Two Worlds – Chapter 262

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<This little piggy went to the market. This little piggy should have stayed home, and this little piggy makes things go boom. Blue is cool, red is dead.> Coop thought to himself as he connected the last of the ignition devices to the composite explosives.

A string of them was wrapped around the back side of a large, metal tube. Inside the tube were the energy relays of a main power conduit to one of the large surface-to-space cannons designed to protect the capitol.

Harper’s Center was not a well-defended city, which worked for the Commonwealth this time around. They had a handful of surface-to-space cannons to help keep assault carriers from dropping troops right on their doorstep, but most were still out of commission from the last battle, and Coop was trying to take out the rest.

The city also had two PDCs on the outskirts of town. Both were still badly damaged from the fighting, and the SGM was going to make sure the weak shielding that was available didn’t come back online when the Windsor’s needed it the most. Still, the Commonwealth would likely leave them alone if the civilians evacuated there. After all, they were still Commonwealth citizens in the government’s eyes.

The SRRT and rebellion had a firm grasp of what countermeasures were available to Harper’s Junction before the Windsor’s invaded. That wasn’t what they were worried about. It was what the Windsor’s had put in place since then that made them nervous.

“We’re good here,” Coop announced as he awkwardly twisted himself out of space between the pipes. Two rebel soldiers stood guard with barely concealed submachine guns. They would give the local cops pause, but if legit soldiers showed up they wouldn’t even tickle their armor.

“What’s next?” The bigger of the two rebels asked. His name was Stavos, and if he strung more than five words together that was a big deal.

Coop pulled out a paper list. Not something on his HUD or IOR, not even a polyplast slip. A legit piece of paper. I was one of the few times in his life he’d even held the rarely used substance.

When he asked the SGM why the list was on written on paper, the NCOIC replied, “So if you get caught you can eat it.”

Coop had licked the paper. It tasted plain enough, and as a Rat, he’d eaten worse.

“We’ve got to go two sectors over and disable a junction box. We’ll need to make sure we leave enough room for it to complete normal operations, but when invasion protocols kick in it’ll short circuit and kill power to two sections of town.”

Sabotaging that junction box was as much about getting the civilians out as making sure the Windsor’s had to spend time and resources fixing the problem, which would lead them right into the ambushes the rebels were setting. The SGM had really organized an insurgency’s wet dream.

The sector the junction box would blackout also belonged to the sector surrounding the palace. Having the local security force’s response time off by even a few minutes was going to be worth its weight in diamonds when it came to getting the rest of the team back. Insiders loyal to the rebellion had already reported the captured members’ location. They were all there: Eve, Mike, the LT, SSG Hightower, and even the injured Gunney; although the latter was in the infirmary on a separate level. That was going to make getting her more difficult, but the SGM had a plan.

Coop just hoped it worked.

 

Eve Berg

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

Everything was dark, calm, and quiet in the corner of Eve’s mind. She’d centered herself and retreated there as the Windsor’s tortured her. It was a trick taught to her in Ranger School during SERE training. Not everyone was able to do this. Some people’s minds were just too hectic, but those who could pull it off had an ace up their sleeve that was sure to be a thorn in the side of their jailers.

She pictured something, for her it was a small flame, and everything became that. She focused on the flame and became one with it. As stupid and backwards as the whole concept sounded, it worked, and she was able to ride out the worst of what her interrogators inflicted on her.

The worst thing about torture, what they’d failed to really simulate in school, was how long it could go on. By now, she was sure every inch of her had been cut and sliced. Her shoulder had been dislocated, bones broken, she’d been sapped with energy weapons, and just shot out of frustration at least once. As she pulled herself out of her protected corner of consciousness she got a look at herself in the full-body mirror the torturers had placed in front of her. It was supposed to inflict psychological trauma for someone to see themselves so mutilated, but as she focused in front of her, she saw nothing out of the ordinary. That was another setback of modern torture. People just didn’t die after all the pain inflicted. They were healed right up so the sick bastards could go to work on them again.

“You’re awake, good.” The female sergeant who always talked with her was seated just to the right of the mirror.

Eve was still naked as the day she was born and restrained, so it came as a surprise when the restrained snapped open and she fell to the ground.

<Now would be the perfect time to kick some ass,> she laughed to herself, but this wasn’t a holo. She couldn’t just bounce back from being tortured for what felt like months and take on the trio of big royal marines that were covering her.

She felt incredibly weak. So weak that her legs trembled when she struggled to her feet. The Windsor’s had basically starved her, and only given her enough to keep her alive. All her physical enhancements were useless unless she had enough calories to keep her fighting. If anything, they were a bigger hindrance now.

She stood there, naked, in front of the men and woman trying to think of something to do, or at least something interesting to say, but the woman beat her to that. She tossed a pair of clothes at her.

“Get dressed and follow me.” The woman walked to the door without looking back.

The clothes were plain and thin. They were enough to cover her modesty, but not enough to be used against anyone or hide anything. Eve slowly dressed in them as she watched her watchers. They were in standard armor, so they were frontline troops, not mechs, but that didn’t really matter. They’d fuck her up if things went sideways, so she did what she was told.

“Five meters,” the team leader ordered her as they left the torture dungeon that had been her home for god only knew how long.

Eve knew they were overreacting. A stiff fart from one of them would throw her off balance, but she kept her spacing from the woman. She followed down a corridor. There were other rooms, but no guards on them. She counted the rooms and the number of steps it took her to the turn. She didn’t know if she’d have to do this in the dark or without eyes when she tried to escape. They made a right turn and at the end of hall was a larger reinforced door, she guessed a lift, but they didn’t go to it. They took the second door on the left that led into a more spacious room.

There were other people in the room.

“Gun…”Eve began, but a glare cut her off.

The GYSGT’s face was severely bruised, obscuring her beauty behind a mess of black and blue. LT Wentworth, Mike, and SSG Hightower were also there looking exhausted but otherwise unharmed.

“So you’re a gunnery sergeant,” the Windsor sergeant sat down at a table on one side of the room. “The way she talked to you, I’d either put you at a private or lieutenant. You’re young either way and not in charge,” she studied the LT. “You, on the other hand are more seasoned. Some type of sergeant,” she pointed at Hightower. “Same with you, but not up to his standards,” she quickly dismissed Mike. “Lastly, you,” her eyes fixed on Eve. “You’ve got too much spunk to be anything but a corporal or sergeant. Prolonged service weights you down more, and you learn some tough facts about life and the galaxy. The Gunnery Sergeant understands this.” She completed her eerily accurate deduction. “Don’t worry. We’ll eventually identify you, parade you out in the streets as an example of your oligarchy’s attempts to defy the will of this planet’s people, and then you’ll be turned over to them for proper justice.” The woman didn’t gloat. It was just a statement of fact.

“All I want from you is information. How many more are with you? When is your Commonwealth going to counterattack? Give me this and I’ll tell the local authorities to take it easy on you,” she pointed at everyone but Eve. “You however. You destroyed a lot of public property and killed a few civilians. I doubt they’re going to let you off easy, so feel free to stay silent. If your compatriots help, maybe I can keep you alive.” A small smile tugged at the woman’s lip.

Eve hacked up what little saliva she had and spit on the table in between them. “Fuck you.”

As if on cue, a frenzied chirp emanated from the other woman’s body. She pulled out a PAD of some sort and opened a message where none of them could see. Eve might have not been able to see it, but she saw the slight tightening of the skin around the woman’s eyes. Something was up, and she just couldn’t resist.

“Something wrong?” she asked sweetly.

The woman didn’t answer. She got up and left the room. Her intentions were clear. She’d brought all the captured SRRT members into the same room to try and glean intel from them. She had done that, but the tables had been turned. She’d let them see something was wrong. That gave everyone a little bit of comfort.

 

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

He’d pushed the task force hard, but it was worth it. Aggie smoothly transitioned into normal space with only a slight tremble. Other ships wouldn’t be as lucky with their greener crews and fresh off a refit, but a couple of people loosing their lunches was a small price to pay for their timely arrival.

“Status?” he ordered and the holo-tank started to update.

Harper’s Junction wasn’t anything special. It was out of the way, and wasn’t much of a junction to anything, but the Windsor’s took it, so he was here to take it back.

“Alpha, Charlie, and Delta formations are reporting minimal dispersion, but Bravo…” the ADM didn’t need the tactical officer to continue further.

Bravo’s carrier group was scattered over several million kilometers. If they’d transitioned back to normal space closer to the planet, the Windsor’s would have been able to pick off the Commonwealth ships with ease. Fortunately, the battle plan called for them to arrive far from the target. They wanted the Windsor’s to commit to a course of action with time to react.

“Looks like we’ll be settling for Plan Three.” He sat back in his chair and watched the rest of the carrier groups get their acts together.

The task force was thrown together so fast and sent into action that there wasn’t time to develop clever names like most units did over time. They were simply Carrier Groups A, B, C, D, and the same was true with the battle plans. Plan One was if everyone transitioned well and were able to approach the target from their designated vectors. Plan Two was Alpha jacking up their transition, while Plan Three was Bravo Group screwing up and everyone else adapting. It meant the three carrier groups would approach the planet, while Bravo acted more as a reserve. It would allow the Windsor’s to concentrate more power on the three carrier groups, but it would also allow Ward to reinforce or break through somewhere if need be. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the reality he had to work with.

