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 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 256

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“Let’s go people, let’s go!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s on safe,” the guy shrugged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Among other things,” Coop answered honestly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eve Berg

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A moment later the door opened.

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

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

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

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

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

He settled in to wait.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 252

Eve Berg

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

She remembered everything.

The transition seemed different, but she’d only jumped using the technology a few times, so she couldn’t say for sure anything was really wrong. That was one of the big drawbacks of the SRRT training program in her opinion. She knew they were supposed to do dozens of jumps around New Savannah before ever doing one in the field, and especially in enemy territory, but operational needs couldn’t be ignored.

<Needs of the service,> she sighed as she was broken down into her component atoms and shot tens of millions of kilometers through space toward the LZ.

The tingling sensation was something new as her body and armor rematerialized. She closed her eyes to fight off the wave of nausea and fatigue that swept through her, and opened them to see nothing but a brilliant white light. For a second, she wondered if she was dead, but then a high-pitch honk disabused her of that notion.

It didn’t take a genius to know that something was wrong. The LZ she’d studied on the holo-tank showed a mostly wooded area at the foot of a mountain range. At most, she suspected some rebel soldier to be there to escort them to their command and control center. She did not expect to see mountains of metal and glass and the screech of ground-car brakes.

Through her HUD, she saw the driver’s face as a mix of surprise and fear. All she had time to do was brace before the vehicle hit her going about sixty kilometers an hour. She felt the impact in her bones despite the LACS armor. Her shield wasn’t active, so she took the brunt of the impact around her waist. It was good that she got hit around her center of gravity, so more damage wasn’t done. Even so, a few alarms rang out as she was thrown backward from the force of the impact. She rolled with blow and turned the momentum to her advantage. She even ran a diagnostic as she got back to her feet to see no damage to her armor. The car was not so lucky.

It looked like the small vehicle had hit an immovable object. The hood was caved in around the center and smoking while the electric components within snapped and sizzled with small flashes of light. Thankfully, the driver looked to be unharmed. The car had immediately filled with foam to blunt the impact. It had filled the entire car, and after the nanites in the material registered the crash had ended, it sloshed out like water. It was an ingenious protective measure that had saved countless lives since it’s invention, but it was hell on the upholstery.

She could already hear sirens in the distance as she scanned her surroundings. Her IOR linked with the area’s networks and gained master access with her military codes. It was a good sign that the Windsor’s hadn’t gotten too far into changing things on the planet. It was a bad sign that she realized she was over a thousand kilometers from the LZ and in one of the most populated cities on the planet. A city that was under Windsor control.

<I need to find cover, contact the team, and evade capture,> she prioritized her actions and went to work.

She was on an overpass, so she moved to the edge to see if the coast was clear. The collision had brought traffic patterns to a stop, so emergency personnel could easily make it to the accident scene, so despite there being bumper-to-bumper traffic she was easily able to jump over and drop the ten meters to a street with multiple egress points.

An alert popped onto her HUD as her shoulder-mounted rail gun swiveled and engaged an incoming drone. The schematics matched a known Windsor scout model. <Shit!> she picked up the pace and ran down a side street. She wasn’t halfway down it before a police cruiser, with flashing blue and red lights, pulled into the intersection in front of her.

The two officers piled out of the car and tried to bar her way. Both were armed with handguns and ballistic vests, but they were about as effective as a wet fart against a V4 LACS. They yelled for her to stop, but she simply jumped over them and kept on running. Rounds impacted her shield, but barely registered as hits. She made a hard right and came across a dead end. She reversed direction and had just stepped out into the street when the same cruiser smashed into her. It was going a lot faster than sixty kilometers and hour, so this time her shield did its job. The vehicle flattened against the energy barrier and filled with foam.

“Idiots,” she muttered as she jogged away from the second accident site. “Trying to play hero.” She was still shaking her head when incoming fire rippled across the front of her shield. This time the projectiles registered on her radar as plasma flashed in front of her. She dove into a small alley to avoid the military checkpoint operated by Windsor infantry backed up by a heavy-weapons emplacement.

Her mind whirled through her options, and she settled on going through the wall of several buildings to come at the checkpoint from the flank. Standard infantry didn’t expect a giant armored trooper to suddenly burst through the wall beside them. Their attention was firmly fixed on the mouth of the alley, and they paid for that lapse in judgement with their lives.

