Two Worlds – Chapter 200

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

From the looks Coop saw on the rest of his team’s faces, he wasn’t sure anyone had asked Carol, or Bob, about how the Windsors were getting their new weapons. Even RADM Stillwater looked a little surprised, but Coop refused to believe no one had posed the question. If a lowly SGT was the first to bring this up, then the Commonwealth was royally fucked.

“Keep up the insight, Cooper.” The SGM cut off any further questions Coop might have. “Right now I want the teams together and assigning responsibilities. Our training schedule outlines today as a more of a meet and greet, and getting settled. The real training starts tomorrow.”

Coop wasn’t sure how he was going to like the ‘real’ training, but he didn’t get a chance to ponder the ways the SGM could make his life suck. There were things in the here and now that could accomplish that.

“Berg, Cooper, on me.” GYSGT Cunningham snapped, and then chuckled. “I didn’t think I’d ever be saying that again.”

Coop obediently trotted over to the GYSGT and Eve. As far as meet and greets went, his was going much worse than Bravo Team. Coop heard SSG Hightower introducing himself and learning a little bit about SGT Sullivan. LT Wentworth mostly stayed in the background and let the NCO handle everything, but gave and received information willingly, and even laughed once. Eve just sat there and glared at him. It was so much different than the last time he’d been with her.

She’d said she’d catch him later, and he responded with something suave and debonair about it not coming soon enough. Then she’d told him not to get killed, and he told her the next time they met up they’d fuck like bunnies, but now that they were here, it looked like her glare would turn his nuts to stone like she was space Medusa.

“So…I didn’t die.” Coop put on his best grin and held his arms out wide while trying to look innocent.

“Congratulations for meeting the bare minimum qualifications for existence,” Eve shot back.

“I did lose my leg to a grav-grenade though. That sucked donkey dick.” Coop dropped his arms and gave a genuine shrug.

That seemed to thaw Eve a few degrees. “That does suck. I took a round in the leg not long ago. Rehab made me think it would have been better off if they killed me.”

“I know…right,” Coop replied while trying to act nonchalant. “The thing I really remember was the Jell-O. It was awe…”

“It sucked; tasted like ass,” she cut him off.

“Yeah…it was awful. That was totally what I was going to say.” Coop tried to pass it off, but he’d loved their cherry flavor, and his face just couldn’t hide it.

“Wow.” The GYSGT sat back to watch the show, but she couldn’t stay quiet that much longer. “How long were the two of you fucking?”

“A weekend,” Coop answered.

“None of your business.” Eve spat, and then glared when Coop’s reply registered.

“Do I need to separate you onto different teams, or can we play nice?” The GYSGT wasn’t kidding now.

This time, Coop and Eve were on the same page. “We’re good.”

“Good.” She gave the two of them a stern glare, before turning to Coop. “I’m pretty familiar with Berg’s record over the last year. Fill me in on yours. I could read it all in the reports, but I find it’s always better to get a first person account.”

“Sure, Gunney. Not too much really now that I think about it. I played riot cop down on Earth when Chicago decided to trash itself. I got to go in with some marines as their HI when some miners took control of a station. I saved the Lieutenant Commander’s ass over there when the miners took him hostage, but that’s where I lost my leg.” Coop gestured over his shoulder at Gold. “Then I did some anti-piracy ops and took back some Commonwealth property that had been requisitioned. Last, but certainly not least because it’s the reason I’m here, I got to be a human punching bag for Windsor’s mechs when they invaded New Lancashire. We barely got out of that one alive. The Lieutenant Commander saved our ass that time.” Coop finished up his spiel and turned to Eve. “What have you been up to?” For some reason, he thought she might be mildly impressed by his action-packed time in the HI.

“I was in Ranger school for most of it, but then I went in and saved the Gunney’s ass…no offense.” She turned to their team leader.

“No offense taken.” Cunningham shrugged. “My ass was cooked well done when you showed up.”

“After the Rogue Island op we both took part in one of the biggest Commonwealth offenses in the last few decades. I got to hit both space and planetary targets. One was a boarding action and the other was a covert insertion, which is probably why I’m here aside from being Splitstream rated.”

“Cool,” Coop replied casually. He wasn’t keeping score or anything, but he counted himself as having four major ops to Eve’s two.

“Don’t forget that bronze star for valor for saving Sergeant Sullivan’s life, or that you were the one who came up with the bright idea that allowed us to take that launcher in the first place.” The GYSGT clearly had Eve’s back, because that award made Coop’s little MSM look like a pat on the back for a job adequately done.

It was good that Coop was speechless, because the SGM was heading their way. If they were measuring dicks right now, Eve’s was bigger.

“How are things looking Gunney?” The SGM stopped to look at Coop – not Eve or Cunningham – just Coop.

“Cooper and Berg were actually in the same Basic class, and even in the same squad, so there is just some catching up to do. Cooper isn’t a total fuck up, so we can work with him,” she deadpanned.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Gunney.” Coop couldn’t stop the retort before it left his lips.

“Don’t mention it, Cooper,” Cunningham didn’t miss a beat.

“What are their assignments?” The SGM acted like the little exchange didn’t even happen.

“I’m going to put Cooper in an A and Berg in a B. I’ll take operational unless you want it, and primary commo, Berg will be primary medical and liaison with locals, and Cooper will fill secondary assignments with the primary responsibility of sustainment.”

Coop liked the lack of responsibility in being back up, but ‘sustainment’ sounded boring. Of course, Cunningham and the SGM didn’t care what Coop wanted.

“Good. Let’s get them briefed and fitted.” The SGM turned to head over and check on Bravo.

The GYSGT turned back to them. “What this means for you two is refresher classes in first aide, TACCOM standards, and making sure we load translator and customs software into your LACS. Cooper, you’re going to go through everything since you’re our universal fallback and I don’t know what training standards you’ve been held to here, but my guess is not tier one.”

Suddenly, being the backup included a lot more work, but that wasn’t what Coop dialed into during the GYSGT’s assignments. “We’re getting new LACS?” He asked.

“We’re being issued updated equipment to meet the needs of our team,” the GYSGT replied diplomatically, but Coop’s take away was, ‘cool new stuff’, and they didn’t have to wait long.

A few moments later Carol reappeared with two hovering platforms following her. Coop couldn’t stop grinning as the SGM called everyone over. He practically skipped over so he could be in the front row for the briefing. Coop was never a first row kind of student, only when it involved blowing shit up did he really get interested. That, or sex ed.

“Good Afternoon, soldiers.” Carol’s translator sounded politely uninterested.

“Everyone listen up,” the SGM talked right over the Twig. “The wrench turners are going to give you a once over of the new LACS V4A and V4B. They’ll tell you things that have changed, the things that have been upgraded, and the things that are staying the same. Carol has been nice enough to go over those upgrades in more detail, so listen closely. Take it away.” The SGM gestured to an engineer who still looked a little irritated at being called a wrench turner, but he got to work.

To anyone looking, the V4A and V4B looked different. The V4A was noticeably bigger, pushing three and a half meters. It was also thicker. The arms and legs were much thicker than on a normal human, but to Coop that meant they’d packed more shit into it. <The more the better.>

The engineer started with the things that were staying the same. The interior was still the malleable carbon-tubing weave with all the sensors and circuitry that allowed the armor to emphasize the pilot’s movements and make them exponentially more powerful. Above that was still a reflective coated duro-steel to stop energy weapons, and the ballistic gel to reduce blunt force trauma and protect the integrity of the reflective duro-steel. The exterior was still the carbon nano-tubing in the dragonscale pattern with a swarming coating of nanites to react to specialized munitions, reinforce damaged sections, and provide camouflage. Coop wasn’t used to the camouflage feature from the V3s, but he was sure he would enjoy it. He was also sure he’d enjoy that they’d thickened the armor from six centimeters to eight centimeters.

The specks were true for both the V4A and V4B, but the exteriors were clearly meant to be used differently. The V4A had the telltale sign of many internal compartments meant for carrying ammo, batteries, or snacks depending on the trooper inside it. Across the breast of the V4A, and not the V4B, was a horizontal bar, which reminded Coop of what they used to censor a woman’s tits on the no-fun holo-channels. Also, the V4A had what looked like a big carapace covering a portion of its back, which gave it a vague turtle-like appearance. Coop could think of several reasons how that could be useful or a complete pain in the ass.

“The V4A’s are designed to be the pack mules of the team. The circular storage container on the back, surrounding the 250mm, modular artillery tube, is designed to transport anything the SRRT team needs to complete their mission.”

“Excuse me,” Coop couldn’t help but interrupt the man. “What do you mean by modular?”

“The V4As were the next SPECOPS LACS about to be put into circulation, but were pulled and designated for the SRRT project. Since the missions SRRTs conducts will not always be frontline combat operations like HI, the SPECOPS community wanted more flexibility in their weaponry. What we came up with was a removable artillery mount where the space could be utilized for a number of other things depending on the mission.”

A LACS without an artillery weapon was blasphemy to an HI trooper like Coop, and he would have let the engineer know that if the GYSGT hadn’t grabbed him tightly where his shoulder met his neck. “We’ll talk offline about this, Cooper,” she stated with a squeeze that made his fingers go numb, but it got him to shut up, and allowed the engineer to continue.

“The big upgrade, aside from the modular nature of the space, is this,” the horizontal bar on the breast was pointed out. “We received the first batch of shields from Carol and attached them into the armor. We weren’t able to incorporate them into the internal design, since the armor was already manufactured, but it meets safety standards. You’ll be able to activate and deactivate your shield from the HUD where we’ve created a specific shield menu to select. You’ll also be able to pre-program scenarios when you would like the shield to automatically activate.”

