Two Worlds – Chapter 293

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“I could get used to this,” Coop leaned back in his seat and kicked his legs out in front of him. His knees hit the seat in front of him, and the occupant turned around to sneer at him, but the much smaller man quickly averted his eyes when he saw Coop’s size. Or maybe it was the uniform. Either way, Coop slipped the wrapper of the delectable on-the-house snack pack and gobbled it down.

His experience on the maglev trains that were one of the primary modes of public transportation on Commonwealth worlds was limited. As an HI, if he needed to go anywhere he was in his LACS or the Infantry drove him there. As a Rat he’d never had the free cash to ride the fast trains. He’d hopped onboard a few in Mars and one on Thor, but that was a different lifetime ago: before New Lancashire, the Windsor’s, SRRT, and Harper’s Junction.

From the look on Eve’s face, the unexpected luxury, and prompt customer service of the train’s staff was a surprise. They’d been ushered from the regular commuter portion of the train to the first class area less than a minute after getting on. No one told them why, and Coop wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Even though the train moved close to seven hundred kilometers an hour on the magnetically accelerated tracks, it still took more than three hours to reach his old PHA. It was like every time the train got up to top speed it had to start slowing down again. Not every town had a maglev station, but most did, and there had to be fifty stops between the naval hospital and his old home.

“What’s up?” Coop asked as Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis PHA 2’s tower clusters came into view in the distance.

Eve’s face had been pensive for the last few minutes. “Nothing,” she shrugged it off. “I’m just about to meet your family. You’ve met mine, we’ve got a kid on the way. It’s all official now.”

“Yeah.” Coop did a short moment of introspection – because that’s all he was willing to tolerate – and he liked what he saw. “Don’t worry about my dad. He’s a sorry old sack of shit. Offer to upgrade his holo-subscription so he can get the good porn and you’ll be the golden child until the day he dies.”

“Very romantic, Cooper,” she deadpanned, but a smile still pulled at her lips, just as the train began to decelerate.

It was a subtle tug, because the train’s dampeners in this compartment were top-notch, but he still felt it. A sudden change in a ship’s engine pattern, or the whine of a Spyder’s engines was the first sign of something out of the ordinary, and he’d conditioned himself to identify those little moments to increase his chances of survival.

An announcement blared of the train’s speakers, and Coop got to his feet. The train gently settled into the station before the doors even opened. It also flashed an air-quality warning.

<Shit,> Coop’s hand flew to his side, but where he’d used to wear a mask was nothing but his hip. <I’m gone for a few years and I’ve forgotten how to survive here.> He started to flush with embarrassment, but a steward approached to save the day.

The man had a tray full of breathing apparatuses for purchase that spanned from simple masks to full-blown helmets. Being from a place of low air quality, he had an eye for these things to avoid getting ripped off. He got the third cheapest one, bought one for Eve, and tightly secured it before the doors flashed green and opened.

He expected the smog to come roaring into the train, but nothing happened. He stepped out, and felt a slight tingling sensation as he passed the threshold. Apparently, the cabins of the rich and famous had portable shields to keep the stench out. He looked down the line of cars and saw not everyone was so lucky. He blinked rapidly so his eyes could adjust to the sudden haze, and took in his immediate environment.

He immediately noticed the heavy police presence. The maglev station was above the Civil Administration building where Coop’s life in the infantry began, but it wasn’t a rally point of the pigs that kept the rabble of the PHA moderately in line. Now, there were at least a hundred cops idling around the periphery of the station.

<I wonder what’s up?> he thought with no intention of approaching the group that had beaten his ass more than once.

It seemed Eve had different issues. “Sergeant,” she found someone that looked in charge with stripes. “What’s going on here?”

The big cop, who would have towered over the old Coop, barely came up to his collarbone now. When the man turned a scowl on his face, he found himself looking up at two people in military CMUs with stripes. The cop’s smart-cloth uniforms were different than the military’s – black with white instead of blue – but they still followed the same relative rank structure. To both organizations stripes meant authority, so while the cop didn’t exactly spring to attention, he did drop the scowl.

“Ma’am,” he answered gruffly. “We’ve got increased unrest and civil-disobedience chatter, so HQ has us staging here.”

“Why not down there?” Coop asked as he pointed down from the station to the walled perimeter of the building. It wasn’t just the partitions and weapon’s detectors he remembered. There was a full-on five meter wall separating the building from the PHA now.

<And those look like scorch marks and bullet nicks,> his better vision allowed him to get a better look.

The cop looked little guilty, but not much. “I deploy where I’m told, sir. I’m sure you know how it goes.”

“True,” Coop knew how that went all too well, but the only reason he could come up with to guard the station instead of the building was to deny the Rats access to the easiest egress point from the PHA. It was always a mission priority for the local government to keep the Rats pinned in the PHAs, but it hadn’t required a small army of cops at the station before.

“Sergeant,” another voice interrupted Coop, and he looked back to see a man in drab, olive smartcloth. The man also had a platinum stripe down his side. “Bravo Company, 1111th Reserves reporting in.” The man flashed a PAD.”

Coop’s IOR caught the image and held it for him to review even though the LT pulled the PAD away quickly. It was a standard operations order focused in on the friendly forces deployment part. Bravo was tasked with this station. Coop looked over his shoulder and his eyebrows shot up as another ninety-nine men in the olive CMUs were moving out the back of the train and unloading supplies from the storage compartments.

{How’d we miss that?} Coop sent to Eve of the IOR.

She just shrugged and turned back to the SGT and LT, who were both now looking at them.

“Who are you?” the LT scrutinized the black stripe on their CMU’s with confusion.

“Warrant Officer One Berg and Cooper, sir,” Eve replied diplomatically. “We’re up here from Aberdeen to see family. We’ve got a late-night formation ourselves. Any chance your deployment is linked to that?”