It gave her freedom of movement for a few minutes, so she put as much distance between herself and her arrival point as possible. It didn’t do much good. Her railgun constantly chimed in as it engaged surveillance drones hot on her trail, and it didn’t take long for her to realize she was being herded toward the center of the city. When she tried to deviate, she was met with artillery and heavy weapons fire. She was able to weather that kind of assault, but not forever, and her maps told her she’d have to endure kilometers of that before she could even break into anything resembling open space.

She was trapped.

In the moment of realization, she didn’t despair. She didn’t think of her brother, mother, or Coop. She just wanted to hurt the Windsor’s. She wanted to hurt them because she saw them dropping artillery in the middle of the city.

“Let’s show the people of Harper’s Junction just who they signed on with.” As far as last acts went, it would have to do.

She clipped the side of a building going around a corner and stumbled, which ended up saving her life. On either end of the street were hulking mechs, and one was making a swipe directly at her head. Her stumble turned into a slide as she skidded across the street and ruined the asphalt.

She didn’t sit on her ass and wait. She hit the sidewalk on the opposite side and sprang to her feet. Her chest opened and a dozen micro-missiles swarmed out, with half a dozen targeting each of the mechs. The mechs countermeasures reacted instantaneously, but the wave of explosions gave her a chance to pick her target. She picked the closest mech and charged. Her blades came out and she was nearly on top of the mech when the smoke cleared. The mech brought its forearm up to parry and her blade hit the shield with a sizzle of energy.

Then she activated the chainsaw function.

The molecularly-honed blade began to spin and cut into the shield. She hoped the feature would work better in reality than it had in training, but she was shit out of luck. She was still cutting through the shield when heavy rounds started to impact on her shield. The other mech had her in its sights and was hammering her. Its heavy ordinance was doing a number on her battery power, and it dropped precipitously in seconds. She was forced to disengage and dodge a follow-up blow from the still-unharmed mech she’d originally attacked.

She dumped a pair of EW artillery shells out of her armor to give her a moment to breath, but the nearest mech wasn’t giving up the momentum. It charged right through the visual and sensor-scrambling fog to take a close ranged HE shell to the face. The back blast from the explosion, threw both of them off their feet, and the second mech charged in.

Panic began to seep into her mind as she fought off one attacking mech, tried to create some distance to regroup, and then was ambushed by the second one. She knew from the onset she was going to lose. She’d seen an entire battalion with HI support go up against these things and barely scratched their armor, but she hoped their new tech would give her more options. It did, but it just kept her in the fight longer. No matter how hard she hit them, they kept on coming, or they just traded off. Sooner than she would have liked, her shields were almost gone and warnings started blaring as ambient energy or kinetic force started to leak through. She compensated for her shield weakening by dialing up the actuator and tailoring it specifically to the mechs’ attacks.

They were coming at her primarily with fists, blades, and the occasional EM projectile. She knew they weren’t going for the kill, or she’d already be dead, but the thought of being a POW wasn’t very appealing.

Of course, the Windsor mech operators weren’t idiots, and they caught onto her tactics. Half a dozen plasma rounds detonated against her shield. The kinetic rounds were stopped, but the plasma broke through and wreaked havoc. Her armor held, but sensors were scoured away and she lost situational awareness. The next mech combination got some blows through her depleted shield and sent her flying through a nearby building. Warning alarms flashed as something on the right side of her armor stopped working. She tried to pull herself out of the rubble, but lost precious seconds doing it only with her left side while her right side recalibrated. She pushed aside a two-ton piece of masonry in time to see a boot the size of her torso smashing down toward her.

Her shield literally shattered under the force of the blow, and her armor screamed with alerts and warping metal. She squirmed, and tried to dislodge the foot, but it didn’t budge. She brought a blade around to chop at its ankle, but the second mech’s boot crushed her arm.

She felt that, she cried out in pain and…

 

“That’s enough,” a voice cut through her mind and the fight abruptly ended. A visor was removed from her head and a stark room came into view. All it had was a table, two chairs, and four solid walls. She was sure sensors decorated the ceiling, but she couldn’t see them. “Does that answer your questions?”

