Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Old Chicago, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop carried the Rat over his shoulder like a disobedient child in route to a spanking. MSG Smith and Mike covered him as he sprinted between pillars toward the front door. Bullets chewed up the tasteful half-millennia old masonry and pounded on the armorplast windows as Coop pushed through the outer doors and into a small vestibule. Another set of armorplast doors separated the vestibule from the lobby, and thankfully these hadn’t been scratched by gunfire yet.
The Boss was in the middle of the lobby talking to someone from the regional government.
Lieutenant Commander Tully was a big guy, like all HI troopers, but he’d had time to settle into his enhanced body. Coop, Mike, and the other new recipients of the enhancements were still in that awkward teenage phase of their new lives. Their bodies had suddenly grown. They were more gangly limbs than packed muscle at this point, although HI school had done a lot to help with that. Still, they were learning the limits of their new bodies. LCDR Tully wasn’t. Like MSG Smith, he’d been at this for a while.
STRATNET projected the single golden stripe of a LCDR at the center of his chest. Coop also noticed a Ranger tab on his shoulder, which meant that the guy knew his shit. After all, they wouldn’t pick just anyone to command the HI School.
“Sir.” Coop dropped the Rat at the LCDR’s feet. “We’ve got a problem.”
“I’m aware, Private…?”
“Cooper, Sir.” Coop was disappointed the LCDR didn’t know his name. He thought he was kind of a big deal.
Coop was half paying attention to the Battalion CO and half paying attention to his HUD. It didn’t look good. Alpha Company had formed a very thin blue perimeter around the Regional Capitol Building. Tactical icons indicating gas made another larger circle around the building, and beyond that was a growing, angry red circle. The LACS computers had updated the protestors from gray UNKNOWN/NON-HOSTILE to red HOSTILE. It looked like the building had a bad case of ringworm.
“Excuse me, Administrator.” The LCDR excused himself from the beanstalk civilian who barely reached the HI trooper’s chin, and walked over to the POW.
The officer only spent a few seconds hovering dangerously over the Rat before starting the interrogation.
“Name?” He asked bluntly.
“Fuck you!” The Rat spat back, causing the LACS nanites to ripple in a deflective pattern.
“I’m trying to do this the easy way.” The CO must have sent a message over a personal net because SGM Crum appeared out of a side door and stomped toward them.
The SGM was bigger than the officer, about the same size as MSG Smith, but he looked fierce in his armor. To the average person, the Battalion NCOIC didn’t look any different than any other HI trooper, but the three chevrons, rockers, and single star in the center of his chest added a gravitas that Coop could feel at the man’s approach.
The SGM didn’t wait for the LCDR to ask again. He grabbed the Rat by the arm, yanked it back and opened up his palm to get a good read on the rioter’s GIC.
Fresh pink scars covered the man’s wrists obscuring part of the barcode. Coop knew the tactic well. It was one of the only ways to disguise your identity in the PHA if the cops came knocking. Eventually, the GIC would grow back like any other part of your body healing, so you had to routinely disfigure yourself to remain unidentifiable. And even then it didn’t always work.
The SGM’s LACS computer read the partially scarred-over GIC, but has able to return a result. “Klamps, Macros, Chicago-Milwaukee-Cedar Rapids Metropolis PHA-4, Block 9, Unit 1511.” The NCO released the struggling Rat’s arm, causing the smaller man to fall back onto his ass.
“Fuck you, oppressor!” The Rat repeated the insults he’d used against the LCDR and Coop earlier.
“I’ve never been to this mid-western armpit before.” The SGM said matter-of-factly before walking back over to the Regional Administrator.
“Why are you here, Mr. Klamps?” The LCDR stepped back in, playing the good cop.
“I’m standing up for my rights as a citizen.” The Rat spat back. “I don’t have a right to vote or for anyone to listen about what I think about a new war, but I have the basic right to food and shelter, and that’s going to be taken away if someone doesn’t stand up to the system. They can’t produce enough calories to feed us and the army, so they’ll take from us Rats and leave us to die.”
“There will be more jobs in a wartime economy.” The Administrator shouted from across the hall. “We’ll give you the opportunity to work, make money, and buy more than the bland BSA rations.”
“All of us!?” The Rat countered. “We’ve got a little over five million people in my PHA. Are you going to make millions of new jobs when we go to war? What about PHAs One, Two, or Three? That’s another fifteen to twenty million to think about, and that’s just this metropolis!”
Coop saw the guy’s point, and couldn’t help but empathize a tad. He’d been that scrawny Rat living off the BSA allowance. He hadn’t been alive during the last skirmish with the Blockies, but his Dad had, and all the old timers talked about the dark old days.
<Fuckin’ sucks for you. If I’m going to die I’d rather take a bullet to the head than starve to death in some shit-stained alley as my own body eats itself.> Coop only empathized to a point. He’d left that world behind, and there was no point looking back.
“And you think protesting, rioting, and trashing Commonwealth property is going to do any good?” The LCDR asked.
“Probably not.” It looked like it pained the Rat to say it. “But if we stand up together, unite, and cause enough anarchy then we might just make the holo. Maybe those fat asses on New Washington will see what’s happening on the home world and think twice about getting us into another pointless war with an enemy born from the problems of past generations.”
“I admire your conviction, Mr. Klamps, but breaking the law is still breaking the law.” The LCDR was remarkably calm. “I don’t know or understand your struggle, but breaking shit and attacking people isn’t going to help. It’ll do the opposite. It only reinforces the stereotypical image of Rats everywhere.”
“Whatever.” The Rat shut down and refused to talk anymore.
“Very well. Lieutenant.”
LT Swanson, the XO, trotted over in his armor. The LT didn’t have any specialty tabs. He was just a regular HI officer.
