With the return of Small Worlds, we go back to a Monday/Wednesday update schedule for this story and Tuesday/Thursday for Dragon’s Scion. Don’t forget to pre-order your copy of Strange Cosmology, it comes out in just 8 days! Or sign up for patreon by 7pm CST tomorrow to get your advance ebook copy!
Gail Pittman had always dreamed of covering some big event. It was an odd dream – she never wanted anything bad to happen, but most historic events were…bad. Wars. Plagues. Famines. Natural disasters. Death. All of those things were what made history books, and Gail didn’t want them to happen, but since they were going to happen anyway, she wanted to be there and reporting on it.
Never, even in those wildest dreams, had she expected that she’d be live broadcasting the apocalypse.
“I’m here at a classified location,” Gail said into the camera, doing her best to radiate calm confidence. She’d been the one to break the Enki story. She’d been the one to interview the Antichrist – if that’s what the unassuming man had truly been – and secured ANC the ability to break the story that had dominated ratings. She’d become, quite by accident, the face for supernatural news coverage. If the world didn’t end, she’d be set for life.
And if it did end, she’d make damn sure any survivors knew the truth of what happened. “The United Nations Extranormal Entity Taskforce has invited myself and others to come and showcase the preparations they’re making for what they call Quasi-Legendary Non-Human Threats – the beings that have been running loose on our planet for the last two months.” She hated the inexact timeframe there, but this was just a soundbite to drum up interest. The real report would be coming later. Or at least, the sanitized propaganda I’m being spoon-fed. Gail had almost turned down this job – there were plenty of reporters who could do this, and Odin’s agent was hinting he might be willing to do an interview finally – but the chance to actually get some real information under the bullshit was too good to pass up.
She’d gotten much more careful about weeding out bullshit after that mess with Enki. She’d fed his story to the public without really questioning it, and then she’d let Ryan use her to start a nuclear conflict in Canada. Since then, Gail had been much more circumspect about repeating what she was told without verification.
All that flashed through her mind without causing her smile to waiver in the slightest. “Tonight, at six, you’ll be getting a first look at what is being done by the international community to contain these threats, and how this unprecedented international cooperation is going to shape the future.”
“And cut,” her cameraman said, putting down the camera. His name as Everett Holt, and he was the latest cameraman assigned to Gail. “That was good, nice and clean. You want to look at it?”
Gail let the smile finally drop. “No, Everett. Get it over to the studio. They can clean up and get approval by the censors, but if something we weren’t supposed to show appeared in the background, they can just fuzz it. I’m not doing another goddamn take.” That rankled her. Gail believed in the freedom of press the way a devout Catholic believed in the Virgin Mary – not the highest authority, but something you should never disrespect. Yes, there was a high chance gods and monsters – sorry, Quasi-Legendary non-Human Threats Gail corrected herself with a sardonic grin – were watching the news. But right now, people needed to be reassured that everything possible was being done to stop them. And, beyond that, the Public had a Right to Know. Sighing, she turned to look out at the scene that had been her backdrop.
They were still limited in what they could show. Most of what the audience could see in the background were men and women in uniform bustling about, and vehicles carrying equipment carefully covered in tarps. She couldn’t talk about what was around the corner, but no one was stopping her from walking over and looking at it. Gail put her phone in her front jacket pocket, making sure the camera lined up to the discreet hole she had cut in the fabric, and stepped up to look at it.
The Harbinger class drone carriers. The work of a dozen nations sharing technology, the Harbingers were a midway point between helicopter and aircraft carrier. Almost as large as a 747 and full to the brim with the most advanced weaponry mankind could come up with, each one carried one thousand and twenty-four Reaper class attack drones – heavily armed quadrotor drones armed with a dozen micromissles and a mounted Gatling gun. The Swarm Intelligence program meant that human oversight was only needed for each set of twenty-four.
Gail made sure she had every specification memorized. The second the gag order was lifted, Gail wanted to be ready to give the public every possible detail of the Harbingers with exclusive footage. Not just for the ratings. One day this conflict would be over, the monsters would be dealt with…and the world’s governments would still have access to these machines.
