Two Worlds – Chapter 216

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop stepped through the rotating door and had to give his eyes a moment to adjust. The street, despite being night time, was brightly lit. Half of that was due to the moons in the sky, while the other half were the street lights blazing. The only difference between night and day was that the humidity had been cut in half. The owners of the Oasis must have had a keen sense of the environment outside, because the inside of their establishment was dimly lit and intimate.

As the door rotated shut behind Coop and Mike, the hustle and bustle of the outside world was abruptly cut off. Inside, it was replaced with the sounds of trickling water, laughter, and soothing tones. Coop felt his tense shoulders instinctually relax, as pleasant aromas wafted through the air around him. They added to the relaxation, while at the same time giving him a half-chub.

<That’s a solid business plan,> he thought as he took a few more steps inside the building. <Get your clientele horny right off the bat and you know they’ll pay.>

Coop only made it a few steps before another man, not as big as the bouncers outside, but infinitely better dressed, blocked their way. Standing next to the man was a beautiful woman dressed in a short, tight skirt that drew the eye almost as much as the blouse straining against her chest. She wore glasses, that Coop was sure she didn’t actually need, and had two metal pins sticking out of the messy bun she’d tied her hair up in. Her look screamed sexy assistant.

“Thank you for purchasing our visitor’s pass, gentleman.” The man smiled in a way only an expert salesmen could. “Since you are not members of our exclusive establishment, I’m going to have to review a few rules and regulations.”

<No touchy without paying.> Coop guessed because he’d heard that one before.

“We take the confidentiality of our members very seriously, so I’m going to have to ask you both to surrender your PADs.” The gentleman kept on smiling as the sexy assistant held out a box, which Coop was sure had electromagnetic shielding. “If you wish to become members, and submit to the necessary background checks, then you will be more than welcome to carry your PADs on future visits.”

As the PADs were their only line of communication to the outside world, Coop was hesitant to give them up, but he didn’t let the guy know that. “You’ve got a great place here,” Coop said instead as he placed his PAD in the box. The assistant gave him a smoldering look as he did so.

“Thank you, gentlemen. Now just one more thing…” the man took a step back while the woman pulled a compact sniffer from her belt. What happened next was the most pleasurable search Coop had even been through. The way the woman pressed herself against him and Mike as she patted them down and wanded them for contraband was clearly designed to get them hot and bothered. The routine benefitted the establishment twofold. First, because it enforced tight security, and second, because it probably got people to spend more money than they usually would.

<Yep, there is no other reason for her to do that.> Coop melted a little when she cupped his nuts during the pat down.

The sexy assistant gave a quick nod to the salesmen, and he gave them a smile. “Enjoy the Oasis, gentlemen. Please do not hesitate to call if you need anything. My name is Cameron, and I’m here to work for you.”

<I want someone else to work on me.> Coop caught the sexy assistant’s eye as she turned to leave.

She returned the look by batting her eyelashes, but Coop doubted the nine grand he had left was going to be enough to secure her company. He sighed as they walked away, but that meant he could turn his full attention to the surroundings. He knew the SGM would be yelling at him about situational awareness now, so Coop made sure to map the place in his mind.

<Entrances and exits,> Coop started by identifying multiple ways he could get the hell out of there if shit hit the fan. <Threats.> He counted half a dozen armed men scattered around the large lobby area. The bulge in their pants wasn’t the same as Coop’s. If Coop had to guess, these guys were given some counteracting agent to keep the aromatherapy from getting to them. You couldn’t pull security if you had a one track mind. <You can counteract the chemicals, but there isn’t much you can do about that.> As Coop walked deeper into the lobby, a central fountain came into view.

To call it a fountain wasn’t the best way to put it. It wasn’t some gaudy modernist construction, or memorial to some fallen hero or battlefield. This fountain looked more like a vertical coral reef. Coop only thought of it as a fountain because there was water coming out of the top and draining downward.

The structure had been carved in such a way that there were multiple pools where water collected along its height, and the Oasis, being what it was, barely clad men and women of excellent physical prowess splashed in those pools.

<And here is their version of a catalog of goods.> Coop admired the sight, but kept an eye on the security surrounding the place. Just like he thought, and despite the securities’ immunity to the chemicals in the air, a hot woman’s ass in a thong just couldn’t be ignored by anyone.

“Pick your jaw up, Mike.” Coop elbowed his battle buddy in the ribs. The big guy was gawking at two women splashing each other and giggling in a pool at his eye level.

The exaggerated way they threw their wet hair over their shoulders, and smiled out into the lobby, confirmed to Coop it was an act, but he had more practice in this arena than Mike. The girls were wearing enough to leave something to the imagination, but were sufficiently skimpy to show prospective customers a taste of what they could look forward to.

Coop snapped his finger and another well-dressed man appeared at his side. “How much?” Coop pointed at the women who still held Mike’s attention.

“Our basic package begins at six thousand an hour for Ms. Carmen’s company. She is a skilled masseur, therapist, and yogi. She is available to attend to all of your needs.” The salesman looked from Coop, to Mike, and then back up to the ladies in the pool who were now staring directly at them.

“If your friend would like the pleasurable company of Ms. Carmen and Ms. Jasmine, that will cost fifteen thousand an hour. Any skill that Ms. Carmen may not have mastered, I can assure you Ms. Jasmine has.”

As the man spoke, the two women waded through the hip deep water toward the edge of their little pool. One was wearing a white bikini while the other was wearing a black, lacey thing. Coop could practically see the three of them together right now. Their gig would be opposites: pleasure and pain, an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. One would massage your tired body while the other handcuffed and whipped you. He bet they were worth every cent of the fifteen grand the guy was asking, and he was tempted to pay it.

“My buddy here will take the basic package with Ms. Carmen.” Coop gave Mike a pat on the back. “You deserve it,” he grinned at his bigger friend when Mike turned to him with wide eyes. “You saved our ass on that last test, and that let us hit our deadline. Without you, we’d all be working overtime without pay right now to catch up.” Coop wove elements of their cover story into his statement, but didn’t have to talk for long.

The salesman had waved Ms. Carmen over at Coop’s instance, and her graceful approach occupied Mike’s full attention. <Lucky bastard.> Coop watched the water drip from her mocha skin, and the sway of her hips as she approached. <Have fun.>

Ms. Carmen didn’t have to say anything. She just took Mike by the hand, and accepted the key from the salesman who muttered, “Room six.”

Coop looked up to the rings of rooms around the central fountain that went up several stories. He saw room six on the second floor, and made a mental note of it. He tried not to pay too much attention as Ms. Carmen led Mike in and closed the door.

<Ok,> Coop took a deep breath, got control, and continued to scan the room.

Now that they were in the belly of the beast, it was better to have Mike getting his rocks off than surveilling the area with him. The Oasis wasn’t exactly a place that buzzed with activity. Two men walking around casing the area would stand out. One guy looking around who had a buddy in a room was much less conspicuous. As such, Coop headed over to the bar at the far end of the room. Smartly dessed men and women chatted up the clients while sipping beverages from all over the galaxy.

Every working man and woman in the joint was attractive. You couldn’t be in this high-end business and not be sexually appealing. If Coop had to guess, the people at the bar were the less expensive options. The women and men in the fountain’s pools were the people the management was pushing. <And at six grand an hour…> Ms. Carmen was making more in a night than Coop made in a year.

Coop stopped doing the math because it was just going to depress him. Instead, he focused back on the mission. He was here to see if the New Savannah Liberation Movement had people here. Either people injured during the multiple raids executed by the SRRT, or just people in general. Someone could always be here and claim they weren’t at the scene while an attack was taking place. That didn’t make them any less guilty in Coop’s eyes. Coop and the rest of the team had memorized pictures of the high-ranking members, so he spent some time ordering a drink and scanning the bar.

Most of the people at the bar looked like the wealthy who were stepping out on wives or girlfriends, or people who were single, ready to mingle, and just had more money than they knew what to do with. There was one guy at the bar who held himself like a soldier, and looked like he could take a few of the guards in the place before he was gunned down, so Coop only gave him a quick glance. He didn’t match anyone Coop new in the liberation movement, but Coop kept the man in his peripherals just in case something went down.

“Hey there, Honey!” A woman sauntered up slid into a seat next to him. The way she kicked out her leg, showed plenty of skin, and crossing them was meant to draw the eye, and bring out the wallet.

Coop smiled and let her do all the talking. That was the beauty of the moment. He was one of a limited pool of customers who’d show the financial wherewithal to be in the building. Usually, Coop was competing for the strippers’ attention at the local joints. This was a refreshing change of pace. The only problem was that these people were professionals. They could tell when they didn’t have your full attention.

“It was nice talking to you, Honey.” The woman stood there expectantly for a few seconds until Coop tipped her a hundred bucks. He didn’t want to get a reputation as cheap.

A few minutes after the woman departed a man approached. “Hey there, Honey.”

Apparently, Coop was getting a different type of reputation.

“Sorry, not my type.” Coop quickly fended him off, but still tipped him. It wasn’t the guy’s fault. He’d been sent over to meet a need that management thought was not being met.

The guy gave him a thank you nod and headed off, which left Coop alone again.

“We don’t usually see people drinking alone here,” the bartender, a cute strawberry blonde, stated as she sprayed an expensive-looking glass with a nano-spray that cleansed it at the molecular level.

“I’m more here with a friend to make sure he had a good time.” Coop shrugged. “But I’ll take another drink and your name.”

“Janice,” the woman smiled as she poured him another customized beer from the row of taps.

“Ok, Janice the Bartender. What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?”

The woman blushed, and was about to respond, but a commotion behind them caught everyone’s attention.

