Two Worlds – Chapter 171

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 <Ugh…I hate Mondays.> Coop groaned as he rolled out of bed.

It was 0530, the normal wake-up time, and reveille was blaring on the speaker system just outside of his window. The problem was, Coop and his team didn’t need to be up at 0530 with the rest of the Company for PT. They were on detail for the next two weeks. It excused them from PT and morning formation at 0900. All they had to do was be at the spaceport by 0700, report to the MP liaison and civilian administrator, and do their assigned tasks.

It also didn’t help that Coop was nursing a none-too-minor hangover. “Shut the fuck up!” He yelled at the clear polyplast window, but the electronic equipment ignored him.

As the Company HI trooper, he got his own room, which was nice. Normally, soldiers shared what they called squad suites. It was made up of three rooms: two were five-person fire-team rooms where the soldiers slept, and the third was an open common area between the two rooms. The Company barracks that sat next to the Company HQ office had ten of these spread over three floors. LT Wentworth had her own room – although Coop was pretty sure she had an apartment off post that she stayed at most of the time –  the XO did live in their room, GYSGT Weitz spent about half of the nights in his, and then there was Coop. He was positive it was not a coincidence that the officers’ rooms were on the opposite side of the building from the speakers while Coop got a front a center seat to the high-pitched blaring horn every morning and evening.

He pressed his palms to either side of his head to drown out the noise until it ended. Then he slid down the side of his bed until his bare ass touched the cold, polished floor. He sat like that for a moment taking deep breaths to fight back the wave of nausea that had seized his gut. After a minute it passed, he shook his head, and stood up. Even if he was up, the beauty of being the only one currently on the floor meant he didn’t have to hustle to the latrine to take his morning shit. He walked out into the hallway in his birthday suit, cherishing the freedom, before going to bomb the porcelain sea.

From there it was straight to the showers where the warm water did a lot to alleviate his hangover symptoms. After that was a quick shave to be within regulations. With the three S’s done, he returned to his room, pulled on his CMU’s and headed out of the building. It was 0600 by the time he got to the Battalion DFAC. He scanned his GIC at the desk where a civilian didn’t even look up from their PAD as he passed. Being here right at the beginning of chow meant all the good shit was still on the racks. If given a choice, he’d still choose the extra sleep time, especially after his weekend.

It was a rare productive one, which translated to him not spending all his time at the Pit or one of the more reputable bars. He couldn’t always show up at the seedy freak show or the MPs would get suspicious and start sniffing around. He was so close to kicking off his latest scheme he couldn’t risk it, so he only spent Friday night ironing out all the details with cat stripper, aka Melissa, while the rest of his team got shit faced and whatever else his cash had bought them.

Saturday, instead of running around all over the place, he split the time between his room and the armory. For his plan with Melissa’s contacts to work, he needed to tweak a few things, and getting the software patch ready had taken him awhile. Altering something on his LACS and then rebooting it back to normal operating status without triggering any of the suits internal security protocols were a pain, and he was a bit out of practice. A V2 wasn’t anything like an air-car, but the same principals applied, so he was able to make it work.

He’d had a close call with the GYSGT, who just happened to show up while Coop was tinkering, but Coop was able to pass it off as dedication to maintaining his armor. The GYSGT bought it – at least that’s what Coop thought – but he’d have to keep an eye on the NCOIC for any sign that he’d caught on. After a long day working on the patch, Coop retired to Sandy’s place for the evening and hadn’t gotten much sleep. Sunday, to alieve any suspicions, he spent his day at the gym chatting up some females, caught a movie with one of those females, and then went to a local bar with the same female, which ended in a prolonged coupling in the restroom followed by stumbling back to his room and passing out.

Coop scanned the chow hall for anyone he knew to sit with, but just about everyone was at PT. None of his team was here, likely opting for more rack time, so Coop settled into a seat with a good view of the front door and ate his real eggs, bacon, pancakes, and breakfast danish. He washed it all down with a glass of OJ, which almost tasted real, before returning his tray to the automated dispenser. The civilian didn’t even lift her head when he left.

With his belly full, and his hangover symptoms cut in half, Coop headed back to the Company armory that sat in the basement of the HQ office.

“Hey, Sarge.” Coop greeted the old-timer NCO who sat in the duro-steel cage between the requesting soldier and a very intimidating-looking vault door. “I’m here for my gear.”

Coop liked the rolley-polley looking NCO. He minded his own business, ran his little twenty-by-twenty meter kingdom efficiently, but allowed some wiggle room – like Coop getting in on the weekend.

“Sign in.” The SGT pointed at the scanner and Coop did as he was told. “Your team ain’t here yet.” The SGT knew the assignments for the day, and Coop’s fire-team was supposed to be issued their gear between 0630-0640 before heading to the spaceport. It was currently 0633.

“Don’t worry, I’ll toss some beds and crack some skulls once I get suited up. They’ll be here.”

“Better be, or I’ll write them up for missing a time hack.” The SGT seemed grumpier than usual this morning.

“I got it, Sarge. Here,” Coop reached into his pocket and tossed a napkin-wrapped donut at the NCO, “I thought you might want this. It sucks getting forced in early.”

The NCO brightened immediately, and all thought of writing up Coop’s team vanished from his mind as he sunk his teeth into the jelly-filled deliciousness. Coop walked passed him and into the armory. All of the Company’s weapons, ammo, big guns, and HI armor were stored in here. He walked all the way to the back where his V2 LACS is sitting in a charging rack. With practiced precision he manually disconnected the power cords, opened the armor, and stepped inside.

The world is pitch black for a second before the system initializes and lines of code begin to stream down his HUD. It takes about two minutes to get everything up and running, and then another thirty seconds for him to toggle through multiple menus and get down into the weeds of the visual display, a cursory check of the coding shows his patch is up and running.

<Everything looks good.> It’s 0638 by the time he exits the vault, and his team is lined up with the SGT for weapons issue.

“Another beautiful day in the Infantry!” Coop announced with a grin behind his armored helmet.

Nickelbaucher nods, but the PFC looks tired. Goldsmith rolled his eyes mid yawn, while Stern was the only one to actually look enthusiastic about their upcoming assignment.

“They just need a light kit. We’re just going to be down the road.” Coop checked his own armor. He had no missiles and no artillery ordinance. His Buss was fully loaded and he had ten thousand rounds in his rail gun. For what they were about to do, he didn’t need anything other than that.

Getting this detail had taken some careful planning and fine manipulation of people. It wasn’t because it was desirable and everyone wanted it. It was the opposite. No one wanted it, so he had to get the job while looking like he didn’t want it. The mess from him killing that fucktard Bradford helped. A few bitch sessions to SSG Hightower about Stern’s incompetence, and pulling the LT’s attention casually to the available details had done the trick.

For the next two weeks, Coop and his fire-team would be doing customs checks at the spaceport. With a chunk of the fleet gone on some mission, they just weren’t able to inspect all inbound traffic as thoroughly as usual. So, the fix was to do cursory scans of inbound traffic as they settled into orbit, and then a hands-on inspection once the ship touched down to unload their cargo. The LT and SSG described it as a team-building opportunity to Coop while he looked appropriately pissed, but in fact, they’d just handed him the opportunity to make thousands.

“We’re set, Corporal.” Nickelbaucher had checked the troops over while Coop was daydreaming about swimming in a pool of money chips.

“Let’s get moving. No mags in the rifle. We’re walking down the street not some Blockie neighborhood.” The soldiers followed his orders and stowed the magazine in their Dragonscale armor’s pouches. Despite the assignment, they had a full combat load complete with grenades for their 40mm M3 attachments.

It was a short walk to the civilian spaceport which sat only a kilometer from the military base on the outskirts of Town Center. The local cops at the gate quickly scanned IDs before ushering them in without another word. They were happy to see the soldiers. It meant less tedious work for them.

The MP liaison was a bored-looking Corporal, while the civilian administrator was a guy in a suit who looked way too happy to be there.

“Welcome!” He beamed and reached out to shake Coop’s hands before realizing Coop could easily palm his whole head. “Thank you for coming.” He instead went for several thankful nods. “We’ve got a full schedule of incoming freighters today. I’ll upload the schedule to your neural networks and we’ll get started immediately.”

The MP brought out four sniffers and handed them to Coop and his men. “Have fun.” Just like that the MP was gone.

“You’ll be handling landing pads one through nine.” The administrator waved them toward the left side of the field.

It didn’t escape Coop’s attention that there were only twelve pads in the whole spaceport. <Fucking awesome.> He took a deep breath and imagined what he’d do with all the cash he’d make over the next two weeks.

They walked out onto the tarmac and stood next to a police crew of three armed with their own sniffers and sidearms. The blowing dust of New Lancashire’s still-being-terraformed atmosphere made seeing more than a hundred meters difficult, so positioning lights of the approaching craft seemed to appear out of nowhere when the first ships of the day fired their positioning thrusters to set down in the middle of the big white circles with their own positioning lights and electronic systems designed to help guide the pilots in through all the crap.

“Let’s get to it guys.” Coop let the way to landing pad one where a modular cargo hauler was setting down. As he approached he pulled out his PAD and typed a quick message.


I had fun last night. We should do it again soon. I’m free mostly from one to nine on the weekends, just make sure to message me to see what time works for you. Thanks!


He sent the coded message to Melissa’s inbox. For a five percent cut of the profits she was working as the middle woman for this job. Being free from one to nine told her what pads Coop was covering, and asking her to message indicated he wanted to know what pad their customers got assigned to so he could be the one to meet them.


Sure thing, Boo.


He got the reply less than five minutes later. She was probably just getting off her shift and heading home. He didn’t hear anything else from her for hours, and quickly learned why no one ever wanted this detail.

The spaceport wasn’t large, and it was only rated to handle ships with lightweight tonnage. That meant that all the cargo vessels – from twenty-five thousand tons all the way up to the multi-million ton behemoths – had to shuttle their goods down to the surface of the planet in small doses. It also meant pilots on roundabout flights all day long, and since this was the outer rim of Commonwealth controlled space, the pilots weren’t the cheeriest people in the galaxy. By flight number three they were getting a little testy.

“Are you fucking serious. It’s the same shit from the last two flights!” A bearded pilot steamed and threw his hands up in the air as Coop boarded the modular container and started waving the sniffer around.

The large container had a big GT on the side for Gold Technologies and the manifest stated that the ship was on a Commonwealth commission to provide consumables to the newish colony of New Lancashire from their farm world, Bounty. Since Bounty was at the edge of the Mid and Core Worlds, they’d had a bit of a hike out to York Sector with a few days of travel outside the Alcubierre Launcher network. That meant a big transport ship with over three hundred thousand tons of genetically-patented vegetables sitting in cargo holds. With food stuffs, time was money, and pilots were quickly getting sick of Coop and his team checking each of their holds every time.

“Sit down and shut up.” Coop snapped back. His interactions with this particular pilot were starting to grate his nerves.

The pilot replied in exclusively four-letter words, but Coop’s attention was on the vibrations and soft pinging coming from his armored hatch where he kept his PAD.


Eight works for me. I can’t wait to see you soon.


