Two Worlds – Chapter 362

Eve Berg

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“I want extra ammo on everyone,” Eve ordered as the six MOUNTS stood in a line in the shuttle bay.

Machinery whirled all around them as their crews stuffed the war machines full of every implement of death they could carry. Eve knew it wouldn’t be enough. There were undoubtedly enemy MOUNTs on the world. The enemy wouldn’t come to the dance without them. The Gold’s tech was batter than the Commonwealth’s, she wasn’t going to bullshit herself by thinking she had the best toys; so, she needed to have more bullets. Plain and simple.

“If the magazines are stuffed, mag-lock them to the armor, she snapped at a confused crew chief. “We’re all trained to load if we need to.” She rotated her armored helm to look at the tiny man, and he hurried to do what she said.

She took the time to run more diagnostics and review the results of the last round of simulations. Simply put, despite having the capabilities to do an orbital insertion, it wasn’t a good idea. On their best run, only half the reinforced team made it to the surface of the planet. That was unacceptable. There just weren’t enough MOUNT pilots around to justify losing three over nothing.

She was still willing to try it, but she got shot down. As a mere WO2, her opinion was the least important, especially since the staff officers saw her judgement as compromised. On little slip that her fiancé, and father of her child, if on fighting the Confeds, and all of a sudden, she can’t be trusted to make sound decisions.

“If you drop that shell, I’m going to toss your body on top of it so I don’t scratch my paint,” she snarled at a crew member who bobbled an artillery round.

<Okay, maybe I’m a little off my game,> she took a few controlled breaths.

Her AI pinged her that her heartrate was elevated, but she didn’t think anything of it. She was about to drop into battle, but couldn’t do anything to protect herself. Who liked that feeling?

In the end, the brass had opted for a traditional assault. They were going to force the Confed navy to move their asses, and then Spyder with infantry and MOUNTs would use the cover the task force provided to make a dash for the surface. It wasn’t as quick as trying to sneak past the ships while they were still in an orbital blocking maneuver, but it was the best they could come up with.

All of that meant, when she was locked and loaded, she’d be stuck in the back of a Spyder until it was skids down on the ball of rock. Up until then, she was just a passenger who couldn’t affect the outcome of the battle. That sucked.

“Chief,” the infantry LCDR walked over to her in full battle rattle. “Get ready to load up. Battleships are about to get enter outer engagement envelops. The admiral wants us off his boat.”

“I’m more than happy to oblige,” she banged her metal fists together.

She was tired of feeling helpless. It was time to get in the shit.


Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

He was in really deep shit. No MOUNT. No big guns. His hands were jacked up. He’d taken a bullet in the keister. He was wearing a borrowed set of dragonscale armor that didn’t fit, and been pulled off a dead dude. The rifle felt like a toothpick in his hands, and it took an entire magazine of ammunition for it to do anything. He was pissed.

“Sir. What now?” the NCOIC asked as he slip into the depression Coop was using as a command center.

“I . . .”

Boom. He ducked as an explosion went off nearby. A big one. Chunks of dirt as big as his hand rained down around him. He quickly checked the readings of what was left of the Commonwealth troops. By sheer luck, no one had died.

“We can’t keep this up,” during the entire battle, the NCOIC had never had an ounce of defeat in him.

Coop got it. Shit was bleak, but could he just throw in the towel? Was that even possible? Coop and company had killed a lot of Confeds. Like, a lot. Way more than a force their size they normally could. They were entrenched, and up until recently could have kept up the fight. Now, ammo was drying up. People were dying. All the MOUNTS were down, and all it would take was one of the Confeds MOUNTS to walk in here and kill them all. Game over. Do not pass go. Do not get to see his baby girl again.


“Reinforcements are on the way,” he had to throw it out there. He was in command with the LT down, and that first command looked like it was going to end in a defeat-surrender combo.

Normally, he wasn’t one for his career, but that was going to sting. <Fuck it. You can’t have a career if you’re dead.>

“How do we work this?” he sighed. “I can’t just stand up and wave a white flag. A sniper will shoot me in the face.”

“There’s a universal code we can broadcast,” the NCO waved over the commo specialist. He technically wasn’t the real specialist, he’d died a few hours back, but the new guy knew how to rudimentarily work the gear.

“Great. Spin it up, but don’t send it just yet,” Coop ordered.

He listened to the sounds of battle. They had died down a little. His troopers were trying to conserve ammo, and the Confeds were probably shifting or massing. Either way, what came next wouldn’t be good.

“Come on. Now would be a good time to save the day,” he looked at the sky. He had no comms to space. The Confeds were doing their best to jam anything that left the besieged settlement. The only way he’d know of the cavalry arrived was to see the contrails of burning atmosphere around the Spyders.

He’d been on that ride. It wasn’t fun, but it was better than where he sat. Despite the plea to the heavens. No one was burning to save his sorry ass.

“Okay,” he tried to hold his head high, but it was hard. He’d never surrendered before.

“Sending,” the NCOIC sent out the signal burst, while simultaneously telling all the remaining grunts to stand down.

Coop dropped his rifle to the ground and took a seat with his back against the wall of dirt. He leaned to the side to relieve the pain in his aching ass. They’d have to wait for instructions from their new lords and masters. They’d likely wait a while, cautiously moving up to make sure this was some ruse. So, he had a minute. Until then, he laid his head back and closed his eyes to enjoy the quiet that had suddenly fallen over the settlement.


Two Worlds – Chapter 361

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

Coop awoke in darkness and pain. He took a breath and got a mouthful of smoke. He hacked and he hacked. He was surprised he didn’t cough up a lung, but the real problem was that it didn’t get any better. He tried to orient himself, but in the total blackness, it was nearly impossible.

He needed to get oriented, because he didn’t know what the hell had happened. Everything was offline. His battle AI wasn’t responding, and his IOR was only active because it was powered over his body. At the moment, it was worse than useless, and if he didn’t hurry, he was going to suffocate.

<Stupid, big, hunk of shit!> he screamed and kicked at the armored interior. The only thing that did was hurt his foot.

Big toe throbbing, he kept searching, coughing, and slowly dying. Then, as if the universe was finally ready to throw him a bone, there was a spark.

<Let there be light you beautiful bastard,> the spark fell from his right shoulder across his body.

Now he had a bearing and knew where up was. Her felt around for the first step in the emergency eject sequence. It wasn’t supposed to be easy, and the engineers had overdesigned it so that it wouldn’t weaken the structural integrity of their already weaker design. It was also going to suck ass. Half the time pilots went through the eject, they broke something. That was a problem when the most likely place for an eject was the battlefield. Coop was the perfect example. He was literally on the frontlines and completely surrounded. He couldn’t imagine a worse position.

<Shut up,> he scolded himself. He could worry about getting shot after he avoided death my smoke inhalation.

He braced himself, prayed it wouldn’t be so bad, and then started the sequence. He knew something was wrong almost immediately. There were supposed to be hisses and pops as things started to break apart so he could get out. All he got were groans of warped metal. The final result was for the cocoon he was in to be flung from the MOUNT, and then a self-destruct to stop the enemy from gaining the tech.

He didn’t know why Gold would want to collect inferior tech, but that was above his paygrade. All he knew, was that he didn’t get the mother-of-all whiplashes as he rocketed to safety. There was one pathetic lurch, but he barely even moved.

The only bright side was a literal one. A sliver of light seeped through the armor. Smoke immediately poured out of it, so he could breathe a little better. Of course, when the universe giveth, the universe taken away. It was starting to get hot. Something was on fire.

The animal part of his mind started to freak the fuck out. Mankind had feared fire for millennia; for a good reason. It was also a pain to recover from burns, so he got to work. He fought to get his hands into position to force the opening wider. It was tough going, but centimeter by centimeter the opening got wider. Wide enough he could force his hands through.

“Son of a bitch!” he yelled as he got his hands through and met scorching hot metal.

He had no idea how long he’d been out. He had no idea what he got hit with, but whatever it was, it had messed him up good.

He tried to get his hands out again, to force the opening wider, but the pain was too much.

<Okay. Mind over matter,> he psyched himself up to push through the pain.

It only worked for about a second before he had to pull his hands back in, but he had to do it again, and again, and again. Salty tears flowed down his cheeks and he fought for his life. He was covered in sweat. He could feel the heat, literally; but he wasn’t going to stop, he couldn’t.

Eve and Emily were out there, and he wasn’t going to die on some fucking rock out in the middle of nowhere.