“Son of a bitch… get off…I paid for… I’m gonna kick your ass…” the complained curses were cut off with the familiar sound of a fist striking flesh.

Coop looked over his shoulder to see a half-dressed man doubled over and coughing up blood. He was coming out of room seven, right next to Mike, and had two guards holding him by the shoulder. One was removing his fist from the guy’s gut, as they started to drag the man away.

“Harsh.” Coop grunted as he turned back around to Janice.

“This is a professional place. Management doesn’t mess around.” She topped off his glass.

“Who is management?” Coop asked casually. Janice clamed up immediately, and Coop saw he’d over played his hand. “I’m just looking to see how much it would take to become a permanent member. If I could talk to you every night it might be worth it.” He recovered smoothly.

Janice sighed with relief. “I’m not sure what the membership fee is, but I don’t always work the bar.” Her eyes darted to the rooms and back to him. “I’m not cheap though.”

“Everything seems worth it here,” Coop grinned back.                          

Coop continued to chat with Janice for the rest of Mike’s hour. He tried to gently milk her for info, see what her motivations for working here where, where her loyalties lie, and what her likes and dislikes were. Coop never knew if he would need to go back undercover, so he wanted to be ready if he ever came back.

When Mike emerged from room six, he looked like he’d just won the lottery. Coop gave Janice a four hundred dollar tip for her time, and went to meet him. The way the rooms were built into the building was in a circular pattern wrapping around the central atrium with the fountain in the center. To get from room one to six, Coop had to walk in a circle passed the other five rooms. Mike met him halfway in front of room three.

“Looks like someone got lucky.” Coop wiggled his eyebrows. Mike just couldn’t stop smiling.

“Fuck the budget. That six grand was totally worth it.” Ms. Carmen hadn’t exited yet, and Coop contemplated switching off surveillance duties with Mike. Two set of eyes were better than one after all, but they were interrupted by the door to room three opening.

“…get something to eat while you’re at it!” A voice called out behind a woman exiting.

The woman, like all the others was breathtaking. Her sun-kissed skin was slightly damp with sweat that made her gleam. She had a white robe on, but the robe was cut obscenely short, and created a V at the chest which showed off a significant amount of cleavage.

Coop, Mike, and the woman all looked at each other in surprise, which was normal when someone unexpectedly enter your personal space. Mike shrugged it off and politely took a step back, but Coop and the woman didn’t move. Something tickled Coop’s memory. The woman’s face resembled something; he just couldn’t put his finger on it.

The woman had a similar look of confusion on her face. “Have we…?”

They both froze and stood their speechless for a moment, and then, simultaneously, both of their eyebrows spiked nearly into their hairlines.

“Hailey?!” Coop was excited, but had a lot of questions. The first being how the hell she got out of the PHA.

Hailey, on the other hand, didn’t share the same reaction. “Help!” she yelled before she lashed out in a front kick, caught Coop in the upper chest, and sent him flying over the railing behind him.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 215

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Look, shit-for-brains,” Coop took a deep breath and stopped himself from reaching out and throttling the uniformed man in front of him, “I’m not asking for you to unravel the mysteries of the universe here. I’m just inquiring where an injured criminal would go to seek medical attention and lay low. That’s all.”

“And as I have said before,” the policeman’s face was beat red, “that is not a simple question.”

Coop had been going back and forth with the sterling example of New Savanah law enforcement for the past fifteen minutes, and it was going nowhere. That about summed up Coop’s life since he cleared the house above the second weapons cache and called in the cavalry. The only problem was that the cavalry had tried to kill him when arriving.

Apparently, whoever dispatched the cops didn’t let them know what had occurred and who was already on site. When the cops showed up, they naturally started screaming and demanding that the man dressed in black armor with a submachine gun to get on his knees and surrender. Coop being Coop told them to go fuck themselves. No shots were exchanged from Coop’s end, but the cops had taken their shots. One had clipped Coop’s armor, but other than that, they’d had the equivalent of a hostage situation for ten minutes before the higher ups got their shit together. Even though the brass smoothed everything over, that didn’t mean everything was copacetic on the ground. After all, someone had taken a shot at Coop, and if Coop guessed who, it was the world’s most obnoxious cop standing right in front of him.

“Can I please talk to someone who doesn’t have their head firmly secured in their own ass?” Coop’s exasperation got the best of him, as he called out to anyone within earshot.

“Stand down,” a familiar voice called out as a second soccer-mom van pulled up, and the SGM exited with the rest of Bravo Team. Everyone’s face was obscured by their helmet, but Coop knew that voice anywhere.

The cop looked like a days-old pimple, ready to pop, but the SGM flashed something holographic at him, which readjusted his attitude right away.

“What can I do for you, sir?” The cop immediately became professional.

“You’ve got to be shitting me. What…” rough hands interrupted Coop and pulled him away. “That just ain’t right.” Were Coop’s last words as a hulking figure, that could only be Mike, led him to the edge of the cordon the local PD had in place around the weapons cache. A second perimeter was established at the first house Alpha Team originally raided, and a third at the exit point where Eve and GYSGT Cunningham were holding down the fort.

“Brief me on what happened,” Mike asked once they’d put enough distance between them and any eavesdroppers.

“Brief you?” Coop scoffed. “Since when do you need to be briefed?”

“Come on, dude.” Mike groaned. “Sergeant Major trusted me to get a full briefing on Alpha Team’s mission. Don’t buddy fuck me here.”

The last thing Coop wanted was to be a blue falcon. “Fine,” he took a deep breath. “We made entry at the first site down that way,” Coop pointed to the subtle blue and red lights flashing in the distance. We took out the lookout in the guard tower first before breaching the front door. The plans on file with the city didn’t match with what we saw, but we went about clearing the rooms one by one. The enemy had employed jamming technology, so we couldn’t get a SITREP out until we were finished. We had four KIA in the first house, while taking three prisoners. Those three might be WIA because we were a little rough after they tried to kill us.” Coop conveniently left out the part where he nearly put his boot through a guy’s chest. He was sure that part would come up in the after action review with the rest of the team. “The Gunney nearly cut a guy’s head off who took a shot at us with a plasma cannon in the tunnel between house one and two. He was definitely a KIA, which gives us five total. In the second weapons cache I took down one while Eve and the Gunney took down another three. There were no prisoners there. Those guys were meant to kill us, and if they didn’t succeed, stall us so the others could get away.” Coop made sure to gloss over the guy from the bar whose face he’d shot so it resembled pudding, rather than a human being, and then shot his GIC off. “So that leaves us with a grand total of nine dead tangos and three possibly wounded prisoners as far as I know. The Gunney and Eve could have taken down more guys at the third location. I just cleared the second house and didn’t find anyone else.”

Mike didn’t say anything through the briefing, and only nodded when he was done. “Ok, I’ve got it all down. Anything else?”

“Yeah, the local cops are morons. I asked where a possibly injured bad guy would go to lay low, and they’re acting like I’m asking them to solve some gravitational equation. I’m just trying to follow up on possible leads. That is their job after all. I’m just trying to help.”

That wasn’t totally the truth. Coop didn’t take kindly to people shooting at him, and even worse, getting away with it. His goal was partially out of self-interest. If he killed the guy trying to kill him, while the other guy was injured, then that other guy couldn’t try to kill Coop because he’d be dead. The fact that it lined up with their mission was a happy coincidence.

“Noted,” Mike replied professionally.

“Noted?” Coop mocked his friend’s serious tone. Mike’s attitude was disturbing Coop just as much as the insurgents who tried to put a bullet in his ass.

“Just…” Mike exhaled. “I’m trying to make a good impression on the Sergeant Major. Guy’s a fucking legend. I’ve been talking to Sullivan about their last mission. He said the Sergeant Major led a covert strike in a Blockie PDC, during an invasion, and was able to blow up a ton of shit so the regular grunts could take the base.”

Coop had heard the story from a different perspective. “Is this the same mission where Sullivan got fucked up and Eve had to carry his ass to safety?”

“Umm…maybe. Sully didn’t…”

“Everyone on me.” The SGM’s voice cut off their conversation, and they quickly reconsolidated with the rest of Bravo Team.

“This just in from Alpha.” The SGM shared a link with the rest of the team that showed them video footage of Eve and the GYSGT clearing some type of factory. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much clearing to be done. Most of the workers had already scattered, and it was easy to see why. Two bodies were located on a straight-line path between the tunnel’s end and the building’s exit. One of the bodies was completely missing a head, while the other just had a giant chunk removed and a quart of brain matter on the ground beside him.

<That’s another two KIA, which gives us almost a dozen for the mission.> Coop was fine with that. It was eleven less bad guys to fire surface-to-air missiles at politicians that resulted in the burning of an innocent Coop with those politicians’ vehicle’s missile countermeasures.

“S2 is already reviewing satellite footage, but so far hasn’t found anything fleeing the factory during the target time period. However, witnesses claim a second, unknown group was onsite, and took two people captive.”

“So why isn’t there any footage?” Mike asked.

“Because the other side has tech to throw off our satellites,” Coop answered without thinking. “Or there are more tunnels.”

“A search of the premises shows no more tunnels, so it’s likely we’re dealing with another sophisticated enemy. Luckily, that narrows our suspect list.” The SGM reached behind his back and produced two sets of civilian smartcloth. He tossed one to Coop, and the other to Mike. “Get in the van and get changed. We’ll drop you a few blockes from the target establishment and it’s your mission to gain entry and recon for a possible raid.”

“Sergeant Major, if you don’t mind me asking, why us?” Coop wanted the entire picture before sticking his neck out…again. He still had his gelcast on, and was technically still on light duty.

<That didn’t matter with the first raid, and I doubt it will now.> Coop knew that much.