“You’re good.” Coop cut the pilot off mid curse and walked down the tail ramp where he waved the heavy equipment on that would unload ten thousand pounds of Bounty spinach in a few minutes. “Nickelbaucher!” Coop called over the team net to the soldier who was currently working pad eight. “Switch with me. If I have to deal with this guy one more time I’m going to rip his head off.”

The PFC had exclusively been dealing with some Mackintosh Shipping Conglomerate vessels delivering machinery, and if he was upset with the request to switch he didn’t say anything. “Roger, Corporal.”

Coop walked a couple hundred meters to pad eight and waited for the blinking lights of a new incoming vessel. Three minutes later, said vessel set down and opened its tail ramp.

The first red flag to a respectable customs agent would be that it was a private ship. Private ships had a much higher chance of being smugglers, pirates, or other nefarious spacers. Coop received their manifest from Air Traffic Control, and even the ATC desk jockeys had flagged the ship for a closer inspection.

Coop quickly toggled to his visual display, entered the command for his personal software update, and hit INITIATE just as a man’s boots appeared on the slip-resistant surface. Coop’s HUD gave a jerk that would look like a minor glitch to anyone watching before going back to normal, except now Coop had a small hidden box screen in the bottom right of his HUD. The two screens were nearly identical, but with one key difference. The faces of the man and his associates walking down the ramp were altered.

Coop’s V2 neural net was wired into ATC, which was wired into the local authority’s databases on wanted criminals throughout the sector and beyond. The facial recognition software automatically ran the faces Coop saw against those databases, and that was what his software patch was focused on. It wasn’t anything fancy, just enough to throw off the software. In the hidden box at the bottom of his head his armor analyzed the system and beeped a warning. A red silhouette encircled the man with the words DETAIN written over his head. As Coop scanned from left to right three other man had the same message stamped over them, but on his big HUD, with their altered faces, they all checked out.

“Good afternoon. Lovely day today.” Coop might have been able to manipulate the HUD’s input and output software, but audio was on a separate feed that he didn’t have the time to manipulate.

“You the guy?” The smuggler asked.

“I’m the customs agent, please follow me aboard.” Coop took a few steps toward the ship and the man’s face contorted in confusion. “Please, Sir,” Coop repeated. “This is just a routine check, I’m sure everything is just fine.” Coop made an OK symbol down low where his 360-degree visual wouldn’t see, and the smuggler finally caught on.

They both walked up the ramp and into the hold. Half a dozen grungy spacers were sitting around, but Coop worked around them. He made sure the sniffer was in stand-by mode and he never looked at the readout as he searched the ship. Since the civilian tech wasn’t linked to his armor it was easy to get around that safeguard.

“Looks like you’ve got about five thousand tons here.” Coop spoke to the smuggler hoping the guy was still picking up what he was putting down.

“More like thirty-five-hundred.” The smuggler grumbled back.

“I’m pretty sure it’s four thousand actually.” Coop’s tone held finality.

“Hmmm,” the smuggler pretended to check an old-fashioned paper manifest. “Yeah, it is four. My mistake.”

“No problem. We’re just about done here.” Coop turned to head back to the ramp. He had no idea what was in the crates all around him, and he didn’t care, what he knew was that he’d just made four grand for a mornings work.

As he walked, he held out his armored hand behind him expectantly. This was the part where trust was required between very untrustworthy people. Melissa had instructed them to pay in thousand-dollar chips. Coop wouldn’t be able to check until he was out of his armor, but he felt four chips being placed in his outstretched hand. The smuggler could stiff him and save a few bucks, but then his pipeline for getting goods into the colony would be cut. It was in his best interest to pay up, but if he was just making a single run then Coop might get shafted. There might only be four bucks on the chips for all he knew.

He had to take a leap of faith. Worst case scenario was that he got stiffed, and he hunted down the smuggler the next time he was on the planet. Making an example of how poor an idea it was to screw with Mark Cooper was always good for business.

Coop and his team worked until 1700 with a short break for lunch not long after he let the smuggler’s goods through. He got out of his LACS under the pretense of stretching and made sure none of the spaceports security cameras saw him checking the pouch where he’s stored the chips. When he looked inside four one-thousand-dollar chips gleamed back at him.

<This detail isn’t going to suck after all,> he thought.

He had this for two weeks, with at least one ship coming in a day. Payment was dependent on ship size, but if all of the ships were in this last one’s range, he was looking at another forty grand in his pocket.

That bought a lot of booze and lap dances. As far as he could see, life was pretty much perfect at the moment.



Two Worlds – Chapter 168

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Are you sure we’re supposed to be here?” Stern looked around the room like a doe-eyed lamb seeing the world for the first time.

“Nope!” Coop laughed as he plopped down a stack of chips worth three grand.

Coop, and his three-man team, were taking in the more respectable sights at The Pit. Without a reservation by Aiko, they had to work their way into the back room. They all looked like soldiers, and soldiers weren’t supposed to be at the Pit, so the management was naturally worried about them being cops or informants. Coop said he’d been in before, and the big bouncers in mid-eighteenth-century costumes even confirmed it, but that wasn’t enough. After a little fuming, and gambling, Coop grew to respect their vigilance and occupied his time with taking their money.

Coop was a good card player. It was a necessity in the PHA. If you didn’t have anything to eat, you played cards. If you had more than your fair share, you played cards. If you had nothing to do, you played cards. It was a cheap form of entertainment. He wasn’t smart enough to count cards, but he’d developed a feel for the game.

The dealer dealt the cards to reveal two aces, while he showed a seven. “Split.” Coop doubled the amount of money on the table.

The dealer visibly gulped as he dealt two more cards to Coop – both face cards.

“Now that’s what I’m fucking talking about.” Coop threw back the rest of his drink and waved over the cute brunette waitress. “One more, sweet cheeks.” He rattled his empty glass, tipped her a chip worth twenty bucks, and slapped her ass as she walked away.

“Corporal, I…” Nickelbaucher started.

“Take the stick out of your ass and play a round.” Coop shut his subordinate down before he could get started. The PFC’s eyes were constantly darting around the room like they were in the middle of a Blockie town about to take fire.

“We shouldn’t…”

“All work and no play makes Coop write bad evaluations,” Coop referred to himself in the third person – like a douche – but he was too drunk to care.

The dealer slid cards around the table to all the players. Everyone’s eyes got greedy when they saw the dealer’s hand. <Seventeen.> At the Pit, the dealer had to hit on a soft seventeen. Since Coop had six grand on the table he held his breath while the dealer went around the table again before dealing himself a third card. <Five.>

It took Coop’s booze-filled brain a second to do the math. “HAHA!” He pumped his fists into the air. “Fuckin’ A, I love this place.” He scooped his winnings back into his considerably larger pile, and the cherry on the top of the moment was his new drink arriving.

“Here you go…” the waitress leaned over, showing off a decent amount of cleavage…and promptly spilled the drink right on Coop’s crotch.

“AH mother…” Coop jumped up as the waitress danced back. He could have sworn she had a small smile on her face, but he blinked, and all she looked was concerned.

“I’m so sorry, Sir.” She whipped out a cloth as started to dap at his wet pants.

They were quality smart-cloth, so the liquid just beaded on the surface and was easily wiped away.

“It’s fine,” her hand rubbing him alleviated a lot of his frustration. “Just get me another one.” This time he didn’t tip her.

The small commotion had drawn the attention of the Pit Boss, who was a woman nearly as big as Coop. “Sir, you’ve had an impressive night, and we’d like to invite you back to our VIP section.”

Coop’s night had been big. He’d started with a modest three grand and was now sitting on nearly twenty. Going back to the VIP section was the best way for the establishment to get him to spend his hard-won gains.

“About time.” He waved for his posse to join him, and the four of them followed the woman back to the door at the back of the room where they were immediately waved through.

They went through the antechamber where they were scanned for weapons before the door opened and they were ushered into the main attraction.

“This doesn’t suck.” Goldsmith didn’t bitch as a woman with impossibly big boobs walked by and winked at him.

“Go have fun.” Coop flipped him a hundred-dollar chip and the PVT ran off after the stripper. “Keep an eye on him will you,” Coop handed over two hundred to Nickelbaucher and pointed him after Goldsmith who was practically salivating over the woman’s chest.

“What about me, Corporal?” Stern looked around. He was clearly out of his element, and that was obvious by the way he drew in on himself.

“You’re going to have a drink with me.” Coop led the way over to an empty booth and waved over the first person he saw.

The waitress was barely one hundred and fifty centimeters tall, had silver skin, red eyelashes at least six inches long, pointed ears, a nearly-flat nose, way too big eyes, and had what looked like fairy wings spliced onto her back. All she was wearing were some deliberately placed leaves that didn’t cover much.

“How may I serve?” She curtsied and looked up at Coop and Stern through those big lashes.

“Two whiskeys, top shelf please.” Now the Coop had money he ordered nothing but the good stuff. “And could you have Melissa stop by if she’s working.” Coop asked for Aiko’s friend. He had a few questions. “There’s extra in it for you if you can find her.”

The fairy-girl might look innocent, but the greedy glint in her eye told Coop all he needed to know. She curtsied again and hurried off.

“This is really nice of you, Corporal, but…”

“Don’t call me corporal again. Coop is just fine.” Coop gave the kid a hard stare. Being referred to by his new rank was cramping his style.


“But nothing.” Coop put his foot down on the issue. “And that’s part of the reason I wanted to have this talk.” Coop hadn’t been working up to this conversation all night, but he had been trying to find the right time. Liquored up and surrounded by half-naked women seemed to be the best time to break the news.

Stern had the deer caught in the headlights look, and Coop felt bad, but he pressed on.

“I’ve reassigning you to be my pack mule.” Coop used the less offensive term for his ammo bitch. Usually, Goldsmith did it, but Coop was tired of hearing the guy bitch about it, and when you boiled it all down, being the ammo bitch was the worst job you could have on the team.

The ammo bitch carted around the extra 125mm shells that Coop needed for his fire missions. Since that was their fire-team’s entire job – supporting and protecting the HI asset during combat operations – it was supposed to be important. It wasn’t. They brought a portable autoloader to actually load the shells, so Stern’s job was literally going to be carrying heavy things from one place to another. The one possible upside was that he got armor with a little bit of extra juice in it, but it really wasn’t worth it.

Coop knew all of this, and so did Stern. He had been tasked with Nickelbaucher on perimeter security, and this reassignment was a step backward.

“Did I do something?” Stern looked upset, which made the situation worse when Coop couldn’t hold back a laugh at the PVT’s question.

“Are you kidding me?” Coop looked the kid right in the eye. “I had to rescue you from taking a swim in deep space multiple times on those spaceborne operations. You barely qualified on your M3, and on our last VR exercise you friendly fired the headquarters squad. You didn’t even read STRATNET before you jumped the gun and lit them up. You’re lucky as shit you didn’t hit anyone.” Coop paused and took a deep breath. The last one was still a bit of a sore point with him. LT Wentworth had ripped him a new asshole for it. Apparently, when someone was under your command, it meant you were responsible for all the stupid shit they did.

“I’m sorry about that.” Stern looked a bit hurt, but Coop didn’t let up.

“You’ve got heart. I’ll give you that. More than Nickelbaucher or Goldsmith, but you keep shooting yourself in the foot. Me putting you as the pack mule eliminates the possibility of you making more mistakes. My advice to you is to fly under the radar until your service obligation is up.” Coop felt weird giving someone advice.

