Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Old Chicago, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Change of mission!” MSG Smith slid into position a few meters from Coop like a runner sliding into home base.
The bulky, armored NCO was a one-man reaction force. He was sprinting all around the building and offering more firepower wherever the STRATNET maps said it was needed, and right now that was Alpha Team’s position.
The pillar Coop was taking cover behind looked like a once mighty tree someone had taken a chainsaw to. The polyplast layer to protect the old architecture was already blown to shit, and to call the remains architecture was stretching the definition of the word to its limits. What it was now was something to put between Coop and the rioters trying to kill him.
<In their defense I’ve probably killed a few of them.>
Coop inched out behind the barrier and his targeting display lit up. The area was still a target rich environment, and red silhouettes popped up on his HUD. He took aim, squeezed the trigger, and a single non-lethal round leapt out of his Buss. The round splattered into the target’s chest, knocked him over, but didn’t kill him. What the Rat did get was an extreme case of crotch rot as the nanites packed into the round headed south and proceeded to irritate the crap out of his junk.
<Yeah, I’d be out of the fight too.> Coop cringed as he saw the guy scramble for cover with his hand down his pants.
Coop repeated the process twice before the enemy targeted him. A round ricocheted off his shoulder and another off his head before he pulled back behind cover. His HUD kept track of his ammunition and he was down to only one hundred and seventy-two rounds in this barrel. He only had three thousand-round reloads left, and while that might seem like a lot he’d gone through double that in the last twenty minutes.
<Twenty minutes where people seem to have been too busy with their thumbs up their asses to make a decision about what the fuck we’re going to do.> He fumed.
“About time!” He answered the MSG’s statement with genuine enthusiasm. “Please tell me we’re getting the fuck out of here?”
“New mission.” The MSG ignored Coop. “Right now the regional government employees are backing up all of their data onto portable drives. In one-five minutes that process will be complete. For the next fifteen minutes we hold the perimeter, after that we fall back by squad into the building and up to the roof. Battalion command has set up a few defensive strongpoints inside the building to hold until the Spyders can get here and get everyone out. Alpha team, this is your position.”
<Fan-fucking-tastic.> Coop immediately noticed that their positon was the first one. They’d be handing the defense of the main entrance with the objective of keeping the Rats pinned there while the civvies hauled ass to the roof.
“Any chance we can get some more ammo, Master Sergeant?” They wouldn’t be able to hold out for the next fifteen minutes with what they had.
“Last resupply is coming around in five. Grab what you can and hold. Understood?”
“Yes, Master Sergeant!”
Coop watched the NCO turn and hightail it to the next position. The big man could have relayed the orders over the company net, but there was something about getting the news in person that helped the situation.
“So,” Mike was the next soldier in the firing line. “What do you want to do when we get back to Mars?”
Coop choked out a laugh as he gunned down a squad-sized element of Rats that were trying to charge across the street. The laugh was half at Mike’s comment and half at the Rats. The skinny kids, they didn’t look like they were older than sixteen, were hefting crowbars and poylplast two-by-fours.
<They’ve been watching too many holos.> Coop thought as he gunned them down. <They’re called suicide charges for a reason.>
“Well.” Coop split his attention between Mike and the advancing masses of pissed off people. “A good woman and an ice cold beer sounds good to me.”
Mike’s sigh was drawn out over their personal chat line. “Don’t you want to try anything different? You can get your dick sucked and get drunk any day of the week. This needs to be more than that. We’ve just popped our combat cherry.”
“I don’t know if I’d call this combat.” Coop aimed and fired again.
<More like shooting a shotgun into a lake; only this time the fish are shooting back and there are a shit load of them.>
“But since I’m a generous man, if we get out of here unscathed then I’ll let you plan the party.”
Mike toggled back his agreement. It was a deal.
“Friendlies behind.” Two HI troopers trotted over to Coop’s position and dumped a load of magazines and shells onto the ground next to him before moving on.
“What the fuck…wait!” Coop yelled back, but they were already gone.
His HUD identified the armament from a quick peek. He’d just unceremoniously received another five cartridges of thousand- round non-lethal ammo. Three buckshot grenades and an anti-personnel artillery shell. He scooped up the rounds and grenades and stored them in his armor, but the artillery shell was just screaming to be used.
