Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor
“All subjects must report immediately to their assigned shelter . . . All subjects must report immediately to their assigned shelter . . .” the message blared over the city’s emergency systems.
It had been going out for the better part of three hours, but that hadn’t made the madness in the streets any better. On some level, Coop felt sorry for the people of Harper’s Junction. This was the second time in only a handful of months they were being invaded. That sucked.
<But on the other hand…> Coop watched a man and woman plow over an older woman in their rush to the nearest shelter. They didn’t even stop to see if she was ok.
He tried not to think what he’d do in their situation. If he was in their situation he’d still be a Rat back on Earth, which would probably mean it was a free for all to get high, drunk, and fuck until whatever calamity hit them. <At least these people are actually following instructions,> which was a good thing. He had orders to keep civilian casualties as low as possible.
“Listen to that,” Sullivan came up to stand next to him. “Subjects,” he made air quotes with his fingers.
It was a subtle change in the announcement, but it personified a critical difference between the Commonwealth and Windsor’s. To the Windsor’s, people were subjects to be ruled. To the Commonwealth, people were citizens. <Well…> Coop knew well that not all people were citizens. People had to earn their citizenship and the rights to participate in the Commonwealth electoral process, but they still didn’t treat people who hadn’t done their suffrage service as subjects.
“Quit talking and load up,” the SGM was across the room, but he spotted the two SGT’s dawdling with drill-sergeant precision.
Sullivan quickly obeyed, but Coop hesitated. He’d been putting this off as long as possible. GYSGT Cunningham’s V4A –at least it was an A and not a B so there wasn’t a steep learning curve – sat against the wall. He’d spent time integrating with it, and overriding all the captured NCO’s preferences with his own. It felt like he was violating her, and not in a good way. This was her armor. Her second skin. For him to just take it was just…
He shivered as he pushed the emotions aside and started to get in. It was still a bit of a squeeze. The GYSGT was smaller and less bulky than he was in most places, and in other areas there were some big differences. What he really needed to do was get in it and move around a bit so it could conform to his shape. Unfortunately, when someone was on the down low, in a penthouse apartment, on a hostile world they didn’t run around in HI armor.
The armor closed behind him and his IOR linked with the machine. His HUD popped up as he shifted uncomfortably and started to run start-up diagnostics. The crotch area was way too tight. He felt like he was going to get a hernia just by walking. In contrast, the chest area was way too open. He knew from his first few steps he would fall forward a few centimeters until the malleable carbon-tubing weave adjusted. The seesawing motion would only worsen the sensation of having his balls shoved back inside him.
“Coms check,” the SGM said over TACCOM. They had direct line of sight, so they all felt the tight beams coms should be undetectable by the enemy. Their IOR coms were going to stay offline for the time being. “Loosen up, Cooper. Your vitals are spiking.”
“That’s because something is driving a spike into my nuts, Sergeant Major,” Coop was gingerly taking a few steps around their base of operations. He felt the nausea building with each step until things finally started to shift. The chest sucked in to provide a familiar snug fit, while the crotch area conformed to his junk.
“Better?” The SGM was probably shaking his head inside his own suit, but Coop didn’t care. The V4 didn’t have a death hold on his nards anymore. On top of that, all his startup diagnostics came back green.
“Good to go, Sergeant Major, green on everything except battery. Amber on that.” If the battery wasn’t at one hundred percent it was automatically amber instead of green. Since they didn’t have anything but portable solar chargers, charging up the suits was time-intensive. After the fighting the GYSGT had been in, her power had been pretty depleted. It had been charging up over the last few days, but was only sitting at eighty-nine percent right now.
<Hopefully enough to get the job done,> it was all Coop had, so it would have to do.
“Everyone in position?” The SGM’s question went to the resistance captain that had been assigned to them. Coop was glad to see Masha was somewhere else, but the new captain looked like he was cut from the same cloth.
The captain gave a thumbs up. With the remaining SRRT good to go, all they had to do was wait for the cavalry.
<Hurry up and wait,> Coop sighed after an hour and a half had passed. It was a military tale as old as time. The only thing to peak his interest was the cops swinging by to make sure the building was clear. Since the police force was tasked with checking to make sure the whole city had evacuated to the shelters, all they did was run a bioscan with the building’s sensors. They didn’t have the time or manpower to do a visual search. Since the rebels had hacked those sensors weeks ago, the cops came up empty and moved on. As boring as all this was, Coop knew it could turn into pants-shitting terror in no time.
“I’m getting a slew of orders going out over the local net,” the SGM suddenly perked up. “Their cordoning off ground and air space. They’ve got the locals keeping their distance…and…this is it. EXECUTE EXECUTE!”
Coop was taken by surprise, but his body responded. He knew his part in all of this. A few steps behind the SGM, but still ahead of Sullivan, Coop put his LACS into a sprint straight toward the window. The rebels were already making for the stairs, but the SRRT team would take the quick way down. The SGM lowered his shoulder against the shatter-resistance polyplast of the high-rise loft and slammed straight through it. He flipped over in the air to orient himself feet first as he plummeted toward the ground. Coop and Sullivan followed in his wake by simply hopping into the open air.