The LT’s frown only deepened at the WO rank. The man looked to be in his fifties, which for a reservist was a dangerous age. He’d been in long enough that he thought he knew everything, but since he was only an LT, even with decades of experience, he didn’t know half as much about the bigger picture as he thought he did. He was also probably used to throwing his weight around. While Coop was used to taking dumps on regular, grunt LTs, this wasn’t the place to get into a pissing match.

“I’m going to need to scan your GICs,” the LT didn’t answer Eve’s question.

Coop chuckled as he held out his wrist, “You still use GICs.” The LT frowned, which showed just how out of date he was with the regular front-line tech.

That frown only deepened when the personnel scan came back green for both of them. “You some special HI troops?” he asked as they made their way toward the exit.

“Something like that,” Coop shot the man a winning smile and savored his confusion as the stepped out of the open arrival area and into the main station. Here the air was cleaner, there were still more than enough cops around, and some of the reservists were moving portable barricades into position.

“Let’s find a directory and get this over with.” Eve’s suggestion felt more like an order.

Something had tingled her spidey-sense, and Coop didn’t blame her. There were too many cops around and deployed in the wrong position. The infantry reserves were being deployed as well with full battle rattle. Something was brewing, and Coop’s opinion was a riot. Having been in one already, he had no desire to repeat the experience. Especially, since last time he was fully armored up and ready to kick ass. Now, he only had his fists and a few concealed ceramic blades meant to defeat standard weapon scanners.

Thankfully there was a directory right in the middle of the concourse. The station’s planners wanted people to be able to find what they were looking for quickly and move on. From the beginning, PHA’s had been designed for proper citizens to get in and out while the Rats festered. Coop pulled up the data with the touch screen. He tried to connect with his IOR, but there was nothing. These would be the last places to receive the software upgrades, so he settled for doing it the old-fashioned way. He typed his last name and waited for the results.

What should have taken a heartbeat took thirty seconds. “Data is shit here,” he grumbled as the circle spun. It could have been that bandwidth was being taken up by the reservists, but he hoped they had their own network nodes they were working with. Piggybacking off this shit was a recipe for disaster.

The results finally flashed in front of his face. Cooper was a fairly common name, and there were a little over twenty-five hundred Cooper’s in the PHA. Coop narrowed it down to Cooper, W. and waited as the screen refreshed down to a single page. He scrolled down but found no Cooper, Walter anywhere.

<What the hell?> The search was supposed to just confirm what he already knew.

There was no way his father would leave the block he was currently in. A lifetime of relationships made that impossible. He just wanted to make sure which unit he was in now. People moved units all the time, especially when family members died or left. Walter would have moved from a two person unit to a single when Coop went away. Coop just wanted to know which one, because he knew as sure as a bear shits in the woods that no one would tell him anything when he got there. He was a big motherfucker in a uniform, with made him persona non grata with all Rats.

“Eve, we’ve…”

“We’ve got a problem,” she finished the statement for him.

“Yeah, I can’t find…”

“No,” she interrupted again. “We’ve got a tail.”

Coop almost turned around, but a knife hand into his kidney stopped the reaction. Instead, he cleared the search and set it back to the home page. Without all the text, it was much more reflective and allowed him a partial view of his surroundings.

{At our five o’clock,} she switched to a more secure form of communication.

Coop looked and saw a non-descript man wearing a mid-range business suit. He wouldn’t have stood out at all if it wasn’t for the lingering. He was practically just hanging out in front of a defensive position the reservists were erecting.

Coop quickly pulled up a map of the station on the terminal and looked it over. His IOR scanned it and provided a 3D rendering. {Let’s make for this hallway,} he sent the information to Eve. {It gives us the best concealment, so we can grab him and ask why he’s following us.}

He got a single ping of agreement for her, and they both set off at a normal stroll. Coop fingered the blade tucked into his sleeve and proceeded into the small hallway. It led to a set of bathrooms and utility closet. Coop checked to make sure the men’s room was empty and the utility room was locked. Eve checked the women’s room and then they both took up positions in a pair of nooks holding – ironically – recruitment holos.

Coop steadied his breathing and his adrenaline output as he waited for the man to arrive. He was so focused on it he almost missed the small click of the door opening behind them.

<Shit,> he whirled around toward the formerly-locked utility closet, but knew he was too slow. The glint of metal already showed that the weapon was trained on him, and the person holding it made sure to stay out of his range as he turned and brandished his knife. He considered throwing it for a second, a risky move, when the face of the attacker solidified…and stopped his attack.

“Hailey?” surprise and confusion roared inside him.

CRACK

<Oh fuck.> Coop staggered.

Previous                                  Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 292

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Bethesda Fleet Hospital, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop stepped out of the front doors of the hospital and took his IOR off Privacy Mode. The ability to turn on and off the influx of messages into his brain was a godsend. In less than two years, Coop had gone from a PHA rat who’d thought owning a microwave was a luxury, to having some of the most advanced tech available to mankind sitting in his brain or powered by his thoughts and movements. It was a pretty drastic leap, and as everything he did became more connected to technology – in this case his brainwaves – it was increasingly rare that he had the ability to just turn it all off. Mankind had been addicted to tech since the mid-twentieth century, this was just taking things to the next level.

<Pretty soon everywhere and everything is going to be piping info into our brains whether we want it or not,> Coop thought as he looked around. Even now, the hospital had some notices and advertisements for drugs visible only through the IOR. <I wonder how much the drug companies had to bride the contracting officers for that,> he mentally chuckled as routine messages started to flow past his peripherals.

As a soldier, his Privacy Mode didn’t automatically keep out all incoming messages. Anything with priority or alert status would get through, along with anything along the public emergency bandwidth. He wasn’t sure what civilians’ settings looked like, and he doubted he ever would.

<Wooooooo, pump the breaks,> the thought brought him mentally and physically to a screeching halt. He’d never thought of himself as a lifer. He knew it’d be a pain in the ass to get any upgrades removed, but it had never crossed his mind before that this was what he wanted to do with his life. With the baby on the way, Eve, and his lucky streak of primo assignments it didn’t sound like a bad fulltime gig. Plus, if he did fifty years, he’d get a full twenty-five-year pension. <Hold the phone. This seems like a problem for future Coop,” he shook his head and looked over at Eve, who’d also stopped.

