Two Worlds – Chapter 285

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

<Why did she do this?> Coop’s eyes were fixed on the digital signature of the Commonwealth Chief of Naval Intelligence.

Two things came to mind. First, Admiral Berg was putting him and her daughter in the same position to show her that he wasn’t worth it. When given increased responsibility in a position that was bound to require high-level technical acumen, the ADM expected Coop to fail, and she expected Eve to see it all unfold. It was a diabolical genius’ plan. The second reason was a positive one. Coop thought this unlikely based on his past encounters with the ADM, but she might be trying to propel his career forward so he would be worthy of her daughter if he succeeded. She’d said people were looking at Eve as a future leader based on her past performance, and people weren’t saying that about Coop. Now, not only was Coop and qualified SRRT, HI trooper, but now he was about to be one of the first soldiers in this experimental armored cavalry deal. If that didn’t build a resume than nothing did.

<The only problem is knowing which one is her true motivation.> Coop wondered as CMDR snow led the group over to the base of one of the towering mechs. <No…MOUNTS,> he corrected himself. He didn’t want to think of them as mechs.

“For your situational awareness the recruiting corps does not know of the true nature of your assignment. We are trying to keep all of this under wraps until we can deploy these units to combat the Blockies, Windsor’s, or anyone else who wants to militarily test the Commonwealth.”

“They’re gonna know when forty of us walk back into the classroom at Stewart-Benning as Warrant Officers,” Camilla whispered, and Coop nodded. The proof of their special assignment was literally on their persons.

When all the enlisted soldiers and NCOs had reviewed their paperwork to see they’d been promoted to WO-1, their CMUs had automatically updated. Like all officers, WOs had a stripe to signify their commission, but unlike regular officers it wasn’t gold or platinum. Instead a black stripe made its way down all of their uniforms. In Coop’s opinion, it looked a hell of a lot better than the gold and platinum he was on the LTs, LCDRs, and CMDR in the room. The gold in particular was way too flashy, and the ADMs walking around practically had golden pants with their five stripes. The black of a warrant officer was subdued and classy. IT didn’t throw it in your face that this person was better than you, it simply stated a WO knew their shit and should be trusted to do their job. Coop gave the stripe a pat and turned his attention back to the CMDR.

“You are all here for a three day familiarization. After that, you will return to your recruiting class, at your previous ranks, and graduate. After graduation, everyone’s orders will be changed and you all will be assigned to special projects at Aberdeen Proving Grounds,” the CMDR finished up.

“I knew that was the sign I saw,” Bill smiled triumphantly, and explained when he saw Coop’s confusion. “Aberdeen Proving Grounds is a joint Fleet-Infantry base to test experimental weapons. It’s been around since before the Commonwealth. I think they tested the first A-bomb here.”

“No way. I heard that was in Manhattan,” Camilla responded.

“No way would they build a nuke in New York City. I thought it was out in Los Angeles, or the desert somewhere,” Coop shot back. A couch and a hard look from a former SSG, now also a WO, shut the three former CPLs up.

The gathered soldiers were all now standing at the foot of a MOUNT…literally. Even the tallest of the enhanced soldiers barely reached mid-thigh on the metal monster.

“As I stated before, these are the Modular Offensive Units, or MOUNTS.” The CMDR beamed up at the grey shell. “We were able to capture a Windsor mech and its pilot at Harper’s Junction and that was instrumental in helping us reverse engineer their combat capabilities, and make our own improvements. To give you all a better idea of what you’ll be riding into battle please give a warm welcome to Mr. Thomas Gold.” The CMDR stepped back and a familiar face appeared from behind the armor.

“I see a few familiar faces in the audience,” the elder Gold, and titan of industry’s lingered on Coop and Eve for just a second longer than everyone else, “and all of you have used my products at one time or another.” He smiled a flawless, white smile. “Today you’re getting a sneak peek at a next generation weapon that is going to turn the tide of war against our enemies and solidify our Commonwealth’s position in the galaxy. Some of you know it isn’t just human we need to worry about.” Gold’s eyes darted to Coop and Eve again.

“Right now things are a little bare bones,” but they’ll be ready for you after you graduate your recruiting course and get assigned here,” he reassured. “But outside this armored shell, which is made of a newly patented polymer alloy that is an order of magnitude stronger than duro-steel, we’ll be putting on a polymorphic skin that will camouflage the MOUNTS.”

“That’s not much of an improvement over the LACS,” Coop mumbled.

“But the polymorphic is a standard measure to help the MOUNT blend into their environment if needed. The real stealth mode is something quite new altogether. Boys, do you think we can dial up Unit 01 to give these soldiers a show.” The engineers under his employ clearly weren’t going to say no to the Thomas Gold, so five minutes later the MOUNT in front of them was up and running.

“Corporal…sorry, Warrant Officer Cooper, we’ve worked together before. Come up and help me with this demonstration,” Coop didn’t have a chance before Camilla and Bill shoved him forward. “Now, we all know about the new shield technology developed throughout the fleet, and I also know a few of you have developed countermeasures.” Gold looked expectantly at Coop who nodded in reply. “The old shields are basically a giant bubble around you that at its factory settings will only stop things going above a specific velocity. You can dial the power up and down, but there are drawbacks to battery life and life itself if you don’t have enough air to survive. When its powered up so nothing gets through…that means nothing.”

“What we’ve done for out new MOUNT is create a new type of shielding. Think of it as armor on a knight. Instead of a bubble we have a directional amplifiers built into the armor.” On cue, the shield sprang to life, and even better, it was color coded. “We’ve calibrated most of the MOUNTS shielding to be at its strongest, impenetrable setting, while several smaller, less-vulnerable areas are a standard or weaker power levels and frequencies. The idea here is to give the Dragoon, you fine soldiers here today, the ability to adapt your shielding to the situation and threat.” Gold smiled like a kid in the candy shop. “But forgive me, I’m getting away from myself with all the new gadgets and gear we have in these beauties. We were talking about camouflage.” Gold smiled deepen. “Keep your eyes on the MOUNT, and, abracadabra.”

“Holy shit,” Coop wanted as the six meter war machine in front of him disappeared in front of his eyes.

“It is pretty fantastic,” Gold stood with his hands on his hip and looking at the empty space for a second,” but like all good things, I’m afraid this has a drawback too.” He tossed Coop a pen. “Throw it.”

Coop did as he was instructed and chucked the pen at the invisible armor. It impacted with a soft clang of metal on metal. <Hmm, well that sucks,> he saw the drawback as a pretty big one.

“The shield is what allows for this extreme level of stealth. As of this moment, no sensor in the Commonwealth’s inventory can spot the MOUNTS while in stealth mode, but reconfiguring the shield also reconfigures its priorities. It’s about staying hidden instead of protection. We don’t have the power to do both.”

“I can see some situations where it is beneficial, and others where the standard polymorphic camouflage will be better. Doctrine and strategies are being developed before our training begins, and it will be up to you all to test those theories and adapt them as necessary,” the CMDR added.

“Just one quick question,” Coop asked. He figured if he was the demo dummy then he’d at least take advantage of it. “Where is this thing’s weapon? It’s got to be one big ass Buss.”

“The MOUNT doesn’t have a conventional gun like that,” Gold replied as he walked to the side of the war machine. “It is equipped with a 10mm dual forearm cannon,” he pointed at the ports. “Ammo canisters are loaded and ejected from here,” he pointed at open ports on the side of the armor. “It frees up the MOUNTs hands for other mission specific priorities.”

“So…no gun,” the idea was alien and idiotic to Coop.

“No gun,” Gold shook his head, and then grinned. “But it does have these,” he led everyone around back where two giant cannons were sitting on the ground waiting to be attached.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” Coop said a little too loud and Gold laughed.

“The one on the right is a graviton cannon, similar to what the mech’s you’ve encountered employ, but this one is bigger and stronger. Then there’s this baby,” Gold pointed as the second cannon. It looked terrifyingly fragile compared to the thick, cylindrical graviton cannon next to it. It was made of thinner metal that was formed into a helix shape. It was longer than the other cannon, but funneled down to a comically small opening.

“This is a next generation magnetic accelerator. It’s an alien design that we are merging with our own tech, and its primary function is to fire these.”

A squad of corpies in full armor and heavily armed appeared. They were on high alert, with their heads on a swivel. In between them floating a grav-cart with a single shell sitting at the center. The shell was made of a dark metal, so black it seemed to pull at the light around it, but amongst the black metal were veins of pulsing white lights. It reminded Coop of the ying and yang symbol a bit, but much more organic looking.

“This is a shield buster,” Gold didn’t even dare touch the shell when it came to a stop next to him. “I was able to acquire this from some recent Hegemonic contacts. Our best scientists haven’t been able to find out what it is made of or what it does, but I’ve viewed the shell in action before on an alien world.” A slight shiver coursed through Gold’s body. “One of these will disrupt and drop any shield. I’m talking an assault carrier, a PDC defense shield, or the few planet shields we’ve invested tens of trillions in that are now useless,” he laughed at his poor investment. “Whatever this shell is made of, it gets through, disrupts and makes it so they can’t get back up.”