The rest of the V4A’s weapons were more or less what the old V2 and V3s were equipped with. It still had the two shoulder-mounted weapons, but because of the V4s increased size they were retractable now thanks to some ingenious folding design. The launcher held twelve high-velocity missiles, and the railgun came with 30000 rounds that could be used for air and missile defense, or against enemy infantry and armor. The 250mm spine-mounted artillery tube had a seventy-shell magazine, which was a hell of a lot more than Coop was used to on the V2, but was only a slight upgrade from a V3. None of that was a huge surprise, but then the engineers showed off the blades.

“Due to the new nature of threats you’re likely to come into contact with, the design of the V4s was modified to include complete nano-blades, not just the edges. This will allow the soldiers to make full use of the blades’ many functions instead of being pigeonholed into one method.”

Coop liked the sound of that, and he couldn’t wait to test it out. When all was explained, and Coop was allowed to approach and take a closer look at what he’d be wearing, he was impressed. He doubted he’d ever utilize the modular nature of the artillery tube, but he could see why someone might want the option. He just hoped it didn’t ruin the integrity of an HI trooper’s primary weapons system.

<You’re not an HI trooper.> He had to remind himself. <You’re going to be sliced, diced, and reassembled. You’re a modular trooper now.> The thought was grim, but it made him chuckle.

That got everyone looking at him, and Eve shaking her head. <Yep…this is going to be just like old times.> He returned to his seat and waited for the briefing to continue.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 199

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

<Piercing, light blue eyes…high cheekbones…blonde pixie cut…a permanently fierce expression that I know fits her personality…and the body of a warrior goddess.> Coop shifted his gaze. <Dark brown eyes with a mischievous twinkle…exotic…a total flirt…with a small, slender body, but damn if she can’t put her feet behind her head when it counts.> 

Coop’s eyes flashed back and forth between the most prominent women in his recent past. Recent for Aiko meaning she had her limbs wrapped around him less than a day ago. Eve had been away longer, but that only made her more attractive. She was the fruit once tasted but then taken out of reach. Despite the passage of time, Coop distantly remembered destroying a hotel room with her. He’d been between those powerful thighs before. One time, she’d even choked him out with them.

The two women were opposites physically, mentally, and just about everything else ending in an ly. Aiko came from a disadvantaged place by being mix raced. She’d survived an abusive, controlling marriage to end up as a wrench turner in the Fleet. She learned how to fend for herself, and embraced a more unconventional way of life. They’d done business and pleasure together, and he’d thoroughly enjoyed it.

Eve was the ice to Aiko’s fire. She was a valkyrie born to a military family. The youngest of her siblings, she was emotionally neglected due to her father dying in battle. Her mother had no time for her as she climbed the ladder to full admiral. Eve strived to succeed at everything she did, and as far as Coop could tell, she’d been successful. She was just as likely to chew him out as make out with him, but there had been a connection between them when they finally hooked up at the end of Basic. Maybe it was their time training together that formed a bond, or them testing out their new, enhanced bodies, but his weekend hotel-destruction was still at the top of his five all-time sexual experiences. Aiko just occupied the other four.

“Sergeant?”

Coop flashed back to that motel room with her riding him like a bucking bronco, and then it flashed to the motel here on New Savannah where Aiko was doing something that Coop didn’t even know if it had a name.

“Sergeant?…SERGEANT!”

Coop snapped out of it as SSG Hightower smacked him hard on the back of the head. Everyone was looking at him. The LT was scowling at him, Aiko looked like she wanted to roast his dick over a bonfire, and Eve looked like she’d just chewed up nails into shrapnel and was going to hose him down with them.

“Oh me?” Coop tried to play dumb. “Just made sergeant yesterday, so I’m not really used to being called it, so just call me Coop.”

“I’ll call you, sergeant, because that’s what you are, so start acting like it.” The speaker was a big guy with SGM chevrons and rockers on his uniform.

<Way to make a first impression.> Coop had successfully fucked that up, and he knew he’d be working to get out of the dog house with at least three people now.

“As I was saying,” the SGM continued. “I am Sergeant Major Queen. I’ll be the operations NCOIC and field leader of the SRRT. With me is Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham, my number two and Alpha team leader. Staff Sergeant Hightower will be the Bravo team leader.” The SGM nodded to the SSG, who simply nodded back. “I’ve also brought a couple of kick ass Rangers with me, straight from hell. This is Sergeant Berg and Sergeant Sullivan. They’ll be assisting with training and split between the two teams, which are as follows: Alpha Team is under the Gunney’s preview, and will be Sergeant Berg and Sergeant Cooper. I’ll usually attach myself to Alpha Team, but I like to move freely when on an op. Bravo Team is Staff Sergeant Hightower, Sergeant Enders, Sergeant Sullivan, and will have our OIC, Lieutenant Wentworth attached to it. Ma’am.”

The LT stepped forward and looked at the eight members of the action portion of the SRRT. “I won’t bullshit you and say that I’m trained and qualified for this. I’m not. I just happen to be Slipstream rated along with the rest of you. What I do have is experience fighting the enemy we will be fighting, and I’ve worked with half of you. The Sergeant Major is the lead when we’re in the field. He’s got the training, and I want the rest of us to listen to the Rangers the Sergeant Major brought with him. We have a lot to learn, but the Rangers should also listen to my HI troopers. We’ve fought the enemy before, you haven’t, and they are unlike any enemy you’ve ever faced. With our two groups meshing, I know we can accomplish the mission.”

<I know who I’d like to become one with.> Coop’s eyes shifted, and they were immediately met by Berg’s. <Oh no…it’s like Basic all over again.> She seemed to have his thoughts dialed in, so he just gave her a weak smile.

In return, she scowled and executed a rude finger gesture that no one else spotted. Or they did, and everyone thought he deserved it. He gave that a second thought as the LT stepped back and SGM took control. “Lieutenant Commander Gold and Petty Officer Lee will handle our ride.” The SGM patted the gunboat, and immediately got yelled at by the engineers, but one look from the SGM had them shutting up and averting their eyes.

“Our mission parameters are simple. We are a covert force that I am going to train to be tier one, on par with any Ranger, SEAL, SAS, or Recon team out there. Our missions will be sabotage, covert insertion, reconnaissance, and target elimination if we’re given the green light.” The SGM’s eyes scanned his new SRRT to see their reactions.

“That means assassination,” Mike whispered.

“I knew that.” Coop elbowed Mike in the ribs in response.

“Do you have a problem with that, Sergeant Cooper?” The SGM zeroed in on him…again.

“No Sergeant Major, just point me in the direction you want and tell me who to kill,” Coop replied confidently.

“I shouldn’t be telling you to kill anyone, Cooper.” Instead of getting loud, like a drill sergeant, the SGM’s voice grew low and serious. “I expect individual initiative and problem solving skills on the part of my team members. If we’re reconing an objective, it’s going to be against enemy VIPs with top-of-the-line security. I expect you to not throw an entire system’s government into chaos when we don’t need it, and I expect you to take a shot if you deem in necessary. You aren’t just one of many HI troopers now.” The SGM swept the crowd again, but Coop felt like he was still talking to him. “You are an action arm of the Commonwealth. Your decisions will have ramifications for billions of people. It is never to be taken lightly.” He frowned at Coop. “If I had my way you’d still be a PFC and wouldn’t even be here, but we have limited resources on this, and I have my orders.”

<I was a corporal,> Coop almost corrected him, but upon further consideration, kept his mouth shut.

Coop looked over and saw Eve smiling at the SGM’s comments, but then she spotted him looking, and that smile became twin blue daggers aimed at castrating him.

“What we might lack in experience, we make up for in technology,” the SGM continued. “Our liaison, Carol, will be instructing us on the uses and limitations of the new tech as we train. She’s also been compensated to give us as much intelligence as possible on what we might come up against, so we can plan for all contingencies.”

A light went off in Coop’s head. He was sure people had thought about it already, but no one had told him anything about what was going on outside New Savannah recently, so he slowly raised his hand. The SGM was going over a few more administrative issues when he noticed Coop’s half-raised appendage.

“This isn’t daycare, Cooper. If you have a question for the benefit of the group, ask it.” He folded his arms across his chest and looked at Coop expectantly.

“Thanks, Sergeant Major. Well…I’m sure someone has covered this with Carol already, but I got a pretty good look at some of the Windsor’s’ tech when they were trying to kill me, and it looked a lot like the tech we saw demoed by Bob with Rear Admiral Nelson. I don’t know if the royals figured out the advancements on their own, but I think it would be tough for them to get a few hundred years more advanced than the rest of us. So, my question, which is as much for you, Sergeant Major, as it is for Carol, is why doesn’t your species stop selling to the Windsors and start selling exclusively to us? I think the Commonwealth can buy a whole lot more shi…stuff than the Kingdom of Windsor.”

Carol was across the room, but even without ears, she somehow picked up that Coop was talking about her. She started hovering over, but the SGM had a question first.

“Can you give me examples, Cooper?” Since meeting the big NCO, Coop got the impression the guy wasn’t upset, pissed, or annoyed by Coop talking.

“The biggest one that pops to mind is the shields.” Coop had a brief flashback of the Windsor’s drop ships cutting through New Lancashire’s defenses like they weren’t even there, and the mechs walking through a barrage of artillery that could have stopped an entire infantry brigade. “I was on the receiving end of the shield test in New Lancashire, and I saw a distinct way the shield reacted to being hit, and that reaction was mirrored in what I saw against the enemy. That being said, I don’t know if all shields react the same way when hit by plasma-tipped rounds. I’m not a physicist or engineer, but I think it’s worth asking.” Coop’s looked at Eve in his peripherals, and she looked thoughtful instead of pissed. Aiko had nearly an identical expression.

