Two Worlds – Chapter 361

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

Coop awoke in darkness and pain. He took a breath and got a mouthful of smoke. He hacked and he hacked. He was surprised he didn’t cough up a lung, but the real problem was that it didn’t get any better. He tried to orient himself, but in the total blackness, it was nearly impossible.

He needed to get oriented, because he didn’t know what the hell had happened. Everything was offline. His battle AI wasn’t responding, and his IOR was only active because it was powered over his body. At the moment, it was worse than useless, and if he didn’t hurry, he was going to suffocate.

<Stupid, big, hunk of shit!> he screamed and kicked at the armored interior. The only thing that did was hurt his foot.

Big toe throbbing, he kept searching, coughing, and slowly dying. Then, as if the universe was finally ready to throw him a bone, there was a spark.

<Let there be light you beautiful bastard,> the spark fell from his right shoulder across his body.

Now he had a bearing and knew where up was. Her felt around for the first step in the emergency eject sequence. It wasn’t supposed to be easy, and the engineers had overdesigned it so that it wouldn’t weaken the structural integrity of their already weaker design. It was also going to suck ass. Half the time pilots went through the eject, they broke something. That was a problem when the most likely place for an eject was the battlefield. Coop was the perfect example. He was literally on the frontlines and completely surrounded. He couldn’t imagine a worse position.

<Shut up,> he scolded himself. He could worry about getting shot after he avoided death my smoke inhalation.

He braced himself, prayed it wouldn’t be so bad, and then started the sequence. He knew something was wrong almost immediately. There were supposed to be hisses and pops as things started to break apart so he could get out. All he got were groans of warped metal. The final result was for the cocoon he was in to be flung from the MOUNT, and then a self-destruct to stop the enemy from gaining the tech.

He didn’t know why Gold would want to collect inferior tech, but that was above his paygrade. All he knew, was that he didn’t get the mother-of-all whiplashes as he rocketed to safety. There was one pathetic lurch, but he barely even moved.

The only bright side was a literal one. A sliver of light seeped through the armor. Smoke immediately poured out of it, so he could breathe a little better. Of course, when the universe giveth, the universe taken away. It was starting to get hot. Something was on fire.

The animal part of his mind started to freak the fuck out. Mankind had feared fire for millennia; for a good reason. It was also a pain to recover from burns, so he got to work. He fought to get his hands into position to force the opening wider. It was tough going, but centimeter by centimeter the opening got wider. Wide enough he could force his hands through.

“Son of a bitch!” he yelled as he got his hands through and met scorching hot metal.

He had no idea how long he’d been out. He had no idea what he got hit with, but whatever it was, it had messed him up good.

He tried to get his hands out again, to force the opening wider, but the pain was too much.

<Okay. Mind over matter,> he psyched himself up to push through the pain.

It only worked for about a second before he had to pull his hands back in, but he had to do it again, and again, and again. Salty tears flowed down his cheeks and he fought for his life. He was covered in sweat. He could feel the heat, literally; but he wasn’t going to stop, he couldn’t.

Eve and Emily were out there, and he wasn’t going to die on some fucking rock out in the middle of nowhere.

Normally, his HI enhancements were awesome, but this time it was actively trying to kill him. By the time he got the opening wide enough to fit his shoulders through, you could have marched a small army into his MOUNT. Then there were his hands. The skin was charred and peeling off. Blood oozed from where jagged edges had bitten into him, and he’d probably need a round of antibiotic nanites to avoid getting tetanus. He’d been injured worse in his career, but it wasn’t exactly nothing.

With a final heave, he got himself out of the armor before his hands gave out. He hit the armor with his uniformed back as he rolled off, so there was just the smell of singed whatever-the-hell these things were made of. He didn’t even think of it, but the side of his armor he rolled of off was super critical. The universe rolled in his favor again. He thought his luck might just be turning for once.

“Shit, chief, I can’t believe you’re alive,” an armored head appeared from the dirt ten meters away. “Stay down and I’ll . . .” the shield protecting the grunt flashed, and Coop felt the reverberations as incoming rounds hit his immobile MOUNT.

