Two Worlds – Chapter 267

Windsor Planetary Defensive Battery Seven


“Hold…hold…hold until you see the flares of their engines,” the sergeant in charge of the control room cautioned everyone.

Ned held his finger on the trigger waiting for the order. For too long he’d been scraping a living on his family’s farm for the oligarchs of the Commonwealth. It was what his father had done, and his father before that, and all the way back to the founding of the planet. When Harper’s Junction was first slotted for colonization the Commonwealth sold people a dream that never became reality. After a dozen generations, everyone wanted something new.

<Well…not everyone,> Ned reminded himself. There were still many cities that refused Windsor rule. He knew the Royal Marines would get to them eventually, but holding the capital and all the cities critical to maintaining productivity and infrastructure of the planet’s main exportable resources was good enough for the time being. Plus, it wasn’t like the local militia or rebel fighters could do much to hurt the Imperial forces on the planet.

Ned had been looking forward to the introduction of new technology to his home. They’d been living at least a century behind the curve when it came to anything that didn’t involve producing the materials that lined the oligarch’s pockets. Now, he wasn’t sure he’d ever have the chance.

<At least I’ll go down fighting for what I believe in.> The fear of death was real and present in the small bunker control room.

Planetary defensive batteries were always high on the target list for invading forces, but battery seven had survived the Windsor’s invasion, so there was more hope than usual. The combination of natural terrain features, exquisite camouflage, and a new shield generator gave Ned even more hope. For the last several weeks he’d been training with the team, half Windsor and half Junctionite, for this moment.

“The worst part is the waiting,” Martin said from the next station over. Martin was a Private in the Royal Marines and had taught Ned’s section the ins and outs of the controls they were now manning.

“Yeah, they hurried us in here hours ago just to sit around and wait to push a button,” Ned joked, even though his nerves had his hands shaking.

Martin put his hand over Ned’s and smiled. “It’s going to be ok. We’re all going to be just fine.”

Ned smiled back, but the SGT interrupted the moment. “Prepare to fire.”

“Power sequence initiated.”

“Terrain readjustment commencing.”

“Target lock achieved.” Different stations confirmed their portions of the firing sequence.

Several dozen meters of crust above them, a cavern in the mountains near the capitol shifted ever so slightly. The nose of the five meter cannon already had great concealment in the cavern and the cover of the mountain would likely protect it against counter battery fire. What is gained in cover and concealment it lacked in maneuverability. The cannon only had a small span of air and space it could cover. Thankfully, that air and space was the most likely avenue of approach to the capitol city for anyone trying to invade, which was the whole purpose in installing it in the first place.

“Air scrubbers engaged.” Giant suction fans started cycling in the cavern itself. When the cannon fired, it would kick up a lot of debris, and it was the fans job to make sure none leaked out to identify their position.

“Enemy formation has entered their parking orbit. Distance fifty thousand kilometers at thirty-two degrees. ” The Junctionite at the sensor station confirmed.

“Compensate for atmospheric interference, and sequence the shot with other batteries,” the SGT ordered.  A countdown clock appeared on the holo in the center of the room.

“We’re going to knock their socks off,” Maria, another member of the battery’s team, was practically giddy as she communicated with other batteries so they hit the Collies as hard as they could with their opening salvo.

That was true. The dozen batteries assigned to protect the capitol were all going to hit the Commonwealth’s biggest ship at the same time. They were surely going to do some damage.

“Sergeant, I’ve got movement on my sensors.” Another Junctionite announced.

The SGT pulled the data to his screen and gazed intently at it. Suddenly, his eyes lit up like it was Christmas. “FIRE!” he ignored the clock as he screamed his order.

Someone could only ignore the clock for a good reason, and that reason was that the Commonwealth assault carrier was disgorging fighter/bomber drones and Spyder assault shuttles full of marines for their first wave of the invasion. Since it was firing off the drones as considerable speed so they could beat the Spyders into the atmosphere, that meant their shield were lowered or the frequencies had been fiddled with to allow the passage. The formation of enemy ships was sitting over fifty thousand kilometers from the planet for a reason. They didn’t want to get caught with their pants down.

Ned ignored all of that as he concentrated on his job. The SGT jabbed the ignition trigger, and there was a split second as everything was sent into motion. As with all older technology, there just wasn’t enough power in a simple old battery or reactor to fire an energy beam through atmosphere and into space that would damage capitol ships. While newer model might have dedicated gluon power plants able to do just that, Battery Seven had to rely on power coming in over buried, shielded lines from multiple sources. One of those sources was the capitol itself, which had military power stations designed for this specific purpose.

Everyone knew where those stations were, but far fewer knew where the conduits leading to the cannons were. Some of those individuals with that knowledge base didn’t take kindly to the Windsor’s presence, and some of those individuals told some Commonwealth soldiers how to disrupt the power supply.

In that split second when the SGT hit the trigger, and power was relayed to Battery Seven for the shot into the assault carriers vulnerable hangar bay, the bomb planted by SGT Mark Cooper triggered and turned that power conduit into twisted, broken nothingness. Battery Seven still fired as it pulled power from other sources as well, but the conduit leading to it from the capitol was its main draw.

Ned saw this reflected on his screen as the bar that had been green and peaked at the top of the chart suddenly flashed red and dropped to forty percent.

The bolt of power from Battery Seven traveled at the speed of light through the atmosphere, but the dispersion caused by the atmosphere robbed it of its strength. When it hit the shield around the Bush it was under ten percent power and the big ship’s shields were able to handle it with ease.

“What the hell?” The SGT was on his feet and running to Ned’s station. “What did you do?”

“Nothing, Sergeant.” The power levels dropped right as you hit the trigger. I’m running a diagnostic now.

“We’re being scanned!” Maria yelled from next to him. “Prepare for counter battery fire!”

“Close the blast doors,” the SGT ordered.

One meter-thick duro-steel panel slid across the opening to the cavern, and a second, twice as thick, door slid in front of the cannon. In addition, the cannon dropped down ten meters to avoid being in the same place it fired. The elevator, powered by anti-grav, was capable of firing from several different positions throughout the mountainside. That was why Battery Seven had survived the Windsor’s invasion. It was like trying to hit a whack-a-mole.

Bush locked onto the approximate position of the energy cannon and fired a five round burst from one of its railguns. The duro-steel rounds heated up the atmosphere as they plunged toward their target looking like shooting stars. Thinking the rounds were headed for them, the capitol air defenses sprang into action. It took out two of the shells as it passed over the city and continued toward the mountains. One shell nicked the shield itself and half-disintegrated, and half-ricocheted into the distance. Only two shells hit the mountainside, but Ned felt like the Almighty himself had just slapped the shit out of him.

The lights flickered, the wall cracked behind them, people were jostled onto their asses, but no one was hurt.

“Status!” The SGT didn’t even wait for everything to reboot.

“There is a break in the main power line. We can reroute from others, but it’ll take longer between shots and even then we’ll have trouble reaching a full charge.

A vein bulged in the SGT’s head as he stomped back toward his station. “I’ll inform command. They’ll probably switch us to air defense, so prepare to target the shuttles.”

Ned breathed a sigh of relief and chanced a side-long glance at Martin. He was grinning back, and that filled the young Junctionite with courage.




CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor


“Sweet Jesus!” the PVT strapped into the seat next to Mitch yelped as the Spyder dived, inverted, and went into a series of barrel rolls.

There wasn’t even a warning from the pilot before the evasive maneuver. Every marine but the youngest FNG right out of boot knew not to eat before a drop. Still, the maneuver left a couple of the ten-man squad dry heaving. The crew of the tank, strapped into the war machine was a different story. The marines laughed when the heard the wet gags as the Gold Technologies employees lost their lunch.

“What the fuck was that?”

As a team leader, Mitch had coms open with the squad leader, who had it with the tank commander and pilot.

“Energy cannon fire from the planet hit the Bush right as we were taking off. It didn’t break the shield but we needed to move out of the way or we’d get turned to ash.” The pilot almost sounded bored as the Spyder reoriented itself and got back into formation for the first wave of the planetary invasion.

