself on the edge of the deck for a better view, then peered through the smoke using thermal vision.

"Floor 75 comes with several unknowns!" she said. "The level below that is empty!"

"You can see what's going on?" said Shannon.

"I can."

Pisces' airship began patrolling the exterior. It circled the squads' advance every step of the way, while carnage of varied degrees echoed from within.

When Raptor, Valerie, and the team touched boots to the surface, Jess committed their thermal impressions to memory. Their wobbling forms quickly stomped to the other end of the floor, across blown office space, training rifles around every corner. A single unknown humanoid remained, and as the team advanced closer, the individual raised a handgun. Raptor fired a single shot that dispatched the unknown quantity.

"75 clear," he said into the mic.

Blood had been spilled. Instead of dwelling, Jessica upturned from the gunfire to Beelz's team on the 80th floor, adjusting the X-ray sensor until she noticed something else. "There are multiple Azareans on 77," she said. "I think they're expecting you, Raptor."

"Copy, Lynx. Raider 5!"

A breath of turbulence, then a gunship hovered into her 2:00 field of view. Its silhouette froze before its hull-mounted minigun ignited a blue flame and a deafeningly loud volley. Flinching, Jessica watched the Azareans on 77 get torn to pieces.

When the volley ended, Raptor and his team diligently proceeded up the stairs, while an airship reinforced the room with another squad through shattered windows.

Two souls managed to survive the airship, their bright yellow outlines cowering on the floor. Jessica pressed her microphone and spoke fast. "You've got two people who I think are non-combatants, Raptor."

"All the corpses belong to Goliath internal security," he replied, angling over the dead. Further inward, he reached the cowering people Jessica mentioned. "Two civilians. Standby..."

The lights powered on. Their return cranked Jessica's nerves into overdrive as a rotating turret lowered from the center of the ceiling and set its sights on Raptor's group. She blinked.

"Geddown!"

Raptor and his people dove for cover, but two were immediately carved by a barrage whose lethal cadence matched a bell chime swooning a thousand miles an hour.

"We're pinned down!" Raptor cried.

In the middle of the chaos, Jessica activated the Vambrace. "Target that turret, Babel!" She pressed herself against the rear of the cabin to compensate for the airship's motion.

"I've locked onto its targeting parameters," Babel said.

Jessica tapped a few final keys. "Shut down!"

The horrifying noise ended. Jessica found her feet, took a position beside Shannon, and surveyed the building. Several seconds passed before the dust settled and Pisces peeked to at the remains. Raptor crouched over his subordinates, checking their pulses out of mere habit.

Jessica couldn't stop drumming her foot. "Val—"

"Checking the room now," Valerie cut off. She emptied her gun clip into the ceiling turret and watched it collapse into scrap. "You should be able to come down now."

"Right."

Fingers clasped, Shannon prayed in silence.

"Get ready," said the pilot. A soaring screech then skipped across the sky and collided into the back of the airship. Fast and fierce, the world spun. The pilot lost control.

"We've been hit! Mayday, mayday!"

Jessica and Shannon clung for dear life. A swirl of scenery passed outside the cabin, and turbulence squeezed their muscles until they ached. This couldn't be the end.

"Land on 75! 75!" Jess cried.

"Hang on!"

In battling physics, the ship beak tipped toward Goliath HQ. In battling the joystick, the pilot eventually rocked and swerved into the 75th floor. Rubble and debris quickly rained every tumble of the way, but Jessica held on even after it hurt.

"Raider 1! Raider 1! What's your status?"

A resonant hiss resounded in the ears. When everything stopped swirling in a haze, Jessica inched her head above the overturned cabin. She was still alive. Her first concern, Shannon, had already risen from the metal husk, leaning out of the crooked doors to survey the room.

"Everyone okay?" she said.

"Part of me might be," moaned the pilot, trying to lift himself out of the tilted cockpit.

Jessica groaned and dizzily hauled herself out, nearly falling flat when the bottom of her feet hit the ground. Then, rocking, she tip-toed over to Shannon, which was a matter of eluding the glass and the flames. Regaining her senses, she leaned over the dented beak of the airship and helped pull the pilot's arms. His torso then legs eventually slid out of the steel frame.

"Thanks!" he panted.

"Can you walk?" said Shannon.

"I think so."

Eyes firing in every direction, Jessica veered from the pilot and crushed her knees for a second to breathe. "You managed to land without killing us, so we seriously owe you."

"Consider us even when you're done with this place."

