Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: JB Armstrong/Tranquility, Luna, United Commonwealth of Colonies
A promise was a promise, and a promise before combat was one Coop wasn’t willing to break. After their quick, barebones graduation, he and Mike hopped the next shuttle to Luna. The normally stoic Mike, always a man of few words, was practically giddy at the prospect of seeing Harper again. The two Basic fuckbuddies had been trying a long distance relationship since Basic graduation, and so far things seemed to be working.
If Coop was being honest with himself he was a little jealous they were making it work. He hadn’t received anything from Eve since they said goodbye. But that was old Coop’s insecurities. New Coop was excited to see a new city and to sample its local delicacies.
Tranquility and the adjacent Joint Base Armstrong were anything but new. JB Armstrong was built on the foundation of the initial lunar landing site at Mare Tranquilitatis – The Sea of Tranquility – and had been built up and militarized since the 2030s. The resulting base was a hodgepodge of buildings on the edge of the city with no thought being spared to urban planning. But that was understandable. At first the architects were only worried about staying alive.
Tranquility started as an accompanying research station a few decades later, and both had grown by leaps and bounds over the last several centuries. Now, about ten million people called Tranquility home, and a brigade kept a close watch over this portion of Commonwealth territory. Luna had ten major cities spread across the surface, each guarded by a Brigade, with a division-level command being in charge of the entire planetary defense. But that was just the army units on the surface. The orbitals were a whole difference story.
“Now that’s something you don’t see every day.” Coop had whistled when their shuttle crossed the defensive rings that encircled Earth’s only moon.
Luna was a centuries-old Commonwealth territory and one of the first investments of the new starfaring nation after its creation. It fought a war to win it, and it was going to keep it. The two rings covered in railguns, point defense lasers, energy cannons, and missiles tubes were capable of holding off a sizable enemy fleet, which made it a military stronghold in the system. It was also a great training site for military personnel. The unique environment allowed all different sorts of specialty schools to be located there.
Originally, the idea of terraforming Luna had been passed around, but a quick cost-benefit analysis showed it wasn’t viable. Terraforming a planet that already had a workable atmosphere was doable, but Luna wasn’t more than a big rock in space; so they did the next best thing. Giant generators were buried into the ground to project shields around the habitable zones, and all the cities were placed in the lower altitude “seas” across the moon’s surface. Walls were built up on natural or man-made ridges so the shields didn’t interfere with the faultlines of the moon, and thus modern life on Luna was born.
As a result, the military had enclosed, environmentally stable inhabited zones where normal schools, like Harper’s Nursing School could be located. But it also gave them the barren Zero-G wastelands where infantry specialty schools could conduct their training. Coop knew he might find himself back on Luna at some point for additional training, so he was determined to map out the local scene while there.
<Weird.> He remembered thinking when the shuttle descended and had to pass through the Tranquility’s shield.
It went from barren gray nothingness to a temperate paradise once you passed over the tall, thick wall around the perimeter and through the double-layer of shielding. He saw squads of infantry doing maneuvers in full armor on one side, and literally a hundred feet away a pickup game of basketball was going on with guys in t-shirts and shorts. For someone who’d grown up on Earth and been a part-time visitor on Mars, seeing that was a little nerve-racking. So when Mike went off to suck face – and do other things – with Harper, Coop went to the enlisted soldier’s gym in the protective comfort of a building.
Nobody higher than a corporal was there, so as an HI PFC he basically had the run of the place. There were no other heavies present, and a few people congregated around him as he did his workout; sometimes putting up multiple tons on the magnetic resistance. Thankfully, a few of his admirers were of the female persuasion.
“You’re a big one aren’t ya?” A voice asked from behind him as he racked the weights.
“That’s what I’ve been told…oh!” He visibly recoiled as he got a look at the person talking to him.
Unlike the attractive brunette that had been discretely watching him out of the corner of her eye, and who he thought looked ready to come over and talk to him, Coop found himself facing somebody who looked like their face had gotten into a fight with some nanites and lost horribly.
She, at least he thought she was a she, had a crooked nose from one too many bar fights. Her eyes were spaced a little bit close together, and one side of her face looked like it had been hit by a stun baton; that, or she’d recently had a stroke. Either way, it gave her a lopsided expression where only half her mouth worked, which made understanding her already thick accent that much more difficult.
Her PT uniform showed she was a corporal, so Coop tried to recover. “What can I do for you, Corporal?”
“Nothing, Cooper. I just wanted to see if you wanted to make a little extra cash?”
Her knowing his name wasn’t a surprise since it was on his shoulder right below his single chevron and rocker.
“Depends?” He answered noncommittally.
“A few of my contacts back at Mattis told me you like to make a quick buck and have certain tastes.” She smiled, which creeped Coop out more than anything.
But what she said put him off. “Look, I’m flattered…but…I’m not a gigolo…” He started, only to get a hearty laugh from the CPL.