Normally, his HI enhancements were awesome, but this time it was actively trying to kill him. By the time he got the opening wide enough to fit his shoulders through, you could have marched a small army into his MOUNT. Then there were his hands. The skin was charred and peeling off. Blood oozed from where jagged edges had bitten into him, and he’d probably need a round of antibiotic nanites to avoid getting tetanus. He’d been injured worse in his career, but it wasn’t exactly nothing.

With a final heave, he got himself out of the armor before his hands gave out. He hit the armor with his uniformed back as he rolled off, so there was just the smell of singed whatever-the-hell these things were made of. He didn’t even think of it, but the side of his armor he rolled of off was super critical. The universe rolled in his favor again. He thought his luck might just be turning for once.

“Shit, chief, I can’t believe you’re alive,” an armored head appeared from the dirt ten meters away. “Stay down and I’ll . . .” the shield protecting the grunt flashed, and Coop felt the reverberations as incoming rounds hit his immobile MOUNT.

“Just . . . stay!” the grunt yelled.

It was the first time in a long time Coop had been the weakest person on the battlefield. With his burns, probably lung damage, and whatever else had gotten knocked loose on him, he wasn’t going anywhere.

The incoming rounds died down now that the grunt’s head was gone, but Coop knew they were maneuvering for a better shot. He needed to get out of there. The shield had started to spark a few meters from the grunt’s position, so Coop needed to cover about eight meters to get to safety. That distance was nothing, but here and now, it might as well another planet.

There was no way the Confed’s didn’t have this place dialed in. He’d get one, maybe two meters before someone took him down.

<I’ve still got to try,> he told himself. Either they’d kill him on the rush, or when they maneuvered to get a better shot. Move or die.

He got into a track sprint position, and said another quick prayer. He’d been doing a lot of that lately. If he lived through this, who knew, maybe he’d find Jesus.

Before he could talk himself out of it, he was off. His start flung dirt into the air, which probably alerted the enemy that something was happening. It also might give him a little cover. He didn’t keep track of the distance. He just focused on pumping his legs as fast as possible. He needed to go from zero to a hundred in an instant. He had a smile on his face, and the wind in his hair when he hit the shield barrier.

He also felt the sharp sting of the round hitting him in the ass, and the numbness as his legs gave out and he face planted in the dirt. More than a little worked its way into his nose and through his teeth, but he’d made it.

He’d been shot in the ass, but he was alive.


Two Worlds – Chapter 359

Eve Berg

Location: Alamo, Equatorial Sector, Lone Star System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“All hands, Echo Flight arriving. I say again. All hands, Echo flight arriving. Clear the flight deck.”

Eve wasn’t anywhere near the flight deck, but it irritated her every time an announcement like this came over the ship’s intercom. She felt like kicking a private that just happened to be walking by when Charlie flight arrived, and she might have scared a couple LT’s when she stomped into the officer’s mess during Delta flight’s arrival.

Logically, she knew it shouldn’t rub her the wrong way. Every flight meant more men and firepower the ship could bring to bear on the enemy. She still didn’t have a great idea who the enemy was, but she knew it involved Derrick and Coop. The last thing she wanted to be doing was sitting around on her ass while her brother and fiancé had god only knew what was happening to them.

“All command staff level officers, report to the flag briefing room at 1500 hours. All command staff level officers . . .” that got her attention.

It was ironic that as a CW2, she was a command staff level officer in this case. It probably wouldn’t be the case again anytime soon, but this shit show was being thrown together at the last minute, so there wasn’t enough time to get a proper MOUNT contingent together. Emergency orders had come down, and she currently had six pilots onboard; a team and a half. The other team leader was onboard, but she was the ranking officer of the two of them. That, plus the regular infantry commander didn’t know a MOUNT’s capabilities, she’d been elevated to the lofty status for the duration of the mission.

Her IOR said she had fifteen minutes to make the time hack, which on a beast the size of a battleship was not enough time. “Make a hole!” she yelled, and through her bulk forward. If people didn’t move, it was their problem.

She made it with thirty seconds to spare, but looking at the faces of the officers in the room, she might as well have been five minutes late.

“Pull up a chair, chief,” the only person that didn’t give her grief was the one that mattered.

The rear admiral at the head of the table wasn’t one she recognized, but there were plenty of those. She’d been on maternity leave so long, she probably wouldn’t even recognize the lieutenant commander she routinely got email traffic from. She was just relieved he wasn’t pissed.

She was the lowest ranking officer in the room by a mile. Technically, she wasn’t even the same class of officer. There was the RADM and a CMDR that was his XO. A pair of other CMDRs looked like the infantry and CAG OICs, and they had a couple staff people tagging along; but they all kept to the sides. She was the only person below O-4 not sitting against the wall and trying not to be noticed.

“I’m not going to lie people, it doesn’t look good,” the RADM pulled up an image from a tactical plot. It wasn’t Eve’s forte, but she’d been around enough to get the general picture.

It didn’t look like that big an enemy force. From what she’d seen coming aboard the ship, it should be able to take a couple battlecruisers and destroyers alone. <If it was that simple, Derrick would have handled it,> she reminded herself.

“We’ve got a clock on us,” the RADM continued. He’d explained the enemy disposition, but that didn’t concern Eve. She needed to get boots on the ground to make a difference. “They’ll have been down there fighting it out for close to two days before we’ll hit the system. Even then it’ll take several more hours to get to a point we can do anything, and that’s only if the Confeds cut and run.”

Eve didn’t realize she had a death grip on her chair to the point it was starting to warp. She didn’t want to be sitting in a metal tube tens of millions of kilometers away when she could be on the ground helping Coop. It was literally the most infuriating thing she’d ever felt.

““All hands, Foxtrot Flight arriving. I say again. All hands, Foxtrot flight arriving. Clear the flight deck.”

The RADM looked up at the announcement. “That’s the last of our gear people. Department heads, I want a readiness brief in thirty. We’re going to put the pedal to the medal right out the gate. Infantry,” he turned to the CMDR and Eve, “I want a battleplan on my desk by the time we hit the system. I don’t want us sitting on our hands longer than necessary.”

“Yes, sir,” Eve was the first on her feet, and the first out the door. If the other officers were offended by a mere CW2 taking the lead, they could suck it.

<Hang in there, Coop. I’m coming.”


Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

Coop spun, and barely avoided taking a round up the ass. Literally, there was a Confed grunt with one of those overpowered man-portable missile launchers that nearly sent one straight up his poop shoot. That would have royally screwed him, especially with his shields at thirty percent. Having his shields above twenty-five was a blessing.

The Commonwealth grunts were still fighting, but it was starting to sink in that the perimeter wasn’t a defense anymore, it was a noose the Confeds were closing tight around their throat. Still, they didn’t give up. Neither did Coop. He was running around like a mad man, trying to plug all the holes in the line. There were so many, that if this was an old wet navy ship, they’d be sunk.

Even worse, his ammo was just about shot. Down to less than ten percent on everything. It was just that kind of day.

“We need . . .” there was a large explosion behind him, and the transmission cut out.

His battle AI told him what had happened as he sprinted around the side of a building. He zigged instead of zagged out of instinct, and the atmosphere exploded around him. His MOUNT emerged through the flames like some type of ancient war god, and he couldn’t think about how close he’d just been to buying the farm.

Ever since he’d killed the other MOUNT, the dead enemies’ buddies had been gunning for him. He expected it, but things were starting to get dicey. The Confed brass hadn’t committed another MOUNT to the field, so maybe Coop took out the commander, and they were just going to wait him out. Why ruin a multi-million dollar piece of equipment when you could just bleed Coop’s MOUNT dry.

<It’s what I would do,> he ignored the next-gen magnetic accelerator shell with his name on it, and focused on plugging the hole.

The swatter covering the sector had run dry, and an arty shell had smacked right in the middle of a fire team’s position. Medical status informed him they were both already dead, but sensor showed the Confeds were trying to take advantage of the chaos to advance. The only thing between them and separating the Commonwealth defenders, one Mark Cooper.

He barreled into the opening just as the lead Confed elements reached the big hole in the ground. He didn’t bother opening up with his remaining rounds. He just kicked the first person in armor her saw. The poor bastard went sailing back out of the crater and hit some of his buddies with the front side of his armor sticking out the back. 

Blades came out, and Coop played lumberjack. He ignored the screaming, he just cut, hacked, and sawed at anything that moved. The Confeds didn’t go down without a fight. They pumped rounds into him until his shield was only showing five percent. It held there as Coop stomped his big metal boot down on an enemy grunt and pancaked him.

“Fucking hell,” one of the sergeants had been able to peel a single man off their portion of the line to reinforce Coop.

