Two Worlds – Chapter 274

Queen Josephina I

Location: 350 kilometers Southeast of Harper’s Center, Barrowsford, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“That insolent bitch!” Josephina smashed her hand down against the real-glass table in the executive dining car of the maglev train spiriting her away from Harper’s Center at nearly seven hundred kilometers an hour.

The breakable material never stood a chance against her enhanced musculoskeletal structure, but that didn’t stop a flash of pain from traveling up to her elbow, or the small laceration along the meaty part of her palm.

“Your Majesty,” one of her personal armsmen tried to approach, but she shot him a glare that would put Medusa to shame.

She took a napkin and dabbed at the bit of blood that escaped before her ever-present medical nanites went to work on clotting and mending the cut. As she looked at the stained napkin in her hand, she wished the wound wouldn’t close so easy. Nothing in her life was going to be easy ever again.

She’d been a Queen, one of the three members of the new Royal class, one step below the Empress herself, and she’d managed to lose an entire planet in the span of a few days. It wouldn’t matter that the Collies brought a fleet that out massed hers five-to-one. It didn’t matter that some of those ships had the same advanced alien technology that allowed the Windsor fleets to smash to pieces the opposition in their bid to drive the Commonwealth back from Imperial space. It didn’t matter that the royal and imperial troops on the ground were already facing at least an enemy brigade, with another one surely landing as more of the Collies’ ships settled into a parking orbit around Harper’s Junction and her moon. It didn’t matter that she’d bloodied their nose well and good in the process. At this moment, her ships were still dogging half of the Collies’ naval forces as they limped toward the planet. The damage being inflicted was superficial, but it showed her people weren’t giving up.

<That is how I will be remembered,> she squeezed her fist tight, trying to draw more blood from her wound, but it was already clotted, and a thin, protective layer of fresh skin was being spun by the microscopic robots across the gash. <And all because of that insolent bitch!>

She was rational enough to know that everything that troubled her wasn’t due to the large woman who came barreling through her forcefield and dispatched most of her guard detail, including the good Colonel, with her bare hands and a blade. The woman hadn’t laid a finger on Josephina, and the Queen had taken her arm for her impudence, but that didn’t stop her metal-headed rescuer from threatening to blow up the entire city. The colour sergeant that had saved her had made the right choice in letting them go to save her. As a reward, his mech was folded up in its travel arrangement in the cargo hold of the train, and he would be her personal escort off the planet. However, part of her wished she’d called the enemy’s bluff.

She was sure it was a bluff. She couldn’t see the man’s face, but she’d seen his armor, and the Commonwealth gunnery sergeant stripes on it. From her interrogations and trickery, she’d surmised the team sent by the Collies to infiltrate her planet was no more than a dozen soldiers. She’d captured an officer, senior enlisted, and two lower enlisted. While it was possible they had more than one gunnery sergeant in the team, she doubted it, which meant the man inside the armor wasn’t that high ranking. If one thing was true of all the militaries of humanity, it was that they didn’t give enlisted personnel activation code for anti-matter weapons. That was a chance the colour sergeant couldn’t take, so she bargained their way out, and hoped the troops they’d alerted to the enemy presence could finish the job. They had two of the new anti-armor grenades their alien suppliers had sold them, so at least a couple of the soldiers who’d threatened her life were hopefully lying dead in a ditch somewhere. She’d just have to live with that imagery.

“Coming up on our destination, Your Majesty,” Theodore entered the car as a slight shift in the train’s acceleration announced their impending arrival.

Their destination was Marytown, a medium-sized city about five hundred kilometers from the capitol. It was located at the edge of a large bay, which gave it scenic views, a solid fishery business, and a readily available spaceport to get the goods quickly to market. It was one of the former planet’s masters’ favorite vacation destinations. Many of the wealthy business and political elite owned real estate among the staunchly loyal population, so it was a no brainer to have their private, secret escape train from the seat of governmental and corporate power flee to this safe haven.

The maglev tracks popped onto the surface about thirty kilometers north of the town. Unlike the capitol city, Marytown was not under siege. Its importance made sure it had a shield generator and a PDC, occupied by a royal garrison, but the Collies didn’t get that memo. Railgun rounds and energy blasts from orbit weren’t pounding the shield, and ground troops weren’t pressing toward it from the mountains to west. It was eerily peaceful.

