Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Space between Mars and Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The troop transport ship looked like a giant armored turtle swimming through space. Coop didn’t actually get to see the exterior of the monstrous ship as it pulled out of its Mars orbit and started accelerating toward Earth, but he pulled up the specs on his armor’s HUD when he descended down the back ramp of the Spyder and onto the cavernous flight deck.
He hadn’t been on any spacecraft aside from the small shuttle he’d hitched a ride to Mars on, and a troop transport was on the opposite end of the spectrum from the little puddle jumper. Their ride, the CWS Cleveland, wasn’t as big as an assault carrier, but that was because this was just a brigade-level transport. The large ship was eighty percent flight deck, and twenty percent engines and living quarters for the small crew operating the ship. The exterior of the hull was littered with railguns and point defense laser clusters. The ship was all defense and no offense. It left the fighting to its escorts. Cleveland’s job was to shit out the infantry to take an asteroid, planet, or whatever the fuck they were ordered to take.
Internally, from an aesthetic viewpoint, it wasn’t much. It was designed to get soldiers and their equipment from Point A to Point B, and Cleveland did it efficiently without any creature comforts. A quick ride from Mars to Earth was going to be fine, but spending days or weeks on this thing would have been a pain in Coop’s ass.
Ten thousand soldiers and two hundred Spyder assault shuttles were quartered away on the flight deck. It was one hell of a force to see all gathered in one space. This many asskickers in armor and weapons could break a lot of shit once they were pointed in the right direction, but that wasn’t their mission today. Their mission was to stop people from breaking shit while limiting the amount of shit that they themselves broke. As far as Coop was concerned, it was a gross misuse of resources.
<I didn’t sign up to be a hog.> He remembered all the times the cops had smacked him down. Sometimes in his own home during contraband checks, and other times in the Civil Administration Building.
He still remembered the pain of the bail capsule being shot into his brain. Even though that was another lifetime ago.
“Listen up!” MSG Smith’s baritone barked over the company channel. “We’ve got some time to kill until we get to Earth. We just picked up our destroyer escort and are heading there at full military power. We’ll haul ass for an hour and a half until we hit the turnover point and start decelerating. Call it three hours until we hit Earth’s atmosphere. Until then, I want you all to stick your LACS in their chargers in the Spyder. There’s no need for you all to walk around like big dicks in the locker room and waste power. Execute.”
Coop reluctantly did what he was told. He would have preferred to explore with the suit a bit, because being HI tended to be an all access pass when it came to getting what you wanted. After all, who was going to mess with a guy who could lift an air-car and walked around in a ton of duro-steel all day long that was nearly immune to puny normal grunt-level weapons. Plus, the neural network on the LACS was a lot better than staring at a PAD’s tiny screen.
It took twenty minutes for the sixteen-trooper company to unass from their armor and ensue it was properly stowed. The LACS were locked to their GICs and customized to them, but that still didn’t stop the MSG from closing and locking the hold of their Spyder.
“Ok, let’s go grab some chow.”
They had to snake their way through two battalions before they made it to the hatches at the rear of the flight deck, and those hatches were guarded by armed MPs. The military cop’s M3s were pointed at the ground, but Coop could tell they wouldn’t hesitate to use them.
<Why are there a bunch of cops riding shotgun on this op?> He assumed it was to deal with any protestors they got their hands on, but that didn’t explain why they were in scales and armed on the flight there.
“Stop gawking, Alpha, or you’ll be eating chow standing.” The MSG wasn’t in the mood to wait around.
Some things always took precedence, and food was at the top of that list for an HI trooper. They needed more calories than the average human, and if they were going to have to fight in the next few hours they needed to top off their metabolic tanks.
The chow hall was big enough to fit the entire ship’s crew and a battalion of infantry, which still meant that they only had about twenty minutes to scarf it down before they needed to make room for the next battalion. Since the 1894th was so small, it gave them a little more time.