Eve looked at the woman sitting across from her and screwed her eyes closed. The VR crash from being abruptly pulled from the situation was fucking with her head, but it was slowly coming back to her. She’d been captured by the Windsor’s several days ago after the fight with the two mechs which had rendered her unconscious. She’d asked the woman when she came in how they’d caught her, and they’d busted out the VR scenario to show Eve her failure in high definition.

“Ok,” Eve spat to her side.

The woman frowned at the action, but Eve didn’t care. She was bigger than her interrogator, but by less than she thought. The woman was over two hundred centimeters, athletically-thin, but very beautiful. She was also dressed in a sharp, smartcloth suit that was probably the height of fashion in the Kingdom. It looked weird to Eve, but to each their own.

“Who are you?” Eve ventured a guess, but not expecting anything.

“I’m the person that is going to get answers from you,” the woman smiled like cat who’d just cornered a mouse.

Eve just smirked back. “Well let’s get on with it then.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” the woman’s smile didn’t falter. “We’ve already begun.”

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Two Worlds – Chapter 247

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Argo, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop felt the transition in his bones, but he just shrugged it off. He’d been too busy chuckling. He’d seen Ben, and then not too much later, the LT come out of his cabin. He wasn’t sure if the two were trying to keep their relationship on the down-low, but if they were it was the ship’s worse kept secret. Everyone knew the skipper and LT were doing to no-pants dance.  Hell, half the crew probably knew Eve and him were doing the same. Although, they’d only had time for a quickie in a cramped engineering space since leaving Thurgood Station. It wasn’t exactly what Coop was promised when he agreed to her terms.

As Coop watched the LT pass before she entered the bridge, he couldn’t help but stare. She was a good-looking woman, but despite that, he didn’t find his glance lingering on the curve of her ass. That was a first for him.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t into her. Coop was into all women. He’d been with women of every color, even unnatural colors that were popular at certain brothels on certain planets. He’d been with big women, small women, enhanced women, and natural women. Hell, he’d even been with woman who’d spliced on anatomical bits to themselves to increase their allure.

<I guess I’m just into a ‘blondes who can crush my head with their thighs’ phase,> he grinned.

After the transition, the LT reappeared. “Briefing in the armory in five, you’re relieved,” she ordered. He was cool with that. He was tired of standing around.

By the time he got to the armory, half of the team was already starting to suit up in their new LACS. Weapons were being issued, checked, and double-checked by SSG Hightower, the team’s armorer, and then the soldier themselves. Like always, Eve was close to the front of the line.

Coop had to wait in line to return the weapons and armor he’d been issued for guard duty before going to his charger and struggling into his LACS. Then, he had to get back in line to be issued his new weapons and load out.

He was glad when the SSG told him to step on the auto-loader and open his ports. The machinery whirring was a comfortable sound as his full complement of artillery rounds was placed in his internal magazines. It soon became obvious that the LACS were being overloaded with everything the SSRT could get their hands on. Not only did he have an area shield generator, but he also had a backup, a grav-sled was being loaded with extra ammunition, and even a portable 100mm mortar tube. The last seemed a little redundant. In the end, he was responsible for hundreds of thousands of rounds along with enough medical supplies to sustain a company.

“We’ll be meeting up with resistance leaders when we arrive on planet,” the SGM explained why they were stripping the armory clean. “They need weapons and supplies for their insurgency. Since they are our people, even if they don’t like us that much, we’re coming to their aid. They’ll be able to give us the lay of the land, current intel, and provide targets of opportunity. It will be up to leadership’s discretion whether or not we’ll engage in combat operations against the Windsor’s, but we’ll be ready if we do. Questions?”

The few questions that were asked revealed that everything was situation-dependent. Despite the intel download that had been transmitted from Argo, it became abundantly clear that there was more unknown than known about Harper’s Junction.

When the brief Q&A was completed, the SRRT shuffled, bent, and maneuvered themselves in the cramped, too-small corridors down to the Splitstream room. Once there, they were told to wait.

{Hey,} he opened a link with Eve. {Is it me, or do we not seem to have enough intel on our own planet?}

{Harper’s Junction has always been passively hostile to the Commonwealth. They even passed laws to have a meager Infantry contingent, and no Fleet forces guarding the planet. I guess they thought their isolation was their biggest protection. They guessed wrong.}

{And now we’ve got to go in and sneak around to figure out what’s going on.} His frustration translated through the IOR.

