Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Step up to your individual firing positions.” Coop instructed with about as much interested as a person explaining the anatomy of a slug. Not even a space slug, just a normal boring-ass Earth slug.
A squad lumbered forward in their heavy kit. Their Dragonscale breastplates were polished and shining brightly in the weak light of New Lancashire’s main sequence star, and their CMUs were on their combat setting with armored inserts. LT Wentworth believed in training like they were in battle, and that likely meant a heavy kit for the regular grunts.
Coop watched the squad settle into a prone firing position and shook his head. You didn’t have to see a soldier’s CMUs on the Dress setting to know if they’d seen some shit. Sometimes, those little imperfections in a person’s armor were just as big a military resume as the medals and ribbons. You didn’t turn in your scales when you moved from unit to unit. As long as the armor was operational and still within regulation, you took it with you throughout your career.
Coop’s V2 armor had its own dents and scratches from the latest scuffle back on that rock. Even though the armorer had patched everything, it never quite matched up with the original paint job.
“Right and left limits are being designated now.” Coop hit the start button on the sequence for the squad’s armor to link with the range through STRATNET and TACCOM. He quickly built individual and a squad channels so he could talk to them as a unit or give individual advice.
“Squad, we are going to group and zero your IAWM3s before running through a basic qualification table.” LT Wentworth, who was serving as the OIC and safety officer began her little spiel. “You have been equipped with three magazines; one for grouping, one for zeroing, and another for qualification. At this time please grab your grouping magazine, insert it into your weapon, chamber a round, but keep your weapon on safe.”
<What did I do to deserve this?> Coop grumbled to himself as the squad inserted their grouping magazine. <Oh yeah…>
He knew exactly what he’d done. He’d killed that douchebag who tried to roast his head off with one of the blasters he’d sold to some black-market dealers for a pretty penny. Granted that douche had been Aiko’s kind-of-husband, and Coop had just finished boning the limber spacer, but that was semantics. Dude tried to kill him, he killed the dude instead; case closed.
Thankfully, the Infantry couldn’t nail his ass to the wall for defending himself, but with his reputation, Coop was looked on differently than a lot of other soldiers. So, the Battalion Commander took half his month’s pay to ship the corpse back home, and had him do extra duty assignments. It was Gunney Topper’s bullshit details all over again. He’d just finished, and this range time was supposed to be a welcome relief.
<No good deed goes unpunished.> Something Berg told him a lifetime ago surfaced in his mind after he’d shot an impressive ninety-five out of a hundred and earned himself an Expert Badge.
After several engagements against riotous civilians, pirates, and pissed off miners with modern weapons, shooting at a holographic image of a soldier in the distance wasn’t so hard. Unfortunately, the price for having that new badge on his CMUs was to impart his wisdom on others. So, instead of getting to sit in the shade and have something to eat, he was standing just behind the firing line and telling these green grunts how to hit a target.
“Corporal Cooper!” LT Wentworth snapped Coop out of his daydream.
“Sorry, Ma’am.” Coop shook his head and continued the sequence on the range program. She’d probably been calling his name for a few seconds, but when someone yelled “corporal”, he wasn’t tuning in yet. He’d only gotten his second chevron yesterday.
“Squad, there are four targets set up in the shape of a square. You will fire three rounds at each of the three targets. Aim at the same place on each of the targets. The standard is to put all three rounds within a one-centimeter space. When you are ready, take your weapon off safe and engage.” He gave the ten soldiers a moment to sight on their targets. “Range is hot!”
Through his armor and the interface with the range program, Coop was able to see everything the soldiers were doing. He had a god-like view. The program showed him the angles of fire and how much the barrel moved. He was able to tap into the soldier’s armor and see how they shifted their weight and what their breathing was like. He could even read the sensors in their gloves to see how they were literally pulling the trigger.
“Don’t yank the trigger, Private Kowalski.” He announced over a private chat with one of the soldiers. “It’s throwing your shot off every time.” The PVT’s shots were way outside the one centimeter grouping they were looking for on the first target. “Gently pull it, and use the meaty part of your finger. Get comfortable. This is going to be the most relaxed situation you engage the enemy in, so you better shoot straight or you ain’t gonna hit shit in an actual firefight.”
Coop pushed down the weirdness the PVT’s response sent up his spine. He didn’t like this kid, who was only about eighteen to twenty-four months younger than him, looking at him like he was some expert. Sure, he’d killed some people in some pretty inventive ways, but all this NCO leadership crap really wasn’t his cup of tea. He was only doing this as punishment.
“Better.” He cut the line when the PVT put three rounds about a centimeter and a half from each other. It still didn’t meet the standard, but it was better than before, and it was the SGT’s job at the other end of the firing line to get with the soldiers to recalibrate their weapon’s computers and adjust their scopes.