Over half a dozen bodies surrounded Coop’s MOUNT, and they all look like they’d died hard. Even though he hadn’t lifted a muscle, Coop’s chest was heaving inside the war machine.

“Set up here. If you feel you can’t hold, radio in, and fall back,” Coop knows the kid won’t be able to hold for long. But a few minutes was a few minutes, and if the Confed’s tactics continued, they were going to hit another part of the perimeter now.

“Ye . . . yes, sir,” Coop could hear the grunt gulp as he hopped down into the crater and went prone. He didn’t even have a shield generator.

“All clear in sector four, repositioning to . . .” Coop never finished.

The whole world lurched, and the lights went out. 



Two Worlds – Chapter 358

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Hold . . . hold . . . move!” Coop yelled as he popped up and opened fire.

He’d been running around like a chicken with his head cut off, reinforcing the lines where they were weakest, and generally keeping the Commonwealth’s war effort above water. Just like every time, it felt like this was the time the dam was going to break, and they were all going to drown in a river of blood and bullets. But every other time he’d survived, and kept the grunts alive with him.

This time, he’d been crouched among the soldiers in their dragonscale armor, and was giving them another fighting chance to get out of here alive. On his command, they jumped up from the trenchworks encircling the settlement, and ran for it. Coop didn’t run, he stood and faced the tide.

His shield sparked and lit up like the surface of a pond in a thunderstorm. The flashes were so bright and continuous, he could hardly see. Not that the MOUNT needed his eyes to fight. The battle AI took over, and directed his movement like a symphony conductor.

<Missiles here . . . bullets there . . . artillery shell over yonder . . . and a next-gen magnetic accelerator round right up the center to keep them honest,> he was going through ammunition like crazy, but what else was there to do? Let all the grunts die?

Coop was a cold-hearted bastard, but even he couldn’t bring himself to do that. If there was an afterlife, he didn’t want to be a dick right at the end. That wouldn’t look good.

“Set!” the squad leader sent as the grunts got to the next set of trenches.

The Commonwealth’s perimeter was steadily collapsing. The Confed hordes were doing the same thing Coop and the Commonwealth had done when they took the place; push, push some more, make them fall back, until you had their balls in a vice and were fighting house to house. It was how these things were done. There was nothing nice about it. That’s why they called it war.

“We’ll cover you, chief,” the SGT radioed as Commonwealth weapons started to add their fire support to suppress the enemy focusing on Coop’s MOUNT.

It was much appreciated. His shields had dropped below fifty percent since he started taking the pounding.

“Moving!” Coop didn’t wait. He turned his back on the enemy and ran.

“Chief, we need you in sector two. We’re about to . . . ahhh!” the LT’s voice cut off abruptly.

“Shit, LT’s down. I say again, LT is down!” the NCOIC came over the net.

<That’s just what we need,> Coop grunted, as he angled toward sector two.

The radio call saved Coop’s life. The next-gen accelerator round came screaming in through burning atmosphere before his AI could even squawk a warning. The shockwave nearly blew him over, but he turned it into a combat roll. It would suck to look like an idiot in front of the grunts.

A person can think of the weirdest things in a life of death situation. 

Coop came out of the roll, his own weapon at one hundred percent power, and fired back toward the source of what nearly made him piss myself. Whoever the other pilot was, he had too much confidence in his MOUNT’s camouflage abilities. Why shouldn’t he? He’d got within five hundred meters of Coop without him knowing any better. The only problem, the EM spike from the monster gun was the equivalent of a “please shoot here” sign.

The armor bucked as Coop’s round flew downrange. <That’s right you son of a bitch,> he growled when there was a spark of a shield overloading, and the cammo failed.

There it was, a Gold Technologies MOUNT; in the flesh . . . sort of. All Coop knew was that it was a better armored, better armored killing machine than the knock-off he was wearing. If he wanted any chance of surviving, he had to ignore that and believe in himself. That might sound like some self-help bullshit, but it was really all he had working for him.

He also had decisions to make. He was in the open between the MOUNT and the new defensive lines. The squad currently shooting at the new arrival on the battlefield had a better chance of growing wings and flying away than defeating the enemy war machine. It was either give up this section of the perimeter, and retreat into the settlement’s structures, or fight.

That wasn’t a hard decision for Coop. He reoriented himself and charged right at the other MOUNT. Again, the pilot showed how green he was. He took a step back and hesitated. He’d likely been the biggest kid on the block until now.

<Now you get to see what it feels like to take a real punch,> Coop grinned. Unlike the Gold mech, he’d been the underdog plenty of times.

Coop let loose the last of his missiles at the enemy to buy him time to cover the distance, and recharge his accelerator. His was underpowered compared to the Gold model, but he should be able to get a second shot first . . . hopefully.

The enemy’s swatter came to life and started knocking them from the sky. That wouldn’t do, so Coop detonated the last couple prematurely. A small slice of hell appeared in between the MOUNTs, blotting out their sensors. That helped Coop, not the enemy. He took a chance, and hoped the enemy MOUNT wouldn’t fire along the same trajectory. After all, this was the perfect opportunity to reorient your angle of attack. That’s what Coop was doing, just not in the typical way.

The Gold pilot was at least not stupid enough to waste ammo firing blindly into a firestorm, but likewise, Coop didn’t have any idea where the other guy was.

<Come on luck, don’t fail me now!> he took one more leaping bound, and hit his boot thrusters. <Up, up, and away!>

He rocketed up and over the dying ball of fire, with his recharged accelerator ready to go. The surprise advantage bought him a few, critical seconds. The Gold MOUNT was sweeping back and forth, waiting for Coop to burst through the flames, so it took the enemy AI a few digital heartbeats to register him in the air, and then tell the pilot.

Coop had to give it to the other pilot, he reoriented quickly, but Coop was already pulling the trigger. The accelerator going off fucked up his flight path, but it was worth it. The heavy round smashed right into the other MOUNT’s chest plate. There was a shower of sparks as shield and metal failed, while the machine got knocked on its ass.

Despite the power behind the hit, and the damage done, the Gold MOUNT wasn’t out of the fight. Coop saw it trying to sit up as he crashed to the ground. It wasn’t a graceful landing, but there was no time to worry about that. He scrambled to his feet and charged the damaged machine.

It seemed Coop still had a little luck left in the tank. The Gold MOUNT got its accelerator aimed at him, but nothing happened. He practically heard the proverbial click as something broke down in the weapon’s firing sequence. Then, Coop was on him. Out came the blades, and the injured pilot didn’t stand a chance.

Coop lost track of what he was doing for a second. When he came back to his senses, he’d chopped off all the MOUNTs major limbs, and driven a blade repeatedly into the hearth of the machine; right where the pilot was stationed. He looked at his blade; it dripped black with vicious fluid with a slight tinge of red mixed in.

“HA!”his exhausted laugh echoed inside the armor.

<Commonwealth one, Gold zero,> he staggered back away from the destroyed MOUNT; his exhaustion translated into his own MOUNT’s movements. <Ain’t done yet,> he told himself, and turned back toward the lines.

If the LT was down, Coop was the ranking officer. That was some scary shit; scarier than going up against the superior MOUNT.

“Chief, what are your orders?” the NCOIC asked. The guy had more experience, but they were both up shit’s creek right now.

Coop hesitated. The lives of the entire garrison were now in his hands. “Hold the perimeter,” he replied. He didn’t have any better solutions, and until a good one presented itself, he’d keep going with the LT’s final orders.

He hustled back toward the settlement. Ignoring the smaller impacts of his shield as he headed back to protect his men.



Two Worlds – Chapter 357

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Ammo. We need ammo!” the call came over the net as Coop laid down suppressive fire on a ridge. A couple Confed marines were getting uppity, so he showed them the error of their ways.

“Private . . .”

“On it chief!” the grunt working the faber was pulling double duty.

They didn’t have the men to spare to pull guys off the line to run ammo back and forth to the forward positions, and those guys were going through rounds like there was no tomorrow. Because there probably wasn’t going to be. So, not only was the PVT running the faber while Coop protected him, but he was making balls-to-the-walls runs all over the place to rearm the people who were keeping their perimeter from being overrun. There were some shitty jobs out there, but that had to be one of the shittiest.

<Guy deserves a fucking medal,> Coop grimaced as the young man started mag-locking bandoliers of ammunition to his scales. Then, he started throwing stuff over his shoulders, and took two huge crates of power packs under his arms. By the time he was ready to roll, he looked like a walking ammo dump.

“LT, we need covering fire from zero to ninety, ammo run,” Coop sent the transmission.

