Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The place was in pandemonium. It was like a fox was in the chicken coup and biting off chicken heads left and right. Noah hadn’t ever seen a real fox, but they must have been ruthless creatures if whoever coined the phrase was telling the truth.
Alarms had started blaring once the Collie ship slingshotted around the planet. For a second they thought they’d dodged a bullet, only to find the bullet headed right at them faster than they expected. Everyone with a ship had abandoned the place when the distraction went off. Noah had been as surprised as anyone that they had old-school nukes, but the plan was great. Faruk knew his shit. It wouldn’t buy them a lot of time, but all the Collies would be able to get were some emission signatures, and if they were close enough some visuals.
“Shit!” By the time Noah and Able made it to the hanger they couldn’t locate anyone named Alvarez, and everyone was too busy getting the hell out of there.
When they got back to the arms dealer the shop was closed up and he was nowhere to be found.
“At least we have a name.” Able commented with a shrug as he walked toward Dawn. The guard Faruk had posted was long gone, but no one had done anything in the chaos.
“Can we make it?” Noah asked when they were both on the small bridge of the mining ship.
“If we leave now, yes.” Able was already powering up the engines. “They’ll get a good look at Dawn though.”
“We can always make adjustments.” But that wasn’t what Noah was worried about.
So far, this was his only lead on the people who’d fucked him over. All he had was the name ‘Alvarez’, definetly a fake name, and suspicions. That only went so far. He needed something more concrete that he could use to take action on. He needed people to pay for what they’d done, and there was a chance that if he ran he’d never get the vengeance he was looking for.
<What can you do if you’re dead?> That ultimately made up his mind.
“Get us out of here.”
The Dawn fled System 1861 like everyone else.
Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: CWS Argo, System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Lock and load boys and girls, the Devil is playing his fiddle and we’re invited to the party.” SGT O’Neil walked down the center of the group of soldiers.
The soldiers were loading weapons, running last-minute diagnostics on armor, or just shooting the shit with each other over private TACCOM channels. For a few of the green privates, this was their first rodeo, but not for Coop.
“What the hell is he talking about?” Coop was more of the shoot the shit type of person before an operation. There were only so many times you could run a diagnostic and get a green thumbs up.
“Sarge is from the Papal Planets. He’s got a scripture quote or something about the idle hands being the devil’s playground for just about everything. It’s annoying as fuck.” One of the ship’s assigned marines responded.
“Yeah, what the fuck is a fiddle anyway?” Coop scoffed.
“A fiddle is a bowed string musical instrument sometimes called a violin; although, they’re usually more primitively constructed or smaller than proper violins.” SGT O’Neil walked up to the two soldiers and stood between them. “There are countless stories of the Devil using music to seduce his victims.”
“Roger that, Sergeant. You’ve got nothing to worry about here. I’m not into dudes.” Coop replied with a straight face.
“Who said the Devil is a man, Cooper?” The Sergeant left Coop scratching his head as he moved on to check on the other soldiers in the assault team.
Argo was decelerating for an intercept with the asteroid, but the rock taking pot shots at her with energy beams was making the process longer than expected. Coop wasn’t worried though. He’d overheard the CPO on the bridge telling Ben that the beams looked like they were being aimed by a five-year-old, and even if they miraculously hit Argo they wouldn’t do much more than scratch her paint. They were meant to dissuade someone without military-grade ES armor.
“Ten minutes, marines.” The SGT announced, so apparently things were moving along quickly now.
The issue they’d run into while planning the operation was the insertion portion. There were three possibilities the skipper and marine NCO came up with. The first was to fly Argo into their hanger and use the railguns as point defense against anything and anyone the pirates threw against them. That plan had been quickly shot down when it had been pointed out that they’d fired two nukes at them and there could easily be another one set up as a self-destruct mechanism to get rid of any evidence on the asteroid. That was not something Coop liked to hear as one of the people who would likely be inside the asteroid when it happened.
Option number two was a short space walk on the crust, followed by blowing the doors, and then insertion. This was a better idea than putting Argo in danger, but it would still leave the marines vulnerable to attack or any countermeasures on the surface of the asteroid. A cursory scan had already shown a few poorly-hidden mines.
Option number three – the option eventually approved by the skipper and SGT O’Neil – was to use the gunboat’s small shuttle. It put the fewest number of soldiers at risk and would allow the marines to get a foothold on the asteroid by ferrying soldiers back and forth. It sounded good on paper, but it sucked ass for Coop. The shuttle was only big enough for the pilot and maybe three tightly-packed marines, but the SGT wasn’t going to send three lightly-armed soldiers into an unpredictable situation. They were going to send Coop.
“That’s why you get paid the big bucks.” A marine patted Coop’s hulking armored frame when he got the good news.
“I don’t get paid any more than you do. This is bullshit,” Coop shot back, but kept the last bit to himself.
Now, he was stuffing himself into the back of the shuttle. The thing was used to transport VIPs back and forth, and had not been designed for a fully-armed HI trooper. “I ain’t fixing this shit.” Coop announced as he scraped up the walls, cracked some display, and tore up the lining of the seats.
The pilot didn’t say anything. His hands were shaking. The shuttle had minimal point defense lasers and no offensive weaponry. It was not designed to do what they were about to do, and the only thing protecting the pilot was his CMU’s on combat mode and a helmet. If they got hit he was fucked, but Coop might survive.
“Uh…we’re ready.” The pilot gulped.
