Clans of Atlantis – Sneak Peek 5

It took less than five minutes for everything to devolve into a clusterfuck. It took less than three for Gus to realize this was a mind-fuck on the part of the CPT and drill sergeants. Instead of prodding the recruits along, the NCOs just stood together off to the side and watched.

Gus’s first order was to get everyone formed up, but getting one thousand teenagers into formation proved more than his patience allowed. “Once you have your platoons together head straight to the chow hall!” His voice carried across the assembly area to the platoon leaders.

Still, it took ten minutes for Roman’s seventh platoon to be the first one on their way. Gus waited for the first few to get moving before following them to the large, white building at opposite end of the barracks row. That was when they drill sergeants threw the first curveball at him.

“Every recruit must complete ten pulls when they enter and exit the chow hall.” A SSG blocked the door with his muscular figure, and pointed at two rows of twenty-five pull-up bars. It was enough to have one platoon going at a time.

Two minutes on the bars and all unit cohesiveness broke down. Clan members were able to knock out the ten repetitions without a sweat. Some even did them one handed to show off. Not all the norms were as fit or skilled. Several looked like they hadn’t set foot in a gym, or played team sports, in the last four years.    

Gus got in line with the rest of first platoon and waited his turn. He saw Roman motivating and assisting his people, and with a sigh, Gus knew he should to do the same. He ignored the rumbling of his stomach as the line moved forward. He got a moment’s reprieve when he watched Liliana’s toned butt bounce up and down as she completed the reps with ease.

Over the next thirty minutes, Gus got more ass than he had in his whole life, and not in a good way. He had his hands all over more than one norm’s fat ass to get them to power through the last few exercises. After a dozen platoons had made their way through, Gus was finished. A leader couldn’t lead effectively on an empty stomach. You needed to look after your troops, but you also had to take care of yourself.

The chow line moved way too slow. “Everyone let’s keep it moving,” he yelled when he’d stood in the same place for longer than five seconds. “Pick what’s there and go. This isn’t your parent’s home cooking, and the more you dawdle, the more likely the people behind you don’t get to eat.” The line picked up a little after that as the platoon leaders jumped in to move things along.

There were other little things along the way that held things up. People took the closest seats instead of filling in from the rear, so it created a log jam when the first recruits went back for seconds. Recruits thinking they could have seconds was another problem, so Gus physically placed himself so he could ward people off. He ate standing up and away from the rest of his platoon. Then there was the traffic jam at the tray return station. The steps were simple: scrap off your plate in one carton, silverware in another, and plates in the final one. He could already hear the chow hall staff muttering angrily about the “kids not being able to follow simple directions”. Gus knew there would be physical punishment coming his way, but that was for future Gus to handle.

“Ten minutes!” he yelled when they were running low on time. “If your ass is in a seat get up and return your tray. If you haven’t sat down, shovel what you can in your face and take something with you. Next time, don’t drag ass getting here.” He saw several stink eyes shot in his direction, but he didn’t care. He wanted to meet the time-hack.

He missed it by a minute and thirty-two seconds. It led to the whole class being marched back out, formed up, and run through a simple iteration of physical training (PT). Norms ended up puking left and right, but worst of all, the CPT made Gus stand in front of everyone while they did it. He didn’t do one push-up, burpee, or flutter-kick while everyone else sweated their ass off. Gus wished he could have done the exercises. Standing, watching as everyone glared at him between sets, was the worst form of punishment.

The class filed back into the hangar – which was cleared of chairs and the presentation equipment – formed up, and broken back down into platoons for drill and ceremony practice. Gus could march circles around these people in his sleep, so he took the time to plan. He grabbed his platoon leaders when he could. Surprisingly, the drill sergeants didn’t chew his ass out as he moved around the open space. The CPT was true to her word.

“We can’t let that clusterfuck happen again.” All of the leaders were in agreement, even Ulysses, who despite wanting to see Gus fail, had been slow to get his people to the chow hall. They’d eaten nothing but cookies stuffed in their pockets on the way out the door. “I want a list of squad leaders by the end of this training period. I’ll record them, and we’ll get this class organized. I can’t do it all from the top. Everyone needs to start policing their own people.”

Despite some leaders’ grumbles, it was the truth. Gus hadn’t sat down in the last few hours, he was always running from problem to problem. He was finishing up with a platoon leader from Clan Lupus, whose name Gus still couldn’t peg, when the CPT appeared at his side

“Having fun, class leader.”

“Ma’am, yes, ma’am,” Gus snapped to attention, and kept the snark to a minimum.

“I’m glad you have a sense of humor,” she shot back. “I also remember stating that you would have to meet all the same qualifications on top of your leadership duties. At the moment, you are on track to fail the drill and ceremony iteration of your training.”

“Moving, ma’am,” Gus took off and jogged back to first platoon. The CPT could have yelled about not dismissing him, but she knew he was already overwhelmed.

As he knew he would, Gus knocked the drill and ceremony out of the park. He even knew more than the SGT instructing them, which was a bit embarrassing for the NCO when Gus corrected him. The SGT had dressed him down on the spot, but was then informed by a SSG that Gus was right. Seeing the SGT apologize to Gus was the highlight of his day, even if the SGT tried to cover it up with a speech about people owning up to their mistakes and learning from them. Judging by the look of Liliana’s face, she didn’t buy his bullshit either. They shared a smile over that. To most of the norms, and a few of the clan’s people here, the NCOs were just below the Creator, with the CPT being their god’s right hand. Gus knew NCOs were people just like him, who made mistakes, and tried to blow smoke up people’s ass when they were caught. Thankfully, it seemed the NCOs were rotating around, so Gus wasn’t stuck with the SGT for longer than an hour.