“That’s a pretty sick super weapon. How many we got?” Bill asked from the back.

“Three.”

“Three per MOUNT. We can do a lot of damage with that,” Coop said.

“No,” Gold shook his head. “Three in the entire Commonwealth.”

“Well shit,” Coop grunted. There was no way in hell anyone was going to give him one of those.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 284

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Coop, wake up. We’re going to miss formation.” Eve’s hand came down with a vengeance and connected with his ass with a loud slap.

“I’m up,” he groaned and grimaced as the sting worked its way across his backside. “I’m…” he tasted vomit in the back of his throat and fought back his gag reflex.

Last night the recruits had learned their assignments after they completed training. It had been a far more raucous affair than he expected, but he was ok with that. He got to see some of the NCOs let down their hair a bit, although none of the cadre partook. The MSG who’d been on Coop’s ass, ever since his technical pass of the training exercise with the Stark kid, hadn’t had a single sip of the cheap booze.

<And I’m sure he’ll be waiting for me at the motorpool,> Coop hefted himself up, fought the momentary vertigo, and hauled himself out of bed. <It looks like I had some fun last night.> Clothes littered the floor and furniture like a sex tornado had hit the room. He remembered flashes of the no-pants dance, but most of it was a blur.

“Here,” Eve tossed a capsule at him. He swiped clumsily at it and missed by a kilometer. It landed on the bed and he picked it up with a thankful smile.

Medical science had long ago found a cure for the bane of mankind – the hangover – and the answer was in the palm of his hand. Coop popped the capsule of nanites designed to target the alcohol in his bloodstream, and downed it with a liter of water. The pill’s instruction required a person to stay hydrated to avoid any negative side effects, and he was no stranger to this morning after pill.

“Wowza,” Coop felt it start to go to work as the traditional hangover symptoms began to fade. “I need a shower.”

“Yeah, you smell like ass,” Eve replied bluntly as she worked on getting her CMU over her curves.

He admired the view for a second before rushing into the shower. She was right. They were short on time. The water felt good, and the rest of his symptoms vanished by the time he hopped out. He drank another liter when he started to feel cottonmouth set in, and picked through his uniforms until he found a fresh set. Eve gathered the rest of the dirty clothes and stuffed them all in the bag for the housekeeping staff to wash and return. At most places that meant a basic, programmed droid would do the work, but the military liked to keep human beings employed. It was good for the economy, so they did things the old-fashioned way sometimes.

“How do I look?” Eve asked as Coop was cleaning his teeth. The cadre would have his ass if he didn’t maintain the pearly whites they’d given him.

Coop looked over and couldn’t help but smile. She was wearing her hair down today. If stopped just short of her uniform’s collar. Her CMUs were on their dress setting, so all of her ribbons were on full display. She had a pretty good rack – no pun intended – with her Bronze Star with Valor, Purple Heart, and a bunch of other minor decorations. Her Ranger tab and SRRT badge were the highlights on her shoulder. It was more than a normal SGT would have, and much better than Coop’s. He had a Bronze Star to his own name and a fresh Purple Heart for losing his leg on Harper’s Junction, but lacked other minor decorations and the campaign ribbons that Eve had earned at Yangon.

“You look like young men are going to join up with the hopes of serving with you…or at least wanking off to you tonight,” he couldn’t keep his serious face, and had to weave around a punch she threw his way. “But seriously, you look good.”

She fussed over his own formal CMUs and then stepped to the side so they could both admire themselves in the mirror. “Good to go.” She slipped her arm into his and they left the small quarters they shared and headed to the motorpool.

The cadre liked to call what they were doing a field exercise, but the recruiting corps and the infantry had very different interpretations of that meaning. When Coop heard that phrase, it meant he was going to run through simulations, digital then live fire, and then hunt down and kill the enemy. It meant days of sweat, shitty food, and sleeping in your LACS with the comforting smell of your own BO. For the recruiters, it meant a luxurious bus ride to some metropolis where they would be in PHA administration buildings, high school gyms, or other convention centers to try and lure young men and women out of their mother’s arms and into the shitshow that was the real world. They would stay in mid-range hotels, and get continental breakfasts, which while not as good as a home cooked meal, were a hell of a lot better than MREs and drinking recycled piss.

As such, Coop though of their “field exercise” as what it really was – a field trip.

It was still dark when they entered the motorpool. They were some of the last to arrive, but they were still early. They fell into formation and mentally prepared for the hour-long inspection they knew was coming. As Coop predicted, MSG Shit-for-Brains made a beeline for him, and made him do a few hundred pushups for lint and other articles of pollution that had landed on his uniform during the walk over from his room. Other than those bullshit deficiencies, his uniform was perfect.

“You like your assignment,” the MSG whispered in his ear as he effortlessly knocked out the corrective exercises. “I saw there was an opening there, and I thought that Mark Cooper would just love to go back home for a little bit. You know…see his old stomping ground and reconnect with the other shit birds that he grew up with.”

Coop grit his teeth and kept doing pushups. That was one of the reasons he’d gotten plastered last night. He’d been assigned to the same PHA that he’d been recruited out of a few years ago. As recruiter posts went, it was bottom of the barrel. Buffalo in the winter wasn’t where anyone wanted to be. He shuddered at the memories of the polluted snowfalls of his childhood.

On the other hand, Eve had gotten a sweet gig in New York City at the brigade headquarters for the recruiting corps entire North American district. She wasn’t even going to be doing recruiting for the most part. She was going to be in an operations staff billet. It was desk work, but crucial to her career development. She had more than enough combat experience for her grade, so the infantry needed to see how she managed people in a garrison environment.

Coop would rather blow his brains out, but he would be recruiting from the Rats of his troubled past, so it wasn’t anything to brag about.

“When I call your name, make your way to the first bus,” the LCDR in charge of this excursion announced.

It was a weird way to do things. Usually, you would board by squads, or at least fire-teams, and the squad leaders would be in charge of accountability. Instead, the cadre was acting like this was what it was… a field trip for kindergarteners. Coop half expected them to have battle buddies and hold hands.

<Fucking joke,> he bitched internally. When they moved onto the D’s without calling his name, he knew he was going to be on the second bus. <Great, it’s the short bus for me.> He wasn’t sure if it was intentional punishment or not from the MSG.

On the bright side, Bill, Camila, and even Eve were assigned to the same bus, so it wasn’t going to be an awful trip. That thought lasted until he boarded the bus. It was a normal bus, which was the problem. It seemed that everyone on it was enhanced, which meant they were squeezed in like sardines. The only blessing was the MSG wasn’t on with them, but a big CMDR Coop had never seen hopped on at the last minute.

The CMDR was a giant, grizzled motherfucker with the tabs and awards to match his intimidating physical presence. Coop spotted a Ranger tab and a Silver Star ribbon before the big man turned his back and took his seat right behind the driver.

{You ever seen that guy before?} Coop sent to his fellow CPLs and Eve. They were just as stumped as him as the bus rose off the ground on its anti-gravs and joined the flow of morning traffic.

Their destination was a burb on the outskirts of the Philadelphia-Baltimore-Dover metropolis. They would be manning recruiting booths at a sector fair, participating in a school district’s career day, and providing additional manpower to several of the metropolis’ civil administration buildings that had a historically large volume of recruits over the next week. Again, Coop could not think less of this field exercise and its importance to the Commonwealth’s mission. So, like any good soldier with the ingrained skill of being able to fall asleep anywhere at any time, he shut his eyes and dozed off. It wasn’t overly difficult after the night he’d had.

It felt like he’d only been asleep for a few minutes before Bill’s hand gripped his arm. “Wake up,” his battle buddy whispered. “Something’s up.”

Coop’s eyelids snapped open immediately as he scanned around him. He took it all in, and only one thing stood out. “Where is the other bus?” They’d been following right behind the big bus since leaving the base, and with automated traffic it was tough to lose someone you were following.

“We turned off the ninety-five a few seconds ago, and the first bus kept going,” Bill replied as he looked behind him in an attempt to reread a sign.

Everything on the Eastern Seaboard of the old United States was populated, but as Coop looked out the window wherever they were seemed less populated than usual. No towering PHA buildings were visible even in the distance. All he could see was a cluster of buildings surrounding the highway, but as they continued farther, they began to thin out into rare open space.

“Wait are we…” Bill began.

{Eyes front,} a voice announced in Coop’s mind that was identified by his IOR as the CMDR sitting in the front of the bus. {You will review and sign the document I am sending to you now.} The bus pulled over and came to a stop on the side of the road. They were at least a kilometer from the last building of the town around the interstate, and only a few cars were visible coming and going. That visibility was abruptly cut off as the windows went black as the driver activated the tint. {Failure to do so will end with you getting off the bus and waiting here on the side of the road for future transport.}

{Do you know what this is?} Coop sent to Eve, but all he got was a question mark in return. It seemed everyone was out of the loop. A mental ping announced the arrival of the promised document, and it was at least fifty pages of legalese, but all he needed to read was the title.

