VIRGIN POGO ROCKET - HIGH ORBIT
It didn't take long for Eve to kill the two Space Soldiers.
The Space Corps were Google's most elite fighting unit. They were protectors of the Wrath of Larry, Google's orbital platform backed with nuclear weapons ready to unleash terror upon the Earth at any moment. Space Soldiers were required to be over six feet tall, and in top physical condition. They were highly trained in every fighting art and pumped full of every muscle building steroid and drug enhancement known to man. Their body armor was state of the art, and their laser pistols the most deadly sidearm ever manufactured.
But they were human.
So they were not much of a challenge for Eve. Besides, Eve was pissed.
She was pissed that her stomach still hurt from Cleona's titanium fisted robot punch. She was pissed she even considered flirting with the creepy Google sextoy. She was pissed that Yuliya was almost killed. And pissed she had to deal with these guys so she could get the ship powered up in time to replenish Yuliya's oxygen supply. But mostly she was pissed that Google had ruined her first Virgin Galactic high orbital luxury trip with an elaborate kidnapping trap and then were so stupid they thought they could capture her…
… with only two soldiers.
Who the hell did they think they were dealing with?
Besides, deep down, despite all the training, drugs and military indoctrination, they were just Google scum. Pathetic nerds who happened to be a little taller than most and without enough coding skills to get a real job at Google. Let alone Apple.
They menaced Eve with their pistols, assuming she would back down or… something. She didn't hesitate, didn't even bother to try to fake them out. She just grabbed her floating wrench, leapt through space to the closest one, slammed him up to a bulkhead, and hammered his visor with a blow so powerful it instantly shattered.
Technically, it shouldn't have been possible. The visor was made of forged alumina, the strongest clear substance known to man. A point blank shot with a .357 magnum would barely scratch it. A mathematical analysis of the weight and compressive strength of the wrench, the theoretical force Eve could apply with its application, the absorption of the energy by the armor suit and the bulkhead wall would determine the visor could clearly withstand the blow. Eve knew, she had done a quick calculation in her head. But if there was one thing Steve Jobs had taught her, it was that the physical materials of the world can be bent to the will of those with the focus and determination to dominate them.
The soldier with the shattered visor let out a terrified cry that was instantly snuffed out as his lungs were ripped of air. Blood bubbles popped out from the cuts on his face from shards of alumia. He was toast.
The remaining soldier fired his laser at Eve in a panic, completely missing and burn a smoking hole in the empty leather pilot seat. Eve did not miss as she ripped the pistol from the weak fingers of the dying soldier and fired back. She burned a hole right through his armor plating into his heart, and kept the trigger pulled until she saw light emerge from his back in a cloud of blood.
There was no time for a victory spike. Eve strapped into the still smoking pilot's chair, only half keeping an eye on the two soldiers to make sure they finished dying without bothering her. She kicked on the ship's power supply and started up the engines.
One of the Google TOGs was visible ahead of her, and the other was probably lurking behind the rocket’s stern. She didn't turn on the running lights, but probably it wouldn't make a difference. She wasn't completely sure what kinds of sensors the TOGs had, whether they could detect her powering up. But it was a pretty sure bet that the second she activated her radar they would know it. And she would have to if she was going to pull this off.
She did take a second to glance back on Yuliya and was pleased to see Oliver had already taken charge and gotten her plugged into the now active oxygen reserve. Yuliya seemed to be stirring, but Eve had no time to wait. She kicked on the radar and cranked up the rocket boosters.
The Pogo Rocket took off like a… well… rocket. Eve headed straight into the TOG. She couldn't resist a tiny grin as she imagined the terrified pilots inside gasping as they spotted her rushing to ram them.
At the last millisecond, Eve veered the rocket ever so slightly to port. Just enough so the fuselage missed the TOG, but the port engine didn't. It smashed right into it, and the engine erupted into a terrific fireball as it ripped clean of the V-tail and the solid fuel ignited. The TOG's own small nuclear engine blew up and it disappeared in smoke, light and a cloud of metal particles.
The Pogo Rocket's four engines where now three, and the cross had become a "T." Still, Eve found it surprisingly maneuverable and flipped the ship over in a backward arc toward the second TOG she had detected on her now activated radar. The TOG tried to get away, which was the stupidest thing it could have done. Eve was worried about its mazer cannons, but they didn't fire. Instead the TOG turned on its tail and started to pick up speed, but it wasn't fast enough. Not nearly.