"Jess!" Down the stairwell stepped a lean operative. The open visor revealed Valerie. She canted from a frown to relief. "Are you guys alright?"

Jessica glanced at the ceiling, mind on the battle above and the surprises lying in wait. Then she lowered to Shannon, who was sweaty and clearly rattled. "You okay here?"

"I'm alright. Why?" she replied.

"Whatever shot us down came from above." Jessica jogged across the room. "We can't afford to slow down." As she scurried up the stairs, Valerie nearly stumbled in watching her back.

Glass and splintered laboratory space littered their surroundings, the resinous scent of smoke proliferating the 77th floor. Raptor stood in the middle of it, over the sparks of the turret heap. Nearby, a stranger in a white lab coat was cowering in his broken nook, the subject of Raptor's interrogation. Alongside the lab coat stood a calm stranger in a blue jumpsuit. The scientist slipped peeks at the black pillar just left of him, a cylindrical block somehow left undamaged by the chaos.

"What's inside?" said Raptor.

The scientist hesitated, so Raptor looked to the mustached Janitor whose jaded frown disguised any sign of trauma. "I wipe the floors," he gruffly complained, "and I'm quitting after today. Someone else cleans whatever's inside that." That's when a Pisces operative stepped closer, ready to snap.

"The lieutenant's talking to you, Azarean lapdog!"

"Getting him excited is zero percent effective!" Jessica retorted. "We need answers, not some scientist dude quaking in his boots." Raptor glanced at them both before he fixed on his subordinate.

"Keep an eye out."

As the operative begrudgingly started patrol, Jessica crouched beside the scared scientist. "I need you to assist with a few security protocols before a bunch of innocent people become victims," she said. "I know about Goliath's secrets – Biogenetics, Artificial Synthesis, and Mutant Biopsy are just a few. There's no accounting for the sum of their weirdness, so do any of my mentions relate to whatever the hell's inside those black walls?"

The scientist, slowing his breath, nodded. "I'm a biologist," he muttered. "I study terrestrial fungi and bacteria then extrapolate their viral potential. We synthesize certain values from our experiments that, in scarce circumstances, lead to weaponization."

"English would make this go a lot faster," said Raptor.

Jessica leered over her shoulder. "Goliath is studying biological warfare."

"It is not predetermined!" the scientist defended. "Inside that safe room, you will find canisters to unique depressants and hallucinogens. A unique batch. We wouldn't house biochemical agents in the city."

"That's... good to hear?"

"They're still worth looking into," said Raptor. "Can we get in?"

"These were synthesized for Azarean subjects," the scientist hesitated. "But if you insist—"

"I insist."

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Sci-Fiction
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Chapter 25 Curtain Fire 1/3

The scent of phantom rainfall tricked the senses while Jessica and Sub Terra soared toward the storm. Faceless tides braced every passenger on deck, their grimaces lit under the red diodes throughout the cabin: an ensemble of determination, anxiety, and fear. And just outside, outlined in the dark, an array of airships bobbed and weaved across the night sky.

There was a taut rope over and underneath the cabin floor. "Is something pulling that?" Jessica asked when a hand suddenly sprouted.

"Hey!" Two men grabbed hold of the hand and pulled Shannon's body up. Jessica nearly dropped when she saw her friend crouched on the floor, panting.

"That was freaken wild!" Shannon gasped.

On the verge of pulling her hair out, Jessica stammered, "What's your malfunction, Shannon? This is—it's a dangerous place to be. Hija-su-pinche-madre-fock-en-mother-of-a-cyber-loving-bitch-face-fuck-is-wrong-with-you?"

Shannon grimaced. "I wasn't going to let you guys go it alone!"

"We aren't alone!" Valerie retorted. "We've got a big ass group of trained people with guns!"

The grim eyes in Raptor's helmet said as much as Jessica expected. "We're locked onto our course," he said matter-of-factly. "There's no way to get off." As hard as she wanted to protest, nothing could be done. She would do the same in Shannon's shoes, but this wasn't some tour to survey from the sidelines. Better to be down there, indoors and away from the storm.

New Sumer darkened underneath a swerving field of vision. From a sea of neon to a checkerboard of lights to nothing but a series of flickers in pitch blackness, the entire city vanished. Raptor handed Jess an earpiece, and Beelz's husky voice came through to answer the question on her mind.

"Thanks to our agents, the city's power grid is offline. But Goliath won't be, not for long, just long enough to facilitate our breach."

