Two Worlds – Chapter 268

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“This was too easy,” Eve looked over from where she was bent over the dead body of a Windsor guard. The man didn’t have a head thanks to Coop.

“Speak for yourself,” Coop shot back. Even in the palace’s dungeons he heard the belch of the Windsor mech tearing into the rebel soldiers providing a diversion for the SRRT team. A lot of people had died so they could perform this rescue.

“She’s right,” the SGM was standing guard next to the door. “We only encountered a squad when we entered the complex, and a handful of guards. This is supposed to be the Windsor’s stronghold. There is no way they would leave it unguarded in the middle of an invasion.”

A grin pulled at Eve’s lips when the NCOIC agreed with her. She straightened up and attached a piece of the dead man’s armor to her body. Coop had brought along some Dragonscale armor for Eve on because it didn’t matter if he rescued her if she got shot on the way out. Like before he got the GYSGT’s armor, the grunt armor wasn’t meant for someone Eve’s size, and even less for someone with her curves. This was the one time Coop considered her voluptuousness to be a bad thing.

She’d squeezed into what she could, but it wasn’t offering much protection. She was scavenging from the guard’s armor and strapping it on top of her shins and thighs for extra protection. She looked like Frankenstein jumped into the 25th century and decided to design armor.

“Here,” he tossed her a compact submachine gun. She unfolded it and accepted the ammunition that followed. It wasn’t as good as an M3, and way less useful than a Buss, but it would have to do.

“Thanks,” their eyes met for a second, and he knew she wanted to say more, but now was not the time or place. “What’s the plan, Sergeant Major?”

“We get the hell out of here and join up with the main body of the invasion force. We armor up, resupply, and come back to kick some ass.”

Coop nodded along with the SGM’s plan, but not everyone was onboard.

“Negative,” Eve stated. The SGM’s armored helm just stared blankly at her. “Sergeant Major,” she started again. “There is a reason you met limited resistance in getting in here. This is the Windsor’s seat of government. The prime minister, high ranking military leaders, and Queen of the fucking planet are here,” a hint of desperation leaked into her tone. “There have got to be HVTs all over this place. We need to strike now and strike hard. If we cut off the snake’s head then it won’t be able to bite us in the ass later on.”

The SGM listened to it all silently. Coop wished he could see any expression or any nonverbal body language from the man, but he got nothing. Not even a burp over the IOR.

“You’re right. Good thinking, Sergeant,” the SGM replied. “We’ll split into fire teams: Gunney, Berg, Sullivan, and Cooper; LT, me, Enders, and Hightower. We sweep this place the best we can. Capture HVTs if possible, kill them if you can’t. If you hit serious resistance, retreat and regroup with the main landing force. We’re not going to be able to slug it out long term if they want to put up a fight. Keep situational awareness about what is going on around us. We don’t want the ships in orbit to take a shot through the city’s shield and turn us to paste because we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Eloquently put as always, Sergeant Major,” Coop sighed, as Eve finished running a diagnostic on her weapon. He just wished for once things were easy.

The green good-to-go button matched the glint in her eye. “Let’s go kill the fuckers that tortured us.” Despite being the least protected and feebly armed of the group, she led the way into the corridor.

<Fuck, I love that woman.> Coop was right behind her.

 

***

 

CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

The first sounds of small arms fire snapped Mitch’s head in the direction of the village. “Keep your heads down and stay alert,” he sent to his team while he trotted over to the small CP the SGT had situated behind the tank.

The NCO held up a finger as he approached. He had his hand to the side of his head and was clearly trying to make out the chatter over TACCOM.  “Echo made contact near the city center,” he relayed after a short pause. “They’re pushing them north toward the open space between the city and us. Once they get them in the open, they’ll call for fire and have the battalion HI take them out. So far, it just looks like some locals and not Windsor’s.”

Mitch didn’t let his squad leader see his sigh of relief. He’d rather take on some yokels than the people who’d crushed his battalion on New Lancashire. The mention of the HI brought back some unpleasant memories, but he was glad the walking artillery was going to be able to end this before it even got close to their position.

It was a relief for a lot of the marines in the brigade that the brass who set this whole thing up didn’t skimp on making sure they had what they needed. HI was always a precious commodity, and he couldn’t think of the last time he’d seen the entire battalion fully stocked with its compliment of ten HI troopers. The Alpha Company’s trooper was with the HQ element on the opposite side of the town from Mitch’s current position. In a valley that was thirty kilometers across and close to two hundred long, it was nice to know that there were thirty HI present to deal with bigger threats.

<Plus two tanks,> he thought to himself as he gave the metal behemoth a pat.

The clang of the impact faded and he heard another noise. “What’s that?” He turned and looked behind him. It didn’t have the zip of small arms fire, or the tell-tale whistle of incoming artillery. It was a soft rumble that growing louder and louder.

“Incom…” the SGT yelled over the squad line just as three figures rocketed over the mountains only a few kilometers from their position.

Mitch paled as he raced back to his foxhole and dove in. The only thing worse than enemy artillery was enemy air support. Even worse for the squad was their tank was a juicy target.

Three drones crested the mountain. The one in the lead was longer and more needle-shaped than the two rear drones. It had small, sleek wings on the side, but could turn on a dime based on the dive it executed as it came over the mountains. Mitch didn’t recognize the drone, but he did recognize the two in pursuit. Drone tech might have changed a hell of a lot in four hundred years, but the Commonwealth’s fleet of unmanned aerial fighters still had the shape pioneered by the old twentieth century United States’ stealth bombers. These were sleeker, far more maneuverable, and way better armed than its predecessors, but they were still struggling to catch the Windsor’s drone.

The Windsor drone dropped to the deck and rocketed over the open space barely ten meters off the ground. That was smart. It was below what a lot of the swatters were programmed to monitor. The Commonwealth drones followed but fell behind a bit. That didn’t stop them from firing their railguns at the enemy. Tracer rounds lit up the valley as the dog fight continued. Positioning thrusters flared around the Windsor’s drone as it spun to avoid the rounds.

The three fighters rocketed past Mitch’s position so fast he nearly missed them. By the time he turned around they were approaching the town.