Her train pulled directly into the space port where a defensive perimeter was manned and ready by the company of royal marines. They bowed as she exited, and the captain in charge of the formation led her to her waiting shuttle. It was a luxury craft seized from the former governor and upgraded over the last month with the Windsor’s more modern technology. It looked unarmed, but in fact boasted a powerful bow cannon. However, that was all it boasted, so it wouldn’t win in a stand-up fight against any military vessel. Its advantages were with its shield and speed. That was what was going to get her to safety.

She barely listened to the captain as she sat on a richly-upholstered seat that luxuriously altered itself to perfectly take the pressures of the day off her shoulders and lower back. She poured herself a drink from the full bar and waved the man away. She might not have been paying attention, but she knew the situation. There were two ships waiting to get her back to Windsor. They were running on silent, and trying to be a hole in space as the Collies scoured the areas with sensors and patrols. They’d stayed hidden so far, but it wasn’t going to last much longer. For her to get from the ground to the ships, she needed help.

 

***
Windsor Planetary Defensive Battery Seven

 

“Change of mission, “the SGT in control of the battery yelled. “Cannon to position twelve. Fire mission in fifteen minutes, and take every second of that to build our charge. We need more oomph behind this shot.”

Position twelve was the southern-most firing point, which if Ned remembered his training correctly, wouldn’t even give them a line of sight on the advancing Commonwealth forces. He spent a second wondering why they were abandoning a prime shot right into the heart of the Collies infantry for something else, but he quickly pushed that aside. It wasn’t his job to find the targets, it was to shoot the gun.

“Yes, Sergeant, position twelve.” He entered the information into his screens and the cannon moving through the mountain shuddered to the stop and reversed direction.

“And will someone get me that repair team’s status with the door,” the SGT yelled as an afterthought as the power levels on Ned’s gauge slowly began to climb.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“There we go,” Mike groaned as he and SSG Hightower slowly lowered Coop’s armored mass to the ground.

“I’m good,” Coop feebly protested, but the pain in his leg was intensifying. His armor was reaching that point where it wouldn’t give him anymore drugs to combat the pain without an override. He could ask the GYSGT, SGM, or LT for authorization, but he doubted they’d give it to him. They’d already lost too many people today.

The SGM came up behind them with Sullivan’s limp body in a fireman’s carry and carefully lowered him to the ground. The rest of the team pulled security as they assessed the situation. Instead of looking around, Coop’s eyes went to Eve.

She was pale, but she’d always been pale. It was the pallor of her skin that really worried him. There was a slow drip of blood from the stump of her arm, despite the first aid he’d given her, and she kept passing her hand over where her other hand should be. She gave a start of surprise every time her hand missed her now-missing arm.

“Hey, talk to me,” Coop knew the symptoms of shock, and he might be on his way there very soon.

She gave a bitter laugh and gestured around her. “We kind of fucked this up,” she didn’t’ sugarcoat the situation.

They were in a collection of buildings near the outskirts of the city. The local police hadn’t tried to stop them because they’d taken shelter just like everyone else. When the smoke cleared and a victor emerged, they wanted to be on their new boss’ good side. The Windsor road blocks were few and far between as more troops got pulled to the front.

Through a crack in the windows Coop could see the battle raging in the distance. The sparking of shields, muted artillery fire, and much louder incoming ordinance from space breaking through the atmosphere was all that could be heard as the city ground to halt and took cover.

“I don’t know,” Coop shrugged. “We cleared the way for the cavalry, and we got out in one piece,” he winced at his choice of phrase, “more or less,” he gestured as the lance of duro-steel that had destroyed his leg and imbedded in his armor.

Instead of being pissed, Eve laughed, which was how he knew shock was starting to set in. She waved what was left of her arm and gave his LACS a small tap like they were toasting something with expensive champagne instead of missing body parts.

“This is the infantry,” she stated. “This was always a hazard of the job.”

“Yeah, but they’ll grow you a nice new arm when we get home, and they’ll patch up my leg good as new. Soon we’ll be out dancing and back in the sack like nothing ever happened.”

“Do you ever stop thinking about sex?” She laughed again.

“Nope,” he replied without hesitation. “Especially when it is with you.”

“I don’t know whether to be flattered or offended,” she shot back, but the smile pulling at her lips told Coop is was the former.

