I’m on TDY from Hell available now!

Are you sad that Halloween is over? Are you about to stuff your face with candy and binge Jack Ryan Season 2 on Amazon Prime? If so, put down the remote and candy and pick up a new book! If you enjoy angels, demons, vampires, werewolves, heaven, and hell then this is the book for you!

I’m on TDY from Hell is now available on kindle. Get is HERE today! And check out the sweet cover below.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 289

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“AHHHH! Son of a…you’ve got to be kidding me!” Coop cursed as he felt something hot and sharp slice open his flesh. At the moment his life sucked ass, and he was balls deep in the bowels of the MOUNT that was his home for the foreseeable future.

As with everything in the infantry, the start of his time as a warrant officer had been spent on equipment familiarization. To the now infamous CMDR Snow, that meant being able to fix your MOUNT blindfolded if need be. A lot of people had thought he’d been joking, until he busted out the literal blindfolds and broke some stuff inside the multi-billion-dollar war machines. Since Coop had been one of the doubters quietly snickering at the comment, he’d had a long night of trying to figure out what was wrong to let his resentment for the new regimental commander fester. On the bright side, his squadron leader not a total douchebag. Third Squadron of the First Battalion, First Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR for short) was led by Lieutenant Michelle Hillview.

The best way to describe the LT was a lean, mean fighting machine. She’d come over from HI, RECON, and SRRT where she’d spent most of her time snooping and pooping. However, that didn’t mean the warrior woman hadn’t seen action. She had several covert tabs in her file, and she’d been a team leader on another SRRT unit, and she’d even been on Harper’s Junction. It wasn’t to the same degree as Coop and his team, but some of the other SRRT units had splitstreamed down to the planet once the tech had worked out the Windsor’s jamming tech. They’d played sabotage cat and mouse on some of the other, smaller cities across the planet while the main infantry forces assaulted the big targets. Whatever she’d done out there, the LT had received a bronze star with valor for her actions.

It rubbed Coop the wrong way at first to see that, because he’d done a shit ton on the shit planet, and he’d only received an ass chewing for the most popular war hero in the Commonwealth, and a threat of complete, utter destruction from its super spook. The more time he spent with the LT, the quicker the resentment faded. She was competent, didn’t micromanage her team, and best of all wasn’t too bad to look at. Although, he had to keep that on the low down. Eve and seventh squadron were still working in the same bay, and Camilla had a nasty habit about watching what he was watching and then making inappropriate comments that everyone could here. If he had to watch her make kissy faces when the LT’s back was turned one more time her was going to get UCMJ’d for the fight that would break out.

At the moment, there was no risk of that. <At least I’m not wearing a blindfold,> he tried to look at the bright side as the maintenance crew of his MOUNT came running at the sound of his curses.

“What do you need boss?” the PO1 who was the chief mechanic of the MOUNT asked in a thick New Jamaican accent.

“Undo coupling one-one-six, and raise the left arm a few centimeters so I can get my hand out,” Coop ordered through gritted teeth as he read of the schematics the IOR was projecting across his vision.

Like all new equipment introduced to the Commonwealth inventory, Coop and his team were not only doing routine preventative maintenance, but also trying to learn the particulars of how his MOUNT functions. Machines this big and complex tended to have personalities that had nothing to do with the AIs integrated into the battle computers. For instance, Coop’s MOUNT had a tendency to jam it’s left forearm cannon exactly when he need it the most in the few VR exercises they’d done. He didn’t know if the CMDR had fucked with his armor or if this was a mechanical excentricity, but he’d been trying to work through it for the last two days. He finally thought he’d solved it, and now he had a gear slicing through his right palm. The sensation of warm, dripping blood was hard to ignore, and even harder was ignoring the primal urge to yank it out.

That led to the second problem with these machines. They were so technologically advanced, and had so much going on inside, that it was nearly impossible to get at the things buried deep inside their mechanics without a fully-automated maintenance bay to pick the big machines apart. Since the CMDR fondly reminded them that wasn’t likely to be available in battlefield conditions, he was making them fix all the little problems themselves.

<I’m going to straight up murder fuck whoever thought it was a bright idea to put that gimbal there,> his arm was currently bent at a ninety degree angle at the elbow, and he had to stick his hand, palm up, deep into the tree-trunk-sized forearm assembly to try and fix what he’d identified as the problem.

He looked like some idiotic, ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic, and now he was stuck this way since a gear had nearly impaled his hand inside the MOUNT. He looked like a complete moron, and he silently prayed no one would…

“Well…well…well…”

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Coop hissed as Camilla came around the bend with the fourth and final member of their squadron, Warrant Officer Bethesda McHenry.

Everyone had started to call the freckled woman Mac almost immediately, and despite her best efforts it had stuck. It hadn’t escaped Coop that he was the only male in his squadron, and so far that had turned out to be a curse not a blessing.

“Hey Camilla, Mac,” Coop deadpanned as his team worked frantically to get the coupling undone and raised the arm to unpin his hand.

“Forearm gimble?” Mac asked.

The last member of their squadron was always quick and to the point. She didn’t talk much, but she hung around with Camilla a lot. It might be a case of opposites attract, but Coop hadn’t spent much time with them off duty. Every second he wasn’t with his MOUNT he was with Eve. Their time together was getting shorter and shorter. They were four weeks into their eight week introduction to these big pains in the ass, and then the Mars component of the ACR was heading off to the red planet. The infantry being the way it was, and the high operational tempo the CMDR had promised for the regiment, and Coop wasn’t sure when he’d get to see her again.

He pushed the growing dread out of his mind and focused on the irritation.

“My my Cooper, I could strap something on and you’d be in the perfect position to…” a groan cut Camilla off as the arm slowly started to bend.

Pain still burned through Coop’s hand as the motion pulled the offending piece of machinery out of his body, but the second it was free he was able to snake his arm out. A surprising amount of blood covered his hand and CMUs, but it was nothing compared to his past injuries.

“Damn, Coop, you’re bleeding all over Commonwealth property there. You really should…” Camilla got a big, bloody middle finger from him just as the LT’s voice cut off the banter.

“That looks deep, Cooper, get to the infirmary and get it patched up. Your team will sanitize, but it looks like you got the gimbal realigned. Good job. That should stop your jamming and misfires. I’ll let the CMDR know you found his little deficiency.”