He reached behind himself and toggled to the screen. A rear section of the armor opened up that led to the auto-loader and Coop had to strain to reach behind his back and get the round slotted properly. In that time, two dozen rats started sprinting across the street and were within a dozen meters when he got his rifle back on target. He sprayed them down using the last of that barrel’s ammo, and radioed in a fire mission while he reloaded. While he slipped two new cartridges into the empty non-lethal ammo barrels the anti-personnel round thumped out of his tube and crashed into the alley where a lot of the bastards seemed to be coming from. The BOOM rattled the street, and his field of fire was momentarily cleared of red icons.
He looked at the countdown clock until they started their exfil. <Still twelve minutes!> Time was crawling along as they defended the building.
“Incoming!” Someone yelled at the seven minute mark.
For a second, Coop thought the Rats had finally gotten their hands on mortars or something. That wasn’t the case. Instead, his shoulder mounted railgun swiveled and automatically targeted a bottle that was being thrown across the street at his position.
“No!” He tried to stop it, but it was too late.
A three round burst spit from the gun, and the bottle exploded and fire spilled everywhere, including all over Coop.
Mentally, Coop knew he was fine. The LACS was designed to be worn by HI on volcanic worlds and still keep the wearer at a pleasant air-conditioned temperature of twenty-one degrees Celsius. But there was something about seeing fire coat your body that set your body into “oh shit” mode no matter what you were wearing.
“Motherfucker!” Coop didn’t even feel the heat, but he still tipped over and scrambled backwards in a crude attempt to stop, drop, and roll.
“Cooper, get back on the line!” The MSG’s voice roared over the net. “We’ve got incoming.”
It seemed the Rats had finally nutted up and were mass charging the perimeter. The Molotov Cocktails were just the first wave. More than Coop could count were streaming across the street and the fastest were already clearing the pillar he had been using for cover.
Those little shits’ faces looked triumphant until Coop cycled to the grenade barrel and unloaded a buckshot grenade into their faces, and anyone else’s within the hundred plus degree cone of fire. They all fell to the ground writhing and screaming with a few not moving at all.
“Everyone, fall back to the inside and take up position at your designated strongpoints.” The MSG ordered. “Do not, I repeat, do not use blades if the Rats get in close. They’re still citizens and we don’t want human shish kabobs on the evening news. That comes directly from Bulldog Six.”
Coop caught the ass covering the MSG did at the end. If it was up to the NCO he might have let them use blades if they got overrun, but now they’d never know. They had their orders.
“Let’s go Alpha Team, Whitehead and Melissa first, then me and Mike. Go!”
It had been drilled into them from the beginning that everyone turning tail and running away at the same time was a recipe to get shot in the ass. Retreats always needed to be orderly, or it would turn into a route and a lot of dead soldiers. So Mike and Coop held their ground, firing off a thousand rounds into the surging mass of Rats in the twenty-plus seconds it took the other two team members to haul ass inside.
Mike and Coop took turns leapfrogging in five second sprints back toward the main door. Even then, they were only a few meters ahead from the nearest Rats, so Coop fired off another buckshot grenade before he went through and locked the doors. It bought him ten seconds to sprint toward the strongpoint.
“Bottleneck them at the door.” It was the obvious course of action, and with the strongpoint behind a series of barriers erected on the balcony above, and offering full view of the door, it was what the battalion command group had in mind.
Polyplast didn’t crack and break like old-fashioned glass. Coop got to see as it got punched in more and more by volleys of gunfire from the Rats. Chucks fell out while the rest remained intact until it was finally punched out of the frame and fell to the ground.
“Concentrate fire, don’t let them get through to spread out. If they do, it’ll be like trying to root out cockroaches.”
“Cooper, we still have five minutes until the backup is done and the Spyders arrive. You need to hold, understood?”
“Yeah, sure thing, Master Sergeant. I’ll keep the whole city at bay over here while you all finish backing up your files.”
“Lock it up, Cooper, and get your shit together. Here they come.”
It wasn’t until then that Coop saw the MSG in cover where the balcony they were set up on met a hallway. The second door cracked open, fell in, and Rats tried to stream through. Five Busses roared their defiance and smacked people back as they tried to scramble through.