It might be the blood loss talking, but Coop was sure he had a very good chance of getting laid pretty soon. <I’ve never done it with a one-armed woman. The new positions…>

“Lock it up and listen up,” the SGM came over. “We’ve got a medivac on the way, but they’ll have trouble getting close. We need to hump it five klicks out and rendezvous with a RECON team that is providing target data from the fleet on the city’s defenses. They’ll get up back to a Spyder and out of here.”

“Great. Just what a guy with a bum leg wants…more walking,” Coop muttered under his breath.

“You’d rather sit here and wait for the enemy, Sergeant?” the SGM’s eyes bore into Coop from behind his armored helm.

“No, Sergeant Major. I’m up for another stroll,” Coop made sure to keep the string of four-letter words he wanted to say to himself.

“Ok, big guy, let’s go,” Eve didn’t help Coop to his feet, but she was there to motivate him.

They might both be gimps for the near future, but they were gimps together, and he was fine with that.

Previous                              Next

Advertisements

Two Worlds – Chapter 272

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

CWS Agincourt slid into position with puffs from her positioning thrusters. The hull of the task force flag ship had stopped leaking atmosphere, and repair crews could be seen scurrying around the hull.

Admiral Ward made sure the George Bush stood between his ship and any planetary energy weapons that wanted to take a shot at him. Carrier Group Alpha spread out around Carrier Group Charlie to cover their rear and flanks. Now, the Bush’s ships to concentrate on bombarding the planet and not worry about someone sneaking up on him.

Ward wiped some sweat from his brow as he stowed his helmet on the headrest of his command chair. The holo-tank was still scrolling with damage reports, but everything was being handled by the ship’s captain. The greater strategic picture was out of his hands for the moment.

“Commander,” he opened a shipboard TACCOM channel to the marine leader. The woman’s tired face, with a bit of dried blood on her close-cropped bangs, stared back at him.

“I’ve got the first companies ready to disembark now, sir,” she replied. “Due to casualties, and the general mess the Windsor’s made onboard, our deployment plan is totally fucked.” She didn’t look at all worried about using coarse language around the ADM.

“Understood, Commander,” he gave the woman a sympathetic look. “The 942nd looks like it’s got things handled for the moment. Land your troops with all due speed, but make sure they’re ready to fight.”

“Aye aye, sir,” she cut the line.

Ward pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to summon up a little energy. The adrenaline rush of battle was wearing off, a crash was coming, but he didn’t have time for that. This was only step one of the game plan. He pulled up the latest data on Bravo and Delta groups. Delta had been savaged by the Windsor’s. The assault carrier at the center of the formation was still making its way slowly toward Harper’s Junction, but just about all of its escort ships were limping behind it. The Windsor’s had broken off contact when Bravo came into range, and their retreat cost them some ships, but in the tally of lives and ships, the enemy came out ahead in that engagement. In the tally of the meeting the mission objectives, the Commonwealth was victorious. They just paid a big price.

Aggie’s AIs had calculated Delta, with Bravo providing cover, was nineteen hours from dropping anchor around Harper’s Junction. That meant the 942nd was going to be handling the brunt of ground combat while Aggie’s marines got their act together and got in the fight.

<Then there is still the remaining ships to worry about,> he sighed as he got up off his chair and stretched with an audible crack of the spine.

The Windsor fleet wasn’t gone. It was regrouping in orbit around one of the nearby planets. He had a drone screen between them so they couldn’t sneak up on his forces, but he still didn’t know what they had planned. He also didn’t like the firepower they still had at their disposal.

He stepped out of his armored flag bridge and nearly slipped on a pool of blood.

“Take it easy, sir,” a marine CPL advised as he picked up a body in dragonscale armor. The marine with him picked up another body with Windsor armor. Both of the dead soldiers’ blood was intermingled at the hatch to the bridge.

Ward wasn’t one to spook easily, but he gulped involuntarily. He’d never known how close he was to the enemy boarders. He’d focused on his job, coordinating the battle, and that tunnel vision was readily apparent now.

“Good work,” he gave the CPL a pat on the shoulder and headed for his ready room. The room was pockmarked with bullet holes and more than one scorch from a plasma explosion.

