Two Worlds – Chapter 358

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Hold . . . hold . . . move!” Coop yelled as he popped up and opened fire.

He’d been running around like a chicken with his head cut off, reinforcing the lines where they were weakest, and generally keeping the Commonwealth’s war effort above water. Just like every time, it felt like this was the time the dam was going to break, and they were all going to drown in a river of blood and bullets. But every other time he’d survived, and kept the grunts alive with him.

This time, he’d been crouched among the soldiers in their dragonscale armor, and was giving them another fighting chance to get out of here alive. On his command, they jumped up from the trenchworks encircling the settlement, and ran for it. Coop didn’t run, he stood and faced the tide.

His shield sparked and lit up like the surface of a pond in a thunderstorm. The flashes were so bright and continuous, he could hardly see. Not that the MOUNT needed his eyes to fight. The battle AI took over, and directed his movement like a symphony conductor.

<Missiles here . . . bullets there . . . artillery shell over yonder . . . and a next-gen magnetic accelerator round right up the center to keep them honest,> he was going through ammunition like crazy, but what else was there to do? Let all the grunts die?

Coop was a cold-hearted bastard, but even he couldn’t bring himself to do that. If there was an afterlife, he didn’t want to be a dick right at the end. That wouldn’t look good.

“Set!” the squad leader sent as the grunts got to the next set of trenches.

The Commonwealth’s perimeter was steadily collapsing. The Confed hordes were doing the same thing Coop and the Commonwealth had done when they took the place; push, push some more, make them fall back, until you had their balls in a vice and were fighting house to house. It was how these things were done. There was nothing nice about it. That’s why they called it war.

“We’ll cover you, chief,” the SGT radioed as Commonwealth weapons started to add their fire support to suppress the enemy focusing on Coop’s MOUNT.

It was much appreciated. His shields had dropped below fifty percent since he started taking the pounding.

“Moving!” Coop didn’t wait. He turned his back on the enemy and ran.

“Chief, we need you in sector two. We’re about to . . . ahhh!” the LT’s voice cut off abruptly.

“Shit, LT’s down. I say again, LT is down!” the NCOIC came over the net.

<That’s just what we need,> Coop grunted, as he angled toward sector two.

The radio call saved Coop’s life. The next-gen accelerator round came screaming in through burning atmosphere before his AI could even squawk a warning. The shockwave nearly blew him over, but he turned it into a combat roll. It would suck to look like an idiot in front of the grunts.

A person can think of the weirdest things in a life of death situation. 

Coop came out of the roll, his own weapon at one hundred percent power, and fired back toward the source of what nearly made him piss myself. Whoever the other pilot was, he had too much confidence in his MOUNT’s camouflage abilities. Why shouldn’t he? He’d got within five hundred meters of Coop without him knowing any better. The only problem, the EM spike from the monster gun was the equivalent of a “please shoot here” sign.

The armor bucked as Coop’s round flew downrange. <That’s right you son of a bitch,> he growled when there was a spark of a shield overloading, and the cammo failed.

There it was, a Gold Technologies MOUNT; in the flesh . . . sort of. All Coop knew was that it was a better armored, better armored killing machine than the knock-off he was wearing. If he wanted any chance of surviving, he had to ignore that and believe in himself. That might sound like some self-help bullshit, but it was really all he had working for him.

He also had decisions to make. He was in the open between the MOUNT and the new defensive lines. The squad currently shooting at the new arrival on the battlefield had a better chance of growing wings and flying away than defeating the enemy war machine. It was either give up this section of the perimeter, and retreat into the settlement’s structures, or fight.

That wasn’t a hard decision for Coop. He reoriented himself and charged right at the other MOUNT. Again, the pilot showed how green he was. He took a step back and hesitated. He’d likely been the biggest kid on the block until now.

<Now you get to see what it feels like to take a real punch,> Coop grinned. Unlike the Gold mech, he’d been the underdog plenty of times.

Coop let loose the last of his missiles at the enemy to buy him time to cover the distance, and recharge his accelerator. His was underpowered compared to the Gold model, but he should be able to get a second shot first . . . hopefully.

The enemy’s swatter came to life and started knocking them from the sky. That wouldn’t do, so Coop detonated the last couple prematurely. A small slice of hell appeared in between the MOUNTs, blotting out their sensors. That helped Coop, not the enemy. He took a chance, and hoped the enemy MOUNT wouldn’t fire along the same trajectory. After all, this was the perfect opportunity to reorient your angle of attack. That’s what Coop was doing, just not in the typical way.

The Gold pilot was at least not stupid enough to waste ammo firing blindly into a firestorm, but likewise, Coop didn’t have any idea where the other guy was.

<Come on luck, don’t fail me now!> he took one more leaping bound, and hit his boot thrusters. <Up, up, and away!>

He rocketed up and over the dying ball of fire, with his recharged accelerator ready to go. The surprise advantage bought him a few, critical seconds. The Gold MOUNT was sweeping back and forth, waiting for Coop to burst through the flames, so it took the enemy AI a few digital heartbeats to register him in the air, and then tell the pilot.