Her eyes were unfocused as she looked through her own messages, and then she went pale…or paler than usual.

“Fuck,” she muttered, as a forwarded message appeared in Coop’s vision.

It was only four words: we need to talk, but the signature underneath left no room for interpretation. The Admiral knew that her family was about to get a little bigger, and judging by his previous interactions with her, Coop would need to be on the lookout for assassins unless he was in his MOUNT.

“Fuck,” Coop’s groan echoed his girlfriend’s as his shoulders slumped.

“Well,” Eve brushed the impending doom hanging over their heads away with amazing speed, “now that my side of the family knows, do you want to tell yours?”

The question caught him completely off guard. “Tell my dad?” he asked in the same tone he would if someone asked him to dismantle an antimatter warhead with a pair of tweezers and no instructions.

“Sure, he’s your father.” Eve shrugged and mentally ordered one of the base’s provided taxis to take them to the nearest maglev station. What’s he going to do? Spank you?”

Eve’s relationship with her father had been very different than Coop’s, which he suspected was clouding her judgment. <Still,> Coop looked at himself in the cab’s reflective window as it arrived.

He wasn’t some skinny little shit who relied on the government’s BSA rations to survive day-to-day anymore. He’d fought and killed pirates, Windsor soldiers, bluffed a Queen, been to a golden alien city in the sky, gotten his smoking hot girlfriend pregnant, and would most likely have to dodge a firing squad from the pissed-off chief of naval intelligence in the near future. There was no way he was going to chicken out seeing the old man again.

“I saw what you did there,” Coop gave credit where credit was due as the driverless cab headed across the giant medical campus. “Playing to my ego to get what you want…nice.”

Eve just smiled back. “It works every time.”

“Every time?” Coop laughed, as the sides of Eve’s mouth pulled into a mischievous smile.

“Sure,” she shrugged like it was nothing. “Do you honestly think I was being serious the first time I saw your dick back after Basic and said I thought it was so big it wasn’t going to fit.”

Coop’s laugh died in his throat. “Damn, Eve, that’s just cold.” He went back to looking out the window as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders.

“Sorry, just trying to take your mind off what you’re about to do. I know it’s tough. Your dad is like my mom, and the last thing you want to do is have them piss on your parade. It doesn’t matter if you could crush him with your giant dick,” she kissed him on the cheek and made him smile. “He’s still your only remaining parent and you silently yearn for his approval.”

“No I don’t,” he scoffed, but he didn’t believe it nearly as much as he should. “Fuck,” he breathed out and pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.

<Why is she always right?”>

The cab pulled up to the medical campus’ maglev station and gave its robotic thanks while listing advertisements that neither of them listened to. As they both climbed out, something amber flashed in their peripherals. Coop brought it up and frowned.

“You get this?” he quickly read the note from Commander Snow.

“Yeah, we’re mustering at 0200 for a mission of a mission TBD. Wow, that’s the shittiest WARNO I’ve ever received,” Eve frowned. “We can make it to your PHA and back by 0100. We’ll have to sleep on the train, and we won’t have more than an hour with your dad, but considering this is probably the only time you’re going to see him, I think we should take it.”

Unlike everyone else, Coop gave what Eve thought a lot of credence. “Ok,” he agreed and they purchased the maglev tickets and ran up the stairs to catch the train. Since this wasn’t official travel they didn’t get to ride for free, but Eve got them a discount. Still, having to spend his hard-earned cash to go and see a man he didn’t really like was frustrating.

<We’ve got to start saving for the baby now,> Coop thought about all the crap kids needed and felt a little nauseous. <And there is no way in hell Grandma Admiral is going to get too involved there.> He knew there were always strings attached to that woman, and he didn’t want his kid being some puppet she used against him.

He was deep in thought as he found his seat on the train that he missed the man in a suit and tie, who looked like he was commuting back to the burbs from his office job, pull out his PAD, take a picture of Coop, and send it into cyber space for confirmation.

 

***

 

ADM Sonya Berg

Location: Naval Intelligence Black site, Codename “Umbra”, Asteroid Belt, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

The pilot approached a nondescript-looking asteroid on the shuttle’s highest emissions controls. Positioning thrusters fired wildly as the shuttles AI tracked incoming debris and avoided it.

“You sure, ma’am?” The asteroid looked just like the one next to it and the billion other ones sitting in the belt between Mars and the outer planets of the Sol System.

“I’m sure,” ADM Berg nodded. “Take us around to the other side and I’ll tell you where to go.”

The pilot followed her orders and approached a crater on the far side. Like most asteroid bases, camps, or mining operations, there were no man-made markings or giant doors – which were now forcefields thanks to the upgrades – denoting where to park a shuttle or hauler. The pilot slid expertly into the crater and down a hidden tunnel in the side behind a large boulder. Nothing bigger than a Spyder could fit down the cramped passage. After a bit of winding, they reached a dead-end.

Sonya moved quickly. The asteroid had nearly no gravity and keeping the shuttle from scraping against the walls was a full-time job. To the small crew’s surprise, she donned an EVA suit and sent outside. She went to the dead-end, walked twenty-five paces against the wall on her left, and then had to feel around for a second before she found the hidden panel. Surprisingly, it connected with her IOR and sought her GIC and memorized verification codes.

<Someone has been out to update,> she nodded in approval. Her codes were accepted and a seam split the asteroid wall in front of them to expose a small hangar. She walked the rest of the way while the pilot maneuvered inside. Once the sensors acknowledged their passing the hidden doors closed back up, the lights came on, and atmosphere started to pump into the space.