After drill and ceremony was completed, they moved to the equipment depot next to the hangar for their initial equipment draw. Unlike some country’s basic training programs – who gave their recruits equipment that had seen more blood, sweat, tears, and semen than a Las Vegas hooker – Atlantis gave their recruits current equipment, and let them keep it. The Kingdom only had five active duty marine divisions, and a slightly larger navy. Current manning levels had the Atlantean military at just over a quarter million active personnel. For a small country as isolated at they were, that was large; but nothing compared to the standing armies of a half dozen other nations. Some had multi-million-man forces.

Gus also knew his father was committed to being a power in the Pacific, which was why he was confronting the USA on the Philippine’s independence movement, and building up the navy to be a buffer between the USA and China. That required the reservists: the individuals between eighteen and twenty-five who didn’t sign on for active service, and the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR): anyone who attended Boot but was out of the reservist category while under the retirement age of sixty-five, to be ready for action in the event of an emergency. With that strategic posture, the kingdom sent everyone home with everything they needed except for armor and weapons, which could be readily supplied from armories spread throughout the islands.

Gus knew it was an integral part of the kingdom’s military strategy, but as one thousand recruits filed through the depot and signed for their equipment, Gus had to log it all on his holocom. The scanning function did most of the work, but a dozen pieces of gear times one thousand, and Gus felt like blowing his own brains out rather than being class leader.

“And they still have to inventory it,” he mentally groaned, but put off thinking about it.

Now that they were issued uniforms, all recruits were required to maintain grooming standards. Everyone stripped down and changed back in the hangar until they met regulations. The kingdom’s summer uniform was khaki tactical pants, with plenty of pockets and insert sections, a utility belt to clip on gear, and a short-sleeved blouse that had more pockets. A blank Velcro section in the center, and epilates on the shoulder, were reserved for rank insignia. For most recruits, they remained bare, but the supply SGT handed out single emerald dots to the platoon leaders, a pair of dots to Gus, and upside down SGTs tabs for the squad leader positions. Gus doled those out to the leaders to be used at their discretion.

With equipment drawn, uniforms on, and back in formation, Class 01-84 looked somewhat respectable. The only thing left to do was address their hair. CPT Livingston returned for this portion – the last iteration before personal hygiene and hitting the head before lights out – due to its importance. After all, it was the reason Gus had broken the guys arm back in LA.

As the class marched together towards a group of gathered men and women in uniform, he thought about the significance of the event. The tradition went back thousands of years. Before Atlantean men went into battle they cut their hair. It was practical. Long hair was a liability in combat. You didn’t want someone yanking you down and slashing your throat.

When they returned from battle, they let their hair grow again until their next fight. Women could always tell a warrior from a civilian by the length of their hair. Traditionalists believed the practice kept the bloodlines strong as warriors tended to do well with the ladies. Gus didn’t fully buy into it, but he understood the significance of this first cut. It was the cut that signified transformation from boy to man. Historically, it was done by someone of importance. Some recruits had their cuts before coming to boot so family could participate. Traditionally, royalty waited until boot to do it. The practice also allowed for the King to show up and do it for his son or daughter. Looking around, Gus didn’t see the normal hoopla, or armed response team, that followed his father everywhere. Judging by the side conversations creeping up, he wasn’t the only one.

As class leader, Gus was one of the first up. Liliana stepped up as well. Women had a choice, but many chose to have the cut done like their male counterparts. It was easy enough to go to a salon after boot and have it grown back in a few minutes. She gave Gus a side smirk as a man forced her head down, grabbed her hair roughly, and drew a blade across it. Her white locks fell away, leaving her with a short bob.

“Recruit Drake,” the COL who’d greeted the class earlier stepped up to Gus. “Her Majesty expresses her regrets that His Majesty was not able to attend. If you’ll allow me to do the honor.”

“He couldn’t even express his own regret. Mom had to do it for him,” Gus grimmaced, but he nodded.

As he bent his head toward the ground, he noticed how the light caught something on the COL’s chest. It was a badge that he hadn’t seen before. It was four golden claws that looked like they were tearing out of his chest. Of all the officers and senior enlisted present, he was the only one with the badge.

<The colonel is CLAWS qualified,> Gus respect for the man went way up.

Unlike some nations, the kingdom had no specific special forces units. The USA had their SEALs, the Confed’s their Green Berets, the Republic of Texas their Rangers. The Russian had their Spetsnaz, the Germans their Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK), and the Chinese their People’s Liberation Army Special Operations Forces. The list went on. The kingdom just had their royal marines. If the king needed someone for a special mission, he simply selected them from the ranks based on their skillset. Technically, anyone could be picked, but most likely the personnel had been through assessment and were CLAWS (Clandestine Warfare Specialist) qualified. Gus heard horror stories about assessment, but as crown prince it was one of his possible career tracks.

“It sure as hell would be more interesting than sitting here on my ass doing spreadsheets,” the holocom in his pocket was a constant reminder of the logistical pain in his ass.

The COL cleanly drew his blade across the back of Gus’s head. The hair dropped away, and he gestured for Gus to move on. Just like that it was over. It was a little anticlimactic. He almost wished he hadn’t broken that Yanks arm . . . almost.

Gus moved along to a group of barbers that quickly buzzed his hair down to stubble. Liliana didn’t opt for that, so her barber just evened everything out. Her hair didn’t reach her collar – which was the regulation – but Gus made sure all of his platoon leaders double checked their people. He didn’t want uniform infractions on the second day. It was the second day by the time they finished up.

The CPT dismissed everyone back to the barracks along the main road, their class’s home for the foreseeable future. Everyone went in, secured their gear, used the head, and generally collapsed into their bunks. Gus had no such luck. The CPT disseminated the operations order (OPORD) for day two to him, and he had to review it with his team before they could hit the sack. Gus guessed it was 0200 by the time he finally fell onto his bed in first platoon’s barracks. As class leader, he had his own room alongside the NCO that was assigned to their platoon for the duration of the training cycle. It only separated him further from the other recruits, but at the moment, he didn’t care. He was mentally exhausted, and all he wanted to do was sleep. Before he could even think about the litany of things he needed to get done, he was out.