Coop had to give it to the other pilot, he reoriented quickly, but Coop was already pulling the trigger. The accelerator going off fucked up his flight path, but it was worth it. The heavy round smashed right into the other MOUNT’s chest plate. There was a shower of sparks as shield and metal failed, while the machine got knocked on its ass.

Despite the power behind the hit, and the damage done, the Gold MOUNT wasn’t out of the fight. Coop saw it trying to sit up as he crashed to the ground. It wasn’t a graceful landing, but there was no time to worry about that. He scrambled to his feet and charged the damaged machine.

It seemed Coop still had a little luck left in the tank. The Gold MOUNT got its accelerator aimed at him, but nothing happened. He practically heard the proverbial click as something broke down in the weapon’s firing sequence. Then, Coop was on him. Out came the blades, and the injured pilot didn’t stand a chance.

Coop lost track of what he was doing for a second. When he came back to his senses, he’d chopped off all the MOUNTs major limbs, and driven a blade repeatedly into the hearth of the machine; right where the pilot was stationed. He looked at his blade; it dripped black with vicious fluid with a slight tinge of red mixed in.

“HA!”his exhausted laugh echoed inside the armor.

<Commonwealth one, Gold zero,> he staggered back away from the destroyed MOUNT; his exhaustion translated into his own MOUNT’s movements. <Ain’t done yet,> he told himself, and turned back toward the lines.

If the LT was down, Coop was the ranking officer. That was some scary shit; scarier than going up against the superior MOUNT.

“Chief, what are your orders?” the NCOIC asked. The guy had more experience, but they were both up shit’s creek right now.

Coop hesitated. The lives of the entire garrison were now in his hands. “Hold the perimeter,” he replied. He didn’t have any better solutions, and until a good one presented itself, he’d keep going with the LT’s final orders.

He hustled back toward the settlement. Ignoring the smaller impacts of his shield as he headed back to protect his men.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 357

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Ammo. We need ammo!” the call came over the net as Coop laid down suppressive fire on a ridge. A couple Confed marines were getting uppity, so he showed them the error of their ways.

“Private . . .”

“On it chief!” the grunt working the faber was pulling double duty.

They didn’t have the men to spare to pull guys off the line to run ammo back and forth to the forward positions, and those guys were going through rounds like there was no tomorrow. Because there probably wasn’t going to be. So, not only was the PVT running the faber while Coop protected him, but he was making balls-to-the-walls runs all over the place to rearm the people who were keeping their perimeter from being overrun. There were some shitty jobs out there, but that had to be one of the shittiest.

<Guy deserves a fucking medal,> Coop grimaced as the young man started mag-locking bandoliers of ammunition to his scales. Then, he started throwing stuff over his shoulders, and took two huge crates of power packs under his arms. By the time he was ready to roll, he looked like a walking ammo dump.

“LT, we need covering fire from zero to ninety, ammo run,” Coop sent the transmission.

“Roger,” the young officer’s voice was stressed, but at least he was confident Coop wasn’t trying to stab his company in the back.

Coop had access to all the old command net functions, he just wished he didn’t. It was a massive clusterfuck, and the Commonwealth grunts were only holding on with their fingertips. With the SGT down, Coop was the only legit heavy weapon system left beside some plasma-tipped slug throwers. Whether the LT knew it or not, this fight was getting closer and closer to done.

“We’ll either die or surrender; nothing in between,” Coop knew the score, and he tried not to think about anything else. Wandering thoughts would just kill him quicker.

“Send him,” the order came back, and the PVT didn’t wait. He took off like a rabbit spooked by a gun shot.

Coop watched him go, dropping artillery on some pre-established coordinates where Confed’s liked to poke their heads up from. He was already running low on the big artillery shells, but the faber didn’t have time to churn out anything but rounds for the grunts.

<Weapons have to be getting hot,> he wondered.

In olden times, barrels used to have to be changed out on machine guns and other weapons if they were used too much. That normally wasn’t a consideration with modern guns, because the material could survive orbital re-entry, and magnetic accelerators instead of chemical explosives cut down on the rough treatment of the metal. Still, throwing so many rounds in such a short time was going to tax even modern equipment’s structural integrity. Coop was still waiting for the first call that a barrel had blown. They had a small stockpile, but when the first one hit, he expected an avalanche of requests.

There was nearly a continuous rain of fire outbound from the small settlement. A fire-team of reserves was running around like chickens with their heads cut off to reinforce the perimeter at weak points, but aside from the ammo runner, that was the only movement. Everyone else was getting small in their hole, or shooting at the enemy. There was no third option.

<Go, kid, go,> Coop urged the PVT on as he ran through an exposed part between two buildings.

He made it, rounded the corner, and . . . crack poof! There was a sound like the universe itself crying in protest, followed by a poof of red mist from the corner the kid had just turned. Half a second later, what was left of a helmeted head hit the dirt.