“I want this to be my career, Corporal.” Stern looked over at him earnestly.

<Well fuck me.> Coop didn’t know what to say to that, and thankfully he was saved by the scantily-clad fairy.

“Your drinks.” She curtsied again before sliding two glasses in front of them. “Melissa is working right now but she’ll come over when she’s finished.” The fairy looked expectantly at Coop until he slid over a chip for fifty bucks.

As she turned to leave, Coop caught Stern checking out her ass, so he did what any good team leader should do. “Hey,” he stopped the fairy. “Do you do dances?”

Her wings flapped elegantly as she smiled. “Fifty a song, and I’ll do four for one-seventy-five. Anything more than that and I have to coordinate with my manager for a room.”

Coop wasn’t willing to pay for any of that, but he slid over one-seventy-five. “Take my friend here and show him a good time.”

The fairy snatched up the chips with one hand, put it beneath one of her leaves, and extended her slender hand toward Stern. He was instantly captivated, and she led him away like a lamb to the slaughter.

<Don’t blow it all.> Coop wasn’t thinking of just his bank account.

While his good nature was somewhat motivated by easing the blow to Stern’s military career, it wasn’t his primary focus. He wanted to make sure he was alone when Melissa arrived. She strolled up two songs later with her tail twitching behind her. Her outfit was the same seductive cat-stripper as before.

“You asked for me?” She tried to plop down in his lap, but he held up a hand and gestured for her to sit opposite him. She didn’t look disappointed, in fact, she looked a little relieved.

“Business before pleasure.” Sterns forgot his drink, so Coop gestured for her to take it like he’d meant it to be for her all along. Lubricating the gears of commerce was always a good idea.

She threw back the whiskey and let out an appreciative sigh. Coop watched her chest heave with satisfaction before turning his attention back to her face. “From my last time here, it seemed that you’re a person that knows people.”

Coop knew she might not know people directly, but people in these types of places talked. She knew Aiko, Aiko knew people, and she might know other people who knew people. Even after thousands of years, the business world was still primarily built on relationships, and he needed someone to make introductions.

“Maybe.” She shrugged noncommittally.

“Well if you do, I might have a line on some good stuff. No details yet, but let’s just say I’m in an advantageous position. It’ll be low volume, but high quality. All I’m asking is for an introduction when the time is right.”

Aiko was the first person he’d gone to with this information, but he’d gotten an auto-reply to his deliberately- vague email. It was currently sitting in the central node and would update to her account when her ship returned from wherever the hell it was. Until then, that left him in a bit of a bind, and his opportunity started soon.

“I can pass the word.” Her answer was still vague, but he suspected it was the best he was going to get.

“Good. Now that business is out of the way,” He took out a stack of chips and flashed them her way, “how much?”

In response, her tail slithered its way underneath the booth and caressed his thigh. “Why don’t you come with me and we’ll talk price.”

Coop let her tail play with him a little more before getting up and extending his hand. He couldn’t stop smiling. After a rough start in this place, he finally felt like he was finding his niche. Aside from babysitting Stern and Goldsmith, everything was going as planned.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 164

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Argo, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Like this, Corporal?”

“No!” Coop reached out and snagged the PVT by his boot before he floated away into the void. “Fucking numbnuts!” He yanked hard until the PVT’s magnetic boots adhered back to Argo.

“Report, Cooper.” LT Wentworth’s voice crackled over TACCOM.

“Um…nothing, Ma’am, just a demonstration.” He squeezed the PVT’s arm hard to let the dumbshit know how pissed he was. “Continuing with mission.”

Coop and his four-man team – it was still hard to believe someone thought giving him command of three other people was a good idea – were conducting boarding operations along Argo’s 125 meter hull. It was good space to make it feel like the real thing without having to run for hundreds of meters on any of the other ship classifications.

It sounded easy enough when he got the OPORD: move from Point A to Point B along the hull, simulate planting breeching charges, breech the ship, and engage the opposition force. Then, he’d been introduced to his team: Nickelbaucher, Goldsmith, and Stern. They sounded like a fucking law firm, not a group of soldiers.

To make matters even worse, LT Wentworth then informed him that he would be in permanent command of the three other soldiers. They were going to be designated as a mobile mop-up team. Coop would hit targets designated by the LT or the Battalion Fire Directions Officer (FDO), and then the four-man team would move through and confirm the targets had been eliminated, gather intelligence, send up reports to higher, or just in general do whatever the brass wanted after a fire mission.

<Fan-fucking-tastic.> Now, not only did Coop have to do his job as HI, but he needed to babysit three rugrats too.

Rugrats might have been a strong term since they were all born in the same year, but in terms of experience there was a five-year gap at least.

Of the four, Nickelbaucher was actually the oldest and second most experienced. He was a PFC and had graduated Basic around the same time as Coop. He was an average guy with an average personality. Nickelbaucher was the de-facto second in command and in charge of the team if Coop was off doing HI shit. He was going to be up for CPL in the next few months, so a good fitness report from Coop would get him the bump in rank, which was probably why he was doing everything Coop asked with minimal bitching. Coop liked that.

Goldsmith was the bitcher of the group. He reminded Coop a little of Davenport, minus being a creepy rapist. Everything Coop ordered, Goldsmith whined about once Coop turned his back. Nickelbaucher was good enough to keep an eye on it, and he let Coop know if it got out of hand. Coop had already had to smack down Goldsmith once, and the PVT at least expected that.

From the little digging Coop did into the PVT’s record, he only signed on for a four-year service obligation, and he was already two years into it. Two years and still a PVT was a red flag, but after spending a few hours in his presence, Coop understood why the Battalion Commander denied the guy’s promotion. Thankfully, when shit hit the fan, Goldsmith shut his trap.

Last but not least there was PVT Stern, and Coop kind of felt bad for the guy. He was patriotic, a bit too idealistic for Coop’s taste, but the guy’s heart was in the right place. He tried hard, he worked himself to the bond, but the poor guy didn’t have an ounce of natural talent. He was constantly fucking up, and he just couldn’t get anything right. He was the PVT that Coop had to grab from tumbling out into deep space.

The CMU’s on their combat setting with a heavy kit were designed to allow a soldier to operate in the freezing cold of space. That didn’t mean it was great at it. Coop was nice and toasty in his environmentally-contained LACS, but the soldiers were definitely freezing their balls off, and Coop had to stop and explain stuff to Stern every few meters.

“Stern,” Coop clapped his hand on the PVT’s shoulder and established a direct link over TACCOM. The Lt would be able to listen to the call if she checked the armor, but it was as private as it was going to get. “I ain’t your momma. I can’t teach you how to walk.” Exasperation filled Coop’s tone. “You only pick up a foot when the other is secured to the hull. Don’t move too fast. It’s better to be slow than dead.”

“Yes, Corporal.”

Coop could just imagine the determined look on the PVT’s face, and knew the guy was going to jack something up in the next few minutes.

“Ok, Goldsmith, you’re on point. I’ll cover our six with Stern.”

“Sure, have me be the first one to take a bullet…”

“Goldsmith, you left your channel open.” Coop just wanted to kill everyone as the other PVT awkwardly closed the channel and started hustling down the hull.

It was only a fifty-meter walk, but it took nearly ten minutes. Coop had to trust Nickelbaucher to plant the charges because he had to babysit Stern. Being behind the time hack was better than losing a guy on a training mission.

Also, Coop didn’t want to draw any more attention to himself then absolutely necessary because he had more than one mission to accomplish. In one of his armor’s compartments there was nearly seventeen thousand bucks in chips. It was Aiko’s share of the cash they’d had to bury back at the hotel after Coop put a burning hole in her now ex-husband. The thought of taking the money and running had crossed Coop’s mind, but he shut it down. Aiko was his link to the local underworld. Without her, he wouldn’t be able to fence anymore liberated goods from his travels. Plus, after what she’d shown him between the sheets, he wasn’t willing to quit that just yet.

<Reminds me. I’ve got to call Sandy when I get back.> He’d been trying to get some alone time with the flexible physical therapist since he got back from his last mission. He’d found there was a direct correlation between his lack of luck with Sandy and his increase in blue balls.

“Everyone set,” he pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind. “Breech in three…two…one…BREECH!”

They didn’t actually blow anything open, but the simulated breech caused the exterior hatch to pop open. Coop fought the vertigo as he led the way into Argo. Going from zero gravity to earth-normal gravity was always tricky. Things had to be taken into consideration like the positing of the ship, any rotation, and all of that on top of tactical doctrine.

This one ended up being a tricky one. The gravity of the ship was opposite their entry, so Coop had to swing himself around and fight the head rush. Nickelbaucher came next and executed the move perfectly. They spread out to cover the door for two different angles. Goldsmith came in, and Coop saw the telltale body and head jerks of someone puking. Some people just couldn’t handle the changes. Last, Stern brought up the rear, caught his boot on a handhold, and face planted. Thankfully, he only fell a meter or so.

“You good, Stern?”

“Yes, Corporal.”

“Ok, seal the hatch and prepare to move.” They sealed the external hatch and the room began to pressurize.

In an actual boarding op there might not be any pressurization. In that case the soldiers needed to prepare for a violent ejection into the ship, but that was too much risk for a simple training mission, so Argo’s crew was making things easier.

“Three…two…one…” Nothing happened.

<That would just be too easy.> Coop extended his hand and Nickelbaucher handed him the bumper.

Coop secured it to the panel and waited. Fake code went back and forth between the devices and the hatched popped open. Coop quickly tossed out a grenade and manually pulled the hatch closed. He waited until the count of three, his sensors picked up the flash bang going off, and he led the team into the breech.

Nickelbaucher covered right while Coop went left. Coop saw movement and fired simulated sounds from his Buss. One plasma-tipped round clipped whoever was moving around and they went down missing a good chunk of an arm.

“Stern, get up beside me.” Coop ordered the PVT to move his ass while Nickelbaucher covered right and Goldsmith covered the way they’d come. You’d think they wouldn’t have to think about someone sneaking up on them from outside the ship, and you’d be wrong.

“Moving.” Coop led the way with Stern only a half a step behind him covering the opposite side of the corner. “Left turn.” He let everyone know what was coming before they got there. Unlike the rest of company that had to study the blueprints of the ship, Coop knew it all from firsthand experience, which also meant he knew where the hiding places were.

He peeked around the corner with his Buss’ camera. It was clear, but he knew there was a nook halfway down the corridor on the left. There would probably be somebody hiding there. He followed procedure and used his millimeter wave radar to confirm it. He got a positive hit and ordered Stern forward. He had the PVT stop hallway down and take some shots at the nook to draw the defender out. One of the ship’s marines poked his nose out and Coop shot him in the face.

“Fuck, Cooper.” The marine cursed as his suit’s sensors told him that his brain matter would have been painting the wall behind him if this was real. Instead, he just popped a squat and watched the advance.

That’s how the operation went. Coop’s team wasn’t the only one assaulting the ship. There were four other squads. LT Wentworth had worked up the battle plan to have multiple teams strike and secure critical sections of the ship. Coop’s responsibility was engineering while others secured the bridge, armory, living quarters, and forward energy cannon. The last could be operated exclusive from the bridge, and it had to be seized to clear the way for the simulated Spyder that would take them off the ship after the assault was complete.