<This gives me a whole new appreciation for recovery operations,> he bent over and started to sort through the stuff he could save and the stuff he’d have to trash.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<All those VR games and holo-movies are complete horseshit!> Coop cursed as rounds slammed into his shield for the last few meters before he put a wall between him and his enemy. The SGM was right behind him returning fire, while both used their bulk to provide cover for the unarmored Eve.

In all those movies and games, after you faced off with the big, bad boss man you would emerge to your allies already victorious over the evil bad guy’s subordinates. In reality, that was a bullshit. Coop had faced off against the Windsor mech, and come away without a scratch, but now he had to fend off the rest of the palace’s security forces with only the half-strength SRRT team as back up.

“Last mag,” the GYSGT informed as she swapped out her M3’s empty 1mm drum for a fresh one.

Coop quickly checked his own ammo gauge before checking on Eve. She’d been patched up by the GYSGT while the SGM figured out how the hell they’d get out of this hornet’s nest, but it wasn’t meant to hold. They’d controlled the bleeding and sedated her enough so the pain wasn’t too bad, but she was still ambulatory. SSG Hightower was assigned to guard her, which Coop thought was redundant since he wasn’t leaving her side.

The GYSGT slapped the magazine into her M3, popped up, and fired a burst downrange. A couple of Windsor soldiers, who’d taken the lack of fire as an opportunity, caught the brunt of the blast as they tried to creep up on the team’s position. One went down from what had to be a lucky hit, while the rest scampered for cover.

“Where we going, Sergeant Major,” Coop asked over TACCOM. He had an uncomfortable feeling like a noose was tightening around his neck. The enemy was going to pin them down and wear them down if they didn’t move.

“Our exit is a hundred and fifty meters in front of us,” the SGM announced.

Coop popped up to take a look, and only saw the palace’s exterior wall. Between them and that wall were a number of enemy troops behind cover and concealment, and they opened fire on Coop once they saw his head pop up.

“No way in hell we’re going to…” Coop began, but the SGM cut him off.

“Wait for it,” the SGM had to be looking at something on his HUD because no one else knew a thing. “Wait for it,” he repeated.

A flash of light emitted from above as railgun rounds tore through the atmosphere on a direct course for the city. Coop instinctually ducked, like any survival-oriented human would, when those duro-steel rounds smashed into the city’s shield like the hand of god. The shield flashed with energy as it absorbed and deflected the rounds from the ships in orbit, but it did succeed in providing a significant distraction, which was only compounded when the palace wall directly ahead of the team exploded.

“Sergeant Major took down the wall’s generator while inside the palace,” Sullivan informed as he jumped up with the rest of the team.

“Why didn’t he tell us?” Coop followed suit and vaulted the wall to provide covering fire so the unarmored members of their team could advance.

“He did,” Sullivan’s Buss boomed next to Coop’s as they established a firing line and started to eat away at the enemy’s positions. “You were too busy making lovey-dovey eyes at Berg to notice.”

“Well…whatever,” Coop didn’t have a comeback, and some the Windsor’s were trying to move around to flank them.

He drove them back into position with withering fire that killed at least two members of that assault element. More gunfire erupted behind the Windsor’s as resistance fighters started to pour through the breech in the walls.

<Those magnificent bastards!> Coop grinning like a kid in a candy store as the rebels fanned out to envelop the Windsor’s.

The enemy’s fire discipline started to crack as they realized they were being hit from all sides, and that was Coop’s cue to move. He half-trotted next to, half-carried Eve forward as he sprayed enemy position with his plasma-tipped rounds.

“Move right!” the SGM yelled when they were about halfway to the exit.

Coop pivoted to put his body between the enemy and Eve. They were out in the open and moving, so he was the cover. He fired where his AI told him the enemy was, and his rounds smacked into a blue barrier.

“Fuckers have an area shield!” he relayed, as he switched to his regular rounds and poured fire on the shield on full auto. The constant disruption would keep the enemy from effectively targeting the team.

“I’m set, move, Cooper!” Sullivan sent when he was ready to provide cover fire.

Coop disengaged and sprinted back toward a chunk of wall that Sullivan was using to rest his Buss on. Coop slid in next to him, but the cover wasn’t big enough for the both of them.

“Grenades and we make a break for it!” the SGM ordered. The team was only fifty meters from the exit. Bodies littered the open space, with many more belonging to the rebels than Windsor’s.  They were brave but outmatched by the enemy.

