Two Worlds – Chapter 279

Empress Victoria IV

Location: Windsor City, Windsor, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“They’ve returned, Your Imperial Majesty,” the communications specialist in the control center of the Imperial Palace informed the undisputed ruler of the Star Empire of Windsor. Although, lately it felt like everything was being disputed.

Word of the Commonwealth counterattack against Barrowsford was instantaneous due to the QE technology, and Victoria had put into place her contingency plan. There was no question that Windsor ships were the finest in the galaxy, but she had nowhere near the quality she wanted. When facing off against the Blockies and Commies, they could nearly drown her subjects with their numbers. That was always the risk of taking the fight to the enemy, but if history had taught her anything, it was that sitting around waiting for something to happen was a good way to have nothing happen at all. She needed to take control and dictate the battlefield to better utilize her limited forces. Up until a few days ago it had worked perfectly, but now things were starting to slip.

If her raids could have delayed the Hegemony’s audit for a few more months she would have been confident they could have kept their gains with Operation Grand Sweep. Now it was clear they’d over extended themselves, and the Commonwealth military industrial complex was swinging back into action.

She’d received updates from her soldiers and spacers via QE, but it soon became evident they couldn’t hold the system against the Collies’ partially upgraded fleet. That’s where her contingency planning came in. She couldn’t lose Josephina. Not only because they’d been close friends for decades, but because her knowledge as the Chief of Intelligence was a gold mine for her enemies. She knew it would disgrace the newly-minted Queen to lose the planet she was to rule over, but sacrifices had to be made for the good of the Empire.

When the Commonwealth invasion was first detected, two Windsor cruisers, Saving Grace and Beyond Doubt, portaled into Barrowsford to get Josephina out of harm’s way if need be. The two cruisers were fresh out of the yards with important upgrades. Judging by how the enemy fleet was hammered on its approach vectors, Victoria was confident that the Commonwealth didn’t know about the shield reconfiguration upgrades that were available for purchase in the Hegemony. Armed with the correct sequencing and power requirements it was possible for the shield of a ship to be altered and render anything within its confines completely invisible to any scanners humanity possessed.

There were drawbacks to the technology. First and foremost was that when the shield was in stealth mode it left the ship completely vulnerable. You could either be protected or unseen but not both. Second was the power requirements and cost of the upgrades. Like everything else in the Hegemony, someone had a patent on the tech, and humans had to pay out the ass to get it. Things had been easier for the Empire with their patron’s generosity, but with this latest setback she wondered how long that goodwill would last.

“It’s just Saving Grace,” the communications officer continued. “No sign of Beyond Doubt. Updates are coming through now.”

“Tell the Duchess to report to the palace immediately,” she winced internally at the slip. Josephina was still technically a duchess when in the Empire’s home system, but she could have given her the courtesy of refereeing to her by her royal title. Word of her statement would spread, and it would look like Josephina had been demoted in the eyes of the Empress. Her political rivals would smell blood in the water and close for the kill.

Victoria kept her face stoic as she turned to leave, but internally she lamented the political infighting that their society required. Harmony and peace brought stagnation and gluttony. For the empire to survive they needed fierce competition between the high Royals. Without that, the best wouldn’t rise to the top to serve the empire.

A message beeped in the Empress’ head as Josephina sent down a message via IOR. Victoria didn’t read it, she just told her to hurry up. A second message appeared, and her back straightened. It was a summons. Only one thing on the planet had the ability to summon her.

Victoria gulped and smoothed the gown she was wearing. It would be hot in the garden under all the layers, but she didn’t want to keep her guest waiting. Word spread through the palace’s security as she headed for the garden. Seamlessly, members of the Obsidian Guard formed around her in full armor. Victoria was tall, but the giant warrior bred to protect her and her family stood close to three meters tall and made her feel like a gangly teenager again. The captain of the guard slid into his position just behind her as the exited the main building.

She immediately felt sweat begin to slide down her back as she descended the stairs into the maze of topiary wonders the palace’s gardeners spent their lives designing, cultivating, and caring for. She gave her imperial crest – made of bright flowers that were always in full bloom – a quick glance before following her guards into the maze. After some twists and turns she came to the spot she liked to have afternoon tea and play with her children. She reflexively felt her stomach, but the bulge that had been there for nine months was gone. The newest member of the Windsor Imperial Dynasty had been born several weeks ago, and was probably upstairs wailing for milk.

Her face softened for a second before she caught herself and removed all expression from her body. She took a seat as the table, tucked her ankles under the chair, and waited with a straight back while trying to portray confidence. Josephina pinged her again but Victoria ignored her.

