Two Worlds – Chapter 167

Eve Berg

Location: Yangon-2, Yangon System, Eastern Block

“Listen up ladies and gents.” SGM Queen unstrapped himself from the charger in the back of the customized Spyder.

Unlike regular Spyders that were filled with enough seats to transport half a company, this particular bird had been retrofitted for SPECOPS use. A dozen charging racks lined the inside hull, and in each of those racks sat a man or woman in V3 LACS.

Eve was strapped in next to SGT Sullivan on the port side of the Spyder. She turned her head to the right to follow the man leading this mission.

Just as she’d expected, after securing Launcher Alpha, GYSGT Cunningham and the rest of Alpha Company 2511th Infantry Battalion got to stand down. In fact, the entire battalion got to take a breather. They’d done their job. They captured the Launcher, and lost a third of their force doing it. A big chunk of that had been from Alpha and Bravo Companies, but other units had lost people on the ride over and in combat to take the objective.

Eve didn’t feel cheated that the unit she fought with got to stand down. She thought they deserved every minute they got to pop off their armor and breathe calm air, but as a Ranger she didn’t get that luxury. She’d barely started munching on a protein bar before the call for all SPECOPS troopers to assemble went out over TACCOM. The thirty soldiers that were attached to the regular units were shuttled back aboard a destroyer and flown off toward the planets.

The Blockie defensive fleet was broken and scattered by the time Eve got close to Yangon-2. They’d put up a fight. Recovery operations were still underway for a handful of battlecruisers and a pair of battleships that had gone down during the action, but the Commonwealth’s losses were relatively light compared to the enemy.

Their destroyer didn’t stop to help. It headed straight for the planet where the second of Third Fleet’s task forces had gone into orbit and were taking shots at the PDCs with their energy cannons while they deployed their troops. The PDC’s were firing back, but their weaker guns weren’t having much effect. The destroyer pulled into orbit in the shadow of a battleship to avoid any of that fire. The bigger ships might not be in danger, but smaller ships could definitely get their paint scratched by the PDC’s guns.

The SPECOPS soldiers got shuttled onto the battleship and from there had received their marching orders and boarded a Spyder for the surface.

“Everyone apply a healthy layer of spray to your helmets.” The SGM demonstrated by taking a black tube and spraying the pressurized air all over his helmet.

Eve retrieved her own tube and liberally applied the spray. The spray itself was nothing special. It was aerosolized air with a healthy dosing of nanites. These nanites were specifically programmed to keep sensors clean and free of any debris. It cleaned everything from dust to water, and the weather report said that they were going to need it. Yangon-2 was a tropical world in the middle of its rainy season. It wasn’t a ‘lie on the beach and drink margaritas’ tropical either. It was an ‘It didn’t stop raining for half the planetary year and it made people miserable’ tropical. The planet’s terraformers were trying to fix the problem, but that was still going to take a decade or two.

None of that helped Eve or the other soldiers as the Spyder was buffeted by high winds as it made its approach. The SGM gripped a bar to stabilize himself as he walked down the center of the troop bay.

“As you know, our objective is PDC-7. Fourth Brigade has been pounding the shields and launching assaults the entire time we were sitting on our asses for the flight here. PDC-7 is holding out, and is one of three still standing. We need to take it out to free up aerial operations on the whole continent’s coast. Once it’s gone this entire continent will have fallen and we’ll be able to begin surgical strikes on infrastructure and personnel. Once we pave over this watery hell hole then we’ll be able to go home.”

There was no hooting from the SPECOPS operators. They were all seasoned professionals that needed a little more to get riled up than a pick-me-up speech. They silently went through their pre-battle rituals. Eve initiated a third diagnostic on her hypervelocity missile launcher. She hadn’t been given any ammo for it during the Launcher Alpha operation, and she wanted to triple check everything was green with it.

The brass hadn’t held back when assigning ordinance to the highly-trained soldiers. Eve had a full complement of weapons now:  her 12 round missile launcher, railgun with 25000 rounds, 250mm spine-mounted tube with a full sixty-eight shell combat load – including 3 antimatter rounds in the five kiloton range – and last but not least her trusted Buss. Firing off antimatter shells required Brigade-level clearance, but she was stoked to have her boom boom back.

“We’re inserting here.” The SGM pointed at a spot behind a hill that was out of the PDC’s cannon’s line of sight. “We’ll hump it into the city and find a weak point. We’ll be tied into Fourth Brigade’s STRATNET, so we’ll have real-time intel on where they think the enemy is.”

Unlike the Commonwealth, which tended to put their PDCs on the edge of cities, the Blockies plopped their massive defensive structures right in the heart of their metropolises. In Eve’s case, they were about to assault a giant dome, with a two kilometer diameter, that sat right in the center of a city of ten million.

The Commonwealth thought the positioning of a PDC so close to civilian population centers was putting people in danger that was otherwise avoidable. After all, even if the PDC was surrounded by office buildings, ships in orbit still needed to concentrate defensive fire on the structures during troop deployment and offensive operations. Conversely, the Blockies probably thought having their shelters right in the middle of a population center allowed them to evacuate the maximum amount of people, whereas Commonwealth citizens usually had to trek tens of kilometers to safety.

The Commonwealth obviously hoped that the Blockies wouldn’t target population centers when they built their PDCs away from the cities. Judging by what Eve had seen on Rogue Island, the Blockie and Commonwealth’s thinking didn’t always line up.

“This operation is not a headstrong assault into enemy fire. This is a sneak-look-plant op. We’re going to sneak past the shields and enemy troops, look around for intel and vulnerable points, and lastly plant explosives to cripple the enemy’s defenses. We’ll be doing all of this while Fourth Brigade launches another assault against the trench lines and fortifications. We’re hoping to pull the majority of their defenders away so we only have to sneak by a handful of the soldiers they don’t want to put on the front lines. If you’ve got any questions ask them now.”

There weren’t many questions, but Eve paid close attention. The order of movement had her in the rear of the formation. A pair of sneaky Recon Marines were taking point. The Rangers and other Recon Marines would make up the core of the unit, and would have the secondary mission of protecting the handful of SEAL demo experts that were tagging along to blow shit up. All together, they were going in with just under twenty guys. The remaining soldiers on the Spyder would secure the LZ and establish a forward observer position to assist in calls for fire. There were going to be a lot of them flying over TACCOM as soon as the brigade pushed their assault.

Eve wasn’t a fan of moving at the rear of the formation, but she’d rather be in the assault team than being a glorified radio operator. She received a green light on her missile launcher as another gust of wind hit the Spyder and rocked her in her charger. She was at one hundred percent, but she wasn’t going to unstrap until she had to. In her mind, every second counted when you were about to head into enemy territory. By her count, it was going to be the twenty of them against ten thousand bad guys. She wanted to have the juice to defend her if she needed it.

The Spyder stopped shaking as they broke out of the clouds, but she got yanked against her charger as the pilot put the bird into the sharp spiral of a combat descent. Someone must have taken a pot shot at them because she heard a loud curse from the crew chief sitting at the back of the troop bay, but the skids hit the ground hard and the shocks absorbed the blow.

“Let’s move, people!” The SGM was the first out to door. They quickly established a perimeter. “Berg, get up on that hill and give me eyes!” The SGM ordered.

Eve abandoned her section of the perimeter, trusting SGT Sullivan to assign someone to cover down, and sprinted to the hill. It had a steep slope, which allowed the Spyder to land out of sight, but the top had more of a gentle rounding to it. Eve had to be careful and approach the edge at a crawl. If someone was looking they might see her and start to put a lot of holes in the hillside. That was unlikely. They were ten kilometers away from the fighting, and the Blockies had bigger things to worry about. A panoramic view of the battlefield showed her that.

The outskirts of the city had been bombed into oblivion. Charred remains were all that was left of the standard polyplast buildings. Shattered husks of duro-steel skyscrapers had their windows blown out and jagged holes ripped through portions. More than one had tumbled as their anti-grav generators failed, and they lay like fallen trees in parks and residential areas.

Even as she watched, a great beam of light lanced out of the sky toward the massive dome at the center of the broken city. It was still a long way off when it stopped. Energy sparked against energy and the rainy skyline was suddenly lit up as the shield flared and absorbed the blow. Several smaller pock marks hit the same area as the Brigade’s artillery tried to take advantage of the warship’s fire support. They saturated the area weakened by the ship’s attack. The shield flared again, but only a single, solitary explosion fell inside the energy barrier. It was weak and pitiful. Eve zoomed in and it looked like all that had been destroyed were a few abandoned cars the Blockie infantry was using as cover. A few soldiers were picking themselves up off the ground, wiping dirt from their armor, and giving a big middle finger up toward the warships in orbit. If she was standing among them listening, she bet they were laughing.

“What’s it look like, Berg.” The SGM was crawling up next to her.

“The enemy has a big ass shield, with thick, well-manned defensive positions.” Eve pointed out several pillboxes where high-powered energy weapons were likely placed. “I can see why Fourth Brigade is having issues. It’s a tough nut to crack, even with fire support, and we’re looking at force parity at a minimum. I bet the Blockies have more troops underground ready to pour out if their people on the surface get overrun.”

