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.

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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.>

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Two Worlds – Chapter 247

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Argo, United Commonwealth of Colonies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Worlds – Chapter 246

Benjamin Gold

Location: Argo, United Commonwealth of Colonies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Worlds – Chapter 239

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Planet beneath The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings

 

“We’ve got to push left!” Coop ducked behind some kind of trash can as incoming rounds smacked against the crappy masonry around them.

As the number of enemy tentacle creatures increased, so did the volume of fire they were able to pour into the field generators Coop and Mike were carrying. The portable shields were better than sliced bread in Coop’s opinion, but they weren’t perfect. When concentrated fire was put on a spot it broke down the energy’s integrity and allowed stuff to get through. For the tentacle assholes’ tiny projectile weapons, that amounted to thousands of rounds a second, but when you had several thousand of them closing in on you from all directions even a moron could coordinate that fire.

Add to the rounds getting through their shield and their lack of armor, the SRRT also had to deal with the improvised barriers the enemy was throwing in their path. They had the diplomat’s beacon reading loud and clear now, and he was less than half a kilometer away. Crossing that half kilometer was turning into a shit show as every street intersection they came upon had an improvised road block thrown up…and on fire.

“We’re running out of streets, Cooper,” the SGM grunted, but didn’t yell. If anything, the NCOIC was cool under fire.

Coop knew from his IOR that the SGM was posted up against a building less than twenty meters from him. The whole team had been condensed down to a thirty meter perimeter to maximize the shield’s integrity. Sullivan and Mike were with him while Eve and GYSGT Cunningham were sticking close to Coop. The snap of Eve’s rifle going off less than a meter from Coop’s ear told him there was one less Squid out there to worry about.

“You’re seeing what I’m seeing, Sergeant Major!” Coop was a little less composed than his leader.

The Squid’s road block was random crap piled up about a meter and a half high and then set on fire with some rancid chemical concoction. Even from fifty meters away, the things smelled like asses – plural – because one ass just didn’t do the smell any justice. The last thing Coop wanted to do was get any closer to that steaming inferno of shit.

“We’ve already got to double back as is, and time is of the essence. They know we’re here, so they might just kill our guy and bury him in a shallow grave. We need to get there now.” The SGM relayed as a series of waypoints appeared on Coop’s IOR. It was a battle plan and a route to get to the diplomat all rolled into one. “On my command we punch through this barrier and push forward.” The SGM said it like he was inviting the whole team to brunch. “Three…two…one…execute!”

Four HE grenades exited Busses and impacted the barrier like the wrath of the Squid’s sea god. It blew the barrier, and anything within ten meters of it, into even more finely dispersed rancid shit. Coop ducked behind his cover to avoid the debris, but some still fell down on his back. He tried not to gag as he got to his feet and pushed forward.

There was no resistance getting to the former roadblock, or to the corner beyond that, but once they rounded the corner they came under renewed fire. Judging from the volume the Squids sounded pissed. The whole world in front of the team seemed to blue-out as the shield flared from thousands of incoming rounds. Coop dove for cover, which wasn’t remotely fun or graceful with the heavy generator on his back, but it saved his life.

“Shit!” {Shit!} The exclamation came through Coop’s ears and then his mind.

“Sullivan’s down,” the LT relayed with a little more emotion in her voice than the SGM. “It was in and out clear through his leg. Nanites will repair the artery and I’ve got him from there.” The LT might be the OIC, but everyone, including her, knew this was the SGM’s show.

“Gunney, I need you to take Alpha and make a path. We need to go two hundred meters and then make a right at the intersection. The diplomat’s beacon is in the third building on the right.” All of the SGM’s orders had been in the battle plan he’d relayed through the IOR, but it was a new way to communicate, and sometimes old habits took over.

“Cooper, you and me are on grenades. Berg, I want you to switch weapons to something with a higher rate of fire. If these fuckers rush us I don’t want them on top of Cooper and me before we can switch ammunition.”

She gave them ten seconds to lock and load before standing up and firing a three-round-burst of HE grenades at the enemy. Coop followed her lead, but aimed ten meters farther. They alternated back and forth to turn the whole street into a kill zone. The Squids might be stupid by Hegemony standards, but no one is that stupid. They gave up shooting for pot shots and charged.

Eve went down to one knee for better stability and let the Buss do the work. On full auto it was a buzz saw. Where bullets had trouble penetrating the shield, slow moving creatures did not, and the Squids poured through the blue barrier only to be chewed up and spit back out.

“Reloading,” Eve informed what felt like seconds later.

Coop and the GYSGT, who’d taken cover while Eve butchered the ETs, popped back out and started lobbing grenades. The Squids tried another charge, but by then Eve was ready for them.

“Coming up on your six,” the SGM informed as Bravo team trotted up behind them when they reached the intersection. “They tried to hit us with charges from behind at the same time. I think they thought they could catch us by surprise.” The SGM shook his head at the ET’s tactical blunder.