Unlike most of the battalion’s Spyders, Mitch’s squad had the bird all to themselves…minus the tank. There simply wasn’t enough room to fit half a company inside with the fifty-ton war machine, and since their squad was to provide close support for the new weapon’s concept, they got to tag along. At first, the squad was psyched. They thought it meant more leg room and less micromanagement by the LT and battalion staff. In reality, it meant they were stuffed wherever there was room. Spyders weren’t designed to carry tanks, and even after modification it was a tight fit.

“Prepare for atmosphere,” the pilot gave them the courtesy of a heads up a few seconds before the rumble of air buffeted the assault shuttle.

“If you ain’t buttoned up tighter than a tick’s ass by now you better be,” the SGT hollered over their squad channel. Mitch had already checked his men. They were good to go.

Even though their descent was now a walk in the park compared to the first few seconds, the PVT next to him was a little green.

“How long have you been in?” Mitch asked the younger man to try to get his mind off whatever he was stressing about.

“Umm…nine months, Corporal,” his stuttered his reply as the Spyder gave a big shake.

“Nine months and already getting your first drop. I’m jealous,” Mitch gave the marine a pat on the shoulder. “Four more of these and you’ll have a silver drop badge. That’s not too shabby for a fresh PVT.”

Having one of the coveted drop badges on his chest was good motivation for the PVT, and it seemed to do the trick to stop him from thinking about the coming fight. Too bad it didn’t last long.

“Incom…” the pilot didn’t even finish the word before every marine was pulled tight against the seat’s harness.

The Spyder started to pull some serious G’s as it dipped, dived, ducked, and dodged around whatever the hell was trying to kill it. As a CPL, Mitch didn’t have authority to access the external cameras, which was probably a good thing.  To keep his mind off his summersaulting stomach, he thought about the operations order.

The 9421st, 9422nd and 9423rd Marine Battalions were dropping into an LZ in a valley adjacent to Harper’s Landing. They were coming in from the opposite direction in order to avoid battery fire from the guns protecting the capitol. The valley held a single small town, which the marines would quickly capture and secure the rest of the LZ so follow-up forces and supplies could be dropped in for the push to the city. Intel had enemy forces at company level with friendly rebel forces reportedly conducting hit and run operations in the area. While it was good to have friendly natives to help them out, intel also said not to trust the Junctionites farther than you could throw them. Their love for the Commonwealth was only just above their love for the Windsor’s, which begged the question; what the hell were they doing there in the first place.

<Above my paygrade,> he thought as he pinched his eyes closed and tried not to think about the enemy weapons reaching out to swat his Spyder out of the sky.

Alpha Company of the 9422nd, along with Bravo, Charlie, and the two tanks attached to the battalion were ordered to cordon the city while Delta, Echo, and Foxtrot Companies conducted a search for any Windsor’s or loyalists that were trying to play possum and wait for opportunities to sabotage. The remaining four companies in the battalion were going to push towards the mountain passes to secure them and prep for the other two battalions to push toward the city. As part of the cordon units, Alpha was in some of the first shuttles out of the Bush, which meant they were going to receive the full force of the enemy’s welcome wagon.

Everyone’s life was in the hands of the pilots as the Spyder corkscrewed in a combat descent down toward the planet’s surface. Mitch measured time by the beating of his heart, and after nearly two hundred beats the flips and flops of dodging incoming ordinance faded away to a standard non-predictable descent.

“Drones are making attack runs to clear out the batteries we can get to,” the pilot relayed like he was reading Mitch’s mind. “Touch down in thirty seconds.”

“Three-zero seconds. Equipment check!” the SGT bellowed.

Mitch ran a final diagnostic on his armor, weapons, and when it all came back green slapped a magazine into his M3. He kept it on safe and monitored the rest of his team. “Bravo Team good to go,” he sent to the SGT with ten seconds to spare.”

Right on time the Spyder’s landing gear hit the ground with a small bump. The rear ramp started to lower without hesitation. “Everyone behind the tank. Let’s go greet the locals.”

The light of the fading day flowed through the cargo bay and the ramp lowered as the marines hustled to put armored bulk between them and potential enemies. Everyone had been thoroughly briefed on the tank and its area force field capabilities. The only problem was that it couldn’t activate  when in the belly of the Spyder, so debarking the assault shuttle was when the new vehicles were at their most vulnerable. The Spyder was providing security in the meantime, but the birds weren’t built to sit on the ground and protect vehicles.

A soft hum filled the air as the tanks anti-gravs powered up and it slowly maneuvered out of the Spyder. “Keep your eyes peeled and get to cover,” he relayed to his team as they followed behind the armor’s bulk.

The squad emerged at the crossroads they’d been studying over holo-images and training for in VR. It wasn’t much more than a pair of paved roads that crossed in the middle of nowhere. Farms dotted the landscape a few kilometers north, but the area around the crossroads was open space aside from the drainage canal that ran parallel to the road leading toward the small town. The town was eight kilometers away, so they could barely make out the tops of the three-story buildings as they fused with the haze of the horizon.

That was why the tank was being dropped here instead of other locations around the area. The road was only one into the town, but it was out in the open. Being in the open was a death wish for infantry, but with a tank in support they could make it work.

Mitch’s team spread out to cover twelve to six o’clock on the canal side of the roadway. The tank stayed parked in the intersection to deter any vehicles as the marines spread out. He heard the whine of the Spyder’s engines as it took off but didn’t pry his eyes from his sector of fire.

“Spyder clear. Engaging area shield.” The tank commander announced.

Mitch felt a buzz go through him as the energy expanded from the generator on the tanks rear, and his HUD lit up with a transparent barrier to identify where the protection ended.

“Everyone pick a spot and get comfortable,” he commanded his team.

He watched as entrancing tools came out and started to dig into the terrain to create better fighting positions. The two buddy teams kept fifty percent security while they worked, one watching one digging. He took a knee near the edge of the canal. He was still exposed to enemy fire, but felt more comfortable to have a shield between him and any incoming rounds.

“Nickelbaucher, come here and help me un-ass this thing,” the SGT’s voice was strained.

“Moving, Sergeant,” Mitch sprinted over to the tank where he helped the NCO get several containers off the tank’s side.

<It beats humping all this crap everywhere,> he thought as they opened the boxes and started assembling a swatter.

The tank had some anti-missiles capabilities, but a dedicated swatter freed up targeting power for what really mattered. The swatter’s muzzle extended just beyond the dome of the shield, which allowed it to fire and not have the rounds stopped by their own defense.

“Bobcat Six, this is Pillbox One, Route Irish is secure. I say again, Route Irish is secure.” The SGT sent up the SITREP once the swatter was up.

Mitch returned to his team and started digging his own hole. With the enemy’s only chance of retreat cut off they’d have to start fighting the Commonwealth companies coming in to dig them out. Any infantry grunt knew a cornered man fought harder, and if the Windsor’s wanted to breakout, the path of least resistance led right through Pillbox One’s position.

He just hoped eight marines and a tank was enough to hold them back.



Two Worlds – Chapter 266

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

Coop, the SGM, and Sullivan advanced down the hallway. The other SGT and SGM led the way, moving quickly but cautiously, as they checked doors and covered their advance. Coop made sure no one snuck up and shot them in the ass. They’d taken the guards at the side entrance by surprise, but a well-prepared force with the Windsor’s level of technology would be able to put up a fight even against the three of them.

Their mission was simple: find the captured SRRT members and get them to safety while breaking important Windsor stuff in the process.

“Clear,” the SGM tried a door, stuck his head in really quickly, and found no one waiting for them. “This way.”

The team had a map of the palace from a disgruntled former employee who’d worked on the governor’s staff before the invasion and was now in the rebellion. She had good intel on the main floors, but the Windsor’s wouldn’t be keeping a bunch of captured Commonwealth soldiers in a penthouse suite. The woman knew where they needed to go, but didn’t know what they’d find when they got there.