<Fucking, Snow,> Coop hid his frustration under a smile. The CMDR was really starting to get on his nerves.

“Right away, ma’am.” A trip to the infirmary was a get out of class free card for the next thirty minutes at least. After the frustration with the MOUNT, some time away from it would do him some good.

He climbed down from the MOUNT continued giving Camilla the finger behind his back, and deftly dodged the lazy punch she threw at him as he passed. The infirmary was less than fifty meters from the giant underground maintenance bay that was the home of the whole battalion for the first phase of their training. Despite being hundreds of years old, the metallic-themed corridor was freshly polished and smelled faintly of lemon. Coop held his hand above his heart to avoid bleeding all over the floor, but a few drops still fell. Instantly, cleaning robots swarmed the area and began to sanitize.

“Move!” Coop kicked at one that nearly tripped him up. Whatever the thing’s programming, its mission was to clean no matter what got in its way. “Stupid machines,” he grumbled as he stepped into the infirmary. Today had just not been a good day for him.

“Hey, doc, I need a…Eve?” Coop stopped in surprise to see his girlfriend sitting on one of the beds.

She looked paler than usual, and was looking down at the ground, but there was no mistaking that hair for anyone’s but his girlfriends. Coop thought back quickly to why she would be here. It was Wednesday so this wasn’t a pick me up from too much drinking. She’d gone out with his squadron over the weekend to a dive that had been recommended by one of the local mechanics. The food had been good, but something hadn’t agreed with her. She’d chalked it up to food poisoning and taken a pill, but it still looked like it was affecting her a few days later.

“You ok?” he asked as he approached her.

She finally seemed to realize he was there and looked up.

“What’s going on?” Coop’s situational awareness peaked and he went for the pistol that was always on his hip.

Eve looked afraid, and since he’d seen her come out of being tortured looking better than this, he half expected some Blockie or Windsor assassin to jump out from behind the curtains and take his head off.

His sidearm was out and scanning the room when the doctor entered the room.

“Well, I think…WHAT THE HELL!” the man screamed when Coop pivoted to point the gun at his face. The trageting icon on his IOR had it lined up right between his eyes. “Lower your sidearm warrant officer!” the doctor was a LCDR, and he tried to use a command voice, but Coop had bowel movements with more authority. Still, he lowered the weapon because he hadn’t found any assassins.

“What do you think you’re doing…?” The doctor resumed, but Coop ignored him.

“Eve, what’s wrong?” he rushed to her side while still keeping a paranoid eye on his surroundings. “What happened? Did you fail an inspection? Everything ok with Derek? Did you get UCMJ’d out of the unit? Did your mother call?” He started listing things off with increasing levels of seriousness. He seriously hoped it wasn’t the last, and AMD Berg had finally taken a steaming dump all over his career and personal life, but the doctor interrupted.

“Is this him?” he asked, and Eve nodded.

“Well, Mr. Cooper,” the doc looked on his CMUs to get his name right. “Congratulations are in order.”

“What?” Now Coop was completely lost.

“Coop,” Eve pulled his attention away from the doc. Her eyes were watery and she looked on the verge of tears. The only other time Coop had seen her so vulnerable was when she’d pleaded with him to throw her at the enemy shield back in the palace at Harper’s Junction. She’d just been tortured, and even though the CMDR Snow was tough, Coop knew the man could only fuck with their minds up to a certain point.

“What’s wrong?” he asked again, getting down on his knees so she didn’t have to look up at him.

She took in a shuddering breath, which seemed to affect her entire body before steeling herself.

<She’s leaving me,> Coop’s mind jumped ahead as she set her shoulders and her face hardened to deliver the news.

“No…please…you can’t…” he began, but she cut him off with a glare that cut right to his soul.

“Mark Cooper, I’m pregnant with your child.”

There was dead silence in the room for what felt like an hour. He expected LT Hillsview to come looking for him to chew his ass for being late, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. His eyes were locked with Eve’s as the shock of the statement slowly worked its way through his addled mind.

“Pregnant?” he asked in confusion, which was a whole lot better than asking if she was sure it was his.

“It’s positive,” the doctor finally chimed in. “She’s just over eight weeks. The nausea and fatigue she’s been feeling are morning sickness and typical symptoms of early pregnancy. I’ve got her set up with another appointment at twelve weeks. We’ll do some genetic testing there. Our military health care system offers an array of in-vitro enhancements. We’ll correct anything that we see as an issue, and you’ll learn the sex.” The doctor explained in a rush. “Ms. Berg, you’ll be put on temporary duty for the time being.”

“Temporary duty!” that seemed to get her attention. “I can’t fall behind with my MOUNT training.”

The doctor made calm down gestures with his hand. “I understand that, and there are options. If you want, I can make you an appointment for later today at the fleet’s pre-natal facility, but even then, you’re going to be stuck on temporary duty for at least the next few weeks. I’ve already informed your squadron commander and Commander Snow, and they’ll figure out what to do.”

This was all well and good, but Coop still felt detached from the conversation, and reality in general. “Pregnant?” he repeated. “But she’s not supposed to be able to get pregnant.”

That part was true. Part of the medical care for woman serving in the infantry was a contraceptive nano-package, so they didn’t need to worry about unplanned pregnancy during their service. Woman could still request it deactvated by applying for a waiver, but that had to go through the chain of command before approval, and could be denied based on operational needs.

<Are my swimmers more powerful than I thought,> was his first thought. <Is there such thing as too much sex,> was his second. They were doing it nearly every night at this point. Could that have done it?

In response to his question the doctor looked sheepish. “Normally, that’s true, but there was a clerical error.”

“What?!” Coop’s temper flared, but he took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down.

“After Ms. Berg’s injuries on Harper’s Junction and her cellular rejuvenation therapy, where her nano-package was deactivated for medical purposes, it was incorrectly annotated that it had been reactivated. That seems to not be the case. I scanned the package when I did a full workup just now and it is still deactivated. I’ll get to the bottom of the error, but that doesn’t change your current situation.”

Coop caught the subtle hint and looked at Eve. For hundreds of years the topic of abortion had been a morally and politically tricky one. It had reached its height during the peak of overpopulation on Earth when the government ordered abortions for people to control population. It did a complete one-eighty during the expansion, and humans needed to start breeding like rabbits to populate the cosmos. Today, it was back at an equilibrium, but unlike in the past, there were more options.