Two Worlds – Chapter 341

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Alamo, Lone Star System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Da . . . Da,” Coop said the two syllables slowly and intently. “Da . . . da,” he repeated, when he was met by nothing but silence.

He stared into a pair of stubborn blue eyes, so like Eve’s, and frowned. His face’s transformation from intense to frustrated elicited a giggle, which only made his frown deepen.

“You can’t say my name, but it’s funny when you piss me off,” he stood and towered over the baby in its little playpen.

Emily giggled again and clapped her chubby, baby hands. Her face was full of joy, even though it still had that baby chub and hadn’t filled out to look like a unique person yet. This was only the second time he’d seen her since birth, so she still looked completely different to him. Despite having only existed for less than a year, so looked vital, healthy, and happy.

<Those in utero enhancements were worth every penny.> Eve and him had tried to give their daughter every advantage possible; that way, she didn’t have to join the military to get the same enhancements they had.

“You’re never going to have to fight anyone, baby girl,” his face softened as he went to scoop her up out of her pen. She was walking, but she stumbled around like a drunken spacer most of the time. Eve assured him that was ok, but he’d never really gotten to hold her much, so her took the opportunities he could get. “Dada is going to kill anyone that looks at you sideways. Isn’t that right?”

He launched a tickles attack, and her laugh made him smile. It was infectious, but so was the smell coming from her. Coop had been around a lot of charred corpses, but somehow, his daughter’s voiding her bowels was so much worse.

“Okay, you can do this,” he psyched himself up, and wished he could use his IOR to shut down his olfactory senses. “Damn girl,” he gagged, and tasted shit in the back of his throat.

Emily just sat there and giggled like they were playing peek-a-boo. Coop knew there were all kinds of devices a person could use to take care of a baby in the twenty-fifth century; especially now that there were AI’s you could purchase and load into an android to play nanny. Eve didn’t want any of those, and honestly, neither did Coop. At least, not when the baby first got here. After changing the first toxic poop, which the Commonwealth could use as a bioweapon against its enemies, he was reconsidering his stance.

A beep in his brain announced an incoming call, just as he was buttoning Emily up. It wasn’t Eve, so he ignored it. He was on leave, and he didn’t know, or care, what was going on back with the training battalion. The beeping stopped as he lifted his little princess down from the changing table, and let her wabble down the apartment’s hallway toward her horde of toys. All of the stuff made a literal mountain a dragon would be jealous of. Grandma couldn’t be here, so she was spoiling Emily from afar; and she had the money to do it.

The beep sounded in his head again. This time louder. <Shut the fuck up,> this time, he just cut the call short.

Once he did that, his brain started blowing up with incoming information. He stumbled from the influx of data, and this time answered the incoming call. He didn’t know the man on the other end, but the rank insignia that blazed over the face that overlaid itself across his vision told Coop he needed to shut up and pay attention.

“Chief,” the Commander stated.

“Sir,” Coop saw the man had fleet insignia on his chest, and the name of a ship he didn’t recognize.

The conversation was brief, but it fucked up Coop’s life. The fleet had a way of doing that. As he stood there, Emily wandered off and got into some trouble. As he cut the connection, she let out a shriek. Paralyzing fear shot through Coop as he rushed into the main living area. He found his wayward daughter, giggling, and buried in a pile of stuffed animals.

Eve took that moment to walk in with a hover-cart full of groceries. She took one look at the scene of destruction and rolled her eyes; then she saw Coop’s face.

“What?” she asked, but he could already see her changing plans from having that romantic dinner they’d been hoping for.

He told her, and she shrugged. “Come back alive,” were her parting words as he rushed out the door. He made sure to kiss his daughter before he left.


Benjamin Gold

Location: CCIWS Stakeholder’s Views, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Missile launch,” Tactical’s voice was professional, but tinged with surprise.

Ben’s own eyebrows shot up, but he kept his mouth shut. <It figures they would make some advancements,> he reasoned, as eighteen scarlet icons lit up the holo-tank at eight million kilometers. That was double what a small ship like Red Tides was capably of a few years ago.

“Acceleration is . . . impressive,” tactical’s voice evaluated the new missile design.

<A pretty new toy, but they’ve missed the point,> Ben saw it for what it really was.

Like any competent spacer, he’d studied the Battle for Sol in great detail. He’d watched the tactical scans available, double and triple checked the doctrine used, and come to the same conclusion he thought the rest of the naval community had: the missile was no longer the primary weapon system.

Sure, it was important to have range, and be able to reach out and touch, or intimidate, an opponent; but the age of throwing thousands of expensive missiles back and forth across space had ended. It was ineffective and a waste of resources. Energy weapons were the future.

It seemed the Commonwealth weapon’s designers were clinging to the past instead of accepting the future. There was just no way you could put enough punch in a missiles warhead to overcome a ship’s shields. You needed to get up close and dirty in a spaceborne knife fight.

“Twenty seconds,” tactical stated as the red icons went through their burn phases. As they hit their final burn sequence, it was like someone lit a fire under their ass.

“EW online,” the EW officer announced, and Ben saw a good half of the incoming lose their targeting lock.

“Countermissiles away,” the gunnery chief stated, as A1 spit out their four, and only, countermissiles for this exchange. “Point defense online and tracking.”

As the missiles grew closer, powerful lasers struck out from A1’s hull and burned them into chunks of molten nothing. Of the eighteen fired, only one made it through to detonate, and that ended up being a good thing. A powerful laser blast wasted itself against A1’s frontal shields, but it provided invaluable data on the new Commonwealth ordinance.