<Motherfucker!> Coop was really starting to like that kid.

“Sir, runner is down. I say again, runner is down,” every part of Coop’s training told him to go to the runner, but he had his orders.

If he left the faber, the enemy would take advantage and they’d be as good as dead.

“Got it. Second squad, send a member to the following rally point and grab the ammo,” the LT was on it.

“Roger,” Coop listened to the SGT’s response through the command net.

“Moving. It fifty meters to . . . ahh!” the fed cut out, and Coop toggled to medical status.

Another grunt was down; yellow, not black, so he was still alive. Judging by the readings, he wasn’t moving anywhere quick.

“Can anyone get to the ammo?” the LT yelled, his composure cracking.

“We’re pinned, sir!”

“I think I can . . . fuck . . . no I can’t.”

“Are you shitting me? I’m not getting out of my hole unless it’s to hitch a ride home.”

“Lock it up,” the NCOIC finally stepped on the chatter. “That’s a negative, sir. All forces are occupied and pinned down.”

“Chief?” the LT asked.

“I mean . . .” Coop let it hang there. Everyone knew the implications. “I can try my active cammo. Maybe they won’t see me leave my position, and I can get back before they notice.”

“I don’t care if you project a digital stripper flashing her titties to occupy their attention. I need ammo, now!” one of the SGT’s added his colorful commentary.

“I’m red.”

“Me too.”

“How about you all stop talking and bring me something to shoot!” rifle fire and the deep thud of heavy rounds impacting dirt followed the last transmission.

“Do it, Chief,” the LT gave a heavy sigh. They all knew how this would really turn out.

Coop didn’t rush right in to do it. That’s what the Confeds were looking for. He really wished they had some portable mortars. If they did, he could set them on auto-fire and convince the enemy he was still here. They’d figure out the shells were smaller, but it would buy him a minute. That’s all he needed. He repositioned, using the building as cover to obscure activating his cammo.

He’d told the engineers who built this bucket of bolts that the camouflage wasn’t good. He told them it was shit compared to the old MOUNTs. It didn’t translate motion well on this new model. There wasn’t enough power going to them, or the paint wasn’t polymorphic enough. He wasn’t an engineer; he didn’t know the terminology. All he knew was, in training, he could always tell when a MOUNT was on the move.

“Stupid, penny pinchers,” he grumbled as he activated the cammo, gave it a second, and moved to emerge from a different position. That would keep him from getting a next-gen slug in the brain. He was conscious the enemy MOUNTs were still out there, biding their time, and looking for a good opportunity to punch his clock.

He stayed low and sprinted out of cover. The ammo wasn’t that far, and he covered the space in a few seconds. He skidded around a turn between the buildings, full-on grabbed the PVT’s body with all the ammo still strapped to him, and threw up debris on his pivot. He didn’t run the whole way to the front lines. He got with about twenty meters, dug his heels in, and underhanded the body.

It was borderline desecrating a corpse, but no one gave a shit. They just wanted the ammo. It didn’t matter how it arrived. With the PVT’s body airborne, Coop pushed his actuators to the limit. He took the turn tight enough his clipped the nearest building. It slowed him down a half second, but the building got the raw end of that deal.

<Holy shit, this is going to work,> he closed in on the faber that was still spitting full magazines of ammo into a nearby crate.

He was only ten meters away when the round hit the Commonwealth’s most valuable piece of equipment on the battlefield. The shield didn’t do shit to stop the attack. It was a next-gen slug. Coop had used the same rounds to kill alien bosses back on earth, and their shielding was a hell of a lot better than the squad-level gear they were operating with.

The machine went up into a million pieces, and the explosion of the round passing through the equipment, and into the ground, put Coop on his ass. Not for too long. He crab-walked behind cover, and tried to get a back azimuth on where the round had come from. The data was sketchy, but he sent a parting gift anyway.

“Sir,” he gulped. “The faber is gone. Without my extra shielding it didn’t stand a . . .”

“I know,” the LT sounded very tired all of a sudden. “Weapons free, chief. Pick your targets, and act as a mobile reserve.”

The former reserve was already fully committed, and judging by the increase in fire, it wasn’t going to be moving anytime soon. The Confeds knew the faber was down, and were pushing to seize the initiative. They might just take it.

Coop scoped out the battlefield, looking for opportunity, when something caught his attention. “Mounts at ten o’clock high, coming down the mountainside!” he screamed, and sprinted off in that direction.

He counted at least two, but that was enough to cut their lines like it was a ticker-tape parade. If that happened, they were fucked. The fat lady would sing, and they’d be six feet under.

<These fuckers will know they’ve been in a fight,> Coop ran to meet them head on. It was the only thing he could think of to do.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 356

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Steady . . . Steady . . .” the LT’s voice ordered over the comms.