{Coop,} Eve had that tone she always did when she was going to start a lecture. {This is what the SRRT teams are built for. We’re the only people physically and mentally capable of making the instantaneous transition from point to point. We’re always going to be going into situations where we don’t know enough, and have to figure it out for the follow-on forces. That’s the job. Get used to it.} She was clearly in no-nonsense mode, so he quit his bitching. Call it a high school cliche, but he didn’t want to be arguing with his girlfriend on the night of the big dance. “Dance” being the million-plus kilometer travel into hostile territory after atomic disassembly, digitization, and reassembly.

Call him old fashioned, but Coop liked to know what he was stepping into.

At some point, they crossed an invisible line in space where splitstream was now a go.  One team at a time, they stepped onto the raised platforms. Coop couldn’t help but think he looked like an idiot. He had extra materials strapped to every centimeter of his armor. He’d be able to disassemble everything and get in into the folded up grav-sled currently magnetized to his left hamstring when he arrived. That of course meant he didn’t drop into shits creek where he would be screwed six ways to Sunday.

“Alpha Team, ready,” the SGM stood on the forward-most platform. He was similarly laden down with supplies, but not as bad as Coop. The V4A was the pack mule after all.

The LT gave him a thumbs up and Coop was immediately overcome with the numb sensation of being instantaneously transmitted through space.  The landing wasn’t much smoother than when he arrived back on the Hegemony planet. It still felt like he’d been punched in the nards, but there was an odd tingling sensation in in his face. He could have sworn it felt like someone hooked his inner ear like an angler and gave him a good yank during the nearly instantaneous journey, but all sensations from the trip were already faded. <At least I kept my meal down.>

He gave himself a full body shake while his LACS’ sensors took in the LZ. That was when he got the first error.

Since Harper’s Junction was a former Commonwealth world, it had been fully mapped. With this intel, they’d carefully chosen the SRRT’s insertion point so they could quickly link up with friendly forces. From the error message displayed on Coop’s HUD, he was out of position by several hundred kilometers. That was 242 kilometers to be exact, and those 242 kilometers were in the direction of the capital city, currently occupied by the Windsor’s army. Even worse, he wasn’t picking up any friendlies on his IOR’s bandwidth. That meant no one was in vicinity of the unit’s twenty-five-kilometer radius, or within five hundred kilometer of the military-grade boosters each of them had strapped to their backs.

<We really need to upgrade our planets with these new networks,> he grumbled. New tech was good, but at someone point it became a hindrance.

If there was any good news, it was that he wasn’t inside the gradually expanding perimeter that army was creating, but it wasn’t by much. He could pick up the edges of their active sensor scans only a few kilometers away. Appearing in the middle of a cornfield wasn’t helping him either. The corn stalks were high, but not higher than a V4 LACS.

He hurriedly crouched down and hoped no one had seen him. His arrival had flattened the crops for a few meters in each direction, but no one would notice until they physically came upon it.

<Why can’t anything work out the way it’s fucking supposed to.> He grumbled as he went through his contingency options.

They weren’t many. He needed to go to ground and send out an encrypted, sporadic signal that he hoped the rest of the team would notice. Then he needed to send a tight beam to Argo, at the prearranged time, that he’d missed the LZ. Or, he needed to move to the rendezvous. He went with option two, while still prepping a transmission to the ship. It had to be fired off at the exact right moment, and from a precise angle, or the gunship would miss it entirely. He set his LACS’ AI, something new that he hadn’t trained with at all, to that task.

He was too close to the city for comfort, but moving almost 250 kilometers with all the crap he was carrying was going to be tough. At the very least, he needed to wait for nightfall.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 246

Benjamin Gold

Location: Argo, United Commonwealth of Colonies

{It’s time to wake up…It’s time to wake up…} A high-pitched, shrill voice announced in Ben’s head repeatedly.

The alarm clock was one of mankind’s worst inventions. It was right up there with splitting the atom. With the advent of the IOR, the next generation of alarm clocks had taken shape, and they were an even greater pain in the ass. Ben had heard some of the troopers bitching, but now that he’d experienced it for himself, he finally understood the IOR was a dual-edged sword.