“Damn,” the Gunnery chief whistled as A1 broke through the distortion of the bomb-pumped laser.

The blast hadn’t even scratched the destroyer’s paint, but the energy that struck their shields was above their expectations. A dozen of those things detonating against a shield would require some recalculation.

That was part of being a modern-day captain; not only did the regular running and fighting of the ship fall under his preview, but last second calculations and changes of shield distribution could be the difference between life and death.

“Your orders, sir,” the bridge crew turned to him expectantly.

They were still a few million kilometers out of their own effective missile range, and even then, they would have to draw much closer to use their primary weapons systems. The overpowered lasers were effective about a million kilometers out, but three seconds was a lot of time to engage evasive maneuvers. It was really under half a million where they could do real damage.

“We’ll give them a double volley at maximum range, let’s get a good read on their shields,” he ordered, and everyone went to work crunch data to find the best firing solutions. He just hoped one of his missiles would get through.

The Collies didn’t follow up with another missiles launch until several million kilometers later. They’d gotten the sensor data they wanted from the first volley, just as Ben was planned to do. So far, there was no reason to think Red Tides skipper wasn’t competent.

<Aside from the whole bringing our nations to the brink of war bit,> he still couldn’t believe the other captain was willing to fight it out over something so stupid.

“Missiles away,” this time red and blue icons danced across the holo-tank and passed midway between the two warships. There were a lot more red than blue.

This round, A1 put out several volleys of counter missiles in the outer engagement envelop; then, all power went to the lasers. Compared to the hellfire raining down in space, it was positively quiet in the warship.

“Increase power to forward shield’s by twenty percent,” he ordered when he saw the Commonwealth missiles surging toward them.

It only took a second to make the transfer, the systems had been designed for it after all, and he was glad he did. The Collies had fired a triple volley; fifty-four missiles. Their fire control had to be taxed to the breaking point; it was only a destroyer. That, or they were letting them make their attack runs on automatic. Possibilities whirled through Ben’s head as more bomb pumped lasers started to go off.

This time, A1 shuddered under multiple blows; but none got through. The point defense lasers trimmed the incoming missiles like hedges and made it so the only ones that arrived to explode in the destroyer’s face were angled toward the enhanced frontal shields. It was new fleet combat 101, and Ben had used it to survive an exchange that might very well have crippled an older ship.

Of course, his own eight missiles didn’t do much against Red Tides, but as data came streaming back, he had a better idea what he was up against.

<And a better idea of how to win.>



Two Worlds – Chapter 340

Benjamin Gold

Location: CCIWS Stakeholder’s Views, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Course change,” tactical announced as the holo-tank updated. The big red icon that was CWS Red Tides was breaking off from its coverage of the civilian ship it was escorting. It wasn’t exactly coming to meet them, but it was angling to bring them into weapons range while still providing support for the civilian ship.

Ben didn’t respond as his mind ran mental calculations honed from years as a spacer. He didn’t like the results. The Collies ships would beat them to the planet where the Confederation’s team had already set up a ground facility. Their own survey ship was still in orbit collecting data, and was going to have to move in the next few hours or be a sitting target for energy weapons.

The only way to get to protect the civilians was to commit A1, and if he did that . . . he shuddered to think of the results. A beep in his mind announced the arrival of the data he’d been waiting for.

“Staff,” he stated, and the department OICs rushed to gather around them. Even with the threat of impending violence, they were in the waiting period of hurry up and wait.

The senior officers on the ship studied the data for a second in silence. She’s a pretty standard ship,” Ben broke the silence.

Red Tides wasn’t the newest class of Commonwealth destroyers, but it was under a decade old. It was three hundred meters from bow to stern; in the classic Commonwealth dagger shape. Two meters of thick duro-steel protected her body along with additional energy shielding that was the most common form of defense in today’s naval world. Her armament showed four laser cannons and eighteen missile launchers, but Ben had to wonder if that was still true.

Modern combat theory, which the ET’s had given humans vicious instruction on, called for close up brawls at only a few hundred thousand kilometers. The long-range missile engagements of the past were gone. It was stupid to get rid of all your long-range weaponry, but having over four times as many missiles as laser was strategically idiotic.

A1 itself boasted almost the exactly opposite weapons compliment. The Confed destroyer was a new build, about twenty meters longer than Red Tides but with a much sleeker design. A1 was a pretty ship, but this wasn’t a beauty contest, and her class hadn’t seen much hard fighting.

<That might be about to change,> he grimaced.

Ben’s destroyer mounted fourteen energy cannons powered by one of the destroyers two reactors. They had a slower cycle time than the larger warships that boasted more power plants, but if he followed the programmed fire plans, he could have at least one gun firing at least every two seconds. It wasn’t half bad for the second smallest ship in the fleet.

Longer range combat was not in A1’s cards, but the designers kept a trio of missiles and loaded magazines on board to dissuade pirates. The older privateering vessels were built for the old types of combat, so the destroyers, who did a lot of commerce protection, still needed to be able to reach out and slug a pirate in the face if they needed to from a few million klicks.

A1 definitely had the advantage in energy mounts, but that wasn’t all. She was fast, probably thirty percent faster than Red Tides, and that was because her armored hull was only one point two meters thick. It might sound stupid when you first heard it. After all, sacrificing hull protecting had always been a big no-no in naval combat. Speed was great, but it didn’t meant shit if you couldn’t survive getting hit.

