Two Worlds – Chapter 345

Benjamin Gold

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

<A freaking battleship . . . seriously!> Ben kept his composure as A1’s sensors gathered data on the approaching behemoth.

The doctrine of space combat might have been revolutionized in the past year, and building programs had adapted those changes to new models of warships; but those ships hadn’t changed that much. A battleship was still five times the size of a destroyer, at least five times the mass, with ten times the crew, and the weapons systems . . . he didn’t even want to think about it. An old-school battleship had double the energy armament of A1, and hundreds of missile tubes. Whatever this colossus advancing toward them was, it wasn’t an older model.

“I’ve got nothing,” tactical was running data from the central holo-tank directly through her IOR. “It’s definitely a new build, probably out of Alamo since it got here so quickly.”

“Do you have a rough count?” Ben asked.

The Commonwealth might have changed up their offensive weapons proportions, but they hadn’t changed what those weapons looked like. The best way to get more ships off the line was to equip them with the same types of weapons, not design a bunch of new ones from scratch. A1’s AI was more than capable of looking for the telltale signs of energy mounts and the external covering of missile launchers on the hull of the big ship.

“Don’t quote me on this, but so far we’ve got eighty possible missiles tubes and just under one hundred and fifty energy cannons,” tactical’s voice remained steady, but Ben wouldn’t judge her if she peed herself a little.  

“Okay, people, that’s enough for me,” Ben stated. “They’re still eight hours off, but I want to start packing things up. Let’s get the marines off the surface, the survey team back to their ship, and we’ll put the planet between us and them as we run.”

The battleship might be able to take A1 no problem, but the little destroyer was more than capable of outrunning the bigger ship.

“What are you waiting for. Let’s make it happen,” he clapped his hands, and people started moving.

They’d only just started working on scheduling the flights to pull everyone off when a transmission came in.

“Sir, I’ve got the survey team leader for you.”

“Throw him up on the central tank,” Ben ordered, and the face of the man he’d gotten off to a bad start with appeared on the center of the bridge.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Captain?” a vein in the man’s forehead was pulsing in anger.

“We have an enemy battleship inbound and are pulling our people back. We can take an enemy destroyer, but not this. Have your people ready to pull up stakes in the next hour. Only take what is absolutely essential. Captain Gold, ou . . .”

“I will do no such thing,” the surveyor replied. “I have my orders from the Board, and they are to stay here.”

“Sir,” Ben ground his teeth. This man might be good at finding pockets of precious metals deep beneath the surface of a planet, but he knew diddly crap about what a battleship could do to his little camp.

“No, captain,” the surveyor didn’t let him finish. “My people and I aren’t going anywhere,” and he cut the link.

“Get him back,” Ben rubbed his jaw in irritation.

“He isn’t accepting our comms requests,” the communication’s officer gave Ben an apologetic look.

<The fool is going to get himself killed,> Ben pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration.

“Okay,” he thought of contingencies. That was his job as the captain. “Have the Spyders pick up our marines and fly them over to the survey site. Get that idiot and his people onboard, at gunpoint if needed, so we don’t have to report back a body count.”

“Yes, sir,” the crew replied, and set off to make that happen.

“Sir,” comms came back to him about ten minutes later, just as the Spyder was getting set to depart. “I’ve got a QE burst coming in with full encryption.”

“Throw it to me,” Ben didn’t like his gut feeling on this.

Sure enough, it was orders from Naval Command, and they were what he feared. They were wordy and clearly written by someone who wasn’t a naval officer. Someone with a business background, or perhaps politics, was sticking their nose where it didn’t belong. There were just too many buzzwords for it to be anything else.

Despite the flowery language, the intent was clear: hold the planet, reinforcements on the way.

<so this is the hill we’re going to die on,> Ben rubbed his temples to ward off the migraine. <Shit.>

“Stand down flight ops,” he ordered. “We’re going to be sticking around until some of our friends arrive,” he tried to speak confidently to the crew.

<Hopefully they don’t take all day getting here,> his eyes went to the countdown clock on the holo-tank. The battleship would be in weapon’s range in a little under eight hours.

***

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Pride of Summer, Contested System, Unaligned Space

Coop didn’t know what the hell was going on, and he didn’t care. He was cocooned in battle armor, and nothing short of the fist of God himself could reach into the battleship’s flight deck and hurt him.

<Let’s not get carried away,> he told himself as a chirp in his mind told him it was time.

“Boot’em up,” he ordered on the team channel.

The squad’s IORs had their armor in standby mode because Captain Berg had a stick up his ass. He had an excuse about enemy infantry being able to detect MOUNTs as they invaded the planet, and he wanted to keep that ACE up the Commonwealth’s sleeve, but Coop was pretty sure his soon-to-be brother-in-law was just full of shit. Either way, it wasn’t his call. For once, he was content to follow his orders.

