Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The party went on for several more hours, which was kind of a pain in the ass for Coop. After his fight with Eve, he expected to be able to storm back to his barracks and not see her again for the rest of the night. He got as far as the front door before getting a message from Cunningham to get his ass back to the table. He practically chucked the empty tiramisu bowl at a server on his way back.
After dinner and dessert, the guests broke up into groups for after dinner drinks. Waiters walked around with real-wood boxes of fine cigars from Earth’s tropics, which despite several hundred settled worlds, was still the best place to grow tobacco. With medical technology being what it was, the rich people here could indulge in all the vices they wanted to and suffered no side effects.
<Meanwhile, a guy in the PHA gets lung cancer at thirty and can’t afford the treatment.> Coop was very quickly losing patience with the people around him, and their sudden interest in the soldiers in uniform wasn’t helping.
“What’s this mean?” an attractive woman, who could have been thirty or ninety, due to the blue in her eyes, slurred as she poked Coop hard in the chest.
“That’s my marksmanship badge,” Coop replied, looking for a way out of the conversation.
“What’s that mean?” the woman repeated.
“It’s an Expert Badge, which shows I’m a really good shot.”
“Wow…like against people…” the woman’s eyes went wide, and Coop bit his lip instead of replying. “What’s that?” She moved up and poked at a ribbon.
“That’s my bronze star.” Coop thought he’d found a way out of this conversation.
“What’s that for?”
“I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die.” Coop’s attention wasn’t on the conversation anymore.
“Nothing… I don’t want to be part of this conversation anymore, so I’m going to go over there.” Coop pointed at a spot away from the woman and quickly walked away, leaving her with her mouth open, and not knowing what to do.
“Aiko,” he called out to the woman as she conversed with several older gentlemen.
“Sergeant Cooper.” Her tone and expression showed how uninterested she was in talking with him.
“Petty Officer Lee.” He made the wrong move and mocked her.
<Idiot.> He nearly smacked his hand against his forehead as she turned away from him and back to her gaggle of admirers.
A few women saw him free of a conversation partner, and started to move on him. It didn’t seem to matter to them that they were married to some of the most powerful people in the system. They were drawn to his good looks and uniform like moths to a flame.
Coop knew he was never getting married, because in a world with longevity treatments, marriage, until death do us part, could be a long fucking time. He would bet his monthly paycheck that these men and women at the party had gotten married young, had seven or eight decades together, and were now bored out of their minds. Variety was the spice of life, and they either kept things spicy, or let it fall apart. Their status wouldn’t let them divorce, and suffer that shame, so they figured out other ways to make it work.
He was not going to be a part of those games, so Coop headed for the bathroom with all due haste. It wasn’t empty, but no one in the small room conversed with each other. Guys didn’t do that. So, he took the opportunity to splash some water on his face, and hopefully wait out the women trying to engage him in conversation.
He did that for hours. Sometimes he was successful. Other times he was not. The women he was trying to avoid seemed to find it a fun game to chase him around, and when they caught him, he had to endure the same awkward military-themed conversation from people who had no idea what they were talking about, on a topic he didn’t really give two shits about. By the time things wrapped up, all he wanted to do was collapse into his bed and sleep through the weekend. The healthy buzz from the expensive cognac only helped take the edge off.
“Everyone on me.” The SGM waved them over as people started to funnel out. “Cooper, are you drunk?”
“No, Sergeant Major.” Coop shook his head.
“How about we do some PT and find out?” the NCOIC offered.
“Naw, I’m good.” Coop’s answer indicated he was a little tipsy.
“Tomorrow we’re going to start our training.” The SGM ignored Coop’s remark, although Coop knew he wouldn’t forget it. “We’ll form up at zero-five-hundred here.”
Coop’s PAD pinged with an email that held a location on the far side of the complex. He wanted to complain about it being the weekend, but he had a feeling the SGM didn’t give a shit. Coop didn’t think he’d have a lot of free time coming up.
