Two Worlds – Chapter 171

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 <Ugh…I hate Mondays.> Coop groaned as he rolled out of bed.

It was 0530, the normal wake-up time, and reveille was blaring on the speaker system just outside of his window. The problem was, Coop and his team didn’t need to be up at 0530 with the rest of the Company for PT. They were on detail for the next two weeks. It excused them from PT and morning formation at 0900. All they had to do was be at the spaceport by 0700, report to the MP liaison and civilian administrator, and do their assigned tasks.

It also didn’t help that Coop was nursing a none-too-minor hangover. “Shut the fuck up!” He yelled at the clear polyplast window, but the electronic equipment ignored him.

As the Company HI trooper, he got his own room, which was nice. Normally, soldiers shared what they called squad suites. It was made up of three rooms: two were five-person fire-team rooms where the soldiers slept, and the third was an open common area between the two rooms. The Company barracks that sat next to the Company HQ office had ten of these spread over three floors. LT Wentworth had her own room – although Coop was pretty sure she had an apartment off post that she stayed at most of the time –  the XO did live in their room, GYSGT Weitz spent about half of the nights in his, and then there was Coop. He was positive it was not a coincidence that the officers’ rooms were on the opposite side of the building from the speakers while Coop got a front a center seat to the high-pitched blaring horn every morning and evening.

He pressed his palms to either side of his head to drown out the noise until it ended. Then he slid down the side of his bed until his bare ass touched the cold, polished floor. He sat like that for a moment taking deep breaths to fight back the wave of nausea that had seized his gut. After a minute it passed, he shook his head, and stood up. Even if he was up, the beauty of being the only one currently on the floor meant he didn’t have to hustle to the latrine to take his morning shit. He walked out into the hallway in his birthday suit, cherishing the freedom, before going to bomb the porcelain sea.

From there it was straight to the showers where the warm water did a lot to alleviate his hangover symptoms. After that was a quick shave to be within regulations. With the three S’s done, he returned to his room, pulled on his CMU’s and headed out of the building. It was 0600 by the time he got to the Battalion DFAC. He scanned his GIC at the desk where a civilian didn’t even look up from their PAD as he passed. Being here right at the beginning of chow meant all the good shit was still on the racks. If given a choice, he’d still choose the extra sleep time, especially after his weekend.

It was a rare productive one, which translated to him not spending all his time at the Pit or one of the more reputable bars. He couldn’t always show up at the seedy freak show or the MPs would get suspicious and start sniffing around. He was so close to kicking off his latest scheme he couldn’t risk it, so he only spent Friday night ironing out all the details with cat stripper, aka Melissa, while the rest of his team got shit faced and whatever else his cash had bought them.

Saturday, instead of running around all over the place, he split the time between his room and the armory. For his plan with Melissa’s contacts to work, he needed to tweak a few things, and getting the software patch ready had taken him awhile. Altering something on his LACS and then rebooting it back to normal operating status without triggering any of the suits internal security protocols were a pain, and he was a bit out of practice. A V2 wasn’t anything like an air-car, but the same principals applied, so he was able to make it work.

He’d had a close call with the GYSGT, who just happened to show up while Coop was tinkering, but Coop was able to pass it off as dedication to maintaining his armor. The GYSGT bought it – at least that’s what Coop thought – but he’d have to keep an eye on the NCOIC for any sign that he’d caught on. After a long day working on the patch, Coop retired to Sandy’s place for the evening and hadn’t gotten much sleep. Sunday, to alieve any suspicions, he spent his day at the gym chatting up some females, caught a movie with one of those females, and then went to a local bar with the same female, which ended in a prolonged coupling in the restroom followed by stumbling back to his room and passing out.

Coop scanned the chow hall for anyone he knew to sit with, but just about everyone was at PT. None of his team was here, likely opting for more rack time, so Coop settled into a seat with a good view of the front door and ate his real eggs, bacon, pancakes, and breakfast danish. He washed it all down with a glass of OJ, which almost tasted real, before returning his tray to the automated dispenser. The civilian didn’t even lift her head when he left.

With his belly full, and his hangover symptoms cut in half, Coop headed back to the Company armory that sat in the basement of the HQ office.