As his IOR and MOUNT synched, the world blossomed in his mind; and what a bleak, utilitarian world it was. The troop compartment of a Spyder hadn’t changed at all since Coop had joined the infantry, and it likely never would.

You could tell a lot about a flight crew by the condition of their troop compartment, and a glance around the room told Coop this group was sloppy. His eye caught unlocked harnesses, a cargo box that wasn’t properly bolted to the floor, and a crew chief who was clearly watching something on his IOR and not paying attention to his responsibilities. Considering the chief looked about twenty years too young for his position, it was all par for the course.

<This is what you get when you promote people before they’re ready,> Coop thought; even though he fully understood he was one of those people. He’d only been in a few years and he was a CW2.

Hell, the warrant officer structure was only a year old, and he was already almost halfway up it. <I’ve got work to do,> he told the NCO in him to shut up, and he got while the getting was good.

{Report.}

Data started flooding across his vision as his own diagnostics joined the diagnostic results of the team. A lot of the data was superfluous, but when you knew where to look, you could skip most of it. He sent a quick message to the MSG to address a yellow result on the PVT’s shoulder joint. That actuator being out of sync with the armor would severely limit his range of motion with the powerful accelerator built into that arm. In any other situation, that would deadline the MOUNT, but the mission was already underway.

<Could have figured this out if we’d been able to boot up before we loaded into the Spyders,> he led his own internal bitch session as he signed off on the other two MOUNTs and made sure his own armor was good to go. Then he turned into the command channel on TACCOM and STRATNET.

First thing he did was check out the OPORDR for any new FRAGOs. Changes to operations orders came fast and fierce, and being offline for so long put them at a severe operational disadvantage. Sure enough, intelligence estimations had been updated, target priorities reassigned, and unit reorganizations to address those accordingly.

The MOUNT squad, which at first was going to be a mobile reserve for the regular ground pounders, had been moved into a fire support role. The short battalion on Summer only had a couple HI troopers, but they weren’t being deployed. Why waste resources when the MOUNTs were heading down anyway. Captain Berg was being economical in his use of the forces under his command; or, at least that’s what navy pukes sitting in orbit always thought. Coop would rather have every swinging dick possible on a Spyder down to the planet then leave the second toughest bastards back on the ship. To his mind, that made no sense.

In the end, he was used to embracing the suck. {Master sergeant, I’m going to have you ride herd on the PVT. Make sure he doesn’t get himself blown up. Sergeant, you’re with me,} he informed his team, and sent the disposition of his forces to the infantry commander.

He couldn’t feel the Spyder being buffeted by the atmosphere inside his armor, but the elevation indication in his vision told him that’s probably what was happening. If the bird pulled evasive maneuvers, then he might feel it.

The LCDR came back with an affirmative, and forwarded him a file. It was entertaining to watch. A measly little destroyer took some potshots at Summer as they burned for a zero-point intercept with the planet. Summer didn’t even bother firing back, and the mere closure of distance forced the Confed vessel to abandon the high ground and run. It was at the edge of weapons range, probably looking for a shot at the Spyders. Coop might not like Brother Berg, but the skipper wasn’t about to let his people get blown out of the sky. Fire from the planet was a different concern all together, and Coop felt the Spyder start a combat descent.

Grunts in the other Spyders along for the ride would be feeling the Gs, and straining against their harnesses. Coop barely felt more than a slight pull that hardly caught his attention. His mind was on the intel and sensor readouts from the planet’s surface that showed their objectives . . . and the Confed troops guarding them.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 344

Benjamin Gold

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

<Ten minutes to orbit, forty to the next hemisphere, and ten back down,> as far as traveling halfway across a planet went, it wasn’t that bad of a trip.

The Confed Spyder made the trip with plenty of reactor mass to spare, but Ben wanted them to top off anyway. It was only a matter of time before more than a destroyer came to check on Red Tides. As long as the captain of the Collie destroyer wasn’t a moron, and judging by the battle he’d fought, the man wasn’t, then he sent word back to his people just like Ben sent word back to his.

<I give it forty-eight hours, and this no-name system becomes the flashpoint of interstellar diplomacy,> Ben bet, as the assault shuttle broke through the clouds, and the research station came into view.

He could only see it thanks to the bird’s enhanced optics. As far as structures went, it was unimpressive. A prefabbed habitat that covered a few thousand square meters and was two stories at its highest point. It was set on a plateau among a mountain range that was the spine of the continent. Even as the Spyder approached, Ben noted survey drones buzzing to and from the station. Other than that, there were small domes clustered around the central structure; personal quarters for the small survey crew mapping the landmasses and seeing if the place was worth the investment.