“They probably do.” The SGM didn’t sound concerned. “That’s why it’s our job to find those weaknesses that will eliminate as many of their up-top soldiers as possible.”

The SGM had a STRATNET overlay up on his HUD and was looking at avenues of approach. The team would have to slog down from the hill, through the no man’s land outside the shield, then though a good penetration point, and they’d have to do it all in the next few hours. Fourth Brigade’s assault began exactly at 1400 local time. From the storm clouds you couldn’t tell it was the middle of the day. Everything was dark, dreary, wet, and overall shitty.

Eve couldn’t imagine doing this in just Dragonscale armor.

<Embrace the suck.> She reminded herself as she pulled back from the hilltop with the SGM and went back to join the unit. They needed to get to work.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 166

Benjamin Gold

Location: CWS Abraham Lincoln, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“You headed this way, Sir?”

Ben’s head was in his PAD and he wasn’t paying any attention to his surroundings, which was why LT Wentworth was able to sneak up on him. To his credit, Ben didn’t jump.

“Yes, Lieutenant. I have a briefing up on the flag bridge.”

“I’m headed to the flight deck. Do you mind if I walk with you?”

Ben only hesitated a moment. “No.” He put his PAD in his pocket without breaking stride.

He really needed to be studying the OPORD and forming questions for the meeting with Captain Jacobson. The Andromeda’s captain was the leader of the small strike force RADM Nelson was using to harass the Blockies in the sector. It was because of her the Blockies were scrambling. Not only had they lost a supposed ally in the Kingdom of Windsor, but now they’d had infrastructure hit all over the sector.

<The longer we can keep them off balance the more time we have to coordinate with Windsor and strengthen our own territory.> Even over the few days he’d been gone for the rogue asteroid mission, Ben had come back to new construction, and most of it was military.

York Sector looked like it was getting ready for a big push, and the Sector capitol needed to be ready when it did.

“That went well.” The LT broke his train of thought.

“Excuse me?” Ben asked confused.

“The training exercise. I thought it went well.” The LT smiled, and it was a nice smile. “I wanted to thank you again for allowing my Company to spend the day aboard your ship qualifying and training.”

“No thanks required,” Ben smiled back anyway. “You let me have Corporal Cooper for my mission. It’s I who should be thanking you.”

“I never got the AAR on that operation.” The LT looked a little ticked that she hadn’t been kept in the loop.

“I’ll forward it to you if you want?” Ben offered. “It’s pretty straight-forward. We found some black market dealers and pirates camping out at one of our abandoned asteroid storage centers. We went in and kicked them off the rock, and Corporal Cooper played a big part in that. If we hadn’t had the HI asset we would have lost more men.”

The smile vanished from the LT’s face and was replaced by a solemn expression. “Sorry for your loss, Sir. Losing good soldiers is always hard.”

“Yes,” Ben coughed awkwardly into his hand, and they walked the next fifty meters in silence.

“Do you mind if I ask a personal question, Sir?” The LT stopped walking and Ben had to double back.

“That depends, Lieutenant.” Ben was always hesitant when it came to personal questions, because they usually went one of two ways.

“Well, Sir. I was just wondering why someone like you joined the Fleet?”

<And there it is.> That was usually one of the topics of these personal questions: his pedigree.

His displeasure must have shown on his face, because the LT quickly put up her hands up defensively. “Sorry, Sir, that came out wrong. I just meant that you’ve got a Ph.D. from Oxford. That’s very impressive. I don’t know why you’re out here in the ass end of nowhere when you could be doing something…more.” Her face scrunched up, “But that’s really not the right word…”

“I understand, Lieutenant.” Ben gestured for her to relax. “And your answer is that I am trying to do something…more.” He shot her a grin and she laughed. “I’ve always wanted to be in the Diplomatic Corps, but to do that I need…”

“Grade and command experience,” she finished the sentence for him.

“Exactly.” He nodded.

“I’ve been applying to the ADSO program for continued education for years.” The LT’s expression morphed to frustration. “I got top marks for my associates degree back on East Newfoundland, which was enough to get me an officer’s commission, but I’ve been trying to finish my Bachelor’s Degree and go on to my Masters.”

“Are you looking anywhere in particular?” Ben was genuinely interested now. This walk had evolved from a chore to an intriguing conversation.

“My dream list would be the New Ivies on New Washington or the Old Ivies on Earth. Oxford is pretty good,” she shot him a sly smile, “but they really don’t have the best program for me.”

“Oxford has the best program for everything,” Ben replied in defense of his alma mater. “What are you studying?”

“Nanotech with a specialization in cerebral interactions,” she deadpanned.

“Oh…” Ben honestly didn’t even know if Oxford had a program for that. They probably did, he just never met anyone in it.

“Judging by your expression you can’t offer me any recommendations,” the LT laughed.

“No…well…yes, but I’m just trying to figure out why a person interested in advanced applications in nanotech is a ground pounder. No offense intended.”

“None taken.” The LT shrugged. “I still wanted my knowledge to help advance the military’s application of nanotech, so the officer commission was a must. Since the Infantry tends to get a lot of the enhancements I figured this was the best way to start and see the existing product in action. Eventually, I want mental enhancements on the same level as physical, because if we can advance the mind to such a degree then our potential as a species is limitless.”

“Interesting,” Ben mused. “I took you as a grunt lifer.”

The LT raised an eyebrow at his statement.

“Don’t give me that. I do my research on officers I’m going to let board my ship and pretend-kill my crew.” He shot back.

“And I do my research on the leader of my opposition force,” she returned fire. “Don’t think I don’t know you have a planet named after you.”

Ben was enjoying the conversation so much he let the quip about his privilege pass. In fact, it made him chuckle. “Ah yes. Benjamin Prime. It’s a desolate heavy-grav, ore-rich world. It has limited colonization due to the toxic atmosphere. My father did a cost-benefit analysis on the whole thing and decided it was too expensive to terraform, so the few work camps on the surface are underneath domes and workers spend their shifts in hardened, radiation-shielded suits. He also says I’m as stubborn as the planet’s tough crust and he’ll give it to me on my hundredth birthday when I finally join the family business.”

By the end of the statement both Ben and the LT had stopped walking and were laughing. A few enlisted were giving them a wide berth as they hurried about their duties.

“Well…this is me,” she pointed down the corridor. The briefing rooms were one way and the flight deck another. “It’s been good getting to know you, Sir.”

“You too, Lieutenant.” Ben smiled. It had been a while since he had a good conversation with someone. He forgot how relaxing and refreshing it could be.

“Please call me Jacobi, Sir.” She smiled back.

“Off duty please call me Ben.”

“Thank you, Sir.” The LT understood the chain of command and proper protocol.

She made the turn and started to walk away. Ben turned toward the briefing he was barely going to be on time for, but something in his gut told him to stop. He didn’t trust his gut enough when it came to certain things, so he turned back.

The LT was marching toward him with a determined expression. “Sir.” She stopped in front of him nearly at the position of attention. “I was wondering if you would like to grab some coffee or a bite to eat the next time you are down on the surface.”

“Yes, Jacobi, I would really enjoy that.”

For a second, Ben could have sworn a small blush crept onto the cheeks of the Infantry officer, but she was already whipping around and heading back toward the flight deck. “You have my number, Sir,” was the last thing she said before she rounded a corner and was gone.

Ben just stood there for a minute. It had been a long time since he’d been asked out. Because of his family and father, he’d been pestered most of his life from women interested in him. Some were much older than he was at the time. After a while, getting asked out became a turn off, but not this time. Ben felt a slight flutter in his gut that he hadn’t felt since his brief fling with Sarah.

<Don’t get ahead of yourself.> Sarah had ended up using him to get ahead. He hoped Lieutenant Jacobi Wentworth wasn’t doing the same. <But that’s a risk I have to take.>

Whenever a person like him opened himself up they were always taking a risk. It just depended on if she was worth the risk, and only time would answer that question.

He stood in the hallway for a moment digesting the whole situation before he remembered there was a place he needed to be. He ended up running the rest of the way to the conference room and arriving just before the Captain.

“At ease,” the stately woman in command of the task force waved for them all to sit down. “I see we’ve got some old and new faces here.”

Being one of the new faces, Ben didn’t feel like he knew the woman well enough to know if she was making a joke. The old faces laughed, so Ben allowed himself to crack a smile.

“Will all the new faces please stand up and introduce yourself,” she asked as she took her seat at the head of the table.

Ben did as he was told and quickly found out he was the youngest skipper in the room, so he did what any good young officer was supposed to do. He sat back, kept his mouth shut, and absorbed the experience around him like a sponge.

“This is our objective,” the holo-table hummed to life and the group found itself staring at a five kilometer-long silo with a handful of spokes sticking out of it at intervals. At the head of the silo was a large, thick cone, and that cone was bristling with weaponry.