“Enemy forces should be learning of our transition in three…two…one…” the coms officer counted down.

As the light speed sensors updated, the holo-tank the ships in orbit around the planet began to move. The information was several minutes out of date, but the lag would lessen as they continued their approach.

“Let’s get to it people. We’ve got a planet to win back. Drone scouts out. Let’s make sure they don’t have any surprises waiting,” he sat back and ordered.

Now came the calm before the storm.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 261

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

Harper’s Junction wasn’t what this planet should be called. Shit World was much more like it, and it wasn’t all because of the clusterfuck the mission had turned into. Coop had spent more than his fair share of time rolling around in shit. He’d been in the manure truck before the ambush on the checkpoint, and after the ambush launched against the arms smugglers, he’d been forced to wade through a literal river of shit without the benefit of the breathing mask.

He’d been lucky enough to escape the noose the SWAT team and Windsor soldiers tightened around the few remaining rebels and smugglers that were still in the fight. The second the mech touched down it was all over, and it was only Coop’s enhancements that allowed him to put enough distance between himself and the warehouse before it abruptly ended.

He’d sprinted for his life and taken refuge in the refuse. The exit plan was to get to the river of crap that had developed in the dump and ride that for the few kilometers until it reached the exit grates. Ideally, they’d have some sort of tool to help get through those grates, but he could muscle through them if need be.

The problem was causing a disruption while the area was on lock down. Sensors tied those grates to the central processing center, and while their intel showed that those sensors went off frequently when shit built up and started to leak through, the techs only came around to check the readings occasionally. When a competent military command was present, it was a given any anomaly would be investigated, so Coop had to bide his time.

For two days he’d hidden in the shit, and he’d had several close calls. Sheer dumb luck was on his side. One time, a couple of cops had come within a few meters of his hiding place. The sensor must have triggered, and it got checked like he thought it would. Like any other organization in existence there was a hierarchy. Whoever was handling the cordon of the facility probably delegated the task to one of the military commanders on site. That commander, like any good commander, didn’t want his troops wadding through shit to check on a frequently faulty sensor, so that person probably farmed out the task to the local cops. The local cops, probably pissed that they had to do literal shit work, didn’t thoroughly check the area, or didn’t have the technology to check it as well as the soldiers would have. Thank god for that, because Coop would have popped on some of the higher-resolution scans. Instead, the cops came, ducked their head in to casually check the drainage pipe, and that was it. He got off lucky.

After getting out of the dump, he had to make his way back to the HQ with no supplies or backup. It wasn’t too far, he’d easily ruck marched farther than that in a day, but it was something entirely different to walk all that way sticking out like a rotting, sore thumb. His first task was to get something new to wear.

He relied on his skills as a former Rat to complete that task. On the downside was that they didn’t have clothes anywhere near his size, and getting the more expensive smartcloth garments was a no go. That was an easy way to get caught, so he ended up looting a big and tall store that wasn’t nearly big or tall enough. He made up for the absurdly short pants and shirts with boots and gloves, but a few centimeters of skin still showed at his wrist and calves.

He felt like a fool scuttling through the streets like a hunchback, and people seemed to be picking up on his awkwardness. That, or he hadn’t quite washed off all the stench. More than one person crossed the street to get away from him.

Taking it slow and steady, it took him another day to get back to headquarters. His night sleeping in a homeless shelter had actually been better than the nights at the HQ. No one asked him any questions, they didn’t ask for ID, and they didn’t care what his story was as long as he was up and out by the morning.

He reached the HQ warehouse around midafternoon, and despite wanting to report in to the SGM, he sat back and waited. He’d spent a lot of time thinking about the GYSGT when he was alone in the drainage tube, and that wasn’t doing him any favors.

He wasn’t willing to admit it right now, but the Cunningham’s last transmission had shaken him to the core. He watched soldiers die right in front of him before. He’d killed people with his bare hands and watched the life leak from their eyes, but this was different. It was like having God die right in front of him. The GYSGT had always been a mythical figure for him, even more than the SGM. She’d trained him in Basic. She’d helped hone him to the finely tuned weapon he was now. He knew she’d been injured before, but she never showed it or let it influence her decision making. It didn’t seem possible that one second, she was there giving orders to him, and the next she was dead at the hands of a multi-meter mech and he was running for his life.

The darkness of the pipe had left this mind to wander about all the horrible ways the mech could have killed her. A drug-induced sleep would have been nice then, only because he wouldn’t see her face as those rounds tore into her and her chance of escape dropped to zero. He didn’t think he’d ever forget that.

After watching the building for several hours, he made his way to the back door. He didn’t meet any resistance as he pushed through, which was his first sign something was wrong. The doors were supposed to be magnetically sealed. He moved as quickly and quietly as he could. He had no weapon, so he hoped if he did come across someone, he could close to hand-to-hand distance fast enough to keep living.

As he moved through the offices in the back that had been makeshift sleeping quarters for the resistance, he noticed everything was gone. Moreover, everything was clean. By the time he pushed into the main open area he knew he wouldn’t find anything.

<They bugged out when they heard the supply run went to hell.> It was SOP, but Coop wasn’t sure if they’d gotten word yet. Plus, he still needed to come back to see where they were going.

It was also SOP that they would leave a code to where they were going next. He looked over the main door where G2 had been spray painted. If any Windsor cryptologist came in, they’d have a hell of a time figuring that out. The simplicity was the key. Coop and the rest of the SRRT had developed a simple but uncrackable code to let each other know where they moved the HQ to.

The G referred to a reference book, in this case the Guttenberg Bible. He had the information stored on his IOR, so he easily pulled it up. G was also the seventh letter of the alphabet, so he flipped to the seventh page and went to the second word on the second line. Three was the word in that space, which meant they’d relocated to the third of their possible backup HQs. In this case, it was an under-construction high-rise in the business district with commanding views of the surrounding area. To Coop, it was the least practical of HQs, but the SGM must have had his reasons. It was another three kilometers away, so Coop waited for rush hour to hit the streets with as many bodies as possible. He still didn’t know if he’d been IDed while casing the palace, but better safe than sorry.

<Would be better if I had some nanites to shift my appearance.> Harper’s Junction was a little behind the times, but CC TV cameras running facial recognition software was pretty standard throughout the galaxy.

He set out and got to the new HQ just before the tide of people heading home subsided. He took a few laps around the building and spotted the rebel lookouts that had already spotted him. He didn’t pay them any more attention. They would have already radioed his arrival upstairs.

He took the grav lift up past the already completed sections. Some construction crews were still working late, but they looked sympathetic to the rebellion, because they didn’t bat an eye as they waved Coop to a utility elevator that took him up the back way to the top few floors.

When they pinged open, he was met with weapons drawn and a hard look on the SGM’s face. Their IORs must have synched because he waved the rebels off. Coop walked straight to the SGM to give his report. The NCOIC listened thoughtfully as Coop recounted the meet, brief engagement, and his flight to safety. He asked several questions about the GYSGT, and Coop had to give him the bad news.

Coop expected some reaction out of the man who was leading their team. He’d worked with the GYSGT longer than Coop had, and they both had a longer special ops background than him. Coop at least expected the older man to bow his head in a moment of silence, but he got nothing. That pissed him off.

“What, Sergeant?” The SGM noticed his attitude.

“You just lost your number two, Sergeant Major. She sacrificed herself for this bullshit mission and you’re acting like I forgot to bring home milk from the corner store.  I expected a little more for a fallen hero.” He wanted to scream but he kept his voice down. He knew the rebels wouldn’t take too kindly to him calling their fight for freedom bullshit.

Even more upsetting was the lack of a response he got from the SGM. <That’s just cold.> He was about to turn away.

“She’s not dead,” the SGM’s words stopped him in his tracks.

“What?”

“Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham didn’t die at the warehouse. She was gravely injured, but the Windsor’s took her alive.” He didn’t even break stride on what he was doing. “While the rest of you have been working on getting munitions and supplies for the upcoming fight, I’ve been trying to crack into the Windsor’s comms and break through some of the jamming they have going on around the city.” He pointed toward his LACS, which was sitting open in the corner.

Coop knew the command LACS had special capabilities his own V4 didn’t, but it hadn’t occurred to him what the SGM had been working on.

<That’s the different between sergeant and the sergeant major. He’s thinking big picture while I’m just focused on keeping my own shit squared away,> Coop wasn’t egotistical enough to dispute it. He wasn’t keeping an eye on anything other than keeping his ass alive and eventually saving Eve’s. Anything else wasn’t his job.

“I’ve made progress. My LACS’ AI had cracked some of their comms, and I heard about the GYSGT’s capture. I also was able to boost my signal enough to break through their jamming for a few seconds, which is all I needed to get an incoming QE message.” He paused for dramatic effect. “The fleet is on the way. They’re coming to retake Harper’s Junction with four brigades.”

<Four!> Coop felt positively giddy at having forty thousand people fighting on his side for a change.

