Two Worlds – Chapter 233

Location: Aurum System, Gold Technologies Corporate Territory, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Lord Daemon Wright, Duke of Cockshire, stood on the bridge of the cruiser Othello and smiled. Trailing behind the cruiser in a wedge formation were six destroyers, three of the same new, advanced construction as Othello, which consisted of three fourths of House Wright’s naval strength.

House Wright was not a large house. They’d ruled over Cockshire since Windsor was colonized, but they’d never advanced much in social standing or in favor to the crown. The dukedom was large, but mostly agricultural, and lacking of much industrial capacity. Daemon wondered if that was why the royal cartographers had christened his holdings Cockshire. The name had dogged his family for generations. Thankfully a rooster wasn’t on the family crest or they would be the laughing stock of the high nobility.

<Not anymore.> The Duke’s spine straightened as he looked at the two hundred and seventy degree holo that surrounded his position on the flag bridge. The Duke was not a navy man, even though he’d done a tour in the royal fleet to get to know his subjects. Even then, he’d been an engineer. That was his strength. <This situation doesn’t require strategic finesse, just the brute application of force.>

House Wright had been given a part of Operation Grand Sweep; a part that the Duke found lacking. They’d been tasked with taking – and this irked the Duke to no end – an agricultural world with limited defenses and population. There was no honor and prestige to gain by attacking defenseless farmers. He’d made his complaints known to the Lord Admiral, but the man sidestepped the complaint by citing supply needs for future offensive operations and other logistical matters.

The Duke didn’t want to be a logistical footnote when the history books wrote about their grand offensive. He wanted to be the highlight, so he set his sights on a nearby world.

Aurum was the corporate capitol of the Gold Technologies empire. Representatives from the corporation had made overtures when the Queen was building her forces, and the merchant shipping guilds had been forced to grant shipping rights to the carpetbaggers. That animosity never went away as more and more Gold Technologies ships supplied goods from the blasphemous Commonwealth into royal markets. The Duke found Windsor craftsmanship to be superior in every regard, and he’d tried to enact local legislation to stem the flow of the inferior goods. He hadn’t made much headway before the royal call to war abruptly ended the trading, but now he had a chance to strike his own blow.

Othello’s small task force had transitioned in as close as possible to the capitol planet to maximize the element fof surprise. They’d carried there acceleration over from the portal and were hurtling toward their target. As the approached the more populated space, the light-minute radius of their sensors began to populate. Nearly a hundred cargo ships were abruptly changing course to flee before the Duke’s forces.

“Engage anything in range of our beam weapons. Let’s not waste missiles.” Like everything else on the new construction, Othello’s lasers were better than anything humanity had produced before. Despite that, you couldn’t overcome physics. The laser might be much stronger, but you couldn’t fight beam dispersion that eventually decayed the laser’s effectiveness.

Othello had four lasers per broadside, less than similar Commonwealth cruisers, but the designers had correctly assumed the Kingdom’s ships would be chasing there enemies for years to come, so they’d mounted two cannons at the bow of the ship giving it a total of ten. Othello compensated for having fewer laser cannons by having a half dozen more missile launchers. With the enhancements in missiles technology imparted by their alien trade partners, coupled with shielding, Othello was capable of taking on anything the corporation could throw at it.

The Duke didn’t feel anything as the cruiser opened fire on nearby freighters. The lasers had a maximum range of one and a half million kilometers, which put only three ships in range, but three was better than nothing. The beam weapons raked the three ships from bow to stern. One, a quarter million ton hauler, blew apart as their reactors went critical. The other two spewed hull plating, atmosphere, and people as they spiraled out of range with barely enough power to perform minor course corrections. It wasn’t a satisfying attack for the Duke, but it would have to do.

“Your Grace, enemy ships accelerating to meet us at bearing three-five-two. They’re twenty million kilometers out.” The flag captain informed from the bridge.

The ships new onboard AIs began refining the ships’ signatures for the next thirty minutes until the Duke had a good idea what he was facing. All of the ships were in the Kingdom’s database because the ships had all been identified before at New Lancashire, now the freshly subjugated New Britain.

At the center of the enemy formation was the GSFS Midas. The assault carrier was smaller than the Commonwealth version, but it still could dish out more hurt than a mere cruiser. Surrounding the carrier in a diamond formation were four battlecruisers. Just like the carrier, the battlecruisers were smaller than their Commonwealth counterparts, and way smaller than the Kingdom’s designs. The battlecruisers were only thirty percent larger than Othello. Lastly, two destroyers occupied positions on the flanks.

When all the numbers were added up, it was seven on seven. When the tonnage was added up, the Gold Technologies ships outweighed the House of Wright’s forces by a considerable margin. When missile and beam weapons were tallied, the Gold Technologies carrier group had a two-to-one advantage in missiles and a three-to one advantage in beam weapons. When combat effectiveness in the new world of naval warfare was measured the House of Wright held all the cards.

Since the corporate fleet tended to deal more with pirates and close up action, the high beam weapon count made sense. As such, the Duke’s plan was to engage with missiles. The Kingdom’s missiles had better drives, a longer range, and a more explosive payload than the corporations. They’d batter the corporate forces until drawing into closer ranges where their shields would protect them. If any of the carrier groups ships survived when they sailed within one and a half million kilometers, the Duke would finish them off with laser cannons.

“We’re being hailed, Your Grace.” His communication’s specialist, who was his sister’s, daughter’s, youngest son stated. Just like the Duke nearly sixty years ago, the young lord wanted to gain some valuable life experience, but his mother didn’t want him in harm’s way. So, he was sitting safely on the flag bridge of a modern cruiser that was supposed to be attacking an agricultural backwater.

“Video on the holo.” The Duke took a deep breath and put on an expressionless face.

“Unidentified vessels, this is Commodore Zahn of the Gold Technologies Security Fleet, you have unlawfully entered corporate territory. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.” The man on the screen looked surprisingly calm in the face of the Duke’s force.

<The man must not know what we’re capable of.> The Duke fought back a grin.

“Commodore, this it Duke Daemon Wright, Sixth Duke of Cockshire, Order of the Sword. Stand aside or perish.” The Duke wanted to keep it short and sweet. There wasn’t any legal loop hole he was trying the sell the corporations lawyers. This was war.

The CMDRE’s calm expression cracked for a moment, and a chuckle escaped before he could regain control. “Wow, I never thought I’d meet the duke of cock, but I’ve done my duty and warned you. If you pass this line, we will consider your intentions hostile and engage. Good day.”

“It’s Cockshire!” The Duke roared at the CMDRE as the insufferable man disconnected. He looked at the holo as a green line was drawn in space in front of them. It was three million kilometers away. The Duke’s force would be there in less than twenty minutes. “Full speed ahead, Captain.”

“Your Grace…”

“I said full speed ahead! I want that man’s head on my wall inside the hour!” The Duke was seething.

“Yes, Your Grace.” The CAPT cut the connection and the numbers on the side of the Duke’s holo ticked down as the time to the line was recalculated to fourteen minutes.

Those fourteen minutes dragged by. The ship was already at battlestations, but the tension in the air was now palpable as there was a countdown clock to combat. The Duke couldn’t help but grip the sides of his command chair as they reached the line and crossed it. When nothing happened, he grinned at the rest of the flag bridge.

“All bark and no bite,” the Duke laughed. “Othello, target the assault carrier. I want us to be the ones to end that man’s existence. The destroyers can pair up and target the three nearest battlecruisers. Once we finish them off we can move on to the remaining three ships.”

“Yes, Your Grace, repositioning…” red lights and a blaring claxon interrupted the CAPT.

“New contacts! Fifty…seventy five…one-twenty…two-eight…three hundred and ninety five new identified threats bearing down at us from one-three five and two-two-five!” There was and edge of panic in the tactical officer’s voice.

“What?! Where did they come from? What are they?” The Duke spewed questions like a broken hydrant.

“They’re moving fast…they’re…BRACE FOR IMPACT!” The man didn’t even have time to relay what he was seeing.

The tactical officer’s first impression was that they were missiles. There acceleration was so high that they couldn’t be anything else. It would also explain why they hadn’t seen them. The enemy commander had lured them into a trap. Stealth missile platforms must have been placed along avenues of approach to ambush any unwanted visitors. Nearly four hundred missiles bearing down on them would usually be cause for alarm, but a quick glance at his screen showed Othello and the destroyers’ shield were at one hundred percent, and their point-defense clusters were already opening fire and taking out the missiles…except then the missiles started maneuvering.

“What the hell?” Was all the time the tactical officer had before smaller red icons emerged from what he thought were missiles and the pulse of computer confirmed beam weapons filled the space around the House of Wright’s ships.

It quickly became clear Othello wasn’t the target as the destroyers took the full brunt of the attack. Hundreds of lasers and micro-missiles smashed into the four destroyers bringing up the rear. The Duke had ordered the three new built to be dispersed between the older ships to ensure the obsolete models had better protection. That was sound thinking when developing a movement plan that would shift into a wall of battle, but not for an ambush.

The two rearmost destroyers: King Lear and Henry VIII were old models. The missiles and lasers that hit them tore them to pieces in seconds. The two destroyers in front of them were Twelfth Night and Merry Wives of Windsor both new builds. Both destroyers bucked as dozens and dozens of missiles and lasers smashed into their shields. They both held out better than King Lear and Henry VIII. Twelfth Night’s side of the wedge did a better job with point defense. She was still combat ready, but she was venting air and trailing debris after the attack. Merry Wives of Windsor’s side of the wedge was less effective. Her acceleration cut to zero and she started to coast ballistic. Compensators and positioning thrusters were still online because it didn’t go into a tumble, but it took the engineering crew more than an hour to reroute power to get the engines back online.

