Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Joint Base Mattis, Mars, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop’s legs beat like a metronome as he ran at a steady thirty kilometers per hour around his area of operations. He’d spent two and a half weeks getting familiar with the armor and training on it. The last three weeks had been spent learning the intricacies of indirect fire operations and qualifying as an independent fire direction center. Those three weeks had been a serious mind fuck. His head still hurt from all the studying.
And now it all came down to this day. This first exam in a string of tests that would qualify him to do the most important job required of a heavy infantry trooper.
<Good thing I took a shit this morning or I’d be having the squirts about now.> Coop praised his foresight as he continued in a random pattern around his large AO.
He’d been running for about half an hour with no fire missions coming down from higher. The longer he had to wait the better. This was a twelve-hour operation they were participating in. Being too eager would just lead to more chances to fail.
“Mike.” Coop called over the squad net that had been established before the exercise began. “Anything yet?”
“Nope.” Mike sounded bored as he patrolled his own AO about one hundred kilometers away. “But it lets me enjoy the view.”
For a former Rat, Mars was a paradise. With a controlled population hovering around ten billion it had none of the overcrowding problems of Earth. Environmental regulation and strict terraforming guidelines had turned the former red planet into what Earth could have been. The air was clean, there was empty space to explore, and there was greenery everywhere. Even if there was still a tinge of red to everything.
Coop’s AO was mostly barren dirt. Anything that was living here had been destroyed by heavy infantry troopers running around and dropping artillery shells on it for centuries. Still, in the distance Coop could see a tree-line of spindly, tall trees with needles instead of leaves. They rose a good fifty meters into the air before coming to a peak. If he bothered to pull out his PAD and look them up it would have told him that they were a spliced version of an Evergreen tree that had been adapted to thrive in Mars’ ecosystem. Even from this distance, with his LACS zoom feature, Coop could tell they were thriving.
<Does every planet other than Earth have this much open space?> Coop’s mind uncharacteristically wandered to questioning his small, insignificant place in the universe.
But he quickly digressed. Thinking of open space and freedom got him thinking about the weekend. Thinking about the weekend got him thinking about his part-time bouncing job, and his part –time bouncing job made him think about the BJs the girls gave him to get in without paying the cover. One even let him fuck her in an alley.
<Yeah, Mars is awesome.> Coop returned to his normal mental priorities.
“Hotel-eight, this is Alpha-seven, immediate suppression over!” The first information for the fire mission crackled over Coop’s radio.
There had to be some jamming going on because he was barely able to make out the observer’s call-sign.
<Immediate suppression.> Coop’s memory raced back to the classes on the mission types that had been drilled into him.
Immediate suppression meant that the unit he was supporting had engaged a planned target, or target of opportunity, and was taking fire. Since there had been no chatter on TACCOM this had to be a target of opportunity.
“Send it, Alpha-seven.” Coop tried to project confidence as he looked for a good position.
On top of the regular call for fire procedures, a heavy infantry trooper had other aspects to worry about. First of which was their own positioning. Launching indirect fire on enemy positions in the open was a good way to receive counter-fire, and powerful enough counter-fire could kill an HI trooper and leave an entire infantry company undefended. With that in mind, Coop’s first job, while still receiving the fire mission, was to locate a good position to fire from.
For the most part Coop had shit to work with. His AO was mostly open space with a few pockets of trees and boulders scattered around. <Rocks it is.> Coop pumped his legs and sprinted toward a small cluster of the big, reddish rocks about three hundred meters away. He got there in about twenty seconds.”
“Hotel-eight, grid November-Bravo 52663874, over.”
<Shit fuckers.> Coop rounded the corner and went down on one knee in the center of the rock formation.
Coop toggled through the information panels of his LACS and pulled up a map of the area. Normally, a commander, or even a PVT, could coordinate indirect fire through STRATNET. All the soldier had to do was get eyes on the target, get a drone to get a peek at it, or even have a warship in orbit do a scan. Any or all of those methods would pinpoint the enemy on STRATNET and make Coop’s job of putting a high explosive warhead up their ass that much easier. But this was a qualification, so of course they couldn’t make anything easy.
Coop double checked to make sure STRATNET was working. <Of course it isn’t.> Before focusing all of his attention on the map.
He located the November-Bravo grid section of the map and zoomed in on that. The neutral-network of the armor tracked the movements of his eyes and listened to his voice commands. There were also sensors on his fingertips for manual manipulation of the data, but Coop knew MSG Smith wanted to see him do this as quickly as possible. Soldiers’ lives depended on him getting rounds on target quickly and correctly.
“Alpha-seven, grid November-Bravo 52663874, out.” Coop plotted the grid coordinate that would drop his ordinance within ten meters of the suspected enemy position.
“Hotel-eight, squad of enemy infantry in a bunker with overhead protection. Requesting Penetrator and HE rounds, over.”
“Alpha-seven, squad of enemy infantry in a bunker with overhead cover, one penetrator round and one HE round, out.” Coop locked in the ordinance type with a flick of his finger on a separate dashboard, and felt his armor react.
The LACS carried a variety of ammunition to meet the requirements of any mission. An average load for a V2 was twelve rounds of thermobaric high explosives, ten kinetic energy rounds, ten anti-personnel rounds, 5 electronic warfare rounds, and a single antimatter round with a yield in the five kiloton range. Coop would be using one of the thermobaric high explosives (HE), and one of the kinetic energy (penetrator) rounds.
The doctrine behind it was simple. The penetrator rounds would accelerate to tremendous speeds and hit the desired target. At detonation, on top of the kinetic force of the impact, the detonation would transmit the force of the explosion into a fifty gigawatt energy beam that would dig into defensive structures. Once the hole had been dug the follow-on HE round would burrow in and detonate, destroying the defensive structure and the squad manning it.