Eve rocketed past, this time smashing the port rocket into it. As the second engine was likewise ripped from its V-tail, it burst through the center of the TOG and entangled as it spun. Metal crunched, fires flared, but for a second it looked like it might not explode as nicely as the first. Then it erupted into a burning nuclear fireball twice as bright as before.
The Pogo Rocket's cross was now an "I" as it roared off with two engines remaining. To Eve's amazement the rocket was pretty stable. She checked back and saw Oliver and Yuliya smiling. They had been able to watch the action on their video monitors. The two incinerated TOG clouds were still sparkling with radioactive particles as the rocket escaped into the distance. Yuliya's voice was hoarse, but she purred happily. "Fireworks!"
CORRIDOR - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP
"I heard you had a bumpy flight." Arianna Huffington drawled in her famous accent as she welcomed them. Eve had just pulled off her helmet and was settling into the artificial gravity with Yuliya and Oliver. "Google is getting rather bold, aren't they?"
Eve nodded wearily.
"I can't believe they would dare to attack a Branson rocket. Even to capture a prize like you. You look like you need a hug."
To Eve's surprise, it sounded like a good idea. Arianna opened her arms and they hugged warmly. Eve had known Arianna for some time and they had a cordial if not close relationship. They had participated together in many "Women in Tech" conferences and Arianna had badgered Eve into writing a few opinion blogs for the Huffington Post. The Huffington Post was a major powerbroker on Earth and while technically neutral in the wars, it had published some pretty damning exposes about Google's pillaging of the Rhineland and their destruction of cultural monuments in Florence. Their Apple product coverage was generally fair, if not overly enthusiastic.
"So what is Jobs announcing at the Keynote?" Arianna whispered in Eve's ear. Eve smiled. It was always quickly back to business with Arianna.
"You know I can't say anything," Eve gently admonished. But the truth was, Eve didn't have a clue. She had completely forgotten about the upcoming Keynote. Even if she had been paying attention, Eve wasn't in that highly secretive loop inside Apple. Obviously, there would be an update of the iPad X and iCom, at least a memory upgrade and faster processors. Beyond that she wasn't sure. There had been a lot of talk about an Apple flying car, and Eve knew some marvelous ones being tested, but she was pretty sure they weren't ready for market. Eve felt a tinge of guilt in her lack of interest. Was she becoming so jaded she didn't care about the Keynote anymore? Was she so focused on winning the war she had lost sight of what was really important: Apple building the greatest things the world had ever known? But wasn't the threat of Google's ultimate destruction of Earth a more pressing concern than the Keynote? How could people buy products if the world fell into total anarchy and darkness? Perhaps Jobs was even going to cancel the Keynote. He had never missed one before, even after the bombing of Cupertino, but this surely was different. Apple needed to focus all its resources now to stop Google once and for all.
"Just kidding, dear." Arianna said as she patted Eve on the shoulder. Only half-kidding, Eve thought. Arianna continued, "You'd better freshen up, the meeting will be starting soon. Everyone is here."
"Everyone" was quite an understatement. It was the biggest gathering of the most powerful tech leaders in world history, all the more fascinating because it wasn't taking place on the world, but high above it.
AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP - HIGH ORBIT
The Pogo Rocket’s two remaining engines had almost been out of fuel when it made visual contact with the beautiful, gently spinning Aurora. The hotel was designed in the classic carousel style, classic only in imagination and film until finally realized in stunning detail by Branson. It was the first serious effort at creating artificial gravity in space and was spectacularly successful, both from a technical and artistic standpoint. A bright white circular tube containing four hundred hotel rooms and suites, five shops, three restaurants and conference facilities, rotated around a bright Virgin red hub containing a space port and power generating plants.
Eve had radioed ahead with details of the attack, the ship's damage and loss of life. An emergency team was standing by. Beyond the space station she noticed a large fleet of Amazon ships. She knew those ships had weapons. While no great friend of Apple, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos hated Google even more and didn't trust them at all. He wouldn't go into orbit without packing some serious firepower.
Eve coasted the Pogo Rocket into the center of the space port's hanger. An emergency team in space suits floated out quickly to secure it and help the remaining passengers out. The hatch was damaged from the battle and they had to burn it open with laser tools. Yuliya was pulled out first and then the emergency team's leader looked in on Eve. He radioed into her helmet. "You are some amazing pilot, Dr. Zachara. I can't believe you got the ship here intact, let alone right into the center of the hanger." He offered a hand.
Eve motioned for Oliver to exit next, but he wouldn't have it. "You first, please."