“This is one of the Blockie’s Mobile Dockyards. It is one of two that we are keeping an eye on. It allows the Blockies’ ships a forward repair post, and handles everything from battle damage repair to routine maintenance. If we can take this out we’ll cripple the enemy’s ability to conduct offensive operations for the foreseeable future; thereby, allowing the Commonwealth to dominate the Sector.”

“You think they’ll see us coming?” asked another Captain, the skipper of the missile cruiser Deluge, and the second highest ranking officer in the room.

“Almost certainly,” CAPT Jacobson replied. “We’ve got reliable, nearly real-time intelligence on the dockyard’s location, which is almost too good to be true.” A small smile tugged at the corner of her cheek. “The Admiral shares your reservations Captain Kennedy, and that is why he’s assigned Lancelot, fresh out of our own yards, to this task force. Commander Peters, the former XO of Lancelot will remain in command until his replacement arrives from Asgard.”

A man in the back of the room with the two golden stripes of a Commander nodded to the rest of the officers. Despite the man’s subordinate rank to all the battlecruiser captains in the room, Ben knew it was a good idea to keep him in charge of the little task force’s largest ship. Lancelot had taken a pounding in the battle to secure System 1552, and members of other ships’ crews, plus replacements, had been cross loaded until the ship’s compliment could be brought back up to one hundred percent. With those changes, it was important to keep the remaining bridge crew as cohesive as possible, and that meant keeping the old XO in charge. Even though the battleship was bigger, tougher, had two and a half times the throw weight in missiles, and nearly double the energy number of energy cannons. In its current state, Lancelot wouldn’t perform much better than the smaller ships. It looked good on paper to have the battleship in the order of battle, but paper and reality were two very different things. RADM Nelson hoped this mission would help build cohesion in the battleship, so when a new CAPT did arrive, they would be in better shape.

“The battle plan is simple and to the point.” CAPT Jacobson turned her attention away from Commander Peters and Lancelot. “We will travel by Launcher from New Lancashire to System 1552. Once there, we will conduct a brief assessment of the picket force. Once we’re satisfied, and the report is sent to Admiral Nelson, we’ll push on to the Hahn System. Reports have the Mobile Dockyard orbiting the frozen moon of the system’s outermost planet. Enemy forces are unknown, but we expect a pair of battlecruisers for protection. On top of that, we can only guess at what the yard is actually servicing.” The holo-table expanded to show the officers a good view of the Hahn System and its planets.

It wasn’t much to look at: six worlds, the second and third being mapped for potential terraforming and colonization, with Hahn-Six being a gas giant. The frozen moon was small, only about seventy-five percent the size of Sol System’s Pluto. It had water reserves though, which was why it was important. A small settlement was on the ground to get that water up to the ships. The Mobile Dockyard probably wasn’t even a permanent fixture in the system. It was just passing through for resupply, and it looked like the Commonwealth was about to catch it with its pants down.

<It’ll be tough.> Ben recognized Hahn-Six wasn’t that far from the hyper limit. If the task force’s timing was off, the FTL-capable station would be able to escape.

“Lieutenant Commander Gold’s Argo will be the first to transition. You will be charged with preliminary scouting and assessment of the enemy’s disposition. The rest of the task force will follow thirty minutes later, receive your assessment, and close with the enemy to complete the mission. This will also give us the time to abort if we deem necessary. After what happened to that task force from Third Fleet at Rogue Island, we can never be too careful.”

Word of the disastrous defeat had reached New Lancashire not too long ago, and Captain Jacobson wasn’t going to get pulled into the same situation.

“The dockyard’s weapons systems are mostly defensive. They’ll want to maneuver to keep the defensive cone between us and them. That cone can take a hell of a pounding, so we’ll want our destroyer contingent to maneuver and take away that advantage. The battlecruisers and Lancelot will engage the main defenders, defeat them, and capture the station. Our orders are to board, obtain any intelligence and equipment we deem vital, and then scuttle it.” Heads around the table nodded at the last order.

“Lastly, we are honored to have our allies participating in this operation. Lord Captain Armstrong, Earl of Snowden, and the Royal Navy Cruiser Benjamin Disraeli, will be fighting alongside us again. Thank you, Lord Captain.”

The man in the foreign uniform had a confident smile, and his teeth gleamed from a fresh nanite scrub. “It is our pleasure, Mum. Alliances aren’t always as pleasant as having the occasional cup of tea together and swapping war stories.”

“Yes, Lord Captain, but we’ll have that peaceful tea eventually. Now, any questions?” There were none. “We set sail for the Launcher in T-minus two hours. Prepare your ships ladies and gentlemen.”

The briefing broke up and Ben was the first out of the room. Argo was taking point in this entire offensive, and he needed to make sure his people were ready for what that entailed.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 41

“Single file everyone.” A police woman in a reflective yellow vest was waving the group of survivors forward. “Don’t push or shove. Everyone will get through.”

Standing on the other side of the line was a Hero Kyoshi didn’t recognize, but she felt the man probe her mind.

<HCP.> She informed the Hero, who was only mildly surprised to get a reply from someone.

He gestured at her and two burly men in Army uniforms approached her.

From the average person’s perspective, the terrorist attack that disrupted Mr. Morningstar’s funeral was largely over. There was still the occasional gun shot, but that was the police using non-lethal weaponry to disperse looters. A large five block radius of Orlando was in a state of martial law, and the Governor had called in the National Guard to assist.

Small contingents of soldiers started arriving by teleporters outside Force Fields energy barriers. They quickly set up large concrete barriers as the foundation for checkpoints. Barbed wire was strung over them to deter anyone from trying to leap to freedom.

<No one is getting out of here without getting thoroughly checked.> She let the rest of her friends know.

She was keeping them informed of the errant thoughts from the hostage situation a quarter-mile away, but with her being singled out she needed all of her attention on the present.

The line parted for the soldiers as they approached her. “Ma’am, can you please come with us.” The soldiers were polite but tense. The Hero hadn’t given them anything but bare-bones information.

“Sure.” Kyoshi tried to relieve their anxiety by agreeing and smiling.

“I’m coming too.” Mason stepped up next to her. The soldiers might be big, but he was bigger.

“I don’t…” the soldier started, stopped, looked behind him at the Hero, and then nodded. “Fine. Follow me.” One soldier fell in behind them so they were sandwiched between two M4s.

The Hero didn’t come with them. His attention was refocused on the line of people exiting the area. The cops were checking IDs and he was checking thoughts to make sure they weren’t releasing any terrorists back into the city. Orlando couldn’t afford another hit today.

There was a small camouflage tent set up to the side. It had some hastily piled sandbags around the entrance, and two more soldiers were standing guard. They gave Mason and Kyoshi neutral looks as they passed. Inside the tent a curtain cut it in two. One side was filled with plastic tables holding computers and coffee. A quick looked showed they had predator drones circling the city and were doing a collateral damage assessment on a building surrounded by cops. A man with a golden leaf on the center of his uniform was yelling over the phone at someone, but the Mason and Kyoshi didn’t get to stick around. They were hurried into the other side where several people sat at desk opposite soldiers who were asking questions.

“Take a seat.” The soldier pointed at two empty tables in the corner where people were waiting to talk to them.

<It’s ok,> she told Mason.

Mason nodded and led the way. His interrogator was a small guy with a reassuring smile that he turned on the moment he saw Mason. Kyoshi’s didn’t smile. Her interrogator’s eyes narrowed as Kysohi took a seat across from her. Kyoshi had a full view of the room and everyone in it. She recognized some of the people sitting around talking.

“Name?” The interrogator wasted no time getting down to business.

“Kyoshi Schultz.”

“That’s an interesting name.”

Kyoshi wasn’t sure if that was a statement or question. “I’m half Japanese and half German.”

“Parents’ names?”

“Wilhelm and Sakura.”

The soldier had a laptop in front of her and started entering information on it. Kyoshi wanted to know what she was looking at, but the soldier’s mental guards were up, and after reading the room she knew it wasn’t a good time to pry. Motion near the flap caught her attention and another soldier brought Becca in.

The petite speedster’s emotions didn’t need deeper reading. Kyoshi’s friend was upset and hurting. Anika was still unconscious, but the doctors said she’d make a full recovery once a healer got around to see her. Whatever Becca had seen during the explosion, it was clearly weighing on her. Kyoshi wouldn’t ask until her friend had a little time to digest it all.

A second later the flap opened again and Angela was escorted in. Unlike Becca, the angelic shifter’s expression was just slightly better than pissed.

The realization hit Kyoshi a moment later. <They’re interrogating all the Supers.>

“Why are you in Orlando when your residence is in California?” the interrogator continued questioning.

“I go to West Private University.” Kyoshi stayed calm and didn’t let the growing unease show on her face.

“What are you studying?”

“Psychology.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m good at it.” Kyoshi bit her tongue as some of her irritation leaked out. “And I think the world needs good people to help others when they’re struggling.”

“How very noble.” The interrogator didn’t make it sound like a compliment.

“Did you have anything to do with the terrorist attack today?”

“No.”

“Why were you here?”

“To pay my respects to a fallen Hero. Mr. Morningstar was a great man and I wanted to say goodbye.”

“Were you going to speak at the podium?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I wasn’t going to wait hours and hours in line.”

