Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Thor, Asgard System, United Commonwealth of Colonies
<Oh my God.> Coop didn’t believe in God, but if he did this would be the Big Guy’s home.
Mike and Coop had been given tickets on a civilian liner to the Asgard System where they were both assigned to the 2222nd Infantry Battalion, aka the Quad-Deuce. Asgard was just a layover though. The two HI troopers would be assigned to a holding company for a few days until the next flight went out to New Lancashire.
Coop could barely hold back his excitement at getting out of the Sol System. Mike was a little down in the dumps about the whole deal because leaving Sol meant leaving Harper. But that was the military life. It was hard to get attached to someone when you got moved all over the galaxy.
“Are you seeing this?” Coop had his face plastered to the armorplast window as the five hundred passenger liner came out of the Alcubierre launcher.
There was the equivalent of an interstellar traffic jam leading up to and going out of the giant slingshot. And that was just this one. The system had four in total, one for strictly military use. Cargo haulers, freighters, and even private luxury yachts were backed up in one kilometer intervals as far as Coop could see. Their blinking positioning lights made it look like a conga line in space. The same was true for those coming out of the launcher. The line started a safe distance away so there weren’t any collisions, but there was a second line stretching forever, and Coop was in the back of that line.
“Attention, this is your captain speaking.” A voice announced over the speaker. “There seems to be a slight delay with System Control so we’re going to be here for awhile.”
To Coop’s surprise nobody groaned but him. It seemed delays in Asgard were common.
A while ending up being two hours, but Coop didn’t waste any time. While he sat fidgeting in his economy class chair he pulled out his PAD and did a little research. His PAD found access to the system’s MILNET node easily enough, so he was able to dig up more than the average civilian.
The Asgard system itself was the military and military-industrial complex capitol of the United Commonwealth of Colonies in addition to being the sector capitol. The system was only forty light years from Earth, and a longtime Core system. There were seven terraformed and inhabited planets in the system, each posting a population in the billions, some in the double digits. The system capitol planet was Asgard: the fourth planet from the yellow dwarf, home to the Admiralty Complex, and the second and fifth infantry corps. That was just the planet’s garrison. The system had six more corps assigned to it that were deployable and scattered throughout the Commonwealth; as well as the Eighth, Ninth, and Twelfth Fleets.
Asgard was a world pretty similar to Earth. Gravity was 1.03% Earth normal and a few degrees colder on average. It had the same land to water ratio and didn’t suffer from any of the same environmental and ecological hardships as the home world.
Coop and Mike only got to fly by the second most important planet in the Commonwealth, far more important than little, old, overcrowded Earth. But even from a hundred thousand kilometers away Coop could still see the slight shimmer in the planet’s upper atmosphere.
“Holy shit is that a planetary defense shield!” Coop had thought it was a myth before he saw it himself.
“Yeah.” A tired-looking civilian answered from the seat beside them. “It wraps around the whole planet. It’s the only other world beside New Washington to have one. They say it’ll withstand a Blockie siege indefinitely, but no one knows until it gets put to the test. All I know is that it plays havoc with commerce, and traffic at the shield gates is always a pain in the ass,” he grumbled.
Coop didn’t give a shit about that. A whole planet was wrapped in a shield. <How is that not the coolest fuckin’ thing ever.> He kept his face plastered to the window as the shimmering blue, green, and white ball slid farther and farther away.
Now that they were out into the system’s shipping lanes they were moving at a good pace toward their destination. Coop didn’t bother to research the other five planets in the system. He knew they’d have hundreds of thousands of troops on them, have industry that supported the massive Commonwealth war machine, and of course there were the shipyards around the ice-world, Frigg, that produced the Commonwealth’s latest and greatest designs.
Instead, he focused his attention on the third world from the star. The tropical planet Thor: headquarters of the Second Infantry Corps, and their temporary duty station. Unlike Asgard, which resembled Earth in a lot of ways, Thor was what Earth looked like after the proverbial flood. Eighty-five percent of the planet’s surface was covered in oceans. The remaining fifteen percent was pockmarked with island continents. With the planet only being eighty percent the size of Earth, and at 1.25% its gravity, the largest island was only half the size of Australia, and the comments section on MILNET said you didn’t want to be stationed there. It was hot year-round and 25% more difficult to do anything up to and including walking. It was less of a problem for HI, but it would suck for the regular grunts.
