Two Worlds – Chapter 310

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

MOUNTs were not designed to be stealthy. Sure, they had cammo, but that was meant to hide them from artillery, land or shipboard. Trying to hide a MOUNT in a deserted city was next to impossible. Even if the cammo helped upset the mark-one eyeball, you could hear the big metal machine from a kilometer away. They were designed to be the ultimate weapon; big guns protected by thick armor, bigger shields, and a big ass sword as the cherry on top.

Coop traded stealth for speed for the first few kilometers. If the aliens sent fighter after him, he might be able to jump in a building again, or he might not. Shit had already hit and coated the fan into a thick sludge, so any plan was better than nothing right now.

He was out of line-of-sight from the grunts, which was a good thing. From what he’d seen so far, they’d get killed real quick doing what he was about to do. About a klick out he slowed his roll, and tried to creep closer to the shimmering shield.

<Fuck, it looks warm in there,> Coop cursed as he ducked his head down and peeked around buildings, checking his corners. He had 10mm plasma rounds locked and loaded to obliterate anything he came across.

At an intersection, he checked his route forward, and quickly pulled it back. A convoy of vehicles was rolling past about a hundred meters down the road.

“Can I get a count on those?” he asked his Battle AI.

“All military systems are still compromised,” the AI replied.

“What about civilian systems? Are traffic protocols still operational?” He remembered the cameras at every intersection back in the PHA. The pigs wanted to let the rats know they were always watching. Maybe, just maybe, he could use the Commonwealth’s obsession with surveillance to his advantage.

“Municipal traffic protocols are still active. Unable to connect, but if you can locate a node, I should be able to access the system. I’m highlighting the nearest node.” Coop was glad the AI was thinking ahead. He was also surprised that the system was up when much more important systems had been shut down by the enemy. However, he wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

A waypoint highlighted past the intersection the vehicles had just rolled through. <Well at least it’s in the right direction,> he thought. He waited a minute to make sure the convoy was through before creeping down the street.

“Do a full workup on those vehicles,” he ordered the AI. “Anything that can help: weapons placement, propulsion, weak points. Give me something.”

“I will endeavor to provide,” the AI quipped.

“Holy shit, did you just make a funny?” Coop asked the silicon brain in his armor. He got no answer, which was confirmation enough for him.

He didn’t have any problems reaching the node. Various transmitters were on the roof, and after making sure there wasn’t any malicious code waiting to ambush them, they were able to get access to the traffic net. The data it provided was surprising.

First, everything inside the enemy’s shield was offline. The AI pinged the shield whenever it thought it was safe to do so, and the temperature was gradually rising.

<Slow is smooth and smooth is fast,> Coop reminded himself. He couldn’t help the people trapped in there if he was dead. And if he took on a superior force without planning out what to do, he’d get dead real quick.

He got his first good look at the ETs camping out around the outside of the shield. They’d set up a little HQ. It wasn’t a repurposed building, or hastily erected bunker. It looked like the ETs had literally made a small domed structure out of a shield. It wasn’t as translucent as the shields Coop usually saw, so he wondered if it affected its efficiency.

<I’ll figure that out sooner rather than later.> Whoever was in charge was probably in there, so that was a priority target.

It looked like three vehicles hovered a meter off the ground, lined up against the big shield. Lingering around them were under a dozen soldiers, or at least Coop assumed they were grunts. Half were small things, while the other half were some big motherfuckers hauling around some serious looking ordinance. He’d need to deal with the big ones first. The little cones he could crush with his boot.

<Eight aliens, three vehicles, one that looked like it has a heavy weapons system mounted on it, and a shielded HQ. I can deal with that,> Coop psyched himself up and laid out a plan.

“Slow is smooth and smooth his fast,” he breathed out a mantra older than the Commonwealth. This was what he’d been trained for. It was time to execute.

He reviewed his plan one last time, thought of the aliens’ counters to his actions, and his counter to their counter actions. His mind was a melting pot of tactics and the consequences of his decision making. <Fuck it,> he thought at last, before he overanalyzed the entire situation.

“Let’s get this party started,” he took a deep breath and braced himself.

If he was going to start this thing off with a bang, he needed to bring the biggest boom. That meant the next-gen accelerator. The MOUNT purred like the high-performance machine it was as a round was loaded into the cannon and it began to hum. As power built, he moved onto phase two of his self-planned op. As quietly as possible he ejected micromissiles from his chest.

The missiles themselves had been corrupted by the ET’s hack. Any connection to them would trigger their self-destruct. As far as cyber intrusion went, it was genius. What better way to take down a MOUNT then have the missiles cook off inside the shields? Even the extra-shielded womb wouldn’t be able to stand up to the cascading destruction.

Coop might not be able to fire them, but he could still use them. He stuck as many of them into his metal gauntlet as possible and prepared to chuck them into the enemy’s position. A quick pulse from his systems, that his AI terminated so no more malware could backtrack, would detonate the missiles. In effect, he was using them as grenades.

He was giving them a one-two punch, and then coming in to finish off the foot soldiers. The icon for his accelerator burned green, and he pulled the mental trigger. A shockwave expanded around him as his body bucked and tingled like he’d been kicked by a horse into an electric fence. Thankfully, he didn’t get tossed on his ass.

He hadn’t even started his next move when the accelerator’s round, a trail of burning atmosphere behind it, hit the enemy’s HQ. Whatever the shield was, it wasn’t strong enough to take that blast at close range. The construct exploded from the force of the round’s penetration, and then got hit by another wallop of energy as the explosion rebounded off the shield behind it to strike it a second time. There weren’t even the screams of the dying. Whatever was in there just ceased to exist.

Coop dug his metal boot into the ground and started moving. The trail of burning atmosphere was a dead give away for his position. As he moved, he cocked his arm back and tossed the four missiles in his palm. They arched over the buildings toward their intended target: the vehicle with the heavy weapon. The ETs were already communicating and responded to his attack, but they weren’t ready for the inbound missiles lobbed into their midst.

His AI initiated the burst and all four missiles exploded on target. The vehicles seemed to be powered down and unshielded, so all three went up like it was the Fourth of July. Any ETs near them were thrown on their faces or asses by the force of the blasts. A few even bit it for good.

“Now the hard part,” Coop turned ninety degrees and crashed into the nearest building.

He careened through it, probably destroyed tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. He exited the back wall, and immediately proceeded into the next store. His foot caught on something, and he almost face planted, but kept going. Mid-stride he pulled his portable shield from its storage space and powered it up.

He went through two more buildings before he finally burst into his target area, executing a forward combat roll to throw off the enemies targeting. There was no way they hadn’t heard him coming.

“Shit,” a white beam of intense light blasted over his head as he came out of the roll. It was coming from one of the big ETs, so he leveled his graviton cannon at it and fired. The thing’s shield sparked as the ultra-dense round hit it, and the thing was thrown backward off its feet.

Coop scanned left pulling the trigger three more times in quick succession. Two hit the little fuckers and made them go splat, and the third decked another big one. By then, more white laser beams were converging on him and impacting his shields.

“Fuck . . . fuck . . . fuck,” he grunted as the shield gauges dropped precipitously.

With his portable shield nearly out of power, he decided it was worthless and chucked it at the nearest big one. The thing dived out of the way with more grace and agility than something that size should have, but Coop was pressing the initiative. Violence of action was the name of the game, and he could be very violent. Three more shots from his cannon targeted the thing before it came out of its twisting roll. The first struck its shield and slapped it hard into the ground. The second defeated its shield, and the third blew its chest out its back.

“That one’s for Earth, motherfucker!” Coop cheered as he spun to take on the next wave.

His rear shields had already dropped forty percent during the exchange, so it helped to put a new front to his enemy. By now, they’d spread out to engage him, and limit his targeting. Thankfully, he could focus on multiple things at once.

His AI automatically updated his vision and categorized his threats. The biggest ones were the identified as Echo-One and Two, while the two little ones still running around were Three and Four.

“Keep Two suppressed, I’m going after One,” he ordered his AI. The AI responded by engaging the second big ET with both of the MOUNT’S swatters. Sheer weight of firepower made the ET duck for cover.

Coop pressed against his target. They were in an open area, with only the shield behind them, and the destroyed HQ to the side. The thing didn’t have anywhere to hide, but that didn’t stop it from unloading on him with that white beam thing. It struck him directly in the chest shield, and zapped his shield strength. He fired back, but the thing ducked and rolled backward like some contortionist.

<Freaky,> he grimaced, and tagged its shield with a second hit.

His third and fourth shots missed as the enemy maneuvered, but he matched it step for step, and kept backing it towards the shield. He fired one last time, catching the creature in the shoulder, and spewing blood, bone, or whatever these things were made of against the energy barrier, but the thing wasn’t down for the count.

He knew he had to finish it quickly before he scurried away, so he lowered his shoulder and plowed right into it. Its skin smoked as the two energy barriers ground against it, but it wasn’t dying. Coop put more power into his legs, and pushed. A few seconds later the thing practically burst like a balloon.

“Ugh, that’ll put me off meat for a while,” he was thankful he couldn’t smell the thing. “Is one still . . .?” he started to query the AI when a something hard hit him, and picked his big metal ass off the ground.

“Fuck!” pain flooded his brain. It felt like his leg was on fire.

“Shield down,” ten seconds to reengage.

“What the fuck was that,” he tried to pick himself up, but the pain flared again. His swatters had stopped engaging the enemy when he got blasted on his ass, so he laid down some cover fire with his cannon.

“Echo-three self-destructed and the blast breached the outer shield. Armor integrity is holding at seventy-percent. Dispatching repair bots now. Synaptic recoil will stabilize shortly.”

“Whatsa recoil,” he grimaced. The pain was lessening, and he rolled to the opposite side before pushing himself to his feet. Not a moment too soon, another white beam stabbed out and melted the ground around where he’d been.

<Can’t let those little assholes sneak upon me again,” he scanned for the little ET, and found him doing just that; hauling what looked like a bomb half its own size.

“Fuck you!” he pointed his cannon at it and blew it to hell. “Three down, one to,” a blood-curdling roar ripped through the air as the last, lone ET broke free from where it was taking cover and charged him.

He tried to get to his feet, but the thing used the same move Coop had to kill its friend. It hit him right in the gun and drove him back to the ground. He was able to get a shot off, right into the thing’s gut, but its shield absorbed it. Now the ET was on top of him, and was able to pin its arms to his side.

“Just need a second,” he grunted He could tell he was stronger, he just needed to divert power.

Then he realized the thing had two extra sets of arms, and one was holding a wicked looking dagger.

“Fuck!” the arm shot forward and impacted his shield with a spark. As the ET pushed, it drove the dagger deeper and his shield drained faster.

Coop tried to buck it off. The thing rode him like a cowboy, but had to ease up on the pressure to keep its balance. It bought him a second. His mind whirled for a plan, and came up blank. The best he had was to eject and cook off another missile, but he’d fuck up himself in the process. By the time he disregarded that plan, the thing was back trying to impale him.

“Shield at ten percent . . . seven percent . . . five percent . . . recommend you take evasive action,” the AI informed.

“What the fuck do you think I’m trying to do,” Coop yelled back as he watched the tip of the dagger with fear. It was positioned right over his womb.