That scared her more than Enki ever had.
“Excuse me,” Gail said to a passing Captain.
He turned to give her a curious look. He was a good-looking man, square-jawed and with sandy blond hair that immaculately combed. He looked like he should be doing movies, not risking his life. “Ms. Pittman?” he said, looking at her nametag.
“Yes,” Gail said, offering her hand. “You have me at a disadvantage.” The Captain’s name was nowhere to be seen on his uniform. If not for his shoulders, she wouldn’t have even known his rank.
“Indeed, I do,” he said, shaking her hand. “What can I do for you?”
Ah, so you’re that type. Won’t give me your name even. “Are you working with the Harbinger program?”
“You could say that,” he said, giving her an inscrutable grin. “Although I was under the impression, we weren’t supposed to talk about the Harbingers at all.”
“Really? That’s not the impression I got from General Calver. In fact, he specifically told me I could ask about it. He actually hoped I could find someone helpful.” That wasn’t technically a lie. General Calver’s exact words had been “get the hell out of my office and bother someone else. Good luck finding someone who’s dumb enough to break protocol.” Technically, you could translate that into Gail’s version of events.
“Oh really?” the Captain said, raising an eyebrow and crossing his arms over his chest. “Well, in that case, feel free to ask away.”
Yes, Gail thought. “Well, first of all – do you think the Harbingers are going to make a difference in containing the Quasi-Legendary Non-Human threats?”
“Monsters, Ms. Pittman.” He laughed, a pleasant, easy sound. “Call a spade a spade.”
“All right,” she said, giving him her best ‘trust me’ smile. “Do you think the Harbingers are going to make a difference in containing the monsters?”
“Off the record?” he asked, looking at her notebook.
“Of course,” Gail said, closing the pad of paper and glad her phone was still recording.
“Against the monsters they might. Depends on what kind. Revenants, Penanggalan, Gremlins, even up to things like Varcolaci and outright anthropophages. They can all die to mortal weapons easily enough. But against gods, and the monsters spawned directly from their death? Things like the Hecatoncheires that was in that fight outside the hotel, or a full blown Aswang, or a Skinwalker? The only advantage the Harbingers offer is that they mean there will just be a loss of taxpayer dollars instead of soldier’s lives. Which, granted, is an advantage.”
Gail recoiled in shock. “You…seem almost contemptuous of them.”
“Oh, I am. They’re, at best, a minor annoyance. Our government had an option to win with war, and they threw it away to the enemy.”
“You’re talking about Project Myrmidon.” Gail whispered the last two words. Someone who had inside information about the United States’ government aborted super-soldier program. Dreams did come true.
“Oh, yes. I am.” The Captain gave her a broad smile. “Tell you what, Ms. Pittman. You get to cover, right now, and I’ll give you an exclusive interview with my boss and my team. We can tell you all about Project Myrmidon. All the juicy details you could want. But you need to move right now.”
“What’s happening right now?” Gail asked, backing away. There was an intensity to his eyes that she was starting to dislike.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a remote. “I’m about to detonate the Harbingers.”
Gail turned white. “Who…who are you? You do you work for?”
“Captain Roger Evans, Ms. Pittman. Used to work for the United States government.” His face…shifted. Like the bones were moving underneath it. His voice changed when he spoke again, going up a register and sounding vaguely familiar. “Potentia, Ms. Pittman. I used to work against Crystal.” His face shifted again, and when he spoke it was with two voices. “And now, we work for-”
An explosion rocked the front of the base. Gail dove to the ground, convinced this psychopath had just pulled the trigger on destroying the Harbingers. That wasn’t it though. Some force had just vaporized the door. In the smoke and ruin, Gail could see a vaguely outlined figure – a woman with four arms, carrying some kind of staff and wearing a lab coat. Alarms starting going off throughout the base.
“Her,” Evans or Potentia or whoever he was said. He extended a hand and Gail felt the air pressing down around her body. “I’m keeping you safe, Ms. Pittman. You could be useful.”
Before she could speak, he pushed the button, and the Harbingers began to explode one by one.