All around them it looked like someone had blown up a warehouse full of rotten sushi. Dead Squids covered every centimeter of space. Coop and the rest of the SRRT were squishing their corpses underfoot as they advanced.

“Ok, it should be the third building on the right,” the LT glanced around the corner and immediately pulled back as more rounds punched into the shield right in front of her face. “How’re those shields doing, Cooper, Enders?”

Coop hadn’t checked the generator in what felt like hours, but was actually minutes. “We’re down to forty percent, ma’am.” As if on cue, something big hit the shield and dropped it three percent.

“They’ve got plasma weapons!” The SGM yelled out. “This must be their HQ where all the big guns are located.”

More rounds started to land on top of the shield and dropped its battery life even further. “Fuck they’ve got mortars!” Coop exclaimed as he looked around for cover. The problem was that there wasn’t any.

Sure there were the ramshackle dwellings the Squids called home, but those didn’t protect them from overhead bombardment. The only thing keeping the SRRT alive was the quickly dwindling shield.

“Close ranks!” The LT ordered the exact opposite of what you were supposed to do when under indirect fire. Coop was about to politely educate her on this fact, but she beat him to it. “I know it sounds bat-shit crazy, but do it. I want us close together to maximize our shield protection. Once we’re close I want Cooper’s shield to form an outer layer protecting us. Enders, you collapse your shield bubble to form an interior layer. That way when Cooper’s fails yours will still be ready. Hell, it might even have a few minutes to recharge.”

Coop shut his mouth after the LT explained her decision. It was smart, and Coop kicked himself for not thinking about it. Despite the clever use of the shields, it only bought them a few more minutes to live. The mortars kept pounding away at them, and if they stuck their heads out into the next street, heavy plasma weapons would open up on them. Coop didn’t even know if they’d make the target house before those weapons chewed through their shields and cooked them all. Then the Squids would get to feast on BBQ human for the first time.

“We need to get rid of those heavy plasma cannons,” Coop said more to himself as he peeked around the corner.

The Squid at the controls saw Coop and took a shot. The weapon took out the building Coop had been hiding behind, and another few percent of the shield’s power as Coop scrambled backwards. It wasn’t for nothing. His IOR had mapped the cannon’s location inside the cover of another residence at the other end of the street over a hundred meters away.

“No shit, Sherlock, and how about you keep your head down!” Eve grabbed Coop by the scruff of his CMU’s so he wouldn’t do something stupid again.

The gesture was surprisingly protective and intimate given their situation, but Coop didn’t have time to think about it. He needed to figure out how to stay alive. The answer turned out to be simple. It was the same thing a team would do if they were taking indirect fire in any other situation. The real issue was, would it work in this diplomatically sensitive instance.

{Argo, this is Ballboy, call for fire, over.} The only way Coop could do it was over his IOR. Thanks to their command features, the LT, GYSGT, and SGM all snapped their heads in his direction. The LT opened her mouth to say something, but the SGM put his hand on her shoulder and shook his head.

The meaning was clear. It was the right tactical decision. In fact, the SGM had already thought about it, but bringing it up to Argo and the non-warriors in charge of this diplomatic mission was something else altogether. Coop had made the call, so it was Coop’s ass on the line. Coop was surprised the SGM was covering his ass like that, the NCOIC didn’t strike Coop as that type of person. Then the SGM met Coop’s gaze, and Coop knew that wasn’t the case. Coop had simply beaten him to the punch, and despite the shit situation they were in, Coop couldn’t help but beam with pride.

<Maybe I really am pretty good at this soldiering thing after all.>

{Coop, is that you?} Aiko’s voice popped into his mind. {What the hell is going on down there?}

Coop and the team had been out of contact with the ship since the start of the mission. There was supposed to be a communications blackout because this was a never-even-happened black op, but everyone probably got a little nervous when their LACS beacons went offline.

{No time!} Coop’s irritation leaked out over the transmission, but that was because another round of mortars landed on their heads and dropped his shield below thirty percent. {I need a fire mission at these coordinates.} Coop sent the information his IOR had gathered. {I need a tight-beam burst from Argo’s energy cannons, one hundred meters, from here to here. The big gun we need taken out is here, but the drag is going to take out any opposition between us and where the hostage is being held.}

{What the hell are you talking about? Stop fucking around, Coop.} Aiko’s disdain was coming over loud and clear.

This was not the time and place, and when another round of mortars fell on them, because the enemy had them zeroed, Coop snapped. {Aiko, I need you to pull your head out of your ass right now. This isn’t me fucking around. We’re sitting ducks here. If you do not authorize this call for fire the team is going to fucking die – D.E.D. dead. I know you hate my guts, and I think you’re being a bitch, but it doesn’t fucking matter. Order the fucking strike now or pass me to Gold!}

{I’m here, Sergeant.} The LCDR sounded like he wasn’t sure his IOR was working.

