Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Cobalt Station, System 1776, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Why the fuck is this room so big?”
“What the fuck did they think was going to happen?”
“Why the fuck are you talking instead of moving!?” The CPL cut into the chitchat and verbally planted his boot in a PVT’s ass.
Coop laughed to himself, but it got interrupted by the rumbling of the floor beneath his feet. The hangar bay of Cobalt Station looked like a third world war zone. About fifty miners lay dead and scattered throughout the space, with twice as many still fighting the advancing marines. Coop’s mines and the steady lobbing of smoke grenades was making it hard for the miners to inflict any more casualties. Even though they had M3’s, they didn’t have the armor networks to tie the weapons into. It severely degraded their effectiveness, but they didn’t seem to care.
Coop sighted a young-looking woman shooting the large rifle from the hip as she backed up and occasionally looked over her shoulder. A three-round burst of 3mm environmentally-friendly rounds hit her center mass and sent her toppling to the floor. His LACS neutral network logged that as his thirteenth kill of the day.
“We can’t sit here farting around anymore.” The CPL was pissed and Coop didn’t blame the older man. He’d been given command and walked right into a shitshow.
“Ballboy, get up there and plow the road. We’ll follow and cut a path through them. It beats the hell out of this slugfest.” Rounds pinged off the interstellar shipping containers housed in the bay.
Coop didn’t know exactly what the CPL meant by “plow the road”, but he had a few ideas. His giant Buss rotated the chambers to the grenade function while the remaining marines consolidated on their position. Coop fired off a few more smoke rounds – this time to either side of him – before reloading with something with a lot more bang. Then he told the CPL his plan.
“Hang on to your nuts boys and girls. We’re about to go for a ride.” The CPL stepped away from Coop and took cover behind a container.
Coop toggled to his weapons menu and did something MSG Smith had advised against in HI school. There were hundreds of weapons options to give an HI trooper maximum versatility and flexibility on the battlefield. Some were just downright ridiculous, while others could be a danger to the trooper and others. Coop wasn’t stupid enough to go that far, but his selection had the possibility to really fuck him up.
With his Buss set in rapid fire grenade launcher mode he pulled up the schematics of the station and zoomed in on the hangar bay. He got his location, got the exit door’s location, and planned to draw a straight line between the two points with grenades.
<This should be fun.>
“We’ll drop smoke every twenty-five meters.” The CPL ordered the rest of the marines while Coop lined up his first shot.
This little maneuver wasn’t going to kill the hundred remaining miners trying to kill them, in fact it was going to leave a lot of pissed off people chasing them. <But that’s why god made proximity mines.> Coop grinned.
They’d regroup with the rest of the marines, complete the mission, and then fight their way out. Coop would rather go at the rest of the pirates with a few squads of grunts than the seven they had now.
“Execute!” The CPL ordered, and everything in front of them started to explode.
Coop carved a path of destruction through the remaining hundred plus meters of the hangar bay. He used up the majority of his grenades doing it, but it was a hell of a show. The other marines dropped smoke every twenty-five meters on their flanks just like they said they would. It didn’t matter as much because any miners caught near the blast were to shell shocked to return fire until the charging marines were well past them. The whole deal only lasted a minute, but Coop was pretty sure he turned pyro in that short period of time.
“One and Two, this is Three. We’re through the hangar bay. Three casualties. The Spyder is down, I repeat, the Spyder is down. Casualty collection point is located at the Spyder.” The CPL added a STRATNET becon to the TACCOM message.
The red coded marine and the worst injured of the yellow had fallen back to the downed bird when Coop came up with his master plan to basically blow the shit out of everything. They’d rendezvous with the Spyder crew and hold up inside the war machine. The miners would have an impossible time cracking that bird if a half-decent defense was mounted, especially if they could get some of the secondary weapons systems back online.
That was a different group on a different mission. Coop and the CPL’s team had to clear this section of the station, find some stupid tin can captain, and get the hell out of here. They’d gotten through a hellish hangar bay, but they knew they’d only succeeded in kicking the hornet’s nest.
“Jam the door and let’s move.”
One of the marines took out a boxy device and placed it over the access panel that operated the door to the bay. He hit a few keys and a high-pitched whining noise filled the air. The little box scrambled the display and sent it into emergency lockdown mode.