“Hey, Sarge.” Coop greeted the old-timer NCO who sat in the duro-steel cage between the requesting soldier and a very intimidating-looking vault door. “I’m here for my gear.”

Coop liked the rolley-polley looking NCO. He minded his own business, ran his little twenty-by-twenty meter kingdom efficiently, but allowed some wiggle room – like Coop getting in on the weekend.

“Sign in.” The SGT pointed at the scanner and Coop did as he was told. “Your team ain’t here yet.” The SGT knew the assignments for the day, and Coop’s fire-team was supposed to be issued their gear between 0630-0640 before heading to the spaceport. It was currently 0633.

“Don’t worry, I’ll toss some beds and crack some skulls once I get suited up. They’ll be here.”

“Better be, or I’ll write them up for missing a time hack.” The SGT seemed grumpier than usual this morning.

“I got it, Sarge. Here,” Coop reached into his pocket and tossed a napkin-wrapped donut at the NCO, “I thought you might want this. It sucks getting forced in early.”

The NCO brightened immediately, and all thought of writing up Coop’s team vanished from his mind as he sunk his teeth into the jelly-filled deliciousness. Coop walked passed him and into the armory. All of the Company’s weapons, ammo, big guns, and HI armor were stored in here. He walked all the way to the back where his V2 LACS is sitting in a charging rack. With practiced precision he manually disconnected the power cords, opened the armor, and stepped inside.

The world is pitch black for a second before the system initializes and lines of code begin to stream down his HUD. It takes about two minutes to get everything up and running, and then another thirty seconds for him to toggle through multiple menus and get down into the weeds of the visual display, a cursory check of the coding shows his patch is up and running.

<Everything looks good.> It’s 0638 by the time he exits the vault, and his team is lined up with the SGT for weapons issue.

“Another beautiful day in the Infantry!” Coop announced with a grin behind his armored helmet.

Nickelbaucher nods, but the PFC looks tired. Goldsmith rolled his eyes mid yawn, while Stern was the only one to actually look enthusiastic about their upcoming assignment.

“They just need a light kit. We’re just going to be down the road.” Coop checked his own armor. He had no missiles and no artillery ordinance. His Buss was fully loaded and he had ten thousand rounds in his rail gun. For what they were about to do, he didn’t need anything other than that.

Getting this detail had taken some careful planning and fine manipulation of people. It wasn’t because it was desirable and everyone wanted it. It was the opposite. No one wanted it, so he had to get the job while looking like he didn’t want it. The mess from him killing that fucktard Bradford helped. A few bitch sessions to SSG Hightower about Stern’s incompetence, and pulling the LT’s attention casually to the available details had done the trick.

For the next two weeks, Coop and his fire-team would be doing customs checks at the spaceport. With a chunk of the fleet gone on some mission, they just weren’t able to inspect all inbound traffic as thoroughly as usual. So, the fix was to do cursory scans of inbound traffic as they settled into orbit, and then a hands-on inspection once the ship touched down to unload their cargo. The LT and SSG described it as a team-building opportunity to Coop while he looked appropriately pissed, but in fact, they’d just handed him the opportunity to make thousands.

“We’re set, Corporal.” Nickelbaucher had checked the troops over while Coop was daydreaming about swimming in a pool of money chips.

“Let’s get moving. No mags in the rifle. We’re walking down the street not some Blockie neighborhood.” The soldiers followed his orders and stowed the magazine in their Dragonscale armor’s pouches. Despite the assignment, they had a full combat load complete with grenades for their 40mm M3 attachments.

It was a short walk to the civilian spaceport which sat only a kilometer from the military base on the outskirts of Town Center. The local cops at the gate quickly scanned IDs before ushering them in without another word. They were happy to see the soldiers. It meant less tedious work for them.

The MP liaison was a bored-looking Corporal, while the civilian administrator was a guy in a suit who looked way too happy to be there.

“Welcome!” He beamed and reached out to shake Coop’s hands before realizing Coop could easily palm his whole head. “Thank you for coming.” He instead went for several thankful nods. “We’ve got a full schedule of incoming freighters today. I’ll upload the schedule to your neural networks and we’ll get started immediately.”

The MP brought out four sniffers and handed them to Coop and his men. “Have fun.” Just like that the MP was gone.

