Two Worlds – Chapter 228

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

Argo had changed. Coop recognized that the minute they got on board. He didn’t have too much time to explore right away because they had to lug all of their gear onto the gunboat, and whoever had assigned this mission wanted the SRRT to have everything at their disposal. Getting the weapons, now-obsolete coms, and little gadgets designed just for the team’s special mission needs was easy, but the V4’s were not designed to fit in the ship. It was the first design flaw, and from Coop’s perspective a major oversight. The LCDR ended up getting involved and the brass had to come down and take a look.

“Well shit,” the industrial titan deadpanned. “You think you’ve thought of everything and then you realize you’ve missed something big.” He shook his head, but couldn’t stop from chuckling. “We can’t fix it now, but we’ll do a refit when you return from this mission. What we need is a way to get the LACS on the ship. Any suggestions?”

“Yeah, have someone from the Infantry present in your design sessions next time.” Coop muttered to Mike. Who simply nodded his agreement.

Coop’s big friend was out of the hospital and back on the team. Coop didn’t think he was one hundred percent yet, maybe eighty-five percent, but the big guy still wasn’t back to normal. Coop noticed Mike would jump a little if he didn’t know you were there and started talking to him. Coop hoped the big guy’s situational awareness improved because that was key in combat.

Coop knew this was his friend’s first time being wounded in combat. He’d done several operations back with the 2222nd, and in RADM Nelson’s strike force that successfully pushed back the Blockies before being forced to withdraw by the Windsor’s. He’d even made it through the terrorist attack and follow-up operations without a scratch, while Coop got part of his arm melted off by flaming chaff. Mike needed to know that getting injured was part of the lifestyle he was living, but the other half of that coin was top-of-the-line healthcare. Coop could attest to that. He had a brand new leg, and his arm looked fine aside from the growing hair trying to catch up with the rest of him. Coop made a mental note to talk to his friend about his experiences.

In the end, it was the ground pounders that came up with the simple solution to turn the LACS horizontal and load them that way. It worked, but at a cost. The grav-lifts that were designed to move the suits couldn’t maintain their fields when half the suit was in the ship and half wasn’t. That mean that not only was it the infantry who came up with the simple solution, but it was the grunts that got to physically lift the suits into the ship and onto the waiting grav-sleds. Combined with their own size and bulk, it meant only two could make the lift at a time. Since Coop permanently seemed to be on someone’s shit list he got to do it.

He quickly found out that running around in a LACS and being forced to lift it with just his arms and shoulders was completely different. By the time they’d got the team’s suits onboard his CMUs were drenched in sweat, but he still had a long time to go before he could hit the head.

The first big change Coop noticed about Argo was that engineering was bigger now. Coop imagined it took up ten percent more space than before, and instead of a normal hatch, a high-security door blocked their path. If the ship took a hit from a missile this door looked like it would survive. To make matters even more frustrating only the navy crew had access to the engineering space. Since Coop wasn’t going to dig his grave any deeper with Aiko, he resigned himself to never getting to see the new gear back there.

The next part, which was unexpected and unwanted, were the changes to grunt country. Argo’s space for her infantry component was now an open squad bay format. The V4 LACS were back in the armory, which was thankfully bigger to accommodate them, but there was still the issue of their height. The new suits were several centimeters too big, so they had to fold the neck and head area down at a ninety-degree angle to get them in the charger. They looked like slumbering, metal giants who were going to wake up with a serious crick in their necks.

“We’re going to be stuffed soup to nuts in here,” the GYSGT commented at the more-than-normal number of cots. At least twenty people would be sleeping back here.

Coop’s face brightened up, and he opened his mouth at the perfect setup, but Eve beat him to it. “If you say anything about your nuts being near peoples’ faces I’m going to cut them off.”

