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.