“That’ll hold ‘em for a minute,” the marine grunted as he repocketed the box. It was also a useful tool to open up locked doors, and they all knew there would be a few of the ahead of them.
They formed two staggered columns – three on either side of the hallway with the CPL moving between them as needed – and started to clear the place room by room. The first two dozen spaces were empty quarters. They looked like single and family living units based on all the personal crap lying around. The owners were either holed up somewhere waiting for this all to end, or they were out there shooting at marines. Either way, Coop hoped they didn’t run into anyone. Room twenty-seven ruined that hope. Some douche looked like he was trying to take advantage of the chaos to liberate a few items that didn’t belong to him. He turned around quickly when he heard the door slide open and raised a two hundred year old pistol.
All the marine leading the clearing of the room saw was a man with a gun pointed at him, so all Coop saw when he entered was that guy’s brains blown all over the wall behind him. <Stupid dipshit. If they stopped screwing around we could be through and done with this. The more they fight the more they die.> Coop was starting to lose the adrenaline rush he’d had in the hangar bay. Killing stuff that couldn’t fight back wasn’t an enjoyable task.
The clearing was slow going because there were so many damn rooms. They were starting to look nervously behind them. It wouldn’t take forever for the miners to get the doors open and follow. Hell, if they couldn’t get the electronics to work there was the necessary equipment in the bay to pry the suckers open. Either way, no marine wanted to get shot in the ass. The longer they didn’t see the miners, the more nervous they got.
“Is there a better way to do this corporal?” Coop finally spoke up as they finished moving through some type of conference room. There was some good-looking chow on the table, so they must have been planning some sort of big meeting.
“If you can hack into the station’s biosensors and map the place for living organisms then we can skip these rooms and move on, but if I remember you’re a thirteen series correct? Did they teach you to hack between artillery sessions?”
Coop got the message. He needed to do his job and stop bitching. About eighty rooms later he felt like bitching a little more.
“AHHHHHH!” Screams erupted from room one-twenty-nine as the marines barged in. Coop was covering the rear, but he heard the CPL hurriedly try and talk someone down from doing something stupid.
That was about the time that Coop started hearing clanging coming from down the hall.
“Corporal, we need to move.” Coop had a bad feeling in his gut. “Corporal!”
“Keep your panties on, Ballboy.” The CPL exited the room supporting a young woman.
Her clothes were in tatters and she wouldn’t look anywhere but at the floor. Coop had a few guesses about what happened, but he kept that information to himself. The CPL was handling it, and Coop had bigger issues.
“That clanging is getting louder, Corporal. Let me have two guys and we’ll got check it out.”
The CPL nodded his head and Coop waved for two privates to form up on either side of him before they headed back down the way they’d come.
“I’ve got a solid mass heading this way,” Coop was a few hallways away when his millimeter wave radar started picking up something. “Let’s take it slow.”
It was a good thing they did, because two corners later they peaked around a ninety-degree bend and almost got their heads blown off.
“Where the fuck did they get this shit!?” Coop’s LACS identified the weapon that tried to cut him in half as another Buss, but the miners had mounted it on an old self-propelled bot and were marching down the hallway in search of victims.
To make matters worse, Coop could tell from the sound of the weapon firing that it was firing standard 3mm ammunition, not the friendlier rounds he was packing.
“Slow it down.” The CPL ordered when Coop relayed the news.
So Coop set an ambush. He staged two hallways away along the path the sled was traveling. He put some camo netting over two mines so they couldn’t be detected. It screwed with the sensors, but it wasn’t a big deal since he was going to manually detonate. The two regular grunts would mop up the mess after he blew the heavy weapon straight to hell.
When the miners rounded the corner, Coop was glad he’d covered up the mines and decided to manually detonate. They had an advanced group of three miners moving a good twenty meters in front of the Buss. If shit went down then those three would likely die first – and maybe by friendly fire – but it was a good counter to the mines Coop had been dropping everywhere.
<They aren’t a complete collection of back-system bumfucks.> Coop thought as the three scouts passed right over the mines.
Ten seconds later the Buss came into range and Coop initiated the detonation. Even around the next bend he felt the station shudder from the explosion. The commotion didn’t die down as injured men and women screamed in pain.