It was a full five minutes before her guards shifted uneasily and she smelled ozone. She instinctively stood up a little straighter and watched the opening at the opposite side of the garden. She gulped reflexively when the Emissary, the being that came to her over a decade ago and proposed the plan to vault her little Kingdom to greatness, stepped through the bushes.

The Emissary was massive. It stood close to seven meters tall, and resembled a human. Victoria had been surprised when her first alien contact with a member species of the Hegemony had been humanoid, but the Emissary made it abundantly clear he wasn’t something as weak as a human. He looked to be in a giant suit of armor, with one glaring exception. Light radiated from the creases and seams of the massive man. The armor itself was ever moving. Unknown glyphs and fractals appeared and then were blown away like sand on a beach during a windy day. It made it seem as if the Emissary was in a constant state of motion.

He had no ears, nose, or mouth, but two sets of blinding, golden eyes glared out of his armored helm. Victoria wasn’t able to look directly at the Emissary without special lenses. It was like trying to look directly at the sun on a cloudless day.

{HUMAN.} The Emissary’s word cut through her mind like a knife. She winced but tried not to show pain. {FAILURE.}

“We did not fail,” she countered with all her authority. “We’ve beat the Commonwealth and Eastern Block back on several occasions. We took the fight to them, and plunged our dagger deep into the heart of their territory. They’re still reeling from their losses. The Eastern Block even has a delegation on the way to negotiate a ceasefire and mutual defense agreement against the Commonwealth. That is what you wanted,” her voice dropped to a threatening level. “You wanted us to sow discord and chaos. I have done that. My subjects have bled for that, and now you’re saying we failed!” she didn’t even notice she was shouting.

{ALL I HEAR ARE EXCUSES FOR WEAKNESS.} Victoria would have sworn the thing was mocking her is its roaring speech wasn’t always completely monotone.

“My Empire is strong. I will take back what was taken from us.” She promised.

{YOU HAVE SERVED YOUR PURPOSE. OUR ARRANGEMENT IS AT AN END.} The Emissary’s statement hit her right in the gut.

“What?!”

Not only had the Emissary introduced the Empire into the Hegemony, but it had secured Windsor favorable nation status, generous loans with no interest, and even done a little to stall the rest of humanity’s future interaction with the Hegemony. There was a reason almost a decade had passed between the Emissary’s arrival on Windsor and the Commonwealth making first contact.

“Emissary…” the giant thing had never even given Victoria its name. “I’m sure we can work out a new arrangement.”

{NO. FAILURE IS UNACCEPTABLE.} It turned to leave.

Her guards sprang into action. They’d been tense and ready for a fight with the Hegemony being since the day he showed up, and now was their chance. They were prepared for all contingencies. Half were armed with ranged weapons, both energy and projectile. They didn’t know which would be more effective. The other half had melee weapons and would take the fight to the emissary up close and personal. Her guard captain’s job was to get her to safety.

Her guards sprang into action and everything went white. Victoria screamed as it felt like her eyes were burned from her skull. Her hand plucked blindly at her belt where she always kept a bottle of general purpose medical nanites. She sprayed them directly into her eyes. Slowly, her vision returned back to normal.

In the meantime, her other senses compensated. She forced down vomit as her stomach rebelled, and forced herself to look around as everything came back into focus. Her guards were down…all of them except the captain. They had smoking holes through the front and back of their armor the size of her head.  The smell of cauterized flesh permeated everything around her. The best defenses the Empire had to offer were nothing against the Emissary.

It hadn’t even moved. Her guards were arrayed in an expanding circle around it like they’d been hit by a shockwave. {MORE FAILURE.} The Emissary scoffed. {I WILL HAVE OTHERS COMPLETE WHAT YOU’VE STARTED.}

The conversation was over, her ambush thwarted, and she knew without a shadow of a doubt that it could have killed her without a second thought or any real effort. Instead, the armor shifted, collapsed in on itself until all that was left of the Emissary was a large sphere with veins of light coursing across the surface. Then, without warning, it blasted into the sky at the speed of light. Once it reached an acceptable distance for the gravity of Windsor, a portal opened and it vanished from Imperial space.

{…you there! Victoria, are you there!} Josephina was shouting into her head.

{I’m here,} she knew she was shaken, but being surrounded by the dead normally did that to a person.

{We lost all contact with you. A massive energy signature was registered at your location. The entire Obsidian Guard is scrambling to your position.}

{Tell everyone to stand down,} Victoria heard the exhaustion in her tone that was threatening to overwhelm her.

{What’s wrong?} Like a good friend, Josephina was always there for her.