Coop noticed there were no officers present. They probably had their own special chow hall closer to the bridge. This was just for the rabble rousers and their NCO babysitters, but at least the food was good. They had pasta, flank steak, mashed potatoes, fruit, vegetables, and even an ice cream machine.
Coop scooped himself a bowl of pasta, grabbed a few pounds of steak, made a mountain of mashed potatoes, and piled it high next to a respectable sea of greens. Then, he grabbed another bowl of ice cream just because he had a sweet tooth.
The cooks glared at them as he and the rest of the HI company practically cleaned them out. <Better get used to it.> Most of the 1894th was lined up behind Alpha and they all had big stomachs to fill.
MSG Smith waved them all over to a large table and they sat together as they stuffed their faces. There wasn’t much talk at the beginning, just eating, but then small conversations started to break out.
Mike was uncharacteristically tense, and Coop asked him about it. Harper hadn’t talked to him in a few days, and the big guy was worried she was going to break things off between them.
<Last thing we need during this drop is my biggest weapon thinking about a girl.>
“No way, dude. Harper can’t do any better than you. She’s probably just cramming for a test or something.” He realized a little late that “cramming” might not have been the best choice of words, but he still thought he got his point across. “Tell you what, once we graduate we’ll have a few days of leave built up. I’m sure they’ll be sending us to Constitution before we ship out. We’ll take a day or two and hop down to Luna and see her before we ship out.”
Realistically, the infantry would probably tell them to stow their shit on the first boat heading out of the Sol System, but the promise helped put Mike at ease, which was the whole point. <Plus, I can get some ass just as easily on Luna as on Mars.>
“Everyone listen up.” The MSG effectively ended all side conversations. “Let’s get real for a minute before we head back, hit the head to evac all of this chow, and suit back up.”
Coop leaned in toward the MSG just like the rest of the company.
“I’ve been on a few of these drops over my career and I’ve picked up a few things. First, always follow orders. The local government, the officers, and most importantly the MPs don’t screw around when it comes to civil disturbance missions. Do what you’re told, when you’re told, and you’ll be fine.”
Heads nodded around the table.
“Second, don’t try and start anything. The people we’ll be facing off against are mostly pissed, scared, or both. They feel like they’re being treated unfairly, or something is happening that they oppose, and they have no control. They aren’t necessarily bad people. If they aren’t shooting at you leave them be. Because if you start shit, and give them a target for their anger, we’ll being going blades hot by the end of the night.”
That made Coop gulp. Going blades hot meant hand-to-hand combat. And fighting hand-to-hand against a bunch of Rats without any armor would be like fighting the food in front of them. The Rats wouldn’t stand a chance.
“Lastly, just remember everything I’ve taught you over the lovely time we’ve spent together.” That got a few laughs from the group. No one would consider the time lovely.
“You’ve got all the tools you need to succeed, so just go out there and execute.”
“Yes, Master Sergeant.” Coop wasn’t the only one who felt a little motivated by the old NCO’s little speech.
“Good. Now finish your chow. The next hour is your time, but be back at the Spyder ready to work. Team leaders stay with me for a few seconds.”
<So close.> Coop wanted to scan the female talent in the brigade before he had to potentially gas a bunch of Rats.
Coop stayed seated as the rest of the company finished and went to do whatever they wanted before reporting back to the assault shuttle. The rest of the team leaders waiting for their NCOIC to finished his ice cream cone before getting down to business.
“Team leaders,” the MSG slurped the last of the vanilla out of the cone before popping it into his mouth. “You’ve been chosen because you’re not terrible at HI work. Some of you have rank, which helps, and some of you can weasel your way in and out of situations.”
Coop felt that last bit was for him.
“But you’re going to have to step it up now. We aren’t dealing with holographic targets three hundred meters downrange. We’ll be facing off against real people, Commonwealth citizens with families and friends. We can’t fuck this up, understood?”
