Two Worlds – Chapter 305

Admiral Mitchum Duvall

Location: Lunar Orbit, Sol System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Marine guards in LACS didn’t cower, but they averted their eyes as the ADM stormed passed them onto the flag bridge. It was where he should have been, but he’d been in a conference room trying to coordinate with his Blockie and Euro counterparts. The frustration was rolling off him in waves, and his staff could tell.

He hopped up onto the dais in the center and sat down heavily into his command chair. His IOR immediately linked with the AI and his preferences opened in a wall of holos around him. He scanned several and dismissed them when he saw none or negligible changes in the data. They automatically rearranged to keep his view of the master holo-tank clear. On it, First Fleet, the Blockie’s Motherworld Fleet, and portions of the Euro’s Home Fleet were in a defensive arrangement around Luna with the enemy barreling toward them at unimaginable speed. At that speed, they’d fly right past Earth in seconds, which didn’t make any sense. That predicament was only one of the problems the three admirals had been trying to figure out. Another was the Blockies were inching their way forward while trying not to look like they were inching their way forward.

<Fucking Yurachek,> Duvall cursed the man who’d been an enemy up until a day ago. For close to a decade, the two of them had been playing a game of chess in the Sol System. It didn’t help that the Blockie was a world class egomaniac.

Up until the latest unpleasantness with the Windsor’s, and ADM Ward’s raid into Blockie space, Duvall had been the greatest admiral of recent time. He’d taken his fleet up against multiple Blockie adversaries in the past and come out on top every time. He’d been a hero of the Commonwealth, and as such, had been given his due reward as commander of the fleet protecting Earth. It wasn’t his fault that it hadn’t seen action in centuries. His challenge was the constant shifting and prioritization of resources as humanity’s greatest powers vied for dominance of one little solar system.

<I’m so much fucking better than he is,> Duvall gave his own ego a stroke as he remembered the multiple times, he’d outmaneuvered Yurachek. If he wanted to, he could have pushed a button and wiped Beijing and Moscow off the map. But he didn’t, he’d left the man crawl away with his tail between his legs only to come back for round two. <Why can’t he follow simple fucking instructions?>

Despite their sudden alliance against the unknown alien threat, Yurachek simply wouldn’t follow the battleplan they’d all agreed to. His battleships were inching away, which in terms of space warfare amounted to tens of thousands of kilometers, so they’d be in position to take the first crack at the enemy. He was trying to keep it a secret, but the Commonwealth and Euro’s both had more than enough Blockie reactor information to know them man was running hot. He was doing the equivalent of stepping on the gas and break at the same time. All he had to do was pull his foot off the break and his ships would shoot forward. The problem was that it taxed the engines like there was no tomorrow, and as a first choice, the Blockie’s might not be the best situated to take on the enemy. Unlike the other powers, they didn’t have any upgraded ships. That meant their weapons and missiles were woefully obsolete.

<Try telling that to a narcissist,> Duvall growled to himself.

“Coms, please send a request to Admiral Yurachek to have him hold formation with the rest of the combined fleet. He’s drifting.” The fact that this had to be a request had Duvall’s grinding his teeth, but accusing the Admiral of letting his ships drift out of position was a small slap in the face from one naval professional to another.

It would take some time as the message daisy chained along the coms buoys the fleet had set up for communications. STRATNET, TACCOM, and the Euros and Blockie equivalent systems were still down. To pass the time he watched the holo-tank, which was how he noticed the change when it first occurred.

“Rapid deceleration! Enemy force splitting and course change!” tactical yelled.

“Impossible,” Duvall’s command face slipped as the numbers flew across his holo-tank. Decelerations like that were close to stopping on a dime for space travel. Anything in a human ship would have turned to paste, and the ships themselves would have crumbled like a tin can. “How the fuck are they doing that?” he muttered to no one, as the tactical situation rapidly changed.

There were one hundred and ninety-six enemy ships in the oncoming formation. The damage second fleet had inflicted must not have been as bad as predicted, because ships they thought needed a shipyard for repairs were flying with the rest of the enemy fleet like nothing was the matter. The combined human fleet was massive in comparison, but on a ship for ship basis, the enemy held a tonnage advantage, plus the obvious technological advantage.

<They hold a lot of advantages,> Duvall picked his jaw up off the ground and watched the holo-tank as it updated the data based on the fleet’s scopes.

“The majority of the fleet is heading for Earth,” the tactical OIC announced as the majority of the red icons veered toward the blue marble that was mankind’s home. “and…”

“They’re sending a blocking force to box us in here while they move into position on the far side of the planet. DAMN!” Duvall smashed his fist against the armrest of his chair.

His mind ran through the physics equations that any naval officer needed to do be able to do on the spot. The results weren’t pretty. Even if his ships burned at maximum acceleration, they wouldn’t be able to slip between Earth and the enemy. It was a hair over three hundred and eighty thousand kilometers from the earth to the moon. The beam weapons his older ships had wouldn’t scratch the enemy’s paint at that distance. His updated ships would have a better shot, but even slight evasive maneuvers by the enemy could cause him to miss. Then, his beams would plow right into Earth. The atmosphere would dissipate some of the power, but no one had tested the new beam weapon’s effects on a planetary target, and he didn’t want to be the one to find out just how effective they were. On top of that, he had to worry about the enemy ships’ unbelievable acceleration and deceleration abilities. If he came out from Luna’s orbit, and the added protection of its orbital rings, he’d need to make sure the enemy didn’t get around him to attack mankind’s first colony. They couldn’t afford another Mars.

<They suckered me,> he didn’t admit it to anyone.

It had been the logical step to take the combined fleet to Luna after they had to stop their burn for Mars and reorient. After what these things did to Phobos, it only made sense. Ships could bombard a planet for weeks before they did as much damage as throwing a small planetoid into a bigger planetoid. That was extinction level shit right there. He couldn’t allow that to happen to the tens of millions on Luna and the tens of billions on earth.

He’d made a tough call, and now that decision was going to haunt him.

“We’re counting one hundred and sixteen heading to the far side of Earth with eighty moving in between us and the planet.”

“Set course for Earth, full speed. Let’s use one of their own plays against us. Get in close, blast them to hell, and make sure they can’t do what they did to Mars on Earth.” He looked around the bridge and saw fear, but also determination. No one wanted another Mars.

