Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Harper’s Junction, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Easy…easy…shit,” Coop cursed as they slid down the side of an embankment. SSG Hightower and Mike were still supporting him, but they were tired. They’d been prisoners for some time, and then forced to drag his injured ass across the entire city and into the farmland around it. Coop knew he’d be bitching up a storm by now if he had to carry so much dead weight, so he had to give respect where respect was due.
That didn’t stop him from spewing a bunch of four-letter words over the IOR when he hit the ground. An agonizing jolt of pain pushed through the drugs that had been pumped into his system and he collapsed out of his team members’ grips.
“Shut the fuck up,” the SSG hissed as he laid against the berm with his weapon pointed up.
A pair of drones rocketed overhead. They banked hard and came back the way they’d come. Coop curled up, hoping his LACS would protect him from the rounds the drones would put into their little group. A steady stream of burps echoed around them as the drones took precision shots.
None of them hit the combat-ineffective SRRT team. Coop still felt the vibrations as the rounds tore up another embankment about fifty meters from them. The drones split away in opposite direction with a howl of their thrusters, and Coop gave himself a pat down just to make sure he was still alive.
“About a dozen Windsor’s were moving parallel to us,” the SGM informed as the popped his head up and ran a scan of their surroundings. “Drones took them out. Come on. Let’s keep moving. Almost there.” The NCOIC hefted Sullivan’s corpse onto his shoulder and started moving again. Of everyone, the SGM was carrying the most weight.
Coop waited for GYSGT Cunningham to grab Eve and help her up. The LT stood nearby to help, and Coop and his helpers brought up the rear. They moved along the small drainage ditch for a few hundred meters before climbing up and over the road to the opposite side. Coop half expected Windsor drones to bear down on them and blow them to pieces, but it seemed the Commonwealth had air superiority in this sector.
They slid down a slope on the opposite side much more gracefully that the last one, and a waypoint appeared on his HUD. There was a small hill less than a kilometer away that was their rendezvous point.
<About fucking time,> Coop was starting to feel woozy.
Medical nanite degradation. Tourniquet application required, flashed on his HUD before more pain ripped through his injured leg. He screamed as the built-in medical device tightened just below him.
Hightower grunted as their gait was disrupted and ran a quick medical check. He cursed the timing, but kept prodding Coop along. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel helped.
Twenty minutes later, the SSG and Mike happily dropped Coop on his ass on the backside of the hill away from the fighting. “So we just sit here nursing our thumbs with our assholes until these RECON marines decide to show up.” Coop couldn’t feel anything on his injured leg anymore, which wasn’t a good sign.
“This is supposed to be an elite SRRT team,” an accented voice announced over TACCOM. “I’m not impressed.”
STRATCOM pinged the speaker at under twenty meters away, and made Coop flush with embarrassment. His situational awareness was shit right now. Two RECON marines in V3 LACS low crawled out from underneath a cammo-net set up at the apex of the hill. If Coop had to guess they were forward observers providing target coordinates to the brigade artillery and orbital assets.
“Stow it, Master Sergeant,” the SGM cut RECON off before everyone got in a dick measuring contest. “We’ve been through a bit over the past few weeks.”
“Weeks?” the other RECON marines finally spoke. “I guess…” they finally caught sight of the rest of the SRRT team, “Daaaaamn.” What was clearly a junior NCO or enlisted RECON stated.
Coop didn’t fault him for his reaction. Eve was missing an arm, he had a giant spike through his leg, and Sullivan was dead with a spike through his chest. They’d clearly been through some shit.
“Medivac is on the way,” the senior RECON stated with more respect this time. “We’ve got to get back to work,” they two marines retreated back to their OP.
They were true to their word and fifteen minutes later a Spyder swooped down for them. They trudged up the ramp as technicians and medics swarmed them. Coop collapsed onto the deck as the bird took flight again. He caught a brief view of the ongoing battle before the ramp snapped closed and the engines gunned it to make orbit without getting blasted out of the sky.