{Things just went from bad to worse. I’ll tell you when you land, but I’m going to need my Chief of Intelligence back.}

There was a brief pause. {I’m always here to serve the Empire.} There was resolve in Josephina’s tone, which was good.

<We’ve got a rocky road ahead of us.> Victoria rubbed her eyes and walked back toward the palace.

Maintenance would have to clean up and recycle all the bodies and weapons. The armor was a total loss.

Previous                                  Next

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 278

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Easy…easy…shit,” Coop cursed as they slid down the side of an embankment. SSG Hightower and Mike were still supporting him, but they were tired. They’d been prisoners for some time, and then forced to drag his injured ass across the entire city and into the farmland around it. Coop knew he’d be bitching up a storm by now if he had to carry so much dead weight, so he had to give respect where respect was due.

That didn’t stop him from spewing a bunch of four-letter words over the IOR when he hit the ground. An agonizing jolt of pain pushed through the drugs that had been pumped into his system and he collapsed out of his team members’ grips.

“Shut the fuck up,” the SSG hissed as he laid against the berm with his weapon pointed up.

A pair of drones rocketed overhead. They banked hard and came back the way they’d come. Coop curled up, hoping his LACS would protect him from the rounds the drones would put into their little group. A steady stream of burps echoed around them as the drones took precision shots.

None of them hit the combat-ineffective SRRT team. Coop still felt the vibrations as the rounds tore up another embankment about fifty meters from them. The drones split away in opposite direction with a howl of their thrusters, and Coop gave himself a pat down just to make sure he was still alive.

“About a dozen Windsor’s were moving parallel to us,” the SGM informed as the popped his head up and ran a scan of their surroundings. “Drones took them out. Come on. Let’s keep moving. Almost there.” The NCOIC hefted Sullivan’s corpse onto his shoulder and started moving again. Of everyone, the SGM was carrying the most weight.

Coop waited for GYSGT Cunningham to grab Eve and help her up. The LT stood nearby to help, and Coop and his helpers brought up the rear. They moved along the small drainage ditch for a few hundred meters before climbing up and over the road to the opposite side. Coop half expected Windsor drones to bear down on them and blow them to pieces, but it seemed the Commonwealth had air superiority in this sector.

They slid down a slope on the opposite side much more gracefully that the last one, and a waypoint appeared on his HUD. There was a small hill less than a kilometer away that was their rendezvous point.

<About fucking time,> Coop was starting to feel woozy.

Medical nanite degradation. Tourniquet application required, flashed on his HUD before more pain ripped through his injured leg. He screamed as the built-in medical device tightened just below him.

Hightower grunted as their gait was disrupted and ran a quick medical check. He cursed the timing, but kept prodding Coop along. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel helped.

Twenty minutes later, the SSG and Mike happily dropped Coop on his ass on the backside of the hill away from the fighting. “So we just sit here nursing our thumbs with our assholes until these RECON marines decide to show up.” Coop couldn’t feel anything on his injured leg anymore, which wasn’t a good sign.

“This is supposed to be an elite SRRT team,” an accented voice announced over TACCOM. “I’m not impressed.”

STRATCOM pinged the speaker at under twenty meters away, and made Coop flush with embarrassment. His situational awareness was shit right now. Two RECON marines in V3 LACS low crawled out from underneath a cammo-net set up at the apex of the hill. If Coop had to guess they were forward observers providing target coordinates to the brigade artillery and orbital assets.

“Stow it, Master Sergeant,” the SGM cut RECON off before everyone got in a dick measuring contest. “We’ve been through a bit over the past few weeks.”

“Weeks?” the other RECON marines finally spoke. “I guess…” they finally caught sight of the rest of the SRRT team, “Daaaaamn.” What was clearly a junior NCO or enlisted RECON stated.

Coop didn’t fault him for his reaction. Eve was missing an arm, he had a giant spike through his leg, and Sullivan was dead with a spike through his chest. They’d clearly been through some shit.

“Medivac is on the way,” the senior RECON stated with more respect this time. “We’ve got to get back to work,” they two marines retreated back to their OP.

They were true to their word and fifteen minutes later a Spyder swooped down for them. They trudged up the ramp as technicians and medics swarmed them. Coop collapsed onto the deck as the bird took flight again. He caught a brief view of the ongoing battle before the ramp snapped closed and the engines gunned it to make orbit without getting blasted out of the sky.

Maybe it was the drugs, trauma, finally getting Eve back, or just battlefield fatigue, but Coop found himself laughing and crying at the same time. He made sure no one saw what was going on inside his armor. He’d never be able to live that down.