“Clean up on aisle two.” Coop joked as they moved into the hallway and dispatched the downed miners. It was as much a mercy killing as anything. The guys and gals were so jacked up they wouldn’t ever get fixed up this far out in the middle of nowhere. “Let’s get back to the guys.” They tallied another dozen kills between the three of them, and Coop made sure to put a few extra rounds into the Buss to make sure it never worked again.
They followed their team’s STRATNET icons to a large utility room the CPL had commandeered. The other marines had made a perimeter, and the CPL was in the center talking with someone with more authority.
“Roger that, Staff Sergeant. We’re on it.” The CPL finished up his SITREP as Coop’s impromptu team filed into the security perimeter. “Everyone listen up. Teams One and Two have finished their searches in their assigned sectors. The LT is down. Staff Sergeant is in command. We’ve got thirty percent casualties across all the squads. These fuckers have been picking us off with our own guns, but we’ve fucked them up pretty good. For every one of us they’ve shot we’ve gotten forty of theirs. ”
<Is anyone going to ask the obvious question? How the fuck did they get them?>
“No one knows how they got them, and I don’t give a shit. We’re here to do our job.”
“Stow it, Cooper. We’re rendezvousing with Team One at this location.” The CPL cut off Coop and turned everyone’s attention to a waypoint that appeared on their HUDs. “We’re going to regroup and push deeper into the station. We haven’t found the missing skipper yet. Cooper, you’ve got point.”
<Great.> Coop kept his thought to himself as his neural network mapped the quickest way to the rendezvous point. After all, it was his job to take the brunt of an attack if it came.
They moved quickly and lethally through the station. A few loitering miners got what was coming to them, and a few innocents got told to hide in their rooms and lock the doors. Coop actually liked when they came across a person not trying to murder them. It was a minor relief that not everyone on this bucket of bolts was trying to kill them.
The fourteen other marines were waiting for them when they reached the rendezvous. The CPL huddled with the SSG and a SGT who’d taken over for the LT.
“Did the LT die?” Coop didn’t know of a sensitive way to ask the question to the grunt next to him on perimeter security.
“Nope, but he’s going to need a few new internal organs. I saw the medic shooting him full of medical nanites where his liver should have been.” The guy shrugged but kept his eyes on the hallway. It was big enough that five guys could run down it shoulder-to-shoulder; which was why Coop was on it.
They waited for the SSG to make a decision on what they were going to do next.
“Listen up, we’ve got a change of mission. We’ve suffered enough casualties that the destroyer’s skipper just wants us to locate and grab the officer that got himself captured. We’re going to need more marines if we want to take back the whole station, and they want to figure out how these Rim miners got their hands on modern hardware.
<Don’t we all.>
“We’re going down three decks into the engineering, processing, and sorting sections. It will get claustrophobic down there. These places aren’t made for humans to be traipsing through. It’s designed so bots can do repairs, but there are a few rooms down there if the bots need to get fixed. I’ve got four on the schematics, so we’re going to split up into four teams of three and one team of two. Ballboy,” he looked over at Coop, “you’re with me. We’re going to the main engineering control room. That’s where they most likely are, so be ready to do your HI thing and save the FUBAR officer who got us into this mess.”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Coop did a check of his weapons. He was low on ammo, out of grenades that could do any real damage, and he wasn’t going to set off a mine in a crowded space where big heavy machinery might crush him.
<Good thing my fingers are just as sticky as when I left the PHA.> Coop chambered a few hundred rounds he’d grabbed off the Buss he’d destroyed. He’d use them as a last resort, but they were better than nothing. <Fuck the station’s integrity. I’m not going to die for some idiot who got himself captured.>
“Let’s go, Ballboy.” The SSG had Coop take point again as they headed for the stairs.
Taking the grav-lifts would have been faster, but they would have been sitting ducks in those shafts. At least in the stairwells they had some maneuverability.
They went down three flights of stairs and immediately entered a space Coop could barely move in. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He has to turn sideways to squeeze between two pipes that were reading temperatures over fifty Celsius. Whatever they were, they were doing something.
“Two hundred meters on the left.” An arrow appeared on Coop’s HUD and the distance counter shrunk the closer they got.
They each took one side of the hallway and rapidly moved forward. There wasn’t any cover so they had to move fast.