With a loud yawn, he acknowledged that he was awake and rolled out of bed. As he did so, his hand gently caressed Jacobi’s thigh in passing. She stirred slightly but didn’t wake.

As the Captain, his cabin was the most luxurious on the ship. Since the ship was only 125 meters long, that meant he couldn’t fully stretch his arms out to either side without hitting the opposite bulkheads. Since he was 220 centimeters, and had an impressive wingspan, that meant he at least had enough room to move around in, or in this case, share a bed.

The bed was rated for HI troopers, so it was long enough to accommodate him and Jacobi. They were still they were sleeping nut to butt, which wasn’t normally an issue, but it normally led to one waking the other when they went onto duty.

<We don’t get to spend enough time together.> Ben sighed as he stepped into the small, adjacent shower.

A small amount of water and powerful bursts of air cleaned him up. A cheap nano-gel, popular with soldiers, quickly ate the stubble off his face. He had to be careful to make sure it didn’t get anywhere else. One previous misapplication had led to a bald spot on his chest that Jacobi called adorable, but he thought was embarrassing.

Cleaned and ready, he donned his CMUs and stepped back into his larger cabin. Jacobi was softly snoring on the bed, which she’d promptly sprawled across. He just stood there for a moment and watched. He smiled at the way she’d tangled her legs in the sheets, how her normally-controlled, raven-black was fanned chaotically across the pillows, and how her mouth was slightly open and drops of drool had slowly formed a wet spot overnight. He knew he wasn’t getting as much time as he wanted with her, but some was better than nothing, which was what most unmarried people in the military had to deal with.

<Marriage would fix that…wait…where did that come from!> He went from happy and content to confused and anxious in a moment.

Where unmarried soldiers didn’t stand a chance in hell in being assigned together, married soldiers had the bureaucracy working in their favor. It wasn’t a guarantee, as everything was still needs of the service, but regulations required the human resources personnel to make every available effort to station spouses together; especially if they had kids.

Ben knew he loved her, and he was sure she loved him, but neither of their careers were conducive to marriage. Thankfully, a buzzing sound in his head announced an incoming message, and stopped that thought process.

{On my way.} He sent his reply and stepped out of his cabin, but not before giving her a peck on the cheek. He could at least give her that.

“Hello, Coop.” He greeted the man guarding the bridge, and the only other man he knew of that was in a disclosed relationship aboard his ship.

When the SGM had come to Ben with the news that the two SGTs were in a relationship, he was more than surprised. Coop always seemed like the ‘never settle down’ type, but Eve Berg had an aura about her. <If anyone could do it, she could.> He thought at the time.

“Sir,” It took a second for Coop to respond and brace to attention.

Ben knew he was probably watching something on his IOR, another downside about the new technology, but he’d let it pass. There was nothing going on aboard the ship at the moment, and just standing in a corridor for several hours had to be boring as hell.

“As you were.” Ben waved him off and entered the bridge.

PO3 Lee was on duty. As the only two naval personnel onboard Argo, one of them had to be on the bridge at all time. It was a rough watch rotation, and he was about to start his twelve hours. As the skipper, he had the privilege to choose his shift, and he took the 0600 to 1800 one. However, Lee needed to stay around for another few minutes.

“Transition in ten minutes, Sir.” She fought back a yawn, but didn’t succeed.

Argo was currently rocketing through FTL under her Alcubierre drive. Portaling might be the means of travel for the future, but there were no QE buoys for the gunship to lock onto. Argo was forced to travel to the nearest linked system, and then hop toward its destination under the older drives. They’d had to resupply their exotic fuel twice on classified asteroid storage facilities, but now they were almost to their destination.

Harper’s Junction was in the ass-end of nowhere. He didn’t see any strategic importance to it, which meant the Windsor’s knew something the Commonwealth didn’t. While the SRRT was infiltrating the planet, it was his job to find out what that was.

“Give me the latest readings, Amber.” Ben queried the ship’s AI, and the data appeared in front of his eyes. He quickly scanned it and saw everything was in the green.

The gluon power plants had been reduced to their lowest power setting, with all of that power being directed to making Argo look like a hole in space. The naval intelligence people had no idea how good the Windsor’s scanning tech was, but they’d wisely assumed it was at least as good, and probably better than, their own. With that in mind, he was doing everything in his power to not be seen.