{A non-disclosure agreement. We’re in the military, they completely run our lives with an iron fist. Why do they need us to sign this?}

{Because we’re about to stick our dicks into something big and they want to be able to bend us over and royally fuck us if we breathe a word about it.} The fact that the reply came from Camilla made Coop chuckle as he signed the form. The infantry already owned his ass, so what was another pound of flesh.

The bus only started to move when everyone had signed off. No one took the easy way out and got off the bus, but the tint stayed activated. They stopped briefly at something, probably a checkpoint of some sort given all the cloak and dagger shit. After the brief stop, they kept moving for a good twenty more minutes before coming to a halt.

{Fall in!} The CMDR hopped off the bus, and everyone scrambled to obey. It was a good idea to stay on this guy’s good side.

Coop scanned the group real quick as they fell in outside the bus in front of an arched mound of earth with a heavy duro-steel door covering most of the front. A full four squads of ten had been stuffed into the small bus, and each was arranged by rank. All ten of the LCDRs from the recruiting class were bunched up on the right with the senior officer occupying the role of squad leader. To their left were the collection of NCOs, and at the ass end of the squads, the handful of CPLs including Coop.

Coop was still trying to figure everything out when the duro-steel door slowly started to open and the CMDR ushered them inside before forming back up again. Only once the door had closed did he start to speak.

{What I am about to tell you is covered under the NDA you just signed. Breathe a word of it and the Commonwealth will execute you. Understood.}

{Yes, Sir,} Forty peoples’ voices blaring in Coop’s head was a surefire path to a migraine.

{With the advent of new technology obtained by our alien allies, and the changing tactics and strategies of modern warfare, the Commandant of the Infantry, Admiral Garrett, has decided to put new operational concepts into development. Information gathered during our nation’s most recent battles has only reinforced the Admiral’s opinion and authorized this proof of concept.} The ground jerked below them as the lift they were standing on began to descend. Coop’s mind flashed back to the start of SRRT training on New Savannah. {Every man and woman here was selected for this duty. Your records were combed through, your experience evaluated, your unique characteristics weighed, and everything given the final blessing of the chain of commands. I am not shitting you when I say that the Admiral personally reviewed your packets for this duty.}

<That’s all well and good, but what the fuck are you talking about?> Coop had no idea someone had even floated his name for some big, secret project, because that was exactly what this was. You didn’t bury boring, standard developmental concepts this far underground.

{My name is Commander Francis Snow,} the officer continued, {I am the commanding officer of the First Armored Cavalry Regiment.} An insignia appeared in Coop’s vision of an iron, curved medieval breastplate with a big roman numeral one emblazoned on it. Behind it was a crossed rifle and sword. Underneath it all read Animo Et Fide, which his translation software said meant, Courageous and Faithful. Coop had never heard of armored cavalry, a regiment, a CMDR commanding a regiment, never seen that branch insignia, or even knew what language the unit motto was in.

{We are an experimental proof of concept with a different organization and order of battle then what is standard in the infantry. If this works out, more regiments will start to come online after a training curriculum is instituted. Our regiment will be assigned piecemeal to frontline units that need our support. You all have been the tip of the spear for the Commonwealth’s armed forces. Now, you will be the hammer.} The lift shuddered to a stop, and another thick door rolled open.

“Shit!” Coop broke military bearing and hit the deck. He wasn’t the only one.

Forty suits of armor stood in front of the forty soldiers, but these weren’t the LACS everyone was used to. These monstrous behemoths stood six meters tall. All their armored ports were open and every conceivable weapon was visible. The only thing that kept Coop from going into cardiac arrest was that instead of being a rust-red color, the suits were a matte gray, and technicians were scurrying around the towering metal frames.

The jolt of fear and rush of adrenaline at facing a Windsor mech without his LACS quickly faded as Coop got back to his feet. CMDR Snow was smiling, but didn’t rebuke them. A SGM walked over to join the CMDR along with a group of technicians.

{Your updated files has been declassified, for your eyes only, for the next ten minutes. Please verify the information and provide any corrections to the Sergeant Major before we begin our basic introduction.}

A file blinked in Coop’s peripherals and he quickly opened it. If there was one thing he knew for sure it was that he didn’t want his paperwork all fucked up. He read the first line and there was already an error.

“Sir, my rank reads at WO-1. I’m an E-4,” Coop spoke up.

“Ah, almost forgot about that. Thank you, Mr. Cooper.” The CMDR switched to spoken words to match Coop’s question. “As you might imagine, these modular offensive units, or MOUNTS as we’re calling them for short, are very expensive pieces of equipment. The Admiral does not believe that such valuable and top secret weapons should be placed in the hands of enlisted and junior NCOs. As such, a battlefield commission has been awarded to all of you who are not officers for your previous combat service. Many of you might have chosen to become officers soon anyway, and you’ve demonstrated the basic competency for the rank and level of responsibility.”

<That doesn’t sound like me,> Coop opened his mouth to ask a follow up, but the CMDR held up a hand to silence him.

“You might be given a commission, but it will not be the full commission of an officer. That has to be earned and special schools attended if you wish to go that route. Instead, the Warrant Officer program has been reactivated. Similar to the specialist track for NCOs, Warrant Officers are subject matter experts in a particular occupational specialty. In your case, that MOS is the nineteen series of the newly rechristened armored cavalry.” The CMDR smiled at them and Coop cringed at the terrifying expression on the man. “However, there are some caveats to the promotion. Everyone here will be required to present an Associate’s Degree from an accredited college within the next three years to keep your rank. Fortunately, most of what you will be learning will be acceptable transfer credits for the Commonwealth Military University. All that will be required are the general courses for you to earn the degree.” The CMDR made it sound easy, but Coop shuddered more at the fact he’d have to go back to school than suddenly being an officer. He really didn’t know how to feel about that. Then he thought about MSG Shit-For-Brains. A Warrant Officer was still an officer, which meant he now outranked the man who was making his life a pain in the ass.

There were a few more questions from the officers, mostly concerning any affect this would have on their own ranks and career progression, but Coop took the time to dive into the paperwork.

<Who the hell recommended me for this?> Admiral Garrett’s signature was on the final paperwork, but a quick read said that there had to be two additional officer recommenders. The applicant’s frontline commander and someone O-4 or above. Since Coop didn’t know any CMDRs, much less CAPTs, he was scratching his head on who thought he was a good fit for this program and one hell of a promotion.

“Fuck,” he muttered when he finally got to the electronic signatures of his recommenders.

The first one was LCDR Gold. Since Coop saved his life, he accepted that Gold was trying to do him a favor and help his career. It was the second name that was the real punch in the gut. It wasn’t a CAPT, or even a RADM.

Admiral Sonya Berg’s name was affixed to the bottom of the page, and somewhere deep down Coop felt like she’d swindled a piece of his soul. Suddenly, outranking the MSG didn’t seem like such a good thing.

“Welcome to your new unit, Dragoons.”

Coop was too busy staring at the ADM’s signature to even ask what the last word meant.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 283

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Awwww….coooom,” Coop grunted as the man wrenched his jaw back and forth while peering into his mouth.

The dental tech didn’t pay him any mind as he went about his business, and as far as Coop could tell, the slight man’s business was being a pain in the ass. Or in this particular instance… mouth. Coop hadn’t thought there would be this much fuss in the recruiting corps. He was used to inspections on his LACS armor by GYSGT Cunningham and the SGM, but wasn’t used to such close inspections of him. As long as he was good to go, ready to fight, and didn’t have medical flags that was all that mattered. Now, these recruiters were taking things to a whole new level.

The dental tech pulled what looked like a pistol from his table of torture devices and smiled sweetly as Coop. “You’re going to feel a slight pinch,” was the only warning before pain flared across Coop’s upper gums.

“Awwww…son of a…” the restrains holding his jaw in place were sturdy, and all attempts to bite down against the fire spreading through his mouth was futile.

“You’re not the worst I’ve seen today,” the tech slid his chair back and removed his sterile gloves. “I keep telling your infantry bosses that it would be better to get this out of the way during Basic, but no,” he waved his hands around as he tossed the gloves into a bin where nanites broke them down to a molecular level for eventual recycling. “They complain about costs and wanting to make you fighters rather than consider proper dental hygiene.”

Coop remembered the two minutes he’d spent in the dentist’s chair during Basic. The people running the training school were only concerned with a soldier’s dental health as far as it not being an impediment to performing their duties. As long as they could fight and kill the enemy, CAPTs and ADMs didn’t care if a grunt had a jacked-up set of chompers. Unlike the commanders of fighting men, the recruiting corps desperately cared about the appearance of their recruiters, and step one of that was a perfect, white smile.