Eve was about to climb out when suddenly Oliver's arm was grabbed and he let out a yelp. It was Cleona, or what was left of her, a garbed swirl of wires and flailed artificial flesh. The hideous thing clutched on Oliver like a ghoul rising from a grave.
Eve rushed to rescue him, and the thing grabbed on to her with its other arm. Eve was about to fire into it with her captured laser pistol, but it became clear Cleona wasn't trying to hurt them. It was trying to communicate. A tattered electronic voice sputtered, "I'm sorry… I'm sorry." It released Oliver and its grip softened on Eve. As the mangled machine floated it pathetically asked, “Why… why does Google hate… Apple?"
"I don't know." Eve answered.
"Does… not… compute." The robot muttered and its fingers uncurled and went limp.
HOTEL SUITE - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP
The hotel suite was unbelievable. Despite everything that had happened, Oliver insisted on personally handling all the details of checking them in and making sure the room was perfect. During the check-in, a security guard noticed Eve's laser pistol and almost said something but Oliver waved him off. That was a good thing, because after this serious security breach, Eve had no intention of letting it go whatever Branson’s rules might be. She did however, slip it into her flight bag to be less conspicuous.
The suite had a giant living area with a sunken couch, dining platform, bar and floor to ceiling windows looking out over the Earth. There was a huge bedroom, two bathrooms, four sinks, a Jacuzzi tub and a two person shower. Eve couldn't help but wonder what the other rooms looked like. With all the VIP's in attendance, this had to be on the middle to lower end of the scale. Eve's position in Apple granted her quite a bit of cachet but she was hardly a big shot compared to the legendary figures who she knew were attending the conference.
Oliver showed them around and went over some emergency procedures. He made sure there was ice and the mini-bar was fully stocked. As he headed out he paused. "I'm sorry about the whole… the…"
Eve smiled, "Killer robot?"
"Yes." He smiled back. "Please try to enjoy your stay and if there's anything you or Yuliya need, just ask. Don't forget, there's complimentary wine and cheese in the lounge at 5pm. I'll… double check to make sure all the staff is human."
Eve and Yuliya showered together, and despite the time pressures and the close call with death, they ended up making out. The gravity in the hotel was only about half of Earth's, so everything, from the gentle spray of the warm water, to the lightness in their feet and the ease blood pumping through their hearts, made it feel like they were making love in a cloud.
CONFERENCE ROOM - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP
Sir Richard Branson sat in the middle of the high tech conference room with the glow of the moon and the sparkling Milky Way out the windows behind him. At 82, he was in top shape, and spoke in his classy English accent with the gravitas of a major business leader in more than a dozen tech industries. But every now and then his eyes would twinkle mischievously and his sly smile would betray him as the fun loving playboy who got his start in the music business.
"Arianna Huffington, I want to thank you for helping me organize this meeting here today. And also the other heads of the tech families: from Facebook and Instagram, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos from Amazon, and from Twitter, Dick Costolo, Larry Ellison of Oracle, Drew Houston, Elon Musk, Doctor Zachara representing Apple, Marc Andreesen, and from the TWIT Network we have with us Leo Laporte and all the other associates from the blogosphere and social networks. Thank you."
Eve scanned over the impressive assembly. There was only one major tech leader missing and unrepresented, but Eve knew where she was and wasn't surprised she had failed to attend.
Branson continued, "How did things ever get so far? I don't know. This whole Google thing. How could it have come to this? They seemed like a couple nice boys not so long ago. It's all so unnecessary."
"We should have killed them while we had the chance." Zuckerberg said bitterly. "Now it is probably too late." Zuckerberg avoided looking at Eve with his remaining eye, but Eve sensed the remark was shot in her direction. A large ragged scar ran from the top of his head down through his black eyepatch and across his cheek. His right hand was missing from the wrist, and replaced with simple black iron hook. He had thus been mutilated while battling in the streets of Paris during "The Unfriend Revolution" when the population of France rose up against Google's purchase of the country, only to be brutally beaten down. Eve had been there. She had fought by his side and knew his courage to be second to none. His hand had been chopped off by an axe welding Google riot suppression officer, who then tried to finish him off with a chop to his head. But Zuckerberg had been hit, blooded and then captured the ax and turned it back on its owner with his remaining hand. He then when on to rally the resistance fighters for a new attack. And despite desperate odds, the Facebook founder had almost pulled it off, almost freed the long suffering French people. But in the face of a massive air attack, the revolutionaries were scattered. It was the only time Eve ever had retreated in the middle of a battle. She had been ordered to by Jobs. She knew Zuckerberg felt betrayed, by her and by Apple. She didn't blame him. But it was disappointing because he was one of the few true tech warriors she looked up to other than Jobs.