He made sure their transition back into normal space took place in the outer system, far beyond the limited infrastructure in the system’s one asteroid belt, and behind a massive gas giant to boot. It was the stealthiest arrival he could plan, and unless the enemy had a ship placed to cover that area, he would be fine. The infinite vastness of space, even in a single star system, played to his advantage here. That and there was no way a comprehensive drone network could have been established to cover even one percent of the outer system since Harper’s Junction had fallen. That was assuming the Windsor’s even had the resources to do so, which considering their large-scale offensive…

He stopped himself before he could go back down that rabbit hole. He’d thought about all of this during the planning phase of the operation. In conjuncture with Jacobi, the SGM, the naval intelligence spook that briefed them back on Thurgood Station, and Argo itself through Amber, they’d all agreed this was the best plan. He took a deep breath and reminded himself of that.

He was just about back to normal when a hand grabbed his butt and gave it a firm squeeze. Since a skipper jumping out of his CMUs on his own bridge was undignified, he didn’t even wince. He just looked over his shoulder into the mischievous grin of Jacobi. At least she’d surprised him. She’d only made it to bed a few hours ago.

She read the question off his face. “If on the off chance there is a destroyer waiting for us and blows us to stardust before we know what’s happened, I’d rather be on my feet than asleep in my bunk.”

Ben accepted the rationale. He wouldn’t want to just go to sleep and never wake up, but by the way she was grinning, he knew she had something else on her mind. From the ass grab, the way she was standing close to him, and the look in her eye, he could tell she wanted to do something. She was about to take her team onto a hostile planet where she could very well not come back from. She wanted to do something life affirming, and nothing quite did that like boning.

He had heard rumors of people screwing during a transition.  The somewhat violent conversion from FTL to normal space caused several reaction in the human body. He barely noticed it anymore since he’d been doing it for so long. It was a great way to get a release if you were stopped up, was one thing he’d heard, but never tried. Then there was the Transition Club. Apparently, it had evolved from sex on airplanes before humanity ventured into space and outside the Sol System, but as humanity spread, so did the tradition.

He guessed, if Jacobi had her way, that she’d want to join the Transition club. He was more than willing to participate, but they both knew they couldn’t. The whole, transitioning into a hostile system took precedence.

<Needs of the service.> Ben grumbled as the clock ticked down and the eventually entered Harper’s Junction.

Just to let her know he understood where she was coming from, he made sure to give her a small pinch on the ass at the moment of transition. If they were blown out of space, he was comfortable with that being his last act.

With that thought, Ben knew he was in trouble when it came to Lieutenant Jacobi Wentworth. He’d been with many women, even thought he’d loved a few, but they all fell far short of the warrior woman standing next to him on his bridge.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 244

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Thurgood Station, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Rise and shine!” Something solid hit Coop in the ass and woke him from a deep sleep.

“Wha…” Coop looked up through bleary eyes and wiped some drool from the corner of his mouth. He looked down his backside and saw a red handprint glowing against his pale skin. “Oww!” he protested without meaning it.

The groan after he rolled over had nothing to do with Eve’s playful smack. Coop was sore. Everything from his balls to his pecs had a well-used feel to them. Eve had been…demanding to say the least.

<Speak of the devil.> Coop looked over toward the small bathroom nook in the cheap motel room. Eve had already showered before rousing him, and she was standing in front of the mirror in nothing but a towel. The towel was only covering her hair. <God, what a great ass.>

Eve must have seen him looking because she smiled. “Down boy,” she chided when she saw his anatomical reaction to her fabulous gluteus.

“We’ve got time for one more,” Coop tried his best to sound seductive and not desperate.

The previous evening had been a whirlwind. The fancy dinner had gotten him the deal of a lifetime, and his defense of her honor at the dive bar had sealed it. He’d only had to trounce half a dozen of the Station’s hardier fellows before everyone got the picture. Then he bought them all drinks and mended that fence. Things had gotten a little more interesting when a few marines had stumbled into the establishment at the end of a self-imposed bar crawl. They took one look at Eve through their beer goggles and wanted to chat her up. Coop had taken the moment of peace after establishing diplomatic relations with the locals to take a piss. He came out of the head to the marines hitting on his girl.