“Twenty meters, take a right, and it is the third door on the left,” the SGM relayed as they approached the turn in the corridor. They rounded the corner and were instantly met by incoming fire.

Coop’s shield registered the hit, but by the time he turned around the SGM and Sullivan had already mowed down the two, lightly-armed Windsor’s guarding the door to their target.

The SGM tried the door and it didn’t budge. He put a solid kick into it next, and that left nothing but a boot shaped dent in the heavy material. “Breech,” he ordered, and Coop came forward with left over explosives from their sabotage missions earlier in the week.

His LACS showed him the best place to put the charges, so all he had to do is dial in the frequency detonation and backpedal to the bend in the hallway. “If they didn’t know we were here before they sure as shit will now,” he muttered to himself as the SGM nodded and he sent the detonation code.

The whole hallway rumbled and a puff of dust and debris shot out in front of them. They quickly advanced forward to the blasted open door. It led to a wide stairway leading down.

“Violence of action,” the SGM offered three words of advice as he activated his grav-boots. A soft hum filled the air as he hovered off the ground and then shot down the stairs twice as fast as an armored man could run. When he found the enemy, they wouldn’t know what hit them.

Coop shrugged, activated his own boots, and followed the NCOIC into the darkness that was methodically interrupted by pulsing, red emergency lights.




Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor


“Come on you fat bitch!” ADM Ward grabbed and pulled the side of his command chair like his feeble yanking would help the kilometer-long assault carrier to turn faster.

The engagement with the Windsor forces had quickly disintegrated into madness. The enemy didn’t follow the traditional rules of combat. They didn’t slug it out for the million-kilometer distances that was the standard naval warfare practice. A few salvos had been exchanged, but then the Windsor’s modern warships made a kamikaze turn and plunged straight toward the heart of his formation.

He didn’t have long to figure out what to do. He’d watched the same thing unfold with Carrier Group Delta. The Windsor’s had exchanged a few distanced blows to test the Commonwealth’s new capabilities before diving right into the heart of the carrier group. The RADM in charge of Delta made them pay for it, but the intense pounding that would have turned any fleet ship into wreckage a few years ago, only managed to overwhelm a small number of ships. Then the real fight was on.

As a student of naval history, Ward had images of Trafalgar flashing through his mind. Were the Windsor’s Nelson while he was the French? <No.> he swatted the thought aside. His ships weren’t constrained by wind and sail. He could maneuver freely to counter his enemy.

He watched Delta’s struggle closely for any trends or strategy. The massive battleships were holding their own, but the smaller vessels were getting pounded to star dust. There were far too many greyed-out icons on his holo-tank, and that number was sure to keep on climbing. Communications were also spotty. The distance was part of the problem as STARTNET and TACCOM were delayed, and the QE system just wasn’t prepared for the bandwidth of fleet battle communication. Also, as the Windsor’s got closer, jamming came into effect, which made it even more difficult.

As Delta’s battle dissolved into a free-for-all, Ward adapted. He broke up his carrier group further. He clustered the smaller ships around his battleships and assault carrier to create more reinforced targets. He then put the battleship captains in charge of their mini-flotillas because he knew this was about to get up close and personal. Whatever the Windsor’s knew about fighting with this new tech, he was about to learn the hard way. He’d done everything he could think of. Now it was time for the crews to fight the ships and emerge victorious.

When the Windsor’s dived further into his weapon’s envelope he let them have it. He fired tens of thousands of missiles right down their throats. He was dealing with a smaller force than Delta Group, and it showed. He broke nearly half the ships before they got into knife fight range, which in 25th century naval warfare meant within three hundred thousand kilometers. Or, as he found out from one brutal second to the next, energy weapons range of the Windsor’s powerful cannons.

Alarms screamed as the remaining cruisers blasted cannon’s far too powerful for their class into his ships. Two battlecruisers crumbled under the blows. Just like that, over three thousand Commonwealth spacers and marines were erased from existence. Worst of all, after those cannons recharged, they did it again. A trio of cruisers just exploded, while another battlecruiser listed out of formation, dead in the water.

“All units, get behind the shielded ships!” The order came out frantic because it was. The power behind those energy cannons was something he hadn’t seen before out of battleships, much less cruisers, and there was no countermeasure to something that took less than a second to reach you. If he ordered evasive maneuvers he’d be just as up shit’s creek as Delta. The only thing to do was use his shields and mass to protect his spacers.

“I said turn you fat bitch!” he punched his armchair because some physical connection to Aggie was necessary.

“Guns, can we increase our output on our energy cannons?” he sent to the gunnery chief at the tactical station, bypassing the younger, less-experienced OIC.

“If we removed safeties and overcharged capacitors, we could get another ten percent, maybe fifteen,” there was a lot of hesitation in the man’s voice. “If we do then we run the risk of blowing out the power lines or melting the cannons themselves. We’re built for missile engagements, not this up-close blasting.” The CPO was clearly frustrated. It was his job to kill the enemy, and the enemy was proving move difficult than usual.

“When we complete the turn I want a full broadside with everything: supped-up cannons, shotgun missiles, railguns, hell, throw the fucking kitchen sink at them while you’re at it!” he snapped as he watched the Windsor ships dispersing slightly to engage his four weakened mini-groups. Specifically, one battlecruiser, two cruisers, and a couple destroyers were making a break for his assault carrier. That was the lion’s share of the enemy. They knew the assault carrier was the prize.

“Commander,” he opened a private line to the marine brigade commander. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m stuck in a tin can, surrounded by nothingness, while you squids shoot this shit out without me. How do you think I feel?” The woman on the other end sounded just a tiny bit bitter.

“Who knows, maybe…?”

“Capacitors overloaded, missiles in the tubs, and guns trained on the enemy. Distance in two hundred and eighty nine thousand kilometers and closing. We’ll be lined up for a shot in three…two…one…”

CWS Agincourt present her broadside to the enemy formation barreling through space to kill her. “Fire everything!” he yelled, and the ship shuddered as it let loose its deadly cargo.

The results were nearly instantaneous.

Both cruisers shuddered under the force of Aggie’s enhanced blows. One went careening to starboard and diving below the elliptical to get away from any more fire. The second cruiser lost power and the next second exploded. This close to the enemy, Ward could see the explosion with his own two eyes.

The battlecruiser fared better, but it was still damaged. Sensors showed air and people venting out of the largest enemy ship, but it kept on coming into the storm of missiles Aggie fired. The majority of the missiles were originally targeted on it, and some of the ones meant for the cruisers were able to reorient onto the more pressing threat.

The shotgun missiles exploded and sent duro-steel penetrators rocketing toward the battlecruisers at a percentage of the speed of light. The cone of dispersion was determined at detonation, so there weren’t any last-minute adjustments. Still, a good portion of space was filled with ballistic metal, which hit the enemy ship with tremendous force.

In front of his eyes, Ward saw the enemy ship start to come apart as its shields were overwhelmed by his cannons and missile fire. Cheers erupted around the bridge as the smaller ships started to break off.

“Send the other formations our recipe for success, and then plot a course for whoever needs our help the most.” He sat back in his chair and exhaled. The enemy destroyers were still firing, but Aggie’s shields were more than capable of taking those hits for the rest of the formation’s sake. “Guns?”

“You managed to slag half a dozen cannons, Admiral. Capacitors are rebooting, so we have at least ninety seconds before the next shots can ever charge. Give it three to five minutes before we can engage again.” It didn’t sound like much, but three to five minutes was enough time for the enemy ships to close to within a few thousand kilometers. Aggie might be able to get in a second shot before the Windsor’s rammed into her.

That was a design flaw he needed to take up with the construction crews working on building and refitting the upgraded fleet. The new power plants didn’t mean shit if you couldn’t fire the more powerful blasts.

<I’m sure the tree-things can advise on what to do.> He didn’t like aliens knowing so much about the Commonwealth fleet’s combat capabilities, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Sir,” his thought was cut short by one of the EW techs.