“Boy, you couldn’t handle me.” She wiped a tear from her good eye. “But thanks, I needed a good laugh.”
Now Coop was really confused. He had a taste for women and fine booze, but that was about it.
“I’m talking about your tendency to talk with your fists, Cooper.”
She saw the question in his eyes and smiled that lopsided smile again.
“I looked you up, Cooper. You’ve got an official reprimand for excessive use of force against a civilian. My little birdie also told me that you instigated a fight and took down a good chunk of a company of grunts over spilled beer and a mouthy LT. So, am I talking to that Mark Cooper or are you some little bitch and I’ve got the wrong person?”
Coop glared at her and got to his feet. He was a solid half a meter taller than her, could probably break her over his knee with little effort, and it didn’t matter that she had two more rough-looking guys behind her.
“Looks like I got the right guy.” She nodded.
Coop didn’t even realize his fists were balled up and shaking.
“Meet me at this address at 20:00. If you come I’ll cut you in for thirty percent. If you don’t, then it’s your loss.” She got up and left.
Just like that Coop wasn’t interesting in working out anymore. He was interested in what the butt-ugly corporal was talking about, what the total would be that his thirty percent would be coming off of, and what he had to do to get it.
<Fortune favors the bold even if curiosity killed the cat.> He made up his mind before he left the gym.
At 20:00 he arrived at a storage warehouse at the ass end of the joint base. He knocked twice on the old-fashioned steel door and a second later it rolled up. CPL Ugly was there waiting for him with the creepy lopsided smile.
“Glad you could join us, Cooper.” She turned to the rest of her small group. “The muscle is here.”
The two other guys, the same ones from the gym, didn’t look happy to see him, but they didn’t argue with the boss. Coop walked into the small space, angling himself to keep everyone in his line of sight as the door fell back down into place.
“What are we doing?” Coop’s gut was telling him to be cautious, and he always trusted his gut in situations like this.
“The job is simple.” The CPL got right down to it. “We’re in the repo business, and there’s a local tough guy who’s delinquent on his payments.”
<That’s pretty vague.> Coop wondered if they were legit, or if they were hired muscle for some local loan shark. After a moment of thought, he concluded it was the latter.
“What do I have to do?” Coop hadn’t heard anything too incriminating. He could still walk if he didn’t like what they were selling. Or, he could fight his way out. But judging by the CPL he was sure he’d take some hits in the process.
“All you have to do is stand there and look big.” The CPL smiled at him. “I’ll do all the talking. Just follow my lead.”
<And be prepared to break skulls if it comes to that.> Coop knew how this all worked. He’d been on the giving and receiving end of these types of visits back in the PHA. They rarely ever ended with kind words.
“How much does it pay?” That was the ultimate deciding factor.
“The target owes twenty-K. We charge our employer ten percent, and you get thirty percent of the profits.”
<Six hundred.> Coop did the mental math.
“Ok, I’m in. Now where’s my gun?”
“Gun?” The CPL feigned shock, but he saw right through it.
“Yeah, gun. Only an idiot would go into this without some firepower.”
The CPL saw she wasn’t going to pull one over on him and pulled a PDW from behind her back.
The personal defense weapon was the weapon authorized for civilian ownership and use. They weren’t supposed to be lethal, but they’d put a person down until the cops arrived; which meant the rounds had a low velocity, and were made of polyplast instead of metal.
<They still hurt like a bitch.> Coop had been hit by one before and didn’t want to think about it. <But that was before I was HI.> As long as the target didn’t have anything more lethal he’d be fine.
“We copacetic?” The CPL raised the eyebrow on the normal side of her face.
“We’re good. Let’s get this done.” He accepted the PDW. If this little side business had a contract, handing over the firearm was the equivalent of signing on the dotted line. They were in it together now.
<Six hundred bucks and I’ll be out of here before the cops or MPs start looking into it closely.>
No one was going to give two shits about a local thug getting smacked around, and that was presuming the guy went to the cops to begin with. Even if the authorities got involved it would take them time to refine their list of suspects. Even if they did suspect Coop, he’d be halfway across the known galaxy before they linked him to anything, and he didn’t intend to get wrapped up in an investigation in the first place. He was smarter than that.
All of that ran through his head as he pulled on a pair of glove and did a quick inspection of the PDW. He ejected the magazine, pulled the bolt back a few times to see if it was well maintained. It was, so he slid the magazine back in, chambered a round, but made sure it was still on safe before sticking it into the pocket of his coat.
An old-fashioned ground car took the four of them from the warehouse to an older, more decrepit section of Tranquility. Scantily clad woman walked the street, rundown businesses lined the main drag, and people who didn’t belong rolled through quickly with their doors locked and their windows up.
It felt like home to Coop.