“Yes, Master Sergeant.”
“I hope so, and I hope you’ve been listening to what I’ve been teaching you. You four aren’t just trigger-pullers on this mission. You’ve got command of your own little teams. Your job is just as much about communication and coordination as it is about putting rounds downrange. I need your heads to be clear, your teams to be functional, and everyone ready for anything.”
There was something in the MSG’s voice, something in his tense shoulders, that set off warning bells in Coop’s head. Whatever was going on, the wise, old MSG had a bad feeling and he was subtly communicating that to his team leaders.
“No one has my permission to die today. Am I being abundantly clear?”
“Yes, Master Sergeant!” They turned a few nearby heads with their reply.
“Good. Be ready to go in fifty minutes.”
Coop got up with the other three team leaders, stowed his tray in the rack, and made his way back to the flight deck. Despite the talent he was observing as he meandered around the open space, his mind was elsewhere. Even when a few lovely ladies came up to talk to him, his heart wasn’t really in it. So, he found a quiet corner and pulled out his PAD.
He did a few searches for stories about past civil disobedience and didn’t find much. What he did see was once or twice a year people got worked up, broke some shit, and then scampered back into the PHAs when the infantry arrived. Casualties were minimal, and the reports were generally short reviews of what was looted or the local politicians ranting about the Rats being menaces to society. As a former Rat, Coop knew a lot of what they were ranting about was true. Rats had their own selfish agendas and they didn’t care if some suburbanite had his home wrecked and a few bottles of booze stolen.
<Still seems off.> Coop’s finely tuned bullshit-o-meter was telling him things weren’t what they seemed. <What we’re dropping into sure as shit isn’t a few Rats boosting a ride and ruffling the burbanites’ feathers.>
Coop chewed on that thought as he took a big shit and then made his way back to the Spyder with a few minutes to spare. Most of his team was already back, and Mike was already back in his armor.
“You ready for this?” Coop patted the massive man on the bicep. “We get through today and then we’ll see Harper again. Who knows maybe we’ll all get so drunk and she can slip us some of those sober pills, or maybe we’ll be guinea pigs for an IV.”
Mike didn’t say anything over the LACS intercom, but he nodded, so Coop took it as a win.
Ten minutes later, Coop was saddled into his own LACS and watching the ships external sensors. Mars was a red speck behind them and Earth a blue in front of them. One hundred kilometers on either side of them were two destroyers. The black ships had their running lights flashing per inner Sol System regulations. The Blockies didn’t like it if we snuck ships around and vice versa. But the two, three-hundred-meter-long warships looked like a pair of fish swimming next to a whale. If the Blockies wanted to, they could blow an entire Commonwealth brigade and two destroyers into finely-dispersed stardust.
<That’s the kind of shit you can’t think about.> Coop snapped himself out of that line of thought, and paid attention to making sure his team was good to go.
“Attention all Bulldogs, mission update in five.” SGM Crum’s voice announced over the battalion net about forty-five minutes after they started decelerating for their approach to Earth.”
Coop was sitting back in the Spyder’s troop bay because he didn’t have anything else to do.
“Attention, Bulldogs, it’s almost go time.” LCDR Tully announced. “Spyders will be loaded and sealed at T-minus thirty. Depressurization will occur at T-minus fifteen. Company commanders will send final status updates at T-minus five.” He read off a few tasks.
Coop toggled to his own task menu and saw he had his own task to report team readiness at T-minus ten.
“Situation update. We have a more accurate count of the protestors coming in from the north and south, and have confirmation their target is Old Chicago.”
Coop brought the HUD up on his LACS and enabled the map function to show him what the LCDR was talking about. There were two oceans of gray marching steadily toward Old Chicago. They were only a few kilometers from the Chicago River. He fast-forwarded their approach and the estimated time of the brigade’s arrival and saw they only have their boots on the ground for about fifteen minutes before the protests lead elements reached the AO.