“You’ve been telling me that since I met you and they’re still here,” Coop grabbed his cojones and the team laughed. They laughed even harder when Eve’s hands blurred to produce her combat knife, which she then mimed slicing off Coop’s dick. It was a good way to embrace the suck that the cramped quarters was going to produce, but just to be safe, Coop made sure his bed kept his junk away from Eve.

The other section of grunt country was the VR simulator, which was the same size. That surprised Coop, because he believed with the reduced crew compliment that the gunboat would put more effort into the needs of the SRRT. After all, the ship’s mission was to ferry them around. From what he could tell, weapons systems hadn’t changed from what he remembered, so where was the extra space. He took a stroll into navy country and saw that their stuff was cut down too. There used to be state rooms for the skipper, XO, NCOIC, and the infantry detachment commander. Now, Coop just saw two rooms with LCDR and LT Wentworth’s names on them. The space occupied by the former two rooms, and a considerable more amount of space, comprised another compartment with another high-security door. At that door, a big man in a Gold Technologies security uniform stood guard. He had a sidearm at his side and didn’t look like he was going to budge for anyone.

<What the fuck?> Coop didn’t test the man, but made a note to tell the SGM. <This is a navy boat. If anyone needs to guard shit it’s supposed to be us not some Corpie.>

When all was said and done, Coop didn’t like the changes he saw. There were too many places the majority of the crew couldn’t go, it wasn’t set up for the new combat suits despite months in the top-secret facility for refit, and their first mission was a sensitive diplomatic one where the people who were supposed to be sensitive and diplomatic would be treated like sardines for the length of transit.

No one on board was briefed about the length of their trip until they arrived on Thurgood Station. It had only taken the upgraded gunboat two days to get there, which Coop could get used to. He’d read the star chart and knew that they had an advantageous route to the Rim system, but it was still impressive. He’d been a little nervous to do the whole portaling bit, but it turned out to be no different than traveling by Alcubierre Drive.

Those two days went pretty well…then the second half of their party arrived. Coop and the rest of the SRRT new quarters were cramped. They didn’t like it, but they accepted it. Apparently, cramped to a soldier was equivalent to unacceptable for a civilian. When the Minister’s entourage saw the space they immediately complained to their boss. The Minister’s eyebrows climbed into her hairline when she saw how cramped it was. LCDR Gold had already given up his cabin to her, and LT Wentworth was moved back to the bay as a result.

“Lieutenant Commander,” the Minister’s voice was calm but firm. “This situation is unacceptable. We’re people not cattle. We can’t travel like this. Our voyage is three weeks one way, and we’re going to have serious morale problems.”

Coop was using his better-than-average hearing to eavesdrop on the conversation, and his jaw dropped at the new information. Sure he’d seen the two darts on a star chart back in New Savannah, but there was a difference between seeing the distance and hearing how long it would take to get there; especially since they’d gone from the end of the Core to the Rim in two days.

Coop looked around and saw a similar expression on Eve’s face. They caught each other’s eyes and shared a brief mental conversation that consisted of two words…<Fuck me.> Because despite the Minister’s urgings, there was nothing the LCDR could do. Limited space was limited space, and no matter what way you looked at it you couldn’t change it.

The crew and guests of the Argo set off after a one-day resupply layover at Thurgood Station. Morale wasn’t great to start and they went a total of two days before someone finally snapped.

It was twenty-one hundred and everyone was settling in for another restless night of sleep. Truthfully, the soldiers were sleeping better than the civilians. They had the necessary experience and claimed the good bunks already, plus they were able to naturally sleep through the snores, farts, and general racket of a ship in transit. The civilians were used to comfy, body-conforming, nano-laced beds in quiet homes on New Washington, but they weren’t stupid. They quickly figured out the soldiers had picked the best spots, but they attributed their restless sleep more to that than the soldiers’ increased ability to sleep whenever and wherever possible.

Coop had just put his hands behind his head and was drifting off to the rhythmic hullabaloo of some hydraulic system nearby when it happened.