Coop knew the you officer was trying to be strong, reassuring, and lead from the front. It didn’t quite come off like that, but it was worth the try. After all, they were facing ten-to-one odds. The enemy was better equipped, and hadn’t been in a knock down brawl only a few hours ago.

Coop tried no to let the weariness get to him, but it was tough. There was only so many times your adrenals could kick in before you just needed to lay down and take a nap. <Good thing this thing has a portable pharmacy.>

His AI was set to disperse the welcome cocktail if it sensed he needed it, but now wasn’t the time. “Anything?” he pinged the SGT.

“They’re knocking our scouts down before we can even get close,” the SGT replied.

The Confeds weren’t the only ones with drones, and the LT had commissioned the faber to build a few scouting versions. They took less time and resources without having to build weapons, but they’d still only gotten a half dozen set and off by the time the Confeds hit the ground. Their FOB was far enough away, and with a mountain between them, that Coop couldn’t reliably hit them with indirect fire. Plus, with the LT still keeping him out of the decision-making loop, things were getting tough. Add to that the fact there were legit MOUNTs on the ground, not the retarded step children versions Coop was piloting, and this whole thing was a shit ball rolling down hill and gaining steam.

<A lot of hurry up and wait,> Coop kept his position at the faber, as ordered. It was too valuable a resource to leave unguarded; especially after the drone attack.

“Movement in sector 7!” a panicked PVT yelled.

“Damnit, Kinski, give us distance, direction, and description,” the NCOIC scolded him over the open channel.

Coop chuckled. Sometimes it was good to see an NCO be an NCO, even if they were hip deep in shit.

“Yeah, um . . . sorry. I’ve got approximately eight Confeds, six hundred meters, at two hundred and fifty degrees, sergeant,” he replied properly.

<Just eight,> Coop still had a chief’s codes, so he could peek into the PVT’s head. He toggled to the PVT’s video stream and rewound.

Sure enough, there were eight Confed troopers in their half-HI armor getup, working their way around the perimeter. They were making themselves a juicy target, even with their heavier shielding, and the portable generator one guy was carrying on his back. The LT was already diverting forces to deal with the first enemy contact, but Coop got a bad feeling.

He pulled up his topographical map and overlaid it with the footage of what he was seeing. It didn’t make sense. Forty meters back there was a draw that would have allowed the Confed troops to move into position without being seen. Either the SGT leading the Confeds didn’t know his head from his ass, or this was meant to draw the LT’s attention.

Coop immediately set his sensors to scan the opposite side of the perimeter. “Sir, this feels like a feint. We should . . .”

“Keep this channel clear, chief,” the LT but in and shut him down.

<Seriously, did that kid just . . .> he never got to finish.

The scream of incoming rockets hitting the perimeter was all the confirmation that Coop needed to tell him he was right. He counted the explosions as three rockets hit the outer perimeter. If the Commonwealth grunts weren’t dug in tighter than a tick, they’d be ash. One rocket bypassed the perimeter and streaked straight for the faber. Coop’s swatter sprang to life, but took longer than necessary, and more ammo, to bring the guided rocket down. In the end, it dipped instead of dived, and Coop blew it to pieces. Debris rained down around him, sparking off the shield as the attack commenced in earnest.

“SGT, plug the gap!” Coop yelled, but the other NCO was already on it.

A volley of micro missiles streaked toward where the rockets were coming from, and where no less than sixty Confed marines were leap-frogging toward the Commonwealth lines. Stunned by the rocket attack, the grunts took precious seconds to orient on the threat and bring their weapons to bear. The SGT’s missiles struck home, punctuating the fight with thermal blooms, and giving the grunts a second to get in the game.

It was still sixty guns on about a dozen, and even firing on full auto, it was obvious the grunts were going to be overrun within a minute. Then the Confeds tripped the mines. Payback’s a bitch, and the ground rumbled in rebellion of mankind’s ingenuity. Dirt geysered into the air, along with marines, as the mines stopped the advance cold. That allowed the SGT time to get into position and bolster the defense.

The SGT let go with everything he had. Micromissiles, next-gen magnetic accelerator cannon, anti-infantry gun, and even the artillery tube on his back got into the game. It was an exquisite display of modern warfare, and against the odds, it drove the Confed’s back.

Artillery shells rained down on their lines. Missiles streamed in for the first punch, before the SGT unleashed his cannon for the haymaker. Enemy shields failed and marines died left and right. They quickly pulled back to cover, leaving their dead smoking on the field.

<About time we got to dole out some hurt,> Coop gave the SGT a mental nod, and got back to his job.

With the SGT repositioned, more of the lines came under his responsibility. His AI continued to scan and tag potential threats, and, above all, kept an eye out for the enemy MOUNTs. If he hadn’t instructed the AI to report anything that might even resemble a MOUNT to him, he would have missed it. Even then, it was too late.

The bloom of a true MOUNT’s next-gen magnetic accelerator was the first sign of the thing. The heavy round, which punched way above Coop’s MOUNT’s weight class ripped through the atmosphere, leaving a trail of fire. Its target, the SGT fucking up the Confed’s attack plans.