They needed to fall and they needed to fall quick if they didn’t want to get locked on by the Windsor’s anti-air. It was unlikely the military units preparing for the invasion had their targeting suits aimed inside the city, but their Palace’s surely were. Their target wasn’t too far away, and Coop saw sensors light up the three soldiers like a Christmas tree.
“Stealth on,” the SGM relayed as the polychromatic layer engaged to cut their visual and sensor profile to near nothing.
Coop knew it had worked when no missiles streaked out to meet them, but they had other things to worry about.
“Grav-boots in three…two…one…NOW!”
Coop’s experience with the boots, which acted more like skates, was limited to what they’d done in training, and he sure as shit hadn’t activated them after falling nearly fifty stories after jumping out a window. Despite his own physical prowess, and the integrity of the LACS, a shudder hit his very core as the boots engaged and pulsed against the pull of the planet’s gravity. Unfortunately, pain lanced through him as well.
“AHHH my dick!” Coop’s V4 might had adapted enough for him to move around unencumbered, but the quick drop to a sudden stop was a whole different level.
“Suck it up, Sergeant!” The SGM ordered as he skated the last half-dozen meters down to the ground and cut both the boots and his stealth. Both were a drain on their battery they couldn’t afford in a prolonged fight.
Despite what the NCOIC said, Coop was still dry heaving as he hit the ground a little harder and stumbled. Over a year of practice, and knowing how much fighting in a puke-filled suit sucked, kept him from hurling.
After seeing his vitals jump his med systems inquired if he needed assistance. Since the solution was nanite injection into his shaft and nut sack, he declined. He was here to rescue Eve so he could put his log and berries back to work. He didn’t need needles getting stuck into it and hurting his performance.
“Quarterback had reached Phase Line Kickoff, proceeding to First Down,” the SGM sent to the rebels nearby.
“Roger that, Quarterback. Runningback and Tightends moving into position. Receivers are in motion.” The rebels replied over the TACCOM devices the team had handed out for the op.
“We’ve got sixty seconds. Let’s move!” The SGM charged ahead to reach Phase Line First Down, which was the assembly area for several of the units assigned to assault the Palace. The units had been in place since word of the Commonwealth fleet was coming had arrived. Everyone was hopped up and ready for a fight.
“Cornerbacks will engage in ninety seconds.” New information flooded in as team rounded a corner into a small square just as several vehicles pulled in. Coop noticed one as the vehicle he’d stolen when they ambushed the checkpoint a lifetime ago. He wanted to know how they’d smuggled it into the city – professional courtesy – but he was about to have bigger things on his mind.
Coop and Sullivan were on security as the SGM went to see if there were any last minute updates from the surveillance teams they’d put around the palace. It was a quick conversation, and before Coop was even settled they were moving again.
“First Down. Quarterback moving to Field Goal. All other units, Touchdown!” On cue, the rebel unit’s codenamed Cornerback, opened up on the palace from their overwatch positions. They raked the Windsor units stationed on the palace roof with small arms, rockets, mortars, and even more powerful plasma heavy weapons that they’d taken from the Windsor troops during various ambushes. It was a hell of a lot of firepower, and would have devastated a pre-shield force…but they were fighting a next-gen enemy. The portable shield the Windsor’s had weathered the storm of firepower turned against them, and then returned fire.
With the latest targeting software, the Windsor’s were able to zero in one the Cornerback units and bring their own hell down on them. Smalls arms fire from Windsor rifles, heavier fire from their crew-served plasma cannons, and counter fire from their own mortars quickly overwhelmed and silenced the unshielded resistance soldiers. The ground around everyone in the assembly area as a building previously occupied by a Cornerback team crumbled to the ground.
<Too quick,> Coop thought as he hurtled behind the SGM toward their objective. Field Goal, as it was also in football, was not as desirable as a touchdown. For their planning, touchdown was the rebels fighting to hit the palace at its main entrances. The more heavily defended areas. In reality, it was a feint. Coop doubted the rebels knew the firepower they were up against, but if the people wanted to fight the Windsor’s head on then that was up to them. The SRRT team was going for a field goal.
Their surveillance had identified a small, discrete back entrance to the palace complex. They would have missed it if they didn’t spot someone leaving just as they were doing their snooping. It was well-concealed, and probably well-guarded. The hope was that some of the guards would be pulled to help with the trouble at the front, and if not, that the SRRT was capable of dealing with them.
The roar of engines behind them announced the arrival of the receivers. A pair of garbage trucks – why the hell the rebels always used garbage trucks was beyond Coop’s understanding – came around the corner so fast they nearly tipped on their sides and raced toward the palace gates. The Windsor soldiers quickly switched targets, but just like with the earlier ambushes it was too late. Sheer mass and velocity were the vehicles’ armor, and even through the driver’s compartment and engine block were shredded by the Windsor’s heavy weapons, there was no stopping the beasts.