“Just . . . stay!” the grunt yelled.

It was the first time in a long time Coop had been the weakest person on the battlefield. With his burns, probably lung damage, and whatever else had gotten knocked loose on him, he wasn’t going anywhere.

The incoming rounds died down now that the grunt’s head was gone, but Coop knew they were maneuvering for a better shot. He needed to get out of there. The shield had started to spark a few meters from the grunt’s position, so Coop needed to cover about eight meters to get to safety. That distance was nothing, but here and now, it might as well another planet.

There was no way the Confed’s didn’t have this place dialed in. He’d get one, maybe two meters before someone took him down.

<I’ve still got to try,> he told himself. Either they’d kill him on the rush, or when they maneuvered to get a better shot. Move or die.

He got into a track sprint position, and said another quick prayer. He’d been doing a lot of that lately. If he lived through this, who knew, maybe he’d find Jesus.

Before he could talk himself out of it, he was off. His start flung dirt into the air, which probably alerted the enemy that something was happening. It also might give him a little cover. He didn’t keep track of the distance. He just focused on pumping his legs as fast as possible. He needed to go from zero to a hundred in an instant. He had a smile on his face, and the wind in his hair when he hit the shield barrier.

He also felt the sharp sting of the round hitting him in the ass, and the numbness as his legs gave out and he face planted in the dirt. More than a little worked its way into his nose and through his teeth, but he’d made it.

He’d been shot in the ass, but he was alive.

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Upcoming

I just want to give everyone a heads up to what I have coming up. I’ve got a big life even about to take place which will probably take me offline for about two weeks. After that, posting is going to be a bit sporadic. I might have to cut it down to two or three chapters a month. I’m not sure yet what my schedule will look like, but I’ll let you know as soon as I have an idea. This will also effect my Patreon page, and you can see this message there as well.

I just want everyone to know so I can manage expectations throughout the coming few months.

Thanks.

BMUS  

Two Worlds – Chapter 360

Eve Berg

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

{Initializing,} the AI chimed as it started its boot-up function.

Part of that was the flood of drugs that got pumped into Eve’s system. Her eyelids slowly peeked open as she was returned to consciousness, and a soft groan escaped her lips.

“Mission clock,” she commanded.

{Thirty-two hours and twelve minutes,} the AI replied.

“Go verbal. I don’t want anything in my head while its pounding like this,” she ordered.

A straw automatically reached out to touch her lips and she drank deeply.

“Activate display,” she stated when she’d gotten her dehydration under control.

“Command recommended that we wait until we hit the thermosphere before going online,” to her ears, it sounded like the AI was whining.

“I know what command said, and if I was some tin-can skipper, I might think that way too. I can’t lead if I can’t see. Boot up the display. Now,” she snapped.

There was a flicker and the display came to life. It wasn’t technically a display. She was seeing everything through her IOR’s sync with the MOUNT’s computer systems; but telling the silicone brain to turn on her eyes just felt wrong.

<Whoa,> she couldn’t help but gulp as her visuals popped to life.

She was surrounded by the complete and utter darkness of the void. She’d never been claustrophobic in her life, but one look outside her MOUNT, and it was enough to make her reconsider her chosen profession. One misplaced decimal point, and she’d be stuck in this metal coffin for the rest of her life.

<Lock it up,> she told herself and focused on the mission.

It took up most of the space in front of her. A big brownish gray ball. It didn’t have a name. No one really lived on it. It wasn’t some holy site, but despite all of that, men and women were dying on its surface in the name of the almighty dollar. One of those people was Coop, her fiancé, father to her daughter.

Put all that together, and it pissed her off. She should still be on maternity leave, dealing with dirty diapers, and an uncooperative Coop who didn’t know a baby wipe from a frag grenade. That’s what she should be doing right now; not hurtling through the void for the first-ever orbital drop of Commonwealth MOUNTs.