That’s where shields changed everything. A1 was equipped with what tech experts were calling fourth generation shields. First generation were the bubble shields the ETs first sent over and were basically jerry-rigged to the ships. Second generation were the improved versions that were built by human manufacturers; but actual combat soon showed that bubble shields had their flaws. Third generation was the first iteration of the directional shielding that saw action – mostly by ground units – at the battle for Earth’s survival. Now, with all the data at their disposal, the weapon engineers had come out with the fourth, new and improved, generation of shields. In the grand scheme of things, it was worth loosing point eight meters of armor; which just slowed the ship down and wouldn’t stop a blast for a decent energy cannon anyway.

“What do you think . . . second generation,” Ben mused as he looked over the technical readouts they were getting from Red Tides.

“Maybe first, sir,” the tactical officer was doing the same thing. “The Collies blew their load refitting to fight in Sol. They’ve started to rebuild that capacity, but their focus in on the big boys. Little guys like Red Tides, or even us for that matter, don’t get the upgrades nearly as much as we should.”

Ben nodded. That was true in every human fleet in the galaxy. The big boys won fights, but the little guys kept the blood of civilization flowing. Admirals and politicians often forgot the latter. Thankfully, A1 was just six months out of the yards, and wasn’t due for its annual refit for another six. She was fully cocked locked and ready to rock. The problem was, Ben didn’t want to lock her into anything yet.

“We get a response yet?” he asked comms.

“I think they’re thinking it over, sir,” comms replied.

QE communication wasn’t Ben’s forte, but he knew it involved a pair of entangled particles. Since one side wasn’t going to give the other side the metaphysical codes to their particles, opposing commanders were forced to rely on old-fashioned light speed communication. At just over fifteen million kilometers, that meant just over fifty seconds to get a transmission to Red Tide’s captain. If they answered right away that was a two-minute lag. Since it had been five minutes since they sent the polite message to talk, the other skipper was warry of A1.

Ben didn’t blame him. After seeing whole fleets fucked by cyber-attacks, everyone was on edge. Word on the grapevine was all starfaring nations were building cyber commands from the bottom up, with all kinds of nasty surprised for the enemy. If Ben was in the other man’s positions, he would be isolating systems to receive an inbound communication, and that took a minute. It gave him more time to plan.

With tactical at his side, he started going over possible approach vectors, long range missiles salvos to distract and force the enemy to maneuver. They could even target the survey ship when they were in range, but Ben ruled that out. He wasn’t about to blow a civilian ship into finely dispersed matter. That would be a PR nightmare for the Confederation. As much as he might disagree with his father, and the other corporate bigwigs, there were good people in the Confederation just trying to live their lives. He wasn’t going to make that any harder than it needed to be.

“We’ve got a reply,” comms announced when Ben was going over a close-range battle plan to eviscerate the Collie ship.

“Put it in the tank,” Ben returned to his captains’ chair.

“Unidentified warship, this is Lieutenant Commander Nickels of the CWS Red Tides, you will immediately about face and leave this system. This is now Commonwealth territory, and we will defend it as such,” a young-looking man with blue in his eyes, a hard expression, and a nose he had to know was too big; looked out at Ben with determination.

<Someone out to prove something, shit,> he didn’t like the look in the other captain’s eye.

“Record message, audio only,” Ben ordered and cleared his throat. “Greetings Commander Nickels, I am Captain Gold, we do not wish to engage in any hostilities with you or your nation. As you undoubtedly already know, we have a survey ship and ground installation on the third planet from this star. We are here to rendezvous with them, resupply, and catalogue any scientific experiments. We respectfully request that you honor the standard terms of planetary exploration,” he nodded, and the comms team bundled that up and sent it back to the Collies.

“Resupply?” tactical raised a thin eyebrow. She was pretty, but he was married.

“If they think we’re low on food, ammo, or even morale is low from a long time in space, that all plays to our advantage,” Ben replied, as he stared intently at the holo-tank.

The reply came just over three minutes later. “Captain Gold,” there was a sneer in the other skipper’s voice Ben expected.

First off was Ben’s rank. Thomas Gold couldn’t have his son running around as a mere lieutenant commander in a nation state he basically ran. There was an image for the Gold family to maintain. Dear old dad tried to get him a spot as a rear admiral commanding and entire task force. As meteoric as that rise would be, Ben knew he didn’t know the first thing about running a large ship, much less several of them. He saw some of the Confed’s flag officers give a visible sigh of relief when he turned the spot down.

Next, Thomas tried to get him a battleship command, but Ben didn’t feel comfortable. In the end, they decided he’d hold the rank of full captain but command the next largest ship from his last command. That’s how he ended up with A1, and that’s why the Collie LCDR was rolling his eyes from millions of klicks away. That, and his surname.  

<Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to tell him I’m a Gold,> he’d be surprised if there wasn’t some kind of bounty on his head.

“Normally we would respect the territorial rights of boots on the ground, but the Commonwealth does not recognize your nation,” the way he spit this out made Ben sigh in exasperation. “Even if you were here first, you are still members of the Commonwealth, and as such, this is our system. I repeat, leave this system now, or we will blow you out of space. Commander Nickels, out.”

There was silence on the bridge. “Well, that was productive,” Ben sighed, and was glad he’d started going over plans with tactical. “Make sure that conversation is in the log. I want no discrepancies about whose fault this is. Continue heading, and bump up our speed; not full power, but enough to get the good commander to reconsider his approach. We’ll be in missile range in,” he glanced at the range finder, “a little over thirty minutes. We will not fire first. When news of this gets out, it’ll be the Commonwealth who instigated this crisis. Not us,” he made sure the crew understood that. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t defend ourselves. Call the crew to action stations, and let’s get ready to rumble.”

“Really, sir . . . rumble,” tactical kept her eyebrow raised as a klaxon blared and the chief of the boat called action stations. The important part of the warning was the “this is not a drill” part. They’d only had drills so far.

Ben just shrugged, and turned his eyes back to the holo-tank. “Comms, send a message received to Red Tides.”