Maybe it was the drugs, trauma, finally getting Eve back, or just battlefield fatigue, but Coop found himself laughing and crying at the same time. He made sure no one saw what was going on inside his armor. He’d never be able to live that down.
The small view of the battle he caught struck him as sad and inspiring. It had been thousands of years since man first gathered to form civilization and ended up fighting in the first wars. Weapons had changed from rock throwing, spears, and wooden shields to EM power rifles, orbital bombardments from capital ships a few kilometers long, and energy shields that could stop a railgun round but not a rock that one of their ancestors would chuck at them.
Despite all of the changes in weapons, defenses, and tactics, it still involved two groups of men and women, advancing across an open plain, and trying to kill each other. If there was an unalienable truth to humanity, Coop was sure it was that they would always try to kill each other. Even aliens hadn’t changed that. In fact, they was only giving humans better ways to do it.
<As long as I’m the one doing the killing and not the dying that’s fine by me,> Coop gave a mental sigh and composed himself as technicians opened up his damaged armor and medics treated his wound. <Maybe I’ll take a nap now.> The medics must have given him something because he was fast asleep before they popped him out of the LACS.
Location: CWS Agincourt, Harper’s Junction, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop was violently thrust into consciousness. All around him medical devices beeped, hissed, and thumped; coupled with the hushed-but-hurried tones of doctors and nursed. Despite the abrupt arrival in the world of the living, he kept his eyes closed.
“We shouldn’t be bringing him out just yet, we need things to set more,” a woman’s voice tainted with anger spoke a few meters to his left.
“We don’t have a choice. We’ve got our orders. Plus if he stays in the grav-chair there won’t be an issue. This is just a patch job until we can get him back to a ground-side hospital,” a man’s voice replied.
The woman huffed then the clink of a privacy screen being pulled back, and the assault of artificial light on Coop’s eyelids made him groan.
“Good you’re awake,” the woman hit her PAD and the bed tilted upward until Coop was sitting at a ninety degree angle. It gave him a great view of his leg missing below the hip.
“WHAT THE FUCK!” he roared loud enough for the woman to unconsciously step back. “WHERE IS MY LEG?!” He turned on the doctors with murder in his eyes.
“Sergeant,” the woman had two gold stripes on her collar, and was trying to act the part of a CMDR. “The damage to your leg from the still-unidentified Windsor weapon was extreme. The heat and force of the spike had fused your leg to your armor. To get you out of the armor and into treatment we needed to remove your leg. A replacement is currently being grown, and will be ready once Agincourt returns to New Washington. At the Naval Hospital in the capital you will have the best surgeons in the world to replace your leg and rehabilitate you to peak physical condition.”
Coop knew that. This wasn’t the first time he’d lost a limb, but waking up and finding that limb missing was going to haunt his dreams for months.
The CMDR snapped her fingers when it became apparent he’d stopped listening to her. “This is very important,” she repeated. “We’re going to help you into a grav-chair so you can report as ordered, but you will not, I repeat, you will not get out of it. The nanites and Insta-flesh are still setting from your removal procedure and I don’t want you to rip something and bleed to death.”
“Got it, Doc. Bleeding to death equals bad.” Coop was still focused on his missing leg.
The CMDR rolled her eyes and helped shift his bulk, with the other doctor’s help, to the edge of the bed and a waiting grav-chair. The chair hovered a few centimeters off the ground waiting for him. He waved off the doctors and swung himself over the edge and into the chair. The chair gave a groan and smacked down into the ground before recalibrating for his extra mass. Slowly, it rose to its previous position.
“Look at your fat ass breaking stuff,” a familiar voice joked as Eve pushed her way through the privacy screen. She had what was left of her missing arm mag-locked to the front of her CMUs. The dressing on it was fresh, and a lot better than the field-improvised first-aid Coop had performed.
“How’s it going, stumpy?” he asked.
“Not too bad, gimpy,” she shot back.
“Ouch, low blow,” he retorted.
“You’re lucky that spike hit so low or the removal procedure would have caused us some serious problems,” she winked.
“Oh shit,” his hands flew to his package, “oh thank god.”