“Spit it out lieutenant?” he wanted to make sure people followed their department’s chain of command to avoid madness on the bridge, but there was something in the young man’s tone.

“I’m getting weird readings from the debris,” the LT stated and forwarded the images to the ADM.

Ward took a close look at the sensor scan. The battlecruiser was steadily coming apart under the G’s it was pulling, but things just didn’t stop in space. The debris were continuing at their trajectory and speed and would until they met something to stop them. That wouldn’t be Aggie, she was already moving away to assist in another battle, but the battlecruiser had been adjusting to come at them when still alive, so the debris would pass within twenty-thousand kilometers. That was spitting distance.

There were some power fluctuations in the sensor data, but it wasn’t unheard of as a ship died and its integrity broke down. Power was bound to spike and drain in several places.

“Run another scan and tell me…” he didn’t get to finish his sentence.

“Engine signatures!” a petty officer yelled as new targets appeared on the holo-tank.

“What the hell,” the ADM watched as the ship’s AI ran the numbers. Whatever these things were, they were small and headed right for Aggie.

“Give me a visual and reorient railguns,” he ordered and a screen came to life showing space and the crumbling battlecruisers as a rapidly receding backdrop.

“LT what am I…” it was tough to see, but he caught a glimpse and zoomed in.

Small T-shaped ships raced away from the battlecruiser and toward his command. They triggered something in his memory, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“Cross reference against known enemy vessels,” he ordered the AI. A second later his holo-tank beeps and footage from one of the Commonwealth’s worst defeats came alive in front of him.

It was a dusty landscape, and the footage came from an infantry grunt running to a prepared fighting position. The footage was still crystal clear as the enemy ships broke through the atmosphere, sizzled with energy as land-based cannons failed to destroy them before they embedded themselves into the crust of New Lancashire.

“Concentrate fire on the enemy ships!” he ordered as realization hit him.

“Sir, capacitors are still resetting we’ve got no energy weapons at all, including point defense,” the CPO at the gunnery station had an I-told-you-so tone. “Missiles are locked and loaded, but they’re too close.

“Railguns, turn those things into scrap metal!” he ordered as the gunnery NCO shrugged.

Aggie shuddered as the railguns in range opened up on the Windsor’s troop transports. Every second counted, and the enemy pilots knew that.

“Shield fluctuations,” the EW LT informed. “They’re diverting power to their forward shields.”

Ward saw it as the railgun rounds sparked blue against the ships but didn’t penetrate. “Keep firing. They’ll have to hit us at an angle,” he drew lines on the holo tank to show the shallow angle the enemy ships would have to overtake the assault carrier and hit its hull. “Be ready to light up their flanks when they pass here.” A red line appeared on the holo and a countdown clock began ticking down next to it. The rail guns that would take the kill shots flashed green as they acknowledged receipt of their targeting designations.

Ward knew the enemy would reconfigure their shields to counter, but even a split second was enough for a round to get through and tear open those ships.

“Sir, how are they going to get through our shields?” The EW LT asked.

“They seem to think they can,” Ward wasn’t sure himself, but the enemies had more experience with shields than the Commonwealth. “Get any readings coming off those things and archive them for further investigation,” he switched circuits. “Commander, looks like your marines are going to get in this fight after all. Have them arm up and cover the areas I’m sending you now.” He transmitted a section of the ship where the Windsor’s were going to land.

“On it,” was all the CMDR said before getting to work.

Seventy-five seconds passed between identifying the enemy transports and when they reached Aggie. Twenty-two ships were identified. Only two were knocked out by the railguns firing right into their strengthened shields before they crossed the red line on the holo. The rail gunners pounded them good as they passed over sections of Aggie and had to reconfigure their shields. Fifteen more ships died in that onslaught. The five remaining ships hit Aggie’s shield and the protective barrier held for a few seconds before a violent fluctuation allowed the enemy ships through before resetting.

Agincourt, prepare to rebel borders!” he ordered as the ship shuddered when the enemy vessels burrowed into her hull.

<Now it’s up to the marines.> He never liked handing the battle over to the ground pounders, especially when it was still happening in space.




Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor


Coop skated around a bend in the subterranean palace basement. He went nearly horizontal as he trained his weapon down the hallway. Flashes from the SGM’s Buss were already lighting up the area as he drove back the enemy guard detachment.

“Fuck…kill…prison…” one guard yelled out as a plasma-tipped round took him in the throat and burned through to separate his head form his body. The SGM just skated right over him.

{Magnify.} Coop brought himself up short and dropped to the ground. Skating around on the grav-boots was great, but it didn’t offer the most stable firing position.

The end of the hallway jumped forward as the Buss’ scope engaged. The remaining guards were headed for a room at the end of the hallway. Coop set his sights on the doorway knowing full well that if he missed, the guards were going to cut down Eve and the rest of the captured SRRT team.

<No pressure.> He breathed and pulled the trigger.

The round hit the guard in the shoulder and spun him around. He might not be dead but he was hurting. The only other guard that the SGM and Sullivan hadn’t killed made a beeline for the door. Coop’s next round took the man in the head. There was no question he was dead.

“Move!” Coop’s exasperated yell wasn’t needed as the SGM and Sullivan swarmed into the room. Coop ran the rest of the way feeling like an idiot for not being at the front of the assault to rescue Eve.

His armored bulk smashed into the doorframe, deforming it slightly as he pushed his way through. He ended up in what looked like a prison cafeteria, but the place didn’t matter. It was the people inside it.

Thankfully, all the guards were accounted for. The one Coop had winged was on the floor with a deadly dent in his skull. Eve and the GYSGT stood above him with dead man’s weapon in the GYSGT’s hand.

“Clear!” The SGM and Sullivan had methodically cleared the room. Coop turned his back to them and looked back the way they’d come. “Hallway clear,” he called back.

“Coop?” the voice was weak, but he’d know it anywhere.

He knew he was supposed to be watching the hallway, but he couldn’t not turn to her.

“Hey boss-lady,” he replied with barely restrained anger.

She looked like shit. She looked like she’d been tortured, so he was really upset the guard wasn’t still alive because he needed to beat someone to death.

She heard the tone and frowned. “Nothing a little R&R can’t fix,” she tried to sound relaxed, but it didn’t help.

“You can kiss and make up later,” the GYSGT interjected herself into the conversation. “Grab us weapons so we can get the hell out of here.”

“Glad you’re alive, Gunney,” Coop added as an afterthought despite the sense of relief that flooded through him at seeing her again.

“Is that my armor?” she stopped what she was doing and looked closely at him.

“Ummm nope,” he made a quick exit to grab the requested weapons.

“Sergeant Major, why the fuck is Cooper in my armor?” the GYSGT screamed as he got out of her line of sight.

It didn’t matter if they were in the middle of enemy territory without a concrete evac plan. An HI trooper didn’t like someone else fucking with their armor.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 265

Queen Josephina I

Location: Harper’s Center, Barrowsford, Star Kingdom of Windsor


“Please, Your Majesty…”

First it was Vice Admiral Westwood, then Colonel Buckton, and now they’d enlisted Theodore’s help. <That’s just playing dirty,> Josephina glared up at her personal attendant.

All but the VADM sat in the operations center buried beneath the palace complex. They’d been there since the Commonwealth fleet’s arrival was detected. They’d been there when their sensors identified gluon power plants on a number of the Commonwealth ships. They’d been there when the VADM admitted they wouldn’t be able to intercept all of the Commonwealth formations before they reached the planet. Now, they were all telling her to run.

“No,” she said for what felt like the millionth time. “I am Queen, and this is my world.”

She knew she was being stubborn. If she stayed, and her troops lost, she would be a valuable prisoner to the Commonwealth. She’d been the Empire’s Chief of Intelligence and a close personal friend to the Empress herself. The information in her mind could do great damage to the Empire. Logic dictated that she run, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She was one of three other monarchs, just below the status of empress. She’d been entrusted with this planet, and to run at the first sign of trouble was unbefitting to her station. She would not, could not, leave.

