Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop watched as three soldiers in full battle rattle scurried across the destroyed landscape. They had anti-grav-assist boots, so they hopped over debris piles with ease. They moved with discipline; two moving while one covered them. Coop swept his targeting icon over the two that were bounding forward. His AI calculated range, elevation, and any other variables that would affect his shooting. It even recommended ammo types.
Coop decided to stick with his 10mm plasma rounds. The explosive blast from a three round burst would be enough to fuck up anyone’s day, but such heavy firepower might make the soldier providing cover hesitate. Coop might be able to hurt him with the collateral splash of super-heated plasma. The AI suggested one of the mini-missiles, dialed to anti-infantry specs, which would detonate over the two rushers and shower them with ceramic alloy shrapnel. Their armor couldn’t stand up to that type of firepower, which was overkill, and with no resupply in the near future, Coop would rather waste three rounds. He had thousands of those to spare.
The AI beeped at him when the two rushers were at the apex of their jump over the toppled structural chunks of a former mega scraper that looked like it had taken an energy blast from a battleship in orbit. Coop didn’t need the reminder.
His MOUNT gave a plaintive beep as he pulled the trigger. It was a complete boner killer in the otherwise realistic holographic targeting simulation. Being in the MOUNTS’ womb made it so all external stimuli were supplied to his brain by the armor’s sensors. It made for some freaky real simulations. A hell of a lot better than anything he’d had in basic, or even his LACS. It was totally immersive.
<Watching porn in this thing would be crazy,> he thought with a snicker as the world around him broke down into cubes and dissolved away to be immediately replaced by the massive assembly area.
The ride to the site had been interesting to say the least. A flotilla of Spyders had arrived at the Proving Grounds to pick up the MOUNT squadrons. If someone was trying to keep the ACR a secret, they were doing a horrible job; or, shit had finally escalated to the point it didn’t matter. That was worrisome. People pulling out all the stop meant there was a real chance the people making decisions thought they would lose.
Each Spyder had been configured to carry two MOUNTS. Apparently, the birds were assigned to the ACR, and their sole purpose was to haul the MOUNTS around. You could see it in the tweaks to their design. The troop/cargo bay in the back and been extended to take up even more space. It needed to fit the massive bulk of the MOUNTS. Two cradles had been attached to the center area to secure the armor, while two rows of seats fit their crews. There was very limited room to carry extra ammo, parts, or other necessary equipment. Coop saw that as a problem.
Currently, each squadron had four Spyders attached to it. Two for the MOUNTS, and two for their gear and extra personnel. So, if one bird went down, you either lost all your gear, or the warfighting machines that were the entire purpose of the ACR. Coop would rather do one MOUNT and all their gear per Spyder, but he was just a lowly WO1. Someone with gold stripes had looked at this already and made the decision, which left him stuffed into the back of a Spyder with Camilla. At least the ride was entertaining.
They’d been on the ground for six hours doing nothing other than running simulations and provide security for the impromptu FOB. Their targeting systems kept a constant eye on the endless stream of Spyders, cargo haulers, and even private air-cars that were filtering into the area. They were somewhere in the middle of the North American sector, so they could see for kilometers and kilometers across the flat plains. Personally, Coop didn’t care about that, he kept his eyes on the sky.
With his optics, he caught the glint of First Fleet elements in orbit. They didn’t look like they were doing much, but they were, <At least I sure as shit hope they are.> There was still a comms blackout for all civilian networks. MILNET wasn’t much better, but Coop knew Second Fleet was engaged. He just didn’t know how it was going. No news is good news was not true of military engagements. If things were going to shit, elements needed to be able to alter their planning, issue FRAGOs, and all-around fix whatever got other people killed. On the flip side, if your people were kicking ass, commanders tended to relay that to boost morale. So, not knowing how the fleet was doing, plus not hearing anything from the chain of command, had the hairs on Coop’s neck sticking up.
“LT, anything?” he sent their fearless leader, who was standing like a statue near the front gate to this place. It wasn’t much of a front gate, just some road barriers hurriedly thrown into a serpentine pattern so no one could drive straight in with a bomb and blow everything to hell.
“Nothing, Cooper,” she shot back over TACCOM. “Your sync has dropped one percent since you finished that sim. Run another one.”
<Them and this fucking sync rate,> Coop grumbled to himself. Apparently, the MOUNTS’ performance was tied directly to how well he was in sync with it. It made sense, if he was out of sync then his movements, targeting, and ability to fight would be shit, but still, commanders were constantly watching the rate and assigning out exercises to increase it.
<It’ll get better with time,> Coop whined as he took one last look up in to the gray skies of middle America.
Doing all of this in a controlled environment to maximize their combat effectiveness had gone right out the window. Another casualty of real-world shit derailing Gold’s engineers carefully laid plans.
<Roll with it,> the LT’s sim arrived, and Coop immersed himself back into the fake world of destruction.
It was only a matter of time until he had to deal with the real thing.
Location: Orbit, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
It’s impossible to have complete silence on a bridge or in the CIC. There’s always inbound and outbound comms traffic, the constant updates of firing solutions, the chatter of spacers, and the beeps, hums, and clicks of the AI’s mainframes doing any number of standard onboard operations. Today, everything made of flesh and bones sat in stunned silence.
“Fuckin’ hell,” the chief petty officer at an operation console finally broke the silence.