“That’s a valid point, Cooper.” The SGM nodded in approval, just as Carol arrived.

“I detected that my presence was required.” Carol’s own environmental shield flared as she came to a halt.

The SGM gave Coop a pointed look that said, ‘this is your question, so ask it.’

“Hello, Carol.” Coop decided that being polite to the large alien was always the best course of action, especially if she was going to be a technical advisor with a bunch of untested tech.

“Hello, Sergeant Cooper,” the ET replied in the monotone of her translating device.

“I was just wondering if your species has considered suspending trade with the Kingdom of Windsor because we’re in an active state of war with them, and since we’re the bigger starfaring nation, we’re going to be the better customer in the long run?”

“I am unaware of any trade contacts between my race and the polity you call the Star Kingdom of Windsor.” Carol replied flatly. “However, pursuant to Clause D of the Compact of the Hegemony of Peace and Tranquility of Sapient Beings, I cannot speak on behalf of the other member races.”

Coop had heard that before, and it sent a chill down his spine equal to when Eve looked like she wanted to castrate him. Like any normal person, he didn’t like something he couldn’t control, and he disliked it even more when he couldn’t control something he didn’t know existed.

“Thanks, Carol,” Coop sighed.

“You’re welcome, Sergeant Cooper.” It was clear from the Twig’s response that she didn’t understand the nuances of human emotion just yet.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 198

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 “How can you let your corporate overlords control us like this? They’re taking away all of our freedoms!”

“How can you be so naïve not to understand the realities of the galaxy? If we don’t stand with the Commonwealth then we lose that level of protection and what little autonomy we have. Then, we become a tasty snack for whatever smaller power wants to eat us up. Do you want to be absorbed by the New Caliphate, the Maccabbee Alliance, or Indian Empire?”

Coop watched as the two protesters closest to him yelled at one another over a hundred other voices. The voting center, which just a few days ago had been a run-of-the-mill rec center, on the corner of a scenic park and no one gives a fuck, had now become ground zero for the quintessential issue of this election cycle: should New Savannah remain in the Commonwealth.

Realistically, it wasn’t even an issue. The Commonwealth wouldn’t let the valuable planet go, the Representatives wouldn’t vote to allow them to secede, and Coop would end up back here doing something like the Rogue Island operation that had turned into a shit show; hopefully with better results.

It was an issue to the hundred plus protesters and counter protesters with holographic images lighting the space around them. Coop was a little sickened by the whole thing. By legitimizing the question of secession, which all the talking heads were now discussing, they were allowing the terrorists to win. People who weren’t thinking about it before were thinking about it now, and in Coop’s experience, some people were better off not thinking. They needed to live their comfortable little lives, on their idyllic little planet, because they wouldn’t like what they saw when they exited their little safe space.

<They’ll eat you up is right.> Coop knew there were sharks out there, and if they smelled blood, they would tear a chunk out of New Savannah’s ass without a second thought.

“You…you…yeah…you, you corporate puppet. How do you sleep at night?” It took Coop a second to figure out the dude was talking at him. The protester was pointing an accusatory finger at him like he was identifying a perp in a lineup.

The smart thing would have been for Coop to keep his mouth shut, but Coop rarely did what was smart. He turned so he was facing the guy, saw the recognition dawn on the dude’s face that he was about to be addressed, and then let fly with the first comment that came to mind.

“With your mom,” Coop answered casually.

“Seriously?” Mike asked over TACCOM as the guy ranted and raved over the comment while the other group laughed at him. “You just had to go there.”

“Yep, because it’s chow time in ten, and we’re done here,” Coop smiled behind his helmet.

The three hour romp with Aiko felt like a lifetime ago, and it had been a second lifetime since their last session. Damn if that girl wasn’t the most enthusiastic, and flexible, person he’d ever met. She’d kept him enticed for the entire time they were together, and when he walked out of the room he had a crick in his neck, an ache in his back, and a slightly-painful empty sensation in his nuts. But that was par for the course with Aiko. Now, he was looking forward to seeing her again after this shift. The rest of the SRRT was arriving soon, and they’d begin training, so Coop would get to see her everyday…and possibly every night.

Despite it being the end of the shift, Coop kept his eyes peeled. If the New Savannah Liberation Movement still had eyes or ears in the police department then they would know when the shift change was occurring. Since that was when the defenses were at their most vulnerable, that was when they’d hit, if they were going to strike again. The governor was cracking down hard on the officially-branded domestic terrorist organization. The designation gave him healthy latitudes to deal with people associated with the group, and he was taking full advantage of it. Anyone within five blocks that had even uttered the phrase “Liberation for New Savannah” had been questioned by the planetary police.

The next ten minutes was tense, but it passed without incident. Coop spotted the Spyder on the horizon bringing the relief team before the team leader contacted him on TACCOM. It was another SGT from Charlie Company. Coop could tell from his tone that it irked the guy to call Coop a fellow SGT, but Coop really didn’t care about that right now. His mind was on the meatloaf the corporate DFAC was serving for dinner. He was hoping for a good meal, a solid eight hours, and maybe a romp between the sheets before he had to report to his new SRRT gig. He still had reservations about getting sliced up into molecules and transported through space, but he didn’t have much of a choice, and some stress relief activities seemed like an appropriate coping mechanism.

The handover to the new team was brief. Coop was with Mike on the perimeter while Nickelbaucher stood guard inside. There was no one voting today, so the voting center administrators weren’t there to watch the machines, but construction guys were patching the roof before the general election started. Nickelbaucher just made sure they didn’t tamper with anything.

With the handover complete, Coop hopped into the Spyder and rode back to base with the rest of his team. He made sure to send his finished evaluation report of Nickelbaucher’s performance to the LT, the NCOIC, and Nickelbaucher himself. It was up to the Battalion Commander whether or not to promote the PFC to CPL, and Coop’s evaluation was an overwhelming positive. Not only had the PFC been his number two throughout training, and taken the brunt of watching after Sterns, he’d also performed admirably in the retreat at New Lancashire. Coop had reviewed the footage from the PFC’s armor before writing up the report. Everything Coop had seen, heard, and experienced with Nickelbaucher said the guy was going places. Coop expected to see stripes on the guys CMU’s in ten years if he played his card right.

“Thank you, Sergeant,” was all Nickelbaucher said, and it was all Coop wanted him to say. He’d still see the guy, they just wouldn’t be working together anymore.

“Tell the rest of the team it’s been fun.” Coop said his goodbye as he walked down the Spyder’s rear ramp.

“I don’t think ‘fun’ would be the best word to describe it, but I’ll relay the sentiments.” Nickelbaucher removed his helmet, gave Coop a respectful nod, and walked off.

“You just successfully completed your first command assignment, Sergeant Cooper.” Mike clapped Coop on the back. “Any words of wisdom for us lowly grunts?”

“If that’s a command assignment then my last name is Gold,” Coop chuckled. “I babysat two guys with a third to help me out. Just make sure they don’t kill themselves and you can count it as a win.” Coop relayed the sage advice as they hit up the armory, turned in their Busses, and stripped out of their armor.

They smelled like a funky ass crack that had been left to boil in the hot sun for eight hours, but that wasn’t going to stop Coop from getting his meatloaf. He had priorities, and a shower wasn’t at the top of that list. The DFAC was full of soldiers, a few spacers, and a mismatch of corporate employees. Each corporation had their own dining facility, but those places tended to cost money. The facility DFAC was paid by the Commonwealth, and the grub was free to anyone with a valid GIC. Coop scanned his at the automated station and pushed toward the buffet. It was either his size or stench that parted the throng of people, and he really didn’t care which it was as long as he got his meatloaf.

They’d arrived a little after the rush, but there were still two steaming piles of meat left. Coop grabbed both of them, because he wasn’t going to leave Mike hanging, and headed to a table. Mike joined him a second later, and they both dug in without another word. Standing around for hours might not seem exhausting, but it could be. Coop needed to refuel for what came next.

<Speaking of…> he thought as a familiar face plopped down next to him, and immediately pinched with disgust.

“What the hell, dudes. You smell like something crawled inside me, rotted up nice and good, then I shat it back out.” Aiko pinched her nose between two fingers.

“Hey, I’m eating here,” Coop retorted.

“I’m surprised you can get anything down sitting in the cloud of ass that is permeating everything. They’re going to have to break out some industrial cleaning solvent when you two leave.” Aiko didn’t even touch her food.

“I need the calories if you want an encore.” Coop grinned and wiggled his eyebrows at her.

“Ahhh isn’t that sweet,” she cooed. “You think you can hang with me two nights in a row.” Coop didn’t know if that was an insult or a challenge, and he never got to find out. “Too bad, we’re reporting downstairs in an hour.” Aiko showed of the bio-luminescent glow on the underside of her wrist. “You boys had better clean up, or the new boss is going to have a field day. I heard he’s a hard ass.”

“To spacers, every infantryman is a hard ass.” Mike joined the verbal sparring.

“I prefer an infantryman with something else hard,” Aiko winked. “Now, I’m going to eat over there so I can actually get this down. See you later, boys.” She got up and moved to another table to eat.

“I can’t believe you’re hitting that.” Mike actually sounded jealous.

“She gets to hit this,” Coop countered, knew he was the lucky one, but would never admit it.

They scarfed down the rest of their meal and headed back to their quarters. The corporate guys did it up right. They each had their own room, but best of all was that they had their own shower and shitter. Not having to scrub your balls in front of a dozen other dudes, or have them watch you combat drop a load, was a luxury no one outside the military really understood.