“Blockie Fleet is already moving to intercept,” tactical announced, and Yurachek took his foot off the gas and shot forward, quickly building up speed, and reorganizing his fleet for the strike. It looked like a gallant charge, but consulting the numbers, what was going to happen was the enemy was going to cross his T and turn him into space dust.

“Let them go,” Duvall ordered. “They can soak up the hits so we can do the real damage.” It was a heartless order, but if Yurachek wanted to go down in a blaze of glory, so be it. Duvall would conserve his resources to strike a bigger blow.

He sent out a flurry of orders to his ships, and First Fleet started moving. “Admiral Gatz is declining to peruse, she will ready her fleet in the event of a counterattack against Luna,” tactical announced as the battleships and assault carriers of the fleet moved away parallel to the enemies incoming forces. Even with their rapid acceleration, the enemy would enter his target envelope in seconds.

<Coward,> Duvall didn’t like the Euro’s admiral, and she’d done nothing but play it safe since the start of this whole fiasco.

“Acknowledged,” he didn’t have time to deal with her. “Status of refugee fleet?” it was an afterthought as he stared down the barrel of the biggest gun humanity had ever faced.

The refugee fleet had set up at the farthest point away from the enemy and its approach from Mars, and by the looks of it, it would need every second it could get.

 

***

 

Benjamin Gold

Location: Orbit, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Ben’s hands flew across the holo-tank as Jack Frost accelerated for all it was worth. The enemy had pulled a fast one and everyone was out of position and scrambling. It also looked like the combined human fleet around Luna was in chaos. The Blockies were accelerating straight for Earth like a bunch of drugged up cowboys. They wouldn’t last long, and they’d get a firsthand taste of the tech imbalance they’d been denying for the last six months. Hundreds of thousands would die because some politician wasn’t willing to believe actionable intelligence about his enemy’s capabilities.

<Egos,> Ben shook his head; although, he knew the Commonwealth commander wasn’t exactly humble.

His battle plan was better, but he’d still be engaging the enemy up close and personal with no acceleration advanatage. None of this was going to do the people on the far side of Earth any good. They’d be cut off in ten to fifteen minutes. Ben just hoped that was enough time for the refugees to put enough space between them and Earth, or at least for the enemy to deem them nonthreatening.

“More incoming requests from Gold Technologies Carrier Group,” comms passed along.

Commodore Zahn had been instructed to hold his position and secure the jump point so everyone could portal to Alpha Centauri. That was before the enemy tore apart their defensive battleplans. Ben knew George Zahn, the man wanted to get in this fight.

<We’ll figure out in the next few minutes if we’re going to be alive to fight at all,> he sighed.

He didn’t know a lot about what was going through the minds of the admirals in this fight, but what he did know was that everything he cared about in this galaxy was part of this refugee fleet. His father, mother, brothers, sisters, and fiancée were all onboard Jack Frost thanks to a little creative coding. He hadn’t seen them yet, but he knew their positioning on the ship thanks to Jacobi’s IOR. They’d been given berths in officer country befitting their station.

If Jack Frost went down, it didn’t matter the square footage of your cabin. Dead was dead.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 304

Benjamin Gold

Location: Orbit, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

The holo-tank was a nightmare. Ben and his team were tracking thousands of contacts…no…tens of thousands of contacts. On top of that, priority was being assigned to certain contracts that was turning the mass exodus of earth into a traffic jam of epic proportions. Ben had seen clusterfucks before. He’d even been a part of some, but he was positive he would never see anything like this ever again.

<And I’m just dealing with the few hundred contacts heading for Jack Frost.> He did not envy the astrogation control tasked with getting this makeshift refugee fleet organized.

Like a master pianist, Ben moved his hand through the holo-tank, assigning priorities, shifting incoming comms requests to the comms station, and assigning flight patterns for the Spyders, shuttles, and private yachts inbound to his battleship. He looked over and saw the wince as a PO2 at the comms station got another screamer.

Ben had no idea what was going on down on Earth, but obviously anyone with a ship that could break orbit was doing that. The problem he was quickly realizing was that many of the rich and famous preferred to have sub-light skiffs they could cruise around the system. Sure, more than likely they had FTL capable boats as well, but he knew from experience that it was much cheaper to dock your boat at Mars, where there was less traffic, it was cheaper, and the strict population controls kept another catastrophe like the overpopulation of earth from happening again.

At the moment, having a boat a hundred million miles away, with an unknown enemy fleet between you and it, the tax rates for luxury ships seemed like a comical secondary thought. For Ben, and the crew of Snowman, it meant everyone with a few million bucks to rub together thought they deserved special treatment.

The comms section had been in more than one screaming match with these rich assholes who thought they’d be able to park their little toys in the shuttle bay and take them to Alpha Centauri. The bay, and every other nook and cranny of the ship, was going to be loaded down with people, so that was an obvious no go.

<But try telling that to a third-generation trust fund kid with blue in his eyes who thinks that world is all about him and his precious twentieth century sports paraphernalia that just has to come to Centauri.> Ben rolled his eyes.He was more than aware that he was of the same trust fund kid breed, but he was in the CIC working his ass off to get people off the planet; not complaining and wasting precious time.

He turned back to the holo-tank and continued to do his job for a few more minutes until a high-pitched shrill went through the CIC. The lights dimmed red, and his holo-tank updated with multiple new contacts.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” he didn’t bother to keep the thought to himself. “One-two unidentified contacts sunward at one-eight-one degrees, four hundred million kilometers and holding position.” He was calling out the enemy disposition when the lighting returned to normal. “New contacts identified as friendly, the Midas carrier group from Gold Technologies.” He breathed a sigh of relief. He couldn’t deal with another set of problems.

“Commodore Zahn sends his compliments,” the comms officer announced. “And requests orders for how he can best assist the evacuation.”

The comms officer was just relaying what was going on so the XO had situational awareness. Any orders from Snowman would come from the skipper on the bridge, but in this case, some admiral in charge of the makeshift fleet would let George Zahn know the best way him and his small group could help.

<How the hell did he even get here so fast.> Granted, Ben didn’t have any idea where the good Commodore was before this, but it was a little curious that word had gone out to the carrier group, when the rest of the fleet couldn’t even make contact with Mars.

“Gold, get down to the flight deck now!” the XO’s order cut through his thought process.

“Sir?” Ben asked.

“I don’t have time to say things twice, Gold. Get there now.” The XO was already moving on, and Ben was already on his shit list, so he got up and handed control over to his CPO.