The squad went through grouping and zeroing with his doling out little kernels of wisdom here and there. Those who didn’t group and zero were recycled to do remedial training with Gunney Weitz.
“Squad, you will now run through a normal qualification table. This will not be the only time you shoot for qualification, but that doesn’t mean you can suck on this one. Use the tips you were given during zeroing and grouping and put them to good use. One hundred targets will appear at distances ranging from fifty to one thousand meters. The targets will be visible for three to five seconds. You have one hundred rounds. You may use them at your discretion. A passing score is seventy out of one hundred hits. Different badges of achievement are available: seventy-five to eighty-four hits is a Marksman, eighty-five to ninety-four hits is a Sharpshooter, and ninety-five to one hundred targets is Expert. Acknowledge when you are ready to begin.” He didn’t bother to wish them good luck, he just initiated the program when everyone acknowledged.
This was only the third squad of ten. Coop was going to be out here all day, and that was only the beginning. He took his eyes off the range and looked up. Even with his LACS’ magnification he couldn’t see Argo up there in orbit, but that’s where the Company was headed. LT Wentworth had worked some magic, or sucked some dick, to get Charlie Company to qualify in all the spaceborne standards, and Argo was their training vessel.
It worked out perfectly for him. He had a shit ton of cash chips to hand over to a certain engineer. Who knew, he might even get a handy in return. Their last encounter had been rudely interrupted by the aforementioned deceased douche that had landed Coop in this detail in the first place. In his mind, it seemed like more than fair payment.
Location: Launcher A, Yangon System, Eastern Block
Eve’s head hurt, her lower back ached, and her knee felt funny. All things considered, having only a few bumps and bruises after having a grenade dropped right at her feet was a best-case scenario.
Activating her ES armor and holding it for the duration of the explosion had saved her life. She been picked up and thrown from the force of the explosion, and tumbled around the Parasite pod. She was also pretty sure, in the mayhem, that GYSGT Cunningham’s flailing boot had kicked her in the face; thus the headache.
She’d lost ten percent of her battery holding the ES armor, but it was worth it. She was alive.
“Report.” The GYSGT’s voice was strained. There was a slight possibility that Eve’s own flailing, armored limbs had beat on the NCO just as much as she’d beaten on her.
“I’m in one piece.” Eve disengaged the armor and read the reports streaming in over her HUD. “We’ve got a hull breach.” Now the two Rangers began to move with a sense of urgency.
Parasite pods were tough, but most of this toughness was on the outside. Inside it was more vulnerable, and that frag grenade had torn shit up. They needed to get out of the pod yesterday.
“Fuck, Reynolds is down and he’s leaking meat!” The GYSGT was pushing toward the front of the pod where Eve and the communication’s soldier were. Eve was on her feet now, but the comms guy wasn’t getting up ever again.
Blood had soaked the metal around him. One of his legs had been torn clean off above the knee, and the rest of that exposed side of his body looked pulverized, but the worst sight was his head. High-velocity shrapnel had punched through the center of his helmet. It didn’t have the momentum to punch through the back, so it ricocheted around and turned everything above his neck into a flesh, bone, brain milkshake; which was now sliding out of the hole in his helmet.
It was fucking disgusting. Eve gagged, and was thankful that she couldn’t smell what was going on around her or she sure as shit would have been puking her guts out.
“I need a full SITREP, Berg.” The GYSGT grunted as she pulled herself forward.
<Right.> Eve took a deep breath, looked away from the body to her surroundings, and started running diagnostics.
Thankfully, she had no armor breeches and was still green on battery power. Her 250mm cannon had sustained some damage, and she would need an armorer to repair and certify it for use, so she was down her main gun, which wasn’t a big deal because she didn’t have ammo for it anyway. Her railgun was green, and surprisingly the damage to her Buss was superficial. She reported all of that to the GYSGT.
“Good, because my railgun and Buss are shot to shit, but I’ve still got my cannon, so I’m totally fucked.” The two Rangers now had the combat effectiveness of half a soldier. This boarding wasn’t off to a great start. “Let’s get out, seal the opening and head to the LZ.”
“The node is damaged.” Eve picked up the comms equipment and jacked a cord from her armor into it. “We’ve still got intermittent STRATNET, but TACCOM is just static. It sounds like someone is dragging a dagger across duro-steel.”
“Bring it. They’ll either repair it or destroy it. Either way, we can’t leave it for the Blockies.”
Eve was easily able to strap the tech to her back since her cannon was offline. The GYSGT grabbed Reynold’s functioning M3 when she passed. It would have to do, and it worked well enough that she hoisted it to her shoulder and staged to the side of the opening. They could both hear a commotion outside. Several were cries of pain in a foreign language.