Coop cycled his barrel until the grenade chamber popped into place. He made sure a frag round was in the chamber followed by smoke.

“Fire!” the SGM was moving before he finished.

The grenades were set to a lower velocity so they would penetrate the shield. The frag grenades lobbed out of the Busses and through the energy barrier followed by the smoke. There were muffled screams as the frags detonated, and then the smoke obscured everything.

“Move!” Coop yelled as he pushed SSG Hightower forward.

The two unarmored NCOs grabbed Eve between them and ran for the exit. The LT was in the lead with the SGM covering her, Mike right on their asses, while Sullivan took up flank security, and Coop rear security. He was the last to leave the position, and the first to see the return volley. The problem was they didn’t look like any grenades he’d ever seen before.

“What the hell?” he watched as the oblong-shape arched toward their old position. Since he was nearly fifteen meters away, with a shield and armor between him and the incoming blast, he wasn’t worried, and he was even less worried about the rest of the team.

The enemy had blown their load on an old position. Coop grinned at the oversight until a red warning siren sounded in his armor. Text came up on his HUD to warn him of whatever problem his AI had detected.

<What the hell?> The text on his screen looked like a feral cat had been given LSD, starved for a week, and then allowed to send a message on a scratch post. Coop stared at it in complete confusion was a half-second.

“What is…?” Sullivan seemed to be getting the same message.

{Translate?} Coop thought through his IOR and the alien thing in his brain went to work.

If Coop would have known this would be an issue, he would have put alien default translation protocols at the top of his check list when he reformatted the GYSGT’s armor.

The deranged-cat scribbles reordered themselves into English, and Coop’s blood ran cold.

Alert: Shield Frequency Deciphered. Recommend fresh scramble.

“Do you know how to…?” Sullivan and Coop were obviously on the same wavelength, but those seconds were critical and it was already too late.

The oblong grenades that had been tossed out of the enemy’s shield, at the SRRT team’s old position, ended up being anything but harmless. The Commonwealth had nothing like them in their inventory, and only a handful of the grenades were even on Harper’s Junction. The team didn’t know this, but the grenades were only given to the Queen’s personal bodyguards, and they had a single purpose…to kill armored enemies.

Sensors in the grenade used magnetics and energy sensors to hone in on their target, so despite being thrown over a dozen meters off course, they had no problem finding their targets. Once the grenade’s AIs identified their victims, they initiated the first of their three stages. Stage one was designed to identify and defeat an enemy’s shield. The grenades had to be in the vicinity and measuring the enemy’s shield for long enough to crack the frequency before being used. So, despite being in the courtyard the entire battle since the SRRT team emerged from the palace, they were only being used now.

With the frequencies deciphered, the grenade’s computer initiated stage two. Stage two was an energy blast that was meant to break down a shield’s integrity. Traveling at the speed of light, the blasts of energy hit Coop and Sullivan before they knew what was happening. Before they could shout in surprise that their shields were down, the grenades engaged the third and final stage. A powerful graviton blast turned a hunk of duro-steel in the center of the grenade’s housing into a lance of death. The lance was launched from the grenade, on target for the two LACS, on speeds that had never before been achieved by electro-magnetic projectiles. It ignited the atmosphere as it passed through the space between the grenade’s housing and the two armored soldiers.

With their shields down, all Coop and Sullivan had was their 6cm armor between them and these armor-killing spikes.

All this happened so fast that Coop wasn’t able to follow it. However, the silicon brains of his LACS were, which was what saved his life. Like some HI, he had presets and favorites programmed into his armor. The language default wasn’t one of them, but his grav-boots engaging when in the presence of a sudden gravitational change was. He had losing a leg to a pirate’s grenade on that stupid mining facility, while saving LCDR Gold’s ass to thank for that.

So, when the graviton burst fired the armor-piercing lance at him, Coop’s presets identified the explosion and pulsed his grav-boots.

{Armor Breech!} his IOR blared inside his brain a second before overwhelming pain washed over him.

Coop screamed and didn’t even feel himself falling to the ground as his LACS dumped drugs into his system. The pain subsided to a dull throb about the time he realized he was on his back, and in the open about fifteen meters from the exit.

Sullivan was almost at the exit and he was down too.