To the surprise of the Duke and everyone else in the House of Wright’s fleet, there combat strength had nearly been cut in half in the surprise attack. Even more revealing was that two of the new destroyers had been damaged to an extent.

“Missile launch!” The Duke’s head snapped back to the holo where the space around the approaching carrier group suddenly filled with over four hundred missiles. These had to be missiles this time because their acceleration rate was higher than the previous contacts.

The Duke recognized he was in deep shit as a forty second count down clock appeared until missile impact. He was an avid hunter, and in a primarily agricultural shire, he hunted frequently and was quite good; so he understood what had happened. The initial attack had come from behind. It had come in fast and hard and cut his proverbial Achilles Heel. Now he was bleeding and unable to maneuver his forces as well when the enemy went for the jugular.

“Evasive maneuvers!” He yelled as the clock hit thirty seconds. He gripped his chair with white knuckled furry and prayed he’d survive.

 

***

 

Commodore George Zahn

Location: GSFS King Midas, Aurum System, Gold Technologies Corporate Territory, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Mad” George Zahn sat back in his command chair and sipped the cup of coffee. Unlike coffee back in the Fleet, this cup didn’t suck. Good coffee was one of the perks of being in corporate security. Another perk of working with Gold Technologies was that his employer always wanted him to have the best. It had been an exhausting five months in the docks getting refit, but now he could see it was worth it. He was also hoping his strategy to have pre-placed fighter drone squadrons in standby around the system was going to get him a healthy bonus. It also helped that George always knew how to push a person’s buttons.

His ambush had worked perfectly. He’d lured the brazen duke of cock-whatever headfirst into the ambush. Hundreds of drone fighters armed with updated micro-missiles and beam technology had sprung the ambush and cut the enemy forces off at the knees.

“What’s the tally?” he asked as he put the coffee on a grav-coaster. The little piece of tech was expensive, but would keep the much upright and the coffee inside it during minor tremors.

“We’ve got one hundred and forty-seven red drones, another seventy-two are showing as damaged, but operational. They’re heading back to dock.  One hundred and seventy six drones are still reading as green and are coming about. ETA to next pass is fifty-eight minutes.”

“Have them return to dock.” George did see the point in wasting more drones. He’d already lost fifty five percent of the contingents and the battle would be over before they came back for another pass. That was the downside of the high-speed passes. That acceleration would throw the fighters far and wide and limited second wave options, but anything moving slower would be easy pickings for the enemy’s point defense.

“Volley one ETA twenty-two seconds.”

George still marveled at the speed of the new missile drives. He’d fired from twelve million kilometers, fifty percent longer than the previous effective range of capitol missiles, and that wasn’t even the edge of his effective range.

<This duke isn’t exactly a tactical genius either.> George watched his holo as the enemy forces scattered, which was the worst thing they could do when over four hundred missiles were bearing down on them.

“Stagger volley two, so we have time to recalculate after volley one’s even spread.” George sipped his coffee and waited for the impact.

He didn’t bother targeting the drifting destroyer, but targeted the four remaining combat effective ships. One destroyer went up after only a few missiles hits. The other two hung on and took a pounding, but eventually were knocked out: one permanently, with the other one becoming nothing more than battered, powerless husks.

“That’s a hell of a cruiser though.” George had to give the designers props. The ship had just had the shit kicked out of it, but it was still limping along after dozens of hits.

It even fired off twenty-two missiles back at the carrier group. They missiles were just as good as George’s so he didn’t take them lightly, so none of them made it to the ships.

“Should we call off volley two?” the operations officer asked as more missiles barreled down on the injured cruiser.

“Negative. You know the boss’ standing order. We need to keep our tech under wraps.” He watched the wave kill the cruiser with extreme prejudice. “Get boarding parties to the damaged vessels. If they’ll live, take prisoners, if they won’t, put them out of their misery. After you’re clear scuttle the ships. Send Diamonds are Forever after the drifting destroyer with those same orders.” George finished off his coffee with a sigh and headed to his quarters just off the bridge to fix another cup.

His crew could handle the rest of this without him, and no one would ever know the Windsor’s tried to attack Aurum and got their asses kicked.

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PCS to Eden – Homecoming

Vicky leaned back and propped her feet on the table. She grabbed the remote in one hand, her beer in another, flipped on the TV, and took a long gulp. Every once in a while she shot a sidelong glance at the ætherial map of Charlotte dominating the majority of the table in the war room, but for the most part her attention was on the two store employees who were obviously infatuated with one another, but couldn’t come right out and say it. Hilarious hijinks ensued, and that was what the people of Charlotte really needed right now; a good laugh.

If Vicky had been a dude she would have a had a hand down her pants scratching her nuts, but she was a hundred-plus year old lady with decades of refinement. Instead, she let out a powerful belch, and continued to lean back until the chair was balanced on the rear two legs. Once she was stable, she went to one leg. As a Soulless, her balance was impeccable, but not even a vampire could be prepared for the sudden appearance of five people in front of her.

“Holy shit!” The chair tipped backward and Vicky hit the ground hard before rolling to her feet. “Who the hell are you?”

Gerry collapsed onto his knees and drew a ragged breath. The sensation of Death teleporting them was even worse than the first time Seere did it to him. He valiantly struggled to hold down the bile bubbling in his gut, and barley succeeded.

Next to him, Gaius’ eyes snapped open and he grunted as he tried to get to his feet. He had to grab a chair to steady himself, but being back in the presence of æther helped. Gerry immediately grasped for his demesne’s power supply and drank it in. The power flooded into him and everything popped back into focus.  It was like he’d been wearing blinders since starting his flight to Death’s island, and now he could see again.

Jezebel and Pete were the last to get up. Pete groaned but didn’t open his eyes, and Jezebel peaked them open just enough to see her surroundings. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you looked at it, the first thing she saw was Death.

“Hello beautiful,” she murmured as she pushed herself up onto her elbows.

Death cocked an eyebrow and smiled down at the Infernal lieutenant. “Aren’t you a pretty thing. And you,” she pointed at Vicky, “you look like a little doll I just want to take home and play with.”

Death’s power was washing over Vicky now, and the Soulless was rooted to the floor, so she didn’t even move when Death came over and pinched her cheeks. “So precious.”

Vicky just ended up giggling like a schoolgirl. Jezebel looked on with envy, which caught Death’s attention. “Maybe later,” her own smile held promises that made the lust-filled Infernal blush. “But I want to see what’s new before I jump straight into the sack.”

“How long have we been gone? Has anything changed?” Gerry was recharged and regrouped, so he wanted answers.

“It’s only been a few days,” Vicky replied. “The military is stepping up patrols in order to find who shot the stinger at their choppers, but they haven’t found shit.” She was talking to Gerry, but couldn’t take her eyes off Death. “The situation in New York is pretty much the same. There’s more fighting in Europe and Asia, so the cat’s out of the bag on the whole secret supernatural society lurking just beneath the surface of the humans.” She shrugged. “As you can imagine the Vatican is a pretty popular place right now. They’re basically screaming ‘I told you so’ from the rooftops and pointing at all the angels that are flying around. Of course, all of the Satanists are also closing ranks and bowing to their Infernal masters. Apparently, their headquarters is someplace in Wisconsin. I guess they thought the Devil would like some cheese when he came back to Earth.”

“I like cheese,” Death spoke up. She’d moved round the table, observing the room, and didn’t look interested in Gerry’s conversation up to that point. “Let’s go to Wisconsin.”

“You want to eat…cheese?” Gerry couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice.

Death just rolled her eyes at him. “You’re so worked up about your little war that you’re forgetting to live, Gerry.” She made a tsk-tsk sound and shook her head. “There are few better things in life than a dairy product acidified by bacteria and brought about by the coagulation of milk protein.”

“Is she serious?” Vicky asked.

“Of course,” Death smiled. “Do you think the God invented cheese? He wouldn’t know fun if it hit him in the nards with a nine-iron, and Cronus was too busy making other things. He let me tinker here every once and while and I like to think some of my creations have made their mark on history.”

“Gerry, who is this chick? She’s claiming credit for inventing cheese.” Vicky squinted at Death, who wasn’t paying her any attention.

“Vicky, everyone, this is Death, the primordial that created Hell. Everyone, this is Death.”

There was utter silence for a moment before Vicky broke it. “Hey, Death. Nice to meet you.”

Death just flicked a hand dismissively as she studied a picture on the wall. Everyone else was bug-eyed and looking back and forth between Gerry and Death.

“So…cheese…” Gerry didn’t know what else to say.

“Yes!” Death clapped and skipped back over to Gerry.

“I’ll drive this time,” Gerry held up his hands defensively.

Death just smiled with a mischievous glint in her eye. “Good for you, Gerry. Take control, let loose, have a little fun.” She slipped her arm into Gerry’s and waved at everyone else. “We’ll be back.”

With that, Gerry and Death vanished. They left behind several very confused lieutenants who all turned to whose idea it had been in the first place to find the lost Primordial.

“What?” Pete asked. He was still recovering from his time on the island and the rough trip back. “I didn’t think we’d actually find her.” His statement didn’t stop the stairs.