“They’ll be here in under a week, so that gives us limited time to work. We’ve got a task list a mile long from the brass. We’re going to need to prep for their landing as much as possible, which means disrupting communications, logistics, knocking out any of the land-based surface to air and space weapons that we can, and just causing confusion in general. I’ve already alerted the resistance to the timetable, and they’re coordinating attacks to all go down when the fleet arrives. Our mission is to make sure we lose as few troops as possible in the drops.”

Coop personally hadn’t done a drop, but he would feel better if he knew an advanced recon team was sabotaging the enemy’s capabilities while he was helplessly flying down from the ships.

“I’ve got you set up with taskings over there,” the SGM pointed to a corner. Coop turned and stopped dead in his tracks.

The SGM’s finger was pointed right at a V4 LACS, and it wasn’t Coop’s.

“Don’t worry, Cooper. I’ll tell the GYSGT I let you use it. It’s not like she can use it right now anyway.” Coop swore he could see a smirk on the other man’s face.

All he could do was gulp and nod as he headed over to the GYSGT’s LACS and powered it up. The SGM had already reset it to factory mode so it was ready to accept Coop’s IOR and preprogrammed settings. Coop hopped in to run diagnostics and get a feel for it. The V4’s were fit to the soldier, but they had some capability to shift around. It was a little snug in the armor’s confines, but it was better than wearing flimsy smartcloth.

<It’ll have to do,> he sighed and pulled up his taskings.

He was going to be busy for the next several days.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 260

Admiral Sonya Berg

Location: New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Sonya strode forward with purpose. Other officers, NCOs, and specialists saluted her as she passed, but her eyes were fixed on the door at the end of the hallway. On either side of it were two HI troopers dressed for battle. The one on the right held out his hands as she approached.

“I need…” the soldiers stopped short as Sonya transmitted her GIC code via her IOR. Not many people had the updated internal implant, so if her five golden stripes didn’t do the trick that did.

There were very few people that could walk in on the PM without an appointment, and it was up to these guards and the PM’s chief of staff to stop their boss from being hassled, but the Chief of Naval Intelligence always had a get in free card.

“Thank you, ma’am,” the heavily-reinforced door slid open to admit her.

The conference room the PM had commandeered had half a dozen media holos playing while data chips, hard-copy polyplast documents, and a few PADs lay neatly ordered around the woman in charge. The PM put down a PAD she was perusing and raised an eyebrow at Sonya.

“Admiral?” There was a question in her tone.

“I need a moment of your time, Prime Minister,” Sonya waited for the PM’s nod to take her seat.

“You don’t usually barge in on people, Sonya,” the PM dropped the formality, but her face remained neutral.

“I learned a long time ago to speak my mind if I think something is up. In my line of business it is better to be overly cautious and wrong than let things slide.”

“Ah,” the PM leaned back in her chair and placed her hands in her lap. “You think I’m making a mistake.”

“It’s forty percent of our upgraded combat strength, straight out of their shaken down cruises with untested crews,” agitation flowed out of Sonya. “It’s my job to assess intelligence and present you with threats, and putting this much of our updated fleet into action is going to fuck us in the ass if it goes south,” she tried to recover with a cough, but it was too late. Saying ‘fucked in the ass’ to the leader of the most power interstellar civilization wasn’t something that was done every day…or ever.

“Sure it will,” the PM replied casually enough that Sonya laughed. It was just like their days back on Dauntless. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t take the chance.”

“Ma’am…”

“Let’s speak candidly, Sonya,” the PM cut her off. “You think I’m an infantry grunt about to throw tens of thousands of spacers and billions upon billions of new tech into the fire to win back a planet, which in the grand scheme of things means less than the shit I took this morning.”

“Deja,” Sonya took a long breath, “I think you’re trying to prove a political point with military lives.”

The PM’s face hardened at the comment, but Sonya didn’t back down. After a moment of tense silence, the PM’s face softened a touch.

“I am trying to make a political point. A point to Commonwealth citizens that if you get conquered we are going to do everything in our power to rescue you. A point to the Blockies that they better think twice about acting on our apparent weakness. A point to the Euros that we aren’t forsaking our commitments, and lastly, a point to the Windsor’s that if you fuck with us you’re going to be the one taking it up the ass.” The PM’s fist hit the table with a loud smack. “But you’re right, Sonya, I’m a ground pounder playing a fleet admiral’s game, but that’s why I have Gilmore to fall back on. You’re not exactly one to speak on this subject.

The reprimand stung, but it was true. Like anyone to reach flag rank, Sonya was required to hold certain commands. She’d commanded a cruiser, battleship, and a task force. The cruiser had been a peace time tasking. The battleship had seen minor action against pirates, but no pirate stood a snowball’s chance in hell facing off against a battleship. As a task force commander, she’d gone toe-to-toe with a Blockie force of comparable size in a system dispute. She’d prepared to fight, but the diplomats worked it out.

The PM knew she didn’t have great fleet command under her belt, but that wasn’t her specialty. Her intelligence agents had wormed their ways into every conceivable government, corporation, and organization in human space. She had eyes and ears everywhere.  She’d gotten her hands dirty as a junior officer in the shadow war between covert assets throughout the galaxy, so while she might ride a desk now, she knew where a number of bodies were buried.

The two women stared intently at each other before she gave a nod. If the PM could acknowledge her lack of experience, then so could Sonya.

“Gilmore is putting together the battle plan and I’ve got Ward in command. The man is fresh off a victory and wants more blood.” Sonya was glad to hear that the PM had competent naval officers running the show. “But what I do know that you are overlooking is seizing the initiative.” Her voice was stern again. “The Windsor’s have it now and we need to take it back. We need violence of action. We need to hit them when they’re reveling in their victory. The universe is watching us. The Hegemony is judging us, and we need to look good.” The PM had only been in office for a few weeks, but she looked tired. “We can’t afford to lose, which is why I’m putting nearly half our new assets into the field while the other sixty percent make sure we’re secure here and can build more. Hell, we might lose more systems if they counterattack before we’re ready, but in the long game I know we’ll end up ahead if we can bloody their nose here.”

Sonya looked in the PM’s eyes. She was a good judge of when another person was lying or just straight up bullshitting. The PM was doing neither of them, which was why she felt confident saying what she said next. “My daughter is on Harper’s Junction.” She stopped the tears from forming. “And my son’s battlecruiser is slated for part of this task force you’re putting together. If this goes sideways, the rest of my family dies.”

The PM’s face softened again as she reached across the table and took Sonya’s hand. “If this goes sideways a lot of families are going to be torn apart. It is up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.” She gave it a squeeze and let it go. “I’ve got a meeting in two, so why don’t you go help out Gilmore. Ward is probably driving him up the wall right now. They’re from the same generation, but different schools of thought.”

Sonya chuckled. Ward and Gilmore had been at odds since the academy. To Gilmore, naval warfare was a dance, to Ward, a boxing match where anything goes. Sonya had been caught more than once supplying Intel to rationalize one or the others’ plans.

“I’m on it. Sorry for disturbing you.” Sonya got up to leave.

“Don’t be.” The PM waved away the apology. “If someone can’t come and tell me they think I’m about to screw up then I’m not a good leader.”

<She is a good leader,> was Sonya’s last thought as she stepped out of the room.

“Hello, Admiral Berg,” the man who approached was wearing a visitor’s badge that gave him full clearance.

“Thomas,” Sonya nodded to the titan of industry. “What brings you to the CEOC?”

“I’ve got some concepts I want to run by the PM,” he replied with a smile.

“You mean you’ve got some weapons tests you want to run in the field and the Harper’s Junction operation is the best opportunity you’ve had in a decade,” she stated, and watched his eyes flicker between surprise and suspicion so fast she nearly missed it. “Good luck.” She walked away knowing the CEO would be wondering how she knew what she knew.

It didn’t mean she didn’t disagree with his ideas. In fact, the Commonwealth needed every ace up their sleeve that they would pull in the next week. She’d seen the numbers for the first ships out on their shake down cruises, and those numbers were adequate at best.

We’re in for a hell of a fight, she sighed as she went to check on Ward and Gilmore.

 

***

 

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

The Hero of Yangon stood on the flag bridge of his upgraded flagship and watched the replay holo of the latest training simulation. He wasn’t satisfied, but he wasn’t pissed either. Task Force Five Point One had been thrown together on a whim and told to go fight the Commonwealth’s most dangerous enemy practically overnight.

<At least I’ve got Aggie here,> he gave the command chair of his flagship, the refurbished Assault Carrier CWS Agincourt, a meaningful pat.

She’d already been in the yards recovering from the beating at Yangon, and with the new alien tech getting installed she was a prime candidate for upgrade. Then, 5.1 got commissioned and it became a logical choice.

5.1 was an unusual configuration of ships. Not necessarily in the ships themselves, but in how they were going to be deployed in the battle. He didn’t exactly like the changes Gilmore had been selling, but the man was ultimately his boss, and he begrudgingly saw the need to shake things up in this situation.

They’d studied the Windsor’s battle plans from the recent blitz in excruciating detail and contrived a plan to rob them of as many advantages as possible. In the process he was being effectively demoted. Task Force 5.1 might be big, but it wasn’t going to be run by a fleet admiral like usual.