<It better be worth it,> Ben thought. Between A1 and Red Tides nearly a hundred people were already dead. <And all over a pile of rocks.>

To be fair, it was more than rocks to most people. The shuttle set down on a landing pad, which wasn’t much more than a thin layer of asphalt far enough away from the prefabbed homes that the ship didn’t huff and puff and blow them all down. The engines hadn’t even finished cycling down before Ben saw a group heading his way. They looked pissed.

Ben set his jaw and descended the rear ramp and pivoted to head to the main building. He’d meet the group advancing on him in the middle. The squad of marines fell in around him, and although he wasn’t on their comms at the moment, he could imagine their chuckling at the coming confrontation.

“Captain,” a portly man practically spat as Ben led his people forward. “What the hell is going on up there. Our ship is out of position, so we can’t relay our latest findings to . . .”

Ben ignored the man and walked right past him.

“Captain?” the man growled after Ben as he ignored the bitching. “Captain!”

Ben kept on marching with his impromptu honor guard forcing the civilian to keep a few steps behind them. That didn’t stop him from complaining about missed deadlines, and promising that the Board of Directors – who he was a personal acquaintance of the chief of staff of some deputy who had the ear of one of the board members – were going to hear about this in his next report.

The man complained all the way into the administrative center of the building, where Ben took the seat that was probably the man’s to begin with. It was another slap in the face, but Ben had better things to do.

“Sergeant.”

“Yes, sir,” the man in armor nearest to Ben replied.

“I want a perimeter established, weapons emplaced, fields of fire established, and everything else marines do to ensure the security of this sight,” Ben ordered.

“On it, sir,” the man switched to the squad net and the armored men left the room.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing. This site is run by the Board of Directors, not the military. You’re grossly overstepping your bounds, captain,” the man went on to list some regulations that could have been import restrictions for exotic fruit for all Ben knew.

He tuned the man out and accessed the station AI with his IOR. His naval codes, along with his personal codes, gave him full access to everything. The first things that popped up were the survey reports and findings.

<This is what we’re all dying for?> he looked over projections, promising mineral deposits, ground-penetrating sensor results, and the resulting triple A rating the planet received.

This place was a gold mine . . . literally, and no one was going to give it up without a fight.

<Shit,> Ben rubbed his eyes suddenly feeling more tired than any other point in his life, and he’d seen a thing or two.

“Are you even listening to me?” the civilian finally sputtered like a dying Volkswagen.

“No,” Ben shot the man a glare. “I’m trying to make sure we get out of this alive.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” the civilian asked, but a beep in Ben’s head interrupted his reply.

{Yes?}

{We’ve got incoming from the ship, sir. Apparently, we have company.}

<Of course, we do,> Ben sighed. <That didn’t take long at all.>

He just hoped whoever it was, was friendly.

***

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Pride of Summer, Lone Star System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop watched the young PVT closely. He assessed him, judged him, and deemed him unworthy. The young MOUNT operator must have sensed it, because a sweat broke out across his forehead.

“So, kid, what you gonna do?” Coop asked.

“I . . . I . . . I fold,” the PVT exhaled in defeat as his digital cards evaporated into the cyber ether.

Coop didn’t let his smugness show. <One down. One to go.> But this one wasn’t going to be easy. The MSG wasn’t as easily cowed as the young pup.

To the spacers and marines going about their business on Summer’s flight deck, it looked like the four MOUNT pilots were sitting around on cargo crates looking blank-faced at nothing. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. All three were plugged into a VR gambling program. They might be sitting on plastic crates designed to hold foodstuffs, but they were seeing an Old West saloon. A wooden table filled with chips was piled in front of each of them; some had more than others.

Coop had an impressive stack. The PVT would barely be able to make the small blind on the next hand. The SGT wasn’t doing much better, but the MSG’s stack rivaled Coop’s. They watched each other closely, looking for tells, and evaluating how the other man played the game.

A glance at the pot, and the program tallied it for Coop. Almost five hundred bucks was riding on this hand, and he had jack shit. Technically, he had a pair of two’s, but he’d gotten this far by bluffing.

The MSG tapped the table, neglecting to raise the stakes; so either he was baiting Coop, or he didn’t have a great hand. That was what Coop loved about gambling, you didn’t have any idea what the hell was going on. The chaos was beautiful.

“I’ll raise you twenty-five,” Coop tossed in the chips. He played poker like he lived his life; aggressively.

“Call,” the MSG answered too quickly.

<Fuck,> Coop was pretty sure he was being suckered.

The river turned over, the fifth and final card of the hand. <Thank you sweet baby Jesus,> it was another two. Coop had just gone from having the worst hand aside from nothing at all, to three of a kind. Not great, but he had a shot at the cash now.