Unlike most asteroid bases, Umbra wasn’t built for prolonged habitation, but it was built to last. The facility was nearly three centuries old, and had only stayed a secret for so long because of its stringent security procedures. If no one was there, it was in standby mode. You needed to physically access the security system to gain entrance, not just transmit codes. The emission signature of the place was a blip even when it was active due to compartmentalization, and it was drilled into anyone with access to the facility to only use what you needed…nothing more.

When it all started, Umbra was nothing more than a listening post. It had originally been built during the first wave of expansion when mankind moved into the outer system. Mother Earth was still the centerpiece of the Sol system back then, so everyone was always calling back for orders, sending reports, or just gossiping. In other words, those communications were ripe with intelligence possibilities. Umbra, and its communications network spread among the asteroid belt, were what the Commonwealth used to intercept that data and analyze it.

It was used that way for nearly a century until the second wave of the expansion really took hold and people started to leave the Sol system. It still had its uses gathering data sent from ship’s transitioning back to the outer system dockyards and sending reports back to Beijing, Moscow, or even Paris, Berlin, and other allied capitols. The Commonwealth didn’t discriminate when data crossed the Umbra network.

For most of its history the station had remained a mystery, not even an urban legend until roughly fifty years ago. Some stupid bureaucrat forgot to redact something that was sent to some local district governor about potential Blockie movements. The info got leaked to the media, and the mysterious Umbra was born. The network went into to standby mode for three years after the report was leaked and had been reactivated piecemeal over a ten-year timeframe. It was up and running at one hundred percent now, which was why Sonya went straight to the recently upgraded communications nodes to see what they’d gathered.

The answer was…not much.

“Transmissions are being…sabotaged,” a communication’s specialist she’d brought along declared with a frown. “You can see the transmission log chain,” she pointed at a sequence of numbers.

“What is the origination point and where is it being intercepted?” Sonya looked closely at the screen and tried to bring up her specialized communication’s training from decades ago.

“We’ve got batches here for the mining colony on Pluto, and then from some of the stations over Neptune,” her face scrunched as she bent closer to the screen. “We’ve got Titan in here, and then some of the installations on Jupiter. The transmissions are…”

“Moving closer to Earth,” Sonya put it together herself. “Can you figure out what is corrupting the data?”

The specialist brought up a slice of data, and the whole terminal went on the fritz. “Shit,” the man hit an emergency shutdown button and the terminal died with a smoky sputter. Thankfully, all of the terminals were independent for just this type of security concern.

“Don’t do that again,” Sonya rubbed her eyes as she watched the dead terminal. <Whatever this thing is, it’s here to kill us.> whatever that was it looked like it had been slowly working its way across the outer system and eliminating anything in its path. Or at least everyone’s ability to warn anyone else what was coming.

“Do we have anything we can work with?” Sonya was looking for one ray of sunshine in the void of failure.

The specialist brought up another terminal and carefully went through the data. Some looked good, but the man disregarded them because he said they were too suspicious. Finally, he landed something near the beginning of the transmissions.

“Looks like someone deploying a new QE buoy was able to get something out. Instead of going through Titan and getting spiked, it made it all the way to the node over Mars. Umbra picked it up, so this is probably what set off the alert.” He carefully set up multiple firewalls before opening the data.

Sonya looked closely, assuming one thing, but seeing another.

“Fuck,” she took a deep breath and rubbed her temples with her thumbs. “This isn’t going to end well.”

Previous                            Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 291

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Bethesda Fleet Hospital, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

The white wall was flawless in its normality. Coop had scoured it with his gaze for the last hour and not found a single blemish. The fleet hospital just outside the ruins of the old United States capitol was the largest medical facility in Earth’s western hemisphere. It was a city unto itself. Coop’s eyes nearly popped out of his skull when their shuttle descended through the pollution fog and onto a waiting landing pad. If anything, it was the only thing that had brought him out of the state of shock he’d been in for the last few hours.

<I’m gonna be a Daddy.> The thought rampaged through his mind for the thousandth time, quickly followed by, <this has got to be a fucking joke.> But none of his squadron, or hidden holo-cam crew jumped out to say he’d been bamboozled by a practical joke or some holo-comedy that was fucking with people on purpose.

He really wished this was a holo-show. If it was, he’d know how to reply. It usually was one of three responses. The first was a genuine, exuberant acceptance of the bundle of joy that would enter the parents’ life in nine months. The next was a denial, questioning if the baby was his, or lastly, complete shock at the unexpected news. Coop’s response wasn’t the first, he’d gracefully avoided committing the second, and had settled on the third.

<And it doesn’t feel like it’s going to wear off anytime soon.> He thought as he resumed looking at the wall. <At least it doesn’t smell like bleached asshole in here.> Now that he was going to be a father, he was a little embarrassed that he knew what bleached asshole smelled like. Some of the strippers on Mars had been thorough in their hygiene.

Their squadron commanders had been kind enough to grant them three day passes when the news filtered down to them. Like Eve, they wanted this taken care of as soon as possible, and that meant a plan of action. Eve was in full planning mode with the doctors while Coop sat there still trying to distinguish up from down.

<This would probably be easier if my only view of my father wasn’t as a raging asshat.> It was the first time Coop had thought about his old man in his new life. It almost made him laugh that the fucker was less than a thousand kilometers away, and probably wanking off to some holo-porn while Coop dealt with this existential moment of crisis. Coop almost used his IOR to call the old man, but thought better. That was just a recipe for disaster.

Speaking with Eve’s dad wasn’t exactly an option. If the man had been married to the ADM, he was probably a hardcore bastard who’d peel Coop apart limb by limb for knocking up his baby girl. Unfortunately, some Blockie had done him in over a decade ago, so Coop didn’t even have that bad option to consider. His lack of a male role model was frustrating in moments like this.

It didn’t even occur to him until that very moment that he and Eve both had daddy issues, and that made him laugh. The sound startled a nurse walking by. He looked like a child compared to his enhanced bulk, which even outside his MOUNT, made the man look like a child in comparison. The nurse was about to snap something back, when he noticed the warrant officer stripes on his CMUs and decided to let it go.