The plan called for the task force to be divided up. Going head on in a traditional battle wall against the Windsor’s superior shields and weapons was suicide. They’d learned that painfully at Queensland with the Aussies. 5.1 had been reorganized along the corporate carrier group model, which was enough to get his hackles up. Corporate security forces were full of people who couldn’t hack it in the fleet, or left for the payday. Either way, he didn’t think highly of them, but in this case, their formations just happened to work better.

5.1 had four assault carriers tasked for the mission, which would be complete overkill in any other situation. On them they’d have their full complement of four brigades, forty thousand marines, to help retake Harper’s Junction when the time came, but more importantly, all four carriers were upgraded with the new gluon power plants, shields, point defense clusters, energy weapons, missiles, and some killer new EW systems. The same could not be said of all their escort ships.

Each carrier had a half dozen battleships, battlecruisers, missiles cruisers, and a number of destroyers to cover their flanks. In total, each carrier formation numbered at least twenty ships. According to the numbers coming from the spy gunboat that had been on station that was sixty percent of the Windsor’s total force projection. The Commonwealth learned long ago you couldn’t project a one-to-one ration against the Windsor’s.

Of the escort ships, a formation was lucky if one third the battleships were upgraded. Aggie’s group was the only one to boast three upgraded battleships and a battlecruiser, and it got those because it was the task force flagship. The second and third formations each had two battleships, with the fourth formation only having one. Ward tried to make up the difference by giving them an upgraded battlecruiser, while the other formations had zero, but everyone knew one battleship was worth a hell of a lot more than a battlecruiser. Still, the intel stated the Windsor’s didn’t have anything bigger than a battlecruiser on station, although, they were big ass ships.

The theory behind the new battle plan was to get the Windsor’s to commit their forces piecemeal to engage each of the carrier formations, which would each use different avenues of approach to advance on the planet. This would cut down on the number of enemy hulls facing the more vulnerable Commonwealth formations. Or, the Windsor’s could take their whole fleet and engage one of the carrier groups. In that case, that group would take evasive maneuvers and stay at the edge of the enemy’s missile envelope, while still continuing to harass the enemy. This would keep the Windsor’s off balance, but would make the fight last longer. Either way, the marines would get on the ground and retake the planet.

He’d been drilling his people hard in these new tactics since receiving command because their lives literally depended on it. Their capabilities might look good on paper, but it took people to fight the ships, and if those people didn’t know their ass from a hole in the ground then it didn’t matter what new tech they had at their disposal.

“Sir, I’ve got the Prime Minister on TACCOM,” a nervous-looking communications officer announced.

“Put her on,” he put on his serious face to address the leader of the Commonwealth.

“How’s it looking, Mike?” Simmons’ face popped on the holo and he couldn’t stop a small grin from forming. Once upon a time, he’d been a task force commander and she’d commanded the marines on his ships. They went way back, but his crew didn’t need to know that.

“We’re improving, Madame Prime Minister,” he kept it basic in the hopes she’d read between the lines.

“Are you ready?” She came out and asked him point blank.

“We’re the Commonwealth Fleet, ma’am, the greatest fighting force in the galaxy. We’re always ready for any threat.”

Her calculating eyes studied him before she nodded. “Your deployment orders should be in your inbox now. Godspeed.” She cut the link and a soft ding announced the arrival of the orders followed by a second ding.

He couldn’t help but chuckle as he read the second message. It was a promise of a stiff drink and enlightening conversation about how the Commonwealth Infantry was the greatest fighting force in the galaxy when he made it back victorious.

The deployment orders weren’t as funny. They were to set out immediately for Harper’s Junction, which meant within the next twenty four hours. Because not all of the task force’s ships were upgraded, they’d have to use the Alcubierre Launcher Network and drives to get to the target system. That called for multiple refueling stops after traversing the network and dogging it the last few dozen light years on drives. With Harper’s Junction being almost eight hundred light years away, it was going to take them upwards of ten days to get there.

There was no time to waste.

He passed the orders to the navigators and called for a meeting of his staff and all captains and XOs in two hours. They had a lot of work to do and not enough time to do it in, but that was the Navy.

<Which is why we’re the greatest fighting force in the galaxy.>

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Two Worlds – Chapter 259

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“That was a shit sandwich with a side of ass fries,” Coop grumbled as he pulled himself up the last few ladder rungs and into the dilapidated factory.

After dispatching his two uninvited guests, Coop’s getaway had been uneventful. He made it to the rebel bar and descended down into the subterranean maintenance tunnels that were the circulatory system of any modern city. The rebellion’s main component were the working class folks who worked these tunnels, so the areas were clear as Coop passed through them and walked the few kilometers back to the factory district.

“We heard,” the SGM replied from a table not far from the access hatch. “It’s been all over the police frequencies.”

“Any idea who they were?” The GYSGT deposited a crate of components down in front of their boss.

Coop, like all the other straight men in the room, couldn’t help but stare. The GYSGT had stripped down into basically a sports bra and workout shirt that had enough holes in it, it didn’t count for much. Unlike all the rebel soldiers drooling and tripping over themselves, Coop knew he didn’t stand a chance. Plus, he was taken.

“I didn’t stop to ask,” he snapped back. His nerves were still a little raw and his pride was wounded from being spotted. The rest of the SRRT team had taken a crack at surveilling the palace, but only he’d been caught.

“Next time do a quick pat down and look at their credentials,” the SGM advised without looking up from the box of goodies the GYSGT had brought him. “It’ll help to know if that was a Windsor intelligence asset or just a local detective you iced.”

Coop nodded because he knew he should have done that in the first place, but with the chef standing there looking like he was ready to bolt, Coop made the executive decision to get the hell out of dodge. “Roger that,” he replied as he walked up to the table. “What do we have here?”

“Don’t touch,” there was a warning in the SGM’s tone that Coop knew better than to disobey.

“That insurgency class is finally come in handy,” the GYSGT joked as she brought over a chair and spun it around to sit in it backwards.

“This isn’t the first time,” the SGM left it at that, which meant the rest was probably classified.

Coop just stared dumbly at the two of them until the GYSGT brought him up to speed. “About twenty years ago the infantry panicked about planets getting lost to the Blockies. We were just starting to expand meaningfully into a few sectors and we were rubbing elbows with our esteemed neighbors to the East more often. The brass got a bunch of snake eaters together, like the Sergeant Major here, and had them study up on insurgency warfare. They then went around to the militias on these newly founded worlds and taught some select units these tricks,” she grinned. “Nothing major ever happened beyond some naval skirmishes, and we were ten years from rediscovering the Windsor’s, so they cut the whole program after a few years.”

“But look at me now,” the SGM cracked a rare smile as he completed some component and the electronics blinked to life.

“What is it?” Coop asked as he reached forward, only to have his hand slapped like a child by the GYSGT.

“It’s a detonator, Cooper,” she chided as the SGM put it into a completed box. Looking in the box, Coop saw about a dozen of the devices.

“See if you can get some more components?” the SGM requested.

“Shit,” the GYSGT exclaimed as she checked the time. “Let’s go, Cooper. We’ve got to move.”

She tossed off the ratty shirt, getting catcalls from around the room, and got into her CMUs. She threw a jacket over to conceal the Commonwealth Military Uniform before giving everyone the finger. Everyone laughed, and Coop could feel the positivity in the air. They were planning to hit the Windsor’s where it hurt, and that gave these people hope.

Coop knew better than to just rely on hope as he hopped into the passenger seat of a garbage truck. The meeting with some off-planet weapons smugglers, who’d unfortunately been trapped on Harper’s Junction by the invasion, was happening at a waste disposal center. Again…people tended to not look too closely at people’s random shit, so it was the perfect cover.

Getting to the location was more of a nail biter. Traffic was getting heavy as the sun started to set and the work day ended. On one hand they were using the mass of people as cover. Public outrage tended to keep checkpoints at a minimum during rush hour, but on the other hand, they were in a big, slow moving target that anyone could point out to the Windsor’s and then they’d be totally fucked. After his recent run in with the law, Coop wasn’t keen on being in public right now, so he sat quietly in the passenger seat and fiddled with his pistol.

The pea shooter was nothing compared to his Buss, much less a M3, but when going to meet with illegal contacts, there was a certain protocol. Number one on that was don’t show up with big guns the other guy can’t match. Someone is going to start something and then everything goes to shit, so a little pistol it was.

<At least it’s modern,> he had to be thankful it was an EM propelled model. Most of the rebel foot soldiers coming with them had old-school slug throwers, <But with our only defense being our quick wits, reflexes, and CMUs on their combat setting, one of those old slug throwers might get the job done anyway.>

For about the millionth time Coop missed having his LACS. He was willing to do just about anything to get back in one.

After nearly an hour of driving, and one heart pounding episode where they thought they were getting pulled over by the cops, they arrived at the plant. As promised, it smelled like shit mixed with fouler shit, and a side of rotten onion rings. That would have distracted Coop if not for the two men at the gate with barely concealed sub-machines guns.

The GYSGT had a word with them, flashed a smile, and they were through the gate and rumbling toward a warehouse that looked nearly identical to all the others in the factory district.