This was the fifth iteration of the day – each team had seized each target during a different iteration – and this was the one that mattered for Coop’s side mission. Being the fifth iteration probably helped. Aiko and the rest of the engineering department clearly weren’t into it anymore. They ran Coop’s team half-heartedly with large wrenches, and the Specialist went casually for a pistol on his desk. Coop drilled the guy center of mass with two rounds, while the rest of his team took down the others.

“Oh no, you got me.” The Specialist yawned and pulled out his PAD.

“Clear,” Coop called out as he approached the Specialist.

“Specialist, my guys need to practice checking prisoners for intel, so how about you get down on the ground and play nice, and I’ll keep them away from a certain part of this room you’d rather not have them poking around in.” The meaning was clear, and the Specialist quickly nodded.

He got down on the ground and played dead.

“Stern, check this guy. Nickelbaucher you cover the hallway, Goldsmith start with those two guys over there. I’ll do a sweep and then check her.” Aiko was lying up against some piece of machinery. She winked at him.

Coop did a quick sweep and declared it clear. Select people had been holding pieces of intel through the exercises, so he needed to find that.

“Hey there, beautiful.” Aiko couldn’t see his smile through his helmet, but he let his hands do the talking for him.

“You might be looking for this.” She pointed to her back pocket where Coop found some data chips.

“Thanks, and this is for you.” He took the much larger and thicker stack of chips gave it to her. He shoved it in her back pocket and gave it a good smack.

“I’ll let you know when I’m in town.” She whispered as he straightened up. She couldn’t return the slap. It would just be awkward hitting armor like that.

“I’ve got some intel, looks like data chips.” Coop announced as Aiko sat back down and discretely shoved the chips under the machinery behind her.

“Me too, Corporal.” Stern look psyched he’d found something.

Normally they’d take PADs, but not this time. With everything secure Coop pulled his team back along the route he’d come in on. He made them stay alert, and a good thing he did, because he found another marine lying in wait. Stern’s clumsiness saved him. He tripped over his own feet, and ended up taking a glancing blow off the shoulder instead of center mass. The simulation deemed his armor worked as advertised, while Nickelbaucher gunned down the marine.

They exfiled the way they’d come in, and were back on the Spyder hard-docked with Argo for the purpose of this exercise. All of the teams gathered for an AAR with Lt Wentworth and presented the intel they’d gathered. Coop only half paid attention as he shot a message to Sandy from his PAD. The thought of a night with Aiko might be exhilarating, but he needed something to hold him over in the meantime.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 160

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Step up to your individual firing positions.” Coop instructed with about as much interested as a person explaining the anatomy of a slug. Not even a space slug, just a normal boring-ass Earth slug.

A squad lumbered forward in their heavy kit. Their Dragonscale breastplates were polished and shining brightly in the weak light of New Lancashire’s main sequence star, and their CMUs were on their combat setting with armored inserts. LT Wentworth believed in training like they were in battle, and that likely meant a heavy kit for the regular grunts.

Coop watched the squad settle into a prone firing position and shook his head. You didn’t have to see a soldier’s CMUs on the Dress setting to know if they’d seen some shit. Sometimes, those little imperfections in a person’s armor were just as big a military resume as the medals and ribbons. You didn’t turn in your scales when you moved from unit to unit. As long as the armor was operational and still within regulation, you took it with you throughout your career.

Coop’s V2 armor had its own dents and scratches from the latest scuffle back on that rock. Even though the armorer had patched everything, it never quite matched up with the original paint job.

“Right and left limits are being designated now.” Coop hit the start button on the sequence for the squad’s armor to link with the range through STRATNET and TACCOM. He quickly built individual and a squad channels so he could talk to them as a unit or give individual advice.

“Squad, we are going to group and zero your IAWM3s before running through a basic qualification table.” LT Wentworth, who was serving as the OIC and safety officer began her little spiel. “You have been equipped with three magazines; one for grouping, one for zeroing, and another for qualification. At this time please grab your grouping magazine, insert it into your weapon, chamber a round, but keep your weapon on safe.”

<What did I do to deserve this?> Coop grumbled to himself as the squad inserted their grouping magazine. <Oh yeah…>

He knew exactly what he’d done. He’d killed that douchebag who tried to roast his head off with one of the blasters he’d sold to some black-market dealers for a pretty penny. Granted that douche had been Aiko’s kind-of-husband, and Coop had just finished boning the limber spacer, but that was semantics. Dude tried to kill him, he killed the dude instead; case closed.

Thankfully, the Infantry couldn’t nail his ass to the wall for defending himself, but with his reputation, Coop was looked on differently than a lot of other soldiers. So, the Battalion Commander took half his month’s pay to ship the corpse back home, and had him do extra duty assignments. It was Gunney Topper’s bullshit details all over again. He’d just finished, and this range time was supposed to be a welcome relief.

<No good deed goes unpunished.> Something Berg told him a lifetime ago surfaced in his mind after he’d shot an impressive ninety-five out of a hundred and earned himself an Expert Badge.

After several engagements against riotous civilians, pirates, and pissed off miners with modern weapons, shooting at a holographic image of a soldier in the distance wasn’t so hard. Unfortunately, the price for having that new badge on his CMUs was to impart his wisdom on others. So, instead of getting to sit in the shade and have something to eat, he was standing just behind the firing line and telling these green grunts how to hit a target.

“Corporal Cooper!” LT Wentworth snapped Coop out of his daydream.

“Sorry, Ma’am.” Coop shook his head and continued the sequence on the range program. She’d probably been calling his name for a few seconds, but when someone yelled “corporal”, he wasn’t tuning in yet. He’d only gotten his second chevron yesterday.

“Squad, there are four targets set up in the shape of a square. You will fire three rounds at each of the three targets. Aim at the same place on each of the targets. The standard is to put all three rounds within a one-centimeter space. When you are ready, take your weapon off safe and engage.” He gave the ten soldiers a moment to sight on their targets. “Range is hot!”

Through his armor and the interface with the range program, Coop was able to see everything the soldiers were doing. He had a god-like view. The program showed him the angles of fire and how much the barrel moved. He was able to tap into the soldier’s armor and see how they shifted their weight and what their breathing was like. He could even read the sensors in their gloves to see how they were literally pulling the trigger.

“Don’t yank the trigger, Private Kowalski.” He announced over a private chat with one of the soldiers. “It’s throwing your shot off every time.” The PVT’s shots were way outside the one centimeter grouping they were looking for on the first target. “Gently pull it, and use the meaty part of your finger. Get comfortable. This is going to be the most relaxed situation you engage the enemy in, so you better shoot straight or you ain’t gonna hit shit in an actual firefight.”

“Yes, Corporal.”

Coop pushed down the weirdness the PVT’s response sent up his spine. He didn’t like this kid, who was only about eighteen to twenty-four months younger than him, looking at him like he was some expert. Sure, he’d killed some people in some pretty inventive ways, but all this NCO leadership crap really wasn’t his cup of tea. He was only doing this as punishment.

“Better.” He cut the line when the PVT put three rounds about a centimeter and a half from each other. It still didn’t meet the standard, but it was better than before, and it was the SGT’s job at the other end of the firing line to get with the soldiers to recalibrate their weapon’s computers and adjust their scopes.

The squad went through grouping and zeroing with his doling out little kernels of wisdom here and there. Those who didn’t group and zero were recycled to do remedial training with Gunney Weitz.

“Squad, you will now run through a normal qualification table. This will not be the only time you shoot for qualification, but that doesn’t mean you can suck on this one. Use the tips you were given during zeroing and grouping and put them to good use. One hundred targets will appear at distances ranging from fifty to one thousand meters. The targets will be visible for three to five seconds. You have one hundred rounds. You may use them at your discretion. A passing score is seventy out of one hundred hits. Different badges of achievement are available: seventy-five to eighty-four hits is a Marksman, eighty-five to ninety-four hits is a Sharpshooter, and ninety-five to one hundred targets is Expert. Acknowledge when you are ready to begin.” He didn’t bother to wish them good luck, he just initiated the program when everyone acknowledged.

This was only the third squad of ten. Coop was going to be out here all day, and that was only the beginning. He took his eyes off the range and looked up. Even with his LACS’ magnification he couldn’t see Argo up there in orbit, but that’s where the Company was headed. LT Wentworth had worked some magic, or sucked some dick, to get Charlie Company to qualify in all the spaceborne standards, and Argo was their training vessel.

It worked out perfectly for him. He had a shit ton of cash chips to hand over to a certain engineer. Who knew, he might even get a handy in return. Their last encounter had been rudely interrupted by the aforementioned deceased douche that had landed Coop in this detail in the first place. In his mind, it seemed like more than fair payment.




Eve Berg

Location: Launcher A, Yangon System, Eastern Block

Eve’s head hurt, her lower back ached, and her knee felt funny. All things considered, having only a few bumps and bruises after having a grenade dropped right at her feet was a best-case scenario.

Activating her ES armor and holding it for the duration of the explosion had saved her life. She been picked up and thrown from the force of the explosion, and tumbled around the Parasite pod. She was also pretty sure, in the mayhem, that GYSGT Cunningham’s flailing boot had kicked her in the face; thus the headache.

She’d lost ten percent of her battery holding the ES armor, but it was worth it. She was alive.

“Report.” The GYSGT’s voice was strained. There was a slight possibility that Eve’s own flailing, armored limbs had beat on the NCO just as much as she’d beaten on her.

“I’m in one piece.” Eve disengaged the armor and read the reports streaming in over her HUD. “We’ve got a hull breach.” Now the two Rangers began to move with a sense of urgency.

Parasite pods were tough, but most of this toughness was on the outside. Inside it was more vulnerable, and that frag grenade had torn shit up. They needed to get out of the pod yesterday.

“Fuck, Reynolds is down and he’s leaking meat!” The GYSGT was pushing toward the front of the pod where Eve and the communication’s soldier were. Eve was on her feet now, but the comms guy wasn’t getting up ever again.

Blood had soaked the metal around him. One of his legs had been torn clean off above the knee, and the rest of that exposed side of his body looked pulverized, but the worst sight was his head. High-velocity shrapnel had punched through the center of his helmet. It didn’t have the momentum to punch through the back, so it ricocheted around and turned everything above his neck into a flesh, bone, brain milkshake; which was now sliding out of the hole in his helmet.

It was fucking disgusting. Eve gagged, and was thankful that she couldn’t smell what was going on around her or she sure as shit would have been puking her guts out.

“I need a full SITREP, Berg.” The GYSGT grunted as she pulled herself forward.

<Right.> Eve took a deep breath, looked away from the body to her surroundings, and started running diagnostics.

Thankfully, she had no armor breeches and was still green on battery power. Her 250mm cannon had sustained some damage, and she would need an armorer to repair and certify it for use, so she was down her main gun, which wasn’t a big deal because she didn’t have ammo for it anyway. Her railgun was green, and surprisingly the damage to her Buss was superficial. She reported all of that to the GYSGT.

“Good, because my railgun and Buss are shot to shit, but I’ve still got my cannon, so I’m totally fucked.” The two Rangers now had the combat effectiveness of half a soldier. This boarding wasn’t off to a great start. “Let’s get out, seal the opening and head to the LZ.”

