Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“I’m telling you it’s that way.”
“Are you sure? I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be heading in that direction.”
“You’re both wrong,” Eve finally chimed in. “You’re pointing North, you’re pointing South, and we need to be heading West. Orient your map and let’s continue with the mission.”
Eve, Coop and Harper were huddled underneath a colorful polyplast advertising-canopy that was promoting something using cartoons of ponies and excited schoolgirls. Blockie symbols flashed all around it to complete the illusion that this was a small Blockie city on a newly terraformed world that second squad was tasked with seizing.
The rest of second squad was spread around a four-way intersection in three hundred and sixty degree security. There was at least one M3 pointed down each of the avenues of approach, and two down the most likely vector based upon intelligence and the squad leader’s sense of direction. For this particular squad training exercise, more commonly known as a STX, pronounced “Stick”, the squad leader was Harper.
The still-recovering woman had chosen Eve and Coop as her team leaders, and now they were arguing where they should be going.
“Why the hell did we have to lose visuals?” Harper groaned.
About ten minutes into the STX STRATNET had gone down. TACCOM was still up and running but it was spotty, so second squad all had their helmets off and was communicating the old-fashioned way.
“We need to move.” Eve subtly urged. “We’re supposed to take the objective in less than an hour.”
“Yeah, ok.” Harper nodded. “Everyone let’s move out.” She hissed as quietly as possible and motioned in the direction Eve had stated was West.
To call their target a city was a vast overstatement. The small settlement was an orderly six city blocks of identical polyplast homes with the occasional small business. GYSGT Cunningham and PO3 Janney insisted that most Blockies settlements look like this. They weren’t big on public individuality.
Their target was the administration building at the center of the town. Intelligence stated that another understrength squad guarded the three-story building; which was all the small town needed. A few military personnel, a handful of civilian law enforcement officers, and the anti-crime technology in just about every city in the galaxy led to very little opportunity for crime to get a foothold in the new colony.
But that didn’t matter at the moment. Any civilians there might be were hiding in a collective underground shelter beneath the administration center. Sensors had seen second squad coming and the evacuation was already completed when the town’s automated defenses failed to take down second squad’s ride. Seeing the fireball of bombed out anti-air defenses from the back of a Spyder Assault Shuttle still gave Coop a hard on.
Since they’d hit the ground things had been much less exciting. In fact they were a royal pain in the ass. They’d spent the last two weeks training on the armor and the weapons, getting used to their eccentricities, meeting all the necessary qualifications, and developing the strength needed to operate in them. If there was one good thing Coop could think about from those last few weeks was that they were getting double-orders of chow to replenish their bodies after working in the suits.
<Fucking things still weighs a ton.> Coop grumbled as he got to his feet and got his team ready.
Second squad started to move out on the road heading West. Eve’s three man team took the left side of the street and Coop’s took the right. Each team’s members were spaced at least ten meters apart and staggered with the other team across the street. Each team member also held areas of responsibility. The front two were responsible for what was directly ahead of them down the street. The middle two were responsible for the opposite rooftops, and the rear two were responsible for the space behind them. More than once during an STX the enemy had snuck up and shot them in the ass.
Eve was the point woman on her team covering the front and Coop was the rear middle man on his team covering the rooftop. Walking in the middle of the teams were Harper and Mike. Harper was in the middle to exercise greater command and control of her squad, and an aspect of that was to deploy the squad’s sole heavy-weapon’s soldier where she needed him.
As the biggest and strongest guy in the squad, Mike had the responsibility to carry the MG300 Squad Automatic Weapon, or just SAW for short. The SAW was a tri-barrel machinegun that fired three millimeter plasma-tipped rounds at five-thousand meters per second, with a maximum effective range of thirty-five hundred meters, at a maximum firing rate of five hundred rounds a minute. The added explosion of the plasma on top of the sheer kinetic punch of the electromagnetically thrown rounds was the biggest weapon the squad could bring to bear, and the next best thing to having heavy infantry on the battlefield. Although the military table of organization and equipment designated one machine gunner per squad, the drill instructors had driven home the point that it didn’t always work that way. And as such, this was the first STX in three iterations that they had a SAW.