“Formation Charlie is ten million kilometers out. They will settle into orbit in a little over four hours. The window of escape before we’re in weapons range is down to twenty minutes.” The COL reiterated. He might be in charge of the imperial marine garrison, but he couldn’t tell her what to do. He needed…

“Incoming QE burst,” the communication’s officer announced from a corner of the room. The young man blushed as all eyes, including the eyes of his Queen, focused on him. He discretely forwarded the message to the COL.

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty, the decision is no longer yours to make,” the COL looked a little too smug as he turned the display so Josephina could read it.

At the top of the message was the Imperial seal, which said to anyone reading that the orders contained within came from the Empress herself. Josephina scanned the screen. The words felt like a punch to the gut. Victoria was recalling her to Windsor for all the reasons Josephina knew she should be retreating for in the first place. She could not be captured.

“Your Majesty,” the COL’s words cut through her reverie. Two imperial marines now flanked her. She was still several centimeters taller than her armored guards, but height wasn’t much of an advantage against their rifles. The nano-blade on her hip was, but she didn’t go for it. This was an order from her Empress and she would obey.

“I will accompany you to your shuttle. We have two cruisers and Ides of March in orbit on the dark side of the planet. Your flagship will take you back to Windsor while the cruisers provide support against Formation Charlie.” All three ships were modern builds and would be able to put up a hell of a fight against the larger Commonwealth force.


“I will be staying with my troops, Your Majesty. I’m just a lowly colonel,” he answered her question as they started walking.

Two of her own armsmen fell in step as they exited the operation’s center, and all but shouldered the marines aside. The marines remained on their flanks, but no one was going to get between them and their Queen.

“We should…” soft pops echoed faintly through the corridor followed by a much louder boom. Her armsmen got between her and the end of the corridor.

“We’ve got contact from north of the palace.” The COL was dialed into the defensive network. “Our units are taking care of it. Keep moving.”

“Collies?” she asked as they picked up their pace.

“Rebels,” the COL’s face was grim.

“Rebels!” her shock almost brought them to a stop. “The city is supposed to be secure. Now I literally have enemies at my gates and we didn’t know about it.” Her armsmen kept her moving despite the anger rolling off her.

“The Colour Sergeant is on it, they’ll be nothing but hamburger meat in the next thirty seconds.”

She heard the booming retorts of the palace’s mech guard entering the fight. The soft pops faded away pretty quickly after that.

“Perimeter breech at the east entrance!” Now the COL sounded much more worried.

She was sick of being in the dark. She activated her IOR and activated the back door she’d made into the defensive network. The Imperial forces didn’t want her to have access to their data if they had to enforce something against her will, but she’d picked up enough skills as a spy to make sure she had that access anyway.

She searched the feeds of the soldiers assigned to protect the palace. She filtered out the living ones and narrowed down nearly a dozen assigned to the east entrance. The feeds were gone now, but rewinding them from storage was simple. She watched quietly as three armored soldiers burst into the palace complex and slaughtered the marines. Her IOR quickly plotted the best route to avoid the new soldiers and time it would take to make it to the launch pad in the rear of the complex.

It was going to be close, so she picked up her pace.




CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: CWS George W. Bush, Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor


“Get it on there, Nicki,” the SGT commanded as he fastened his own grav-plate to the deck of the Spyder.

No one ever called him by his first name, Mitch. It was always Nicki. He wasn’t sure he liked that because he wasn’t sure if it was a genuine, brother-in-arms nickname, or they were making fun of him. Nicki was also a girl’s name, so it was tough to tell if they were covertly referring to him as a bitch.

He knew a lot of it came from him being the new guy, even if he was a CPL and fire team leader. The new guy was still the new guy. He hadn’t gotten some respect from his fellow senior enlisted until the WARNO for their current mission came down from HQ.

Everything had been a mess for Mitch Nickelbaucher after the Battle of Lancashire. Most of his battalion was KIA or MIA, so the powers that be shuffled things around and deactivated the battalion until they got a fresh group to prop it back up. That meant Mitch and the rest of CPL Cooper’s old team were sent back to Thor and scattered to the wind.

Goldsmith had been injured in the battle, not bad, but enough for him to ride out the rest of his enlistment in the hospital. He was out now. Stern was still in, but he’d lost contact with the idealistic young man after he shipped out to some Core World for training. Stern really wasn’t Infantry material, and someone probably finally saw that. Mitch had looked for Cooper, but his old, sketchy team leader had vanished. He’d survived the battle, which Mitch was sure of, but then his records went blank. It was odd, but he had much bigger things to deal with. The one good thing about his old team leader was that he’d kept his word about the recommendation. It took about a month longer than it should had with all the personnel shuffling, but Mitch finally got his second stripe.

His shuffling finally ended up on board the George W. Bush, or just the Bush for the cruder infantry members. He got sent as a replacement to Delta Company of the 9422nd Marine Battalion that served as the assault force for the Bush. The 9422nd along with its sister battalions in the 942nd Brigade were about to be the first Infantry soldiers to take the fight back to the Windsor’s. Since Mitch was the only person on board who’d actually faced the enemy in battle, he’d started to earn some cred for the first time since joining the unit.

“Got it, Sarge,” he put his full, inconsiderable weight against the plate and pushed. With a crack it slipped into place and the SGT’s PAD started running the diagnostic.

Mitch wiped the sweat from his brow, and waited for the news if they were finished. The SGT gave a thumbs up and Mitch sighed with relief.

“Thanks, guys, we really appreciate it. Rolling around the back of this bird was a sure way to get us all dead,” a man with the corporate logo of Gold Technologies grinned down at them.

Unlike some marines onboard, Mitch had nothing against the Corpies. They fought for a company instead of a nation, and they got paid a lot more, but most were veterans, and since he was new, he found he got along better with the Corpies who were generally nicer to him. But that wasn’t the only thing he liked about them. He liked that he was going to be able to hitch a ride and take cover behind the fifty ton beast sitting in the back of the supped up Spyder.

Mitch had only seen tanks in holos, and he honestly wasn’t too sure about their strategic value in warfighting after becoming obsolete hundreds of years ago, but Gold Technologies didn’t just pour money and manpower into something that was going to get destroyed in five seconds. Something must have changed, and something standing between Mitch and a Windsor’s bullet was good in his mind.

“We need to suit up, full kit,” the SGT ignored the Corpie and stomped down the ramp.

The rest of the flight deck was full of activity as the marines got ready to do a legit planetary assault. More importantly, they were the first boots on the ground. They needed to secure the LZ’s and start to expand them so the other brigades could get in the fight once they finished off the Windsor’s navy.

<The sooner the better,> Mitch knew that intel only had the Windsor’s total ground forces between five and eight thousand strong, but he also knew if they had mechs numbers didn’t mean much.

A single mech could take out hundreds of soldiers and keep on trucking, so maybe this tank would have its work cut out for it.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 264

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“All subjects must report immediately to their assigned shelter . . . All subjects must report immediately to their assigned shelter . . .” the message blared over the city’s emergency systems.

It had been going out for the better part of three hours, but that hadn’t made the madness in the streets any better. On some level, Coop felt sorry for the people of Harper’s Junction. This was the second time in only a handful of months they were being invaded. That sucked.

<But on the other hand…> Coop watched a man and woman plow over an older woman in their rush to the nearest shelter. They didn’t even stop to see if she was ok.

He tried not to think what he’d do in their situation. If he was in their situation he’d still be a Rat back on Earth, which would probably mean it was a free for all to get high, drunk, and fuck until whatever calamity hit them. <At least these people are actually following instructions,> which was a good thing. He had orders to keep civilian casualties as low as possible.

“Listen to that,” Sullivan came up to stand next to him. “Subjects,” he made air quotes with his fingers.