"What good does it do to regret the past?" Dick Costolo said, almost echoing Eve's own thoughts. "The question is: what should we do now?"
Marc Andreesen jumped in. "I want to know why Steve Jobs isn't here. We all made this a priority. What, he thinks he's better than us? Couldn't he have at least sent Tim Cook or Jony Ives?"
Eve didn't bother to react. Larry Ellison replied instead, "There is no better representative of Apple in the Google Wars than Doctor Zachara. Her knowledge of the ground campaign is second to none."
Branson also waved Marc off. "I've been assured by Mr. Jobs that she has Apple's full proxy."
"We don't need Steve Job's permission to do what we need to do. Apple is over extended anyway. They don't have the resources to lead the fight against Google anymore. They've fallen back into a completely defensive position." Jeff Bezos declared. "Isn't that right, Doctor Zachara?"
Eve dodged the question. "As I understand, Amazon has a proposal."
"Yes we do. An all out assault. We have the reserves. We are prepared to attack. Both on Earth and above it. But I want assurances from the others at this table that we are united."
"What assurances do you need?" Elon Musk asked. "At this point we are all in danger from Google. How can we not be united to stop them?"
"Yes, but if Amazon strikes and bears the brunt of the fight, I need to know no one will take advantage of the situation to move into our territories. And, with all due respect, Sir Branson, I am speaking particularly of you and your industries."
"You have my word." Branson said. "Let us take a vote around the room. Are we united in a final effort to be lead by Amazon? To solve this Google thing for good? And to make no individual acts to benefit against each other's interests until the war is won? Arianna?"
Arianna nodded firmly. This was no surprise to Eve. Branson continued around the room. "Drew?" Houston nodded. "Facebook?" Zuckenberg quickly nodded. "Twitter?" Dick Costolo nodded.
And one by one the others agreed. Even Andreesen, who had strongly defended Google in the past. The unanimous vote was finally determined when Leo Laporte softly answered, "Aye."
WAR BRIEFING - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP
After the vote, Bezos outlined his attack strategy in a colorful powerpoint presentation with holographic illustrations. Amazon would lead the principle assault on Google's space operations, headquarters and North American business centers, with all the other tech companies simultaneously attacking Google's positions in different markets around the world. Speaking for Apple, Eve promised to drive Google out of Central Asia, which would not be too difficult given Apple's strong position in China, particularly if Google were distracted elsewhere. Branson and Musk would work with Zuckerberg and Arianna to retake Europe and Ellison would drive Google's guerrillas out of Central and South America.
Eve found herself standing next to Zuckerberg as they both looked over European troop deployment plans. Without turning to her, Zuckerberg dryly said, "We'll always have Paris, Eve."
It was meant as a joke, and a slam. And Eve took it as both. "I'm sorry, Jeff." She had said it many times before and hoped this time he might finally acknowledge it. He raised his iron hook.
"If you hadn't tied on that tourniquet, I would have bleed to death." Eve stared at the cold black half circle with the sharp point on one end. She almost said something, but stopped herself. Zuckerberg read her mind anyway, "Why don't I get an animatronic artificial hand?"
"I like the hook. It's simple. Pure. Dependable.” Zuckerberg's eye burned with determination. “I hope I can depend on Apple this time. It's our last chance to stop Google. If we fail, the Earth is doomed."
Branson interrupted by approaching Eve and putting a warm hand on her shoulder. "Why haven't you asked?"
"Asked what?" Eve answered.
"Where is she?"
"I know where she is. I didn't expect her to be here."
"I tried to talk to her. But she's determined to fight them on her own terms. I think she's gone a little crazy in the jungle." Branson said with a sad shake of his head.
"The jungle can do that to you."
"We need her, Eve. We can't pull it off without her. We'll never take Europe with Africa under Google control. You've got to talk to her. Get her to turn her forces North to the Nile.
Zuckerberg answered for Branson. "You're the only one she'll listen to. She respects you. And Apple.” He added under his breath, “Why, I don’t know.”
Branson agreed. "You have to go to her in person. It has to be your first stop when you return to Earth.”
"I'm not sure I'll even be able to find her."
"You have to." Zuckerberg said. And in that moment, a silent deal was made. This was the way Eve could make it up to him. It was an impossible task, but somehow she had to do it. For Zuck.