“I’m out of here,” Jezebel rubbed her temples. “I’m going to fuck your grandson. Let me know when they get back.”

“TMI, but thanks for sharing,” Vicky pretended to vomit before leaving the room via the secret exit to the club she was running.

That just left Gaius and Pete. The general took several deep breaths before leaving without another word. Pete just sat where he was until he caught sight of the TV show playing in the background. He laughed and settled in to relax. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen, and there was nothing he could do about it.

 

***

 

“Wisest of the angels, whom your fate betrays, and, fairest of them all, deprives of praise. Satan have pity on my long despair. O prince of exiles, who have suffered wrong, yet, vanquished, rise from every fall more strong. Satan have pity on my long despair.”

The group praying was far larger than Gerry expected. There had to be five hundred people gathered in what once – ironically – was probably a church. Instead of Jesus crucified, there was a pentagram with a goat’s head at the center in the position of prominence. The man at the front was dressed in black robes and was yelling at the crowd with zealous faith burning in his eyes.

“Praise to you, Satan! In the heights you lit, and also in the deeps where you now sit, vanquished, in Hell, and dream in hushed defiance!”

“This guy is totally plagiarizing,” Death whispered from her spot next to Gerry. “This was written by a dude in the Fifties.”

Gerry could never forget the power that was near him, it was impossible to ignore a barely contained tsunami just waiting to envelop you, but when he turned to reply, he was surprised to see a bag of popcorn in her hand.

“Where did you…?” he began.

“Made a quick pit stop,” she shrugged as she grabbed a kernel and tossed it ten feet into the air. She effortlessly slid under it and caught it in her mouth on the descent. To Gerry, it reminded him of those videos of Great White Sharks jumping out of the ocean off the coast of South Africa to eat seals. He couldn’t suppress the shiver.

“Take it easy, Gerry,” Death made the situation worse by giving him a smack on the ass. “Remember, this is supposed to be fun.” She boldly strode forward and shot a smile back over her shoulder at him.

<Oh no!> Gerry gulped, but didn’t dare move.

“The prince of exiles has heard our prayers and returned to us!” The satanic priest began his homily, but stopped when Death hopped up onto the alter. ”Umm…sister, if you could.”

“Nah,” Death smiled, and the Satanist disintegrated into dust before everyone’s eyes.

It took a moment for everyone to react, but then the screaming started. It was quickly overpowered by a gust of wind that slammed the doors closed, and sickening hiss of metal being fused together.

While people screamed and beat on the doors, Death hopped up onto the alter and let her feet swing a foot off the ground while she whistled and watched the crowd in full panic mode. She flicked the goat’s skull off the alter, and it rocketed into the wall at just under the speed of sound. She smiled at the explosion of bone and drywall before she popped more popcorn in her mouth.

Everyone sit your asses down.” She commanded after a minute. She didn’t yell, but her command voice could not be denied by anyone, not even Gerry. Everyone quietly took their seats, and waited for her to speak.

“I’m here to drop a truth bomb on all of you, so listen up.” She punctuated her statement with mouthfuls of popcorn. “First, God is a parasitic little bastard who wants to take the fun out of everything and then use you as his own Triple-A batteries. You guys don’t seem to like him too much though, so that’s cool by me. Second, praying to Satan is hilarious. He’s basically God’s spoiled firstborn who threw a tantrum when he didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. The guy cannot take constructive criticism, and you praying for him to intervene on your behalf is pointless because he only cares about himself.” She studied the gathered people around her. “Lastly, and I know you all know this deep down, but the only person you can trust is yourself, so stop gathering to ask someone else for help and get your shit together. If you need money, go get some. If you want some ass, go get some. If you’ve been wronged and want payback, go get some. Believe in yourselves, little humans, and your lives will be much less pointless.” She smiled at the last bit, and everyone in the church instinctively smiled back.

“Well, that’s it for me. This has been fun. Does anyone know where to get the best cheese in this place?”

It was a second before someone spoke up with the name of a farm not too far from the church.

“Cool,” she hopped off the alter, walked back to Gerry, and put her arm back in his. A second later they vanished and left a lot of confused people behind.

Slowly, Death’s words sank in. A man turned to a woman, not his wife, grabbed her ass and stuck his tongue down her throat. She replied in kind and started to undo his pants. The wife, who was standing right next to the man, screamed bloody murder, pulled a small pistol out of her purse, and shot her cheating husband in the back of the head. She was targeting the woman who’d been about to give her husband a hand job, but the woman’s hand slapped the gun away. She jumped on the wife, and they both started to claw each other’s eyes out. That was only one of the incidents to occur in the hall that quickly descended into madness.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 232

Ezekiel Mackintosh

Location: Capitol City, New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

It was supposed to be a light day – politically speaking – for the Prime Minister. He had an early workout session with his personal trainer. He always ran through the parks near the PM’s official residence. Journalists tended to camp out along his potential trails and shout questions. He never answered them, but he made sure they got good pictures of their PM keeping in shape. It did a lot to counter the stereotypical image of the lazy politician.

After a quick shower he had an early breakfast scheduled with a minor CEO about mining rights. Ezekiel wouldn’t say as much, but he’d steer the man toward Mackintosh Shipping to haul to raw ore the CEO was looking to mine. With shipping licenses in just about every system, and a virtual rubber stamp to get anyone he wanted, the PM’s company was well suited to move the cargo of the Commonwealth. In governments of old that might have been a conflict of interest, but it was the spoils of political victory in the current Commonwealth as long as you didn’t get caught with blood on your hands. Ezekiel always made sure his rates were the best in the system the potential client was looking at, so if someone made a scene, all he had to do was point at the cold hard numbers. The dollar signs did all the talking.

The meeting lasted until lunch where he was going to dine in his residence with Connie to prep for the fundraiser that evening. Everyone who was anyone would be there, including his current political opponents. The votes were still coming in from across the Commonwealth, but the votes on New Washington were already in. The Prime Minister’s Progressive Party had dropped from holding the largest percentage of politically appointed seats on the planet. It had held thirty-eight percent, with a number of other parties filling in the other sixty-two, but most notably the Eagle Party. Now, the Eagle Party was sitting with a comfortable forty-one percent, while the Progressives had dropped to thirty-seven. It wasn’t a big loss for the Progressives compared to the smaller parties, who’d lost big in some cases, but any loss of ground to the Eagle Party was cause for concern. The popular phrase was “as goes New Washington goes the Commonwealth”. Ezekiel hoped that wasn’t true.

Admiral Simmons was going to be downright intolerable tonight. Her whole party was going to be drunk on victory even though the Progressive candidate had retained the Council of Representative’s seat for New Washington. Ezekiel made sure the victorious candidate was going to be at the event and strategically placed near the PM for when the Eagle Party representative eventually came over. A shot for the morning paper of the triumphant Progressive next to the woman trying to unseat the PM was just good PR.

Things would have been much simpler if Deja Simmons had lost re-election, but she’d handily defeated her opponent with seventy-four percent of the vote despite the money the Progressive Party threw into her opponent’s war chest. The former admiral was just too damned popular.

Ezekiel was just getting ready to shower and get into his high-quality smartcloth tux for the event when his PAD started to chime. It wasn’t just the chime of an incoming message, but an emergency wailing. The PM had heard the notification on so few occasions he knew something must be terribly wrong.

He’d barely reached the PAD when his security detail burst into the room with Connie right behind them. Her face was uncharacteristically pale. “We’re under attack!”

Ezekiel reflexively looked up, but Connie shook her head. “Not here, but…hurry!”

The PM was still in his casual smartcloth sweats when the security detail hustled him into the underground tunnels that led away from the PM’s residence. One set went to the Hall while the other went to the CEOC. At a run it took them less than two minutes to get to the emergency operations center. Despite his physical fitness routine, the PM’s chest was heaving when they arrived at the thick, armored door guarded by a squad of Rangers in LACS. Once they were through the door, and into the CEOC it got even more chaotic.

Whoever had said that we love chaos because we love to produce order was a moron. Chaos was just chaos, and chaos reigned in the CEOC main room now. The giant star map denoting known space was full of red lights. People were congregating around terminals, supervisors were shouting, and managers were trying to regain order and keep the information flowing. Ezekiel bypassed that and went right into the executive conference room that they always used for sensitive meetings. He was one of the last people to arrive.

Senior politicians and military officials, in various states of attire, were moving through the room and doing their own shouting as a smaller, more-detailed holo showed what was happening. Unfortunately, without context, all the PM was looking at were red lights among the stars.

“What have we got?” The PM took the chair at the head of the table. His comment was completely ignored, as his entrance had been. Usually the room was called to attention when the head of the government entered.

Ezekiel felt his face redden in ager. “What have we got?!” This time his voice cut through the chaos and people turned to regard him.

“Sorry, Sir. We didn’t see you there.” High Admiral Gilmore, also fresh off an election victory on Asgard, didn’t get ruffled by the PM’s raised voice. “Everyone take their seats.”

Ezekiel hid his heated cheeks by looking for Connie. She handed him his PAD and pretended to say a few words to him. It bought him time for his embarrassment to pass. The High Admiral had easily quelled the chaos in the room, while Ezekiel just screamed at everyone like a child throwing a tantrum. In didn’t help his mood that Deja Simmons was sitting near the end of the table as a member of the Council’s Military Action Committee. That, and retiring with five golden stripes leant her opinion a lot of weight at the table.