It was a good thing they did. Coop and the SSG had just reached the door when Coop’s sensors picked up the gun pointing around the corner, and it wasn’t just any gun.
“MOVE!” Coop grabbed the SSG by the back of the armor and practically threw him into the room as the roar of another Buss lit up the hallway. Coop felt the impacts of the heavy rounds as he twisted from the throw and tumbled through the doorway.
Searing pair flashed through his side and he screamed. The armor’s medical systems went into overdrive. A brief diagnostic and explanation of the injury flashed in the corner of the HUD. He’d been grazed by a round, but it had penetrated the armor. Medical nanites were being injected and blood loss was minimal. He was still green as far as medical indicators went.
“Help.” The call was weak and coming from the corner of the room.
A large man in CMUs was strapped to a chair. His face looked like someone had used it as a punching bag, which judging by the blood splattered around him was probably accurate.
“Look out!” He tried to warn them, but it was too late.
Someone rushed the SSG from a dark corner and threw a punch into his armored gut. Normally, that wouldn’t have done jackshit, but the SSG doubled over from the blow and his surprised gasp was audible over TACCOM.
“Me and Staff Sergeant need some help down here!” Coop radioed for backup as he aimed his Buss at the uninvited guest.
The man jumped back away from the SSG with something long and dripping in his hand.
<He’s got a fucking nano-blade. How the hell did this asshole get a nano-blade?> It didn’t matter to Coop. A thirty-centimeter nano-blade lost to a fully loaded Buss every time.
“NO!” The big guy struggled against his restraints. “One stray shot and you could kill us all.”
The guy’s yell distracted Coop long enough for the knife wielding asshole to jump behind some machinery and disappear. Whoever the hell the guy was he had to be pretty small to fit behind there.
“Get him out of here, Ballboy.” The SSG was leaning heavily on some pipe with his hand against his gut.
“Come on Staff Sergeant, you know I’m not supposed to leave a man behind.” Coop walked over and easily cut through the restraints with the edge of his forearm blade.
“We need to move, there’s a guy with…”
“I know. There’s a guy with a Buss guarding the hallway.” Thankfully STRATNET had him pinged so backup would be ready for him. “Let’s get you out of here, Sir.”
The LCDR – if Coop remembered his rank stripe correctly – looked genuinely happy to see Coop.
<It ain’t a bad thing for an officer to owe me one.> Coop was already thinking about when he could call in that token when he heard a gunfight erupt in the hallway. The loud booms of the Buss drowned out the M3s.
“Let’s go, Ballboy. We don’t got all day.” The CPL’s voice demanded from where the relief team had taken up covering positions.
“You provide cover fire and I’ll run for the stairs. Don’t shoot my big ass though. This hallway is tight.” Coop radioed back, and then looked at the unarmored LCDR and the injured SSG. “I’m going to carry your ass out of here, Sir. Staff Sergeant…”
“Don’t pick me up like I’m your bride, Ballboy. I just need a helping hand, and I’ll help with that cover fire.” The SSG looked like he needed to be carried, but Coop knew plenty of guys that would rather die than admit weakness.
<It’s your funeral.>
“Cover fire in three…two…one…go!”
Coop busted out into the hallway just as reinforcements started to light up the other end of the corridor. The SSG twisted and fired his M3 one-handed. Bullets flew by so close that Coop sucked in his gut even though it wouldn’t do anything. The reinforcements had a good angle on the bad guy and were able to keep him pinned down as Coop hauled the beaten LCDR and wounded SSG several hundred meters towards safety.
They made it about three-fourths of the way there when Coop heard what no infantryman ever wanted to hear.
Coop had a full three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view with his HUD and he knew the grenade was going to land about ten meters from him. There was nothing he could do about it but ride the blast.
Instinctually, he poured power into his armor’s artificial arms and threw the SSG and LCDR ahead of him. If Coop was lucky they would exit the blast radius. With them taken care of he activated the ES system in the armor. The nanites hardened at a molecular level right as he poured power into his legs and jumped. He’d ridden enough blast waves that he knew how to…
The grenade detonated and Coop felt a tugging sensation that would have left him with major whiplash. Instead, he felt unbelievable and agonizing pain in his leg until his body couldn’t take it anymore and he passed out.