By his expression you’d never know he’d just avoided losing a chunk of cash. The MSG looked out at him with an equally neutral look, and waited for Coop to make his play.

“All section OICs, chiefs, and infantry command teams please report to the bridge briefing room. I say again . . .” a voice announced.

“Hmm,” the MSG looked up. “Saved by the bell,” he replied, and started to shut down the game.

He was the host, because it wasn’t proper for an officer to be gambling with his troops in the first place. Taking money from your soldiers was generally frowned upon, but Coop really didn’t give a shit. The PVT had easily lost half a month’s pay, and the SGT would be hurting for rent money, but to Coop, that just meant they needed to get better or find something better to do with their free time. The MSG was of the same mindset, which was why he’d hosted the game to give Coop some cover.

With the hand unfinished, all the bets went back to the individuals. All winnings and losses were deducted or added to the soldier’s bank account. Things would have been better for Coop if he finished the hand. Something about the MSG ending the game so quick told Coop the other man had jack shit. Still, Coop netted over three hundred.

<Not a bad way to pass the time.>

The flight deck came back into view as Coop got back to his feet. They’d portalled into the system during the game, so this was a what-the-fuck-is-going-on brief.

“Make sure we’re ready to go,” he ordered the PVT and SGT. The MSG was coming with him to the meeting.

The meeting took place in a tiered room with stadium seating. You could only have this much free space on a battleship, but Coop didn’t mind. He found his place next to the LCDR in charge of the ship’s half-battalion of grunts. He was the last to get there, and the stern look on CAPT Berg’s face told Coop the other man wouldn’t forget it.

“The situation is as follows,” Berg’s no-nonsense demeanor was even harsher than usual. “We’ve received a mayday transmission from the destroyer Red Tides, along with sensor footage of its battle and defeat at the hand of a Confed ship.” There were a lot of murmurs about that. An actual fight between Commonwealth and Confederation was what some people had wanted for half a year now, but learning first blood went to the Confeds was not what the crew wanted to hear.

Berg’s glare shut everyone up. “The data package also shows the Confed ship offered appropriate aid and relocated the crew to the planet. Demo charges were placed on Red Tides and are scheduled to detonate before we can reach her. The ship is a total loss.” The murmurs increased, and it took the XO to shout for silence to shut people up.

<I can see where this is going,” Coop sat up a little straighter and cracked his neck.

“We are on a least-time approach to the planet. We will eject the Confed destroyer from orbit, land troops, and take what is rightfully Commonwealth property. Lieutenant Commander Martin, have your marines ready. Chief Cooper, your MOUNTs will fall under the Commander for the duration of the operations.

“Sir, yes, sir,” Coop tried not to be too much of an ass, but didn’t really succeed.

Berg gave him a hard look, but moved on. “Department heads will meet with me in one hour to go over options. Dismissed.” Everyone filed out of the room to get to work, but all the infantry officers remained.

“This should be fun,” the LCDR replied with a cocky grin. “If their MTOE is anything like ours, a destroyer holds a few squads of marines at most. We’ve got a light battalion and a squad of MOUNTs. This should be a walk in the park.”

Everything this LCDR said was true, and on paper, this should be a walk in the park. The problem was, it had never once worked out that way for Coop; and he didn’t expect it to this time. He’d believe it when the fight was over, and he was back on the boat heading home to Eve and Emily.

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Next: https://beammeupscottysstuff.wordpress.com/2020/12/28/two-worlds-chapter-345/

Two Worlds – Chapter 343

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Pride of Summer, Lone Star System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

They missed the time hack. <Did they really expect us to make that when they called me in from leave,> Coop stewed as the Spyder’s landing gears set down aboard the Commonwealth battleship.

The pilot had skill, the bird barely jostled as its hydraulics took the load, and the engines started to power down. “Let’s go people,” Coop stood up in the troop compartment. “Wrack ‘em and stack ‘em,” he ordered.

The M1 MOUNT responded to his commands, but it never had the fluidity of the one Gold had produced. It was clunky. If his IOR told his leg to raise, it rose, but it wasn’t smooth like butter. When you were fighting for your life and every nanosecond mattered, you wanted it to be smooth like butter.

He stomped down the Spyder’s rear ramp into the cavernous space that was battleship’s flight deck. Word had gotten around that they were putting together new classifications of ships; something that would seamlessly adapt all the new technologies, and be able to implement all the new tactics learned at Sol and in the Commonwealth’s conflicts against the Windsor’s. Pride of Summer was one of those new builds.

