Two Worlds – Chapter 42

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Coop couldn’t get to sleep. The Self-Contained Survival Habitats blocked out most of the sounds around him, but there was something about knowing you had to be up in an hour than made it impossible to doze off. So he sat there in his fart sack staring at the interior lining of the smart fabric.

<I wonder if this would stop a bullet?> It was a completely reasonable thought to be having at midnight.

Coop pulled out his PAD and pulled up the specs for the SCSH. <Nope. It sure as hell wouldn’t.>

He wasn’t naïve enough to think that the equipment they’d been issued was the latest and greatest. The SCSH kept everything at a comfortable temperature, kept out the bugs, and offered fresh filtered air but everything had the slight aroma of feet to it. All of the equipment did.

Hundreds, maybe even thousands of recruits had used this equipment. Countless boys and girls over the past decades had sat in the field and slept in this exact SCSH. Thinking about the past made Coop daydream about the future. He dreamed of new, shiny equipment, no instructors yelling in his face, and no more burpees; the last probably being the most important.

Coop was surprised to feel the SCSH shake. It snapped him out of his quasi-dream. He looked down at his PAD and saw over an hour had past. It was time for his watch.

“Coop,” Emma whispered, trying not to wake the rest of the squad. “Wake up, Coop.”

“I’m up,” he grumbled, unsealing his SCSH and slithering out of it like a newborn baby.

“Hey, Coop, it’s your watch.” Emma’s eyes were averted, and she was partially hunched over. Everything about her body language showed her being submissive towards him.

Coop didn’t understand why Emma was the way she was, and he didn’t have time to think about it. The one thing he did know, and the one thing that would keep his section of second squad operating at its full potential, was that Emma was the type of person who needed constant encouragement. He could at least giver her that.

“Thanks, Emma.” Coop forced himself to sound grateful. “Anything unusual?”

“No,” she took one last look around. “Everyone else is asleep.”

<Which is where I want to be.> He kept that thought to himself.

“Ok, good job, Emma. Get some sleep.”

She bobbed her head a few times and then shuffled back to her SCSH. Two minutes later she was sealed inside and Coop was all alone. The only member of the eighty-three strong Echo Company 132nd Training Battalion still awake.

“Fan-fucking-tastic.” He muttered to himself.

Remembering Eve’s instructions he got out of the small crater second squad had made into their temporary home and walked around the perimeter. Luna was high overhead and nearly full. He could see the outline of the two intersecting orbital defense rings, which made it look like some ancient, vengeful deity had drawn a giant X on Earth’s only moon.

He could also see more stars in the sky than he ever had before. Some were natural, the light of stars from light years away that had traveled for thousands of years before reaching Earth. Some of the lights were unnatural, so Coop pulled out his PAD and opened another app.

A grid overlay appeared over the night sky, and names began to identify certain points. Coop’s PAD identified a dozen space habitats. The city-sized space stations were used for everything from living to farming. There were old stations, some nearing their triennial. They were the first environments mankind had built off of mother Earth. More modern stations were still being built by all the major interstellar powers, but they were mostly used for agriculture now-a-days, and they were more likely to be in orbit around Mars or one of the other colonies. There just wasn’t enough room in Earth’s orbit to put any more junk.

The PAD also identified shipyards, military stations, and even a few Commonwealth Fleet warships. But the biggest marking, and the biggest light in the sky aside from Luna, was Commonwealth Fleet Base Constitution. The fleet base for First Fleet.

Coop clicked on the blinking icon on his PAD and an image popped up. CFB Constitution consisted of a ten kilometer thick, fifty kilometer high central spire surrounded by six levels of docking yard rings. The yards looked like spokes on a wheel with each wheel offering dozens of berths for the Commonwealth warships. The image wasn’t much more detailed then that, MILNET didn’t offer more classified readouts, but just from looking at it Coop could see that Constitution could handle hundreds of warships.

It was a marvel of modern architecture that continued to grow as the Commonwealth’s power grew. Around the time of the Last Terran War Constitution had consisted of a single ring and housed the entire fledgling Commonwealth Fleet. Now it was over five times larger and only held a fraction of Commonwealth naval power.

There was no doubt in Coop’s mind that he would find himself on that base at some point in the next few months. If nothing else, it was the main staging and transition point for Fleet personnel and Infantry in the system. There were smaller bases scattered throughout the Sol system, but none as impressive as Constitution.

The snap of a twig pulled Coop out of looking between his PAD and the sky. Coop might have lived in the PHA all his life, but humanity had spent the better part of its existence living on open plains like this. The snapping of the twig summoned something deep inside of him, something basic and primal. Instinctually, Coop crouched low and swept the area with his eyes. You didn’t need good night vision with Luna being full, but even then he couldn’t see too far around the clearing. The trees from the surrounding thickets cast shadows that even Luna’s light couldn’t penetrate.

Another snap sent Coop’s head swiveling until he spotted movement. A single figure was walking on the edge of the clearing. It wasn’t moving particularly slowly or carefully, so Coop brought up his PAD and used the zoom function to get a closer look.

Coop didn’t know if the figure had been watching him the whole time, or if he just looked at that moment; but PO3 Janney’s grinning face was the last thing Coop wanted to see. He knew what that grin meant.

“Hey…hey,” Coop reached out and kicked the SCSH closest to him; which turned out to be Eve’s.

She must not have fallen asleep yet, because she jumped out of the cocoon ready to go. “What?”

“Janney is walking around the clearing looking like he’s about to open presents on Christmas morning.” Coop nodded to his zoomed in PAD.

Eve took one look and gave a curt nod. Coop half expected her to yell at him for waking her up over one of their instructors prowling around in the night, but she didn’t. Instead she moved around and shook the rest of the squad’s SCSHs.