“The node is damaged.” Eve picked up the comms equipment and jacked a cord from her armor into it. “We’ve still got intermittent STRATNET, but TACCOM is just static. It sounds like someone is dragging a dagger across duro-steel.”

“Bring it. They’ll either repair it or destroy it. Either way, we can’t leave it for the Blockies.”

Eve was easily able to strap the tech to her back since her cannon was offline. The GYSGT grabbed Reynold’s functioning M3 when she passed. It would have to do, and it worked well enough that she hoisted it to her shoulder and staged to the side of the opening. They could both hear a commotion outside. Several were cries of pain in a foreign language.

“You go right. I’ll go left. On three…”

There was a reason the two regular grunts were supposed to be the first out the door. In LACS, only one of the Rangers could fit though the hole at a time. So Eve might be covering the one hundred and eighty degrees to the right, but she’d be stepping out of the hole a second or two after the GYSGT. It was poor tactics, but it was all they had to work with. Eve just hoped their armor would continue holding out for them.

“…two…one…” The GYSGT went first, and Eve hauled ass right after her.

There was a shout and then gunfire from behind her, but Eve trusted the GYSGT to handle it. She cleared the hole the Parasite had bored into the Launcher and sighted three Blockies. One was on the ground and clearly injured from the grenade she’d thrown. The second was helping his buddy, and the third was covering them. The Blockie was already dialed in on the GYSGT and pulling the trigger. 1mm darts flew by Eve’s head, and it was only experience that allowed her to ignore them. The Blockie was already retargeting on her, but he’d never get the chance.

A three round burst from her Buss hit the Blockie soldier center of mass. Three small explosions of plasma followed. She could tell one was a surface detonation held back by the armor, but the other two were deeper. The Blockie went down smoldering from the chest.

The second Blockie, the one trying to help his buddy, dove for his rifle. Eve hosed him down with half a dozen rounds. That only left the third, unarmed guy. Her sensor deemed him clear, so she took the chance and pivoted around to help the GYSGT. Only her armor and M3 firing as fast as it would cycle were driving the Blockies back. There were only two of them, but they were pressing her from both directions and making her shift fire. Eve ended that by putting down one Blockie by tracing four rounds up from his center chest to head. Even with his armored helmet, she painted the bulkhead behind him with brains. The other soldier wisely retreated.

With the left clear, Eve swiveled back to the injured Blockie who was crawling for one of his fallen comrade’s guns.

“Hold fire. We need intel.” The GYSGT stopped Eve from killing the enemy. Instead, she marched over and stomped on the hand reaching for the Blockie version of the M3. Even with a helmet on, Eve could hear the soldier’s screams. “Grab him and let’s move.” The GYSGT set a rally point two hundred meters away. “We’ve got less than five minutes to secure the LZ before the rest of the Company arrives. Bravo pod is already in route.”

It seemed the second Parasite coming in didn’t have a welcoming committee waiting for them. Even with the Blockie slung over her shoulder they made good time. They didn’t encounter any more resistance, but that was probably because they were heading away from their objective.

They reached the maintenance airlock just as SGT Sullivan and his team of Rangers were setting up a perimeter. He took one look at Eve and the GYSGT and had someone else put on prisoner duty so they could have breather. Eve saw her reflection in the SGT’s armor. The looked like crap, and Eve had a fresh trail blood leaking down her front from the injured Blockie.

She used the time before the Spyder’s arrived to catch her breath while the rest of the team pulled security and went to work trying to disable some of the defensive systems remotely from a nearby terminal. A quick search showed that one of the Rangers was armorer qualified, so she took up his position on the perimeter while he checked her cannon.

“No go.” He told her after a minute looking at it. “I need time and equipment to give it a proper look, and it’s not a mission priority right now. Make do with what you’ve got.” He was a CPL with more time in grade than Eve, so she couldn’t tell him to go fuck himself for the condescending way he relayed the information.

She hustled back to the GYSGT. As the liaison one of the perks was that she didn’t have to do any of the more menial shit.

“Spyder is incoming.” She relayed a moment later. “Docking in three…two…one… be ready. If they’re going to hit us it’ll be while they disembark.”

The maintenance hatch was small. Only big enough for one soldier at a time to fit through, so the first soldiers to step aboard went to reinforcing the perimeter.

Eve didn’t hear the conversation between the GYSGT and the Spyder’s pilot, but she couldn’t keep her mouth shut when they closed and locked the hatch behind the last member of fifth squad.

“Second Spyder docking somewhere else?” Eve maintained situational awareness, but her eyes were on the GYSGT.

“Nope.” The reply came over a private channel. “Second bird got turned into space dust on the way over. This is all we’ve got.” The GYSGT didn’t elaborate. She called for all the squad leaders, SGT Sullivan, and Eve to huddle up and form a new plan.

<Fifty grunts and ten Rangers to take a Launcher’s core?> Eve didn’t like those odds. It sounded way too much like one of those fight to the last man holo-dramas where everyone died and they were remembered for their bravery. <Doesn’t help the poor bastards who got killed.>

Eve just hoped she didn’t become one of them. She’d already had one close call, and the party hadn’t even started yet.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 157

Benjamin Gold

Location: CWS Abraham Lincoln, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies


Ben did it all by the book. He marched forward and snapped to the position of attention in front of the RADM. “Lieutenant Commander Gold, reporting as ordered, Sir.”

RADM Nelson barely looked up from the PAD he was working on. “At ease, Commander. Take a seat.” He waved at one of the chairs surrounding the conference table.

Of all the times Ben had met the Task Force commander, he couldn’t remember actually being in the smaller man’s office. The RADM preferred to do his work in the small conference room right off the bridge. It made sense. If anything happened he was right there to take command of the situation.

Ben popped a squat in the nearest seat, but didn’t relax. His butt was right on the edge of the nano-laced fabric. The RADM didn’t give him a second glance for two whole minutes as he finished reading whatever was on that PAD.

<I hope it’s my report.>

After the action taken in System 1861, Ben was forced to spend most of the trip back, and the first few days back in New Lancashire, compiling a lengthy report on what occurred. Enlisted soldiers and NCOs might make fun of officers for this aspect of their job, but the truth was that it was integral to anyone who’d been involved in the action.

Without Ben’s report no one got the recognition they deserved. They didn’t get points for promotion. They didn’t get medals or awards. They didn’t even get combat pay, so the more detailed Ben was the better for everyone. He had reviewed the recordings from the marine’s armor as part of the process, and put together the sequence of events for the RADM to make a judgment on the effectiveness of Argo and her attached Infantry in completing their mission.

“Good work, Gold.” The RADM leaned back in his seat and gave Ben a small smile; emphasis on the small. “From what I’ve seen, Argo and her crew performed admirably. You isolated the problem, assessed your options, and took swift action. I’d put this one down in the win column.”

“Thank you, Sir. I…”

“That doesn’t mean it was done flawlessly,” the RADM interrupted before Ben could get going. “You lost too many marines in taking the station. There are some inconvenient gaps in the footage during the recovery process, and the little trick those pirates played allowed a lot of people to get away. This isn’t a cut the head off the snake and the body withers scenario. Sure, you cut off this head by taking the rock and seizing everything, but people got away and they’ll pop up somewhere else to annoy some other skipper or admiral in the future.”

“Understood, Sir.” Ben had learned long ago when arguing with his father that sometimes it was just better to take the hits. Hindsight was twenty-twenty.

“I’ve reviewed your recommendations, and I’ve approved the combat pay. This certainly meets the qualifications, and it will allow the fallen marines’ families to receive the proper benefits. As for the awards, I’m authorizing a general citation of accomplishment for the crew. From the report and footage you all did your jobs to standard. All other awards are denied.”

Of all the stuff that the RADM had said, that hit the hardest. Ben could take the older man being hard on him, his actions hadn’t been perfect, but it really riled him up to see him put down the men under his command. They’d followed his orders to the best of their ability and adapted to an unpredictable situation. They deserved something more than a few extra bucks in their bank account on the first and fifteenth of the month.

“Yes, Sir.” Ben bit the inside of his cheek and balled his fists underneath the table.

The RADM raised an eyebrow, but let the insubordinate tone go. “We need to look at your next assignment.”

“I’ve got training scheduled with Charlie Company of the 2223rd, Sir.” Ben hastily added. He’d made the deal with the Infantry LT to get Coop, and he wasn’t going to renege or else his word would be useless in the future.

“I’m assigning you to the next iteration of the Strike Force, Lieutenant Commander.” The RADM clearly didn’t care what an Infantry battalion had on their training schedule. “It’s about time Argo got to engage in some proper gunboat operations. You will be the forward scout for the operation. Meet up with Captain Jacobson for your deployment orders, but I suspect you’ll be setting sail soon, so if you’re going to do training I’d do it now.”

“Yes, Sir.” Ben was glad he wasn’t getting his reputation totally thrown under the bus.

“Don’t screw this up, Commander,” the RADM offered some parting words as Ben got to his feet, and snapped back to the position of attention. “I won’t be just Argo and a handful of marines who’ll pay if you screw this up. There are nearly ten thousand spacers and marines in that strike force, plus a ship from our newest ally. Don’t pull a Cobalt Station, Gold.”

“Yes, Sir.” Ben stood there rigidly until the RADM broke eye contact in a clear sign of dismissal.

<Message received, Sir. I did ok on this last mission, but I am still on your shit list.> Ben shared the sentiment.

His six-month tour was two-thirds of the way done. He couldn’t wait to get out of this place and move on to his goal of the Diplomatic Corps. He’d much rather be making deals than under RADM Nelson’s hounding gaze twenty-four-seven.

“Everything good, Sir?” Chief Yates was waiting outside the conference room hatch with the RADM’s aide. The aide scurried inside while Ben and his NCOIC headed back down toward Argo.

“He’s giving combat pay and a ship-wide citation, but nothing else.”

“Hardass.” The CPO looked like he’d wanted to spit.

“We’re on the next strike force mission though, so conduct a readiness check at 1500. I want to make sure we’re ready to ship out when I get the order.”

“We still doing the training with LT Wentworth?” The CPO remembered the name of the woman who drove the hard bargain for Coop’s inclusion.

“Get a message down to her and tell her to haul ass up here if she wants to get her qualifications done anytime soon.” Ben shrugged. He wouldn’t have any information until he talked with the strike force’s CAPT.

“Yes, Sir.” The CPO nodded and started drafting an e-mail on his PAD.

Training was an NCO thing, so the CPO and infantry GYSGT would figure out everything and then tell the officers what was going to happen.

“Any word on Lee?” Ben moved onto the next uncomfortable topic. He was just glad the RADM hadn’t added it to the list of things to ream him on.

“The MPs transported her up to the brig here. The master at arms have her under guard until it gets resolved.”

<Just what I need.> Ben did not want to go into battle without his engineering apprentice, who, if his suspicions were correct, actually did most of the work that kept Argo running.

“I did reach out through the petty officer network,” Yates grinned casually like he hadn’t subverted chains of command and forgone lines of communication. Ben didn’t think much of it. The POs did it all the time. After all, they ran just about everything. “Some little birdie told me that the case should be resolved by the end of the day.”

“That’s good.” Ben was happy for the good news.

He’d read over the case information provided to him by the arresting planetary authorities, and it didn’t look like Spacer Lee was an accessory to murder. It didn’t even look like Coop was a murderer. It read like self-defense, and that was the verdict Ben was hoping for.

