Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Make a hole. Precious cargo coming through!” Coop yelled as he hauled a half-ton polyplast crate down the Argo’s narrow corridor. A pair of spacers tried to flatten themselves against the bulkheads, but it didn’t work, and they had to backtrack to the nearest hatch so Coop could pass.
The battle had been won over four hours ago, and Coop had been treated to one of the aspects of modern warfare that he was spared the last few times he’d been in battle: recovery operations, assessment, recommendation, and investigations. After SGT O’Neil declared the rock cleared, the spacers starting coming aboard for the assessment. They took pictures, videos, did sensor scans, the whole nine yards. What exactly the end game of the assessment was, Coop didn’t know and didn’t care.
After that came the recommendations. These would normally go up the chain of command depending on what size force was in-system. Since it was just Argo, the recommendations were made to LCDR Gold and he made the decisions. The biggest part of those recommendations was what to do with all the shit they’d found. The site of the final battle had contained a what’s-what of illegal, black market goods, so it was up to the LCDR to figure out what to take, what to leave, and what to destroy. They only had the resources to do so much.
In the end, what the Argo was going to take back to New Lancashire were the big three: weapons, money, and drugs. A ton of crap had been destroyed in the battle, but there was still enough left for some forward-thinking entrepreneur to make a small fortune.
Coop intended to come out of this whole thing on top.
Of the three, weapons were tough to obtain because they tended to be big, bulky, and hard to hide. He was only able to get one that was capable of fitting in one of his LACS compartments each time he went to and from the site. Since there was so much stuff, that still allowed him to grab a dozen handguns with styles ranging over several centuries. He stowed all of those securely in a part of the ship no one would ever look.
<Being on such a small ship is kind of a pain in the ass for smuggling.> He thought to himself as he slipped the sixth handgun behind a loose panel in a compartment.
After doing a few runs for guns, he stumbled upon a small treasure trove of cash. Cash didn’t mean the same thing as it had in the past. Most banking and money transfers were done electronically through a person’s GIC. Bio-locks made banking a lot more secure than in the past, but people didn’t always want to do electronic transfers, so banks had to meet that customer demand. What they came up with were money chips, which really weren’t that different from data chips, that money could be transfers on to, or already held, a predetermined amount. It was the modern form of hard currency. Technically, there was still some legit cash still out there floating around. It was worth a lot more than the numbers printed on it, and it really belonged in a museum.
By sheer dumb luck, Coop came across a locked ammo box in the wreckage that contained several thousand bucks worth of chips. <I’ve just got to play it cool.> He immediately dumped the dozen-plus chips in his armor and continued to search the wreckage like nothing had happened.
Last but not least, there were drugs to consider. From what Coop knew from personal experience, and what he’d seen on this rock, the life of an outlaw was tough. There was a feeling of total freedom attached to it, but constantly being hunted seemed like a stressful activity, and it was clearly evident that the people who’d made this rock their home self-medicated on a regular basis.
One of the untouched nooks in the upper levels above the site of the fighting was a legit biosphere setup for growing illegal plants. There was some legal stuff there too, like Earth-marijuana, but some of the plants being grown were quickly identified by Coop’s PAD as producing highly hallucinogenic compounds. There was even a semi-modern lab not too far from the grow-space to synthesize the plants’ compounds, put them into pill form, and package for distribution. From Coop’s point of view, the operation they had on this rock could be a drug nexus for a few nearby systems.
Coop made sure to snatch as many bottles as he could get with a little sleight of hand. It was hard though, once word reached the officers, SGT O’Neil headed up that part of the recovery operation himself. Coop was only able to get away with as much as he did by redirecting people away from there for the first thirty minutes after he found it
By the time four hours of hard work was up, Coop thought he had a decent haul that could net him between twenty and forty grand depending on how much he could hustle the customers.
All that was left was the investigation arm of the recovery ops and then they’d be heading home. Coop wasn’t privy to that, so he took the polyplast crate back to the storage area where he checked it in with the ship’s NCOIC. The old spacer looked like he’d rather be doing anything else than annotating weights and contents on a PAD, but that helped Coop out. He had a pocket full of trinkets he’d found on his last walk back: a five-hundred-dollar chip, three plasma-tipped rounds, and a grenade he’d stumbled across in the rubble. The grenade specifically would fetch a good price, and he didn’t need the older spacer getting suspicious.
Coop didn’t get a word out of the man, just an affirmative grunt, so he walked calmly and confidently toward his hiding place.
“All hands, prepare for departure. All hands, prepare for departure.”