Coop looked to Eve for guidance. It might be their baby, but it was her body. Plus, he was still working through the nano-package fuck up that he wasn’t quite in the same mental place that she was. Despite that, he saw a fierce, maternal determination come across her face. That was the only cue he needed…and then reality crashed down on him like a battleship falling out of orbit.

“Ugh,” he suddenly felt like he was going to puke. “Your mother is going to kill me.”

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Two Worlds – Chapter 288

Benjamin Gold

Location: New York City, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

<They’ve done some remodeling.> Was Ben’s first thought as he stepped out of the nippy air and into the antechamber that acted as a barrier between the world an in inner sanctuary of the Gold family on Earth.

The space was bigger and more opulent than he remembered. A space that was supposed to be used to keep the cold air out was in fact a display of wealth and power thrown in the face of the visitor. Anyone who stepped into a space meant for taking off shoes and removing coats to hang in a small closet was bound to be awestruck at the sight of the Mona Lisa staring them right in the face. Even though it was a simple antechamber, Ben knew there must be security up the wazoo, especially with all the new alien tech flying around. Gold’s got nothing but the best, so he was a little surprised when Curtis simply waved them through without passing a wand over them or even checking their GIC.

Ben’s hand wasn’t even halfway to the scanner when the door swished open in front of them. “Ben!” Miranda Gold stood in front of her son looking so much smaller than he remembered her.

He’d been over sixty centimeters taller than his mother since he finished high school, but his recent experiences just put that much difference between him; a ship’s captain who’d seen combat multiple times, and a high-powered corporate attorney. Still, she was his mother, and he loved her.

“Hey, Mom,” he bent over and gave her a warm hug. Her perfume still brought him back to a simpler time.

“And this must be Jacobi,” for such a small woman, she easily pushed him aside.

He was only mildly irritated that everyone seemed to know he was coming and bringing someone who was more than just a date, but he knew better than to let it wear him down. There was no doubt the Gold patriarch had eyes on his son since the moment he was transferred back to the Sol system. If Ben was really honest with himself, there was also little doubt his father knew everything there was to know about Jacobi, down to the holo-shows she liked to stream to go to sleep. Ben had bought the engagement ring with money not attached to his corporate accounts, but he was sure his father had people in MWFAS keeping an eye on him. Still, he wished they were walking into the lion’s den with at least a single round in the chamber.

“Hello, Mrs. Gold, it’s a pleasure to finely meet you.” Jacobi didn’t let their failed attempt set her back. She smiled and readily accepted the hug his mother offered.

She was a solid twenty centimeters taller than his mother, with a bulkier athletic build thanks to the infantry. Her hair midnight-black hair was also a stark contrast to his mother’s gold. However, their eyes were a nearly identical green. He’d never noticed it until now, and it was a little disturbing. There was an old saying that sons married their mothers and daughters their fathers. Up until now, he’d thought his mother and future bride had nothing in common. Now that both of them were looking at him with twin sets of emerald orbs, he wasn’t so sure. He thought her eyes were her most striking feature.

“Ben?” Jacobi waved her hand in front of his face and broke his trance.

“Yeah, sorry,” he shook his head and pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind and locked them securely away. “What?”

“She asked if we wanted to come in.” He could tell she was holding back an eye roll, so he waved for her to lead the way.

They stepped from a tiny slice of opulence to the whole pie. He was right, they had done some recent renovations, and if anything, the place looked even more like a royal palace than ever before.

“Ben!” He barely had time to brace himself before a golden blur raced across the room and threw herself into his arms.

Hope Gold would always be his little sister, but as she hugged him tight and then held him back to look him over, he couldn’t help but wonder how’d she’d grown up so much since he’d last seen her. Her hair was styled more, not overly in your face, but enough to say she was a business professional and not straight out of university. Her green eyes were the same as his mothers and Jacobi’s, but he was happy to realize she hadn’t lost the innocence of her youth just yet to the corporate drag.

“Look at you,” he gestured at the dress suit she was wearing.

“I know…right,” she pulled nervously at the high-collar that seemed to be the fashion of the month. “I just came from a teleconference with the board about our newest education initiative. With the IORs being rolled out faster than we can produce them, we can now leverage their interface to…” she stopped abruptly and laughed. “Forget everything I just said. We’ll have more than enough time to catch you up on the business drab,” she stuck out her tongue and suddenly she was eight years old again. “Tonight is about you,” she elbowed him lightly in the ribs and looked over his shoulder at Jacobi, who was talking animatedly with their mother.

He smiled the sight of them getting along so well. “Speaking of the business, where is…?”

“Ben,” his father announced as the door to his office slid open.

The last time Thomas Gold had made this exact same entrance he had a plethora of holo-screens dancing around him. This time, his eyes were just unfocused as he did all the management of the largest corporate organization in the history of mankind inside his head. Ben was surprised his nose didn’t bleed like a faucet from all the effort.

Even with whatever the corporate titan was doing in his mind, he still expertly navigated the layout of the room before coming to stand in front of Ben and his eyes snapping back into focus. “Welcome home.”

The warmth in his father’s voice surprised Ben, but that quickly vanished when he saw the slight hardening of his jaw when he turned his attention to Jacobi. “Ms. Wentworth, we meet again.” There was a lot of emphasis on the Ms.

“Mr. Gold, you have such a lovely home,” Jacobi laid it on thick, but that was because that’s what his father liked.

Of course, his father waved off the multi-billion-dollar apartment like it was nothing. “Please join us for cocktails,” he gestured for everyone to move toward the dining room where the rest of the family was waiting.

“What…Lillian?” Ben stopped suddenly in the doorway as he spotted the woman by the bartender droid.

Lillian’s formerly silver skin was now covered with holographic tattoos from the neck down. If Ben knew his elder half-sister, he knew those went everywhere. As she moved, the tattoos caught the light and moved in an intricately choreographed dance of colors to act out a tale across her flesh. If was one of the freakiest, and beautiful things he’d ever seen. It also probably hurt like hell to have done, but he knew she was a slave to the latest fashion trend.

“Ben, always good to see you,” she raised her glass full of a fuzzing purple liquid that matched her eyes and moved toward them.

That’s when he realized there was a lot more flesh than clothing on his half-sister, which was more than a little unsettling. It didn’t seem to bother Jacobi, who stepped past him with a smile.