So naturally Mike was loving life right now. Even if the thing was a bitch to carry around everywhere.
“Two more blocks up and one block over.” The information was passed back to Coop.
Since they weren’t going to just walk down the colony town’s main street and get shot to shit they were coming in on a parallel street.
They covered the two blocks quickly, and then took a knee for a quick break. They needed all the strength they could summon to assault the objective, and after half an hour running around in the armor they were exhausted.
<They never looked exhausted when they’re driving forward to take a hill or kicking down doors and kicking ass on the holos.> Coop was starting to suspect that the entertainment industry was full of shit.
“Ok here’s the plan.” Harper gathered Coop and Eve after they all hydrated and grabbed a quick snack. “Eve and I are going to take her team and assault down the street here.” She indicated the street just around the corner from where she currently sat. “You’re going to provide cover fire while we get close. Then Mike will take over. When he starts to light the building up, Coop, you’ll take your team another block up then over to the rear of the building. Clean up anyone trying to run for it and then kick down the back door. We’ll meet in the middle and sweep the rest of the building.”
It was a pretty simple plan, and Coop had found out it was best to keep things simple. When things got complicated people got killed, and nothing should be complicated in an eight-man STX.
“Helmets on.” Harper ordered.
She’d ordered them off to avoid giving away their position to the enemy, and also because the garbled chatter was annoying as hell. The garble was still there when it came back on, which was weird. As a rule people didn’t usually broadcast on all channels unless it was an emergency of critical intelligence.
“Eve.” Coop opened up a private channel on the squad net. “Do you know what any of that chatter is?”
There was a moment of silence before the reply. “No, it’s being jammed. That can’t be good.”
“Harper,” Eve’s voice called over the squad net. “We’re getting chatter on all nets. Let’s hold a few minutes and try to clean it up before we assault.”
“We can’t wait,” Harper replied. “We only have five minutes to take the objective.”
“Ok, you’re call,” Eve replied.
And Coop got a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“We go on three: one…two…three!” Harper, Eve and the rest of the team charged out onto the street.
They made it about four steps before the enemy saw them and returned fire. Coop popped out and returned fire. Most of the fire was coming from the windows of the building. He put three rounds into one, but it only cracked. Then he was forced to duck back behind the building as return fire began the chew up the ground he’d been standing on a moment before.
“The windows are armorplast!” Coop yelled.
The armored plastic was strong and would stand up to several direct hits before giving.
Coop changed his stance, so he was kneeling this time, and popped back out to put another three rounds in the window. A chunk, about two-thirds of the total cracked off, and fell to the ground.
Coop withdrew once he saw it falling, but not before he took a round to the side. The Dragonscale armor saw the round coming, angled itself, and successfully deflected the needle-like bullet. But it still knocked Coop right on his ass.
<Motherfuckers!> Adrenaline surged through him as he pulled himself back to his feet.
“Mike, I opened a window for you. Light that fucker up. If anyone can get a grenade in there be my guest!”
“On it!” Olivia, whose M3 had a 40mm grenade launcher attached to the bottom, popped a self-guiding high explosive munition into it, stuck the weapon around the corner and fired.
Through her helmets uplink she could control the grenade’s trajectory. Coop waited for the bang, but all he heard was a momentary high-pitched whine.
“Fuck they’ve got swatters!” Eve’s voice was labored.
<Shit!> The intel they’d received said nothing about the automatic railguns that were designed to swat anything coming into its sphere of influence out of the sky; thus the name swatters.
Coop checked her info under the squad net and saw that it was yellow. She was injured, but still combat capable. Coop’s heart thundered in his chest. He wanted to go grab her and patch her up, but he knew he couldn’t. He was more likely to get his ass shot off than make it to her. His armor’s computer had done some analysis since the shooting started, and it was blatantly obvious that there was a lot more than an undersized squad guarding the administration building.
“Mike, cover fire.” Coop said as calmly as he could. “Bravo team, get ready to haul ass.”
Coop blasted off at a sprint the moment he heard the crash of the plasma rounds exploding against the building.