The brawl that had ensured ate ten grand in damage from his hundred grand chip, but he’d taught those grunts a lesson. Hell, even a few of the locals joined in. The only one who didn’t raise a finger was Eve. She just stood at the bar and sipped her drink while her eyes did all the talking. When they finally busted through the door of the hotel, half disrobed, and with each other’s tongues doing the tango, she did a lot more than raise just a finger.

“Don’t give me those puppy dog eyes,” Eve shook her finger at him and turned her attention back to the mirror. “Check the time.”

Coop brought up his IOR to see they had just over an hour to report back to Argo. With the time it would take to get through the station’s congestion they’d have to leave soon, which meant Coop had to act fast if he wanted to get some before got back to the ship. Once onboard, it would be much harder to get some quality time together.

Coop opened his mouth, with his best line locked and loaded, but his eyes were drawn to something just below the perfect curve of her ass. “What’s that?” Coop slid off the bed to investigate.

“Not now,” Eve batted behind her as Coop got down for a better look.

“No, seriously.” Now that Coop was closer he could clearly see it was an exit wound. “What happened?” The change in his tone must have alerted Eve he wasn’t just looking to get his dick wet.

“I told you already,” she resumed studying herself in the mirror. Coop didn’t know what she was doing to an already perfect body, but he knew better than to ask. “I was wounded on the Yangon operation.”

“Right,” Coop tried his best to recall the story, but he’d been in murky waters with her back then and was pretty sure they’d been arguing about something. “When you saved Sullivan?”

“Yeah.” Eve let out a sigh. “A round got through my LACS when I had to fight my way out of a PDC supply depot. It’s no biggie.” There was suddenly a self-conscious tone in her reply. “I got healed up back onboard, but the medical personnel were stretched thin after a major offensive. I told the nurse just to get me patched up and I’d deal with the rest later. Then I got ordered to report to New Savannah and the SRRT. After then it was the attack and the anti-terrorism ops, and then we went off to the Gold City. Once I have time I’ll get to a clinic and get it taken care of.”

“Taken care of?” Coop was mesmerized by the star-shaped patch of scar tissue. “Why? This is so hot.” He gently pressed his lips to her wound.

He felt Eve’s whole-body shiver in response. “Oh,” the surprised word slipped through her lips. “Well, I guess we have time.” She turned to face him. “Let’s go, soldier.” She gestured Coop to his feet, grabbed him, and led him back to the bed. She didn’t grab him by the hand, she went for something much more essential to the boning process.

In the end, their tight deadline to get back to Argo wasn’t an issue. The congestion in the main concourse wasn’t nearly as bad as yesterday, and they made good time. They had a whole ten minutes to spare when they confronted the SGM at the airlock.

“Berg, Cooper,” the SGM mentally checked them off the list on his IOR. “Cutting it a little close.”

“Sergeant Major,” the SGM looked a little surprised when Eve replied to what was clearly a rhetorical question. “Per Fleet Regulation 1165, and UCMJ Article 134, I am informing you that Sergeant Cooper and I are engaged in a sexual relationship. The relationship in question is within the bounds of regulation and maintains good order and discipline among our unit.” Eve stated calmly and clearly.

“I’m the judge of whether or not it affects the good order and discipline of the team or it calls into question your objectivity when executing mission priorities.” The SGM replied casually without any bite or judgment in his tone.

“If it helps Sergeant Major,” Coop piped up, “Eve and I had sex back after Basic and it has not affected our performance on any of the missions we’ve served together on.”

“Cooper,” the SGM sighed. “That information doesn’t help or hurt you, nor should it be shared judging by the expression on Sergeant Berg’s face.” The SGM gave Coop a look of pity. “But considering everything I’m going to move Sergeant Berg to Bravo Team effective immediately so there is no chance of questioning either of your objectivity. Sergeant Cooper, please inform Sergeant Enders that he is now with Alpha, and then get him up to speed. You’re dismissed.”

“Thank you, Sergeant Major,” Eve replied respectfully before heading for the airlock. Coop followed behind her.

Once they’d passed into the space between the boarding tube between the station and the ship, Eve rounded on him. “Don’t share our private business with the Senior NCOs and Officers, Mark!” She seethed. It was the first time Coop had ever heard her use his first name, which told him he’d seriously stepped in it.

“I thought it would help show our objectivity.” Coop still felt the need to defend himself.