Coop’s smile wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t perfect either. He had a small gap between his upper two teeth and a slight overbite. Those were deficiencies that needed correcting.

As the burning started to subside, he relaxed. The tech slid back over and sprayed another round of nanites into his mouth. Coop didn’t know if these were to set any changes or help with the whitening process. He was just glad the pain had ebbed.

“No solids for the next twenty-four hours. I’ve put a medical profile in the systems so you can’t trick the food fabricators. If you mess this up before it sets you’ll be back here tomorrow. If you’re back here tomorrow then you don’t get anesthetic. Believe me, you don’t want that. Next!” He prodded Coop in the shoulder to get him out of the chair and pointed toward a curtain leading to the next station.

A MSG stood just outside the curtain. He had to stand on his tiptoes to grab Coop by the chin and get a look at his teeth. “Good enough. Proceed.” The man waved Coop forward and into the next partitioned section where a barber was waiting for him.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Coop mumbled, but did as he was told and took a seat.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had anything but a high and tight. As a Rat you didn’t have a lot of water to wash your hair, and in a fight, long hair was a liability. Getting yanked to the ground by the back of the head and stomped was the only lesson anyone needed on that subject. He’d worn it short for so long it was like looking in the mirror at a stranger as the barber coaxed the hair to life and grew it to shoulder length in a few minutes.

“Hold still,” the man had a hard edge to his voice as the mirror Coop was looking into blinked and scanners activated.

They mapped his face and ran it against multiple databases. It took into account where he would be recruiting, fashion trends in that section of the Commonwealth, and any local celebrities or icons that would have the best chance of influencing young men and women to join the Commonwealth’s armed forces. The recruiters wanted Coop to look like them as much as possible, because hundreds of years of human history told them that people would always do what beautiful, famous people said. Even if those people didn’t know what they were talking about. The search took a few seconds and ended with a beep.

“Hold still,” the barber repeated as he brought over what looked like a combat helmet. Once it was in place, Coop felt bussing and a tingling sensation as the machine went to work on his skull.

It was finished in under a minute, and the barber popped it off. After a close examination, and a few snips of old-school scissors, Coop was finished. The whole process, start-to-finish, had taken under three minutes. With over a hundred future recruiters to get through in this class alone, the cadre knew how to manage their time.

“Hubba hubba,” Camila gave a whistle as Coop stepped through the curtain separating the barber and an open space filled with chairs. “Lookin’ fine, Cooper.”

“You look like…what’s that guy’s name?” Bill scratched his head. His hair was just a bit longer and combed over to one side. It made him look better, which was the whole point. “He always plays a cop.”

The comment sent an institutionalized shiver up Coop’s spine. Being compared with a pig, even a fictional one, didn’t sit well with him.

“You’re looking pretty good yourself,” he turned the attention away from himself and onto the big woman.

They’d grown out her hair and braided it. It looked like an effort to make her look more feminine which was only mildly successful. She still looked like she’d ground a regular guy’s bones to powder and use it to make bread. Bill said something to that effect and the gentle ribbing continued. Coop’s eyes swept the room of future recruiters and locked on the entrance. A familiar face entered that sent his heart racing.

Eve walked into the room with her same predatory grace, but her hair was longer than the buzzed head, or pixie cut, he was used to seeing. She had a short bob going on that had her golden hair spilling all the way down to her shoulders. It didn’t stay that was for long. A hair tie appeared in her hand and started to pull it back into a tight bun that highlighted her high cheek bones and sharp features. It was like a before and after picture for Coop. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but having her hair just a tad longer transformed her look enough that she practically glowed in his eyes.

<She’s a hottie,> he left it at that as she approached.

“You clean up pretty good,” she smiled at him. “You look like…”

“I know,” Coop waved off her commentary, and just in time.

A hurried looking LCDR burst into the room and headed directly for the small lectern at the front. The room snapped to attention but he waved them off. “We’re eight minutes behind schedule,” the man had a whiny voice that made Coop want to crush his windpipe to avoid hearing the man speak, “so I need to make this quick. Today we’ll be doing a practical exercise to familiarize yourself with the new IOR software.”

Coop groaned at the news. That had been most of their training recently. The IOR’s were linked into the recruiting corps’ central database that pulled data on potential recruits to help recruiters draw them in. The first time he saw it at work he was a little frightened about the Commonwealth’s information gathering abilities. When a recruiter looked at a potential recruit the facial analysis software went to work if they didn’t get an immediate view of the person’s GIC. Once their identity was confirmed, the information on the subject was downloaded to the IOR. It contained everything you would and wouldn’t want to know about an eighteen year old kid: academic profile, social media presence, streaming likes, unprotected medical data, favorite sports teams, and everything they ever searched on a search engine sorted and labeled by frequency. Hell, it even listed the porn sites they liked to visit if you dug deep enough in the data. Everything in the digital age was logged and categorized, and a recruiter had access to all of it. It made Coop cringe at what the HI recruiter had looked at when he saw Coop’s ragged ass sitting in his office.

<At least he didn’t get it downloaded directly into his brain,> he grunted. Their class was the guinea pig for the new data transfer system, and it wasn’t perfect yet.

“Each of you have an assignment waiting for you. These are sure things, people, so you can’t screw this up. Everything is going to be laid out for you. Just follow the script, lock them down for their contract, and move on. This is a pass-fail exercise, but we’ll also be grading you on speed. When you end up at bigger events and fairs, speed will be key to meeting your quotas.” The LCDR looked around expectantly. “Get to it!”

“Good luck,” Eve gave his had a quick squeeze and headed back toward the other NCOs.

The Officers and NCOs went first, but it wasn’t a long wait until Coop was stepping forward. “Room twenty-six,” the MSG who was overseeing all of this pointed to the right. Coop walked up to the door and looked in.

It was a two-way door. Coop could see in, but the recruit couldn’t see out. As Coop laid eyes on the kid, he felt a slight pressure and then data started to stream into his vision. He followed his training and went to the kid’s basic profile first.

<Ryan Stark…decent grades…a bit of political chatter on social media. Mostly of the ultra-progressive viewpoint that tells anyone with half a brain that the kid hasn’t stepped outside his mommy and daddy’s protective shadow except to go on spring break vacation on one of the resort planets where all his friends think just like he does.> Coop shook his head as he looked the kid over.

Stark was broad shouldered like most high school athletes from the burbs. He’d been born with a good genetic profile, had the proper training throughout his youth, and unlike Coop, had plenty to eat. A quick check of his family data said his mom was a school psychiatrist and dad worked as a defense contractor for Gold Technologies. This was a kid who’d grown up with everything Coop never had, and if he gave two shits about Ryan Stark, Coop would have let that influence his decision. He ultimately didn’t, because he had something Stark didn’t…experience.

<He wants a straight infantry contract…idiot,> he shook his head and pushed the door open.

“Sir,” Stark jumped to his feet and offered a shitty salute.

Coop cursed all the holo-movies that filled kids’ heads with bullshit. “Sit down. I’m not an officer. You don’t salute me or call me, sir.” He pointed to the two chevrons on his shoulder.

“Yes, sergeant,” Stark answered, and Coop bit his tongue to avoid ripping into the kid.

“Corporal,” he corrected calmly, and took the seat across from the kid. “So you want to be infantry?”

“Yes, ser…corporal,” Stark quickly corrected. “I want to serve my country, get my citizenship, and teach those murderous Blockies and backstabbing Windsor’s that…”

Coop held up his hand to stop the kid. He didn’t need the all the ra-ra from a kid who didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. Thankfully, Stark shut up while Coop continued to peruse his file. The problem was things didn’t add up.

The kid’s preferences were for a Core or Mid-World post, which wasn’t in keeping with all the boasts about taking it to the enemy. Even more important, there was no way the kid was going to get it. What Coop should have done was give the kid a pat on the back, have him sign the papers, and then give him a swift kick in the ass and let Basic sort him out and crush his dreams.

Looking at a kid who’d been given everything he never had was almost enough reason to do it. Coop gave a sigh and mentally swiped all the kid’s data out of his vision. “You’re saying here you want a premium post and a shot at selection for one of the R&S services.”

“Yes, Corproal.” Coop caught how the kid’s eyes drifted to his SRRT badge and fought back a smile before bringing down the hammer.