<Echo!> He thought helplessly as a hundred members of his battalion were suddenly in danger. He was sure the SGT was already relaying the info, which the company commander probably already had with the JTAC coordinator monitoring the air space. The marines were probably scrambling for cover as he sat there thinking.

It looked like the Windsor drone was going to ram straight into one of the peripheral buildings, but at the last second it went into a steep climb. A split second later, one of the Commonwealth drones opened fire. It looked like its rounds missed the enemy’s tail by centimeters, and it paid for it. The less maneuverable Commonwealth fighter tried to pull up, but clipped the top of the building. It spiraled out of control and the pilot somewhere back on the Bush tried to avoid any collateral damage. He wasn’t completely successful. The drone almost made it out, but a damaged section of its wing snapped off from the strain and it nosedived into a group of buildings about a block from the edge of town. A second later, Mitch heard the boom of the drone’s death from his position.

The other Commonwealth drone ignored its dead wing mate and climbed with the Windsor drone. The Windsor drone looped around at the apex of its climb and went into a dive bomb of the marine’s expected position. Now that the Commonwealth pilot knew where the enemy was going he was able to act instead of react. He inverted and spewed out railgun rounds across the enemy’s attack path. Several rounds impacted the Windsor drone, killing it, but not its mission. The Commonwealth drone got the kill, but the dead drone still had gravity on its side. Even as the drone started to come apart from the damage, it still had plenty of mass to plow into the center of the small town.

The fire ball that sprang up from the explosion was bigger than the Commonwealth drone’s crash, and likely much more deadly. Mitch didn’t know how much since he was out of the TACCOM loop, but he magnified his HUD and was able to see the glint of a Spyder coming in for a landing with a big red cross stenciled on its sides and belly.

“Damn,” he muttered to himself. Marines were dying while he sat at the crossroads kicking rocks into the canal.

“We’re to hold position and continue with our mission,” the SGT announced over the squad channel. He’d obviously been thinking the same thing, asked to do something, and was denied.

Mitch had mixed emotions. He didn’t want to see other marines die and not be able to help, but he didn’t want to wind up facing down another Windsor mech. He didn’t want to sit on his ass all day, but he didn’t want to get shot in the ass either. They were polar opposites, but he wasn’t allowed to take the middle road.

He’d just have to sit there and wait.

 

***

 

Queen Josephina I

Location: Harper’s Center, Barrowsford, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Shit,” COL Buckton stopped dead in his tracks. The Imperial marines raised their weapons at their commander’s curse, and Josephina’s own guards flipped their weapons off safe. “The Collies stopped fifty thousand kilometers out and sent fighters and assault shuttles our way. They want a buffer so we can’t catch them with their pants down with planetary weapons. That screws up our timeline. The shuttle isn’t going to be able to get you to the ships in orbit from this location without it being in range of their capitol ships.”

“So I’m staying after all,” Josephina was fine with this outcome. It’s what she wanted in the first place.

“No, Your Majesty. We’ve got a Plan B. We need to head back to the subterranean level.”

The Queen immediately knew his plan. The former governors of this planet knew they weren’t the most popular people around, and anti-aircraft missiles were a fairly easy item to procure on the black market. As a backup they’d built an underground maglev system to get them out of the city in case of an emergency. It popped back above ground about fifty kilometers outside the capitol, and from there it could join the normal tracks to any destination on the planet.

“You’re going to put me on a train and smuggle me to an alternate space port,” her statement was thick with disapproval.

“Yes, Ma’am,” the COL ignored her and spun on his heel. The marines and personnel armsmen formed back up around her and they hurried back the way they’d come.

She noticed there was more urgency in their steps, which meant danger was closer than they would have liked. They had no idea.

They rounded a corner at the same moment another group came around the bend about twenty meters away. “What the…” she began before the COL roughly grabbed her by the collar, and yanked her back while the marines and guards opened fire.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 267

Windsor Planetary Defensive Battery Seven

 

“Hold…hold…hold until you see the flares of their engines,” the sergeant in charge of the control room cautioned everyone.

Ned held his finger on the trigger waiting for the order. For too long he’d been scraping a living on his family’s farm for the oligarchs of the Commonwealth. It was what his father had done, and his father before that, and all the way back to the founding of the planet. When Harper’s Junction was first slotted for colonization the Commonwealth sold people a dream that never became reality. After a dozen generations, everyone wanted something new.

<Well…not everyone,> Ned reminded himself. There were still many cities that refused Windsor rule. He knew the Royal Marines would get to them eventually, but holding the capital and all the cities critical to maintaining productivity and infrastructure of the planet’s main exportable resources was good enough for the time being. Plus, it wasn’t like the local militia or rebel fighters could do much to hurt the Imperial forces on the planet.

Ned had been looking forward to the introduction of new technology to his home. They’d been living at least a century behind the curve when it came to anything that didn’t involve producing the materials that lined the oligarch’s pockets. Now, he wasn’t sure he’d ever have the chance.

<At least I’ll go down fighting for what I believe in.> The fear of death was real and present in the small bunker control room.

Planetary defensive batteries were always high on the target list for invading forces, but battery seven had survived the Windsor’s invasion, so there was more hope than usual. The combination of natural terrain features, exquisite camouflage, and a new shield generator gave Ned even more hope. For the last several weeks he’d been training with the team, half Windsor and half Junctionite, for this moment.

“The worst part is the waiting,” Martin said from the next station over. Martin was a Private in the Royal Marines and had taught Ned’s section the ins and outs of the controls they were now manning.

“Yeah, they hurried us in here hours ago just to sit around and wait to push a button,” Ned joked, even though his nerves had his hands shaking.

Martin put his hand over Ned’s and smiled. “It’s going to be ok. We’re all going to be just fine.”

Ned smiled back, but the SGT interrupted the moment. “Prepare to fire.”

“Power sequence initiated.”

“Terrain readjustment commencing.”

“Target lock achieved.” Different stations confirmed their portions of the firing sequence.

