Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Joint Base Mattis, Mars, United Commonwealth of Colonies
<Owww. Son of a…> Coop felt the blow vibrate through his arm, up into his shoulder, then take a detour into his back and chest.
If the meter and a half long blade jutting out of the forearm of his LACS wasn’t attached he would have dropped it. His body was barely getting over the shock before the droid bashing the shit out of him with an equally long blunted sword reared back and hammered him again. This time he dropped to his knees.
“Hold!” MSG Smith yelled as he walked across the battalion motor pool where Alpha Company was finishing up their first week of hand-to-hand combat training.
In typical military fashion, they’d learned everything there was to know about the dual blades of the LACS before getting to where they were. The blades were each a meter and a half long and nano-edged. Those nanites were what made the blades dangerous to HI troopers. The microscopic machines vibrated together at a molecular level, which created a saw-like motion smaller than the eye could see. That made them infinitely sharper than any other cutting tool in the history of mankind. As a result, they were a threat to HI armor and anything else an infantry company brought to the battlefield.
Needless to say, this wasn’t hand-to-hand like back in Basic. The training should have been called blade-to-blade smackdown.
“Cooper, stop your bitching and grow a pair.” The MSG opened a private chat line.
“This bucket of bolts hits like my dad after a bender,” Coop growled back as he got back to his feet and shook his arm out.
“If a dead arm is the worst thing you get from this training I ain’t doing my job.”
“Yes, Master Sergeant.” Coop’s tone bordered on insubordinate, and the big man caught it.
“You hit the gym, Cooper?” The question came out of left field as the MSG walked over and started fiddling with the droid.
“Yes, Master Sergeant. Whenever I get the chance.”
“That’s good. You are a skinny guy, and you need to build muscle.” There was a popping sound and the dull blade fell out of the droid’s clutches.
Coop would have taken offense to the statement if it came from anyone but the MSG, but he sensed there was a point to the questioning and mild insults.
“You can put all the grav-pressure on a metal bar that you want, or you can curl those hyper-dense dumbbells if that does it for you. But nothing, I say again, nothing, makes a trooper stronger than building muscle doing the things they are actually going to do in combat.” He raised the dull blade over his head and slashed down at Coop.
Coop barely got his own blade up in a blocking position before the impact, and he wished he hadn’t. The droid’s blow felt like a love tap. The force of the MSG’s blow was inhuman.
Coop crumbled to the ground, his arm completely numb from the shoulder down.
“Everyone , stop and gather around.” MSG Smith refastened the blade into the droid’s waiting hand.
Coops struggled back to his feet silently cursing the MSG. He suspected it all had something to do with what happened last weekend.
The HI troopers who’d gone out hadn’t been caught by the MPs, but the law got a good description of the culprits from the victims. That led to the battalion Sergeant Major coming down for a little chat. They all were lined up in formation while the old, silver-haired hardass chewed them out and went through armor PT with them for three hours. Then, Coop was pretty sure MSG Smith had gotten his ass chewed because once the SGM was gone the MSG made them polish their armor until it was spotless.
“You all forgot the fourth B. There’s beer, bitches, bad decisions, and beating the shit out of an officer and a quarter company of regular grunts. You all are so fucking lucky they don’t have video evidence and all the other guys were well past wasted.” That was the last the MSG said about it, but his actions over the last week were tuned toward making an example out of Coop.
The bit with the blade was just a chance to be physical.
“Everyone, list the order of preference for energy usage!”
“Offensive weaponry, defensive countermeasures, and then enhanced maneuvers!” Everyone roared back because they knew that’s what their instructor wanted to hear.
They’d instinctually formed a half circle around the MSG.
“There is a reason we leave this hand-to-hand stuff until the end, and that reason is that hand-to-hand is an enhanced maneuver.”
A lot of people look confused, but Coop got it instantly. He’d been that moron trying to do enhanced maneuvers too early, and screwing up regular maneuvers as a result. The HI instructor didn’t want to teach them bad habits until they knew more about the armor and their jobs as mobile fire support.
“This,” a blade sprung forward from the MSG’s suit, “this is a fucking art. This isn’t just moving your arms in the forms we’re teaching you. There is more to it than blocking and stabbing. It is a complicated dance of mind and muscle that will push you to your limits, and it is something we don’t spend nearly enough time doing.”
“Why?” Coop’s mouth got the best of him.
He couldn’t see the MSG’s face, but the slow way the senior NCO turned his head in Coop’s direction was enough to get him to snap his mouth shut.
