Two Worlds – Chapter 349

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space



Coop listened to the grunts and huffs of an entire squad breaking cover and rushing forward. They were instantly met by the sound of incoming and outgoing fire. Theoretically, the other squad in that sector should be keep the enemy’s head down; but this was modern warfare. Both sides had individual and squad-level shields, so these forward rushes were done on a whim and a prayer that you didn’t end up shit out of luck. This was where all the preventative maintenance checks and services soldiers were supposed to do on their gear, and constantly whined about, paid off. At least for most of them.

There was a miniature flash as a personal shield failed. For whatever reason, maybe the terrain or spacing to keep away from teammates, some private fresh out of basic had wandered outside the squad shield’s radius. There was a grunt as the PVT went down, followed by a moment for the pain to get through the adrenaline, and then the screaming started.

“Shit,” Coop mumbled as the Commonwealth’s advance in that sector faltered. Naturally, PVT Dumbass’s friends wanted to help him. “Man down! Medic,” Coop called over the command net, and tagged the position.

“Mortars!” someone yelled.

“Oh, come on!” Coop groaned. He’d taken his attention off watching the sky for one second to help a fallen soldier, and the enemy commander took the moment to bring the iron rain.

Thankfully, AIs didn’t care what happened to stupid privates, unless it was part of their programming. They didn’t take their eye off the ball. They didn’t take coffee breaks, and they didn’t need to take a piss at the most inopportune time. Coop’s MOUNT’s AI spun up the swatters, and waited until the best moment to open fire.

Only two shells came screaming in. Every time the mortars fired, the SGT, and the aircraft circling high above, got a better idea where the Confeds were hiding them. The drop in offensive firepower was a surefire way to know Coop and company were gradually taking them out.

<Not fast enough,> he was nearly dry on swatter rounds; and while he could technically use the 6mm anti-personal cannon, it really wasn’t meant to knock down incoming rounds. Plus, he might need that shit soon.

He’d have to switch with the SGT soon, but the mission would stay the same. The two armored cavalry soldiers were on overwatch and indirect fire missions. The LT leading the attack would tell them when and where he wanted the as he advanced his squads under fire. It was a rough business, and the PVT wasn’t the first person to go down.

Coop had yet to see the Confed soldiers, except for muzzle flashes, but a quick look at casualties told him they had to be better armored and equipped than the Commonwealth grunts. So far, they had three more KIA, and twice that WIA on the charge alone; and the enemy commander had rigged up the defense as best he could.

From what Coop would tell, they’d been digging defensive trenchworks since Summer popped into the system. Since the outpost’s entire purpose on this random planet was to look for precious metals and other natural resources that would rake in the cash for the corporate overlords, there was bound to be heavy excavation equipment.

<Don’t you just fucking hate it when the enemy is competent,> Coop thought as another grunt’s health icon went yellow.

Rows of trenches were laid out on the slight incline up the enemy camp. Since no soldiers had jumped up from those lines to retreat, there must be underground tunnels connecting the lines. So far, Coop counted half a dozen lines, and in each case, due to the terrain and enemy ingenuity, the only way for the Commonwealth squads to take this hill was to fight up to the lines one by one. Two of the trenches had fallen, but there was at least fifty meters between each trench. That was knife fighting range for modern infantry combat, and both sides were getting the equivalent of shanked in the shower.

Half the fucking fight was shields just blazing away like two walls in front of each side as they poured rounds into each other. It was madness, but Coop would be lying if he didn’t love it.

“Ballboy, this is Six,” the LT radioed. “Give me a missile volley at . . .” he sent the coordinates. The guy could have let the AI transmit the data while he coordinated, but Coop had to respect him doing it the old-fashioned way. Letting machines run everything was just lazy; especially when there was basically an overstrength company on the fields of battle between both sides. If thousands of guys and gals were trying to kill each other, Coop understood not hearing personally from the commander. So far, this LT was all right; considering everything he’d had to deal with on a seemingly simple mission.

“On the way, sir,” he set the AI to the task, and quickly checked the targeting data. A countdown went out as the M1 armor shifted to reveal the mini-missiles that he was about to shove down the Confed’s throat.

Their sensors were good enough to decipher the targeting locks. Coop’s position came under heavy fire from everything the Confed’s had; but it wasn’t enough. Heavy machine guns were good against advancing infantry; not armored cavalry. He popped up as his shields rearranged to let the missiles out while not making him too vulnerable. To the Confed’s credit, a heard a few pings of heavy rounds hit the armor, but they just scratched the paint.