Monarch's voice entered. "Lynx delivered on her word. We caught Asgard with their pants down in the forest. Thanks to their own ploy, the city's defenses didn't tag their ships. Malvis is out of our hair, and the emergency broadcast should have cleared the target area of civilians. But that was the easy part. We're in for the fight of our lives, so stay frosty and watch each other's backs."

"Four minutes, thirty seconds," said Amon. "That's your window to breach. Per the plan, Pisces will commence the attack on the 75th level."

"Expect the brunt of their resistance on the top levels," rejoined Beelz. "We'll have eyes on the landing pad, in case they try to extract VIP cargo. The good news is they're not expecting us. Advance teams, once the floors are clear, our secondary objective is the extraction of essential data.

"Lynx, you'll be dropped in as soon as it's clear. Aquarius and Scorpio will neutralize 77."

Jessica pressed her hand to the microphone. "And where will you be, Beelz?"

"I will be two steps ahead."

She has her own plans.

The key to keeping her friends safe, Jess realized, was keeping focused. At the very least, Valerie looked ready for the storm ahead. Homegirl's visor slid upward and revealed resolve, and no make-up for once, like on Shannon.

Raptor stepped in the middle of the cabin. "Pisces, Keep it tight! This is the chance we've been waiting for, so remember your training. No heroics. Watch the person next to you and keep your eyes on the prize. " He turned to Jessica and Shannon, handing each of them a vest because he'd accept nothing less than their protection. Though she winced to admit it, Jessica was glad it was him and not Dexter at the head of the pack.

On Shannon, the vest expanded and unfolded into micro-tiles over her joints. Handling the vest in the same manner, Jessica noticed the same eagerness on everyone's face. And before they could betray a breath of grief, it began.

Overhead, the dark form conquered the horizon. Incomparable to any other structure in New Sumer, the silhouette bore into their vision like a black hole, the airships like flies to its industrial mass ready to swallow them whole. Its magnificent base wedged outward like a pyramid, while the center floors erected and kept going until they pierced the night sky. Between heaven and earth, it could hold its own microcosm of secrets, which they couldn't hope to unravel in one night. The incarnation of darkness and presence awaited them.

Over a dozen airships split off into several vectors, each assuming its unique altitude and position around the megablock.

"All squads report in," Monarch started.

"Taurus is a go."

"Scorpio is a go.

Raptor pressed his comm. "Pisces is a go."

"Gemini is a go," said Beelz.

The black vest quickly snapped together under Jessica's red. She fastened her goggles to the sound of prayer nearby, listening as the other squads sounded off.

"Surely, He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly plague. His wings you will find refuge."

"Orion is a go."

His faithfulness is a shield and rampart...

"Aquarius is a go."

I will not fear the terror of the night...

"Leo is a go."

... or the arrow that flies by day...

"Sagittarius is a go."

...the plague that stalks in darkness,

"Capricorn is a go."

...or the calamity that destroys at noon.

Outside of the 75th level, they paused in a realm between space and time. Suspense encapsulated Raptor as he lifted a large gun with a foregrip and eight cylindrical cartridges. Jessica had played enough video games to recognize a grenade launcher when she saw one.

"Commence Operation: Curtain Fire."

Raptor fired the first shot. A high-velocity shell punched a hole in the glass, and more crackles ensued from every single airship. Fiery explosions would dot Goliath's surface, resonating like thunder in the wake of a thousand shards. Visors down, the operatives at separate latitudes latched onto cables and jumped from the decks, into the breach.

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Dremia 2: Pronouns and Colors

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Since today is a Saturday, I decided to add another language lesson. The most common words in writing are usually pronouns and since there aren't many, I also included colors! I was actually planning on saving that one for later, but it would be useful to know early on. This list is going to be longer than the other one, but more words is good right?

As for my fourth story, I already rewritten the first two chapters. It should be back where it was before Monday. As for the tags error, that is still messed up for me. Anyways, I'm sure this description has already gotten too long.

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Pronouns

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A- ah- I/ Myself/ Me

Muru- moo-ru- He/Him

Suru- sue-ru- She/Her

Uru- oo-ru- It

Uka- oo-kah- Our(s)/Your(s)/Their(s)

U- oo- You

Ki- key- We

Mama- mah-mah- They (I know this one seems a bit weird.)

Lon- low-n- This

Lona- low-n-ah- That

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Colors

Helpful Note: All colors end in 'amo'.

