Two Worlds – Chapter 137

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Breckinridge, System 1776, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “AHHHHH…I love drugs.” Coop sighed as he lay awake on the operating table.

He’d been out of it for a little while, but the pharmaceutical cocktail in his system made it too dangerous to keep him out for too long. With the metabolic needs the drugs and nanites were demanding, he could slip into a coma and die.

“Easy there, soldier.” The doctor hovering over him with a computer-operated laser couldn’t smother his grin in time. “Stay with me here for just a bit longer.”

Part of the reason they’d had to wake him up was so he could put his LACS in MAINTENANCE MODE and they could get to work. Without his LACS in that setting they wouldn’t be able to fire lasers at it without the scales reacting and throwing high-intensity energy beams all over the place. They needed sustained, powerful bursts to get through the LACS armor. That and time.

“We’re almost through the one side. Is local anesthetic applied?”

“Oh yeah,” Coop replied dropping his voice a few octaves before bursting into laughter.

“Kid’s high as a fucking kite.” The nurse was resting her hand on his armored chest. Not that it would do much good.

“Ok, we’re through.” The doctor gave Coop a pity-filled look. “This might suck a little. We’re only a destroyer sick bay, you’re doped out of your mind, and we’re not exactly equipped for this…” he stopped talking there. It wasn’t exactly good bedside manner. “This might tingle a bit.”

It didn’t tingle at all. If Coop was being honest, he was only fifty percent sure he wasn’t dreaming this whole thing. Images of his weekend sexcapades with Eve kept flashing through his mind’s eye. Once, she even started making out with the experienced whore he’d dabbled with back on Mars, while he got to watch. That was hotter than hell.

<Hell…burning…> that thought, along with a pungent scent ended the imaginary threesome.

Coop was no stranger to the smell of burning metal scorched by explosions, but the scent of burning flesh was something entirely new for him. He could feel his body reacting as he put two and two together.

<They’re cutting off my fucking leg!> Abstractly, he knew that was what was going to have to happen after the grav-grenade flattened it and then crumbled it up into a ball like it was old-fashioned paper. The smell just made it all too real.

“Hold still.” The nurse grunted as Coop started to sit up. She couldn’t stop him from getting halfway into the seated position.

“Private Cooper, sit back down NOW!” someone yelled, but Coop didn’t give a shit. He was drawn to the repugnant smell of his own flesh being sliced through.

“Grab him!”

Coop felt multiple hands start to pull him back down, and a few of them had to be the reinforced bodies of marines, but it wasn’t until a golden head of hair came into view that they were able to push him back down.

“I’m through,” the doctor gave a huge sigh of relief. “All we have left is the far side of the armor and then we’ll be able to get the Private out of this and into a proper medical bed.

“I’m not getting out of this.” Coop clutched the chest plate of his armor with both hands. “The miners and pirates out there are fucking savages with modern guns!” Everything seemed to be melding together in his mind.

“Shit.” The doctor’s face appeared along with some mutli-spectrum light thingy. “He’s overdosing. Hold him down, Sir, I need to finish this fast.”

The smell of burnt flesh was quickly replaced by burning metal, and all Coop saw was blue eyes and golden hair.

“You hang in there, Cooper. We did not go through all of that just to die when we got to safety.”

“Hey, Gold. When did you get here? Where is here?” Darkness was starting to creep into the edges of Coop’s vision.

“Listen to my voice, Cooper. Stay with my voice. Don’t go toward the light.”

“What light? There’s no fucking light. All I see is your quaffed hair you dumb shit. I swear to god you could punch a hole in a battleship with the glare coming off that hair of yours.” That got a few laughs just as the cutting stopped.

The medical team and LCDR Gold quickly got Coop out of his armor. He was missing his one leg below the knee, but that was something modern medicine could easily fix. He’d be out of commission for a few months, but that meant he would get assigned to some ground-based medical facilities for regen and therapy. That meant local girls, legit bars, and maybe he’d even get to see his good old buddy Mike again.

Those were the happy thoughts that lulled him to sleep after he got juiced up with a shit ton of nanites that would keep any infection from setting in and purge the drugs from his system. When he woke up in a few hours he’d have to piss like a race horse.

 

Commodore George Zahn

Location: GSFS King Midas, York Sector, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Commodore George Zahn, the Mad Captain of the Intrepid, and a whole bunch of titles imposed by others sat on the bridge of the pride of the Gold Technology’s Fleet. King Midas was smaller than its Commonwealth counterparts, but he knew she was a fighter. He’d put her through her paces right out of the shipyards on Gold Prime, and he was confident she was the finest warship in the galaxy.

<Updated fighter launchers. Eight hundred top of the line drones, twenty percent more point defense lasers and railguns, one hundred and twenty five missile tubes, forty-two energy cannons in the 20 petawatt range, a next generation EW suite that the company is looking to sell to the Fleet next year, and a hull seven meters thick all packed into two and a quarter kilometers and crewed by twenty-five hundred souls.> Automation was taking a giant leap forward in the next generation of Gold Technology designs, and Midas was its poster boy.

The holo-tank at the center of the flag bridge was better in the CMDRE’s opinion than what was on the Fleet’s ships. The crew was something else entirely. That was the one thing Zahn missed about the military. It had more stability than the corporate security fleet. He would lose talented officers to other commands, department changes, or straight up being stolen by competitors. In the Fleet, he could at least count on some semblance of stability for the duration of a cruise.

It was hard to build a crew, to fight a ship, and to defeat the enemy when you had to change department OICs every other week.

<Not this time.> A smile crept onto the CMDRE’s lips.

Zahn was not a handsome man, and his smile might have led credence to his title the Mad Captain more so than his deeds. Just because he’d taken a cruiser headlong into the might of a pirate armada did not make him mad. In his opinion, when someone was confronted with no good options, then the best option was to go down swinging. Half of the Intrepid and the entire convoy of merchant ships owed their lives to his mentality. He’d only had to inflict thirty percent casualties on the enemy before they turned tail and ran. He knew they would. They weren’t real soldiers.

This mission was different. He’d been given his orders directly from the CEO. He’d sat in the titan of industry’s office and been given two data chips. One he was ordered to open when his carrier group departed for New Lancashire. The chip contained only three words: RECOVER THE HEIR. He thought the wording was weird, but who was he to judge the man who paid him significantly more than the Fleet ever did.

The second chip he held in his hand as King Midas rocketed through space faster than the speed of light with his small carrier group in tow.

“Transition in five minutes, Sir.”

“Thank you.” The CMDRE held the chip tight in his grip.

No one else knew he had it. He didn’t even know what it said, but he had a sinking feeling in his gut. Thomas Gold could smite a planet if he wanted to, and while the CEO had been composed during their short meeting, George could see that he was fuming with anger that someone had kidnapped his son.

He squeezed his fist, but there was no danger of crushing the mixture of polyplast and circuitry.

“Three minutes, Sir.”

The CMDRE just nodded as he unclasped his hand and stared at the chip.

King Midas shuddered only slightly as it dropped out of Alcubierre several light minutes from Cobalt Mining Station. George watched as the light-minute bubble expanded. There was no one within range for over an hour until the CWS Breckenridge popped into existence. A brief communication with the destroyer’s captain lifted a tremendous weight from George’s shoulders. Lieutenant Commander Gold was unharmed aside from a few scrapes and bruises. He was being transported back to New Lancashire while his gunboat Argo maintained security until George’s group took charge of the system.

A loud cheer went up from Midas’ crew when the transmission was completed. The CMDRE smiled and nearly forgot about the chip in his hand. Three hours later he relieved Argo and took up position around the rebellious space station. It was only then that he inserted the second chip into his PAD and saw the second part of his orders:

KILL THE REBEL SCUM

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Two Worlds – Chapter 135

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Cobalt Station, System 1776, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Video games had been a past time of young teenage boys and girls for centuries. Coop was no exception. Being a PHA Rat, his options were limited to the shit people tossed out after twenty years. It was what those burbanites called “generous donations to the less fortunate”. He really didn’t care how he got them, he just cared that he got to play them.

They were never the fully-immersive virtual reality models. The PHA didn’t have the machines for that kind of stuff, but they got all the other ones that measured your movements and mimicked them onto the characters. Coop had been particularly fond of the Duty Bound series. The collection of first-person shooters had been around for decades, and often mirrored real-world events. It let kids fight alongside the Infantry and Fleet as the Commonwealth fought the evil Blockies across the explored galaxy.

Looking back on it, Coop saw it as one hell of a propaganda tool. As he and Lieutenant Commander Gold did their best attempt at a three-legged-man race, he had a momentary thought of how much bullshit those games had fed him.

The rumble of his armor as his rail gun pinned half a dozen pissed off, rebellious miners behind the bend in the corridor snapped him out of it. Their retreat to the hanger bay was slow and cumbersome, and a big ass LACS was hard to hide when the place was swarming with people looking for it. Now, the miners had their location and they were doing everything they could to bring him down. The officer whose ass he was trying to rescue wasn’t being much help.

“We can take cover in here.” Ben sidestepped into the protection of a doorway and hit the panel to open it up.

“No!” Coop grabbed him with on hand while holding the M3 with the other. The rifle’s ammo was running low and he’d need to reload soon. “We need to keep moving. If we stop we die.”

It was not an exaggeration.

Rounds pinged off Coop’s armor as he hugged the wall. His rail gun spit out steady three round bursts at the people behind them while Coop aimed the M3 at the people in front of them. The pirate-led miners were shooting around corners to stay behind cover, so their aim was shit. That was the only reason Ben wasn’t full of holes yet. That, and Coop making sacrificial moves every once and a while.

“Push forward!” Coop bellowed, hauling the warship captain out of cover and struggling toward the next bend.

Coop aimed where he thought the guy was going to be. The miners didn’t vary their tactics much, and it had led to more than one body littering the HI trooper’s path. The weapon, hand and forearm appeared around the corner a little higher than what he’d anticipated. The miner got off two rounds before Coop adjusted. The first round missed Coop, hit the opposite wall, and ricocheted down the hallway. If Coop had his way, it would hit one of the assholes trying to shoot him in the ass.

The second round hit his still-functioning armored leg. The nanite scales did their job and the round bounced away after making contact. As that miner’s round sparked off the floor and flew downrange, Coop’s first round hit home. It hit the M3 dead-center and disabled the weapon. The second round hit the miner’s forearm, causing him to the yell out in pain, and grab the forearm with his opposite hand. Coop made his third shot count and put a round through that hand. The lower velocity round got stuck in the forearm behind it, but the nanites were already going to work and doing their deadly job. The miner screamed, fell forward, and Coop ended his misery with a mercy shot to the head. If there was another miner with that guy he was gone by the time Coop and Ben rounded the corner and got a short reprieve.

<Fuck.> Coop checked the ammo count on his rail gun. He was down to twenty-five hundred rounds. It was the only reason they were still alive, and he wasn’t sure he had the ammo to get to the hangar bay. <Only one way to find out.>

Ben was breathing heavily next to Coop. It wasn’t an easy task fighting, and half carrying an HI trooper in full armor for hundreds of meters. Ben’s in vitro enhancements were being put to the test, and he was being reminded of why he’d chosen to go into the Fleet rather than the Infantry.

“We’ve got to keep moving.” Coop didn’t let them rest for more than five seconds. Even if he was the enlisted of the bunch he was the subject matter expert, and Ben bowed to his authority. “A few more corridors and we’ll be there.”

Coop’s rail gun stayed locked in the rear position as they hustled down this corridor. It didn’t look like the miners were prepared yet so they tried to cover as much distance as possible. Halfway down the hallway the rail gun started firing, and they made it another twenty meters before weapons popped around the corner in front of them  and fired blindly.

<Don’t they ever learn?> Coop sighed as rounds sparked and pinged all over the place. A few even went through the walls and floor.

Coop added his own weight of fire to the turn ahead of them. He knew from his HUD that around that turn was a straight shot to the hangar bay.

“Eagle-One, you ready for us?” Coop split his attention between cover fire and talking with the Spyder.

If the miners and pirates had access to their coms it made sense to keep the chatter to a minimum. As for avoiding it altogether to keep their location a secret…that ship had sailed half an hour ago. Coop had only sent two messages to the damaged Spyder so far. The first told them to get ready for two friendlies, and this was the second. He’d send a third when they got to the war machine so their cannons didn’t blow this shit out of them.

“Roger that, Ballboy.”

Coop was so preoccupied with staying alive he didn’t have time to grimace at the unwanted call sign.

“Ok, Sir, we’re almost there. We just need to…”

Just when Coop felt he had a grip on the situation, the miners did something unexpected. The doors on one side of the hallway opened and over a dozen miners in heavy protective clothing charged out. A few were holding plasma torches in their hands as they gave a guttural war cry. Ben froze at the sight of men less than five meters away charging at them. Coop only gaped for a moment before he turned his M3 on them, and then gave a one-legged spring to meet them.

It was the cardinal rule of surviving an ambush: you fought into it like your life depended on it. Coop never saw what Ben did, but he cycled his M3 as fast as it could. He took down four with point blank shots before they collided. He was like a bowling ball hitting pins. Even glancing blows sent the remaining miners flying.

The M3’s magazine ran dry and he used it like a baseball bat. One miners head exploded from the force of the blast. Another – one of the ones with the plasma torches – tried to sneak behind Coop, but you couldn’t sneak behind a person with three hundred and sixty degree sensors. Coop’s rail gun swiveled and put a three-round burst in the man’s chest before returning to the task of keeping the other people behind them pinned.

The remaining six miners had recovered and dog-piled him. Normally, it wouldn’t have been an issue, but with only one leg it forced him off balance and sent them all crashing to the floor. Training took over, and the blades came out. Coop bisected two of the men as they rolled. Their blood and guts flopped out onto the floor, and made everything slick. Another miner with a plasma torch got to his feet with the intent of trying to cut through Coop’s helmet, but he slipped on his friend’s liver and landed with a skull-rattling CRUNCH. He didn’t get up.

That left three. One had a plasma torch, and Coop went for him, but he rolled away. The other two miners – both pretty big guys – grabbed Coop’s bladed arms and tried to hold him.

That was the stupidest thing they could have done. Coop brought them crashing into each other like a pair of symbols. They collapsed in a tangle of limbs, and Coop speared them both in the gut. They might live if they got medical attention, but Coop couldn’t care less. When they tried to kill him, Coop stopped giving a shit about whether or not they lived or died.