The small view of the battle he caught struck him as sad and inspiring. It had been thousands of years since man first gathered to form civilization and ended up fighting in the first wars. Weapons had changed from rock throwing, spears, and wooden shields to EM power rifles, orbital bombardments from capital ships a few kilometers long, and energy shields that could stop a railgun round but not a rock that one of their ancestors would chuck at them.

Despite all of the changes in weapons, defenses, and tactics, it still involved two groups of men and women, advancing across an open plain, and trying to kill each other. If there was an unalienable truth to humanity, Coop was sure it was that they would always try to kill each other. Even aliens hadn’t changed that. In fact, they was only giving humans better ways to do it.

<As long as I’m the one doing the killing and not the dying that’s fine by me,> Coop gave a mental sigh and composed himself as technicians opened up his damaged armor and medics treated his wound. <Maybe I’ll take a nap now.> The medics must have given him something because he was fast asleep before they popped him out of the LACS.

 

***

 

Location: CWS Agincourt, Harper’s Junction, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop was violently thrust into consciousness. All around him medical devices beeped, hissed, and thumped; coupled with the hushed-but-hurried tones of doctors and nursed. Despite the abrupt arrival in the world of the living, he kept his eyes closed.

“We shouldn’t be bringing him out just yet, we need things to set more,” a woman’s voice tainted with anger spoke a few meters to his left.

“We don’t have a choice. We’ve got our orders. Plus if he stays in the grav-chair there won’t be an issue. This is just a patch job until we can get him back to a ground-side hospital,” a man’s voice replied.

The woman huffed then the clink of a privacy screen being pulled back, and the assault of artificial light on Coop’s eyelids made him groan.

“Good you’re awake,” the woman hit her PAD and the bed tilted upward until Coop was sitting at a ninety degree angle. It gave him a great view of his leg missing below the hip.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” he roared loud enough for the woman to unconsciously step back. “WHERE IS MY LEG?!” He turned on the doctors with murder in his eyes.

“Sergeant,” the woman had two gold stripes on her collar, and was trying to act the part of a CMDR. “The damage to your leg from the still-unidentified Windsor weapon was extreme. The heat and force of the spike had fused your leg to your armor. To get you out of the armor and into treatment we needed to remove your leg. A replacement is currently being grown, and will be ready once Agincourt returns to New Washington. At the Naval Hospital in the capital you will have the best surgeons in the world to replace your leg and rehabilitate you to peak physical condition.”

Coop knew that. This wasn’t the first time he’d lost a limb, but waking up and finding that limb missing was going to haunt his dreams for months.

The CMDR snapped her fingers when it became apparent he’d stopped listening to her. “This is very important,” she repeated. “We’re going to help you into a grav-chair so you can report as ordered, but you will not, I repeat, you will not get out of it. The nanites and Insta-flesh are still setting from your removal procedure and I don’t want you to rip something and bleed to death.”

“Got it, Doc. Bleeding to death equals bad.” Coop was still focused on his missing leg.

The CMDR rolled her eyes and helped shift his bulk, with the other doctor’s help, to the edge of the bed and a waiting grav-chair. The chair hovered a few centimeters off the ground waiting for him. He waved off the doctors and swung himself over the edge and into the chair. The chair gave a groan and smacked down into the ground before recalibrating for his extra mass. Slowly, it rose to its previous position.

“Look at your fat ass breaking stuff,” a familiar voice joked as Eve pushed her way through the privacy screen. She had what was left of her missing arm mag-locked to the front of her CMUs. The dressing on it was fresh, and a lot better than the field-improvised first-aid Coop had performed.

“How’s it going, stumpy?” he asked.

“Not too bad, gimpy,” she shot back.

“Ouch, low blow,” he retorted.

“You’re lucky that spike hit so low or the removal procedure would have caused us some serious problems,” she winked.

“Oh shit,” his hands flew to his package, “oh thank god.”

“Don’t thank him yet,” Eve grimaced.

Messages started to ping in Coop’s head as his IOR activated again. His mailbox transplanted over his vision and one stood out above the rest: an immediate order to report to Admiral Ward’s office.

“Admiral Ward?” He didn’t know the man other than him being an Admiral and de-facto big kahuna.

“Jesus, Coop,” Eve stepped behind him and started pushing his chair forward. “Admiral Michael Ward, the Hero of Yangon, the man who just took back Harper’s Junction from the Windsor’s. People are starting to call him Nimitz reincarnate.”

“Nitwit, what kind of name is that…” he was cut off as she smacked the back of his head. “I’m just saying that we had a fair deal to do with retaking Harper’s Junction,” he continued. “No one is going to declare it Mark Cooper day since I’ve only got chevrons on my shoulder.”