“Ser . . .!” Coop started to yell, but the NCO was already in motion. They’d made sure their own AI was looking for the only war machine on the battlefield that could stand up to them.

Because of that, the round meant to threaten warships in close-orbit only took him in the shoulder instead of the chest. The screech of metal still made Coop wince in his armor, and the friendly MOUNT was blasted to the ground.

<Fuck,> Coop almost abandoned his position, but stopped himself. If the faber fell, they were totally fucked.

Thankfully, the grunts on the ground responded. They clambered to the downed MOUNT and started working the ejection sequence. It wouldn’t work one hundred percent, because the MOUNT was wrecked, but a quick check of the SGT’s vitals showed red. They were still alive, but needed a medic pronto.

Coop was a few seconds late on the uptake after seeing his battle buddy go down. His AI realized the threat before he did. The SGT’s MOUNT’s shielding didn’t do jackshit to stop the incoming round. Sure, it probably blunted the impact enough it didn’t turn the whole MOUNT into a frag grenade, but it had failed to stop a single shot from the enemy weapons system. If the SGT was the logical first target with their defense of the lines, then it didn’t take a genius to figure out the second target.

His AI activated his boots and threw him out of the way as fire and death ripped past the structure covering the faber. The civilians were nearby, so to do it was one hell of a shot. To thread the needle like that took some big balls, but it also kept Coop alive. He was still knocked on his ass by the shockwave of the round passing, but with the miss, it went careening off into the distance, clearing the horizon before Coop could breathe a sigh of relief.

Since he was already on the ground, he sent a volley of artillery rounds along the back azimuth to the enemy. He doubted he’d hit anything, but it would fuck up any follow-on attempts to kill him while he got to his feet and put the building with the civilians between him and the threat.

<I’m getting too old for this shit,> Coop groaned as his heart beat like it was running the Kentucky Derby. The enemy wasn’t even in front of him yet, and he was already on defense. <We need to go on the offense. Take back the initiative,> Coop thought. But that was easier said than done when the Confed’s had already set the noose, and were starting to squeeze.

***

Benjamin Gold

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

Ben watched the battle unfold from a camouflaged tent at the FOB the marine captain had set up. The holo-tank, which looked like it had been stolen from a destroyer, dominated the space. Several communications nodes surrounded it, with specialists waiting to relay orders to the troops in the field. Ben wasn’t about to start backseat driving the marine, but if it was him, he’d be out there with his troops fighting.

“The initial assault is completely stalled, sir,” a PVT relayed as the friendly, blue icons started to fall back.

Ben’s eyes weren’t on the marine line, they were on the enemy MOUNT a bunch of grunts were trying to pry open to rescue the pilot. “You should have taken my deal, Coop,” he wasn’t sure if that was his old teammate, but it was a fifty-fifty chance it was.

“Sir,” Mike-One successfully disabled. Mike-Two neutralization is a failure,” another communications tech relayed.

“Damn. So close,” the captain slapped his palm on the edge of the holo-tank.

The entire first thrust was designed to bring out the Commonwealth’s big guns. If they could take out the enemy MOUNTs, they’d be able to easily overrun the Commonwealth’s lines with hardly any casualties. The MOUNTs were such force multipliers on a battlefield, the captain didn’t want to risk slaughtering his men to get the job done.

That point was proven for the two platoons he sent to attack and draw the MOUNTs out. It was still hard for Ben to imagine the Confederation’s new organizational system, but he could see the value in having units bigger than squads and smaller than companies in a small-scale fight like this. Whatever their designation, the failed attack had cost five KIA and twice as many WIA. Twenty five percent of the attack element was out of action in a few seconds. That’s what MOUNTs brought to the table.

The captain looked like he was considering the same thing Ben was. “Lieutenant,” he called, and a face replaced the battlefield on the holo-tank.

“Sir,” the no-nonsense man replied.

“Take your team in there and dig them out.”

“Roger, sir,” the element’s MOUNT commander cut the link, and went to execute the captain’s orders.

<Damn. I hope you were in that first MOUNT, Coop,> Ben sighed.

It was better they be wounded than dead, and after those losses, the Confederation MOUNT were going in hungry for blood.   

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Two Worlds – Chapter 355

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Shift the machine gun over there,” the NCOIC stated, and an icon blossomed on Coop’s HUD.

Since they didn’t have two extra guys to lug around the heavy equipment, Coop and the SGT were playing Ripley from Aliens. He hoisted up the heavy weapon and shifted it to a new pit they’d established. It wasn’t much, but oldies were goodies when you didn’t have a choice. They’d dug a hole and stuck a shield generator beside the gun. It had commanding views of a potential avenue of approach.

In the end, Coop knew it didn’t matter what weapons were covering what areas; the Confeds would drown them in bodies. The satellite network in orbit had been left intact by both sides. Both were too arrogant to think the enemy would were be able to benefit from the data being broadcasted down to the settlement. Because of that, Coop had a good idea what was coming. Or . . . he didn’t once the LT clued him in.