“Roger,” the young officer’s voice was stressed, but at least he was confident Coop wasn’t trying to stab his company in the back.

Coop had access to all the old command net functions, he just wished he didn’t. It was a massive clusterfuck, and the Commonwealth grunts were only holding on with their fingertips. With the SGT down, Coop was the only legit heavy weapon system left beside some plasma-tipped slug throwers. Whether the LT knew it or not, this fight was getting closer and closer to done.

“We’ll either die or surrender; nothing in between,” Coop knew the score, and he tried not to think about anything else. Wandering thoughts would just kill him quicker.

“Send him,” the order came back, and the PVT didn’t wait. He took off like a rabbit spooked by a gun shot.

Coop watched him go, dropping artillery on some pre-established coordinates where Confed’s liked to poke their heads up from. He was already running low on the big artillery shells, but the faber didn’t have time to churn out anything but rounds for the grunts.

<Weapons have to be getting hot,> he wondered.

In olden times, barrels used to have to be changed out on machine guns and other weapons if they were used too much. That normally wasn’t a consideration with modern guns, because the material could survive orbital re-entry, and magnetic accelerators instead of chemical explosives cut down on the rough treatment of the metal. Still, throwing so many rounds in such a short time was going to tax even modern equipment’s structural integrity. Coop was still waiting for the first call that a barrel had blown. They had a small stockpile, but when the first one hit, he expected an avalanche of requests.

There was nearly a continuous rain of fire outbound from the small settlement. A fire-team of reserves was running around like chickens with their heads cut off to reinforce the perimeter at weak points, but aside from the ammo runner, that was the only movement. Everyone else was getting small in their hole, or shooting at the enemy. There was no third option.

<Go, kid, go,> Coop urged the PVT on as he ran through an exposed part between two buildings.

He made it, rounded the corner, and . . . crack poof! There was a sound like the universe itself crying in protest, followed by a poof of red mist from the corner the kid had just turned. Half a second later, what was left of a helmeted head hit the dirt.

<Motherfucker!> Coop was really starting to like that kid.

“Sir, runner is down. I say again, runner is down,” every part of Coop’s training told him to go to the runner, but he had his orders.

If he left the faber, the enemy would take advantage and they’d be as good as dead.

“Got it. Second squad, send a member to the following rally point and grab the ammo,” the LT was on it.

“Roger,” Coop listened to the SGT’s response through the command net.

“Moving. It fifty meters to . . . ahh!” the fed cut out, and Coop toggled to medical status.

Another grunt was down; yellow, not black, so he was still alive. Judging by the readings, he wasn’t moving anywhere quick.

“Can anyone get to the ammo?” the LT yelled, his composure cracking.

“We’re pinned, sir!”

“I think I can . . . fuck . . . no I can’t.”

“Are you shitting me? I’m not getting out of my hole unless it’s to hitch a ride home.”

“Lock it up,” the NCOIC finally stepped on the chatter. “That’s a negative, sir. All forces are occupied and pinned down.”

“Chief?” the LT asked.

“I mean . . .” Coop let it hang there. Everyone knew the implications. “I can try my active cammo. Maybe they won’t see me leave my position, and I can get back before they notice.”

“I don’t care if you project a digital stripper flashing her titties to occupy their attention. I need ammo, now!” one of the SGT’s added his colorful commentary.

“I’m red.”

“Me too.”

“How about you all stop talking and bring me something to shoot!” rifle fire and the deep thud of heavy rounds impacting dirt followed the last transmission.

“Do it, Chief,” the LT gave a heavy sigh. They all knew how this would really turn out.

Coop didn’t rush right in to do it. That’s what the Confeds were looking for. He really wished they had some portable mortars. If they did, he could set them on auto-fire and convince the enemy he was still here. They’d figure out the shells were smaller, but it would buy him a minute. That’s all he needed. He repositioned, using the building as cover to obscure activating his cammo.

He’d told the engineers who built this bucket of bolts that the camouflage wasn’t good. He told them it was shit compared to the old MOUNTs. It didn’t translate motion well on this new model. There wasn’t enough power going to them, or the paint wasn’t polymorphic enough. He wasn’t an engineer; he didn’t know the terminology. All he knew was, in training, he could always tell when a MOUNT was on the move.

“Stupid, penny pinchers,” he grumbled as he activated the cammo, gave it a second, and moved to emerge from a different position. That would keep him from getting a next-gen slug in the brain. He was conscious the enemy MOUNTs were still out there, biding their time, and looking for a good opportunity to punch his clock.

He stayed low and sprinted out of cover. The ammo wasn’t that far, and he covered the space in a few seconds. He skidded around a turn between the buildings, full-on grabbed the PVT’s body with all the ammo still strapped to him, and threw up debris on his pivot. He didn’t run the whole way to the front lines. He got with about twenty meters, dug his heels in, and underhanded the body.

It was borderline desecrating a corpse, but no one gave a shit. They just wanted the ammo. It didn’t matter how it arrived. With the PVT’s body airborne, Coop pushed his actuators to the limit. He took the turn tight enough his clipped the nearest building. It slowed him down a half second, but the building got the raw end of that deal.

<Holy shit, this is going to work,> he closed in on the faber that was still spitting full magazines of ammo into a nearby crate.

He was only ten meters away when the round hit the Commonwealth’s most valuable piece of equipment on the battlefield. The shield didn’t do shit to stop the attack. It was a next-gen slug. Coop had used the same rounds to kill alien bosses back on earth, and their shielding was a hell of a lot better than the squad-level gear they were operating with.

The machine went up into a million pieces, and the explosion of the round passing through the equipment, and into the ground, put Coop on his ass. Not for too long. He crab-walked behind cover, and tried to get a back azimuth on where the round had come from. The data was sketchy, but he sent a parting gift anyway.

“Sir,” he gulped. “The faber is gone. Without my extra shielding it didn’t stand a . . .”

“I know,” the LT sounded very tired all of a sudden. “Weapons free, chief. Pick your targets, and act as a mobile reserve.”

The former reserve was already fully committed, and judging by the increase in fire, it wasn’t going to be moving anytime soon. The Confeds knew the faber was down, and were pushing to seize the initiative. They might just take it.

Coop scoped out the battlefield, looking for opportunity, when something caught his attention. “Mounts at ten o’clock high, coming down the mountainside!” he screamed, and sprinted off in that direction.

He counted at least two, but that was enough to cut their lines like it was a ticker-tape parade. If that happened, they were fucked. The fat lady would sing, and they’d be six feet under.

<These fuckers will know they’ve been in a fight,> Coop ran to meet them head on. It was the only thing he could think of to do.



Two Worlds – Chapter 355

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Shift the machine gun over there,” the NCOIC stated, and an icon blossomed on Coop’s HUD.

Since they didn’t have two extra guys to lug around the heavy equipment, Coop and the SGT were playing Ripley from Aliens. He hoisted up the heavy weapon and shifted it to a new pit they’d established. It wasn’t much, but oldies were goodies when you didn’t have a choice. They’d dug a hole and stuck a shield generator beside the gun. It had commanding views of a potential avenue of approach.

In the end, Coop knew it didn’t matter what weapons were covering what areas; the Confeds would drown them in bodies. The satellite network in orbit had been left intact by both sides. Both were too arrogant to think the enemy would were be able to benefit from the data being broadcasted down to the settlement. Because of that, Coop had a good idea what was coming. Or . . . he didn’t once the LT clued him in.

He was on the outs with the command group, which was probably going to get more than one person killed. <Ben fucking Gold,> Coop wasn’t sure he bought the innocent slip of the tongue excuse.

If Gold had been trying to sow discord, he’d hit the ball on the head. The LT was playing things close to the chest, and the NCOIC was using him as a human wheelbarrow. On the bright side, he was still breathing, so he had that going for him.

“Here they come,” the statement suddenly rang through his MOUNT’s audio, and everyone else’s.

A link came over the net, and Coop opened it. <Shit. There should be some Wagner playing in the background,> he scoffed as a shit ton of Spyder-like assault shuttles detached from the warships in orbit. <If they carry anything like a Spyder . . . then . . . two, four, six,> he stopped counting.

Fifty bad guys a shuttle, and they were already outnumbered ten to one, and they were till coming. He was still amazed anyone wanted this ball of dirt that bad. As far as things went on the cosmic scale, this place was a dump. Sure, it had some good resources; but it wasn’t a pleasure planet. People wouldn’t want to emigrate here; especially with it being on the border of two contesting powers.