“Sonya, we’ll start with you.” The High Admiral took his seat to the PM’s right as the Commonwealth’s Chief of Naval Intelligence got to her feet.

The ADM looked like she’d run here straight from the gym. Any other time, the PM would have admired her toned athleticism, but right now wasn’t the time. The ADM pushed her sweat-soaked bangs out of her eyes and pointed at the holo.

“At approximately 17:19 New Washington time we received a QE burst from Queensland.” The holo of stars vanished to provide sensor data.

The PM was a novice when it came to reading such data, but even he could see an invasion fleet with one of the Kingdom of Windsor’s massive Superdreadnoughts spearheading the assault.

“So we know where they’re hitting us now,” the PM stated as the data fast forwarded. “We have most of the Eleventh Fleet anchored there as well as the Queensland’s own navy.” Judging by what the PM was seeing the Commonwealth outnumbered the invaders six to one. “If we need to we can call in reinforcements. A task force from Seventh Fleet is on maneuvers five light years away. It’s only two squadrons of battleships and their screening elements, but that’s more firepower to throw at the enemy.”

Admiral Berg let the PM finish before continuing. “Sir,” her voice was grave, “between 17:19 and 17:38 we received twenty one more QE bursts from systems throughout the Commonwealth.” The ADM brought back up the star chart and highlighted the systems in red. Three fourths of the red dots were logical expansions outward from the Kingdom’s homeworld, but eight of them were knives into the heart of the Commonwealth.

<Oh fuck…> The PM’s fears and angers about elections faded as he read the names on those systems. <Queensland…Harper’s Junction…Sacs Prime…and even Premier Etat de Napoléon. They didn’t just hit one place. They’re hitting everywhere.>

As the PM thought about the consequences of the attack for the whole Commonwealth a data dump was received and six more dots were added to the mix. These ones were marked with amber and denoted allied systems under attack.

<Oh god.> The PM realized the Kingdom of Windsor was going for all the marbles.

Currently, thirteen percent of the Commonwealth was under attack. That might not seem like a lot, but it was billions of citizens, tens of trillions of dollars in commerce, an unimaginable amount of private, commercial, and government owned property, not to mention the body blow these military defeats were going to deal military readiness of the Commonwealth and her allies.

“How…?” The PM was only able to get the one word out.

“We know that the Windsor’s made contact with the Hegemony before us. They probably secured credit and standing like we did and used their starter loans to enhance their technological base. My assets have also been talking about a Royal Navy construction yard somewhere outside the Windsor System. We haven’t been able to locate it, but it would seem we’re seeing the fruits of a deacde of labor.”

The PM thought it was a pretty big fruit. The fleet attacking Queensland was only thirty-five warships strong, but they thought they had a pretty good estimate of the Windsor’s Fleet size. If they were willing to throw this much at one of nearly thirty systems they were attacking, then intel’s numbers were way off.

“Good for them,” the PM’s statement was full of bitterness, so he closed his eyes and composed himself. “What’s the worst case scenario here?” he wanted to know that before he looked at more optimistic outcomes.

“Worst case is that we lose all these systems, all our military assets in them, and they defect to the Kingdom. With our own technological upgrades coming in we would be able to mount a counterattack to retake them in twelve to fifteen months.” The ADM didn’t sugar coat it.

“We do think that is unlikely,” the High Admiral jumped in. “Sonya’s own assets have reported that we’re only seeing troop deployment by the Windsor’s on a handful of planets. The QE beacons provided by Gold Technologies are staying on station as long as possible, but their signature is hard to hide. They weren’t built for stealth or maneuverability and are being systematically destroyed. We’re going to need to get more clandestine eyes and ears in the system.”

The PM knew where the High Admiral was going with this. This was exactly what the project he’d been working on was designed for.  “Ok, deploy the twenty teams to targets of your choosing.”

“We have nineteen currently deployable, Sir. One is providing security with the delegation.” The High Admiral corrected, but the PM waved off the small change. “We can have them in position within two days to give us more detailed updates, and then we’ll be able to make plans. I’ll put all military forces on high alert in the meantime.”

“Do it.” Ezekiel rubbed his eyes. “Admiral Berg, I need as much intel as humanly possible. We need to know what the Windsor’s goal for all of this was. Was it just a massed attack to tell us to back off, or are they after something more?”

“Yes, Sir.” The ADM nodded.

“Connie, we need to call an emergency session of the Council. Admiral Simmons, as the opposition leader I think we should draft a joint address. The people of the Commonwealth are going to be looking for unity at this time of great peril.”

The retired admiral turned politician nodded. The PM knew, deep down, she would do what was best for the Commonwealth. They just disagreed what that was from policy perspectives, but in this they were united. He wasn’t naïve enough to think two weeks from now her press office would be drafting statements about his failure to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth, but that was a problem for two weeks from now. At this moment, politics had to take a back seat to reality.

“We’ve got a lot of work people. Let’s get to it.” He nodded at the gathered officials and turned to Connie. “Cancel my appearances. We aren’t leaving here until we have this under control and there is good news to tell the press.” He had no idea it would be three full days until he left that CEOC, and even then it was to address the Council, not because there was anything good to share.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 231

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings

“Holy Shiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” Coop screamed as he reached the hatch, pushed the grav-sled through, and stepped on nothing but air.

Like any rational being, Coop expected the space port they’d just arrived at to be a physical structure of some sort. Instead, everything around him seemed to be made up of white stuff somewhere in the consistency of clouds. The grav-sled hadn’t registered a difference, but Coop sure as shit did when he stepped out, realized there was nothing beneath his feet, let go of the grav-sled, and then started to plummet to death. His arms wind milled out of instinct, but he knew it wouldn’t do anything. There was nothing between him and oblivion except a thin layer of this cloud stuff that…

Coop didn’t get to finish what thoughts were going through his head because the second his body made contact with the white cloud stuff it hardened. Instead of screaming all the way to his demise, Coop had the breath knocked out of him as he landed chest-first on whatever the hell this stuff was.

<Owww,> Coop’s forehead ended up bouncing off the surface, which left his ears ringing and stars in his vision.

“You’ve got to be shitting me.” The GYSGT was close by, and Coop imagined the woman face palming in embarrassment.

Coop felt his cheeks heat with embarrassment, so he continued to look down for a moment. What he saw was weird shit. If he lifted his head off the ground, if you could even call whatever he was laying on ground, it dissolved back into its wispy, white, cloud-like makeup. However, the moment Coop lowered his nose to touch it, it hardened back up.

When the cloud stuff hardened it looked more like marble than clouds. It was still a white, but veins of gold spread through it. If Coop hadn’t thought he was falling to his death twenty seconds ago, he would have thought it was pretty cool.

“On your feet, Sergeant. We’ve got company.” The SGM was already halfway back into his V4 along with the rest of the SRRT.

Coop scrambled to his feet and started getting his LACS ready. The diplomats were huddled together behind the makeshift perimeter the SRRT had established. Most were looking at the ground as well, and making scientific guesses as to what it was. The most common idea Coop heard was something to do with nanites.

All of the talking stopped when two things emerged from the other side of the area Argo had landed in. A wall of the white stuff seemed to simply dissolve and allowed two beings to enter. Coop was busy squeezing into his LACS, but he got a good look at the two things before he vanished into the darkness of his suit. A few seconds later, the V4 started to boot up, and he had visuals on the ETs again. This time he was getting a lot more data too.

Their greeters were easily five meters tall. They dwarfed even Mike in his LACS, but they didn’t look like anything Coop had ever seen. The closest equivalent he could come up with was a giant jellyfish exterior that contained a thunderstorm. It didn’t do it justice, and from Coop’s limited understanding of biology he wasn’t sure how it was possible, but that’s what it looked like.

His LACS’ sensors were giving him more data. The exterior “skin” of the ET was a proto-plasma a few centimeters thick. Inside that was a swirling mass of black and dark gray that the V4’s neural net was having a hard time identifying. If Coop zoomed in closely, it looked like something was writhing in the vaporous black-gray thundercloud at the heart of the creature, but…

“Shit!” Coop involuntarily stepped back as a fork of blue-white lightening stabbed outward from the creature’s central cloud. The protoplasm parted and gave way to the energy before it hit the creature’s shielding. The spot flared bright blue for a second before the lightening exhausted itself, and the roiling cloud returned to normal.

In Coop’s vision, not his LACS’ HUD, but his vision by way of his IOR, a message appeared.

{Welcome human delegation. We are pleased to have you as our honored guests. Please follow us.}

“Short, sweet, and to the point,” Coop commented, as the five-meter tall ET’s made a small U-turn and headed back the way they’d come. “Now what do we do?”

“I’m receiving a data dump,” the Minister of Commerce stated with barely contained excitement on her face. “Whatever technology they’re using it easily connects with our PADs.”

The ETs were still moving away, but Coop wasn’t going to follow without orders. This place was weird. A floor that wasn’t a floor and then giant jellyfish that threw lightening…it was better if he didn’t draw any attention to himself.

“They are called Stormbreakers,” the Minister informed. “They co-founded this planet with another species over a thousand years ago, and are one of the eight prime species of the Hegemony.”

{Well, that prime species is about to leave us in the dust,} Coop kept his thoughts to himself, but he sent the message to Eve.

“Ma’am.” The SGM inclined his head toward the backs, which weren’t any different than the fronts, of their retreating hosts.

“Go ahead,” LCDR Gold stuck his head out of the hatch. “Petty Officer Aiko and I will secure Argo and meet you once everything is settled.”