He passed the marines guarding the CIC and took the lift to the deck with the flight deck. He passed more marines leading groups of well-dressed men and women down the corridors on his way. He heard them complaining that they were already filling up all the auditoriums and rec facilities. They’d be packed nut to butt all the way to Centauri.

If Ben thought the corridors were clogged, he was unprepared for the flight deck. People stood in squares as the quartermaster department worked at a frantic pace to move them out and new shuttles in. Ben saw an obviously wealthy couple yelling at a LT who was supervising their yacht being pushed out through the shield. The gray-haired man threatening a lawsuit, and the exhausted LT replying that the man could shut up and join the line or go down with his ship.

Now that Ben was down here, he had no idea what he was doing. He tried to stay out of the way of the organized chaos, but there was no out of the way anymore. Several deckhands gave him the stink eye, despite his gold stripes, and he couldn’t blame them. He stood there awkwardly for a few minutes until his IOR beeped with an incoming message. Everything became clear as a shuttle cleared the force field less than thirty seconds later. The admiral’s stars on the side and the transponders had the deck crew nearly in an apoplectic fit.

Ben immediately jogged over as the shuttle pivoted in the air to come down with its ramp facing the rear of the deck. Ben’s presence seemed to help the crewman, who went about their procedures for securing the ship, and left everything else to Ben.

As the ramp dropped, he assumed the position of attention and gave a crisp salute as a woman with five gold stripes descended the ramp.

“Lieutenant Commander Gold at your service, ma’am.” He dropped it when Admiral Berg gave him a quick, casual wave of her hand.

“I need to get to your flag bridge, and get me your skippers comms code,” she ordered, and he obeyed.

He didn’t know what the Chief of Naval Intelligence was doing on his boat, but it probably meant Snowman had just become one of the most important ships in the fleet. That gave him an idea. He sent a message to back to his team in the CIC to keep a look out for a number of ships, and if he spotted them, to get them routed to Jack Frost. It was against regs, but in the chaos he doubted anyone would notice or care.

He played guide and took the ADM to the flag bridge where the skipper was waiting for them. Whether the man was happy to see the woman or not, he didn’t show it, and Ben didn’t stay around long enough to find out. With a wave he was dismissed, and he got back to the CIC.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: North American Eastern Seaboard, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Heads up, everyone. It’s showtime!” The LT’s voice cut through the mundane nothingness that had been Coop’s existence since his squadron’s Spyder dropped him in the middle of nowhere. Well, not technically in the middle of nowhere.

There were two squads of reservist grunts charged with manning the TACCOM/STRATNET node buried underneath a hill behind him. The SSG in charge of the twenty men nearly shit his pants when Coop’s MOUNT was rolled out of the back of the bird. Up until then, they’d been guarding a piece of tech that wasn’t working. Now, they were an integral part of the atmospheric air defense plan. Which meant they now had a big bullseye painted on their heads.

They’d run a pair of cables out to his MOUNT and attached them to external data points Coop hadn’t even been trained on yet. That gave him a hardline to the Commonwealth’s main defensive mainframe, and how he learned everything was fucked because they’d been hacked. He saw messages from tech experts saying that wasn’t the case, but when the enemy got inside your system and made them a giant clusterfuck, Coop considered that a hack.

“TACCOM is showing three hundred inbound. I say again, we’ve got three-zero-zero enemy atmospheric craft entering the stratosphere. Designated Echo-One to Echo Three-Zero-Zero.”

The eastern seaboard of the former United States was almost twenty thousand kilometers, which meant if the enemy evenly spaced their drops the ships would be more than sixty kilometers apart. Since that plan was tactically retarded, Coop guessed they would bunch up in strategic locations, probably near big metropolises, where they could establish a beachhead. It was his job to make sure that didn’t happen.

It was only about fifty kilometers from the stratosphere to the surface, but the enemy was fighting the atmosphere and coming in on an east-west arch. His MOUNT’s AI calculated all of the data and highlighted a field of fire in red that he was responsible for. It started as a small part of the horizon in the distance the quickly widened as the enemy ships got closer.

“Staff Sergeant, you and your boys ready?” Coop sent to the NCO who’d turned into his ammo bitch.

“Yes, sir,” the man still didn’t sound happy about it, but it was the only thing he could do that made him useful.

“All units, engage at will,” the LT ordered.

His MOUNT’s vision magnified so his area of responsibility looked like it was right in front of him. His armored chest cavity popped open and his mini-missiles stuck their high-explosive heads out. At the appropriate moment, he fired them all. Dozens of missiles streamed out toward the incoming targets as the sky began to erupt. It was like someone had paid for a massive firework show that started at one point in the sky and works its way across. With all the MOUNTs protecting the coast, they had several missiles for each inbound target, but Coop doubted they’d get through. These bastards had destroyed Mars, he doubted they’d be able to put a dent in there…

{Target’s engaged,} his AI spoke in his head as his own missiles popped off with his own contribution to the show. {Battle damage assessment processing.} The explosions continued across the sky as more missiles joined the fray and the enemy drew closer. {One-eight enemy confirmed destroyed.}

<What?> Coop couldn’t believe his ears, but he didn’t have time to dwell.

His next-gen magnetic accelerator was already tracking across the sky. He would feel the hum as the weapon powered up, followed by a jerk as it fired. He left it to the AI as the armor’s mechanism reloaded the single shot weapon and he scanned for another target. It located a boxy blob, hummed, and fired. The enemy ships were getting closer and closer, and there was no way he’d be able to take them all out before they were on top of him.

His armor blared with an incoming fire warning as he shot off a third round and blew another blob out of the sky. Bolts of energy lanced around his position; one striking his shield and depleting it by half. The SSG was already running for his life, but a blast caught him, vaporizing him and turning his to ash.

<Shit,> Coop cursed as he moved to avoid more incoming fire from more ships bearing down on him. <Shoot, move, and communicate.> His accelerator hummed and fired as he moved.

He was about to pivot and bring his shot-range graviton cannon to bear on the enemy, when he felt his foot snag on something.

“Motherfucker!” Coop swore as his MOUNT’s servo whined to keep him upright. It failed, but he was able to get his hands out in front of himself, so his two cannons didn’t get buried in the dirt, but it didn’t stop the enemy’s fire from stitching its way across his shoulders, back, ass, and legs.

Red warnings blared and then everything went black. “Endex,” the LT called as the simulation ended. Coop’s vision returned to the world where is armor was on its hands and knees.