Freshly showered, freshly shaved, and with a new pair of CMUs, Coop made sure to look himself over in the mirror one last time. He’d learned the hard way that first impressions were important, and if Aiko was right about this new squad leader being a hard ass, then Coop didn’t want to give him any extra ammunition. If they guy was being pegged to lead an SRRT then he had to know his shit, and if he knew his shit, he’d be doing his homework on the team members. Coop’s own record wasn’t full of glowing recommendations, so he wanted to make sure he was squared away for the first meeting. He’d be able to slack off a bit the more he got familiar with the guy, the new team, and everyone’s styles, but right now he needed to look the part of the good soldier.

Coop met up with Mike in the hallway and it was clear he was thinking the same thing. “So, what do you think they’re going to have us do?” Coop asked as they made their way toward the central structure and the secure labs beneath it.

“Probably more of what we’ve done, just suckier. It’s going to be R&S level suck we’re going to have to wade through. They aren’t going to give these assignments to normal grunts. They’re going to need people who can really do some damage if they’re going to get their bang for their buck on these things.”

“Great.” Coop wasn’t too excited about that. He was comfortable in his HI role. He didn’t want to be all super-duper soldier boy now. Those die hards volunteered for the R&S assignments for a reason. You had to be a little crazy to do that shit.

“I bet we’ll get some cool new gear though. They aren’t gonna put us in one of the best ships in the fleet and give us V2s. Hopefully they’ve got something put together that will actually allow us to scratch the paint on those Windsor mechs.

Coop wasn’t holding his breath. If the Ministry of War was anything like the PHA bureaucrats, then it was like pulling teeth to get any extra funding out of them. Still, it was nice to imagine, and Coop imagined piloting one of those big-ass mechs into battle as they rode the big lift down below the surface of the planet.

The scene was virtually the same when they arrived as the first time Coop had been down here. Engineers and techs were swarming over Argo like ants, and there was a group of people standing next to it. Aiko was in that group, but she looked like a midget compared to everyone else. Coop easily recognized the four newcomers. They all had bags sitting on the ground next to them, and they were all big, HI level big; even the two whose asses clearly identified them as female.

<I’ve always liked a challenge.> Coop knew he’d likely fail, but there was no reward without a little risk.

“Cooper, Enders, move your asses!” SSG Hightower barked. He was standing next to the LT and LCDR Gold. The LT looked like someone had fucked her good last night. She was all smiles, but the LCDR might not have been the one doing the boning based on his expression.

“Cooper, Mark Cooper?” A voice from the past stopped Coop in his tracks. That voice had chewed him a new asshole on a few occasions, and he’d never expected to hear it again.

“Gunney?” Coop heard the shock in his own voice.

“Sergeant Cooper?” GYSGT Cunningham turned around and nodded toward the chevrons on Coop’s CMUs. “It appears I got into the infantry at the wrong time. It took you a year to make E5, it took me over twenty to make E7. There is something wrong with that picture.”

The GYSGT’s face was still beautiful and unyielding, but Coop thought he saw a smile twisting her lips upward.

“Ain’t this a reunion for the books,” Mike smiled, and Coop followed his eyes to the other woman standing next to the GYSGT.

If your heart could literally skip a beat, not that corny shit in trashy romance novels that gets a girl’s panties in a bunch; but actual, physical cardiorythmic skipping, then Coop was pretty sure it happened. He tried to stop his jaw from dropping and failed. Then he tried to keep his eyes from darting to Aiko and back.

Epic fail.

Eve Berg regarded Coop like she wasn’t sure what she was looking at. Then she followed his eyes. She did a couple back-and-forths, just like Coop, but when her eyes settled back on him her lips twisted in a most unwanted direction.

“Sergeant Cooper, you remember Sergeant Berg.” GYSGT Cunningham was taking too much pleasure in the moment as Eve scowled at Coop for the first time in the better part of a year.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 196

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“So, now that I’m a part of this new super-secret Splitstream Rapid Response Team, does that mean I’m off voting booth guard duty?” Coop asked as he rode back up the subterranean lift with the rest of the team.

“Fat chance…” SSG Hightower muttered under his breath.

“Negative,” LT Wentworth confirmed. “We do not start our duties with SRRT-Two until the rest of the team arrives in thirty-six hours. Until then, you will continue with your normal assignments.”

“But…” Coop stated lamely, but then snapped his mouth shut, because his PAD vibrated in his leg pocket.

The electronic lifeline to the world had gone silent when they descended into the shielded underground sections of the research center, but now it reconnected to MILNET, and he had an email waiting for him…from Aiko.

As they exited the big elevator, Coop made sure to angle his body so no one could read the screen from him. He didn’t know what he was hoping for, although a naked pic would have been nice. His balls looked like two, rounds smurfs since guard duty started, coupled with the general lack of interest from the local females.

<Stupid Windsors with their stupid war and stupid technology.> That was the reason Coop was here after all. The SRRT’s were a counter against the Windsors’ tech. If nobody was shooting at each other, Coop would be bumping uglies with willing females without any issues.

Aiko’s email wasn’t as provocative as Coop hoped, but it was an address and time to meet up. To Coop, that was good enough. Now, he just needed to figure out how to sneak away from the rest of his team. By the time he returned to his post, in his slightly singed Dragonscale armor, he had a plan.

The bright yellow ball of New Savannah’s yellow dwarf star started to set after the first half of the planet’s twenty-two hour day when Coop trudged back up the stairs to the rec center. Unlike before, the park in front of the building was empty and deathly silent. Even the local critters could feel the tension in the air. The center itself now had duro-steel barricades to either side of the front door. To one side was Stern, happily engaging in conversation with a member of the planetary police force. Since the Savannah City cops were blowing holes in each other and trying to put holes in soldiers like Coop, the planetary governor thought it was a better idea to get his people more directly involved.

The slight bulge of the cop’s chest and roundness of her backside didn’t escape Coop’s eye, and he felt a stab of envy for Stern. That was something he never thought he’d feel toward the bumbling, yet good-hearted, idiot, so he shook it off.

“Five-Oh, can you hold down the fort out here while I brief my people?” he didn’t stop walking as he asked the question.

“Sure,” the cop frowned, but didn’t say anything. She noticed the battle damage to Coop’s armor, and put two and two together.

“What’s up, Corporal…I mean, Sergeant.” Stern’s face was hidden by his helmet, but Coop could practically see the grin splitting the guy’s face. “Congratulations on the promotion.”

“Thanks, but it ain’t all good news.” Coop sent a quick ping to the other team members and gave them a waypoint to meet in the entryway at the front of the building.

Coop surveyed the scene as he waited for the guys. It had already been processed and cleaned. The blood, and the body it had been leaking from, were already gone. The bullet holes in the door behind the receptionist desk were patched, and a fresh pane of polyplast-glass was back in place where Coop had crashed through it. He could hear the sounds of the crew still at work in the actual voting area, because it was much easier to clean up a shooting scene than a bombing one, but they had time. The primary, despite the interruptions, was completed, and the general election would be taking place in a few days. For the life of him, Coop couldn’t name a single person who’d won and was advancing.

“Listen up, guys,” Coop announced once everyone was gathered, and had finished congratulating him on his third chevron. “Mike and I are being pulled for another detail, so the schedule is going to change.” They had been doing two eleven-hour shifts, but with Coop’s extracurricular activities, that needed to change. “We’re going to tone it down to nine hours shifts for the next thirty-six hours. Right now, you’re in the middle of your shift.” With a few taps, Coop sent the schedule to the rest of the soldiers.

What that schedule did was optimize the time Coop was going to be able to spent with Aiko. He was scheduled to meet her in an hour, and he’s have four hours with her after that. He’d figure that would be enough time to empty his balls, and for Aiko to have whatever fun she wanted with him.

“Any questions?” There weren’t any, so Coop left Mike in charge for the rest of this shift.

“Sergeant?” Nickelbaucher walked up to Coop as he left the building.

Coop could tell the word was a question not a statement. The PFC had been working his ass off to make CPL. He knew Coop was a newish CPL when he started leading their team, and now Coop was a SGT. It didn’t meet any of the time-in-grade or schooling requirements for the NCO-level rank.

“Don’t ask, because I can’t tell.” Coop headed off any further questions. “If you want, you can put in a request with the LT, but she’s going to shut you down too. Even the rear admiral is going to tell you to go pound sand.”

Nichelbaucher physically hesitated on the steps of the rec center before replying. “Are you still going to recommend me for corporal?”

“Sure,” Coop’s mind was already on his opening line with Aiko, but he’d still give Nichelbaucher what the guy was due. “And now that it’s coming from a Sergeant, it might have more weight.” He gave the PFC a thumbs up as he headed for one of the two vehicles the team had at their disposal. Nichelbaucher hopped in the passenger seat a moment later for the drive back to the barracks. He didn’t have anything to say, and Coop wasn’t sure if he was still pissed about Coop’s rapid rank ascension, or if he was pumped that he was likely going to get his second chevron soon. Either way, he didn’t say a word on the short drive back.

A shit, shower, and shave after their return, Coop was in an auto-cab and zooming through the city streets toward his rendezvous with Aiko. It didn’t take long for Coop to figure out they were heading into the sketchier part of the city. After nearly getting shot and blown up, a rough bar didn’t worry Coop, but he didn’t want to walk into a gathering of anarchist asswipes that he’d have to fight off relatively unarmed. He thought “relatively” because he had a few knifes concealed on his person. It was the least he could do when going out into a hostile environment.