“Stark, we’re currently in a two-front war. Sure, all is quiet on the eastern front for now, but sooner or later the Blockies and Windsor’s are gonna find their dicks again and come back swinging. There is zero chance you are going to get a Core Worlds post. You might get a Mid-World station, but you’ll probably need an additional service oblication to even be considered. That means eight instead of four years of service, and the bean counters at some HQ somewhere can always turn you down for needs of the service. You won’t owe the eight years, but you’ll be stuck in the ass end of nowhere for the four.” Stark’s face fell with every word that come out of Coop’s mouth. “Selection is a carrot they’re dangling in front of you. Only a small percentage are chosen for selection, almost none of that just out of Basic. You might get your chance most of the way into your contract after you’ve lived through some shit, but by that time you might want out.” The kid looked like Coop had taken a steaming dump on his life plan. “My advice for you, young Stark, is to go for a navy contract with the selection rider. This way you’ll get some time in uniform to see if you like it. Ships are like floating cities, and with the new state-of-the-art ones coming off the line you’ll be living large and able to move through Commonwealth space. If you’re a grunt, you’ll be stuck on a dust ball and that’s that. If you like fleet, you can do selection for SAS, SEALs, or SRRT if that option is open to you.” Coop opened his hands as he finished the educational lesson on how the military bureaucracy worked. “What’ll it be,” he added a perfectly white smile to the end of his spiel.

He walked out of the room a few minutes later with a signed navy contract for Ryan Stark with a selection rider before his term of service was up. He hadn’t made it five meters before the MSG was on him like stank on shit.

“What the hell was that, Cooper?” the MSG tried to get up in his face like a drill sergeant, but the intimidation factor was lost when he barely reached Coop’s pecs.

“I got my contract, Master Sergeant,” he replied innocently.

“You turned an infantry sure things into a fleet contract, Cooper. How did you fuck that up? We lobbed you an easy one and you whiffed.”

“I got the contract, Master Sergeant,” Coop repeated.

“You fucked up our quota is what you did. Why did you go filling that kid’s head with your bullshit?”

“I simply laid out the most likely situation for how his contract would play out. Are you suggesting I should lie to the recruit, Master Sergeant?” There were some times that Coop loved the IORs and how they made nothing private anymore.

The smaller NCO’s face went beet red and a vein pulsed dangerously in his head. “Sometimes the information we possess is need to know and what we need to do is execute what is in the best interest of the service.” The NCO chose his words carefully.

“Quality over quantity, Master Sergeant,” Coop gave the NCO a smile.

“Get out of my face, Cooper!” the MSG roared, and Coop beat a hasty retreat.

The smile stayed with him as he returned to the room with the other recruiters. He’d thought this whole recruiter gig was going to be nothing but a pain in the ass. Now, he saw a way he might actually do some good while stuck here.

<At least it’ll make things more interesting.> The worst they could do was give him a sub-par evaluation.

He could live with that if he got the right people in the right places. He didn’t want someone unworthy fighting beside him. That was a good way to get good people killed. That was what the MSG’s quotas were overlooking. One man in the right place at the right time was better than a dozen who didn’t belong there.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 282

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

{This stuff is so bad ass,} the man sitting next to Coop directed his thoughts into Coop’s mind. It was unintentional, but it was about the hundredth time he’d done it. Coop gripped the edge of his chair and took a few deep breaths to beat back the annoyance he felt at the current situation. The arm’s metal frame protested with a soft groan of warping metal.

{Concentrate, Bill,} Coop wasn’t sure if his thoughts conveyed the grinding of his teeth, but he hoped they did.

Of the recruiting class sitting in the lecture hall, most were E-5’s and above. Coop would have fit in with them easily before his undeserved demotion, but now the NCOs stuck with their own. That left the few enlisted personnel in the class to band together.

Corporal Bill Gonzales was the type of guy who had his head stuffed in toilets during high school. That 25th century swirlies were even more disgusting than their ancient counterparts due to water conservation didn’t stop the time honored tradition between bully and bullied. If this was a few years ago, Coop might have taken a turn at giving Bill the old dunk and flush. Fortunately for Bill, he wasn’t a Rat, and had grown up comfortably in the burbs.

If anyone had tried to dunk the CPL’s head in the latrine now, he probably would have torn their arms off and beaten them to death with them. For whatever reason, Bill had joined the Infantry, ended up in HI school, and had taken to the technical side of the heavy troopers equipment with impressive quickness. Coop was sure he was on the specialist track, which was why it was a bit surprising to see his new battle buddy in recruiter training.

<There’s a few things that aren’t adding up here,> he thought for the tenth time as he scanned his new classmates.

Coop knew the general breakdown between HI and regular soldiers. A battalion was extremely lucky if they got their full complement of 10 HI troopers, one per Company. So, less than 1 in a hundred soldiers were HI, and it was probably closer to one in two-to-three hundred based on his experience. As he looked around the room at the assembled future recruiters, easily one in three had the enhanced build of HI or one of the R&S units.

<But that’s not what’s bothering me,> Coop thought to himself as he looked across the hall. Eve was sitting with a group of SGTs and laughing at something her new battle buddy said. In an ideal world, Coop would be teamed with her, but their rank difference, and disclosed relationship to the cadre, put an end to that.

Coop hadn’t met the new guy yet, but he couldn’t deny the pit of jealously slowly growing in his gut. The guy looked like a million bucks. Her definitely had the best money could buy growing up which formed him into an Adonis even before joining the infantry and getting enhanced. On top of that, he had a SEAL badge on his chest. Coop knew they liked to get the special operations types in for a recruiting stink every once and a while. Hell, Coop’s SRRT badge was a big selling point for him, but he never though they’d take this many highly-trained operators off the front lines and put them in the rear for something as pointless as recruiting.

<Especially during a two-front war.> Things might have calmed down, but he knew the Blockies and Windsor’s were still out there ready to take a bite out of the Commonwealth’s ass when it let its guard down.

{I’m sorry, Bro, but this is so freaking sweet. I wonder what the bandwidth allocation on these things are. If our brains are basically the CPU then it would be virtually limitless. There are over a hundred trillion synapses connections in the brain. If that is any indication…} Bill continued, but Coop ignored him. He’d already told Bill he hated being called “Bro”, but the soldier from Alta California had the vernacular ingrained into his DNA.

Coop wasn’t sure how he felt about all Commonwealth military personnel being given IORs. It went beyond his squeamishness at poop nuggets being put into everyone’s brains. This was an alien device that had only come on the market a few months ago. Coop and the SRRT teams had been the guinea pigs, and everything had gone fine, but a few months was a quick turnaround time to give it to everyone despite what Gold Technologies was guaranteeing. Coop wouldn’t tell anyone this, but alien mind control was a real paranoia of his, especially after having seen more species of aliens than most of humanity. The Stormbreakers back on the Golden City of whatever-the-fuck still freaked him out a bit.

{Atten-hut!}

<And of course now they want to do everything over IOR so people can “familiarize” themselves with the tech,> he shot to his feet like everyone else as the class cadre walked into the room.

A CAPT walked onto the raised stage and turned to face the class. Coop could practically see the females in the room swoon. He believed the word to describe the man was “silver fox”. The CAPT was in peak shape, looked flawless, had all the right badges and ribbons, and when he smiled, Coop wanted to trust him before his ingrained prejudices kicked in. The blue in the man’s eyes made him fight back a grimace.

Coop took another careful scan of the room and noticed more and more beautiful people in the class’ ranks. Before, he’d only been focused on the SGT with Eve, and Bill’s pestering voice in his head, but now that he looked around, he noticed everyone had high-quality breeding, or the money to look good. It was almost enough to make Coop feel inadequate. Then he stole a sidelong glance at Bill.

<I don’t get it.> Bill wasn’t butt-ugly, but he wasn’t like the CAPT and the rest of the beautiful people out there.

“Man, I’d break me off a piece of that,” a voice whispered behind him.

Coop choked off a laugh, which had several NCO’s scowling in his direction.

The woman behind him was bigger than Coop, which even for HI was unusual. Enhanced women were generally smaller than enhanced men, but she was the exception to the rule. At 237 centimeters, CPL Camila Wheeler was taller than Coop or Bill, who was just a hair shorter than Coop at 229 centimeters. She also looked like she could bench press a Spyder, which was at odds with the athletic litheness of Eve’s enhanced form. Her midnight, black skin was also at odds with Eve’s snow white flesh, which stressed over hulking muscles that would make most men feel emasculated. That didn’t bother Camila. Coop knew from his limited interactions with his new classmate that her ego was as big as she was, and she could run her mouth with the best of them. He didn’t know where she’d grown up, but she’d spent enough time with grunts that any manners or civility she’d been raised in had been stripped away. Coop thought she was hilarious, and wondered what mommy and daddy Wheeler would think about their blue-in-her-eyes baby girl as a hulking killing machine.

If the CAPT heard Camila, he ignored her, and continued his spiel about the long history of recruiting and its importance to the Commonwealth’s mission. As a career combat grunt, Coop took the speech with a grain of salt.

{Grooming standard will be upheld and physical training will also be a major indicator of your performance here. I know most of you aren’t used to this environment, but every aspect of your appearance will be closely scrutinized. We are supposed to be the example of what our recruits can be.} The CAPT looked at the gathered group of good-lookers, and pointedly ignored the few ugos in the crowd.