{Thank you, Sir.} Coop reassured him. {Now can we get that fire mission rolling?}

{I’ve passed it up to the Minister. She’s in command of the overall mission, not me. It’s her call.} The LCDR’s response didn’t fill Coop with optimism.

{Anything else you want to get off your chest while you’re at it, Cooper?} The LT asked as the wait dragged on and things continued to explode all around them.

{Yes, ma’am. You need to pay me more.} Coop deadpanned. It took a second, but then Eve chuckled, Mike grunted acknowledgement, and even Sullivan chimed in and seconded the motion.

Even the GYSGT suggested some type of increased hazard pay for the SRRT team. They were discussing how much when the LCDR got back to them.

{Fire mission approved. Argo is moving into position, ETA three minutes.} By divine intervention the diplomat had been taken hostage almost directly below where they’d been staying in the Golden City, or else it could have taken more than an hour for Argo to get into position. That was time they didn’t have, and even three minutes was cutting it close.

Coop’s shield failed before Argo fired. The entire SRRT team, one of twenty, qualified and trained teams on the latest and greatest tech in the Commonwealth, was huddled together where a simple frag grenade could have killed them all. Then, a blinding flash lit the sky and the ground bucked beneath them. Atmosphere did a lot to disperse beam weapons, so they were nowhere as deadly as they were in space, but the newly-upgraded energy cannons on Argo were more than enough to cut through the flimsy materials in the Hegemony PHA, and the even more flimsy Squids living in them.

The loud explosion of the heavy plasma cannon being destroyed at the end of the street was all the motivation the team needed.

“MOVE!” The LT led the charge up and across the street to the target house. The street below them was nearly bubbling from the energy dissipation, and the charged corpses of the Squids caught in the line of fire crumbled into ash as they SRRT rushed to stack against the door. “Go!” The LT kicked down the door and peeled away to cover their six.

Coop was the first through, and his Buss spit out plasma-tipped rounds at the space filled with stunned Squids. A few seconds later the space looked like a slaughter house, and any Squid that was still alive was slithering for safety.

“He’s beneath us. Find the stairs!” The SGM was one of the last in the building as Coop and company went from room to room exterminating the remaining enemy.

Eve ended up finding the stairs, but they weren’t stairs at all. It looked like some sort of gelatinous goo. You stepped in it and it sunk down or propelled up depending on the floor you were on. It took the SRRT team members thirty tedious seconds to get from one floor to the other. Coop suspected that the Squids could swim through the liquid and move faster, which was why he stood guard when Eve descended behind him.

The downstairs consisted of a long corridor and a single door. Coop’s IOR registered that the door was thicker at the far end, but that a grenade would do the trick. It did. The grenade, one of Coop’s last ones, blasted apart the door, and Coop followed the blast of shrapnel into the room. What he saw ended up seared in his memory.

There were a handful of Squids, but unlike the Squids he’d dealt with so far, these ones moved slower and had a slightly duller color to their bodies. Coop guessed it had to deal with age, and he might as well be facing the Squids’ council of elders. Not that Coop gave two shits.

One of the squids was attached to the restrained diplomat’s body. The man’s eyes were bulging as the Squid had a tentacle stuffed in his throat and both nostrils. Coop didn’t know if the Squids were torturing the man for information by suffocating him, or if they were throat-fucking him, and he didn’t stop to ask. His sector of fire didn’t contain the diplomat, so he concentrated on blasting his handful of old Squids. They moved slower, were easier to track, and Coop painted the walls with their blood. When he turned around, Eve had one hand on the Squid covering the diplomat’s face, and the other was using her combat knife to cut the thing to pieces. Finally, the thing died and sloshed to the ground.

<You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.> Coop couldn’t hide his displeasure at seeing the diplomat who’d been captured was the same fucktard from Argo who ordered Coop to switch bunks with him.

<Sullivan took a bullet for this waste of oxygen.> Coop grimaced, and promised himself to double down on the extra hazard duty pay plan when he got back to the ship.

{Argo, this is Wentworth. Jackpot…I say again…jackpot. Immediate extraction would be most appreciated.}

Immediate wasn’t totally immediate. The splitstream tech needed space and specific dimensions to work within, so it took nearly twenty minutes for them to find an LZ and to get streamed back to Argo.

As they waited, Coop thought it was weird the Squids didn’t press their attack. He didn’t argue with their decision not to. He just found it odd they gave up so easily.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 237

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Planet beneath The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings

 

Coop didn’t panic when the lights went out. Despite a few evaluation reports from tight-ass NCOs, he considered himself a good soldier, and he knew there were procedures in place to deal with situations like this. Step one was to reboot the system, followed by reestablishing communications, and a full weapon system diagnostic before getting back into the fight.

Coop tried to access the LACS through his IOR and then manually. Both were unresponsive. <Well the designers didn’t give us a procedure for this.>

Coop’s best guess was some type of EMP weapon to take the suits offline, but LACS were supposed to be shielded against that type of attack…or at least the human version. <The best military equipment the human race has to offer, and some of its best soldiers, and we get taken down in some Squid shithole without even firing a shot in anger. That’s gonna look great in the history books.> Coop fumed.