The cab chimed when they reached the location, and Coop inserted a chip to pay the bill. He only had one chip on him with five hundred bucks for the evening. He was planning to lose it all on the ride, booze, and maybe a room he could rent by the hour, but it wasn’t enough to raise anyone’s suspicions. He was just a new NCO out looking to blow his paycheck on booze and women.

Coop would describe the look the place had as “sweaty”. Condensation seemed to build on most things, despite the AC, and that gave everything an unpleasant sheen. Coop’s enhanced eyes caught the glare off those sheens from the too-bright lights, and he grimaced as he squinted to find his date. He finally spotted her in the back, where the lighting was a little less intense. He didn’t pay any of the patrons a second glance as he walked to Aiko and ignored their stares. He wasn’t sure if they were staring more and him or her when he plopped down in the seat across from her.

Aiko was dressed to inspire erections in something low-cut that showed off her tattoos. She already had one empty drink in front of her, and was not nursing a second. She threw it back without a care in the world and smiled at Coop.

“Hey there, big guy.”

“Come here often?” Coop grinned back as a worn-out-looking waitress appeared to take his order.

“Only when I need a stiff drink and something else that’s stiff.” She looked disappointed that she didn’t have another drink, so Coop waved down another tired-looking server and ordered her one.

<Jackpot!> His balls were already starting to tingle.

“So what’s a bad woman like you doing in a nice place like this?” Coop asked when their drinks arrived and they both took healthy sips.

“It’s pretty far out isn’t it?” Aiko shrugged. “The problem is that with this,” she made circular motions around her face, “no place within ten miles of the R&D facilities, that frequently serves the place’s personnel, is going to let me in.”

Coop frowned for a moment before the truth hit him. Aiko had the features of her Asian ancestors, and on a planet where the main source of revenue was developing technology to fight people that looked like her, it made sense that she would be discriminated against. The excuse of operational security could be used by the uninformed, but Aiko was a Fleet spacer who was actually a part of the top-secret SRRT teams. Of course, she couldn’t tell anyone that, so she would still get denied service at certain establishments.

Coop knew the feeling. He’d been a PHA Rat, and anyone outside a half-kilometer bubble around the massive welfare cities wouldn’t take people who looked like him. So, he did the only thing he could think of to comfort her. “Hey, I think you’re hot.” He reached under the table and caressed the inside of her thigh.

Aiko grinned, but then snapped her legs closed. Coop’s hand got caught and pinched between the two boney parts of her knees, and he winced in pain.

“Business before pleasure,” she pulled out a PAD that wasn’t military-issued and slid it over to Coop. “I’ve been tapped into a certain network of entrepreneurial individuals for a while now. Sometimes they send out messages asking for anything from information to get-your-hands-dirty work. This one came in a week ago, and I held onto it so you could see.”

Coop scanned the message. There wasn’t a lot to go off of. It was an anonymous account plainly asking for information on York Sector, specifically Cobalt Station. If the information was credible, and Coop had no way to know how they would determine that, the sender was willing to pay up to ten grand.

It had been over three months since the royal fuckwads ruined the perfect gig Coop had set up on New Lancashire. The money he’d earned went a long way, coupled with his injured stay in the hospital, but it was shrinking fast. Coop spent his money like he liked his women: hard and fast. He could use an extra source of income, and he could work with ten grand, especially since Aiko was back in his life. Girl had expensive tastes, which was probably why she was tapped into this network in the first place.

“Is it reliable?” Coop asked as he re-read the message a few more times and tried to read between the lines of the request.

“Should be.” Aiko shrugged. “If you get on the network administrator’s shit list you end up banned or dead, so people try to be honest.”

“Honor among thieves and all that bullshit.” Coop slid the PAD back across the table. “Sure. I can give them some intel for fifteen grand, but nothing that’s going to implicate me.”

“I didn’t expect anything less, and I charge a ten percent middle-woman fee.” Aiko grinned, and this time her hand was the one on the inside of his thigh.

“Umm…yeah, ok.” Her hand went higher, and Coop would have agreed to twenty if she pushed it, but nothing more. He had principles.

“Good,” now she leaned forward across the table, showing off considerable cleavage, and continued to snake her hand up till she reached the prize.

“Check please,” Coop squeaked.

The look on Aiko’s face said she didn’t want to wait. Coop paid, and tipped the waitress more than he should have, but he didn’t care. His mind was on one thing right now.

As she led the way out, Aiko grabbed a bottle of water and tossed a few-dollar chip to the waitress, and the bottle to Coop. “You’re going to need to hydrate.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Coop immediately unscrewed the lid and started chugging. He remembered the last time with Aiko, and hoped the motel had a vending machine.

<Three hours and twenty-one minutes.> Coop looked at his watch to see how much time he had left.

He was going to make the most of every second.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 195

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 Carol floated around Argo and settled into a hover beside RADM Stillwater, LCDR Gold, and Aiko. The Twig had the same white bark-skin, brown cilia, and wiggling black wormy things inside her that Bob did. LT Wentworth and SSG Hightower reacted as normal human beings would to seeing an alien for the first time. They stopped walking forward toward the ET, their jaws dropped, and the SSG was a little less diplomatic when his face screwed up like he smelled something foul.

On the other hand, Coop and Mike had met a Twig before, so this was nothing new to them. “Hey, Carol,” Coop replied casually as he continued to walk forward. “I’m Coop and this is Mike. It’s nice to meet you.” He could have ended it there, but he kept going. “You look like another Twig I met, Bob. Do you know Bob? He looks like he could be your husband.”

The RADM’s jowls jiggled as he got worked up at Coop’s comment. Even Gold frowned, but Carol hadn’t been in their presence long enough to understand human behavior, so she took it as a legitimate question.

“I have met the one you call Bob, but we are not joined in a legal contract that awards us tax benefits. My species, Twigs as you affectionately refer to us based on our resemblance to some of your flora, do not have sexes like humans.”

“What now?” Coop found this much more interesting than whatever the RADM wanted to say.

“We are androgynous creatures, Sergeant Cooper. Each of us has the capability to produce spore-eggs, fertilize them, and release them to take root and grow.” Carol completed her explanation.

“Where’s the fun in that?” Coop asked, before the SSG grasped him on the shoulder with a not-so-subtle squeeze told him to shut the fuck up.

“Please forgive Sergeant Cooper. He is young and impetuous.” The RADM tried to sooth ruffled feathers, although Carol didn’t have feathers and she didn’t seem rustled in the slightest.

“No offense was taken. It was an insightful question of my species biology. Since this venture you have contracted with me concerns your own species biological functions it is relevant and should build trust between us.”

Coop savored the look on the RADM’s face when the Twig vindicated him, but he wasn’t sure there was ever going to be trust between him and a floating tree. Plus, the statement about this venture involving his biology had his oh shit-o-meter flashing warning signs. The only biological sampling Coop wanted to do was with a certain freshly promoted PO3.

Aiko was standing dutifully to the side of LCDR Gold. Her eyes weren’t immediately drawn to Carol, which meant she’d been working with the ET for a bit, but she didn’t shift her attention to meet Coop’s gaze.

Coop felt slightly hurt by that. They’d smuggled tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of contraband goods, they’d boned like jacked up bunnies on speed, and finished off the trifecta by killing a raging asshole. In both of their defenses that had been self-defense, but while the UCMJ tribunal found them innocent of all charges, their bosses had decreed that they didn’t see each other again. It wasn’t as much a decree as it was sending her ship off to almost get blown apart by the Windsors and Blockies, while Coop went toe-to-toe with giant mechs. To him it was basically the same thing, and now that he got to set eyes on her again it was half-chub at first sight.

“It is always good to exchange information regarding our continued partnership.” LCDR Gold stepped into the role of diplomat between the floundering RADM, Carol, and everyone else. “We will have plenty of time to continue informational exchanges over the coming weeks, but we should brief the sergeants and Lieutenant Wentworth about our mission.” Ben gave the LT a smile, and Coop was confident the rumors about them boning were true.

“Yes,” the RADM coughed into his fist and straightened his CMUs that were straining against his waist. “Take it away Lieutenant Commander.”

“Yes, Sir.” Ben pulled his PAD from his pocket as he stepped forward and hit some buttons. Several holos sprang to life behind him. “As you are all aware, the arrival of Bob and Carol as trading partners with the Commonwealth has created new opportunities and paradigm shifts between major starfaring nations and the art of war itself.”

Coop couldn’t stop from nodding. He’d seen those paradigm shifts up front, and one had nearly shish kabobed him with a meter-thick, nano-blade broadsword. He was still riding the high of being promoted to SGT with an E5’s pay increase, but that was quickly wearing off the more Ben talked.

“While the full impact of the trade agreement between Bob and the Commonwealth hasn’t been actualized yet, military and civilian leaders at the highest levels have decided that we can’t wait for the audit to be completed before we start moving forward. We are going to need people trained and proficient in the new technology when the time comes, along with having operational experience.” Ben flicked his finger and one of the holos floated forward so everyone could focus on it. “Discretionary funds have been made available to purchase technology and to integrate that into our table of organization and equipment on a small scale.”

Coop hadn’t paid attention to it yet, but there were a lot of people scrabbling across Argo’s hull. The sound of heavy machinery at work was being muted by technology, but it was clear the gunboat was undergoing some serious updates.

Argo is being outfitted to be a concept of theory for future fleet-wide deployment of the technology. She is being equipped with her own gluon power plant which will give us shield capabilities and the ability to Portal. The new power source is also being wired into the existing weaponry, so we can increase the punch Argo can dish out, plus we’re adding a new trick or two up her sleeves.” Ben should have been grinning at being given such an opportunity, but he wasn’t.