Several dozen meters of crust above them, a cavern in the mountains near the capitol shifted ever so slightly. The nose of the five meter cannon already had great concealment in the cavern and the cover of the mountain would likely protect it against counter battery fire. What is gained in cover and concealment it lacked in maneuverability. The cannon only had a small span of air and space it could cover. Thankfully, that air and space was the most likely avenue of approach to the capitol city for anyone trying to invade, which was the whole purpose in installing it in the first place.

“Air scrubbers engaged.” Giant suction fans started cycling in the cavern itself. When the cannon fired, it would kick up a lot of debris, and it was the fans job to make sure none leaked out to identify their position.

“Enemy formation has entered their parking orbit. Distance fifty thousand kilometers at thirty-two degrees. ” The Junctionite at the sensor station confirmed.

“Compensate for atmospheric interference, and sequence the shot with other batteries,” the SGT ordered.  A countdown clock appeared on the holo in the center of the room.

“We’re going to knock their socks off,” Maria, another member of the battery’s team, was practically giddy as she communicated with other batteries so they hit the Collies as hard as they could with their opening salvo.

That was true. The dozen batteries assigned to protect the capitol were all going to hit the Commonwealth’s biggest ship at the same time. They were surely going to do some damage.

“Sergeant, I’ve got movement on my sensors.” Another Junctionite announced.

The SGT pulled the data to his screen and gazed intently at it. Suddenly, his eyes lit up like it was Christmas. “FIRE!” he ignored the clock as he screamed his order.

Someone could only ignore the clock for a good reason, and that reason was that the Commonwealth assault carrier was disgorging fighter/bomber drones and Spyder assault shuttles full of marines for their first wave of the invasion. Since it was firing off the drones as considerable speed so they could beat the Spyders into the atmosphere, that meant their shield were lowered or the frequencies had been fiddled with to allow the passage. The formation of enemy ships was sitting over fifty thousand kilometers from the planet for a reason. They didn’t want to get caught with their pants down.

Ned ignored all of that as he concentrated on his job. The SGT jabbed the ignition trigger, and there was a split second as everything was sent into motion. As with all older technology, there just wasn’t enough power in a simple old battery or reactor to fire an energy beam through atmosphere and into space that would damage capitol ships. While newer model might have dedicated gluon power plants able to do just that, Battery Seven had to rely on power coming in over buried, shielded lines from multiple sources. One of those sources was the capitol itself, which had military power stations designed for this specific purpose.

Everyone knew where those stations were, but far fewer knew where the conduits leading to the cannons were. Some of those individuals with that knowledge base didn’t take kindly to the Windsor’s presence, and some of those individuals told some Commonwealth soldiers how to disrupt the power supply.

In that split second when the SGT hit the trigger, and power was relayed to Battery Seven for the shot into the assault carriers vulnerable hangar bay, the bomb planted by SGT Mark Cooper triggered and turned that power conduit into twisted, broken nothingness. Battery Seven still fired as it pulled power from other sources as well, but the conduit leading to it from the capitol was its main draw.

Ned saw this reflected on his screen as the bar that had been green and peaked at the top of the chart suddenly flashed red and dropped to forty percent.

The bolt of power from Battery Seven traveled at the speed of light through the atmosphere, but the dispersion caused by the atmosphere robbed it of its strength. When it hit the shield around the Bush it was under ten percent power and the big ship’s shields were able to handle it with ease.

“What the hell?” The SGT was on his feet and running to Ned’s station. “What did you do?”

“Nothing, Sergeant.” The power levels dropped right as you hit the trigger. I’m running a diagnostic now.

“We’re being scanned!” Maria yelled from next to him. “Prepare for counter battery fire!”

“Close the blast doors,” the SGT ordered.

One meter-thick duro-steel panel slid across the opening to the cavern, and a second, twice as thick, door slid in front of the cannon. In addition, the cannon dropped down ten meters to avoid being in the same place it fired. The elevator, powered by anti-grav, was capable of firing from several different positions throughout the mountainside. That was why Battery Seven had survived the Windsor’s invasion. It was like trying to hit a whack-a-mole.

Bush locked onto the approximate position of the energy cannon and fired a five round burst from one of its railguns. The duro-steel rounds heated up the atmosphere as they plunged toward their target looking like shooting stars. Thinking the rounds were headed for them, the capitol air defenses sprang into action. It took out two of the shells as it passed over the city and continued toward the mountains. One shell nicked the shield itself and half-disintegrated, and half-ricocheted into the distance. Only two shells hit the mountainside, but Ned felt like the Almighty himself had just slapped the shit out of him.

The lights flickered, the wall cracked behind them, people were jostled onto their asses, but no one was hurt.

“Status!” The SGT didn’t even wait for everything to reboot.

“There is a break in the main power line. We can reroute from others, but it’ll take longer between shots and even then we’ll have trouble reaching a full charge.

A vein bulged in the SGT’s head as he stomped back toward his station. “I’ll inform command. They’ll probably switch us to air defense, so prepare to target the shuttles.”

Ned breathed a sigh of relief and chanced a side-long glance at Martin. He was grinning back, and that filled the young Junctionite with courage.

 

***

 

CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Sweet Jesus!” the PVT strapped into the seat next to Mitch yelped as the Spyder dived, inverted, and went into a series of barrel rolls.

There wasn’t even a warning from the pilot before the evasive maneuver. Every marine but the youngest FNG right out of boot knew not to eat before a drop. Still, the maneuver left a couple of the ten-man squad dry heaving. The crew of the tank, strapped into the war machine was a different story. The marines laughed when the heard the wet gags as the Gold Technologies employees lost their lunch.

“What the fuck was that?”

As a team leader, Mitch had coms open with the squad leader, who had it with the tank commander and pilot.

“Energy cannon fire from the planet hit the Bush right as we were taking off. It didn’t break the shield but we needed to move out of the way or we’d get turned to ash.” The pilot almost sounded bored as the Spyder reoriented itself and got back into formation for the first wave of the planetary invasion.

Unlike most of the battalion’s Spyders, Mitch’s squad had the bird all to themselves…minus the tank. There simply wasn’t enough room to fit half a company inside with the fifty-ton war machine, and since their squad was to provide close support for the new weapon’s concept, they got to tag along. At first, the squad was psyched. They thought it meant more leg room and less micromanagement by the LT and battalion staff. In reality, it meant they were stuffed wherever there was room. Spyders weren’t designed to carry tanks, and even after modification it was a tight fit.