Like the universe was just waiting for its big moment, bursts of plasma struck the ET from behind. It lurched forward from the impact, as the grunt’s Coop had left behind flooded into the area and opened up on the ET. They were using their 40mm grenade attachments, and it looked like it was doing the trick. Coop bucked again, and the thing went careening off him and onto the ground.

It rolled out of it like a pro and grabbed a secondary weapon from its combat gear. It looked like a pistol, but the white blast it emitted, skewered the SSG like he was nothing. It gunned down the other grunt with similar ease, but as it turned back to Coop, he was ready. He had his graviton cannon up and pointed at the thing’s gut.

“Die asshole,” he pulled the trigger, bisecting the thing, and blew its stomach and intestines into the sky.

After the thing’s bottom half sloshed off him, he laid there for a few more moments. “Son of a bitch,” he turned his head to see where the SSG and the other grunt’s body were lying motionless. They were as dead as the ETs.

“Shit,” he helfted himself back to his feet. “what the fuck!” he looked down as he got up and saw the ET’s dagger sticking out of his armor.

“The interior shield around the womb stopped the blade, but I suggest removing it so the bots can perform battlefield repairs,” the AI informed.

“No shit,” he offered up a prayer to the engineer who thought another shield layer was a good idea. Then he turned to the shield and the whole reason he was here.

During the fight, the temperature had risen to over one-twenty Celsius. With all the ETs dead, there was no way of figuring out how to turn the thing off, or even where it was powered from. That left a single option.

“Let’s blow it,” he toggled to his weapons menu, and brought the accelerator cannon online. “Go big or go home.” He just hoped enough people had taken shelter and everyone hadn’t been cooked alive.

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Clans of Atlantis Sneak Peek

I’ve decided to give all my fans a sneak peek of my Patreon-only series: Clans of Atlantis, due to the coronavirus madness sweeping the globe. I’ve also lowered the tier from $8 to $6, so those who get bonus Two Worlds chapters only need to pay an extra buck to experience the new world I’ve created. I’m enjoying writing it. I hope you enjoy reading it. You can continue to read the rest of the series at the Patreon link above.

Warning: this chapter contains sexually explicit scenes NSFW.

 

Youngling

 

“Fascinating. I’ve been looking at your eyes all night long, because I’ve never seen such dark eyes with so much light in them,” he smiled and watched her body for non-verbal hints of attraction.

Her cheeks flushed red, a smile tugged at her lips, and she reached out to touch his forearm. It didn’t matter it was a line that he’d used countless times before. It didn’t even matter that her eyes weren’t particularly intriguing. They were a plain brown. Nothing he hadn’t seen dozens of times in dozens of girls’ eyes. He was more interested in the perky set of Double-D’s refusing to be constrained in a tight dress which served no other purpose than to highlight them.

“Wow…um…yeah,” she stuttered and unconsciously raked her nails across his bronze skin. “But your eyes are so…”

“Blue,” he finished for her with and easy smile and chuckle.

“Yeah,” she chuckled back and leaned in towards him.

It was true. His eyes were his most defining feature. They were such a pure, sky blue that it invoked memories of looking up at a perfect spring day and sighing contently as a light breeze tickled one’s skin to wipe away the heat of the sun’s gentle kiss. They were his mother’s eyes, and like her, he had no problem using what the Creator gave him.

“What brings you to Los Angeles?” he asked when the woman didn’t pull away. Her breasts were practically resting on his arm.

“I’m going to be an actress.” She smiled like it was obvious, and he had to fight back a grimace.

It was 1984 and it seemed like every pretty girl who found her way to LA was trying to make it in Hollywood. They thought all they needed was a nice rack, pretty face, and they’d be the sexy female lead in the next Van Dam or Schwarzenegger action-thriller. In reality, they were more likely going to end up in some B-movie, and that was only if they’d do a topless shower scene.

He automatically cued up another line, but then stopped himself. Saying he was a producer and flashing his platinum card for bottle service was a sure panty-dropper, but he’d been instructed in no-uncertain terms, to stop doing that. He glanced over the woman’s shoulder where Afu sat two seats down nursing a virgin Sherly Temple. The sight of the two-point-one-meter man – or 6’10”in that Yank’s outdated Imperial standard – who looked like her should be playing for the local football team, drinking the fruity, vibrantly-red drink, was comical. He knew his lifelong bodyguard would never drink on the job. In fact, he’d never seen Afu imbibe any alcohol whatsoever.

Afu looked like he could crush anyone with his bare hands, but he knew his body guard’s greatest strength was his senses. The man could hear a pin drop in a crowded room, and sure enough, the actress comment had the big man’s eyes swiveling in his direction. He might be his body guard, but he worked for his parents.

“That’s exciting…” he struggled to remember her name.

“Betty,” she stated, while withdrawing her hand from his arm.

“Of course it is,” he thought. “Betty Sue from the heartland, here to make it big.” It was the American dream that the Yanks were so famous at marketing. Too bad it hardly ever worker out that way.

“Come on Gus, it’s like you haven’t heard anything I’ve said,” she pouted, but got his name right. He had to give her that.

He debated again about dropping his producer line, or at least his platinum card, but Afu was watching him like a hawk. “I’m sorry, Betty, I’ve just got a lot on my mind. I’m joining the military soon.”

It wasn’t a line, but it had the same effect. “Oh my god,” her arm immediately shot out to grip his again. “I had no idea. You must be so scared.”

He wasn’t, but he wasn’t going to let her know that. Joining the military at this point in history wasn’t exactly the safest career path. The Soviet Union was in the process of bulldozing through Afghanistan, despite covert assistance from the United States of America and the British Commonwealth. It didn’t help that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army of was sending two divisions of troops to assist their communist allies. People were just waiting to see what the German Reich’s policy would be on the conflict, and then all the world’s powers would have weighed in on the conflict. Gus thought it was a little too much attention to put on a small country, in the middle of nowhere, with little strategic importance. With the USA considering sending a humanitarian force of their own into the conflict, it meant US troops might find themselves halfway across the world sooner rather than later.

Of course, all of this would apply to Gus if he was joining the US Army, which he wasn’t. Again, Betty didn’t need to know that.

“…you’re so brave,” he missed the first part of her statement, but caught the end.

“I’m just doing my duty.” It was actually a Constitutional requirement for him, but that was something he didn’t want to get in to with her. “And I’m only going to be here in LA for a night. I ship out tomorrow.”

“Oh no,” she pouted as she leaned forward showing off an abundance of cleavage. “We just need to make the most of our time together than.” Her foot worked its way up the inside of his leg.

“Jackpot!” he waved down the bartender to help seal the deal.

Not that he needed help in that department. He wasn’t as tall or broad as Afu, but at one-point-nine meters, or 6’3”, he was on his way to being a large man. While he’d gotten his mother’s memorizing eyes, he’d also received his father’s strong jawline. As was his culture, Gus’ shoulder-length, raven-black hair was tied with a simple leather band. More than one woman had looked with envy across the bar at its sheen and luster. Gus was nothing if not a good-looking man. What Betty didn’t know, and what he had no intention of telling her, was that he was still legally a boy. He didn’t turn eighteen until midnight, which meant he was way too young for the West Hollywood bar they were sitting in. He needed another three year, two hours and eleven minutes.

Fortunately for him, money talked in this town. The crowded bar was a scene of organized chaos. They IDed at the door, but a crisp hundred averted the bouncer’s eyes. The trio of bartenders moved with synchronized grace as they served the endless stream of patrons. Gus and Betty had coveted bar seats, so all he had to do was turn and raise his hand to catch the nearest one’s attention. The only woman of the trio saw the motion and stepped over while slipping a small white baggy to the man two seats down and pocketing a twenty.

“What can I get for you?” her friendly tone went beyond professional. She’d been eyeing Gus up since he sat down, and was letting him know she was available. Betty might miss a lot that was going on around her, but she zeroed in on the bartender’s attention like a heat-seeking missile. She placed a protective hand on Gus’ shoulder.

“Two glasses of Dom,” he put down a hundred, “and keep the change.”

Personally, Gus didn’t get the hype about the stuff. He wasn’t particularly fond of the taste, but it signaled wealth and importance, which was exactly what this situation called for. Betty accepted the glass with a giggle and raised it to toast.

“Be all that you can be,” she smiled before tipping back the glass.

Gus nodded politely at the US Army’s motto, and downed his glass as well. It was just as the fresh champagne hit his lips that something hit him hard from behind. “Fuck,” he growled as the expensive liquid splashed down the front of his expensive suit.

“Watch it, buddy,” the ‘buddy’ was slurred, and said in a very unfriendly manner by the man squaring off behind Gus. Despite Gus being seated, the inebriated man in the oversized, broad-shouldered pinstripe suit clearly thought the contact was Gus’s fault.

Many people would have shrugged off the insult, but Gus was a little hot blooded, which was common in young men regardless of their culture. “I think we deserve an apology.” He got to his feet where he hovered a good couple inches above the other man. The other man was too drunk, or high, to care, and he had two buddies to fuel his bravado.

Gus could already feel Afu rising up behind him, which only emboldened him. “You made me spill on my lovely date. So…apologize,” he repeated.

In truth, very little champagne had splattered on Betty’s dress, and the look on her face said she didn’t want to be involved with the male dick measuring.

“I’m really ok, I…” Betty stammered.

“You don’t need to stick up for this Cholo,” the drunk man looked between Betty’s contrasting blonde curls and pale skin, and Gus’ tan skin and black hair. “He knows he doesn’t belong here.” The way the drunk man’s eyes looked over Gus said he was looking for more ways to insult him.

It was difficult. The man only had skin tone to work with. Gus was wearing a suit, shoes, and watch that cost more than the drunkard made in a year. The bottle of Dom he’d purchased was sitting in a place of prominence on the bar in front of them, and the bodyguard slowly closing on the drunk man’s friends clearly showed that Gus was the better man.

He also wasn’t a Cholo, Latino, Hispanic-American, or whatever the Yanks were calling that subgroup this week. He understood where the insult was coming from. LA was only two hundred kilometers from the border from the Junta, the nickname for the military-run government of Mexico. As one of the USA’s biggest headaches on the continent, the junta was a constant source of blame for the locals.

“Look, he even wears his hair like a girl,” the man pointed at Gus’ bound hair. “What are you, a faggot?” While the man took a threatening step forward, one of his pals grabbed Gus’s hair from behind.

What would usually be a simple assault was actually an assault paired with a grievous cultural insult. Like any almost-eighteen-year-old would, Gus lashed out at as something so offensive. He grabbed the offending man’s arm, wretched it forward, and snapped it like a twig. Even over the din of conversation, the snap was audible. Shortly followed by the man’s screams. People recoiled, Betty screamed as the man fell to the ground between them, and Afu sprang into action. Before the other two men could get over the sight of their friend’s arm hanging at a physiologically improbable angle, Afu had them both in his hubcap-sized hands. He pushed them away from Gus better than a defensive lineman during Monday Night Football.

Meanwhile, Gus seethed at the rage and violation. He felt him body rise to the challenge as fight overcame flight. His whole body began to itch and he could feel his skin grow tight, but he forced himself to calm down. “Not here not now,” he thought as he fought back the anger and concentrated on be breathing.