Coop and the rest of the soldiers were standing in the open space in front of the defense complex’s central building. The party guests were filtering out to the front gate, where the valets were working double time to get their vehicles out to them as quickly as possible. Nothing was worse than a rich person having to wait for something, and the valets’ tips depended on it, so they sprinted to get it done. Coop saw the LCDR walking with his father, and the hottie, out with some of the bigger VIPs to see them off. Thankfully, he didn’t have to worry about any of that chaos, because he was heading in the opposite direction.
People were shaking hands and getting in air-cars as Coop turned to walk away. He made it about a hundred meters, and a few thoughts on how to remedy the clusterfuck between him, Eve, and Aiko, when the base alarm started screaming.
He instinctually moved to find cover, which wasn’t much in the open space between the buildings. He crouched, behind a too-small waste dispenser, and turned back toward the front gate.
A lot of people left the party via the main road in front of the complex. There was a no fly zone around the area, so they had to drive a little farther away before going airborne. The exception to that rule was the VIPs. Due to security precautions, they went airborne right away, and took randomized routes back to their destination. That probably wasn’t business as usual, but after the recent attacks, it made sense to implement.
Coop looked for the source of the alarm. His alcohol-addled vision sharpened as his body went into fight or flight mode. <There.> His eyes focused and clearly tracked the contrails of inbound surface-to-air missiles.
The air-cars took evasive action. EW flairs shot from the cars’ undersides to confuse the missiles, while chaff canisters deployed and exploded in a shower of burning, blinding brilliance. Unfortunately, one of those canisters exploded right above Coop’s position.
“Motherfucker!” Coop threw his arms over his head and sprinted for better cover. The stuff in those canisters was designed to burn in space, underwater, or wherever else it was supposed to spoof enemy targeting systems.
It looked like burning snow was falling all around him. He felt some impact his CMUs and immediately begin to burn through the smart-cloth. He joined the rest of the SSRT as they sprinted under cover of a nearby building.
“Get it off!” Eve yelled as her hands clawed at the fabric. The self-adhering smart-cloth worked against them now, but two people yanking Coop’s clothes off got the job done. It still wasn’t fast enough.
“FUCK!” Coop’s legs buckled as a small bit of chaff got through his CMUs, and into his bicep. It would continue to burn until it consumed all of its fuel, which at the moment was Coop’s body.
“Hold him down!” Eve yelled.
Rough hands grabbed Coop. One set wrapped around his torso to keep him from thrashing, another controlled his head and shoulders, and lastly, one pair was specifically for keeping his arm pinned.
Spots exploded in Coop’s vision as the pain grew and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t even see Eve whip out a knife and stab it into his arm. It was just one of the many sources of agony. He didn’t even watch as she cut away at his flesh like he was a steak at the butcher’s shop. The whole impromptu procedure took less than thirty seconds, but it left a blackened hunk of flesh in its wake, and a half-unconscious Coop.
While Cunningham, the SGM, and Mike held down Coop. Aiko kept an eye on what was happening outside. They were all unarmed and sitting ducks if things got even more fucked up, but she couldn’t miss what was happening. The world in view continued to burn, but it wasn’t the only thing. Fires raged outside the front gate, either from cars on the road that had been hit, or a crashed air-car. Aiko caught sight of one air-car spinning out of control and slam into the defense complex hard. A second seemed to be making an emergency landing with a large chunk of its back half being blown off. A third raced through the air, closely followed by another missile, but it was an air-car, not a Spyder, and its countermeasures seemed to be expended. The attempt to outrun the missile failed. The explosive struck the vehicle from behind, set off a cascading failure, and the whole vehicle turned into a giant fireball the spewed shrapnel everywhere.
A huge piece of flaming metal imbedded itself into the building less than two meters from Aiko’s position, so she wisely ducked back inside the foyer, where chunks of Coop’s flesh lay discarded on the polished polyplast floor. The receptionist at the desk on the far side of the lobby looked like she was about to faint.
“Don’t just fucking sit there!” Aiko screamed. “Call the medics. Let them know that their weekend just went to shit!”
It took a moment for the receptionist to snap to, but when she did she was on the phone calling everyone.
“Hell of a party,” Coop grumbled as the SGM stuck an injection in Coop’s arm just below the shoulder. The relief was immediate. “Yeah…that’s the stuff.”
He faded into unconsciousness before the medics arrived.