“You don’t get enough of this because of your primary mission. We don’t want you up close and personal with a Blockie nutcracker.” The MSG used the slang for a Blockie HI trooper. “We want you in support of your companies raining down steel and keeping them alive. This is worst-case scenario training.”
<That doesn’t make sense. They want us to not be prepared in a situation that will definitely get us killed.> He kept the thought to himself, but it was no less valid.
“So, hand-to-hand is more than just these forms. It is split second decision making and application of your suit’s neural networks to proportionally meet the enemy with reasonable force. In other words, you need to do your own enhanced movement to meet their movements without running out of battery and becoming a human shish kabob.”
“For example. Cooper, thank you for volunteering.” The MSG instructed him to get back into the same position as the droid drills they’d been doing. “Stand there and block me.”
Coop did as he was told and got smashed to the ground again. Thankfully, this time the MSG didn’t make his whole arm go numb.
“Now, this time I want you to divert power to your arm and shoulder for the overhead block. You’re going to execute a slight push up and away from you. I want minimal application of power to get the job done. Remember this is a race to get the other guy to run out of battery.”
They reset, and the MSG struck again. This time with the advanced warning Coop was able to push a little juice into the artificial muscles of the suit. He took the hit like before, but it was a lot easier to handle. Then he did what the NCO instructed. He pushed up and out with a bit of force. The MSG’s dull blade slipped away and to the side of Coop. In this position, Coop could drive his second blade into the older soldier’s chest and end the fight. He almost did it, but it seemed too easy, and he didn’t want to be the fuck-up example again.
“That’s better.” The drill ended. “But you need to be more fluid. I will do my best to hone your muscle memory and get those fast-twitch muscle fibers firing on all cylinders, but I can only get through the basics in your last week here. If you all want to survive out there,” the MSG pointed past the motor pool’s fence, “you will need to put in days on simulators, make friends with the other HI in your battalion, and drill together constantly. That, and that alone, will keep you alive. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Master Sergeant.”
“Sound off like you give a shit about staying alive.”
“Yes, Master Sergeant!”
“Good. Its 1630 now, so stow your gear, make sure your shit is clean and functional, and then we’re done for the weekend. Next week is your last week until I send you little puppies out into the mean real world, so be ready for it to suck. Dism…”
A siren rolled across the motor pool. A pitched wail that almost made the LACS filter out the noise to protect the troopers hearing.
“Attention! Attention! All First Corps, Eight Division, Fifth Brigade soldiers muster to your assigned motor pools and await further deployment instructions. Attention! Attention! All First Corps, Eight Division, Fifth Brigade soldiers muster to your assigned motor pools and await further deployment instructions.” The message continued to repeat.
“You heard the man!” MSG snapped them out of the trance they were all in. “Forget what I just said and get ready for deployment. Luckily, we’re already where we are supposed to be.”
“Master Sergeant,” Coop felt confident he was speaking for the rest of the class. “We’re just school candidates. Why would that mean us?”
“You’ve been dressing yourself in the morning right, Cooper?”
“Yes, Master Sergeant.”
“What does it say on your uniform?”
“1854th Infantry Battalion, Master Sergeant.”
“Are we in the Fourth Battalion of First Corps, Eight Division, Fifth Brigade?”
“Yes, Master Sergeant.”
“Then why are you asking such a stupid fucking question?”
<Just a simple “shut up and move” would have been fine.> Coop wisely kept his mouth shut as more student HI troopers in various parts of their training spilled into the motor pool.
Within twenty minutes everyone in Fourth Battalion was present and organized into a battalion formation. SGM hardass marched around the front talking over private channels with the MSGs and GYSGTs that were the company NCOICs until finally two officers walked in.
Their armor was no different than anyone else’s, but with TACCOM and STRATNET activated Coop could see the holographic single platinum stripe and single golden stripe overlaid on the center of their breastplate, just like MSG Smith’s three chevrons and rockers.
<Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander. Our battalion XO and CO.> He’d never seen the two people before, and doubt he would again before graduation.
The LT walked to the rear while the LCDR walked to the front of the formation. He exchanged a quick salute and a few words with the SGM and then the NCO jogged back to join the LT.
The whole understrength battalion, maybe four hundred soldiers including instructors and staff, shifted to a more comfortable position.