A thin line of smoke escaped his nostrils as he tried to settle down. Thankfully, Betty was long gone, and people were giving him a wide berth. “I need to get out of here,” he pushed through the few people in the crowd that didn’t jump out of his way and headed for the kitchen.

The chef and his staff yelled as he plowed through their culinary kingdom and crashed out the back door into the humid night air of the back alley. There, he let the last of his frustration out on a billowing puff that made the space smell like someone had pissed on a campfire.

“Rough day,” a voice caught him off guard, and he spun towards its source. “Geez,” the woman took a few quick steps back.

“Sorry,” Gus put his hands up innocently as the adrenaline fled his bloodstream. “Just some asshole in there got me riled up.”

“Don’t worry about it. Plenty of assholes in this town,” she waved dismissively, and smiled.

“Damn,” he might have had his eyes set on Betty ninety seconds earlier, but he was a sucker for a cute smile.

“Gus,” he gave her his own award-winning smile and extended his hand.

“Rosemarie,” she replied in a drawl that he hadn’t noticed before.

“Rosemarie?” he couldn’t help but give her a pitying look.

“Yeah, I know,” the woman grimaced like she’d been through this before. “My dear mother was high on Demerol because she just couldn’t tough it out for a natural birth. As a result, I got named after her grandmother, which means I fit in better with the cast of Gone with the Wind than in West Hollywood.”

Gus choked on the laugh he tried to hold back. “Don’t worry,” he took her outstretched hand, and was surprised by the firm grip, “I’ve got you beat.”

“I doubt it,” she cocked an eyebrow in challenge.

“My full name is Augustus,” he hit her with a onomatological haymaker.

Now it was her turn to laugh. “Augustus? Like Octavian…I’m going to beat out Mark Antony and be emperor of all Rome…that guy?”

“Yeah,” he shrugged triumphantly.

“But that’s just the type of egotistic thing someone in this town would pull. That, and naming your kids after natural phenomenon; like Tree or Rain.” She didn’t concede what he thought was clearly a win on his part.

“I’m not from around here, and neither are you,” it was his turn to issue the challenge. “You’re a Confed right?”

Confed was slang for citizens of the Confederate States of America (CSA). The sovereign nation that occupied the southeast portion of the American Subcontinent since the Charter of Separation signed by Presidents Lincoln and Davis at the end of the American Civil War in 1887. Despite almost a hundred years since the split, and fighting alongside each other in World War Two (1939-1947) and the Korean Conflict (1951-1952), there was still bad blood between the USA and CSA. So, finding a beautiful woman from the CSA all the way out in LA was a bit of an oddity.

“We preferred to be called Rebels,” she clarified, and purposefully, almost pridefully, accented her southern drawl. “But, yes, I’m from Savannah; born and bred.”

While the capitol of the CSA was Atlanta, Savannah was known as a popular destination for the higher class of CSA society.

“So, Rosemarie, what is a Southern Belle like you doing in a place like this?” Gus inquired, although she looked nothing like the proper southern women he’d seen in television shows.

Betty was closer to that definition with her blond curls and a sweet, heart-shaped face. Although, the mini-dress she’d worn didn’t fit his mental impression of hoop-skirts and bodices of the Antebellum South. Not that he cared. Rosemarie on the other hand was in a pair of Doc Martins with black stockings underneath a short pair of ripped jeans shorts. She had a leather bomber jacket on, that did little to emphasis her modest breasts, a spiked choker around her neck, and a ring through her left nostril. Flowing down her back to her mid-waist was the most striking red hair he’d ever seen. At least that fit his image of someone standing on a plantation balcony looking out over endless cotton fields, but the heavy black eye-liner didn’t. While there was something erotic about her that stirred his lust, it was her eyes that really caught his attention. They were a truly-beautiful silver. For just a moment, he got lost in their sheen.

“Only my mother calls me Rosemarie,” she cringed, ignoring the slightly dumb expression on Gus’s face as he took her in. “Call me Rose, and what brings me to the pinnace of Yankee materialism is UCLA medical school.”

At nearly eighteen, and eventually bound for college, Gus should have known something about UCLA’s medical program, but her eyes were all he could focus on right now.

“You ok there,” she asked after a few awkward seconds.

“Yeah,” he coughed and tried to cover up his instant infatuation with this mysterious woman. “UCLA medical. That must be nice. What’s your specialty? But you still didn’t answer my question about what you’re doing here in this sketchy alley?” He couldn’t help but flirt a little with a woman he now knew had to be at least in her early to mid-twenties.

“I guess older women are my type,” he fell back into his default easy smile.

“It’s ok,” she shrugged as she came closer, and Gus felt his heartrate speed up. “Mother wanted for me to go to Emory, but I wanted to get out of Georgia and see the world a little. I thought, what the hell, I’ll try California.” She was standing close to him now. So close he could feel her breath on his face. “I’m specializing in the human mind, getting my doctorates in psychology and neurology.”

“Wow…that’s…”

“Ambitious,” she smiled and looked up at him. She was a good fifteen centimeters shorter than he was. “It is, but I love people’s brains, and I want to know everything about them both emotionally and psychologically. Plus, my family is loaded, so I can afford to spend a decade doing whatever I want before inevitably being dragged back home.”

“I can relate,” Gus tried to discretely take a deep breath and remember her scent. It smelled like the ocean breeze, with a hint of pine, and a pinch of alley urine.

“As to what I’m doing specifically in this sketchy alley…I’m buying cocaine.” She said it like she was talking about tomorrow’s weather.

“What!” shock tinged his laughter. “Wait, you’re serious.” Not doing drugs was another thing he’d been instructed explicitly not to do.

“Sure,” she pulled out a tiny, sealed bag from her pocket. “I told you I want to know everything there is to know about the human brain. But to really know, you need to experience things firsthand, not just read about them in a book. For example, I know that cocaine attaches to structures that regulate dopamine, leading to increases in dopamine activity and producing euphoria; it also produces changes in norepinephrine and glutamate systems that cause stimulant effects. As long as cocaine occupies the transporter, dopamine cannot re-enter the neuron. It builds up in the synapse, stimulating receiving-neuron receptors more copiously and producing much greater dopamine impact on the receiving neurons than occurs naturally.”

“Yeah, totally,” Gus was more concerned about the stimulating effect Rose was having on him. She was practically pressed up against him and had drawn closer and closer as she babbled about science.

“Exactly,” there was a fervent look in her eyes now. “We can talk about dopamine levels and stimulation all that we want, but feeling those effects puts that understanding on a whole new level.” She flicked the bag in her hand. “So, this is what I’m proposing. We’re going to conduct an experiment.” She looked him and up and down and nodded as if she’d made some sort of decision. She placed a hand on his chest, and he shivered with delight.

“We’re going to study the effects of cocaine on the sexual experience. I’m assuming you’re clean. You look clean. No STDs? AIDS…?”

“No,” Gus stammered, suddenly out of his element with her sudden forwardness and peer pressure.

“Good. My hypothesis is that it is going to lead to mind-blowing sex. The process will be as follows. You’re going to take off the suit. Hopefully, underneath is what I expect to be a prime example of the male species,” she punctuated that statement by grabbing Gus’s crotch. Her eyes widened slightly, and her smile grew broader. “Excellent, a larger phallus always enhances my chance of orgasm. Now, take off your shirt so I can do a line off your abs. You have abs, right?”

Gus had his jacket and undershirt off before she finished. He did indeed have abs. She tipped the bag onto his bare chest. A decent chunk of the cocaine fell to the ground, but there was enough left so she could close one nostril with her finger and powerfully snort the rest.

“Oh sweet lord almighty!” her accent got impossibly thick as she took a few steps back. “Over here,” she grabbed Gus and pulled him deeper into the alley where the only thing was a dumpster. She immediately started undoing her belt and pulling down her shorts. It was hard to tell with the jacket, but she had a great ass.

“Here, do a line off my ass. The visual stimulation will do wonders for your blood flow.”

He was having no problems with his blood flow, but she didn’t have to ask twice. His attempt at making a line on her pale flesh was just as poor as hers. He ended up using the rest of the bag. With a deep breath he snorted everything that was left.

The drug hit him like a cannon as the world seemed to brighten up all around them. Even the urine smell permeating the whole area seemed sweeter. He knew it wouldn’t last long, and he had an experiment to conduct.

“Get those pants off and fuck me,” she ordered as she gripped the edge of the dumpster tightly.

“Sure thing, Doc,” he did exactly as she ordered.

He followed her every instruction as she ground against his eager thrusting. Eventually, he turned her around, picked her up, and pushed her back up against the brick wall. She bit his ear, scratched his bare back, and screamed with a pleasure that spoke to how well the experiment was progressing.

He wished it could go on and on, and judging by her commentary so did she, but he was only a man, and this whole experience was straight out of a fantasy. “FUCK!” He climaxed as she threw her head back in spasms of ecstasy.

He stayed frozen there, panting from the exertion as the cocaine worked its way out of his system. He might be relatively sober now, but Rose would still be feeling the effects of that dopamine for a while. Slowly, he lowered her to the ground.

“Mmmm,” was all she mumbled as she wobbled on unsteady legs and accepted her discarded shorts. “Those results were unexpected.”

“I’ll take that as a good thing.” The cocaine might be out of his system, but his body’s natural euphoric high was still going strong.

“Hell yeah,” she steadied herself on his shoulder while working the tight-fitting shorts up over her hips. “We might have to test this hypothesis again.”

That wasn’t going to be possible, but he didn’t let that damper the wave of content that was coursing through him. He picked his jacket and shirt up off the ground, and grimaced as the smell. He wasn’t putting those on. Rose never even made it out of her bomber jacket.

“Should we exchange numbers?” he asked. He wouldn’t be around for a while, but he’d be back in LA eventually. “I mean…” he left it hanging.

Rose was grinning and opened her mouth to reply when a flashlight filled the alley. “Hey, you two, freeze!” A cop stood in the entry near the West Hollywood bar.

Rose didn’t even hesitate as she bolted for the other end. She vanished around the corner before the cop even made it to Gus. Gus didn’t even bother to move. He just stood there, his piss-stained jacket and shirt in hand.

“Is this him?” the cop yelled over his shoulder as his partner rounding the corner.

“He fits the description,” the other officer yelled, and advanced toward Gus. Behind them both, Afu appeared and followed at a respectful distance. The loyal bodyguard definitely witnessed the hasty coupling with Rose, but as long as she wasn’t a threat, he wouldn’t interfere.

“I’m going to need to see some ID,” the first cop demanded.

“Whatever you think this is, don’t bother,” Gus looked over his shoulder to where Rose had disappeared as he handed over his wallet.

“I didn’t even get her full name.”

“Don’t bother,” the cop sneered at him. “Assault is definitely something we bother with.”

“Bullshit,” Gus laughed, which wasn’t the smartest move.

“And look at this,” the cop ignored him, “you’re also a minor, so we can add underage drinking to the list.”

“Might want to look above that,” Gus gestured to the passport, finally giving the cops his full attention.

“HRH CP Augustus Drake,” the unimpressed cop read his name, but his partner’s groan showed he understood.

“His Royal Highness Crown Prince Augustus Drake, Kingdom of Atlantis,” the second cop elaborated. “He’s got diplomatic immunity.”