There was a roar as the missiles left, and a second later a boom, followed quickly by a second boom. The targeting package was designed to deal with their defensives. The slight staggering of the missiles was necessary to take down the shields in the first wave, so the second wave could get in and do the real damage.

Gouts of flame and debris reached for the sky as the second wave detonated. In the heart of the tired trench, just as the squads pressing the front surged forward. It was solid coordination by the LT. Take down their shields, rattle their cage, and then shove grunts down their throat to finish the job. Even though the enemy commander knew what was going to happen, he wasn’t able to stop it. His guns weren’t big enough, he didn’t have enough people, and if anyone exposed themselves too far from the enemy camp; the Spyders circling above, or the MOUNTs in overwatch ended them.

Still, he had a few moves up his sleeve. Commonwealth grunts overran the position, and brought the fight hand-to-hand for the first time. Coop toggled to a feed on TACCOM.

<Holy shit,> he gulped as Commonwealth soldiers met Confederation marines for the first time.

It didn’t go well for the Commonwealth. The Confed’s armor was bigger and better. Their weapons were stronger, and their exoskeleton’s pseudo-muscles were capable of crushing the grunts. Still, the grunts were no cowards. They gave the marines everything they had. Focused fire from every rifle, grenades, and the kitchen sink went flying at the Confeds.

Five more KIAs were recorded before the last marine went down or withdrew. A few were forced to go over the top and run for the next trench. The SGT’s new-gen accelerator barked, and they exploded in a cloud of gore. Every Confed marine might be a wannabe HI trooper, which sucked ass for the Commonwealth overall – the whole quality over quantity thing – but they were still no match for a MOUNT.

Then, when the grunts were celebrating their hard-won victory with a second of rest, the enemy commander detonated the mines buried under their feet. It made Coop’s missile explosion look like a bottle rocket going off.

<Fuck ,> every icon in the trench went black, and suddenly, Coop wasn’t sure their superior numbers would carry the day. <Which means . . .>

“Chief,” the LT’s voice was tight. Coop didn’t blame him; he’d be pissed if he saw a chunk of his men literally get blown to kingdom come. “You or the SGT get in there.”

“Roger, sir,” Coop’s voice was calm and cold.

He looked over the SGT, and the man held out his fist. Coop did the same.

“Rock, paper, scissors, shoot.”

Coop lost, so he had to sit there while the SGT went to kick some ass.



Two Worlds – Chapter 348

CWS Pride of Summer

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Hard to port . . . reroute power to starboard shields . . . roll us twenty degrees,” Derrick Berg gave as orders as fast as he could.

The holo-tank in front of him was an endless blur of information. There was no way a human being could keep track of it all, but that’s where AIs came in. Silicon brains filtered, parsed, divided, extracted, and prioritized the information that the ship’s captain needed to know. Then, sent it to his IOR for the bio-mechanical, alien device to do another thorough check of the information based on the captain’s preferences and subroutines. All of that happened faster than the speed of thought. Most people thought the new weapons, shields, and tactics thrust upon mankind by aliens were what made combat change. In fact, it was the information, data; knowledge is power, and Berg had the utmost power of an entire battleship at his fingertips.

<And it still might not be enough,> he grit his teeth and ignored the building migraine. He’d sent for a medic, but they were a little busy right now.

The port turn, and roll made it so the next wave of lasers deflected off a stronger section of shield and hull; but, as this battle was rapidly showing the new captain, just being the biggest ship on the block wasn’t enough.

While he took the combined power of all the battlecruisers’ lasers on the chin, the destroyers snuck up and shot him in the ass. He’d essentially put his back against the wall, the wall being the planet this fight was all about; but you couldn’t actually put a ship’s back against the wall unless you put it down in the atmosphere. Still, he was doing the best he could.

The best still allowed all three destroyers to put all of their beam weapons into a spot roughly the size of an air-car; where the shields had been weakened by the battlecruisers’ previous attack, and power had been diverted away from to stop more powerful beams.