“Just…don’t embarrass me,” Eve sighed as she pushed his chair into a lift and keyed in a code. The lift rumbled into motion, and didn’t stop at every deck, which was weird for a warship the size of Agincourt.

The lift beeped and the doors opened into a corridor just outside the thickly armored flag bridge. Eve pushed him forward and knocked on a door across the corridor from the bridge’s guarded entrance.

“Enter,” a tired voice replied.

“Sir, Sergeant Berg and Sergeant Cooper reporting as ordered, sir,” Eve snapped to the position of attention, but didn’t salute because she was missing he saluting arm. Coop remained seated, but sat up a little straighter.

“At ease,” the man sitting behind the desk had blue in his eyes, looked distinguished, handsome, had both legs, both arms, and was everything Coop expected of a full Admiral. “Good to see you, Eve. It’s been a while. Your mother told me to relay her gratitude that you didn’t die.”

“Thank you, sir,” Eve didn’t skip a beat despite the awkward exchange.

“Sergeant Cooper. Just the man I wanted to see,” the ADM’s eyes turned on Coop and lost what little warmth they had when directed at Eve. “I should have you thrown out an air locked and jettisoned into the nearest star.”

The barb cut deep. Deeper because Coop had no idea what it was about.” “Sir?” he didn’t know what else to say.

“Sergeant Major,” the ADM called, and their NCOIC popped into the room. “Play the recording.”

The recording from Coop’s V4 popped into a holo in the center of everyone. It played from the point the SRRT rescued its imprisoned members to the point where the Windsor mech backed out of the hole it in the wall with the HVT.

“Sir?” Coop repeated, still not knowing what to say. He considered pointing out the video conveniently cut off before a grenade-propelled spike fucked up his leg, but the ADM didn’t look like he was in a joking mood.

“What was your mission, Sergeant Cooper?” the ADM inquired.

Coop thought back. “Well, sir, our original mission was to Splitstream in, coordinate with the locals to pass intel back to the fleet about the conditions on the ground. That evolved to linking up with rebels and assisting with their counterinsurgency. That, in turn, evolved into sabotaging infrastructure and the enemy’s ability to respond to your fleet’s arrival. After we completed that, we took the initiative to rescue our captured team mates and destroy the elements of the enemy’s command and control that we could. Then…”

“Let’s focus on the last bit,” it looked like the ADM was biting his tongue. “You were participating in a decapitation strike in the center of Windsor power on the planet…”

“If I may, sir.” Surprisingly, the SGM cut off the ADM. That the SGM was a bad ass motherfucker was the only thing that saved him from an ass chewing. “The mission was to rescue our captured team members. We made some situational assessments once that portion of the mission was completed to search for any HVTs in the palace and attempt to kill or capture them,” the NCO clarified.

“The issue at hand, Sergeant, if you haven’t grasped it yet, was the total lack of aggression in trying to capture and kill that HVT.” The ADM clarified.

It took a moment for Coop to digest what the ADM was saying, and then he nearly jumped out of his grav-chair to strangle the man. “Who the fu…”

Sir,” Eve cut in while simultaneously hitting a switch that mag-locked Coop to the chair. He couldn’t even pull his arms off the armrests much less strangle the ADM. “There are many extenuating circumstances of the encounter we witnessed that dictated our situational-dependent response.”

The SGM kept a straight face, but Eve had just used the best-case diplomatic speak to tell a navy fleet puke that he didn’t know his head from his asshole when it came to ground combat; especially ground combat against a Windsor mech. The ADM wasn’t a stupid man, so he understood that, and his face hardened in response.

“First off, sir, there was no way Sergeant Cooper could have taken out that HVT without getting himself and everyone else killed. “He used an ingenious method to force a stalemate with an ultimatum he was not able to carry out. Sergeant Cooper was able to save lives, my life to be specific, and I am very grateful for that.” The emphasis Eve put on the “I” seemed to suggest someone else would be happy with the outcome as well.

The ADM’s eyes were still hard, but his face finally slackened. “Do you know who that was, Sergeant?” He turned back to Coop.

“She said she was some baroness,” Coop shrugged.

“That was Josephina Barrow. Or as she was better known on Harper’s Junction, Queen Josephina. If you want to go back just a bit, she was the Chief of Intelligence for the Star Kingdom of Windsor. You, Sergeant Cooper, single handedly let go the woman who led the invasion against Harper’s Junction, ruled over the planet when it was stolen from us, and until recently, was the most important intelligence operative the Windsor’s had.”

All this hit Coop like a hammer. He slumped in his chair and took a few deep breaths before looking up at Eve. One look at her face and the weight lifted. “Sorry, sir, but I wouldn’t change my decision making process,” he replied confidently.