He quickly got to his feet, and ignored the laughter of the grunts that had gathered to run the exercise. He gave them a finger as he dialed into the after action report being led by the LT. This was the unit’s third exercise in half as many days, and none had gone well. However, this was the first time he’d tripped over the conduits attaching him to the information systems; systems that still didn’t work.

He knew what his comment to the LT was going to be. Ditch the stupid cables and let them engage the enemy on their own. The enemy would be able to cut whatever limited comms the friendly units in the area had anyway once they landed. They should all get used to fighting on their own.

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Bonus Chapter – Two Worlds – Chapter 303

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Assembly Area Kansas, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“What the shit was that,” Coop automatically dropped to one knee to reduce his profile.

Everyone waiting in the obscenely long chow line looked up at the flash in the sky. Coop’s first guess was orbital combat, but his brief scan didn’t show anything in low orbit returning fire. It was just the one, bright flash.

“Something tells me we’re going to be missing hot chow for a while.” An older NCO grimaced and exited the chow line.

That was blasphemy to Coop. no one got out of a chow line…no one…without good reason. As if the universe was giving him the giant finger, his IOR pinged softly.

{Movement orders for Operation Shield Wall,} was the title. Coop sighed as PADs all around him beeped, chipped, and chimed as the rest of the orders started to filter down to the enlisted personnel.

“Fuck me,” Coop whispered as waypoints and time hacks started to appear in his vision. Whatever was happening, the LT wanted him synching up with his armor in the next thirty minutes.

It would take fifteen minutes to do that, and five minutes to get to the makeshift armory the MOUNTs were stashed in. By Coop’s count, that gave him ten minutes to eat. The line was rapidly clearing and soldiers hurried off to their assemble areas. Whatever was going to happen looked like it was kicking off soon. The old soldier had been right. This was the last chance for hot chow until god knew when. Other soldiers at least got MREs. Coop and the other armored cavalry WOs got tubes stuck down their throats for water and nutrient sludge.

It was the sign of a true soldier that Coop was willing to take a chance for hot chow over the possibility of getting chewed out by the LT, but as the line quickly evaporated, he was confident he could have his cake and eat it too…literally; there was chocolate cake. Because he was a good boyfriend and baby daddy, he made sure to grab one for Eve.

His belly stuffed, and a smudge of chocolate across this breast, he headed back for the armory. <I don’t envy the MOUNTs waste recycling system when I shit out this brick,> he chuckled to himself as he ran his finger on the chocolate goodness that was the icing on Eve’s cake.

He was a good boyfriend, not a saint. He savored the sugar on his tongue as he entered the controlled chaos of the armory.

“Coop, stop sucking that finger like it’s your girlfriend’s titty and get over here,” Camila shouted for everyone in the entire company to hear.

The dragoons of third squadron were all huddled up around the LT, who had a portable holo-tank with a map of the continent open in front of her. She looked like she was mid-brief. Coop pulled up the time hack from his orders and saw they were blinking red and showing he was five minutes late. He’d minimized them when he got his chow, and apparently someone had moved the time up.

As Coop approached, the LT gave him a hard look, but didn’t say anything else. The look was enough. It said quite clearly, <I’ll deal with you later.>

“The brass is still figuring out the concept of operations,” she continued without missing a beat. “What we do know, and what hasn’t changed, is that our battalion is a strategic resource. We’re the toughest thing we’ve got on planet, so wherever the fighting is the hottest, that is where we’ll be.”

“What’s the threat?” Coop knew he should keep his mouth shut, he’d missed that part of the OPORDR by being late, but he couldn’t not know.

“Unsure,” the LT looked down at the holo-tank’s controls, and the other dragoons looked away. They’d clearly been through this song and dance before.

“Unknown enemy, unknown capabilities, roger that,” Coop decided not to be an ass about it. The LT was operating with only as much as information as was given to her.

The LT looked relieved and continued. “Third squadron will be deploying individually. Camilla, you and Coop will be stationed in this vicinity,” she highlighted two locations. One in Carolina Sector, and the other a hundred-plus kiometers to the south. “Anything coming down from orbit toward the east coast will pass through several squadron’s AOs. We’ll be hard linked in with local defense forces anti-air sensors…”

“Hard linked?” Based on the looks on the other dragoon’s faces, Coop wasn’t the only one who didn’t get it.

“Everything is shot to shit. All software not hardwired is unreliable at best and deadly at worst.” There was something more to that statement, but Coop didn’t press it. “Ok, so we’ll be hardwired to the net, but verify anything with your own sensors. Line of sight seems to be the most reliable. We’ll provide anti-air as needed and then movement to contact with the enemy when they land. Our purpose is to disrupt any chance of the enemy to establish a beachhead. Local forces will react as needed, but be prepared to move. Spyders are being reconfigured to carry one of us and spare parts. No telling how long this will last.” She continued. The LT was going to be stationed nearly in New York Sector.

Coop pulled up the OPORDR and schematic attachments. He had to give it to the brass, they had thought it out. The eastern seaboard was some of the most heavily populated territory on the planet, and the overlapping and interlocked defenses were going to be a tough nut for the enemy to crack. Coop and Camila were a just a cog, a bigger cog, but a cog nonetheless in the plan. He continued to scan the lengthy document until he saw where Eve was going to be. Miraculously, she was going to be stationed at the naval hospital.

<Damn if that girl doesn’t get what she wants.> he smiled.

“Ok everyone, let’s suit up.” The LT finished and the four dragoons hustled to their MOUNTs.

Coop wasn’t looking forward to getting cramped into a ball again, but he was ready for this hurry up and wait shit to be over. If they were going to fight then he wanted them to get it over with.

He just hoped his kid wasn’t caught in the middle if things went to shit.

 

***

 

 

Benjamin Gold

Location: Orbit, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

A high-pitched shrill went through the ship, “All hands, this is your captain.” The voice on the 1MC was somber. Everything that had happened recently was tinged with sadness.

It was one of those moments human beings would look back on as turning points in history: Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941; September 11, 2001; the first strike of the Last Terran War, November 7, 2088; first landing on Alpha Centauri May 1, 2153. And now, added to that list of famous and infamous points in history, the destruction of Mars.

“What we have all witnessed here today is an incalculable tragedy. Not even the most notorious Blockie Admiral would stoop so low as to drop a moon on a planet.”