“Prepare for atmosphere,” the pilot gave them the courtesy of a heads up a few seconds before the rumble of air buffeted the assault shuttle.

“If you ain’t buttoned up tighter than a tick’s ass by now you better be,” the SGT hollered over their squad channel. Mitch had already checked his men. They were good to go.

Even though their descent was now a walk in the park compared to the first few seconds, the PVT next to him was a little green.

“How long have you been in?” Mitch asked the younger man to try to get his mind off whatever he was stressing about.

“Umm…nine months, Corporal,” his stuttered his reply as the Spyder gave a big shake.

“Nine months and already getting your first drop. I’m jealous,” Mitch gave the marine a pat on the shoulder. “Four more of these and you’ll have a silver drop badge. That’s not too shabby for a fresh PVT.”

Having one of the coveted drop badges on his chest was good motivation for the PVT, and it seemed to do the trick to stop him from thinking about the coming fight. Too bad it didn’t last long.

“Incom…” the pilot didn’t even finish the word before every marine was pulled tight against the seat’s harness.

The Spyder started to pull some serious G’s as it dipped, dived, ducked, and dodged around whatever the hell was trying to kill it. As a CPL, Mitch didn’t have authority to access the external cameras, which was probably a good thing.  To keep his mind off his summersaulting stomach, he thought about the operations order.

The 9421st, 9422nd and 9423rd Marine Battalions were dropping into an LZ in a valley adjacent to Harper’s Landing. They were coming in from the opposite direction in order to avoid battery fire from the guns protecting the capitol. The valley held a single small town, which the marines would quickly capture and secure the rest of the LZ so follow-up forces and supplies could be dropped in for the push to the city. Intel had enemy forces at company level with friendly rebel forces reportedly conducting hit and run operations in the area. While it was good to have friendly natives to help them out, intel also said not to trust the Junctionites farther than you could throw them. Their love for the Commonwealth was only just above their love for the Windsor’s, which begged the question; what the hell were they doing there in the first place.

<Above my paygrade,> he thought as he pinched his eyes closed and tried not to think about the enemy weapons reaching out to swat his Spyder out of the sky.

Alpha Company of the 9422nd, along with Bravo, Charlie, and the two tanks attached to the battalion were ordered to cordon the city while Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot Companies conducted a search for any Windsor’s or loyalists that were trying to play possum and wait for opportunities to sabotage. The remaining four companies in the battalion were going to push towards the mountain passes to secure them and prep for the other two battalions to push toward the city. As part of the cordon units, Alpha was in some of the first shuttles out of the Bush, which meant they were going to receive the full force of the enemy’s welcome wagon.

Everyone’s life was in the hands of the pilots as the Spyder corkscrewed in a combat descent down toward the planet’s surface. Mitch measured time by the beating of his heart, and after nearly two hundred beats the flips and flops of dodging incoming ordinance faded away to a standard non-predictable descent.

“Drones are making attack runs to clear out the batteries we can get to,” the pilot relayed like he was reading Mitch’s mind. “Touch down in thirty seconds.”

“Three-zero seconds. Equipment check!” the SGT bellowed.

Mitch ran a final diagnostic on his armor, weapons, and when it all came back green slapped a magazine into his M3. He kept it on safe and monitored the rest of his team. “Bravo Team good to go,” he sent to the SGT with ten seconds to spare.”

Right on time the Spyder’s landing gear hit the ground with a small bump. The rear ramp started to lower without hesitation. “Everyone behind the tank. Let’s go greet the locals.”

The light of the fading day flowed through the cargo bay and the ramp lowered as the marines hustled to put armored bulk between them and potential enemies. Everyone had been thoroughly briefed on the tank and its area force field capabilities. The only problem was that it couldn’t activate  when in the belly of the Spyder, so debarking the assault shuttle was when the new vehicles were at their most vulnerable. The Spyder was providing security in the meantime, but the birds weren’t built to sit on the ground and protect vehicles.

A soft hum filled the air as the tanks anti-gravs powered up and it slowly maneuvered out of the Spyder. “Keep your eyes peeled and get to cover,” he relayed to his team as they followed behind the armor’s bulk.

The squad emerged at the crossroads they’d been studying over holo-images and training for in VR. It wasn’t much more than a pair of paved roads that crossed in the middle of nowhere. Farms dotted the landscape a few kilometers north, but the area around the crossroads was open space aside from the drainage canal that ran parallel to the road leading toward the small town. The town was eight kilometers away, so they could barely make out the tops of the three-story buildings as they fused with the haze of the horizon.

That was why the tank was being dropped here instead of other locations around the area. The road was only one into the town, but it was out in the open. Being in the open was a death wish for infantry, but with a tank in support they could make it work.

Mitch’s team spread out to cover twelve to six o’clock on the canal side of the roadway. The tank stayed parked in the intersection to deter any vehicles as the marines spread out. He heard the whine of the Spyder’s engines as it took off but didn’t pry his eyes from his sector of fire.

“Spyder clear. Engaging area shield.” The tank commander announced.

Mitch felt a buzz go through him as the energy expanded from the generator on the tanks rear, and his HUD lit up with a transparent barrier to identify where the protection ended.

“Everyone pick a spot and get comfortable,” he commanded his team.

He watched as entrancing tools came out and started to dig into the terrain to create better fighting positions. The two buddy teams kept fifty percent security while they worked, one watching one digging. He took a knee near the edge of the canal. He was still exposed to enemy fire, but felt more comfortable to have a shield between him and any incoming rounds.

“Nickelbaucher, come here and help me un-ass this thing,” the SGT’s voice was strained.

“Moving, Sergeant,” Mitch sprinted over to the tank where he helped the NCO get several containers off the tank’s side.

<It beats humping all this crap everywhere,> he thought as they opened the boxes and started assembling a swatter.