At most, you’d get temporary boomtowns, like in the old west of the Americas. They’d pop up at a dig site; mostly to supply beer and women. They’d be there for six months, pack up, and move to the next sight. It would be rough people on a rough world, and they probably would never even realize a bunch of soldiers killed themselves over dirt and metal.

<It’s not for us to wonder why. It’s for us to do or die; or something lie that,> Coop thought. The shuttles were hitting the atmosphere, so they had ten to fifteen minutes before things got interesting.

“SGT, you’re on the front lines,” he ordered.

Grunts were already streaming out of the makeshift barracks to their assigned positions. Everyone had a place to be at this dance, and for now, Coop’s place was indirect fore control. He’d also be guarding the most important asset in the entire place.

Once the Commonwealth took the fabbers from the Confeds in the first takeover. It was only a matter of time. Especially with modern warfare, people needed a lot of rounds, or powerpacks, to get through extra shielding. Fabbers provided those materials, and they’d been cranking out extra supplies ever since. A few hours, and they had the rounds to fight all day. It was Coop’s job to make sure the supply line kept flowing.

He ran a diagnostic to make sure he could make that happen. He was green on everything. His shields were one hundred percent, all his ammo had been replaced, and even his micro-missiles were cocked, locked, and ready to rock. It took a hell of a lot longer to produce a missile than a plasma-tipped round, but it was worth it for the damage he could do.

The swatter would be key, and the single grunt running the fabber had the dual duty of reloading the MOUNT’s swatter ammo when he ran dry. That would suck ass to do solo, but there wasn’t much of a choice.

Coop was still looking over his inventory when his AI blared a warning at him. “Drones!” he relayed to everyone. “Heads down.”

Drones were something he’d expected. The warships overhead couldn’t take a shot at them, and neither could the shuttles; but drones were a different deal. The ones his sensors were picking up intermittently were small versions. They’d infiltrate the lines, take shots with their single onboard energy cannon and soften things up for the troops. The swatters were the counter. Thankfully, it wasn’t just Coop.

The SGT’s guns spun up as well, along with three more individual swatters the defenders never had to bust out. That was some silverlining in all this, those guns were fresh since the Commonwealth had only mounted a land operation. Those guns came to life as the drones came in hard and fast.

Nothing was slaved to Coop’s AI. It might have been the smarter move to have the AI assist with targeting packages; but the LT wasn’t in a trusting mood. Still, Coop could push the packages to the guns when his AI got a better read on the drone’s camouflage and firing patterns. The first update got pushed five seconds into the attack; just about the same time there was a scream and an explosion. All the drones had ganged up on one position, overwhelmed the shielding, and torched the heavy weapon’s emplacement.

<Shit,> it was the one Coop had just moved the machine gun to. <Sucks for that guy,> and just as much for everyone else. They didn’t have the men to spare.

His buddy was yellow on medical, only some mild flash-burns from the laser, and was jumping on the gun. Tracer rounds flashed all over the place as the swatters tried to kill the drones like the annoying insects they were. Fireballs started to fill the sky as drones died. It was a beautiful sight.

A drone even had the balls to take a shot at him. It didn’t do any good. It was built to take out fighting positions, not a walking war machine. His shields dropped ten percent, and started to recharge as his swatters blasted the drone out of the sky.

Of course, the chaos was the secondary objective of this entire thing. Sure, it was good to kill a few guys, hassle the enemy, and general cause some mayhem. Hell, maybe the Confeds would even get lucky and hit something or someone important. The real objective was so the shuttle could set down unmolested by indirect fire. If the drones weren’t wreaking havoc along the Commonwealth’s lines, Coop would be dropping thermobaric shells all over the enemy LZ.

Everyone knew the shuttles were most vulnerable when they were disgorging their troops, and it was usually the point of an invasion when the enemy force was most exposed. The drones did a perfect job of covering for that. By the time his AI registered the last of the drone’s dying, the satellite links showed the assault shuttles off the ground and in an overwatch pattern. If the Commonwealth troops strayed too far from the settlement, they’d get a 30mm round up the ass.

Coop had the SGT firing an artillery shell at the position just in case he could catch the enemy with their pants down. A Confed swatter took it out before it even got close. The enemy command was doing things by the book. They’d landed and consolidated their forces, put up protections against indirect fire, and were organizing a march to the settlement. In less than an hour, there would be close to two hundred Confed troops kicking down their front door.

<Two hundred?> Coop had his AI count those numbers again. For the number of shuttles he’d seen that was too low.

<Oh, fuck me,> he groaned when his AI started to filter the satellite imagery.

They were hard to see, and trying to be sneaky, but the Commonwealth had a lot of data on their cammo gear. It was hard to make out, and only for a second, but Coop caught the outline of four Confed MOUNTs. Not these shitty first generation, Commonwealth reject MOUNTs. These were the real deal ones Coop had fought in back on earth.

He felt his pucker factor dial up to eleven as he replayed the footage three times before sending it to the LT. It didn’t matter if the guy was wary of him, this was shit he needed to know. The fight just went from hopeless to absolutely no chance in hell they’d live through it. All of a sudden, surrender didn’t seem like a bad plan.

Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the satellite link went dark. He immediately cut any connections he had to that net. It probably wasn’t a virus. The Confed’s wouldn’t want to wreck their own gear. That shit was expensive, but better safe than sorry. The last thing the underpowered, soon-to-be overwhelmed defenders needed was a malware attack fucking with their coms.

“Sergeant, did you . . .?”

“Roger that, chief,” she sent back. “It’s been good knowing you.”

“Make’em bleed,” he sent back, and then focused on his own shit.

Coop put everything he was worried about in the back of his head. Eve, Emily, everything, he shoved it all in a black hole in the back of his mind. He couldn’t worry about his mortality in a fight like this. It was time to be a human buzzsaw, and kill as many of these assholes as he could before his clock went out.



Two Worlds – Chapter 354

Benjamin Gold

Location: CCIWS Stakeholder’s Views, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Shit on a stick.”

“What was that?” Ben asked, surprised to hear the words out of his communications officer.

“Sorry, sir,” the officer cleared their throat. “We just got word that our position at the settlement was overrun. I heard shooting in the background, and then everything went dead; like they destroyed their equipment.”

“That’s standard procedure to keep our tech and encryption software out of enemy hands,” Ben sighed.

A1 might be in orbit, and they might have taken down that Spyder, but they were too late.

<Shit is right,> he doesn’t let his bridge crew see him mentally scratching his head and looking for a way out of this mess. It didn’t take him long to think of something. It was a long shot, with probable no chance of working, but it was worth it.

Lots of people had died in the last twenty-four hours that could have been avoided if Red Tides had just respected the Commonwealth’s claim. <Could of, would of, should of.>

“Get the shuttle and my security team ready. I’m going down to the surface,” he ordered.

That brought everything on the bridge to a screeching halt.

“Sir, I advise against,” the Gunnery NCO started, but Ben held up a hand.

“I put those marines in this position, and who knows how many of them died. It’s my responsibility to get as many of these people safely home.” It sounded way less like a holo ra-ra speech in his head, but it was too late to take it back, and his intentions were pure.

If he could get these people out safely, it was worth a shot. That’s why, ten minutes later, he was bumping through atmosphere with four marines strapped in around him. He had access to the external cameras, and he watched the sensor readout while they plummeted along the flightpath. They’d only shot down the one Spyder, but there could always be more. So far, the Confederation’s assault shuttles hadn’t gone up against the Spyders, and he didn’t want to be a test case; so he kept a close eyes on the readings.

It was only a fifteen-minute ride down from orbit to a safe LZ. They’d have to hike a few klicks to the camp. The shuttle would settle into an overwatch position to make sure the MOUNT units they’d spotted on the sensors wouldn’t be able to drop indirect fire all over them.

There were about a million ways this thing could end with him dead with a capital D. That would righteously piss of Jacobi. He’d barely had any time at all alone with his wife, and getting killed was a sure way to piss her off. He had no doubt she could pull some medical miracle, bring him back, just so she could kill him herself.

He put the thoughts of his wife aside as the shuttle rear ramp opened up and he tromped down with his guard. The marines looked like killing machines next to his simple armored vest. He had a pistol on his hip, and a collapsible submachine gun magnetized to his back. He knew, deep down, if this went to shit, he stood no chance going up against any type of infantry; Commonwealth or Confederation.

 The marines knew that too, and they’d packed an extra shield generator, which one lucky corporal got to lug the next few kilometers.  That would buy him a few extra moments of life if this failed.

<It’s better than nothing,> he told himself to stop focusing on the negative, and prep for what was coming.