The first cop finally got it, and his face fell before suddenly perking back up. “Well, we’ll handle all of that down at the station.” He turned Gus around and slapped handcuffs on him.

Gus didn’t care. In this direction, he could still smell the last vestiges of Rose.

“Crazy, smart, and unbelievably sexy Rose.” He signed has the two cops grabbed him by the elbows and walked him back toward their cruiser.

Afu was already out of sight, most likely grabbing their own car and heading to the station to avoid the impending international incident.

Two Worlds – Chapter 309

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“You’re on my sensor,” Coop grumbled and tried to shift the SSG and the man yelled in protest.

“Fucking careful you big metal dildo,” the SSG griped as he tried to get comfortable in his new position.

“How about you keep your fat ass where I tell you to,” Coop shot back.

Morale had deteriorated over the last few hours as Coop led what was left of the squad north toward the naval hospital. For the most part, the journey was uneventful. They made their way through small towns far away from the metropolis’ that had been long evacuated. The empty urban jungle helped hide them from enemy sensors, or at least Coop hoped so, but the lack of activity and life was freaky to say the least. After losing most of the squad in the missile strike, and the long trek north, everyone was starting to fray around the edges.

With each lumbering step, Coop covered ten times as much distance as a normal human, but that just turned a mind-numbing walk into a torturous journey. It was made even worse that the grunts were on edge and trigger happy. Since setting off, they’d seen enemy ships fly overhead twice. Both times they were able to get undercover and avoid detection. That, or the enemy detected them and didn’t see them as a threat. The only kill the grunts had scored in their favor was a startled rabbit that got spooked when Coop tripped over an air-car. Since no one knew how to skin and clean the hare, the grunts were going hungry.

Hunger was another big war-boner killer. The grunts’ supplies had been obliterated during the missile strike. They hadn’t eaten in twelve hours, which when trapped in enemy territory, felt like an eternity. Fatigue and sloppiness were a real danger now, so Coop was picking up the slack. He had his food and water tube with enough nutrients to keep him going for a week; more if he rationed. As far as he was concerned, he’d go stir crazy in the MOUNT before he ran out of food.

Now that the SSG’s aforementioned ass was off his sensor array, he had a clear view of his surroundings. From hard-learned lessons, he kept his sensor sweeps contained at one hundred meters, with a built-in shutdown if anything that couldn’t be catalogued was detected. Audio and visual would have to do for anything over that distance. He’d suffer the first few seconds of a fight without the data, but that was better than corrupting his MOUNT or more of his weapons systems. He was still bitter about losing his missiles.

Coop was careful to put his size million metal boot down to avoid crushing the air-cars that were packed close together on the street. Apparently, people had been trying to evacuate whatever town this was when the attack hit, and they opted to use their feet for once instead of technology. He didn’t know if they made it, but if they left in a rush then there might still be something the grunts could use. He scanned left and right, looking for anything useful, and his sensors sent back a positive chime.

“Let’s take ten,” Coop stated. “There’s a cantina across the street, and I’m reading food fabber stock. Whip up some nonperishable supplies and grab a bite to eat. Make sure to take a shit too, because I don’t plan on stopping again until we hit Bethesda.” With STRATNET still offline he was relying on his suit’s digital archives. If he was reading that correctly, then they were still a hundred and fifty kilometers from their destination.

“You heard our big metal friend, get to it,” the SSG hoped down the five meters from his perch and did a combat roll to prevent breaking his ankle.

They hurried into the fabber shop, while Coop turned his attention to their surroundings. The buildings here were low, if packed closely together for another ten blocks as part of the urban planning. Between them, and a grouping of hundred-plus-meters towers five kilometers in the distance, were warehouses and plants. It was standard urban planning: homes on the outskirts, support infrastructure, manufacturing and fabrication, and at the center was the financial and administrative district, along with where most public services were located. Eventually, if things got too crowded, PHAs would be constructed.

As he stood, Coop had a commanding view of the area with his head being a meter higher than the tallest building. That was how he spotted the incoming shuttles in the distance.

“Take cover!” he yelled, and searched for cover. The grunts were clear in their shop, but he was out in the open with nowhere to go.

He circled, looking for cover or concealment, and tripped over two parked air-cars as he did. He tumbled backwards and into the face of a building. It held for a moment, as he skidded toward his ass, but then it gave way. He collapsed inward and crushed whatever goods were on the shelves of the convenience store.

“That’s not inconspicuous,” the SSG stated as he bounced an IR laser off a comms panel on Coop’s leg.

He had a point. Half of Coop’s MOUNT was laying in the street, with its boots up on top of two crushed air-cars, while the other half was lying in the store. The one bit of good news was that the roof was still intact except a small portion near the entrance. That gave Coop an idea. Making sure to stay low, he crawled further in the shop. It completely destroyed the interior, but as far as he was concerned, if the owner was still alive, he could bill the Ministry of War.

It was cramped in the store, but Coop did his best to orient his weapons toward the ceiling. While he waited, he replayed the footage to see what was headed his way. It looked like the same formation he’d seen back on the coast: fighters flying escort, a troop transport, and a big cone thing they were all protecting.

“They’re angling away from us. Looks like we’re not on their flight path. Maintain cover for a few more minutes. Make sure it isn’t a feint.” The last thing they needed was to come out to early and find multiple fighters engaging them.

A few minutes passed and the SSG signaled it was still all clear, so, one grinding meter at a time, Coop scooted out of the store.

“That was uneventful,” the PVT was nervously flipping the safety of his weapon on and off.

Coop gave the PVT a hard stare, but no emotion was conveyed on his metal exterior, so he didn’t get the message. With a sigh, Coop turned his attention to the horizon. They still had a hundred and fifty kilometers to go, and based on the direction of the squadron’s flight, they were headed into the lion’s den.

“Okay,” he brought up the old digital maps and tried to plan a roundabout route. “If we…”

His planning was interrupted as something flickered in the distance.

“What the hell,” everyone in their small group said as one.

Coop rewound his sensor footage and played it again in slow motion, while streaming it over tight beam to the SSG. It was only a split second on the slowed down version, but it was there. The blue flash of a shield powering up.

“Do we have any PDCs anywhere around here?” Coop asked the question, but he already knew the answer.

“No,” the SSG replied. “The nearest PDC is behind us.”

Coop almost reached up to scratch his head but stopped. The grating of metal on metal could alert the enemy to their presence. His range finder pinged off the new shield, and it was roughly five kilometers away, <right at heart of the town.>

“Staff Sergeant, are there any bunkers in the area?”

The SSG was slow to respond. “Over there,” he pointed toward where the shield had emerged. As the NCO pointed weapons fire erupted.

Normally it would be incoming fire trying to penetrate into the shield, but Coop’s sensors quickly sorted out the truth. The shield was hundreds of meters high, engulfing the central district. A PDC would have that kind of juice, but not a civil defense bunker. Their only job was to cram as many civilians in as possible and feed them until a threat passed. Hopefully in a couple of weeks. This shield didn’t belong to the Commonwealth, and judging by the explosions of heavy ordinance against it, whatever unit had been stationed to guard the bunker was firing outward.

Even more confounding, was that randomness of the fire. There was no target. Mortars, artillery, as well as small-arms fire seemed to be erupting all across the shield’s face. It just looked like they were trying to bring it down; not actually targeting the enemy.

“Sir,” the SSG interrupted, but Coop didn’t need the heads up. He saw it too.

Everything inside the shield seemed to be shimmering. Like a mirage in the distance.

“What the fuck?” Coop queried the AI to figure out what the hell was happening.

A minute later he had the report. {A long-range ping of the shield’s surface indicates a gradually rising air temperature within the shield. Currently, it is 50 degrees Celsius, now 51.5 degrees.} The AI updated.

“Holy shit,” Coop’s jaw dropping inside the MOUNT. “It’s a giant microwave. They’re cooking the people inside.”

“Why take POWs when you can BBQ them and eat them. Fucking aliens,” the SSG spat, but Coop was already moving. His stride increasing as he broke into a run.

“Sir, what…”

“We can’t just leave people to become some ET’s dinner!” Coop shouted back, leaving the grunts behind.

It wasn’t good for his health, but he couldn’t just sit there and do nothing while the alien invaders tortured humans like they were ants under a microscope.

 

***

 

Benjamin Gold

Location: Venus Lagrange Point, Sol System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Make a hole!” Ben yelled as he came to another crowded passageway.

“What?” a slightly balding man in an expensive smartcloth suit looked over his shoulder with an annoyed expression.

“Move!” Ben growled and barrled forward with his shoulder lowered.

“Hey…owww,” the man grunted as Ben’s mass threw him aside.

<Damned civilians.> Ben might be thinking about becoming one soon, but at the moment, the people with no sense of what it was like to be on a warship were really pissing him off. <If I even have the option,> the thought of the pending discharge had been before the monumental catastrophe that had befallen the Commonwealth, or to be more accuarte, the entire human race.

The refugee fleet had been on the run for hours, and the Lagrange point they were approaching was on the opposite side of the sun from Earth, so they no longer had a visual on what was occurring. Depite the distance and inconvenience to get to this jump point, the Lagrange points were obvious choices to place the new alien tech. They were essentially parking spaces in space, which held their orbit despite all the gravitational force of the system being exerted around it. That was where the launchers had been located, and now they were where the beacons and infrastruutre needed to facilitate portaling were being installed.

<Had been,> the pesimistic thought kept creeping into Ben’s mind as he shouldered his way through the gaggle of passengers.

The last images of Earth had not been good. First Fleet had lost thirty percent of its strength, the Blockies were pretty much floating debris, and the Euros were powering up their engines in an apparent retreat from Luna despite the moon’s impressive defensive armaments. They’d taken some enemy ships with them. Apparently, the Blockie’s kamakazi charge had been able to do some damage, but the loss of an entire fleet wasn’t worth the price in blood. The enemy still had full control of Earth’s orbitals, and had been landing troops and supplies for the better part of an hour before the refugees slipped behind the cover of the Sun. None of the enemy ships looked to be in pursuit.

Ben finally reached the end of the corridor, and pushed through the open double airlock onto the battleship’s massive flight deck. Spacers and civilians comingled everywhere as the ship’s captain was still trying to get a full accountability of everyone and figure out how to get them to safety. The Lagrange point the Gold Technologies carrier fleet was holding was only set up for portalling. The point being such a long flight from Earth or Mars made it uneconomical to develop before now. The inner system of Sol was much less populated and industrialized than the outer system. There just weren’t as many resources to attain, and terraforming Venus wasn’t worth the cost. Although, that might be changing depending on how Earth came out of this invasion. Mars was going to take decades to fix, maybe Earth too, and as the only other habitable planet in Sol’s goldilock’s zone, Venus was looking pretty good right about now.

{Location?} he pinged his IOR again, and saw his target was only fifty meters to his southwest.

He spotted the shuttle with the distinctive Gold Technologies logo on it over the heads of the spacers and civilians, and used his mass to push forward.

“Ben?” Jacobi was the first to spot him, and blazed a trail in his direction. They collided like a thunderclap and embraced. “I was so worried,” she hid it well, but he could see it in her eyes. “I knew this was your ship, but everything is just a clusterfuck and…” she left the rest unsaid. Way too many people had died today, and were still dying.