“Awesome,” she muttered as her eyes traced the story being told by the tattoos. “I saw a shop that did this when my unit did a raid on Yakuza-Three. They had two options, a droid could do it, or an artist could do it by hand. Which one did you do?”

“The artist, obviously. The machines can do it flawlessly, so it is the little flaws and imperfections that let you know it’s all real,” Lillian smiled back. “A raid on Yakuza-Three. That’s Imperial Japan’s territory. I have to know how that went down.”

“It was a joint op with their defense force,” Jacobi shrugged. “Let’s grab a drink and I’ll tell you how a guy came at me with a two-meter nano-blade. The thing was bigger than he was…” Jacobi broke off from the main group and headed for the droid.

That left Ben alone with his father, and probably the only person he disliked more than the overbearing man. “Benny!” The nickname grated across Ben’s nerves as Dillion stepped out from behind his father.

“Nice to see you, Dillion,” Ben met the minimal social standard for courtesy, but wasn’t planning on doing any more.

“Looks like you brought home a stray,” his half-brother laughed and he downed his glass and turned to ogle Jacobi.

Ben had an overwhelming urge to grab him by the scruff of his neck and toss him across the room. A glare from his father told him if he did, Curtis would tie him up like a pretzel, so he settled on a different course of action.

“You’re one to talk. How is that paternity suit going?” Ben fought back a smile and tried to look innocent when Dillion rounded on him with murder in his eyes.

Ben had read about to ongoing lawsuit when he first got back to Earth. Apparently, some cocktail waitress at an upscale gentleman’s club in the middle city claims that Dillion got her pregnant. The baby boy had been born a few weeks ago and now the woman was suing Dillion for child support. The monthly amount she was asking for was obscene, which led Ben to believe the woman believed she had a solid claim, and that solid claim had to be that it was in fact Dillion’s child.

There were Blockie anti-ship mines that had more paternal instincts than Dillion Gold and the process was being drawn out in a way only the uber-rich could find loopholes to accomplish. Eventually, Ben knew there would be a settlement and the kid would go away only to come back around in twenty years when he wanted to get to know his father.

<Poor kid,> the thought process put a damper on the comeback’s effectiveness, so he decided just to ignore Dillion.

He took a step toward Jacobi, but his father’s hand on his shoulder stopped him. “Ms. Wentworth, might I have a word with you.” The statement caught everyone by surprise.

“Umm, sure, Mr. Gold,” she gave Ben a questioning look as she passed and followed Mr. Gold into his office…where he closed the door behind them.

“Please have a seat,” he gestured for her to take the chair in front of him. She did as she was told, but he remained standing.

He was only slightly taller than her, but she could feel the weight of his power pressing in all around her. He just stood there with his eyes on her for what felt like a short eternity before asking a simple question, “What are your intentions with my son?”

In her limited experience, which mainly involved holo-romantic comedies, this question was directed at the man.

She thought the best course of action was a direct one. “I love him,” she stated. “And I want to spend the rest of my life with him.”

Thomas Gold’s face hardened at that. “Benjamin isn’t a complicated man,” he began to pace behind his desk. “He has ambitions, none of them high enough, and he wants love and affection from someone he can trust. I never gave him that growing up. He hates me, and everything I represent,” his eyes bore into hers, “but what I represent is his future…and yours too it seems.”

“Umm…” she wasn’t sure what to say.

“You are about to be my employee,” he continued without acknowledging her. “You would not have gotten your internship and educational bonus package if I hadn’t stepped in. Those programs are meant for our scientist with a masters, or at least a bachelor’s degree, trying for a doctorate in their discipline. They are not for infantry grunts with an associate’s degree right out of the service. You are being given a rare opportunity because my son says he loves you, but as I said before, Benjamin is not a complicated man.”

“Do you know he was dating another servicewoman less than six months before he met you?” The question caught her off guard, and he pounced on the look of surprise on her face. “He met her on Earth right before he deployed. She was his teacher, his mentor, and eventually his lover. He named the prototype semi-intelligent ship’s interface after her you know. He changed it after she broke his heart and then rebounded with you.”

Jacobi knew all of this. Ben had told her all about Sarah on their fifth date, and it had been a hurdle they’d had to get over in their relationship. However, unlike the diabolical woman who used him to get command of a cruiser and help her own career, Jacobi didn’t make some deal with the Windsor’s to capture and torture her only to endear herself to her boyfriend.

She missed the beginning of Gold’s next attack, “…so forgive me if I’m skeptical about your love and intentions for my son. If money is all you want, then I can oblige you. If you leave this penthouse right now through the side door, I will spirit you away to a planet of your choosing. I will put a hundred million dollars in a private account for you. You will never have to work a day in your life again. You can live out your days in the best money can buy, and you can avoid the heartache this will cause my son.”

<Oh, you’re good,> underneath the not-so-thin current of rage pulsating through her veins, she had to admire the man’s maneuvering. She was, after all, a military tactician. <You’re setting yourself up in your own mind, and the mind of your family as a savoir. It’s a miracle a man who has everything, and all the information in the galaxy can be so blind.>

“I’m good, Mr. Gold,” she replied crisply and confidently. “I love your son. I couldn’t give a shit about your money.” Thomas Gold smiled at her comment.

“I just had to be sure Ms. Wentworth,” he smiled like he hadn’t just raked her ass over the hot coals of emotional warfare. “We should get back to the party,” he smiled and waved for her to proceed him. She was halfway to the door, and a much-needed hug, when his voice cut her off. “Based on your statement, I’m sure you’re more than willing to sign any and all prenuptial agreements the corporation’s lawyers draw up. We want this union to be about love not money.”

<Guy’s a fucking manipulative genius,> she thought. If it had been about money, she’d have backed herself into a corner as this whole conversation was no doubt being recorded. Thankfully, she’d known and loved Ben Gold as a simple naval officer, and she would be just as happy with things continuing that way. She didn’t need to own planet to love him. Truthfully, things would probably be easier if their lives were simpler. <but you play the hand you’re dealt.>

“Sure thing, Mr. Gold. Send them right over.” She didn’t stop to see if he was surprised be her response of not. The tried not to throw open the door, and found Ben just on the other side.

“What was…?” she cut him off by planting a big kiss on his lips.

“I fucking love you, and you owe me big time for that,” she gestured with her head at his father.

“What did you have in mind? I can literally get you anything?” Ben offered.