It was abundantly clear to Berg that the Commonwealth big wigs had been seriously underestimating the new Confederation’s naval leadership. It was the opinion of the admirals on New Washington, that the fledgling rogue systems didn’t have a solid naval foundation. They’d lured away some rear admirals, but they didn’t have the faintest idea how to conduct a fleet campaign or a large-scale battle plan. If there was ever a serious dust up, the admirals had informed the PM that while the Commonwealth might take losses, they would come out victorious.

Now, Derrick wasn’t so sure. Sure, he was the great white shark in this pool, but the Confed’s had a bunch of barracudas slowly bleeding him to death. The damage from the destroyers wasn’t severe, but it punched through the hole, destroyed an energy mount, its crew, and the damage control team waiting for orders in the section beyond it. Ten spacers dead, and before the battleship could return fire, the destroyers used their greater speed to engage evasive maneuvers that would look more at home on Spyders than warships.

All of this while Berg had to keep his eyes on the battlecruisers. It might take all the destroyers’ might to punch through his shields and armor, but the cruisers could do serious damage if he ignored them.

<I’m going to kill the spooks,> Berg resisted the urge to find something and break it as more data flooded his mind, and he made adjustments to his corrections to keep the battlecruisers off his heels. The battlecruisers reacted to his reaction, and the destroyers pivoted to get another shot at the most vulnerable portions of his ship.

That was another thing the brass had gotten wrong. They said Confed ships were not up to Commonwealth standards. Anyone who said that had hopped aboard the propaganda train and was riding it straight to hell. The Confed warships were tough, fast, and if Berg was a betting man, he’d say they had better AIs onboard. That way, they were able to coordinate the small task force against Summer was downright impressive.

“Sir,” the tactical officer at the center of a good chunk of this madness was a good man.

Berg had served with him before, and the man was not prone to overaction; nor was he a coward. All of that made the look on the man’s face that much more frustrating for Summer’s captain.

“Sir, we have to move. Holding position over the planet is killing us. We need maneuverability, we need to control the course of the battle. By sitting here, we’re letting the enemy dictate terms,” he didn’t plead, but his tone of voice was all Berg needed to hear to know the man was worried.

With a sigh, Derrick inputted the data into simulation software that was constantly running in the background and wargaming the outcome of this battle. Summer had started with a sixty-forty advantage. As the battleship took more and more damage, those odds had fallen to a little below fifty percent. With the orders to move the battle away from the planet entered, Summer’s odd jumped up closer to seventy percent.

<A mobile target is always a more difficult target,> Derrick sighed, and spared a moment to think of the troops on the ground.

He would be leaving them undefended. If those battlecruisers had air assets, then all he’d bring back to Alamo were a bunch of body bags; one of which could be his sister’s fiancé. He might not like Coop, but he wasn’t going to take away his niece’s father.

<Even if all she does is shit, eat, and sleep,> the baby had been infuriating as hell to be around, but now that he was gone, he missed the little monster.

“Deploy our air assets to the surface. Cover them as best we can, and they prepare to break orbit. Let’s beat down these traitors and then come back and get our boys.”

“Yes, sir,” the tactical officer grinned, and relayed the new orders.

Not that Derrick got to just sit around with his thumb up his ass. He still had a ship to fight, and now, more than ever, he needed to keep his head in the game.


Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

Coop and the SGT provided overwatch while the rest of the assault force got their shit together. Coop didn’t look down on the grunts who’d lived through the ambush. He had an immense amount of respect for them. It took a giant set of balls, or ovaries, to trudge into combat without tons of battle armor encircling your very squishy body.

There was a reason most of the infantry grunts were made up of young people. You needed a certain sense of immortality to do that job. Coop had it once upon a time, but life made him grow up. Now, you couldn’t pay him enough to march around in nothing but scales against the type of firepower in play.

“Chief,” the SGT’s voice snapped him out of his reverie just before he felt the buzz of his swatters going off.

It wasn’t a serious offensive like when the ambush was sprung. This was harassing fire at best, but it kept him and the SGT occupied.

“Hold fire,” Coop ordered. He’d had the SGT returning fire, but the lack of effect made it clear the enemy mortar teams were mobile and not near the enemy stronghold.

That would have to change soon. Coop gave it two hours before they were in position to get the vanguard’s eyes on the enemy camp. Then, they’d have a better idea what they were up against. It would also limit the enemy commander’s options.

“Chief,” this time it wasn’t the SGT, it was the LT.

“Yes, sir,” he relayed respectfully. The LT had his head screwed on right, but taking all those losses, it had to have shaken kid’s confidence. It didn’t matter to Coop that the “kid” was his age.