“Ben,” his mother was the next to reach him. Miranda Gold wasn’t easy to rattle, but she looked frayed as she looked him over like any concerned mother would.

“I’m fine,” he assured her as his father approached.

A posse of people were huddled around him, but the field of holoscreens he liked to keep around his person were absent. It made sense. If TACCOM and STRATENET were down, so was the civilian net. He motioned for the small group to stay back, but one woman continued along with him, it took Ben a moment to realize it was Hope. Her face was puffy and red from crying. Something had happened.

“Ben,” his father’s voice was solemn. No other words needed to be said.

“Dad,” Ben nodded back.

“I’ve spoken with your Captain and Admiral Berg; you’re being detached from the ship to act as a liason with Gold Technologies. We need to get as many people to Alpha Centauri as possible,” he lowered his voice, “and there aren’t enough portal-capable ships to carry everyone. The chain of command is making the decision about who goes and who stays. Those that stay are going to board the outdated vessels and make for the nearest launcher.”

Ben went over the map of Sol System in his head and the blood drained from his face. Based upon the current orbital positioning what was left of the refugee fleet was going to have to pass Earth and Mars to reach the closest launcher, as well as the enemy fleet that had turned Sol’s greatest forces into swiss cheese.

“They can’t do that,” Ben hissed. “That’s suicide.”

“They aren’t even getting any data back from the launcher when they attempt to make contact. Whatever took down all the nets could have corrupted it too. They could be walking into a trap,” Jacobi stated, in what sounded like an argument she’d made to the titan of industry already.

“They can either try or wait here for everyone to make a round trip, but I’m not sending my ships back in here blind,” he gestured to the carrier group they were approaching.

Ben felt rage build in his gut and he wanted to punch his dad square in the nose, but Jacobi’s hand on his arm stopped him.

“Don’t think I like doing this,” Thomas saw the movement. “The evacuation notice came so quickly that we have no idea where Dillon or Lillian are. We don’t even know if they made it off Earth. I’m not making this decision lightly. I have to weigh the lives of the tens of thousands of people in my fleet with the tens of thousands that won’t be able to come with us. You’re a naval officer, what call would you make?”

Ben ground his teeth, but reluctantly acknowledged his father’s point. Without proper intel, you could lose the fleet and civilians. Commodore Zahn was already taking on as many people as he could without burning out the life support.

“Fuck,” Ben exhaled. He really wished he could just hit something.

“I see you’ve come to your senses,” Thomas glowered. “Let’s go, we’re on the next shuttle, and the Commodore wants to meet with us to go over details. I’ll put you on that. You’ve got the experience now.”

Ben was shocked at that. He’d thought his father would want to be deeply involved in the process for nothing more than the PR this entire situation would generate. Ben could already see the headlines: Gold Technologies to the rescue . . . or . . . Tens of Thousands saved by the Golds. The more cynical side of Ben wondered if his father was distancing himself if everything went to hell. That way he could blame Ben and Zahn and point to them as the naval offciers in charge.

Jacobi clearly thought the same thing based on her frown, but she grabbed his hand and held on tight. Even pulling him toward the waiting shuttle like every moment they were on the battleship put them in more danger. Ben looked around at Jack Frost as he made his way up the shuttle’s ramp. His IOR had confirmed his new assignment, but it still felt wrong to leave the battleship at this moment of crisis. With everything that was going on, he had a nagging feeling he wouldn’t set foot on her again.

The moment he set foot off the ramp, it began to whine closed behind him. He looked around the luxurious seating area, and noticed only five of the twenty-five seats were filled. He shook his head, and saw his fiancé doing the same thing.

His father was nothing if not a hypocrite. He would allow his ships to be used to ferry thousands to safety, but if those people thought they were going to ride with the Gold’s themselves, they were dreaming.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 308

Eve Berg

Location: North American Eastern Seaboard, Bethesda Naval Hospital, United Commonwealth of Colonies

It was quiet, too quiet. Eve had always thought that was a stupid saying. There was always background noise. In a city, it was neighbors or people on the street hooting and hollering. In the forest, there were animals of all types calling out to one another. Even on the vast, empty worlds waiting to be colonized, the sound of the wind passing over barren plains pierced the silence. As she waited for the enemy to appear, she finally understood what it really meant.

The area around the Bethesda Naval Hospital was lightly, and tastefully wooded. The Commonwealth spent good money to ensure a comfortable surrounding for its injured personnel. If Eve had her way, they would have cut down the trees for five hundred meters in every direction, but that call went above her head. Hell, even the battalion commander hadn’t been able to make that call. So, Eve and the battalion grunts on the front line had a line of sight of about one hundred meters before the trees started to block their visuals. In those light woods were hundreds of critters, who cries and scurrying could be heard from a sizable distance if she focused her audio sensors to pick up anything out of the ordinary.

As she sat there, there were no chirps, crickets, scurrying of little feet, or calls of warning. Everything out there had an overwhelming sense that something was about to happen; that something alien had invaded their territory, and they were hunkering down. That was the silence she heard. Soldiers all around her still shifted, coughed, scratched their crotches, and slammed home new powerpacks and magazines into their weapons. They were an island of activity in a sea of silence.

“OP-Two, SITREP. OP-Five, Six, anything?” she relayed the tight-beam messages forward.

OP-Two was as the cardinal east direction from the hospital, at the three o’clock position. OP-Five and Six were five hundred meters closer at the northeast and southeast respectively; about one-thirty and four-thirty on the clock face. The setup allowed the OPs to maximize coverage while ensuring no enemy was able to sneak passed them.

Right now, no one was answering. There were still two more OP levels between Eve and the missing outposts, so she took the initiative and went straight to them.

“OP-Eleven, anything…”

“…MOVING FAST!” the transmission cut through her own and came from the last OP before the hospital defensive lines.

“Tighten it up,” she yelled to the soldiers around her as the sounds of gunfire reached their position. “Here they come!” Who they were was still the key question, but she was more than comfortable finding that out while examining their corpses.

The first things she saw were a string of troops hauling ass back toward the lines. “Hold fire,” she yelled, but someone still let off a three-rounds burst in the direction of the friendly forces.

She ignored the NCO ripping into the dumbass who fired, and focused on the incoming personnel. None of them fell, thank whatever deity was watching over them, but they kept looking over their shoulders.

{Anomalous power surge,} her Battle AI informed a half second before a piercing white light activated her display’s tint.

<Shit,> she saw the white-hot beam of energy cut through the trees and stab into the backs of the fleeing grunts.

It was like whoever was firing it was a surgeon using a scalpel to cut away an infection. The grunts armor might as well have been tissue paper as the beam cleanly sliced through them. Forward momentum caused them to topple over, some in multiple pieces, about fifty meters from safety.

The shouts of frightened soldiers echoed as a few wannabe heroes tried to jump out of their trenches and go grab their buddies. The rational-minded NCOs made sure they didn’t and kept their heads down.

Then, Eve got the first look at their enemy.

It was a pair of bipedal creatures, both covered in armor that shifted with the environment they were in. Whatever the tech was, it made it difficult for her Battle AI to get a good read on them, even though they were within spitting distance.

The snapshot she did get before the imagery seemed to waver and shift was interesting. The first member of the pair looked to be big and bulky. Standing nearly three meters, it had two pairs of arms; the first were long and gripping a large-barreled weapon, while the second set were smaller and closer to the center of the torso. She didn’t know if it was a part of the armor’s exoskeleton or not, but they didn’t seem to have much of a neck, and the “head” was more oval in shape than anything Eve had ever seen. She would have categorized it as vaguely humanoid, but the legs bent the wrong way, and the smaller arms looked like they had two joints each: like an ant’s antenas, but ending in three digits. She couldn’t tell how many digits the bigger arms ended in.

The second figure was much smaller, maybe a meter in height, and seemed to be moving on all fours. It didn’t have the second pair of arms, and she didn’t see them carrying any weapons, but due to their armor’s cammoflague capabilities, she wasn’t going to rule them out as being unarmed. Judging by the glimpse she’d gotten of their cammo; it seemed the small ones were equipped for more clandestine missions. The only reason she saw it was because it had been close to the big one when it had opened fire. The area highlighted by the energy blast gave her sensors a brief look before it vanished.

“Will my shield shrug off a blast of that thing?” she queried her AI.

“Affirmative. We can sustain a sustained blast of that magnitude for three point six volleys.”

<So only three hits,> she hated when the AI gave her info like that. Three she was good, and four she was dead. There was no point-six of a hit.

“All units watch for infiltrators,” she relayed the message to all units around her, along with imagery of the smaller alien, and had them pass it along the line.

The troops around her were not equipped with the same type of shielding her MOUNT was. They had the old school squad, platoon, and company area force fields. Incoming rounds would be repealed, but a slow-moving grenade, or skulking commando, could get through them with no problem. The last thing the defenders needed was to have confusion in their own lines.

“Steady,” NCOs up and down the line were yelling to their troops. “Steady!”

Eve scanned her area of responsibility for targets, ready to lay down the hurt, when the world seemed to explode around her. Multiple laser blasts from the enemy’s heavy cannons struck the first layer of the defender’s shield in sustained beams. The enemy walked them across the front lines for several seconds, probing for weak spots.

There was an explosion and screams to her right as a squad-level shield failed, but she was backtracking the beams to their targets. “There,” she patted the missile launcher she was standing next to, transmitting the targeting data.

The missiles were in fire and forget mode. They were programed to fly straight to the target and detonate when they hit something; thus reducing the chance of getting hijacked and used against the defenders. The eight-missile launcher flashed as it sent one missile downrange. At a hundred meters it crossed the space in a heartbeat and exploded on target. There was a flash of blue energy as the enemy’s shield was tested.

“Lay it on them!” the seasoned NCOs caught the flash and highlighted the area so their squads and fire teams could bring the heat.

Someone also called for fire support. Eve heard the fire mission go in and the thump as one of the battalion’s HI troopers sent artillery screaming toward the target. Just like the missiles, it was using gravity and not GPS to hit its targets.

Explosions walked down the enemy position, with a five-round barrage covering the area. Soil leapt into the air, along with shattered trees, to fall and go straight through their shields to cover the defenders.

<If they didn’t know about our shield’s weak points, they sure as shit do now,> Eve thought with irritation as she shook the dirt from her armor with a giant shrug.

“Scan for any sign of the infiltrators,” she commanded her AI as she kept sweeping her gaze across the battlefield. Gunfire was dying down as the enemy had vanished during the barrage.

She hadn’t even fired a shot yet, and that was intentional. She would act as a QRF if the enemy looked to be threatening a specific position. The BN commander didn’t want to alert the enemy to Eve’s capabilities until she had to. Once Eve joined the fight, she would be a high priority target for those heavy cannons the enemy was carrying. Multiple beams hitting her at once would ruin her day.

Status reports were flying back and forth. It appeared the enemy had hit them from all directions. How they’d gotten around the other OPs was still a question mark, but none of the forward positions were responding. Eve was sure they weren’t coming back.

“Maybe we got one of them,” she muttered to herself. Small-arms, a missile, and artillery was a hell of a way to start the fight.

She fingered the toggle to her graviton cannon, eager to get in the fight, but still remembered her place.