“You go right. I’ll go left. On three…”
There was a reason the two regular grunts were supposed to be the first out the door. In LACS, only one of the Rangers could fit though the hole at a time. So Eve might be covering the one hundred and eighty degrees to the right, but she’d be stepping out of the hole a second or two after the GYSGT. It was poor tactics, but it was all they had to work with. Eve just hoped their armor would continue holding out for them.
“…two…one…” The GYSGT went first, and Eve hauled ass right after her.
There was a shout and then gunfire from behind her, but Eve trusted the GYSGT to handle it. She cleared the hole the Parasite had bored into the Launcher and sighted three Blockies. One was on the ground and clearly injured from the grenade she’d thrown. The second was helping his buddy, and the third was covering them. The Blockie was already dialed in on the GYSGT and pulling the trigger. 1mm darts flew by Eve’s head, and it was only experience that allowed her to ignore them. The Blockie was already retargeting on her, but he’d never get the chance.
A three round burst from her Buss hit the Blockie soldier center of mass. Three small explosions of plasma followed. She could tell one was a surface detonation held back by the armor, but the other two were deeper. The Blockie went down smoldering from the chest.
The second Blockie, the one trying to help his buddy, dove for his rifle. Eve hosed him down with half a dozen rounds. That only left the third, unarmed guy. Her sensor deemed him clear, so she took the chance and pivoted around to help the GYSGT. Only her armor and M3 firing as fast as it would cycle were driving the Blockies back. There were only two of them, but they were pressing her from both directions and making her shift fire. Eve ended that by putting down one Blockie by tracing four rounds up from his center chest to head. Even with his armored helmet, she painted the bulkhead behind him with brains. The other soldier wisely retreated.
With the left clear, Eve swiveled back to the injured Blockie who was crawling for one of his fallen comrade’s guns.
“Hold fire. We need intel.” The GYSGT stopped Eve from killing the enemy. Instead, she marched over and stomped on the hand reaching for the Blockie version of the M3. Even with a helmet on, Eve could hear the soldier’s screams. “Grab him and let’s move.” The GYSGT set a rally point two hundred meters away. “We’ve got less than five minutes to secure the LZ before the rest of the Company arrives. Bravo pod is already in route.”
It seemed the second Parasite coming in didn’t have a welcoming committee waiting for them. Even with the Blockie slung over her shoulder they made good time. They didn’t encounter any more resistance, but that was probably because they were heading away from their objective.
They reached the maintenance airlock just as SGT Sullivan and his team of Rangers were setting up a perimeter. He took one look at Eve and the GYSGT and had someone else put on prisoner duty so they could have breather. Eve saw her reflection in the SGT’s armor. The looked like crap, and Eve had a fresh trail blood leaking down her front from the injured Blockie.
She used the time before the Spyder’s arrived to catch her breath while the rest of the team pulled security and went to work trying to disable some of the defensive systems remotely from a nearby terminal. A quick search showed that one of the Rangers was armorer qualified, so she took up his position on the perimeter while he checked her cannon.
“No go.” He told her after a minute looking at it. “I need time and equipment to give it a proper look, and it’s not a mission priority right now. Make do with what you’ve got.” He was a CPL with more time in grade than Eve, so she couldn’t tell him to go fuck himself for the condescending way he relayed the information.
She hustled back to the GYSGT. As the liaison one of the perks was that she didn’t have to do any of the more menial shit.
“Spyder is incoming.” She relayed a moment later. “Docking in three…two…one… be ready. If they’re going to hit us it’ll be while they disembark.”
The maintenance hatch was small. Only big enough for one soldier at a time to fit through, so the first soldiers to step aboard went to reinforcing the perimeter.
Eve didn’t hear the conversation between the GYSGT and the Spyder’s pilot, but she couldn’t keep her mouth shut when they closed and locked the hatch behind the last member of fifth squad.
“Second Spyder docking somewhere else?” Eve maintained situational awareness, but her eyes were on the GYSGT.
“Nope.” The reply came over a private channel. “Second bird got turned into space dust on the way over. This is all we’ve got.” The GYSGT didn’t elaborate. She called for all the squad leaders, SGT Sullivan, and Eve to huddle up and form a new plan.
<Fifty grunts and ten Rangers to take a Launcher’s core?> Eve didn’t like those odds. It sounded way too much like one of those fight to the last man holo-dramas where everyone died and they were remembered for their bravery. <Doesn’t help the poor bastards who got killed.>
Eve just hoped she didn’t become one of them. She’d already had one close call, and the party hadn’t even started yet.