“There is this great hover cart we visited once. Maybe after dinner we can head back down there and get a real bite to eat. I’ve heard rich-person food kind of sucks,” she referenced the vendor cart Ben had proposed to her at.

“Sure thing,” he smiled, kissed her back, and they turned to tell everyone the happy news of their engagement even though everyone already knew and had pre-formed opinions about them and what their lives together would be.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 287

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

“It’s a wheel. This is not rocket science!” The MSG fumed on the already sweltering parade field. Coop didn’t know why they couldn’t do this in a nice air-conditioned hangar. Deep down he knew why. The MSG hated him and wanted their final day together to be a living hell.

<It’s hot enough for it,> Coop dropped out of the position of attention to wipe his brow.

“Cooper!” The MSG was on him like a fly on fresh shit. “Your military bearing is absolute shit. Why the powers that be want you to be the face of our Commonwealth is beyond me. You must have kissed the ass of someone high and mighty.”

This was a perfect chance to criticize or elude to sexual relations with the MSG’s mother, but Coop could see the light at the end of the tunnel. He just needed to get there as painlessly as possible. The second he graduated those black stripes would become official and the MSG could suck it.

“Move,” the MSG came over to push Coop out of the way. The little man couldn’t have budged Coop if he didn’t want to move, but Coop took a step away so the MSG could demonstrate.

Part of their graduation ceremony was marching around the parade field for spectators. It was all part of showing the flag, especially now after the defeat of the Windsor’s at Harper’s Junction. The PR machine was running at full speed, and they were just one of the cogs.

“Like this,” The MSG stood in Coop’s position at the far side of the squad, farthest from the squad leader. Normally, this position didn’t mean much, but for the formation to make a big wheel at the edges of the parade ground, it was the linchpin. “The Commonwealth issued you a brain, so use it.” The MSG executed the turn perfectly. Coop saw a number of his classmates stumble through it, but the MSG didn’t chew them out for it. This was all to make Coop look bad one last time.

They had another hour of this to suffer through, but that was it. The recruiting corps was a stickler about schedules, especially when it came to training, so all he had to do was endure. Once they were done they had a surprise inspection that wasn’t much of a surprise, and then were done for the day. All the NCOs were going out for drinks. Eve was going too, which was a little upsetting. He wanted to spend as much time with her as possible before they transferred up to the Proving Grounds.

The squadron assignments had been finalized before their weekend familiarization was concluded, and despite all his wishing, wheeling-and-dealing, and even praying, CMDR Snow had not put them together in the same squadron. Eve was in the 7th while Coop was in the 3rd. To make matters worse. The 7th through 10th squadrons were only doing half their training on Earth. They’d do their final phases on Mars where they would be headquartered for deployment. Coop had asked the perfectly logical question of why a battalion commander would want his forces split like that, but he got told to sit down and shut up about things above his paygrade. All of this meant that he had far less time with Eve than he thought, and he wanted to make every second of it count.

He was thinking of how he could just stumble upon the NCOs at the bar they were going to, and act like it was a total coincidence, when the MSG zeroed in on him again. “Cooper, Wildflower is at sick call for heat stroke. You’re going to take over his CQ duty tonight.”

CQ was short for charge of quarters, which meant Coop was being assigned to guard the entrance to the barracks that night. Like everyone else, Coop had filled his time on the roster, mostly on weekends thanks to the MSG’s ire.

<Really!> Coop didn’t bother to move his feet as they executed the wheel for the thousandth time. Everyone else kept going around him, but all eyes were on him. Mostly probably wondered if he was finally going to snap and rip the MSG’s head off.

The thought must have made the way through the MSG’s head because fear flared in his eyes. “What are you looking at Cooper? Focus on your drill and ceremony,” the man’s voice cracked, and that did it for Coop. The MSG was nothing more than a recruiter. His ribbons showed he hadn’t seen much, if any, combat, and he’d never been injured.

<He’s just a bully whose about to lose control.> Instead of inflicting a world of hurt on the smaller man, Coop just smiled at him and went back to being the linchpin for his squad’s wheel.

He kept his cool through all the nagging Camilla threw his way. Unlike Bill, who’d been assigned to 2nd Squadron, Camilla was going to be accompanying Coop into 3rd. That was a small bit of good news among all the bad. He found her hilarious.

“Hey, at least when I’m drunk and have my latest victim coming back to the barracks for a little fun you can clear me through,” she joked as she followed the rest of the enlisted personnel out the front door. Coop just waved them goodbye as the door’s hissed shut behind them.

This wasn’t the old training barracks used for new recruits. These were more modern, which meant sealed against the bad air that was everywhere on Earth. It was nowhere as bad as back in the PHA, but the infantry wasn’t about to put thousands of their investments in danger because of some CO2.

What it also allowed Coop to do was keep an eye on the monitor in front of him. CQ had long ago tapped it into the local networks so you could watch holo-shows and movies. It was against regs to make that network tap but no one cared. Everyone had been on the all-night watches before and knew how nice it was to have something to watch other than the door.

Coop was just settling into some comedy about a rich family who suddenly became poor, when the door hissed open. Coop glanced up and then jumped to his feet. “Barracks, atten-tion!” He called out to the emptiness. No one was there to comply with the order, but he had to do it anyway.

ADM Berg stood just inside the doorway and scrutinized everything. Coop continued to stand there at the position of attention.

“At ease,” she waved him off, and that was when he noticed there was nothing but static on the holo. She was jamming it somehow.

“Hello, Mr. Cooper. Congratulations are in order,” she stepped over to one of the chairs in the common room across from his CQ desk and gestured for him to join her.

“Congratulations?” Good coked an eyebrow. “It’s not like recruiting is hard.”

“I wouldn’t underestimate the pressure recruiters go through on the job,” she replied, “but that’s not what I’m talking about. Being a freshly minted Warrant Officer in a military wehre there are only a handful in existence is going to be a feather in your cap.”

<Of course she knows about the armored cavalry regiment,> recognition blossomed in his mind. It was quickly followed by an eureka moment and everything fell into place. The ADM just watched him with a small smile tugging at her lips.

“You wanted all of this to happen,” he started as his mind pieced everything together. “You wanted for me to join the recruiting class as cover for the cavalry gig. That’s why you signed off on it. Do you want me to fail so you can rub it in Eve’s face? Or do you want me to be better so I’m worthy of her?”

