Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Old Chicago, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Coop, that’s a lot of people.” Mike said what everyone was thinking, and in a way that conveyed the turbulent emotions rolling around inside the company.
It was like someone was pulling a gray veil down over the top half of Coop’s HUD, and the more he zoomed out the more the churning in his gut grew. He was scared, anxious, excited, amped up, ready to kick some ass, and feeling slightly hypocritical. A few months ago, these would have been his people. Now they were the targets.
<Don’t be that guy who shits himself the first time he sees combat.> Coop shook his head and pulled himself together. <I’m in a fucking suit of armor. There’s nothing these people could do to hurt me.> It might have been wishful thinking but it helped.
What helped the most was the gradually growing number of blue icons on the screen. The rest of the brigade was dropping into their assigned positions throughout the city. Ten thousand trained soldiers in the latest armor and weaponry stood between Coop and the mass of gray. Overhead two hundred assault shuttles buzzed like angry bees waiting for a call to help out the thin blue line. Because that’s what it looked like on STRATNET. A thin blue perimeter formed up at the river with pockets of troops at important positions inside the old city.
“Get ready, Alpha. The show’s about to start.” MSG Smith sounded calm and collected, like he was talking about the detailed maintenance protocols of a LACS instead of a half million angry protestors about to stampede into the place they were supposed to guard.
The horde of gray reached the river and had to bottleneck at the dozen bridges separating Old Chicago from the rest of the metropolis.
“ATTENTION! ATTENTION!” It sounded like every address system in the city was set to transmit, and an angry god was about the chew out his children. “This is Commander Reinhardt of the United Commonwealth of Colonies Armed Forces. Under Provision Two, Subparagraph Eight of the Commonwealth Charter the area known as Old Chicago is temporarily under emergency restriction. Any civilian caught crossing the Chicago River bridges will be in violation of this emergency statue. Non-lethal force will be used to detain any violators. Please disperse and return to your homes.” The god that was their brigade commander finished the announcement, and Coop watched the HUD closely.
There were two groups of protestors out there, both numbering a couple hundred thousand. The one to the east of Coop’s position was the anti-war protestor, the Doves. They’d started peacefully in PHA-4 and gathered strength and balls since then. There were half a dozen major bridges and three blocks standing between them and Coop’s position. If they decided to violate the order, they would be able to swarm Old Chicago much faster than the other group.
The second group was the pro-defense, the Hawks. It was tough to tell with the HUD but the LACS’ computer said they were smaller than the anti-war group, and they were currently stopped to the north with two major and several minor bridges in their path. If they decided to fight, then it would take them a bit longer to bring their sheer numbers to bear.
The first group that started to move was the Doves. Coop heard their emotional screams from blocks away before his HUD updated and showed them streaming across the bridge.
<So much for a peaceful resolution.>
“All units, weapons free. Non-lethal munitions are authorized.” The call came over the brigade net, and Coop recognized the voice of Commander Reinhardt. He didn’t sound as authoritative now that half of Chicago was giving him the finger.
“Alpha Company,” MSG Smith’s voice cut in. “Load gas rounds. Everyone give me one round at TRPs eight, nine, ten, twelve, and thirteen. Alpha team add fifty, Bravo add twenty-five, Charlie on target, and Delta negative twenty-five.”
Coop saw what the old NCO was going for. Instead of the company putting rounds right on the TRP, and creating one giant clump of gas in the middle of the bridge, he wanted them to blanket the whole bridge in the stuff.
“Set for airburst, Master Sergeant?” Coop asked when the MSG didn’t elaborate.
At this point, letting their rounds impact the ground was going to turn dozens of people into mush.
“Roger that, One-One. Airburst five meters. Fire on my mark. TRP eight, mark. TRP nine, mark. TRP ten, mark. TRP twelve, mark. TRP thirteen, mark. Rounds complete.” The MSG called the shots. “Fire mission complete. Stand by for further orders, Out.”
The line went dead and Coop felt a very underwhelming sensation pass through him. He’d just completed his first live fire mission, against human targets, in a potentially hostile environment. <And it was gas rounds meant to keep a bunch of Rats on the opposite side of the river.> He frowned, and watched his HUD.
The tactical symbol for gas had appeared over the five bridges they’d fired on, and it seemed to have temporarily halted the sea of gray. But not before a bunch of gray icons made it into the city.
“Something’s going on to the north.” Mike piped up.
Coop shifted his gaze to the second group of protestors. Unlike the Doves, the Hawks had taken their time and were approaching the situation tactically. They’d split their two-hundred-plus-thousand force in half. One half was marching across the bridges to their south, while the other half was circling around to the west.
“Alpha One, this in One-One.” Coop called up. “Looks like that northern force is going to cross the West Chicago Ave., West Grand Ave., and Kinzie Street bridges and hit the eastern force on their northern flank. You want us to do something about that, over?”
“Negative, One-One. Focus on the bridges into Old Chicago.”
“Alpha Company.” The MSG cut the private chat and came back over the company net. “Same deal with TRPs two, three, five, and seven. Fire on my mark.”
Coop executed his second real fire mission, and it was just as anti-climactic as the first.
“Hey, Mike, didn’t they say we’d be the biggest baddest motherfuckers on the battlefield? Isn’t that what HI is supposed to be? But here we are sitting blocks behind the front lines lobbing fart-bottles on these assholes.”
“Probably not going to be that way for long.” Mike replied.
Coop looked at his HUD and saw that the gray to the north wasn’t slowing down at all in the gas.
“All units, all units, northern force has masks and is equipped with…” the line suddenly went dead and a heartbeat later Coop heard a small explosion go off to the north.