<Now that’s what a real clusterfuck looks like.>
The doors weren’t big, so they could only get a few people crammed through them at once. Since there were two sets of doors, there were people stuck in the small vestibule between them. Those people were literally getting squished between a rock and a hard place as the people in front got shot by Coop’s team, and the people behind tried to push in. People were falling all over the place, slipping on the broken polyplast doors, and trampling the Rats on the ground. Coop and the team weren’t killing the Rats trying to get in. The other Rats were doing that just fine by themselves.
“Melissa, pick off anyone that gets through.” Things were going good now, but when they eventually had to reload or the Rats would get the break they needed.
One girl got through before then. She squeezed behind a guy who took a round to the chest, and scrambled along the edge of the wall, trying to run along it and into a door that led to a section of cubicles. She had another fiery cocktail in her hands and looked ready to burn the fucking building to the ground.
She only made it halfway there before Melissa drilled her. She careened sideways, smacked her head against the marble wall, and collapsed to the ground. The bottle burst, spreading fire across the floor and all over her. She regained consciousness quick when her brain realized her body was on fire, but by then it was too late. If Coop had lethal rounds he would have put the girl out of her misery, but instead he had to watch her burn.
<Hopefully that doesn’t spread.> He watched the fire sizzling on the ground, but he didn’t have time to split his attention.
The Rats were still trying to push through the doors like everything they’d ever wanted in life was on the other side. It was sheer madness.
Then the team had to start reloading, and that’s where people started to get through. Melissa picked some off, but then groups of two got through. She only got one before the other scrambled behind cover or out of sight. Sooner than Coop would have liked there were two-dozen through the doors and shooting up the place. Some had more cocktails and were throwing them at random. Soon Coop’s sensors told him there was a lot of smoke in the air.
“Master Sergeant, this whole fucker is going to go up in flames. You almost done?” Coop didn’t bother with tact.
“Three minutes, Cooper, in two you start falling back. Bravo team will cover you.” The MSG cut the line, and Coop’s barrel ran dry.
“Fuck!” He reached into his armor but it was empty. “I’m out of non-lethal.” Coop switched to the grenades and started lobbing them into the surge of people below.
The buckshot blew through the Rats like a giant decided to step on them, and the gas helped a bit, but the Rats kept coming. They were already streaming to the foot of the staircase that led to the team’s position.
“Melissa!” Coop was desperate now. “Grab an anti-personnel from my loader, prime the fucker and toss it down there.”
“Are you fucking serious?!”
Coop couldn’t tell because of the helmet, but he was sure her eyes were buggin’ out.
“Just do it!”
Melissa might think throwing an anti-personnel artillery shell into a building’s lobby was crazy, but she didn’t argue anymore. Coop opened the appropriate armor section and felt the jostle as Melissa grabbed what she needed.
“Give me twenty seconds.”
Twenty seconds went through all of Coop’s grenades and left him with the railgun and the stun beam that was utterly useless to deal with this many charging bodies. He still used it because that was all he had, but he kept the railgun rounds in reserve. There was no telling what would be waiting for them once they got onto the roof.
“Frag out!” Melissa yelled exactly twenty seconds later.
None of the team had to duck down, so they saw the shell, clearly meant to be detonated outside, explode inside. It was like a shockwave went through the lobby and knocked everyone on their ass.
“Fall back!” Coop seized the moment and pulled his team out to run down the hall. Behind them he could hear more Rats picking their way through their fallen friends and doing god knew what to the area around the lobby.
“Alpha Team on the move, ETA ten seconds. Don’t light us up.” He sent ahead of them.
The teams’ enhanced muscles propelled them quickly down the hall. They rounded two corners before they came to another choke point. Bravo team was station behind a wall of furniture, which they sprinted past. Alpha team had done their part, and Coop led the way as they passed two more strongpoints and emerged onto the roof.
“Give me a perimeter around the LZ!” The battalion commander yelled the second he caught sight of Coop. “Eyes out. Make sure no one takes a shot at the Spyders as they lift off.”
Coop could see one of the war machines on the rooftop loading up people and big boxes hovering a meter above the ground. He assumed that was all the data they’d backed up. Two more seemed to be circling the building and waiting for their chance to land.