“Ok, Cooper,” she threw the truck in park and turned to him. “I’m not the Gunnery Sergeant here. We’re Gwen and Mark, just a couple of people out to buy some guns. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunn…I mean Gwen,” the words sounded blasphemous rolling off his tongue.

Apparently, Gwen agreed. “We’ll work on it.” She opened her door and hopped down.

Coop doubted the gun smugglers would be thrown by them not using their ranks. They were too big to be anything other than enhanced military personnel, but he’d learned that concealing anything you could from the enemy was a good thing. Even if it was just your rank.

The other resistance soldiers gathered around the two SRRT members and headed for the large, metal double door that was cracked open. They heard voices from inside. Some of the rebel troops went in first before Gwen and Coop squeezed through the opening.

“Ho-chi-mama,” a man at the center of a rag-tag group of individuals stated when he saw Gwen. “I’d like me some of that.”

Coop ground his teeth and clenched his fists at the comment, but a warning look from Gwen made him stand back. <She can handle these assholes.>

“Hello, boys,” the sweet voice that came out of her mouth was one Coop hadn’t heard since meeting her at Basic. “I hear you’ve got something long, hard, and capable of breaking a few hearts for me.”

The gun smugglers laughed as the innuendo, and just like that she had them relaxed.

<Damn.> Coop just stood back and watched the master work.

There was some haggling over the price, and a lot more haggling to get her to have a beer with them, but she fended them off with the skills of a beautiful women who’d been hit on by horny men for decades. Finally, an agreement was reached, and money exchanged hands. She waved her hand and Coop came forward to grab some of the crates. The rebels needed two guys per crate, while he could take on in each hand.

As he picked up his two, he couldn’t help but take a peek to see what they’d be using to storm the gates of the fortified palace. What he saw made his heart stop.

In his crate were dozens of AK-89s. The AK-89 was a Blockie weapon developed and deployed as their main assault rifle in 2089. They’d manufactured tens of millions of the model and had used it in combat for nearly a century and a half. Unfortunately, 150 years still meant they’d moved away from it in the 2230s, a solid two hundred years ago.

The AK models were known for their resiliency and dependability, and there were so many floating around in human space that everyone knew how to use one thanks to all the action they’d seen in real life and in holos. Thankfully, they were an EM powered model, but they were the first mass produced model after that tech really got rolling, so its performance numbers were nowhere near the current M3s model. It made up for it by firing a 2.5mm round, a lot bigger than the M3, and it looked like the smugglers were giving them plenty of ammo. It had a hundred round magazine, which was going to be needed. They’d need a ton of rounds to take down a regular Windsor grunt in their armor. Coop wasn’t even sure they’d be able to breach the enemy’s shields, and he knew there was no way in hell they were going to take down a mech if a V4 LACS couldn’t handle the task.

<We’re going to be walking into a meat grinder,> he tried not to let his despair show, but one of the smugglers caught on.

“Hey, kid, these are dependable guns right here. They’ll get you out of a bind and make whoever is fucking with you think twice about trying again.” The smuggler clearly wasn’t clueing into the fact that Coop and Gwen were military and they could only have one real target on this planet.

“Sure,” Coop shrugged as he grabbed his two crates and headed back toward the truck.

As he reached the double doors his IOR pinged him. Since it was in standby mode, it was a surprise and he nearly dropped his crates. When he checked the message he did drop his crates.

{Incoming.} The text looked so innocuous he would have assumed it was a joke if not for the setting he was in.

“In…!” he didn’t get the word out before the world exploded with light and sound.

He stumbled backward and tripped over the crate. He banged his head against the metal door, which didn’t help his already discombobulated senses. The only good part was that it gave him a reference point of where the weapons were.

As his eyes continued to adjust, his hands reached out and grabbed one of the AK-89s. The hundred round clip was harder to find and harder to insert, but as he fumbled with it he got in a prone firing position while using the crates as cover. When the blur started to dissolve into more concrete shapes an icy fist gripped his stomach.

A dozen men in black tactical gear were spreading out through the opposite side of the building. There was also a big hole in the ceiling where the large-area flash-bang came crashing in from. The men had on obsolete helmets by modern Commonwealth military standards, but it was still allowing them to coordinate and would increase their fire’s lethality. Plus, most of the smugglers and rebels were still rolling around and trying to get their bearings. Only him and Gwen seeming to have regained function.

{Lay down cover fire and I’ll move to you,} her voice popped into his head. They weren’t supposed to use the IOR, but they were up shits creek.

{Roger,} he targeted one of the lead men with the AK-89s old iron sights and pulled the trigger.

The weapons had some kick to it, but not enough to overwhelm his enhanced strength. He kept the barrel on target and three rounds hit the enemy in the chest. He went down, but Coop saw him crawl behind cover.

{Aim for extremities,} he relayed to Gwen as she popped up from her own cover and engaged another enemy.

It looked like the Windsor’s had moderately upgraded the capitol’s SWAT team. That was why the 89’s heavy round didn’t blow open that cop’s chest, but their arms and legs were a different story. Gwen’s rounds hit their target, and he went down in a spray of gore.

{Moving!}

Coop popped up and sprayed the area. He depleted the magazine in seconds, but it stopped the SWAT teams advance and allowed the GYSGT to make it a dozen meters closer to safety. She took cover behind a shelving rack.

{At your three o’clock,} Coop warned as the cops advanced farther into the warehouse and attempted to flank her position. He lost sight of her as she moved down the row, but the 89s powerful retort rang out seconds later.

That was all the time he could spend looking because the SWAT team had zeroed in on his position. Rounds started to chew up the ground and crates around him. He reached in a grabbed a handful of magazines before retreating back.

“Shit!” fragments of the faux wood kicked up by the incoming rounds dug into his hand. He popped up to spray the area again before bounding for the door.

Any of his instructor, including the GYSGT, would have chewed his ass out for firing blindly without acquiring a target. However, he didn’t think they’d expect him to be on an enemy held planet, without armor, HUD, or any modern targeting suites, and using a three-hundred-year-old Blockie assault rifle.

He expected rounds to tear through him as he squeezed through the door, but none came. He silently thanked the gods of war watching over him before using the door as cover to rain down fire on the enemy. He lost track of time as he burned through his ammo, but thankfully the smugglers and rebels were starting to get into the fight now.

Someone somewhere had grenades because stuff started to randomly explode on the far side of the warehouse.

{Gwen, where are you?} He scanned for any sign of the GYSGT. {Gwen!} He thought she was down and he was going to have to go back in to haul her ass out, when she appeared on the far right of the warehouse.

She was ducking behind a container as rounds tore into whatever garbage they were storing there. Coop aimed diagonally across the space, where he thought her attacker might be, and unloaded twenty rounds. She saw the opening he’d created and took it.

For a second, he thought she was home free, but then a puff of red erupted from her thigh, quickly followed by a second from her lower abdomen. Her face screwed up in pain and she faltered and fell.

{Gunney!} He desperately wished he had a grenade or something bigger to give him cover. He tried to squeeze back through the door, but rounds dinged into the metal and he took a ricochet in the forearm.

“DAMN!” he shook out the pain and droplets of blood flew everywhere.

She was down, but she wasn’t out. She was pouring fire back in the direction she’d been shot from and she must have hit something because that fire ceased.

{Get the truck ready,} her orders were clear over the IOR.

He looked over his shoulder and saw the rebel soldiers not caught inside standing like a bunch of frightened school children hanging around the big truck.

{They don’t seem to have a perimeter up, so we need to get the hell out of here before they tighten the noose,} she continued. {Fire up the truck and I’ll meet you there.}

{Yes, Gunney,} Coop’s training kicked in and he followed his orders.

“Stow that shit and keep an eye out!” He yelled at the rebels mulling around.

They’d gotten all but the two crates of 89’s that he’d been carrying, which was better than nothing, but a billion of those crates didn’t equate to one GYSGT Cunningham.

<We can still get out of this,> Coop hoped as he executed his orders. All they needed was the GYSGT.

That small glimmer of hope immediately extinguished as something glinted overhead. “Incoming!” Coop did the smart thing and put as much distance between himself and the truck as possible.

A missile streaked from above and straight into the cab of the vehicle. It went up in a ball of crackling flame. Even worse was when the originator of that missile crashed through the roof of the warehouse. Coop would never forget the look of a Windsor mech, and even though this was a slightly different design there was no mistaking its destructive potential.

{Run!} The GYSGT’s command came through before the mech’s five meter figure disappeared into the warehouse.

{But…}

{Get the fuck out of here, Cooper. That’s an order!} He knew there was no way she could possibly enforce that order. Her ass was grass, but her sheer willpower had Coop’s feet moving before he knew what was happening.

The truck was a smoldering wreck, all the weapons were gone, the GYSGT was about to be KIA, and their emergency egress plan involved wading through a manmade river of literal shit to get to the access tunnels that would take him out of there and to safety.

<Fuck!> There was no better word to describe the total disaster this mission was becoming.

He sprinted for the shit river and safety.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 258

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<Don’t mind me. I’m just a giant among men,> Coop grumbled as he made his way through the afternoon lunch crowd.