<What the hell?> his groggy mind tried to fight through the haze of the drugs.

His training took over and he ran a suit diagnostic. His left thigh was a mess of red icons on the results. The armor had been breached, there was internal injury, and it didn’t look like he was getting up on his own anytime soon.

“Sergeant Major, I’m hit,” his voice sounded emotionless over TACCOM.

“Stay put, Sergeant, I’ll be there in one.” The SGM replied.

Coop saw the NCOIC dragged Sullivan’s LACS the last few meters to the exit while firing his Buss one handed. Plasma rounds impacted the area shield, which was still obscured with smoke. The GYSGT, Mike, and SSG Hightower were leaning into the wall’s opening and taking shots with their weapons to keep the Windsor’s head down.

The SGM got Sullivan’s LACS on the opposite side of the wall and ran to Coop. Grenades thumped out of his Buss and splattered against the shield. The enemy had tightened things up, but in doing so had obscured their own view of the battlefield. No one could see shit through that smoke. Not that Coop cared. He was looking down at his thigh and marveling at the meter-long, duro-steel spike that had impaled his leg and was sticking out the other side.

<It’s not every day you see that,> his drug-addled brain thought as the SGM grabbed him by a carrier handle at the back of his armor and started pulling him toward the exit.

The enemy was hunkered down to ride out the rest of the fight, so they didn’t take any fire as they got out of the palace. Hightower, Mike, and the GYSGT were providing security on the war-torn street while the LT was bent over Sullivan’s LACS. Coop only got a glance as he was plopped down on the opposite side of the wall, but it didn’t look good.

The other SGT had a duro-steel spike sticking out of his chest plate where his heart would normally be, and the LT’s face wasn’t a vote of confidence in his condition. Coop tried to hail his on TACCOM…nothing. He tried his IOR…nothing. He reached out to try and connect suit-to-suit with the man who’d helped cover the team’s retreat with him, but the LT held up a hand to stop him. She shook her head and looked back up at the SGM. The armored NCOIC hung his head for a second.

<Fuuuuuck,> Coop didn’t know if it was the drugs or sadness that was hitting him harder.

“We need to keep moving,” the SGM announced. There would be time to mourn later. “Cooper, can you move?”

“If you get me off my ass, I can stumble along, Sergeant Major,” Coop replied.

“If we can make it to the outskirts of the city, we should be able to keep our heads low and ride this out until the cavalry arrives.” The SGM set a waypoint on Coop’s HUD and then yanked him to his feet.

<Fine by me,> Coop thought as he limped forward. <I think I’ve fought enough for one day.>

Previous                                  Next

Two Worlds – Chapter 268

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“This was too easy,” Eve looked over from where she was bent over the dead body of a Windsor guard. The man didn’t have a head thanks to Coop.

“Speak for yourself,” Coop shot back. Even in the palace’s dungeons he heard the belch of the Windsor mech tearing into the rebel soldiers providing a diversion for the SRRT team. A lot of people had died so they could perform this rescue.

“She’s right,” the SGM was standing guard next to the door. “We only encountered a squad when we entered the complex, and a handful of guards. This is supposed to be the Windsor’s stronghold. There is no way they would leave it unguarded in the middle of an invasion.”

A grin pulled at Eve’s lips when the NCOIC agreed with her. She straightened up and attached a piece of the dead man’s armor to her body. Coop had brought along some Dragonscale armor for Eve on because it didn’t matter if he rescued her if she got shot on the way out. Like before he got the GYSGT’s armor, the grunt armor wasn’t meant for someone Eve’s size, and even less for someone with her curves. This was the one time Coop considered her voluptuousness to be a bad thing.

She’d squeezed into what she could, but it wasn’t offering much protection. She was scavenging from the guard’s armor and strapping it on top of her shins and thighs for extra protection. She looked like Frankenstein jumped into the 25th century and decided to design armor.

“Here,” he tossed her a compact submachine gun. She unfolded it and accepted the ammunition that followed. It wasn’t as good as an M3, and way less useful than a Buss, but it would have to do.

“Thanks,” their eyes met for a second, and he knew she wanted to say more, but now was not the time or place. “What’s the plan, Sergeant Major?”

“We get the hell out of here and join up with the main body of the invasion force. We armor up, resupply, and come back to kick some ass.”