The last miner made a suicidal lunge. The plasma torch made contact with Coop’s shoulder and immediately warning sensors started going off. The nanites held for a few seconds, but the intense heat of the torch – meant to cut through just about anything with enough time – wore them down. The scales blackened, and then sparks started to shoot from the mechanism underneath it.

<This wouldn’t have happened in a V2.> Coop cursed when he remembered the new model’s scales were designed to hold up to energy attacks better.

It was a small victory for the miner until Coop grabbed the guy by the head and smashed it into the floor. It exploded like rotten fruit, and little chunks of brain flew in every direction.

“Jesus Christ, Private!” Ben was alternating firing between the group in front and behind them from the cover of a doorway.

Coop ignored the black scorch mark on his armor and crawled back over to Ben’s position. The officer helped Coop to his feet while his rail gun took over cover-fire duty. The look on the officer’s face told Coop he wanted to say something, but the older man kept his mouth shut.

<Good, because I don’t have time to hear you bitch and moan about the dudes who just tried to BBQ me.>

Ben got under Coop’s shoulder just as the heavy booms of 3mm rounds started whizzing past them.

“Shit!” They squeezed behind cover as much as they could.

<Nineteen hundred rounds. I need to make them count.>

“On three we run for it, Sir. Down this hallway, make a right, and down to the hangar bay doors.”

“What?” Ben’s pissed off look from Coop’s action was replaced with surprise.

Coop didn’t have time to explain. “THREE!”

Coop led the way into the hallway as his railgun went into full auto to keep the pirate with the Buss pinned. They moved as fast as they could to the next corner while concentrating all of their fire on the corner ahead of them. They drove the miners back enough as they rounded the corner that the poor bastards were caught in the open and gunned down. Ahead of them was the hangar bay door. The railgun continued to spit rounds behind them and the counter on Coop’s HUD spiraled down. He was only at two hundred rounds by the time they reached the door. Thankfully, operational security wasn’t something miners took into consideration. The door was open. Coop and Ben stumbled into the giant hangar bay and kept hustling.

Coop did his best to put the containers of raw materials between them and their pursuers, but every once in a while his railgun would roar to life again to keep the enemy’s heads down.

“Eagle-One, we’re coming in hot!” Coop announced when they were fifty meters out. He pinged STARTNET the whole way in so the Spyder’s 30mm cannons didn’t gun them down.

They broke into the open and rushed toward the bird. It was still lying awkwardly on its side, but the injured marine was guarding the door and gesturing wildly for them to hurry inside.

“Package aboard!” The marine called out as Coop and Ben collapsed onto the floor of the troop compartment. “Sir, get this on now!” He shoved a helmet into the officer’s hands. Sir, are there any breaches in your uniform.” The marine started patting down Ben and looking for any tears.

It took a few seconds for Coop to realize what they had planned. <Oh shit.> He went into his own menu and did a diagnostic.

His LACS had no fewer the half a dozen breeches from the fight. Most were around the stump of material that used to be his leg, which he thankfully still couldn’t feel. The plasma torch had also compromised the integrity of the armor in one spot. He needed to get those all plugged before they took off.

From his HUD, Coop commanded the LACS’ nanites into action. He programmed them to seal the holes in his armor and showed them were to start. They went to work, and within thirty seconds he had a good seal. It was in the nick of time too. The Spyder rumbled to life and didn’t waste any time in making a dramatic exit.

The Spyder had been hit by a rocket at the beginning of the battle. The engines were damaged and couldn’t successfully conduct flight operations, but this wasn’t an operation. They had the package, and they just needed to get off of the space station. The miners weren’t going to nicely open the hangar bay door for them either, so the pilot made his own hole. The 30mm cannon blasted away at the door. It buckled, crumbled, and finally exploded outwards. Crates flew all over the places as air blasted out of the station and into space. If anyone followed Ben and Coop into the hangar bay they were going to be human popsicles soon.

A few bursts of the thrusters and the pilot was able to maneuver them through the hole and into the abyss. It wasn’t a clean exit, and they took a few glancing hits from more crates, but it was the fanciest bit of non-flying Coop had ever seen.

Breckinridge is inbound. They’ll pick us up in ten mikes.” The pilot put in his two cents as they drifted aimlessly into space.

The crew had done their best to patch the holes in the bird, but they hadn’t gotten them all, so they spent the next ten minutes trying to find the leaks and plugging them. It was something to do until the destroyer arrived and sucked them back into its belly.

One look at Coop and they had him on a grav-stretcher and headed for sick bay. He didn’t have the slightest idea how they were going to get him out of the armor, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to be awake for it. As it turned out, they didn’t want him awake at all after what his body had been through and all the drugs pumped into it to keep him combat ready.

All it took was on simple shot and he was out like a light, but he wasn’t sure what he was going to wake up to.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 133

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Cobalt Station, System 1776, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Coop was drowning in darkness, but it was a good drowning. It was hard to explain how something that would kill you felt good, but it did. All the worries in his life were gone while blackness wrapped him in a comfortable cocoon. He wasn’t worried about getting shot at. He wasn’t worried about Gunney Topper giving him the shit details all over Honest Abe. He wasn’t even worried about the next woman he was going to chase – he’d found a particularly large-chested engineering spacer who looked open to the possibility of a midnight romp in the depths of Abe’s maintenance compartments. Hell, he didn’t even worry about Eve Berg and what that crazy bitch was up to.

He was completely comfortable in his bed of darkness.

That all changed in an instant. It felt like someone had stuck a grav-rocket to his back and kicked it into full gear. A light appeared above him as he was quickly propelled to the surface. As the light got closer his level of comfort lessened until finally he was thrust back into the neck-deep shit of the waking world.

“What?” It took him several seconds to focus. His vision was still a little blurred, and he was having trouble feeling his face.

SUIT INTEGRITY BREECHED

The glaring red letters flashed across his HUD along with a dozen other error codes.

“Ugh…fuck.” He wanted to move, but everything felt like it weighed a million kilos.

“Good, you’re awake.”

Coop honed in on the voice and looked up. A sweat-drenched face with dripping golden hair and blue flecks in his eyes was looking down at him. It was about that time that Coop realized he was moving slowly – very slowly – in the opposite direction.

<He’s dragging me.> That explained the sweat. In his armor, Coop was heavy as shit.

“What?” Coop repeated as he swiveled his sensors around three hundred and sixty degrees to get his bearings.

What had happened before the comforting darkness started to come back to him. His squad of marines had assaulted some under siege miner’s colony in the ass end of nowhere. Not only had there been hundreds of miners trying to kill them, but they’d been armed with modern rifles. The marines had taken casualties, but had fought their way through. They didn’t have the numbers to retake the whole station against that type of resistance, but they were able to accomplish their secondary mission of finding some bone-headed ship captain that got captured by the enemy.

<Looks like I found him.>

“We need to get the hell out of here.” Coop braced himself to get to his feet.

“No.” The officer put pressure on him to keep him down. “Don’t.”

The man was strong, but he wasn’t a match for an HI trooper in armor. Coop got his arm under himself and pushed up. He got high enough that he could get his legs under him and… he went tumbling to the left and crashed into the wall with the screech of metal against metal.

“What the fuck?”

“Don’t look down.” The officer ordered, but telling someone not to look down made them automatically look down.

There were very few times Mark Cooper had been rendered speechless in his nineteen years of life, and this was one of them. One of his armored legs ended just below the knee in a large ball of metal. It was multi-colored from whatever had gone into making it, but it was smooth in a way only enhanced gravity could accomplish.

<A grav grenade.> The memory of what had happened just before the darkness fell on him like a ton of bricks.

He’d found the captain, the dude who was now trying to drag him up a set of stairs with little success. The other marine with him had gotten knifed by some little shit while someone else had gotten a hold of a Buss and was unleashing hell on them. He’d been carrying the captain and the injured marine when the grenade had been lobbed in. He’d pushed off with as much power as he could and thrown the two guys clear. Apparently, it hadn’t been far enough. The tremendous force of focused gravity had grabbed hold of him and never let go.

<Fuuuuuuuuck.> Coop’s mind just went completely blank for a second. <I should have dropped the dead weight.> He looked up at the LCDR who wasn’t making a lot of progress up those stairs.

“Private,” the older man stopped to take a few deep breaths. “We need to get out of here right now. The pirates have got reinforcements coming and your squad mate is buying us time to get to cover. We need to move.”

The sound of gunfire hit Coop’s ears like someone had flipped a switch. It was easy to tell the difference between the M3’s 1mm rounds and the Buss’ 3mm rounds. There were a lot more 3mm rounds coming in their direction than 1mm rounds defending them.

“Help me.” The last thing Coop wanted to do was look weak in front of someone with blue in their eyes, but he didn’t have much choice.

The officer got under Coop’s left armpit and heaved. Coop got his foot underneath himself and did a one-legged squat. They got Coop to his feet, but hopping up the stairs was a completely different matter.

“Shit!” They were nearly to the top when Coop froze and looked around. “Where’s my weapon?”

The officer gave a look down to Coop’s thick stump and then back up at his helmeted-head. No more words were necessary.

<It gives a whole new meaning to being one with your weapon.> Coop remembered being yelled that on the ranges during Basic. Now it made him laugh in a self-deprecated way.

“We need to find cover. This place is crawling with pirates.” The officer’s eyes were darting around the new hallway they were stumbling down.

“We cleared a lot of this place.” Coop informed.

He strained to hear the sounds of a gunfight behind them, but an eerie quiet had settled over this part of the station. The churning of the engineering and mining processes could still be heard, but there were no more pops of gunfire. He took that as a bad sign.

Coop had only spent a small amount of time with the SSG, but he seemed like a good guy and a good marine. Now he’d probably had his head blown off by whomever the fuck had stolen that Buss. To make matters even worse, Coop and the officer were now sitting ducks. The only bright side in the otherwise supremely shitty last ten minutes was that Coop felt good –really good –pharmaceutically enhanced good. There was no other explanation of how we was able to get around while missing the bottom quarter of his leg.

They limped around the corner and saw people at the end of the corridor. The officer almost yelled out, but Coop stopped him by pulling him back around the ninety-degree bend.

“What…?”

“Those aren’t our people.” Despite the damage to the armor the friend-or-foe indicator still worked perfectly, and STRATNET was not registering those people as the good guys. “They’re hunting us.”

Coop appreciated the fact that the officer didn’t start to whine like a little bitch, but there was still a lot of fear in his bruised eyes. The more Coop thought about it the more he was afraid. They were in the middle of hostile territory. He didn’t know what had happened to the other marines, but the SSG was probably dead, and so was anyone else who went up against that Buss. They needed a plan.

“I saw a door part way down the hall. Let’s get to it and lay low for a second. We need to figure out what to do.” Coop got a nod of agreement from the officer.

They waited until the pirates vanished into another room and scurried as quietly as they could down the hall. Thankfully, the door was open and they pushed through it. It looked like a breakroom. There was a large food dispenser, tables, chairs, and an old, dirty holo-screen. It was nothing but static right now since the gunboat and destroyer were jamming any transmission into the station. That only made their escape plan that much harder.

Coop collapsed onto the floor and the officer did the same. They spent a few moments just sitting there catching their breath. They’d only walked a couple of hundred meters, but hopping on one leg and propping up someone in armor was no walk in the park.

“I’m Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Gold, but given our current predicament you can call me Ben.” The officer extended his hand.

“Private First Class Mark Cooper. Call me Coop.” Coop took the big man’s soft hand and made sure he didn’t crush it.

“Ok, Coop, so what is the plan?” Ben wiped sweat from his brow and looked longingly at the food dispenser.

Coop thought it was weird that he – the lowly enlisted grunt – was making the plan over the officer. An officer, who if he was in the infantry, would be a battalion commander.

<Fleet pukes. Only good for getting us from point A to point B.> Coop kept the thought to himself.

“The plan is simple, Sir. We get the hell off this bucket of bolts. My squad came in on a Spyder that crashed in the hangar bay. I don’t know if it’s space worthy, but it has big guns. I’ll radio them and get the situation. We’ll also check in with whoever is in charge of the rescue force now and get instructions.” Coop finished, but the officer was already shaking his head.

“No radios. The two pirates that were holding me captive grabbed a bunch of Commonwealth gear from a storage locker before you arrived, including a big communication’s node. They’re probably patched in and listening to everything you’ve been saying.”

Coop opened his mouth to argue, but snapped it shut. The backwoods miners did have modern rifles, the guys guarding the officer were pretty ready for them when they came to rescue him, and they’d been easily followed when they’d first started to clear that station. The bad guys listening in on their comms traffic was a pretty good explanation for that.

“Ok, no commo.” Coop made the executive decision on that. “But we aren’t going to make it to the rendezvous point of the hangar bay without a weapon. We’re sitting ducks here, especially you.”

Coop at least had the armor. All Ben had was a feeble smartcloth uniform.

“Then let’s get some weapons.” Ben said it like it was the simplest thing in the world.

“Sure, Sir. Let me just poke my head out of here and ask those nice miners for their guns.” Coop laid on the sarcasm pretty thick, and Ben blushed.

“I mean let’s set a trap and take them.” Ben clarified, but it was still easier said than done.

<We aren’t going to sneak up on anybody.> Coop took a sip from his hydration bladder and struggled back to his feet.

Ben gave him a hand.

“Sir, with all due respect,” Coop was planning on saying something not very respectful when the door hissed behind them.

It slid open to reveal two miners with their weapons dangling in front of them on makeshift straps. There was an awkward moment where the four men just stared at each other before springing into action.

“Fuck…!” Both miners yelled as they fumbled to bring the rifles on target.

Coop didn’t have any such fumbling. With training engrained into him he activated the twin blades in his LACS’ forearms. The meters-long, nano-edged weapons erupted forward as he lunged. The miners didn’t get their muzzles up above their hips before Coop’s blades slid effortlessly through their chests. The weapons were meant to cut HI armor, so human flesh was like cutting paper.

The blades exploded out the miners’ backs and painted the hallway in a gory Picasso of blood and pulverized tissue.

“Grab the guns,” Coop hollered as he lost his balance and fell forward.