They parked the car in an alley connected to one of the less decrepit businesses and entered through an open side door. There was a short hallway packed with what looked like costumes before they walked out of an employees only door and into the main section. It was a titty bar in the middle of mudwrestling night.
<The classics never die.> Coop stutter-stepped as he watched two topless women exchange punches in the filthy pit.
Guys with handfuls of money were yelling and betting with their PADs while a giant holo-board kept track of the odds second by second.
“Let’s go.” One of the CPL’s other goons elbowed Coop.
They shouldered aside the patrons and headed straight for another door. Two big guys, but not as big as Coop, blocked the way. Coop didn’t see what happened, but it happened quickly. By the time he caught back up to the CPL both guards were out cold and seated in chairs next to the door. A cursory glance and someone would conclude they were just sleeping on the job.
The CPL didn’t stop, she threw open the door and walked in like she owned the place.
“For fuck’s sake!” The sleezeball behind a desk piled high with cash grabbed for something out of sight.
“Tisk Tisk, Marco.” The CPL had her PDW out and pointed at the man’s head. “Raise your hands slowly or I’ll put one in your eye. Regrowing an eye costs at least twenty grand without coverage. Do you want to lose double tonight?”
“Bitch,” Marco spat back, but raised his hands slowly.
Whatever the case the CPL had a reputation.
“You borrowed ten grand from Gus. That, plus the vig and delinquent payments equals twenty. We’re here to collect.” The statement was superfluous. Her two goons were already at Marco’s table counting out the money.
The titty bar owner made it easy on them. Everything had already been neatly divided into thousand dollar stacks. They were halfway through throwing the cash into a bag when the door opened and the two guards rushed in.
Whatever the CPL used to take them down they didn’t stay down.
Whoever they were, they knew what they were doing. They flowed through to door and split to either side. Each had their own sector to deal with and their PDWs were held with confidence. They might even be off duty cops or soldiers.
But even with all that they weren’t ready for Coop. He was standing to the right of the doorway. He turned when he heard the door crash open, pivoted, and lashed out with a front kick. The guy moving in Coop’s direction took the kick in the side. There was a momentary look of surprise, replaced by a grimace of pain, as the kick lifted him off the ground and threw him into his partner who was moving in the opposite direction.
The second guy’s PDW went off with a suppressed pop when his partner bowled over him and they both went crashing to the floor. The round missed the owner by about a meter, but you would have thought a bomb went off by the way the man dove away.
<Definitely somebody off duty.> Coop concluded after noticing the updated PDW. They weren’t usually suppressed like that.
He kept up the pressure and rushed the guys as they were still trying to untangle from each other. He was on top of them raining down controlled blows before they could point their PDWs at the new danger.
It took a couple punches, but he knocked both of the guards out cold. Meantime, the CPL hadn’t even moved. “Let’s go, Marco. I don’t have all day.”
The guy got to his feet with a glare. He had looked smug when his guys came rushing to the rescue, but that look had quickly soured.
The CPL’s guys finished gathering up the cash and headed back out the door. The CPL started to back out too, but Coop walked right up to Marco’s desk. He looked at the titty bar owner and then at the still-large pile of cash. He grabbed a fifty off the top of one stack.
“For my inconvenience.” He smiled sweetly before following the CPL out of the room, through the bar area, and back out the side door into the car.
The guy behind the wheel peeled out of the alley. All the evidence remaining of the collection activities was the smell of burnt rubber. Coop’s only regret about it all was that he might have liked to return to the establishment at some point. That was a no go now.
“Here.” The CPL pulled in front of the shitty motel that Coop and Mike were renting a room at.
She handed him six hundred, which he confirmed with a quick count. In exchange he handed back the PDW which he didn’t need after all. He dropped the magazine out the bottom and ejected the round from the chamber before giving it to her. Giving someone you’d just met, who you didn’t totally trust, a loaded weapon was just bad business.
“Don’t spend it all in one place, and don’t deposit it all at once. The bank on post will take any deposit amount, but anything over five hundred triggers an automatic subroutine. Don’t be a smart ass and do four-ninety-nine either. They’ll flag that too. If you’re going to save it, do four-fifty today and the rest tomorrow. That shouldn’t raise MWFAS’ eyebrows.”
“Thanks for the heads up.” Coop didn’t know any of that.
“Thanks for having our backs.” The CPL gestured toward the door. “If you’re ever back in town and want some more entrepreneurial opportunities look me up.” She sent him an encrypted e-mail with her contact information.
“Will do, Corporal.” He closed the door and she left.
He walked back to his room where the “Do Not Disturb” sign was on the door and he heard the distinct sounds of Mike and Harper fucking. That sent him to the hotel bar where he quickly blew a quarter of his cash on getting shit faced.
At some point during his seventh beer his PAD pinged with his orders. He was to report to Bravo Company 2222nd Infantry Battalion stationed in New Lancashire.
Coop was heading to the Quad-Deuce and the Rim.