Coop had helped him out twice now, and it would be a shame to have such a talented fixer end up in a military prison because some jealous guy tried to shoot him. Ben just had to trust the military justice system would see the facts and rule accordingly, because right now he had to get Argo ready for its first real task-force-level offensive operation.

He was going to be swamped.




Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Coop had been in prison before. More than once in fact during his Rat days, but prisons in the PHA were different.

<These are cleaner, so point for the brig,> he thought to himself. <But despite having multiple Rats crammed into the drunk tank that place was still bigger, so point PHA.>

Coop tried to shift position and knocked his sore knee against the metallic shitter in the corner. He cursed, tried to shake it off, and bumped his elbow into the metal bed.

“Son of a bitch!” he yelled, losing his temper and lashing out.

Now the bed post had a fist-sized indentation in it, and Coop’s knuckles were sore. He shook out his hand and continued cursing.

The brig of the MP station on base was built for single occupant, regular-sized men. Coop was way above average, so he felt like a person living in a doll house. His feet hung off the bed, he had to maneuver himself into the corner to take a proper shit, and the door leading in and out was way too small for him. The MP who brought him in was a nice enough guy and apologized for the inconvenience. Apparently, they had appropriately-sized cells for HI troopers but they were occupied. It had been a rowdy few days in Town Center.

Coop didn’t consider himself claustrophobic, but this whole experience took him back to Isolation Week in Basic. It was driving him crazy. At least on a warship, even a small one like Argo, there was always some cute spacer to chase that took his attention away from the confinement. Here, all he could do was wank into the toilet, and after Aiko that was just boring.

Coop was about the throw another punch into the crippled bedframe, but the door slid open and a large shadow blocked all the light from entering.

“I knew this was going to happen sooner or later.” SSG Hightower towered outside the cell.

“I didn’t do anything,” Coop automatically went on the defensive. “Dude tried to kill me, Staff Sergeant. What was I supposed to do?”

“I’m not the man you need to convince.” The giant SSG moved aside so two smaller MPs could usher Coop out of the cell and into handcuffs.

Coop had been in handcuffs several times as a rambunctious Rat, but never these. For people with enhancements two set of cuffs were used. The first went around the wrist like every pair since the beginning of time, but they weren’t metal. They were made with some sort of nanite-drenched fabric. It made them as comfortable as wearing CMUs, but at the MP’s command current went through them and hardened the material to improbable strength. They had more in common with the ES function on his LACS armor than the handcuffs he’d worn back in the PHA. The MPs called them flexcuffs.

Even though Coop had tried, and failed, to budge the flexcuffs, the MPs didn’t take any chances. The second pair was metallic, but smaller. They locked around his thumbs and a short, metal chain looped through the flexcuffs. Coop had tested these too, and immediately realized that was a bad idea. If he pulled too hard he was positive he was going to break both of his thumbs, and that would suck donkey dick.

Coop didn’t resist as the MPs put the flexcuffs and thumbcuffs on him. He was innocent after all. There was nothing to worry about, or at least that’s what he kept telling himself. Despite his certainty, he couldn’t shake the feeling like he was being led to his execution.

The MPs walked him away and the SSG followed to where his fate would be decided, which turned out to be the LT’s office. Instead of the LT sitting at the desk there was a stern-faced LCDR watching Coop with sharp eyes as he entered. The LT was off to his left with an unreadable expression, and an MP LT stood to the right. He looked bored.

“I call this military tribunal to order.” The LCDR didn’t have a gavel to smack, so he used his fist. The guy wasn’t Ranger or Recon, so he didn’t have enhancements, and the ensuing echo was appropriately weak. “Lieutenant Commander Thad Benson, Commander, 2223rd Infantry Battalion, presiding along with Lieutenant Jacobi Wentworth, Commander, Charlie Company 2223rd Infantry Battalion, and Lieutenant Han Johnson, Commander, New Lancashire Military Police Company.”

Coop just stood in front of the three officers with the MPs at his side and SSG Hightower at his back.

“How do you plead, Private First Cooper Mark Cooper?”  The LCDR looked Coop directly in the eye.

“Um…not guilty, Sir. The dude tried to shoot me in the fucking face. I was just defending myself and Spacer Lee.”

“A plea of not guilty in entered into the record.” The LCDR waved for Coop to shut up and turned to the MP LT. “LT Johnson, present the evidence.”

What the MP LT stated was music to Coop’s ears, which was probably why a JAG officer wasn’t present on Coop’s behalf. Forensically, it was a self-defense no brainer. They had Bradford on tape buying the weapon illegally. They’d tried to capture the smuggler Coop had sold the guns and drugs too, but he’d fled the system, so Coop dodged that bullet too. Witness statements from Coop, Aiko, and the motel clerk corroborated the evidence and matched, which they obviously did because it was the truth. The particle residue on Bradford’s hands sealed the deal when both Coop and Aiko tested negative. The case was so overwhelmingly in Coop’s favor that he wasn’t sure why they were doing a tribunal in the first place.

“Thank you, LT Johnson.” The LCDR still waited until the MP LT had presented all the evidence. “Based on the incontrovertible evidence it is within my delegated authority to declare Private First Class Cooper not guilty in the eyes of this tribunal.” The two LTs added their verdicts of not guilty into the record as well. “For your actions, Private First Class Cooper, you are being docked two weeks’ pay and sentenced to a week of extra duty.”

Coop didn’t see that coming. “Why, Sir. I didn’t do anything wrong?” His protest slipped out before he could stop himself.

LT Wentworth gave him a hard look, but the LCDR waved her off. “Mr. Cooper you still killed a citizen of the Commonwealth.”

“Respectfully, Sir, I’ve killed a lot of people. That’s my job.” Coop couldn’t stop himself.

SSG Hightower jabbed a knife hand into Coop’s kidney. “Shut the fuck up, Cooper, and take the punishment,” he whispered in Coop’s ear.

“It’s your job to defend the Commonwealth against enemies, Private Cooper, and the Commonwealth has invested a lot of time and money so that you can do that well. Do you agree?”

“Yes, Sir.” Coop puffed out his chest with pride.

“Since your training is so excellent, by your own words Private Cooper, why did your assailant have to die? You could have broken limbs and taken the weapon. You could have incapacitated him with the extensive hand-to-hand combat skills you’ve been taught. Hell, you could have chucked a lamp and knocked the fucker out.” The LCDR grew more heated as he went on. “You did not do any of those things, Private Cooper. You killed him. Your pay will be used to ship the deceased’s body back to his home system, and your extra duty will be some quality time for you to reflect on your actions. In addition, I want a report on all the different ways you could have incapacitated instead of killed. Deliver it to Lieutenant Wentworth at the end of your extra duty time. Only once your punishment is completed will I sign off on your promotion to corporal.”

That got a grin out of Coop. He’d totally forgotten about his promotion, and something told him that the LCDR couldn’t take that away from him or he would be making sure he stayed a PFC.

“This tribunal is adjourned.” The LCDR smashed his fist on the desk, turned off his PAD’s recording feature, and walked out without another word.

“Release him.” The MP LT clearly had better things to do because he left right behind the LCDR.

That left only Coop, his LT, and SSG.

“Way to shit the bed, Cooper.” The LT looked pissed. “Staff Sergeant, select the most boring and monotonous details available and assign Cooper to them. You can also consider yourself on CQ duty this entire weekend, and that paper better be a fucking religious experience to read or you’re going to do it again and again until you get it right. I’m not turning some half-assed attempt into the Commander.” She sat down and jabbed her finger into her PAD to open up her work. “In case you’re wondering, all of this is being done on top of your regular duties. If I hear you slacking I’m going to pull that second chevron, Cooper, I swear to God I’ll do it.”

Coop knew everyone wasn’t fucking around. “Yes, Ma’am.” He braced to attention.

“Get out of my sight.”

Coop hopped to it, and had barely made it out the door before the SSG grabbed him by the shoulder and half dragged him to his office.

“Here.” He grabbed a large polyplast sign. “This is the latest general order form the base commander. You will stand out on the main road through base with this to educate the military population. You will do this until relieved. Do I make myself clear?”

“Crystal, Staff Sergeant.”

“I will be watching, Cooper. If you slack off, or take off, I will make you regret your existence.”

“Consider me motivated, Staff Sergeant.” Coop replied back.

“Get the fuck out of my sight.”

Coop ran out of the office and out to the main street to begin his punishment. He had no idea how humiliating it was going to be.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 156

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Holy shit!” Coop struggled to catch his breath.

He was covered from head to toe in sweat. His neck had a kink in it, and his wrists were beginning to chafe from the cords she’d used to bind him to the bedposts. There was still some numbness left in his toes from the grand finale, but other than that he was immensely satisfied.

“Yeah…I know…right.” Aiko was breathing heavily and had collapsed on his chest.

She moved to dismount. They were both so slick with sweat all it took was her shifting her body weight to slide to the side, but she got caught in the mess of sheets and didn’t make it far. She maneuvered to get free, and ended up kicking him right in the dick.

“Aww shit!” Coop grunted. “If you want an encore performance you need to take it easy.”

“Sorry, baby.” She untangled herself more gracefully, and gave him an apology kiss. The kiss turned into a playful bite at the end, and that helped banish the soreness in his nuts.

Coop watched as Aiko walked away toward the bathroom. She was fine, but her ass wasn’t the only great thing to look at. You couldn’t tell when she wore her uniform, but the small engineering apprentice had quite a few tattoos covering her body. Some were phrases or quotes. Several of those were strategically placed to be covered by her bra-line. Dress and grooming standards could be pretty strict if she had a skipper who was a hard ass. Coop didn’t think Ben was too bad, but he had chastised her once about it. Putting the strings of words where they would only be visible when you were naked was a pretty smart way to get around it.

She had several on her upper legs and lower back. Some were images of something that was important to her. Coop had gotten a pretty good view of them over the last few hours and he was surprised to find they were traditional.

Tattoos had been big for centuries, and had gotten cheaper and cheaper to get throughout time. Since the GIC was essentially an advanced bio-tattoo, everyone had at least one. The cheapness of tattoos came from automation. Coop remembered a few kiosks in the PHA where getting a tattoo only cost about five bucks. Those were for the preprogrammed options. You could bring your own, but that cost more.

Aiko’s weren’t like that. They were traditional: done by an actual artist.

<They must have cost a fortune.> Some of them were very detailed, and his bet was at least ten grand for the lower back alone. He couldn’t guess the other because he hadn’t spent as long examining them.

“So, are you going to let me out of these?” Coop asked when she reappeared from the bathroom.

An evil grin spread across her face as she sauntered forward.

“Can I at least get a cup of water,” Coop begged. He was all for round three, but a guy needed to get some fluids back in him.

“What are you going to do for it?” she asked.

Coop was about to tell her all of the things he was going to do to her when a knock on the door interrupted them. It was not a normal knock, it was a pounding.

“I know you’re in there. Open up, Aiko.”

Aiko looked at the door for a second with confusion before recognition sparked something. “Fuck!” Her eyes scanned the room looking for something.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Things had just gone from mildly kinky foreplay to serious in a few heartbeats.

“Shit…shit…shit!” She rummaged through the crap they’d thrown everywhere before, during, and after sex before finally finding what she was looking for.