The ADM just shook his head, but Coop swore he saw a glint of approval in the SGM’s eyes. Eve went even farther and gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze.

“Unfortunately for you, Sergeant Cooper, people with more experience and responsibility disagree. As such, you have been reassigned after you complete your rehabilitation and your restrictive duty is lifted. You will be reduced to the rank of corporal. A review board convened and determined since you did not earn the rank of sergeant, and are no longer a member of an SSRT team, you may not retain it.” The ADM landed body blow after body blow on Coop, but Coop just took it. Eve squeezed his shoulder after each blow landed. “Sergeant Berg,” the ADM returned his attention to Eve. “You are also being reassigned, but on the recommendation of your commanding officer and Sergeant Major Queen, you will retain the rank of Sergeant. You will complete the classroom portion of NCO Academy at your new duty station. The Sergeant Major determines you have completed the field portion of the process under warfighting conditions. As a former Master trainer, he had signed off on its completion.”

Coop looked up at Eve and smiled, but a small part of his brain bristled at getting busted down when he’d been the one to save her ass.

“You are also being put in for a medal for taking the fight to the enemy while virtually unarmored and unarmed. You nearly took out the HVT with your bare hands. That kind of initiative needs to be rewarded, and I’m sure some people will want to talk to you where you are going.” The ADM gave the two former SRRT members a long look before waving them off. “You’re dismissed.”

Eve’s heels clicked as she snapped to and turned Coop’s chair around.

<Well, that could have been worse,> he looked down at his missing leg as a ping announced the arrival of a new message.

It was his new orders. He instructed his IOR to open and display it across his vision. Eve must have received the same email because she stopped.

Coop nearly stopped breathing after reading the first line. He expected to be sent back to Thor and a new infantry unit, maybe even Mars to the HI school for more training. He did not expect what he was reading.

The email was ordering a permanent change of station from his old unit HQ on Thor to Fort Stewart-Benning on Earth. His medical recovery had a projected time table and using that they had assigned him to class 001-2434 of …

“Recruiting School! These fucktards want me to be a recruiter!” Coop closed the message and pinched his eyes shut. Hoping this was a bad dream.

“I’m assigned to Stewart-Benning too,” Eve replied. “Recruiter Class 001-2434 after my NCO Academy classroom completion.”

Coop’s outlook brightened a bit. He was used to the universe fucking him in the ass, but at least it looked like he’d be getting some ass for the foreseeable future.

<It’ll take it,> he grinned.

Not killing the baroness-queen-what’s her face might have been the best decision he’d ever made in the infantry.

Previous                                  Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 277

CMDR Derrick Berg

Location: CWS Borodino, Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

CMDR Berg sat enclosed in his holo-tank as tactical data flowed all around him. Borodino sailed at the head of the small formation he’d been given command of to check out the disturbance on the far side of Harper’s Junction.

“How many are Dutchman?” he asked, inquiring how many survivors the destroyer Embers of Tomorrow had floating out in space with nothing but their environmentally sealed CMUs.

“I’m getting twenty-seven distress beacons, and another dozen from escape pods,” The LT in charge of communications replied. “Prep for search and rescue?”

“Negative,” the CMDR shut that down. “We don’t know what killed her yet. Those uniforms are rated for a two hours of void exposure. We’ll send birds out to pick them up in an hour if we don’t find anything.”

“Aye aye, skipper,” the LT replied as he broadcasted a message to those spacers spinning alone in space.

<Where are you?> a holo representation of Harper’s junction turned slowly in the space in front of him. Soon they’d come around the dark side and get a better view of what occurred.

He had a small drone screen proceeding him so he didn’t bump right into anything, but his orders from the ADM were to find whatever the Windsor’s wanted hidden. He kept his eyes on the sensor scans as Borodino finally came into range of the hidden space…and found nothing.

“Anything?” he asked his EW expert who had her hands flying over her own immersed holo-tank.

“Just debris from the Ember. AI is running the numbers now.”

He watched as lines traced the path of the debris back to Embers known location at the point of contact. Then it analyzed where and how the ship was hit based on the optical data available from reconstructed views of the destroyer. Then it traced projected firing lines back to an empty section of space were there was a fat load of nothing. The AI was ninety-three percent certain of its findings, but at the same time telling him there was nothing there, or even remotely close to there.

<Machines,> he grunted as he looked harder at the projections. <Don’t send silicon to do a man’s job.> He knew it sounded wrong the second he thought it, but his point was valid.

“Gunnery,” he sent to the LT and CPO in charge of the battlecruiser’s eighteen energy cannons and eighty missile tubes, “Put a wide spread of low-powered shots in this section of space,” he circled the area the AI suggested the enemy should be. Have our forward facing railguns put some steel down range for variety’s sake.”