“Lieutenant, detain Mr. Klamps and ensure he’s transferred to the MPs once we’re back aboard the Cleveland. We’ll get more information on the protest origins, how they built their strength, attained the weapons they did, and managed to get under us.”
“That’s simple, Sir.” Coop cut in. “There has to be dozens of abandoned subway lines, maintenance tunnels, and water mains running underneath Old Chicago. It wouldn’t take much to smuggle lots of people through them. At least, that’s how it would have gone down in my PHA.”
“Traitor.” The Rat spat at Coop’s armor, but he didn’t have the lung power to make contact.
“Cry me a river.” Coop restrained himself from bitch slapping the pathetic little man.
“Are you sure, Private Cooper?” The LCDR asked, looking at Coop with his head cocked slightly to the side like he was seeing him in a new light.
“It’s the simplest answer to the problem, Sir.” Coop shrugged.
“Very well. Master Sergeant Smith.”
“Yes, Sir.” Alpha Company’s commander was added to their chat.
“I want a team from Alpha Company to go into the tunnels, assess the situation, report back, and if possible stop the flow of hostiles to our location. It looks like we’re going to have to evac the staff, and even with a couple of Spyders playing taxi it’s going to take a while.”
“Yes, Sir.” Despite the MSG’s compliance, Coop could hear a brief hesitation in the reply. “Cooper, get your ass back out here. Alpha team is going to handle this.”
<Fan-fucking-tastic!> Coop rolled his eyes and took another look at his HUD. The red ring had only grown thicker during the interrogation. <This should be fun.>
“Master Sergeant, can we get some more ordinance? Maybe something with a little more punch than what we’re packing. We’re about to go four on four thousand underground. Our cannons aren’t going to be much use down there.
“Of course they are, Cooper. Go horizontal and let ‘em rip.”
Coop could hear the chuckle in the senior NCO’s voice.
<All I’m asking for is a helping hand. If this goes to shit because I don’t have real rounds I’m going to be fucking pissed.> Coop fumed as he exited the capitol building and took two old-fashioned rounds to the torso before getting behind cover. <Scratched my paint!> Coop could imagine only a few ways this day could get worse, and all of them involved something that could happen in those tunnels.
“Alpha Team, listen up. We’ve got a mission.” Coop activated the team net. “The situation is that we’re completely surrounded. I’m pretty sure the Rats are using the old tunnels beneath the city to shuttle troops around without us being able to engage. It’s our mission to stop that. We’re going to go down there, take a peek, and make sure we have enough time to get the civvies out of here. Questions?”
“Can we get resupplied before we go? I’ve blown half my load on these assholes already.” Melissa sounded pissed.
“Master Sergeant, can we get some more ammo? We’re red over here.”
“Delta team is in route with resupply. You’ve got two minutes before I want your asses across that street and into those tunnels. Are we clear, Cooper?”
“Crystal, Master Sergeant.”
Thirty seconds later two members of Delta came tearing around the corner with a huge crate between them. They slid into position behind nearby pillars and provided cover fire while Alpha reloaded. Coop took every non-lethal round he could get his hands on, stuffed it in every place he could, and reloaded fresh rounds into every barrel. He thought about it and decided to keep the stun battery.
<Worst case scenario, I can hotwire it to overload and explode.> He was pretty sure he could do it, and the small battery would make a pretty big boom; at least enough to buy him a few more seconds of life.
“Alpha One-One, comms check.”
“Good copy, Alpha One. I’ll give you another one once we’re underground.”
“Roger that. Happy hunting.”
Coop probably imagined it, but there might have been a hint of pride in the old NCO’s voice.
“On three we’re going to put a flashbang into that alley you visited previously, as well as one every twenty-five meters down West Randolph.”
“Roger that, we’ll pucker up.” Coop sent back. “Alpha Team, button up tight. Here comes the boom.”
An automated subroutine activated at Coop’s insistence. It was like he stuck his fingers in his ears. The sounds of the raging gun battle were gone in a heartbeat. His HUD stayed active, but only showed the tactical screen. All external visual feeds were shut down. His suit was already sealed up from all the gas, so he didn’t have to worry about that. The subroutine took less than a second to run, and when it was finished all external stimuli were blocked out.
Green ready indicators appeared when his team was ready to go.
“Alpha One, we’re sealed up. It’s now or never.”
“Roger that, One-One, splash over.”
Coop didn’t see or feel anything with his armor bottled up like it was, but outside the Regional Capitol Building the world erupted in light and sound. Flash bangs weren’t any use against a soldier in armor, but as far as non-lethal munitions went it was one of the best. A normal flash bang blinded and deafened the target temporarily. An artillery flashbang fired from an HI trooper did the same thing, but turned it up to eleven.
“Let’s move, Alpha!” Coop led the charge from the building to the alley.
They didn’t get shot at as they crossed, which was a good thing. The alley was empty when they arrived. Someone had dragged off their fallen comrades and found cover somewhere else, which was fine by Coop. There was a manhole cover in the middle-center of the alley, and he ripped it off like it was nothing.
“Mike, Melissa, Whitehead. Go…go…go!” Coop ushered his team underground while keeping watch on the mouth of the alley.
None of the red icons projected over STRATNET were moving, but sooner or later they’d get up and realize someone snuck past them.
<That’s a problem for future Coop to worry about.> He thought as he shuffled into the hole in the ground and pulled the slab of metal over top of him.
It was a tight fit in his LACS, but after a little shimmying his armored boots hit water and the blue icons of his squad filled his HUD.
“Which way, oh fearless team leader?” Melissa asked in the bitchy tone that was her default setting.
Coop consulted his HUD and picked a direction at random.