{Eve…Gunney…Sergeant Major…Lieutenant? Can anyone here me?} All he got was silence.

<Fuck it.> Coop tossed caution to the wind and began executing the shit-out-of-luck procedure.

If everything went to hell in Little Red Riding Hood’s handbasket, the designers had enabled an emergency molting feature in a LACS. This would allow a soldier, in an emergency situation, to shed the armor and continue the fight on foot. The realignment of armor plating and severing of internal circuitry required to execute the maneuver deadlined the LACS until a properly equipped armory could make repairs. Right now, the only armory Coop knew of that even knew the SRRTs and V4A’s and B’s existed was back on New Savannah. If Coop did this, he was going to be hoofing it for the rest of this tour.

<It’s not like I have much of a choice,> Coop thought as he began executing the complex set of maneuvers he hoped he’d never have to undergo in combat.

Coop understood the necessity to have super awkward maneuvers like this to not accidentally molt a HI trooper during combat, but now that he had to get out of the LACS in a hurry, he cursed the engineers for their foresight. He felt like a drunken ballerina as he contorted and twisted to reach manual release mechanisms built into the armor. He could barely reach some of them, and he was pretty sure he pulled a muscle or two in the process.

The armor began to loosen around him the farther he got in the process, which made things easier, but before he got to the last step he paused. <My buss was in my right hand and I had a pistol on my left hip.> He mentally went over where his offensive weapons were, followed by the nearest grouping of grenades. The artillery shells were worthless now. He couldn’t just pick them up and throw them at the enemy.

Coop took a few breaths to psych himself up and get his blood and anger flowing. Something out there had knocked his LACS to the ground. He didn’t remember being notified of any incoming projectiles or energy blasts before his armor went offline, but that didn’t mean whoever had kidnapped the diplomat wasn’t waiting just outside the suit with a plasma cannon to turn Coop into fresh human BBQ. For all he knew, eating him might be a delicacy to the Squids.

<Three…two…one…> With a final pull and heave, Coop pushed the entire back half of the LACS off and emerged into the red-tinted light of the planet.

He took a lung full of what passed for air in this place, and tried not to cough. It was breathable…barely…but it tasted like he was swallowing farts from someone who’d eaten way too many chicken wings. He only let the stench distract him for a second as he scanned for his weapons and any enemies. He’d only completed half of his three hundred and sixty degree turn when something hard hit him in the back. For a second, he’d thought he’d been shot, but then something black and slimy slipped under his chin, around his neck, and started to squeeze.

“Motherfu…” Coop’s curse was cut off as the black tentacle clamped down.

It was stronger than Coop thought, but not strong enough. Coop reached back to grab the Squid he felt clinging to his back. The thing scurried around trying to avoid his grasp, but it wasn’t big enough to evade and choke at the same time. Coop got a hold of it and pulled it off his back, but it did not release his throat. If anything, Coop pulling it away only tightened its grip. Instinct took over and Coop chomped down on the extended tentacle.

The squeal the Squid gave as Coop’s teeth passed through it slimy skin was satisfying. The lime green, putrid blood that shot into Coop’s mouth was not. It made the planet’s pungent air smell like galaxy’s finest aromatherapy.

Coop made sure his priorities were straight. He threw the Squid down on the ground and then drove his boot onto it with a satisfying squish. The thing popped like an over-filled water balloon. After the threat was dealt with, Coop was free to bend over and puke up everything he’d eaten since arriving on this god-forsaken planet.

Even as he puked, Coop staggered over to his armor and wrenched the pistol out of its magnetic lock. The weapons scanned his GIC when he grasped it and allowed him access. An ammo count and targeting sights popped into his vision as the weapon linked with his IOR. He scanned the area again, and saw something black flying through the air at him. Apparently, the squids could jump. The ET had all nine of its tentacles spread wide. They varied in size, but the longest wasn’t more than half a meter. Where all the tentacles met was a ball of tissue. Some sort of mouth opened from that ball and let out a warbling shriek. Maybe it was pissed because Coop killed its girlfriend.

Coop didn’t give two shits. He assumed that the ball of tissue at the squid’s center also held their brain, so he put his targeting icon on that and pulled the trigger. The high-velocity dart wasn’t plasma tipped, but it had more than enough velocity to punch right through the unarmored and unshielded squid. The thing exploded and spread green blood-goo everywhere.

“Fucking disgusting,” Coop spit to cleanse his pallet of ET blood and vomit. By the time he did that the rest of the team had started their own combat molts.

The GYSGT was out first, followed by the SGM, Eve, and the rest. Mike was one of the last out, and he looked a little worse from wear.

“Grab whatever gear you can carry,” the LT was taking the loss of their LACS in stride. “Cooper, Enders, make sure you get those area shields up and running. Without the LACS, that’s the only protection we’ve got now.”