He thought about sending a quick message to Jacobi. All ships ran on Aurum time, so she was probably close to her lunch break, and might even get back to him before the shooting started. The thought only lasted a second before he discarded it. He didn’t want to worry her, and he needed to keep his mind in the game. A skipper sneaking off to his cabin right before a fight didn’t look good.

He had just under three hundred souls that were counting on him. The odds were in their favor. He’d give A1 seventy-thirty odds of coming out on top, but nothing was guaranteed in combat. He’d seen that much in his experience. He put thoughts of Jacobi to the side and focused on acceleration rates, firing plans, and ammunition count. Most of all, he thought of the letters he’d need to write to the families of the dead before this day was over.



Two Worlds – Chapter 339

Location: CS Blue Jay (Old Blue), Alamo, Lone Star System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

The kid in the pilot’s seat kept glancing at the holo-tank. The rest of the small bridge crew pretended to ignore it, but it was hard to not laugh. When they said kid, they meant kid. The kid was fresh out of school, on his first tour aboard a ship, and was only allowed to fly the two-hundred-meter-long Blue Jay because she was fat and slow.

“She ain’t gonna bite, Howard,” the captain finally had enough and put the kid out of his misery.

The captain was on old salt. He’d been in the fleet, and got out decades before the current clusterfuck took hold of the Commonwealth. He didn’t much care for the politics of the starfaring powers. He only cared that they kept the space lanes free of pirates, and now with portaling, things were getting that much easier for merchants everywhere. You would get from point A to point B without getting hassled, and only had to worry about the outer portions of systems. Pirates hanging in the asteroid belts was becoming an issue. If you varied up your approach vectors enough, everything was peachy.

That was all good, but the real money was in surveying. With the Commonwealth suddenly losing a bunch of systems, they paid top dollar for crews to go out and look over the skipped systems. The vast majority of which had never been looked at before. People meant where the money went. Money went where the space lanes lead, and now that all those lanes were changing due to the unrest, it was a regular gold rush.

<Even better, the fleet ain’t takin’ no chances,> now it was the captain’s turn for his eyes to get pulled to the holo-tank.

Old Blue wasn’t going out alone; not this close to the contested border. Normally, they’d get one of the nifty gunships; but not this time. A legit destroyer was following along in the survey ship’s wake. She was actually the smaller of the two ships, despite having more crew and enough fire power to tear the bigger ship apart.

Mostly Old Blue was a built to carry supplies. Possession was nine-tenths of the law, but out in the black it was ten-tenths. Whoever was there, it was theirs, and only if they could hold it. Thus, the destroyer that would sit on station for months if it was worth it. Everyone won if it was worth it, especially the captain.

<Just hope this alpha-numeric designation don’t get us into any trouble,> he looked at the readout the ship’s brand-spankin’ new AI had told him was their protalling location.

A probe had been launched by the corporation that owned Old Blue and that probe was relaying the portaling location they could jump to. It also sent back data, but there was only so much you could tell from the ass-end of the system. The company wasn’t about to lose a million-dollar drone to go in and check it out when the fleet would help underwrite their liability by sending along a warship with much more expendable humans.

The captain would have been upset if he was new to the business, but he’d been mucking about in space for going on eighty years. Profits, losses, and risk management drove every order that made it down to him.

“Blue Jay, Alamo Traffic Control; you’re clear to proceed along vector seven-seven, lane two; maintain one thousand kilometers spacing. Good luck.”

“Tha . . .” traffic control cut the channel on the kid, which made him blush.

“You heard ‘em, Howard; seven-seven, lane two, and don’t brown nose the cargo hauler in front of us.”

“Aye, sir,” the kid read back what he was going to do; which was what the book said to do, but the captain didn’t need to hear it again. He’d let the kid do everything according to the book, just to prove he knew how to do it, and then he’d tell him the unwritten rules of spacers.

As Howard focused on their heading, the captain opened a channel to the destroyer. CWS Red Tide wasn’t one of the new builds they were cranking out of the yards. It was retrofitted with all the new do-dads, but she hadn’t been built from the keel up with the new tactics in mind. Still, she was better than pissing into the wind and hoping it didn’t spray back in your face. There was a reason surveyors got paid a pretty penny nowadays. It was dangerous work, and the laws of supply and demand applied. The captain was getting paid five times what a regular merchant captain would make.

It took about three hours to get through the traffic to the portaling point. Space, even in a system, was big, and portaling locations needed to be a certain distance from a gravity well. That put it way the hell out there.

“Ready to enter the portal captain,” Howard locked up his station and handed control to the captain.

You needed to be certified to bring up the new engines and thread the needle from normal space to the alternate dimension, or whatever the hell the space was that a ship portaled through. The captain smoothy took them into the portal, and the AI handled the rest. The destroyer should have entered a few minutes behind them, and the total trip to system no-name was a little under two hours; shorter than the traffic jam they’d just been sitting in.

The captain left the kid in charge. Nothing would happen until they emerged, and the kid needed the hours for his various qualifications. The captain would catch a short nap and come back when they were ready to see what the balls of dirt in this forgotten corner of the galaxy had to offer.


Benjamin Gold

Location: CCIWS Stakeholder’s Views, Portaling Gold Technologies Corporate Territory,

Ben sat back in the command chair and tried not to look bored. He might not want to be here, but he was still in charge of these people. In the end, their lives depended on him. Today, more than yesterday, there was more potential for lives to be lost because of lack of communication.

Jacobi had sent word just before he left on this peacekeeping tour that negotiations were breaking down. That was two weeks ago. Even with interstellar communication the way it was, it could take two weeks for word of a skirmish in the Rim to get to Aurum or the other corporate core worlds. It didn’t help the Confederations fleet was a clusterfuck. The ships were good, modern, and technologically advanced; but they had less of them. Even some of the senior officers were good men who served either the Commonwealth or corporate security fleets. The problem was that there were too many chefs in the kitchen. His father wanted things done one way, but people on the ruling Board of Directors thought differently. The actual military men and women wanted to do things their way, and that left people like Ben throwing up their hands and saying fuck it.