It was a subtle change in the announcement, but it personified a critical difference between the Commonwealth and Windsor’s. To the Windsor’s, people were subjects to be ruled. To the Commonwealth, people were citizens. <Well…> Coop knew well that not all people were citizens. People had to earn their citizenship and the rights to participate in the Commonwealth electoral process, but they still didn’t treat people who hadn’t done their suffrage service as subjects.

“Quit talking and load up,” the SGM was across the room, but he spotted the two SGT’s dawdling with drill-sergeant precision.

Sullivan quickly obeyed, but Coop hesitated. He’d been putting this off as long as possible. GYSGT Cunningham’s V4A –at least it was an A and not a B so there wasn’t a steep learning curve – sat against the wall. He’d spent time integrating with it, and overriding all the captured NCO’s preferences with his own. It felt like he was violating her, and not in a good way. This was her armor. Her second skin. For him to just take it was just…

He shivered as he pushed the emotions aside and started to get in. It was still a bit of a squeeze. The GYSGT was smaller and less bulky than he was in most places, and in other areas there were some big differences. What he really needed to do was get in it and move around a bit so it could conform to his shape. Unfortunately, when someone was on the down low, in a penthouse apartment, on a hostile world they didn’t run around in HI armor.

The armor closed behind him and his IOR linked with the machine. His HUD popped up as he shifted uncomfortably and started to run start-up diagnostics. The crotch area was way too tight. He felt like he was going to get a hernia just by walking. In contrast, the chest area was way too open. He knew from his first few steps he would fall forward a few centimeters until the malleable carbon-tubing weave adjusted. The seesawing motion would only worsen the sensation of having his balls shoved back inside him.

“Coms check,” the SGM said over TACCOM. They had direct line of sight, so they all felt the tight beams coms should be undetectable by the enemy. Their IOR coms were going to stay offline for the time being. “Loosen up, Cooper. Your vitals are spiking.”

“That’s because something is driving a spike into my nuts, Sergeant Major,” Coop was gingerly taking a few steps around their base of operations. He felt the nausea building with each step until things finally started to shift. The chest sucked in to provide a familiar snug fit, while the crotch area conformed to his junk.

“Better?” The SGM was probably shaking his head inside his own suit, but Coop didn’t care. The V4 didn’t have a death hold on his nards anymore. On top of that, all his startup diagnostics came back green.

“Good to go, Sergeant Major, green on everything except battery. Amber on that.” If the battery wasn’t at one hundred percent it was automatically amber instead of green. Since they didn’t have anything but portable solar chargers, charging up the suits was time-intensive. After the fighting the GYSGT had been in, her power had been pretty depleted. It had been charging up over the last few days, but was only sitting at eighty-nine percent right now.

<Hopefully enough to get the job done,> it was all Coop had, so it would have to do.

“Everyone in position?” The SGM’s question went to the resistance captain that had been assigned to them. Coop was glad to see Masha was somewhere else, but the new captain looked like he was cut from the same cloth.

The captain gave a thumbs up. With the remaining SRRT good to go, all they had to do was wait for the cavalry.

<Hurry up and wait,> Coop sighed after an hour and a half had passed. It was a military tale as old as time. The only thing to peak his interest was the cops swinging by to make sure the building was clear. Since the police force was tasked with checking to make sure the whole city had evacuated to the shelters, all they did was run a bioscan with the building’s sensors. They didn’t have the time or manpower to do a visual search. Since the rebels had hacked those sensors weeks ago, the cops came up empty and moved on. As boring as all this was, Coop knew it could turn into pants-shitting terror in no time.

“I’m getting a slew of orders going out over the local net,” the SGM suddenly perked up. “Their cordoning off ground and air space. They’ve got the locals keeping their distance…and…this is it. EXECUTE EXECUTE!”

Coop was taken by surprise, but his body responded. He knew his part in all of this. A few steps behind the SGM, but still ahead of Sullivan, Coop put his LACS into a sprint straight toward the window. The rebels were already making for the stairs, but the SRRT team would take the quick way down.  The SGM lowered his shoulder against the shatter-resistance polyplast of the high-rise loft and slammed straight through it. He flipped over in the air to orient himself feet first as he plummeted toward the ground. Coop and Sullivan followed in his wake by simply hopping into the open air.

They needed to fall and they needed to fall quick if they didn’t want to get locked on by the Windsor’s anti-air. It was unlikely the military units preparing for the invasion had their targeting suits aimed inside the city, but their Palace’s surely were. Their target wasn’t too far away, and Coop saw sensors light up the three soldiers like a Christmas tree.

“Stealth on,” the SGM relayed as the polychromatic layer engaged to cut their visual and sensor profile to near nothing.

Coop knew it had worked when no missiles streaked out to meet them, but they had other things to worry about.

“Grav-boots in three…two…one…NOW!”

Coop’s experience with the boots, which acted more like skates, was limited to what they’d done in training, and he sure as shit hadn’t activated them after falling nearly fifty stories after jumping out a window. Despite his own physical prowess, and the integrity of the LACS, a shudder hit his very core as the boots engaged and pulsed against the pull of the planet’s gravity. Unfortunately, pain lanced through him as well.

“AHHH my dick!” Coop’s V4 might had adapted enough for him to move around unencumbered, but the quick drop to a sudden stop was a whole different level.

“Suck it up, Sergeant!” The SGM ordered as he skated the last half-dozen meters down to the ground and cut both the boots and his stealth. Both were a drain on their battery they couldn’t afford in a prolonged fight.

Despite what the NCOIC said, Coop was still dry heaving as he hit the ground a little harder and stumbled. Over a year of practice, and knowing how much fighting in a puke-filled suit sucked, kept him from hurling.

After seeing his vitals jump his med systems inquired if he needed assistance. Since the solution was nanite injection into his shaft and nut sack, he declined. He was here to rescue Eve so he could put his log and berries back to work. He didn’t need needles getting stuck into it and hurting his performance.

“Quarterback had reached Phase Line Kickoff, proceeding to First Down,” the SGM sent to the rebels nearby.

“Roger that, Quarterback. Runningback and Tightends moving into position. Receivers are in motion.” The rebels replied over the TACCOM devices the team had handed out for the op.

“We’ve got sixty seconds. Let’s move!” The SGM charged ahead to reach Phase Line First Down, which was the assembly area for several of the units assigned to assault the Palace. The units had been in place since word of the Commonwealth fleet was coming had arrived. Everyone was hopped up and ready for a fight.

“Cornerbacks will engage in ninety seconds.” New information flooded in as team rounded a corner into a small square just as several vehicles pulled in. Coop noticed one as the vehicle he’d stolen when they ambushed the checkpoint a lifetime ago. He wanted to know how they’d smuggled it into the city – professional courtesy – but he was about to have bigger things on his mind.

Coop and Sullivan were on security as the SGM went to see if there were any last minute updates from the surveillance teams they’d put around the palace. It was a quick conversation, and before Coop was even settled they were moving again.

“First Down. Quarterback moving to Field Goal. All other units, Touchdown!” On cue, the rebel unit’s codenamed Cornerback, opened up on the palace from their overwatch positions. They raked the Windsor units stationed on the palace roof with small arms, rockets, mortars, and even more powerful plasma heavy weapons that they’d taken from the Windsor troops during various ambushes. It was a hell of a lot of firepower, and would have devastated a pre-shield force…but they were fighting a next-gen enemy. The portable shield the Windsor’s had weathered the storm of firepower turned against them, and then returned fire.

With the latest targeting software, the Windsor’s were able to zero in one the Cornerback units and bring their own hell down on them. Smalls arms fire from Windsor rifles, heavier fire from their crew-served plasma cannons, and counter fire from their own mortars quickly overwhelmed and silenced the unshielded resistance soldiers. The ground around everyone in the assembly area as a building previously occupied by a Cornerback team crumbled to the ground.

<Too quick,> Coop thought as he hurtled behind the SGM toward their objective. Field Goal, as it was also in football, was not as desirable as a touchdown. For their planning, touchdown was the rebels fighting to hit the palace at its main entrances. The more heavily defended areas. In reality, it was a feint. Coop doubted the rebels knew the firepower they were up against, but if the people wanted to fight the Windsor’s head on then that was up to them. The SRRT team was going for a field goal.