“Good thinking, Commander, we’ll contact you.” The Minister and her staff were already on the move.

Coop lengthened his stride to catch up, and take his forward position. Bravo team had taken up a box formation around the delegation. Alpha pushed out another ten meters and was in a diamond formation. The SRRT team had overlapping fields of fire and could quickly get their bulk between incoming rounds and the delegation. Coop was the right side of the diamond while Eve was on point for everyone. Despite being in a hangar that looked a little like a holo-show’s version of heaven, she was keeping her head on a swivel and her weapon at the ready.

<Not sure what good it’ll do.> Coop had seen that their tour guides had shielding, and he was willing to bet it was a hell of a lot better than theirs.

Still, he did his job and kept an eye out for any threats. Eve reached the door first, and just like for the Stormbreakers, it dissolved in front of her and revealed a hallway.

<What the hell is it with these people?> Coop stopped suddenly as he looked at the hallway. The floor was the same white stuff, but it totally lacked sides and a ceiling. That was curious since his sensors were reading another enclosed space.

{Everything good, Cooper?”}The GYSGT’s question popped into his vision.

{Yeah,} Coop replied as he stepped forward. Eve was already walking confidently down the hallway, but he just had to see what was going on.

Coop stepped into the hallway where the ground solidified with those same golden veins. He reached out to where nothing seemed to be until his hand made contact with something. The whole section of shielding that the Stormbreakers had worked into the architecture of the space port flashed blue.

<Cool.> Coop leaned over and looked down toward the planet. <Well that’s not very golden.> They were at least a few thousand kilometers from the surface, but he still got a pretty good look at the city below him. Sure the building design was weird, but it appeared traffic was universal, and air-vehicles were backed up leading in every conceivable direction.

{Keep moving, Cooper.} The GYSGT was only a few meters back and Eve was way out in front.

Coop took his eyes off the city below and moved forward quickly. He was almost back in position when a glint caught his eye. He looked up, and stopped walking. They weren’t above The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude. They were below it.

Stretching as far as Coop could see in both directions was a solid mass of gold. Not the vapor-floors that they were walking on now. It looked like all the gold in the universe had been mined, transported here, and molded into a city that floated up among the clouds.

<Now this is what I expected from an advanced alien civilization.> Activity in the golden city was off the charts. Coop only just watched for a few seconds at the tens of thousands of vehicles moving around like busy bees above them.

Aware that he’d stayed in one place too long he kept on walking, only to stop again when the rest of the diplomats caught sight of the jaw-dropping place above them.

“It can’t be real gold.” Coop overheard on of the diplomats. “There is no way twenty-four carat gold could survive long term at this elevation. This has to be some hybrid building material.”

The man’s comment ruined the experience a little, but Coop was sure there was still plenty to see in this place. After all, they were in the equivalent of the parking garage. They were here to participate in high-level discussions, so he couldn’t wait to see what the view from the penthouse was.

 

***

 

Duchess Josephina Barrow

Location: Harper’s Junction, Former United Commonwealth of Colonies, Currently held by the Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

Josephina stood on the steps of the planetary capitol building. Two lines of red-armored soldiers kept a crowd of tens of thousands at bay along the main boulevard. She’d just completed a speech, recorded and sent to the Commonwealth government on New Washington, but meant for the people of Harper’s Junction.

She’d done her research on the planet when it was assigned as House Barrow’s part of Operation Grand Sweep. She knew resentment was high on the planet. They didn’t like the way the Commonwealth did business, and they didn’t allow the military in their space for that reason. Thus, when the battle began, she ordered Ides of March to keep the damage to a minimum. Instead of destroying Harper’s Junction’s small navy, they’d merely crippled them. Loss of life had still been significant, but that was the cost of admission in naval battles.

The understrength battalion on the ground had been a tougher nut to crack. With time to dig in and set booby-traps and ambushes, almost two dozen of House Barrow’s lancers had lost their lives before the battalion was forced to surrender. Whatever the Commonwealth’s fledgling trading agreements with the Hegemony, it hadn’t trickled down to Harper’s Junction. The battalion’s armaments were now obsolete, and they only had the success they did by massing fire on single targets in exchange for massive losses of their own. Josephina had to give the Major commanding the Commonwealth forces credit where it was due. He fought bravely until the end.

Now her House’s forces were in control, but she still faced the indisputable fact of interplanetary warfare. There was no way she had enough troops to control the entire planet. Ides of March and her House’s other ships were in orbit to provide fire support, but she only had enough troops to provide a small presence in the major cities. What she needed to do was win the hearts and minds of the people. She didn’t need them to fight for her, just not fight against her when the Commonwealth counterattack eventually came. She’d decided to do that the old-fashioned way.

She brought her sword up high and swiftly chopped downward. The nano-blade’s molecular edge cut through the man’s neck like it was made of tissue paper. Blood spurted from the stump of the former planetary governor’s neck, while she kicked the head down the steps of capitol building. There was silence for a moment before the crowd started to cheer.

The former governor was unpopular with the regular man and woman on the street. He was thought to be in the pockets of the corporation and the bureaucrats back on New Washington. He absolutely was, and Josephina ending his life might bring her a little more credibility in the eyes of the population.

As the stench of shit from the governor’s voided bowels wafted through the air, she ordered the people to return to their homes. They would be allowed to live as they always did, just with new leadership. Behind her, the Commonwealth flag was lowered and replaced by the Kingdom of Windsor’s flag, and below that, the crest of House Barrow.

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Bonus Chapter – Two Worlds – Chapter 230

Benjamin Gold

Location: Interdimensional Space

“This is it, people. Look alive.” Ben took a deep breath along with the rest of Argo’s bridge occupants.

Aiko was at the helm with a three hundred and sixty degree dome of navigational information flashing around her. Jacobi was on the communications station, which she’d qualified at during the transit. If their exit went terribly wrong, if this was a trap, or anything other than a perfect transition occurred, it was her job to send a QE burst back to New Washington. The Commonwealth capitol was more than ten thousand lights years away. Argo was the first human space craft to sail farther than three thousand light years from Earth, and it would likely be the only to pass the five and ten thousand mark for quite a while. They were only able to do it because of the QE beacon they were honing in on, and as far as Ben knew, the Hegemony hadn’t provided any other beacon codes. He knew they would come with time as trade and diplomacy spread. The Intergalactic relations doctor in him was extremely excited for the upcoming decades.

“Helm?” Ben knew requesting constant updates showed his nervousness, but he couldn’t help himself. They were about to emerge blindly into a solar system belonging to a race that was probably settling other worlds when humans were first learning about fire.

“Transition in three minutes, Sir.” The PO3 couldn’t quite keep the bite out of her voice.

“SRRT is locked and loaded if we run into any trouble.” Jacobi was in scales instead of her V4. Since the V4 wouldn’t fit on the bridge  she didn’t have much of a choice.

A few of the higher-ranking diplomats looked wide-eyed at Jacobi’s statement, but the Minister of Commerce waved them down. So far, she’d been an professional and courteous woman. She’d even admonished one her own staff for the small fight that had broken out during the early part of their transit. That told Ben a lot about her since most senior civilian civil servants tended to look down on the military unless they had multiple golden stripes on their CMUs. The offended, and bruised, diplomat wanted his pound of flesh and the Minister had told him diplomatically to shove it.

<Well it looks like they picked the right negotiator.> Ben had thought back then, and hoped her tact would translate into positive conversations with aliens. Of course, this was all predicated on them thinking like humans, which was never a good assumption to make.

“Commander Gold, I’m getting weird…” Amber, the ship’s new AI began before going silent.

“Shit, skipper…” Aiko swiped data over to the command holo-tank in front of him so he could see what she was seeing.

The data streaming across the screen didn’t make sense. Beyond that, it wasn’t possible. It was essentially a proximity alert in the interdimensional space used for portaling. There was no consensus on what to call this space, but things like warp space, hyperspace,  ID-Space,  and the portal zone were some of the frontrunners.

“What’s happening, Commander?” The Minister had her usual neutral expression plastered on her face, but the slight widening of her eyes showed Ben she was wondering if they were going to get to negotiate at all.

“I…” Ben started.

“Neural handshake established,” Amber interrupted and new data began to scroll across his screen.

Ben read it and breathed a tentative sigh of relief. There were two new contracts on his holo-tank that were showing a friendly green now. They were small crafts, fighters if he had to wager a guess, and they’d taken up flanking positions about five hundred meters on either side of Argo. Amber was identifying them as agents of the Hegemony’s equivalent of the Diplomatic Security Service. Their mission was to ensure the human diplomats got to the conference safely. They’d uploaded course headings for when they reached their exit portal and would accompany them until they touched down.

Ben’s relief was only momentary until his strategic mind kicked in. Not only were the Hegemony fighters able to contact them while portaling in interdimensional space, but they were able to locate them, and if someone could find and see you then they could just as easily shoot you.

<Carol and Bob left out that point when they sold us on portaling technology.> Ben wondered if the Hegemony would be able to interdict human ships that traveled in an Alcubierre Bubble, and made a mental note to discuss it with people a lot smarter than him.

The Minister, Jacobi, and Aiko were clearly just as shaken as Ben, but they kept their cool for several minutes until the static-look of interdimensional space receded to normal space.

“Oh my God.” Ben wasn’t particularly religious, but his holo-tank lit up like a Christmas tree on crack. “Amber, how many contacts am I looking at?”