“Are you still in command of Argo, Sir? You saved my ass on New Lancashire, so I hope I get to sail with you again.” Coop threw his support behind the LCDR, and judging by the look on the RADM’s face it was the wrong thing to do.

<Fuck it.> Coop shrugged. Ben was still his get out of jail free card if things went tits up at some point. <Speaking of tits.> Coop glanced over to Aiko. She was looking at him this time. Their eyes met for a brief second. In that time she winked at him before turning her attention back to Ben. <That’s what I’m talking about.> Coop couldn’t stop from grinning as he focused on the RADM.

“Lieutenant Commander Gold is still in command until a suitable replacement is found. He will undergo training with you so he is proficient, but it is unlikely you will deploy with him in command of Argo.” The RADM looked a little smug in his explanation, so Coop just had to ask the follow-up question.

“Why?” The RADM seemed a little stunned at being asked to explain by a SGT, but Ben smiled a bit, and Aiko did too.

“We’ll have that discussion off line, Sergeant.” LT Wentworth stepped in and onto the throat of his question, while the RADM waved for Ben to get back on track.

“As you might remember, the entire fleet underwent a complete physical and psychological examination over the past several months. The purpose of that examination was to collect data and identify certain markers. Carol has been analyzing the prevalence of those markers and identifying qualified individuals.”

<Uh oh.> Coop’s oh shit-o-meter had been pinging earlier but now it was blaring in his face and warning him to get out now.

The dominant holo switched to show some charts and graphs that Coop didn’t want or need to understand, and Carol filled in the rest. “A detailed analysis of a segment of the human species has been conducted for your compatibility with the Splitstreaming process.  So far, the process has only covered members of your military forces, and I cannot say for certain if those results will hold true across the rest of your species, but the information we have gleaned is less than optimal. Of the humans catalogued, less than five percent have the genetic markers and psychological resilience necessary to endure the Splitstreaming procedure, but everyone here meets the criteria.”

Coop didn’t listen to the rest. His stomach dropped out his asshole and he felt like someone dropped a bucket of ice cold water on his head. He’d had a recurring dream since learning about Splitstreaming. He imagined one of those robo-chefs had him tied down to a wooden chopping block. The machine’s six arms had various blades rotating and whirling as they quickly went to work on chopping him up into small bits. He’d scream, beg, and try to fight back but it was all worthless. The worst part was when the robo-chef started to reassemble him. The machines nimble digits took the little Coop-cubes and reassembled them together. In each dream he ended up some nightmarish, Frankenstein creation. The worst one was when the robo-chef had replaced his nose with his dick. It gave a whole new meaning to the term face-fucking, and Coop woke up in a cold sweat and screaming about a face full of asshole. The cute nurse he’d been trying to score with in the recovery ward had switched shifts the next day.

“…lucky ones.” Ben was talking again, but Coop didn’t tune back in until he heard the bullshit.

“What?” He asked, sounding about as stupid as most people thought he was.

“I said, Sergeant, that the spacers and infantry that have tested positive for the SS-Gene are the lucky ones. They are now indispensable to the armed forces. As such, you are being awarded bonuses, and will be among the first soldiers to receive updated equipment. Are budget isn’t unlimited, but for our team, we’ve got an awful lot to work with. Whatever you need, you’ll get.”

“What if I want out of this chickenshit outfit,” Coop mumbled.

Ben either heard the comment and chose to ignored it, or he didn’t; either way he moved on. “The Splitstream Rapid Response Teams (SRRT) are being organized as ten-person units. Each will be stationed on a gunboat, and two of the ten will be spacers. Those spacers will be cross trained on all departments, and with the help of an upgraded Semi-Intelligent Ship’s Interface they will be able to maintain and fight the ship with only twenty percent of its prior MTOE. For Argo, those personnel are myself and PO3 Lee.” Aiko stepped forward when Ben said her name and gave the gathered soldiers a nod.

“We’ll keep the ship flying and fighting so you can do your ground-pounder stuff.” She kept it short and sweet, but Coop wanted to do something long and dirty with her.

<Gold, Aiko, Mike, me, the LT, and Hightower,> Coop did the math. “Who are the other four team members?”

“The Rest of SRRT-Two will be arriving on plant in the next thirty-six hours.” The RADM took back control of the conversation. “You are dismissed until then, but everything you’ve heard and seen is highly classified, and if you break operational security you will be executed.” The matter-of-fact way the RADM said the punishment was believable enough for Coop.

<SRRT-Two, that’s just a fancy way for saying an undersized squad with unproven, untested tech doing whatever the hell some brass a thousand light years away wants us to.> Coop just hoped he didn’t end up with certain appendages in the wrong place. That would seriously interfere with his love life.

Speaking of that, as the briefing broke up, he walked over to Aiko who was standing next to the gunboat with her arms crossed. “So,” he crossed his arms and leaned casually against the hull, “how’ve you been?” He had to lean in closer due to all the yelling going back and forth between the refit crew.

“I’ll be better in five seconds.” Aiko grinned with the mischievous twinkle in her dark brown eyes.

“Wha…” Coop didn’t get a chance to finish as some sort of electrical current went through the scales on Argo’s hull and straight into him. The shock knocked him off the hull and onto his ass.

Coop shook his head to clear the spots in his vision, felt a weird tingling sensation in his nuts, and smelled burned hair.

“That’s just what I needed.” Aiko was standing over him and laughing, but extended a hand. “We should get a drink tonight.”

“A drink and…” Coop wiggled his eyebrows.

“We’ll see where the night takes us.” She gave him a slap on the ass as the LT and SSG called for him to stop lollygagging and move. The soldiers had other things to do today to prepare for the other half of the team’s arrival.

Coop just hoped the new guys weren’t a bunch of tools, or worse yet; they’d try to make a move on Aiko. <I can take them.> Coop’s ego wouldn’t let him think anything less as he followed his superiors out of the underground hanger and back to the surface of New Savannah.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 192

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 SPECIAL REPORT flashed across the bottom of the holo in red. “Coming to you live from Abercorn Square with our reporter on the scene, Patrick Cumberland.” The scene shifted to a good-looking man in a casual suit standing in front of a still-smoking building.

Everyone sitting in the room recognized it. It was one of the voting centers that Charlie Company 2223rd Infantry Battalion was assigned to protect. The scene of the damage, and first responders on the scene, led to a lot of sour looks.

“Today was an important day, a day that is crucial to our democratic process.” The reporter began as he pointed at the building behind him. “That day was brought to a screeching halt as six bombers from the infamous New Savannah Liberation Movement caused death and destruction like what is seen behind me.”

Flame retardant foam was being sprayed through a hole in the ceiling by a man on a hovering platform. The thick substance was suffocating the fire quickly and efficiently, but it couldn’t stop the damage that had already been done.

“Reports are still coming in, but unconfirmed eye-witness accounts say that the death toll from this cowardly attack will likely rise. As of right now, there are three confirmed dead, and over twenty seriously injured that were transported to local hospitals. Nearly three times as many have been treated for minor wounds by military and civilian medical personnel and released.” The reporter lowered his head in what looked like a moment of silence. “The planetary government had condemned these attacks as the murderous will of the few against the wishes of the vast majority of New Savannah citizens. The Governor has promised increased security at polling places so voters can feel safe, and the Police Commissioner has a scheduled briefing in thirty minutes to address claims that some of his officers were involved with the terrorist activities.

“I can answer that question for you right now…fuck yes they were,” Coop called out to the room and got some grim chuckles in return.

“Lock it up, Cooper.” SSG Hightower called from the front of the room without much enthusiasm.

Coop just smiled like only a man who’d just escaped death could, and leaned back in his seat. He grimaced as the motion pulled at his injuries. The bomb that had blown a hole in the voting rec center’s roof, and killed a few more than three people by Coop’s count, hadn’t been a big one. It wasn’t an artillery barrage by the Blockies or Windsors. It was some guy, probably an engineer with limited materials, who’d made a homemade bomb in his garage. Ideally, the cops with sniffers that were supposed to wand random individuals going into the voting centers would have caught it, but they were in on the terrorism.

<I’d bet my paycheck that the Police Commissioner if going to say something about a few rogue elements within his ranks, but it was three out of five where I was.> Coop didn’t feel bad for killing them, they’d obviously been up to no good.

Coop had been far enough away from the initial explosion that he hadn’t been in serious danger. He’d still been hit by the shockwave and falling debris from the roof, but that just led to some bumps and bruises. He’d been knocked out for a few seconds, but when he came to he jumped into action to help the trapped civilians. If not for his enhanced muscles, they would have been trapped under building material and asphyxiated due to the smoke, but he’d been able to lift off the smaller-to-medium sized chunks and pull people to safety. He’d done that until the QRF and civilian first responders were able to get inside. Then his adrenaline rush ran out and he started to feel like he’d gone a few rounds with SSG Hightower. Coop would be good as new in the next few days, and he hoped he be put on limited duty until then.

“Cooper is correct.” LT Wentworth didn’t rebuke Coop like the SSG did. “The police force has been compromised. It will take time to vet the thousands of officers on duty in Savannah City alone, and the Governor has made it abundantly clear to Rear Admiral Stillwater that these elections are to continue on schedule.”

Coop had a hunch that was the case after the reporter’s info dump on the planetary governor’s wishes. RADM Stillwater, the lead Commonwealth officer in the system, had his head so far up the Governor’s ass that he was titty-fucking the guy’s balls. Since the RADM was a fat ass, chair-borne ranger Coop expected he would go along with anything the Governor wanted.

<How the hell does a guy like that get to be a Rear Admiral anyway?> Coop still hadn’t figured that part out.