“How long until we hit atmosphere?” she asked.

“Seventeen minutes,” the AI promptly calculated.

“What are the chances the Confed ships will pick up a tight-beam communication?” she inquired.

“Sixty-two percent,” the AI killed the idea formulating in her mind.

<Shit.>

The RADM’s plan was simple in theory, difficult in execution. The fleet needed to clear out the orbitals. That meant the battleships and their escorts duking it out with the Confed’s cruisers. The ending of that story was already written. The only part left to be decided was time, and time was something the grunts on the ground didn’t have. So, ironically enough, it was Eve who suggested the orbital insertion.

The MOUNTs were capable, and it was the fastest way to get boots on the ground without clearing the orbitals and launching Spyders. They could shave as much as eight hours off the time to get their soldiers the support they needed. Plus, six MOUNTs were more than enough to clear an LZ on the ground, provide security for landing troops, while simultaneously taking the fight to the enemy. It was a win-win for everyone; except maybe the MOUNT pilots.

So, the enemy couldn’t detect them, they had to launch from far out through the ship’s missile pods. The hope was the enemy would be so keen to watch the oncoming battleships, that they wouldn’t notice the tiny MOUNTs passing through their orbital blockade.

With only a few minutes left until they hit the atmosphere, Eve was well inside their engagement envelope. She wasn’t dead yet. Of course, the real fireworks would begin once the hit the natural barrier around the planet. They’d been fired out of the ships on a course to take them on an orbit of the planet starting on the opposite side. They’d light up like a signal beacon as they descended through the atmosphere, and hopefully be low enough once they hit the opposite hemisphere to avoid any surface-to-air ordinance. It would be a race to the surface, and one Eve was determined to win.

She instantly regretted the decision when she hit the atmosphere. It felt like her feet leapt into her throat, and someone donkey kicked her in the vajayjay. Her MOUNT rattled like a decades-old air-car, and she was positive her whole trajectory was out of whack. She ignored that, and left any adjustments to the AI.

“All Red elements, check in,” she ordered as she brought the armor’s comms suite online.

Stealth was out the window now. It looked like half a dozen shooting stars were streaking across the sky.

“Red-three, repeat status,” she asked when one of the MOUNTs failed to check in.

“Red Four to Red Leader, I’ve got a visual on Red Three. He’d splattered over half the continent.”

Eve didn’t let her frustration show through the comms. “Anyone see what happened?” she had her own AI checking for anything out of the ordinary.

“I think the cannon cockers messed up, chief,” Red Six chimed in. “Probably . . .”

The pilot cut off as alarms started to beep simultaneously in all the MOUNTS. Their scanners were going ape shit due to the surface-to-air missiles blazing towards them.

“Evasive . . .!” a concussive blast threw Eve’s failed human body against the metal shell, and Red Four’s icon disappeared off her TACNET.

“Elevation?” she asked her AI, the panic in her voice rising.

“Thirty thousand meters,” it replied. That didn’t help at all.

They were sitting ducks. Their shields were already taxed from reentry, and the weapons systems weren’t designed to fight like this. Eve deployed her swatter, and it lasted about thirty seconds before the stress torqued the weapons of position. It didn’t rip it right off her frame, but it jammed the ammo feed; so, she was just as screwed. She slaved her anti-personnel cannon to her AI and let it do the shooting, but there was only so much it could do against the Confed ordinance.

She saw the streaking missile heading for her. She felt her MOUNT rumble as it returned fire, and she had just enough time to realize it wasn’t going to be enough. There was a bright light, and white-hot pain as things ripped through her. She screamed, but it didn’t do any good. She felt her MOUNT, and herself coming apart in the air above this fucking rock.

Her last sight before she blacked out was all of her Red elements getting torn up by enemy missiles thousands of meters above the deck, and nowhere near completing the mission of rescuing Coop.

<Well, shit,> she sat up gasping for breath as the dim lights blazed to life and she shook off the VR shock. The IOR’s were too good at completely immersing you in a scenario.