That made Coop feel good. He had power now, <Then why do I feel so powerless?> he wondered as his mind snapped back to Eve and their baby in the other room.

As if on command the door slid open. “We’re ready for you, Mr. Cooper,” a doctor waved him in.

Coop took a deep breath, stood on legs that felt much weaker than they should, and followed the man into the room. Eve sat on the edge of an operating suite in one of those paper gowns that hospitals had been using for centuries. She looked tired, but happy, and he immediately saw why. Sitting in a large, see-through cylinder next to the surgical suite was a tiny human floating in liquid.

“You decided to tube it,” Coop let out a sigh of relief he didn’t know he’d been holding.

“I decided to tube her,” Eve corrected as she ran a hand over the cylinder with surprising tenderness.

<Her.> The word echoed in his mind. He had a daughter. He looked at the tube.

The human inside it was so small, but with his enhanced vision he could make out the thump of its little heart in its chest. As if knowing what he was cluing in on, the doctor tapped his PAD. A sound of a rapid heartbeat filled the room.

“It’s so fast,” Coop laughed as he watched his daughter twitch in the artificial womb.

Tubing, or Artificially Monitored Pregnancy as it was more formally known, had been around for almost two centuries. As time progressed, and mankind propelled itself into the far reaches of space, women just didn’t want to take the time, or suffer the physical and emotional tolls of being pregnant. As was human nature, technology was used to compensate. The result was the fetus spending nine months in a tube that mimicked the womb down to the mother’s DNA signature in the amniotic fluid. That was why Eve looked so tired. She’d spend the last few hours undergoing not only the extraction of the fetus, but the plethora of tests needed to simulate her womb for the unborn child.

“If we could,” the doctor’s voice yanked Coop’s eyes away from his kid. Eve nodded and a robotic arm descended from the ceiling to take the tube. The wall slid back to reveal hundreds of other tubes in their holding brackets. “Mr. Cooper, if you’d please step up to the scanner. We need to scan your GIC as the father.”

Coop’s body moved of its own accord. He scanned his GIC and the hospital’s AI added him to the system, while also matching his DNA to the baby’s. It beeped green with confirmation that he was indeed that little girl’s father. It also filled in the calendar function of his IOR with several upcoming appointments.

“We understand if parents can’t make it to all of the scheduled appointments, but we do ask that one tries to be present. We’ll start the first round of enhancement procedures at twelve weeks, and then move forward from there. I see you have additional selections beyond what the War Department’s insurance covers. We’ll need deposits up front before we do those procedures.”

“I’ve got some cash stashed away. Not a lot,” Coop imagined the pricetag on some of the simplest procedures ran five-or-six figures, “but you can have it.” The normally money-stingy Coop couldn’t help but laugh at himself after a second. “Look at that, the little bastard is already costing me money.”

Despite referring to their unborn daughter as a bastard, Eve just smiled back. “My family isn’t rich by any means, but we’re well off enough, and my name and family reputation can secure some loans. We’ll give our daughter the best head start we can.” Eve grabbed Coop’s hand and squeezed. “And if I haven’t said it yet…thank you.”

“Thank you?” Coop looked at her in surprise and couldn’t help but laugh again. “All I did was blow my load inside you when some scrub forgot to flick a switch and turn your birth control back on.”

Eve just grinned her mischievous smile. “Either way, even if this is going to fuck up my training schedule a little, we’ve been given a gift. A chance to be better than our own parents.”

“Did you tell your mom?”

“Did you tell your dad?” she shot back. “I didn’t think so,” she replied when he shook his head. “Plus, I’m sure she already knows. She’s the CNI, nothing gets through her intelligence-gathering nets.”

Coop heaved a sigh and bent down to give her a kiss. She accepted it hungrily, and several seconds later the doctor coughed uneasily.

“You will be on light duty for the next few days, but you should be cleared after the weekend,” the doctor informed as he entered commands on his PAD. I’ll see one of you at the next appointment.” He was almost out the door before he stopped and turned. “Ah,” he hesitated, “After the procedure there is a minimum for twenty-four hours without…penetration.” He flushed scarlet and left.

“Wow,” Coop chuckled. “Is it so hard to say don’t fuck for a day?”

“Not everyone has your supreme sense of decorum,” Eve grinned and swatted him playfully before hoping off the table.

“Yeah about that…” now it was Coop’s turn to hesitate. “Are we supposed to get married now?” he asked.

Eve just stared at him for a moment before laughing. She laughed so hard she winced in pain. “Oh…wow…that was perfect,” she took a moment to catch her breath, but couldn’t stop giggling. “It’s just how I’ve dreamed it ever since I was a little girl.”

Coop glowered at her sarcasm, but knew he deserved it.

“No, Cooper, this isn’t the eighteenth century. We’re not going to get married because you knocked me up. What you can do is buy me a drink? I haven’t been drinking because I’ve felt like shit and now, I know why.”

“A drink I can do.” Coop put the awkwardness behind him and extended his arm.

Eve took it, and they set out to find a bar.

<What great parents we’ll make,> Coop chuckled to himself.

 

***

 

ADM Sonya Berg

Location: Second Fleet Headquarters, Mars, United Commonwealth of Colonies

The PM was gone. Her ship had exited Mars’ atmosphere and reached the required distance from a gravitational body before portalling back to New Washington. The Commonwealth leader might be long gone, but there was no rest for the weary. Sonya didn’t spend a lot of time in the Sol System, so now that she was here, she needed to talk to everyone that needed talking to, bribing anyone that needed bribing, and needed to oversee at least the conclusions of half a dozen operations. Technology made all of that possible while sitting in a conference room at fleet headquarters.

She reviewed the latest data dump on her IOR. The space in front of her was transformed into a cramped PHA apartment. Normally, there would be nothing put sparse furnishings decorating the space. This time the place was filled with weapons, drugs, and money: the trifecta. The image was frozen just as one of her teams burst through the door. She didn’t need to play through the imagery again. A bunch of Rats in rags against trained soldiers in modern armor wasn’t a fight, it was a slaughter. She fast forwarded to the cleanup currently underway. The team moved with practiced efficiency. She highlighted a few things she wanted them to prioritize by hitting the air in front of her and her IOR transmitted the data to the team on Earth instantaneously. It was a hell of a management tool.