<Translation, those of us used to being in combat posts where the enemy doesn’t give two fucks if you have stubble on your chin need to get used to this rigorous new reality of garrison duty.> He tried really hard not to roll his eyes. <The recruiters don’t want fatties. Fatties don’t put asses in Spyder seats to go defend the Commonwealth’s interests,> Coops mental ramble went on.

{Welcome to the Recruiting Corps. Replenish the ranks!} The CAPT finished with a spot-on motto that forced another eye roll from Coop who was finding his new assignment to be the punishment the brass intended it to be after Harper’s Junction.

{Replenish the Ranks,} he replied weakly.

{I’m going to tinker around with this a bit, maybe I can get into…} Bill’s idle thoughts continued.

Camila had already broken off to talk with another, handsome, but unenhanced CPL that looked like he was going to do whatever the HI woman wanted out of fear alone. Coop thought it was a good time to head over and talk to Eve since the class was back to mulling around until cadre came out and told them what to do. There seemed to be a lot of idle time while in garrison duty.

“Hey, Eve,” he came up behind the ground of SGTs that she was at the center of.

One of the SGTs, and unenhanced man with a Greek god’s face gave Coop a sidelong look, followed by a barely hidden sneer. “What do you want Corporal? Stand at the position of parade rest when addressing an NCO!”

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Coop mumbled.

“What was that, Corporal?” The SGT turned around and squared off against Coop. He came up to Coop’s mid chest.

“I’m sorry, Sergeant. I said, ‘you’ve got to be shitting me’,” he couldn’t help but grin at the SGT’s stunned face. That was not what the man expected to hear, and his face went beet red.

“Drop and give me twenty, Corporal!” The SGT put his hands on his hips in a poor interpretation of a drill instructor.

Coop’s temper flares and his hand twitched as he imagined grabbing the little man by the throat and throwing him over the seats around them. The SGT must have seen something in his eyes because he took half a step back.

“I’ve got this Dan,” Eve emerged from the group of NCOs who were starting to notice the large enlisted man among them.

“Hey, Coop, let’s go over here,” she grabbed him by the elbow, and her touched calmed him down a notch.

She led him to an empty section of the auditorium and her neutral expression turned into a scowl. “What the hell are you doing?”

“I just wanted to talk with you and Sergeant stick-up-his-ass got in my face,” Coop replied as he clenched his fist.

“Sergeant Monte is an NCO and above you in the chain of command, Coop,” she deadpanned.

“I was a sergeant. Been there, done that, not too hard,” Coop shot back.

“Then you were demoted, so you obviously didn’t do a great job,” she shot back.

“Saved your ass,” Coop mumbled, and immediately wished he hadn’t opened his stupid mouth.

Eye’s eyes went harder than steel and she stared him down until he looked away. Slowly, her eyes softened and she took a deep breath. “You’ve got to adapt to this change, Coop. We aren’t on a small, elite team anymore where your opinions mattered as much. We’re just cogs in the machine now. A lowly sergeant and corporal,” she pulled herself closed to him and laid her head on his chest. “You’ve just got to think like its Basic again. Adapt your mindset and we’ll get through this.”

Coop felt all the frustration leak out of him. “Only good thing about Basic was you,” he replied.

“I like to think we learned some useful things here and there,” she pulled away and grinned up at him.

“I’m sorry,” Coop apologized. “I just thought we would be battle buddies, get to spend more time together, and then we got broken up and you were assigned to Captain Commonwealth over there.” He cocked his head at the SEAL SGT who wasn’t trying to hide that he was looking at them.

“Sergeant Halpert?” Eve looked over her shoulder and the SGT quickly looked away. “He is handsome,” she quickly looked back at Coop and laughed at the look on his face. “Mark, he isn’t my type,” she used his first name to bring him back down. “Stan wouldn’t take a shit unless it came down through the chain of command. You know I like men who can live their lives a little outside the rules.”

“Are you calling me dangerous?” Coop couldn’t help but feel his ego soar.

“In all the right ways,” she leaned in close and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “I love you. I chose you. Don’t forget that and piss me off.” She gently pushed him away and walked back to the other SGTs.

“Love you too.” He still felt weird saying it, but it felt right in his heart.

<Pull it together, Cooper.> He gave himself a shake, and headed back to the group of enlisted who were all looking at him like some sort of rock star. <Yeah, I’m banging the hot Sergeant.> He gave his ego a last second boost before Bill’s errant thoughts inevitably crept into his mind. <This is going to be a long couple of months.>

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Bonus Chapter – Two Worlds – Chapter 281

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Reporting in for the recruiter training course was a welcome breath of fresh air from all other military trainings Coop had been a part of. The class consisted of a hundred and twenty people. Twenty were officers, half were LTS and the other half were LCDRs. They would be taking over command of recruiting companies and battalions once the training was over. Another twenty were senior NCOs in the GYSGT and MSG arena. They were being partnered with the officers to form a command team that was schooled and trained together before ever getting to their duty station. As far as planning went, it wasn’t a half bad idea. The rest of the class was SSGs and below. Like in a normal infantry unit, they’d be doing all the grunt work. Only difference was this time Coop had no idea what that grunt work entailed. A quick look around the room showed only a handful of people without three chevrons on their CMUs, which meant in additional to unknown shit details, he was also low man on the totem pole.

<Awesome.>

Despite that, the introductory briefing was given by a laid back LCDR who would be their class instructor for the next two months. After the hour long spiel, they were broken up into the officer, SNCO, and everyone else components, organized into squads, leadership positions doled out, and then, miraculously, they were released for the day until tomorrow at 0600.

Since the military liked to do things alphabetically, Eve was still in his squad, and he looked at her in confusion. She just shrugged and gathered up her stuff. Reporting for duty wasn’t their only task today. What followed was much more painful for Coop than sitting through her graduation or reporting in. At 1800 exactly, Coop walked through the front door of Admiralty House, which was probably the most opulent restaurant/hotel/conference center he’d ever been in.

“I feel like a fuckin’ penguin,” Coop pulled at the collar of his too-tight black suit. The thing had cost him two months’ pay and made him feel way out of his element.

“I’m surprised you know what a penguin is,” Eve snapped back. She was nervous and it was causing her to lash out.

At least she was good to look at. She was wearing a silver dress that rippled in the fading light, and accentuated her enhanced physique. Coop caught many finely dressed men, and more than few women, eyeing Eve as they stood in the doorway. He also caught them looking at him, and despite being in a two-thousand dollar suit, they still looked at him like a bum. He imagined squeezing several fat men’s pompous, tiny heads until they popped to cheer himself up.

“I’ve got to powder my nose. I’ll be right back.”

“What…who powders…wait…” he called after her, but she was already gone.

Coop scanned the room and gulped. He did notice the sign that said the bathrooms were in the opposite direction Eve was heading. The only thing in her path was the bar.

<Well she’s a sergeant for a reason,> he felt it was his duty to follow an NCOs lead.

He hadn’t even taken a step when he felt a presence behind him. “Hello, Corporal Cooper,” ADM’s voice was as cold as the void as she greeted him.

“Corporal,” CMDR Berg was right behind his mother in his grav-chair.

“Ma’am, Sir,” Coop nodded to them both and stepped aside so they could fully enter the room.

“I’ll check the reservation,” Derrick kept on moving, which Coop didn’t take as a good sign.

<If you have nothing good to say don’t say anything at all.> It was a motto he rarely lived by, but in these circumstances it was appropriate.

{So, you’re the man dating my daughter,} the ADM’s voice popped in his head and made him jump. {I looked you up…}

<Oh shit,> he gulped.

{…I do not find you to be a very ethical, competent, or desirable man, Corporal.} She didn’t pull any punches. {I know everything about you. Everything about your parents. Everything about your grandparents. I know about your abysmal academic and much more nefarious criminal record. I know about your performance in the military. I even know about the little smuggling ring you ran on New Lancashire, and the bar you were at that was frequented by domestic terrorists on New Savannah. Hell, I even know what type of porn you like to jerk off to. I…know…everything. Under any other circumstances I would own your ass for life.} Her voice sounded like it was god himself echoing down from the mountaintop. {However, I’ve also seen what you’ve done for my daughter. I know you care for her, and despite her better judgement, she cares for you. I say this with the utmost sincerity…if you ever hurt my daughter you will never see the man who kills you. They will never find your body. You will be just another casualty of some Rat gang conflict, and no one will ever be the wiser. Eve might mourn, but she’s strong and will move on while you’re in some icy hole getting slowly digested by single cell organisms over the next millennia.} The ADM stopped to take a mental breath while Coop made sure he hadn’t shit his pants. {I also saw the video from Harper’s Junction and I think you got a raw deal. That was a shitty situation and you chose to save Eve. That is the single thing I respect about you or your actions since having the unfortunate circumstance of running across my daughter.}

{Uh…thanks,} Coop had no idea how to respond to that, but he liked the positive turn things were taking.