“…estimating two to three hundred thousand protestors on each side…”
Coop had been busy looking over the data, but that part of the LCDR’s update leapt out at him.
<We’re going to stand against four-hundred to six hundred thousand protestors?! Are we trying to reenact the Alamo?> Coop kept that to himself, even as his team channel lit up with chatter.
“Shut it, and listen up!” Coop snapped back, because that’s what he was supposed to do as team leader.
There was no change in mission, execution, service and support, or command and signal. The LCDR had just let the entire battalion know that they were about to step in front of a surge of angry people sixty times their size and politely ask them to stop.
<There is no way this can go right.> A ball of lead settled in Coop’s gut similar to the sensation when he’d nearly been convicted that day in the PHA months ago.
“Be ready, Bulldogs. Happy hunting.” The LCDR cut the link, and left several hundred HI troopers wondering what the fuck they were about to drop into.
After the update the rest of their time was filled with the soul-crushing sense of waiting for the inevitable. At T-minus thirty minutes to drop their pilot announced in a no-nonsense tone that they were sealing up the Spyder. At T-minus fifteen minutes there was a short howl of escaping air as the flight deck was depressurized for the drop. At T-minus ten minutes, Coop sent a green acknowledgement that his team was good to go. At T-minus five, Coop assumed MSG Smith sent that the company was ready to drop.
And at T-minus zero Coop felt his stomach drop as Venom Two-One led the way by dropping out of the artificial gravity of the Cleveland and into space.
At T-plus thirty seconds the weightlessness was replaced by the chaotic buffering of the assault shuttle hitting the atmosphere, and the next few minutes were spent getting smacked around like they were a can of paint that the Earth itself was trying to shake up.
But eventually that ended, and Coop was sorry that it did because at T-plus three minutes the skids of Venom Two-One touched down on the wind-swept and empty North LaSalle Drive outside the eleven-story Regional Capitol Building.
“Let’s go, Alpha. Time to earn that paycheck!” The MSG yelled as he led the twenty troops in Venom Two-One’s bay out into the city of Old Chicago.
“I want three-hundred-and-sixty-degree security around this site.” SGM Crum’s voice cut in.
“One-One, you deploy your team to cover zero to ninety. Two-One, ninety to one-eighty. Three One, one-eighty to two-seventy. Four-One, two-seventy to three-sixty.” The MSG punctuated the orders with icons indicating their areas of responsibility.
Coop built on that by evenly spacing his troopers through the section, while acknowledging the receipt of the MSG’s deployment orders. “Get there, but find good cover.” Coop ordered, and went a step further by sending pie-shaped fields of fire to his team.
Green acknowledgements came back and the three blue icons of Alpha Team started to spread out around the building. They were assigned to protect the front-right half of the building facing North LaSalle Drive and the left half of the building on West Randolph Street. Blue icons showed the rest of the company spreading out to do the same around their areas of responsibility.
“Team, the battalion command team is moving inside the Regional Capital to meet with the administrators and decide our plan of action, so be ready to move if we need to, but right now I want target reference points dialed in for every intersection between us and the river.
Target reference points (TRP) was a term used to identify an easily identifiable point on the ground which could be used to control indirect fire. There were dozens in Coop’s area of responsibility and he started to delegate them to his team. He didn’t know how the other team leaders did it, but he assigned them based on distance. The computer automatically populated the intersection, but he added the bridges to the list. He took the farthest ones out, then had Mike do the next layer, Whitehead, and lastly Melissa because he could trust her to do danger close fire missions.
STRATNET did most of the work, and within a few minutes they had thirty TRPs set up to put whatever ordinance they needed into those areas.
And not a moment too soon, because they’d barely finished when the first waves of gray started to approach the bridges.
<Here they come.> Coop’s thought echoed the MSG’s warning, and was followed by the rumble of his stomach wanting to take a nervous shit.