He collapsed onto of the two men he’d just killed making even more of a mess. They didn’t explode like pieces of fruit dropped off a building, but it wasn’t pretty. Ben scrambled forward and collected the two M3s and Coop struggled to his knees and retracted his blades. He looked like he’d just gone on a rampage. Blood and guts covered the front of his armor and dripped from his forearms.

<Hopefully that’ll make these assholes think twice about fucking with us.> He doubted it would, but it made him feel good.

Ben handed him one M3, which he used to help prop himself up before running a diagnostic check.

“How did you…?” The officer asked sheepishly.

“Give it to me.” Coop handed Ben the weapon he knew was good to go, and ran a second test. The miners hadn’t had the weapons long enough to screw anything up, and they hadn’t fired more than a few rounds between them. “Please tell me you at least know how to shoot.”

“It’s been a few years,” Ben answered defensively, “but I remember the basics.”

“Just point it at the bad guys and pull the trigger.” Coop didn’t have a lot of confidence in the officer’s ability to hit anything. “It will at least make them keep their heads down so I can maneuver and finish them off.”

Coop stuck his head out the door and looked both ways. It was clear. “Let’s move, Sir. You take left and I’ll take right and behind us.” It was a horrible arrangement to cover everything, but there weren’t many good options on the table.

Coop just hoped they could get to where they needed to go in one piece. If they got back to the Fleet they’d be able to fix his leg up lickety-split. <And I’ll get some good R&R while I rehab it.> He was already planning on giving Mike a call when they got back to the destroyer.

The big-chested engineer would have to wait, but Coop had always wanted to try his luck with a nurse. He’d definitely have the sympathy angle working in his favor.

Previous

Two Worlds – Chapter 130

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Cobalt Station, System 1776, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “Why the fuck is this room so big?”

“What the fuck did they think was going to happen?”

“Why the fuck are you talking instead of moving!?” The CPL cut into the chitchat and verbally planted his boot in a PVT’s ass.

Coop laughed to himself, but it got interrupted by the rumbling of the floor beneath his feet. The hangar bay of Cobalt Station looked like a third world war zone. About fifty miners lay dead and scattered throughout the space, with twice as many still fighting the advancing marines. Coop’s mines and the steady lobbing of smoke grenades was making it hard for the miners to inflict any more casualties. Even though they had M3’s, they didn’t have the armor networks to tie the weapons into. It severely degraded their effectiveness, but they didn’t seem to care.

Coop sighted a young-looking woman shooting the large rifle from the hip as she backed up and occasionally looked over her shoulder. A three-round burst of 3mm environmentally-friendly rounds hit her center mass and sent her toppling to the floor. His LACS neutral network logged that as his thirteenth kill of the day.

“We can’t sit here farting around anymore.” The CPL was pissed and Coop didn’t blame the older man. He’d been given command and walked right into a shitshow.

“Ballboy, get up there and plow the road. We’ll follow and cut a path through them. It beats the hell out of this slugfest.” Rounds pinged off the interstellar shipping containers housed in the bay.

Coop didn’t know exactly what the CPL meant by “plow the road”, but he had a few ideas. His giant Buss rotated the chambers to the grenade function while the remaining marines consolidated on their position. Coop fired off a few more smoke rounds – this time to either side of him – before reloading with something with a lot more bang. Then he told the CPL his plan.

“Hang on to your nuts boys and girls. We’re about to go for a ride.” The CPL stepped away from Coop and took cover behind a container.

Coop toggled to his weapons menu and did something MSG Smith had advised against in HI school. There were hundreds of weapons options to give an HI trooper maximum versatility and flexibility on the battlefield. Some were just downright ridiculous, while others could be a danger to the trooper and others. Coop wasn’t stupid enough to go that far, but his selection had the possibility to really fuck him up.

With his Buss set in rapid fire grenade launcher mode he pulled up the schematics of the station and zoomed in on the hangar bay. He got his location, got the exit door’s location, and planned to draw a straight line between the two points with grenades.

<This should be fun.>

“We’ll drop smoke every twenty-five meters.” The CPL ordered the rest of the marines while Coop lined up his first shot.

This little maneuver wasn’t going to kill the hundred remaining miners trying to kill them, in fact it was going to leave a lot of pissed off people chasing them. <But that’s why god made proximity mines.> Coop grinned.

They’d regroup with the rest of the marines, complete the mission, and then fight their way out. Coop would rather go at the rest of the pirates with a few squads of grunts than the seven they had now.

“Execute!” The CPL ordered, and everything in front of them started to explode.

Coop carved a path of destruction through the remaining hundred plus meters of the hangar bay. He used up the majority of his grenades doing it, but it was a hell of a show. The other marines dropped smoke every twenty-five meters on their flanks just like they said they would. It didn’t matter as much because any miners caught near the blast were to shell shocked to return fire until the charging marines were well past them. The whole deal only lasted a minute, but Coop was pretty sure he turned pyro in that short period of time.

“One and Two, this is Three. We’re through the hangar bay. Three casualties. The Spyder is down, I repeat, the Spyder is down. Casualty collection point is located at the Spyder.” The CPL added a STRATNET becon to the TACCOM message.

The red coded marine and the worst injured of the yellow had fallen back to the downed bird when Coop came up with his master plan to basically blow the shit out of everything. They’d rendezvous with the Spyder crew and hold up inside the war machine. The miners would have an impossible time cracking that bird if a half-decent defense was mounted, especially if they could get some of the secondary weapons systems back online.

That was a different group on a different mission. Coop and the CPL’s team had to clear this section of the station, find some stupid tin can captain, and get the hell out of here. They’d gotten through a hellish hangar bay, but they knew they’d only succeeded in kicking the hornet’s nest.

“Jam the door and let’s move.”

One of the marines took out a boxy device and placed it over the access panel that operated the door to the bay. He hit a few keys and a high-pitched whining noise filled the air. The little box scrambled the display and sent it into emergency lockdown mode.

“That’ll hold ‘em for a minute,” the marine grunted as he repocketed the box. It was also a useful tool to open up locked doors, and they all knew there would be a few of the ahead of them.

They formed two staggered columns – three on either side of the hallway with the CPL moving between them as needed – and started to clear the place room by room. The first two dozen spaces were empty quarters. They looked like single and family living units based on all the personal crap lying around. The owners were either holed up somewhere waiting for this all to end, or they were out there shooting at marines. Either way, Coop hoped they didn’t run into anyone. Room twenty-seven ruined that hope. Some douche looked like he was trying to take advantage of the chaos to liberate a few items that didn’t belong to him. He turned around quickly when he heard the door slide open and raised a two hundred year old pistol.

All the marine leading the clearing of the room saw was a man with a gun pointed at him, so all Coop saw when he entered was that guy’s brains blown all over the wall behind him. <Stupid dipshit. If they stopped screwing around we could be through and done with this. The more they fight the more they die.> Coop was starting to lose the adrenaline rush he’d had in the hangar bay. Killing stuff that couldn’t fight back wasn’t an enjoyable task.

The clearing was slow going because there were so many damn rooms. They were starting to look nervously behind them. It wouldn’t take forever for the miners to get the doors open and follow. Hell, if they couldn’t get the electronics to work there was the necessary equipment in the bay to pry the suckers open. Either way, no marine wanted to get shot in the ass. The longer they didn’t see the miners, the more nervous they got.

“Is there a better way to do this corporal?” Coop finally spoke up as they finished moving through some type of conference room. There was some good-looking chow on the table, so they must have been planning some sort of big meeting.

“If you can hack into the station’s biosensors and map the place for living organisms then we can skip these rooms and move on, but if I remember you’re a thirteen series correct? Did they teach you to hack between artillery sessions?”

Coop got the message. He needed to do his job and stop bitching. About eighty rooms later he felt like bitching a little more.

“AHHHHHH!” Screams erupted from room one-twenty-nine as the marines barged in. Coop was covering the rear, but he heard the CPL hurriedly try and talk someone down from doing something stupid.

That was about the time that Coop started hearing clanging coming from down the hall.

“Corporal, we need to move.” Coop had a bad feeling in his gut. “Corporal!”

“Keep your panties on, Ballboy.” The CPL exited the room supporting a young woman.

Her clothes were in tatters and she wouldn’t look anywhere but at the floor. Coop had a few guesses about what happened, but he kept that information to himself. The CPL was handling it, and Coop had bigger issues.

“That clanging is getting louder, Corporal. Let me have two guys and we’ll got check it out.”

The CPL nodded his head and Coop waved for two privates to form up on either side of him before they headed back down the way they’d come.

“I’ve got a solid mass heading this way,” Coop was a few hallways away when his millimeter wave radar started picking up something. “Let’s take it slow.”

It was a good thing they did, because two corners later they peaked around a ninety-degree bend and almost got their heads blown off.

“Where the fuck did they get this shit!?” Coop’s LACS identified the weapon that tried to cut him in half as another Buss, but the miners had mounted it on an old self-propelled bot and were marching down the hallway in search of victims.

To make matters worse, Coop could tell from the sound of the weapon firing that it was firing standard 3mm ammunition, not the friendlier rounds he was packing.

“Slow it down.” The CPL ordered when Coop relayed the news.

So Coop set an ambush. He staged two hallways away along the path the sled was traveling. He put some camo netting over two mines so they couldn’t be detected. It screwed with the sensors, but it wasn’t a big deal since he was going to manually detonate. The two regular grunts would mop up the mess after he blew the heavy weapon straight to hell.

When the miners rounded the corner, Coop was glad he’d covered up the mines and decided to manually detonate. They had an advanced group of three miners moving a good twenty meters in front of the Buss. If shit went down then those three would likely die first – and maybe by friendly fire – but it was a good counter to the mines Coop had been dropping everywhere.

<They aren’t a complete collection of back-system bumfucks.> Coop thought as the three scouts passed right over the mines.

Ten seconds later the Buss came into range and Coop initiated the detonation. Even around the next bend he felt the station shudder from the explosion. The commotion didn’t die down as injured men and women screamed in pain.

“Clean up on aisle two.” Coop joked as they moved into the hallway and dispatched the downed miners. It was as much a mercy killing as anything. The guys and gals were so jacked up they wouldn’t ever get fixed up this far out in the middle of nowhere. “Let’s get back to the guys.” They tallied another dozen kills between the three of them, and Coop made sure to put a few extra rounds into the Buss to make sure it never worked again.

They followed their team’s STRATNET icons to a large utility room the CPL had commandeered. The other marines had made a perimeter, and the CPL was in the center talking with someone with more authority.

“Roger that, Staff Sergeant. We’re on it.” The CPL finished up his SITREP as Coop’s impromptu team filed into the security perimeter. “Everyone listen up. Teams One and Two have finished their searches in their assigned sectors. The LT is down. Staff Sergeant is in command. We’ve got thirty percent casualties across all the squads. These fuckers have been picking us off with our own guns, but we’ve fucked them up pretty good. For every one of us they’ve shot we’ve gotten forty of theirs. ”

<Is anyone going to ask the obvious question? How the fuck did they get them?>

“No one knows how they got them, and I don’t give a shit. We’re here to do our job.”

“CPL…”

“Stow it, Cooper. We’re rendezvousing with Team One at this location.” The CPL cut off Coop and turned everyone’s attention to a waypoint that appeared on their HUDs. “We’re going to regroup and push deeper into the station. We haven’t found the missing skipper yet. Cooper, you’ve got point.”

<Great.> Coop kept his thought to himself as his neural network mapped the quickest way to the rendezvous point. After all, it was his job to take the brunt of an attack if it came.

They moved quickly and lethally through the station. A few loitering miners got what was coming to them, and a few innocents got told to hide in their rooms and lock the doors. Coop actually liked when they came across a person not trying to murder them. It was a minor relief that not everyone on this bucket of bolts was trying to kill them.

The fourteen other marines were waiting for them when they reached the rendezvous. The CPL huddled with the SSG and a SGT who’d taken over for the LT.

“Did the LT die?” Coop didn’t know of a sensitive way to ask the question to the grunt next to him on perimeter security.

“Nope, but he’s going to need a few new internal organs. I saw the medic shooting him full of medical nanites where his liver should have been.” The guy shrugged but kept his eyes on the hallway. It was big enough that five guys could run down it shoulder-to-shoulder; which was why Coop was on it.

They waited for the SSG to make a decision on what they were going to do next.

“Listen up, we’ve got a change of mission. We’ve suffered enough casualties that the destroyer’s skipper just wants us to locate and grab the officer that got himself captured. We’re going to need more marines if we want to take back the whole station, and they want to figure out how these Rim miners got their hands on modern hardware.

<Don’t we all.>

“We’re going down three decks into the engineering, processing, and sorting sections. It will get claustrophobic down there. These places aren’t made for humans to be traipsing through. It’s designed so bots can do repairs, but there are a few rooms down there if the bots need to get fixed. I’ve got four on the schematics, so we’re going to split up into four teams of three and one team of two. Ballboy,” he looked over at Coop, “you’re with me. We’re going to the main engineering control room. That’s where they most likely are, so be ready to do your HI thing and save the FUBAR officer who got us into this mess.”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Coop did a check of his weapons. He was low on ammo, out of grenades that could do any real damage, and he wasn’t going to set off a mine in a crowded space where big heavy machinery might crush him.

<Good thing my fingers are just as sticky as when I left the PHA.> Coop chambered a few hundred rounds he’d grabbed off the Buss he’d destroyed. He’d use them as a last resort, but they were better than nothing. <Fuck the station’s integrity. I’m not going to die for some idiot who got himself captured.>

“Let’s go, Ballboy.” The SSG had Coop take point again as they headed for the stairs.

Taking the grav-lifts would have been faster, but they would have been sitting ducks in those shafts. At least in the stairwells they had some maneuverability.

They went down three flights of stairs and immediately entered a space Coop could barely move in. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He has to turn sideways to squeeze between two pipes that were reading temperatures over fifty Celsius. Whatever they were, they were doing something.

“Two hundred meters on the left.” An arrow appeared on Coop’s HUD and the distance counter shrunk the closer they got.

They each took one side of the hallway and rapidly moved forward. There wasn’t any cover so they had to move fast.

It was a good thing they did. Coop and the SSG had just reached the door when Coop’s sensors picked up the gun pointing around the corner, and it wasn’t just any gun.

“MOVE!” Coop grabbed the SSG by the back of the armor and practically threw him into the room as the roar of another Buss lit up the hallway. Coop felt the impacts of the heavy rounds as he twisted from the throw and tumbled through the doorway.