“I don’t mind.” The SGM surprised Coop with his answer. Coop thought he was going to be told to go pound sand. “Cooper, from what I hear, you have plenty of practice at this.”

<What?> Again, it wasn’t the answer Coop expected, but it was all he got.

Ten minutes later, Coop had changed into the provided casual civvies, and being driven through downtown New Savannah with an uncomfortable Mike right beside him. They were both a little worried. The SGM’s cryptic message didn’t help. It didn’t matter if Coop had done it before if he didn’t know what it was. Whatever it was, he wasn’t going to be able to be a Commonwealth soldier, so he needed to be someone else. When it came to being someone else the devil was in the details.

“So we’re brothers?” Mike asked.

“Cousins,” Coop corrected. “We don’t look enough alike to be brothers.”

“Ok,” Mike nodded and took a breath. Despite all his experience in the PHA and military, it quickly became obvious Mike didn’t have a knack for subterfuge. On paper, Coop didn’t either.

“We need to pick something that’s a lie, but close to the truth. We don’t have time to build an elaborate back story, so if someone asks questions we need to be able to answer it smoothly and avoid suspicion.”

“The only thing I’ve ever done is join the infantry,” Mike replied.

“Me too, so we’ll go with that.” Coop scratched his chin in thought. “We can’t be law enforcement because that’ll be more suspicious than soldiers. Private Investigators are also out because no one likes someone digging in their shit.” Coop thought for another few seconds before he snapped his fingers and smiled.

“We’re weapons testers with Blacktide Armaments,” Coop concluded. “We’re not management or anything like that, that’ll lead to too many questions. We’re just normal, hourly employees. We’re just trigger pullers and live on their moon facility. We’re down here in New Savannah for the Election Day weekend and all the parties that inevitably crop up. We’re here to get our drink on before returning to a life in zero gravity blowing shit up.”

“What if they ask us about the guns?” Mike was wringing his hands.

“Pull from your Basic and HI school knowledge. Master Sergeant Smith had us memorize just about everything in the Infantry MTOE, so just make up a name and fill in the details from a weapon you know something about.” Coop gave Mike a comforting pat on the shoulder. “We’ve got this.”

Mike nodded but didn’t say anything. His lips moved as he talked himself through his pretend story without uttering a sound. Coop just shook his head and closed his eyes. Lying came naturally to him.

The journey was full of stop-and-go traffic. Checkpoints were all over the place as the defense force and police cracked down after the terrorist attack. IDs were being checked by cops in riot gear on every corner. Inevitably, right when Coop began to slip into real sleep, the van jerked to a halt and the SGM turned around from his spot in the front passenger seat.

“Here.” He tossed them two IDs and accompanying money chips.

Coop marveled at the fake IDs for a moment. He’d heard about this tech before, but never seen it up close. The “ID” was actually two strips of polyplast. The first was a flesh-colored adhesive patch that, if Coop guessed correctly, was cloned from his own DNA. That patch went on first to cover his GIC. The second piece of plastic was the new ID part. That went on over the flesh-colored patch to give the impression of a GIC. They wouldn’t last forever, looking into it with a lot of detail would show the GIC wasn’t matching up with the bodily functions that a real GIC measured, but it should be enough to get the job done.

“These will get you through a cursory look. If they’ve got people who can get deeper it won’t hold up, so stay alert. The chips have ten thousand on them. It is Commonwealth money, and will appear on the team’s line item budget report, so don’t be too stupid with it. I’ll understand a degree of…discretion, but use your heads.” The SGM supervised as they covered their legit GICs with the fake ones.

The SGM’s pause caught Coop’s interest, but even more pressing was who the “they” was the NCOIC was referring to. <I’ll find out soon enough.> The last thing the SGM did was toss them fresh PADs as he kicked them out of the van. Thankfully, the PAD had a waypoint identifying their destination.

Their target was only a few blocks up and a street over, and they made good time even in the crowded streets. Mike spent most of the time mumbling to himself, either psyching himself up, or going over his cover story. On the other hand, Coop spent his time thinking about how quickly the SRRT had thrown together new identities and gotten twenty thousand in disposable cash. That was an impressive amount of detail to throw together in thirty minutes.

All of those thoughts vanished when they arrived at their destination. The building itself wasn’t obnoxious like some of the buildings on the street. It blended in well with the other, regular buildings, and it’s only ornamentation was a big sign reading OASIS in shimmer letters meant to mimic a soft breeze blowing atop the water’s surface. It was other things that stood out to Coop.

First, was the pair of armed men flanking the revolving door. The weapons were well concealed, but Coop spotted them. Second, were the beautiful women casually lounging around. They were drinking, smoking, laughing, and just giving off an air of relaxation and fun. To the experienced eye, Coop knew that was as good as a woman walking the curb and soliciting random guys for ten dollar quickies.

<It’s a brothel.> Now Coop got the SGM’s reference, and he wasn’t sure he liked that the SGM knew about that.

Coop led the way to the door but was stopped by one of the guards outstretched hands. While the guard stopped Coop, Coop saw the second one’s attention slide to protect the girls and suspected there was a third guard around somewhere that was watching the rest of the entrance.

“Membership.” The guard stated.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t have one. Is it possible to…” Coop pitched his voice to near pleading.

“Visitors pass is a thousand…each.” The guard had obviously been through this sales pitch before.

“A thousand!” Mike’s shock was genuine. “But…”

“A thousand or take a hike.” The guard was big, not as big as Mike, but he held himself like he knew how to handle himself in a fight.

“Fine,” Coop sounded exasperated, as he handed over the chip and paid the guard. “It better be worth it.”

“Trust me. It is.” The guard took Mike’s money, stood aside, and ushered Coop inside.

<Yep. It definitely is.> Coop tried to keep his jaw from dropping as his gaze settled on the interior of the Oasis.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 213

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

In Coop’s opinion, prehistoric man had it right. <Fire bad…fire hurt…fire burn…> His ancestors had a proper appreciation for the dangers.

On the other hand, 25th century man seemed to have a ‘fuck it’ attitude toward the natural element. Personally, Coop blamed modern woman for that, because at the moment, he was running full speed toward an expanding ball of fire being led by two such women.

There was no war cry or battle call from GYSGT Cunningham or Eve, just huffs over the comms as their enhanced lungs took in oxygen to power their powerful legs. Two hundred and fifty meters was one lap around the high school track, but Coop hadn’t been to more than a few gym classes in his life. He did know the distance well from his time in Basic, and he knew how fast he should be able to cover it. Subtracting a second or two for the extra gear he was outfitted with, he figured he should make it in sixteen-to-seventeen seconds. Of course, that was if he didn’t slow down when he hit the flames.

Each pounding of his heart was roughly a second, and he counted down as he brought up the rear of the charge. About halfway the GYSGT’s hand lashed out. Coop saw a gleam of metal, but she kept on going without looking back. He passed the spot a heartbeat later and saw a guy in casual smartcloth lying on his back. His neck had been sliced two-thirds of the way through by the GYSGT’s blade. The molecularly-honed knife had severed his spinal cord and just about every import artery in the poor bastard’s neck. He wasn’t even able to bring his hands up to try and staunch the bleeding. His life just leaked out of him in spurts as his eyes started to glaze over.

Coop’s attention was half on that and half on the plasma gun on the ground next to him; the same weapon that had nearly taken out Eve not long ago. <You reap what you sow.> He didn’t feel pity for the man. <What the hell did you think was going to happen when you killed powerful people?>

As quickly as he saw the man, Coop was passed him and continuing the mad rush toward the real targets. Just as the GYSGT reached the outer perimeter of flame, the blast seemed to reach its apex and die down. They still had to crash through the fire, but the black SEALs skin and armor held up well. Coop just felt the temperature jump a few degrees as he passed through the thin layer of yellow and orange.

They burst through the other side, and Coop watched the rest of his team deploy. The room looked like another basement similar to the one they’d just left.  The ground was damp soil, and there were boxes stacked along the wall. Unlike the other basement, this one didn’t have a staircase, it had an elevator. The GYSGT was moving in the direction of the elevator on the right, while Eve broke off and angled toward the center. That left the left for Coop.  He brought his submachine gun to his shoulder and allowed his targeting suite to scan for targets.

IR was out because it was still hot from the multiple grenades going off, and there was still a lot of debris in the air, but his system still did what it was designed to do. A target popped out ahead of him and slightly to the right. It had a feminine shape, and looked like an arm was over its face. Coop guessed whoever the hell she was, was trying to clear her lungs from all the shit in the air. While he saw that, his HUD’s neural net beeped and outlined something she was holding in red. It was clearly a weapon of some kind, so Coop didn’t hesitate. He fired a quick three-round burst at the woman’s center of mass, and she went down hard. He kicked the weapon away from her as he advanced and kept scanning his sector.

Other gunfire was echoing through the space, but Coop kept his eyes on his sector, no matter how much he wanted to look behind him. He had to trust that Eve and Cunningham were doing their jobs. The dust was starting to settle as he rounded a support pillar and identified a second target. This one was less than two meters away, so he got a perfect look at the guy’s face…a familiar face.

After hours sitting in the S2’s little intel hub and watching surveillance of the area before and after the terrorist attack, Coop had become especially familiar with this face. It was a face he’d tracked back to the bar where he’d gone with Aiko. This was the guy he was sure had been a part of the attack.

Despite the disorientation from the explosions, the man reacted the second he saw Coop coming around the corner. He fired the energy blast from the hip, without any targeting aides, which was the reason Coop didn’t lose another leg, or his head. The energy particles smashed into his side and spun Coop around, but not before his finger hit his trigger.