Coop almost argued that there was no way the portable shields were still good if the LACS were dead, but a touch of a button showed the shields were good to go. He’d leave it to smarter people than him to understand how they were still operational when the LACS were nothing more than scrap metal. Instead, he grimaced for two other reasons. First the portable shield weighed a few hundred kilos. Lugging that thing around was going to be a pain in the ass. Second, the LT was right about their lack of protection. Coop grabbed a few grenades and magnetized them to his smartcloth. He put his pistol back on his hip and grabbed his Buss. He put some ammo into pouches he also got from his LACS, and then cannibalized some circuitry from the offline suit to thread through openings to construct a utility belt that he slung diagonally across his body. The shield generator went on his back. He shifted it to make it comfortable, but with the cords there was always going to be something pinching him. SOP if they came under attack was to take cover, unsling and entrench the shield so it couldn’t be targeted, and then return fire. As Coop surveyed the area, there wasn’t a lot of places to take cover.

The team was in the middle of squid slums. Since the ET’s were much shorter than humans that stacked their dwellings high into makeshift towers. Even from where they stood, Coop could see black shapes scurrying in and out of openings in the small boxes. The way they moved using their tentacles sent a shiver down Coop’s spine.

<At least they die easy.> He told himself.

“We need to move to cover. Form up into wedges. Alpha first followed by Bravo. Keep your spacing, but stay within the shields’ range.” The SGM ordered, and that was Coop’s signal to turn on their defense.

The shield hummed to life as Coop connected with his IOR. He made sure the power levels were in the corner of his vision at all times, but not in the way of his targeting apparatus. He wasn’t on point since he was humping the shield. That honor fell to Eve. She pushed out to just under twenty five meters from Coop and stalked forward. She had her sniper rifle out. A regular human carrying the long-barrel rifle would have looked ridiculous, but in the hands of a Ranger it was positively deadly.

Eve posted up against the side of a building and leaned around the edge to scan with her scope. She wasn’t looking for more than a few seconds before the shield sparked from an impact. The retort of Eve’s rifle returning fire was much louder, but it was only a single shot.

{One ET down,} she sent over the IOR. {But we’ve got company.} No sooner had she said it than the whole front portions of the shield lit up from incoming fire.

<Well this sucks.> Coop scanned the area and saw hundreds of the little, Squid fuckers moving around their flanks to completely surround the SRRT. They held small, oddly-shaped weapons in their hands that seemed to fire something similar to a dart.

Currently, hundreds of those rounds were impacting Coop’s shield. He stole a quick glance at the power reading and was happy to see it still at one hundred percent. Whatever the weapons were they weren’t powerful. No sooner had he drawn that conclusion than something big impacted the front of the shield. Fire spread outward around the dome and set several nearby towers on fire. The shrieks of burning Squids filled the area.

<Well shit…this can’t get any worse can it?> The shield’s power level now read ninety-seven percent.

 

***

 

Ezekiel Mackintosh

Location: Capitol City, New Washington, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“This is a disaster!” the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth angrily brushed the table in front of him with his outstretched arms. Data chips, polyplast hardcopies, and a cup of coffee went flying.

“Sir!” Connie Price, his chief of staff, gently put a hand on his shoulder.

The conference room at the CEOC was empty except for the two of them, which was good, because Connie didn’t want anyone seeing their leader this way.

“Half a dozen systems, Connie, with over a dozen planets between them.” The PM buried his head in his hands. “Between those planets is close to eleven billion Commonwealth citizens, a hundred trillion in private, corporate, and Commonwealth property, and that doesn’t even cover our casualties.”

Word had finally filtered back to the rear areas that the Windsor’s surprise attack was over, but the results were catastrophic. The PM was lamenting over the six former Commonwealth systems that had been forcibly annexed by the Kingdom. Those were complete losses, but on top of that were the losses in people, Fleet assets, property, and diplomatic relations in the ten other systems that had been attacked and abandoned after being ravaged. System defense forces in all those systems had been completely annihilated if they decided to fight, which most did. That left all these systems defenseless to the Blockies and pirates unless the Fleet moved in. The PM had ordered High Admiral Gilmore to do just that, but these systems were only going to get a few destroyers and maybe a cruiser for the more important ones. All the systems were roughly in the same area of space, and the fleet tasked with guarding them had been seriously mauled at Queensland.

Nearly all of the Eleventh Fleet ships that had been anchored at Queensland were now combat ineffective. Almost half were nothing more than finely-dispersed debris at this point, but the rest were battered husks in need of months in the yard and new crews. The numbers were still coming in, but well over a hundred thousand soldiers and spacers had been lost, and the PM expected that number to keep going up. The High Admiral was pulling elements of the Core Worlds fleets to reinforce the destroyed anchorage and sure up diplomatic ties with the Oceanic Alliance. They’d lost nearly all of their fleet as well.