“Please, Mr. Cooper, the world doesn’t revolve around you,” she replied as she waved away his questions. “I want you in the new cavalry squadrons for my own selfish motivations.” Her statement took Coop by surprised, but he knew it shouldn’t. After all, she was the Chief of Naval Intelligence.

“Garrett is playing this whole ACR project close to his vest. Of course battalion and regimental staff will have S2s, but he’s been granted full authority to choose those soldiers. His putting his people into place to limit my reach. He wants the Commonwealth’s shiny new toy to answer to him and him alone.”

“Don’t we answer to the Prime Minister?” All Coop’s question got was a laugh.

“This is military politics. Don’t worry about it Warrant Officer,” she used his new rank, but it didn’t help his growing anxiety about how he’d been manipulated into this situation. “Your job is going to be to keep your eyes and ears open for me. I want to know the dealings of this new regiment. I want to know its successes and failures. I want to know your missions, what Garrett has you doing, and more importantly, how much influence Gold has on all of this. I know he was at the Proving Grounds with you for your introduction to the new tech, so every time he comes around I want a report on what he’s doing. I don’t trust that man.”

Coop wholeheartedly agreed with her on the last part. Gold was playing his own game. Even a former Rat could see that.

“What if I say no?” Coop couldn’t just do what she said. That wasn’t his style.

“Then I’ll give NCIS those damning records of your involvement with the people who committed the assassinations on New Savannah.” The casualness she used to speak about destroying his life was all the motivation he needed.

“I’m never going to live that down am I?” He asked, defeated.

“No,” her response was blunt and honest, “but you can do some good to make up for it.”

<Good for who?> was the real question.

Seeing that she’d won, she got back to her feet. “You’re going to need to work extra hard to earn everyone’s trust. Having me sign off on your packet has already raised eyebrows. Use your charm and wit to win them over.” She headed for the door. She stopped right before she hit to panel to leave. “I suggest you get back in touch with Lieutenant Commander Gold and offer your congratulations. It might be a good fact finding opportunity for you and a chance to get in close with the most powerful man in the Commonwealth. After all, Benjamin does owe you his life.”

<What?> He didn’t have time to voice his question before the doors were hissing closed behind her.

Thirty seconds later the static on the holo resolved back into the comedy show and it was like nothing had ever happened, which he was sure that was what the security logs would show. All this cloak and dagger stuff was already giving him a headache. He was a hammer. A blunt instrument. People pointed him at something and he destroyed it. He was not subtle, and had a feeling this wasn’t going to end well. Still, he pulled up the MILNET contact info and shot a message off to the LCDR. He didn’t know what he was congratulating the man for, but it seemed like the best course of action to do what the ADM said.

He hit send and waited to see what he’d got himself into.

 

Benjamin Gold

Location: New York City, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was used to keeping his emotions in check and his face neutral. He called it his command face. Even when he was scared shitless he couldn’t let it show for the sake of his men, or in his most recent case, his single female crewman. Although he and PO3 Lee had escaped from the Windsor patrols by the hair on their chinny-chin-chin, he hadn’t seen her since they took away Argo.

The last few months for one of the heirs to the Gold Empire had been a rollercoaster. He’d followed his orders to the letter at Harper’s Junction and provided the Fleet with critical intelligence that was used to defeat the Windsor’s and throw them out of the system. Even though his mission had been a success, the business at New Lancashire was a shadow over his career. RADM Nelson was being true to his word and making Ben’s life a living hell. The RADM was not generally favored with the high command of the fleet, but he had enough friends in the right places to make Ben bleed. He’d done that by taking Argo from him. Ben had fulfilled his command time aboard the gunboat, but that didn’t make losing her any easier. He’d done a lot on that ship, and he wasn’t soon going to forget it.

The plan had been all along to get his command time in and then enter the Diplomatic Corps. He had experience interacting with the Windsor’s before their betrayal, and he was one of the few people in the Commonwealth to be to one of the Hegemony’s systems. He didn’t have diplomatic duties, but he’d watched, learned, and had a solid letter of recommendation from the Minister about the crucial role he played at the time.

Of course, all of that meant nothing if you didn’t have friends in the right places. His application to the school for diplomats was rejected, and he was assigned a underwhelming position as an assistant operations department head about a battleship in the First Fleet. At the moment his new duty station, CWS Jack Frost, was undergoing a refit for the more modern technology, so his time was spent filling out paperwork, training his section in VR, and then filling out more paperwork. It was incredibly boring and tedious work, and with his career so far off the tracks from what he wanted, he considered hanging up his CMUs. He’d nearly served out his contract between his time in the Reserves and Active Duty, and if he wanted to, Jack Frost would be his last assignment.

<Now there is more to consider,> he grabbed the hand sitting next to him on the rich nano-leather upholstery and gave it a squeeze.

Jacobi had been looking out the window at the impressive skyline. He gave his hand a quick squeeze, a small smile, and turned her attention back to the view. He could tell she was nervous, and he didn’t blame her, he was a bit nervous himself. To reassure himself, he rubbed his thumb across the band of precious metal and stone on her left ring finger.

For one of the richest families in existence, the ring was fairly plain. The band was white gold with an infusion of nanites to ensure it lasted far longer than they did, and looked better than when it was made. The stone itself wasn’t perfect, but that was what made it real in Ben’s eyes. Technology could make a flawless diamond in seconds. All it needed was a piece of carbon, heat, and pressure. Ben wanted something real. Something that had taken form of millions of years in the heart of a planet. The stone itself was still top of the line: colorless, excellent cut, flawless up to 10x magnification, and three carats in total weight. He could have given her the diamond the size of her fist, but he wanted to pay for it out of his military pay, and wanted it to be reasonable. Something she could wear each and every day to remind her of him. A ten-plus carat stone wasn’t conducive to the life she wanted to live.

Those lives had changed together in the last month. He’d proposed, not at some fancy restaurant with the ring buried in some luxuriously-decadent piece of chocolate cake, but while on a three day pass at a hot dog vendor. All that mattered was the smile on her face and that she said yes.

Her tour of duty in the infantry was up, and she was on her way out. She was staying in the reserves, so she could keep all the enhancements to infantry gave her, but other than that her time in uniform was over. The next part of her life was just beginning. She’d been accepted to work in R&D for a Gold Technologies center on Earth and was taking advantage of their education’s benefit’s package. She would go to school to get her advanced degrees while working. She would owe time with the company for the investment they were putting in, but soon her last name was going to be Gold, so Ben was sure they would jump through hoops for his soon to be bride.