The LT had continued on despite Coop’s thoughts on their fearless leader. “To make up for the lack of officers, the battalions on planet are being ordered to deploy to cover additional voting centers. In some cases, that means that the fire teams that were assigned to locations are going to be dispersed in buddy teams to cover more centers.”

“Because when we get hit hard like we did it is always a smart idea to disperse our forces and thin the line even more,” Coop grumbled under his breath.

“What was that, Cooper? Speak up.” The SSG had caught some of what he was saying.

“I was wondering, Ma’am, if we’re pulling anyone off the QRF to beef up our numbers?” Coop’s mind worked quick to come up with a reasonable question.

“No. The QRF will remain at full strength so they can respond accordingly.” To the LT’s credit, she didn’t look too happy about the allocation of forces, but she had her orders. “Any further questions can be directed at SSG Hightower. Dismissed.” Everyone got to their feet and executed a lazy salute before starting to file out of the room.

The emergency briefing was for all of the team leads in the field. Coop had left Nickelbaucher, Stern, and Goldsmith at the scene to secure the voting machines, but Mike got to tag along because we was also a CPL, and Coop needed a battle buddy to help his aching ass to sick call before the meeting. Coop hadn’t thought the SSG would give Mike the ok to join, but he didn’t think twice about it.

“Cooper, Enders, on me.” The LT called as the other troops began to file out of the room and back onto the complex nestled in an older section of Savannah City. Now, Coop thought something might be up.

The LT didn’t wait to see if they were following. She headed out a separate door and into a well-maintained hallway. The PVTs cleaning the building respectfully moved aside with a chorus of, “Good morning, Ma’am”, and respectful nods to Coop, Mike, and the SSG. The LT made a ninety degree turn when they exited the comfort of the building’s air conditioning and headed toward the center of the complex.

The contracting companies that did R&D research on the planet did it up right. They were all gathered together on a massive complex in the older part of the city. Coop suspected it was an easier commute for the executives from their mini-plantations in the suburbs, but he wasn’t completely sure. His only time outside the complex had been into the city to sample the nightlife, and to his duties at the voting center.

Even though they were all gathered together on the massive complex, there were clear divisions. Areas were sectioned off with fencing and manned with security personnel wearing the insignia of the company they worked for. The big G of Gold Technologies and, and B superimposed on a tidal wave for Blacktide Armaments were the two most prominent companies. They were at the center of the complex with the smaller contractors clustered around them. The military’s section was mercifully close to the center as well, because by the time they covered the few hundred meters to the central administrative office of the complex, Coop had beads of sweat rolling down his back toward his ass crack.

<I don’t know how these people do it,> Coop sighed when they pushed through the front door of a building that looked surprisingly a lot like a Civil Administration Building back in a PHA.

The building was a neutral zone for all the companies to come together and interact, as well as the RADM’s office and the planetary government’s oversight group. Coop thought the latter was a pretty cushy job. These corporations paid for the election campaigns of the people on the planetary government, so they owned them in everything but name.

“Lieutenant Wentworth,” the LT announced herself to a pretty receptionist in a tight smartcloth skirt as she scanned her GIC.

“Corporal Cooper, Mark Cooper, but you can call me Coop.” Coop smiled as he jostled to the front of their little group.

The receptionist gave him a tight, rehearsed smile. “This way.” She led the group down a hallway, through multiple security checkpoints, and finally to a large lift built into the very center of the building. She didn’t say anything as they boarded, and by the time Coop turned around, she was already walking away. He didn’t mind appreciating the view until the lift clanged closed.

“Cooper, Enders,” the SSG barked to get their attention. “Eyes on me.” Coop turned to follow the order and caught a tablet that was tossed at him.

“Gentlemen, these are nondisclosure agreements,” the LT explained. “The gist is that you will not speak to anyone about what you see or do down here. If you do, you will be charged with treason and death by hanging. For traitors with your physical enhancements they like to find lower gravity worlds to hang you on. Your neck won’t break from the fall so it’ll take hours for you to choke to death. It’s not a pleasant way to go, so keep your mouths shut.”

Coop squinted at the electronic document. It was in tiny, legalese script. He didn’t understand half of it, and didn’t care about the part he did understand. The Infantry already owned his ass, if it wanted its pound of flesh all it had to do was ask. Coop pressed his GIC to the document and signed on the proverbial dotted line.

“Thank you, gentlemen, now raise your right hands and repeat after me.” Coop cocked an eyebrow, but followed the LT’s instructions. “I, state your name, do solemnly attest that I will, as in duty bound, honestly defend the Charter of the United Commonwealth of Colonies against all enemies, internal and external throughout the galaxy; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will observe and obey all orders of the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth and the orders of the admirals and officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

“Wait…what?” Coop recognized the oath. He’d first taken it at Basic and then again at each of his promotions. If his experiences were correct only one thing could be happening.

“Just repeat the oath, Cooper.” The SSG looked genuinely pissed at what was happening, which confirmed Coop’s suspicions.

Coop repeated the oath section by section, and lowered his hand at the end. <What the fuck is going on?>

“Congratulations, sergeants.” The LT shook both of their hands as their CMUs updated to show the three chevrons of a SGT.

Coop opened his mouth to ask a question, but a glare from the SSG told him to shut the fuck up, so he did. A second later the lift’s thick doors opened up and they entered a cavernous room well below the surface of the planet. Coop recognized a few familiar things right off the bat.

First was the 125 meter bulk of CWS Argo sitting in a docking berth with engineers swarming around her. The second was the large outline of a man, with his back turned toward them, with a golden stripe down his CMUs. He was talking with an engineer and pointing at different sections of the gunboat. Third, was a tight, familiar ass, staring back at him from another set of CMUs. He didn’t even need to look up to see the luscious black hair and edges of tattoos that were visible just below the collar of her uniform. Coop had seen Aiko Lee’s tattoos up close and personal, and he’d never forget them. Last, and certainly least impressive, was a pot-bellied man with four golden stripes on his CMUs. RADM Stillwater looked like a pig, and if you dyed his skin pink and gave him a little curly tail Coop would kill him and cook up some bacon for the rest of the complex. The RADM was standing on the other side of the engineer from Ben Gold, and nodded his double chin at whatever the LCDR was saying.

“Oh, they’re here.” The RADM looked back and jumped a little in surprise. “Come over, hurry up.” He waved from them to come closer.

Ben and Aiko turned around as well, and Coop couldn’t help but meet his old lover’s eyes. They still held that subtle fire in them, and if Coop played this right it could be one hell of an enjoyable assignment.

“That’s everyone.” The RADM clapped his hands together. “First, I want to congratulate everyone who has been recently promoted to work on this assignment. Emergency Order Sierra 58915.215 stated that no one below the rank of E5 is permitted to be part of this team, but since our options are limited, we’ve elected to promote everyone to the required grade.”

That answered half of Coop’s question about why the hell he was an NCO now. He looked over at Aiko and saw she was now a Petty Officer Third Class. She’d jumped up two grades from a Spacer. Coop didn’t even know they could do that, and then he really thought about it, and knew the top brass could do whatever the hell they wanted.

“Several members of your team are still inbound from other parts of the Commonwealth and will be here shortly, but until then we can get started on some of the official preparation, so let me introduce you to your trainer.” The RADM waved behind him.

From the opposite side of Argo floated a familiar shape on an anti-grav platform. “Greetings, my name is Carol.” The alien introduced herself with a rustle of her back cilia and a twitch of her internal worm thingies.

<Fucking Twigs,> Coop kept his thoughts to himself, but he felt his stomach drop into his feet. <This can’t be good.> The last time he’d seen the ETs, the planet he’d been on had been invaded and he got bitch slapped by a five-meter mech.

Nothing good could possibly come from Carol’s presence on New Savannah.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 191

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

Coop had been correct in his initial survey of his area of operations. Because of where he was standing, compared with the rest of the buildings in the area, there wasn’t a great spot for snipers to take pot shots at his team. There was foliage cover for one hundred and forty degrees in front of him, the mass of the building blocked the one hundred and eighty degrees behind him, so that only left the sides. Even then, the buildings weren’t placed at advantageous angles, so it only left a tiny sliver of space where someone could take a reliable shot.

Based on how Coop was standing, the bullet came in on an inopportune angle, whose path was further complicated by the Dragonscales doing what they were designed to do. The armor registered the inbound round way before Coop reacted. The scales on his helmet slithered into action, and created a path of least resistance for the bullet to take. So, when it smashed into Coop’s head, just above his right eyebrow, it was easily deflected and went spinning off into the pavement several meters away. It never breeched the armor.

Of course, then there was the kinetic energy to consider. The bullet was fired from an ancient chemically-powered rifle. The low velocity of the round added to how pointless it was to take a shot at an infantryman standing guard in modern armor. If it had been a regular electromagnetically-thrown round, then Coop might have ended up on his ass and crawling for cover. Instead, all he had to deal with was the increasingly irritating ring in his ear and the dull throb just above his eye from the impact.

The end result wasn’t what the anarchist shooting that rifle wanted. It wasn’t a dead Commonwealth soldier killed in an election process they saw as tainted. What they got was a pissed off Coop, and even then they didn’t realize how lucky they were getting off. It was lucky because he wasn’t wearing a LACS with an artillery cannon that could take down the building.

“Contact!” Mike yelled through the net.

“Two hundred and eighty five degrees, two hundred meters, on the edge of the roof.” Nickelbaucher yelled from his position on the side of the building.

STRATNET immediately took the data, adjusted for Coop’s position, and displayed the red icon on his HUD. Coop didn’t even hesitate. “Motherfucker shot me in the head!” he roared as he pivoted and brought his weapon to bear.