Searing pair flashed through his side and he screamed. The armor’s medical systems went into overdrive. A brief diagnostic and explanation of the injury flashed in the corner of the HUD. He’d been grazed by a round, but it had penetrated the armor. Medical nanites were being injected and blood loss was minimal. He was still green as far as medical indicators went.

“Help.” The call was weak and coming from the corner of the room.

A large man in CMUs was strapped to a chair. His face looked like someone had used it as a punching bag, which judging by the blood splattered around him was probably accurate.

“Look out!” He tried to warn them, but it was too late.

Someone rushed the SSG from a dark corner and threw a punch into his armored gut. Normally, that wouldn’t have done jackshit, but the SSG doubled over from the blow and his surprised gasp was audible over TACCOM.

“Me and Staff Sergeant need some help down here!” Coop radioed for backup as he aimed his Buss at the uninvited guest.

The man jumped back away from the SSG with something long and dripping in his hand.

<He’s got a fucking nano-blade. How the hell did this asshole get a nano-blade?> It didn’t matter to Coop. A thirty-centimeter nano-blade lost to a fully loaded Buss every time.

“NO!” The big guy struggled against his restraints. “One stray shot and you could kill us all.”

The guy’s yell distracted Coop long enough for the knife wielding asshole to jump behind some machinery and disappear. Whoever the hell the guy was he had to be pretty small to fit behind there.

“Get him out of here, Ballboy.” The SSG was leaning heavily on some pipe with his hand against his gut.

“Come on Staff Sergeant, you know I’m not supposed to leave a man behind.” Coop walked over and easily cut through the restraints with the edge of his forearm blade.

“We need to move, there’s a guy with…”

“I know. There’s a guy with a Buss guarding the hallway.” Thankfully STRATNET had him pinged so backup would be ready for him. “Let’s get you out of here, Sir.”

“Thank you.”

The LCDR – if Coop remembered his rank stripe correctly – looked genuinely happy to see Coop.

<It ain’t a bad thing for an officer to owe me one.> Coop was already thinking about when he could call in that token when he heard a gunfight erupt in the hallway. The loud booms of the Buss drowned out the M3s.

“Let’s go, Ballboy. We don’t got all day.” The CPL’s voice demanded from where the relief team had taken up covering positions.

“You provide cover fire and I’ll run for the stairs. Don’t shoot my big ass though. This hallway is tight.” Coop radioed back, and then looked at the unarmored LCDR and the injured SSG. “I’m going to carry your ass out of here, Sir. Staff Sergeant…”

“Don’t pick me up like I’m your bride, Ballboy. I just need a helping hand, and I’ll help with that cover fire.” The SSG looked like he needed to be carried, but Coop knew plenty of guys that would rather die than admit weakness.

<It’s your funeral.>

“Cover fire in three…two…one…go!”

Coop busted out into the hallway just as reinforcements started to light up the other end of the corridor. The SSG twisted and fired his M3 one-handed. Bullets flew by so close that Coop sucked in his gut even though it wouldn’t do anything. The reinforcements had a good angle on the bad guy and were able to keep him pinned down as Coop hauled the beaten LCDR and wounded SSG several hundred meters towards safety.

They made it about three-fourths of the way there when Coop heard what no infantryman ever wanted to hear.

“GRENADE!”

Coop had a full three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view with his HUD and he knew the grenade was going to land about ten meters from him. There was nothing he could do about it but ride the blast.

Instinctually, he poured power into his armor’s artificial arms and threw the SSG and LCDR ahead of him. If Coop was lucky they would exit the blast radius. With them taken care of he activated the ES system in the armor. The nanites hardened at a molecular level right as he poured power into his legs and jumped. He’d ridden enough blast waves that he knew how to…

The grenade detonated and Coop felt a tugging sensation that would have left him with major whiplash. Instead, he felt unbelievable and agonizing pain in his leg until his body couldn’t take it anymore and he passed out.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 129

Noah Grisham

Location: Cobalt Station, System 1776, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 The last thing the pirate captain expected sitting in the bowels of Cobalt Station’s engineering and ore processing center was his PAD to vibrate with an incoming call. At first he just looked at it with confusion. Able was the only other person in the room who had a PAD, and he was busy spinning his laser pistol around his right index finger. He looked like a gunslinger from half a millennia ago. He obviously wasn’t the person calling.

The only other person in the room was his mark, Lieutenant Commander money-pants. The mark’s face was starting to bruise from where Able had smacked him around. Blood was dripping from a split lip onto his lap. His head was lolled forward in the way only an unconscious man’s could. There was no way the gunboat’s captain was making a call to his captor.

Noah’s mind churned and he wondered if this was the hostage negotiator call. That would be bad for a number of reasons. Most of all, it meant they knew where he was. Noah and Able were hiding their captive in the belly of the station for a very good reason. They didn’t want anyone to know where they were. That was so a squad of Collie marines couldn’t shoot them full of holes and blow their guts all over the walls. It was in his mortality’s best interest not to engage with any negotiator.

Curiosity got the best of the captain. If they already knew he was down here then there was no reason not to answer the call. <I might be able to talk my way out of this clusterfuck.>

Because it was a clusterfuck. They’d been able to grab the mark, but the head of security managed to get killed in the process. Since the guy didn’t trust the pirates – for good reason – he hadn’t given them any of the codes. The station’s defenses were offline. The people who hadn’t mutinied had locked themselves behind blast doors with the master controls, so even if Noah wanted to get in and hack the systems he couldn’t.

In the meantime, those rebellious miners who’d joined the mutiny for a small sum of cash and the promise of freedom were doing their best seventh century rendition of Vikings pillaging and plundering. They were eating, drinking, and fucking like there was no tomorrow; which was what today was going to be if Noah didn’t find a way off this tub of bolts.

All of this led him to hit the accept button on his PAD. “Hello.” He answered sounding like everything was going as planned.

“Mr. Grisham.” The voice was digitally altered and unrecognizable, but that didn’t stop a chill from going up Noah’s spine. He’d gone to considerable lengths to hide his true persona under a shit ton of fake data. If this guy had gotten through all of that then Noah’s pirating days might just be over.

“You have me at a disadvantage, Mr…?”

“You can just call me Sir.”

Noah bit his lip as the condescension made it through the filtering application. “What can I do for you, Sir?”

“You can listen. I hired you for a reason, and you have done your best to screw up the best laid plans.”

<So the guy that hired me finally shows his face; metaphorically speaking.>

“I didn’t screw up shit.” Noah instantly went on the defensive. “A control-freak asshat jumped the gun and got himself blown to bits. I then improvised this grand little mutiny, and got a whole station of people to turn on their corporate overlords. I not only got the mark, but have been able to keep a military vessel off my ass for the last day. If you ask me, that’s doing a pretty good job all things considered.”

“Considering you hired the aforementioned captain of the Full Moon the only impression I have of you is a poor taste in choosing your associates. That is not something to brag about and certainly not something to be rewarded.”

Noah felt his face heating, and he had the sudden violent urge to kill someone. Unfortunately, he couldn’t take any action with the other two people in the room.

“You seem to know everything.” Noah finally shot back. “What is your grand plan to get Mr. Gold off this god-forsaken station?”

“Storage locker Alpha 711. Go there now, gather the supplies, and prepare yourself. You have less than an hour before a Commonwealth destroyer full of marines attempts to retake the station.”

That was news to Noah, and despite this rich asshole’s critique, Noah gladly took any information that kept him breathing.

“Able, storage locker A-711. Grab everything and bring it back here.”

In typical Able style he just grunted in the affirmative.

“Any other words of wisdom?” Noah turned his attention back to the mysterious caller.

“Don’t die, and bring me Lieutenant Commander Gold alive.” With that said the line disconnected. Noah still didn’t even know how he got the call in the first place.

A minute later Able returned and showed Noah what was in the large storage locker.

“Fuck me.” Noah stared wide-eyed as a smile curled his lips. Get these to the miners upstairs and tell them we’re about to have company. We might just get through this after all.”

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: System 1776, New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop was ready. He wasn’t just ready, he was fucking pumped.

<Game time!  Let’s do this shit!> It felt like everything over the last several months had been leading him to this moment.

This wasn’t some welfare riot by a bunch of Rats throwing flaming bottles and firing centuries-old guns that couldn’t even scratch his paint job. This was the real deal. Pirates had taken control of a mining station and kidnapped a Commonwealth officer. The captain’s ship was keeping the situation contained, but they couldn’t retake the station themselves. They needed a group of asskickers to do that job for them.

And Coop was the biggest and baddest asskicker along for the ride.

“Cooper, get your head out of your ass.” The LT in charge of the mission snapped.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, Sir. Just prepared to lodge my foot up some ungrateful miner’s ass, Sir.” The marines around him laughed. They were a good group of guys.

“Save that fire for the enemy, Cooper.” The reprimand was mild, and the officer turned back to the holo-display in the destroyer’s only conference room. It was more than a tight fit for the thirty marines in full battle rattle.

“We have three teams. I will lead Team One. Team One will ingress here. This is where they tried to blow up the Argo. We will drop from the Spyder, attach to the hull, and blow the panels here, here, and here.” A 3-D display shone red where the panels are and simulated them blowing away from the station’s blueprints. “We will be charged with clearing this section.”

“Team Two will be led by the Staff Sergeant. Team Two will ingress along the hull behind where the pirates and miners are expected to be. Intelligence has them gathering in the central mall and berthing areas of the station. You can guess what they’re doing.”

<What I’d probably be doing.> Coop didn’t hold anything against the miners.

He’d known a few Rats that had been miners before. It was one of those professions where you ended up in a PHA if you weren’t born there.  It was a pretty shitty existence. You go out with a small crew to some god-forsaken asteroid and either man the computers for twelve hours shifts of you’re down on the surface using portable lasers to saw off big chunks of valuable shit. You didn’t get to keep any of it. All of it goes toward the company’s bottom line, and the suits watched everyone like a hawk. They basically strip searched everyone when they got back to the stations. You got paid shit, and you blew what little you had on rent, food, and maybe a little female companionship. Women miners were a rare breed, and they were often as dirty as the shit they were mining.

<Or at least that’s what they tell me.> Coop got all of his information secondhand, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t find a nice miner’s daughter and do some drilling of his own if the occasion called for it.

“Team three. Cooper this is your team, even though the corporal is going to lead it. You will ingress at the most likely point of entry: the main hangar. This is where they will be expecting an attack. You ten are going to be the sword that distracts the enemy while Teams One and Two are the daggers that cut their hamstring and stab them from behind.” The officer looked very confident in his briefing.

“We don’t know much about the enemy. We’ve got overall numbers for the station, but we don’t know how many mutinied. There could be twenty or two hundred bad guys waiting for us. It doesn’t matter either way. We will follow our SOPs, clear everything like we were trained, and be back in New Lancashire for PT tomorrow. Understood?”

“Yes, Sir!”

“Good. Team leaders, report final checks when completed. We’re a go in fifteen.”

“Team Three!” The gung-ho CPL came over their team net.

“Weapons check!”

“Green.” Coop had done his diagnostics. He didn’t need to do one every ten minutes.

“Armor check!”

“Green.”

“Commo check!”

Coop toggled through the variety of responses including pings on TACCOM and STRATNET. CWS Breckinridge was their node for the mission, so as long as the destroyer was sailing they’d be good to go on all of their networks.

While the CPL radioed in their final status update, Coop scrolled through his own options. His environmentally friendly load eliminated his traditional role as the units HI support. He wasn’t going to be firing any artillery rounds inside the station, but he needed to be ready to provide support in a large space like a hangar bay.

<Let’s see.> He mused. <What should daddy bring to the party?>

The rules of engagement were to only fire when fired upon, and to not break too many things. The company was certainly insured, but with the defense contract the government might be liable for some of the damages, especially if those damages were avoidable. That meant it came out of the sector budget, which would lead to a pissing contest between the Ministry of War and the sector government.

Coop didn’t give a shit about any of that. He’d put a mine right on the most expensive thing in the whole station if it kept him and the other marines from taking a headshot. They didn’t have any intel about the enemy’s weapons capabilities, but they had killed a marine already. That meant shit was serious.

“Everyone on the Spyder!” The thirty marines followed the OIC’s orders and trotted toward the destroyer’s single bird.

The small warship didn’t have a dedicated flight deck like the assault carrier, or even a separate section for the assault shuttle. The fifty-ton war machine was nestled into a section just inside the hull. The hull could retract on command and birth the little shuttle into space. Since destroyers really weren’t meant to carry lots of marines or be a transport it was an acceptable design. It didn’t really work out so much when you were strapped for ships and needed to make lemonade with some really tiny lemons.

<At least we’ve got plenty of space.> Coop plugged himself into the onboard charger to get another ten minutes of battery life. He doubted he’d need it, but better safe than sorry…or dead.

“Ok, marines, let’s crack this nut.” That got some boots pounding on the deck while Coop made sure his Buss was on the grenade setting.  He was going to need some shock and awe to get this thing rolling.

“Three minutes!”

Coop didn’t even realize they’d dropped out of the destroyer’s belly, but they were racing toward the station. He had no external links to the shuttle so he couldn’t see what was going. There were no sudden course changes and jolts, so no one was shooting at them. It was a shame. It felt too easy.

“Everyone better be buttoned up like a tick’s ass.” The SSG yelled as O2 levels began to drop. The troop compartment was being slowly depressurized so nothing exploded when Team One needed to exfil to their ingress point.

Dropping off Teams One and Two was pretty uneventful. They just hopped out of the Spyder’s ass end, engaged their magnified boots and hauled ass toward wherever they were going to get into the station. They might be protected from the cold bitch that was space in their Dragonscales and combat-ready CMUs, but it got uncomfortable after about fifteen minutes in the void. Coop had no such limitations, even in a V1.

“Hangar bay is open.” The CPL announced as Coop felt a slight increase in the shuttle’s acceleration. “We’re going in hot, so be ready to haul ass.”

Coop unhooked himself from the charger. He was at 100% and ready to kick ass. He felt a slight pull in his navel as the shuttle did a hairpin turn within the hangar bay. He felt the ground shudder beneath him as the Spyder’s autocannon opened fire.

<So much for me being the one to break something important. > The assault shuttle’s 30mm cannon rounds were going to fuck up anything before Coop even got a chance.