Coop nodded along with the SGM’s plan, but not everyone was onboard.

“Negative,” Eve stated. The SGM’s armored helm just stared blankly at her. “Sergeant Major,” she started again. “There is a reason you met limited resistance in getting in here. This is the Windsor’s seat of government. The prime minister, high ranking military leaders, and Queen of the fucking planet are here,” a hint of desperation leaked into her tone. “There have got to be HVTs all over this place. We need to strike now and strike hard. If we cut off the snake’s head then it won’t be able to bite us in the ass later on.”

The SGM listened to it all silently. Coop wished he could see any expression or any nonverbal body language from the man, but he got nothing. Not even a burp over the IOR.

“You’re right. Good thinking, Sergeant,” the SGM replied. “We’ll split into fire teams: Gunney, Berg, Sullivan, and Cooper; LT, me, Enders, and Hightower. We sweep this place the best we can. Capture HVTs if possible, kill them if you can’t. If you hit serious resistance, retreat and regroup with the main landing force. We’re not going to be able to slug it out long term if they want to put up a fight. Keep situational awareness about what is going on around us. We don’t want the ships in orbit to take a shot through the city’s shield and turn us to paste because we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Eloquently put as always, Sergeant Major,” Coop sighed, as Eve finished running a diagnostic on her weapon. He just wished for once things were easy.

The green good-to-go button matched the glint in her eye. “Let’s go kill the fuckers that tortured us.” Despite being the least protected and feebly armed of the group, she led the way into the corridor.

<Fuck, I love that woman.> Coop was right behind her.

 

***

 

CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

The first sounds of small arms fire snapped Mitch’s head in the direction of the village. “Keep your heads down and stay alert,” he sent to his team while he trotted over to the small CP the SGT had situated behind the tank.

The NCO held up a finger as he approached. He had his hand to the side of his head and was clearly trying to make out the chatter over TACCOM.  “Echo made contact near the city center,” he relayed after a short pause. “They’re pushing them north toward the open space between the city and us. Once they get them in the open, they’ll call for fire and have the battalion HI take them out. So far, it just looks like some locals and not Windsor’s.”

Mitch didn’t let his squad leader see his sigh of relief. He’d rather take on some yokels than the people who’d crushed his battalion on New Lancashire. The mention of the HI brought back some unpleasant memories, but he was glad the walking artillery was going to be able to end this before it even got close to their position.

It was a relief for a lot of the marines in the brigade that the brass who set this whole thing up didn’t skimp on making sure they had what they needed. HI was always a precious commodity, and he couldn’t think of the last time he’d seen the entire battalion fully stocked with its compliment of ten HI troopers. The Alpha Company’s trooper was with the HQ element on the opposite side of the town from Mitch’s current position. In a valley that was thirty kilometers across and close to two hundred long, it was nice to know that there were thirty HI present to deal with bigger threats.

<Plus two tanks,> he thought to himself as he gave the metal behemoth a pat.

The clang of the impact faded and he heard another noise. “What’s that?” He turned and looked behind him. It didn’t have the zip of small arms fire, or the tell-tale whistle of incoming artillery. It was a soft rumble that growing louder and louder.

“Incom…” the SGT yelled over the squad line just as three figures rocketed over the mountains only a few kilometers from their position.

Mitch paled as he raced back to his foxhole and dove in. The only thing worse than enemy artillery was enemy air support. Even worse for the squad was their tank was a juicy target.

Three drones crested the mountain. The one in the lead was longer and more needle-shaped than the two rear drones. It had small, sleek wings on the side, but could turn on a dime based on the dive it executed as it came over the mountains. Mitch didn’t recognize the drone, but he did recognize the two in pursuit. Drone tech might have changed a hell of a lot in four hundred years, but the Commonwealth’s fleet of unmanned aerial fighters still had the shape pioneered by the old twentieth century United States’ stealth bombers. These were sleeker, far more maneuverable, and way better armed than its predecessors, but they were still struggling to catch the Windsor’s drone.

The Windsor drone dropped to the deck and rocketed over the open space barely ten meters off the ground. That was smart. It was below what a lot of the swatters were programmed to monitor. The Commonwealth drones followed but fell behind a bit. That didn’t stop them from firing their railguns at the enemy. Tracer rounds lit up the valley as the dog fight continued. Positioning thrusters flared around the Windsor’s drone as it spun to avoid the rounds.