<But first we need to do some jumping,> he turned his own gaze to New York metropolis skyline and the top towers of the Upper City.

His family was waiting in one of those towers looking down over everything, and they knew nothing about any of this. He would be introducing Jacobi to them for the first time with the caveat that they were engaged and to be married in only a handful of months. He would need to provide interference against his mother and half-sister who would both want to throw the grandest wedding of the season despite Jacobi just wanting something small and intimate. He’d have to fend off his father and half-brother who would skillfully interrogate her to see if she was just trying to get into the family’s pocketbooks or if she really cared about Ben. The only one he wasn’t worried about was Hope. He’d even sent her a message before leaving orbit that they were coming and were engaged. She hadn’t responded, but Ben knew his full-blooded sister wouldn’t violate his privacy by telling them.

He could practically hear the doubts his father and brother would try and sow during the meeting. <It’s too quick…does she really care about you…is this only for money…you remember Sarah…>

Ben did remember Sarah and how she’d used him and his family’s influence to gain a command. He had no idea where she was, but he also knew Jacobi was nothing like her. They’d fought together. Bled together, and thought each other dead. During her confinement, the interrogators told her the ship that had brought her team to Harper’s Junction had been destroyed while trying to flee. Likewise, Ben knew she’d been captured and likely killed.

You truly know you love something, whether you knew it or not, when you learn it had been permanently taken from you. They’d shared those moments of sadness, fear, and longing with each other when they returned, and from there only one logical path remained. He’d bought the ring the next day, and now hear they were.

Ben shook his head to clear the memories as the air-car finally broke from the metropolis’ eternal traffic jam and climbed toward the penthouse apartments of the rich and famous. Jacobi’s grip tightened with every meter they climbed until Ben felt circulation being cut off.

“Don’t worry. They’re nothing compared to Windsor’s.” The comment was a little too soon, and he saw the hurt flicker in her eyes before she wiped it away with a small smile.

“Is it too much to ask that they like me?” she wondered more to herself than him.

<Maybe,> Ben didn’t voice his thoughts, and instead leaned over to kiss her cheek as the car slid into a parking position along the docking ramp leading from nothing but open sky to the balcony of the Gold’s city residence.

The last time Ben had been here he’d been about to set off on a great adventure to the stars. Now, the same thing could be said of another adventure. With only last break he steeled himself as Curtis, his father’s faithful bodyguard, opened the door for him.

“Welcome back, Mr. Gold,” his eyes took in Jacobi with the calculated sureness born of his days as a SEAL. “Miss Wentworth.”

That he knew her name wasn’t a good sign, but there was no use turning back now. Ben took her hand, helped her out of the vehicle, and walked ahead to get the door for her.

<It’s show time,> he fixed a smile to his face and entered the lion’s den.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 286

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

These MOUNTS were giving Coop a war boner. The graviton cannon and next-gen magnetic accelerator were enough to give any combat grunt wet dreams, but that was only the beginning. Defensively, it was the strongest piece of equipment short of a warship that Coop had ever seen. The way the shields could be adapted to counter known and unknown threats was genius. It addressed all the qualms that Coop had with shields in the real-life combat situations he’d encountered. The stealth-mode feature was a still a bit iffy in his mind for combat operations, but if he was snooping and pooping, or just trying to go unnoticed, he could see the mode’s usefulness.

<That would have come in handy on Harper’s Junction,> he thought as Gold started going over some of the other weapon’s systems.

They got to see the dual forearm cannons in action on a range next to the large, underground equipment hangar, and damn could those things lay down the hurt. They also had interchangeable ammo like the old Buss. The 10mm rounds came in regular and plasma tipped varieties, while 40mm grenades could be rotated in. The Buss’ old ammo, which regular grunts also carted around if they had an attachment on their M3, looked puny coming out of the MOUNTS, but Coop understood it was a tried and true anti-infantry weapon. The designers didn’t need to fix something that wasn’t broken. The laser cannon component from the Buss, which Coop couldn’t remember using more than a few times, was absent from the MOUNTS, but the graviton weapon more than made up for that.

Dozens of micro-missile launchers were located throughout the torso, with an auto-reload feature that was bound to be a godsend. In the old LACS V-models those were a one-and-done weapon system. Being able to blow your whole missile load and then have more available was just awesome. Even better, the launchers also had countermeasures among their ammo, so a trooper didn’t have to rely specifically on swatters and just trying to get the hell out of the way if that failed. Rumor was that Gold was even trying to develop a micro-countermissile, but the titan of industry didn’t mention them in the briefing.

The MOUNT had not one but two swatters to round out its defensive capabilities, and then Gold moved onto the big kahuna. On the back of the MOUNTS, nestled between the graviton cannon and next-gen mag accelerator was a big ass sword.

“All of our research and interviews with our new alien trading partners have revealed one important aspect about future combat with more advanced weapons systems: it doesn’t increase the distance between two opponents, it shrinks it.” Gold let that sink in for a minute.

Personally, Coop thought that was stupid. No one would want to close the distance between these MOUNTS and their massive cannons. They’d want to get the hell out of the way, fire and maneuver, and do everything they could not to get their asses blown off. <Or at least that’s how I would have been.>

His memory flashed back to the final minutes of his time on Harper’s Junction. The Commonwealth forces had been maneuvering in the open, with limited cover, and advancing on the capitol while the Windsor’s fought from fixed fighting positions. The whole scene had been flashes of energy as shields protected both sides from death and destruction. Every once and a while something would get through and people on both sides would die, but the distance between the two sides just kept closing.

<The object of the battle is to now get inside the enemy’s shield, disrupt their formations, and destroy them, or get them to surrender,> Coop hadn’t seen the end of the battle because the medics had pumped him full of narcotic goodness to make the metal spike in his leg more bearable.

“So on top of all these fancy cannons, we’ve got an old school sword and shield for when things get up close and personal,” Coop announced to the gathered group as he remembered the shield tech on the MOUNT’s hip.

“Exactly,” Gold’s eyes flashed and he smiled. “Clear off Unit 01!” The techs messing with the giant mount didn’t even blink as they jumped off and away from the six meter killing machine. “I helped sell the infantry brass with this little pre-programmed bit.” He didn’t do anything, but Coop guessed his IOR was busy inputting commands.