<That’s because a no one could drop a moon on a planet until today.>

“The Sol system has seen nothing like this for over sixty-five million years, but we are no dinosaurs.” Resolve started to seep back into the man’s voice. “We do not know who we face, or what their full capabilities are, but we will not rest until Mars is avenged. We will not tire until this enemy has been wiped from our skies, and vaporized down to the atom. Earth is our home and we will defend it till our dying breath. That is our job, our sole purpose. We are First Fleet, the rock of earth, and we will not let her fall.”

Ben wasn’t one for sappy speeches, but after what he’d just seen, he felt his chest swell with pride. It didn’t matter that the fleet had basically given him the shaft. It didn’t matter than he was on his way out sooner rather than later. What mattered was that something was attacking his home, the home of humanity. What mattered was he was in a position to do something about it.

“We have a change of mission,” the captain continued, a hint of bitterness tinging his words. “Admiral Duvall was too late to prevent Mars, and the joint fleet is turning and burning its way back toward Earth. The enemy has started to depart Mars orbit and oriented itself towards Earth. Estimated time of arrival is eleven hours. The enemy’s propulsion capabilities are superior to ours. It is too early to tell whether they will overtake the joint fleet as it attempts to return.”

Ben took a deep breath. It was a commander’s worst nightmare to be caught out of position and at the mercy of physics. Ben couldn’t even imagine what Duvall was feeling right now.

“If the admiral is able to return, he will rally at Luna. The rest of the Blockie’s Motherland Fleet is burning for the moon, as well as a portion of the Euro’s Home Fleet. Along with the defensive rings, the combined fleets hope to hold the enemy.”

Ben quickly pulled up a system map, and for once, the universe seemed to smile on them. If the enemy held to their estimated time table, Luna would be directly in the path of the oncoming fleet. It was a brilliant stroke of luck. The firepower on the defensive rings was more than the fleets combined.

“A task force from the Euro’s fleet and our own remaining ships have been ordered to assist with evacuations.”

Ben felt the collective groan of the ship as anger gripped the entire crew. The greatest battle in human history was about to unfold, and they’d be baby-sitting. Ben knew the military’s job was to protect the civilians, to put themselves between the innocent and the enemy, but despite that, their mission felt like a cop out.

The memory of Jacobi’s face getting a hot dog from New York’s mid-city flittered through his mind, and a mild panic filled him. Suddenly, getting civilians off the planet seemed like the most important job in the world.

“All but one of the marine companies and all of the Spyders are ordered to scramble and clear the flight deck. Company commanders will receive orders from earth command when you touch down. The remaining company will work with crew to provide crowd control. The rest of the crew, prepare to take on civilians. We will load up to what our life support can sustain and escort a fleet of civilian ships out of the local gravity well. Once we achieve that they will jump to wherever they want, and carry word of the attack on Earth to the corners of the Commonwealth. We will make a least-time portal to Alpha Centauri, drop the civilians and return to continue the fight. This might not be what we want, but it is our mission. Get to it. Captain, out.”

Ben, and everyone else aboard Jack Frost did just that. They were about to have a lot of company.

 

***

 

ADM Sonya Berg

Location: On Earth approach, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Admiral Berg felt completely and totally helpless. She’d watched the destruction of Second Fleet with silent terror. She had data to relay to the defenders of earth, but she didn’t know what help it would be. Not now. Not after all that they’d already witnessed.

She thought of her family. Derrick was still in rehab on earth. Eve was on earth with her unit. Her unborn granddaughter was on earth, <Hell, even Cooper is on earth.>

“TACCOM and STRATNET are offline here too, ma’am,” her staff officer at the comms station announced. “We’ll be in tight-beam range in twelve minutes. I’m putting together a burst package for transmission to the rest of First Fleet, although most of the fleet looks long gone.”

“After what happened to Mars, they’ll be forming a defensive front around Luna. They can’t allow what happened there to happen to earth.” Sonya informed, and the rest of the crew nodded understanding. “Send it to the first capital ship we get on our scope, they’ll daisy chain it to everyone who’s left.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Sonya continued to watch the plot, and the increasing amount of surface-to-space traffic that was showing up on their scanners as they got closer.

“Is that…”

“An evacuation,” Sonya confirmed.

Everyone with a space worthy craft looked like they were getting the hell out of dodge. As a portion of Earth’s population, that was a fraction of a fraction. Tens of billions of people lived on humanity’s homeworld and in the orbital habitats. A chunk of those people lived off government subsidies in PHAs or other environments. So this evacuation boiled down to nothing more than the rich getting out of town while the poor stayed to die, and the military died for them.

<It’s a shitty world,> she sighed, and knew there was nothing she could do about it.

“Comms package away,” the officer announced a few minutes later. “What now?”

“Get us to the nearest ship with a flag bridge,” Sonya ordered.

She wasn’t going to be able to do much, but at least from there she could access her network. When shit hit the fan, she could at least direct people to where it was the deepest.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 302

Location: Mars, and Mars Orbit, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

PFC Billy Coleson stood at the base of the ridgeline. Boulders that had fallen into position thousands of years ago offered cover and concealment from any prying eyes. His V2 LACS’ sensors scanned the area around him and returned a plaintive beep: negative findings.

“For a planet that’s under siege, it’s way too quiet here,” Billy muttered to himself as he left the boulder he was using for cover and started back up the slope.

“What was that?” his squad leader asked.

Billy winced at the SGT’s words. He was still getting used to TACCOM and STRATNET being down. The squad of HI tasked with protecting orbit defense cannon Delta-Six-Six were communicating based on a portable node that had been flown out to their position when the nets went down. The node used laser-burst and line of sight tech. It was good for several kilometers of coverage, and would even daisy chain responses to other nearby nodes if contact could be made with someone linked to it. In that way, the Mars defenses had created a semaphore system based on the outdated node technology. It led to more hurry up and wait than usual, but there wasn’t really much of a choice without the nets the entire infantry had come to know and love.

“Nothing, Sarge. Everything looks clear out here.” Billy replied.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” stated another PFC occupying an observation post five hundred meters up the rock face. “Second fleet is gone. They took out the cannons in orbit, and the satellites have to be down if we’ve got no network access. Everything in the planetary assault handbook says warships should be taking up overwatch position over strategic targets and landing troops. They don’t need to take all of Mars to own it, just a few dozen key locations.” Everyone in the squad knew those strategic locations were the most heavily defended, which was why seeing nothing going on was so unsettling. Combined with the communications issues, it had everyone’s nerves on edge.