“Don’t thank him yet,” Eve grimaced.
Messages started to ping in Coop’s head as his IOR activated again. His mailbox transplanted over his vision and one stood out above the rest: an immediate order to report to Admiral Ward’s office.
“Admiral Ward?” He didn’t know the man other than him being an Admiral and de-facto big kahuna.
“Jesus, Coop,” Eve stepped behind him and started pushing his chair forward. “Admiral Michael Ward, the Hero of Yangon, the man who just took back Harper’s Junction from the Windsor’s. People are starting to call him Nimitz reincarnate.”
“Nitwit, what kind of name is that…” he was cut off as she smacked the back of his head. “I’m just saying that we had a fair deal to do with retaking Harper’s Junction,” he continued. “No one is going to declare it Mark Cooper day since I’ve only got chevrons on my shoulder.”
“Just…don’t embarrass me,” Eve sighed as she pushed his chair into a lift and keyed in a code. The lift rumbled into motion, and didn’t stop at every deck, which was weird for a warship the size of Agincourt.
The lift beeped and the doors opened into a corridor just outside the thickly armored flag bridge. Eve pushed him forward and knocked on a door across the corridor from the bridge’s guarded entrance.
“Enter,” a tired voice replied.
“Sir, Sergeant Berg and Sergeant Cooper reporting as ordered, sir,” Eve snapped to the position of attention, but didn’t salute because she was missing he saluting arm. Coop remained seated, but sat up a little straighter.
“At ease,” the man sitting behind the desk had blue in his eyes, looked distinguished, handsome, had both legs, both arms, and was everything Coop expected of a full Admiral. “Good to see you, Eve. It’s been a while. Your mother told me to relay her gratitude that you didn’t die.”
“Thank you, sir,” Eve didn’t skip a beat despite the awkward exchange.
“Sergeant Cooper. Just the man I wanted to see,” the ADM’s eyes turned on Coop and lost what little warmth they had when directed at Eve. “I should have you thrown out an air locked and jettisoned into the nearest star.”
The barb cut deep. Deeper because Coop had no idea what it was about.” “Sir?” he didn’t know what else to say.
“Sergeant Major,” the ADM called, and their NCOIC popped into the room. “Play the recording.”
The recording from Coop’s V4 popped into a holo in the center of everyone. It played from the point the SRRT rescued its imprisoned members to the point where the Windsor mech backed out of the hole it in the wall with the HVT.
“Sir?” Coop repeated, still not knowing what to say. He considered pointing out the video conveniently cut off before a grenade-propelled spike fucked up his leg, but the ADM didn’t look like he was in a joking mood.
“What was your mission, Sergeant Cooper?” the ADM inquired.
Coop thought back. “Well, sir, our original mission was to Splitstream in, coordinate with the locals to pass intel back to the fleet about the conditions on the ground. That evolved to linking up with rebels and assisting with their counterinsurgency. That, in turn, evolved into sabotaging infrastructure and the enemy’s ability to respond to your fleet’s arrival. After we completed that, we took the initiative to rescue our captured team mates and destroy the elements of the enemy’s command and control that we could. Then…”
“Let’s focus on the last bit,” it looked like the ADM was biting his tongue. “You were participating in a decapitation strike in the center of Windsor power on the planet…”
“If I may, sir.” Surprisingly, the SGM cut off the ADM. That the SGM was a bad ass motherfucker was the only thing that saved him from an ass chewing. “The mission was to rescue our captured team members. We made some situational assessments once that portion of the mission was completed to search for any HVTs in the palace and attempt to kill or capture them,” the NCO clarified.
“The issue at hand, Sergeant, if you haven’t grasped it yet, was the total lack of aggression in trying to capture and kill that HVT.” The ADM clarified.
It took a moment for Coop to digest what the ADM was saying, and then he nearly jumped out of his grav-chair to strangle the man. “Who the fu…”
Sir,” Eve cut in while simultaneously hitting a switch that mag-locked Coop to the chair. He couldn’t even pull his arms off the armrests much less strangle the ADM. “There are many extenuating circumstances of the encounter we witnessed that dictated our situational-dependent response.”