<Wait what?> The announcement stopped Coop in his tracks.
“Hey Sergeant,” he asked as O’Neil passed through the main hatch and secured it behind him. “What about the prisoners?”
The short, but fierce, battle had claimed the lives of most of the pirates left on the rock, but about a dozen were still kicking. Coop had helped take all of their bio-data, but he’d been under the impression that they were going to take them back to prison on New Lancashire. Even if their boss had been killed when Coop took out their big guns, they’d still been complicit in killing marines.
“They’ve got enough food and water to survive until we can get another ship out here to deal with them, but until then they’re imprisoned on their own orbiting Alcatraz.”
Coop didn’t know what an Alcatraz was, but the explanation still pissed him off. <Those fucknuggets killed half a squad of our guys and they get to chill at home until another ship comes to pick them up. That’s fucked up.> Coop was going to tell that to the SGT’s face, but he’d already moved on toward the bridge, and Coop was headed in the other direction.
He stomped off toward the compartment and checked his armor for the time. It had automatically resynced to the ship’s time when he came aboard, and that was important. He knew the crew’s watch schedules pretty good, so no one should see him stow his latest haul of contraband.
He hit the door to open the compartment…and nearly shit himself.
His secret hiding place was Aiko’s quarters, and the Engineering Apprentice just happened to be squatted – buck-ass naked – and looking into the compartment he’d stashed all of his stuff in.
<Oh shit.> Coop saw the next few decades of his life in a military prison flash before his eyes.
He’d thought he’d been so clever to stash it in one of the only female’s quarters on the ship. Aiko, although he’d figured out she liked to sleep around, only settled down with one person per deployment, and this time that was Coop. He had a reason to be going in and out of her quarters. Everyone knew that and wouldn’t think twice about it, and people tended to give a little more notice before they searched a female’s quarters than when they just started flipping shit over in grunt country.
He’d thought it had been the perfect hiding spot. He’d thought wrong.
Aiko straightened up with one of the energy pistols in her hand. She looked extremely pissed off, but Coop’s eyes naturally gravitated toward her perky titties. <I wonder if she’ll sleep with me now?” he procrastinated the conversation they were about to have with pleasant memories from the last few days.
“You fucking asshole!” Aiko hissed. “You could have severally buttfucked me and my whole career. What moron stashes an energy pistol in someone’s quarters?!”
“Huh…what…?” Coop stumbled over himself once he processed what she’d said.
“Oh my god. Are you popping your cherry, Coop?” Her frustration ebbed, but her tone was mocking.
“What?” His face scrunched up in confusion. “I’ve been fucking you regularly this entire deployment.”
Aiko rolled her eyes and held up the pistol. “Not your virginity, moron. I’m talking about this. Is this the first time you’re trying to take home a little extra after a fight?”
<Oh…OH…> Coop got it now.
“Maybe.” He got it, but he wasn’t about to admit his ignorance.
“That’s sweet.” She sauntered forward, and pressed herself against his armor. She shivered from the chill and goosebumps spread across her. “Now let me teach you how to avoid fucking us both over.” She stepped away, but her eyes told him there would be plenty of time to press up against each other later.
“Your instincts are good.” She looked around. “But putting something in a female’s room isn’t going to give much time when they do a contraband search. The XO has to do my room, but we’re on such a small ship it doesn’t give you any time to move anything.” She made sure the door was secure before removing all the stuff Coop had hid behind the loose panel.
“This is where you fucked up.” She pointed at the guns. “These are energy pistols that emit trace amounts of radiation. A sniffer is going to pick that up in a second with only a thin piece of polyplast panel covering it. Do you have anything else like these?” she asked, and Coop obliged by pulling out the plasma-tipped rounds. “All of this stuff needs to get stored near an engine, reactor, or generator. You need something to mask the particles. These,” she moved onto the drugs,” also needed to be stored somewhere else, and preferably in something. I think I’ve got some cans of grease or oil I can put them in or else the sniffers are going to find them like that.” She snapped her fingers. “I think we’ll be ok though. Being on a small ship helps since we had to transport the stuff onboard and traces of it will pass through the life support systems and blanket the whole ship, so they’ll be residue everywhere.”
“We?” Coop asked with a raised eyebrow behind his HUD.
“Yes, we,” Aiko replied. “You dragged me into this, so now we’re in it together, and that means we’re business partners.”
<Hottest business partner I’ve ever had.> Coop ran his eyes up and down her toned frame.
“How do you know all of this?” Coop had no idea he’d been fucking a criminal mastermind.