“I am reading three hundred and fifty-nine thousand two hundred and three friendly contacts within our one minute light bubble.” The AI replied calmly.

Argo’s silicon brain might be taking it in stride, but Ben was dealing with information overload as more ships than he’d ever seen in the entire Solar System were suddenly within one light minute of his ship.

<And some of them are…> Ben kept his mouth from dropping when a few registered in the hundred-million ton range. He seriously hoped those were cargo ships or else any military engagement with the Hegemony would be short and not so sweet for humanity.

Through all of the traffic, Aiko followed the course provided by the fighters that exited the portal right beside them. They helped form a bubble around Argo as the gunboat continued into the heart of the system. Ben expected the traffic to be worse around the portaling points and get better the closer they got to their destination. He was right, but not by much. By the time they reached The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Ben had counted over a million vessels traversing the system.

Ben doubted the Commonwealth had that many ships at all…and then there was the city itself. <What have we gotten ourselves into?> he wondered as they pulled into the most weirdly-lavished, over-the-top dockyard Ben would ever see.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings

 

{Stand down.} The command came over their IORs. All communication that wasn’t done in-person was to be done over the IORs. The techies weren’t confident TACCOM and STRATENET would keep the more-advanced Hegemony out of their coms chatter, so they wanted to use the only Hegemony-level tech the SRRT was equipped with.

Coop was sure the people making the suggestion didn’t know how firmly their heads were shoved up their asses. If they just listened, he could have told them from firsthand experience that the Hegemony could crack their TACCOM and STRATNET encryption. Also, he didn’t think it made sense for them to rely on IORs solely either. After all, it was Hegemony tech and if someone knew of a way to get around it then it would be the Hegemony.

He felt gravitas was lent to his opinion when Argo went on high alert while still portaling to their destination. If the Hegemony could locate and interact with a ship in whatever quasi-space this was then they sure as shit could get hack into someone’s IOR. The only question was if the recipient would know what was happening.

All of this made Coop feel extra warm and fuzzy that they shot a little poop nugget into his bloodstream and put him in a coma so it could fester in his brain like a little parasite. <Another great life choice, Cooper,> he admonished himself.

When the command came down from the LT, who’d only just recently undergone the IOR procedure, the SRRT didn’t relax. They were in an alien star system, over ten thousand lightyears from home, and surrounded by threats they could identify, or even quantify. Some of the diplomats waiting in the bay were excited about reports of high-level traffic in the system. They were talking mostly about the trade implications, but Coop didn’t see it that way.

<People who have lots of shit tend to have lots of guns to protect their shit.> From the rumblings he was hearing there was a whole lot of shit in this system.

“Ok, listen up.” The SGM cut off his thoughts. “Everyone knows their jobs: Bravo close, Alpha far, stay buttoned up at all times, and call out if anything jumps out as suspicious. We’re forty-five minutes out. The ET’s have their own security accompanying us, but we’re in charge of our people. Understood?”

“Yes, Sergeant Major.”

“Good. Let’s make a good impression on our alien hosts, and maybe we’ll be invited back.” The SGM wasn’t looking for laughter and he didn’t get any.

There was only one problem. <We can’t stay buttoned up since we can’t get out of this tin can in the V4s, so we’re going to look like incompetent morons when we have to lift the suits out and armor up in front of whoever is waiting for us.>

He felt Argo settle into its final destination just as he finished disembarking his LACS.

“One small step for mankind and all that stuff,” Eve stated as she started pushing her grav-sled toward the hatch.

Coop shrugged and grinned. “Yeah, let’s try not to fall on our collective face.”

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Two Worlds – Chapter 229

Duchess Josephina Barrow

Location: Space

 

Josephina stood on the flag bridge of the Ides of March, the pride and joy of House Barrow’s growing fleet. This was the battlecruiser’s maiden voyage, and if successful, an important turning point in the legacy of her house.

<I made it happen.> The Duchess didn’t smile though. <But it could have been better.>

Josephina was not in command. She was not a spacer. She was a spy, so she left the naval engagement to the professionals.  When Lord Admiral Kenton devised the battle plan for Operation Grand Sweep, she understood the larger aspects of the plan. She knew it was necessary for the Royal Navy to engage the more dangerous targets, while larger Houses, like the Jaeger’s, could handle riskier operations. With only a handful of ships to her House’s name, Josephina’s wants were secondary to the needs of the mission. Still, her influence with the Queen helped. House Barrow had been slated to attack some backwater nowhere. Now at least it had a proper target.

“We will reach the system proper in two hours,” the ship’s captain stated before Josephina could even ask the question.

This time the Duchess did smile and nod at the grizzled old man. The captain had decades in the royal navy before retiring and coming back to his ancestral home in Rose Bay. Once there, Josephina snatched him up to command the House’s flagship. Patriotic and feudal duty, along with a generous salary, swayed the man’s decision; and made Josephina confident she’d made a good choice.

The crew of Ides of March was young. The average officer was forty, and spacers twenty. Since House fleets tended to be staffed primarily with personnel exiting the Royal Fleet after completing their tour of duty, the current arrangement was something new.

That didn’t mean Josephina didn’t know why it was happening. <This is the first collective war for the Kingdom since its inception.> The young and the old alike wanted to get in on the action. The new technology, coupled with the Queen’s proclamation, and the system-wide buildup meant there was plenty of room for the commoners to make their mark on history. It was hard to resist that pull, which was why a High Nobility Duchess was sitting on the flag bridge of a battlecruiser instead of her office back in Windsor City.

What she’d intellectually known about space travel, and what she’d expected were the same, but that didn’t make the two hours any less boring. The force of House Barrow warships had exited the interdimensional space used for portaling well outside the system limit of the Commonwealth system of Harper’s Junction. She expected to find a blocking force in place, since their scouts had been seen looking over the system’s viability, but as the force proceeded farther in-system it found little opposition.

The captain proceeded cautiously nonetheless. He didn’t want to walk into a trap, especially when the only opposition seemed to be a trio of obsolete destroyers that hadn’t even noticed the invading force yet. It was only when the communication’s section lit up with an incoming message that Commonwealth forces seemed to notice the danger bearing down on them.

“QE for you, Your Grace.” The signalman working the station bowed as he approached with a piece of polyplast.

“Thank you.” Josephina took it and read the short message. Then she read it three more times to make sure there wasn’t any subtext she was missing. Her experience in espionage kept her features neutral, but inside her mind was churning a kilometer a minute.

The message was brief and to the point. Her agents in the Commonwealth capitol had discovered the alien audit was completed. The Commonwealth’s standing in the Hegemony had been established, and a delegation was heading to a conference that began in less than a week.

Josephina did the math to figure out when everything occurred. The message had to travel through regular communication channels out of Commonwealth space because a QE burst on the planet would have drawn a lot of attention. As the technology spread with the influx of alien technology that was coming their way, that limitation would be eliminated. Still, it had taken several weeks for the information to get back to Windsor, and then seconds to be transmitted to Ides of March.

<We’re living in a changing galaxy.> She felt excited at the prospect, especially because she planned for her kingdom to have a paramount place in that new galactic order.

The second part of the message was just as important as the first. Since the primary focus of the Royal Navy and House Fleets was to disrupt commerce and delay the audit, that objective was now obsolete. The message delegated responsibility for decision making to the individual force commanders. In this case, that meant Josephina.

From an intelligence gathering standpoint it was going to confuse the crap out of the Commonwealth. Not every system they were attacking was going to be caught with their pants down, so when weaker Houses decided to spare their naval assets and pull out before attacking, the Commonwealth was going to be second guessing themselves as to motives. Josephina didn’t envy her Commonwealth counterpart on trying to decipher what the Kingdom was up to.

Josephina, by her epigenetic makeup, was a competitor, and she would very much like to meet Admiral Sonya Berg at some point. She had respect for the woman, but also saw her counterpart’s limitations. Intelligence at the head of a large bureaucratic machine was difficult. Josephina’s own department was leaner, meaner, and able to maneuver in ways the Admiral’s couldn’t. The Commonwealth might be the cat, and the Kingdom the mouse, but the cat was fat and lazy due to centuries of complacency. In addition, people tended to forget how vicious a mouse could be when backed into a corner.

Josephina put the thought aside as her force continued into Harper’s Junction. The three opposing destroyers were accelerating to meet them in a foolish attempt to intimidate, bluff, or perhaps encourage House Barrow’s forces to commit before an ambush was sprung. The spy master could continue to second guess herself, but she shrugged it off and left it to the ship’s captain. Ides of March, along with the cruisers HMS Grassy Knoll and Mullaghmore would do the fighting. The battlecruiser was built with the new alien technology while the two cruisers were refitted with it. The four destroyers that accompanied them had not been upgraded, but they were more than a match for a Commonwealth ship of the same class. The Commonwealth built for quantity while the Kingdom focused on quality. Quantity might be a quality all its own, but in this situation it didn’t matter.

It was a sizeable chunk of House Barrow’s naval strength, but it was worth it. Josephina would have rather had the prestige of going after a more industrial and populated world, but she’d been overruled. After some thought, she saw the potential advantages of the current mission.