The man on the screen nodded and went to work on what she’d assigned. Most of the team was gathering up the drugs, money, and guns. The money wouldn’t go back to the Commonwealth. It would go into a special slush fund she could use for off the books operation. The drugs would be used for bribes, and the guns would be stored if some third-world uprising ever needed some clandestine Commonwealth support. Another raid just like this had netted the ONI a pretty penny, but she didn’t have more time to spend on it.

She scrolled with her eyes to another scene when something in the periphery caught her attention. A person was running in the hallway…then two…and finally someone with a decent amount of gold on their CMUs.

<That’s something,> she cut her link to Earth and got up.

Some of her staffers were waiting in the hallway for her to finish her confidential “meeting”, and their eyes were locked on the CAPT turning the corner at a sprint. They were all seasoned intelligence agents, but she knew them well enough to read that something was wrong.

“What?” she asked as armed personnel started to clatter through the other intersection.

“Word is we have hostiles inbound. We’re getting nothing but static, and Titan base has stopped responding.

Titan was the hub of Commonwealth power outside the asteroid belt. Nearly a billion people called the small moon and the surround space habitats home.

“If there was anything…” her statement was interrupted as a general alert pinged on her IOR and the lighting in the headquarters flickered to a dim red. “Never mind,” she was already moving toward the exits.

“Shouldn’t we go to command and control?” her staffers followed right behind her.

“No. Let the right people fight the battle. We need to gather the intel,” she was trying to connect her IOR with the ONI net on Titan, but all she got was an error message. That wasn’t good. The ONI had the next-gen tech installed at their facilities on the terraformed moon. “Get me eyes on Titan,” she commanded. “I don’t care it it’s a two hundred year old telescope. We need to know what is happening there.

Her staff was on it as they emerged from the headquarters and onto the adjacent landing strip. Loud claxons were blaring across the base and bringing its million-plus personnel to ready status. Before she knew it they were boarding her private shuttle. Flight control argued with the pilots until her codes were entered and her clearance overrode whatever no fly zone the alarm had instituted. They rocketed up through the atmosphere.

“Where to?” the pilot asked.

Sonya paused for a second and chewed her lower lip in an uncharacteristic show of worry. “Take us to Umbra.”

Her staff sat bolt upright at that. She’d just instructed the pilot to take them all to what amounted to a myth in the naval community. She gave the man coordinates from memory, and filed him away for one of two potential outcomes. Either she owned his ass for the rest of time, or he’d be eliminated once this was all over.

<No time to second guess,> she reminded herself as they flew away from established space lanes and toward the asteroid belt.

Instead, she focused on what the hell could be going on. Whatever it was, her gut said it wasn’t good.

Previous                       Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 290

ADM Sonya Berg

Location: Second Fleet Headquarters, Mars, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “At ease. Keep your seats,” Prime Minister Deja Simmons looked more like the admiral she used to be than the political leader she was as she waved off the room of military, industrial, and political leaders. More important, she looked like a winner.

The victory at Harper’s Junction had been exactly what she wanted and what the Commonwealth needed. It cemented her victory over the Progressive Party in the recent elections, and it gave her the political capital, and all important, mandate of the people to push forward with her agenda. This was all stuff she desperately needed, and she was milking her victory tour for all it was worth.

Sonya took her seat near the middle of the table. Everyone who was anyone had been jockeying for position at this table since this meeting was announced and scheduled nearly a month ago. PM’s only came to Earth to placate the masses if PHA riots got too bad, or to tout a victory, so anyone who was anyone in humanity’s home system wanted to get in their two cents with the leader of the free galaxy. To avoid the unpleasantness of jockeying for position, the Chief of Naval Intelligence opted to sit below her station and watch those gathered to fawn over the new PM.

Chief among the ass kissers was Admiral Mitcham Duvall, Commander of First Fleet. Command of First Fleet was considered one of the highest honors in the entire Navy, but Sonya knew it was a ceremonial title for former big shots close to retirement. First Fleet hadn’t seen combat in multiple centuries, and was a bloated whale when it came to budgeting. None of that mattered when the Council of Representatives increased their funding annually without fail, and when actual combat-oriented fleets could use the extra cash.

<Nothing you can do about it,> she exhaled a calming breath as she looked over to Duvall’s left.

Admiral Janet Blackbird, commander of Second Fleet was right beside the older man. Second Fleet was Mars’ force, but unlike First Fleet, they still had squadrons and task forces that rotated out to the Mid-Worlds and Rim for deployment. It was still a black void of taxpayer’s dollars in Sonya’s opinion, but they at least partially earned their keep.

The Deputy Commanders of the two fleets assigned to the Sol System were in the next two seats, but only one of them was a new face to her.

{Welcome to the big leagues,} she shot the personal message over IOR to the man sitting four places away from the PM.

Admiral Johnathan Helms, Deputy Commander of First Fleet’s, eyes went unfocused as he scanned the message. A grin pulled at his lips before he smothered it. He was supposed to be looking stoic and professional in his new post as the number two to Duvall. Unlike Duvall, who Sonya had always thought was a bit of a condescending asshole because of an overrated part he’d played in a Blockie scuffle over seventy years ago, Helms was a proven commander who she’d worked with in the past. She was happy to see he’d finally gotten the corporate patronage necessary to jump all the way to full admiral. Judging by the way the man opposite the two first fleet commanders was sitting pretty, Sonya knew for sure he’d been the one to back Helms.

Thomas Gold was looking professional, but slightly distracted. When the PM had walked in, he made no effort to get up. Not only was he the man backing Duvall, and had elevated Helms, but he was the biggest contributor to Simmons’ election campaign and the Eagle Party in general. Everyone knew he was the real power in the room, but no one dared to mention it.