The one bit of good news was that doctrine for fighting the Windsor’s technological advantage was emerging. The Windsor’s ships were hard to kill but they could be killed. Overwhelming firepower was the key, and all focused on single targets to overwhelm their shields. At the same time, all firepower needed to go on the defensive when volleys came at the Commonwealth and allied ships. The Windsor’s range was twice as large as the Commonwealth’s latest missiles, their EW countermeasures were formidable, and the game was over if they got into energy cannon range. The tactics weren’t good, and the ratio of Commonwealth to Windsor ships destroyed was horrendous, but it did work and was able to rebuff the Windsor’s from the system. Or at least that was what Connie had the media telling the Commonwealth’s citizens. The fact was they’d probably executed a strategic withdrawal and reinforced the conquered systems.

The task force the PM sent to help at Premier Etat de Napoléon had fared a lot better because they barely engaged the enemy. They’d still lost a pair of battleships and a chunk of their escort destroyers and cruisers, but now the EU had their feathers ruffled over the losses. On top of the steaming heap of dog shit the PM had dumped on his own starfaring nation, now their alliance with the EU was frayed. That wouldn’t be good if the Blockies came calling. ADM Berg was still trying to see if the Windsor’s hit the Blockies at all, but he hadn’t heard back from her yet.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m done.” The PM slouched back into his chair. “No one is going to re-elect someone who lost systems. It doesn’t matter what the rest of my record is. This was the largest defeat the Commonwealth has ever been dealt, and it was dealt by a single-system polity. There is no recovering for me. The Eagle Party will win the remaining elections, Simmons will be the new Prime minister, and the Progressive agenda will be over for the next decade.

All Connie could do was pat Ezekiel on the back. She knew he was going to lose. There was no denying that after this attack. “You’ll still be the opposition leader, Sir. You’ll be the thorn in Simmons’ side like she is to you.”

That wasn’t much comfort, but Ezekiel would have to live with it. He only had a few months left on the job, and he’d be playing clean up the entire time. He just hoped his overtures to the Hegemony were going better than their situation at home.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 236

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: The Golden City of Luck, Happiness, Prosperity, and Servitude, Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings

 

“I can’t believe this,” Eve fumed as she led the way back into the collection of suites the human delegation had been assigned.

“I know! What fucknut thought this was a good idea?” Coop replied just as the remainder of the room came into view.

Clustered around a holo was the SGM, Minister of Commerce, the LT, and LCDR Gold. Judging by the glare being directed at Coop, the fucknut in question was the Minister. Thankfully, Coop had people looking out for him.

“On me,” GYSGT Cunningham yanked Coop by the shoulder into the opposite room where the rest of the SRRT was huddled.

“Whew…dodged a bullet there,” Coop wiped his forehead and grinned.

“More like you’re going to take an energy cannon up the ass in the near future,” Eve replied. “That woman is one of the most powerful in the Commonwealth, and you just called her a fucknut.”

Coop took a moment to think about that and shrugged. In terms of strategic use of resources, Coop knew they couldn’t do a whole lot against him. The infantry and fleet needed people who were Splitstream capable in their SRRT teams. So far, there were not a lot of active personnel with those genetic and psychological adaptions, of those who did they needed to evaluate those that could work on a tier one team, and then they needed those people to volunteer. Out of the millions of people in the Infantry, Coop was one of a few hundred who’d joined the new project. Calling a Minister a bad name wasn’t going to get him booted off the team and onto some shit duty…he thought.

“What happened?” Mike was in the room, and it didn’t look like Bravo had been brought up to speed on the situation.

The GYSGT brought them up to speed, and Mike just shook his head. “That was stupid.”

At that moment the SGM, LT, and LCDR burst into the room; thankfully, without the Minister. “This is your WARNO.” The SGM cut straight to it. “The situation is as follows. While conducting diplomatic reconnaissance…” Coop struggled to hold in his laughter at the SGM’s description, “… one of the diplomatic team was abducted by one of the other alien races in the city. Per protocol, he activated his panic button. We had a good track on him until we lost signal here.” Instead of a holo-map of the city, the SGM pulled up a map of the planet below. “All members of the Alpha and Bravo excpet for one individual will participate in this rescue operation. Staff Sergeant Hightower, you will keep the rest of the diplomats locked down until we resolve the situation.”

If the SSG was unhappy about not participating in the operation he didn’t show it. He just said, “Yes, Sergeant Major” like a good NCO.

“Enemy forces are unknown, but we believe we’ve identified the species that took out man.” The SGM popped up to a new image, and Coop recognized the tentacle creatures from the bar earlier. “Our mission, is for Alpha and Bravo to covertly travel to the planet’s surface, recover our abducted diplomat, and make a general statement to those involved about fucking with the human race being a bad idea.” The SGM’s statement got some smiles around the table.

“Sergeant Major, would it be more diplomatic to alert the Hegemonic authorities to the abduction and request their assistance in returning the kidnapped diplomat?” Eve asked.