“So, you wanted to pay your respects but weren’t willing to wait to say anything.” The interrogator raised an eyebrow.

“I was being realistic. I have homework and other things to do today that preclude me from spending hours out here.”

“Like what?”

“School stuff.” More irritation leaked into Kyoshi’s tone. She didn’t have a problem talking about HCP stuff with the Hero, but this unknown soldier was a different deal. If the woman had the authorization and access to know about her HCP status then she would know. If not, then Kyoshi wasn’t going to violate the SI clause of her contract.

“Can you be more specific?”

“Group project.” It wasn’t a lie. Her team was prepping for the next team competition.

The interrogator jotted more notes down.

“It’s none of your business.” Kyoshi overheard Angela giving the soldier a piece of her mind. She couldn’t blame her friend, this whole thing just felt weird.

Whatever the interrogator saw on her screen it seemed to satisfy whatever other questions she had. “We have your address. We’ll contact you if we have any follow up questions.”

To Kyoshi that sounded at lot like “we know where you live, so don’t leave town”. She got quickly to her feet and another soldier waved for her to follow him. He led her out the back of the tent to another check point. The guards here were carrying bulky machine guns instead of the M4s the other soldiers carried. They checked her license carefully and scanned the barcode on the back. There was a soft ping, and they handed it back to her.

“Have a nice day.” They didn’t sound like they meant it.

Kyoshi stepped past them into chaos. People were everywhere trying to find friends and loved ones. Cops and more soldiers were trying to keep order, but it was tough with so much emotion. Kyoshi looked up when she felt thoughts above her, and saw several soldering with weapons perched on rooftops and scanning the crowd.

“Hey,” Mason showed up a second later, and Becca and Angela not long after that.

“What was that all about?” Becca was hugging herself protectively, and Kyoshi knew it wasn’t because of the cold.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Angela was still a little worked up from everything. “Supers perpetrated the attack, so they’re scanning the crowd for anyone with powers, singling them out, and interrogating them.”

“Makes sense,” Mason shrugged. “They’re just making sure no one else was involved.”

“We’re HCP students, the Hero watching the check point knew that, and those interrogators sure as hell had the information from the DVA. I don’t know why they hassled us.”

“I do.” Mason nodded toward the frantic crowd. “I lived in New York just after Seif al-Din’s attack that took out half the Heroes in the city. It didn’t matter that Supers tried to stop the attack. The attack was a Super in the first place, and people resented all Supers for that. Same goes for the end of last semester. I was glad we were gone for the summer because it gave the city’s anger a chance to simmer, but after this we’re going to see hate crimes skyrocket and a lack of tolerance.”

“But we didn’t do anything?” Becca’s tone was confused.

“Doesn’t matter. We need to keep our heads down.” Already, a few heads were turning to judge Becca’s blue hair and Kyoshi’s clearly Super features. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Their hair and eyes might be drawing attention, but Mason’s mass made sure no one did anything about it. They called an Uber and got a ride back to campus, where they reported directly to the HCP. The staff was going to want full accountability of all the students before the end of the day, and they’d want to prepare them for what came next.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 165

Eve Berg

Location: Launcher A, Yangon System, Eastern Block

“Only three?” Eve filtered out the gunfire and cries of the injured as she surveyed her requested equipment.

“We work with what we’ve got.” GYSGT Cunningham stood off to the side of the three little robots, and she was pissed.

It had nothing to do with their resupply or Eve’s handling of the operation. Her anger was directed inward. She believed she’d failed. It took nearly twenty minutes to get the Crawlers to the front lines, and in that time the soldiers of Alpha and Bravo Company 2511th Infantry Battalion had dug in. Since they couldn’t literally dig into the duro-steel surroundings, they’d gathered material, constructed improvised barriers, and kept an eye on the enemy. The Battalion Commander had even authorized a small number of 250mm shells to be allotted to the Rangers about to storm the enemy position. That was how important taking engineering was to the brass.

Normally, the prep and extra firepower would be good enough, but whoever was in command on the other end wasn’t stupid. He saw the Commonwealth troops digging in and he wasn’t going to wait around.

The counterattack hit Alpha Company first. They’d stepped up so Bravo could take a step back and get some breathing room after their failed assault. Bravo’s LT, the GYSGT, and Eve were all off in another corridor going over the Crawler’s route to the objective when the attack hit. Two shoulder-mounted launchers preceded a rush of two dozen Blockies. Alpha returned fire, but fire from the 90mms forced them to keep their heads down. When the enemy got close enough they threw grenades into the Commonwealth lines. Those exploded right before Eve and the GYSGT joined the action.

They lobbed a couple precious shells toward the enemy to stop the advance. A few went down, most skidded to a stop and fell back to get under the safety umbrella of the swatters, but a few pushed forward. Eve took two more down with a Buss before those adventurous few wised up and fell back.

The assault didn’t last more than a few minutes, but when the dust cleared Alpha and Bravo each had a few KIAs and twice as many WIAs. There were at least a dozen Blockie bodies blocking the corridor, which was going to make the eventual assault that much more difficult.

The one bright side of the whole incident was Higher sending down Echo Company. The fresh company had encountered minimal resistance capturing their assigned section of the Launcher, so the extra bodies were welcome. Even better, the LT was a really gung-ho chick who was ready to kick ass and take names. Bravo’s LT offered her to lead the eventual charge and she took it without hesitation.

The GYSGT looked at the new LT like she’d bitten into a sour lemon, but some of that was her kicking herself. Now that the action was over and she had some time to evaluate what had happened, she was disappointed in her own lack of vigilance.

“Stupid. I shouldn’t have expected them to sit on their asses and wait for us to come to them.” Eve overheard her while she was programming the Crawlers.

<She’ll be fine. She’s a grown ass woman.> Eve reminded herself and focused on her task.

Three Crawlers was a lot less than she was hoping for. Her original plan called for twice that – three for each wall next to the heavy weapons. The goal was to take them out. With Echo Company in the fight, all they needed to do was cripple the 90mms. Hopefully they could get the swatters too, but she wasn’t going to get ahead of herself.

The Crawlers were fairly easy to program, and she really only needed to work on one. She entered a mirror program onto the other two. Their sensors would evaluate what the Crawler Eve was controlling was doing and mirror that behavior. It was the easiest way to get all three into position at once, and as the counterattack had showed, time was of the essence. The enemy could still blow the whole Launcher if they wanted.

“Just about good to go here.” She let the commanders and GYSGT know it was go time.

“Lieutenant, we’re starting to get some particle spikes from down the corridor.”

GYSGT Cunningham had put a buddy team with sensors in an OP as far out as she dared. The original team had been killed in the counterattack, and a new team was voluntold to assume that position. It was a good thing too. A spike in the type of particles those instruments measured could only mean one thing.

“Wrap it up, Berg. You’re on in two, and we’re assaulting that position in ten or less. Anything more than that and we’re totally fucked.”

Eve didn’t bother to complain about the time constraint or potentially throwing a Company of soldiers into the meat grinder as cannon fodder. She knew what they were facing, and if they didn’t take the objective everyone was going to die. It was a numbers game pure and simple. Having to choose between a hundred and fifty guys or a few thousand was a no brainer.

<We’ll be the sacrifice if we need to be.> Eve thought it, and then pushed it to the back of her mind. Negative thinking wasn’t going to help. She was going to get those Crawlers where they needed to go, she was going to cripple those heavy weapons, and then they were going to kill the enemy and live happily ever after.

“Ready.” She scooped up the Crawlers and hauled ass to the section of wall they’d dismantled. Behind it was a second wall of machinery, but it had an entry point big enough to get the Crawlers through one at a time.

She ran a final systems check, just to make sure she could remote detonate the small, powerful packs of explosive each Crawler was carrying. Everything came back green, so she switched functions on her HUD. The Launcher’s stark aesthetics disappeared and she was in the darkness of the machinery. She switched on the night vision, readied her hands for the subtle fingertip manipulations that would drive the Crawlers, and went to work.

The interior of the walls between the Commonwealth and Blockie positions was a labyrinth of hodgepodge systems. The Crawler’s sensor identified everything from a water main to conduits that supplied power to the quantum entanglement communications equipment. She deftly maneuvered around all of it, and the machines twisted and contorted like acrobats. That was their true genius. They weren’t something stiff and rigid to move stuff from Point A to Point B. These were for delicate work, or in this case, delicate killing.

<These could totally be murder bots.> She thought as her Crawler bent into a right angle and slimmed down its mass to its minimal threshold, and transferred it to its length, so it could fit between a pair of pipes. She used the sensors to check behind her to make sure the other Crawlers made it. They did. <So far so good.>

A timer ticked down in the corner of her vision. She was already five minutes into the ten minute time hack, but things were moving smoothly. Three minute later she was coming up on the end of the trip and everything looked good…until her HUD squawked a warning, highlighted an item in red, and automatically froze the Crawlers.

“Shit,” Eve cursed.

“What is it, Berg?” The GYSGT had been supervising the troops getting ready to attack. She assigned herself to be the assault force’s mobile swatter. Her hulking armor would be a big bullseye for the 90mms if Eve couldn’t take them out.