CONFERENCE - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP
Eve knew the attack planning had devolved into pointless chatter when Drew Houston started geeking out by suggesting the alliance be called: "The Fellowship of Tech." Soon there were discussions of a T-Shirt and logos and Eve started for the door. "Email me the rest." Arianna nodded and it was the cue many were looking for. The meeting broke up.
Leo Laporte button holed Eve before she could make it out. "So, Dr. Zachara… " He paused under Eve's withering stare and then fumbled. "… all for one and one for all, right?"
"Don't try to kiss up to me, Laporte. You are so two-faced."
"What have I done? I'm one of the biggest Apple fans there is."
"I'm a reporter. I have to cover both sides. I liked the openness of Android. But obviously, with the world in jeopardy, Google has to be stopped."
"Is the TWIT network really behind this? We're not going to win this on the ground and then lose it on the blogosphere are we?"
"Eve, we're a hundred percent behind this. I promise."
Eve shook her head skeptically. Laporte smiled, “So I guess you’re not going to tell me what Jobs is going to announce at the Keynote?”
Eve was about to say something rude, when Arianna caught up and pulled her aside. "Admiral Bezos wants to talk to you. Privately."
"Admiral Bezos?" Eve said, raising an eyebrow.
HOTEL SUITE - AURORA - VIRGIN HOTELS GROUP
Bezos' suite was indeed larger than Eve's, but not by much. Eve took that as a complement from Branson. By the time Eve met with him, Bezos had grandiosely changed into a Space Admiral Uniform. But, that being said, it was reasonably restrained. Light gray body armor with an Amazon logo and yellow gold epaulettes. He headed to the bar and offered her a drink.
"What's your poison?"
"I'm fine. You wanted to talk to me?" Eve asked briskly. She needed to get back to Earth. She needed to make plans for the battles ahead.
Bezos slowly poured himself a scotch and soda, pausing to indicate he was in charge. He took a sip and then looked at her levelly.
"So you have Steve Jobs proxy?"
"I never said that. No one has his proxy."
"Then how did you just vote for him?"
"He already knew of your plan and told me I could support it."
"How did he know?"
Eve folded her arms. Bezos shrugged. "I guess it was impossible to keep something this big a secret. Alright, so here is the deal. There's a price for Amazon saving the Earth."
"Yes. We want the moon."
"Why are you telling me?"
"Because that's the deal! We save Apple's ass and Jobs gives me the moon."
"I'm not authorized to give you the moon."
"Branson signed off on it."
"That has nothing to do with me."
"Look, Eve, let's be real. I have to get something out of this. At least the darkside of the moon. We'll split the Earth side with Apple. Deal?"
"Jeff, I'm not in a position to give you any part of the moon. Speaking for Apple or for the people of the planet Earth."
"Then we're going to take it, Eve! You tell Jobs that! Amazon is taking the moon!"
"Alright, Jeff. I'll tell Steve you told me that you are going to take the moon."
"And we will!"
"Anything else? Mars maybe?"
"What?! Is Apple going to Mars?"
"I was joking."
"I know Apple has a space program! Don't try to tell me it doesn’t! I know! And if you start for Mars, we will beat you there too!"
Eve said nothing, hoping the conversation would end and she could get going. Bezos downed his drink and make another. "Jobs is going to make some big space announcement at the Keynote, isn't he?"
"I honestly don't know anything about Keynote announcements."
"This is not going to be like the goddamned iPad! You know how much money we invested to get the Kindle up an running only to have Apple jump in and steal the tablet market and the glory?! Well, that's not going to happen again! You try to move into space and we will blow your ships to bits. Understand?"
"Why don't you start with Google?"
"We will." Bezos said with firm determination.
Eve nodded. She believed him. "Alright. I’ll drink to that.”
Bezos smiled. His anger faded.
“Same as yours, if you please." Eve smiled.
Bezos mixed her a scotch and soda and handed it to her. “I guess you are a good sales agent. You just sold me.” Bezos mused. They both raised their glasses in a toast. "To the end of Google."
But before their glasses could clink together, the first plasma torpedoes hit the Aurora and explosions rocked the hotel. Alarms went off and the room shook. The entire station began to shift and the artificial gravity became unbalanced. Eve and Bezos looked out the windows. Half a dozen giant spaceships were attacking. Spaceships neither of them had ever seen before.
Google Deathdealer Dreadnoughts.
To be continued…
Next episode: Battle of the Aurora