The tank had some anti-missiles capabilities, but a dedicated swatter freed up targeting power for what really mattered. The swatter’s muzzle extended just beyond the dome of the shield, which allowed it to fire and not have the rounds stopped by their own defense.

“Bobcat Six, this is Pillbox One, Route Irish is secure. I say again, Route Irish is secure.” The SGT sent up the SITREP once the swatter was up.

Mitch returned to his team and started digging his own hole. With the enemy’s only chance of retreat cut off they’d have to start fighting the Commonwealth companies coming in to dig them out. Any infantry grunt knew a cornered man fought harder, and if the Windsor’s wanted to breakout, the path of least resistance led right through Pillbox One’s position.

He just hoped eight marines and a tank was enough to hold them back.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 266

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

Coop, the SGM, and Sullivan advanced down the hallway. The other SGT and SGM led the way, moving quickly but cautiously, as they checked doors and covered their advance. Coop made sure no one snuck up and shot them in the ass. They’d taken the guards at the side entrance by surprise, but a well-prepared force with the Windsor’s level of technology would be able to put up a fight even against the three of them.

Their mission was simple: find the captured SRRT members and get them to safety while breaking important Windsor stuff in the process.

“Clear,” the SGM tried a door, stuck his head in really quickly, and found no one waiting for them. “This way.”

The team had a map of the palace from a disgruntled former employee who’d worked on the governor’s staff before the invasion and was now in the rebellion. She had good intel on the main floors, but the Windsor’s wouldn’t be keeping a bunch of captured Commonwealth soldiers in a penthouse suite. The woman knew where they needed to go, but didn’t know what they’d find when they got there.

“Twenty meters, take a right, and it is the third door on the left,” the SGM relayed as they approached the turn in the corridor. They rounded the corner and were instantly met by incoming fire.

Coop’s shield registered the hit, but by the time he turned around the SGM and Sullivan had already mowed down the two, lightly-armed Windsor’s guarding the door to their target.

The SGM tried the door and it didn’t budge. He put a solid kick into it next, and that left nothing but a boot shaped dent in the heavy material. “Breech,” he ordered, and Coop came forward with left over explosives from their sabotage missions earlier in the week.

His LACS showed him the best place to put the charges, so all he had to do is dial in the frequency detonation and backpedal to the bend in the hallway. “If they didn’t know we were here before they sure as shit will now,” he muttered to himself as the SGM nodded and he sent the detonation code.

The whole hallway rumbled and a puff of dust and debris shot out in front of them. They quickly advanced forward to the blasted open door. It led to a wide stairway leading down.

“Violence of action,” the SGM offered three words of advice as he activated his grav-boots. A soft hum filled the air as he hovered off the ground and then shot down the stairs twice as fast as an armored man could run. When he found the enemy, they wouldn’t know what hit them.

Coop shrugged, activated his own boots, and followed the NCOIC into the darkness that was methodically interrupted by pulsing, red emergency lights.

 

***

 

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Come on you fat bitch!” ADM Ward grabbed and pulled the side of his command chair like his feeble yanking would help the kilometer-long assault carrier to turn faster.

The engagement with the Windsor forces had quickly disintegrated into madness. The enemy didn’t follow the traditional rules of combat. They didn’t slug it out for the million-kilometer distances that was the standard naval warfare practice. A few salvos had been exchanged, but then the Windsor’s modern warships made a kamikaze turn and plunged straight toward the heart of his formation.

He didn’t have long to figure out what to do. He’d watched the same thing unfold with Carrier Group Delta. The Windsor’s had exchanged a few distanced blows to test the Commonwealth’s new capabilities before diving right into the heart of the carrier group. The RADM in charge of Delta made them pay for it, but the intense pounding that would have turned any fleet ship into wreckage a few years ago, only managed to overwhelm a small number of ships. Then the real fight was on.

As a student of naval history, Ward had images of Trafalgar flashing through his mind. Were the Windsor’s Nelson while he was the French? <No.> he swatted the thought aside. His ships weren’t constrained by wind and sail. He could maneuver freely to counter his enemy.

He watched Delta’s struggle closely for any trends or strategy. The massive battleships were holding their own, but the smaller vessels were getting pounded to star dust. There were far too many greyed-out icons on his holo-tank, and that number was sure to keep on climbing. Communications were also spotty. The distance was part of the problem as STARTNET and TACCOM were delayed, and the QE system just wasn’t prepared for the bandwidth of fleet battle communication. Also, as the Windsor’s got closer, jamming came into effect, which made it even more difficult.

As Delta’s battle dissolved into a free-for-all, Ward adapted. He broke up his carrier group further. He clustered the smaller ships around his battleships and assault carrier to create more reinforced targets. He then put the battleship captains in charge of their mini-flotillas because he knew this was about to get up close and personal. Whatever the Windsor’s knew about fighting with this new tech, he was about to learn the hard way. He’d done everything he could think of. Now it was time for the crews to fight the ships and emerge victorious.

When the Windsor’s dived further into his weapon’s envelope he let them have it. He fired tens of thousands of missiles right down their throats. He was dealing with a smaller force than Delta Group, and it showed. He broke nearly half the ships before they got into knife fight range, which in 25th century naval warfare meant within three hundred thousand kilometers. Or, as he found out from one brutal second to the next, energy weapons range of the Windsor’s powerful cannons.

Alarms screamed as the remaining cruisers blasted cannon’s far too powerful for their class into his ships. Two battlecruisers crumbled under the blows. Just like that, over three thousand Commonwealth spacers and marines were erased from existence. Worst of all, after those cannons recharged, they did it again. A trio of cruisers just exploded, while another battlecruiser listed out of formation, dead in the water.

“All units, get behind the shielded ships!” The order came out frantic because it was. The power behind those energy cannons was something he hadn’t seen before out of battleships, much less cruisers, and there was no countermeasure to something that took less than a second to reach you. If he ordered evasive maneuvers he’d be just as up shit’s creek as Delta. The only thing to do was use his shields and mass to protect his spacers.

“I said turn you fat bitch!” he punched his armchair because some physical connection to Aggie was necessary.

“Guns, can we increase our output on our energy cannons?” he sent to the gunnery chief at the tactical station, bypassing the younger, less-experienced OIC.