“Ok, that’s enough!” Coop recognized the voice as one of the senior delegation members. He was an older man, with blue in his eyes, salt and pepper hair, and who obviously thought he was hot shit. Despite that, Coop couldn’t remember the guy’s name for the life of him. “I’ve had it up to here with this bullshit. You! Switch bunks with me.”

Coop didn’t open his eyes and awaited the coming argument. He’d kept a low profile so far and he was determined to keep that up. He was on good terms with Eve, Aiko didn’t glare at him every time they passed in the corridors, and he was on an all-inclusive vacation courtesy of the Commonwealth military to a place referred to as The Golden City. He’d decided to look at the glass as half full.

“Hello! I’m talking to you!” It was the spittle hitting Coop’s face that made him groan and open his eyes. The diplomat was standing over Coop. His face was beat-red and a purple vein was throbbing in his forehead.

“Excuse me?” Coop answered politely.

“You heard me. I’m ordering you to switch with me!”

“Sorry, but no,” Coop replied.

If steam could come out of a person’s ears this diplomat would look like one of those old riverboats Coop saw in period dramas on the holo.

“That’s not a suggestion pri…lie…soldier.” The man’s sputtering made it clear he couldn’t identify the three chevrons of a sergeant on Coop’s CMUs. Internally, Coop wept for the success of this mission. “Do you know what my military-equivalent rank is?” It was a rhetorical question because the man screamed the answer half a second later. “Captain! I am the equivalent of an infantry Captain. They command divisions of a hundred thousand soldiers like you. So get out of the bed and switch with me now!”

Coop tried his best, but he couldn’t stop himself from laughing, which only made the situation ten times worse.

“Get on your fucking feet! NOW!” The man screamed, and Coop though he was going to have a stroke right then and there.

Coop looked around for backup, but the SGM, GYSGT, SSG Hightower, and LT were all at some briefing on the bridge. Eve was there, but she was already asleep, and sleeping right through all of this.

<Thanks for that.> Coop sighed and got to his feet determined to take the high road. He saw Mike watching as he did.

“Respectfully, Sir, you need to return to your bed,” Coop was calm and collected. The diplomat was tall and thin, but Coop easily dwarfed him. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop the man.

“No! You need to get out of my face and let me get some sleep in my new bed.” The man punctuated the statement by giving Coop a two-handed shove. Coop didn’t even move, but the man stumbled backward. “I’m warning you kid. I will ruin your life. Your career is going to be over. I will make it my personal mission in life to ensure you can’t get a job selling hot dogs at a hover food truck.”

“Sir, do not put your hands on my person again.” Coop answered respectively, but firmly. “Please return to your bunk and try to get some sleep. It will help this situation.”

Instead the man gave Coop another push which had the same result as the first time. “GET OUT OF MY WAY!” The man had well and truly lost it.

Eve was starting to wake up now, and was immediately alert and assessing the situation.

“This is your second warning, Sir. Do not place your hands on me again.” Coop couldn’t stop from sounding bored at this point, and that seemed to push the diplomat over the edge.

The man cocked back a fist and threw it right at Coop’s face. Blockies on the other side of space saw how much the guy telegraphed his move, and Coop was easily able to dodge it. The man fell forward off balance and over extended, so Coop brought up his knee into the guy’s diaphragm to keep him from falling over. The result was the guy getting the wind knocked out of him, a bruised rib, collapsing to the floor, and being completely humiliated in front of his underlings in the bay.

So naturally he yelled some threats after he was able to catch his breath and went off the fetch mommy to fight his battles for him. Coop didn’t give two shits. The guy was an asshole, he’d instigated this, he threw the first, second, and third punches, so Coop knew the LCDR would have his back. Plus, if this was the diplomat the Commonwealth was sending to negotiate with the aliens then Coop was way more fucked then he would be for whatever charge they would trump up against him.