He had some intrgalactic diplomacy to conduct.


Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

Rounding up the prisoners, managing the civilians, and looking for intel took most of the remaining grunts to accomplish, which meant Coop and the SGT were on perimeter duty. With the Spyder down, the LT and NCOIC were taking inventory of not only the remaining Commonwealth gear, but anything they could cross load from the Confeds. So far, the answer was quite a bit.

Apparently, the Confeds liked to have interchangeable gear. Coop applauded the ingenuity. The Commonwealth and Blockies got their panties in a bunch about weapons, ammunition, and the likes. They all needed to have their own, unique stuff that the enemy couldn’t turn against them. To a soldier on the ground, hungry, without commo, and out of ammo; the reasons were total bullshit. A gun was a gun. Bullets were bullets. Whatever worked was fine with him. That looked to be the Confed point of view as well.

<I wish we didn’t just kill a bunch of them,> he sighed.

Eight marines had surrendered relatively unharmed, when it became clear they couldn’t hold the building. There were another two that were more seriously injured, but thankfully, a bunch of the civilians were doctors. Mostly PhDs, but there were a few MDs there that were dusting off their physician skills after a few decades of non-use, with a healthy assist from their IORs.

There were more than thirty civilians, and if anything, they were a bigger headache than the marines. The head civvy kept yacking about something or other to the LT, like he didn’t even register that a battle had just been fought, and his side lost.

<That’s why the LT gets paid the big bucks,> you couldn’t pay Coop enough to deal with that asshole. He’d rather chill here on the perimeter scanning for anything that might sneak up on them. That’s what he expected of the Confed’s counterattack.

He never expected them to walk right up to them broadcasting in the clear. ‘Right up to them’ was a relative term. Five Confeds came to within five hundred meters of the settlement, waving a legit white flag.

“They could be trying to get intel on our situation here,” the NCOIC was probably right.

The second the marines were disarmed, the civilians processed, and inventory was underway, and available troops were sent to work on repairing entrenchments. It wasn’t going to be too long before the grunts were on the opposite end of the assault. Since the defense had worked so well last time, there was no need to fix what wasn’t broken. They just needed to replace some equipment, and make the place look like it hadn’t been blown to hell. Machines would do most of the work, but people had to manage them.

All that work had ground to a halt when the Confed showed up. The LT wanted to keep his force’s strength and disposition as secret as possible. It was kind of hard with the Confed shuttle on overwatch, but Coop commended the LT’s effort.

“They’re squawking a captain’s code, so I’ll go,” the LT decided. “You keep everyone in line here, sergeant,” he turned to the NCOIC. “Get me three volunteers, and they’ll join me and chief.”

As far as intimidation tactics went, having Coop ride shotgun was the best way to do it. He could take out the four marines and officer easy peasy. With his entourage set, the LT walked out to meet the enemy.

<You’ve got to be shitting me,> Coop didn’t listen to the introductions, he already knew the officer.

“Good to see you again, Coop,” Benjamin Gold gave Coop a smile. “It’s been a while.”

The LT wouldn’t help but look surprised.

“We served together on a gunship,” Coop relayed. “Looks like the split has worked out well for you, captain. Nice bump up in life.”

Ben shrugged. “I don’t want this to get any more out of hand than it already has.”

“A little late for that,” Coop gestured at the battlefield around them. “Kind of too late for take backs.”

“But we don’t have to go any further,” Ben continued. “Your battleship left you. It’ll be at least two days, maybe more before you get reinforced. Do you really want to keep fighting and dying before anyone can get here?”

“My orders are to hold my ground here,” the LT recaptured Ben’s attention.

“I understand,” Ben replied. “But we’ve got more than a battalion’s worth of troops that will come to take our people back. You’ve got a short company. This doesn’t end well.”

The LT’s jaw clenched in frustration. It wasn’t any secret they couldn’t hold this position.

“You’re a good man, Coop. My father has a standing order that if you’re encountered to offer you a spot in the Confederation. We could use good men like you.”

“Well, hell, that’s some diabolical shit, sir,” Coop replied, wary of the eyes on him. “You’ve been here five seconds and you’re sowing discord in the ranks. Tell Papa Gold I’m good.”

Ben held up his hands in surrender, but the damage was already done. The LT now knew that he’d served with a Confed officer, and a Gold at that. Even worse, Coop had an out that none of the other Commonwealth soldiers did. That was less motivation for him to fight in the battle to come. Coop had just gone from a precious asset to a potential liability.

“Think about it,” Gold started to walk away with his guards. “I’ll give you a two hours ceasefire to think it over, lieutenant.”

Conversation over, the Confed delegation walked until they’d put the mountain between them and Coop. The LT didn’t say anything, he just turned and marched back toward camp. By the time they’d arrived, Coop’s access to the Commonwealth command net was revoked.

<What the fuck,> he wanted to chew the LT out, but he couldn’t; that would put him in an even worse position. Now, he just got to go into the next fight deaf, dumb, and blind. That was fucking fantastic.



Two Worlds – Chapter 353

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Perimeter is set, sir,” the company NCOIC was briefing the LT in the shadows thrown by a building, and Coop’s kneeling bulk. “It’s looser than the homecoming queen after the quarterback’s done with her under the bleachers, but it should hold,” that got gruff laughs from the others present. “I’m worried about here and here,” the NCO pointed out two sections of the line. “These men are yellow, and could use a hand.”

“We’ll cover those sectors,” Coop spoke up for him and the other MOUNT.

“Chief, I’d really like to save you for a quick reaction force of some kind,” the LT replied.

“Honestly, sir, this is the make-or-break part of the fight. We either get in and finish this, or they’re going to be able to hold, and we need to beat feet it to those caves I was talking about,” Coop respectfully disagreed. “There is no QRF here. No reserve we can pull from until the rest of your squads and my MOUNTs arrive. We also can’t wait. We have the initiative. The Confeds are on their heels, and they’ve got nowhere to run.”

Coop had a great 3D mapping of the battlefield now that the enemy had been pushed back. The Commonwealth occupied to entire settlement minus the main administration building. It was the biggest structure in the place, and held all the remaining troops and civilians. If they could just bomb it from orbit, or have the Spyder put a nice missile right up its ass, this whole thing would be over and done with. Life just isn’t that easy.

“Assault force is staged here,” the NCO continued. Like Coop, he knew they needed to hustle.

The MOUNTs were no good in this situation. They were too big to get into the building unless the LT wanted Coop to play Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots with the place’s structural integrity. Coop and the SGT would have to sit the assault out, while the LT threw everything but the kitchen sink and the guys necessary to hold the perimeter at the Confeds.

Everyone looking at the 3D projection knew this was a risky bet. The Confeds had proven extremely competent. Their weapons and armor were better, and the only way the Commonwealth grunts had come out on top so far were their superior numbers and attached armored cavalry.

“They’ll have heavy weapons set up in a crossfire here and here,” they were lucky enough to have the blueprints to the building. The Confed’s hadn’t been able to get rid of everything when they scrubbed their servers.

“Which is why we aren’t going in through the front door,” the LT confirmed.

<Thank sweet baby Jesus,> the LT had defied expectations for the typical shavetail, but you never know when he wouldn’t be overcome by some grand idea that officers get right before they get a bunch of people killed. For Coop, this just confirmed the LT knew his shit.

“Charges will go here, here, and here,” the NCO and LT continued to game out the coming breach, while Coop turned his attention to the troop’s readiness. The SGTs would be on top of it, but it was better to have a log of the chief checking in on you than the LT. Especially, with his reputation.

The men were hurting. Close to half were KIA or too wounded to fight. That still gave them a good ratio against the Confeds, but he already knew that didn’t mean shit. About a third of the remaining men had some type of injury, so the number of green, good-to-go grunts was no bueno. He wanted to make sure they had the will left for one more fight. It isn’t always numbers and medical statuses that win battles. Morale was a big deal, and it was up to NCOs, and chiefs like him, to ensure the troops were still ready to fight.

Things were looking good until a blared warning from his suit made him turtle protectively. “Incoming!” someone yelled, and for a few critical seconds no one had any idea what the fuck was going on.

It sounded like god himself was cutting the cheese. There was a loud boom as what could only be an orbital energy weapons struck down from the heavens and sliced through the atmosphere. Compared to that, the Spyder carrying the rest of troops, MOUNTs, supplies, ammo, you name it; exploding was pretty anticlimactic.

“Motherfucker,” the NCOIC started cursing up a storm, but he was smart enough to keep it on the command channel.