“You’ll be handling landing pads one through nine.” The administrator waved them toward the left side of the field.

It didn’t escape Coop’s attention that there were only twelve pads in the whole spaceport. <Fucking awesome.> He took a deep breath and imagined what he’d do with all the cash he’d make over the next two weeks.

They walked out onto the tarmac and stood next to a police crew of three armed with their own sniffers and sidearms. The blowing dust of New Lancashire’s still-being-terraformed atmosphere made seeing more than a hundred meters difficult, so positioning lights of the approaching craft seemed to appear out of nowhere when the first ships of the day fired their positioning thrusters to set down in the middle of the big white circles with their own positioning lights and electronic systems designed to help guide the pilots in through all the crap.

“Let’s get to it guys.” Coop let the way to landing pad one where a modular cargo hauler was setting down. As he approached he pulled out his PAD and typed a quick message.

 

I had fun last night. We should do it again soon. I’m free mostly from one to nine on the weekends, just make sure to message me to see what time works for you. Thanks!

 

He sent the coded message to Melissa’s inbox. For a five percent cut of the profits she was working as the middle woman for this job. Being free from one to nine told her what pads Coop was covering, and asking her to message indicated he wanted to know what pad their customers got assigned to so he could be the one to meet them.

 

Sure thing, Boo.

 

He got the reply less than five minutes later. She was probably just getting off her shift and heading home. He didn’t hear anything else from her for hours, and quickly learned why no one ever wanted this detail.

The spaceport wasn’t large, and it was only rated to handle ships with lightweight tonnage. That meant that all the cargo vessels – from twenty-five thousand tons all the way up to the multi-million ton behemoths – had to shuttle their goods down to the surface of the planet in small doses. It also meant pilots on roundabout flights all day long, and since this was the outer rim of Commonwealth controlled space, the pilots weren’t the cheeriest people in the galaxy. By flight number three they were getting a little testy.

“Are you fucking serious. It’s the same shit from the last two flights!” A bearded pilot steamed and threw his hands up in the air as Coop boarded the modular container and started waving the sniffer around.

The large container had a big GT on the side for Gold Technologies and the manifest stated that the ship was on a Commonwealth commission to provide consumables to the newish colony of New Lancashire from their farm world, Bounty. Since Bounty was at the edge of the Mid and Core Worlds, they’d had a bit of a hike out to York Sector with a few days of travel outside the Alcubierre Launcher network. That meant a big transport ship with over three hundred thousand tons of genetically-patented vegetables sitting in cargo holds. With food stuffs, time was money, and pilots were quickly getting sick of Coop and his team checking each of their holds every time.

“Sit down and shut up.” Coop snapped back. His interactions with this particular pilot were starting to grate his nerves.

The pilot replied in exclusively four-letter words, but Coop’s attention was on the vibrations and soft pinging coming from his armored hatch where he kept his PAD.

 

Eight works for me. I can’t wait to see you soon.

 

“You’re good.” Coop cut the pilot off mid curse and walked down the tail ramp where he waved the heavy equipment on that would unload ten thousand pounds of Bounty spinach in a few minutes. “Nickelbaucher!” Coop called over the team net to the soldier who was currently working pad eight. “Switch with me. If I have to deal with this guy one more time I’m going to rip his head off.”

The PFC had exclusively been dealing with some Mackintosh Shipping Conglomerate vessels delivering machinery, and if he was upset with the request to switch he didn’t say anything. “Roger, Corporal.”

Coop walked a couple hundred meters to pad eight and waited for the blinking lights of a new incoming vessel. Three minutes later, said vessel set down and opened its tail ramp.

The first red flag to a respectable customs agent would be that it was a private ship. Private ships had a much higher chance of being smugglers, pirates, or other nefarious spacers. Coop received their manifest from Air Traffic Control, and even the ATC desk jockeys had flagged the ship for a closer inspection.

Coop quickly toggled to his visual display, entered the command for his personal software update, and hit INITIATE just as a man’s boots appeared on the slip-resistant surface. Coop’s HUD gave a jerk that would look like a minor glitch to anyone watching before going back to normal, except now Coop had a small hidden box screen in the bottom right of his HUD. The two screens were nearly identical, but with one key difference. The faces of the man and his associates walking down the ramp were altered.