“Possible infiltration detected…thirty-two percent probability at coordinates…” Eve didn’t wait. She sprinted down the line, and radioed ahead.

“What? I don’t…” the NCO began before a ball of fire erupted from the precise coordinates her AI had identified.

“Shields down!” a survivor screamed onto the net as a pair of white beams stabbed into the opening in their defenses.

Eve didn’t slow down. The infiltrator had taken down the squad’s shield so the heavies could cut them down with ease. They only things standing between those soldiers and certain death was Eve. She vaulted the last twenty meters into a roll. She detached her shield and activated it as she rolled into the opening the enemy’s cannons were ripping into.

Her AI was already shooting a reverse azimuth, and she assigned her swatters to the task of putting rounds downrange to find the enemy. She doubted the lighter rounds, meant to knock down incoming missiles or artillery, would do much damage, but if she could pinpoint their positions, the BN missiles and artillery could bring the hurt.

“Reroute all power to forward shields,” she ordered the AI, as her shield icon dropped precipitously after only a few seconds of tangoing with the enemy lasers.

Blue flashed in the distance, and the defenders engaged the enemy positions. The lasers cut off just as Eve was about to switch from her portable shield to her armor’s main body shields.

“On your six!” someone yelled, just as her armor screamed an alert.

The one-meter infiltrator, with its stealth armor, was less than five meters from her. A grunt had basically tripped over the damn thing, and then was gutted by some type of close-quarters energy weapon.

Everyone turned inwards and opened up; including Eve. With her finger already on the graviton cannon’s trigger, she turned and fired. The grunts were barely outside the kill radius of her weapon, so they’d get a little whiplash, but that was better that being skewered by someone you couldn’t even see.

The universe’s luck finally smiled on her. Her targeting icon was dead center on the infiltrator when she pulled the trigger. The super-dense ball of artificial gravity, propelled at fraction-of-light speeds, hit the alien mid-jump. The thing’s shield sizzled, died spectacularly in a burst of energy, and was followed a second later by ET. The graviton bolt hit the creature, they both hit the ground, the ground rumbled like a drunken god had just bitch slapped it, and then everything within fifteen meters got a fresh coating of green mist.

All the grunts around her were knocked on their asses, and a couple had their medical status go from green to yellow. It was nothing the medics couldn’t patch up in a jiff. What really mattered was all that was left of the enemy was finely dispersed matter.

<Green blood, not red. Disgusting, but interesting,> she told herself.

“Where the hell did that fucker come from?” the NCO walked up to Eve’s metal calf and gave it a pat. “Thanks for the save, Valkyrie.”

She was about to reply when a gut-wrenching, spine-tingling roar echoed from in front of them. It was sadness and rage expressed in its most primal form. Even through her metal armor, deep in her womb, Eve shivered at the sound.

“Incoming!” someone yelled, and everyone open fired.

One of the big aliens was charging right toward them. Rounds from the grunts’ M3s smacked into its shield, eliciting a rainbow colage of light, but not much else. In contrast, the alien was rapid firing its own weapon. The white beam, stabbed into the still-unprotected position. Eve angled to protect the soldiers with her own shields. She saved some, but not them all.

{Portable shield at forty-two percent,} her Battle AI informed as she took multiple shots. Whatever the alien was doing, the shots weren’t as powerful as what was hitting her before. Not that it mattered to the NCO she’d just been talking to. He toppled over with a fist-sized hole in his chest.

The weapon ran out of charge halfway to their lines, but that didn’t stop the alien, which was looking more and more like a monster from a nightmare as it charged closer. It discarded the weapon like it was nothing and dropped down on all fours like a charging wolf, or, thanks to its size, a rhino. Its speed increased dramatically and within seconds it was among them. A strong arm reached out, grabbed a grunt firing on full auto, and tossed him like a rag doll. The man flew ass over heals ten meters before crashing down into another squad’s heavy weapon’s emplacement. An emplacement that would have been opening fire on the enemy if it wasn’t worried about mowing down friendlies.

The alien going berserk didn’t stop at chucking one grunt. From somewhere in its armor it produced close quarter weapons. One was a smaller version of the beam weapon. More like a pistol, that still packed a wallop. It was dropping grunts, but not killing them. The second looked like some sort of short sword, and that was killing people. It went through one grunt’s gut like a nano-blade through a birthday cake.

Even worse. It all happened in seconds. The alien had no business being that big and that fast, and every time Eve got a bead on it, it bounced away, or put friendly troops between it and her.

<Fuck it,> she thought to herself. She deactivated her guns and reached behind her back for her sword. A sword that was as big as the alien was. She also repositioned her shield. A check of its status had it recovered to fifty percent power, but she wasn’t using it for its ability to deflect projectiles and laser. It was just something to hit the damned thing with.

She stepped into the fray, and immediately received a burst of fire from the alien’s pistol. Her shield took it without a problem, and she swung at the creature with her sword. The alien leapt nimbly backward. Twisting in the air, and bringing its own blade down on a grunt trying to take cover. It cut him clean from the base of the neck down to his asshole. He didn’t even get to scream as his spine was severed and everything spilled out of him.

Eve pushed forward with her shield, trying to corner the alien, but it was too quick. It leapt in and stabbed at her, while deftly dancing around her attempts to trap it. At one point, she thought she had it cornered between her and a missile battery. The thing climbed up the battery’s side like a spider monkey and flipped over her head to escape. Since she was twice the thing’s height, and it had killed at least a dozen soldiers by now, she didn’t want to know how her species could possibly take on whatever the hell these things were.

She roared in frustration as time and time again the thing evaded her. Even worse, its friends were still attacking the perimeter while she was occupied. “Valkyrie, I’ve got a squad from the reserve heading your way. Deal with that thing.” The BN commander’s voice in her head had more than a hint of anger in it.

Eve didn’t blame the LCDR. She was trying to fight a battle while this thing was cutting through her people. Eve swiped at the creature, but it sidestepped and stabbed out with its sword, while firing into Eve’s face. The status quo remained unchanged. Its weapons didn’t have the power to penetrate Eve’s shield, and Eve wasn’t fast enough to catch it. They danced for another minute until the squad arrived.

“Don’t worry about me. Shoot this fucker until it dies,” she ordered, and the squad quickly obeyed.

Incoming weapon’s fire chewed up the space around her, with more than one round pinging off her shields. Eve thought two steps ahead and went with her gut. She moved to cut off the squad from the creature even before the creature pivoted with a twirl and threw itself at the newly arrived soldiers. With a half second more time to react, she swung her shield as fast as she could and clipped the alien around its hip area.

The thing’s roar of pain was like music to her ears. Even better were the squad’s weapons on full auto, plunging fire into the creature as it struggled to get back to its feet from where it had fallen. Eve seized the advantage and dove forward with her sword. The alien rolled to avoid her lunge, and almost got away, but Eve’s blade bit deep into its upper leg, spewing greenish blood all over the ground.

The roar turning into a squeal as it tried to limp away. The squad continued to hammer it with fire while Eve righted herself. She was about to deliver the killing blow, but the ET’s shield failed spectacularly, and the hammering from the squad’s heavy weapons started to blast chunks out of its armor. Soon, green blood sprayed from the creature’s mortal wounds and it dropped dead.

Eve felt a tiny twinge of regret that she wasn’t the one to kill the thing, but she was still glad it was dead.

“Enemy neutralized,” she sent to the LCDR. “Where do you need me?”

“Head back to the CP. The enemy looks like it finished its probe. I need your input on what to do next.” Eve nodded inside her metal womb and turned to the inner perimeter where the hospital’s lights had been extinguished to limit the enemy’s ability to target the vulnerable infrastructure.

Everyone but the greenest private knew what they’d just dealt with was a probe. The enemy wanted to see the firepower they could bring to bear, how quickly it could move troops to reinforce, and what kind of defenses were in store for their main force. Judging by the number of bodies Eve had passed in her fight with the ET, things weren’t looking good for the human defenders.

<At least she’s safe,> she turned her thoughts to the east where her daughter would soon be ensconced safe and sound in a medical clinic deep in the Smokey Mountains.

She just hoped there was civilization for her kid to return to when this was all said and done.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 307

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

Darkness and pain, that was Coop’s universe right now.

It felt like he’d taken a donkey kick to the chest by Eve, but instead of laying off like a loving baby momma, she’d proceeded to kick the crap out of every inch of him.

<Ow,> he thought at no one and nothing in particular.

{Synchronization disruption detected.}

{Reboot Initiated.}

A sharp spike of pain in his head was all the notice he got before the world went white and a high-pitched whine filled his ears. The sudden change brought on a severe case of nausea. He barely avoided blowing chunks all over his small enclosed space. After a few seconds everything equalized back to normal, and the world snapped back into focus. Or at least it was supposed to be the world. It looked more like some hellscape.

Coop was on his back with his head facing away from the coast. There was a narrow cone of green shooting backward, while the rest was chared black. The trees that had been there were ripped out at the roots and thrown out of sight. Even the hill where the comms relay bunker had been was flattened. Coop could make out the crumbling concrete and duro-steel foundation sticking out of the scorched earth.

<What the hell type of missile does this type of damage.> Coop knew the effectiveness of the missiles his own MOUNT carried, and they wouldn’t do a tenth of the damage around him.

{Synch rating ninety-one percent,} a short burst of text across his vision signified he was back in action. He immediately ran a system check and queried his AI.

“Play back from the point the missile was launched in a separate window, half-vision,” he ordered.

His vision split, one half showed his current surroundings, and the other showed his point of view facing the enemy aircraft after taking the shot at the flying cone. He watched as the escort fighter broke off, came at him, and fired. The missile streaked in, and he stood his ground. He saw his swatter open up, and the sparks of impact as the rounds hit the missiles shield.

<Who the hell puts a shield on a missile?> as he thought it, he was sure he’d thought it before.

The swatter continued to pour rounds into the missile as he deployed his shield, powered it up, and put it between himself and the incoming danger. The grunts were bunched behind him, about fifty meters back near the base of the bunker, but not all of them. A few had been fanning out at the sight of the incoming ordinance. That was SOP. Disperse to avoid a total squad kill, but Coop cringed a the missile traveled its final hundred meters.

His swatter continued to pour rounds into it, hoping to break through the shield. He looked at the ammo count and grimaced. He’d wasted a thousand rounds on the missile with no effect. He forced himself to keep his eyes open as it closed the final gap…and then it exploded.

“Replay and slow down,” Coop thought he caught something.

The footage rewound and started again at a crawl. The missile inched forward, aimed directly at the center of his shield. He followed it closely until it suddenly exploded a small distance from him.

“Distance from me at the time of explosion?” he asked the AI.

{Enemy missiles detonated at twelve meters.} That made Coop pause.

“Did it detonate or did I kill it?” he asked.

{Sensors show the shield on the incoming missiles dropped and was impacted by a round from your anti-missile weapon system .0001 seconds later.}

“So, I killed it,” Coop looked back at the mayhem and destruction surrounding him, and remembered the face the blast had still knocked him on his ass. “Can’t imagine the damage it would have done if it hit me?” he said to himself.

{Probability of total destruction is low, but serious hardware damage is estimated at seventy-two percent,} the AI answered his question anyway.