The remaining members of the SRRT had arrived in the capital a few days ago and were starting to recon the area. The majority of the recon was completed by the rebels that gave them shelter in an old, abandoned factory in the dying industrial district. Their teams would go out early in the morning and come back late at night. Part of their job was to take a sensor back that the GYSGT put together that helped identify IOR signals. That was the quickest way to find their captured team members.

It took the rebels two days to find a clue, or better yet, a lack of a clue. When they walked within the sensor’s radius of the Governor’s Mansion – what the locals were now calling the Royal Palace – the readings dropped to zero, which could only mean on thing.

“Jammers,” the GYSGT’s smile was refreshing after running and hiding for the last week. Now, they could finally start to plan.

There was one problem with that. The rebel spies might be good at walking around with sensors, or keeping an ear open in the city’s various drinking establishments, but scouting a hard target secured by Windsor tech was something they weren’t trained for. Ultimately, the task fell to the SRRT, which was a problem in and of itself.

Coop had thought it before, multiple times, and he was feeling it again right now. There was a critical flaw in the SRRT concept. On one of the Core Worlds, that had been around for centuries, and even the middle class could afford some sort of enhancement, a 230 cm man wouldn’t stand out as much. On a backwater colony like Harper’s Junction, tall was 180 cm, and Coop looked like a literal giant.

<We aren’t spooks. Us trying to be spooks is going to get us killed,> his mental bitching continued as he kept walking. <I’m just too damn big…that’s what she said.> The end of the thought brought at a brief chuckle, which made a woman walking the other way put space between them.

<don’t worry, you aren’t my type. My type is in there,> Coop turned his eyes back to the target.

The Governor’s Mansion/Royal Palace was large, luxurious, and heavily defended. A five meter wall separated it from the main street outside, and judging by the carvings it was meant to be decorative, but Coop saw the subtle flicker of energy indicating a shield. Two large, duro-steel gates, spaced about two hundred and fifty meters apart were the only entrance and exit on this side of the compound. Those gates had two Windsor marines in full battle rattle standing at attention, and Coop knew there was at full squad in the gate houses on the inside.

<So that’s twenty to worry about right there. Then there are the snipers and weapon emplacement…>

This wasn’t Coop’s first look. He’d done some scouting from nearby buildings, and being very careful, he’d catalogued half a dozen snipers on the roof, and four heavy weapon’s teams at the four corners, plus a roving patrol of a duet of mechs. Those two could fuck up everything without the rest of the security.

On top of all that, half a kilometer down the street was a barracks. Coop had watched it for a day, and he knew at least a company was stationed there as a quick reaction force. That was approaching a hundred and fifty men that Coop had seen guarding the mansion. That didn’t account for the security inside. Since it was now called the Royal Palace, he was sure there would be a heavy number of personal bodyguards for the planet’s new rulers. He’d yet to see the Queen, but he’d seen holos of her posted on the planet’s new and improved internet. The Windsor’s were taking credit for that, along with the banners with the Queen’s coat of arms that seemed to flutter from every pole within five kilometers of wherever she was.

Coop would have wondered if she was home, but a quick dip into Windsor history answered that for him. When the monarch was in residence a special flag was flown over the residence. That flag was flying.

<It could be a feint,> Coop doubted himself, but ultimately thought that Windsor’s weren’t going to put off a big tradition because of a little rebellion.

All of that flew through Coop’s mind as he walked the perimeter. His mind worked out the heavy weapons fields of fire, what areas of responsibility the snipers were deployed to cover, and what a response time from the barracks would looks like. All of it made whatever the GYSGT and SGM were cooking up seem nearly impossible.

<We could take this place with a battalion, or another SRRT team or two, but with half a team, me out of armor, and rag tag rebels were all gonna fucking die.> He sighed as he kept on walking.

He checked the reflection in a restaurant he was passing and saw one of the sentry’s heads tracking his movement.

<Shit.> He kept his pace even and his eyes forward. <Too damn big.> This time there wasn’t a joke attached to it.

He understood why they needed to be big. You couldn’t be a regular human and operate the LACS effectively, and an SRRT team in their V4 LACS could probably hold off a standard infantry battalion if Coop’s own experience meant anything. The SRRT team could be sent in advance of regular combat forces to fuck shit up, but again, snooping and pooping on a backwater planet like this was just going to get them all killed.

He took the second right after spotting the sentry’s wandering eye and headed down a side street. His rendezvous point was a rebel friendly bar four blocks away. It had tried very hard to not be known as a rebel friendly bar, so it was only supposed to be used as a last resort. With each step he took the unease in his gut grew. Something was wrong, and he desperately wished he could use his IOR to play back footage of his walk by the palace.

Since the team now knew the Windsor’s could track close range IOR coms, all their units were in standby mode. They could send or receive any data, but since the IOR was tied into their neutral system there was no way to actually turn it off. The SGM made it simple on them and said they couldn’t use any function unless they were back safe at HQ or well away from any enemy forces.

That was not Coop’s current situation, so he was going to have to do things the old-fashioned way. Half way down the block he darted into the street and between two cars. The cars honked at him, but he ignored them. He darted into the alley behind a bar, not the friendly bar, and made for the back door. The door was locked, but Coop was a big boy, and enough pressure made the flimsy material yield to his will.

He made his way into the kitchen where a surprised-looking chef’s eye bulged at his size.

“Delivery,” Coop said lazily coming up with the excuse on the fly. “I need your manager to sign for it.”

“He’s out,” the chef just looked confused.

“I’ll wait,” Coop pretended to be bored and plopped down on the edge of the counter.

The chef watched Coop warily for a minute, but when Coop’s bored demeanor didn’t crack, he turned back to his work. That’s when Coop slid the ceramic knife out of the back of his pants. The non-metal blade was key to avoiding any sensors the Windsor’s might have sweeping outside the palace for weapons. This was the only one Coop was carrying.

For an HI trooper, having nothing but a nine cm knife made him feel like he was completely naked with nothing but a small piece of cloth to cover part of his junk.

His instincts had been right on. Only a few minutes after he barged into the kitchen he felt the pressure change as the door opened again. He heard the footsteps coming down the narrow hallway that opened up to the kitchen itself.

<Two sets,> Coop took a deep breath to fill his body with much needed oxygen. <Three…two…one…> He launched himself toward the hallway just as the first of the men came into view.

They’d clearly identified him as someone surveilling the palace because his weapon was out, but pointed straight ahead. He pivoted to target Coop, but was to slow. Coop knocked his arm aside and buried the blade into his throat. Coop felt the protective vest the man was wearing as they collided, but it didn’t do anything to stop the blade from cleaving his jugular in two.

The second man was clearly stunned at seeing his partner cleanly filleted right in front of him, but he recovered quickly. He pointed his weapon straight ahead and fired, but Coop was already moving. He’d grabbed the dead Windsor by the shirt and vest and lifted him up to use as a shield. The round fired from the second man’s weapon hit his dead buddy right in the back of the vest. Coop didn’t know if it penetrated, but he knew the little pocket pistols the pair were carrying weren’t enough to go through one side of the vest, through a person, and out the other end.

Coop ended up throwing the dead body at the second man who fired again with the same results. Having eighty kilos crash down on you was something Coop could have shrugged off without a sweat, but it wasn’t something a normal person could deal with. The two Windsor’s went toppling backward and landed in a heap.

Coop rode the momentum of the fight and pinned the man beneath his partner so he couldn’t bring his weapon on target again. The ceramic blade flashed again and the second man’s femoral was opened in his leg. He got out a short scream before the blade found his throat and turned it into a death gurgle.

Barely fifteen seconds had passed. Coop exhaled slowly as he turned back toward the kitchen. The chef was standing there, shaking, with a butcher’s knife in his hand. As Coop took a step toward him, he shook so hard he dropped the weapon. Coop reached toward him and smelled urine as the chef was sure he was going to die. Instead, Coop grabbed a sterilizing towel and wiped it across himself. The fabric clung to the blood splattered across his face and chest and left him looking spotless. Lastly, he used it to wipe down his knife.

He didn’t even look at the chef as he left through the front of the bar where the day drinkers didn’t even lift their heads out of their glasses to acknowledge him. He wasn’t sure who the two Windsor’s were, but he constituted this as an emergency, so he headed straight for the rebel bar. From there, they’d be able to get him back to the rest of the team.

They were backing up the rebels with a weapons buy later this evening and he needed to report in before they met the arms dealer. They were doing to need some serious hardware if they wanted to even put a dent in palace security to get their teammates back.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 257

 

Benjamin Gold

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<Come on!> Ben’s knuckles popped as he gripped his command chair to control his terror. <And I thought I should be worried about Jacobi.> He almost laughed, but the holo-tank showed Argo was going through another series of evasive maneuvers.

 

He didn’t dare speak to PO3 Lee. The young NCO was cocooned in the helmsman’s sphere of controls and data. She and Amber were keeping them from getting blown to smithereens.

 

Everything had gone to hell in a handbasket when Argo swung around for its second pass. They’d barely collected their data before active sensors pinged them on their approach. They’d devised their flight path based on limited movement hypothesized by Amber, but something had obviously happened to throw that hypothesis right out the window.