“Lock it up,” the SGT ordered. “We need to keep the node clear for incoming orders.” To Billy’s ears, the SGT didn’t sound his usual confident self.

Billy took a glance up into the sky and his LACS optics zoomed in on the target. In the upper atmosphere an enemy ship was in geosynchronous orbit. The thing was huge, bigger than the assault carriers he’d seen in Mars’s orbit before this whole thing kicked off.

<But the damn thing is just sitting there, and we aren’t shooting at it.> It was a real headscratcher.

He guessed it made sense not to shoot at the things that had just torn through second fleet if they weren’t shooting at the planet, but Billy knew in his gut this couldn’t last forever. It was the proverbial calm before the storm, and Billy didn’t want to be anywhere near it when it finally hit.

 

***

 

 

ADM Tamika Reyes rubbed her eyes and snapped her fingers. Her staffer obeyed and placed a small vial into her open palm. She unscrewed the vial’s top and tipped it up to deposit a single drop in each of her eyes. The contents did two things. First, they acted as a stimulant, and second, they provided instant relief for the dryness in her eyes. Endlessly staring at a holo-tank was hell on her vision.

“Report,” she ordered.

“Nothing, ma’am,” the haggard comms officer replied with no hesitation. “We’re getting nothing from the latest set of hails.”

<Well shit,> the ADM didn’t know what else to do.

She’d always wanted a fleet command, but this was never how she wanted to get it. ADM Blackbird had been a mentor and friend to her for decades. Tamika was Janet’s hand-picked successor to the important role of Mars’s defender. Now, Janet was dead, and Tamika’s fleet command involved millions of ground pounders who had little faith in her infantry tactics, and the fleet screening and support vessels that had scattered away from Mars when second fleet’s final defense posture failed. Even worse, she couldn’t talk with any of those ships. TACCOM and STRATNET were still down, and the news coming from her team wasn’t good. Whatever the enemy had done, they’d crippled communications.

She didn’t bother pestering the poor CMDR tasked with getting the network back up. He was one request away from a heart attack.

“Admiral,” a gravelly voice accompanied the swish of the bunker’s doors opening.

“Admiral,” Tamika tried not to roll her eyes. Admiral Garrett, despite being a legendary ground commander, was becoming a legendary pain in her ass. He clearly thought he should be in command, especially since second fleet was gone, but the navy was the senior service. Garrett might be the head of the infantry, but Mars was second fleet’s responsibility. “How go the fortifications?”

“All of our shelters are filled with personnel ready for subterranean deployment in the event of troop landings. Fabricators are running at maximum capacity to produce food and spare parts.”

“So, holding off on targeting and firing on the orbiting ships was a good idea then?” she turned to face the much larger man with her own confident smile.

Garrett had wanted the powerful land-based defense cannons to open fire before the enemy could get into position. Since the unknown ships had just blown through second fleet with few casualties, Tamika had her doubts about even the powerful cannon’s effectiveness. She’d ordered everyone to hold fire unless fired upon. Garrett argued she was ceding the initiative to the enemy, but she thought she was just being practical. In the meantime, they’d been allowed to ramp up production on everything from beans to bullets. Mars and its vast resources were ready for a siege.

A siege was something she was ready to commit to. Second fleet might be gone, but they’d wounded the enemy. The enemy was not invincible. She didn’t have data of the battle thanks to her systems being taken out, but she had visuals. She was imagery of second fleet’s energy weapons pounding through enemy shield, splitting the hull and goring them to their core. These enemies were tougher than anyone she’d ever seen, but they were beatable. Janet had sacrificed herself to show everyone that.

<All we need is more ships.> The number of ships amounted to fleets, with a S, and she left the logistical tidbit for people not under siege to figure out. All she needed to do was survive.

“Comms,” she turned away from the infantry ADM.

“Nothing ma’am,” switching to one of the alternative messages.

Tamika had them hailing the enemy every five minutes, but so far, they hadn’t even acknowledged Mars. Despite that being in violation of every human treatise concerning warfare. Even a hail about negotiating surrender was ignored. The last one had Tamika worried.

“We need to…”

“Ma’am, I’m getting a massive energy spike from the enemy ships!” a petty officer near the holo called out.

“Send the alert,” Garrett announced over whatever Tamika was about to say.

She glared at the man, but didn’t want to get in a pissing contest right before a planetary invasion unlike anything Mars had ever experienced. Several seconds passed, which became minutes, and nothing occurred.

“Ma’am,” the petty officer not had a chief looking over her shoulder. “The energy build up is still occurring, but we aren’t getting any reports of anything coming down at us.”

“What the hell are they up to?” Garrett frowned, and Tamika couldn’t help but agree.

Everything about this engagement had been unorthodox from the beginning.

 

***

 

To anyone with eyes on the enemy ships, the energy buildup was visible. The spine of the ships set up in a spiraling helix between Mars and Phobos lit up like the fourth of July. Everyone had been perplexed when the enemy pulled half its remaining strength and repositioned it between Mars and its closest moon, and assumed it might be some logistical or resupply formation. Whatever it was, they hadn’t seen anything out of those ships until now. But now that they were lit up, it was obvious they were the point of main effort, not the ships in orbit.

It was obvious because Phobos started to wobble. A moon that had been in orbit around Mars for millions of years was starting to shift.

Orders were passed for the defense cannons across the planet to open fire. With the moon only being six thousand kilometers from the surface of Mars, that meant the enemy ships were all in spitting distance. No sooner had the cannons started to aim and charge than they were brought under bombardment. The ground forces got to see firsthand how much more powerful the enemy’s energy weapons were than anything they’d face before. Dozens of cannons, their crews, and their garrisons were wiped off the map before they even got into firing position. In some cases, whose ridgelines, hills, and small mountains were blasted down to the bedrock.

But the defense’s quantity was their saving quality. Despite staggering losses in the first few seconds, cannons were able to open fire. Still outclassed, the defense cannons still pounded the enemy ships repeatedly until they were wiped out.

All during the brutal engagement, Phobos continued to become more and more unstable.

The crew at PFC Billy Colseon’s cannon gave out a ragged cheer as their cannon finally broke through an enemy ship’s shields. Billy could see hull plating explode outward, but there was no expulsion of atmosphere or any bodies. His final thought before the same ship turned its weapons on Delta-Six-Six was wishing they’d done more. A direct hit vaporized Billy, the cannon, and anything else for a quarter-kilometer.