When he caught Eve’s eye he just shrugged. {I tried.}

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Two Worlds – Chapter 223

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

It had been a week since the clandestine meeting with Hailey, and Coop hadn’t heard anything. The PAD just sat there silently. He would have been more than happy to sit back with a cold beer, turn on the holo, and try and get back on Eve or Aiko’s good sides, but Coop’s idea of a good time didn’t mesh with the SGM’s.  When Coop had returned from the meeting, the SGM hadn’t given him enough time to take a shit before being ordered to get into his PT uniform and assigned tasks to complete. Coop hadn’t cleaned his LACS after the exercise, and after a ten kilometer run, he spent the rest of his first day back on regular military duty picking pieces of moon dirt out of his LACS’ crevices.

Every day was like that. PT was followed by classroom exercises in their new equipment with the resident civilian engineers and Carol in attendance. The afternoon was more practical application of the hardware and software, either in VR, or on the system defense force’s ranges set up outside the city when available. Coop thought the SRRTs were supposed to be special, but since the anti-terrorism operation, they acted just like any other military unit Coop had ever been a part of.

“Everyone finish up. We’re on the truck in ten.” The SGM stuck his head into the small NCO chow hall.

Coop had no idea what truck he was referring to, but he knew where they were picked up for exercises, so he planned out the next ten minutes to ensure they would be there on time. He wanted to know what they were doing, but he didn’t bother looking it up. Eve would already have the training schedule up on her PAD, so there was no point wasting time when he could be eating.

“The schedule says we’re slated for inventory and technological familiarization,” Eve frowned at the screen in front of her before folding it up and putting it back in her CMU’s pocket.

Coop was pretty sure the SGM tried to make things as vague as possible just to fuck with them. He’d learned long ago not to get worked up about it. Instead, he shoveled the powdered eggs into his mouth and took a big gulp of coffee.

“Well we better get to it.” Coop rose and deposited his tray in the auto-cleaner before heading out. It was a short walk to the loading bay, and he was there a full three minutes early. Despite that, SSG Hightower and GYSGT Cunningham were already present and getting things squared away.

Coop fell into the front row of the small formation next to Eve. As the lowest man on the totem pole, he was to the far left. Usually, Mike would be standing behind him, but the big guy was still recovering from having his guts repaired.

With a minute to go the SGM appeared behind the wheel of a civilian van. He got out along with LCDR Gold, and LT Wentworth. The two officers walked to the back of the formation where they took their place. Aiko was also back there with the LCDR. As a spacer, she stood apart from the infantry formation. Coop would have turned around to talk to her earlier, but their relationship was still best described as frosty. Eve was warming back up to his presence, but the warmer Eve got the colder Aiko got, and vice versa. They were opposite ends of a weighted scale, and Coop was growing more convinced that he would have to work on repairing one relationship while ignoring the other. Either way, he feared for his personal safety.

<There’s no wrath like a woman scorned.> He wasn’t sure if he got the quote right, and didn’t really care. He just didn’t want to wake up one night with a knife in him, or something important missing. The woman who placed it would determine the target.

“Cooper!” The GYSGT snapped him out of his little trance. Everyone else was hoping in the van while he was still standing there.

“Just keeping you on your toes, Gunney.” Coop automatically replied back as he jumped into action. Because he’d been the last to move he got the honor of sitting up front with the Gunney.

He noticed the officers and Aiko weren’t present. That would normally prompt some questions from him, but one look at the GYSGT told him to keep his mouth shut. If anything, she looked a little nervous. Cunningham never looked nervous.

Squished next to the GYSGT would have been an uncomfortable ride, but they ended up not going far. Less than three kilometers later, they pulled to a stop in front of the base’s hospital. Coop’s o-shit-o-meter immediately spiked from curious to ‘what-the-fuck-is-going-on’ when he saw a dozen doctors waiting for them with poorly-concealed, eager looks on their faces.

When the doors to the van opened, the docs began calling out names like they were trying to herd a group of kindergarteners.