He was on the outs with the command group, which was probably going to get more than one person killed. <Ben fucking Gold,> Coop wasn’t sure he bought the innocent slip of the tongue excuse.

If Gold had been trying to sow discord, he’d hit the ball on the head. The LT was playing things close to the chest, and the NCOIC was using him as a human wheelbarrow. On the bright side, he was still breathing, so he had that going for him.

“Here they come,” the statement suddenly rang through his MOUNT’s audio, and everyone else’s.

A link came over the net, and Coop opened it. <Shit. There should be some Wagner playing in the background,> he scoffed as a shit ton of Spyder-like assault shuttles detached from the warships in orbit. <If they carry anything like a Spyder . . . then . . . two, four, six,> he stopped counting.

Fifty bad guys a shuttle, and they were already outnumbered ten to one, and they were till coming. He was still amazed anyone wanted this ball of dirt that bad. As far as things went on the cosmic scale, this place was a dump. Sure, it had some good resources; but it wasn’t a pleasure planet. People wouldn’t want to emigrate here; especially with it being on the border of two contesting powers.

At most, you’d get temporary boomtowns, like in the old west of the Americas. They’d pop up at a dig site; mostly to supply beer and women. They’d be there for six months, pack up, and move to the next sight. It would be rough people on a rough world, and they probably would never even realize a bunch of soldiers killed themselves over dirt and metal.

<It’s not for us to wonder why. It’s for us to do or die; or something lie that,> Coop thought. The shuttles were hitting the atmosphere, so they had ten to fifteen minutes before things got interesting.

“SGT, you’re on the front lines,” he ordered.

Grunts were already streaming out of the makeshift barracks to their assigned positions. Everyone had a place to be at this dance, and for now, Coop’s place was indirect fore control. He’d also be guarding the most important asset in the entire place.

Once the Commonwealth took the fabbers from the Confeds in the first takeover. It was only a matter of time. Especially with modern warfare, people needed a lot of rounds, or powerpacks, to get through extra shielding. Fabbers provided those materials, and they’d been cranking out extra supplies ever since. A few hours, and they had the rounds to fight all day. It was Coop’s job to make sure the supply line kept flowing.

He ran a diagnostic to make sure he could make that happen. He was green on everything. His shields were one hundred percent, all his ammo had been replaced, and even his micro-missiles were cocked, locked, and ready to rock. It took a hell of a lot longer to produce a missile than a plasma-tipped round, but it was worth it for the damage he could do.

The swatter would be key, and the single grunt running the fabber had the dual duty of reloading the MOUNT’s swatter ammo when he ran dry. That would suck ass to do solo, but there wasn’t much of a choice.

Coop was still looking over his inventory when his AI blared a warning at him. “Drones!” he relayed to everyone. “Heads down.”

Drones were something he’d expected. The warships overhead couldn’t take a shot at them, and neither could the shuttles; but drones were a different deal. The ones his sensors were picking up intermittently were small versions. They’d infiltrate the lines, take shots with their single onboard energy cannon and soften things up for the troops. The swatters were the counter. Thankfully, it wasn’t just Coop.

The SGT’s guns spun up as well, along with three more individual swatters the defenders never had to bust out. That was some silverlining in all this, those guns were fresh since the Commonwealth had only mounted a land operation. Those guns came to life as the drones came in hard and fast.

Nothing was slaved to Coop’s AI. It might have been the smarter move to have the AI assist with targeting packages; but the LT wasn’t in a trusting mood. Still, Coop could push the packages to the guns when his AI got a better read on the drone’s camouflage and firing patterns. The first update got pushed five seconds into the attack; just about the same time there was a scream and an explosion. All the drones had ganged up on one position, overwhelmed the shielding, and torched the heavy weapon’s emplacement.

<Shit,> it was the one Coop had just moved the machine gun to. <Sucks for that guy,> and just as much for everyone else. They didn’t have the men to spare.

His buddy was yellow on medical, only some mild flash-burns from the laser, and was jumping on the gun. Tracer rounds flashed all over the place as the swatters tried to kill the drones like the annoying insects they were. Fireballs started to fill the sky as drones died. It was a beautiful sight.

A drone even had the balls to take a shot at him. It didn’t do any good. It was built to take out fighting positions, not a walking war machine. His shields dropped ten percent, and started to recharge as his swatters blasted the drone out of the sky.

Of course, the chaos was the secondary objective of this entire thing. Sure, it was good to kill a few guys, hassle the enemy, and general cause some mayhem. Hell, maybe the Confeds would even get lucky and hit something or someone important. The real objective was so the shuttle could set down unmolested by indirect fire. If the drones weren’t wreaking havoc along the Commonwealth’s lines, Coop would be dropping thermobaric shells all over the enemy LZ.