“Hey, calm down.” Coop told the man forcefully. There was no way he was going to die because the guy was so nervous he forgot how to fly. “You just get me there and I’ll do the rest.”
The reply was the shuttle dropping out of Argo and jerking as it left the ship’s internal gravity field. That didn’t help the shuttle’s interior. Coop was surprised he didn’t poke a hole through the thin hull.
The asteroid loomed large in front of them. There was some debris floating around it where Argo’s armaments had taken out the energy cannons and anything else that presented a threat to the shuttle. The gunboat was still standing guard as the shuttle shot toward the ball of rock, but there wasn’t much it would really be able to do if they missed a laser. The CPO might be good, but he wasn’t faster than light.
The pilot took evasive action on the approach, and by the time they reached the metal doors of the asteroid’s main hanger bay Coop was a little woozy. The shuttle didn’t have the internal gravity field that the gunboat did. It didn’t have much at all.
“They left the front door open,” the pilot gulped as the tiny shuttle slipped through the massive doors. Argo would have been able to easily get through those doors.
Millimeter wave radar painted the hanger and updated Coop’s STRATNET. It was exactly what they studied before the operation. A central runway ran half a kilometer down the center of the hanger. On either side of it were little cubby holes where you could either park a small ship or stack supplies. All Coop saw was a lot of dead space where a fire team could be sitting waiting to fire a shoulder-launched missile down the shuttle’s throat.
“Drop me off here.” Coop instructed the pilot once they’d passed the giant door.
“I’m supposed to take you to the end.” The pilot’s hands had relaxed, and Coop took that as a bad sign. Things weren’t better now, they were even more dangerous.
“Get me on the fucking ground now!” Coop’s tone did the trick and the pilot put the shuttle in a shallow dive while twisting it around one hundred and eighty degrees.
“Pressurizing.” The pilot’s compartment sealed itself off from Coop’s spot in the rear while all of the air exited. His LACS was environmentally secured, so he didn’t notice the change aside from some changes in the sensor readings. “Good luck.” The skids hit the ground and the rear hatch popped open.
If Coop – or any other soldier – had their way they would have moved with a purpose to the next available cover or concealment. Instead, he had to squeeze his big metal ass out of a small hole. A sniper could have fucked him up good in the critical seconds it took to unass from the shuttle, but thankfully no one punched his ticket.
“I’m in.” His breathing was heavy and his leg was a little sore as he moved from cover to cover clearing those big open sections.
<I could have used some drones.> He’d asked for some of the pencil-sized copters that would expand his awareness while sitting there alone, but was denied. They only had a dozen aboard, and they were saving them until more boots were on the ground.
He’d cleared a quarter of the area before the shuttle reappeared with the rest of the fire team he was leading.
“Where the fuck are you going?” Coop radioed the pilot when the small craft overshot his position. “Get the fuck back here and…”
The LACS HUD went from clear to red as his armor detected the missile launch. It all happened so fast that Coop’s neural network was the only thing fast enough to respond. Thankfully, Coop was paranoid as fuck after seeing the blueprints of the hanger and knowing he was going in alone.
The pilot was just starting to bank when the missile fired from the far side of the space. Coop took a small amount of satisfaction knowing that he’d made the right call in getting dropped off at the end of the runway, because they’d have eaten that missile and there wasn’t anything he could have done about it.
He was able to do something about this one.
The railgun swiveled and put up a wall of lead between the shuttle and missile. The missile exploded about twenty-five meters from the shuttle, which saved it from destruction but still fucked it up a bit. The small craft spun wildly in the air before the pilot got it under control. It was a good thing it spun away from Coop’s position or else he wouldn’t have been able to get a lock on to the rocket-team’s location.
His armor vibrated as an anti-personnel shell rotated into his 125mm tube and the computer calculated the trajectory. Coop took a knee, but kept his Buss and railgun trained in the direction they’d taken fire from. He felt the tremor through his armor, and spike of pain in his leg, as the cannon fired. There wasn’t a lot of height to the hanger bay, so the shell came in on a shallow arc and detonated about head-level. Ceramic bits spewed out in a torrent of death that would turn any human into finely puréed meat, but the missile’s onboard camera took a picture of the scene before detonating. Whoever had fired the missile had hauled ass after trying to sucker punch the marines, so he destroyed a whole lot of nothing.
“We’re clear. They shot and booked it out of here.” Coop hustled over to where the pilot had put down the shuttle.
One of the onboard marine’s status icons was yellow. He’d been smashed around the interior after the explosion and broken a few things. The rest of the team was green though, and they spread out quickly to form a loose perimeter.
<What is it with me and hanger bays?> Coop wondered as he took stock of the situation.
It didn’t take long to figure out the shuttle was down for a minute. A few pieces of shrapnel needed to be pulled from the hull and patched before it could fly again in space. That left him with three total fighters including him. The injured marine could be useful in a pinch, but by the dark stain on the crotch of the pilot’s CMUs, Coop guessed the Fleet guy wasn’t going to be of much use in a firefight.
“We need to clear the rest of this hanger, look for booby traps, and secure the entrances and exits.” Coop gave the order because either Argo was going to pull in, or the shuttle had nine more runs to make, and one good hit was all it would take to turn it into a flaming ball of wreckage.
“You two on me.” Coop took point. “Let’s get it done.”
<The quicker we get it done the quicker the Sergeant can get here and take over.> Coop wasn’t a fan of this taking charge crap.