“I’ve got nanites,” she whispered.

It seemed whoever designed this defensive gem of a Launcher had thought of everything. They knew that getting down the corridor to engineering was going to be a pain in the ass, and people were going to think of going through the walls. They likely didn’t know about the Crawlers, since it wasn’t on the nanite box’s programmed list of things to automatically attack, but if she went much farther it was going to become clear that they were a threat.

The Crawlers were designed to fight off miniscule intruders, and had a small batch of their own defensive nanites, but against a box that size, with all the Blockies nanites being directed at them, the Crawlers would quickly be overwhelmed.

“Make a call, Berg. Shit or get off the pot. We’re going in ninety seconds.”

<Shit…shit…shit…> Eve scanned the area.

The box was attached to some type of coolant device that flowed into the QE communications circuits. She briefly considered rupturing the line, but there was no telling what was actually in the coolant device. It might jack up her Crawlers too. A quick search of anything to divert the attention of the nanites came up with a big fat nothing.

That really left her with only one choice.

She programmed the next instructions and relayed the info to the GYSGT. Originally, she was supposed to position the two other Crawlers on this wall and work her remote controlled Crawler to a better position to hit the second set of swatter and 90mms. The charges on the Crawlers were shape charges, so they would funnel all of their destructive potential at a target. That clearly wouldn’t work now. She just hoped the new plan would.

The GO signal for the attack would be the Crawlers detonating. That was hard to miss, but first, Eve had to get them to actually detonate. With the program set she hit the EXECUTE button, and the tiny robots scurried into action.

Two went for the preprogrammed positions on the wall. One was a good spot to hit one of the 90mms. The second had the highest probability of at least inflicting minor damage on the second one. It all depended on who and what was between the wall and that second weapons system. The third Crawler was her sacrificial play. That Crawler charged the nanite box and broadcasted all kinds of Commonwealth crap. The box reacted immediately, and did exactly what machines of limited programming were supposed to do. They swarmed the one Crawler.

Eve pushed her Crawler and the one remaining one as fast as she could, but she still had five meters of obstacles to overcome. They crossed the distance as fast as they could, but it wasn’t fast enough. The defensive nanites literally ate the decoy Crawler alive. The little guy was set to self-destruct once the other two got into position, but it never got that far, and now that the nanites had tasted Commonwealth tech they were hungry for more. The two remaining Crawlers were just getting into position when a wave of nanite smashed into them. Their own defensive nanites went to work defending them, and because the enemy nanites were split in half, they lasted longer. Longer only meant a few seconds, but sometimes that was all it took if luck was on your side.

Today, luck kind of was.

Eve lost the visual feed as nanites attacked her Crawler, but it had gotten into position and locked itself to the wall with the shaped charge pointing at the right angle. Eve hit the button to detonate over and over again…nothing happened.

<Shit!>  She continued smashing the button, and finally the floor rumbled as a big BOOM ripped through the Blockie position…but it was only one boom, and Eve didn’t have time to figure out which. Echo Company was already charging.

The distraction of a wall exploding in the middle of your position allowed Echo to advance a lot farther than Bravo ever got before taking fire. Of course, the return fire was a lance of energy that lopped off the lead soldiers arm at the shoulder, and bisected the man next to him.

Eve heard the rapid fire of the GYSGT’s railgun as she charged forward and took down any other incoming ordinance.

“Corporal, where are you going?!” Bravo’s LT called as Eve leapt over one of their improvised barriers.

“Up there.” Eve pointed forward with her Buss without turning back.

The battle was in full swing now. Lances of light blared out every few seconds, but it was only one judging by the recycle time on the weapon. It looked like the Crawlers had worked. At least one of the big guns was down.

“Gunney, let’s hit them with anti-personnel, scatter shot.” Eve suggested, already rotating one of her few remaining rounds into her 250mm cannon.

The GYSGT didn’t even respond. A timer just appeared on Eve’s HUD with an arrow pointing to the right. Eve split her screen to fly the round in herself, and fire when the countdown hit zero. If one of the swatters was down, two incoming rounds coming in at different directions from different places might confuse it enough to get through.

The rapid fire of the swatter was audible over the softer 1mm M3s, and an explosion up ahead told Eve that the Gunney’s round had been intercepted. For the second time in as many minutes, Eve ordered her munition to detonate. STRATNET showed her it was a little premature, but it still did the trick. It detonated right over the front of the enemy lines. Over a dozen Blockie infantry were pelted with ceramic shrapnel. At such a close range their armor was ineffective and all of them went down, which provided a tactical opportunity.

“Advance right!” The GYSGT beat Eve too it, but Eve pushed forward with a mass of soldiers.

She fired off three-round bursts with her Buss to keep the enemy from reoccupying the position. Her LACS sensors were the only warning she had to throw herself to the ground. A 90mm lance passed right over her head, and only missed her by millimeters.  Four of Echo Company’s soldiers took a hit, and only one’s armor held. The other three went down with amputated limbs and the smell of cauterized flesh.

Lying prone on her belly, in the open, and vulnerable, Eve did the only thing she could think of. She fired off another 250mm shell at the enemy.

The GYSGT must have used the 90mm’s distraction to advance on the left, because no swatter tried to save the Blockies. Eve’s round streaked into the middle of the Blockie position and exploded with maximum effectiveness. Everyone within five meters was dead. Half within ten meters met the same fate while all the others were injured. The casualty rate for people within twenty meters was twenty percent – none killed – but every injured Blockie was one less shooting at Eve and her people.

STRANET repopulated as quick as the dust settled, and any idiot with a modicum of tactical knowledge could see that the artillery strike had been a decisive blow. Sometimes in battle, it only took one hit to turn the tides.

Echo Company surged forward across the length of the corridor. Eve high-crawled forward and rolled away when the 90mm tried to retarget her. She got her calf a bit scorched as she rolled, but her armor held against the brief burst of energy. Due to the weapon’s placement, she was soon out of the line of fire. The GYSGT pushed forward on the left by lobbing more artillery shells into their midst. After giving up on targeting Eve, the 90mm gunner tried to use the high powered laser as a swatter. With such a tightly dialed aperture it didn’t work well, but one or two Commonwealth soldiers who didn’t have the situational awareness to duck lost their heads.

It was only a matter of time until the Commonwealth overran the position, but Eve had to admire the Blockies’ courage. Even cut down to size by the artillery strikes they still fought back viciously. The GYSGT was the first to bound over the Blockie barriers built in to the Launcher, but Eve wasn’t far behind. Her Buss roared as she cut down Blockie after Blockie. 1mm rounds pinged off her armor, but didn’t penetrate. When she got close enough, blades came out of her forearms and started cutting down the defenders. The 90mm was silent now. The GYSGT had shot the gunner through the helmet, and a Commonwealth grunt was rotating it toward the enemy.

The Blockies finally broke when their own weapon was used against them. A few escaped through a few doors into individual engineering chambers, but the position Eve had just overrun was the final fallback position for the defense of the area.

Eve removed her blade from a Blockie soldier’s chest as the 90mm started to light up the bottleneck at those doors. She quickly filtered out the screams of the dying as the powerful energy lance cut through person after person. She trained her Buss on the enemy and started taking headshots. A sudden fade to black was better than the agony of getting sliced in two and taking a minute to die.

The Blockies never surrendered. They fought to the last man. The GYSGT had to send out teams into the individual engineering chambers to root out the few who’d escaped the slaughterhouse. Even those lone Blockies took down some Commonwealth soldiers.

Eve led one three-man team on a search. A Blockie popped out of nowhere and threw a grenade. Eve activated her ES and plowed right through the explosion. She was thankful it wasn’t a grav grenade or she would have been fucked. She parted through the fire like some demon, and had to raise her blade to deflect a blow from the Blockie’s sword.

<A fucking sword!> She was almost as surprised to see the Blockie wielding the ancient weapon as she was to see it bite into her blade a bit.

<Nano-blade.> It was a threat to her armor, but the Blockie was clearly just trying to buy time. He only had one sword, she had two.

The guy was an officer judging by his armor, and a ballsy one. His hand went to his belt to grab another grenade as Eve rammed her second blade through his chest. He still managed to hit the button on the grenade. She could tell he’d expired because he’d gone limp, but he was stuck on the end of her blade, so she did the only thing she could think of. She activated her ES armor again, and slammed the corpse down on top of the grenade. It was the best she could do to protect her team.

The body bucked from the blast, but it was just another frag grenade. None of her team was hurt, and the officer’s now-shredded body made it easy for her to get her blade out of him.

<Good try, Lieutenant Wong.> She read the name plate on the officer’s armor and gave the dead man a respectful nod before grabbing his blade. <To the victor go the spoils.>

That was true. Launcher A had fallen to the Commonwealth, along with the other two. Third Fleet had secured the most likely avenue of approach for an enemy counterattack, and increased the arrival time of that counterattack by days, maybe even weeks.

Yangon system was now at the Fleet’s mercy, so with this mission complete everyone turned their eyes on the real goals: the planets.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 164

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Argo, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Like this, Corporal?”