He still didn’t like the new Confederation. He still thought what they’d done was treason, but he had a wife and a family who lived there. The crew of his ship had family and loved ones under the Confed banner. There were a lot of people who just wanted to live their lives. Those were the people Ben was here to protect, and that why he took command of Stakeholder’s Views. He didn’t get a choice in naming the new destroyer, because he would have told whoever did that, they were a moron.

Like all good thing’s navy, the ship got a nickname. Stakeholder became Steak, which became A1, for the centuries old sauce people poured on their meat. So, Ben was the skipper of A1, and despite all his reservations, he was proud of what his crew had accomplished in their few months together.

“Engineering, how we looking?” Ben asked his Chief down in the bowels of the ship.

“Purring like a kitten, sir,” we’ve got another few minutes before we drop out of here, and then I’ll let you know.” Like all new ships, the crew was learning A1’s quirks.


“We haven’t had any communication from the survey ship since we portaled,” the ensign there looked young enough to be Ben’s daughter, and greener than a leprechaun on St. Patty’s Day.


“If we see trouble, we’ll be ready,” stated a hard-faced woman who marched around her section like an officer on review.

“Good job, everyone,” he made sure the crew knew he appreciated everything.

If all went well, they’d spend a few days providing overwatch for the surveyors establishing a base camp on a planet some telescope said had the potential to be strategically important. At that point, they’d be relieved by something with a little more punch, and then they’d spend a few weeks traveling back to Alamo, and checking in randomly to make sure pirates weren’t setting up shop anywhere near the space lanes. It was all pretty straightforward.

“Dropping back into regular space in three . . . two . . . one . . .” the pilot took the destroyer out of the portal so smoothly Ben wouldn’t have known it had happened unless he’d announced it.

There was a minute when the lights flickered and the turnover from the portaling engines to the regular engines failed to occur.

<Ah hell,> Ben started to get up, but there was a jolt and the ship was in motion. He sat back down, about to radio down to engineering, but blips on the holo-tank caught his attention.

“Two contacts bearing three-two-zero, seventeen-million kilometers, and moving on a least time vector towards the planet,” the tactical officer loudly announced. “CIC should have profiles in a second.”

“One of the good things about getting a large chunk of Commonwealth ships to come over to the Confederation was that all their databases came over intact. That meant engine and drive profiles, EW data, accurate knowledge of payloads, rates of fire, and everything else to how many shitters were on every ship. It was an intelligence coup for the Confed’s; which made situation like this much less of a guessing game for warship skippers.

It took more than a few seconds, but the AI finally identified Blue Jay and Red Tide. One was a survey ship not that different from the Confed ship that had arrived ahead of A1, but Red Tide was another destroyer.

“Get me everything on Red Tide, and when you do, get me the skipper,” that turned a few heads, but he stared them all down.

He wasn’t about to start a war under a misunderstanding. <Plus, there’s our survey team,> the Confed survey ship was parked in orbit above a rocky-looking world nearly a hundred million kilometers from both warships. The law said that whoever had boots on the ground owned the world until a patent was filed on Earth and dispersed to all governments. The problem was, that place was ash now; and nobody was talking.

Ben tried not to led the dread in his gut show as the range finder gradually counted down the time until they were in weapons range.



Two Worlds – Chapter 338

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Alamo, Lone Star System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to your final field training exercise,” Coop announced over the net. There were some cheers from the class about to embark on the three-day exercise, but he knew they wouldn’t be cheering again anytime soon.

In his oh so humble opinion, the few months the new cavalry officers put into their MOS-specific training was not enough. Coop, and he was one of many, believed the green FNGs shouldn’t be coming to MOUNT school at all. He believed, like the first MOUNT pilots, that they needed to recruit only from seasoned HI troopers. The right way to do it was Basic, HI school, a few years as a trooper, and then you could apply to pilot a MOUNT.

<Of course, no one gives a shit what a CW2 says,> Coop knew that was the truth. They made a big hoopla about the medals they’d pinned to his chest, but after that, it was shut up and go back to doing what we tell you.

Now, instead of NCOs with a couple years of experience fighting in armored suits, they had wet-behind-the-ears babies piloting millions of dollars’ worth of equipment. Some of the equipment went boom, and Coop wasn’t the only one a little squeamish about giving the kiddies so much firepower.

<We’ll see,> and even better, he wouldn’t be anywhere near them.

For the FTX, Coop would spend the duration in a mobile command post with AC and a food fabber to spit out anything he could think of. He’d watch from twenty klicks away as the kids blew the shit out of everything the Commonwealth threw at them. It was all simulations, but the ordinance was very real. Coop and the veteran group of warrant officers insisted on that at least. The next generation of MOUNT pilots weren’t going into battle without having ever fired a shot in anger. That had failure written all over it.  

“We’ll be starting with a movement to contact mission. The battalion operation’s order is being transmitted now, be ready to brief your squads no later than 0900,” he tried not to sound bored, but it was hard.

“Roger that, sir,” the class leader replied all gung-ho and shit.

Coop was playing the role of the high and mighty battalion commander. He’d sit in on the briefs, watch the tactical data streaming in, monitor the new and improved TACCOM and STRATNET, and then do everything he could to ensure the safety of the troops. Mistakes could always happen, this was the infantry, but he didn’t want to have to deal with the paperwork of having one of students nearly killed.

Right now, that didn’t matter. All Coop could do was sit back for the next ninety minutes and wait for the assigned squad leaders to break down the battalion level order to the company and squad levels; and then brief him. He leaned back in his chair, kicked his feet up, and pulled up personal files on his IOR.