“If we removed safeties and overcharged capacitors, we could get another ten percent, maybe fifteen,” there was a lot of hesitation in the man’s voice. “If we do then we run the risk of blowing out the power lines or melting the cannons themselves. We’re built for missile engagements, not this up-close blasting.” The CPO was clearly frustrated. It was his job to kill the enemy, and the enemy was proving move difficult than usual.

“When we complete the turn I want a full broadside with everything: supped-up cannons, shotgun missiles, railguns, hell, throw the fucking kitchen sink at them while you’re at it!” he snapped as he watched the Windsor ships dispersing slightly to engage his four weakened mini-groups. Specifically, one battlecruiser, two cruisers, and a couple destroyers were making a break for his assault carrier. That was the lion’s share of the enemy. They knew the assault carrier was the prize.

“Commander,” he opened a private line to the marine brigade commander. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m stuck in a tin can, surrounded by nothingness, while you squids shoot this shit out without me. How do you think I feel?” The woman on the other end sounded just a tiny bit bitter.

“Who knows, maybe…?”

“Capacitors overloaded, missiles in the tubs, and guns trained on the enemy. Distance in two hundred and eighty nine thousand kilometers and closing. We’ll be lined up for a shot in three…two…one…”

CWS Agincourt present her broadside to the enemy formation barreling through space to kill her. “Fire everything!” he yelled, and the ship shuddered as it let loose its deadly cargo.

The results were nearly instantaneous.

Both cruisers shuddered under the force of Aggie’s enhanced blows. One went careening to starboard and diving below the elliptical to get away from any more fire. The second cruiser lost power and the next second exploded. This close to the enemy, Ward could see the explosion with his own two eyes.

The battlecruiser fared better, but it was still damaged. Sensors showed air and people venting out of the largest enemy ship, but it kept on coming into the storm of missiles Aggie fired. The majority of the missiles were originally targeted on it, and some of the ones meant for the cruisers were able to reorient onto the more pressing threat.

The shotgun missiles exploded and sent duro-steel penetrators rocketing toward the battlecruisers at a percentage of the speed of light. The cone of dispersion was determined at detonation, so there weren’t any last-minute adjustments. Still, a good portion of space was filled with ballistic metal, which hit the enemy ship with tremendous force.

In front of his eyes, Ward saw the enemy ship start to come apart as its shields were overwhelmed by his cannons and missile fire. Cheers erupted around the bridge as the smaller ships started to break off.

“Send the other formations our recipe for success, and then plot a course for whoever needs our help the most.” He sat back in his chair and exhaled. The enemy destroyers were still firing, but Aggie’s shields were more than capable of taking those hits for the rest of the formation’s sake. “Guns?”

“You managed to slag half a dozen cannons, Admiral. Capacitors are rebooting, so we have at least ninety seconds before the next shots can ever charge. Give it three to five minutes before we can engage again.” It didn’t sound like much, but three to five minutes was enough time for the enemy ships to close to within a few thousand kilometers. Aggie might be able to get in a second shot before the Windsor’s rammed into her.

That was a design flaw he needed to take up with the construction crews working on building and refitting the upgraded fleet. The new power plants didn’t mean shit if you couldn’t fire the more powerful blasts.

<I’m sure the tree-things can advise on what to do.> He didn’t like aliens knowing so much about the Commonwealth fleet’s combat capabilities, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Sir,” his thought was cut short by one of the EW techs.

“Spit it out lieutenant?” he wanted to make sure people followed their department’s chain of command to avoid madness on the bridge, but there was something in the young man’s tone.

“I’m getting weird readings from the debris,” the LT stated and forwarded the images to the ADM.

Ward took a close look at the sensor scan. The battlecruiser was steadily coming apart under the G’s it was pulling, but things just didn’t stop in space. The debris were continuing at their trajectory and speed and would until they met something to stop them. That wouldn’t be Aggie, she was already moving away to assist in another battle, but the battlecruiser had been adjusting to come at them when still alive, so the debris would pass within twenty-thousand kilometers. That was spitting distance.

There were some power fluctuations in the sensor data, but it wasn’t unheard of as a ship died and its integrity broke down. Power was bound to spike and drain in several places.

“Run another scan and tell me…” he didn’t get to finish his sentence.

“Engine signatures!” a petty officer yelled as new targets appeared on the holo-tank.

“What the hell,” the ADM watched as the ship’s AI ran the numbers. Whatever these things were, they were small and headed right for Aggie.

“Give me a visual and reorient railguns,” he ordered and a screen came to life showing space and the crumbling battlecruisers as a rapidly receding backdrop.

“LT what am I…” it was tough to see, but he caught a glimpse and zoomed in.

Small T-shaped ships raced away from the battlecruiser and toward his command. They triggered something in his memory, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“Cross reference against known enemy vessels,” he ordered the AI. A second later his holo-tank beeps and footage from one of the Commonwealth’s worst defeats came alive in front of him.

It was a dusty landscape, and the footage came from an infantry grunt running to a prepared fighting position. The footage was still crystal clear as the enemy ships broke through the atmosphere, sizzled with energy as land-based cannons failed to destroy them before they embedded themselves into the crust of New Lancashire.

“Concentrate fire on the enemy ships!” he ordered as realization hit him.

“Sir, capacitors are still resetting we’ve got no energy weapons at all, including point defense,” the CPO at the gunnery station had an I-told-you-so tone. “Missiles are locked and loaded, but they’re too close.

“Railguns, turn those things into scrap metal!” he ordered as the gunnery NCO shrugged.

Aggie shuddered as the railguns in range opened up on the Windsor’s troop transports. Every second counted, and the enemy pilots knew that.

“Shield fluctuations,” the EW LT informed. “They’re diverting power to their forward shields.”

Ward saw it as the railgun rounds sparked blue against the ships but didn’t penetrate. “Keep firing. They’ll have to hit us at an angle,” he drew lines on the holo tank to show the shallow angle the enemy ships would have to overtake the assault carrier and hit its hull. “Be ready to light up their flanks when they pass here.” A red line appeared on the holo and a countdown clock began ticking down next to it. The rail guns that would take the kill shots flashed green as they acknowledged receipt of their targeting designations.