The SGM kept a straight face, but Eve had just used the best-case diplomatic speak to tell a navy fleet puke that he didn’t know his head from his asshole when it came to ground combat; especially ground combat against a Windsor mech. The ADM wasn’t a stupid man, so he understood that, and his face hardened in response.
“First off, sir, there was no way Sergeant Cooper could have taken out that HVT without getting himself and everyone else killed. “He used an ingenious method to force a stalemate with an ultimatum he was not able to carry out. Sergeant Cooper was able to save lives, my life to be specific, and I am very grateful for that.” The emphasis Eve put on the “I” seemed to suggest someone else would be happy with the outcome as well.
The ADM’s eyes were still hard, but his face finally slackened. “Do you know who that was, Sergeant?” He turned back to Coop.
“She said she was some baroness,” Coop shrugged.
“That was Josephina Barrow. Or as she was better known on Harper’s Junction, Queen Josephina. If you want to go back just a bit, she was the Chief of Intelligence for the Star Kingdom of Windsor. You, Sergeant Cooper, single handedly let go the woman who led the invasion against Harper’s Junction, ruled over the planet when it was stolen from us, and until recently, was the most important intelligence operative the Windsor’s had.”
All this hit Coop like a hammer. He slumped in his chair and took a few deep breaths before looking up at Eve. One look at her face and the weight lifted. “Sorry, sir, but I wouldn’t change my decision making process,” he replied confidently.
The ADM just shook his head, but Coop swore he saw a glint of approval in the SGM’s eyes. Eve went even farther and gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze.
“Unfortunately for you, Sergeant Cooper, people with more experience and responsibility disagree. As such, you have been reassigned after you complete your rehabilitation and your restrictive duty is lifted. You will be reduced to the rank of corporal. A review board convened and determined since you did not earn the rank of sergeant, and are no longer a member of an SSRT team, you may not retain it.” The ADM landed body blow after body blow on Coop, but Coop just took it. Eve squeezed his shoulder after each blow landed. “Sergeant Berg,” the ADM returned his attention to Eve. “You are also being reassigned, but on the recommendation of your commanding officer and Sergeant Major Queen, you will retain the rank of Sergeant. You will complete the classroom portion of NCO Academy at your new duty station. The Sergeant Major determines you have completed the field portion of the process under warfighting conditions. As a former Master trainer, he had signed off on its completion.”
Coop looked up at Eve and smiled, but a small part of his brain bristled at getting busted down when he’d been the one to save her ass.
“You are also being put in for a medal for taking the fight to the enemy while virtually unarmored and unarmed. You nearly took out the HVT with your bare hands. That kind of initiative needs to be rewarded, and I’m sure some people will want to talk to you where you are going.” The ADM gave the two former SRRT members a long look before waving them off. “You’re dismissed.”
Eve’s heels clicked as she snapped to and turned Coop’s chair around.
<Well, that could have been worse,> he looked down at his missing leg as a ping announced the arrival of a new message.
It was his new orders. He instructed his IOR to open and display it across his vision. Eve must have received the same email because she stopped.
Coop nearly stopped breathing after reading the first line. He expected to be sent back to Thor and a new infantry unit, maybe even Mars to the HI school for more training. He did not expect what he was reading.
The email was ordering a permanent change of station from his old unit HQ on Thor to Fort Stewart-Benning on Earth. His medical recovery had a projected time table and using that they had assigned him to class 001-2434 of …
“Recruiting School! These fucktards want me to be a recruiter!” Coop closed the message and pinched his eyes shut. Hoping this was a bad dream.
“I’m assigned to Stewart-Benning too,” Eve replied. “Recruiter Class 001-2434 after my NCO Academy classroom completion.”
Coop’s outlook brightened a bit. He was used to the universe fucking him in the ass, but at least it looked like he’d be getting some ass for the foreseeable future.
<It’ll take it,> he grinned.
Not killing the baroness-queen-what’s her face might have been the best decision he’d ever made in the infantry.