“GO! GO! GO!” the CPL yelled as the rear ramp clanged onto the ground.

Coop was the first out the door. His HUD automatically updated with the Spyder’s targeting data. There were a lot of red icons in a space several football fields long and wide, so he picked the biggest collection, aimed his Buss, and pulled the trigger. A soft thump reverberated through his armor as the 40mm anti-personnel grenade launched from his Buss, over a ton of cargo containers, honed in on the STRATNET data for the enemy, and dropped down into the middle of their shitty formation. Coop felt the rumble of the explosion in his boots as five tangos dropped off STRATNET.

<And that’s my cherry being popped.> Coop didn’t stop moving, or searching for another target, but it was a surreal moment. He’d fired in anger against another human being trying to kill him. It felt only slightly different from braining the Rat back in Old Chicago, <but I sure as shit ain’t gonna be written up this time.> Coop switched to his 3mm plasma rounds and fired several three-round bursts at a group of containers fifty meters in front of him. Three miners – by the look of their heavy clothing – ducked behind cover. Only two made it. One went down with a much smaller hole than usual from a 3mm round, but if he wasn’t dead yet the nanites in the environmentally-friendly bullet were seriously fucking him up.

“Man down!” The call came over STRATNET, and sent a cold shiver down Coop’s spine.

The ten-man assault force had spread out when their boots hit the ground. Coop was going up the center while the lighter-armored marines took the hopefully less defended flanks. Coop checked STRATNET and saw a PVT who’d gone from green to red. As ten percent of their fighting force, even one loss was big.

“SHIT!” Another marine went from green to yellow.

“Ballboy, lay down some smoke so we can regroup and figure out what the fuck is going on!” The CPL sounded stressed, but that was unavoidable when you had a fifth of your force get hit in the first minute.

Coop did more than shoot. He launched the smoke grenades to give the dispersing marines some cover, but he also went to his weapon’s menu and selected his new options. His LACS sensors cut through the smoke, and the 3-D mapping of the hangar bay was already complete; so the computer was able to select several advantageous positions to place mines.

Coop’s armor shuddered as the mines launched, magnetically locked to the containers, and went active with friend-or-foe identifiers. Anyone with a STRATNET beacon could pass through just fine. Anyone else would be taking the escalator straight to hell.

“I can tell you what the fuck is going on.” Another PFC spoke up while Coop was covering them. “These fuckers have modern weaponry that’s what’s going on.”

“How the fuck…?”

Internal alarms started blaring in Coop’s LACS. MISSILE LOCK flashed across his screen. Thankfully, his neural networks worked faster than he did. His railgun swiveled toward the threat and burped out a defensive salvo. Coop would have to look at the data after the fight to see how many missiles were fired, but they were of the hypervelocity variety.

The hangar bay was suddenly filled with explosions and shrapnel as the railgun rounds met the missiles in a flurry of destruction. The rest of the marines hunkered down behind cover, but that didn’t stop a third grunt’s medical status from declining to yellow.

“We need to…” Coop’s yell got interrupted by a high-pitched whine.

The smoke was still gathering in front of the marines, but he had a clear view of what was going on behind them. The Spyder was listing dangerously to the left and smoke was pouring out of one of the engines. The pilot looked like they were fighting to keep it airborne, but it looked like they’d taken a bad hit. The only reason it hadn’t been destroyed outright was because the hypervelocity missiles hadn’t had time to gather speed. Still, the Spyder had been wounded.

“Make a hole!” The pilot sounded calm and collected despite fifty tons of death about to eat the cold steel of the hangar bay deck.

Coop turned his attention back to the front where the missiles had come from. The LACS and the Dragonscale armor had zeroed in on the origination point of the attack.

“Covering fire!”

Coop didn’t have to be told twice. He let loose with his Buss on full auto even as the ground shuddered beneath his feet from the Spyder’s emergency landing. The already damaged armorplast between the marines and the missile team disintegrated under the squads combined fire. It took a little while longer with the less effective rounds, but they got the job done. After a mad minute, the CPL had them cease fire, and reestablish sectors of fire to deal with the remaining tangos in the bay.

They wouldn’t be dealing with anymore missiles today…hopefully, but that didn’t erase the fact that they were down three men with one seriously injured, and had a broken Spyder.

The CPL detailed someone to stay back with the PVT reading red, but the two yellow codes were able to keep moving. The CPL assigned them rear security. “Push forward!”

Coop did just that, and started blasting away the remaining miners and pirates in the hangar bay as the marines leapfrogged forward in three to five second rushes. When he reached the first body he noticed a familiar weapon in the dead man’s disintegrated hands.

“Corporal, they’ve got M3s. Where the hell did they get M3s?”

“Beats me, Ballboy. Quit talking and keep killing. We aren’t out of the frying pan yet.”

That became abundantly clear when a 1mm round clipped Coop’s faceplate. It didn’t penetrate, and that unlucky SOB who fired it would never see another sunrise, but it still rattled Coop. It would rattle anyone who just got shot in the face.

<What the fuck is going on here?> It didn’t take a genius to realize things weren’t going as planned.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 128

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

“That shitter better be clean enough to eat off of, or I will make you lick it clean. You get me, Private?”

Coop’s back was turned to the SGT in charge of the work detail, so he was able to close his eyes, grit his teeth and take a few deep breaths. It took a considerable amount of willpower to keep from reaching back and snapping the man’s neck.

<I’m a highly trained, lowly motivated, HI asset and they’ve got me scrubbing down the latrine with a toothbrush. This is the definition of a gross misuse of resources.>

“Roger that, Sergeant. You’ll be able to eat your momma’s cooking off this metal throne when I’m done with it.” Some motivation was better than no motivation, but right now Coop had zero motivation.

It had been a few days since the MPs tossed his room and they hadn’t found anything. Usually, that would have been good enough to get him off the hook, but Gunney Topper had a stick so far up his ass he was tasting wood. Extra duty was the punishment for not getting caught in the Gunney’s book, so Coop had spent all his time on CWS Abraham Lincoln doing pointless, pedantic shit. Scrubbing the shitters with a toothbrush was just the latest treat.

<There’s a nanite-infused spray that would get this whole place spick and span in about five seconds, and it would be cleaner than anything I’m able to manage. I wonder if I could complain to whatever department this fat fuck is in. Maybe he’s violating some health code.>

Coop thought it couldn’t get worse yesterday when he had to trim the artificial grass turf in the recreation section of the assault carrier with a pair of scissors. Why someone had designed artificial grass to grow was still beyond him, but he sure as shit knew he wasn’t setting foot on that field unless he had to. He had a suspicion the second the grass exceed the ornery SGT’s standards, Coop would be back there with his scissors and ruler cutting again.

<Gunney can’t do this forever.> Despite the clusterfuck Coop was currently engaged in, he knew all he had to do was buy his time. Eventually, someone with more authority than the GYSGT was going to ask why a sixth of the battalion’s entire HI contingent was on his knees scrubbing away other people’s ass bacteria.

Coop also knew the GYSGT would push it was long as possible. The GYSGT didn’t like Coop, and he’d let everyone know it.  Coop could do everything right and he doubted he’d get a favorable evaluation, which didn’t bode well for his career prospects.

<All because of something that allegedly happened a thousand light years away.> The fact that Coop did it didn’t matter. The important part was he hadn’t been caught. <Looks like innocent until proven guilty is just something they write on paperwork. It actually means jackshit.>

“There ain’t nothin’ like a little elbow grease to wake you up in the morning.” The SGT reminded Coop about the other shitty part of this whole situation. It was 0400 ship-time, and the detail would be working until PT at 0600, and then would be back to more menial, demeaning tasks by 0900 until 1700.

<Please great gugala mugala in the sky, get me out of this fucking place.> Coop offered up his heathen prayers without any expectations.

The universe answered.

Three sharp warning bells rang and amber light flashed throughout the bathroom.

“Everyone up! Get to your units NOW!” The SGT didn’t have to tell Coop twice. He ditched the old-fashioned toothbrush and ran for it.

The problem was that it took a solid five minutes to get from the latrine he was cleaning to where his unit was supposed to muster. He was cleaning the shitters in spacer country when he needed to be in marine land. So, of course the GYSGT wasn’t happy when he was the last soldier to sprint into formation.

“Where the fuck have you been, Cooper? Never mind,” he waved off any response Coop had ready. “You and I are going to sit down and have a talk about how things work in my unit when we get through this little brush fire.” He stared daggers at Coop until a holo-screen appeared in the air with a stern-looking LCDR.

“Gunney,” the officer gave Topper a nod before looking out at the collection of soldiers. “We’ve got a situation. While on a routine patrol of System 1776 one of Abraham Lincoln’s gunboats, CWS Argo, engaged and defeated a pirate ship that was attempting to rob or destroy a vessel contracted with Cobalt Mining Company. Argo was successful in eliminating the threat.” That got a few grins from the infantry grunts. However, upon inspection of the station per our contract with the organization, the Argo’s captain was kidnapped by more pirates lying in wait. A marine and spacer were killed, and many of the corporation’s on-site officers are unaccounted for and presumed dead. The pirates attempted to destroy Argo, but the gunboat’s crew swiftly responded to the attack. They are securing the area until we can send in additional reinforcements to retake the station.”

“That is the situation, Marines.  Our mission is to retake that station, find the captain, and eliminate the threat.”

“Sir, yes Sir!” The thrill of upcoming battle made Coop’s nuts tingle.

“The OIC and NCOIC for the mission will brief you more on the execution, but you are going to be walking into the unknown. Nevertheless, my intent is for you to go in there and kick some ass. Understood?!”

“Sir, yes Sir!”

“Out-fucking-standing.” The LCDR grinned. “I will give you one bit of good news.” The LCDR’s eyes swept the assembled soldiers. “PFC Cooper is going to be accompanying you.” Those eyes targeted Coop.

“Sir, I…”

“We need HI on this op, Gunney. No arguments.” The LCDR stomped on the Gunney’s attempt to fuck over Coop, and Coop took a certain amount of satisfaction from that.  “PFC Cooper if going to be there to kick down doors and smoke out these cockroaches with the rest of you. If you get in trouble you get behind his fat ass.” That got some laughs, and even Coop found himself smiling.”

The LCDR cut the link from wherever he was and left Coop alone with the Gunney’s wrath. It was clear from the look on the GYSGT’s face that he didn’t want Coop anywhere near an Op like this, but he wasn’t about to go against the battalion commander’s orders.

“You better not fuck this up, Cooper.” He got right up into Coop’s personal space while the rest of the grunts went off to fetch their gear. “Do exactly what the NCOIC tells you. Don’t fucking showboat. Get the job done, or I’m going to strip your enhancements myself and force you to peel potatoes for the rest of your military existence.”

“Potatoes get pealed, Gunney?” From the look on the NCO’s face you would have thought Coop said he was going to butt fuck the NCO’s mother.

Before the GYSGT could chew into his ass, Coop and the thirty soldiers assigned to this Op headed down to the unit’s onboard armory. The regular grunts went through weapons issue, while Coop went for his LACS.

“Any chance you’ve got a shiny new V2 in here for me?” Coop grinned at the female CPL manning the cage.

She did not find Coop charming, and laughed in his face as she led him to the old V1. While everyone got ready, Coop submerged himself into the swamp ass slime of the older version’s interior. Thankfully, it didn’t smell that bad. He went through his startup diagnostics, and then buttoned up before stepping up onto the contraption.

“Commo check.” The CPL spoke into TACCOM as she began to input his suit’s data into the local node and link it to the ship that would cart the strike force to System 1776.

“Good copy, reading you five by five.” Coop replied back as he cycled through his sensor settings.

“Call sign?” The CPL asked, and expected an immediate reply but never got one.

“I don’t have one.” Coop would have scratched his armored head if he wasn’t flexing to test the mechanically augmented strength of his LACS.

“Pick.” She said simply, and a whole list of call signs started to run down his screen.

“Call me Maverick…no I want Penetrator…no wait, Mutilator that’s the one.” Coop could feel the drool collecting as some kickass call signs flew by.

“BallBoy it is.” The CPL stated matter-of-factly and locked it in.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Coop yelled into his armor, but no one was listening.

His equipment updated and officially listed his call sign in TACCOM and STRATNET as BallBoy.

<God damnit, stupid fucking bi…>

“Commence loading.” The CPL cut off his mental rant.

He instinctually triggered the OPEN/CLOSE PORTS icon and felt the hiss of air as the suit opened to receive the ammunition. He watched the ammunition streaming in and did a double take. He wasn’t getting a standard combat load, but he wasn’t getting the non-lethal he’d received for the Chicago riot either. He’d only read about this type of load before.

“They’re giving you an environmentally-friendly load because we don’t want to fuck up this company’s shit and get sued. “

Environmental loads were designed to be used in a fragile environment. Where you could use standard duro-steel 1mm rounds on a planet or on a military warship, that wasn’t always the case with fragile civilian run space stations. Their hulls were thinner, they had a ridiculous affinity to have armorplast windows instead of steel bulkheads because it looked pretty, and in general they always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time which led to them getting shot. So, the Commonwealth had done their best to avoid ruining them and their shit.

The rounds fired in an environmental load would still penetrate and kill and unarmored human. Their velocity was just much slower, and they were designed to slow down after hitting and penetrating a target. The difference was they were nanite-tipped – similar to the non-lethal rounds – but a whole lot deadlier. The previous nanites would just irritate the crap out of you. These would actively try to kill you. They were hunter-killer models. They would look for the damaged parts of armor, find ways to breech it, and attempt to kill its host. HI and regular grunts had counter-nanites to fight these environmentally-friendly but lethal nanites, so they’d be ok. But a run-of-the-mill pirate was going to be monumentally fucked.

“You’re set.” The CPL stated when the rattling stopped and she pulled the giant cord that updated all his neural-nets. “The mission doesn’t call for any high-velocity missiles or 100mm arty rounds. They have assigned you 6 mines though, and you can access them in the same menu as the missile launcher.”

Coop went in and renamed the missile system to avoid any confusion.

“Your rail gun is fully loaded with ten thousand rounds, and I’ve got your Buss with a double load. All the 3mm you could ever want, plus extra grenades where the 100mm rounds would usually go. That should be enough for you to clear a station the size of Cobalt’s without having to get sloppy.”