To show his power, he was sitting directly to the right of the PM, with the next five seats down being filled with his corporate lackeys, including the former CEO of the recently acquired Blacktide Armaments. On paper it looked like a merger, but Sonya knew a hostile takeover when she saw one. By her estimation, the Black Family would be completely knocked out of their own business in a decade or two, and if the rumors were true, their quest to marry into the Gold family had just taken a precipitous downturn.

The PM finally looked up from her PAD, which she’d been studying for the last thirty seconds in silence. The PM had the IOR implant like everyone else in the room, but it seemed she preferred the old reliable hardware in her hands. Sonya filed that away for future use.

“Ok, where are we standing with the Hegemony?” Once she had a firm grasp of this particular meeting’s agenda, they went to work.

“Everything is good, Madame Prime Minister. In fact, they’re better than good. All of our trading contracts are being met in full and on time. Loans are coming in without a hitch, as are the payments going out. We’ve been seemingly integrated into their banking system without a hiccup. It’s almost…”

“Alien?” the PM smirked and the room laughed. If this had been a human endeavor something would have gone wrong. Murphy would have demanded it. “How are things on the diplomatic front?” the PM turned to one of the holdovers from the last cabinet, Minister Jodi Harrington.

She had been moved out of her powerful position at Commerce and to the newly created Minister of Hegemonic Relations, whose primary mission as to conduct business with the Hegemony. It was a small position now, but Sonya had more than an inkling that it was going to grow quickly. “We’ve received return messages from our calls, but they read as courtesy replies. Whatever the more central races of the hegemony do on the day to day is still a mystery to us, and I don’t think they’re going to tell us anytime soon,” she replied looking more than a little frustrated.

“As long as the money keeps rolling in and our checks don’t bounce, we’re on a good path,” the PM moved on by fixing her attention on another subordinate.

Gold stayed silent, but his lackeys clearly had political IOUs they were calling in for legislation to be adopted by the Council. The PM handled it all like a good politician with smiles, non-committal language, and promises to get together with them individually at the earliest opportunity… which politely translated to never taking into consideration on her schedule.

Sonya didn’t pay much attention during these moments and elected to have her IOR record the meeting so she could look over it later. A message pinged in her peripherals, but it was a pre-programmed alert she’d set up to watch for items in her personal life. It was from a node with an Earth ID, so it was probably Derrick’s daily PT logs. His new legs were giving him trouble, and he liked to complain to her, so she made sure she had the therapist’s notes to reassure him with. She would tolerate it for a little longer before she pushed him back out of the proverbial nest so he could get back to flying.

“…Windsor’s look like?” she only caught the second half of the PM’s question, and she bought herself a few seconds to replay the whole question by tapping on her PAD and bringing up a holo of the galaxy.

“The situation with the Windsor’s is unchanged since their expulsion from Harper’s Junction.” ADM Ward wasn’t in the room, thank god, because it would have fed the man’s ego for him to hear her say that. “We have some light probing around the boarders they established after the unprovoked attack on Queensland and several other systems, but it looks like they are still licking their wounds. Our sources inside the Empire are limited, but they all are reporting that the Windsor’s are in a holding pattern.”

“What about the Blockies? Are they going to retaliate for Yangon?”

“Since Yangon was retaliation for Rogue Island, I would say it’s a fifty-fifty shot of something happening. We’re getting the usual bluster from their People’s Proxy Council, but there seems to be some infighting about next courses of action. I’d say we’re six months from seeing any operation take place, and that should be more than enough time for us to get new and updated hulls into service to counter anything.”

“Speaking of updating our warships. Have you given any thought to the request I sent forward about the fifteen percent quota?” Duvall stepped on the rest of Sonya’s report.

The fifteen percent quota was established by the combined military-industrial complex. It stated that they would get fifteen percent of each fleet updated with the new technology in order to have a minimum, modern fighting force available against any offensive action their enemies might take against the Commonwealth. With threats on multiple sides, this was quickly adopted by the Council and signed by the PM. The next phase of the plan was to get the frontline fleets further updated before the more static defense fleets, like First Fleet. Now, Duvall was trying to cut the line, and since his fifteen percent refit was about to be completed for the fleet it was the perfect moment to strike.

Unfortunately for Duvall, the PM knew this was coming. “We’ll talk offline about that. Mr. Gold, do you have anything to add?” she quickly pivoted to the one person in the room Duvall wasn’t going to interrupt.

“Only that we have the quantum sensor net installation progressing ahead of schedule. In another forty-five days you’ll be able to have a real-time data on ship positioning throughout the entire system without having to break it down into sectors like in the past.”

<That is good news,> Sonya nodded. The Commonwealth, and Fleet in particular, were paying a not-to-small fortune to get the next-gen net up in a few critical systems; enough that Gold Technologies was going too far surpass earning for this whole fiscal year. Even more important, it would give the Commonwealth a giant, strategic defensive advantage to use against any future attacks.

The various member systems’ independent astrogation agencies were going to levy new taxes on the shipping lanes to help recoup costs, but of course Gold had weaseled out of that too. In tandem with some of its recent shipping acquisitions, they were getting away with murder on their balance sheets. Sonya was more than a little worried with the amassed power Gold Technologies was wielding today versus two years ago, but that was a problem for a different time. The PM had moved on to another admiral, so she went back to her private inbox and opened the message from Derrick.

The problem was it wasn’t from Derrick. It was a medical alert she’d programmed her highest-level security AI to snatch. It was for Eve, and as she read it, it took all of her composure to not get up from the table, stomp out of the room, and catch a shuttle to Earth to chop a dick off.

<I’m going to murder that little fuck,> she seethed on the inside while she calmly tapped out a message to her daughter under the table and nodded along to the recap of some bullshit about fishery inventories on Titan.