First, Harper’s Junction was a dead end to the casual observer, although more up-to-date mapping had one barely-explored route heading into the Kingdom’s expanding sphere of influence. That gave it potential. Second, the Commonwealth garrison was understrength, and its nearest backup was nearly a hundred light years away. The system didn’t have a launcher, because it wasn’t a transportation hub, so it was sixteen light years to the nearest launcher. Even if a QE burst went out for assistance, and a quick reaction force was on the way right now it would take eight hours to get to the nearby launcher and another sixteen to enter the system. Meanwhile, a full day was more than enough time for Josephina’s forces to sweep aside the opposing destroyers and land the three thousand five hundred lancers she’d brought with her. They would easily be able to overwhelm the local garrison and take control of the three major cities on the planet. In reality they had two or three days to get the job done before the enemy reinforcements arrived.

Unlike most targets of Operation Grand Sweep, Harper’s Junction was one the Crown wanted to hold on to. As the conquerors, the planet would be House Barrow’s to administer. So, even though Josephina was getting a planet a little out in the middle of nowhere, she was still one of the few trying to grab and hold territory for her kingdom, which was why she had enough firepower to repel a smaller counterattack until a sizable contingent from the Royal Fleet arrived. When it did, they would be able to solidify their hold on the system, and pacify the local population. Then the real work would begin.

“Your Grace?” The captain was looking to her for orders. As was the rest of the crew.

She read absolute confidence on their young faces. Overconfidence could be dangerous. The Kingdom had only been able to get this far because the Commonwealth underestimated them while they built up their strength. Now, Grand Sweep was going to show the galaxy what the Kingdom was capable of, so she could forgive the younglings’ youthful naivety for the time being. They’d be spilling blood for the first time in the next few hours, and that tended to be a solid reality check.

“Proceed as planned, Captain. Give me this system.”

The old man’s smile made him look positively intimidating. “Of course, Your Grace.” The statement was followed by a slew of orders and the blare of the battlestation’s claxon.

Josephina ignored it all and took her seat. Her harness automatically snaked around her to secure her in place. She’d done her job. Now all she needed to do was sit back and watch the show.

<I wonder how the rest of the operation is going.>

 

***

 

Able Spacer Jimmy Tavares had a five-year plan. He’d join the Queensland Navy and serve his system. As far as military service went, there wasn’t a safer spot in the galaxy. Queensland and the greater Oceanic Alliance were on good terms with just about everyone. Even the Blockies left them alone. Not only that, but Queensland’s moderate navy wasn’t alone. A large chunk of a full Commonwealth Fleet was anchored in the system, so no one would seriously want to stick their nose into a potential hornet’s nest.

Jimmy wanted to get all the training he could out of the Navy, and their Commonwealth counterparts, while saving a bit of cash for his future. Carla was way too good for him, he already knew that, and he had no idea why she was staying with him. Through the months-long cruises out in space, missed holidays and special occasions, Carla had stayed by his side. He’d used three month’s pay to buy a ring, which he kept in the pocket of his khaki uniform pants at all times. He wasn’t about to let it out of his sights, especially since he was so close to asking her to marry him.

That’s what he was thinking about when he woke up, now he was just hoping he’d live through the next five minutes. The CIC of OAS Echidna was filled with smoke and fire and the fire-suppression systems weren’t engaging. Echidna was one of Queensland’s many destroyers, but a look at the flickering holo-tank would show it was one of the few left in the fight.

<And it isn’t even the main fight,> the errant thought crossed Jimmy’s mind as he ran diagnostics on the helm and fought to regain control. Echidna had taken a brutal pounding in the last broadside and had started to spin uncontrollably on its axis. The spin had caused them to drift out of the formation of Commonwealth and Queensland cruisers and destroyers that were making a run at the enemy fleet’s flank. Their mission was to try for deadly down-the-throat shots on the enemy capitol ships, force the enemy to reposition, and then run like hell if they were engaged by the slower more powerful ships.  They’d been met by a force of enemy destroyers a quarter their size, and was still kicking their ass.

“Anything, Tavaras?” The side of the XO’s face was so puffy she couldn’t open her eye, and blood was slowly dripping down her own uniform.

Jimmy only had eyes for his future fiancé, but he had to admit the XO was a looker. That was before it looked like she went five rounds with a heavyweight boxer.

“I’ve got fluctuations, Ma’am, but steering is still out. Something is cut somewhere and the transfer didn’t complete.” Jimmy wasn’t getting much from the diagnostics passed a certain point, which experience told him was a severed line.

“Get damage control on it.” The XO’s voice was full of frustration, and he didn’t blame her.

The bridge had been taken out in the last broadside along with the skipper and the more experienced crewmembers. Control was automatically shifted to the CIC, and systems were supposed to automatically transfer, but too much had been broken between Point A and Point B.

Jimmy sent the request to the overwhelmed damage control teams, and despite being top priority he was given and estimated time of completion of ten minutes. That was far too long, and they were still waiting for the crew to even get to the issue when the next broadside hit.

Echidna was far enough away from the main body that she wasn’t explicitly targeted. You didn’t waste missiles on something that wasn’t firing back. Unfortunately, she’d also drifted far enough out of formation that the combined point defense didn’t offer full coverage. A missile meant for a cruiser was diverted by EW measures and locked onto the next thing it saw: Echidna.

Jimmy Tavares’ last thought was him slipping the ring onto Carla’s finger before the destroyer’s rector lost containment and the remainder of the crew was swallowed by fire and fury.

 

***

 

Gracie Mills would never forget the day it happened. She was sitting in homeroom, minding her own business, when Chip Givens stole her coloring PAD. Her mom had told her that Chip did it because he liked her and didn’t know how to express it, but Gracie didn’t believe that. Chip was just a butthead.

He was several centimeters taller than Gracie, and while the teacher was distracted, he held the book high over his head and taunted her. He called her small, even though she was of average height, but to Chip everyone was small. She told him to give it back, he told her to make him, and finally Gracie was so fed up she screamed.

Even though she knew it was impossible, the CRACK that echoed through the city was not caused by her screaming at Chip Given to give back her coloring PAD. The siren that followed was something that had been drilled into every resident of the domed city since they were old enough to listen. Because of that, the class was calm and orderly as they walked to their cubbies and retrieved their breathing apparatuses.

The device stuck to the top of their heads before unfurling into a skin-tight, fiber helmet with a translucent face plate and corresponding oxygen link. The teacher calmly handed out the oxygen canisters that held enough air for twelve hours. Then, she huddled the class together and sat patiently until they were given instructions. A dome breach on Sacs Prime was a worst-case scenario, but there were contingencies in place.

Those contingencies went out the window when guns started going off. The calm six year olds quickly dissolved into panic, and the teacher struggled to regain control. Announcements went out of the intercom system, but Gracie never heard them. All she heard was the BOOMs of explosions getting closer and closer. They all seemed to blend together until it was suddenly quiet.

Then the metal men came. They were so tall they had to crouch in the hallway. Gracie liked the red color of their metal. It wasn’t too bright like fire trucks. The metal men didn’t say much, but they escorted the whole school out of the building and into waiting hover-trucks. There were lots of other metal men looking around, and there was lots of smoke filling the dome. Gracie looked up and could see the holes that were letting the toxic atmosphere in. Her dad worked for the ecological department that maintained the habitat the employees of Sacs Fifth Avenue Corporation lived in. She guessed he wouldn’t be home for dinner.

The hover-trucks drove them to the spaceport on the edge of town and put them all in the cargo bay of a big ship. Gracie had never been in a ship so big, and it was all full of people. She found mommy and daddy once the ship took off and that helped, but the look on her parents’ faces wasn’t reassuring. She was old enough to tell when they were worried, and they both looked very worried when they looked at the metal men.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 228

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Argo had changed. Coop recognized that the minute they got on board. He didn’t have too much time to explore right away because they had to lug all of their gear onto the gunboat, and whoever had assigned this mission wanted the SRRT to have everything at their disposal. Getting the weapons, now-obsolete coms, and little gadgets designed just for the team’s special mission needs was easy, but the V4’s were not designed to fit in the ship. It was the first design flaw, and from Coop’s perspective a major oversight. The LCDR ended up getting involved and the brass had to come down and take a look.

“Well shit,” the industrial titan deadpanned. “You think you’ve thought of everything and then you realize you’ve missed something big.” He shook his head, but couldn’t stop from chuckling. “We can’t fix it now, but we’ll do a refit when you return from this mission. What we need is a way to get the LACS on the ship. Any suggestions?”

“Yeah, have someone from the Infantry present in your design sessions next time.” Coop muttered to Mike. Who simply nodded his agreement.

Coop’s big friend was out of the hospital and back on the team. Coop didn’t think he was one hundred percent yet, maybe eighty-five percent, but the big guy still wasn’t back to normal. Coop noticed Mike would jump a little if he didn’t know you were there and started talking to him. Coop hoped the big guy’s situational awareness improved because that was key in combat.

Coop knew this was his friend’s first time being wounded in combat. He’d done several operations back with the 2222nd, and in RADM Nelson’s strike force that successfully pushed back the Blockies before being forced to withdraw by the Windsor’s. He’d even made it through the terrorist attack and follow-up operations without a scratch, while Coop got part of his arm melted off by flaming chaff. Mike needed to know that getting injured was part of the lifestyle he was living, but the other half of that coin was top-of-the-line healthcare. Coop could attest to that. He had a brand new leg, and his arm looked fine aside from the growing hair trying to catch up with the rest of him. Coop made a mental note to talk to his friend about his experiences.