A little longer and sleeker than previous battleships, the configuration was still the Commonwealth’s preferred dagger shape. The differences were along the hull; more energy mounts and less missile launchers. Ideally, if someone was ever able to design a convertible platform, they’d be golden; but that wasn’t the case, and didn’t look like it would be for anytime soon. The ship also moved away from the early bubble shield configuration. Coop just hoped the people who built this metal tub did a better job with overlapping shield coverage than they had on the new MOUNTs. It was hard enough do aftermarket configurations on a four-meter war machine. He couldn’t imagine doing it on a multi-kilometer warship.

Whatever the new changes might be, it didn’t look like the ship’s flight deck had changed a bit. Spyders, drones, as well as a handful of space and atmospheric fighters were specifically arranged to be able to scramble quickly and efficiently. A quick count told Coop, they’d be able to land the entire half-battalion on the ship’s manifest.

<Five hundred knuckle draggers and a squad of MOUNTs,> Coop whistled in his suit as his IOR connected with the ship’s AI, his permissions were validated, and he was able to look over everything he was working with. <That’s a lot of firepower to bring to a barren rock.>

He knew it wasn’t his place to question, but he just couldn’t help it. He was about to take a team he didn’t know, in armor that wasn’t combat tested, out to fight a nation that shouldn’t be their enemy, and all over rocks. <Really fucking smart,> he sighed as he noticed the welcoming committee.

A lieutenant stood nearby tapping his foot. He had fleet markings on his CMUs, not infantry. This guy worked for the skipper. Despite the man’s impatience, Coop had shit he had to do first. He helped the support crew that was hauling all the shit a MOUNT needed to function off the Spyder. There was no other place on the ship big enough to house the armor, so they’d sectioned off a portion of the flight deck for his squad. Along with the annoying PVT, he hauled the charging cradles over from the Spyder.

Once the first one was set up, he maneuvered his MOUNT into it. He made sure all the charging parts were lined up, and had a good connection, before he started the dismount process. Slowly, much slower than the Gold MOUNTs, the armor peeled away to reveal an exit he constantly scraped his back against. You didn’t necessarily have to be a big ass motherfucker like Coop to pilot a MOUNT, but all the first-generation pilots were HI. The designers hadn’t really taken that into account when they built the new MOUNTs. If Coop ever had to dismount and haul ass, he was dead.

A final wiggle, and be popped free of the MOUNT, worked his shoulders and neck around a few times to loosen them up, and then headed for the LT. The man, more like a kid, looked fresh out the academy. He might even have had an accelerated graduation to get his ass into the fleet to fill the hulls out. On-the-job training was probably better than what they taught in school anyway.

<Just look at me,> Coop thought. He hadn’t even graduated high school, and he had the highest medal for valor the military gave. <Not bad for a PHA rat.>

“Sir,” he nodded as he approached the kid. He might be a CW2, with two black stripes down his CMUs, but the LT technically outranked him.

“Chief,” the LT nodded back. At least he had the lingo down.

Warrant Officer were still new to the infantry. Ninety-nine percent were still in the armored cavalry corps, but there was a study underway to see if having the rank available elsewhere made sense, and/or motivated soldiers to better results. When the ranks came back, they had to look all the way back to early twenty-second century for naming conventions. WO1s were just addressed as Mister. Why? Coop had no fucking idea. It sounded stupid to him, but the infantry had this thing about tradition, and if it could dig up some old shit and make it new again, they would. CW2 through CW5 were all called Chief, because that’s what they were. They were chief subject matter experts in whatever their specialty was. For Coop, that was driving big, metal war machines and killing who the Commonwealth told him to kill. Not a bad life, and definitely one that kept him on his toes. Something the fleet LT knew nothing about. Thus, being a kid in his eyes despite being close to the same age.

“I’m here to take you to the skipper,” the young man turned on his heel – a move that would make a parade ground NCO feel proud – and marched off.

“After you,” Coop muttered under his breath and followed.

People instinctually moved out of the way as Coop walked past. There were maybe a handful of people out of the crew of three thousand who were as big as him, and humans naturally avoided a bigger predator.

Coop had been on battleships before, and from what he remembered, they weren’t heading for the bridge. He was quickly proved wrong when they reached a door guarded by a pair of marines. The door chimed as the ship’s AI validated their IORs and acknowledged they had access to the inner sanctum of the warship. A flicker of energy told him a shield was deactivated, and then a meter-thick door slowly slid open.

<Smart. They moved the bridge,> Coop gave the new designers some props. The Corpies sure as shit knew where to hit the older models to do the most damage, so it was smart to move stuff around a bit.

The LT led him through the doorway to the controlled chaos of a ship this size getting underway. Tactical wasn’t doing much, but communication and navigations were talking with planetary traffic control to get out of the yards without running over something smaller and more fragile. The holo-tank was populated with the surrounding space, and was showing a lot of green, friendly contacts. It was Coop’s first look at the Lone Star system since arriving.