“Sergeant Cooper…Sergeant Mark Cooper! A pair of female doctors yelled from the periphery.

“That’s me.” Coop walked toward them and shouldered aside people in his path. That knocked a few of the other doctors to the ground, but he ignored their glares. Coop had been in the military long enough to know they were about to be given some sort of medical procedure. Knowing what he did about the SRRT, Coop did not have a warm and fuzzy feeling about whatever experiment they were about to conduct with some untested alien technology. Getting reassurances from a giant, floating tree that things were going to work did not fill him with confidence.

“Come with us,” they grabbed him by the hand and led him into a side door of the building.

Normally, two attractive women leading him somewhere would be cause for a celebration. Not this time. They descended several stories into what could be called the bowels of the facility where several clean rooms had been set up.

“Undress and put this on.” The doctors deposited him in front of a set of doors leading to one of the clean rooms. Coop was expecting some type of hospital gown to be the new uniform of the day, but instead they gave him what looked like a tight shower cap and nothing else. There were glowing data relays, processors, and sensor nodes on the cap, which further heightened Coop’s anxiety.

“So I’m just going to rock out with my junk out for this?” Coop yelled after the doctors as they retreated to some sort of command room. He never got a response, and doubted he would. If they were going to be uncomfortable with the all the nudity then that was just the flavor of the day. For whatever they were about to do to him, they could deal with him hanging brain.

With a sigh, he undressed and put the shower cap thingy on his head. There was nothing for a moment until the form-fitting material suctioned to his head. It was tight, but not unbearably so. The weirdest part was that the cap was slightly warm.

“Welcome, Ladies and Gentleman, to another exciting day in the advancement of mankind.” Thomas Gold’s voice announced over unseen speakers.

<This guy again.> Coop rolled his eyes and wondered who was really in control of this SRRT: the Commonwealth or Gold Technologies.

The corporate titan went on for a minute or so, but Coop didn’t pay attention, and only tuned back in when he said, “Thanks for all you are doing.” That seemed to be a cue, and one of the two doctors entered the clean room in a biohazard suit.

<Now I’ve got the warm and fuzzies.> Coop didn’t even try to flirt, and he looked at her hand with apprehension when she held it out.

“Sergeant Cooper, I’m going to need your consent for this part.”  The doctors produced a PAD. Coop looked at what was in her other hand and fought back a shiver.

Inside an injector, balanced in clear fluid, was a small seed. Unlike some, Coop knew exactly what the thing was. He’d seen one modeled to RADM Nelson back on New Lancashire before everything went to shit.

<Bioseed.> Coop cringed as he remembered what Bob had called it. It looked like a slimy sunflower seed, but was a medium brown color. It looked like a small, oozing poop nugget that was slowly diluting the clear fluid in the injector.

“I would like to introduce all of you to the Individualized Organic Router.” Thomas Gold stated with definitive pride.

Coop bit his lip but couldn’t help himself. “Why not just continue calling it a Bioseed?”

There was silence for a moment, and Coop could practically feel the SGM and GYSGT glaring at him from whatever clean room they were sitting naked in. One small blessing was that the windows were tinted for privacy.

“Focus group testing suggests that people are uncomfortable with the seed terminology. It makes them envision something growing inside of them. An IOR conjures more of a mechanical image that we’re accustomed to when dealing with technology.” Gold’s explanation sounded like part of a rehearsed sales pitch.

“But just to be clear,” Coop just couldn’t leave well enough alone. “It is still an organic seed that we’re about take, which will grow and intermingle with our brain to create the pathways to route and connect with alien information systems that we haven’t developed yet?”

“Correct.”

“Cool. As long as we’re all on the same page.” Coop flexed his left arm several times until the veins started to pop. Then he tapped it with his right hand’s middle and pointer finger. “Let’s go, Doc, shoot me up.”

“Sergeant Cooper has given consent to proceed.” The doctor said to the PAD for legal reasons.