Coop felt the internal mechanisms of the LACS going to work as the selected rounds rotated into the chamber of his EM powered, spine-mounted 125mm tube. He almost sent the rounds out-right then and there, but he remembered the proper procedure and stopped himself just short of pulling the trigger.
“Alpha-seven, authenticate,” he looked at his screen for the code, “Lima-Lima 772, over.”
“Hotel-eight, I authenticate alpha-sierra-sierra, out.”
<Hahaha.> Coop had to keep from laughing over the net as the authentication came back good. <Of course MSG Smith would make the authentication A-S-S.>
“Alpha-seven, shot over.” Coop sent as the two rounds fired from his tube one after the other.
Coop was down on one knee and braced for a reason. He felt the rounds exit with a rattle that drove him into the ground, especially the penetrator round.
“Shot, out.” The observer, alpha-seven, replied, acknowledging that the rounds were on the way.
Coop tracked them through his suits sensors and TACCOM link. If he wanted to, and was more skilled, he could have steered the rounds remotely, but that was more likely to get someone killed and get him kicked out of the military into prison.
The rounds were traveling about seventy-five kilometers over the far ridge. He wouldn’t see them land, and with STRATNET conveniently down he’d have to wait for a report back from the observer.
He gave them a five second warning. “Splash, over.”
The destruction traveled at the speed of sound, but it still reached Coop as a muted BOOM.
“Hotel-eight, add fifty, fire for effect, over.”
“Alpha-seven, add fifty, fire for effect, out.” Coop called back.
<Shit.> The “add fifty” meant that the rounds had dropped about fifty meters short of the target. The enemy bunker would have taken some damage, but the Commonwealth troops would still be under fire.
There were a couple of reasons this could have happened. The first possibility was that the observer’s coordinates were off. It was possible, but unlikely since the acting observer was MSG Smith. That meant that Coop plotted the grid coordinate wrong. He wouldn’t know until the AAR, so all he could do was focus on getting it right this time.
The adjustment was easily made, and the LACS loaded the rounds again. Part of his job as an HI trooper was to manage his resources. Another penetrator and HE round would have done the trick, but Coop really wanted to get this first mission in the bag, so he opted for a penetrator and two HE rounds. Three thumps confirmed his rounds were on the way.
“Splash, out.” There was a thirty second pause. “Hotel-eight, enemy destroyed. Good shooting. Alpha-seven, out.”
Coop let out a ragged breath as the fire mission ended and he took stock of himself. There was no counter-fire anywhere on his sensors, he’d killed the enemy, and he was over the first hump. He might have made a mistake, or he might not have; either way he couldn’t dwell on it now. He popped his head up from the pile of rocks, did a quick visual scan, and then started running in a different direction than the one he’d approached the rocks from.
He made it a quarter-kilometer before his sensors screamed at him and his vision flickered to red. Everything going red was a personal preference that the MSG had them all input into their LACS on the first day they familiarized with the personal settings. Red was the universal “oh shit” color, and everything going red was a solid, visual way to tell you Thor’s hammer was about to buttfuck you.
It was a good thing Coop had drilled on defensive maneuvers for days. He didn’t have time to figure out what exactly was about to get shoved up his ass, but his sensors automatically threw up a distance and direction. The distance was shrinking so rapidly that there wasn’t much Coop could do but point himself in the opposite direction and do a full, powered burst from his legs.
Coop launched himself horizontally across the ground. It was important not to jump up, because an explosion would either throw you higher into the air, which would be bad in low gravity, or blast you back down into the planet from whatever height you had already reached, which would also not be good. Jumping low and parallel to the ground was the best way to put as much distance between you and the explosion as possible without getting pummeled to death.
“Full power to ES systems on my mark.” Coop gave the order and waited until the range hit the triple digits. “MARK!”
Just like the warships of the Commonwealth Navy, the LACS were equipped with electrostatic technology that would fuse the nanite armor at a molecular level. It was the LACS greatest defensive asset, but it came at a cost. The efficiency of the armor’s battery might be unparalleled for anything else its size, but it was still a small battery. Compared to the reactors on a warship it was nothing, which meant that the ES systems could only be engaged for a short time.
Timing was everything, and Coop timed it perfectly. His LACS hardened up and he rode the fiery shockwave of a much larger explosive than what he’d thrown at the enemy a few minutes ago. He still felt the impact as he was thrown across the ground like a stone across a pond, but he was alive.
He powered down the ES system the instant he stopped rolling, and saw the battery life on his HUD drain down to forty-eight percent. As a precaution he activated the solar cells to drink up any extra energy he could while turning off nonessential systems.
“Cooper, you still alive?” MSG Smith deep voice asked over the comm net that was now working perfectly.
“Just peachy, Master Sergeant.”
“Good. I’ll mark you down for a pass on your first test.”
“Living is passing?” Coop meant it as a joke.
“Yes.” The MSG’s words cut through Coop like a knife.
<That’s fucked up.> Was what he wanted to say, but stepping back and thinking about the situation for a second he knew he should have seen something like this coming.
“I’d hurry up and get rearmed and recharged, Cooper. You never know when the next fire mission is going to come down the net.”
“On it, Master Sergeant.” Was all Coop could say.
He brushed off the dirt that covered his LACS like a second skin and started running toward the storage area where the resupply parts were stashed. He needed to hurry and get a new battery in the suit or there was no way he was going to pass this exam.
If he didn’t pass he’d get recycled, and that was one step closer to failure than he was comfortable with. He’d just learned that failure was fatal. They didn’t do VR for HI school training exercises. This was all real world shit.