Everyone knew the shuttles were most vulnerable when they were disgorging their troops, and it was usually the point of an invasion when the enemy force was most exposed. The drones did a perfect job of covering for that. By the time his AI registered the last of the drone’s dying, the satellite links showed the assault shuttles off the ground and in an overwatch pattern. If the Commonwealth troops strayed too far from the settlement, they’d get a 30mm round up the ass.

Coop had the SGT firing an artillery shell at the position just in case he could catch the enemy with their pants down. A Confed swatter took it out before it even got close. The enemy command was doing things by the book. They’d landed and consolidated their forces, put up protections against indirect fire, and were organizing a march to the settlement. In less than an hour, there would be close to two hundred Confed troops kicking down their front door.

<Two hundred?> Coop had his AI count those numbers again. For the number of shuttles he’d seen that was too low.

<Oh, fuck me,> he groaned when his AI started to filter the satellite imagery.

They were hard to see, and trying to be sneaky, but the Commonwealth had a lot of data on their cammo gear. It was hard to make out, and only for a second, but Coop caught the outline of four Confed MOUNTs. Not these shitty first generation, Commonwealth reject MOUNTs. These were the real deal ones Coop had fought in back on earth.

He felt his pucker factor dial up to eleven as he replayed the footage three times before sending it to the LT. It didn’t matter if the guy was wary of him, this was shit he needed to know. The fight just went from hopeless to absolutely no chance in hell they’d live through it. All of a sudden, surrender didn’t seem like a bad plan.

Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the satellite link went dark. He immediately cut any connections he had to that net. It probably wasn’t a virus. The Confed’s wouldn’t want to wreck their own gear. That shit was expensive, but better safe than sorry. The last thing the underpowered, soon-to-be overwhelmed defenders needed was a malware attack fucking with their coms.

“Sergeant, did you . . .?”

“Roger that, chief,” she sent back. “It’s been good knowing you.”

“Make’em bleed,” he sent back, and then focused on his own shit.

Coop put everything he was worried about in the back of his head. Eve, Emily, everything, he shoved it all in a black hole in the back of his mind. He couldn’t worry about his mortality in a fight like this. It was time to be a human buzzsaw, and kill as many of these assholes as he could before his clock went out.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 354

Benjamin Gold

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

“Shit on a stick.”

“What was that?” Ben asked, surprised to hear the words out of his communications officer.

“Sorry, sir,” the officer cleared their throat. “We just got word that our position at the settlement was overrun. I heard shooting in the background, and then everything went dead; like they destroyed their equipment.”

“That’s standard procedure to keep our tech and encryption software out of enemy hands,” Ben sighed.

A1 might be in orbit, and they might have taken down that Spyder, but they were too late.

<Shit is right,> he doesn’t let his bridge crew see him mentally scratching his head and looking for a way out of this mess. It didn’t take him long to think of something. It was a long shot, with probable no chance of working, but it was worth it.

Lots of people had died in the last twenty-four hours that could have been avoided if Red Tides had just respected the Commonwealth’s claim. <Could of, would of, should of.>

“Get the shuttle and my security team ready. I’m going down to the surface,” he ordered.

That brought everything on the bridge to a screeching halt.

“Sir, I advise against,” the Gunnery NCO started, but Ben held up a hand.

“I put those marines in this position, and who knows how many of them died. It’s my responsibility to get as many of these people safely home.” It sounded way less like a holo ra-ra speech in his head, but it was too late to take it back, and his intentions were pure.

If he could get these people out safely, it was worth a shot. That’s why, ten minutes later, he was bumping through atmosphere with four marines strapped in around him. He had access to the external cameras, and he watched the sensor readout while they plummeted along the flightpath. They’d only shot down the one Spyder, but there could always be more. So far, the Confederation’s assault shuttles hadn’t gone up against the Spyders, and he didn’t want to be a test case; so he kept a close eyes on the readings.

It was only a fifteen-minute ride down from orbit to a safe LZ. They’d have to hike a few klicks to the camp. The shuttle would settle into an overwatch position to make sure the MOUNT units they’d spotted on the sensors wouldn’t be able to drop indirect fire all over them.

There were about a million ways this thing could end with him dead with a capital D. That would righteously piss of Jacobi. He’d barely had any time at all alone with his wife, and getting killed was a sure way to piss her off. He had no doubt she could pull some medical miracle, bring him back, just so she could kill him herself.

He put the thoughts of his wife aside as the shuttle rear ramp opened up and he tromped down with his guard. The marines looked like killing machines next to his simple armored vest. He had a pistol on his hip, and a collapsible submachine gun magnetized to his back. He knew, deep down, if this went to shit, he stood no chance going up against any type of infantry; Commonwealth or Confederation.

 The marines knew that too, and they’d packed an extra shield generator, which one lucky corporal got to lug the next few kilometers.  That would buy him a few extra moments of life if this failed.

<It’s better than nothing,> he told himself to stop focusing on the negative, and prep for what was coming.

He had some intrgalactic diplomacy to conduct.