Coop thought it was a reasonable question. After all, why should they risk their asses to save the fucknut who got kidnapped by a group of calamari.

“That’s a no go, Sergeant,” LCDR Gold stepped forward and the SGM yielded the brief to the senior officer. “There are diplomatic agendas at work. First, we’re a new species in the Hegemony. We’re one day into the talks, and we don’t want one of our first official acts to be asking them for help. We want to be seen as a strong, independent species, and your suggestion goes against that. Second, we can’t be seen as secondary to the species that took the diplomat. Sergeant Major has more on that.”

“Thank you, Sir.” The SGM didn’t look completely thankful for his briefing being interrupted. “The species that took our diplomat, which I will refer to as the Squids from here forward, are very low on the totem pole here and throughout the Hegemony. The one thing they do have going for them is that there are trillions of them. They screw like bunnies and have spread their numbers throughout Hegemonic space. The Squids are an impatient, reckless, and impulsive species according to the data we’ve gathered on them. Most of the squids here in the city are actually slaves. Thus the servitude part of the place’s name.”

“Slaves? Didn’t slavery go out of style a thousand years ago?” Coop wondered out loud.

“No, Sergeant Cooper.” The LT replied a little more heavy handed than Coop thought was necessary. “Pirates and mercenary groups throughout the Commonwealth regularly ambush ships, take people hostage, and turn them into the modern day equivalent of slaves. There are even rumors out there about big corporations running luxury cloning operations and breeding people for physical pleasure. So, while the days of people being whipped as they built pyramids of pick cotton are gone, the practice is still very much alive.”

“Like the LT said, the Squids are victims of their own impulsive nature here.” The SGM brought the conversation back on track. “They love to gamble, and half this city it made up of the alien version of casinos. The Squids bet big, get over their head, and end up paying back the casino owners with their freedom. From what we’ve found out, as delegates we’re living in luxury up in this rarified atmosphere, but most of the Squids reside in the seedy underbelly. Whoever took our diplomat lives down on the planet, which isn’t much more than housing and the necessary suppliers to keep the indentured Squids, and other species who get in over their heads, alive.

“Well,” Coop shrugged. “I would have thought a millennia’s-old galactic collective would be a little more civilized, but who am I to judge. How are we going to kill these fuckers and get out of here clean?” Coop wondered.

“Law enforcement’s patrols of the area where we lost our diplomat’s signal are very infrequent, so we should be able to get in and out without being noticed by the authorities. To put it bluntly, it’s a bad neighborhood.” The SGM replied.

{Brings back memories doesn’t it?} Coop sent Mike a message over his IOR and got an affirmative response.

“Everyone needs to make their way back to Argo so we can finish going over the execution details and depart for the mission,” the SGM powered down the holo and started to move.

“Sergeant Major, don’t you think our hosts will spot our ship leaving? That is going to bring unwanted attention to the mission,” Coop tossed out the flaw he immediately saw in the SGM’s plan.

“Who said we’re taking the ship down, Sergeant.” The SGM didn’t even look back, but Coop could tell he was grinning. Coop didn’t like where this was heading.

Half an hour later Coop was geared up and ready to kick some ass. The team wasn’t taking any chances. They had no idea what they were walking into, and they had no idea of the technological level of the enemy they were about to face.  Just because the Squids were peons in the eyes of other Hegemony species didn’t mean they wouldn’t have weapons that could tear a hole through a LACS. The SGM didn’t want to take any chances.

Coop ran the diagnostic and checked the safety on his Buss for the second time. Usually, he was a one and done type of guy, but the amount of unknowns in this situation didn’t sit well with him. The SGM undoubtedly felt everyone was feeling the same way, so he was compensating for that fear by issuing more grenades to everyone and authorizing the team leaders to ensure some of their team had some real bang bang in their arsenal. Since Coop was in the V4As, that meant he was loading up the LACS’ compliment of seventy artillery shells. The only thing he wasn’t being loaded with was anti-matter ordinance. Setting one of those off would alert the authorities that something wasn’t quite right. Still, Coop had enough thermobaric rounds to turn a small city into a burning husk, and that made him feel a little better.

<Of course, they didn’t help against the Windsor’s.> He remembered the high explosive weapon’s lack of effectiveness against the Kingdom’s massive, armored mechs.

Coop looked at his shield’s readings again to make sure he was one hundred percent good to go. He was, and so was the rest of his team. Everything seemed good to go.

“Coms check,” the SGM stated over TACCOM.

{Coms check,} he reiterated over their IORs.

“Everyone listen up. We’re going to drop here.” A holo of the area they would be dropping into appeared in front of them. “We’ll set up a perimeter, regain our bearings, and then move forward to the diplomat’s last known location here.” He pointed at an area two hundred meters away. “Intel from the Minsters team suggests that the panic button might still be transmitting, but it’s jammed. If we can get close enough then we should be able to pick it up again.”

<That would be lucky of us.> Coop didn’t plan on it being that easy.