“Chief,” she’d barely had time to shake her head when the infantry commander was beside her.

“Sir,” she kept on blinking until her vision focused properly.

“That was an unmitigated, fucking disaster,” the CMDR shook his head. “It was a good idea, but I don’t think we’re going to be able to launch your team as a vanguard.”

“I’d like to run it a few more times, sir. Refine our approach. See if we can do anything differently,” she wasn’t pleading, but it was close.

The CMDR looked at his watch. “You’ve got nine hours left until we hit the system. After that, we’ve got to present something to the admiral.”

“Roger that, sir. We’re on it,” she gave the infantry OIC a nod, and he walked off. “Take five everyone, and then we go again.”

There was more than one groan, but her glare shut them up. No one there had as much at stake as she did, and if she could shave a second off the time it took them to relieve the embattled grunts planet side, it would be worth it.

<Hang in there, Coop,> she’d been saying that a lot to herself.

Five minutes later her IOR took her back into the all-too-real VR simulation.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 359

Eve Berg

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

“All hands, Echo Flight arriving. I say again. All hands, Echo flight arriving. Clear the flight deck.”

Eve wasn’t anywhere near the flight deck, but it irritated her every time an announcement like this came over the ship’s intercom. She felt like kicking a private that just happened to be walking by when Charlie flight arrived, and she might have scared a couple LT’s when she stomped into the officer’s mess during Delta flight’s arrival.

Logically, she knew it shouldn’t rub her the wrong way. Every flight meant more men and firepower the ship could bring to bear on the enemy. She still didn’t have a great idea who the enemy was, but she knew it involved Derrick and Coop. The last thing she wanted to be doing was sitting around on her ass while her brother and fiancé had god only knew what was happening to them.

“All command staff level officers, report to the flag briefing room at 1500 hours. All command staff level officers . . .” that got her attention.

It was ironic that as a CW2, she was a command staff level officer in this case. It probably wouldn’t be the case again anytime soon, but this shit show was being thrown together at the last minute, so there wasn’t enough time to get a proper MOUNT contingent together. Emergency orders had come down, and she currently had six pilots onboard; a team and a half. The other team leader was onboard, but she was the ranking officer of the two of them. That, plus the regular infantry commander didn’t know a MOUNT’s capabilities, she’d been elevated to the lofty status for the duration of the mission.

Her IOR said she had fifteen minutes to make the time hack, which on a beast the size of a battleship was not enough time. “Make a hole!” she yelled, and through her bulk forward. If people didn’t move, it was their problem.

She made it with thirty seconds to spare, but looking at the faces of the officers in the room, she might as well have been five minutes late.

“Pull up a chair, chief,” the only person that didn’t give her grief was the one that mattered.

The rear admiral at the head of the table wasn’t one she recognized, but there were plenty of those. She’d been on maternity leave so long, she probably wouldn’t even recognize the lieutenant commander she routinely got email traffic from. She was just relieved he wasn’t pissed.

She was the lowest ranking officer in the room by a mile. Technically, she wasn’t even the same class of officer. There was the RADM and a CMDR that was his XO. A pair of other CMDRs looked like the infantry and CAG OICs, and they had a couple staff people tagging along; but they all kept to the sides. She was the only person below O-4 not sitting against the wall and trying not to be noticed.

“I’m not going to lie people, it doesn’t look good,” the RADM pulled up an image from a tactical plot. It wasn’t Eve’s forte, but she’d been around enough to get the general picture.

It didn’t look like that big an enemy force. From what she’d seen coming aboard the ship, it should be able to take a couple battlecruisers and destroyers alone. <If it was that simple, Derrick would have handled it,> she reminded herself.

“We’ve got a clock on us,” the RADM continued. He’d explained the enemy disposition, but that didn’t concern Eve. She needed to get boots on the ground to make a difference. “They’ll have been down there fighting it out for close to two days before we’ll hit the system. Even then it’ll take several more hours to get to a point we can do anything, and that’s only if the Confeds cut and run.”