***

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

Rounding up the prisoners, managing the civilians, and looking for intel took most of the remaining grunts to accomplish, which meant Coop and the SGT were on perimeter duty. With the Spyder down, the LT and NCOIC were taking inventory of not only the remaining Commonwealth gear, but anything they could cross load from the Confeds. So far, the answer was quite a bit.

Apparently, the Confeds liked to have interchangeable gear. Coop applauded the ingenuity. The Commonwealth and Blockies got their panties in a bunch about weapons, ammunition, and the likes. They all needed to have their own, unique stuff that the enemy couldn’t turn against them. To a soldier on the ground, hungry, without commo, and out of ammo; the reasons were total bullshit. A gun was a gun. Bullets were bullets. Whatever worked was fine with him. That looked to be the Confed point of view as well.

<I wish we didn’t just kill a bunch of them,> he sighed.

Eight marines had surrendered relatively unharmed, when it became clear they couldn’t hold the building. There were another two that were more seriously injured, but thankfully, a bunch of the civilians were doctors. Mostly PhDs, but there were a few MDs there that were dusting off their physician skills after a few decades of non-use, with a healthy assist from their IORs.

There were more than thirty civilians, and if anything, they were a bigger headache than the marines. The head civvy kept yacking about something or other to the LT, like he didn’t even register that a battle had just been fought, and his side lost.

<That’s why the LT gets paid the big bucks,> you couldn’t pay Coop enough to deal with that asshole. He’d rather chill here on the perimeter scanning for anything that might sneak up on them. That’s what he expected of the Confed’s counterattack.

He never expected them to walk right up to them broadcasting in the clear. ‘Right up to them’ was a relative term. Five Confeds came to within five hundred meters of the settlement, waving a legit white flag.

“They could be trying to get intel on our situation here,” the NCOIC was probably right.

The second the marines were disarmed, the civilians processed, and inventory was underway, and available troops were sent to work on repairing entrenchments. It wasn’t going to be too long before the grunts were on the opposite end of the assault. Since the defense had worked so well last time, there was no need to fix what wasn’t broken. They just needed to replace some equipment, and make the place look like it hadn’t been blown to hell. Machines would do most of the work, but people had to manage them.

All that work had ground to a halt when the Confed showed up. The LT wanted to keep his force’s strength and disposition as secret as possible. It was kind of hard with the Confed shuttle on overwatch, but Coop commended the LT’s effort.

“They’re squawking a captain’s code, so I’ll go,” the LT decided. “You keep everyone in line here, sergeant,” he turned to the NCOIC. “Get me three volunteers, and they’ll join me and chief.”

As far as intimidation tactics went, having Coop ride shotgun was the best way to do it. He could take out the four marines and officer easy peasy. With his entourage set, the LT walked out to meet the enemy.

<You’ve got to be shitting me,> Coop didn’t listen to the introductions, he already knew the officer.

“Good to see you again, Coop,” Benjamin Gold gave Coop a smile. “It’s been a while.”

The LT wouldn’t help but look surprised.

“We served together on a gunship,” Coop relayed. “Looks like the split has worked out well for you, captain. Nice bump up in life.”

Ben shrugged. “I don’t want this to get any more out of hand than it already has.”

“A little late for that,” Coop gestured at the battlefield around them. “Kind of too late for take backs.”

“But we don’t have to go any further,” Ben continued. “Your battleship left you. It’ll be at least two days, maybe more before you get reinforced. Do you really want to keep fighting and dying before anyone can get here?”

“My orders are to hold my ground here,” the LT recaptured Ben’s attention.

“I understand,” Ben replied. “But we’ve got more than a battalion’s worth of troops that will come to take our people back. You’ve got a short company. This doesn’t end well.”

The LT’s jaw clenched in frustration. It wasn’t any secret they couldn’t hold this position.

“You’re a good man, Coop. My father has a standing order that if you’re encountered to offer you a spot in the Confederation. We could use good men like you.”

“Well, hell, that’s some diabolical shit, sir,” Coop replied, wary of the eyes on him. “You’ve been here five seconds and you’re sowing discord in the ranks. Tell Papa Gold I’m good.”

Ben held up his hands in surrender, but the damage was already done. The LT now knew that he’d served with a Confed officer, and a Gold at that. Even worse, Coop had an out that none of the other Commonwealth soldiers did. That was less motivation for him to fight in the battle to come. Coop had just gone from a precious asset to a potential liability.

“Think about it,” Gold started to walk away with his guards. “I’ll give you a two hours ceasefire to think it over, lieutenant.”

Conversation over, the Confed delegation walked until they’d put the mountain between them and Coop. The LT didn’t say anything, he just turned and marched back toward camp. By the time they’d arrived, Coop’s access to the Commonwealth command net was revoked.

<What the fuck,> he wanted to chew the LT out, but he couldn’t; that would put him in an even worse position. Now, he just got to go into the next fight deaf, dumb, and blind. That was fucking fantastic.

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