“No!” Coop reached out and snagged the PVT by his boot before he floated away into the void. “Fucking numbnuts!” He yanked hard until the PVT’s magnetic boots adhered back to Argo.

“Report, Cooper.” LT Wentworth’s voice crackled over TACCOM.

“Um…nothing, Ma’am, just a demonstration.” He squeezed the PVT’s arm hard to let the dumbshit know how pissed he was. “Continuing with mission.”

Coop and his four-man team – it was still hard to believe someone thought giving him command of three other people was a good idea – were conducting boarding operations along Argo’s 125 meter hull. It was good space to make it feel like the real thing without having to run for hundreds of meters on any of the other ship classifications.

It sounded easy enough when he got the OPORD: move from Point A to Point B along the hull, simulate planting breeching charges, breech the ship, and engage the opposition force. Then, he’d been introduced to his team: Nickelbaucher, Goldsmith, and Stern. They sounded like a fucking law firm, not a group of soldiers.

To make matters even worse, LT Wentworth then informed him that he would be in permanent command of the three other soldiers. They were going to be designated as a mobile mop-up team. Coop would hit targets designated by the LT or the Battalion Fire Directions Officer (FDO), and then the four-man team would move through and confirm the targets had been eliminated, gather intelligence, send up reports to higher, or just in general do whatever the brass wanted after a fire mission.

<Fan-fucking-tastic.> Now, not only did Coop have to do his job as HI, but he needed to babysit three rugrats too.

Rugrats might have been a strong term since they were all born in the same year, but in terms of experience there was a five-year gap at least.

Of the four, Nickelbaucher was actually the oldest and second most experienced. He was a PFC and had graduated Basic around the same time as Coop. He was an average guy with an average personality. Nickelbaucher was the de-facto second in command and in charge of the team if Coop was off doing HI shit. He was going to be up for CPL in the next few months, so a good fitness report from Coop would get him the bump in rank, which was probably why he was doing everything Coop asked with minimal bitching. Coop liked that.

Goldsmith was the bitcher of the group. He reminded Coop a little of Davenport, minus being a creepy rapist. Everything Coop ordered, Goldsmith whined about once Coop turned his back. Nickelbaucher was good enough to keep an eye on it, and he let Coop know if it got out of hand. Coop had already had to smack down Goldsmith once, and the PVT at least expected that.

From the little digging Coop did into the PVT’s record, he only signed on for a four-year service obligation, and he was already two years into it. Two years and still a PVT was a red flag, but after spending a few hours in his presence, Coop understood why the Battalion Commander denied the guy’s promotion. Thankfully, when shit hit the fan, Goldsmith shut his trap.

Last but not least there was PVT Stern, and Coop kind of felt bad for the guy. He was patriotic, a bit too idealistic for Coop’s taste, but the guy’s heart was in the right place. He tried hard, he worked himself to the bond, but the poor guy didn’t have an ounce of natural talent. He was constantly fucking up, and he just couldn’t get anything right. He was the PVT that Coop had to grab from tumbling out into deep space.

The CMU’s on their combat setting with a heavy kit were designed to allow a soldier to operate in the freezing cold of space. That didn’t mean it was great at it. Coop was nice and toasty in his environmentally-contained LACS, but the soldiers were definitely freezing their balls off, and Coop had to stop and explain stuff to Stern every few meters.

“Stern,” Coop clapped his hand on the PVT’s shoulder and established a direct link over TACCOM. The Lt would be able to listen to the call if she checked the armor, but it was as private as it was going to get. “I ain’t your momma. I can’t teach you how to walk.” Exasperation filled Coop’s tone. “You only pick up a foot when the other is secured to the hull. Don’t move too fast. It’s better to be slow than dead.”

“Yes, Corporal.”

Coop could just imagine the determined look on the PVT’s face, and knew the guy was going to jack something up in the next few minutes.

“Ok, Goldsmith, you’re on point. I’ll cover our six with Stern.”

“Sure, have me be the first one to take a bullet…”

“Goldsmith, you left your channel open.” Coop just wanted to kill everyone as the other PVT awkwardly closed the channel and started hustling down the hull.

It was only a fifty-meter walk, but it took nearly ten minutes. Coop had to trust Nickelbaucher to plant the charges because he had to babysit Stern. Being behind the time hack was better than losing a guy on a training mission.

Also, Coop didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself then absolutely necessary because he had more than one mission to accomplish. In one of his armor’s compartments there was nearly seventeen thousand bucks in chips. It was Aiko’s share of the cash they’d had to bury back at the hotel after Coop put a burning hole in her now ex-husband. The thought of taking the money and running had crossed Coop’s mind, but he shut it down. Aiko was his link to the local underworld. Without her, he wouldn’t be able to fence anymore liberated goods from his travels. Plus, after what she’d shown him between the sheets, he wasn’t willing to quit that just yet.

<Reminds me. I’ve got to call Sandy when I get back.> He’d been trying to get some alone time with the flexible physical therapist since he got back from his last mission. He’d found there was a direct correlation between his lack of luck with Sandy and his increase in blue balls.

“Everyone set,” he pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. “Breech in three…two…one…BREECH!”

They didn’t actually blow anything open, but the simulated breech caused the exterior hatch to pop open. Coop fought the vertigo as he led the way into Argo. Going from zero gravity to earth-normal gravity was always tricky. Things had to be taken into consideration like the positing of the ship, any rotation, and all of that on top of tactical doctrine.

This one ended up being a tricky one. The gravity of the ship was opposite their entry, so Coop had to swing himself around and fight the head rush. Nickelbaucher came next and executed the move perfectly. They spread out to cover the door for two different angles. Goldsmith came in, and Coop saw the telltale body and head jerks of someone puking. Some people just couldn’t handle the changes. Last, Stern brought up the rear, caught his boot on a handhold, and face planted. Thankfully, he only fell a meter or so.

“You good, Stern?”

“Yes, Corporal.”

“Ok, seal the hatch and prepare to move.” They sealed the external hatch and the room began to pressurize.

In an actual boarding op there might not be any pressurization. In that case the soldiers needed to prepare for a violent ejection into the ship, but that was too much risk for a simple training mission, so Argo’s crew was making things easier.

“Three…two…one…” Nothing happened.

<That would just be too easy.> Coop extended his hand and Nickelbaucher handed him the bumper.

Coop secured it to the panel and waited. Fake code went back and forth between the devices and the hatched popped open. Coop quickly tossed out a grenade and manually pulled the hatch closed. He waited until the count of three, his sensors picked up the flash bang going off, and he led the team into the breech.

Nickelbaucher covered right while Coop went left. Coop saw movement and fired simulated sounds from his Buss. One plasma-tipped round clipped whoever was moving around and they went down missing a good chunk of an arm.

“Stern, get up beside me.” Coop ordered the PVT to move his ass while Nickelbaucher covered right and Goldsmith covered the way they’d come. You’d think they wouldn’t have to think about someone sneaking up on them from outside the ship, and you’d be wrong.

“Moving.” Coop led the way with Stern only a half a step behind him covering the opposite side of the corner. “Left turn.” He let everyone know what was coming before they got there. Unlike the rest of company that had to study the blueprints of the ship, Coop knew it all from firsthand experience, which also meant he knew where the hiding places were.

He peeked around the corner with his Buss’ camera. It was clear, but he knew there was a nook halfway down the corridor on the left. There would probably be somebody hiding there. He followed procedure and used his millimeter wave radar to confirm it. He got a positive hit and ordered Stern forward. He had the PVT stop hallway down and take some shots at the nook to draw the defender out. One of the ship’s marines poked his nose out and Coop shot him in the face.

“Fuck, Cooper.” The marine cursed as his suit’s sensors told him that his brain matter would have been painting the wall behind him if this was real. Instead, he just popped a squat and watched the advance.

That’s how the operation went. Coop’s team wasn’t the only one assaulting the ship. There were four other squads. LT Wentworth had worked up the battle plan to have multiple teams strike and secure critical sections of the ship. Coop’s responsibility was engineering while others secured the bridge, armory, living quarters, and forward energy cannon. The last could be operated exclusive from the bridge, and it had to be seized to clear the way for the simulated Spyder that would take them off the ship after the assault was complete.

This was the fifth iteration of the day – each team had seized each target during a different iteration – and this was the one that mattered for Coop’s side mission. Being the fifth iteration probably helped. Aiko and the rest of the engineering department clearly weren’t into it anymore. They ran Coop’s team half-heartedly with large wrenches, and the Specialist went casually for a pistol on his desk. Coop drilled the guy center of mass with two rounds, while the rest of his team took down the others.

“Oh no, you got me.” The Specialist yawned and pulled out his PAD.

“Clear,” Coop called out as he approached the Specialist.

“Specialist, my guys need to practice checking prisoners for intel, so how about you get down on the ground and play nice, and I’ll keep them away from a certain part of this room you’d rather not have them poking around in.” The meaning was clear, and the Specialist quickly nodded.

He got down on the ground and played dead.