“I just got a FRAGO from Summer. Good news is that we have air assets inbound.”

Coop didn’t bother to smother his grin. If they had air assets inbound, then they could just sit back and watch the Spyders blow the enemy up in their foxholes. Their job was done.

“Bad news is that Summer is pulling out.”

<What the fuck. Why didn’t you lead with that?> Coop bit his tongue.

“Our orders are unchanged, Chief. We’re going to assault the position. Air will watch our back, but we want prisoners,” the LT ordered.

It wasn’t too hard to follow the officer’s train of thought. If Summer left, and didn’t come back, the only thing standing between the grunts and an orbital bombardment was Confed survivors. Coop hoped the Commonwealth and Confederation weren’t at the just-blow-the-shit-out-of-each other point in their relationship. He might not be the biggest fan of diplomacy; after all, his job was to blow shit up. Still, he knew people might live if the higher ups came to an arrangement.

<And I walk away from this and back to Eve and Emily. That’s a win-win in my book.>

“Yes, sir,” Coop acknowledge receipt and studied the FRAGO and the slight changes to their assault plan.

“Let’s go, sergeant,” he waved the other MOUNT pilot forward a short time later. “Let’s go take this hill.”



Two Worlds – Chapter 347

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

{S . . . S . . . Sitrep,} static crackled over Coop’s IOR.

It’s a weird sensation having static in your brain; like someone hit one too many times in the head. People would joke Coop didn’t have the proper equipment to be dazed and confused like this; but all kidding aside, he was in some deep shit.

The mountain had just come down on the seven squads moving in on the enemy’s position. It had hit them fast, hard, and was unexpected. Both human and AI’s had failed to see the Confed’s plan before they sprung it, and that wasn’t a good sign. Competent enemies had a better chance of making Coop dead, and he didn’t like that.

Thankfully, he was the baddest motherfucker on this planet, and that wasn’t going to happen to him. <I’ve got some people to get home to.>

With a groan of metal and will, Coop pushed. Rocks shifted, dust poofed, and his M1 MOUNT rose above the chaos. With a mental command, nanites sprang out to take inventory, and he ran diagnostics. It was better than he expected. The directional shields had held under the tons of rocks the mountain dumped on his head. Still, the nanites had plenty of work to do. There was more than enough dust and pebbles that got through the panes of force. The nanites swarmed the sensors, looking for damage, and mostly cleaning debris that was blocking them from their full capabilities.

And not a moment too soon . . . “Incoming!” someone yelled.

His swatter spun up and started pumping out rounds as the Confeds tried to take advantage of the trap they’d sprung. Just so it didn’t happen again, Coop extended the parameters of his swatters’ range. When Confed rounds tried to duplicate their trick, his guns brought those shells down. Of course, there was a downside. The farther the extended range, the more ammunition he had to expend to bring down rounds that wouldn’t directly hurt the grunts.

The competent Confed commander knew this, and he was saturating the area; hoping to deplete Coop’s ammo and cripple the Commonwealth’s initiative. Three squads against seven was much better odds if you have those seven squads buried alive.

“Sergeant, get your ass up here,” he sent over the channel reserved for the MOUNTs. He didn’t care the LT wanted the other MOUNT as a mobile reserve. “And maybe send something their way to keep their heads down.”

A chirp was the only response Coop got. The loud whumf of heavy artillery going downrange was music to his ears. Coop counted five rounds heading toward the enemy position when the mortar fire cut off.

“We need to move!” the LT’s voice wasn’t as panicked as it could be, but it was definitely rattled. Nearly getting buried alive would do that to a man.

<No shit,> Coop kept the thought to himself.

“We’ll cover you,” he sent back, and then linked up with the SGT’s fire support net.

Data populated his vision; everything a man would need to rain down fire on an enemy position kilometers away.  He was about to launch his own shell to keep the Confeds occupied, when a loud crack echoed through the peaks. Behind him, a shield sparked, failed, and a man went down.

“Sniper!” more people shouted.

<Fuck, this guy is good,> a flicker of professional respect was all Coop had time to give the enemy commander before more mortar started to scream in.