{My daughter is meant for great things, Corporal. She made sergeant in no time. Soon, she’ll understand that there is only so much she can do as an NCO. If she wants to influence battles or the policy of her beloved Infantry, she needs to be an officer. She is already being looked at for her accomplishments. They will offer her a commission sooner rather than later. You need to figure out what that means for you. Not the two of you, but you. It’s time to get your shit in order if you want to stay in her life. You’ve got a lot of things to think about, Mark. We’ll talk more later.} The IOR connection ended as Eve and Derrick returned.

“Table is ready,” the CMDR announced.

Eve slipped her arm in Coop’s and guided him toward a booth at the back of the restaurant. It was a good thing he had her to lean on because his legs felt like jelly. It helped that the booth’s nano-laced fabric conformed to his body and made him sigh in relief.

He didn’t say anything through appetizers and neither did the ADM. Eve and her brother carried the conversation, which at one point turned into a full-blown argument. It seemed like mostly sibling stuff, but the sticking point was always the infantry.

“You lost an arm,” Derrick flailed his around as the waiters tried to retrieve the remains of the salad course.

“And you lost both your legs, dumbass,” she retorted. Coop thought she was about to lift up and plop one of her wonderful appendages on the table. That would have given the people around them a show.

“And so has he…twice if I remember correctly,” Derrick pointed a finger at Coop.

Coop didn’t like to be dragged into their argument, but he wasn’t nearly as frightened of the CMDR as the ADM. Probably because the other man didn’t have any legs at the moment.

“Both our jobs are dangerous. That’s why we get hazard pay,” Coop picked up his glass and took a big gulp of the best beer he’d ever tasted. The CMDR glared at him, while Eve placed a thankful hand on his thigh.

“One could argue one job is less dangerous than another,” the ADM stepped in. Coop thought it was on her son’s side, but he couldn’t be sure.

He took a deep breath and responded. “I’m sure you have the casualty figure from Harper’s Junction. I’d be interested to see if the fleet or infantry lost more people in that operation.”

The ADM’s eyes hardened, but then a playful smile pulled at one corner of her mouth. “The fleet lost more personnel, but that was primarily on the outdated ships. Those on our upgraded vessel handled much better. In fact, as a percentage of the total force, the infantry lost a higher percentage of their people than the fleet did.”

<I walked right into that one,> Coop tried to hide his emotions.

“Exactly my point,” there was triumph on the CMDR’s face.

“We all lost people,” Coop continued, “but that doesn’t make any of our jobs less important.” Eve was about to open her mouth, but he kept going. He felt like he was onto something here. “Everyone has a part to play. Slugging it out in space, dominating the orbitals, and acting as artillery is all fine for some, but that isn’t what the mission usually required. You’re always going to need boots on the ground, and people brave enough to wear them. Sometimes you have to get within knife-fighting distance of the enemy and shoot them in the fucking head.” The last sentence was the alcohol talking, but it didn’t make it any less true.

“Corporal!” Derrick looked like he was about to spring to his feet, except his lack of feet was making it hard for him to be properly indignant.

Eve gripped his hand tightly under the table. Apparently, he’d just stepped in it, but despite everyone else’s’ reactions, Coop was only focused on the ADM. <She needs to know I’m good enough for Eve, and that I won’t back down.>

The ADM stared directly back at him, until a smile pulled her lips apart and she laughed. “Very true, Mark. Very true.” Coop couldn’t help but smile back at the point he scored, but a dangerous glint flickered in her eye. “Sometimes you need to get up close and personal to end a threat. That can’t always been done with missiles and energy cannons from thousands of kilometers away. The risks are undoubtedly greater, but they are necessary to remove certain obstacles.”

“What?” the CMDR seemed stung by the words, since to him it seemed the ADM was giving her blessing on Eve’s career choice.

“What?” Eve was equally as surprised at having her lifestyle approved of by a distant mother figure who Eve would never admit she wanted to be closer with.

Everyone saw the ADM’s words in their own way, and Coop saw it as another threat. Sophia Berg was fire and ice. She’d give credit where credit was due, but she’d eliminate the threat – Coop had no doubt using her own hands – if necessary. He could tell he was treading on thin ice. What he really needed was for the ADM to leave so he could formulate a plan. If he was going to be in Eve’s life for more than a few months, he needed to be worthy of her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to either of them who determined that worthiness.

As far as battlefields went, he was pretty sure he’d rather go up against a Windsor mech than ADM Berg.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 280

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Oh god…oh GOD…OHHHHH…” Coop’s entire body spasmed with ecstasy. He was pretty sure his eyes rolled back into his head and his newest leg shook like a post-combat adrenaline crash.

Eve sat on top of him, grinding furiously. Her teeth bit her lower lip nearly to the point of drawing blood. Her fingernails dug into his chest and she held the pose of naked, porn-fantasy perfection for a heartbeat before collapsing against his chest.

“Fuckin’ A, Sergeant,” Coop wrapped her in a hug and luxuriated in the wave of contentment that passed over him. Eve didn’t say a word. She breathed deeply for a few seconds before pulling herself up and off him. “What, no cuddles?” he half joked as he got a view of her ass that he hadn’t enjoyed nearly enough.

She went to the kitchen counter, grabbed a nutrient bar, and tossed it to him. “Reload, big boy,” she winked and sauntered into the bathroom.

“Can I at least get some water!” he coughed. His mouth felt like it was full of cotton.

Technically, neither of them should be engaging in any physically stimulating activity for the next few days. The medical profiles from their limb regeneration and reattachment surgeries were still in effect. Like most things in life, he took that as a suggestion, not a rule, and was glad Eve did too. They’d been having weekend fuckfests since she started her brief tenure at the NCO academy, and he was pretty sure they’d both go crazy if they didn’t have the time to unwind.

It had been a few months since the Battle of Harper’s Junction. The Prime Minister was busy doing a war hero tour with Admiral Ward at her side. All had been quiet on the Windsor front since the spanking they’d received on the retaken planet, and a semblance of normalcy had returned to the men and women of the Commonwealth Armed Forces. Whatever had happened with the rest of the SRRT was a mystery. Coop and Eve had their orders and they departed for Earth shortly after arriving back on Thor and receiving their new limbs at the fleet hospital there.

The only other time they saw the LT, LCDR Gold, GYSGT Cunningham, the SGM, SSG Hightower, or Mike was at Sullivan’s funeral. Aiko hadn’t shown up, or answered any of his MILNET messages. The wounded warrior battalion Coop and Eve were assigned to granted them leave for the event. They took a ship out to the industrial shit ball Sullivan had called home not long after arriving back on Earth. Friends and family of the dead SGT were there in force. Apparently, he was a popular guy. Another dozen Rangers had showed up from various units he’d served in during his time in the elite infantry outfit. It was a dignified service, but the main takeaway for Coop was he barely knew the SGT at all. They’d been on the same team for months, but he spent all his time with Mike, Eve, and the GYSGT. He didn’t even know the man had a wife. Everyone came up to him and asked how he’d died, and he had to give them the same line, “he died heroically in combat, but I can’t elaborate.”

To the civilian world the SRRT teams were a shiny, new, golden toy, and the government wasn’t going out of its way to talk about the ones who’d died unless they did something truly heroic. Getting killed by an unidentified exploding munition while not gunning down a company of Windsor douches in the process didn’t fit that bill. However, the brass did authorize special badges to the team members of the elite units. Coop got to wear his in good standing as long as he abided by the gag order the brass put in place concerning the Windsor Queen slipping between his fingers.

He wore his badge proudly on the shoulder opposite his two CPL chevrons. Unlike most teams, his team had a star attached to theirs for the number of splitstreams they’d done. As far as Coop knew, they were the only team to do multiple jumps into hostile territory, survive, but more importantly, they were only ones to fight aliens.

To Coop, that made him a big fucking deal, and he hoped the rest of the recruiting class he was about to start thought the same.

Eve emerged from the bathroom in all her feminine glory. Despite multiple rounds of the no-pants dance, Coop still felt himself stir at the sight of her. Even though he knew she found him sexually appealing, it wasn’t just his rugged good looks that were to blame for the weekend sex marathons.

“So, how’s the good Master Sergeant?” he asked as she tossed him a bottle of water laced with electrolytes.

Eve gave a predictable groan and came to lay down beside him. The slight distraction would give him a few minutes to rehydrate before he gave it back to her with interest.

“I swear the last time Klaus saw combat was a dust up with the Blockies half a century ago. He’s trying to sit there like a subject matter expert in battle drills and isn’t even taking into consideration how new shield tech has altered the battlefield.” She took a deep breath and tried to exhale her frustrations.

Master Sergeant Jeremiah Klaus was going to receive a nice Christmas letter from Coop. The man single handedly drove Eve up a wall and into Coop’s bed. She was not a woman who handled frustration easily, she needed to work it out in whatever way possible.

“I’m sure you were a good little student and said, ‘yes master sergeant…of course master sergeant…you’re a tactical genius master sergeant’,” Coop grinned, and received a smack to the shoulder for being a smart ass.

