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.”