“Motherfucker!” Coop cursed as he went down, but it was drowned out by the roar of his weapon in the concealed space. He already knew that Eve and the GYSGT wouldn’t be in a position to catch some friendly fire, so he didn’t have a problem holding his finger down on the trigger longer for a sustained burst.

His electromagnetically-propelled rounds cut a diagonal line up through the man’s hip, chest, and shoulder in an explosion of blood, tissue, and bone. The man went down in a heap, dead before he hit the ground, but that was only a small comfort to Coop.

“Fuck…fuck…fuck…!” Coop repeated as he patted his side down for blood, burns, or to make sure he hadn’t been cut in half by the blast.

Adrenaline was pumping into his system so he wasn’t feeling a thing, but he knew shock could set in fast.  <And because the retard back at HQ did want to put us in LACS, I don’t have automated medical systems to fix my ass up.> His hand automatically went to a first aid pouch on his belt as he feared the worst.

“Clear!”

“Clear!” Eve and the GYSGT’s voices cut through the blood pounding in Coop’s ears. “Coop, are you clear?” Eve asked. “Coop?” Fear leaked into her tone for a second, and he would have thought it was nice if he wasn’t busy patting himself down.

So far there was nothing, but when his hand touched his side where he thought the blast hit, “shit!” he cursed, brought his hand way from the armor, and shook it out. It was hotter than a whore in church, but thankfully nothing had penetrated.

Eve rounded the support post and saw Coop on the ground. “You still alive?” she asked, sounding much more in control since she could see him moving around.

“Yeah. Fucker shot me point blank with that cannon,” Coop pointed at a weapon that looked a lot bigger than he originally thought now that he got a clear look at it. “It didn’t even puncture the armor. This exo-steel is no joke.”

“All hail our alien overlords.” Eve extended a hand and helped Coop to his feet.

Coop might be alive and unscathed, but he still had a problem…and an easy solution. “Motherfucker.” Once he was on his feet, Coop pointed his weapon at the man’s head and pulled the trigger. A tight grouping of rounds pulverized the dead man’s face until it looked more like a pumpkin two months after Halloween that some kid had stomped when he didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas.

“Cease fire!” GYSGT Cunningham roared as she came into view.

“Sorry, Gunney.” Coop tried to sound apologetic. “Guy just shot me.”

“Of course he did. It’s your job to get shot at, Cooper. Stop being a baby,” she snapped. “I’ve already radioed this in to higher, and they’ve got the federal police on the way. Cooper, if you are finished throwing your little tantrum, clear the rest of the house and wait for the cops to arrive.”

“By myself?” Coop asked. This wasn’t his first rodeo, and he knew you weren’t supposed to clear a structure on your own…ever.

“You’re on an elite SRRT. You’ve got physical enhancements that make you stronger than forty civilians, and you’ve got next gen tech that stood up to a full laser blast at less than two meters. You’re going to have to improvise to complete missions, and if you can’t handle that, you need to find another job.”

“No problem here, Gunney. I’ll clear the house,” Coop grumbled.

Cunningham didn’t say another word, she just headed to the other end of the open space where the tunnel continued for another two hundred and fifty meters. Eve hesitated long enough to give his shoulder a squeeze, and then followed. That left Coop with collecting the weapons and tossing them in a corner. All the tangoes in the room were dead, but even then he didn’t want to leave a live weapon next to someone who’d been shooting at him. After that, he boarded the elevator and pressed the button for the ground floor.

The house above him was a bust. It had been foreclosed on, and judging by the buildup of dust, it hadn’t seen any foot traffic, which made it a perfect spot for the liberation movement to store their weapons cache.  Coop wasn’t sure if he was happy or not that he hadn’t come across anyone else, so he went back down to the basement. What was really on his mind was the smashed up fuckhead.

Coop knew how this whole thing would play out. They’d get the guys ID from his GIC and then they’d devote resources to backtracking his location over the last few days, weeks, or even months if they could. He didn’t know how far back they saved the data, but he was sure they’d track him to the bar. They’d interview people at the bar, try to find associates, and review extra footage. Sooner or later, the S2 assholes, who managed to miss the preparations for an attack of this magnitude, would ID one Mark Cooper and Aiko Lee in that same bar. They might even try to pin the whole attack on him. It stunk of an inside job anyway.

<No fucking way am I taking the fall for some chairborne ranger’s fuckup.> Coop decided. He couldn’t get rid of the body, but he could slow down their investigation.

He laid out the man’s arm so he could get a better shot, aimed, and pulled the trigger. The single round blasted into his wrist, right where his GIC was, and messily severed his hand.

<It’s a start.> Coop knew he’d need to steer the investigation away from him and do damage control, but his clearance gave his access to the highest level intel, so he was confident he could stay ahead of the planetary cops. The GYSGT was right. He was an elite soldier now, and he needed to operate like one.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 212

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Half a millennia ago, a soldier, or cop, who descended into a dark, underground space would have cause for concern. As Coop did the same, he didn’t have the same concerns. It didn’t matter that no one turned the lights on, his visor’s optics automatically activated and painted the room with light and color. He could have been descending those stairs in the middle of the day for all he knew. His problems were the stairs themselves.

<There’s no backing to these stairs.> He cursed and hesitated at the top. That meant any meathead with a gun could be standing right behind them and blast away at his legs. Having lost one of those already, Coop was not keen on a repeat.

Thankfully, he had a quick fix for their problem. “Grenade,” he announced into TACCOM as he unclipped another flash bang from his belt, tossed it down the stairs, and made sure to bounce it off the wall at an angle so it would explode in the center of the room.

He turned away from the forthcoming explosion while his helmet went into automatic lockdown mode, but even through the artificially created silence, he still heard a loud pop as the grenade detonated.

“Let’s go!” Feeling much more confident in his tactical situation, Coop rushed down the stairs with Eve and GYSGT Cunningham behind him.

No laser blast came from behind him as he hit the floor and went to cover his sector of fire. The basement itself looked like it had been recently carved out of the ground. Several thick support beams ran the length and width of the house above them, while the ground itself was slightly damp clay. Apparently, the insurgents hadn’t gotten around the finishing off their little hidey-hole.

Coop ignored the slight sucking of the ground against his boots as he pushed forward, because they were not alone. He sensed more people in the room, but his eyes were on the man straight ahead of him. After the near mishap upstairs, the rules of engagement flashed through his head. The guy in front of him was dressed in business casual smartcloth. If Coop had seen the man on the street, he would have guessed CPA, not domestic terrorist. While the tango might look like he wielded a calculator as part of his day job, the rifle on the ground did a lot more than add and subtract.

<Unless you count subtracting lives,> Coop chuckled at his own joke as he continued to move forward.

The rifle was on the ground, so the ROE said Coop could end him, but still, he was a clear enemy of the government of New Savannah and had to be subdued. Currently, the guy’s hands were over his half-blinded eyes, and he was crying out in pain, but that’s what you got when you fucked with people you shouldn’t. Coop didn’t bother yelling something like; ‘police’ or ‘get down motherfucker’, because they guy wouldn’t hear him anyway. Instead, Coop rushed forward and planted his boot firmly in the man’s chest. It was a textbook, perfect front kick, with a surprising result.

Coop didn’t think about his enhancements often, mostly because he was surrounded by people with the same enhancements, and he often forgot about the wide disparity in physical and mental prowess present in the human race in the 25th century. Not all men and women were created equal. In fact, some were a hell of a lot better than others, and the militaries of the galaxy in particular tried their hardest to make their people the best.

When Coop’s boot lashed out to strike the insurgent, he fully expected the man to be picked off his feet and thrown backward. It was supposed to hurt and incapacitate the tango, not obliterate him. When Coop’s boot made contact, the man’s whole chest caved in like a crumbled beer can. Even through his helmet, Coop was pretty sure he heard everything in the guy’s chest snap or burst. The guy was picked off his feet and thrown backward, but the Gumby-like way his body moved through the air said something was very very wrong.

“Ah shit.” Coop said without thinking as he stopped dead in his tracks. Fortunately, there were no more obstacles or insurgents in his sector or he could have been putting his team in danger.

“You good, Cooper?” the GYSGT asked. She had a guy on his face and was cuffing him for a later interrogation. Eve stood over a body that had a tight grouping of bullet wounds in his center of mass, but the guy still had his rifle clutched in his hand.

“My guy is gone.” Coop didn’t know a way to spin this one. “Death by front kicking his scrawny ass.”

“I saw.” The GYSGT must have replayed his helmet feed. “We’ll worry about it later. We’ve got bigger issues.”

So far, the mission’s success was questionable. It was designed to kill or capture leadership as a sort of retaliatory decapitation strike to counter what the liberation movement had just pulled off. SRRT Team Two’s Alpha team had several prisoners, and a few dead to show for it, but the GIC scans the GYSGT was doing weren’t turning up big players. They were low-level organizers at best.

“I’ve got something.” While Coop was lamenting over his recent kill, and the GYSGT was doing her team leader stuff, Eve had walked over to a built-in shelf on the far wall.

A cursory look of the shelf didn’t point to anything out of the ordinary, aside for it being the only piece of furniture in the whole basement. The rest was polyplast crates. Coop popped the lid of one and found weapons and ammo.

“I’ve got guns,” he relayed.

“And I’ve got where they went,” Eve’s voice was strained as the sound of warping metal reached Coop’s ears.

Coop dropped the piece of polyplast he was holding and walked over to join her. She had been able to dig her fingers into some groove in the shelf, and was yanking it away from its place in the dirt wall. The problem was, when Coop peeked on the other side, he didn’t see more dirt. He saw a tunnel.

“Gunney, we’ve got rabbits.” Coop lent his strength and pushed while Eve pulled. The secret passage’s door was clearly only supposed to be open from one side.