The Confed had them trapped in a kill zone, too far to maximize the use of their superior numbers, and limiting the Commonwealth return fire to a pair of MOUNTs. The grunts couldn’t move without exposing themselves to sniper fire, and whatever the snipers were packing, it was strong enough to make it through the squad shield. The only ones who stood a change on unfucking this clusterfuck were Coop and the SGT. Since the SGT was busy trying to kill the enemy, and taking over swatter duties; Coop had to find the snipers and kill them before the Confed commander sent in the finishing blow.

At least, that’s what Coop would do. If he could fix the enemy in position long enough, and maneuver a solid force into a superior fighting position, it wouldn’t matter if there were a thousand men assaulting the Confeds. They could hold the mountain pass and kill a lot of Commonwealth soldiers.

<Where are you?> he grit his teeth as his AI ran back azimuths, and his sensors scanned for the enemy.

Whoever the snipers were, they were damned good, or they had some damned good cammo-netting. He couldn’t see shit until . . . he got lucky and spotted a fresh shot. It cost the life of soldier, but he made it count.

“Enough of this shit,” he cursed, raised his forearm and aimed.

The next-gen magnetic accelerator on his forearm was underpowered compared to the old MOUNT, but in this case, that was a good thing. There was a high-pitched whine as it powered up. Maybe the sniper knew he’d been spotted, because there was sudden movement as they ran like hell. The problem was, you couldn’t run from what was basically the fist of god.

He remembered to brace, because you only needed to learn that lesson once, but the back blast knocked the nearest squad on their ass. Whoever the sniper was, it would take a DNA analyzer to figure out. The accelerator’s round smashed into the mountain, followed by a thunderclap, and a small earthquake. Even Coop had trouble keeping his feet.

“On the right!” the LT yelled as rocks tumbled back down toward the men.

Coop wasn’t a complete moron. He’d hit the mountain at the best angle he could, so he didn’t bury the grunts under another avalanche of stone. It was good, not perfect, but it didn’t take long to get those affected back on their feet.

That was around the time the mortars stopped coming in, and if the Confed commander had been moving a force in, his intelligence made him think twice, as Coop quickly ascended the slope to take the high ground. The SGT followed behind him, and together they made sure the Commonwealth soldiers had enough time to get their feet under them, and get back moving.

<A simple op my ass,> Coop grumbled as they trudged forward. With his chief’s access, he saw several black health icons.

Their were already 4 KIA, 8 WIA, and Coop was sure Captain Berg would somehow find a way to blame him for everything.  


Benjamin Gold

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

AI had to take the long way to join the Confed task force that had jumped into the system. In a perfect universe, the brass back on Aurum would have dispatched a couple of battleships, and escort vessels, to beat back the Collies disregard for intergalactic norms. So, of course, that isn’t what happened. Still, as A1 drifted into the rear of the advancing formation, it could be a lot worse.

“Three battlecruisers, two destroyers, and us,” tactical stated for the tenth time.

Like most of the Confederation’s ships, they were either from the task forces that broke off from the Commonwealth fleet, or brand new. The force sent to help was a mixed bag. All the destroyers were new builds to the same specifications as A1; as was one of the battlecruisers. The other two were older models that had been around for a few decades, but had spent serious time in the yards to upgrade them.

That was going to make the difference between a fair fight and getting their ass kicked. Despite six-to-one odds, the battleship was still a threat.

“Sir, we’ve got a request for you to join the other captains,” the communications officer relayed.

“I’ll take it in my quarters,” Ben replied, and marched off the bridge.

This was going to be a war room, and disagreements on tactics and strategy among the senior officers was something the rest of the crew shouldn’t see. Ben logged in with his IOR and used the QE tech built into all Confed ships to join an encrypted meeting with the other five men in charge of thousands of lives.

<This can go one of two ways,> Ben thought, <too many chefs in the kitchen, or someone with their shit squared away.> the former would increase the likelihood of defeat, the latter, victory.

Two minutes into the briefing, Ben breathed a sigh of relief. The Commodore in charge of the ships was a no-nonsense woman who’d captained a battleship in the Commonwealth fleet before siding with the Confederation. She’d also spent a lot of time war-gamming a fight with the Collies. Despite thinking about a fight, she didn’t seem urgent to get in one. She’d sent communication requests to the Collies and offered to let them withdraw with their honor still intact. So far, no response.

She also had a battleplan. The Confed forces would split into two groups; one pair of battlecruisers, and the remaining battlecruiser and destroyers would take different approach vectors and assault the battleship simultaneously. This would limit their ability to manipulate their shields while allowing a depth of defense to the Confed forces. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was better than anything Ben had come up with.