“Second squad up,” she whispered urgently. “Let’s go, move with a purpose people. Harper, get Mike’s cock out of your mouth and hustle.”

Coop took his eyes off PO3 Janney at the last comment. That would be a hell of a sight, but Harper and Mike were emerging from their shared SCSH completely clothed. <Oh well.>

Coop turned back to where the PO3 was only to find him gone. <Shit.>

“Eve, I lost him.”

“What the hell do you mean you lost him?” She walked back over to him and crouched back down.

In this position only their heads and shoulders were outside of their small depression.

“He was there one second and then he was gone. I lost him.” Coop repeated, angrier at himself than Eve’s condescending tone.

“Find him. Everyone else PADS out and scanning the clearing. I’ve got a feeling something wicked this way comes.”

Eight eyes looked out from their defensive position while Eve moved back and forth between them.

They sat like that for a full ten minutes before anything happened.

“Eve, I think I see…” Emma started.

Coop heard the soft whistle in the air before Emma jerked backward. She went as ridged as a board as she fell, and then began to convulse on the ground.

“Attack!” Eve yelled, her voice carrying across the open clearing. “We’re under attack!”

Coop heard more whizzing sounds, and felt something pass uncomfortably close to his head. It was followed quickly by a high pitched scream from Olivia who reached futilely for her back before tumbling to the ground where she started to convulse just like Emma.

“We’ve got to get out of here!” Coop yelled to Eve who was darting around to check on their fallen squad mates.

“No shit, Sherlock.” Eve snapped back, dragging Emma and then Olivia behind a SCSH. “We need to sprint for the cover of the tree line.” She addressed the rest of the squad. “On three we’ll…”

More whizzes filled the air and Eve jerked painfully before falling face first into the dirt.

“Eve!” Harper screamed, rushing toward her only to receive her own painful jerk and fall.

Bodies were starting to pile up; literally in the case of their small hole. Harper had fallen on top of Eve, and Eve had dragged Olivia and Emma and plopped them on top of each other behind a SCSH. Half the squad was already down, and Coop knew what that meant.

“Everyone get ready to run!” Coop popped his head up to take a quick look around.

Chaos had spread throughout the entire company. Unlike second squad the rest of the squads were camped in the open. They didn’t have anything to hide behind, and whoever was attacking was cutting them down like lambs at the slaughter.

But the other nine squads’ confusion was second squad’s opportunity. While everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off, Coop could lead his people to the tree line and safety.

It was a great idea…in theory.

“We run in three…two…one…now!” Coop was already in a sprinter’s position.

He sprang out of the crouch and hurdled toward the tree line. It was about fifty meters from the small crater they’d been taking shelter in. Normally, fifty meters wouldn’t be anything. But when stuff was whizzing all around you fifty meters seemed to stretch for an eternity.

Not that it mattered. Coop only made it about a third of the way.

Coop had never been struck by lightning, so he didn’t have a point of comparison; but if he had he was pretty sure it would have felt like this. There was a small prick of pain and then every nerve in his body was set on fire. Pain overrode everything, and his body just stopped working mid-stride.

Coop just collapsed and rolled a few times before finally landing face down in the dirt.

Mike and Nate sprinted past him but only made it a few more steps before they were cut down too.

Soon the screams of Echo Company began to dwindle until finally there was nothing left.

And then new yells filled the air.

“Move through the objective. Move…move…move!”

Coop heard the heavy footsteps of what sounded like a lot of people moving quickly through the clearing. He would have liked to see who had shot them all, but his body still wasn’t responding.

“Give me three hundred and sixty degree security. Squad leaders let me know when we’re set.”

“Set”

“Set”

“Set”

“Set”

“First squad reposition zero to one-eighty; second squad one-eighty to three-sixty. Third and fourth look for intel, weapons, commo, you know the drill. Assume they’re booby trapped.”

There were more footsteps as people moved. All Coop heard was footsteps moving closer and closer until he felt the ground tremble around him as two men ran over.

“Check him.” One said.

There was a pause. “Clear.”

There were more footsteps and Coop could tell they were right on top of him.

“Roll him.”

“Find cover.”

“Have you looked around recently? There is no fucking cover.” Bickering broke out between the two unseen people.

“Hey, it’s your balls. Remember Richardson that time the body really was booby-trapped?”

“Shut up and move!” A commanding voice yelled from nearby.

A heavy weight descended on Coop’s back. So heavy it forced all the air out of his still convulsing lungs. “One…two…three.”

Coop felt strong, cold hands grip him and pull him as the weight rolled to the side.

“Clear.”

The hands let go and Coop flopped back to his facedown position. The two people moved on, and Coop heard nothing but more orders being yelled and people moving around for the next few minutes.

“We’re moving off the objective and bounding back to the staging area; first and second followed by third and fourth. Good work Alpha!”

More people ran past Coop and then the footsteps vanished into the night. Ten seconds after the silence began a switch was thrown and Coop had control of his body again.

The first thing he did was throw up. And he wasn’t the only one.

“Well that was a piss poor performance!” SSG Cunningham appeared from the tree line Coop had been trying to reach. “Congratulations Echo Company. Only one of nine squads decided to institute a watch, but even that watch didn’t accomplish shit. Everyone died, they just got a few meters closer to safety.”

Her hard glare passed over the groaning company. “Learn this lesson well, Recruits. You’re in the military now. Safety is not a luxury you can take for granted. I don’t care if you’re on a carrier in the middle of the biggest fleet mankind has ever fielded, or at home with your sweetheart making babies. You will be ready to fight at a moment’s notice and you will have a plan. Understood?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” The response was punctured by gags and more vomiting.

“It better be.” She turned on her heel and started to walk away. “Get back to sleep. We have a long day tomorrow.”

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