The SGM pulled the team leaders aside to take a look at everything. The SGM would be in command of Alpha with the GYSGT in the number two slot, while the LT handled Bravo. SSG Hightower was back with the diplomats, and Coop was sure the big man was pissed. This was the first offensive action against ETs the Commonwealth was going to engage in. Sure, it amounted to engaging their version of PHA Rats, but first was first, and the SSG was missing out.

Coop patted his armor to ensure the grenades were easily accessible and pondered what to arm his Buss with first. Coming out rapid firing 40mm grenades sounded like the best option, but he was sure he’d catch hell for blowing up some poor squid’s fish tank. Instead, he’d opted for 3mm plasma-tipped rounds. They’d still get the job done, and they’d eat at a shield’s energy faster than regular rounds. Coop wasn’t looking forward to going up against a shielding enemy again, but at least this time he was shielded too; twice shielded in fact. Coop was also assigned to carry an area shield which was provide an extra layer of protection for up to twenty-five meters around the team. Mike was carrying another one for Bravo, so if they kept their spacing right they’d give the team an extra bubble of protection.

The downside was the thing was fucking heavy on top of his LACS and all the other crap he was carrying. The V4A was supposed to be the pack mule of the SRRT team, but that didn’t mean it didn’t suck, in fact, the more Coop thought about it the bigger the target he’d be.

<Too late now.> He thought as the SGM waved them forward. The SRRT hunched over, shuffled, and squeezed sideways through Argo’s corridors until they reached one of the off-limit’s areas. LCDR Gold was there waiting for them to scan his GIC and put in a code.

The heavy blast doors opened up to reveal a spacious area…probably the most spacious area on the entire ship. Since Coop had spent three weeks stuffed into infantry country with a bunch of puffed-up bureaucrats, seeing this much empty space didn’t improve his mood. In the center of the empty space were four sets of circles. They were a gleaming silver, slightly raised from the floor, slightly extended from the ceiling, and big enough for a man in a V4A LACS to stand on.

Once Coop caught sight of them he felt his sphincter involuntarily pucker. He knew what these were, and the rest of the SGM’s plan fell into place. The SRRT team was going to live up to its name today. They were going to use splitstream tech for the very first time as far as Coop knew.

<And we’re going to do it on a combat jump into enemy territory to rescue a diplomatic fucknugget. You couldn’t make up this shit.>

“Alpha team onto your launch pads.” The SGM led the way by stepping up onto the nearest dais. Coop gulped and picked one at the back.

LCDR Gold and Aiko took their places at the controls and started pressing buttons and flicking switches. A lot of stuff was being pushed and flicked, so much that Coop hoped they didn’t mess up some sequence and turn him inside out in the process.

“Launching in twenty seconds,” Gold started to countdown while Aiko watched her screen.

She looked up for a second at Coop, but her expression was neutral. He took that as a good thing. One indication either way meant something was wrong or the tech wasn’t going to work on purpose. It was a dark thought, but Coop knew Aiko was capable of doing some harsh shit. Four SRRT members being obliterated in a failed splitstream launch would be easy for her to walk away from even with an investigation.

<Stop it.> Coop chided himself when Gold reached five. <Get your head in the game.>

“…two…one…initiate.” The LCDR did something and Coop’s whole body went numb.

It only lasted for a fraction of a second before feeling returned. Too much feeling. Coop felt like someone had wound up and punted him right in the nards. He immediately started to puke. Through sheer force of will he was able to stop it from spewing out of his mouth, but swallowing it only made him gag more. The only thing that got him through this was not wanting to have puke on his HUD, and that acidic stench in his nose through the whole mission.

“Ok,” the SGM’s voice told Coop that even the NCOIC wasn’t immune to the cosmic forces at work. “Give me three-sixty security and secure the site for Bravo.”

Coop did what he was told while looking around. The area they were in made the PHA look nice. The place was a fucking pigsty. Coop quickly checked the air to see it was barely habitable for humans. There was a lot of sulfur in the atmosphere, so if Coop ever had to take his suit off the whole world would smell like farts.

Coop was looking outward when Bravo arrived. One second his IOR showed them out of range up in the floating city above them, and the next it registered them inside the perimeter Alpha had established. It was creepy, and totally revolutionized warfare. Coop didn’t have time to contemplate the greater strategic picture. He focused on the mission and scanned his sector of fire.

It took thirty seconds for Bravo to get their shit together before the SGM called out the order of march. “Alpha followed by Bravo… bounding overwatch…go.”

An icon appeared on Coop’s HUD showing where the SGM wanted him to go, and he started to move toward it while Bravo covered them. Coop made it about five meters when the whole world suddenly went black.

“What the fuck!” he yelled. He was still conscious, but his LACS had gone dark.

{What the fuck!} he repeated over his IOR, but just like with TACCOM he got nothing.

“Shit,” he whispered to himself before something impacted the side of his LACS hard enough to tip it over.

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