“Watch Dog, this is Alpha Two, we need a sweep with ground penetrating radar heading north of my position, over.” The GYSGT sent the request up to command, which would relay it to the fleet in orbit.

“Alpha Two, sweep in three minutes, Watch Dog out,” came the reply ten seconds later.

“Any they’ll be long gone in three minutes, out of the tunnel, into another safe house, or scattered,” the GYSGT grumbled for a moment. “Fuck it, we’re going in. Get that door all the way open and let’s move.”

“What do you think we’ve been doing?” Coop grumbled back as he threw his shoulder into the shelves. Their progress had ground to a stop, and he could see why. “There’s a warped piece of duro-steel as thick as my wrist jammed in here,” he explained. “Seems like the bad guys didn’t want to be followed.”

“Easy fix,” the GYSGT walked to the polyplast boxes and began to flip them open one at a time until she found what she wanted.

“Is that…?” Coop’s HUD identified it as a thermal grenade before he could finish asking the question.

For the most part, the infantry didn’t issue those grenades anymore. They’d been standard issue a while back, but they were expensive and didn’t kill a lot of people. When the grenade detonated, it released plasma that burned at over five thousand degrees, but only in a five-meter kill zone. All a person had to do was get a good leap in and they were clear. What might not have worked well against mobile soldiers would be more than enough against a stationary target.

“Frag out,” the GYSGT announced as she activated the grenade, magnetized it, and plopped it down on the warped piece of duro-steel before calmly walking away. Coop and Eve had already taken cover.

The detonation wasn’t loud, but the sizzling sound that accompanied it made Coop’s skin crawl. He also felt it get very hot for a few seconds before starting to cool back down.

“That should do it,” Eve got up and put her boot into the side of the shelving unit. Once…twice…the third time something snapped and the unit fell away. “Now we can…”

Coop had walked up beside Eve, so he had a great view of the tunnel as well. There was a black layer over just about everything, which was the rapidly cooling plasma remains, and the burned and broken metal interior of the unit. Dust and debris from Eve’s kicking blocked any further view. Coop’s eyes quickly passed over that before snapping to his HUD which had given a small chirp. The chirp could have been anything given the amount of shit kicked into the air by the thermal grenade, or the remaining interference its detonation created, but Coop hadn’t stayed alive by ignoring the feeling in his gut. That gut feeling spiked as his HUD gave a second chirp.

“Down!” He threw himself forward at Eve and tackled her out of the way half a second before something hot flew over his back. His HUD’s warning chirps became a full, wailing warning, as it registered a plasma blast passing over him.

The blast, a ball about a meter tall and wide, soared over him and crashed into the far wall. Thankfully, it missed all the support beams or they’d be really fucked. Coop landed hard on top of Eve while the GYSGT stepped into view and unleashed hell down the tunnel. Coop didn’t known if she hit anything because all he was thinking about was being pressed up against Eve again. Even if the exo-steel breastplates were covering the best parts.

“Just like old times, yeah.” He couldn’t help himself.

Eve let something like a laugh escape her lips before her knee rose up and made solid contact with his nuts.

“Awww mother…” he rolled off her and covered his twig and berries. “Why?” he wheezed. His SEALs skin blunted the blow, but even a blunted blow to the nards hurt like hell.

“Thanks for saving my life.” Eve got to her feet and dusted off her ass. “But if you try to cop a feel again I’m going to cut them off and feed them to you. We clear?”

“I wasn’t…” Coop tried to reply but bile rose in his throat, so he closed he mouth to keep from barfing. The pain in his nuts was bad enough. Having to walk around with puke smell in his helmet for however long would just be the icing on the shit cake.

“You two good?” the GYSGT asked as she trained her weapon down the tunnel, but no return fire headed their way.

“Not a scratch. Cooper’s nuts just fell on my knee. Give him a second.” Eve replied for them.

“Don’t mind me.” Coop was on his hands and knees and trying to catch a full breath without a stabbing pain in his groin. “I’ll be there in a sec.”

“Ok. Data incoming.” The GYSGT passed along the results of the pass some ship or satellite had done.

Coop concentrated on breathing as he pulled up the info and saw the results of the insurgent’s hard work. A five hundred meter tunnel stretched from where they were to a building just outside the residential neighborhood. The pass also revealed heat signatures. Coop conveniently didn’t see Alpha Team on the scan, which proved the SEALs skin worked, and why the plasma weapon had trouble locking onto them. The image of the tunnel actually showed the burning white signature of the plasma blast halfway to its target, and the orange indicator of the person that fired it. The image also showed another larger space halfway down the tunnel’s length with three more orange indicators who were supposed to stop Alpha team, or at least hold them up so the HVTs could escape.

“Ok, let’s do this people. We’ve got four, maybe three, tangos down the tunnel. Violence of action is key. Don’t let them regroup. On my mark.” The GYSGT was down on one knee with the barrel of her rifle pointed down range.

Unlike Coop and Eve, the GYSGT had chosen to pack a rifle, and underneath the rifle was a tube. Coop recognized it as a grenade launcher attachment. The design wasn’t as efficient as the multi-barrels of a Buss, but they weren’t supposed to be a military strike force here. Still, Coop was glad the GYSGT thought ahead as a three-round burst of grenades flew out of the tube, down the tunnel, and seemed to fly for a long time before detonating with a muted roar.

“Two hundred and fifty meters…hit the antechamber halfway…GO!” The GYSGT was already on her feet and rushing forward before she finished. Eve was right behind her.

Coop’s nuts still ached, but he hauled ass as best he could. It anything came their way, Eve and the GYSGT would take the hit before him. That was good and bad at the same time. Despite the violent assault on his manhood, Coop didn’t want anything bad to happen the Eve, which was why he’d tackled her out of the way in the first place.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 211

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Index,” GYSGT called out.

The holographic display on their HUDs vanished to show the original architecture of their surveillance position. Coop and Eve popped off their helmets and wiped the perspiration from their foreheads. Even with the cooling system turned up high, the New Savannah evening humidity still leaked in.

“I think we’re good to go.” The GYSGT nodded to her two team members, and went to inform HQ.

For the last few hours, as they waited for nightfall, Alpha Team of SRRT-Two had been running rehearsals for their assault on the insurgent’s stronghold. They’d been able to get the blueprints of the property from public records, and through their helmet’s tech, been able to imprint those surroundings over the apartment they were currently occupying. The GYSGT then had them run mission after mission. Each time she changed the variables. In some, they took fire before they every made the front door. In others, they had to fight their way through forty bad guys. Coop hoped that wasn’t how this one actually turned out. He’d died in that one.

The gear they were wearing was good, but it wasn’t military tech, and that left him feeling increasingly vulnerable. A round to the neck in the simulation had driven that point home.

“This thing is chaffing like a motherfucker.” Coop grabbed the top of the exo-steel breastplate and pulled down.

He doubted anything the insurgents had would pierce the new, alien metal, but it only covered all the important bits of his torso. Ballistic gel underneath let it conform more to his frame, but every time he ran it hiked up and pushed uncomfortably into his neck.

“We’ll get through this quick,” Eve’s words were neutral as she cleared the training magazine from her weapon, and inserted one with live ammo.

Coop followed her example and did the same for all his weapons. He opted for the submachine gun and a pistol on his hip. He stuffed the rest of the pouches on his utility belt, which sat just below the armor, with more magazines and a protein bar. Eve raised an eyebrow at the last item.

“What? Combat makes me hungry.” Coop shrugged, and she just shook her head before going back to her own armaments. She’d equipped herself similarly, but had also compressed the sniper rifle she’d been using for surveillance and strapped it to her back. Coop didn’t know why she was doing that. Even compressed down to half its original size, it could still get snagged on a doorway and get her killed.

“Hey,” Coop’s voice was uncharacteristically serious as he began, “I know you kind of hate me and everything, but this is the real deal now. Can I trust you to watch my back?”

Eve looked a little taken aback by his bluntness, but they quickly morphed into anger. “You can always trust me to have your back, Coop. I’m a professional soldier. I don’t let shitty personal squabbles get in the way of doing my duty.” Her eyes were as intense as a battleship’s energy cannon, and it forced Coop to look away. “Plus, I don’t hate you. I’m just disappointed.”

“Ouch,” Coop couldn’t stop from chuckling. “Ok mom.”

Eve’s face contorted again, but then unexpectedly softened. “You know,” she couldn’t stop from grinning, “if I was your mother that would make you one sick bastard.”

It took Coop a moment to catch up and remember the weekend after Basic. “Awwww…that’s disgusting.” His face pinched but he couldn’t help but smile.

“Still,” Eve’s face went from hot to cold in an instant. “Don’t think we aren’t going to talk after all of this. You’re going to sketchy places, doing sketchy things, and with an increasingly sketchy woman. You’re on an elite team now, Coop. Don’t fuck up your life for something that isn’t worth it.”

Coop wasn’t sure if she was talking about the ten grand for the info he’d given, or Aiko, but either way it was way too close for comfort. <If Eve has been keeping track of me then who else has?> He never got the chance to ask.

“Let’s move.” Cunningham reappeared in the room and headed for the door. She was already locked and loaded. “We breach in fifteen.”

There was no time to grab anything else, since they still had a few kilometers to travel to the target, and there was no time to disguise what they were. They headed out into the hallway in full battle rattle. If not for the lateness of the day, a ton of people would have seen them, but since most were sitting down for dinner, they only saw a few.

“Police, ma’am, just doing a security sweep please return to your home.” The GYSGT confidently instructed a woman who practically froze as they walked down the hallway. The woman scurried into her place without even looking for a badge.