 

All of the enemy’s destroyers were fanning out around the system, and Argo nearly ran into a trio of them. Since then, it had been a game of cat and mouse. Argo’s speed and upgraded defenses were what was keeping her alive long enough to reach the FTL limit.

 

<So close!> Ben bit the inside of his cheek as his gunboat was rocked by an explosion.

 

A damage report automatically scrolled on across the side of his command terminal. Their countermeasures had caught the missile well outside effective range. Some of the sensors facing in that direction needed to recalibrate after a near hit, but that would be done in seconds.

 

“New enemy contact.” Amber’s voice was too calm for the situation as another angry, red icon appeared on the holo-tank.

 

This one was bigger and coming out of an asteroid field that had been cloaking its emissions.

 

“Time to the limit?” Ben asked, as he heard the strain in his own voice.

 

“Three minutes and twelve seconds…eleven…ten,” Amber informed.

 

“Time until missile range on the new contact?”

 

“Two minutes and seventeen seconds.”

 

“Flight time of those birds on maximum burn?”

 

“Fifty five seconds.”

 

<Shit.> The missiles were literally going to blow up in their face right as they transitioned out.

 

“Lee, fire up the Alcubierre Drive,” he made a decision.

 

“What, sir?” she snapped her out of her trance and the ship shuddered from a glancing energy beam.

 

Ben kept his eye on the shield’s power level, but was confident they’d hold together until jumping. “Alcubierre is faster than portaling. We’ll do a short jump, reorient, and then portal back to the nearest friendly system.”

 

“Aye, sir,” she was back to work with her hands flying across the controls.

 

Ben watched as the seconds ticked down until two dozen, smaller red icons burst from the cruiser closing in on them.

 

“Drive powering up, fifty four seconds to jump,” Aiko confirmed as the storm of death rained toward them.”

 

“Did the data packet get back to HQ?” Ben asked. That was the mission after all.

 

With the enemy ships on the move, they’d been able to get a better count than before, but that didn’t help his estimation of chances on retaking the system. There were ten percent more ships than he originally thought, and while that might only be three more ships. Three ships with shields and extended missile ranges was going to be hell for any Commonwealth ship coming into the system.

 

“Thirty seconds.” Amber’s voice was still annoyingly emotionless.

 

All Ben could do was sit back and wait for the fireworks, and at roughly the same time Argo jumped to FTL and the enemy’s salvo detonated.

 

The one positive that came from it all was that it took the Windsor’s ship a little bit to figure out they’d missed. The negative was that Ben and Aiko knew all too well they were leaving the SRRT team on Harper’s Junction for the duration of their mission, and that could be indefinitely if the Commonwealth decided not to retake the system.

 

 

 

Admiral Sonya Berg

 

Location: New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies              

 

Sonya, along with the rest of the senior admirals in the system stood patiently as the new prime minister’s yacht pulled into orbit around the massive Valley Forge Yards and detached a plethora of shuttles. The “yacht” was actually a decommissioned cruiser that had been modified for diplomatic voyages, and had recently been released from Valley Forge with a slew of new upgrades. The PM was protected by better armor, shields, longer-range missiles, and more powerful energy weapons than most of the Commonwealth fleet.

 

Sonya saw the irony there, and was excited to sit down with her new boss.

 

Unlike other governments through history, she was not worried about her job. The PM didn’t choose what officers served in what critical posts. The admirals chose those most qualified and then sent the decision to the PM for ratification. It had been nearly eighty years since a PM had failed to ratify an admiral for a priority post, and that PM had faced a vote of no confidence within the month and was out on their political ass shortly after. Politicians were supposed to provide oversight and not dig their fingers into military concepts they didn’t understand.

 

<Finally, a woman who knows what she’s talking about.>

 

The security shuttles took up protective positions as the PM’s shuttled docked with the station and disgorged its passengers. The Valley Forge Ship Yards was the largest warship facility in human space. It would have been the galaxy before coming into contact with the Hegemony, but seeing what the massive collection of species was capable of, everyone was sure Valley Forge wouldn’t even break their top fifty.

 

In fact, there was a massive Twig ship currently docked on the far end of the station. It was delivering the next-gen technology that human engineers would then need to fit into the new classes of warships being developed, and the older ships being retrofitted.

 

Sonya knew this whole meeting might be on the books as a meet and greet, but she knew the new boss better than that. This was a meeting of her war cabinet and anyone who didn’t realize that, was going to find themselves out of a job very shortly.

 

Sonya resisted the urge to pop a stim to keep herself focused, but instead maintained an expressionless face as the doors on the far side of the room slid open. Members of the PM’s security detail entered first, followed by the woman herself.

 

“Keep your seats,” she ordered before everyone could rise.

 

Sonya could feel the different atmosphere in the room. Mackintosh hadn’t been able to handle a room of military specialists. He might be able to win over a crowd at a rally for education reform, but the business of war was clearly outside his wheelhouse. Simmons didn’t have that same handicap.

 

Deja Simmons (ADM retired) didn’t cut a big, imposing figure. She was only a couple centimeters over one-sixty, with un-enhanced hazel eyes, and close-cropped black hair that looked rather plain against her dark skin. Her social pundits frequently attacked her lack of style and her preference for everything utilitarian. Those same pundits failed to realize that mindset constantly hurt them when it came to the business of government. What the people who elected Simmons to office, then to leader of the Eagle Party, and finally to Prime Minister, really cared about was that she got the job done.

 

Sonya watched those intelligent, hazel eyes scan the room as she took her seat and got straight down to business. “What is our status?”

 

The RADM in charge of Valley Forge immediately brought up holos of construction queues, refit statuses, and timelines.

 

“Anyway we can speed this up?” Simmons asked after a minute perusing the data.

 

“More money and manpower,” the RADM shrugged comically, not realizing it was serious question.

 

“Get me figures by the end of the day for what you need to cut these timelines in half.” Simmons turned her attention to the next senior officer on her list, and ignored the pallor that settled on the RADM’s face due to his new tasking.

 

“Do we have the personnel trained and ready to man the ships?” Her next question went to the ADM in charge of recruitment and training for the entire fleet.

 

“We’ve introduced train the trainer course with the help of our alien allies in the new systems and tech. Since we don’t have any systems to spare for actual training demos it is going to be a little touch and go how qualified our people really are in an emergency situation. We do have people thinking outside the box in terms of training techniques,” he quickly added when the PM’s face started to sour. “The classes are actually helping on the installation and learning some tips from the yard workers. We’re hoping for the best.”

 

“Hope for the best, plan for the worst. I want an updated training plan on my desk by the end of the week.” Simmons cut the man off at the knees, and Sonya saw his face go beet red.

 

That particular ADM had been in his current position for close to thirty years. He was good at his job, but he was a little pompous and complacent at times. He needed someone to light a fire under his ass every few years, and the PM had just done that.

 

“That gives us the ships and the people that’ll be ready to take the fight to the enemy. Where are we going to be fighting?” Simmons turned her attention to Sonya.

 

Unlike most of the people in this room, Sonya had a prior relationship with the new PM. Once upon a time, a lowly Lieutenant Commander Berg had served with a certain Lieutenant Commander Simmons. She’d been an assistant Intel department OIC while the PM was the ship’s marine commander. They’d fought Blockies and pirates together on the battleship CWS Dauntless in what felt like another lifetime ago.

 

“The Windsor’s hit us hard on multiple fronts, but in most they didn’t stick around. They induced the maximum amount of destruction before retreating and then consolidating in a handful on annexed systems.” Sonya sent the data to her former compatriot with a swipe of her finger. “We’ve had teams using the new alien tech watching these system for weeks now, and they’ve been constantly updating us with intelligence.” As if on cue, a beep announced another data dump.

 

“As a matter of fact…” Sonya began, then frowned as she scanned the data. “Our team from Harper’s Ferry was identified and chased out of the system. They did complete their mission and get actionable intelligence on enemy naval strength, and the infantry unit assigned to them has linked with the local rebellion and begun insurgency activities.”

 

“But the team was still on planet when the ship had to bug out,” Simmons finished.

 

While Sonya had been talking, Simmons had brought up all the available data on the annexed systems and lined them up on the holo in front of her to compare and contrast. A minute more of concentrating and she’d cut the list in half and minimized the data.

 

“Our boots on the ground are reporting different force types in these three systems,” she identified. “This one’s naval presence is too big,” another system’s data was minimized, “but one of these two should do.” Harper’s Ferry and one other system remained highlighted for everyone else to see. “And since we’ve abandoned our team on Harper’s Ferry that’s where we need to go first.” The PM made an executive decision on the spot, which was something Mackintosh would have needed a committee and a week to decide.

 

“I want an operations order hashed out and on my desk in two weeks. That’ll give the yard time to pump up production and get these ships out for their shakedown cruises.” There was more than one pale face at the PM’s demands.

 

“We’re going to take back our systems ladies and gentlemen.” For such a small woman, the PM could instill a lot of confidence in people. “So buckle in and get ready to work. The op tempo is about to pick up around here until we get back what is ours.”

Sonya couldn’t stop her smile from forming. The Commonwealth had been playing defense with the Windsor’s for too long. It was time to turn the tables. 