Ward knew the enemy would reconfigure their shields to counter, but even a split second was enough for a round to get through and tear open those ships.

“Sir, how are they going to get through our shields?” The EW LT asked.

“They seem to think they can,” Ward wasn’t sure himself, but the enemies had more experience with shields than the Commonwealth. “Get any readings coming off those things and archive them for further investigation,” he switched circuits. “Commander, looks like your marines are going to get in this fight after all. Have them arm up and cover the areas I’m sending you now.” He transmitted a section of the ship where the Windsor’s were going to land.

“On it,” was all the CMDR said before getting to work.

Seventy-five seconds passed between identifying the enemy transports and when they reached Aggie. Twenty-two ships were identified. Only two were knocked out by the railguns firing right into their strengthened shields before they crossed the red line on the holo. The rail gunners pounded them good as they passed over sections of Aggie and had to reconfigure their shields. Fifteen more ships died in that onslaught. The five remaining ships hit Aggie’s shield and the protective barrier held for a few seconds before a violent fluctuation allowed the enemy ships through before resetting.

Agincourt, prepare to rebel borders!” he ordered as the ship shuddered when the enemy vessels burrowed into her hull.

<Now it’s up to the marines.> He never liked handing the battle over to the ground pounders, especially when it was still happening in space.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

Coop skated around a bend in the subterranean palace basement. He went nearly horizontal as he trained his weapon down the hallway. Flashes from the SGM’s Buss were already lighting up the area as he drove back the enemy guard detachment.

“Fuck…kill…prison…” one guard yelled out as a plasma-tipped round took him in the throat and burned through to separate his head form his body. The SGM just skated right over him.

{Magnify.} Coop brought himself up short and dropped to the ground. Skating around on the grav-boots was great, but it didn’t offer the most stable firing position.

The end of the hallway jumped forward as the Buss’ scope engaged. The remaining guards were headed for a room at the end of the hallway. Coop set his sights on the doorway knowing full well that if he missed, the guards were going to cut down Eve and the rest of the captured SRRT team.

<No pressure.> He breathed and pulled the trigger.

The round hit the guard in the shoulder and spun him around. He might not be dead but he was hurting. The only other guard that the SGM and Sullivan hadn’t killed made a beeline for the door. Coop’s next round took the man in the head. There was no question he was dead.

“Move!” Coop’s exasperated yell wasn’t needed as the SGM and Sullivan swarmed into the room. Coop ran the rest of the way feeling like an idiot for not being at the front of the assault to rescue Eve.

His armored bulk smashed into the doorframe, deforming it slightly as he pushed his way through. He ended up in what looked like a prison cafeteria, but the place didn’t matter. It was the people inside it.

Thankfully, all the guards were accounted for. The one Coop had winged was on the floor with a deadly dent in his skull. Eve and the GYSGT stood above him with dead man’s weapon in the GYSGT’s hand.

“Clear!” The SGM and Sullivan had methodically cleared the room. Coop turned his back to them and looked back the way they’d come. “Hallway clear,” he called back.

“Coop?” the voice was weak, but he’d know it anywhere.

He knew he was supposed to be watching the hallway, but he couldn’t not turn to her.

“Hey boss-lady,” he replied with barely restrained anger.

She looked like shit. She looked like she’d been tortured, so he was really upset the guard wasn’t still alive because he needed to beat someone to death.

She heard the tone and frowned. “Nothing a little R&R can’t fix,” she tried to sound relaxed, but it didn’t help.

“You can kiss and make up later,” the GYSGT interjected herself into the conversation. “Grab us weapons so we can get the hell out of here.”

“Glad you’re alive, Gunney,” Coop added as an afterthought despite the sense of relief that flooded through him at seeing her again.

“Is that my armor?” she stopped what she was doing and looked closely at him.

“Ummm nope,” he made a quick exit to grab the requested weapons.

“Sergeant Major, why the fuck is Cooper in my armor?” the GYSGT screamed as he got out of her line of sight.

It didn’t matter if they were in the middle of enemy territory without a concrete evac plan. An HI trooper didn’t like someone else fucking with their armor.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 265

Queen Josephina I

Location: Harper’s Center, Barrowsford, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Please, Your Majesty…”

First it was Vice Admiral Westwood, then Colonel Buckton, and now they’d enlisted Theodore’s help. <That’s just playing dirty,> Josephina glared up at her personal attendant.

All but the VADM sat in the operations center buried beneath the palace complex. They’d been there since the Commonwealth fleet’s arrival was detected. They’d been there when their sensors identified gluon power plants on a number of the Commonwealth ships. They’d been there when the VADM admitted they wouldn’t be able to intercept all of the Commonwealth formations before they reached the planet. Now, they were all telling her to run.

“No,” she said for what felt like the millionth time. “I am Queen, and this is my world.”

She knew she was being stubborn. If she stayed, and her troops lost, she would be a valuable prisoner to the Commonwealth. She’d been the Empire’s Chief of Intelligence and a close personal friend to the Empress herself. The information in her mind could do great damage to the Empire. Logic dictated that she run, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She was one of three other monarchs, just below the status of empress. She’d been entrusted with this planet, and to run at the first sign of trouble was unbefitting to her station. She would not, could not, leave.

“Formation Charlie is ten million kilometers out. They will settle into orbit in a little over four hours. The window of escape before we’re in weapons range is down to twenty minutes.” The COL reiterated. He might be in charge of the imperial marine garrison, but he couldn’t tell her what to do. He needed…

“Incoming QE burst,” the communication’s officer announced from a corner of the room. The young man blushed as all eyes, including the eyes of his Queen, focused on him. He discretely forwarded the message to the COL.

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty, the decision is no longer yours to make,” the COL looked a little too smug as he turned the display so Josephina could read it.

At the top of the message was the Imperial seal, which said to anyone reading that the orders contained within came from the Empress herself. Josephina scanned the screen. The words felt like a punch to the gut. Victoria was recalling her to Windsor for all the reasons Josephina knew she should be retreating for in the first place. She could not be captured.