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Rusamo- ruu-sah-mo- Red

Asamo- ah-sah-mo- Blue

Mansamo- mah-n-sah-mo- Green

Iviamo- e-v-ah-mo- Black

Soamo- so-ah-mo- Pink

Bobamo- bou-bah-mo- Orange

Velyamo- veh-lee-ah-mo- Purple

Seramo- say-rah-mo- White

Upamo- oo-pa-mo- Brown

Chitamo- She-tah-mo- Gray

Netamo- nay-tah-mo- Yellow

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I might add more colors in the future, but for now this should be enough. I'm not that great at teaching things like this, but in the end, it should be fine. I don't know what I am going to add next time. Anyways, I still have a few chapters I need to rewrite.

Dive Beyond,

Echo Raine

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"Mere color can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways." - Oscar Wilde

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Minor Updates 1: I Made A Schedule!

Since I have gotten so tired of not being able to keep up with everything. I have decided to make up a schedule for when I will post things. I mostly did this because I have been trying to make short horror stories but could never find a decent time to write them.

At the moment, I am focusing on writing the fourth story of 'Echo's Dream'. So far it has been going pretty well. I can still promise that there will be two stories at the end of the month. The bad news is that I still need to make the covers for them, and new covers for the past stories. So once again, I am going to be very busy. X_X

As for the next experiment, I will still include it. However, I don't know exactly when. After this month, I will probably take another break. I am wanting to learn Japanese, along with improving my artwork again. During that time, I will be more focused on the blog. That will be the moment when I will post more experiments, drawings, and other interesting things.

SCHEDULE

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March

Sunday- Side things I will be working on.

Monday- Main Stories+ More if I have free time.

Tuesday- Main Stories+ More if I have free time.

Wednesday- Main Stories+ More if I have free time.

Thursday- Main Stories+ More if I have free time.

Friday- Main Stories+ More if I have free time.

Saturday- Blog Entries+ Short Stories (Not Always)

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April

Sunday- Side things I will be working on.

Monday- Learning Japanese+ More if I have free time.

Tuesday- Drawing Improvement+ More if I have free time.

Wednesday- Learning Japanese+ More if I have free time.

Thursday- Drawing Improvement+ More if I have free time.

Friday- Learning Japanese+ More if I have free time.

Saturday- Blog Entries+ Short Stories (Not Always)

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As for the other months, I haven't prepared anything yet. I am hoping to at least learn JLPT N3. Of course I'm not going to take the real test, but that is how much I want to know for now. As for the drawings, I am going to be more focused on characters this time around.  I know my artwork has been quite lazy, but just deal with it for now. I know this is probably getting a bit long so I will end it here.

Dive Beyond,

Echo Raine

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"Never discourage anyone... who continually makes progress, no matter how slow."   -Plato

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DOWNTOWN...

I've been wanting to write another chapter for this blog for a while now. But I've also half-forgotten all that I wanted to write for it.

I can't believe it's been a year since I wrote that first chapter. But anytime I go through it all again, I can't help but feel sad. And I wonder if the people who read it felt sad as well. Then again, I don't really know why people were reading my blog... It was pretty depressing.

But maybe someone out there is thinking about this blog. So I will write this one for that person.

I spend my days at my computer, staring at my Pinterest and waiting for the only person I text on Discord to text me back. (and he usually doesn't.) My landlord isn't home, so I don't have to worry about anyone hearing me either scream at whatever gay thing on Pinterest I'm looking at or blast music as loud as possible. I got a VR headset a while back and I played several games on it (my sister just? gave it to me?? what????)). Speaking of which she also gave me her copy of Skyrim VR, which was pretty amazing. No Man's Sky wasn't as overwhelming as I thought it'd be, and honestly just playing it normally is better.

At night, when it's getting late, I turn off my lamp and stare into the darkness with my music playing. I can hear snoring through the wall. Nobody ever really heard when I sat in my bed for days and cried until I was beyond exhausted and dehydrated.

The days are lonely. I'm just alone here. And it's not like I have any people to fall back on in real life; those people are miles and miles away, busy with their own lives now. Online, I try to talk to people on whatever server I use, but I've never actually succeeded in making a friend who wants to talk to me. Nobody comes to visit like at my last house. Even my immediate family is miles away too.

And sure, I don't have anyone, which is mildly concerning... what am I supposed to do if I start choking or something?? Do I just suffocate?? I don't know, and my greatest fear is losing oxygen... But over the months that passed my loneliness morphed into something else. It's there in my mind, but in the background, burnt into every social interaction I make, every time I smile, every time I awaken to an empty house. I think it's a coping mechanism; my mind just trying to ignore it. And I'm fine with it. At least I think so.