On the bright side, it did lead to the Second Corps nickname: The Hellhounds. And word on the street was that Hellhound Six was a real ballbuster.
The passenger liner descended through the atmosphere to the spaceport. There was no planetary defense shield to protect Thor, but there was half a fleet in orbit to deter an enemy stupid enough to be in the system in the first place. Coop didn’t even feel a bump as the medium-sized ship fought the atmosphere on its way down. It was a civilian ship after all. They took into consideration creature comforts.
Coop and Mike grabbed their bags and disembarked with the rest of the passengers. They’d barely set foot on the polyplast floors when their PADs pinged with a rally point. It directed them to the recruitment office in the spaceport’s baggage claim area. Thor had a basic training center for any unlucky son of a bitch that lived here and wanted to join up.
Standing there at the podium, looking unhappy with the assignment, was a sergeant in CMUs. The skinny little people heading into the recruitment office gave her a wide berth, but Coop and Mike could tell she was their ride. If she hadn’t been, she would have been giving recruits the stink eye, not Coop and Mike.
“You my new guys?” She raised an eyebrow as Mike and Coop walked up.
“Yes, Sergeant. Private First Class Cooper and…”
“I don’t need your autobiography, Private. Get in the air-car and let’s go.”
Mike and Coop exchanged a look before following in the SGT’s wake. <And we’ve got another one with a stick up her ass.>
The waiting vehicle was a troop transport hovering a few feet off the ground. It was already half full of the new recruits, but that wasn’t what caught Coop’s attention. The minute they stepped out of the sliding polyplast door they were hit with enough humidity that he felt like he was breathing soup. It was easily thirty plus degrees Celsius outside, and Coop’s PAD informed him that it was late fall on the planet. It was worse than Stewart-Benning.
<Just a few days and I’m out of this swamp ass factory.> He told himself as he pulled himself up into the open-bay transport.
The recruits averted their eyes as they took their seats. Coop watched them as they examined their shoes or the paneling of the vehicle’s floor. One chanced a look at the two HI troopers. She was a pretty, young thing. Young in the sense that she had that naïve look Coop associated with someone with delusions about what the military actually was. Age-wise she was probably older than him. Her skin was a deep tan that was the norm on the planet. But she still glistened with sweat. Something told him people never stopped sweating on this planet.
They made eye contact briefly, and Coop gave her his best wink. Her face immediately soured and she returned to looking at anything but him.
<Ehh…your loss.> Coop sat back, crossed his arm, and shut his eyes.
It was impossible to sleep as the sun blazed down onto his face through the truck’s open top, but it was pleasant for the first few minutes. Having spent the last day in space it was good to be back on the ground.
The kids got dropped off first. A screaming drill sergeant yelled them off the truck and into a building where they would begin Day Zero. The HI troopers rode for another few minutes before stopping next to a squat building. Coop hopped down from the back and looked to the building on his right. Then he swiveled his head to the left and saw the beach.
<Beach?> White sand and clear blue water was less than a hundred feet from the front door of the Battalion HQ.
“Listen up.” The Sergeant hopped down beside Coop. “PT is at 01:00, duty day starts at 04:00 and goes to 16:00. We’ve got long days here, thirty-two hours. It’s hottest from 17:00 to 22:00 so we try to avoid being out around then. Chow is 03:00 to 04:00, 12:00 to 13:00, and 21:00 to 22:00. We’re going to get you signed in with the staff duty NCO, get you inprocessed to the battalion and then find you a temporary bunk.” She did a precise about face and walked into the building with Coop and Mike following quickly behind.
The air conditioning inside the HQ building for the Quad-Deuce was heavenly, and for a second it made Coop miss just how empty the building was. There was a CPL manning the desk who signed Coop and Mike in, but there wasn’t anyone running around the hallways, or even moving in and out of the building except them.
“Where is everyone?” He couldn’t stop from asking.
“We’re the battalion’s rear detachment.”
It seemed Coop had located the source of the SGT’s sourness.
“They left behind a squad and officer to ensure we could move new personnel forward, maintain communication with the families, and handle any administrative work that needs doing back here.”
<Wow that sucks.> Coop kept that thought to himself. <Your unit is off on the fringes of the galaxy and you’re stuck back here. Tough break.>
The SGT didn’t speak any more about it. They found a clerk in the S1 office who inprocessed them and assigned them two bunks in the barracks. The PVT told them not to get comfortable. Two new HI troopers were going to be called forward quick.