“We’ve got our orders, Fourth Battalion. There is an unlawful protest building in the Chicago-Milwaukee-Cedar Rapids Metropolis. Our mission is to secure critical government infrastructure and ensure no property damage or looting. We’re going with a non-lethal load but our Spyders will be carrying the good stuff if things get out of hand. Report by company to the armory, load up, and then head to the airfield. Our Spyders are going to get us onto the Corps’ troop transport ship and haul ass to Earth. If we’re lucky it will have died down by then, but don’t count on it. This is hawks and doves going at it again. Despite the irony of it, these tend to get violent.”
“Hawks and doves?” Coop asked Mike.
The big guy just shrugged.
“Pro-Defense versus Anti-War for anyone who doesn’t read enough.” MSG Smith had just done an about-face and addressed the company. “You heard the boss. In case you all forgot, we’re Alpha Company. That is the first letter of the alphabet and the first company of the battalion. We will be the first in and the last out. Lieutenant Commander Tully, Lieutenant Swanson, and Sergeant Major Crum will be joining us. I advise you all to not embarrass yourselves or this unit. Understood?”
“Yes, Master Sergeant!”
Coop felt adrenaline pumping through his system. They’d just gone from training to the real deal with one blare of a siren.
“By squads, move to the armory. Execute!”
System 1552, York Sector, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Talk about boring. The crew of Lancelot and her sister ship Galahad had spent way too long sitting in the bleakness of System 1552. It had started with a bang, but after that it simmered and died. The solar laser array had been taken out from range and behind chaff by drones and a few well-placed antimatter warheads. With the array gone, the two battleships were able to move into the inner system undeterred to investigate.
They didn’t find much.
The Blockie cruiser squadron had seeded the most favorable planet with a small satellite network and some pre-fabricated shelters that had been launched and landed on the surface. The world wasn’t human friendly, but a decade of terraforming and it wouldn’t be half bad.
The Commonwealth couldn’t have the Blockies in control of the main junction into their part of the York Sector, so they blasted the sites with energy cannons from orbit. Sure, the Commonwealth could detour around the system if they had to, but that would take more resources and time. It was much more affordable to park warships in the system and hold it against invasion. That was exactly what Lancelot and Galahad were charged with until the relief force arrived.
“FTL signature!” The navigation OIC called across the bridge of Lancelot as a blinking icon popped onto the holo-tank. “Ten million kilometers at elliptical bearing one-zero.”
As part of their picket duties the two battleships had seeded the system with their own tech. FTL buoys on the rim told them when the ripples of space-time were disturbed a few minutes before a warship exited FTL. FTL drones had been strategically staged at likely distances so their computers could make the short hops through space to speed up communication. Because of that, the STRATNET information populating the bridge’s holo-tank was only a few seconds old instead of thirty seconds. That offered precious time for decision making.
“Lancelot Actual, this is Galahad Actual. Is that the resupply run?” The other captain’s voice piped in over TACCOM.
“They’re within the expected window, so I’d say yes, but better safe than sorry.” Lancelot’s captain replied. “Send the crew to battlestations and plot an intercept course.”
“Aye, Sir. Battlestations and plotting intercept course.” Claxons wailed throughout the ship telling the captain the first part of his order was completed.
The captain read the holo-tank just as it updated.
“Two more FTL signatures designated Bravo and Charlie. Bravo is at three-five million kilometers at bearing two-seven negative four-one degrees. Charlie is at one million kilometers on elliptical bearing two-zero-zero.
Galahad was silent as they both tried to make sense of the data. It would get refined over the next few minutes to give them an idea of what they were facing, but until then they needed to get moving. Sitting in space with minimum acceleration was a poor tactical decision.
“Confirm size of Charlie the second you can. I’ve got a feeling that might be our relief force. If Alpha is the resupply then Bravo could be…”
“A counter attack.” Galahad’s skipper finished the statement.
Only thirty seconds had passed since the first contact, but they needed to move now. “Navigation, plot course to put us in a position to support Alpha when they transition. They’re the ones that are going to be shit out of luck. Hopefully they come out of Alcubierre with some acceleration.”
The captain didn’t get his hopes up. It was common practice to bleed speed coming into a junction system so you could more easily reorient and get a lock on the valley leading to your next destination.
“Let’s get ready to dance, Lancelot.” Her sister ship’s claxons could be heard in the background of the TACCOM conversation.
“Let’s, Galahad” The battleship captain set his jaw and studied the holo-tank.
They’d learn if they were overreacting or whether they’d stuck their dicks in the hornets’ nest in the next few minutes.