Coop updated his menus and identified sixty more grenades then what was already loaded into the Buss. He might be wearing antiquated armor, but he was ready to fuck up some minor league kidnapper’s day.

A SSG and LT were in charge of the Op, but the two leaders didn’t talk until they reached the airlock for their ride. The CWS Breckinridge was a destroyer they were stuffing the three squads into for the short ride to System 1776. Judging by what Argo had reported, a single destroyer should be enough to secure the system and ensure the pirates paid for what they’d done.

That was a clear take away from the mission brief Coop got in route. These pirates had fucked with the wrong people, and they were to be made an example of.

<If that’s what you want, then I’m the man for the job.> Coop couldn’t wait to kick some ass. <I’ve been scrubbing shitters for long enough. Time to get some.>

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Two Worlds – Chapter 123

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

“Let’s go. Hustle. Move it…Move it…Move it!” The permanently irritated SGM yelled every few seconds as over two thousand soldiers streamed into the assault carrier’s main hanger bay.

It was the main hanger bay, but Coop knew each assault carrier contained three. One for the Spyders and infantry to use, one for the gunboat scouts, and the last was for the fighters. Coop would likely never see the other two bays. It wasn’t his job to sit around in a small metal tube or fly the drone fighters the Commonwealth used in planetary invasions and major space battles. He was a ground pounder, and he was proud of it.

“Fall in!”

The company and battalion NCOICs were already working on getting the soldiers organized. You’d think that two thousand plus soldiers being packed into the bay would be cramped. You’d be wrong. The bay was designed to have the ship’s full brigade contingent and all of their Spyders occupying it at the same time. It was freaking huge.

Coop fell in on the far right with the small contingent of 2222nd soldiers. They were only a company and a half compared to the other two full battalions. The rest of the 2222nd was already deployed, but the replacements still had to get in formation with the rest of the newcomers and receive the initial briefing. The speech, SOPs, and local ROE would be available on all of their PADs through MILNET when they were done, but a commander addressing their troops was something that never went out of style.

“Welcome to all the new faces.” The Brigade Commander gave Coop’s small group a nod. “I hope everyone had a good rest because you aren’t going to see one for the next several months. We are preparing for war, and that preparation starts with us securing our assets. Your missions will be…”

Coop tuned out about then. Their mission was to stop the Blockies. Their mission was to fight and win. The particulars of that mission would get relayed to him by the NCOs directly above him. The CMDR could spout out all the high-level crap he wanted. It wouldn’t affect the day to day duties Coop would be tasked with.

Instead, he took his time examining the bay and counting the Spyders. <148…149…150.> There were some out on patrol, assigned to the planet, or undergoing maintenance somewhere else, but it was the most assault shuttles Coop had ever seen in one place. Even back on Mars they didn’t even have fifty birds sitting side by side. It was an awesome display of firepower. <And it’ll move two and a half battalions of ass kickers at once to any battlefield we’re needed at.> He felt bad for anyone that fucked with this ship.

“Brigade, atten-tion! Dismissed!” The CMDR wrapped up his spiel and executed a brisk about face.

After that it was filled with a lot of yelling as the NCOs took charge. Many were looking at their PADs for their unit’s assignments. One by one, companies began to break off and head out. Some even headed back the way they came to the luxury liner. They weren’t staying on the ship.

“Hey, Sergeant! What are we gonna do?” Coop just had to be the guy to ask that question.

The NCO charged with picking up the replacements was a standard grunt, not HI, so he gave the standard answer.

“The 222nd is assigned with the protection and deployment from this assault carrier. Most of our units onboard train primarily for planetary invasion and repelling boarders. That being said, we have more assignments than we do troops. The other ships have their own marine contingents, but we still need to secure the planets, slingshot, and any forward operating bases we deem necessary. As the biggest unit in the sector that responsibility falls to us.”

It didn’t answer Coop’s question, but it necessitated more.

“Why don’t the planets have their own militias protect them? Isn’t that what they’re there for?”

“Planetary militias, especially out here on the rim, are poorly equipped and undermanned. We supplement them where we can. Mostly we secure the PDC.” The SGT was being politer and patient than Coop thought, so he just kept on pushing.

“Where are we getting assigned?”

“That, Private, is for your commanders to decide.”

Just like that the patience was gone and there was no more talking as the hundred and fiftyish soldiers marched through the assault carrier’s corridors back toward infantry country – the giant space in the assault carrier that was meant to berth ten thousand marines.

Coop took one look at the room he was assigned and was thankful the entire brigade was not on the carrier. He was HI so he was two to a room instead of four, but even then he wouldn’t be able to fully lie down on his cot. It wasn’t long enough to contain his entire frame.

“Do you believe this shit?” Coop poked his head into the cabin next to his.

“Yeah, this sucks,” Mike replied. He had it even worse than Coop.

The only positive was that they had the cabins to themselves. It was a positive as far as sleeping, but a negative when it came to the eventual combat they’d be engaged in. A half-full berth signified a lack of HI, and as Coop knew only too well they were operating at about fifty percent strength with the units he was familiar with.

His PAD suddenly pinged with a priority message from a GYSGT Topper. The name sounded familiar, but Coop couldn’t place it. It requested Coop and Mike’s immediate presence in a briefing room at the far end of grunt territory. It took the two HI troopers longer than they thought to get there. They had to take several corridors that never seemed to lead where they were supposed to. They missed their deck on the grav-lift once because it moved so fast and they weren’t paying attention, so when they finally got the briefing room the GYSGT’s comment wasn’t a big surprise.

“Took you long enough. You stop for a snack on the way?”

“We didn’t pass the mess, Gunnery Sergeant,” Coop answered with a totally straight face.

“Shut your fucking face, Cooper.” The GYSGT lashed out. “I’ve read your file, and I don’t want any of your shit while you’re with my outfit. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Understood?”

<Yes, Gunney stick-up-his-ass.>

“Yes, Gunney.” He didn’t dare say what he was thinking.

“Sit your ass down. Enders,” the GYSGT looked at Mike appreciatively. “You’re a big motherfucker aren’t you? I’ve got just the job for you.”

Coop knew Mike well enough to read the hesitation on his face. Despite being a big bastard, Mike didn’t like to just be used to pick up heavy things, move them somewhere, and then put them down. He was a good trooper, and a good trooper wanted to do something mission-oriented.

“In case you two haven’t figured it out, I’m Gunnery Sergeant Topper. The battalion commander has tasked me to be in charge of our HI assets. You two are one third of my responsibility.” The NCO’s gaze was steely.

“That means I’m going to be all over your asses. I don’t care if you’re five light years away. I’m going to make sure you two don’t fuck up. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunney!”

<Just great.> Coop kept his exasperation off his face. He dearly hoped he got to be stationed five light years from this douche.

“Enders, I’m assigning you to Delta Company. You’ll find the unit details in your PAD, but the short and sweet of it is that they’re in charge with the sector capitol’s defense. So get your shit and get onto the first bird headed planetside.”

“Yes, Gunney.” Mike nodded.

“What are you waiting for?” The GYSGT stated after Mike didn’t move. “Get the hell out of my face. Go do your job.”

“Yes, Gunney.” Mike snapped out of parade rest and without a sideways glance at Coop jogged out of the room.

The assault carrier only shook slightly as he ran.

“Now for you, Cooper.”

“Yes, Gunney.”

“I’ve got a request from an MP company back on Luna to look into you.”

<Oh shit.>

“Right now, two masters-at-arms are looking through your shit. If they find what they’re looking for then you’ll be spending this deployment in the brig. If they don’t, and I don’t think they will, then I’m assigning you to Foxtrot. They’re one of our best companies. It was SGT Takahashi’s company. He met his maker in a fleet action to secure the supply route to this sector. He gave his life to ensure a whole section of the battleship he was hitching a ride on didn’t lose power and get blown apart in space.”

Coop knew better than to react, both to the MAs searching his berth and the SGT he’d be replacing. Nothing he could say was going to get him any leeway in either case.

“The LT and NCOIC know how to handle problem children in Foxtrot, so I expect you’ll be whipped into shape soon. You’re staying onboard, so get comfortable. PT is at 0600 ship’s time. Tomorrow we’re doing PMCS of our armor. Yours better be ready to go. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunney.”

“Dismissed.”

The NCO turned away and Coop got out of there. Mike was waiting for him around the corner, and didn’t look happy that he was going planetside alone.

It was weird saying goodbye to Mike. Not only because the MAs were tossing his room while they stood in the hallway, but also because the two of them had been together their entire military career. From the PHA all the way to now. They’d bled in Basic, HI School, and even fought off riotous Chicago together. Coop didn’t know what to say after all of that.

“My shuttle leaves in ten.” Mike didn’t have a lot of stuff and hadn’t unpacked, so he was ready to go in thirty seconds.

“I’m stuck in this tin can.” Coop shrugged. “I’ll try and grab some leave when I get a chance and check out your swanky digs.”

It depended on the person, but most soldiers preferred a planetary assignment to a shipboard one.

“Just let me know, and I’ll try and get some time away from my five-star accommodations.” Mike grinned. “I heard they even have a pool.”

“Fuck you.” Coop extended his hand.

Mike took it. “You know,” he stated after a second. “The first time I met you I didn’t like you. You seemed like one of those fast-talking leeches that thought they knew everything and were the hot shit. I usually had to pummel those little Rats into seeing the error of their ways.”

“I’m flattered.” Coop smirked.

“You were still a cocky little shit who thought he knew everything, but Berg got to kick your ass instead of me. I think that helped.”

“Thanks?” Coop cocked an eyebrow.

“Don’t mention it.” They finished shaking and Mike turned to leave.

“Stay safe.” Coop called after him.

“You too.” Mike rounded the corner and was gone.

After months together it felt weird to not have the big guy’s hulking figure nearby. He missed it even more when the MAs stepped out of his room with grim looks on their faces.

<What the hell could they have found?>

“You’re clear, Private.” It didn’t occur to Coop that the grim faces were because they didn’t find anything.

“I know.” Coop tried not to sound too triumphant.

<It’s a good thing I blew all that money on booze back on Thor.> His own frivolousness had saved him a trip to the brig.

With that over with he entered his cabin and shut the door behind him. The liner had dropped all the new soldier off in the middle of the night ship’s time. Coop had two hours until PT, so he decided to catch some Z’s. He needed to make a good impression tomorrow.

<Gunney already thinks I’m a criminal. I can’t have the LT and NCOIC thinking that too.> The fact that the Gunney was technically correct didn’t even cross Coop’s mind.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 117

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Alcubierre Bubble, Space

 <Punch…dodge…counterpunch…block.> Coop ignored the pain that shot through his arm and into his shoulder. All things considered, he was doing a kick ass job.

The 2223rd and 2224th Infantry Battalions had finally deployed to York Sector in the Rim, and they were flying there in style. Normally, transportation was handled by the fleet of troop transport ships the Fleet had ready, but things didn’t always work out the way they were supposed to; especially when it was an emergency deployment. Suddenly having to find a ride for two thousand grunts and all of their gear was a monumental logistical task. Luckily, this wasn’t the first time the Commonwealth had faced a situation like this.

The answer to the problem was interstellar cruise lines.

Coop thought that had come out of left field when him, Mike, and the replacements for the 2222nd were marched toward a half-kilometer long luxury liner. The crew stood next to the boarding ramp providing water, reassurance, and thanks for everyone’s service to the Commonwealth.

“The government owns a certain percentage of the industry. That way they earn some extra cash and always have transportation in case shit like this happens,” SSG Hightower explained as he led the way down to the lower decks where the HI enlisted were going to be berthed.

The SSG had a quick word with the officers and all the HI were able to break away from their units. Building espirit de corps and optimizing operational integrity by interunit cross training was the official line they were selling the brass, but really they just wanted to hang out and do their own thing.

That “own thing” wasn’t all fun and games.

Coop backed away and circled, shaking out his arms and spitting out a loogie thick with blood.

“Keep your hands up, Cooper.” SSG Hightower motioned a proper defensive stance. “You keep dropping your arms when you get tired. Suck it up.”

Among other things the five star luxury liner had available, one was a kick ass gym. It wasn’t nearly big enough for a bunch of ground-pounders who had nothing better to do for the multiple-day trip to New Lancashire other than work out, PMCS gear, or do pointless cleaning details. The place was always packed to the brim, but the one place that usually had a little bit of space was the anti-grav pit.

Normally, to blue-blooded guests the pit was a great way to simulate sky diving or any other number of stimulating activity. The HI had a different purpose for it, but it was no less stimulating.

The SSG had turned up the gravity to triple earth-norm and conducted combatives drills every few hours. That was why Coop was currently sweating, wore protective padding on his head, fists, and shins, and was bleeding from a cut lip.

Coop hadn’t taken the hit lying down though. Even if he lost, the SSG knew he’d been in a fight; but from the way things were going Coop thought he might actually stand a chance.

<I’ve got this.> Coop circled, rushed in to do a quick combination, and then feinted a retreat. When the SSG came after him, Coop unleashed a devastating side kick meant for the SSG’s torso.

<Motherfu…!> The kick never landed. The SSG smoothly slide to the side while wrapping his arm around Coop’s leg.

That left Coop hopping there with the SSG securely holding him by the calf. If this had been a real fight the SSG could have done some serious damage to Coop’s knee or ankle. All he had to do was yank one way and push the other and Coop would need a visit to the Battalion surgeon to repair torn tendons or broken bones.

But this was training, and thankfully SSG Hightower didn’t ruin Coop’s day. But that didn’t mean the SSG let him get away from looking like an idiot.

Coop hopped around trying in vain to lash out and score a hit on the SSG. He didn’t want to take the fight to the ground, the SSG’s ground game was light-years ahead of his, so he was left their trying to think of a way to counter the NCO’s iron grip.

The crowd around the edges of the pit ooohed and ahhhed as the two giants went at it. Bets were being taken, and people were screaming as they lost half their paycheck on these little bouts. Coop had put down a few bucks on himself to win this fight. The SSG had the better odds by a long shot, but you had to take risks to earn rewards.

<Doesn’t look like that’s going to happen today.> His eyes scanned the crowd until they met a familiar set of brown ones.

For the life of him, Coop couldn’t remember the girl’s name. He had the curves of her body memorized, but her name continued to elude him. <Jill…Jamie…Gisel?> He was a little rattled from the fight.