Rounds sparked all around him as he made the mad dash, but he made it unscathed. Olivia wasn’t as lucky. Her icon on his screen went from green to black in an instant. And she wasn’t the only one. Mike’s went from green to yellow, and then to red, and finally black.
Coop shuddered at the thought of how that happened. Mike went from healthy to injured, but combat capable. Then he went to injured, not combat capable, and finally to dead. If Coop had to guess, Mike got hit, fell, and the enemy punched holes in him until he was dead.
Coop shook his head and pushed on. He didn’t have time to think about it. With Olivia down it was just him and John, and both of them were armed with standard M3s.
“Let’s go.” Coop didn’t stop once they’d made it to cover. He ran the block up, halted briefly to check around the corner, and then started to sprint again to the back of the target.
They were about two hundred yards from the building when the enemy saw them coming. Coop getting knocked on his ass by the first couple rounds saved his life. The rapid fire raked across the front of his armor spinning him to the ground. John wasn’t so lucky. Dozens of rounds focused on him when Coop went down. His armor handled the first few, but him staying on his feet and running for an alley gave them a constant target.
They pounded him until rounds finally got through. Which left Coop all alone, face down in the hard-packed dirt road, and facing down a lot more firepower than he was capable of handling.
<Fuck…fuck…fuck me.> Coop’s mind scrambled for a way out of this. But it didn’t take much brainpower to figure out he was shit out of luck. <I need to get to the alley.> That was his best and only hope.
<Five-round burst, chaff grenade, and run like hell.> That was the plan.
The instructors discouraged using the five-round burst function on the M3 because it was less accurate, but Coop didn’t really care right now. He needed fire superiority. A chaff grenade was what would happen if a smoke, EW, and white phosphorous grenade got together and had a baby. Its job was to hide soldiers from electronic and visual detection while stopping the more explosive types of ordinance. The chaff grenade would explode and block the entire street with its scatter. It would leave the assholes up the street firing blind.
Chaff grenades weren’t commonly distributed to anyone below squad leader, but Coop had been able to con one for this STX. Truthfully, the PO3 would probably yell at him to die instead of use the expensive grenade. But Coop wasn’t going down without a fight.
The armor handled the grenade. A person could throw it too, but that was superfluous. No one wants to stop shooting at someone who is shooting at them to grab a heavy metal sphere off their armor to throw. It was practical to build a launching mechanism into the suit.
“Go!” Coop gave the verbal command and felt a slight jolt as the suit launched the grenade.
He immediately rolled and got to his feet while firing blindly from the hip at the enemy positions. It was a desperate move. The enemy opened up on him even as the chaff grenade went off and hid him from view. Coop’s tactical computer counted fifteen different firing points before a round cut through the ballistic plate protecting his thigh. He crumpled like a sack of bricks. Blood squirted from the arterial wound before his smartcloth tightened forming a tourniquet.
<Yeah, I’m dead.> A medic would be able to fix him with medical nanites, but he didn’t have any, and a quick check at the squad’s vitals showed everyone in a black or red status. Coop was in yellow but not for long.
The enemy continued to fire where they last saw Coop, while Coop crawled toward the alley.
He didn’t make it. Just like John before him the enemy was able to score enough hits that it finally defeated his armor.
Coop’s nerves were still on fire as he jolted out of the VR simulation. The rest of second squad was sitting in the machines next to him. Everyone was awake and trying to get over the VR crash.
“Second squad.” The GYSGT walked into the room with a scowl. “It’s time for the after-action review.”
Commonly referred to as an AAR, an after-action review was done after every STX. They went over the mission in its entirety, and then offered positive ‘sustains’ about the leadership’s handling of the mission and negative ‘improves’.
“Harper.” The GYSGT turned her attention on the mission’s leader. “After the AAR we’re going to do corrective training and discuss why it is not a good idea to remove your helmets in a combat zone because someone might be trying to tell you vital information. Like, for instance, that your objective had been reinforced by another two squads of infantry.”
Harper blushed deep red and suddenly found her feet very interesting.
Everyone knew “corrective training” meant that Harper would be running laps in that armor. Anyone present would take a VR crash over that any day of the week.