“Stern, check this guy. Nickelbaucher you cover the hallway, Goldsmith start with those two guys over there. I’ll do a sweep and then check her.” Aiko was lying up against some piece of machinery. She winked at him.

Coop did a quick sweep and declared it clear. Select people had been holding pieces of intel through the exercises, so he needed to find that.

“Hey there, beautiful.” Aiko couldn’t see his smile through his helmet, but he let his hands do the talking for him.

“You might be looking for this.” She pointed to her back pocket where Coop found some data chips.

“Thanks, and this is for you.” He took the much larger and thicker stack of chips gave it to her. He shoved it in her back pocket and gave it a good smack.

“I’ll let you know when I’m in town.” She whispered as he straightened up. She couldn’t return the slap. It would just be awkward hitting armor like that.

“I’ve got some intel, looks like data chips.” Coop announced as Aiko sat back down and discretely shoved the chips under the machinery behind her.

“Me too, Corporal.” Stern look psyched he’d found something.

Normally they’d take PADs, but not this time. With everything secure Coop pulled his team back along the route he’d come in on. He made them stay alert, and a good thing he did, because he found another marine lying in wait. Stern’s clumsiness saved him. He tripped over his own feet, and ended up taking a glancing blow off the shoulder instead of center mass. The simulation deemed his armor worked as advertised, while Nickelbaucher gunned down the marine.

They exfiled the way they’d come in, and were back on the Spyder hard-docked with Argo for the purpose of this exercise. All of the teams gathered for an AAR with Lt Wentworth and presented the intel they’d gathered. Coop only half paid attention as he shot a message to Sandy from his PAD. The thought of a night with Aiko might be exhilarating, but he needed something to hold him over in the meantime.

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A Change of Pace – Season 2 – Chapter 40

“I hate this.”

“Of course you hate it.” Iron Giant was fully healed and sitting up on a cot in the medical tent the DVA had set up. Dr. Sanderson had outdone himself and stitched the wounded Hero up in record time.

Daisy wished her healer was as good. The hole in her calf was all patched up, but it felt like her bone itself had crabs. It itched like a mother, and this wasn’t an itch she could scratch without ripping open her leg. The healer confidently told her it would feel better in a few hours before walking away. Daisy had to grit her teeth not to drop the man on the spot. Even now she had to bite the inside of her cheek to give her mind something else to think about other than the persistent itch.

“You’ve always been a woman of action, and the woman that could be called upon to take the steps to resolve this type of situation. It frustrated you that you can’t be the one to end this.” Iron Giant stated calmly as he watched the TV screens.

The DVA had set up a tactical operations center in the tent next to theirs, and they had perfect seats to the unfolding operation. As Daisy had so painfully learned today, she was not the best Hero to deal with this situation. Her absorption didn’t work, and she was no better protected than the average cop when it came to a gunfight with the infamous villain. Not even John, as strong as he was, was a good fit.

Surprisingly, this was a less-is-more situation. The Orlando PD and the DVA were taking the lead this time. Nightingale strength was against Supers, not humans. To them, she was just a well-trained and well-armed hostage taker, and they had procedures in place to deal with these situations.

“There goes the power.” Daisy remarked as the lights to building finally flickered off. If it was the summer it would have become unbearably hot in the building within the hour, but this close to winter it wouldn’t do anything. The step would really work to the authority’s advantage in a few hours when the sun started to go down.

“Nightingale, this is the Department of Variant Affairs. We want to talk with you to bring this situation to a peaceful conclusion. We are tossing a cell phone to the front door. Please take it so we can talk.” Agent Phillips announced through a megaphone.

Three officers slowly moved forward toward the door of the building while the DVA agent spoke. Two had shields that they were using to cover them against attack. The third was crouched in the center of the protective shell and was holding the phone. They made it to within five feet of the door, stopped, and tossed the phone lightly so it landed in plain sight of the door. Then, they slowly moved back. Once they’d put enough space between themselves and the door, the door cracked open and a scared looking woman stepped out.

Nightingale wasn’t stupid enough to come into the open and grab the phone herself, so she had one of the hostages doing it. The villain looked like she’d caught the woman relaxing on the local half-day. She was in pajama pants, with bunny slippers, and a tank top with a bath robe thrown over it. She looked terrified, but there was a glint in her eye that Daisy immediately recognized.

“Shit! Don’t…” but it was too late. The woman pushed off and away from the door, making a break for safety.

She got about five feet before a loud POP cut through the air. Her body went instantly limp, and she fell forward hard, hit harder, and didn’t get up. Daisy couldn’t see, but feeds from officers’ helmet cameras showed a big, meaty hole in the back of the woman’s head.

<Fuuuuuck.> Daisy exhaled. <I fucking hate not being able to do anything.>

There was more movement near the door. Another person stepped out, a man this time. He looked at the woman’s lifeless body, Daisy thought he was going to puke for a second, but then he bent down, retrieved the phone, and walked back inside.

“That could have gone better.” Iron giant has a sorrowful look on his big, metal face. Most people would think that a man made of metal couldn’t be emotional, they’d be wrong.

Two DVA agents enter the tent and walk straight to them. “Reaper, Iron Giant, we’re here to escort you back to the HCP.”

Iron Giant just nodded and got up while Daisy gave them a hard stare. “Like hell you are.” She got to her feet and pushed passed the two men and walked the short distance to the command tent. She burst in ready to raise hell but everyone was silent and focused on Agent Phillips.

“Yes…Yes…Yes…We could do that if you let some hostages go as a gesture of good will.” The agent’s tone was calm and collected, but her face quickly wrinkled in fury. She calmly set the phone down and took a deep breath. “That fucking bitch.”

“So, I guess releasing hostages is a no.” Hunter stood off to the side. In another time or place the statement might have been funny, but no one was laughing here.

“She said she’d send them out in pieces if I didn’t do exactly what she wanted.” The DVA agent ran her hand through her hair.

“And those demands are…?” Hunter pressed her.

“She wants us to back up the perimeter two blocks, which gives us no line of sight except the snipers on the rooftops. She wants a teleporter she chooses to come in and take her away. After that, and only after that, will she release the thirty two…now thirty-one hostages,” she corrected herself.

“So, what’s the breech plan?” Daisy stepped fully into the tent.

“Reaper, you’re supposed to be out of here,” Agent Phillips looked passed Daisy at the two suited men who’d followed her in. One reached for Daisy’s elbow, but the look she shot him made him step back reflexively.

“I’m of better use here than anywhere else.” Daisy countered and plopped down next to the big table littered with diagrams of the building. It took every ounce of will power she had to not itch her leg.

“I’m not sure what use you’ll be. Your powers are useless against Nightingale.” Another DVA agent spoke up. He actually sounded like he was happy about that, so Daisy shuffled him onto her shit list.

“Her’s…yes…everyone else’s…no.” She smiled. “When shit finally goes down one thing that’s always a risk is having civilians do stupid shit, step into the line of fire, and just generally be a nuisance when we try to save them. I’m the perfect person to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“She’s got a point.” Hunter stepped forward. “I can get teams into prepositioned places if we can get eyes in there and know where she is. We’ll be able to hit her hard and fast while Daisy drops all the civilians. We might have a few broken noses, but that’s better than SWAT shooting an innocent civilian.”

Daisy looked from Agent Phillips to Hunter, and knew she had them convinced.

“Fine. You can stay, but please stay out of my way.” Agent Phillips shot her a no-nonsense look.

“No problem.” Daisy leaned back casually in the chair and smiled.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 163

Eve Berg

Location: Launcher A, Yangon System, Eastern Block

“This can’t be good.” Eve stared at the scene in front of her.

Alpha Company 2511th Infantry Battalion, or what was left of it, was joining the flow of troops toward the ass-end of the Launcher. From what Eve had heard over TACCOM, the rest of the Launcher was under their control. A team had seized control of the command center thirty minutes ago. All enemy hardline communications had been severed, external defenses were now squarely under Commonwealth control, and most importantly, the quantum entanglement communicators that were the reason these big stations existed in the first place were offline. No one was going to be coming to help the system anytime soon.

The job was ninety-five percent complete, but that wasn’t good enough for ADM Ward, CAPT Simpson, GYSGT Cunningham, or little old CPL Eve Berg. The enemy still held engineering, which meant they could blow everyone to hell by overloading the reactors if they really wanted to. Knowing how the Blockies liked their last stands, Eve wasn’t willing to count out that possibility. So, she marched at the front of the formation with the GYSGT toward the enemy stronghold.

<Marching.> Eve shook her head as they passed battle-damaged corridors. She recognized more than one of the places where she’d fought over the last several hours. A grenade explosion here and plasma scorched duro-steel there. This place had been full of screaming and dying people not that long ago. <Now we’re marching through it like a conquering army.>

It was surreal, and she didn’t like it, but she shook her head and focused on the present. The fight wasn’t over yet, and the scene in front of her showed it.

An aide station had been set up and there was more than one dying soldier lying on the cold floor or hovering on grav-stretchers. The stretchers allowed the medics to maximize their use of space. The injured soldiers were stacked three high in some places.