Space was bustling with commerce. Most were headed for the yards, but maybe a third was directed toward the planet. Below, Alamo looked like an angry yellow-orange ball, but despite the environment’s challenges, humanity was thriving. The Commonwealth might have been knocked down a peg or two, but it had set up shop here in record time.

“Lieutenant,” a voice called out from the raised command dais at the center of the bridge.

Coop had heard the voice before. <Oh shit,> he followed the LT forward to where Captain Derrick Berg was standing with his hands behind his back.

Judging by the look on his face, he was either unhappy to see Coop, or severely constipated.

“Chief Cooper,” he regarded Coop with cold eyes.

“Sir,” Coop couldn’t help the word sounded more like a growl coming out of his throat. The LT noticed the tension in the air, and found something better to do.

“I don’t like that you’re here, but I have my orders,” Derrick started. “Our mission is to check on the distress call in . . .” he had to look up the alpha numeric of the system. “Summer will make sure that the discussion comes out in the Commonwealth’s favor. You and you tin men are a last resort. I want you to stay out of my way, but be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Am I clear?”

“Like a well-hydrated piss, sir,” Coop smiled at Derrick’s expression.

“Get back to your people,” he ordered.

“With pleasure,” Coop mumbled and got out of there.

As he did, he composed a message to be relayed through the yard’s transceivers. {Guess who has two thumbs and gets to hang around Uncle Derrick for the next few weeks . . . this guy,} he used a nearby mirror to take a picture of himself. He then used his IOR’s editing tools to draw a gun blowing his own brains out. He made it extra bloody before sending it off the Eve.

Hopefully, he wouldn’t kill her brother out of sheer frustration. The dude just rubbed him the wrong way.

***

Benjamin Gold

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

Ben would always think of them as Spyders. Half the Confederation’s air lift capability was the old Commonwealth design, but Gold had manufacturing up and running on the next generation of the transport/close-air-support within a week of the Confederation declaring their independence. Like everything else Ben’s new nation developed, it was more technologically advanced, but smaller than what the Commonwealth built. Part of that was because the Confed armed forces were just smaller. They didn’t have the systems and bodies to pull like the Collies and Blockies. They were nowhere near as strapped as the Windsor’s, but they were leaning into their technological advantage to level the playing field.

The new and improved Spyder – despite officially being named after some bird of prey on Aurum – cut through the thin atmosphere and banked around the makeshift POW camp that had quickly been established. The survivors of Red Tide had been evacuated down to the planet, on the continent opposite where the survey team was investigating some rich mineral deposits. They were given some temporary prefab shelters, and enough food and supplies to be fine until Ben received orders of what to do with them.

The destroyer only had two Spyders in its inventory, and with the prisoner transport, both were in continuous use. Ben went down with the last load of prisoners to oversee everything and meet up with the surveyors he was supposed to coordinate in the first place before this shitstorm landed in his lap.

A dozen enemy crew, along with the captain – who looked like he’s taken a bite out of a lemon – sat less than five feet from him. If they wanted to, they could bum-rush him, but they’d have to get through the hulk in battle armor first. Half a squad of Confederation marines were playing bodyguard.

The individual soldier was a key place where you saw the difference between Commonwealth and Confederation. With a trained force of less than two hundred thousand deployable soldiers, the Confeds put their money where their mouth was. Their regular grunts were closer to the HI troopers than Collie infantry.

Confed marines wore an exoskeleton with a personalized shield generator on top of armored anti-ballistic plating, and a secondary laminate layer to disperse energy attacks. Unlike Collie HI, they didn’t have spine-mounted artillery or swatters, but the extra power did allow them to carry a big-ass gun. A Confed marine’s weapon was designed to fire either a six-millimeter solid projectile or energy beam. Gold Technologies spent time and money making sure the weapon could do either. All it required was a battery pack or ammunition magazine. At the moment, the weapons all had magazines in them; so, if the Collie crew tried anything, the marines would make the back of the bird look like a Jackson Pollock painting.

The crew didn’t say anything. They knew when they were beat, and Ben was glad they sat there in silence. He was glad they did, because he didn’t feel like rubbing anything in anyone’s face. He’d lost people in the fight. Not as many, but dead was still dead. It was the first time he’d lost anyone, and it was a feeling he didn’t want to experience again.

The Spyder touched down outside the POW camp with a small jostle. The back opened and the Collies started to stream out. The captain looked over his shoulder to give Ben one last look of deep hatred, before following his people onto the barren landscape. The little tent city they’d erected was a short walk away. There were no guard towers, or even guards. That was the great thing about a mostly deserted planet. You could abandon people in the middle of nowhere, and the planet itself was the prison. It allowed him to put his manpower and limited resources to better use.