“You’re lucky the Sergeant Major didn’t throw us in the brig,” Eve spun on her heel and walked away from him.

“But you said our relationship was kosher!” Coop yelled after her.

“That was my interpretation of the regs,” Eve replied. “My interpretation doesn’t matter. It is what the OIC thinks that matters. He has discretion, but he’ll take the Sergeant Major’s advice.” Eve pushed through the next airlock to Argo, and Coop wisely kept his mouth shut and let her have the last word.

Mike met them before they hit grunt country. “I got an alert to check the roster. I’m with alpha now, and the guard rotation got switched up in the last minute.”

It was the SRRT team’s job to have a permanent guard posted on the armory, bridge, and Splitstream compartment at all times. It was a nice break when they were ferrying all the diplomats, but it would be a pain now that it was just the eight team members, and Coop was officially in a relationship.

He checked the roster and groaned. The SGM might have blessed their relationship, but that didn’t mean he was giving them time to spend together. From a preliminary glance at the training and guard schedules, Coop would be lucky to see Eve at all this cruise.

<Good thing we have that last quickie.> Coop would have to file that away in his spank bank because he knew he’d be fiddling the flesh flute for the near future.

 

***

 

Queen Josephina I

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

“Presenting Her Royal Highness, Her Majesty the Queen, Josephina the First, Ruler of Barrowsford!” A man called out over the loud speaker as Josephina descended the steps of her shuttle. This was her first time setting foot on her new planet as Queen, and she wanted to make a big deal of it.

At the same time, she couldn’t make it seem like she was making a big deal out of it. The planet was fresh off a hostile takeover. Her fleet had grievously wounded the system defense force, destroyed the Commonwealth garrison, and bloodied the local militia. With their antiquated weapons and armor, they stood no chance against even the small amount of lancers she’d brought with her. The left over military forces were still standoffish toward her, and several cities around the world weren’t recognizing the annexation of Harper’s Junction, now Barrowsford, by the newly christened Empire of Windsor.

It was the local population that had backed her, and was ensuring her peaceful rule of much of the planet without further bloodshed. That local population were not fans of big hoopla for the few at the expense of the many. They’d had enough of that from corporate overlords and their elected puppets.

So, Josephina had to make sure she walked a thin line with everything she did until she really got her claws into the planet. Step One was to make this whole welcome home ceremony for the new queen look very candid.

“You are too kind,” she made sure to smile at the local they’d hired and paid handsomely for his service and silence afterward.

A line of her soldiers, in their gleaming red armor, flanked her on either side, but the area in front of her was packed with civilians. They looked unsure what they should be doing, but many had clapped and cheered when she stepped off the shuttle. She took that as a good sign.

“I bring good tidings from the Empress. She has bestowed upon me the title, but more importantly, that title’s responsibility of being your steward. She has vowed to me, as I vow to you, that we will govern you wiser, better, and more justly than the Commonwealth. We want to ensure that every citizen of Barrowsford has access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities. Our empire is expanding, and it needs every one of us to pull our weight. In return, that empire will care for us and our families. This I swear to you!”

The end of her impromptu, but carefully crafted speech was met with much greater applause than her arrival. She took it all in stride as she smiled and waved at the gathered commoners. She turned her back and headed up the stairs to the lavished governor’s mansion, which was now the royal palace. She’d made sure the shuttles containing her personal belongings landed out of sight of the crowd.

Her staff’s first job was to redecorate the palace and make it suitable to entertain members of the government that was being formed by the commoners. She would need to manage their radical ideas carefully. When people had a real taste of freedom for the first time, they tended to go a little crazy, and when push came to shove, she needed to remind them that they were commoners. She was the Queen, they all served the Empress, and the Empire was at war with the very people who had previously oppressed them.

She knew deep down, her dynasty on Barrowsford would never share the complete devotion that Victoria’s people felt for her. It wasn’t engrained in their new commoners…yet. Medical care was one of the top priorities. Children needed proper, updated vaccinations, and her team of doctors were making sure to slip in a little genetic coding. The side effects of the viral injection would be minor, and explained as a side effect to worried parents, but they would instill new genetic code into the young population’s growing bodies. By the time they became adults they would be habitually more loyal to the monarchy than any previous generation.

Josephina was playing the long game with her new home, and she was playing for keeps.

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