She was a PFC from another unit so there was no conflict of interest. Not that Coop would have given a shit if there was. They’d been fucking like bunnies over the last couple of days, and he could tell from the look in her eyes that he’d be getting another type of workout when this fight was over. His vision was much better than an average human so he saw the way her smartcloth tightened as she breathed deeply. Some sweat dripped from her forehead as she watched the two HI go at it, and the way she slightly bit her bottom lip was all the nonverbal communication that Coop needed.

He gave her a smile, which ignited an animal passion on her face, but that was cut short when a shot of pain rampaged through Coop’s body. The SSG still had his leg in a firm grip, and had noticed Coop was distracted; so he started repeatedly pummeling him in the hamstring. Getting punched in the hamstring hurt like a bitch, especially when the painful shockwave reverberated up toward his nuts.

Four punches and Coop lost his balance and went tumbling to the ground. Once he was down it was quick. The SSG fell on top of Coop, knocking the wind out of him, and using the momentary lung spasm to pass Coop’s guard. Straddling on top of him, the SSG unleashed a few punches to Coop’s unprotected face before pulling back.

“You’re done, Cooper. Not bad, but not great either. I will concede you were better than last time. “

Coop felt like an idiot thinking he could take the more experienced NCO, but he accepted the man’s hand and gingerly got to his feet. Most of the crowd was cheering, but there were a few boos for those who’d lost their money. Coop gave them all the finger and then locked eyes with, <Jennifer, that’s it..wait…no…> It didn’t matter. If eyes could suck a dick then she was going to town on him.

“Ok, that’s it!” Hightower took control of the rambunctious group with a few loud words. “Shit, shower, shave and be ready for formation at 1330. We’ll see what the afternoon’s tasks are.”

That gave Coop and what’s-her-face time for a forty five minutes quicky. From the way his leg spasmed when he put pressure on it, he’d probably just have to lay there on his back and take it from her. Not that there was a problem with that.

She approached him, her eyes locked on like a tractor beam with another woman in tow. The other woman, a PVT by the rank insignia on her shoulder, had a hungry look on her face.

“Oh sweet baby Jesus.” Coop muttered to himself thinking about what fun the three of them could have together.

Of course, when something awesome was about to happen to him something had to immediately ruin it.

“Attention all personnel! Soldiers of the 2222nd and 2223rd report immediately to Observation Deck Alpha. Attention all personnel! Soldiers of the 2224th report to Observation Deck Bravo. Attention all personnel.” The message repeated.

Coop looked over to the SSG who just shrugged and started yelling for people to haul ass to their assigned observation deck. Coop looked back and the two women were gone, already scrambling to get where they needed to be. The loss of the three-way hurt Coop’s ball more than the hamstring punches, but he put that aside to get to observation deck alpha along with everyone else.

Observation Deck Alpha was mind-blowing. They’d styled it like an ancient Greek amphitheater. Everything was ornately crafted stone or marble. Even the seats looked cold and uncomfortable, but they looked out onto a thick piece of armorplast and beyond that was the open void of space – or it would be once they exited the Alcubierre Bubble.

The stadium-style seating only sat about five hundred, and since Coop got there later he was forced to stand in the back. Not that it mattered much. No one would be able to see over him anyway, so he leaned against the back wall and let people move around him. He kept his eyes peeled for, <Jean, I’m positive that’s it. Or…maybe not. I know it begins with a J. Is it Jean or Gene?>

Whatever the case he didn’t see her in the mass of people filtering in and mingling. They stood around aimlessly for five minutes before anything happened.

“All hands, prepare for transition in three…two…one…”

Coop watched the armorplast as they went from an Alcubierre bubble traveling faster than the speed of light to normal space travel. Everything in Alcubierre looked like white static. At “three” a tiny black dot appeared in the static and over the next two seconds it rapidly expanded as the liner shed the bubble and popped into normal space.

There was a collective gasp at the transition, and then the rapid return of conversation.

“Lock it up!” A tall woman with SGM insignia on her shoulders marched out onto the stage. “Battalion, Atten-hut!”

A thousand people braced to attention as a man with the golden stripe of a lieutenant commander walked out onto the stage.

“At ease.” A podium rose from the stone and the 2223rd’s commander stopped behind it.

Behind him the armorplast stared to display icons and information. Not only was it a protective barrier between the soldiers and space, but it was also the biggest holo-display Coop had ever seen. He recognized more of the icons from his training, and one stood out beyond all the others.

The theater went silent as everyone recognized the two crash buoys.

“Welcome to York Sector System 1552.” The LCDR’s voice was particularly emotional. “While we were all training, are brothers and sisters in the fleet were out here fighting and dying.” He tapped his PAD and information enhanced on the large display behind him.

DD 547 Barton and DD 783 Nightingale appeared along with a full rundown of their specs. Coop did some quick math and his stomach sank.

“We fought a battle with the Blockies in this system less than a month ago. We lost two destroyers in that battle. Don’t let the politicians or media try to convince you that this was a skirmish, or a tussle, or us and the Blockies just bloodying each other’s noses. This was a BATTLE, and we lost over five hundred spacers and infantry in that fight.” He fell silent and let everyone take that in.

“I’m not showing or telling you this to bum you out or ruin this nice little pleasure cruise we’ve been on for the last few days. I’m telling you this so this battalion is ready to get dropped in the shit. Make no mistake, this is a war zone. We are at war with the Blockies in this sector no matter what the politicians say in New Washington. If you come across a Blockie soldier you will engage and destroy them with extreme prejudice. Am I understood!?”

“Yes, Sir!” Coop winced as a thousand voices laced with anger roared through the enclosed space.

“Good.” The commander looked around and gave his soldiers a nod. “Sergeant Major.”

The woman strode up to the podium and started to run through a basic operations order of what they were getting into. Coop didn’t pay attention to most of it because this wasn’t his battalion, but he paid close attention when they went over the rules of engagement. Those would be universal throughout the sector.

There wasn’t any “only fire unless fired upon” crap. The enemy was defined and easily identifiable. The Blockies wouldn’t hide and neither would the Commonwealth. When they met in battle there would be no misunderstanding who was who.

Coop found himself wanting to go another ten rounds with SSG Hightower. His adrenaline was pumping and he was amped up when they were dismissed a few hours later. They were scheduled to be in the system for a while to drop off two companies to reinforce the brand new FOB Dietrich – named after the fallen task force commander who’d died in the battle.

The extra time gave Coop time to find Jeannette – it turned out that was her name. When he found her, he picked her up, threw her over his shoulder, and marched her right back to his room. She didn’t complain. If anything, the action turned her on even more. The third woman didn’t tag along though. Jeannette wanted him all to herself.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 113

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Thor, Asgard System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

<Seriously…this is it?> Coop stood on the busy sidewalk outside a pub.

A holographic neon sign shone above the door. It showed a pirate, dancing a jig, complete with musical notes floating out of its mouth. Above him in big red letter was the watering hole’s name: The Peg Leg. Coop looked between the name and the holographic pirate and saw that his right leg was missing below the knee with a wooden peg in its place. In an age of regenerative therapies, seeing someone with a prosthetic was beyond weird.

“I think we’ve got the right place.” Mike pushed passed Coop and activated the door.

Cool air blossomed onto the sidewalk the moment the metal hissed open. Rich smells wafted from the pub. The savory scents of cooked meats were the strongest followed by the bitter tang of various alcoholic beverages. Beneath it all was a bit of BO, but that was just a fact of life on a planet where the average nighttime temperature in the fall was thirty-two degrees Celsius.

“Get in!”

“Shut the door!”

“Who the fuck are you?!”

A variety of greetings were thrown at the two young HI troopers as they stepped into the space. It was bigger than it looked from the outside, and for good reason. Every man and woman in the room was over two hundred centimeters tall and had to weigh nearly that. Even the women at the bar, in smartcloth sun dresses and short skirts looked like they could break a normal man over their knees.

This was the local HI bar, and it was invitation only.

“It’s ok, they’re with us.” SSG Hightower and CPL Anders showed up quick. “They’re newly assigned to the Quad-Deuce.

The statement had an immediate effect on the group. It sobered them up quick. Most turned back to their drinks with a somber look, and one couple at the bar even wiped away a few tears. Coop caught it all but didn’t say anything. Whatever was going on he’d know soon enough.

“We’re back here.” The SSG led the way to  two adjoining booths at the back of the room. They were semi-private and already had a respectable amount of booze on them. There were ten people present, and with Coop and Mike that made it the even dozen. The full complement of the 2222nd, 2223rd, and 2224th’s HI troopers on Thor were present.

“Now that we’re all here I’ll start with introductions. Everyone, this is Private First Class Mark Cooper and Private First Class Michael Enders. They’re replacements for the 2222nd right out of training from Mars. Anyone remember Master Sergeant Smith?” There were a few laughs but mostly shrugs. “If Smith trained them then we know they know their shit. More so, they both saw action in a riot back on Earth.” That perked a few ears up. “Strictly nonlethal, but they got to do more than shoot, move, and communicate against instructors or machines. Cooper here got a CAM out of it…and a formal reprimand for excessive use of force.”

Coop cringed at the bit of information, but it was quickly washed away by the ruckus cheer from the group. Hightower grinned over at Coop and motioned his arms for everyone to settle down.

“Enders also handled himself with distinction during the evacuation process. We’re glad to have two newbies who know their heads from their assholes.” The SSG finished up and gave Coop and Mike the floor.

“Uhumm,” Coop coughed, not really sure what to say. “First, just call me Coop, and I’m going to do my best to pull my weight, not die at a bad time, and kill people that need killin’. That’s my job and I plan to do it well.”

Giant steins of beer slammed against the table in approval as Coop stepped back.

Mike stepped up. He was nearly twenty centimeters larger after their enhancements and even though they were still new to their bodies he was one of the biggest guys in the room. He was – as always – a man of few words.

“I’m Mike. Coop and I’ve got your backs.”

There was some laughing and more pounding of approval.

“Short and sweet.” Hightower took back control. “Now, a brief intro for this rowdy bunch.” He started with the 2224th’s people on the right. “You’ve got Staff Sergeant Deer and Staff Sergeant Walden there. The lovely lady is SGT Genesee, and the butt-ugly guy is SGT Wood. The two over there trying to act like they aren’t friends with benefits are Corporal Raven and Private First Class Hill.” The last two troopers blushed but didn’t deny their extracurricular activities.

“Nice to meet you,” PFC Hill stood up and extended her hand for the 2223rd. She was shorter and leaner than Coop, but her blue eyes were sharp. “Glad I’m not the fucking new guy anymore.”

That sent a round of cheers up from the 2223rd’s guys and gals.

“You already know Corporal Anders.” Hightower waved over to his own small group of troopers. “That’s Sergeant Colony and our last member is Private First Class Greenview. Greenie was the FNG before Hill.”

“I’ll be happy to pass down a few words of wisdom.” Greenview had a charming grin that Coop had seen on more than one lady-killer. “First off, Gunney Topper might seem like a hardass but he’s just trying to keep you all alive. Second, do whatever Staff Sergeant Quigg says or you’ll know the true meaning of hardass. Lastly,” his face became serious, “Remember your training. You’re support for the grunts not their savior. If you forget that, you and the people around you are fucked.”

A dark cloud descended over the table, and Coop didn’t dare ask about it. Not even to figure out who the GYSGT and SSG were.

“We’ve hailed our new troopers. Now for the farewells.” The SSG grabbed two big steins of beer and handed them to Coop and Mike before grabbing his own.

“Tonight we say farewell to Corporal Sienna Pace and Sergeant Mitchell Takahashi. They were our colleagues, our friends, and our family. We salute them.”

They all drank.

“We remember them.”

They all drank again.

“And above all, we will avenge them.”

Everyone tipped their steins back and kept drinking. Coop and Mike followed their example and chugged their drinks until they were drained dry. Then, they lifted them high and smashed them on the ground.

No one in the bar turned their head when a dozen polyplast containers shattered. In fact, everyone in the bar started chugging what they had before smashing their glasses as well.

Coop watched the whole ritual with fascination, and surprisingly felt a dull ache work its way into his heart. He’d never met CPL Pace or SGT Takahashi. He couldn’t have picked them out of a lineup, or even told anyone they existed until a minute ago. But in this moment he felt the pain of their loss.

These were two people who’d done what he’d done. They’d gone through the rigors of Basic. They’d survived the instruction of someone like MSG Smith and been entrusted with the protection of hundreds of infantry soldiers. They were HI. Just like Coop was HI. That made them family, and it always hurt when you lost family.

He walked up to the bar and held over his GIC for the bartender. “Another round for my people.”

He didn’t care that it wiped out what remained of the extra cash he’d earned on Luna. His family was hurting, and they needed to drown their sorrows today so they’d be ready to fight tomorrow.

“Cheers, Coop.” Hightower raised his glass to Coop as the bartender delivered the drinks. “That’s a class act right there.”

That drink wasn’t the last. The dozen HI troopers were drinking late into the night. The older veterans shared their war stories, legends, and the absolute bullshit they’d heard or witnessed during their careers. The educational lessons lasted until last call. The group stumbled back to their homes to grab a few hours a sleep before assembling for morning formation.

There was no PT the next morning. They assembled with all their gear for a twelve month deployment to the Rim. Two battalions and some change were heading to war, and sixteen of those two thousand soldiers were nursing some pretty bad hangovers to start it off.

 

***

 

Eve Berg

Location: Styx System, Classified Space, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Several tons of pressure drove down into the automaton’s joint as Eve stomped on its neck. There was a sickening crunch of metal and circuitry. The machine trembled like a man in its death throes before going still. Just to be sure, Eve put two rounds into its head before moving on.

The sprawling structure her class was clearing rivaled the Dojo back at Stewart-Benning in size. It was a maze of rooms, open spaces, and just about every different type of environment a Ranger would find themselves in.

“Room 547 clear, one hostile down, ready to move.” She radioed in her SITREP and waited for this iteration’s patrol leader to send her more coordinates.

She had already taken her turn as the class leader and exceeded expectations. She’d commanded a raid on a small town and accomplished all of her mission objectives with no casualties.

She sent a series of commands to her LACS while she waited and a nozzle extended toward her mouth. She took three large gulps from the water bladder imbedded in her armor before letting it retract. She was still hungry and tired, but not quite as thirsty. They’d been fighting for the last thirty hours nonstop. It was a test of endurance. They needed to show the instructors that they could remain sharp after days of fighting.