“Engineering 101,” she grinned. “Anyone who wants to transport something is going to need people on the engineering staff in on it. You’re generally able to spot them quickly once you know what to look for, and lucky for you Specialist McKinnie is a lazy slacker who cares more about the Still he has going back by the engine than checking up on me.”
“Wow,” was all Coop could say back. He had no idea about any of this.
“So, the price for this education is going to be half of that.” She pointed at the money chips on the bed. “I’ll set you up with a few contacts on New Lancashire to sell the stuff, and I get thirty percent of that.” She smiled while Coop frowned. “If you want to continue this beneficial relationship we can renegotiate further deals, but right now you really don’t have a choice.”
<I’ll give her that.> He knew she was right. Without her help he’d be totally screwed.
“Fine.” Together they counted out the money, and he ended up handing over a little under five grand to her. It hurt to see the money change hands, but Coop knew a quality product when he saw it.
Aiko put the cash back behind the panel. “I can hold onto that for you,” she gestured to his cash. “I’ll even do it free of charge.”
Since Coop didn’t have his own quarters, and slept in an open troop bay where anyone could rifle through his shit, he handed over the chips.
“Good.” Aiko pulled out her PAD and plotted out a course that she uploaded to his HUD. “Store the guns here and I’ll deal with the pills. After that, get out of your armor and meet me back here. I’ve got two hours of free time to kill, and both of us need a good stress fuck after all of that, so hurry back.”
<You don’t have to tell me twice.> Coop had a good feeling about where their relationship was going.
Location: CWS Argo, System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“We’re green across the board, Sir. Ready to set sail on your order.” LT Briggs announced.
“Chief?” Ben turned to the NCOIC.
“Everything is stored and secure.” The NCOIC was back at his station on the bridge. “Regulations dictate that we do a full shakedown of the ship for contraband because of the class of narcotics we took possession of. Do you want to do that now or when we return to port?”
Ben’s eyes were still riveted on the holo-tank. The ship of the men who’d kidnapped him hadn’t jumped into Alcubierre yet. They were loitering at the edge of the system.
“If we do it now, Sir, you have more command authority over the outcome. If we wait until we return to port then it will fall under the port’s jurisdiction.”
Ben knew that was a big difference. He could make it an administrative offense with a simple loss of rank, pay, or privileges. If the port’s authorities handled it, and found something, those marines or spacers were looking at the brig.
“Set course,” Ben drew a line toward the FTL limit. He was going to force those pirates to make a decision, and the closer he was when he made it the better his chances of finding out where they were going.
“Aye, Sir, plotting course” The helmsman inputted the data and Argo moved steadily out of the asteroid and gathered speed along the programmed heading.
The ETA to the FTL limit was over three hours away, so Ben had time to make a call with the shakedown. “Let’s start scanning the crates and see if we can pick anything up?”
Part of the investigation portion of the recovery process was to test the crates the contraband had been found in. Planets had unique atmospheres that had each been touched in individual ways by the terraforming process. If they could pick up on specific isotope ratios then they might be able to pinpoint where some of the illegal products were coming from. A number of the ployplast crates had the hybrid Cyrillic-Mandarin characters of the Eastern Blocks official language, so he doubted they’d be able to do anything there. If they could find some tidbits of information on any Commonwealth planets, they’d be able to forward their findings to the proper law enforcement departments and aid in any cases they might be working on. Who knew, it might be the key piece of evidence that put some dangerous criminals behind bars.
“Yes, Sir.” The XO was going to supervise that task once they’d cleared the asteroid.
Ben wasn’t willing to take anything for granted. He’d stripped the rock of everything he could, but he still didn’t know if the marooned pirates had a secret stash of weapons they would pull out and unleash on Argo. They needed to get clear before they did anything.
Three hours passed agonizingly slow, and right before they got in missile range the pirate ship blinked out of existence. Navigation crunched the numbers and narrowed down the possible jump locations to a handful of systems, more than half of which were in Blockie space. Ben really wanted to pursue and catch the bastards, but he had a cargo hull full of drugs and weapons. Admiral Nelson needed to know about Argo’s success not only for Ben’s sake, but for the careers of everyone aboard. He’d also made promises to the Infantry LT for Coop’s assistance that he had to keep.
“Set course for New Lancashire. Chief, you have the bridge. I’ve got a lot of paperwork I need to get started on.”
The mission had been a success, but they’d still lost people, and that had to be addressed properly. They’d paid the ultimate price to rid this sector of some very dangerous people, and Ben wanted to make sure they were acknowledged for that sacrifice.