This wasn’t A1’s brawl with Red Tides. The Confed forces would assault the flanks, try to harry the larger Commonwealth warship like a pod of dolphins taking on a much large shark. People would still die on both sides, and even if they emerged victorious, they still had to deal with the Collie troops that were undoubtedly trying to dig out the marines Ben had left behind. All in all, this could go either way, and there was nothing a skipper hated more than a fair fight.



Two Worlds – Chapter 346

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

They didn’t take any fire on the way down, which is always a pleasant way to start off the operation. Coop, the SGT, and a company of grunts set down about five klicks from what their sensors told them was the main enemy installation on the planet. They put some pretty serious terrain features between them and the enemy because five clicks was spitting distance for artillery.

Coop and the SGT were the last to arrive, and the LT in charge of the company practically had a forward operating base up and running. PVTs and PFC were scurrying around like worker ants to remove the extra ammunition and supplies from the Spyder as Coop lumbered down the rear ramp and scanned the area.

A ring of swatters and entrenchments encircled the wide perimeter that contained the temporary LZ. The Spyders wouldn’t stay on the ground for long, but right now there didn’t seem to be any threat. He spotted two dots in the sky running overwatch and gathering intelligence.

<Drones are already up,> he was mildly impressed with what the LT had been able to pull off while Coop made the flight down.

“Chief,” the young officer in question came marching up. He didn’t even come up to the big MOUNTs waist. “Let’s talk.”

Coop nodded his big metal helm and followed the LT to a portable node that had been established under some cammo-netting. Coop was forced to squat down like a baseball catcher to even see inside. Projecting out of the node was a 3D rendering of the space between the camp and enemy outpost. It looked like it was getting real-time data streamed to it, but even then, Coop wasn’t seeing much. Whoever the enemy commander was, he wasn’t an idiot.

<I hate it when that happens,> Coop would give his left nut to fight against an incompetent, prideful asshole.

“Our best estimate is that we’re going to be facing off against a few squads at the most. They’ll be entrenched here . . . here . . . and here,” he pointed out likely positions. “I’m expecting heavy weapons likely here and here,” two spots were highlighted in an angry red color. “Those are going to be your job.”

Coop figured as much. The Commonwealth might have the numerical advantage, and more firepower if the Confed’s didn’t have MOUNTs, but the enemy was using the terrain wisely. The outpost was only a few thousand square feet, but it was on a plateau in a mountain range. The LT had set up camp on the nearest plateau, but it was going to be a hell of a trip to get there. Ideally, some sort of air assault would be better, but that would put lives at risk. A Spyder on approach was a juicy target, even with recent upgrades. The assault shuttles’ shielding wasn’t great compared to something a ship could pull off, and its greatest asset was still its maneuverability. A few good hits could bring it, and every soul on board, crashing into a mountainside.

Since Captain Berg was a stickler for proper resource allocation, and didn’t want any risk involved in the operation, all the grunts were going to hump it a couple klicks through the mountains to assault the enemy stronghold. It sounded something from a fantasy movie, not twenty-fifth century combat.

<Glad I’ve got a MOUNT.> It was going to royally suck for the grunts. 

The LT went over the proposed routes, a few alternatives they could divert to if the enemy came out to fight beforehand, which Coop fully expected. He went over the order of march. Coop would be with his lead squad, not on point, but close enough to help deal with anything that popped up, and the SGT would be in the rear as a reserve or fire support; whatever the LT wanted. All in all, it was a solid plan. In Coop’s experience, good plans stood a better chance of not going to shit when the bullets started to fly; but it was still a coin toss.

“We’re setting out in thirty, so do any last diagnostics or maintenance you need,” the LT informed before dismissing him.

He sent a brief message to the SGT with all the important bits, and went to focus on his loadout. This looked like it was going to be an infantry-on-infantry scenario. The enemy didn’t have any air assets, and the heavy weapons described were pretty typical. Maybe there would be some mortars they’d fire to harass the Commonwealth on their march, but other than that it looked like this was going to be a simple brawl.