With FTL communication, portaling, and everything else that mankind had learned about interstellar travel in the last few years, he knew he’d have his hands full sooner rather than alter.  

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Two Worlds – Chapter 342

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

Coop walked into the hangar pissed off and with the worst case of swamp ass. He’d had to catch a flight from the burgeoning equatorial town to the main military installation; which meant waiting on scorching concrete for twenty minutes while some poor PVT tried to find a Spyder with enough spare room on it for Coop to catch a ride. All the while, the sun beat down on him like he owed it money.

The AC on the Spyder was short-lived. The base, which was cradled in a canyon complex about a hundred kilometers north of the equator, didn’t take long to reach; and then, he had to find the hangar his orders sent him to. That took another twenty minutes of walking around in the sweltering sunlight. If he hadn’t sprayed himself with the government-issued sunblock nanites, he’d probably be a nice medium well by now.

Finally, after wandering around like an idiot, he found his destination; and because the universe was a real bitch, it was a hangar open to the elements. He heard yelling from inside, and was glad someone was as pissed off as he was.

“Private, follow the fuckin’ load plan,” someone bellowed as Coop walked through the open doors.

It was organized chaos inside. A handful of military personnel, and civilian contractors, were busy loading supplies into a trio of Spyders. Off to the side, Coop saw a quartet of M1 MOUNTs in charging racks. They had to be right off the factory line because they didn’t have a scratch on them. Even the sand from the desert planet hadn’t had time to settle on their metallic shells.

<Fuck,> Coop grumbled. <They couldn’t just walk my suit over from the training depot?>

Instead of doing an inspection, change of hand receipts, and all the other administrative hoopla; it seemed the base brass were just going to give him a new suit. That was not a good thing. Despite all having the same schematics, every suit was different. They were like people, they all had their little quirks, and it took time to get to know them. Since they weren’t cutting Coop’s time with his family short for shits and giggles, that meant shit was going down. The last thing he wanted was to go into combat in an untested MOUNT.

Coop wasn’t great at first impressions to begin with, but going into a first encounter with a head full of steam and an ass full of sweat wasn’t going to help things. He found the guy yelling the loudest. In his experience, that was usually the NCOIC.

“Master sergeant,” he practically growled as he came to stand behind a large tan man.

“Chief,” the MSG’s face was flush, and it had a lot to do with the baby-faced kid running crates up into the Spyder.

“Come on, Sergeant. Why does it matter so much?” the kid had a whiney voice, which immediately made Coop wince.

“Because, dumbass, if we land in a hot drop zone, the first thing out of the Spyder doesn’t need to be your fuckin’ cheese tortellini. We need bullets and energy packs. If I have to explain this to you, I’m going to send you back to school and have you take the training all over again.”

<Please don’t,> Coop groaned. Whoever the PVT was, he hadn’t been in Coop’s class; but the idea of more training iterations with that voice was going to make him look for a landmine to step on.

“What’s the situation?” he asked instead of fantasizing.

“It’s your usual clusterfuck, Chief.” Coop was starting to like this MSG. “I don’t know about you, but I just got the call a few hours ago, hauled ass here, and found the civvies loading up. From the looks of it, we’re just a four-man squad. You’re OIC, I’m NCOIC, and we’ve got a SGT around here somewhere and PVT Shit-For-Brains. Orders say we need to be loaded up and in the air by 1700.”

Coop checked his IOR. They had less than an hour to get everything onboard and in the air. That was a tall order with what he saw. The suits’ cradles were even packed yet.

“Any idea where we’re going?” Coop probably should have read his set of orders more carefully, and it probably wasn’t making the best impression with the MSG, but he really didn’t give a shit right now.

“Says, Pride of Summer is picking us up, and we’re hitching a ride. Something about a dust up on some alpha-numeric. I guess we’ll be dropping to evict some people, or we’ll just sit on our ass if they talk it out.”

Coop nodded, and devised a plan. It was easier to act like you knew what the hell you were doing if you had people working. “Have the civvies handle all the rest of this shit,” it looked like they were loading enough supplies for a month of sustained combat operations. “Have our people back load the cradles, and let’s get the suits onboard. If we need to make our time hack, I can live without my meatball sub. MOUNTs and class five first, everything else second.”

“Roger that, Chief,” the MSG nodded and went off to yell at everyone.

Coop approached the MOUNT that his IOR identified as his. <Okay, handsome, let’s get this show on the road.>  

***

Benjamin Gold

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

Ben got overconfident. He had too much faith in the Confederation’s superior technology. He forgot that the Commonwealth fleet had been the big dogs for a long time, and there was a reason for that. In short, he let the skipper of Red Tides sucker him.