The Chief at the gunnery controls chucked. “Aye, sir,” it took a few seconds for the firing solutions to get locked in, and another short period for the cannons to power up, but not for the railguns to fire. Duro-steel shells spat from the front of Borodino and…two enemy cruisers appeared out of thin air right in front of them.

He didn’t have time to think about how they hell they’d done that. The enemy ships were in knife range at twenty-thousand kilometers. .

“Guns, correct…” Berg began, but the chief was all over it. New firing solutions were locked in just in time for Borodino to buck as its bow cannons opened up on the cruisers. Energy splashed across the enemies’ shields as they flashed under the pressure of the battlecruiser’s attack. The destroyers added their weight of fire to the fight, but they were busy maneuvering to get behind Borodino’s shield. At twenty-thousand kilometers they’d get cut in half by an enemy blast.

“Sir, we’ve got something coming up from the planet!” navigation informed as the cruisers finally returned fire. Borodino shuddered as the two dozen cannon blasts raked across its shields, but the larger ship held together. “Sir, one cruiser is breaking away while the other covers its retreat.”

<Fine by me. If they want to divide and die that’s up to them.>

“Focus everything on Bogey One,” he ordered as the helm swung around to bring a full broadside of energy, missile, and railguns to bear on the lone Windsor cruiser. “Fire!”

Forty missiles, twelve cannons, and dozens and dozens of railguns poured fire into the cruiser as it swung to put its more heavily defended flanks between it and its fleeing brother. At such a close distance, he could practically feel the heat as an assortment of missiles exploded across the cruiser’s shields.

Bomb-pumped lasers unleashed their antimatter infernos into the enemy as shotguns followed close behind. In several sections the shields failed. Energy and duro-steel pounded the enemy cruiser. It listed lazily to the side as something important broke, but it returned fire with its own assortment of weapons.

The integrated point defense of the three Commonwealth ships gave them a better shot even at such close range, but Borodino still took a hit. A section of shield buckled and energy poured through the gap for a half-second before it snapped back into place. It smashed into the hull ripping and melting metal plating, and opening two decks open to space. Damage alerts rolled across the CMDR’s screen, along with a dozen spacers whose medical status went from green to red. He quickly checked the two destroyers to ensure they hadn’t been hit.

“One more should do it.” Borodino spat out another broadside which cracked the Windsor cruiser into four misshapen pieces. Over the next few days it would fall into a decaying orbit and crash into Harper’s Junction if no one did anything.

“Status on the second cruiser,” he asked. It was hard to see the second ship behind the debris of the first. “Set a course around…” the bridge blinked red before and a siren blared a moment before Borodino jerked so violently it threw the bridge crew against their restraints, and more than one person was knocked unconscious by the blow.

“Damage report, what the hell was…” Berg began before everything went dark.

 

***

 

Queen Josephina I

Location: In orbit above Barrowsford, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Hold on, Your Majesty,” the pilot of the small, fast shuttle had a white knuckled grip on the controls as he flew around the edge of a widening debris field. The Collies’ ship looked poised to strike a death blow against her escape plan when light flashed up from the surface.

Several beams of scarlet energy smashed into the Collies’ battlecruiser. She counted seven in total, five of which wasted themselves on the shields. The last two broke through the rear quarter of the ship and wrecked the engines. Cascading explosions rocked the vessel, but much to her chagrin, it didn’t blow apart killing everyone inside. It was still dead in space, and one good hit from the land-based batteries would finish it off.

The two destroyers using the beleaguered battlecruiser as cover ignored the remaining Windsor cruiser and turned their guns toward the surface. She saw heat blooms against the atmosphere, but quickly turned her attention to the cruiser’s shuttle bay, which was approaching far too fast for comfort.

“Are you…?”

“Hold on!” the pilot cut the rear thrusters, flipped the shuttle around so it was pointing the opposite way, and tapped maneuvering thrusters, so the shuttle flew in the bay ass first.

Amber lights flashed around the bay telling her what she already knew: they were going to splatter across the far bulkhead like bugs on an air-car’s windshield. She closed her eyes and gripped her arms rests as the shuttle violently jerked. The pilot engaged the engines and a powerful burst slowed them down to an acceptable speed. Acceptable meaning they still hit the back bulkhead, but didn’t crumble the shuttle like a tin can.

She was still sitting in her seat and trying to catch her breath when a side door opened up and a pair of royal marines and a gaggle of deck crew gathered around the ship. “Are you ok, your Majesty?” they clamored.