I've been asked what my hobbies are before, and I wasn't ever able to give a straight answer. If I told them "escapism" I'm not sure what their reaction would be. But honestly, that's all I do all day. Stare at Pinterest, play my video games and read my yaoi. But damn, every time my parents come home the whole day is ruined.

Oh yeah. I'm completely off of any medication now. No Lexapro, no Prozac and no Zoloft anymore. I don't know what will happen. But I feel the same. Still apathetic, even without meds. And before I began taking meds in the first place I was like this. So something is just wrong with me.

I do feel guilty often about my story. I started it with a plan, but a few chapters in I just completely stopped doing that. I just winged every chapter. And I loved it. I wrote every second of every minute of every hour I had trying to make the best I could. (i'm still embarrassed about chapter 11.)) I started writing it as something to do and in the end I stopped because I was just? too lazy to continue?? I had mapped out the rest of the story in my mind and the ending was just fucking glorious. Everything beyond that point would just be a writing adventure full of jotting town the plot twists and stuff I'd planned in my mind. And yet, the story just sits there, unfinished.

Then again... A big part of me writing the story was to get feedback on my writing. Which, sadly, I did not get. Of course, if I had posted it to a much larger website like Wattpad I would've gotten some, but if I did that now, people would expect me to continue writing it... And I can't really write it anymore anyway. Even though I want to I'm just not the same person I was. I'm really rusty with my writing and would be very embarrassed at what I'd write. But maybe one day I'll get over this 10-month long writer's block of mine and get a damn laptop or something.

Anyway. I have a discord server. I'm not really making it to talk about writing, I'm just lonely. lmao send help i'm dying https://discord.gg/JDsgtyMpUJ

Also here's some memes because I am stupid

Kill me

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18

Okay, I didn't realize how many people actually read this and I'm over here sharing childhood trauma. Thank you guys for letting me vent and rant and shit like that but uhhhhhhhhhhh why don't we get to know little me well a bit more than y'all did already.

1. Meh favorite Disney movie ish The nightmares before chiwstmas.

2. Um my stuffies I have a hedgie hog named Issac, a bunny named bonnie, a cat named Clyde, and a little flying squirrel named well she doesn't haves a name yet.

3.My favorite snackie issssssh goldfishes and choccy milk..... OHHHHH and dino nuggies

4. Yesh kinda he far away thoughh.

5.perfect wittle date is prolly going to the park and playing than having a picnic with my stuffies and daddy.

6. Yesh I does, But I don't use it weally often cuz my parents' don'ts know about me being a wittle.

7. No diapers are weally icky.....

8. I wike coloring and playing with toys

9. I don't weally have inspiration. ( I got on Tumblr and found that this was a coping mechanism and I needed one.)

10. My favorite tv shows, I wike paw patrol, Spongebob and friends.

11. I do have pets (ones a jack russel terrior named scooter and the other is a brindel pitbull named chief)

12. Pet play No not weally

13. Someone special to me..... My mom and probably my daddy..... (NOTE: I CALL MY FATHER FATHER>.<) But my mom is so perfect I wuv her so much..... She calls me her favorite behind my siblings backs.... And daddy well though he's long-distance we talk every night and he always asks how I'm doing.

14. Angel milk..... I wike it with lots of honey it taste good that way or monster nobody has to knows about that thoughs.

15. 1-6

16. I do have a blankie it's a batman one and I wuvs it.

17. The last picture I colored it was Minnie mouse and daisy

18.My favorite season summer cuz I get to go swimming

19.  my favorite Disney princess jasmine.

20. I have a fear of being abandoned, yelling and screaming, not being good enough.

21. No, I can't be if I could I prolly would be tho

22. My favorite smell is prolly vanilla or something fruity

23. Someone calling me babygirl and grabbing things for me..

24. I get a bath, brush and dry my hair, brush my teeth, and then go get into bed and play on my phone.

25. Wake up, brush my hair and get changed into my day clothes, eat breakfast(sometimes I forget), then go brush my teeth go outside and check the mail, do my chores then tv/phone time.

26.Yes my favorite paci is pink and it used to say princess on it and it has a green little handle thing.

27. Pencils are my favorite but I like crayons too

28. A unicorn sowwy not sowwy

29. A zebra or a wolf

30. My favorite dessert anything with chocolate or just anything sweet.

If you are a little come join this google classroom

Little sunshine Preschool

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