They quickly descended to the underground garage and the minivan. Piling in now was a little harder with their weapons and armor not in a duffle bag, but they made it happen. The GYSGT took the driver’s seat, which she had to move back to its rear-most position. Eve took the second row, and lined up with the door that would be facing the target house when they arrived. Coop got the trunk, which was just fine with him. The door would spring open, and he’d have the van as cover if the enemy opened fire on them right away.

Cunningham hit the maximum tint on the windows as she headed out. It would look suspicious to people on the street, but there weren’t a lot of people out, so it was a risk they were willing to take. Speaking of risks, Coop fiddled with his reduced gelcast. He picked at it like a child as the target drew nearer and nearer. Technically, he was still on light duty, but there was no way in hell he was going to miss this. Even with his reservations about the plan.

“Three minutes,” the GYSGT called form the front. The car was driving itself, so it left her free to prepare. “Chamber a round, but leave it on safe until we’re a block out.”

Coop hit the button and felt the slight rumble of his weapon moving a lethal round to the chamber. <Go time,> he thought. <This isn’t PHA Rats rioting back on Earth, or pissed off asteroid miners. These are legit domestic terrorists who’ve assassinated a planetary governor.> Coop knew the ramifications of what they were about to do. It wasn’t only about getting the people responsible. It was also about sending a message. That message was ‘Don’t fuck with the Commonwealth’.

Coop recognized when they entered the target block because he’d been watching the place for days. He’d even done old-fashioned, hand-drawn terrain sketches to pass the time. He recognized the swing attached to the big tree on the corner.

“Weapons hot, suppressors active.” Coop followed the GYSGT’s orders. He disengaged the safety and pressed the button that would reconfigure the barrel to suppress the sound of the electromagnetic gunshot. Even after hundreds of years, humans still couldn’t fully silence the sound of a weapon being fired, but it would have to do.

“Three…two…one…GO!” The GYSGT counted down as she brought the van to a stop in front of the target house. Somewhere else in the city Bravo team was rolling up on another target and rushing to kick down the door.

The vehicle jerked to a stop. Three doors flew open, and Alpha team flowed through their well-rehearsed exit. The GYSGT stepped out and immediately targeted the guard booth in front of the house. Her weapon sputtered as she fired on full-auto into the presumably ballistic-resistant glass. Being resistant didn’t mean bulletproof. It held for a second under her withering fire before it began to crack, and as she continued to fire, those cracks spread. She didn’t give the guard booth more than five seconds of attention, before dropping the weapon. Her sling caught it and magnetically pulled it to her side as she grabbed a grenade from her belt. Like a major league pitcher, she cocked back her arm, and launched it toward the weakened glass. Like they planned, the glass broke on contact, and the gas grenade exploded inside with a muffled pop. If anyone was in there, they were paralyzed by a nerve agent for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, Coop popped out of the trunk and provided one hundred and eighty degree security to the south. Eve sprang out of the side, gave a five count as she swept the area to the north, and then rushed the front door of their target just as the GYSGT’s grenade exploded in the guard house. Coop and the GYSGT quickly collapsed their perimeter and followed.

Eve was on her knees by the front door’s electronic entrance screen with a bumper already attached. The device filled the sensors with so much garbage code it should send it into reset mode and open. Instead the screen beeped red and something clunked inside.

“Fuck!” Eve hissed. The bumper had failed, which meant this door had high-grade security. On the bright side, it meant they were in the right place, and they had a backup plan.

Eve yanked a two-centimeter thick cord of explosives from her back and quickly went to work sticking it to the door. Every second counted, but Eve had trained for this, and was ready to go in only a few.

“BREACH…BREACH…BREACH!” she yelled. Silence wasn’t going to mean a thing in a second.

Coop shuffled to put a little more distance between him and the shape-charged explosives. In theory they were only supposed to blow inward, but even a small difference between theory and the reality of explosives could be deadly. He went to a knee and tried to make himself as small as possible, while keeping his armored plate rotated toward the explosion, while maintaining security.

BOOM

His helmet’s audio dampeners automatically activated, but he still felt the shock of the explosives.

“GO!” It was the GYSGT again over their TACCOM channel.

Coop pivoted and entered the home through a solid wall of smoke, dust, and debris. His optical suite cut through the interference, but got nothing. It didn’t feel right. He reached to his belt, grabbed a sensor drone, and tossed it down the hall as he was first through the door.

<Fuck!> He cursed as two things became immediately clear.

“We’ve got a door on our right two meters in, and this place has jammers.” He relayed as he moved forward to post up against the door that wasn’t on the blueprints.

“Take it with Berg, I’ve got the hallway.” The GYSGT shifted to the opposite side of the narrow walkway while Coop and Berg stacked up. The door’s entrance screen showed it was on lockdown because of the explosion, so Coop pulled out his own bumper, slapped it on, and hoped it worked better this time.

After a second, the door beeped green and slid open. Coop assaulted forward to avoid giving a potential enemy the chance to react. He went left and Eve went right. The room looked like an office of some sort. There was a bookshelf of legit hardcopy books, some high-end electronics, and a nice desk that a man was overturning to give himself cover. Coop’s finger acted before his brain and sent a three-round burst from the submachine gun’s barrel.

The first round was low and to the left, but it cut through the table with a loud, splintering crack. The wood might have stopped a personal defense weapon, but not the military-grade firearms Coop had. The second shot was on target but low. Coop saw pain register on the man’s face as the bullet hit him below the belt. The third round hit center of mass which painted the wall behind him red. The man topped over and fell out of sight behind the table, but Coop was already continuing his sweep.

“Clear,” Eve called from behind him.

“Clear, one tango down,” Coop answered.

“Check him,” the GYSGT was still posted in the hallway. “Secure his weapon.”

<Weapon…shit!> Coop wasn’t sure if the guy even had a weapon. He’d just reacted when he saw the guy throwing up cover between them. No regular person did that, but the briefing they’d been given said they were only to kill if the tangos posed a threat. Otherwise, they wanted prisoners to interrogate. <Fuck me.> Coop moved quickly to round the table to view his handiwork. <Oh thank you Jesus!> as he rounded the table he spotted a black piece of metal on the floor. It wasn’t just a weapon. It was a laser pistol, an illegal laser pistol.

Coop quickly secured it and followed Eve back into the hallway. The whole thing, start to finish, took about fifteen seconds. As last one out, Coop covered their rear as they advanced down the hall so no one snuck in through the destroyed front door and shot them in the ass.

The next two doors they went through had been on the schematics and were empty. The three soldiers breached the kitchen, but also found it empty. The sensor drone Coop had thrown should have mapped the whole home by now, but he was still getting nothing but static. They cleared the first floor and then headed to the second. They were only halfway up the stairs when energy blasts ripped into the staircase, shattering wood, and starting a small fire.

“Grenade.” The GYSGT stated casually as she tossed a flashbang. She let it cook for a second and then ricocheted it off a wall to get the right angle. There was a yell of surprise before intense light and sound overwhelmed everything. The team was protected from it, but the neurological overload had knocked the enemy flat on their asses.

Coop jumped over the fire, bounded up the stairs, kicked the weapons away as he moved through the two men’s prone forms, and took up a covering position as Eve and the GYSGT came up behind him. They took out restraints and hog tied the two men before throwing hoods over their heads. The hood contained a powerful sedative that would keep the men asleep until the GYSGT wanted to wake them up.

As the two women worked, Coop did his own extra task. “The source of the jamming is coming from the last room on the right,” Coop informed as the GYSGT and Eve came up behind him. They tapped him on the shoulder and they moved forward.

They quickly cleared two more rooms, both empty, before moving on to the room where the jamming was originating from. They stacked up beside the door, and found out why you were trained to stack up beside the door and not in front of it. Laser blasts cut through the polyplast and burned into the far wall.

<Fuckers are going to burn down their own house.> Coop was the breach man, but decided to change it up. He collapsed to his side, and pushed out into the doorway. His sensors immediately, adjusted his optics so he saw perfectly through the large hole in the door. He saw a young woman with a laser rifle standing next to a bulky device sitting on a bed.

Coop saw her before she saw him. As she turned her rifle toward him, Coop fired a single round through her chest. The woman pulled the trigger reflexively as she collapsed and put a big hole in the ceiling.

Coop rolled to the side and back to his feet to cover the hallway behind them as Eve and the GYSGT stormed the room. “Clear,” they announced, followed by the deactivation of the jammer. The sensor drone went to work and a holo-map of the home began to appear on Coop’s HUD. It spread second by second until the whole house came into view…or so Coop thought. Then the holo kept expanding.

“There’s a basement!” Coop yelled and headed for the stairs. He heard the stomping boots of Eve and the GYSGT behind him.

The original plans didn’t have a basement. No homes in this area were supposed to have a basement because of the water table being so close to the surface.

<But who are terrorists if not rule breakers.>

“Hold up, Cooper!” the GYSGT called out before he rushed through the kitchen and toward the entrance to the cupboard, which the sensor drone revealed had a false back wall to a staircase. “Stop with the John Wayne shit.”

“Wayne who?” Coop asked, but still came to a stop.

“Don’t be reckless,” Eve interpreted. “We go in as a team. It doesn’t matter who’s down there if they kill us.”

“Yeah,” Coop took a deep breath and got his adrenaline under control. “Ready when you are.”

There was no handle, so Eve brought out the explosives again.

BOOM

She blew apart the fake wall and they descended into darkness.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 210

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Surveillance was part art, part science, and Coop had spent the last two days getting a crash course in it. When they’d arrived at their observation point, in the middle of the night, and in an inconspicuous minivan, he thought they were going to spend a few hours on target at most. He thought they’d show up, set up all their fancy optic suites, and catch the bad guys red handed doing some shady shit.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

“New target.” Coop did his best to stifle a yawn as someone new walked into his view. “Caucasian male, brown hair, hazel eyes, one hundred and seventy-one centimeters, eighty-seven kilos, trying to tag him.” Coop angled the lens to get a clean shot of the man’s GIC on the underside of his wrist, but despite the heat, the target was wearing long sleeves.