The loss of everything was a tactical nightmare, but it also meant morale took a header down the shitter at the worst possible time. They were early, but the Confed navy was back; which meant the grunts were out of time. They needed to take the last building yesterday.

“Chief . . .”

“On it, sir,” Coop marched to the perimeter. “Three-sixty security, people, keep those eyes sharp for any rabbits.”

Coop would have put money on the Confeds using the orbital fire as a chance to attempt a breakout. He expected heavy weapon’s fire to cut a hole in the perimeter so they could make it to the mountains and disappear until their friends arrived. Of course, Coop and the SGT would be there to spill their guts all over this alien ball of rock. So, maybe it wasn’t much a surprise when the Confeds didn’t burst from their hiding place. They’d proved competent in every way so far.

“We’re going in sixty seconds,” the LT sent as he joined the assault team.

As one, they moved forward under the cover of the MOUNTs’ guns. They found whatever segment of the building they planned to breach, placed the charges, and blew them in short order. They rushed inside, and soon, the sounds of gunfire and screams echoed though Coop’s speakers.

<Well, this sucks,> all he could do was sit here with his thumb up his ass until this was over.


Eve Berg

Location: Alamo, Equatorial Sector, Lone Star System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Eve slowly backed out of the room. Emily was finally down. She had the next few hours to herself, and all she wanted was to take a bath and take a nap. She crept down the hallway, like the slightest creak of the floorboard would wake her daughter; because it would. Emily was a terribly light sleeper, and the last thing Eve wanted was peace and quiet ripped away from her.

She’d learned early on to silence her IOR, all notification messages from the apartment AI, and especially the auto-close feature on the door. The little whoosh noise the door made when it sealed woke the baby up every time.

She hadn’t even made it halfway down the hallway when a priority message bypassed all her presets and made a racket. There was a screech in her head and lights blinking in her optic nerve. Lights flashed in the house as the AI went batshit trying to grab her attention; and, of course, a piercing cry came from the room she’d just left.

“What the fuck do you want?” she picked up the call without looking at the ID. “I swear to everything holy in this universe that if someone isn’t dying, I will personally rip off your balls and shove it down your throat!”

“My ex-wife would join you in a heartbeat, Chief Warrant Officer Berg,” a man’s face with Commander bars on his shoulder gave her a tired look.

Usually, when a mere CW2 told an O3 she was going to do destructive things to his testicles, there was getting busted in rank and forfeited pay involved. Judging by the look on the CMDR’s face, he had bigger issues.

“This is an immediate recall chief,” he continued.

“Sir, I’m still on maternity leave. I don’t have anyone . . .”

“An MWR nanny has already been dispatched, and will be there in ninety seconds. Your orders are being forwarded now. There’s trouble, and we need you to lead a team to get some of our boys and girls out of trouble.

“Sir, I’ve got a little girl right here who needs me,” it was the first time she’d ever put something in front of being a soldier.

“I’m sorry, Chief,” the guy must have kids, because they shared an identical look. “CWS Pride of Summer sent out a distress beacon. They need help. Their infantry landing part is . . .”

She didn’t watch the rest. She was already moving. Summer was Derrick’s ship, and he’d been deployed on last-minute orders. Coop had also been sent away with no warning. Despite the secret nature of their orders, it didn’t take a genius to put two and two together. She might love her little girl, but she loved her brother and her man.

<I’ve got to go fix their mess,> she had her go bag over her shoulder when a harried-looking, elderly woman arrived eighty-six seconds later.

“Sorry,” Eve pointed over her shoulder in the direction of the crying baby.

The woman just nodded and Eve was out the door. It didn’t even cross her mind, she might not see her little girl ever again.



Two Worlds – Chapter 352

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

The Confeds had a fire team caught in a crossfire. Coop didn’t know how the team leader walked into that one, and it really didn’t matter. All that did matter was that one grunt was dead, another injured, and the rest were huddled under a dwindling shield that was going to give out at any second.

<Bad day to be them,> he grunted as he looked over his options.

Per the LT’s request, he couldn’t just blow the enemy to hell. They’d set up on top of one of the compound’s buildings. That told him a lot about the enemy’s stealth gear; namely, it was better than the Commonwealth’s.

<Is everything they have better than ours?> he growled.

The LT had drones out, Spyders were flying overhead, and the most obvious place to look for an ambush was on top of the roof where a bunch of marines could fire at you in defilade. All of those eyes on that space, and they still didn’t spot the trap. That said a lot about the enemy.

Still, and it was a long shot, but the fire team leader might just suck. Coop had been with enough units, and fought enough battles, that he knew some officers, NCOs, and grunts just sucked at their jobs. Hell, Murphy could have set up this whole situation. Coop could see it now. The LT thought the Spyders had cleared the area. The Spyders thought the LT had it covered, and the team leader was a CPL who just put on his second chevron. Coop knew firsthand that more and more of the squad-level NCOs were as fresh as a never-been-kissed version. It was likely someone who’d never been in the shit would miss something like that.

<Technology is great, but you’ve got to know how to use it,” he thought. It was the same with the size of the ocean, motion of the boat, or something like that. If you didn’t know how to use it, you were fucked.

It was Coop’s job to unfuck them without leveling the building and taking out all the nice marines and possible civilians that would make up their human shield once shit went sideways. He didn’t have some brilliant idea of how to neutralize the Confed marines while keeping everyone all safe and cozy. He just walked out into the crossfire, and used his bulk to shield the beleaguered fireteam.

“Move!” he snapped at the CPL when they didn’t immediately seek better cover. “Do you need me to call you a cab?” he shook his head inside the metal war machine, and turned to the Confeds.

He had to give credit where credit was due. The guys and gals that broke away from the Commonwealth had balls; big, heavy balls. The building only came up to my MOUNT’s shoulders, so he was literally looking down at them. If anything, they took advantage of that. Heavy rounds started to punch into the shield right in front of his face.

<So that’s where you’ve been hiding them,> he grinned.

So far, they hadn’t encountered many heavy weapons. It made sense to hold them in reserve for some final defensive position, but the enemy commander obviously wanted to try and take an enemy MOUNT out of the fight. The problem was, there was no way a heavy machine gun, energy or projectile, was going to scratch a MOUNT’s paint. There had to be more to it.

Thankfully, he was already on high alert, when the AI beeped a warning. The alert was something he’d custom programmed into the armor based on his experience. If this was a fresh pilot, and not a season veteran, they’d get a chance to see if the rocket moving at supersonic rates actually had a chance at penetrating the MOUNT’s shield and armor.

<Maybe next time,> systems designed to control a MOUNT’s flight path during an orbital drop – yeah, you could drop one of these babies from a starship in orbit with all the shield capacity they had – fired and propelled Coop out of the way.

At the same time, EW systems started blaring to confuse the incoming ordinance. If he’d had more space to work with, the swatter would have engaged, but this was a close-ranged attempt to off him. The difference would have been the swatter maybe knocking the rocket out of the sky. Instead, there was a hiss boom and Coop’s sensors whited out for a second to compensate.

Shield power dropped on his left flank, but only to three-quarters power. Whatever had exploded had been big, but nowhere near big enough to kill with a near miss. On the other hand, the building was not so lucky; which meant the Confed marines were shit out of luck.

“Report!” the LT’s voice yelled over TACCOM.

“It wasn’t me,” Coop fired back, as bits of construction material, and people started to rain down around him.

He sent the sensor data to back him up, which explained the new ordinance. A bomb-pumped laser closely followed by a bomb bomb. It was meant to be a one-two punch strong enough to get a shield down and do some damage. AI said the jury was still out on it being enough to damage a MOUNT, but it had backtracked the angle of attack to a position outside the settlement. A micro-missile went off to whoever fired the weapon.

Coop was still waiting on a battle damage assessment when he got orders to reposition. The LT had located the enemy HQ in the settlement, and they were tightening the noose. The Confed’s were falling back, and the loss of the heavy weapon and rocket-propelled laser bomb was going to hurt them.

Coop barely even registered that he’d been within a dozen meters of possibly dying. It didn’t even crossed his mind. This was all in a day in the life of the Commonwealth infantry.


Benjamin Gold

Location: CCIWS Stakeholder’s Views, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Get me a sitrep,” Ben’s foot hit the ground like a jackhammer. It was easy to forget how big he was until he put his weight behind something.

A1 was settling into orbit, and the AI was getting a rundown of everything that had happened. The marines’ short-range nodes should hit the databanks any second, and then . . .

Data started to spit onto the holo-tank. It wasn’t good. Sixty percent of the marines were dead, another ten were WIA. That ratio was usually reversed, so that told you just how fierce, and deadly, modern ground combat had become. Even worse, there wasn’t much Ben could do from all the way up here.