Coop’s V2 neural net was wired into ATC, which was wired into the local authority’s databases on wanted criminals throughout the sector and beyond. The facial recognition software automatically ran the faces Coop saw against those databases, and that was what his software patch was focused on. It wasn’t anything fancy, just enough to throw off the software. In the hidden box at the bottom of his head his armor analyzed the system and beeped a warning. A red silhouette encircled the man with the words DETAIN written over his head. As Coop scanned from left to right three other man had the same message stamped over them, but on his big HUD, with their altered faces, they all checked out.

“Good afternoon. Lovely day today.” Coop might have been able to manipulate the HUD’s input and output software, but audio was on a separate feed that he didn’t have the time to manipulate.

“You the guy?” The smuggler asked.

“I’m the customs agent, please follow me aboard.” Coop took a few steps toward the ship and the man’s face contorted in confusion. “Please, Sir,” Coop repeated. “This is just a routine check, I’m sure everything is just fine.” Coop made an OK symbol down low where his 360-degree visual wouldn’t see, and the smuggler finally caught on.

They both walked up the ramp and into the hold. Half a dozen grungy spacers were sitting around, but Coop worked around them. He made sure the sniffer was in stand-by mode and he never looked at the readout as he searched the ship. Since the civilian tech wasn’t linked to his armor it was easy to get around that safeguard.

“Looks like you’ve got about five thousand tons here.” Coop spoke to the smuggler hoping the guy was still picking up what he was putting down.

“More like thirty-five-hundred.” The smuggler grumbled back.

“I’m pretty sure it’s four thousand actually.” Coop’s tone held finality.

“Hmmm,” the smuggler pretended to check an old-fashioned paper manifest. “Yeah, it is four. My mistake.”

“No problem. We’re just about done here.” Coop turned to head back to the ramp. He had no idea what was in the crates all around him, and he didn’t care, what he knew was that he’d just made four grand for a mornings work.

As he walked, he held out his armored hand behind him expectantly. This was the part where trust was required between very untrustworthy people. Melissa had instructed them to pay in thousand-dollar chips. Coop wouldn’t be able to check until he was out of his armor, but he felt four chips being placed in his outstretched hand. The smuggler could stiff him and save a few bucks, but then his pipeline for getting goods into the colony would be cut. It was in his best interest to pay up, but if he was just making a single run then Coop might get shafted. There might only be four bucks on the chips for all he knew.

He had to take a leap of faith. Worst case scenario was that he got stiffed, and he hunted down the smuggler the next time he was on the planet. Making an example of how poor an idea it was to screw with Mark Cooper was always good for business.

Coop and his team worked until 1700 with a short break for lunch not long after he let the smuggler’s goods through. He got out of his LACS under the pretense of stretching and made sure none of the spaceports security cameras saw him checking the pouch where he’s stored the chips. When he looked inside four one-thousand-dollar chips gleamed back at him.

<This detail isn’t going to suck after all,> he thought.

He had this for two weeks, with at least one ship coming in a day. Payment was dependent on ship size, but if all of the ships were in this last one’s range, he was looking at another forty grand in his pocket.

That bought a lot of booze and lap dances. As far as he could see, life was pretty much perfect at the moment.

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3 thoughts on “Two Worlds – Chapter 171

  1. It’s always fun to edit all my serials while watching the Olympics. Go USA!

    Still waiting to get Aftermath: The Harbinger Tales Book 2 back from the editor. Maybe another week, and then my own editing, so hoping for a late FEB – early MAR release. I will keep you updated. Make sure to pick up the first book: The Harbinger Tales for only a few bucks of for free on Kindle Unlimited so you’re all caught up. After you read it, please leave a quick review to let everyone know what you think. It’s the best publicity for the book and i greatly appreciate each one.

    If military sci-fi is more your cup of tea, then grab Two Worlds: Rags & Riches for only $0.99. Reviews for it are also greatly appreciated.

    Vote for Two Worlds on topwebfiction here

    Consider becoming a monthly patreon to further my indie writing career. If that’s too much, consider donating for bonus Two Worlds chapters. The links are on my Home Page.

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