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Two Worlds – Chapter 256

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“Let’s go people, let’s go!”

A shiver went down Coop’s spine as memories of Basic reared their ugly head from the depths of his subconscious. GYSGT Cunningham was marching around the resistance HQ like she’d marched around their barracks. Only this time she was wearing a LACS, and he could swear the barrel of her Buss was still smoking.

The multi-strike raids had been a success….mostly. One team had been caught out in the open by orbital bombardment, but there was no use worrying about them. One moment they’d been alive, and the next they’d been scattered across a dozen kilometers. They hadn’t felt anything as the kinetic force of the railgun round ripping through the atmosphere pulverized them.

<Actually, the last thing they heard probably sounded like God was ripping a big one up there,> Coop chuckled as he imagined the racket the round cutting through the atmosphere sounded like.

“What’s so funny, Cooper? You want to end up as a smear stain on some Windsor mech’s boot, because that’s what is going to happen if you don’t move your ass!” The GYSGT descended on his momentarily good humor like a plague.

Like in Basic, it was unwise to respond. Instead, he just put his head down and kept picking things up and putting them down. As the strongest human outside a LACS – even injured – the bulk of the loading fell to him.

A steady stream of trucks was pulling into this section of the tunnel system that had this former mining command center. Into those trucks the rebels, with the SRRT team significant assistance, were piling all of their crap. They all needed to get the hell out of dodge.

The smoke had barely cleared from the orbital strike and the Windsor’s and their loyalist lackeys were on the move. While the hardcopy and electronic data in the planet’s achieves was gone, there were still people out there who knew their way around the mines. Some were helping because they liked the new management, and others were doing it out of fear. Coop didn’t really care which one was their motivator. They were all traitors.

Kill teams of Windsor troops were spreading out through the intricate network of tunnels that infested the bedrock of the entire continent. Running into them at this point was like finding a needle in a haystack, but teams on other missions had found that needle, and it had fucked them up. Now, everyone was scurrying to reposition and blowing shit up to stop the enemy’s progress.

“There is an old forge here,” Masha was pointing to a spot on a hardcopy map that Coop couldn’t see.

It irked him to no end that Masha was a high up in this rebellion. The guy was literally a student…an art student. The first time he’d fired a weapon in anger had been the ambush, and Coop knew for a fact he hadn’t hit shit. On top of that, he’d nearly gotten shot. Coop had found him on the withdrawal shaking in the back of the vehicle he’d stolen, but now Masha was giving relocation orders like he knew what he was doing.

<I just hate him.> Coop concluded, and continued hauling stuff into the waiting truck.

“Did I say you could take a water break!” The GYSGT barked as she listed an entire computer server and walked it across the base to carefully put it in the back of the Coop’s stolen vehicle.

It irked him that his ill-gotten gains had immediately been seized in the name of the resistance. Now, a man in a flimsy-reinforced, clothe vest was manning the weapon on top, and like an idiot, had it pointed in the wrong direction. The idiot was watching them pack, not the tunnel that was the only avenue of approach into the HQ.

“Do you want to stop pointing the shit and me and all your buddies. One nervous twitch and you’re going to blow everyone away.” Coop plopped the served he was carrying next to the GYSGT’s.

“It’s on safe,” the guy shrugged.

Coop closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, clutched his fists and counted to ten so he didn’t pull the guy out of the turret and knock his teeth out.

“Cooper, stop just standing there!” The GYSGT was back, but Coop didn’t care.

He held up one finger in the universal “wait a minute” gesture, which was a lot better than the one-finger gesture he felt like giving everyone. Surprisingly the GYSGT didn’t bite his head off. He felt a cold, metal hand on his shoulder.

“Take five out there,” she pointed back into the depths of the HQ.

“Thanks,” he muttered as he continued those deep, soothing breaths.

He marched into an empty corridor and rubbed his eyes as sudden exhaustion spread over him. The only time he’d gotten any shuteye since landing on this planet was being passed out from injury or in surgery. Those didn’t exactly lend themselves to a good night’s sleep, so he was starting to feel it. Plus, he’d fought – more than fought – he’d single handedly dominated his battle only to come back to HQ to have to rush to retreat. Then, he was surrounded by such incompetence he’d rather grab a bunch of FNGs fresh from Basic. It was all so…

“Frustrated?” The SGM walked through the door in his LACS. His head barely avoided brushing the ceiling.

“Among other things,” Coop answered honestly.

On top of the sleep deprivation, and being forced to work with starving artists turned wannabe soldiers, he had been too busy until now to think about Eve. Killing some Windsor’s had been cathartic, but now he couldn’t help but imagine what they were doing to her.

“Don’t worry, we’ll make it right.” Coop wasn’t sure if the SGM was talking about the lack of basic warfighting skill in the rebels, or their missing team members, but either way it helped to know the NCOIC was thinking the same as he was.

Coop opened his mouth to respond but a boom rumbled nearby and the whole facility shook. At that moment, he didn’t need to be reminded to get back to work. He shot to his feet and sprinted back into the makeshift loading dock.

“What the fuck are you standing around for? Remove your thumbs from your assholes and move, people! We’ve got less time than we thought!” Coop roared and the rabble of men and women were shocked back into action.

The SGM walked back over to the GYSGT who was standing in the middle of the madness.

{Cooper,} their voices appeared in his mind as they activated their IORs. {We can’t stick around with these guys any longer. They’re going to be on the run for weeks trying to avoid the Windsor’s. Chances are that they are going to be caught and killed. Masha doesn’t know this, but we’ve convinced him to take us into the city to get our people back while the rest of his people run.} It was the best news Coop had heard all day. {Once we get our people, we’ll make contact with the rebellion and complete our mission with them if we need to, but I don’t need more info for my report back to the brass.}

Coop would bet half a months pay that the report said the populace was willing to fight for their independence, but their tactical prowess or strategic importance was minimal at best. Like with the Windsor loyalists, their best use was going to be diving down into these holes and leading Commonwealth troops on a subterranean hunt for any remaining Windsor’s.

{Get your kit and meet at Masha’s vehicle.} The SGM broke off and left Coop to gather him ramshackle, oversized, jerry-rigged Dragonscale armor.

<We’re coming for you Eve…and you too Mike.> He thought as he jumped into the back of the truck.

Everyone but the SGM joined him in the back, but they remained silent behind their faceplates. Everyone had something on their mind, and if they were thinking the same thing as Coop, then they wanted to get their people back fast.

Coop hadn’t been through SERE school, but he knew the generalities of what his girlfriend was probably putting up with.

 

Eve Berg

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<SERE did not prepare me for this,> even Eve’s mental thoughts were groans at this point.

She was naked and tied up in this Windsor hellhole. After she’d dislocated her shoulder trying to kick her interrogator, the bastards had stripped her naked and tied her up like she was the star in some kinky bondage film. Thankfully, it hadn’t gone farther than that, but there were plenty of other ways to torture her.

She had no idea how much time had passed, or how many times they cut her. Death by a thousand cuts seemed to be the recipe of the day for her current tormentor. The lithe man took a simple razor and sliced her flesh open at periodic intervals. The cuts varied in size and depth, but they all hurt, and each one of them drew more blood and strength from her enhanced body.

“Again,” the man stood in front of her with his silver instrument of pain dripping with her blood. “How many soldiers came with you? What is your mission? How did you get here?”

This time Eve opened her mouth, which she’d stubbornly kept closed up until this point. The man visibly perked up.

“Didn’t they teach you anything in Interrogation 101? One question at a time.” Her lips broke into a vicious grin as she hacked a loogie right onto his face.

The man closed his eyes and sighed deeply, like he was dealing with an unruly child. He wiped the spit off and flung it onto the floor just before he slashed out with the razor.

<He’s fast when he wants to be,> she noted before stinging pain lanced through her forehead.

Blood quickly trickled through her eyebrow and into her eye. She grimaced as more stinging enveloped her face, and she tried to shake away the blood. That only succeeded in terrible agony emanating from her shoulders.

“Sometimes it’s the little things,” her tormentor smiled once she stopped screaming. “A little blood in the eye from a little nick on the head. It’s just so troublesome.” He brought his face very close to hers.

Normally, she would have broken the fucker’s nose, but she couldn’t bear to move her body a centimeter.

“That’s a good girl. Give in to the pain.” He gently pressed his lips to her forehead.

It felt like much more of an invasion than it should have considering what they could do to her in her current state, but she instinctually reacted. She lashed out, but he was already dancing away. Pain wracked her whole body until finally darkness took her.

“We’ll start this up again later, my precious.” Her tormentor placed the razor on his table of deadly instruments and took a seat to watched her hang their unconsciously.

A moment later the door opened.

“Your Majesty,” the torturer bowed deeply as Josephina stepped into the room.

She gave Eve a good once over and nodded to the torturer. “How close?” was her only question.

“Closer every minute,” the man smiled. He had a system, and it was known for its effectiveness.

“Good. Get me when you have something actionable. We’re going to crush this rebellion now, and make sure everyone knows what happens when you bite the benevolent hand that rules you.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” he bowed low again as the Queen left, before turning his watchful eyes back on Eve.

He settled in to wait.

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