Another wave of missiles bore down on A1, and Ben relied on the same tactics that had been working as his ship closed the range to a little under two million kilometers. So far, his point defense or bow shields had defended the ship perfectly. The destroyer didn’t even have a scratch. Of course, neither did the enemy.

In a heartbeat, that all changed.

New protocols had been written into the missiles of the last wave. That was impressive. Whoever was in EW over on Red Tides knew their shit. Instead of trying to evade the point defense, and being herded toward the powerful bow shield, the new programming instructed the Commonwealth’s missiles to drive through the deadly spray of lasers.

Ben only had a couple of seconds to react.

“Increase port and starboard . . .” was as far as he got.

If the ship had still been wireless, he could have reconfigured in a heartbeat, but EW protocols were in place. The Commonwealth had already tried one cyberattack, and it had failed. In response, everything was done through hardwired terminals. That was the protocol. Ben knew it, Red Tides skipper knew it, and the other captain used it against Ben.

About twice as many bomb-pumped lasers detonated as in any previous strike, and only a handful wasted their discharge against the overpowered front shield. Dozens of blasts struck at A1’s flanks. The ship bucked under Ben’s feet, and if he wasn’t strapped in, he would have been tossed like yesterday’s leftovers.

“Breach!” Comms yelled, as damage reports started to stream across the holo-tank. “Multiple breaches on Decks one and two, section thirteen through fifteen.

A schematic of A1 appeared in Ben’s mind with the damaged section highlighted. His fingers flew across his command terminal, and he brought up any footage he could of the affected area. Only a few were still operational, and they revealed the carnage. Everyone was at battle stations, but one of the blasts had torn through one of the starboard energy cannons. What was left of the gun crew looked like hunks of black welded to the floor.

<Six KIA,> Ben tried not to let the crew see how much that devastated him. He’d never lost a person under his command. He’d lost infantry assigned to him that went ashore, but never a member of his naval crew.

It was a brutal lesson of command no academy could ever prepare you for, and worst of all, Ben didn’t have time to dwell.

“Tactical?” he looked at the women who helped fight the ship.

“We’re analyzing, sir,” her face was a neutral mask, but he could see the anger in her eyes. “They won’t pull tat one over on us again.”

“Good,” he watched the range finder tick close to a million klicks.

“Power up cannons one through four,” he ordered, and a flurry of ready messages came his way from the various gun crews. “I want to make the Collies dance. Start bracketing them. Guns, hit them with a double volley within the brackets. Let’s put them on the defensive until we can get a little closer.”

Twenty seconds later, A1 vibrated as missiles launched, and the lighting dimmed as the energy cannons unleashed their fury. At a million klicks, it still took three seconds for those beams to cross the abyss, which was plenty of time to manuever. Firing four at once, increased those odds, but likely wouldn’t get through the Collie’s shields at this distance. What it did was put pressure on them and make them start playing defense; especially when eight missiles sped toward them. They had to switch to countermissiles, and that gave Ben some breathing room.

“Hit!” tactical screamed with a savageness that surprised Ben. “One of our missiles got through.”

Compared to what Ben had seen so far, his missiles were weaker and had a shorter range than the Collies; but their shields weren’t as good.

“I’ve got engine fluctuation,” someone else yelled, and Ben saw his opportunity.

“All energy cannons, fire at will. Hit’em and hit’em hard. Now . . . now . . . now!” he yelled, and the lights practically went out as all non-essential power was rerouted to the thirteen operational cannons. At eight hundred thousand klicks, it still took time, but without the ability to maneuver, Red Tide was fucked.

It still took several minutes. The Commonwealth destroyer fired their maneuvering thrusters to dance around, but it only did them so much good. A1’s gunners were green, but their training paid off. Soon, sensor readings showed multiple hits striking Red Tides.

“We’re kicking the shit out of them,” tactical grinned, as a flash showed they’d finally hit something critical.

Red Tides didn’t have a course now. They were spinning around in space. “Cease fire,” Coop ordered.

Tactical looked at him like he’d grown a second head, but she followed his order. He wasn’t about to blow a hamstrung ship, with a few hundred souls on board, into space dust. It was bad enough that they’d duked it out. It would be even worse if he executed them.

“Hail Red Tides and inform them that if they surrender under standard protocols, I will provide search and rescue,” he ordered into the jubilation flooding through his crew.

They’d been in their first fight, and come out on top. There was no better feeling in the galaxy, but this wasn’t over. The Commonwealth and Confederation had started shooting at each other, and that wouldn’t lead to anything good.

“Comms, make sure HQ knows the pile of shit we’re in over here.” The last thing Ben wanted was a Commonwealth battleship showing up and stomping on his destroyer like a bug.

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