Coop made sure he had plenty of 6mm ammo. This was an operation where the dual 10mm cannons on the old MOUNT would have come in handy. His graviton cannon and magnetic accelerator were both in the green as far as diagnostics were concerned. His mini-missile loadout was full, and all the warheads were just waiting to be calibrated. Lastly, he doublechecked his cyber status. He’d done a recent download onboard Summer, but he made sure to do some final function test to make sure there weren’t any glitches that would fuck him in the middle of a firefight. All that came back good, so when the seven squads of grunts started to move out – the other three squads were staying to hold the mini-FOB as a last line of defense, and keep the Spyders secure – toward the enemy position, he was good as he was going to be.

This would be the first time fighting the new M1 MOUNTs in an actual operation. The designers were practically salivating for the data. Coop’s only hope was to live long enough to give it to them.

Bounding overwatch where you could have the enemy firing down on you from a concealed stone outcropping was nerve-wracking as hell, but over the first two kilometers no one tried to kill them. That changed about halfway to the objective.

His MOUNT identified the sonic warble of something coming at them through the atmosphere, and his swatters automatically reacted. They swiveled onto target and opened fire, then they shifted, fired again, and repeated that process over the next eight seconds.

Coop felt his heartrate increase. He caught some explosions in the sky, but he wasn’t sure how many tubes the enemy had, or how many rounds were bearing down on them. His sensors identified them as pretty standard 100mm mortar rounds. He could take a direct hit and it wouldn’t even scratch the paint, but if a pair of those detonated too close together it could cut through a grunts personal shield. In the background, he heard the officers and NCOs yelling for people to make sure they were inside the squad shields, but that wasn’t his job. He concentrated on the explosive warheads falling out of the sky to kill them.

Thirty minutes of walking, followed by fifteen seconds of pants-shitting terror, was a pretty accurate description of the life of an infantryman. As the second to last mortar exploded about two hundred feet overhead, Coop thought everything was going to be okay. Then, his swatter stopped firing.

<Fuck,> his eyes skimmed for malfunctions or damage, but there was nothing.

It took him about three seconds to figure out where he’d fucked up. Swatters were set to engage everything that was a threat to the MOUNT or what he designated. In this case, that was the seventy grunts all around him. For all the good that AI’s were, they still operated within parameters that people set, and when people fucked up . . . well . . .

There was an explosion overhead, far enough away that it wasn’t even remotely a threat to the Commonwealth soldiers . . . at least directly. Indirectly, the explosion knocked some pretty big pieces of the mountain loose, and those bits, enough to squash a man, were going to tumble right down on his head.

“Rock slide!” he yelled out over the net, and threw his bulk over the nearest gathering of soldiers.

Shields would help, but it was a crap shoot at this point. He just hoped he hadn’t killed more of his people by not truly understanding his environment.


Benjamin Gold

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

He was running . . . again. Ben didn’t let his crew see his clenched jaw as A1 put kilometers between it and the hulking behemoth that would blow them into stardust if he strayed too close. He knew it was the right thing to do, just like it had been when he’d captain Argo at Harper’s Junction.

He had momentary flashbacks to him and Aiko running for their lives, pushing the gunboat as hard as they could to avoid the enemy’s engagement envelope. They’d singed the ship’s tailpipe getting away, but they’d lived, and even better, in the end, they’d won.

<We’ll do it again,> he reminded himself. There was no way the Confederation was going to leave behind troops to hold a position if it was impossible.

Afterall, it was run by corporate fat cats, they understood profit, loss, and wouldn’t just waste resources for no reason, <Would they . . .> It was a maddening feeling not knowing.

“Tactical,” he kept the exhaustion out of his voice as much as possible. They’d been on their feet for close to a day, with a battle under their belts, and the A team needed a break.

The tactical OIC was gathered with the chief navigator, and they were working possible courses. She threw the data to his IOR, and he threw it on his personal holo-tank. There were a lot of options depending on how things played out: timeframe, emergence, strength, his officers had taken it all into consideration. He’d trained them well.

“Sir!” the comms OIC yelled, the first sign of cheer in the man’s voice since they arrived in this god-forsaken system. “Look!”

The icon for a portaling blared on the central holo-tank. There was no data yet, they were pretty far away and the new entrants to this game of galactic chess would want to make sure no one was going to shoot them in the ass before sending a hello.

Over the next thirty minutes, Ben got a good look at how things were shaping up; and his orders.

“It’s not as good as I expected, but it ain’t terrible. Let’s make it work,” he ordered his people and they went to join with the reinforcements the Confederation had promised.