“Damn.” The GYSGT looked around the hallway. One side was stacked with the living and the other with the dead. They were about even.

“Alpha?” A hurried looking LT appeared in front of them.

His helmet was off and sweat coated his face. His gloves were stained red, and he ran them through his drenched hair leaving streaks. It looked like a murderer had done highlights in his hair, but the officer didn’t even notice.

“Yes, Sir.” The GYSGT halted the formation.

Alpha had lost a lot in taking their section of that station. Half had died in transit, and another dozen in the fighting. That was an over sixty percent casualty rate. They were down to four understrength squads.

The LT saw this but his expression didn’t change. “We need you at the front.”

“Sir, my troops have been fighting for hours without a break. We’ve lost a lot. Give us half an hour to grab a bite to eat, resupply, and then we’ll be good to go.”

“Negative, Gunney.” The LT shook his head and little droplets of red flew through the air. “We’re getting hammered. We need you now.”

“How about you brief me on the situation while my men grab a few minutes.” The GYSGT’s tone was still respectful but firm.

Alpha felt like hammered shit. They needed a minute.

“Fine, but they need to be ready to move ASAP.” The LT relented, and waved for the GYSGT to follow.

“On me, Berg. No rest for the weary.”

Eve knew she was going to say something like that, but she still activated her LACS’ internal systems so a high-calorie energy bar and water found their way to her mouth. She munched as the LT explained the situation.

The LT was the OIC of Bravo Company. While Alpha had cleared their section Bravo had made their way here, fighting through light resistance, until making contact with the main force. The dead and wounded in the hallway were from them.

“The situation is a tactical shit-storm.” The LT didn’t sugar coat the situation. They had a small holo-projector set up just beyond the aide station. “Whoever designed this place planned for just this scenario. Bastard. ”

“Yeah, we’ve been seeing a lot of first-rate planning from the Blockies.” The GYSGT shot Eve a look.

Eve looked away like she suddenly found the wall very interesting. <I didn’t intend to blow up that section.>

“What we’ve got is a two hundred and fifty meter kill zone.” The LT fired up the projector which showed a detailed outline of the corridor. “It’s only about ten meters wide, so we can’t rush with a large amount of troops.” He drew a horizontal line and measurements started to appear. “We were ordered to try…and we did.” He pointed over his shoulder at the injured and dead. “Everyone made it over from Aggie fine, I had two WIA on the way here, but since then I’ve had nearly fifty casualties. More than half are KIA.”

Eve felt bad for the guy. After all, he’d just lost a ton of his soldiers. These were men and women he’d trained and gotten to know personally. He was a significant part in their lives, and him in theirs. Now, they were lying in the hallway all around him. She took all of that into consideration as she waited patiently for him to continue. There had to be more to the situation. There was no way a full Company was going to take those types of casualties without the deck being stacked against them.

The LT took a few deep breaths before highlighting the far end of the corridor. Intelligence populated on the side, and Eve read it over.

“We estimate between one and two hundred Blockies behind those prepared positions. They’re well-armed, well-supplied, and dug in good.”

“These are projections.” Eve stated when the LT paused again. What they knew was true and what was assumed was highlighted in different colors on the projection. “Did the drones not get a good look?”

“Drones only made it to within a hundred meters of the position, which was fifty meters farther than us.”

Eve winced at the LT’s reply. <Swatters.>

“We missed the swatters until our HI trooper tried to send some 40mm down their throats. We’re pretty sure they were covered with camo-nets that got torn to shit when they opened up. They took out the shells and in the resulting confusion they took out our HI with these.” The LT highlighted two weapons stationed on either side of the corridor behind the Blockies’ position.

“You’ve got to be shitting me. They’ve got Lances.”

Eve pulled up the blueprints and studied the 3D image that began to rotate on her HUD. Lances were a 90mm Blockie heavy energy weapon. They fired a tight beam of ionized particles, like a lance, that could overwhelm LACS armor. Judging by the GYSGT’s surprise she didn’t expect to find anything like them on the Launcher.

<They probably wouldn’t have in the past, but these new designs…> she let the thought die out. It didn’t matter why the Blockies decided to put the energy weapons on this Launcher and not others. They were here and they needed to figure out how to deal with them.

Using her Ranger credentials to gain access, Eve pulled the vids from Bravo’s assault. She saw the movement to contact from several different angles. The men staggered and spread out as much as they could, but in a ten-meter corridor it was still a tight squeeze. They made a hole and the HI trooper launched a quick three-round-burst from his spine-mounted cannon. Apparently, the brass gave them the ok, but didn’t think Eve should be able to fire 40mm. She checked her irritation and went back to studying the assault.

The rounds didn’t make it halfway there before being intercepted, and in the tight space there was no room to maneuver. The explosion blocked the line of sight to the enemy only to be suddenly filled with two lances of bright-red light. The red light was thanks to the HUD’s optics. In reality, the 90mm Lancer’s beams were invisible.

One drilled the HI trooper right in the chest. He wasn’t able to activate the ES function of his armor before it overwhelmed his scales and punched through the duro-steel beneath it. The man toppled over like a great, metal tree while a second beam slashed across the corridor from left to right. More than one soldier lost a limb as the particle beams sliced through just about everything. That’s when the Blockie soldiers joined the party and added their own 1mm and 3mm chorus.

Bravo bounded back like professionals. They attempted to cover their buddies, and even took a few of the Blockies with them, but they had a hundred meters to cover, and that was a lot of open ground to run through with beams sweeping through your ranks left and right.

“You see my predicament?” The LT continued talking to the GYSGT. “I need more troops to take engineering. My Company is spent, and you’re next in the queue.”

“Maybe before sending the rest of my soldiers into the meat grinder we look for alternatives.” The GYSGT enlarged the projection. “What do we have here?” She pointed to the walls on either side of the corridor.”

“They’re packed full of crap: machinery, power conduits, environmental systems, water processing, coolant exchange; you name it and some of it is in there.” The LT shook his head. “We looked for access points to get troops around and hit them from the flank, but the people who built this place already thought of that. The only way to assault that position is down this hallway, and I need more troops to do that.” The LT’s mind was clearly already made up. He was frustrated, strung out, but still determined to kill the enemy.

The problem was that he’d closed his mind to other possibilities, and that’s why a fresh set of eyes was always a good idea.

“Take a look, Berg. I’ll be there in a second.” The GYSGT ordered, and turned to take the heat from the LT while Eve got to work.

She muted the argument between the LT and GYSGT. He was pissed that the NCO doubted his recon, and she was trying to smooth things over. Frayed nerves didn’t help, but Eve ignored them. She examined the streaming data directly into her HUD and got to work.

The LT was right. The space behind the walls on either side of the corridor leading up to the Blockie position was stuffed full of crap. Troops could theoretically get through, but they’d cripple the area, and maybe even the entire Launcher. Since that wasn’t in the mission, Eve looked at other solutions.

It came to her quickly, and triple checking some data showed it was viable. She didn’t hold it against the LT for missing it. He didn’t have the equipment to make it happen, so this was in his blind spot.

She switched her audio back on to tell the two leaders.

“…if you don’t get your troops on their feet now. I’ll…!”

“I’ve got it Gunney.” Eve stepped in quickly before the LT said something he regretted or the GYSGT did something that would mean she wasn’t a GYSGT after this op.

“Show me, Berg.”

Eve transferred the data over to the GYSGT’s HUD, and after a second did the same for the LT. “The LT was right. It’s tighter than a tick’s asshole in there and there is no way we’d be able to get troops through without the Blockies knowing.” She mollified the officer to stay on his good side. “However, it’s got enough room to fit a line of Crawlers through.”

Crawlers were small drones built for just this type of mission. They’d originally been developed by Gold Technologies for work in shipyards. Getting the equipment into places where a normal human couldn’t fit was always a bottleneck in ship development. The spider-looking Crawlers were able to haul and install equipment where humans couldn’t.

The Fleet saw the genius in the idea, and for lack of a better term stole the design and modified it. The nano-built critter with a powerful processor was cable of hauling several kilograms worth of material on its six rotatable legs. The ends of those legs were equipped with multiple, programmable, tools that could be manipulated by a trained operator. The SEALs and SAS got more use out of the Crawlers, which were excellent tools for sneaking around ships and gathering intel, but Eve had been given a full training course back at Ranger School. Now, she just needed to remember.

The GYSGT and LT looked over the path laid out on their HUDs. The LT looked like part of him was fuming at missing this, and being outsmarted by a CPL, but part of him looked relieved. He didn’t want to go back into that corridor and eat a bullet. This made sure he didn’t.

“Looks good to me, Berg. Lieutenant?”

“We’ll need the supplies, but with this mission’s priority I don’t think it’ll be an issue.” The LT replied as his shoulders slumped as he accepted the relief flooding through him.

“We’ve got a few snake eaters on this thing. I’m sure they’ll lend us their creepy crawlies.” The GYSGT looked at Eve. “Get it moving, Berg. Your plan, your mission, and your responsibility.”

Eve gulped, but that was her only hesitation. She got on TACCOM and put in the requisition.

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