Their surveillance had identified a small, discrete back entrance to the palace complex. They would have missed it if they didn’t spot someone leaving just as they were doing their snooping. It was well-concealed, and probably well-guarded. The hope was that some of the guards would be pulled to help with the trouble at the front, and if not, that the SRRT was capable of dealing with them.

The roar of engines behind them announced the arrival of the receivers. A pair of garbage trucks – why the hell the rebels always used garbage trucks was beyond Coop’s understanding – came around the corner so fast they nearly tipped on their sides and raced toward the palace gates. The Windsor soldiers quickly switched targets, but just like with the earlier ambushes it was too late. Sheer mass and velocity were the vehicles’ armor, and even through the driver’s compartment and engine block were shredded by the Windsor’s heavy weapons, there was no stopping the beasts.

The first vehicle hit the main gate and detonated. The VBIED took out the gate and everything with twenty meters, including some overzealous rebel soldiers trying to follow closely in its wake. The second vehicle hit the wall about a hundred meters south of the gate, but failed to detonate. It didn’t even breach the shield-reinforced wall. The truck ended up with its front wheels up and over the wall while the back wheels remained on the ground.

Rebel soldiers streamed toward their assigned opening. The first ones through the gaping hole in the gate were cut down by fire from the roof until they threw some smoke grenades provided to them by the SRRT. The sensor and visibility spoofing smoke allowed some soldiers to sneak in. The rebels headed for the other truck had a much more difficult time. They tried to use it as a ramp to climb over the wall, but that made them sitting ducks for the Windsor’s snipers. They just picked off the rebels as they tried to climb over.

“Send in Linebacker,” Coop heard over TACCOM shortly before an industrial-sized, modified dump truck flew onto the scene. The back was loaded with rebel troops. The big vehicle was able to impose itself between the troops breaching the gate and the Windsor’s so the rebels could debark. The rebels scattered to hit the palace building itself from multiple angles.

Maybe half of the soldiers had made it out of the vehicle before the slight rumbling announced the arrival of their worst nightmare. A Windsor mech ran around the corner. Its stride seemed casual as its long legs carried it toward the truck and rebel soldiers. Its figure parted the smoke like a demon emerging from the depths of hell, and it extended its arm.

Coop couldn’t see what was happening to the rebels, but it felt like cold ice was poured into his veins when he heard the tell-tale rip of the mech firing its cannon. He’d taken a glancing blow from the powerful weapon and it had nearly ended him. He didn’t want to know what it was doing to the rebels inside the palace complex.

The condensed gravity ball of the mech’s cannon hit low on the dump truck completely shattering it. Despite the truck’s mass, it heaved into the air. Screams from the rebels filled the airwaves as they were pulverized, tossed from the back by the shockwave, or rolled out the back as it reared upward. The mech made it even worse by bending down and charging forward. It hit the undercarriage with its shoulder and effortlessly hefted the truck straight up. Screams intensified as the tip reached the point of no return and fell backward. Rebel soldiers scrambled to get out of the way, but many were stunned or injured from the first blast. They didn’t stand a chance as the truck flipped completely over and came crashing down on them. The mech turned to find new targets as the rebels peppering it with fire. Its shield sparked, but it moved calmly and confidently toward its next victims.

Coop tuned out the screams as he switched to the team-only channel. The SGM would let them know if anything else came in from the doomed rebels. Coop always knew this was going to be the outcome, so did the SGM, and yet they let the rebels do their suicide charge anyway.

<It’s not my place to wonder why. It’s my place to do, but not die, saving Eve.> Coop modified the old saying as the three LACS reached the side entrance.

The SGM lashed out with a foot and it cracked loudly against the reinforced door. Sparingly it held. “Hit it, Cooper!” the SGM yelled.

In his V4A, Coop had a lot more mass than the smaller V4B, so he lowered his shoulder and charged much like the Windsor mech had.

“Wha…” the door opened when Coop was two meters away, and a pissed Windsor soldier looked out. Coop saw his pupil’s dilate in his final biological act of surprise before Coop steamrolled right over him.

His momentum carried him forward, and only the servos in the LACS kept him from falling on his face, which was good, because at least a squad of soldiers was sitting in the small alcove around the door. To say they were pissed that Coop trampled their buddy into hamburger meat was an understatement. Rounds exploded against Coop’s shield as they opened fire.

At least one was smart and lobbed a grenade at him. Its lower speed cut through his shield before he could adjust its frequency. Thankfully, he’d preprogrammed evasive maneuvers for this exact situation. His grav-boots fired at a ninety degree angle to push him away from the explosive blast. The Windsor made the mistake of not magnetizing the grenade.

The powerful burst of the boots drained more battery, but it was worth it. The grenade exploded outside his shield and shrapnel flew into the Windsor’s ranks. The two soldiers with Coop’s mass between them and the grenade felt a brief moment of relief before Coop smashed into them, and carried them all into the side of the building. The building held, but the Windsor soldiers didn’t. They were crushed, and if they didn’t die instantly, their organs would quickly get strangled by their own blood from all the internal bleeding.

Coop didn’t have time to think about that as he pushed off their squishy remains and headed back into the fight. The heavier boom of a Buss filled the air and the soldiers’ resistance began to wither under the incoming plasma-tipped rounds. Sullivan pushed through the opening and swiveled right while the SGM went left. They picked off the panicked Windsor’s with precision. Soon, all that was left of the enemy was the ion-tinged air and stench of fresh shit and burned flesh.

“We need to move. We don’t have much time,” the SGM pushed forward.

For the first time, Coop heard the blaring alarm of the palace’s security system.

<Not that it matters much. You’d have to be a moron not to realize we were here.> Coop followed the NCOIC and periodically turned around the make sure their six was clear.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 263

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor


“Missile launch! Two-Zero bogies at negative two-four-five degrees, ninety-thousand kilometers and closing!” The assistant tactical officer’s fingers flew across his personal holo-tank.

One of the many upgrades to the Aggie, and other ships in Task Force 5.1 was that the information integration was next generation. Instead of pounding away at stations or PADS, each officer on the bridge was immersed in their own semi-transparent bubble of data. It allowed them to fight the ship, steer it, communicate, conduct EW ops, or whatever else their job required while still having visibility on the rest of the bridge. In case of an outage due to catastrophic damage, they also had a manual PAD hardwired into the ship, but it was much more effective in the immersive holo-tank.

“Shit,” ADM Ward cursed as he cycled through views and data. “These fucking stealth pods are killing us.”

‘Kill’ was a bit of a strong word, but death by a thousand cuts was just as dead as death by beheading. One just happened a lot quicker. It was common defensive doctrine to seed missile pods along avenues of likely approach into a system. The Windsor’s had done this, but their tech was next level and causing a headache for the Commonwealth tactical officers. Thankfully, the Commonwealth had launch the attack quick enough that the system couldn’t be saturated with them, or maybe the Windsor’s didn’t have many of them. Either way it didn’t matter. He just needed to find a way through the minefield.

They’d been taking these random, close-range missile launches on the nose for the last hour, and it had forced them to adapt their formation. Instead of the assault carrier and battleships being at the center of the formation, they were now in front. For the other carrier groups, with only a few gluon powered ships in the formation, the carriers themselves were taking point in total disregard of centuries of naval strategy. Just seeing the ships, with fifteen thousand souls on board, driving headfirst into enemy missile fire was enough to give any ADM an ulcer. Carrier Group Alpha was lucky, and Aggie was driving behind the two battleships and providing a second layer of point defense for the more vulnerable, smaller classes bringing up the rear. Still, it was warfare turned on its head for any seasoned officer.

At ninety thousand kilometers, the missiles launch took almost no time to reach the lead battleship. He was keeping a close eye on the power readings as the twenty missiles barreled down on the behemoth.

<Correction…nineteen.> One of the missiles seemed to have malfunctioned and fallen behind.