A deadly looking knife.

She advanced on Coop.

“Hey, what the fuck!” He yelled as he strained against the cords. The bedpost groaned in protest before shattering under his strength.

“Coop! What the fuck!” She yelled back as she used the knife to cut the cords holding his feet. “You’re paying for that.”

Now, he felt stupid as he looked back and forth from his hands to the crippled bed. “Sorry, I thought you were coming at me.” He shrugged.

“If I wanted to gut you I could have done it during the show,” she grumbled as she finished cutting him free.

Coop looked back on the past few hours and counted no less than a dozen times she could have stabbed him. Hell, he was blindfolded a quarter of the performance. “That’s fair. I’ll pay the damages.” He was flush with cash, so he didn’t mind.

“Aiko! Open the fucking door right now!” The pounding was growing louder, and the door was shaking in its frame from the blows.

“Aiko, what the fuck is going on?” Coop looked back and forth between her and the door. “Do you want me to deal with that?”

He was tugging his CMU’s back on and standing up to his full height. He’d have to duck and turn sideways to get through the small door the irate person was banging on. He felt confident in his chances.

“No…no, I’ll deal with this. He’s my husband.”

That stopped Coop dead in his tracks. “What?”

“My husband, Bradford.”

“Bradford,” Coop scoffed. “What kind of name is Bradford?”

Aiko shot him a looked and he shut up. “I was stupid, got married right out of high school. I was ‘in love’,” she put the last two words in air quotes. “He was the cutest guy in school and had college and a job lined up with his father’s company. It was like everything fell into place.” She shrugged as she continued to pull on clothes. “I didn’t see the signs that he was a jealous possessive asshat until about six months in. I tried to get out, but he beat me, and his father threatened to ruin me too. It would have been embarrassing to the family if, and I quote, ‘an Asian whore didn’t think she was good enough for our respectable family’. So, I got out the only way I could. I walked down to the recruiting station, joined up, and took a shuttle out to Basic the same day.”

“Good for you. Guy sounds like a real shitbag.” Coop looked for her to the door. “You sure you don’t want me to…” he rammed his fist into his open palm.

“No, I got this, but stick around please.” There was resolve in her eyes, but worry too.

“Sure thing.” Coop finished getting dressed, and then plopped down on the bed, crossed his legs and put his hands behind his head. “Just ask if you need a hand.”

“Thanks.” It was a genuine thanks with an implied ‘I’ll fuck your brains out later’.

“Aiko, open the fucking door or else.” The door rumbled in its frame some more as she approached it.

“What do you want, Bradford?!” she remotely opened the door with the motel-supplied PAD.

Bradford was a bigger guy. Not Coop big, but big enough to suggest some sort of embryotic enhancements. Judging by Aiko’s story about his father, that seemed like a good possibility. Aiko looked small and thin compared to him, but she stood her ground with her hands on her hips, while Bradford’s eyes scanned the room.

His eyes settled on Coop, so Coop gave him a little salute.

“Who the fuck is that?!” Bradford pointed at Coop like he was fingering a perp in a lineup.

Coop would know the sensation since he’d been in his fair share during his PHA Rat years.

“That’s my fuckbuddy.” Aiko deadpanned, which brought a grin to Coop’s lips. “What the hell are you doing here Bradford? Was me joining the Fleet and moving halfway across the galaxy not a big enough message for you?”

“Sounds pretty big to me,” Coop agreed casually.

“Fuck you!” Bradford’s eyes never left Coop. “This is between me and my wife.”

“I’m not your wife!” Aiko shrieked back. “I’m nothing to you. Don’t you get it? I’ve moved on and I’m not coming back.”

“The hell you aren’t!” Bradford reached for her.

Aiko jumped back and Coop got to his feet in the same moment.

“I think the lady’s said her piece.” He took a few steps forward. “How about…”

“I told you to shut the fuck up!” Bradford screamed and pulled something from underneath his coat. “Now who has the upper hand, big guy?”

Coop found himself staring down the barrel of a pistol, and not just any pistol. <You’ve got to be shitting me.> He was willing to bet all the money he’d just made that Bradford was holding one of the pistol’s he’d just sold to those black market traders a few hours ago.

“Bradford, what the hell are you doing?” Aiko screamed as her eyes zeroed in on the pistol. She was probably thinking the same thing.

“Shut up!” He yelled back and tried to backhand her with the weapon. She slid back just out of the way, and Coop jumped into action.

<Big mistake.>

Bradford clearly wasn’t used to threatening people with a gun. Rule number one was to not take the gun off the people you were threatening. Especially if one of those people was an HI trooper with enhanced fast-twitch muscle fibers.

As Coop leapt across the room, Bradford noticed his mistake. He tried to bring the weapon back on target and ended up firing off a round in panic. Coop felt the heat of the energy blast fly past him. If that blast hit him center mass it would probably kill him, or at least fuck him up enough for Bradford to finish the job.

<No way am I getting killed by some guy named Bradford.>

The shot went wide, and before the pistol could recharge Coop was on top of him. He hit Bradford like a battleship at ramming speed. The smaller man was picked up off his feet, and both men flew backward in a tumble of limbs.

They hit the ground and Coop immediately fought for position.

“Stupid fucker…” He was able to get a mount, and then had to roll away. Bradford was able to get the weapon up before Coop could pin his hand.

A second energy blast went up and through the ceiling. It was a good thing the motel was only one story, or someone’s night out could have turned into a very bad time.

“Stop shooting, Bradford!” Aiko screamed as she jumped in to try and control the hand with the weapon in it.

She wasn’t fast enough. He pointed the pistol in her direction, but before he could do anything, Coop drove his elbow into Bradford’s face.

Bone and cartilage crumbled under Coop’s powerful blow. One of Bradford’s eyes burst, and he immediately went limp. As Coop pulled his elbow back and looked at the damage, he couldn’t blame the other guy. He’d be passed the fuck out too if his face looked like that.

“Jesus Christ, Coop.” Aiko kicked the weapon out of Bradford’s hand and jumped to her feet like he was going to regain consciousness at any second and lunge at her.

“I stopped him from wasting you, so you’re welcome.” He grunted as he got to his feet.

They could both hear sirens in the distance, and both of their eyes went to their belongings where over fifty grand of illegally obtained cash chips was sitting.

“We need to get out of here.” Coop rushed to the cash and started pocketing it. The sirens were still off in the distance, so they had time.

Aiko didn’t reply as she bent over Bradford.

“Come on, we need to get going now.” Coop repeated.

“We can’t.” she replied. “The hotel room is under my name, so the cops are going to come and find me one way or another.” She stood up and faced Coop. The look on her face was dire. “Bradford’s dead, Coop. There’s no pulse.”

Coop just stood there for a second waiting for the shock to set in, but it didn’t. This wasn’t the first time Coop had killed a person in anger, and it wouldn’t be the last. He didn’t even feel sorry. The guy was a piece of shit. The only thing that Coop was worried about was the cops asking questions and finding the money.

“Ok, it was self-defense. His prints are all over the gun. There are two blaster marks where he tried to kill me, so this is a pretty open and shut case.” Coop convinced himself in a few seconds that everything was going to be ok. “We’ll get chewed out for screwing, but I’m not part of Argo’s crew anymore, so it’ll be a slap on the wrist. What we need to do is hide the cash fast.” The sirens were getting closer.

Aiko stood frozen for several seconds before shaking her head. “Ok…ok…” she seemed to be coming out of the momentary freeze of having her dirtbag husband killed in front of her. “Hiding places…hiding places.” She looked around the room.

“It’s got to be somewhere outside. The cops are going to tear the room apart as they gather the evidence. The roof?” He suggested.

“No, a blaster mark went through the ceiling so they’re gonna look up there.” Aiko shut that idea down.

“I got it!” Coop stated a moment later. “Grab me that knife and a bag.”

Aiko did as she was told and followed him outside and around to the side of the building. There were no cameras in sight, and they didn’t see anyone out this early in the morning. She handed him the knife and he went to town digging a shallow hole with the blade. It didn’t take him long to get deep enough to fit the bag full of cash chips inside.

Coop covered it back up and stomped on it to get it even with the rest of the ground around them.

“Go call nine-one-one and report what happened.” He ordered.

“What? They’re almost here.”

“It will look better if we report the attack. We can blame the delay on shock.” He ushered her back to the room, but left the door open while she made the call.

She was still on the line when the cops busted into the room with their weapons drawn.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 154

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

<It just had to be this place, didn’t it?> Coop looked across the semi-crowded street at the squat ployplast building on the corner. <The night started so promising.>

Sandy’s e-mails had really gotten his blood flowing, but when he arrived at her apartment she wasn’t there. A quick message later and it turned out she was pulling an emergency shift and wouldn’t be able to see him until the following night. Talk about a chub breaker. He’d been looking forward to some quality time with the flexible physical therapist.

He’d been feeling sorry for himself when the message from Aiko arrived. She gave him a time later that night and an address to meet at. They were meeting in a public venue so the people they were selling their goods to didn’t feel threatened. It didn’t matter if you were a nineteenth century outlaw in the Old West or a twenty-fifth century renegade in the Rim, relationships were still built on trust, and no deals were done without some sort of relationship. The irony was these were the hardest type of people to build trust with.

Aiko’s message suggested bringing a little cash to help speed things along. Nothing said “let’s be friends” like buying the entertainment. Normally, Coop was against spending his hard-stolen money on others, but the guns and drugs were going to fetch him a lot more than the five grand in chips he’d smuggled off Argo, so he pocketed fifteen-hundred and went to the address on the message.

He’d spent the last ten minutes standing outside the establishment wracked with indecision. The place was called The Pit Stop due to its location within spitting distance from the civilian spaceport. Coop could still smell the fumes from an old-model shuttle that had launched a few minutes ago. A few people walking around the area were wearing breathers like the one he’d had back in the PHA, except nicer.

Most of those people were giving The Pit Stop a wide berth, and for good reason. The entertainment establishment was affectionately known to the locals as The Pit. It got that nickname because it was where the dregs of the colony ate, drank, and got their rocks off. The Pit’s permit called it a casino. There was a small gambling suite just off the entrance, but Coop would be surprised if it comprised a tenth of the building’s square footage. It was what went on in the back that made the real money.

That was another reason the more morally-minded locals had nicknamed it after Hell, because this was where sin flourished. Coop didn’t give two shits one way or another. His hesitation was entirely practical. The Pit was one of those establishments the local commander had deemed off limits to military personnel. There had been too many fights and questionable encounters for the Commander’s taste, so he used his God-given authority and put a stop to it. Not that it actually put a stop to it, but it greatly reduced military boots that went through those doors, and it gave him legal powers to nail the ass of any violators of his order to the wall.

All of that made Coop think twice before entering. <Why do I have to stand out like a sore thumb?> It was one of the rare times he regretted being HI, but it was a fleeting moment.

“Cover charge is ten.” The big bouncer at the door was scanning the street for the local cops who seemed to be on a permanent stakeout somewhere nearby.

Coop pulled out one of his chips and tapped it to the Bouncer’s PAD. Ten dollars was taken from the chip and transmitted into the club’s account and Coop was waved through. The vestibule was about what anyone would expect of a gambling parlor. The space had an old-timey feel. They were going for a western saloon look. Coop wasn’t knowledgeable about the time period, but if the low-cut tops of the waitresses was any indication he wanted to become a fan.