Just like the ground defenses were struggling with the ships, the ships were struggling with Phobos.

“Are they doing what I think they’re doing,” Tamika couldn’t keep her voice from rising to a near panic. Garrett didn’t answer, but he visibly paled at the possibility.

Within twenty minutes all of the ground cannons with line of sight on the enemy ship formation were down, and it would take time for other cannons to rotate with the planet and bring sustained fire on the enemy. That was time they didn’t have. All anyone could do was watch helplessly as the ship’s spine’s flared, and Phobos broke free of Mars’s gravity.

The eleven kilometer ball of rock traveled down the helix path of enemy ships, which looked frighteningly like a rifle barrel; now that people bothered to give it their full attention. It picked up a surprising amount of speed, propelled by whatever energy technology the enemy ships engaged, until it hit Mars’s atmosphere.

Tamika couldn’t help but gulp as the headquarter’s AI traced the path of the incoming projectile. It wasn’t skipping across the atmosphere as much as smashing through it. There was going to be some drift, now that it had left the path provided of the enemy ships, but it was clear where she was sitting, the capital of Mars, and nexus of its defenses, was the intended target.

“Fucking geniuses,” Garrett chuckled from behind her. “Those definitely aren’t humans up there,” his chuckle became a laugh, and the bunker’s staff looked back at him like he’d gone mad. “It’s true,” he got a hold of himself. “They turned their ships into a giant fucking gauss cannon. Their spines are probably magnetic accelerators…fucking brilliant. No way can we do anything like that with even our new tech. This ain’t the Blockies, Windsor’s, or some other human group. This is some Hegemony shit right here. Those ET bastards told us right when they met us. The Twigs made it clear that Clause D of the Compact of the Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings stated they couldn’t speak for other races. None of the aliens we talked to have said any different.”

Tamika was too busy dealing with impending death to care about an alien treaty.

“Fuck!” Garrett’s hand slapped into the top of a console with enough force to make the room jump. “We’re going to be fighting some tentacle-looking asshole tomorrow and I won’t be here to see it.”

That was about the time the shockwave of the incoming moon reached the capital. It hit like the punch of an angry god. People had cleared the streets hours ago, but trees, cars, anything not bolted down, and sometimes lower-grade buildings were flattered and tossed through the air. Everything shattered, even the shatter-resistant stuff. Buried deep in the ground, the command bunker still heard and felt the boom.

It was only the preamble to the end. The moon itself came barreling through the atmosphere like hellfire trailing black smoke across the sky. It had shed about a third of its mass during its fall, but that was still nearly a nine-kilometer projectile heading for the planet’s surface.

Tamika wondered how fast it was going, and would have to wait until she got to heaven, was reborn, or ascended to whatever plane of existence awaited her to find the answer. The impact point was a few kilometers outside the actual capital, but when it was nine-kilometers wide, that didn’t much matter. The capital of Mars was obliterated, the command bunker smashed into dust.

The flash of the impact, could be seen from Earth with the naked eyes, and was later measured to be as powerful as ten billion nuclear weapons. The Commonwealth would just have to wait and see if it was an extinction level event, but one thing was sure, the fortress of Mars had fallen.

All that was left was Earth.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 301

Benjamin Gold

Location: Orbit, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Can we reroute, possibly through this junction here?” Ben suggested as the holographic circuitry floated in the air in front of him. An SP2, an electrician’s mate, stood beside him, scratching his head. Ben didn’t take that as a good sign.

“I don’t know, sir,” the SP2 finally sighed. “Everything should be working properly. This is probably software. I don’t know fixing the hardware will do anything.”

“Will it hurt anything?” Ben countered.

“No, it shouldn’t. Signal might be a little weaker since the reroute has to go through this junction, which can’t handle the load. Call it ten percent power lose, but that’s better than what we have now,” the SP2 shrugged.

“Do it,” Ben ordered, and the SP2 nodded and went to work.

It was busywork. The skipper and XO were ripping their hair out trying to figure out a way to get messages to the other ships of the fleet without relying on short-range, tight-beam lasers and communications panels mounted on hulls. It was a miracle ships even had those redundancies anymore. They were the remnants of a bygone area of signal hacking, malware, and compromised crypto-security. A time that everyone thought STRATNET and TACCOM had ended.

<Thank god we didn’t take them off, or else we’d be deaf on top of blind.> Ben returned his attention to the holo-tank at the center of the operation’s CIC department. It showed pretty much the same picture, although, imagery coming in from Mars was a little over three minutes old. It was still a hell of a lot better than nothing.

“What’s our fix?” the XO didn’t even bother to call Ben’s name.

Ben detailed the plan and the XO nodded his approval, which was enough time for Ben to get some breathing room before the fix inevitably failed. Techs were busy combing through work stations as well, looking for any compromised code. ADM Duvall wanted the fleet at one hundred percent readiness, and with each passing hour, that reality looked less and less likely. Whatever fight they were going into, they weren’t going to be in tip-top shape.

<We should be refining SOPs and procedures for this,> Ben thought for the hundredth time, but the suggestions of a meager LCDR wouldn’t tickle an ADM’s ear. Hell, with his reputation, Ben had trouble getting the XO to listen to his suggestions.

“I’ve got movement,” the CPO at the holo-tank announced. Everyone froze for a second before a mad scramble ensured.

“Are they heading our way?” a tinge of fear was evident in the XO’s voice.

“Negative. We’ve still got ships in orbit covering the major cities, but they still aren’t firing. I’m showing dozens of ships moving away from the planet toward Phobos.

Phobos was the closer of Mars’s two moons; the other being Deimos. Named for the personification of fear in Greek mythology, the moon was only about eleven kilometers across, but only six thousand kilometers from the surface of Mars. It was the closest orbiting moon in the solar system, and had been home to defensive batteries. Those had been shattered when the enemy crushed Second Fleet. It was just another rock in space now.

“Get me a count,” the XO ordered.

Slowly, the next half hour showed the enemy move half of its remaining strength between Mars and Phobos. Ben watched it all happening while scratching his head. It was a poor angle to launch an attack on Earth. They weren’t hiding behind the moon, or trying to throw off First Fleet’s count of their strength. There was no tactical value either.

<What are you up to?> He thought along with every other spacer in the fleet.