Normally, infantry wearing Dragonscales were armed with the Infantry Assault Rifle Model Three, or M3 for short. The weapon threw out 1mm darts at a velocity of three thousand meters per second, which could turn an unarmored human into finely pureed mush. It could pump out two hundred rounds a minute on full auto, but most troops preferred to fire in single or three-to-five round bursts. That way you didn’t blow your whole load. The only reason you’d ever fire two hundred rounds in a minute was if the enemy was right in front of you. Coop had been in a couple of those situations in his year with the military, but he’d never been armed with an M3, and he wasn’t today.

The commander of Commonwealth forces on New Savannah might have been a total tool when he didn’t let the contingent’s HI troopers wear their HI armor while conducting security operations, but at least he let them keep their weapons. As such, Coop had been lugging around his larger and heavier Buss for the last few days.

The Blunderbuss, or just plain old Buss, was a bigger, harder-hitting weapon than the M3, with the added versatility of its four chambers. Like an old-school revolving pistol, those four chambers allowed the HI trooper wielding it to put down different types of ordinance on target.  The go-to ammunition was 3mm plasma-tipped rounds. The bit of plasma at the end of the high-velocity round caused an explosion on impact that was designed to do damage to other armored troopers. Regular grunts didn’t stand much of a chance. Chamber number two was for 40mm grenades of all flavors. Anything from smoke to HE could be launched into the middle of an enemy formation for maximum effectiveness. Chamber three held an energy cell capable of firing a five-megawatt energy blast. It packed a punch that would have shot clean through the building the sniper was standing on. Chamber number four was dealer’s choice. Some HI liked to fill it with regular 3mm without the plasma-tipped addition. Coop thought that was a load of horseshit, and never did that. He’d either fill the fourth barrel with more plasma-tipped rounds or more grenades depending on what the mission was.

The mission parameters for this operation were to protect the voting centers without endangering the community around them. Chatter from anarchist, fringe elements within the population was light, but there was a possibility that what had just happened could happen. In that case they were supposed to fortify the position, call in the quick reaction force, and engage only if absolutely necessary. Coop counted getting shot in the head as falling into the latter category.

Coop completed his ninety-degree pivot and sighted the rifle instinctually. STRATNET helped by showing him where his bullets would go in a perfect world. It hardly ever worked out that way, because in what world did the bad guy ever stand still to be shot, but it was a good concept. The Buss was calibrated to his armored neural network, but Coop had found that it never really lined up perfectly. A Buss was supposed to be used with LACS armor, that was where it worked best. At the moment, Coop didn’t give two shits as he brought his optics to rest on the anarchist, who was repositioning for a second shot, and pulled the trigger.

The Buss burped out three rounds that seemed to cross the two-hundred-meter distance between Coop and the bad guy instantaneously. Coop caught the brief movement of the other guy pulling his trigger before the other guy, and the roof around him, exploded. The LT had suggested the regular 3mm darts for their detail, but Coop had respectfully disagreed.

Coop didn’t think it was a big explosion. Sure, a half meter of concrete had been pulverized, a small circle of fire about one meter in diameter expanded around each point of impact, and bits of debris were starting to rain down on the street below. Maybe it was because some of that debris was red and meaty that people were starting to freak the fuck out.

Coop’s eyes were on the guy’s rifle as its half-burned husk smacked into the ground with a loud CLANK that had nearly dissipated by the time it reached Coop’s audio sensors. “Threat eliminated,” he let the rest of his team know even though STRATNET had already updated with the information.

“I wouldn’t say that.” Mike radioed back, just as Coop picked up the click of a second weapon being taken off safe much closer than he was comfortable with.

Instinct was a big reason Coop had only lost part of a leg so far in his military service, so he followed his gut. He went low, sweeping one leg behind him while he pivoted with the other. The move caught his attacker by surprise, while the attacker’s round, meant for Coop’s head, went into the concrete above him. Coop was a lot stronger than the average person, and that showed when the local cop tried to shoot him at point blank range did a complete sideways three sixty in the air. It was actually a little more than that, because the guy ended up impacting the ground with the side of his head. The force of Coop’s kick plus the man’s natural weight led to a sickening crunching sound. Coop only gave the possibility that they guy was still alive a quarter-second thought before his own Buss was back up and pointed at the four remaining cops. Or at least it was supposed to be four.

The cop’s squad leader had a still-smoking hole in his forehead, and another was down and screaming with a leg wound that was pouring out blood. Coop knew the artery was severed, but he didn’t move to help. His mission was to secure the voting center and that’s what he was going to do.

The third cop had his pistol out and was moving it to target Coop, so Coop didn’t make it easy. There was only about ten meters between them, so Coop pushed off at an angle. The cop was already committed to his initial action, pulled the trigger, and a round went screaming into the concrete where Coop had been. By the time the cop was turning to reacquire him, Coop was already arresting his motion and changing direction again after covering half the distance between them. A normal human’s leg would have shattered under the strain, but Coop’s reinforced skeletal structure just protested at the discomfort, which he promptly ignored. Adrenaline was pumping through his system and he doubted he’d feel getting shot.

After juking, and closing the distance, Coop went for a straight-on approach to finish it. He still came in low, so the cop would have a tougher shot. The cop squeezed off another round that clipped Coop’s armor around the collarbone area. The armor did its job again, but Coop felt some numbness spread down his left arm. That didn’t stop him from throwing that same arm out and slapping the gun out of the cop’s hand. Coop guessed he’d broken the man’s hand based off the pain on the guy’s face, but he only got a quick glimpse of it before he drove his armored fist through it.

The clear polyplast faceplate of the cop’s HUD exploded on impact, and it was more durable than the flesh and bone of the guy’s head. Coop stopped the forward progression of his fist after letting it go a few centimeters past the guy’s nose, which was completely flattened.

It occurred to Coop, a few seconds too late, that there might be something bigger going on here. Some of the cops had turned on each other and started shooting. Maybe it was just a few of these guys going postal, but all Coop saw was the threat in front of him that needed to be eliminated.

<It’s something for S2 to figure out.> Coop thought about the intelligence officer who was probably going to get fired over this clusterfuck, but that didn’t affect him. What did was the door to the voting center swinging shut behind the final cop.

Coop could only think of a few things the cop could be doing, only one of them good, so he didn’t waste any time. He vaulted over the crumbling body of bad cop number two, past the screaming pleas of cop-shot-in-the-leg, and headed for the door. He didn’t slow down because it would just waste valuable seconds to open the outward-swinging door. Instead, he just went through it.

The polyplast-glass mix that the door was made of exploded everywhere as Coop jumped through it. People screamed, but they were already screaming. The space was normally a community rec center. It had a small vestibule area with an awards case sitting next to a large square opening in the wall. It looked like a receptionist normally sat there, and there was a door leading to an office behind it where the rec centers normal administration was conducted. Today, there were streaks of blood on top of the receptionist desk, a woman’s body on the floor in a growing pool of blood, and the door had several bullet-shaped holes in it. Coop gave it a quick scan, his armor gave him a flat-line reading from the woman on the floor, so he kept on going. A large set of double doors opened up and led to the main gym area. It was huge. They had a regulation football and soccer field sitting next to each other. On a planet as warm as New Savannah, it was a must to play indoors.

On those fields were dozens of sign-in tables in front of voting booths. The booths reminded Coop a lot of the testing blocks back in military section of the PHA. They screamed privacy, but right now they were being used as cover. Bad cop number three was advancing toward them, dual wielding two pistols, and firing indiscriminately into the crowd of a few hundred that were present to vote in the Primary.

The cop didn’t hear the glass break over his own guns firing, and he obviously thought his buddies were going to take care of Coop. What his plan was for the other Commonwealth troops on scene was beyond Coop, but Coop didn’t waste any time. Every second the guy was pumping three or four rounds into the voters.

Coop didn’t even bother bringing the weapon to his shoulder. The shot was easy, less than twenty meters, and the aiming function on his armor was good enough to make that work. Coop sighted the Buss in the center of the cop’s back and pulled the trigger from the hip.

The cop’s armor was weak sauce. It was effective against the Personal Defense Weapons the Commonwealth allowed civilians to own, but it couldn’t stand up to military ordinance; especially a Buss. Coop only had to fire a single round. The 3mm plasma-tipped projectile penetrated the back of the cop’s armor like it was recycled toilet paper. It even made it into the cop’s body before detonating. The result was the cop’s chest exploding in a ball of fire that severed both arms, legs, and his head. The force of the explosion threw them all away like some type of sick confetti surprise. Since the explosion ate up most of the internal organs and liquid in the man’s torso there wasn’t a lot of blood, but “wasn’t a lot of” didn’t mean none. If anything the civilians were screaming even louder now.

“Citizens, please remain calm. The situation has been dealt with. You are safe. Medical personnel are on their way to treat the injured.” Coop reassured, and then quickly changed frequencies to his team net. “Mike call for medics, fill in the LT, and forward the info from this to any other units around us. Who knows if this is just round one. If the local cops are in on it then this could turn into a planet-wide shitshow really quick.”

“Done…done…and done. QRF is inbound with medics, ETA ninety seconds, but you may want to look at this.” Mike sent a link and Coop opened it.

He recognized it immediately. It was a live stream of the chaos at the voting station…his voting station. The camera was panning around, showing the chaos, and came to rest on Coop. Coop watched him watching himself. He raised his arm, moved it back and forth, and watched the Coop on camera do the same thing. Then words appeared on the screen.

LIBERATION FOR NEW SAVANNAH

<Oh fuck,> Coop thought just before the bomb went off.

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