“It’s 15:30 already so you two are released,” the SGT informed after they finished all of the necessary paperwork. “PT is on the beach in front of HQ. Don’t be late or I’ll feed your ass through the grinder, understood?”
Just like that Coop and Mike had fifteen hours of free time on their hands. So they did the first thing any soldier would do when assigned to a new base. They went to check out the chow hall.
Location: Alcubierre Bubble, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Ben entered his private cabin and tossed his PAD onto the bed. “Geoffrey, hold all my calls unless we’re under attack.”
“Yes, Commander Gold.” The Semi-Intelligent AI replied without any emotion. If that was in its programming, it hadn’t gotten there yet.
CWS Argo had been in Alcubierre transit for the last five hours and Ben had spent every one of them, and every waking hour of the last day, double and triple checking his crew’s readiness for their first mission. The short battle hadn’t counted since they were high-tailing it out of the system before the first missiles were fired.
They’d done some training when coming out in Fortitude’s belly, but Argo’s crew was still green, which meant they had to establish their own SOP’s and learn how everyone worked together. They hadn’t had enough time to do it, and it was Ben’s fault.
He’d been so busy getting close to the Star Kingdom’s diplomatic delegation that he’d neglected his crew’s training schedule. On top of that, he’d volunteered his crew for duties related to the delegation instead of shipboard duties. The NCOIC hadn’t been happy about that and he didn’t mind telling the skipper how he felt.
“How’s Chief Yates taking all of this?”
“I believe he is happy about it, Sir. His exact words were: ‘I am glad to be out of my monkey suit.’” Geoffrey wasn’t programmed for subtlety, or he hadn’t picked it up yet.
Ben winced slightly at the comment. Their last function had been a dinner party, and the crew of Argo had supplemented the assault carrier’s servers.
“Is that the sentiment from everyone?”
“There is not enough data to support any conclusion, Commander Gold. But the crew’s vitals over the last twenty-four hours do indicate an uptick in enthusiasm. They are more active, especially the marine detachment.”
“That’s because Sergeant O’Neil has been running them through boarding and counter-boarding ops for the last few hours.”
The marines had taken to the change with gusto, and if anyone was going to be ready by the time they got to Cobalt Station it was them.”
“Geoffrey, diagnostic.” Ben cut the idle chitchat and got back to work.
A rundown of data started populating Ben’s PAD. He ignored most of it, zeroing in on the important parts.
Argo was locked and loaded. She had missiles in all four of her sealed tubes, and eight more broadsides worth in her weapons hold. A hundred thousand railgun rounds were also aboard. It might seem like a lot, but that number could shrink fast, especially when being used as a last-ditch countermeasure to incoming fire. The generators for the port and starboard 50 terawatt and 100 terawatt nose energy cannons were also operating at one hundred percent. Argo was ready for anything the station could throw at them. Not that Ben expected this to get violent. This was a routine check, and since the corporation paid the Commonwealth for the port calls there was no reason they’d start shooting.
The ship was ready, but Ben still had some reservations about the crew. Chief Yates and Lieutenant Briggs were top of the line. Just like he’d suspected, the marines took an instant liking to the peppy XO. Engineering was a little bit more questionable. There had been a few times during the workup where SP3 McKinnie wasn’t anywhere to be found and Spacer Lee seemed to be handling the workload, but there hadn’t been any time to look into it.
Lee herself was a bit of a problem though. It was nothing concerning her work. She did everything above standard, but she was a bit of a flirt, and it was causing problems with the maintenance deckhands. She seemed to have them pitted against each other to win her affection.
SP2 Olvera was still her quiet and detached self, which Ben didn’t think was a good quality in the NCOIC of the Communications Department. It didn’t matter that it was only a one-person department.
The helmsman, SA Gilbert, was solid, but a little cocky. Corporal Diez in navigation still didn’t seem comfortable with his job coming over from the infantry, but Ben didn’t foresee that being a problem. They wouldn’t be doing any complicated jumps as far as he could tell.
The marines had the hard job and they were ready to go. They were one man short, but he was confident they’d get the job done. Overall, Argo was ready for combat operations. Ben just hoped he didn’t have to fight any battles all the way out in the middle of nowhere.