The first vehicle hit the main gate and detonated. The VBIED took out the gate and everything with twenty meters, including some overzealous rebel soldiers trying to follow closely in its wake. The second vehicle hit the wall about a hundred meters south of the gate, but failed to detonate. It didn’t even breach the shield-reinforced wall. The truck ended up with its front wheels up and over the wall while the back wheels remained on the ground.
Rebel soldiers streamed toward their assigned opening. The first ones through the gaping hole in the gate were cut down by fire from the roof until they threw some smoke grenades provided to them by the SRRT. The sensor and visibility spoofing smoke allowed some soldiers to sneak in. The rebels headed for the other truck had a much more difficult time. They tried to use it as a ramp to climb over the wall, but that made them sitting ducks for the Windsor’s snipers. They just picked off the rebels as they tried to climb over.
“Send in Linebacker,” Coop heard over TACCOM shortly before an industrial-sized, modified dump truck flew onto the scene. The back was loaded with rebel troops. The big vehicle was able to impose itself between the troops breaching the gate and the Windsor’s so the rebels could debark. The rebels scattered to hit the palace building itself from multiple angles.
Maybe half of the soldiers had made it out of the vehicle before the slight rumbling announced the arrival of their worst nightmare. A Windsor mech ran around the corner. Its stride seemed casual as its long legs carried it toward the truck and rebel soldiers. Its figure parted the smoke like a demon emerging from the depths of hell, and it extended its arm.
Coop couldn’t see what was happening to the rebels, but it felt like cold ice was poured into his veins when he heard the tell-tale rip of the mech firing its cannon. He’d taken a glancing blow from the powerful weapon and it had nearly ended him. He didn’t want to know what it was doing to the rebels inside the palace complex.
The condensed gravity ball of the mech’s cannon hit low on the dump truck completely shattering it. Despite the truck’s mass, it heaved into the air. Screams from the rebels filled the airwaves as they were pulverized, tossed from the back by the shockwave, or rolled out the back as it reared upward. The mech made it even worse by bending down and charging forward. It hit the undercarriage with its shoulder and effortlessly hefted the truck straight up. Screams intensified as the tip reached the point of no return and fell backward. Rebel soldiers scrambled to get out of the way, but many were stunned or injured from the first blast. They didn’t stand a chance as the truck flipped completely over and came crashing down on them. The mech turned to find new targets as the rebels peppering it with fire. Its shield sparked, but it moved calmly and confidently toward its next victims.
Coop tuned out the screams as he switched to the team-only channel. The SGM would let them know if anything else came in from the doomed rebels. Coop always knew this was going to be the outcome, so did the SGM, and yet they let the rebels do their suicide charge anyway.
<It’s not my place to wonder why. It’s my place to do, but not die, saving Eve.> Coop modified the old saying as the three LACS reached the side entrance.
The SGM lashed out with a foot and it cracked loudly against the reinforced door. Sparingly it held. “Hit it, Cooper!” the SGM yelled.
In his V4A, Coop had a lot more mass than the smaller V4B, so he lowered his shoulder and charged much like the Windsor mech had.
“Wha…” the door opened when Coop was two meters away, and a pissed Windsor soldier looked out. Coop saw his pupil’s dilate in his final biological act of surprise before Coop steamrolled right over him.
His momentum carried him forward, and only the servos in the LACS kept him from falling on his face, which was good, because at least a squad of soldiers was sitting in the small alcove around the door. To say they were pissed that Coop trampled their buddy into hamburger meat was an understatement. Rounds exploded against Coop’s shield as they opened fire.
At least one was smart and lobbed a grenade at him. Its lower speed cut through his shield before he could adjust its frequency. Thankfully, he’d preprogrammed evasive maneuvers for this exact situation. His grav-boots fired at a ninety degree angle to push him away from the explosive blast. The Windsor made the mistake of not magnetizing the grenade.
The powerful burst of the boots drained more battery, but it was worth it. The grenade exploded outside his shield and shrapnel flew into the Windsor’s ranks. The two soldiers with Coop’s mass between them and the grenade felt a brief moment of relief before Coop smashed into them, and carried them all into the side of the building. The building held, but the Windsor soldiers didn’t. They were crushed, and if they didn’t die instantly, their organs would quickly get strangled by their own blood from all the internal bleeding.
Coop didn’t have time to think about that as he pushed off their squishy remains and headed back into the fight. The heavier boom of a Buss filled the air and the soldiers’ resistance began to wither under the incoming plasma-tipped rounds. Sullivan pushed through the opening and swiveled right while the SGM went left. They picked off the panicked Windsor’s with precision. Soon, all that was left of the enemy was the ion-tinged air and stench of fresh shit and burned flesh.
“We need to move. We don’t have much time,” the SGM pushed forward.
For the first time, Coop heard the blaring alarm of the palace’s security system.
<Not that it matters much. You’d have to be a moron not to realize we were here.> Coop followed the NCOIC and periodically turned around the make sure their six was clear.