“I want the battlefield on the holo-tank, now,” he ordered.

It took a couple minutes to happen, but when all the systems were linked up, and protections against viruses put in place, a 3D rendering of the settlement came into focus. His staff gathered around him to brainstorm, but there was a reason they were naval officers and not marines.

The big difference was the scope. Every single weapon on A1, which had nothing on the battlecruisers still en route, and might as well be spitballs compared to the Collie’s battleship, were just too damned big to engage the enemy.

“Still too close,” they ran simulation after simulation of virtual fire support strikes, and every one of them came back with them basically blowing the whole settlement to hell.

Whoever the Commonwealth commander was, he’d done the smart thing to get in close.

“Sir,” tactical’s voice was brighter than usual as she zoomed out and brought up a wider view of the area. “We’ve got an enemy Spyder inbound for the settlement. If we move fast, we can . . .”

“Guns?” Ben was way ahead of her. “Can you do it?”

“Thread the needle? Absolutely, sir,” the chief looked back with a grin. “Give me a minute.”

“You’ve got twenty seconds.”

That was probably being too generous. The bird was moving fast. The gunnery department had to plot the route, decide what the best weapon would be, prime the weapon, aim the weapon, take into all the mathematical equations necessary to adjust for a weapon going through the atmosphere, and only then could they fire.

By Ben’s count, it was twenty-three seconds when the chief came back to him. “Ready to fire on your order, sir.”

Ben didn’t hesitate. “Fire.” He just hoped no one had misplaced a decimal point somewhere.



Two Worlds – Chapter 351

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Unnamed Planet, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Clear,” the SGT’s voice echoed over TACCOM.

Coop had been watching his battle buddy closely. The MOUNT was hard to miss passing over the battlefield. Currently, the big metal war machine was standing at the last trench before the settlement itself. The trench had been torn apart, with large gouges dug into the earth around it. After seeing what happened to the last grunt squad that made it into the trench, the SGT might have gone a little overboard. Not two minutes ago, he’d fired his next gen accelerator into the center of the trench.

That triggered the mines, and boom. It looked like some angry monster had torn the earth apart in a rage. Not that anyone in the Commonwealth attack force gave a shit. If there were Confed marines in the mix, all the better.

“Moving,” the LT and the main body of what was left of his people started moving forward.

Coop kept his missiles primed, and accelerator scanning for targets. While the force was moving across the open ground, they were vulnerable. As everyone had learned today, shields didn’t stop people from dying, they just made it harder to kill or be killed.

No shot rang out off the mountain walls as the troops moved forward, and Coop brought up the ass of the formation. The battle wasn’t over yet. They still had the enemy settlement to get through. It wasn’t much. A few clusters of prefabbed buildings, but that almost made it worse. If they were operating in the mountains, or even a city, the MOUNTs would be able to operate with impunity. With small, flimsy buildings, the grunts would be taking the lead. After what he’d seen of the Confed marines, that wasn’t a recipe for success.

“Get me full-spectrum scans,” the LT was saying when Coop joined him at the modified command post the LT had set up.

It basically consisted of the young officer standing in the SGT’s shadow, in a one-meter hole, talking with his NCOIC, while the communications specialist hauling the node made sure he was well inside the command group’s shield radius.

“I want to know where they are so we can fix them in place and finish them,” the LT continued. “Assign your heavy weapons where you think they’ll do us the most good.”

“Yes, sir,” the NCO headed away, and Coop squatted down next to the LT. He was still a head taller than the man.

“What’s the next play, sir,” Coop asked.

“We’ve got to go door to door and smoke them out. We’ve probably already taken down half their force, but we want to minimize casualties if we can,” there was something else in his voice Coop couldn’t totally place, but the LT didn’t make him wait for it.

Summer was hit bad upstairs,” the officer pointed up. “They had to retreat and call for reinforcements from Alamo.”

“Motherfucker,” it didn’t take Coop long to do the math on that.

“How long?”

“Last we heard, about six hours until the closest Confed vessel can make orbit and send down their own reinforcements.”

Coop nodded. “So, we’ve got a few hours to take this place, grab a few hostages, and have our human shields in place before the roles in all this get reversed.”

“Chief, we’re Commonwealth infantry. We don’t take human shields,” the LT’s voice was hard.

“Of course, sir,” Coop nodded, but knew full well the LT was full of shit.

When reports were written, they’d dress it up all nice and call it something like securing valuable resources and leverage to counter enemy movement in the area of operations; but it was essentially the same thing. They’d fight here, take the civilians and whatever marines were left alive hostage, and use them to make sure the Confed’s didn’t bomb their little force to dust.

“There is another option, sir,” Coop spoke up.

His job, as much as the NCOIC’s, was to alert the young officer to possibilities he might not have discovered yet.

“What?” the man’s voice told Coop he was desperately trying to figure out a way out of the shit they were all about to be hip deep in.

“We scamper,” Coop stated plainly. “We’ve got Spyders circling. We call them down, load everyone up, and get find somewhere to lie low. I doubt the brass back at Alamo are going to take this shitshow lying down. They’ll send an entire squadron of battleships when they realize how bad the fighting has been. We find a nice cave, eat the MREs stored in the Spyder for a few days, and wait this out. No one else has to die, and if we move fast enough, the enemy will never find us.”

The last part was true. However, advanced their tech might be, if the Commonwealth shut everything down and hid in a big cave somewhere, the Confed’s would never find them. This wasn’t a big planet, but it was still a fucking planet. It’s not easy to search this much space on the ground, and the Confed’s wouldn’t have the troops to do it anyway.

The LT was quiet for several seconds; chewing it over. Then, he was a typical LT mistake. “We have our orders. We’re to take this compound. We’ve got a few hours to do it, and then we’ll have a solid negotiating position.”

“Stupid,” Coop shook his head inside the armor.

Orders were always subject to change based on the situation on the ground, and it was so like a naval officer to forget to radio down to the ground pounders about change of missions as they ran for their lives.

“Damnit, Derrick,” the little shit was going to get Coop killed, and a bunch of good grunts as well.

“At least get the reserves moving, sir,” Coop pressed.

There were a couple of squads and half the MOUNT squadron back at the FOB they’d quickly established. It would take them time to hump it to the settlement, but they could have the Spyders swoop in, and pick them up quickly.

“We could use them here, and its better to have our forces consolidated when the Confeds come calling,” Coop pressed.

“You’re right,” the LT nodded, and started sending messages over TACCOM. Coop could access them if he wanted, but there were other things happening.

A loud explosion echoed from the far side of the settlement, and small arms fire started to ping around a few of the positions where grunts had taken cover.

“They’re destroying servers so we don’t get any data on their operations,” the NCOIC announced.

Coop gave zero fucks about some server farm with mineral ratios and shit like that. He cared about the people shooting at him, their fields of fire, the ordinance they could bring down on his head, and the friends they were going to bring to the party in a few hours.

A few rounds pinged off his shield, but it only dropped a percentage point or two. He kept his attention on his scanners, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Whoever the enemy commander was, he was as wily as a fox, and Coop hadn’t been able to predict what he was going to do next. Coop wasn’t arrogant enough to think he was going to miraculously pull something out of his ass now.


Benjamin Gold

Location: CCIWS Stakeholder’s Views, Contested System, Unaligned Space

“Are we clear?” Ben asked as he studied his holo-tank.

“Another twenty minutes and we should be out of their hypothesized maximum engagement envelope,” tactical informed.

In twenty minutes, he would breathe a sigh of relief, but it was only the beginning. His marines were still on the ground, fighting for their lives, and likely dying. Twenty minutes to get out of their engagement envelope, and several hours to get back into orbit; he had a decision to make.

“Start making for the planet now, least time course,” he ordered.

Spacers who’d been starting to relax felt the pucker factor reassert itself. “Sir?”

“Do it, they’re running, and won’t waste the missiles. We’ll see plenty of their friends soon enough, but they want to get to a safe distance and affect repairs. We’ve got to start worrying about our people on the surface. If we wait twenty minutes, that’ll add more than an hour to our return time. We turn back now, we can help sooner,” Ben explained. Then added, “Last time I checked, I wasn’t asking for your approval. Get it done.”

“Yes, sir,” came the chorus of responses as people made it happen.

Ben saw his holo-tank blink with an incoming message as soon as their course changed. He’d deal with the task force commander, but he wasn’t going to wait to get back to his marines.

If he didn’t, the fight would be over by the time they go there.