“Your Majesty,” the COL’s words cut through her reverie. Two imperial marines now flanked her. She was still several centimeters taller than her armored guards, but height wasn’t much of an advantage against their rifles. The nano-blade on her hip was, but she didn’t go for it. This was an order from her Empress and she would obey.

“I will accompany you to your shuttle. We have two cruisers and Ides of March in orbit on the dark side of the planet. Your flagship will take you back to Windsor while the cruisers provide support against Formation Charlie.” All three ships were modern builds and would be able to put up a hell of a fight against the larger Commonwealth force.

“And…”

“I will be staying with my troops, Your Majesty. I’m just a lowly colonel,” he answered her question as they started walking.

Two of her own armsmen fell in step as they exited the operation’s center, and all but shouldered the marines aside. The marines remained on their flanks, but no one was going to get between them and their Queen.

“We should…” soft pops echoed faintly through the corridor followed by a much louder boom. Her armsmen got between her and the end of the corridor.

“We’ve got contact from north of the palace.” The COL was dialed into the defensive network. “Our units are taking care of it. Keep moving.”

“Collies?” she asked as they picked up their pace.

“Rebels,” the COL’s face was grim.

“Rebels!” her shock almost brought them to a stop. “The city is supposed to be secure. Now I literally have enemies at my gates and we didn’t know about it.” Her armsmen kept her moving despite the anger rolling off her.

“The Colour Sergeant is on it, they’ll be nothing but hamburger meat in the next thirty seconds.”

She heard the booming retorts of the palace’s mech guard entering the fight. The soft pops faded away pretty quickly after that.

“Perimeter breech at the east entrance!” Now the COL sounded much more worried.

She was sick of being in the dark. She activated her IOR and activated the back door she’d made into the defensive network. The Imperial forces didn’t want her to have access to their data if they had to enforce something against her will, but she’d picked up enough skills as a spy to make sure she had that access anyway.

She searched the feeds of the soldiers assigned to protect the palace. She filtered out the living ones and narrowed down nearly a dozen assigned to the east entrance. The feeds were gone now, but rewinding them from storage was simple. She watched quietly as three armored soldiers burst into the palace complex and slaughtered the marines. Her IOR quickly plotted the best route to avoid the new soldiers and time it would take to make it to the launch pad in the rear of the complex.

It was going to be close, so she picked up her pace.

 

***

 

CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: CWS George W. Bush, Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Get it on there, Nicki,” the SGT commanded as he fastened his own grav-plate to the deck of the Spyder.

No one ever called him by his first name, Mitch. It was always Nicki. He wasn’t sure he liked that because he wasn’t sure if it was a genuine, brother-in-arms nickname, or they were making fun of him. Nicki was also a girl’s name, so it was tough to tell if they were covertly referring to him as a bitch.

He knew a lot of it came from him being the new guy, even if he was a CPL and fire team leader. The new guy was still the new guy. He hadn’t gotten some respect from his fellow senior enlisted until the WARNO for their current mission came down from HQ.

Everything had been a mess for Mitch Nickelbaucher after the Battle of Lancashire. Most of his battalion was KIA or MIA, so the powers that be shuffled things around and deactivated the battalion until they got a fresh group to prop it back up. That meant Mitch and the rest of CPL Cooper’s old team were sent back to Thor and scattered to the wind.

Goldsmith had been injured in the battle, not bad, but enough for him to ride out the rest of his enlistment in the hospital. He was out now. Stern was still in, but he’d lost contact with the idealistic young man after he shipped out to some Core World for training. Stern really wasn’t Infantry material, and someone probably finally saw that. Mitch had looked for Cooper, but his old, sketchy team leader had vanished. He’d survived the battle, which Mitch was sure of, but then his records went blank. It was odd, but he had much bigger things to deal with. The one good thing about his old team leader was that he’d kept his word about the recommendation. It took about a month longer than it should had with all the personnel shuffling, but Mitch finally got his second stripe.

His shuffling finally ended up on board the George W. Bush, or just the Bush for the cruder infantry members. He got sent as a replacement to Delta Company of the 9422nd Marine Battalion that served as the assault force for the Bush. The 9422nd along with its sister battalions in the 942nd Brigade were about to be the first Infantry soldiers to take the fight back to the Windsor’s. Since Mitch was the only person on board who’d actually faced the enemy in battle, he’d started to earn some cred for the first time since joining the unit.

“Got it, Sarge,” he put his full, inconsiderable weight against the plate and pushed. With a crack it slipped into place and the SGT’s PAD started running the diagnostic.

Mitch wiped the sweat from his brow, and waited for the news if they were finished. The SGT gave a thumbs up and Mitch sighed with relief.

“Thanks, guys, we really appreciate it. Rolling around the back of this bird was a sure way to get us all dead,” a man with the corporate logo of Gold Technologies grinned down at them.

Unlike some marines onboard, Mitch had nothing against the Corpies. They fought for a company instead of a nation, and they got paid a lot more, but most were veterans, and since he was new, he found he got along better with the Corpies who were generally nicer to him. But that wasn’t the only thing he liked about them. He liked that he was going to be able to hitch a ride and take cover behind the fifty ton beast sitting in the back of the supped up Spyder.

Mitch had only seen tanks in holos, and he honestly wasn’t too sure about their strategic value in warfighting after becoming obsolete hundreds of years ago, but Gold Technologies didn’t just pour money and manpower into something that was going to get destroyed in five seconds. Something must have changed, and something standing between Mitch and a Windsor’s bullet was good in his mind.

“We need to suit up, full kit,” the SGT ignored the Corpie and stomped down the ramp.

The rest of the flight deck was full of activity as the marines got ready to do a legit planetary assault. More importantly, they were the first boots on the ground. They needed to secure the LZ’s and start to expand them so the other brigades could get in the fight once they finished off the Windsor’s navy.

<The sooner the better,> Mitch knew that intel only had the Windsor’s total ground forces between five and eight thousand strong, but he also knew if they had mechs numbers didn’t mean much.

A single mech could take out hundreds of soldiers and keep on trucking, so maybe this tank would have its work cut out for it.

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