“Designated Tango-Eighteen.” GYSGT Cunningham sat in a chair at the opposite end of the room, while Eve was in a similar position at another window. “Berg?”

“Couldn’t get it,” the long, slender rifle tucked into her shoulder could hit targets up to several kilometers away, but today they were just using it to get high-def pictures to compare against local databases. “Sending you what I’ve got.”

A holo appeared in the air in front of the GYSGT. She placed her hand inside the image and swiped until she found the best photo to attach to her report. “What did you see, Cooper?”

This was the part of surveillance where it became more art than science. The tech they had could tell them a shit load about the guy from nearly two kilometers away without him ever knowing they were there. Coop got his height, weight, eye color, hair color, and if he’d gotten the GIC they’d have the man’s complete records. But that only told half the story.

“He was alert but confident.” Coop had watched the man approach the house since the time he turned the corner. Coop had seen people walk like this before. “Maybe system militia training,” Coop hypothesized, “but he definitely just scored. It could be drugs, poon tang, or another insurgency plot, but he’s got something that’s giving him a hard on for life.”

“Poon tang?” The GYSGT raised an eyebrow. “I’m not putting that in the report.”

“Sorry,” Coop shrugged, which took the lens off the target house for a second before settling it back down. “I didn’t want to offend your sensibilities.”

“I’m going to shove my boot up your fourth point of contact and we’ll see how your sensibilities fare.” Eve threw in her two cents.

“Fine,” Coop sighed. “Looks like he might have gotten some tight New Savannah ass recently.”

“We could all use a little tight ass about now.” Eve grumbled, and Coop couldn’t help but laugh.

“What else, Cooper?” The GYSGT cut in.

“He’s got a pistol on his hip,” Coop got that from the optics, but that wasn’t what the GYSGT wanted to know.

“On the surface that could peg him as an insurgent, but the analysis shows there’s a ninety-three percent chance it’s an authorized personnel defense weapon. Can’t tell from here if it’s been modified, but with all that’s happened on the planet in the last few days, I don’t think it’s unusual for people to be walking around with a little more protection,” Coop answered.

“We have an ID yet?” Eve asked. This might be a training opportunity for Coop, but Eve had already gone through this at Ranger school. To her, this was a refresher that got old about six hours in.

“Yep.” The GYSGT didn’t bother to show them. “Anything else, Cooper?”

“He was looking over his shoulder a lot, like he was expecting to be followed. My vote is he’s an insurgent who just got laid and is heading back to his lair,” Coop gave his impression.

“Berg?”

“I agree. Not necessarily with the laid part, but he does give me the impression something is going to go down soon.” Eve shot Coop a little glare.

That was the other tough part about these surveillance ops. It involved long periods of time stuck together in confined spaces. For people at odds, it could lead to two outcomes. The first was shit getting even more tense and awkward, and the second was them working through stuff. Coop wasn’t really sure which group they were in. She’s snapped, glared, and laughed at him during the last two days, so the jury was still out.

“You’re both right.” Cunningham projected a new holo into the air between them to show Tango-Eighteen. The picture and brief description told them he was fairly high up in the New Savannah Liberation Movement. “That’s nearly twenty confirmed members that we have in a single location. I’m sending my report up now, and I suspect with the current threat environment we’re going to get the green light to go in soon. We’re going to relax our posture until then. One on watch while two grab some chow and Z’s.”

“I’ve got the first watch,” Eve volunteered.

“Thanks,” Coop hopped up from the thin mattress he’d been lying on for the last several hours. “I’ve got to take a shit.” On the bright side, the apartment they’d taken over was newly renovated, so it was a clean crapper, not some dump. No pun intended.

When he got back to the main room, Eve was where he’d left her, and the GYSGT was chowing down on a high-protein, high-calorie energy bar from her MRE. The life of any enhanced human was a life of caloric intake to feed their enhanced bodies, so wherever Coop went he made sure to pack extra food. He had no idea how long he’d been on the recon, so he packed as many MRE’s as he could without looking suspicious. Two days in, he still had variety, which was the most exciting thing in his life at the moment. Except for talking to Eve again.

“Do you want Chili with beans or shredded barbeque beef?” Coop popped a squat next to Eve and took two MREs out of his pack.

“Barbeque.” Eve stated without taking her eyes off the rifle’s scope.

“Ohhh,” Coop sucked in air between his teeth. “I want the barbeque.”

“Then why’d you ask?” she snapped.

“I’ll tell you what,” Coop stroked his chin like he was deep in thought. “If you play a game with me, then I’ll let you have the barbeque.”

“Pass,” she replied immediately. “I’ll just have whatever else is in the pack.”

“All I have left is Lemon Pepper Tuna,” Coop was ready for her reply, and stopped short of grinning as she grimaced.

“Fuck it, fine,” Eve grumbled, “but if you make it weird I’m going to chop little Coop off.” She pulled a wicked looking knife from her side and twirled it between her fingers without even looking.

“Don’t worry.” Coop tried to act like the knife didn’t bother him. “We’re going to play a game that had been around for hundreds of years. It’s a game that people in our positions have played millions of times. It’s a game that…”

“Coop, stop blowing smoke up my ass and get to it.” Eve cut him off with an eye roll.

“Fine.” Coop coughed for dramatic effect. “We’re gonna play marry, kill, fuck.”

“Ah for fuck’s sake.” Eve made a casual swipe at him with her knife. It was slow and telegraphed enough that if Coop got cut it was his own fault.

“So, let’s meet our contestant Eve Berg.” Coop put on a holo announcers voice. “Resident bad ass, Eve Berg was the top graduate of her Basic class, which had some other top performers if I may say so myself.” Coop deftly dodged another swipe and continued. “A kick ass ranger, with combat experience and a fetish for sharp objects…” this time he nearly got tagged by the blade, “…Eve Berg has an important choice to make today; a choice that will affect the rest of her life. Who would you fuck? Who would you marry? And who would you kill?”

“What are my choices?” There was resignation in her voice, but Coop also thought he spotted a slight smile on her lips.

“Your three lucky, or unlucky for one of them, contestants are Sergeant Major Queen, Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham, and the ruggedly handsome, brilliant, and savvy Sergeant Mark Cooper.” Coop made it sound like an imaginary crowd was going wild, so this time he missed a fist that solidly connected with his ribs.

“Ugh,” he grunted from the impact. “Choose wisely.”

“I’d marry the Gunney,” Eve answered quickly. “Having another woman around the house, and not having to deal with any of your kind’s shit, Cooper, talk about Heaven.”

“Half the universe just gave a collective moan,” Coop sighed dramatically. “You’ve still got two choices left.”

“I’d fuck the Sergeant Major. Rumor has it he has a huge dick.”

“That’s an image I’m never getting out of my head,” Coop grumbled, but not only because of the NCOIC’s anatomy.

“That means I’ve got to kill you, Coop,” Eve shrugged, and turned her attention fully back to her scope, and put a hand out for her shredded barbeque beef. “Next time, give yourself a fighting chance.”

“Thanks,” Coop pouted as he tossed her the MRE. His plan had royally backfired. <But at least she didn’t actually stab me. I’ll take that as a win.>

“Stop grab assing you two, and get over here.” The GYSGT cut off any further pleasant thoughts. “Command just gave us the green light. We move in two hours to take the house and any prisoners inside. Bravo Team is hitting a second location at the same time. Mission objective is to round up most of the liberation movement’s leadership. If we can cut the head off the snake now, then the rest of the movement’s violent faction should wither and die. Plus, it gets the SRRT concept a gold star along the way. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

<Not us if we get blown up or shot in the ass.> Coop didn’t point out the obvious, or that fact they weren’t going in with their LACS or usual weapons set up.

In fact, they looked more like corporate mercenaries than Commonwealth troops. <And that’s on purpose,> Coop realized, as the GYSGT started to gear up. Again…she stripped out of the civvies they’d been wearing for two days, right in the middle of the room, and shrugged into her SEALs skin before putting on the exo-steel body armor.

It was the second time Coop had seen her body in three days, and he had to admit, he’d probably make the same decision Eve did. Unfortunately, Eve had a better chance of getting with Cunningham than he ever did.

Coop decided to give the two women a modicum of privacy, because he was a gentleman, so he went and geared up in the bathroom. When he returned, they got to work planning the op.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 209

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Savannah City, New Savannah, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“That’s the guy.” Coop pointed at the screen with finality.

“Bullshit,” Eve leaned over his shoulder and stared at the image hovering in the air in front of them.

Coop gulped when her breasts brushed his shoulder, but didn’t say or do anything. They were still on rocky ground. Instead, he allowed Eve to reach into the image and manipulate it. She rotated it, zoomed in, zoomed out, and ran a filter to try and enhance the image. All of that only got her the same grainy picture that Coop had started with.

“I still don’t see it.” She leaned back and crossed her arms across her chest.

“What don’t you see?” GYSGT Cunningham walked over to Coop’s station to check in on the other members of Alpha Team.

Coop thought once the SGM wrapped up with their plan to covertly insert, recon, and eliminate the asshats who killed the Gold party VIPs, the SRRT would be kicking down doors and shooting domestic terrorists in the face. Instead, Coop’s ass had been firmly planted in a comfortable chair for the last three hours while they reviewed hours upon hours of footage tracking the bad guys. Coop thought he had something, but no one else seemed to see it.