“Four corners!” Coop yelled and the team took up the positions he assigned over STRATNET.
Coop took the one closest to the door, and split his attention between the roof entrance and the surrounding buildings.
<We’re sitting ducks down here.>
“Bravo team falling back.”
“Charlie team falling back.”
“Delta team falling back.” The three other teams announced in several minute intervals. “Master Sergeant, they’re going to be on our ass when we arrive, so be ready.” Delta team’s leader sounded stressed.
They hadn’t taken any fire yet, but Coop knew it was only a matter of time. The original Spyder had loaded up the boxes and as many civilians as it could hold before taking off, and the second Spyder took care of the rest. The third and final Spyder was Venom Two-One, their bird, and it was coming to take the Company home.
“Haul ass, Delta!” The MSG’s motivating words were unneeded as the four HI troopers busted through the door at a run.
They were halfway to the Spyder when the Rats came through.
“Contact rear!” Coop, resupplied with a few more cartridges since arriving, opened up on them.
But they just kept coming. All the might and power an HI trooper held, and the Rats didn’t care.
<Maybe it’s because they know we aren’t trying to kill them.> Coop wondered how it would have all played out if they’d gone in with regular ammunition.
It didn’t matter though, they just kept coming. After enough got through, they started to spread to the sides with the intent of encircling the Spyder.
“We need to go, NOW!” Coop yelled over the company net. Just about everyone else was in the Spyder, and as far as Coop was concerned that made him in charge on the ground. “Melissa, Whitehead.” He didn’t need to say anymore. “Venom Two-One, we could use a little assistance if you don’t want Rats crawling up your ass.”
“Negative, Alpha One-One, tail gunner only has lethal rounds.”
<Who’s fucking bright idea was that?> Coop saw the blue icon of his two team members disappear up the assault shuttle’s back ramp.
“Let’s go, Mike!” Coop got up from his kneeling firing position and ran, and the Rats sprinted after him.
“Venom Two-One take off now!” Coop was last, still ten meters away when the shuttle started to pick up off the roof.
The Rats’ screams of rage behind him told Coop he’d made the right call, but as the shuttle rose meter by meter he needed to concentrate.
<Bend the knees, a little power, but not too much…and now!> Coop’s enhanced legs shot him into the air and into the back of the rapidly rising shuttle. <Swish motherfucker.>
Rounds started to crack against the shuttle’s hull, but it would hardly scratch the paint. Until…
“One…two…three, inbound. BRACE!” The pilot put the Spyder into a spin that avoided the three centuries old RPG’s launched at them from the surrounding towers.
It was good for the bird because it avoided them taking a shot and possibly letting something vital get hit. However, it was bad for Coop because he wasn’t strapped in.
He felt like clothes in a dryer as he tumbled around the troop bay, smashing into everything and everyone.
“God damnit, Cooper!” The MSG reached out and tried to grab him but missed.
It was Mike’s iron-like grip that finally clamped down on his leg and held him in place. The ramp was starting to close, but not before Coop caught the distinctive contrail of an incoming round.
“Venom, one’s about to buttfuck you!” Coop’s railgun swiveled and let out a long burst.
It caught the RPG just in time and it exploded about twenty meters from the shuttle. If Coop had missed that things would have come right into the bay, exploded, and taken down the whole shuttle.
“No need to thank me.” Coop announced as the Spyder leveled out and climbed rapidly out of range of any more attacks.
“Sit down, strap in, and shut up, Cooper.” The MSG sounded uncharacteristically tired as they left Old Chicago behind.
Coop felt the same wave of exhaustion settle over him as they left the battlefield behind, and with it came a sense of failure. They’d accomplished their mission. They’d taken the data they needed, got the civilians out safely, and no one had more than some bumps and bruises. Their mission was a complete success.
<Then why does it feel like we didn’t accomplish shit.> Coop pulled up the STRATNET display.
The brigade was pulling out of the city. The hawks and doves were clashing across the river, and even though he couldn’t see it Coop knew the city was burning.
“Fuck it.” He muttered to himself. “Just get me off this fucking rock. I never want to come back. Things will be better out there.” He looked up toward space, and wondered what Mike had planned for them once they got home.
Because Earth wasn’t his home anymore.