 

***

 

Location: Deep Space near the Kuiper Belt, Sol System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Archibald Papadopoulos sat in the two-seater flight deck of the Lightening Bug Class freighter, It’s a New Day and watched the cargo hold cameras while his hands flew over the controls. He was well aware that the giant oblong piece of equipment, almost too big for his ship, was worth more than everything he owned, his life, his entire family’s lives, and if he fucked this up someone was going to collect on that debt.

<But the money was just too good to pass up,> he grinned as he fired the ship’s positioning thrusters to orient its bay door toward the designated coordinates.

As the owner and one of two employees of the independent freighter company Papadopoulos and Sons he’d been contracted to deliver this particular piece of equipment to the ass end of nowhere. He’d been contracted through the Ministry of War, but the piece of hardware had Gold Technologies insignias designed into it, so he knew who he was really working for.

He was only eligible for the job because of his service record and his spot in the Individual Ready Reserve. He’d made it all the way up to CPO before an unfortunate liberty incident on New Vegas got him an early discharge. It was still an honorable one though, so he had options…or at least he thought he did. Finding work after the navy was tough in Sol system. There were a lot of guys in the IRR looking for work, and going up against old friends for a handful of jobs had resulted in burned bridges. It would have been easy to land a high-paying gig in the outer Mid-Worlds or Rim, but he wasn’t willing to make the move or deal with the inherent dangers of that area. Plus, his whole family, and hot, young wife were all on Earth.

So into the family business he went. That was almost two decades ago. Now, it was his still hot, middle-aged ex-wife and him out in the ass end of nowhere in cramped quarters. Sometimes that was a good thing.

“Archie, you limp-dicked shit stain, keep your eye on your drift,” the woman in question snapped over the net as the ship floated off course by a few degrees.

<It wasn’t limp last night,> he mentally grumbled as he refocused on his task and made the small adjustment. Cramped quarters, a long time out in the void, and his ex-wife veracious sexual appetite led to the inevitable. Since it was the one thing they actually did good in their fifteen year marriage, he was fine with it at the time. Truthfully, it was one of the only reasons he could bare working with her anymore. Friends with occasional benefits was a lot better than sharing the cramped ship with some other dude with smelly feet for a month.

“Better,” she yelled back as they settled into the proper position. “Taking over remotely.” The Gold Technologies equipment hummed to life, and she, in an old exo-suit, started to maneuver it out of the bay and into space.

He tried not to think about why the hunk of electronics looked like it was covered in a moss-like substance, which shifted to looking like glass when it was exposed to vacuum. Those were questions he could never ask anyone. Whatever this thing was it was important, which was why he was being paid an entire year’s operating costs to haul it out here, plus a bonus when he returned.

“In position. Initiating uplink to Astro,” she announced as she hit the preloaded sequence. If it didn’t work, they were shit out of luck. The Ministry of War didn’t give a merchantman technical knowhow of sensitive systems. If this didn’t work, they’d have to haul it back and forfeit the bonus. It was working when they left, so if it didn’t when they got to the destination, it was Archie’s fault.

“Beacon Alpha-Seven, do you read. This is Sol Astrogation Control,” hailed an operator for the only joint agency–between all the world’s powers–that ran commercial traffic for the entire system.

“Roger, Astro, this is Beacon Alpha-Seven,” Archie sat back to wait for the message to travel at light speed to the monitoring facility in Titan’s atmosphere.

“Good copy, Alpha-Seven,” the voice replied immediately, which shocked Archie nearly out of his seat.

“Holy shit! Hey, get your saggy ass back in here Virginia, that’s one of those new quantum relay thingies,” he shouted over their private net. He was tempted to place a call all the way back to their shop on Earth but didn’t. The comms on these things were probably highly monitored at this point.

“Alpha-Seven, did you damage the package?” There was a new, graver voice on the speaker now.

“Negative, Astro,” Archie couldn’t help the hint of panic in his voice. “The package was in the container during all of transit, and I’ve got all the proper logs to show I didn’t do anything.”

There was silence for a moment. “We’re getting a bunch of glitchy readings to your aft. Please confirm.”

Archie had been so busy making sure he didn’t damage the cargo that he hadn’t been watching the sensors since they’d settled into position over half an hour ago. A Blockie fleet could have parked right on top of him.

<I should have sprung for better software,> he grumbled as his eyes shot to 2D screen that represented the quarter of a light minute surrounding Day.

Nothing.

He breathed a sigh of relief. “Astro, I’ve got nothing on my scope.”

“No offense, Alpha-Seven, but we’ve got your specs in front of us and your scope is shit. Requesting visual confirmation.”

Archie rolled his eyes. His ship’s capabilities ended right around fifteen thousand kilometers, but he should at least be able to get a fuzzy image of anything a stone’s throw away for the killjoys at Astro.

“Roger, give me a minute, Astro.” It would take a minute. While the sensors automatically did a seventy-five-thousand-kilometer bubble around Day, the visual telescope had to be moved into position. The coordinates he was getting – in real time, which was pretty awesome – were at his eight o’clock and plus forty-five degrees.

“Are you set?” he asked his ex, because to get the view he needed to adjust position.

“Yeah,” she grumbled back from the cargo-holds hardline. “Closing bay door.”

Twenty seconds later it was secure, atmosphere was flooding back into the majority of the ship, and he hit the thrusters. Day flew head over ass in a controlled tumble until the front of the boat was pointed at the anomalous readings. Next, he brought up the telescope and…

“Why are we…?” his wife yelled angrily from the top of the ladder at the back of the crew quarters when a beam hotter than the surface of the sun cut It’s a New Day directly in half. She tumbled out into space, dying in less than a minute, but not before she saw the front half of Day, with Archie frantically trying to reach her from the sealed bridge, explode.

Neither of them was close enough to see several not at all glitchy objects moving through the last vestiges of the Kuiper Belt toward the refineries on Neptune.

“Alpha-Seven, respond. Alpha-Seven…?” Astro continued to try to hail the quickly dispersing shreds of matter for half an hour before finally shooting the issue up the chain of command.

Previous                           Next