The nineteen missiles blazed in and the battleship engaged. Only a handful of countermissiles were in a position to fire and reach their target in the short lifespan of the engagement. The rest were handled by the point defense lasers and railguns, and enhanced EW. Although, they were saving the EW capabilities until they really needed it.

The point defense lasers cycled faster and were more powerful thanks to the ship’s new power source. They lanced out at the speed of light and obliterated the missiles, or at the very least, boiling their sophisticated silicone brains so they became useless hunks. The latter detonated prematurely and fired their bomb-pumped ordinance into empty space. Only one missile made it close enough to actually threaten the battleship, but the hypersonic railgun rounds put a wall of duro-steel in the things incoming path and it disintegrated before detonating.

<That should have detonated sooner.> Ward had his Command AI run the calculations, and he was correct. The optimum attack profile should have detonated the missiles 1.32 seconds earlier.

All around him the bridge was clapping and sighing with relief. It was starting to grate on all their nerves whenever the enemy suddenly popped up and took pot-shots at them. Even an assault carrier could suffer from one lucky hit.

“Eyes front! Look sharp!” he barked from his position at the center of everything.

Three seconds later, his snap was completely warranted.

“Missile launch! One-two-zero bogies at one-eight-zero degrees, one-six-three thousand kilometers and closing.

<Son of a bitch!> ward snarled as the enemy successfully launch an up-the-shirt volley. It was about to take his carrier group directly up the ass. Even worse, the more vulnerable, smaller ships were its target.

“EW protocol Alpha-One-Zero,” he decided to stop holding his cards back. “All vessels below battleship class need to increase speed and try to draw parallel with us. We’ll fall back along with Monty and try to cover them.”

The battleship Bernard Montgomery, or Monty for short was already cutting speed to try and take the brunt of the missiles’ attack. Aggie would follow suit, but it was the battleship’s job to take the hits. He had ten thousand marines to get to the surface.

It was going to be nearly a full minute until those missiles reached his carrier group. Either he’d be in position or he wouldn’t. It was a smart trap by the Windsor’s and he’d walked right into it. He needed to trust his crews to pull through and fight the battle. Despite being a long way from his time as a tactical officer, or manning a missile tube or energy weapon, he still felt the pull to be more involved, but that was just a recipe for disaster. The ADM couldn’t micromanage. That would just get everyone killed.

“Bring up the Windsor’s fleet movements,” he subvocalized. He AI automatically switched from the incoming batch of missiles and focused on the real threat.

The task forces combined AIs had been crunching the numbers on the enemy disposition since entering the system. Coupled with the data received from the spy ship, they had a pretty good idea what they were about to go up against. The Windsor’s had forty-one ships in Harper’s Junction. They were forming up a couple million kilometers from the planet and hadn’t committed to any action yet, but their time for planning was running out. Of the forty-one ships, eleven were battlecruisers, with the remainder being cruisers and destroyers, with more of the latter. On paper, the Commonwealth should be able to wipe their ass with this puny force, but Ward knew better. Their ships were bigger, stronger, and better-equipped than their commonwealth counterparts…or at least they used to be. He’d watched holos of one of their battlecruisers fighting three Commonwealth battleships to a standstill in Queensland.

<That’s not going to be the case this time,> he knew, but it still filled him with the familiar dread of losing his sailors to achieve the mission. He didn’t let anyone see that as he watched the enemy gathering their forces.

He barely felt the rumble of the incoming missile salvo finally reach him, which was a good thing. Damage reports filled the side of his holo and he focused on those.

They’d done a good job of getting in position, but good wasn’t perfect. One of his cruisers hadn’t been fast enough and had been nearly crippled. They were down to twenty percent of their normal speed, and quickly falling out of formation. Some other ships had minor damage, but they would be able to conduct repairs and press into the fight.

“Have a destroyer fall back as an escort, and they can start to make their way toward Bravo’s position,” he ordered. The AI took that and calculated the escort that would have the easiest time completing the mission while not taking too much away from the carrier groups overall strength. It took less than a second before the orders were signed, sealed, and delivered over TACCOM to the appropriate destroyer captain. The ship broke off to swing back around toward the cruiser, which the carrier group continued forward.

“Have we had any luck cracking that stealth?” he asked his bridge crew.

No matter what the holo movie’s said, perfect stealth was impossible. Things like missile pods needed energy for launch and fire control. Those telemetry links took power, and if the pod was advanced enough to maneuver, it needed even more. Space was big, which helped, but it was virtually impossible to get rid of all emission signatures. They just needed to look close enough, and in the right place, to find it.

They took two more launches into their faces before they had enough data to make some educated guesses, and even then, the new algorithms the AI was using were spotty and had them jumping at shadows. Luckily, an energy blast didn’t cost much, and if it was a potential, big cluster of pods, they could spare a missile for a more precise hit.

“Enemy movement!” Ward pulled his head out of the last sensor sweep for pods and switched his displays.

<Finally.> They were still sixty million kilometers out from the planet, fifty-six from the enemy, and forty-eight from effective missiles range, but that distance was going to close fast now that the dance was in motion.

He watched for a full minute in silence as the Windsor’s formation started to move and separate. By then, he could tell what they were up to.

“Get me the commanders on the QE,” he ordered, and a few seconds later the AI had the FTL comms with the other carrier group commanders scattered across the system. The new system was dubbed, simply, QETACCOM, and it was still in the testing stages. Of course, some civilian engineer thought an engagement was a great testing ground.

“Gentlemen,” the three RADMS nodded back to him. The commander of Bravo looked a little sheepish, and he should be after that dismal arrival, but Ward had more pressing issues than chewing his ass. “It looks like they’re coming out to play. As you can see, they’ve split their forces in two. One is heading to Alpha, and the other to Delta.” Alpha and Delta had the two fastest approaches, so it made sense to target them first. “Charlie, you’re going to increase to flank speed and get your marines on that planet. Hold the orbitals for as long as you can and provide fire support for the landing. If you can’t hold, you can’t hold, but make sure your marines are ready for orbital retaliation. I’m sure the Windsor’s will leave a surprise or two on the dark side, so keep your eyes open.”

The RADM nodded and cut the link. He had a landing to manage.

“Bravo, you’re going to get your shit together and reinforce us.” Ward studied the holo-tank for another second to see what the AI’s had determined.

That was the great thing about these new AI’s, they gave much more detailed probabilities. With all the info in their databanks they were looking for whatever Ward had programmed them to look for, and things he hadn’t asked for, but became relevant as the situation changed. It looked like the AIs had determined that six of the eleven battlecruisers were on route to engage Delta and five of the six had a high probability of being state-of-the-art builds. That made sense. Delta only had an assault carrier, one battleship, and one battlecruiser that were upgraded. That was way too fair of a fight for Ward to accept. The Windsor’s own AI’s must have spotted the force discrepancy and targeted the more vulnerable formation. The remaining four battlecruisers, and significant portion of the smaller ships, of which five cruisers were high-probability new builds, were headed for Aggie. If he had to guess, they were meant to be a harassing force to slow him down, and limit his planetary invasion options while Delta was eliminated, and then the surviving Windsor’s would hit his engaged ships from the flank.

Thankfully, Bravo’s transition had sucked. He would never tell the RADM his, but it might have turned out to be a good thing.

“Reinforce Delta, and move your ass. Ward out.” He cut the line and let his people get to work. Delta was going to take a beating, but the RADM in charge was already cutting speed and slightly altering course to lengthen the time before an engagement. He couldn’t do too much, or he wouldn’t be a threat and the Windsor’s would change tactics, but the more time Bravo had to arrive the better.

All of the tactics and strategy involved filled his mind as he prepared for his carrier, three battleships and one battlecruiser to go up against nine, smaller, upgraded Windsor ships, but he kept an eye open and watching Charlie. They were unhindered as they quickly advanced on Harper’s Junction. Their battle would be on the ground, something Ward didn’t envy. He was a spacer and not a ground pounder for a reason.

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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.


“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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