That was about the time the electrician’s mate returned with a shake of his head: mission failure. That didn’t help the XO’s mood, and he took it out on the CIC, especially Ben’s section, since it had been their plan.

<They’re just letting us stew here, sitting on our thumbs, and bitching at each other,> if morale and nerves among the fleet matched the CIC, things weren’t good.

After the XO’s chewing out, Ben entered some limits for the AI to work within, and sent it to work on the problem of what the hell the enemy was up to. It could churn through probabilities infinitely faster than he could even think of them.

Apparently, someone out there had the same idea, because orders came through not too long later.

“The fleet is advancing?” Ben read in confusion. None of the ship’s issues were fixed, and if Jack Frost was still hobbled, so was everyone else.

“Not everyone,” the XO countered. “The admiral is leaving a token force to guard the planet if the rest of the fleet fails. It looks like the Euros and Blockies are sending contingents as well, but we’re staying put.”

Ben knew being one of the handful of battleships ordered to stand down from the assault was a grave insult, but he still breathed a sigh of relief. “What did we do to earn this honor?” his tone was laced with irony.

“Skipper must have pissed in the admiral’s champagne at some fancy reception or something,” the XO answered the rhetorical question, clearly fuming at being left behind. “Let’s make the most of the extra time we have and get these issues fixed. If we get it done quickly, we can transmit the patches and the fleet will be ready to take down those fuckers.”

Ben tried not to raise his eyebrow at the XO. He’d noticed this mentality since being assigned to First Fleet. It was considered a prestigious assignment, but they hadn’t seen combat in a century. Not since the last great war with the Blockies had units been pulled from First Fleet for combat duty on the front lines. Second Fleet had handled that duty. Now, the fleet’s lack of combat veterans was showing. Everyone was ready to jump into it with an unknown enemy force that had just literally smashed a commonwealth fleet to dust. Having seen a few fights, and fired some shots in anger, Ben wasn’t so gung-ho to jump into something he didn’t understand. The XO should be the same way, but he was chomping at the bit like everyone else.

The Euro and Blockie contingents didn’t help Ben’s nerves. The Euros were only supplying two squadrons of ships, one of battleships, and the other of cruisers. The Blockies were sending more, Ben counted twenty-five, and all battleships, but they were moving at a safe distance from the main body of the fleet. They’d be able to join the fight, but they were out of position and vulnerable to enemy attach without the support of the much larger Commonwealth-Euro contingent.

<And if they’re having the same issues . . .?> Ben left the thought unfinished and reviewed what was being left behind. The Blockies now owned the space around Earth in terms of numbers, but Ben’s contingent and the main Euro fleet would still give them a hell of a fight if they decided to press the advantage. Doing so would be suicide if the enemy fleet turned their eyes on Earth, but Ben had seen people do stupid things during his time in the fleet. There was no guarantee common sense would win out.

The AI beeped behind him. He almost missed it with everything else going on. He didn’t catch it until the third chime. He left the crowded holo-tank and peeked at the results.

<Oh my god.> His jaw dropped, and he prayed to every mythical power in the universe he was wrong. Now, he could guess why ADM Duvall was running off to fight half-cocked.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Assembly Area Kansas, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop stood like a bouncer in front of the hastily erected, public comms booth. He’d done the job back when he’d been stationed on Mars, and his skills had been honed through several more battles. He saw how the agitation was growing among the men waiting to use the booth.

When the government had shut down the local nets to contain what was happening with Second Fleet around Mars, that included cutting off the deploying soldiers from their families and loved ones. With all his time away on missions, Coop was used to this. The reservists suddenly called to duty were not, and their inability to do so was affecting morale. It was such a problem that the FOB commander had set up a few shacks with half a dozen comms booths. Two dozen secure, monitored lines were nowhere near enough for the tens of thousands of troops sitting out in Kansas sector, waiting for orders, so it wasn’t improving things much.

They were of a singular use to Coop. It allowed Eve to place a call to Bethesda and see what the hell was being done to protect their unborn child.

“Hey…” one guy finally seemed to have grown some hair on his nuts, but Coop’s focused stare checked him. “…uh, never mind.” He took a few steps back and started to get shit from his friends.

Coop focused his attention back on the group in general. He could have dealt with the guy, and the dozen that came after him, but after that he didn’t know. He, and the rest of his squadron, had been in their MOUNTs for forty-eight hours before the local commander realized the enemy wasn’t going to show up on their doorstep anytime soon. With that realization, the order came down to dismount. They’d rotate through having one MOUNT on the FOB’s QRF, but other than that, they weren’t going to go through the uncomfortable process of synching back up unless missions started coming down from higher.

“About time,” Camila had commented when they stepped out of their armor. “I was getting an itch I couldn’t scratch.”

Coop didn’t reply to that imagery, but he had headed straight over to Eve’s squadron, and together, they’d commandeered the first comms booth they came across.

Finally, a tap on his shoulder indicated Eve was done with the call. “All yours, gentlemen,” Coop nodded to the gathered crowd, and stepped away from the incoming flood of bodies.

Eve waited until they were both a ways off before filling him in. “I was able to get in touch with the on-call doctor and the hospital’s chief of security. The doc couldn’t give me any details about the defense of the campus, but she was able to check up on the baby’s vitals. Everyone looked good, and we’re still a go for all the pre-natal enhancement procedures.”

Coop scoffed at that. He doubted anything would go forward if Earth was attacked. The look he got from her shut him up quick.

“The chief of security had more details on the defensive setup, but he sounded pretty exasperated. Apparently, everyone with enough rank is calling in to discuss the security precautions, and I’ve got to say they look good.” Her statement allowed Coop to release a sigh of relief he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “They’ve got a full battalion digging in around the perimeter. This isn’t some weekend warriors either, this is a solid outfit. I looked them up. If things get hot, it is a priority site for heavy reinforcements, and they have an evac plan with Spyder’s and other transports on site already. If things go sideways, they’ll call someone like us for help, or evacuate the place. Neo-natal is near the top of that list, and I might have dropped a hint that the one marked Berg, the Chief of Naval Intelligence’s granddaughter, might need to be at the top of the list.”

“That’s my girl,” Coop grinned and pressed a kiss to her forehead. That got a few looks from people headed toward the booth, but he didn’t give a shit.

“Now we just need to make sure if they do call for backup, that one of our squadrons gets the call,” she stated, and was already breaking away from him.

He’d leave the convincing to her. If he asked for it, it would come off more as a threat than request. He was better at taking than asking.

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