“I’m sure my NCOER for the course is going to say how disruptive I’ve been, but I’ll contest it and show the IOR footage of our exchanges,” Eve tapped her head. Sometimes it was a good thing to have an alien poop nugget in your brain that recorded everything you saw.

“That and your last name will probably get the school’s commandant to rethink their training curriculum.” This time he earned himself a much more forceful smack.

Eve didn’t like to trade off her name. He knew this, but he wasn’t naïve enough to think that no one else looked at something with Berg on it and didn’t wonder if the Chief of Naval Intelligence had eyes on them. In his experience, he preferred to plan for the worst case scenario, which was why he desperately hoped Eve’s mother didn’t have eyes on his enlisted quarters. The stuff he’d done to her daughter in this studio apartment would probably end up with him in front of a firing squad.

“Look on the bright side, you graduate tomorrow at 0800, we’ll grab lunch, and then we report in at 1300 for our recruiting class,” he pulled her close and savored the feel of her against him.

“Look on the bright side? Who are you and what have you done with Mark Cooper?” Eve giggled and nuzzled her head into his chest.

“Hey, I have my moments,” he deadpanned before chuckling.

That chuckling stopped when she reached down and grabbed his dick. “You ready for duty?”

“Yes, sergeant.”

 

***

 

Coop stood in the back of the room and clapped like everyone else. The auditorium was large because it had to be. There were just shy of five hundred NCO’s graduating from the academy. They were all near the front in the formal CMUs with friends and family behind them. Visiting personnel were allowed in the back, and as a mere CPL, he was in the nosebleeds.

Since the graduates’ names were called alphabetically, Eve had received her diploma, and photo with the school’s commandant for her “I love me” wall hours ago. If she ever followed that stupid tradition. That was usually just an officer thing.

“Sergeant Amanda Zvolowaski,” the commandant called out what had to be the last name.

Coop pulled up the time in the corner of his vision. <Three fucking hours,> if he was a normal man his back and knees would have been aching from all the pointless sitting and standing. Luckily, everything about him was extraordinary.

He was only here because it was a big day for Eve. No matter how much of a pain in the ass the whole experience had been with her instructor, it put her one step closer to achieving her career aspirations.

It was moments like this that Coop felt his mind wandering to his own future. If someone told him he would have been considering a life as a soldier two years ago, he would have kicked them in the balls and stolen their BSA ration. Soldiers were suckers who got tricked into fighting and dying for a ball of dirt a thousand light years away that didn’t do shit for a Rat on Earth. Experience now told him that was true, but life was a hell of a lot better as a soldier than a Rat.

He’d been an E5 before being busted down the E4. He’d been in long enough to know this wasn’t uncommon, so it wasn’t career suicide, but it wasn’t a glowing recommendation of his leadership skills either. Recruiting school was just under two months, and then he had a twelve month obligation after training. That meant he was going to spend the next thirteen months in a cushy billet.

He was going to be tempted during that time. Rear echelon soldiers selling decommissioned military-grade hardware to Rats and other interested parties was a great was to make a quick buck and secure profitable retirement. Unfortunately, he’d made promises. Promises he intended to keep. Ideally, Eve would be nearby during all of this, but he had little confidence in the infantry to keep two lovebirds together. Even if one of their last names was Berg.

<I’ve got two months left of this. I’ll figure the rest out later.> Living by the seat of his pants was how he liked life. <Keeps it interesting.>

The people around him started to move. He snapped his mind back to his surroundings and saw the ceremony had wrapped up. People were streaming past him toward the exit. They had stripes on their uniform, so Coop waited his turn. This wasn’t the battlefield where mission necessity took priority over rank. Oddly, that was something Coop was missing despite being back home on Earth.

“Sir…Ma’am…Sergeant Major…”Coop nodded and tried to be cordial to the group walking past him. Some saw the patch on his shoulder and gave him a respectful nod. That made him feel good. Others completely ignored him. That made him want to punch them in the face, especially when the fruit salad on their chests didn’t having anything related to combat.

After ten minutes of waiting he finally noticed Eve heading his way. She wasn’t the only HI or R&S soldier in the group, but there still weren’t many of the enhanced personnel present.

“Hey, congrat…” he began but she cut him off short.

“Shoulders back…chin up high…let me look you over,” she fussed over his formal CMUs, despite having helped him get all his awards and ribbons straightened out this morning. Everything was from prior deployments except his new SRRT badge. “Ok,” she brushed some lint off his shoulder and took a deep breath before looking him directly in the eye. “Look sharp.”

“What?” he started, but she turned away from him and toward a group of people heading their way.

He recognized the commandant of the school in the middle of the formation. He was a middle-aged captain who was probably close to retirement. His three golden stripes outranked everyone around him except a stately woman everyone was orbiting like a star. The five golden stripes of a full admiral nearly made her pants solid gold. The hair, cheekbones, and eyes were a dead giveaway.

“Oh shit,” Coop gulped as the woman stopped in front of him and Eve. He might be taller than the ADM, but he felt tiny as she looked up at him. The rest of the entourage looked at the two grunts in confusion.

“Mother,” the word sounded uncomfortable coming out of Eve’s mouth. “I’d like you to meet Ser…Corporal Mark Cooper, my boyfriend.”

It was the first time Eve had ever labelled their relationship to a group of people not in their direct chain of command who she was required by regulation to inform. Telling her family took their relationship to a whole other level.

“Ma’am,” Coop’s training took over and he snapped off a smart salute. It was a good thing that was his default reaction because his brain was still playing catchup.

Admiral Sonya Berg critiqued Coop like she would a new car she was thinking of purchasing. He had no doubt the intelligence chief knew every unsavory thing about him, so he just stood there at the position of attention.

“Corporal,” was the only thing she said to him before turning her attention to Eve. “I expect you at Admiralty House at 1800.” She cast a sideways glance at Coop. “You may bring him if you wish.” With that said, she kept moving and the gaggle of people followed.

Coop remained at the position of attention until everyone had passed. Or at least he’d thought everyone had.

“That could have been worse.”

Coop looked down to see a man with gold CMDR and red command stripes sitting in a grav-chair with both legs missing below the knee. “Sir?”

“My mother doesn’t think anyone is good enough for her children…ever. At least she didn’t tear you a new asshole in front of the whole new batch of NCOs.”

“It’s always nice to have a single asshole, Sir,” Coop snapped back to attention.

“Relax,” the CMDR waved Coop off. “Congrats little sis.”

“Thanks, Derrick,” Eve leaned down and gave him a hug. “I bet you didn’t think we’d be sitting here like this the last time we talked.”

A half-forgotten memory popped into the forefront of Coop’s brain. He was a shit-for-brains recruit in a chow hall when a CMDR came barging in. “You were at the chow hall when we were in basic,” he blurted lamely. Eve rolled her eyes, while CMDR Derrick Berg chuckled.

“I was on my own two feet back then.” The elder Berg sighed.

“Both at the same time, sir?” Coop felt like he could connect with Eve’s brother on one level. It seemed like they’d both had the unfortunate experience of losing a leg or two.

“Had a bulkhead fall on me when my ship took a hit at Harper’s Junction. Body rejected the first round of vat grown replacements, so I’m stuck in a chair and off my ship’s bridge for at least the next six months.”

Coop winced. He’d heard stories of the cloned, replacement body parts being rejected by a person’s body before, but he’d never experienced it personally. “I’ve lost this one twice now.” Coop patted his newest leg, which was still a bit sore where they’d reattached it. “Don’t worry, sir, you’ll be back on your feet.”

“Thanks for the well wishes, Corporal,” Derrick gave Coop a nod, but the formal use of ‘corporal’ made Coop wonder if he’d said something wrong. “I’ll see you at Admiralty House tonight.”

“Goodbye, sir,” Coop watched as the CMDR rolled away. When he was far enough away he wheeled on Eve, “thanks for just sitting there on that one. I could have used a little backup.”

“You did just fine,” she smiled at him, and his frustration melted away. “I think he likes you.”

“Why? Because I can teach him some life hacks for being a gimp?” He got a hard punch in the shoulder for the comment.

“Take the win, Coop. Now come on. We need to grab a bite to eat before reporting in to the school. Then we need to get you something to wear for tonight.” She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him out of the auditorium.

“I’ve got my uniform,” Coop argued. He didn’t want to spend any of his hard earned, won, or stolen cash on some smartcloth monkey suit he was never going to wear again.

“You don’t wear a uniform to Admiralty House, especially a corporal’s uniform. Everyone there is flag rank or at the invitation of flag rank. It is the premiere dining facility to military officers in the system. Don’t argue with me and you’ll live through it. Fuck it up, and my mother will have you recruiting penguins off an ice ball in the Outer Rim.”

Coop gulped. He knew when to make a tactical withdraw from an argument. “Lead the way, Boss Lady.”

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