A long bar with some attractive bartenders dominated one wall. There was a double-door of faux wood that was open and led into the gambling area. They had all the classics: blackjack, slots, roulette, and they were all packed. A few people looked up at Coop, but dismissed him. They had the look of more well-to-do spacers who were just on a short layover in Town Center before flying back out. Likely, they didn’t know what went on here, and their business kept the Pit looking somewhat honest.

“Can I help you, Sir?” A man in a period-appropriate tuxedo asked when Coop just stood in the doorway for a few seconds too long.

“I’ve got a reservation, number 69697,” Coop recited the number from Aiko’s message.

“Yes,” the man gave Coop an up-down appraisal. “Follow me please.”

The man led the way through the small gambling parlor, past another man playing some catchy tunes on an ancient piano, and to a duro-steel door with two well-muscled men standing next to it.

“Reservation number?” The bigger of the two asked. Coop gave it to him, and he checked it against his PAD. “Enjoy yourself.”

Coop passed through the metal door and entered a small space. All that was in it was another door a few meters ahead. A slight tingling sensation passed over him, and he was sure he was being scanned by something. He’d thought about bringing some type of weapon, but ultimately decided against it. You couldn’t build trust with someone while you were planning to kill them at a moment’s notice. It went against Coop’s instincts, but he needed to make this work. It could be his biggest payday ever.

The far door slid open and his senses were immediately assaulted by lights, sound, and smell. He was honestly surprised he didn’t have a seizure as he stepped into the large space that made up the main part of The Pit. Scanning the room, he now knew first hand why they called it The Pit.

The Pit was a themed establishment, and that theme was kinky shit that got people off. Right inside the door, right in Coop’s line of sight, a pair of dirty-looking spacers were sucking on some striper’s toes. She looked bored and was checking something on her PAD, but the two guys were going to town on her big toes, and that was the most innocent thing he saw.

“Hey there, big boy.” A stripper ran her hand across his chest as she passed and circled provocatively around him. “I’m free if you want some alone time.”

The woman was in some type of latex costume made to look like a horse. Two holes in the chest were cut out so she could pop some nice, surgically-enhanced boobs through them. A section of the stomach was also cut out to show off her toned abdomen. The horse head she was wearing was a little weird, but everything else above the waist looked good to Coop. Things went terribly terribly wrong when he looked farther down.

She was wearing some sort of contraption around her waist that culminated in a foot-long strap-on made to match the anatomy of what she was dressed up as.

“Um…no thanks.” After all Coop had done and seen, he didn’t think he was capable of blushing as fiercely as he was now.

<I don’t even want to imagine what alone time with her is supposed to be.>

“Gotta go,” he slipped away from the horse-stripper and started to navigate through the crowd. There were tons of seats, both public and private, surrounding a central dance floor where close to a hundred people gyrated against each other. Ployplast bubbles hung from the ceiling on duro-steel strings and were occupied with naked ladies, naked men, and naked lady-men. One look up and Coop knew he was going to have nightmares about giant penis chasing him, so he kept his eyes down and found an empty, private table as far back from the ruckus as possible.

Like a good soldier, he was a bit early to do recon and assess his options if things went sideways, so he sat there for fifteen minutes in uncomfortable awkwardness. He did order a drink from one of the more tamely-dressed women. She had on fake ears, whiskers, and gloves that made her hands look like paws. The coupe-de-gras was a tail just above her ass. By the way it twitched, Coop was pretty sure it had been surgically grafted onto her lower back.

<How much cash does she make here?> he wondered. Surgical grafts weren’t cheap.

Aiko answered that question when she arrived. “Some guy just paid me fifty bucks to smell my feet.” She laughed as she plopped herself down into his lap and planted a kiss on his lips. “Joke’s on him,” she smiled when she pulled away, “I ran all the way here from the spaceport.”

Coop’s nose wrinkled automatically.

“No…” Aiko’s eyes went wide and she looked from Coop to the room in front of them. “Are you popping your fetish club cherry?”

Coop never got a chance to answer because cat-stripper returned to take more drink orders.


“Aiko!” The two women apparently knew each other.

“Let me see.” Aiko made a turnaround motion with her finger. “How’d it turn out?”

“You tell me,” Melissa, aka cat-stripper, wiggled her ass back and forth to show off her tail.

“Awesome!’ Aiko reached out and touched it. “They did good work.”

“Management wanted me to ask when you’re coming back.” Melissa turned around and pouted. “Your act was a big crowd pleaser.”

<Coming back…act…?> Then it hit Coop like a runaway cargo shuttle. They weren’t here because their potential trading partners had asked for it. They were here because Aiko felt comfortable and knew the staff.

It was brilliant on Aiko’s part, and put them in a position of tactical superiority, but Coop was surprised he hadn’t noticed this. He’d been boning her on the regular for the past week and nothing like this had ever crossed his mind.

“Next time I can get any decent amount of shore leave I’ll make sure to let them know.” Aiko shrugged.

“You’re here now?” Cat-stripper looked hopeful in the kind of way that said her tips would go up dramatically if Aiko did her thing. Whatever her thing was.

“Sorry. I’m here on business.” Aiko turned her down, and as if on cue their guests showed up.

There were two men. One was a grungy looking spacer-type. The other was in an upscale smartcloth suit. The latter was a little of a surprise to Coop. He looked more like a lawyer than a smuggler or black-market dealer.

The two newcomers sat down and didn’t say a thing. They just stared at Coop and Aiko. The silence was almost as awkward as the guy in the next booth over getting jerked off by some dude with tentacles sprouting out of his back.

So, Coop decided to break the ice. “How about a round of drinks for the table?” He looked at Melissa before transferred a hundred bucks onto her PAD. In this type of establishment, a hundred bucks went a long way with drinks. The drinks weren’t the expensive things.

The drink order did the trick and got the guys talking.

“We heard you have a proposition?” The lawyer-guy spoke up once Melissa came back with chilled beers.

“We do,” Aiko cut Coop off before he could reply. “We’ve got a dozen glowsticks, some premium herbs, and a hundred fireflies”

“We’ll need to take a look.” The lawyer looked around.

Coop knew what he was thinking. <No way she got the guns and drugs in here. The scanner would have picked them up.>

So, of course she had to prove them all wrong. She pulled out one of the laser pistols, a bottle of the pills, and one of the plasma-tipped rounds.

<I guess it pays to know the management here.>

“I need collateral.” Aiko didn’t hand them over right away.

The spacer grunted and tossed over two chips, each with a grand on them. Aiko swiped them and slid the pistol, pills, and bullet across the table.

No one around them noticed. Anyone who wasn’t engrossed in their own fantasy world was busy watching two people in one of the hanging bubbles start to sixty-nine each other.

The lawyer looked over the gun and bullet while the spacer took the pills. Coop’s eyes narrowed and he shifted himself so he could lunge across the table and grab the spacer if he needed to, but the man just pulled out some type of testing kit. He extracted one of the pills and placed it in the kit, but Coop still didn’t relax.

Meanwhile, the lawyer was disassembling and reassembling the pistol with surprising speed. “They have power packs?” The lawyer put down the gun and gave the bullet a quick check. It wasn’t hard to figure out it was legit.

“Fully charged.” Aiko nodded.

“This stuff is premium.” The spacer stated as he pulled the pill out of the kit and tossed it in his mouth.

<Fucking idiot.> Even PHA Rats knew the number one rule of dealing was to not get high on your own product.

“Good” The lawyer slid the weapons back across the table and the spacer did the rest with the pills. Aiko reciprocated with the chips. Apparently, that pill the spacer took was a free sample.

“Let’s talk price.” Aiko steepled her hands in front of her. “Five-thou per glowstick, five a firefly, and two-fifty a bottle.”

“Two-thousand per stick, two a fly, and one-fifty a bottle.” The lawyer countered

“Four, four, and two-twenty-five.” Aiko countered back.

Coop just sat there and watched the two of them go at it for a few minutes. He’d done the work of getting the shit in the first place, so it only seemed fair that Aiko do the rest.

“Thirty-two-fifty per glowstick, three a firefly, and one-ninety a bottle. That’s my final offer.” The lawyer sat back and waved his hands in a final motion.

Aiko sat back and crossed her arms defensively across her chest before leaning over toward Coop. “Hey,” she whispered into his ear. “Pretend we’re talking about something important.”

“I do have an important question.” Coop whispered back. “What is the act Melissa was talking about, and when do I get to see it?”

“If we make this deal then we’ll find a place tonight and I’ll show you.”

Coop gulped and nodded back to her.

“I’ll tell you what,” Aiko addressed the two men across from them. “We’ll agree to thirty-two-fifty for the glowstick, and three a firefly, but we’ve got to ask for two hundred a bottle. However,” she held up her hands for the men to be patient. “For your inconvenience we’ll make sure that this young lady shows you both the best night of your lives.”

Melissa had just walked up with refills, and raised an eyebrow at Aiko. Aiko gave her a nod, so Melissa made sure to bend over nice and good when she gave Coop his drink. That gave the two men a prime shot of her ass and tail.

“Deal,” the spacer accepted immediately and grabbed a handful of her ass.

The lawyer looked a little pissed at his associate, but he nodded his acceptance. With negotiations closed all that was left was payment and delivery.

When everything was tallied up it came out to fifty-eight-thousand- one-hundred dollars. The lawyer pulled a parcel from his smartcloth suit and began to count out chips on his side of the table. An impressive stack built up once the full payment was doled out. Aiko used her PAD to confirm the chips’ legitimacy.

“The goods are in a warehouse a block from here, unit twenty-two alpha. The entry code is 584984152.” She fulfilled her end of the deal.

The lawyer made a quick call on his PAD and they waited patiently. The chips sat on the table between them in the meantime, and the spacer started chatting up Melissa. Five minutes later the lawyer received confirmation that his people had obtained the goods.

“Pleasure doing business with you.” He stood up and shook hands with Aiko, gave Coop a nod, and left.

“Uhumm.” Melissa coughed as the remaining spacer started to get more handsy with her.

Aiko slipped her a chip worth two grand. “Give him the full treatment.”

Melissa nodded and led the spacer away, which left her and Coop sitting there with a bit over fifty-six grand. It was easily the biggest payday of Coop’s life, and no one had tried to kill him in the process.

Aiko just leaned back casually and gave Coop a mischievous grin. “Not bad for a couple of days work.”

“Not bad at all.” Coop put his arms around her and pulled her in close. Their lips touched and fire raced through him. He thought they were going to do it right then and there it was getting so hot and heavy.

“Let’s take care of this first.” Aiko swept the chips toward them.

Their deal was seventy-thirty, so they each were supposed to walk away with thirty-nine-thousand-two-seventy and sixteen-thousand eight-thirty respectively, but when Coop counted his out he only had thirty-nine grand.

“You short changed me two-seventy.” He frowned and gave her a level stare.

She just stared back like the cat that ate the canary. “You wanted to see my show, and that shit doesn’t come free.” They pocketed their earnings, left the Pit, and found a hotel.

A few hours later, Coop was convinced he’d just witnessed the greatest show ever, and two-seventy was definitely a bargain.

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