“Ok, let me put this in terms an idiot could understand.” The statement earned him a glare from Eve, and he instinctually protected the gelcast. “Do you see this here?” Coop had saved an image and opened it for the GYSGT. “This is a GT 2433 Knighthawk XX. I’d be surprised if there were more than fifty of these on the whole planet.” Coop looked to the two women to see the proper awe on their faces, but both just shrugged. “It’s a brand new Gold Technologies model, and they’re saying it’s unhackable. Of course,” Coop furrowed his brow, “nothing is unhackable, it just hasn’t been hacked yet, and I doubt someone planned a hacking of this car during a party that happened on a whim with less than thirty six hours notice.” Coop looked up for more of a reaction, and still got nothing.

“They didn’t get into this car’s systems remotely, so the only way they could have known where the VIPs’ vehicles were heading, due to their randomized security routes, was if they got something physical on the vehicle. That would take access to the parking lot, which was only accessed by the valets, so that’s where I started.”

Coop pulled the images back up. The parking lot used for the VIPs for the party had been an old, hardened bunker. It was big, meant to shelter attack aircraft before PDC shields came into play. The thing was built to take a pounding, but in this instance, they were a problem. They only had an overhead view, and even then, they were getting some glare from one of the moons that was just in the wrong place.

“Ok,” Coop cued up the video. “So I started looking at the valets, and I found a discrepancy.”

“Or so he says,” Eve huffed, and Coop glared back over his shoulder.

“Seriously, look at these two.” Coop played a video of a man jogging in with the motivation of someone who wanted a good tip. Several minutes later, a car drove out, and the car exchanged hands at the valet stand. Coop froze the frame, and loaded two preserved frames. One was the guy running in, and the other was the guy dropping off the car. “See…different guy.”

The GYSGT squinted to get a better look. The two men were dressed in exactly the same clothing, the computer had calculated the man’s height to be the same, within a few centimeters difference, and the face was too pixelated to get a clear image. Both images weren’t clean overhead shots. They relied on light bouncing off other reflective surfaces. The computer could extrapolate from the available data and render images. Those images were different, but they were an eighty-one percent match, which given that this mission was going to involve some heads rolling at the end, probably wasn’t enough to get the brass to sign off on a kill list.

“Maybe.” The GYSGT didn’t commit either way, which didn’t help Eve or Coop one bit. “Still, follow the lead and see if it leads anywhere.” Cunningham walked away to relay the info to the SGM, while Eve sat back down at her own station and got back to work.

For once, Coop did what he was told. He tracked the guy, minute by minute, until the attack, where he ran for his life just like everyone else, but it got interesting when he ran out the front gate and didn’t come back. A vehicle picked him up about half a kilometer from the front gate and drove into the city.

<I’ve got you now…> Coop felt a surge of vindication and triumph for all of two seconds before the car pulled around the side of a familiar establishment. <Oh fuck me.> He easily recognized the bar he’d been at right before the party.

The computer logged everything, so Coop made sure to go about his keystrokes like it was normal. He zoomed out, and resumed his attention on the defense complex in the aftermath of the rocket attack.

“You find anything, Cooper?” The GYSGT asked once Coop shut down his system.

Coop knew he couldn’t lie. Cunningham would double check and catch him, and then his life would be shit, so all he could do was lay it off. “Looks like a dead end, Gunney. Guy hit up a bar after the attack. Hell, I’d have done the same if I didn’t become a human candle.” Coop held up his arm and grinned.

“Ok, get over here.” The Gunney waved to where the rest of the SRRT was gathered around the spook LCDR’s terminal. Coop had been so absorbed in his own shit that he hadn’t seen the huddle up.

“As many of you might have noticed,” the LCDR had already started her briefing. “We could have eliminated all four of the rocket teams surrounding the complex with the QRF, but we let one team slip out before we locked the perimeter down. We did this so we could back track their movements to their headquarters, or at least a weapons cache of some kind where we can confiscate their arsenal and capture any HVTs.”

<Why would they hightail it right back to HQ after killing off the enemy leaders? They live here, they probably know the government has eyes in the sky, so the last thing they would do is expose themselves. I’d be lying low for days after pulling off something like this.>

“We don’t expect them to return to their bosses right away,” the LCDR continued and restored Coop’s confidence in her IQ,” but we’ve had a satellite sitting on them since they hit the city. Right now, they’re in this building and haven’t moved since they got there.”

Coop took one look at the surroundings and knew kicking down that door was going to be a shitshow. It was in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There was even a ‘slow down for young children’ holo-sign blinking down the street. He bet if he watched most of the footage, he’d see a bunch of kids going to school and getting on the bus at the corner. On top of that, the house was secure. A three meter barrier wall separated the house’s grounds from the main street. It looked like a common feature for the rich on this planet. There was even a guard post for hired security. The satellite had no line of sight on what was in that small hut, and any attempt to get a different angle was met with tinted glass polymer meant to defeat just this type of surveillance. For all Coop knew, they could have an armored guy with a Buss sitting in that hut.

“We’re going to need surveillance on that building,” the SGM stated.

<Not me.> Coop was on light duty for at least another twenty-four hours due to his injury.

“Alpha Team, you’ve got the detail,” the SGM delegated, and Cunningham nodded.

“Let’s go, Berg, Cooper.” She headed for the exit.

“But…” Coop knew his plead sounded pathetic before it even left his mouth.

“You’re going to be sitting on your ass behind high-powered optics, Cooper. Light duty can’t get any lighter than that,” she interrupted, and gave him a pointed look as she passed that said he better follow.

Coop did, all the way down to the gear lockers the SRRT had on the same level as Argo.
Each team member had a personal walk-in cage filled with the latest and greatest gear. Half the stuff Coop hadn’t even been trained on yet, but the engineers and supply techs had organized everything the same in every cage, and the SGM had told them to keep it that way.

Of course, the GYSGT knew what everything was and where to find it. “Bay Three is the optical gear. Grab the helmet set, the standard binos, and the scope on your far left.”

Coop did as he was told. His V4A LACS sat in its cradle waiting to be taken out for a test drive, and ultimately adjusted, but if experience taught him anything, it was that the brass wasn’t going to sign off on the SRRT using their new LACS on this one. They were going to do this the old-fashioned way.

“Grab the bags on the right, right inside the door, and store your gear.” The GYSGT grabbed one of the thick bags and started to carefully place the expensive gear in it.

Coop followed her example. There were built-in compartments on the inside of the bag. Once he put a piece of equipment inside the compartment seemed to puff out with protective material.

“It’ll also defeat sniffers as long as they don’t have you open the bag. There’s a gel in the lining that contains any chemical signatures and the individual compartments are temperature controlled, so no heat signature.”

Coop looked at the bag and wished he’d had it back when he was smuggling shit onto New Lancashire. It would have saved him hours of programming, and the constant fear of getting busted.

“Weapons are in Bay Four, but nothing miltaryesque. We’re going to be trying to blend in, and we need to take the surroundings into consideration.” The GYSGT was already placing a few things in her bag.

The main cage door required a GIC scan, and the weapons section required secondary verification. Coop immediately saw why. There had to be two dozen weapons and ammunition for all of them in Bay Four. He saw the standard IAW3 and Buss sitting in their cradles, but a whole lot of pistols, smaller submachine guns, and what he swore was a straight-up laser cannon adorned the walls.

<I can’t wait to use that.> He kept the drool in his mouth as he grabbed a pair of pistols, and a stubby submachine gun. The pistols would be good for close quarters, as would the submachine gun, but with a higher rate of fire and more stopping power. He stowed them in the case and watched it inflate to hide and protect the items. He also grabbed a few thousand rounds of ammunition. Just in case.

“Lastly, grab the suits on the left of Bay Five.” The GYSGT unlocked the bay leading to her LACS, but didn’t go for it. Instead, she emerged with some type of black smartcloth and something that looked like plain Dragonscale armor.

“What is this stuff?” Coop held the fabric between his fingers. There was a distinct difference between its material and the CMUs he was wearing.”

“It’s an exo-steel breastplate for protection and SEALs skin.” The GYSGT carefully folded and packed it away. “It was developed for the SEALs. It helps defeat sensors and countermeasures so they can crawl around on a ship’s exterior hull…”

“SEALs do what now?” Coop nearly dropped the way-too-thin fabric. “We’re not going to…”

“We’ll do whatever they ask us to do, Cooper,” the GYSGT stared him down until he nodded and packed the last of his gear. “Get changed fast. Our ride’s waiting out front.” She tossed some civilian smartcloth as him, turned around, and started to strip.

Eve had a little more tact, she at least went into the privacy of her cage before changing, which left Coop staring at the very naked, very toned ass of his team leader. It was one of those ‘I shouldn’t be looking, but I can’t look away’ moments. Even though the GYSGT didn’t swing his way, that didn’t make it any less hot.

“Hustle, Cooper.” The GYSGT seemed to sense him staring, so he retreated to his own cage and quickly changed.

He emerged looking like some mid-level manager who was on his way home for a surprise lunch with the kids. His size, enhanced muscular structure, and gelcast made him stick out like a sore thumb, but at least he was dressed for the part.

Coop followed the two women of Alpha Team up to a van parked in front of the building.

It screamed soccer mom, but the GYSGT didn’t. She screamed MILF that would snap your neck for looking at her the wrong way, and from now on, Coop only had one image of the senior NCO in his head. The rest of the guys in Basic would have given their monthly pay to see that Gunney’s bare ass like he had.

As hard as that was to push out of the forefront of his mind, Coop had to do it. He needed to get his head in the game as the GYSGT drove the van out the back gate, randomly around the outskirts of the city for half an hour, and finally into enemy territory…suburbia.

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