Speaking of damage, Coop looked over the results of his diagnostic. Most systems were green, but a few critical ones weren’t. His swatter had minor structural damage where the explosion leaked through a seam in his directional shields. He deployed some repair bots from an internal compartment to see if they could fix the damage. All his missiles were still offline, corrupted by the hack that almost took over his whole MOUNT. Frontal shield array was down to thirty percent, while his portable shield was at five percent. There was even some light scorching on the duro-steel. He put that on the queue for the repair bots to take a look at. If he got in another fight, he was sure he’d need it.

All in all, he’d survived with no permanent damage. The same couldn’t be said of the grunts.

“Anyone still alive, rally on me,” he blasted over his external speaker. With STRATNET offline, he had no locational data on any of his force. The node they’d been using for commo was also a lump of charred carbon now. He wouldn’t be calling for reinforcement any time soon.

“Over… here…” the statement was punctuated with couching.

Coop rushed over and started pulling at some of the rubble. A meter of digging and he pulled a chunk of soil and concrete block off of two grunts. One was the SSG, and the other was a PFC whose name he didn’t know.

He placed his fingertip on the SSG to form a hard link so he could read the man’s armor data. <It could be worse,> a yellow identifier came back, along with elevated blood pressure, heartrate, and list of issues his medical systems were working on.

The worst of it was a dislocated shoulder, which Coop thought the SSG should be eternally grateful for. Painkillers and generis nanites were already in his system to dull the pain and try to repair the damage. Coop moved onto the other soldier. His identifier came back black, flatlined.

“Fuck,” Coop grumbled, as he gently removed the PFCs body and started to dig around the recovering SSG.

Only two other soldiers were still alive. A PVT was red, with bad internal bleeding that was struggling to be fixed my his medical nanites, and surprisingly, a PFC who was green. A big chunk of concrete had fallen over him, but avoided crushing him by another piece of rubble. The two pieces had shielded him from the blast, and he’d just needed a chunck to be removed so he could move again.

<Lucky son of a bitch,> Coop chuckled at the tiny bit of good news. There weren’t any more, everyone else was gone. He didn’t even find the bodies of the ones who’d been outside his armor’s protective cone.

“Now what, sir” the SSG grimaced as he tried to shrug in his armor. The green PVT was standing protectively over the unconscious PVT clearly not knowing what to do.

Coop didn’t have a good answer. He replayed the sensor footage that was taken after he was knocked on his ass and he lost synch. The fighter circled the destruction, but made the decision not to waste more ammo on taking out something that looked destroyed. It had rejoined the convoy of ships and slowly escorted the damaged cone vessel inland. The AI pegged its heading as southwest of Coop’s position.

“Let’s head north,” Coop decided. He didn’t want to go anywhere near those fighters. His shields were slowly recharging, but another missile hit would turn the MOUNT into his tomb.

“What’s north?” the SSG asked, “And how are we getting there?”

<Eve,> Coop immediately thought, but he couldn’t tell that to the grunts.

“Other members of my outfit are stationed throughout the eastern seaboard. If we head north, I know one who’s positioned with a garrison at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, along with a full battalion of ass kickers. If we can get to them, we’ll have a fighting chance.”

“And our mission?” the SSG’s tone held uncertainty.

“Our mission was to hold the coast against incoming landers. We did out best, and damaged their force, but then they blew us to hell and bypassed our position. With comms out, we have no idea how everyone else is faring. We can either fallback to the mountain positions, or see if there is a pocket still holding out. If anyone is, it’s the folks at the hospital. If we make contact, or get a signal, we can always turn west and head for the new lines that we’re probably establishing there right now.”

Coop had no intention of heading west until he checked on Eve, and saw whether or not his unborn child had been evacuated yet, but the SSG didn’t need to know that.

“Sounds like a plan to me, sir. Just the problem of getting there. We’re a couple hundred klicks away, and I don’t think Gilroy here is walking anywhere anytime soon,” the SSG gestured at the unconscious PVT.

“Call me your personal taxi then,” Coop made some selections on his HUD and portions of his armor popped open.

Like the tanks of old, sometimes troops rode them from battle to battle, so Gold Technoligies’ engineers had made sure that could happen again. It wouldn’t be the most comfortable ride, but it was better than walking.

“Help me get Gilroy up there and let’s get the hell out of here,” the SSG ordered the other PVT.

Just like Coop, no one else wanted to stay in this graveyard longer than they had to.

 

 

Eve Berg

Location: North American Eastern Seaboard, Bethesda Naval Hospital, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Comms are still down, ma’am.” A SGT on the team the LCDR of the defensive battalion had assigned to Eve answered the unspoken question. It had been the same answer for the last day.

“Thanks, Ricco,” Eve made sure to learn the comms specialist’s name.

STRTNET and TACCOM might be down, but repeater relays had been placed through the battalion’s AO, so everyone had comms with everyone else. The BN S6 had even established enough bandwidth for everything down to squad-level nets. That would be priceless in the coming battle. You didn’t need the battalion commander trying to shift troops while an assistant squad leader took over the channel to designate new firing lanes.

Even better, Eve had been folded into the defensive plan. While the rest of the battalion dug in, or erected hardened fighting positions, she was a mobile force that could be anywhere on the battlefield within a few minutes. She was both tip of the spear and the reserve. The LCDR already told Eve she’d be counting on her to go above and beyond during the coming fight, and Eve had all the motivation in the world to do just that.

She kept her eyes on target toward the coast, but pulled up a rear-facing camera in a smaller window of her vision. Spyders and other craft were constantly coming and going from the facility. An air-ambulance was lifting off one of the many rooftop landing zones and taking a critical patient farther west. All traffic up to the waiting refugee fleet had been suspended an hour ago. They were long gone by now.

The combined human fleet was getting pummeled by the aliens that were settling into orbit and blocking that fleet from coming to assist in repelling the invaders. Eve didn’t know the specifics, and didn’t really care. All that mattered was a tiny embryo marked in canister OBGYN-B-129486912, that was currently awaiting transport on Spyder Dogface-One-Three, from landing zone six, to bunker complex Sierra-Mike-Eight, that was scheduled to depart in four minutes.

<Three minutes fifty-two seconds,> she watched the internal countdown that dominated her HUD. <Once my baby is safe, I can worry about ET.>

A shudder went through her. For the next four or five minutes her kid was at its most vulnerable. After that, Eve would be able to hold up any fucker that tried to kill her kid.

“Raider to Valkyrie, SITREP, over.” A call came in from the BN HQ stationed in the hospital itself.

Eve shook her head when she heard her call sign, and tried to push the bubble of fear in her gut away. The time was still ticking down, and no sign of the enemy.

“Valkyrie to Raider, still no contact on long range sensors,” she sent back.

“Roger that, Valkyrie, stay frosty, out.” The line went dead, and Eve went back to watching the countdown clock.

Eve wasn’t sure how the other defenders were doing things, but the LCDR in charge here was well aware that the enemy’s cyber capabilities far outreached the Commonwealth, and had planned accordingly. She was taking nothing for granted. Nothing was interlinked and open to enemy intrusion, and there were breaks everywhere to stop any intrusion in its tracks before it reached anything vital. The long-range scanners were just one example.

They had OPs stationed every five hundred meters out for two kilometers. Those OPs had portable sensor arrays that took in the information and scanned it. The information was evaluated before being tight beamed along a chain that led back to HQ and the defending units around the hospital. If a sensor array was compromised, they’d just shut it down, and when the team didn’t report in, or came running back to the defensive lines, they’d know the enemy was coming. Not necessarily the enemy’s disposition, but it was better to know something and be able to communicate effectively, than to have all the data and not be able to tell the soldiers in the trenches where to shoot.

Eve walked past an entrenched missile battery and gave the soldiers there a nod. They all looked nervous. Rumors of the enemy taking control of drones and missiles after they were fired were circulating throughout the defenders. Eve hadn’t heard anything verifiable, but just the thought of your weapons being used against you was enough to rattle any soldier.

“OP-two report in,” Eve forwarded a transmission up the line. In addition to everything else she was doing, her comms suite was also being used as a relay.

She stood where she was for several minutes, a sentry over the nearby missile launchers, and waited for the reply to make its way back. When nothing came, she knew it was game time.

“Look alive people!” she roared over his external microphone. “Looks like this is it.”

NCOs started screaming, soldiers started double and triple checking everything as they settled into their fighting positions; all while Eve stood tall and watched her surroundings.

She’d lost tracking data on Dogface-One-Three after it passed beyond the farthest OP to the west. Since OP-Two was to the east, she was confident her baby was out of harm’s way.

<Only if we hold them here,> she reminded herself as she checked her own weapons and waited for the enemy to show themselves.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 306

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

The simulation ended with a sputter of graphic imagery. So far, it had been their best simulation yet. Coop had destroyed nearly sixty percent of the incoming ships in his AO with practiced combinations of his missiles and magnetic accelerator cannon. When the ships got closer, he was even able to leverage his graviton cannon and swatter to smash in the ships’ hulls, or pepper them in the hopes of hitting something vital, or at least killing some people inside.

Once the ships made it past him, and got on the ground to unload their troops and create a beachhead, Coop was ordered to attack and thin their ranks. He’d been forced to run nearly fifty kilometers in the MOUNT, something he’d had little practice with, and engage the enemy alone. The programmer behind this simulation was into some stuff Coop just didn’t understand. The consensus seemed to be they were facing aliens, so the troops he encountered weren’t human, in fact, they weren’t even close.

Coop didn’t know who a guy named Lovecraft was, but apparently the creatures that came at him were based off his creation. The things were in battle armor at least as good as an HI LACS, but they had claws they liked to use when they got up close and personal, and their head looked like it had a lot in common with an octopus. If he got face-to-face with them, tentacles would latch onto him and some stinger looking contraption would repeatedly smash into his shield. The only way to dislodge them was to kill it.

During the melee, which wasn’t an enjoyable experience, he learned the mag-accelerator was more of a hinderance and needed to be stowed and locked away to fight efficiently. The graviton cannon was a life saver, and could blast back the enemy to gain a moment to breathe or set up attacks. Most of all, he got in a lot of practice with the sword-shield combo. He’d made some notes of how to reconfigure the shield when he dropped out of VR and into reality again. Unfortunately, he’d been dropped out without completing his virtual mission, which was never a good sign.

“Incoming fragmentation order,” his Battle AI chimed in as his surrounding solidified back into an area he was very familiar with. Only this time there was a buzz of activity. The soldiers that were usually sitting around on their asses playing hurry up and wait were on the move.

“Squadron check in,” came LT Hillview’s voice over the coms.

“This is Coop, I’m all green, ready to kill some ETs,” he sent back as he double checked the cable attached to his armor. He’d avoided tripping over it in subsequent VR settings.

“Say again?” the LT replied.

“Coop is good to go,” Coop sent back.

“I don’t know a Coop,” the LT’s grin was audible.

Coop gave a sigh and would have pinched his nose in frustration if he wasn’t currently curled in a ball within his MOUNT. “Ballboy is all green and good to go,” he used his callsign.

“Roger that, Ballboy, I read you five by five. SITREPs every ten minutes unless engaged. Hammer out.”

Coop had no idea how the LT got the callsign Hammer, but it was probably had something to do with getting her bronze star. Not everyone got their callsign right away in HI. Sometimes they got it after going through some shit. On the other hand, Camilla’s made a lot of sense. “Bos is all green,” she chimed in.