The three fighters rocketed past Mitch’s position so fast he nearly missed them. By the time he turned around they were approaching the town.

<Echo!> He thought helplessly as a hundred members of his battalion were suddenly in danger. He was sure the SGT was already relaying the info, which the company commander probably already had with the JTAC coordinator monitoring the air space. The marines were probably scrambling for cover as he sat there thinking.

It looked like the Windsor drone was going to ram straight into one of the peripheral buildings, but at the last second it went into a steep climb. A split second later, one of the Commonwealth drones opened fire. It looked like its rounds missed the enemy’s tail by centimeters, and it paid for it. The less maneuverable Commonwealth fighter tried to pull up, but clipped the top of the building. It spiraled out of control and the pilot somewhere back on the Bush tried to avoid any collateral damage. He wasn’t completely successful. The drone almost made it out, but a damaged section of its wing snapped off from the strain and it nosedived into a group of buildings about a block from the edge of town. A second later, Mitch heard the boom of the drone’s death from his position.

The other Commonwealth drone ignored its dead wing mate and climbed with the Windsor drone. The Windsor drone looped around at the apex of its climb and went into a dive bomb of the marine’s expected position. Now that the Commonwealth pilot knew where the enemy was going he was able to act instead of react. He inverted and spewed out railgun rounds across the enemy’s attack path. Several rounds impacted the Windsor drone, killing it, but not its mission. The Commonwealth drone got the kill, but the dead drone still had gravity on its side. Even as the drone started to come apart from the damage, it still had plenty of mass to plow into the center of the small town.

The fire ball that sprang up from the explosion was bigger than the Commonwealth drone’s crash, and likely much more deadly. Mitch didn’t know how much since he was out of the TACCOM loop, but he magnified his HUD and was able to see the glint of a Spyder coming in for a landing with a big red cross stenciled on its sides and belly.

“Damn,” he muttered to himself. Marines were dying while he sat at the crossroads kicking rocks into the canal.

“We’re to hold position and continue with our mission,” the SGT announced over the squad channel. He’d obviously been thinking the same thing, asked to do something, and was denied.

Mitch had mixed emotions. He didn’t want to see other marines die and not be able to help, but he didn’t want to wind up facing down another Windsor mech. He didn’t want to sit on his ass all day, but he didn’t want to get shot in the ass either. They were polar opposites, but he wasn’t allowed to take the middle road.

He’d just have to sit there and wait.

 

***

 

Queen Josephina I

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

 

“Shit,” COL Buckton stopped dead in his tracks. The Imperial marines raised their weapons at their commander’s curse, and Josephina’s own guards flipped their weapons off safe. “The Collies stopped fifty thousand kilometers out and sent fighters and assault shuttles our way. They want a buffer so we can’t catch them with their pants down with planetary weapons. That screws up our timeline. The shuttle isn’t going to be able to get you to the ships in orbit from this location without it being in range of their capitol ships.”

“So I’m staying after all,” Josephina was fine with this outcome. It’s what she wanted in the first place.

“No, Your Majesty. We’ve got a Plan B. We need to head back to the subterranean level.”

The Queen immediately knew his plan. The former governors of this planet knew they weren’t the most popular people around, and anti-aircraft missiles were a fairly easy item to procure on the black market. As a backup they’d built an underground maglev system to get them out of the city in case of an emergency. It popped back above ground about fifty kilometers outside the capitol, and from there it could join the normal tracks to any destination on the planet.

“You’re going to put me on a train and smuggle me to an alternate space port,” her statement was thick with disapproval.

“Yes, Ma’am,” the COL ignored her and spun on his heel. The marines and personnel armsmen formed back up around her and they hurried back the way they’d come.

She noticed there was more urgency in their steps, which meant danger was closer than they would have liked. They had no idea.

They rounded a corner at the same moment another group came around the bend about twenty meters away. “What the…” she began before the COL roughly grabbed her by the collar, and yanked her back while the marines and guards opened fire.

Previous                                         Next

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.

Previous                   Next

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.

Previous                         Next

 

Two Worlds – Chapter 259

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Moving!}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{But…}

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

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

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

He sprinted for the shit river and safety.

Previous                             Next

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.

Previous                        Next