Ben glared at the man serving as his senior NCO, but he couldn’t fault him. He could barely understand what he’d just witnessed. Mars was still dark. No transmissions were coming out, and no one was sure if any were getting in. The same was true of Second Fleet, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t see what was happening.
Powerful optic telescopes on the ground, in orbit around Earth, and from the starships between the planets caught the whole thing. They saw the fleet’s drones turn on them, and harass them like stubborn hornets. They damaged several ships, but the wounds were minor for ADM Blackbird’s overall fleet. What came next was not.
The enemy vessels, larger than anything Ben had ever seen mankind wield, charged the fleet at accelerations that ships that size should not be able to achieve. To her credit, the ADM positioned her ships perfectly. They played off the enemy’s tactic, which was to charge toward Mars in orderly fashion: one right after the other. That didn’t make sense, but neither did their acceleration rates and ability to hack the Commonwealth’s ships. Ben didn’t know if it was overconfidence or greater tactical acumen that drove the enemy’s decision making, but the ADM reacted how any reasonable human would.
She encircled her ships around the enemy’s axis of advance, creating a funneled corridor for them to drive through while she bombarded them from every angle. It left her ships more vulnerable since they didn’t have overlapping defensive fire, but the world was an imperfect place. The enemy was driving for Mars, and it was the fleet’s job to protect it. She would be able to put every gun in her arsenal on target, and that gave her the best chance of winning.
The CPO at the operation’s station, an old salt who’d served nearly six decades in uniform, called it shooting fish in a barrel. He couldn’t explain the analogy, where he heard it, or its historical significance, but it sounded perfectly straightforward to Ben. He envisioned fish in some sort of barrel, and someone unloading on it with a rifle. The fish had nowhere to run, and were blasted to pieces. That is what everyone expected of the enemy ships entering the fleet’s kill zone.
The first enemy ships entered the funnel and were engaged by the second fleet’s updated assault carriers and battleships. Instead of being millions of kilometers apart, they were mere tens of thousands. Full broadsides of missiles and energy weapon batteries opened up on the enemy. The overlapping explosions and beams of light blotted out everything. Officers screamed for reports out of instinct, but there was nothing else to gather information. All they could do was wait for the explosions to fade and the wreckage to clear before trying to reconstruct what happened.
Things started to become clearer as the firing slackened off, which wasn’t a good sign. Soon, their optics could made out expanding clouds of debris, and replied on that to explain what the hell they were seeing. The AIs ran the visuals through their programs to explain that the enemy ships made it deep into the fleet’s formation before being stopped. Plasma trails and energy readings suggested the enemy relied solely on those weapons platforms; no missiles. The debris of ships to the rear of second fleet’s formation, the unshielded ships, were the most dispersed, suggesting they were the first to die. The shielded ships lasted longer, but as more and more enemy ships entered the funnel, they identified the threats and reacted. Increased fire on the assault carriers and handful of battleships led to their inevitable destruction. The AI’s pinged the probable location of Little Big Horn as an expanding cloud of gas and debris. Calculations suggested few crews, if any, survived, and even if they did, no rescue operations could be enacted.
Second Fleet was gone. With the upgraded ships gone, and unshielded parts of the formation crumbled quickly. The whole engagement lasted less than ten minutes. Ten minutes for nearly a whole fleet to be blotted out of existence. The cruiser and destroyer squadrons remaining were in full retreat. Thankfully, it seemed the enemy was allowing them the chance while focusing on the orbital cannons. Without the ability to maneuver, and no fleet to shield them, they were quickly snuffed out.
Despite destruction everywhere they looked, it seemed the enemy didn’t escape unscathed. Imagery was updated to see enemy ships with gaping holes strewn throughout them. Whoever they were, their vessels were still susceptible to the laws of physics. The AIs were constantly updating the figures, but a dozen of the vessels they could see looked to be critically damaged. Another ten were moderately damaged and they were falling back from the main fleet. Another twenty-six looked to be gone all together: ADM Blackbird’s parting gift. A few showed minor damage, but continued on, and would likely undergo repairs before First Fleet met them in battle.
<If we meet them,> Ben conceded. The enemy had taken out Second Fleet while suffering twenty one percent casualties; with only seventeen percent being taken out of the fight for the foreseeable future. With those odds, the Commonwealth would need four more fleets to destroy the attackers. They had only one.
<Technically there are three,> Ben corrected, but as far as he knew, the Blockies were still saying this was some sort of imperialist trick, and the Euros were content to keep their heads in the sand. Maybe they would get into the fight if the enemy turned its sights on Earth…maybe.
“Attention, this is your captain speaking,” the overhead announced with a tone. “Um…” the man stumbled at first. “We have new orders to make the fleet ready to engage the enemy. Stand ready men. This is what we trained for.” The message cut out.
“That was inspirational,” Ben mumbled, unable to keep his mouth shut.
“Lieutenant Commander,” the XO chastised him with a glare. “See me in…”
Horrible beeping started to sound everywhere. Ben immediately looked down to his station. MALCON WARNNG flashed in black letters with diagonal yellow slashes through them just as the holo-tank at the center of the operations section flickered.
“I’ve lost STRATNET,” the chief was already on it.
“TACCOM is down,” yelled an LT over in communications.
Now, Ben understood why Second Fleet had looked so sluggish and disorganized.
“Shit,” he didn’t care if the XO heard him this time.