In the end, it was the ground pounders that came up with the simple solution to turn the LACS horizontal and load them that way. It worked, but at a cost. The grav-lifts that were designed to move the suits couldn’t maintain their fields when half the suit was in the ship and half wasn’t. That mean that not only was it the infantry who came up with the simple solution, but it was the grunts that got to physically lift the suits into the ship and onto the waiting grav-sleds. Combined with their own size and bulk, it meant only two could make the lift at a time. Since Coop permanently seemed to be on someone’s shit list he got to do it.

He quickly found out that running around in a LACS and being forced to lift it with just his arms and shoulders was completely different. By the time they’d got the team’s suits onboard his CMUs were drenched in sweat, but he still had a long time to go before he could hit the head.

The first big change Coop noticed about Argo was that engineering was bigger now. Coop imagined it took up ten percent more space than before, and instead of a normal hatch, a high-security door blocked their path. If the ship took a hit from a missile this door looked like it would survive. To make matters even more frustrating only the navy crew had access to the engineering space. Since Coop wasn’t going to dig his grave any deeper with Aiko, he resigned himself to never getting to see the new gear back there.

The next part, which was unexpected and unwanted, were the changes to grunt country. Argo’s space for her infantry component was now an open squad bay format. The V4 LACS were back in the armory, which was thankfully bigger to accommodate them, but there was still the issue of their height. The new suits were several centimeters too big, so they had to fold the neck and head area down at a ninety-degree angle to get them in the charger. They looked like slumbering, metal giants who were going to wake up with a serious crick in their necks.

“We’re going to be stuffed soup to nuts in here,” the GYSGT commented at the more-than-normal number of cots. At least twenty people would be sleeping back here.

Coop’s face brightened up, and he opened his mouth at the perfect setup, but Eve beat him to it. “If you say anything about your nuts being near peoples’ faces I’m going to cut them off.”

“You’ve been telling me that since I met you and they’re still here,” Coop grabbed his cojones and the team laughed. They laughed even harder when Eve’s hands blurred to produce her combat knife, which she then mimed slicing off Coop’s dick. It was a good way to embrace the suck that the cramped quarters was going to produce, but just to be safe, Coop made sure his bed kept his junk away from Eve.

The other section of grunt country was the VR simulator, which was the same size. That surprised Coop, because he believed with the reduced crew compliment that the gunboat would put more effort into the needs of the SRRT. After all, the ship’s mission was to ferry them around. From what he could tell, weapons systems hadn’t changed from what he remembered, so where was the extra space. He took a stroll into navy country and saw that their stuff was cut down too. There used to be state rooms for the skipper, XO, NCOIC, and the infantry detachment commander. Now, Coop just saw two rooms with LCDR and LT Wentworth’s names on them. The space occupied by the former two rooms, and a considerable more amount of space, comprised another compartment with another high-security door. At that door, a big man in a Gold Technologies security uniform stood guard. He had a sidearm at his side and didn’t look like he was going to budge for anyone.

<What the fuck?> Coop didn’t test the man, but made a note to tell the SGM. <This is a navy boat. If anyone needs to guard shit it’s supposed to be us not some Corpie.>

When all was said and done, Coop didn’t like the changes he saw. There were too many places the majority of the crew couldn’t go, it wasn’t set up for the new combat suits despite months in the top-secret facility for refit, and their first mission was a sensitive diplomatic one where the people who were supposed to be sensitive and diplomatic would be treated like sardines for the length of transit.

No one on board was briefed about the length of their trip until they arrived on Thurgood Station. It had only taken the upgraded gunboat two days to get there, which Coop could get used to. He’d read the star chart and knew that they had an advantageous route to the Rim system, but it was still impressive. He’d been a little nervous to do the whole portaling bit, but it turned out to be no different than traveling by Alcubierre Drive.

Those two days went pretty well…then the second half of their party arrived. Coop and the rest of the SRRT new quarters were cramped. They didn’t like it, but they accepted it. Apparently, cramped to a soldier was equivalent to unacceptable for a civilian. When the Minister’s entourage saw the space they immediately complained to their boss. The Minister’s eyebrows climbed into her hairline when she saw how cramped it was. LCDR Gold had already given up his cabin to her, and LT Wentworth was moved back to the bay as a result.

“Lieutenant Commander,” the Minister’s voice was calm but firm. “This situation is unacceptable. We’re people not cattle. We can’t travel like this. Our voyage is three weeks one way, and we’re going to have serious morale problems.”

Coop was using his better-than-average hearing to eavesdrop on the conversation, and his jaw dropped at the new information. Sure he’d seen the two darts on a star chart back in New Savannah, but there was a difference between seeing the distance and hearing how long it would take to get there; especially since they’d gone from the end of the Core to the Rim in two days.

Coop looked around and saw a similar expression on Eve’s face. They caught each other’s eyes and shared a brief mental conversation that consisted of two words…<Fuck me.> Because despite the Minister’s urgings, there was nothing the LCDR could do. Limited space was limited space, and no matter what way you looked at it you couldn’t change it.

The crew and guests of the Argo set off after a one-day resupply layover at Thurgood Station. Morale wasn’t great to start and they went a total of two days before someone finally snapped.

It was twenty-one hundred and everyone was settling in for another restless night of sleep. Truthfully, the soldiers were sleeping better than the civilians. They had the necessary experience and claimed the good bunks already, plus they were able to naturally sleep through the snores, farts, and general racket of a ship in transit. The civilians were used to comfy, body-conforming, nano-laced beds in quiet homes on New Washington, but they weren’t stupid. They quickly figured out the soldiers had picked the best spots, but they attributed their restless sleep more to that than the soldiers’ increased ability to sleep whenever and wherever possible.

Coop had just put his hands behind his head and was drifting off to the rhythmic hullabaloo of some hydraulic system nearby when it happened.

“Ok, that’s enough!” Coop recognized the voice as one of the senior delegation members. He was an older man, with blue in his eyes, salt and pepper hair, and who obviously thought he was hot shit. Despite that, Coop couldn’t remember the guy’s name for the life of him. “I’ve had it up to here with this bullshit. You! Switch bunks with me.”

Coop didn’t open his eyes and awaited the coming argument. He’d kept a low profile so far and he was determined to keep that up. He was on good terms with Eve, Aiko didn’t glare at him every time they passed in the corridors, and he was on an all-inclusive vacation courtesy of the Commonwealth military to a place referred to as The Golden City. He’d decided to look at the glass as half full.

“Hello! I’m talking to you!” It was the spittle hitting Coop’s face that made him groan and open his eyes. The diplomat was standing over Coop. His face was beat-red and a purple vein was throbbing in his forehead.

“Excuse me?” Coop answered politely.

“You heard me. I’m ordering you to switch with me!”

“Sorry, but no,” Coop replied.

If steam could come out of a person’s ears this diplomat would look like one of those old riverboats Coop saw in period dramas on the holo.

“That’s not a suggestion pri…lie…soldier.” The man’s sputtering made it clear he couldn’t identify the three chevrons of a sergeant on Coop’s CMUs. Internally, Coop wept for the success of this mission. “Do you know what my military-equivalent rank is?” It was a rhetorical question because the man screamed the answer half a second later. “Captain! I am the equivalent of an infantry Captain. They command divisions of a hundred thousand soldiers like you. So get out of the bed and switch with me now!”

Coop tried his best, but he couldn’t stop himself from laughing, which only made the situation ten times worse.

“Get on your fucking feet! NOW!” The man screamed, and Coop though he was going to have a stroke right then and there.

Coop looked around for backup, but the SGM, GYSGT, SSG Hightower, and LT were all at some briefing on the bridge. Eve was there, but she was already asleep, and sleeping right through all of this.

<Thanks for that.> Coop sighed and got to his feet determined to take the high road. He saw Mike watching as he did.

“Respectfully, Sir, you need to return to your bed,” Coop was calm and collected. The diplomat was tall and thin, but Coop easily dwarfed him. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the man.

“No! You need to get out of my face and let me get some sleep in my new bed.” The man punctuated the statement by giving Coop a two-handed shove. Coop didn’t even move, but the man stumbled backward. “I’m warning you kid. I will ruin your life. Your career is going to be over. I will make it my personal mission in life to ensure you can’t get a job selling hot dogs at a hover food truck.”

“Sir, do not put your hands on my person again.” Coop answered respectively, but firmly. “Please return to your bunk and try to get some sleep. It will help this situation.”

Instead the man gave Coop another push which had the same result as the first time. “GET OUT OF MY WAY!” The man had well and truly lost it.

Eve was starting to wake up now, and was immediately alert and assessing the situation.

“This is your second warning, Sir. Do not place your hands on me again.” Coop couldn’t stop from sounding bored at this point, and that seemed to push the diplomat over the edge.

The man cocked back a fist and threw it right at Coop’s face. Blockies on the other side of space saw how much the guy telegraphed his move, and Coop was easily able to dodge it. The man fell forward off balance and over extended, so Coop brought up his knee into the guy’s diaphragm to keep him from falling over. The result was the guy getting the wind knocked out of him, a bruised rib, collapsing to the floor, and being completely humiliated in front of his underlings in the bay.

So naturally he yelled some threats after he was able to catch his breath and went off the fetch mommy to fight his battles for him. Coop didn’t give two shits. The guy was an asshole, he’d instigated this, he threw the first, second, and third punches, so Coop knew the LCDR would have his back. Plus, if this was the diplomat the Commonwealth was sending to negotiate with the aliens then Coop was way more fucked then he would be for whatever charge they would trump up against him.

When he caught Eve’s eye he just shrugged. {I tried.}

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