When Coop first heard it, he thought it was Boss with two S’s, but that was wrong. It was B-O-S, which was actually an acronym for buns of steel. Logically, Coop’s first question was who had fucked her up the ass during HI training, but that only got him a slap in the face. He was still convinced someone had done something to the loud-mouth woman’s ass to get her that callsign, but he hadn’t gotten the full story. Lastly, Mac’s callsign was Ninja.

<Probably because she’s so quiet. I think she’s talked to me maybe five times,> Coop guessed. That was Third Squadron of the First Battalion, First ACR: Hammer, Ballboy, Bos, and Ninja reporting for duty.

With the check in complete, data started to scroll across his vision. It was a standard five paragraph operations order for the defense of Earth. They’d gone through this multiple times, so Coop filtered for new information. That condensed the pages of texts to the need-to-know bits. He skimmed those quickly to get an update on the situation and any changes to his mission.

<Fucking fleet,> he scoffed when he read that the combined human fleet protecting the planet had been outmaneuvered and was in the process of getting pounded into scrap metal. On the bright side, it appeared the fleet of refugees fleeing the planet seemed to be in the clear. <Unless the enemy has a fighter compliment, the convoy should make it to the jump point.> A Gold Technologies carrier group was now listed under friendly forces, and were holding the back door open for everyone to escape through.

It didn’t matter to Coop. He was stuck on this ball of mud tens of billions called home. His mission remained unchanged. Defend his area of responsibility from enemy incursion, interdict the establishment of a beachhead, blah . . . blah . . . blah. Coop would know in the first few minutes if he was able to accomplish anything, or if this turned into a fighting retreat. The original OPORDR had fallback positions detailed about a hundred kilometers farther inland, and a final defensive line at the PDC bases along the Appalachian Mountains.

Coop pushed those defeatist thoughts aside and focused on the next few minutes. Enemy capitol ships were operating unhindered they were either going to open fire or star landing troop. The history of humanity would remember the next few minutes.

Coop doubted they’d target his little slice of real estate for the initial bombardment. He was on the coast, in the middle of nowhere, with nothing remotely strategic for kilometers. He was the only special asset in the area, and with TACCOM and STRATNET still offline, the communications node behind him was more than useless.

Suddenly, the sky lit up as the show began. “We’ve got high-energy particle beams discharging from orbit,” Coop relayed to the squad of grunts around him; like they couldn’t see the bright flashes of light with their own two eyes.

“Nothing near us,” the SSG squad leader replied. “Must be targeting the PDCs.”

The PDCs at the final defensive line were concealed by the mountains, but the ones in the cities were pretty obvious. Coop just hoped their shielding held up. The systems were old, and he doubted they undergone regular maintenance. Especially the ones in the PHAs.

The minutes passed as light continued to flash across the horizon. One flash even came close enough the Coop’s position to pucker his asshole, but it wasn’t aimed at him, just the closest metropolis. A chime in his ear signaled that ten minutes had passed since speaking with the LT.

“Hammer, this is Ballboy, all clear here. We’ve got energy discharges flying across the sky but nothing targeting us. Green on all ammo, equipment, and zero casualties, over,” he sent.

No reply.

<Fuck,> he waited a few minutes before resending the same message.

Still nothing.

“Staff sergeant, check the comms relay. I’m not getting anything from higher.” He rotated to face the detachment leader.

The NCO was way ahead of him. Apparently, the silence on the channel was concerning to him as well. A few more minutes of silence and Coop was starting to feel an uncomfortable itch between his shoulder blades. It was a psychosomatic itch, he knew that form experience, just like the hallow feeling in his stomach. His intuition was screaming at him that something was wrong.

“Sir, they took out a relay somewhere to the north,” the SSG finally replied. “Not sure if it was deliberate or an accident, but we’re only got contact with units within a hundred and twenty five klicks of here.”

That was a stone’s throw on this battlefield, which only ratcheted up his paranoia that they were going to get hit, and soon. “Bos, you there?” he sent to the nearest MOUNT. Camilla was located south of him at about a hundred fifty clicks. Things would be so much better if he could talk to at least one member of his squadron.

“You . . . com . . .n . . . broke . . . boy,” her garbled response came back. “En . . come . . ta . . . teen . . . sec . . .”

“What the fuck?” Coop growled as he tried to clean up the message.

“I am only fifty-seven percent confident in my translation of the broken message, Warrant Officer Cooper,” the Battle AI replied when Coop got fed up and just asked for its best guess. “The message translated, based on previous interactions and syntax analysis of Warrant Officer Wheeler, as ‘You’re coming broken pretty boy. Enemy is coming. Fifteen seconds.’”

Coop didn’t know about the first half, but the second seemed like reliable information. “We’ve got incoming,” he yelled to the grunts, as his MOUNTs sensors scanned the sky. “Fuck it,” he kicked the cable connecting himself to the comms relay. “If anything comes in yell it to me,” he shook out his big metal legs like a runner preparing for a race.

Fifteen seconds turned into roughly thirty before he spotted anything. It came through the clouds in the distance as nothing more than a spec. He focused his optics in on the object and it solidified like it was right in front of him.

It was clearly an escort formation. A giant cone was at the center. His Battle AI identified it was about twenty-five meters long and half that as thick. The energy output the object was putting off was enormous, so whatever it was, Coop was sure it wasn’t good. It made for an inviting first target. The problem was the craft surrounding it.

There were in four in total. The craft to the rear had to be some sort of troop transport. It was fat compared to the other sleeker craft. He pegged them as fighters. They looked deadly, with visible armaments, or at least he thought the stubby extensions were cannons.

<To shoot or not to shoot,> Coop weighed his options as the craft moved across the sky. Fortunately, they were moving slowly. Whatever the big cone was, it had a low acceleration, but he still had to make a quick decision. He needed to lock onto the object with his sensors, which would alert the craft to the threat and his location.

<I’m not here to sit on my ass,> he started pumping himself up. <These fuckers are invading my home. It might be a piece of shit, but its my piece of shit. No one fucks with my shit!>

“Get to cover!” he yelled to the grunts as he braced himself and toggled to the cannon.

He’d only get one shot at the big cone. He was sure of that, and then all hell was going to rain down on him.

<Smooth and steady,> nerves flared in his gut and he pushed them down. This was the first time he was actually going to shoot at something in anger with his MOUNT. Everything so far had been simulations.

He next-gen magnetic accelerator rotated toward where he was going to take the shot. He didn’t activate the targeting program until the last second.

“Brace recommended,” the Battle AI chimed, and Coop automatically dismissed. He’d gotten that message every time before he fired the accelerator, so it meant nothing.

He took a few deep breaths and tried to loosen up. <I’m not an FNG about to pop his cherry,> Coop chided himself. Before accessing the targeting program.

Range, altitude, temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, light, and the curvature of the earth were all taken into consideration in milliseconds. Time to target was identified and the cannon auto-adjusted before asking for final confirmation from him.

He instantly hit the fire command and was nearly jerked off his feet by the recoil of the rifle. “What the fuck!” he yelled as he spun around and cartwheeled his arms to retain his balance. His servos whined as they tried to help, and he thankfully caught himself before he ate it.

“Brace was recommended,” the AI replied calmly.

“What was that? Why didn’t we have that in the simulations?”

“Recoil was limited to thirty percent for practical purposes,” he was starting to get annoyed at how matter-of-fact the AI was being.

“I think I need to know how this fucking suit shoots. That’s practical!” he leveraged himself back to his feet and dismissed the AI with a mental wave of his hand.

<Fucking computers,> he brushed the dirt off his metal hands and got his head back in the game. He hadn’t seen the impact because he was too busy trying to stay on his feet, so when he got the enemy craft back in his sights, he was happy to see the cone tipping precipitously to the side with flames shooting out of it and debris raining down. The troop transport was trying to get under it and prop it up. The shield around the craft was sparking with the effort. Two of the fighters were putting themselves between the cone and Coop, while the third angled toward him and accelerated.

“Incoming,” he yelled to the grunts as he fired off three micromissiles at the incoming craft.

The kilometers between them were ticking down as the missiles shot toward his target when abruptly MALCON WARNING flashed across his vision.

“Hostile software is attempting to corrupt my programming,” the AI squawked in the first display of emotion Coop had heard.

“Shut down all external sensors and data links!” Coop ordered. If his MOUNT ended up like TACCOM and STRATNET, he was as good as dead.

“Executing. Establishing additional firewalls and launching counterattack.”

Coop let the AI fight the digital battle as he focused on the physical one. With his external sensors offline, he lost his datalink to the missiles. They continued toward their predetermined target, but without the link for him to help guide them, the enemy EW easily defeated them…and then some.

“Fuck, they’re coming around,” he cursed as he maneuvered himself between the new threat and the grunts taking cover near the bunker.

The swatter swung into position, but didn’t track the incoming missiles like it should. <Shit,> Coop was forced to take manual control of the missile-defense gun. He fired a seamless stream of rounds to create a wall of steel between him and the missiles. Thankfully, all three were hit and exploded hundreds of meters out. Unfortunately, he probably used five times the ammunition the AI would have with the external sensors intact.

<Worry about that later,> he pushed the issue aside and scanned for the enemy fighter.

He caught it high in the sky and a few kilometers out. It was clearly waiting to see if his own missiles did the job for it. Now that it saw they’d failed, it banked to reengage.

“MALCON intrusion prevented,” the AI declared with obvious relief. “The following systems are offline,” a mercifully short lift of icons scrolled down, but the real kick in the balls was that all the micromissile’s software was slagged. More than that, if he messed with them, their new program was to detonate. They were only good as old-fashioned paperweights now; very expensive, exploding paperweights.

“Ok,” Coop had to think fast. “What is the minimum range the swatters needed to take out incoming munitions.”

“Against current levels of Commonwealth missiles technology, a minimum engagement range of one hundred meters is recommended,” the AI promptly answered.

“If we turned the external sensors back on, but limited them to passive scanning in a hundred-meter bubble, would the enemy be able to launch another cyber-attack?” that was the million-dollar question.

“The enemy would need to get its cyber warfare-capable units within one hundred meters to effect an attack. So far, my scan of our infected software indicates that the fighters launched the previous attack, and were able to infiltrate the MOUNT through our missile’s datalinks. As long as the fighter remained out of range, we should be able to maintain a small bubble of sensors coverage.”

“Do it.” Coop watched as systems started to come back online with much less data, but no MALCON warnings.

<I’ll take the win,> he thanked every deity he could think of, and kept his eyes on the fighter, which took that moment to launch a missile at him.

No alerts screamed at him as the missile rocketed toward him. However, thanks to his visual confirmation, the AI was able to get the swatter in the right location before the missiles reached his engagement envelope. When it hit the hundred-meter bubble, his MOUNT shrieked alarms at him and the swatter opened fire.

The only problem was that a blue field flared up around the missiles when the swatter rounds hit it.

<Who the fuck puts a shield on a missile?> Coop had time to think.

Thankfully, training kicked it as well. He pulled the shield from where it was strapped to the MOUNT, activated it, and maneuvered it into the missile’s path just before he was engulfed by a living inferno.

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