He’d purchased and downloaded half a season of the latest and greatest holo space opera, which had aired during some of the more intensive training iterations. He watched, listened, laughed, loved, and pointed out all the parts that were complete bullshit. Normally, he watched it with Eve, but he didn’t think she’d mind. What was on the holo was the last thing on her mind.


Eve Berg

Location: Alamo, Equatorial Sector, Lone Star System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“She won’t stop crying,” Derrick’s tone was dry, and Eve could see the vein in his head start to pound. She’d seen these symptoms over the last month. It started like this, and then it escalated. Soon he’d start pacing, muttering to himself, and if she kept crying, he’d start screaming.

“Take a walk,” Eve felt her newfound maternal instincts rear up. It helped that she towered over her brother, out massed him, and could tear him to pieces if he actually posed a threat.

That was a lot for Derrick Berg to take in. Not only where it concerned his little sister, but his own circumstances. The battle for earth changed him. He had his ship blown out from under him, most of his crew KIA, he’d lost several limbs, and been in a regenerative medical coma for months. After that, it was weeks of rehab to use his fingers and toes again, and more months to get full range of motion. Once they finally cleared him for duty, they shipped him out to this hot asshole of the universe. Alamo was quickly getting a reputation, and not a good one with the fleet and infantry.

Once he got to Alamo, he was assigned the barebones pre-fab quarters that were popping up all over the barely habitable equatorial zone. On a good day it was thirty-seven degrees Celsius and humid as a Georgia swamp. Just walking around town could put someone in a bad mood. They’d had to bring in another MP battalion to keep the peace. The first thing aside from the base to go up were the bars, pawn shops, and whore houses. The naval intelligence people were already reporting the syndicate moving into town, and fighting between infantry, fleet, and civilians was up thirty percent in the last month. Tempers flared with the looming war between any number of factions, and Derrick wasn’t immune to that growing tension.

The fleet had lost a lot of officers to take back Sol. Entire fleets were dead, along with the millions of man hours, training, and experience it took to crew those dead ships. The new Michael Ward Yards above Alamo – named for the Hero of Yangon who died retaking Sol – were churning out warships as fast as possible, but it was crewing them that was causing a problem.

Derrick had commanded a battlecruiser. His next positing should have been a tactical officer on a battleship, an XO slot if he was lucky, or a place on an admiral’s staff to build connections. With the shortage, he was being given one of the new battleships coming out of the yard. He’d been promoted to Captain far ahead of schedule, and was getting a command crew that didn’t belong on anything bigger than a cruiser. That’s how a lot of the new ships were filling out; crews too green to handle punching in their weight class. It was going to be a steep-as-fuck learning curve. Even steeper than the infantry had to deal with. He’d never tell Eve this, but he thought his job was much more difficult than pointing a rifle and shooting.

“I said, take a walk,” momma-bear Eve loomed over Derrick before he could start pacing.

“Fine. Tell that no good, absent father of yours to get in touch with me when he gets in. Mom sent word,” he stomped out the door with a gust of humid air before she could respond.

The moment he left; Emily calmed down. Eve smiled down at the baby girl with a warmth that would surprise anyone that knew her. She hadn’t carried the baby in her womb for nine months; Emily had been decanted from an OBGYN facility on Alamo after being sent through a portal hundreds of light years away. That made Eve anxious at first, but the doctors had said there were no issues with a fetus portalling.

Even though she never carried the baby to term, there was no less of a maternal instinct to kick the shit out of anyone that upset her little girl; even Uncle Derrick.

“It’s okay,” she cooed as she picked up the baby and started to rock her. She could tell from her cry that it was a hungry cry, so she busted out her boob.

When delivery was imminent, she’d taken the hormone treatments necessary to get her body producing milk. Most people just used the formula you could get out of any food fabber, but she wanted to feed the baby herself. It was an argument over five hundred years old; breast milk vs. formula, and ultimately, she just didn’t care. She’d fed the baby for a few months, and would transfer to formula when she went back on active duty. It would be a change, but her life was full of changes recently.

She still had a couple weeks of maternity leave left, and that didn’t feel like enough, but her orders were already in. She was being given a command of MOUNTs to do who knows what. She didn’t have concrete numbers yet, or names, but it was going to be some sort of strike force. The armored cavalry branch was still extremely small, and could only be a few places at once in any significant numbers. She guessed most of the MOUNTs would be held in reserve for an actual battle, while select teams would go out as hot spots developed and put down whatever needed to be put down.

Already, word of insurgencies against Commonwealth rule were flaring up. People felt emboldened after the Corpies’ treason, and they wanted to do it themselves. The PM wasn’t about to abide any of that shit. The military was going to be putting out fires for the foreseeable future, and all of that on top of increasing skirmishes with the Blockies, and probing from the Corpies. There had been no word from the Hegemony since the battle for earth, and as far as most people were concerned, that was for the best. The human species’ attitude toward aliens at the moment was kill first, ask questions later. Eve had seen enough of the ETs to last a lifetime, and humanity had its own problems to deal with.

At the moment, the only problem that mattered was the crying baby girl in front of her.

“Hush little baby . . .” she started to sing a song older than the Commonwealth as the baby began to eat. “Daddy will be home soon,” she smiled.

Coop was coming home for a full two weeks. They’d get some quality time together before the infantry pulled them back into the grind and someone else would raise their kid. Normally, if both parents were soldiers, then one would be on garrison duty, but with the needs of the service right now . . . fat chance of that.

She’d just have to wait and see. She was used to that, and so was Coop. Having worked her way up from a lowly PVT, she had a better handle on embracing the suck than her older brother did.  

Of all the uncertainty in the galaxy right now. One thing was for sure: things were going to suck for the foreseeable future.