<Rangers never quit. Rangers lead the way.> Eve repeated the mantra a few times in her mind before the next rally point appeared on her HUD.

“Moving.” She walked to the door and moved to either side to check if it was clear. Then, just to make sure, she stuck her gauntleted hand out. Immediately, rounds started to ping off the architecture around her.

“Contact. Same location.” She checked the HUD for her teammates’ locations to ensure there wouldn’t be any blue on blue. “Engaging.”

She backed up to the edge of the room and toggled down her menus to find what she was looking for. ENGAGE GRAV-BOOTS. She hit the button with her eyes and felt her legs start to vibrate from the knees down.

The grav-boot function was something unique to the V3 LACS. V2’s didn’t have it because it was too expensive and they didn’t have the battery capacity for sustained operational use. V3’s were unique to the SPECOPS community for now, so their maintenance was manageable until the R&D people could figure out a way to mass-produce the V3’s distinctive aspects affordably. But that was for the bean counters to worry about. Eve only cared about what she could do with it.

Despite the candidates’ early expectations, grav-boots weren’t rocket boots. They couldn’t blast around the place defying gravity like a 21st century superhero. A more accurate way to describe the technology was grav-skates, and Eve would be personally lobbying for them to change the name to avoid confusion. The boots only allowed a person to defy gravity with the use of momentum and strength. The tech could only do so much.

That was why Eve had to skate around the circumference of her room like an old-school figure skater to build up acceleration before leaving the room. When she did she shot through the doorway a meter off the ground. She went right over the walkway, over the safety railing, and into the open space that dropped a few dozen meters before abruptly ending in a concrete floor.

More automatons immediately started firing when she cleared the opening. A few rounds hit her as she angled herself to the side and skidded like she was stopping on ice, but her angle change and speed made her hard to hit. Automatons were good artificial soldiers up to a point, but expecting the unexpected just wasn’t in their programming.

Her HUD updated with their positions in a heartbeat and she started to unleash hell. Several burps of her Buss sent 3mm plasma tipped rounds downrange. They tore through the weak sheet metal walkway and chewed up one automaton. It fell over the safety rails smoking and crackling.

A round hit her shoulder and spun her around, but she adjusted and her scales did their job. With her momentum cut she started to pump her legs, pushing them out to the side in a sweeping motion, and she skated forward. She cycled her Buss to a different tube and a loud thump preceded the explosion of an EW grenade. The chaff hid her from the automatons sensors and she changed tactics again. Instead of skating down the aisle and engaging the bots directly, she changed course into the same circle she’d been doing earlier. But this time she pushed gradually with her legs. Her elevation began to climb with each circle until she was a dozen meters above where the defenders were crouching and searching for her.

She came out of her last circle going around a hundred kilometers per hour and shot forward. She set a path for a gradual arch downward and let gravity take over. The bots weren’t even looking in the right place. Her first burst took the lead automaton in the head and chewed its silicone brain into mush. The second turned and squeezed off a round, but missed before her Buss’ bellow ended its artificial life.

She pumped the boots to slow her descent and adjust course. She still hit the ground hard but she rolled with it into a combat roll, bounced back to her feet, and kept on going. The boots stopped vibrating, and the entire maneuver had cost less than one percent of her power.

“Two more tangos down in Area 156, proceeding to rally point.” She zoomed out on her HUD to see the entire complex.

They were seventy-five percent of the way through the structure. <Another ten hours and we’ll wrap this mission up with a nice little bow for the Sergeant Major.> She stopped and did a quick peek as the open area narrowed into a chokepoint that led into a single hallway a hundred meters long.

She toggled through her different visions options and identified laser tripwires all over the place. She needed to look for another ingress point to the next part of the building.

“I’m held up at,” she relayed the location. “Looking for another entrance.”

“Roger that, Ice, but haul ass. We’ve got a lot more company heading our way and need to consolidate.” A new rally point sprang to life on her HUD.

She also got a video of a wide open space at the end of the building that was quickly filling with half a battalion’s worth of automatons. In the background she could see energy weapons being wheeled into strategic locations by the artificial soldiers.

<Yeah I need to move.> She lobbed a grenade down the hallway, triggered the booby-traps and hauled ass.

This was the big one, and she wasn’t going to miss the party.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 111

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Thor, Asgard System, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 Coop and Mike stood to the left and right of the SGT and LT at the spaceport. To Coop it seemed like a pointless show of force. It wasn’t like the fresh recruits right out of basic were going to run for the hills when they heard they were getting deployed to the ass end of nowhere.

<At least I hope not.> Coop shrugged as they watched the shuttle descend out of the sky and touch down on the far side of the spaceport.

“Corral them and get them to the transports right away.” The LT repeated his instructions for the third time in the last ten minutes.

Coop watched the LT out of his peripherals. The guy was a shavetail. Coop had picked up the term from a few of the NCOs he’d met along the way, and now he knew what they meant. The kid was young. Age-wise he was four or five years older than Coop, but everything about the guy screamed soft.

<It’s the eyes. You can always tell from the eyes.> Coop correctly surmised that the LT had never seen bloodshed before.

“Here they come.” The SGT was watching the people coming and going like a hawk, and the group of eighteen year olds with a standard military duffel bags were hard to miss. “If you’re with the 2222nd double time, people!” she snapped.

Reflexes honed in basic training took over and the sixty or seventy people broke into a trot toward them. They formed a loose half-circle around the LT.

“Welcome to the Quad-Deuce.” The LT projected his voice with a convincing amount of authority. “Usually there would be more of a welcoming committee and inprocessing in store for you over the next few days, but we don’t have that luxury.”

Ears perked up all among the group.

“Over the next day you will be processed, outfitted, and prepared to deploy.” The LT ignored a few faces paling in the crowd. “This is Private first Class Enders. He will get you transported back to HQ and begin the process. Take it from here Private.” He gestured to Mike.

Mike loomed over the new PVT’s without trying. You could do that at two hundred and fifty centimeters. “Load up,” was all Mike needed to say to get the new meat jumping.

On the flip side, that left Coop alone with the SGT and LT for the next half hour while the shuttle returned to the ship to pick up the next batch. The impromptu command team didn’t attempt any idle chit-chat and neither did Coop. He just stood there stoically wondering how Mike was wrangling the newbies, because that was their job today.

Mike and Coop had done every inprocessing bit aside from seeing the S4 for their armor, and they’d be doing that today with the rest of the new guys and gals. The rest of the time they were the designated babysitters. The rear detachment just didn’t have the personnel to watch the new soldiers and complete the inprocessing. The LT sure as shit wasn’t going to get down to the four-shop and start handing out M3s.

<About time.> Coop thought when the shuttle reappeared through the clouds and settled onto the tarmac. <Rinse and repeat.> They went through the same little speech and Coop herded his group out to the open-topped transport.

“Hey heavy.” One of the new guys piped up as they jostled around the back of the truck.

Coop didn’t get to sit in the front with the LT and SGT.

“What’s really going on?”

Coop, whose eyes had been closed to catch another couple minutes of shuteye, opened them a sliver. “It’s what it sounds like,” he responded. “We’re getting deployed as replacements.”

“Where?”

“York Sector.”

That got some grumbles among the newbies. Apparently, the rumor mill was already spitting out info about that particular section of space.

“Why are we replacements?”

“Because the soldiers there before us need replacing,” Coop snapped, and that shut them up.

They got to the Battalion HQ without any more fussing, and Coop made them join the line into the S1’s office. The clerk was good. He could do about a person a minute, but with a hundred and fiftyish soldiers that was still two and a half hours of Coop and Mike’s day standing with their thumbs up their asses.

So, they popped a squat in two chairs next to the office door and watched the newbies file in. As time went by, they got sweatier despite the AC blasting in the corner. The sun wasn’t even out yet and the temperature was starting to climb from bearable to mildly irritating.

They finally got a reprieve when they got to the S4 portion of the process. All of the candidates filed through a portable trailer that had been brought over from the much larger central issuing facility. It was packed full of Dragonscale armor and the other knickknacks of the soldiering trade. Coop and Mike bypassed the portion all together. They headed straight to the armory.

“New HI!” The rear detachment armorer called out as Coop and Mike ducked through the front door.

A few soldiers were getting things ready for weapons issue in the front, but what the two HI troopers needed was in the back.

“Pick any two you want.” The armorer led them to the open vault that held the unit’s LACS. “Call me when you’re ready to sign for it.”

Coop and Mike stepped into the gloomy space and approached the nearest sets. Step one of accepting a piece of equipment was to inventory and run a diagnostic on it. If you signed for the LACS and then something was wrong or missing you got stuck with the bill.

Coop opened up the set of armor he’d picked out. There was some grinding as old gears went into action for the first time in years. <These should have been taken out for a maintenance shake-up at least once a quarter.> Coop remembered his inventory schedule from MSG Smith’s classes.

That was the first sign something was wrong. The next was when the armor popped open.

“Oh fuck no!” Coop threw up his hands and marched out of the vault. “Armorer! What the fuck is this?!”

“What?” The other PFC looked irritated at having to come back over.

“What is this antique crap? These are V1s. V1s are only supposed to be in reserve stockpile. What the hell are they doing being issued to us?”

“This is our reserve stockpile.” The armorer stated like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Now do your job and let me do mine.”

Coop turned back to the LACS and pinched the bridge of his nose to relieve some stress. He needed a stress relief or he was going to punt that little shit halfway into orbit.

MSG Smith had given a brief class on V1s. They were the predecessor to the V2s and weren’t in use aside from SOL situations. The durosteel shell was a little thinner than the V2s, which was hazardous to Coop’s health, but the nanite scales looked to be up to date. The spine-mounted artillery cannon was 100mm instead of 125mm with only a thirty round magazine. It held fewer rounds for the shoulder-mounted rail gun and the hyper-velocity missile launcher fired six instead of eight rounds. Essentially, it was a weaker version of the V2, which was not something someone wanted when they were heading into a hot zone as a replacement for someone who’d already died with modern equipment.

The offensive and defensive differences were the most important part, but one of the most disliked aspects of the V1 was the armor’s interior. Unlike the V2’s malleable ballistic composite weave, the V1 had basic ballistic nano-gel. It made an HI trooper feel like they were partially submerged in Jell-O, and it had been universally despised by prior HI generations. Coop had never been inside a V1 to feel that hate up close and personal, but he was about to.

“Here goes nothing.” Coop slipped into the armor with a sickening sucking sound.

He immediately felt uncomfortable. The gel was lukewarm on top of everything, which made him feel like he was taking a dip in a swamp. Coop hit the INITIATE UPDATE sequence using the suit’s finger sensors and sat there while the LACS booted up.

<I’m gonna fuckin’ die.> Was Coop’s prognosis as the error messages started to flash left and right.

“We need to dunk these things in a vat of lube.” Mike sounded just as pissed.

They didn’t have a vat, but they had a locker filled with industrial strength lubricant. It took them half an hour to rinse down the suits’ exteriors so the scales didn’t stick. Then they had to open the individual joint ports and get the nozzles inside to spray critical sections while not fucking up the circuitry. After that, they had to go down the error codes one by one. They pulled up requisition forms on their PADs and went to work requesting new parts. At the end they attached their diagnostic data to the end and sent that data off to the LT, SGT, and S4.

All that got them was an ass chewing, but regulations were on the two HI troopers’ side. These LACS were deadlined. As the V1s were, they couldn’t be taken into combat. Of all the new replacements being inprocessed that made Coop and Mike the LT and SGT’s problem children. Fortunately, the two PFCs had made a new friend.

“Hahahaha!” CPL Anders laughed in their face when they called him and relayed the problem. “They’re sending you out in V1s. That sucks balls.”

“Fuck you!” Coop shot back, which only got more laughter out of the other HI.

“Don’t get excited, Cooper. I’ll be there in five. Just tell your LT not to shit a chicken just yet. HI takes care of their own.”

“Thanks.” Mike finished before cutting the connection.

Five minutes later, CPL Anders and three other large people showed up in the 2222nd’s armory. CPL Anders was in the lead, but he stepped aside to make way for a rough-looking SSG with HIGHTOWER on his CMUs.

“These the newbies?” The NCO asked.

“Yep.”

“And this is the one that hit you in the face with a sandwich?”

Anders blushed. “Yeah, but I beat his ass.”

“Still,” the SSG walked up to Coop and extended his hand. “The CPL can be a bit of a douche. Congrats on doing what many of us have wanted to for a very long time.”

“This is going to affect the good order and discipline of our unit.” Anders grumbled as the rest of the HI troopers from the 2224th laughed.

“Now, for the reason we’re really here.” The SSG walked over to the V1’s and whistled apologetically before doing a quick inspection. “Looks like you’ve done a decent job getting it movable.” He held out his hand for a PAD, which Coop readily handed over.

He liked this SSG so far.

The NCO looked over the parts needed and shook his head. “We can get you some of this stuff from our own supplies, but others you’ll have to order. The big one is the software module. You’re lucky. We were expecting you to come to us and we got the suits prepped, so we’ve got the version the regs require. I’ll get with your S4 and we’ll draw up the transfer paperwork. That’ll get them operational and ready to deploy.”

That was music to Coop’s ears. He’d be going to war in an antiquated piece of shit, but at least he’d be on the same virtual page as everyone else.

“Any chance we can get those V2’s?” Coop asked hopefully.

“Those LACS are worth over twenty million Commonwealth dollars, Private.” The SSG gave Coop a hard stare. “That’s a major transfer of property that needs to take place at the battalion commander level.”

“So no.” Coop summarized.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get you two squared away.” The SSG motioned for another 2224th HI trooper, a SGT, to get moving on the equipment transfers they could handle. “All HI from the 2223rd, 2224th, and you two are getting together tonight for a quick Hail and Farwell. Usually a whole unit would do it, but we’re a small brotherhood and we’ve got to give a few of our members a proper sendoff.”

Coop sensed there was something more there, but didn’t ask. He did have one question though.

“Staff Sergeant, how many of us are there?”

“Including the two of you; we’ll have twelve at the meeting, and once we get down range there will be sixteen of us.”

<Sixteen HI covering down on three thousand regular grunts! There is no way this ends well.> Coop kept that thought to himself. Something told him that SSG Hightower wouldn’t’ react well to such defeatism.

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