Suddenly, the MOUNT burst into action. On hand darted to its hip and grasped the metal square. It brought it up defensively and activated it. Blue energy cracked to life and covered the MOUNT from its shoulder to its ankles. With its defense set, the opposite hand reached over its shoulder and slid out the massive three-meter broadsword. It brought the thick blade perpendicular to the shield and rested it on top so it looked like it was ready to impale anything that charged at it. That’s where it froze.

“I think I just came a little,” Camilla whispered behind Coop, and he burst into laughter.

“Sorry,” Coop waved his hands apologetically when the look on Gold’s face said he was going to buy everything Coop ever loved and burn it in front of him. “That was totally bad ass.”

Gold’s gaze softened. “That is just a preprogrammed move. Once these things get riders they’ll be unstoppable.” Gold smiled when he saw Eve’s hand go up. “Ms. Berg, it is a pleasure to see you again.”

“Thank you, sir, but my question is about the shield.” She continued right over any pleasantries Gold might have wished to conduct. “While that’s a handy defensive tactic there, that’s a big thing to haul around, or even engage an enemy mech with. Having seen one of them up close and personal, such a big shield puts us at a disadvantage.”

“I completely agree,” Gold smiled, and Coop saw his eyes unfocus for a second as he inputted more commands through his IOR, “that’s why, like all things with the MOUNT, it’s modular.” The shield flickered and shrank to a perfect circle that protected only the MOUNT’s chest. “We’ve done some historical research and preprogrammed several options into the system.” The shield shifted again to a slightly rounded top that angled down to a point at the bottom. It didn’t look like it would protect much, but Coop would bet one of his new WO paychecks that pointy end could do some damage. Shields were pure energy after all.

“I fully expect as you all train and familiarize yourself with the MOUNTs that you will input your own preferences. The swords are also modular. They’re nano-blades, as you may have noticed, and cost a small fortune, but they’ll adapt to what you need. Plus…” Gold had the MOUNT disengage its shield and kneel in front of them with the sword tip down. He gestured for the group to approach.

At first, the golden blade looked like every other nano-blade Coop had seen. Since some of them had been trying to kill him, he had a pretty good idea what they looked like. As he got closer, things started to look a little different.

“There are imperfections,” Eve was the first one to call it. Instead of the normal, flawless gold of the nanite material, there were barely discernable dark specs.

“You’ve got a keen eye, Ms. Berg,” Gold smiled. “What you’re seeing is probably one of your greatest and most secretive weapons. When I told you that there were only three shield-buster rounds for the new mag-cannons, that was the truth, but we originally purchased six at a sum I won’t repeat here because it will blow your minds. Three of those six rounds were carefully broken down, without losing their inherent abilities, and forged into the blades of this armored cavalry regiment.

<Wow,> Coop got a half chub knowing that anything shielded would crumble before him now.

“I do advise caution,” Gold warned. “While the blades will get the job done, the powers of the shield-buster tech was diluted in the process. One cut won’t breakdown the enemy’s defense. You’ll need to bash them into submission, and how many hits it’ll take will depend on the strength of the shield. We’re developing the AI software for the MOUNTs to gauge shield strength and give you a good approximation of your progress, but what we really need to make those estimations accurate is data.

“And you won’t get data without combat trials,” Coop mumbled the answer. It made sense.

Gold returned the MOUNT its default position and the tech’s hurried back to work. “Any questions?”

“Yeah,” one popped into Coop’s mind based on his particular experience. “You were building tanks back on New Savannah. Did you scrap that in favor of the MOUNTS?” He remembered his humiliating defeat on the moon exercises to what, at the time, had been a brand new weapons system.

“Not at all Mr. Cooper,” Gold smiled and turned his attention back to CMDR Snow.

“How many MOUNTs do you see, Mr. Cooper?” The CMDR marched to the front of the group while Gold stepped aside.

“Forty, sir,” Coop answered without hesitation.

“Do you think Infantry command would build an entire experimental regiment around only forty soldiers?” was the follow up question.

Since Coop still didn’t have a firm grasp on the new organizational designation his response was less confident. “No?”

The CMDR gave him a hard stare. “You are correct Mr. Cooper. As promising as the MOUNTS look to be, the Admirals aren’t going to put all of their eggs in one basket. The 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment will consist of a two unit breakdown. The first is the armored cavalry battalion, all of you. You will be divided into ten, four-MOUNT squadrons. Each will be commanded by an officer whose command time over their squadron will equate to Company command time for their career track. With all the support personnel that are attached to these machines it will be nearly a hundred soldiers under your command. A Lieutenant Commander will command the entire Battalion. That command will be decided at the end of the training.”

Coop could practically feel all of the senior officers in the group tense. Command of an experimental, frontline formation of total ass kickers would get them their second gold stripe for sure.

“The remainder of the regiment will consist of four battalions of tanks,” the CMDR continued. “In addition to these forty MOUNTS, the infantry has purchased two hundred tanks from Gold Technologies. There will be fifty tanks per battalion, five per company, and those tanks will be training and doing their work ups in conjecture with us. Two of the battalions are doing their training on Mars while the other two are doing their training at the Fort Knox Military Complex not too far from Stewart-Benning. We’ll be running joint ops with them later in our training.”

“We’ve been able to collect data on both Windsor mechs and our tanks in combat situation. The Admirals believe certain situations will call for certain deployments, and since the tanks are cheaper they’ve ordered more of them. However, do not think that reflects poorly on armored cav, there are some conditions and situations where a big hunk of hovering duro-steel with a cannon isn’t going to cut it. We’ll see our share of combat. I’ll see to that.” The CMDR smiled.

<Great,> Coop thought at the CMDR handed the reigns back to Gold who started to take them on a tour, introduce them to the mechanics and techs that would service the MOUNTS, and show each of the new Dragoons which MOUNT would be theirs.

As a former CPL, Coop had to wait until the end. “Hello beautiful,” Coop gave Unit 36’s metal calf a firm pat. He didn’t know if it was just him, but his MOUNT looked a little taller and broader than the ones of either side.

<Wishful thinking,> he thought as he did a three-sixty walk around of his home for the foreseeable future. <I’m going to kick so much ass in this thing.> He couldn’t stop grinning.

Now he just had to hope that Eve would be in his squadron. That would make everything absolutely perfect.

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