“I’m quite alright,” she summoned all her regal dignity. “Please give me a hand.” One of the marines helped her down and she got to see the black blast mark that had scorched the deck all around the shuttle. “Take me to your captain,” she tried not to think how close she was to going splat.

She could feel the cruiser accelerating away from the enemy, away from her world, and away from the last vestiges of respect she would get from the other High Nobility. “On second thought, take me to my cabin. I need to rest.”

The marines didn’t argue as they took her to the captain’s personal quarters which had already been cleaned out in preparation for her arrival. She sat down on the bed and thought about crying, but crying was a waste of her time and energy. Revenge was a much more satisfactory course of action, and she knew just who she’d start with.

 

***

 

CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

The charges finished eating through the duro-steel, and the HI trooper immediately lobbed grenades into the room beyond. They had no idea what was waiting for them, and just walking into an unknown enemy stronghold was a good way to get dead. Booms rattled the wall as they took cover.

“Move!” the HI trooper barged through the opening and peeled left. Mitch went right.

The smoke was still clearing as his HUD cycled through different views to give him the best tactical picture. What he saw was a massacre. Most of the people in the room were unarmed techs. A few armed soldiers were present, but the grenades had fucked them up good. He almost felt bad for them.

Movement caught his eye and he pivoted to bring his M3 to bear on a man. The man was bloodied and reaching for his desk. Right as he smacked the polyplast panel, Mitch pulled the trigger. The man’s chest exploded when the M3’s 1mm dart tore through him, and he fell to the ground dead, but not before the mountain shook.

<Shit.> Mitch could tell that hitting that button had fire the energy cannon again. He didn’t want to think about how many people were dead because he hadn’t pulled the trigger a heartbeat sooner. That was something he needed to deal with after, because he had more pressing issues.

The mountain was still shaking.

The HI trooper rushed to a circular station at the center of the destroyed workspace. The body of a torn up soldier, his helmet-less head oozing blood from deep lacerations, was lying over the screens. The trooper gave him a shove and the body flopped to the floor.

“Evac now!” The trooper didn’t look at it for more than a second. “Secondary explosions from the feedback loop are going to…” the whole room shuddered and a large chunk of mountain broke off the ceiling and smashed into a desk next to Mitch.

No one needed to tell him twice as he hauled ass for the exit. His injured team members were still outside the door, and looking around with fear in their eyes. Mitch checked everyone’s biometrics to see elevated heart races and adrenaline in their systems.

“We need to move!” He grabbed both under their armpits and pulled them to their feet. Although injured, they limped forward faster than he’d seen them move when assigned details in the past.

They only made it about ten meters before falling rock smashed into the PVT on Mitch’s left, and knocked everyone else to the ground. “A little help…” Mitch turned back to yell at the HI trooper, but was met with a rock pile that blocked the destroyed control room. “Fuck!” he bent to grab the down PVT and a chunk of mountain the size of his M3 smashed into his back.

He was knocked to his knees and struggled to get up as more rock rained down on him.

“I’m not going to be fucking buried alive,” he yelled just as a multi-ton boulder squashed his feet.

He barely had time to scream before the corridor filled with rubble and his fears were realized.

Somewhere in a warship above the planet his medical status went from green to red. It would take a few days for boots on the ground to confirm the status, but when it did a carefully crafted process would be put into action.

Through QE communications, or a ship traveling back to his unit’s HQ, the data would be transmitted and passed up the chain to the division level. Once there It would be screened and filter by an AI that would evaluate the manner of the soldier’s death and his last will and testament.

One of two things would happen. An analysis of the next of kin would be conducted. Citizenship was a key factor in the decision-making process, but wealth and influence was a close second. If the next of kin was a well-respected and influential citizen then the case would receive a casualty assistance officer to walk the family of the deceased through the process. That was the exception, not the rule.

Since Mitch Niceklbaucher came from an industrial Mid-World, and his next of kin hadn’t fulfilled the requirements for citizenship, a condolence letter, signed by the soldier’s first-line commander was generated, with detailed instructions, and sent to the identified individual in the soldier’s will. The instructions laid out how to collect the half-a-million dollars in servicememeber’s group life insurance, and any other benefits dependents might be entitled to. There was a read receipt to the message, and if nothing was done in six months a follow up call by an AI would remind the next of kin to take action. If no action was taken within one Earth-year of the soldier’s death then the payment was forfeited unless there were mitigating circumstances. After that, Corporal Mitch Nickelbaucher’s life story became just another string of ones and zeros in the massive depository of information kept by the Ministry of War along with tens of thousands of others that died for the Commonwealth during the Battle of Harper’s Junction.

Previous                                   Next