Eve didn’t realize she had a death grip on her chair to the point it was starting to warp. She didn’t want to be sitting in a metal tube tens of millions of kilometers away when she could be on the ground helping Coop. It was literally the most infuriating thing she’d ever felt.

““All hands, Foxtrot Flight arriving. I say again. All hands, Foxtrot flight arriving. Clear the flight deck.”

The RADM looked up at the announcement. “That’s the last of our gear people. Department heads, I want a readiness brief in thirty. We’re going to put the pedal to the medal right out the gate. Infantry,” he turned to the CMDR and Eve, “I want a battleplan on my desk by the time we hit the system. I don’t want us sitting on our hands longer than necessary.”

“Yes, sir,” Eve was the first on her feet, and the first out the door. If the other officers were offended by a mere CW2 taking the lead, they could suck it.

<Hang in there, Coop. I’m coming.”

***

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

Coop spun, and barely avoided taking a round up the ass. Literally, there was a Confed grunt with one of those overpowered man-portable missile launchers that nearly sent one straight up his poop shoot. That would have royally screwed him, especially with his shields at thirty percent. Having his shields above twenty-five was a blessing.

The Commonwealth grunts were still fighting, but it was starting to sink in that the perimeter wasn’t a defense anymore, it was a noose the Confeds were closing tight around their throat. Still, they didn’t give up. Neither did Coop. He was running around like a mad man, trying to plug all the holes in the line. There were so many, that if this was an old wet navy ship, they’d be sunk.

Even worse, his ammo was just about shot. Down to less than ten percent on everything. It was just that kind of day.

“We need . . .” there was a large explosion behind him, and the transmission cut out.

His battle AI told him what had happened as he sprinted around the side of a building. He zigged instead of zagged out of instinct, and the atmosphere exploded around him. His MOUNT emerged through the flames like some type of ancient war god, and he couldn’t think about how close he’d just been to buying the farm.

Ever since he’d killed the other MOUNT, the dead enemies’ buddies had been gunning for him. He expected it, but things were starting to get dicey. The Confed brass hadn’t committed another MOUNT to the field, so maybe Coop took out the commander, and they were just going to wait him out. Why ruin a multi-million dollar piece of equipment when you could just bleed Coop’s MOUNT dry.

<It’s what I would do,> he ignored the next-gen magnetic accelerator shell with his name on it, and focused on plugging the hole.

The swatter covering the sector had run dry, and an arty shell had smacked right in the middle of a fire team’s position. Medical status informed him they were both already dead, but sensor showed the Confeds were trying to take advantage of the chaos to advance. The only thing between them and separating the Commonwealth defenders, one Mark Cooper.

He barreled into the opening just as the lead Confed elements reached the big hole in the ground. He didn’t bother opening up with his remaining rounds. He just kicked the first person in armor her saw. The poor bastard went sailing back out of the crater and hit some of his buddies with the front side of his armor sticking out the back. 

Blades came out, and Coop played lumberjack. He ignored the screaming, he just cut, hacked, and sawed at anything that moved. The Confeds didn’t go down without a fight. They pumped rounds into him until his shield was only showing five percent. It held there as Coop stomped his big metal boot down on an enemy grunt and pancaked him.

“Fucking hell,” one of the sergeants had been able to peel a single man off their portion of the line to reinforce Coop.

Over half a dozen bodies surrounded Coop’s MOUNT, and they all look like they’d died hard. Even though he hadn’t lifted a muscle, Coop’s chest was heaving inside the war machine.

“Set up here. If you feel you can’t hold, radio in, and fall back,” Coop knows the kid won’t be able to hold for long. But a few minutes was a few minutes, and if the Confed’s tactics continued, they were going to hit another part of the perimeter now.

“Ye . . . yes, sir,” Coop could hear the grunt gulp as he hopped down into the crater and went prone. He didn’t even have a shield generator.

“All clear in sector four, repositioning to . . .” Coop never finished.

The whole world lurched, and the lights went out. 

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