He switched from his HUD to external sensors and saw a trail of smoke in the sky and heard a high-pitched wail as a Spyder fought to stay in the air…and ultimately failed. The one bright side was that it stayed on the good side of the river. The last thing anyone wanted to do was haul ass out into enemy territory to retrieve the pilots, especially since the Hawks just showed they had the ability to bring down a Spyder.
“Venom Four-Seven is on the ground. Northern force deployed MANPAD to take her down. It caught her by surprise. It was a lucky shot for them that won’t happen again. Pilot is alive and a squad from Sixth Battalion is on their way to rescue and extract.” The MSG updated them a few seconds later. “Keep your eyes on the ball, Alpha. This is turning into a party.” To emphasize the point, they heard sporadic gunfire to the east.
Their comms net was silent, but Coop was sure some electronic frequency somewhere was lighting up with requests, screams, and tactical decision making.
<And I’m sitting here with my thumb up my ass.> Coop leaned against the polyplast wrapped stone pillar he was using for cover against nothing.
All he could do was sit and watch as the gray flooded over the bridges into Old Chicago. Once over the bridge they started to spread out on either bank, but they weren’t able to advance far. The thin blue line was a lot tougher than it looked. It held the gray back for ten, twenty, then thirty minutes. The gunfire evolved from sporadic to a never-ending barrage. Occasionally, a Spyder would descend from the sky in a corkscrew manner to ensure no more MANPADs got a lucky shot. They’d touch down on the tops of buildings, drop off supplies, and load up the injured before jumping back into the sky and shooting south to whatever hospital was looking after the wounded soldiers.
Even from three blocks back Coop could tell who was firing. M3s firing had more of a HISS and POP, while a Rat’s chemically propelled rounds were more of a naturally loud BOOM. Either way, there was an orchestra of sound coming from their north and east that Coop only got to hear.
That all stopped abruptly with a frantic call over the net. “BREECH!”
The single radio squawk was punctured by the loudest BOOM of the day. The ground shook under Coop’s feet. He looked up in the direction of the explosion and saw a plume of smoke and dusk rising into the sky.
“THEY’RE…!” the line went dead as cascading rumble swept through the city.
“What the hell was that?” The entire alpha team asked simultaneously.
“That’s the sound of a building imploding.” MSG Smith cut the chatter with the explanation. “They must have gotten demo charges in somehow.”
<Somehow? Glad to know people are on top of the situation.> Coop knew he was expressing his anxiety by taking it out on the MSG, but that was a lot healthier than lobbing artillery in the general direction of the toppled building.
“MANPADs, demo charges, that’s a lot of ordinance for some civilians out for a stroll and Rats that just crawled out of the sewers over in PHA-4.” Coop stated just as a lightbulb went off in his head.
“Master Sergeant! Do we have eyes on the sewers?”
The answering pause went on far too long for comfort. “Shit, Cooper. You might be on to…”
Small arms fire swept their position. Several round bounced off Coop’s armor as the nanites did their job deflecting the old-school bullets.
“Contact front! One hundred meters! In the alley!” Without thinking Coop called out distance, direction, brought the Buss up to his shoulder, and opened fire.
The computer in his LACS filtered out the low-light of the dark alley and highlighted two dozen people with red hostile icons. <Shit!> Coop pulled the trigger again and again, but the stun bolt of blue-white light only fired every third pull. <Fuck this.> After a stun bolt he flipped the settings, the barrel rotated, and then he started to spit out controlled three round bursts of non-lethal ammunition.
Whoever the fuck was in the alley started to drop like they’d been hit by a giant fly swatter. They hit the ground screaming and struggling as the nanite packet in the round was released, and the nanites went to town on their vulnerable bits.
“One-One, take your team and grab one of them. We need information. We’ll cover you.” The MSG was right next to Coop, his own Buss burping out single shot stun bolts. “Go!”
“Alpha team on me!” Coop got up from the kneeling position behind the pillar he’d automatically gotten into when they took fire, and charged across the street.
More clangs echoed through his armor as the team took fire from their left and right as they charged across the street.
<How the fuck did they get all around us?!> Coop didn’t stop to think, and the four-man team entered the alley.
Whitehead and Melissa automatically set security looking in either direction as Coop and Mike went to grab one of the thrashing Rats.
“Oppressors!” one guy yelled.
<And we have a winner.> Coop fired a stun bolt into the guy point blank, and their new prisoner went limp.
“I’ve got the package. Heading back.” Coop sent to his team and the MSG.
The fire intensity had increased in the twenty seconds they’d been in the alley. MSG Smith and all of Bravo team were letting loose a stream of continuous fire from their positions behind the building’s pillars. Like Coop, they’d abandoned the stun feature and gone for the non-lethal needles. Return fire from the Rats was smacking into the polyplast casing, cracking it, and starting to chew away at the historical architecture underneath.
<This turned into a clusterfuck really quick.> Coop and his team hurried back across the street with the prisoner, with Mike acting as a human shield to keep the guy alive.
Once they were back across, every HI trooper Coop could see started lobbing ordinance out of their 125mm cannons. The trajectories were high but short, and shells started to explode all around the Regional Headquarters Building, filling the street and alleys with debilitating gas that quickly started to affect the unarmored Rats.
“Alpha, seal up your suits.”
That program was one of the ones Coop kept on his home menu. All he had to do was stab it with his eyes and his LACS sealed up tight, and his twenty-four-hour air supply kicked in.
“Get him in to see the CO.” MSG met them by the elaborate entrance to the building that now sported a few bullet holes. “He’s aware of the problem, but maybe this guy can give him some more information.”
“Yes, Master Sergeant.” Coop shifted the limp man’s weight on his shoulder and got a small groan from the prisoner in response.
“Good, you’re awake.” Coop grabbed him tight, which solicited a squeal like a caught pig. “Let’s go see the boss.”