She approached, pressed the injector against a throbbing vein, and pulled the trigger. There was a sharp, stabbing pain, but Coop ignored it. He’d had a leg crunched by massively increased gravity. This was nothing. What was worse was the feeling of blood pushing the seed along. It was small enough to be moved along in his enhanced veins, but just barely. Now Coop knew what it was like to have a blood clot.

He looked around and tried to see through his clean room partition and into the next one over. He imagined Eve sitting at the edge of her bed with her face screwed up in disgust.

“Cheers!” Coop yelled while pantomiming clinking glasses together in the window’s direction although no one but the doctors monitoring him could see or hear him.

His doctor came over and pushed his arm back down while monitoring his vitals. What Coop didn’t know was that he would be sitting there for the next thirty-six hours while the IOR made its way gradually to his brain. After that, he and the rest of the SRRT were put into a medically-induced coma to allow the IOR to reproduce more quickly and establish itself. Normally, this would happen more gradually while people slept, but the infantry didn’t have time to waste. There were things to do, people to kill, wars to win, and interstellar diplomacy to consider. The SRRT teams were needed fully operational yesterday, and no one was willing to wait for things to progress naturally.

Coop just had to embrace the suck and deal with it.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 218

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

 

“Is that your story?” The detective said from across the solid metal table.

Coop gave the man a once over and tried not to laugh. The man was trying to intimidate Coop into saying something. What that something was, Coop had no idea, but the detective wasn’t the person to do it. The guy was well on his way to a beer gut, about thirty centimeters shorter, and had a mustache that looked like it belonged in a porno. The more Coop thought about it, the more he wondered why anyone would grow facial hair on New Savannah. Having your face sweat profusely didn’t seem like a smart idea.

“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” Coop looked over his shoulder at GYSGT Cunningham. The detective might not be intimidating, but his former Basic instructor made up for that. She hadn’t said a word during the whole interrogation.

The cops who’d arrived at the Oasis after the shooting said it was a debrief, but Coop knew the difference. This was definitely an interrogation, and the detective proved it a second later when he burst out of his chair and started screaming.

“Do you expect me to believe that shit?! Are you seriously going to sit there and tell me that your mission was blown because one of the whores recognized you from back home on Earth, kicked you over a railing, and then you got in a shootout with the establishment’s security.” Spittle flew as the man yelled, and some of it stuck to the mustache.

Coop tried not to roll his eyes as the man continued to fume. Coop could feel the GYSGT’s cold gaze on his back, and hoped that she believed him. He’d explained exactly what happened and left nothing out.

“If you don’t trust me…fine,” Coop cut in when the detective’s face was red from exertion and he needed to draw a breath. “Just check the building’s camera footage. That should clear everything up, and for the love of god, say it don’t spray it.”

Coop thought that would give the detective another conniption, but it did just the opposite.

“The business that you shot up doesn’t have cameras, and even if they did, we would need a warrant to obtain them. As police officers we have rules, unlike whatever the hell you are.”

Coop had to give the overweight man that point. The cop didn’t know who Coop was. All he knew was that their captain had received a call from someone high in their own government that stated Coop was not to be charged with anything. That was great for Coop, but that didn’t mean the detective wasn’t going to hold him and try to milk him for information before he was released.

Coop was about to respond when the GYSGT beat him to it. “That’s suspicious.” The two words seemed to startle the detective. Cunningham had just been standing there silently in the corner, and he’d forgotten she was there. “This isn’t a backwater planet right after terraforming. There is no reason a business as profitable as the Oasis claims itself to be should not have some type of surveillance on the premises.”

“It doesn’t matter…”

“Of course it matters,” she cut the detective off. “The absence of something sometimes indicates something in itself. In our case, the absence of surveillance means that the Oasis didn’t want their activities captured and stored.”

“That may be the case.” The detective cooled down a bit and acknowledged the point. “But there is nothing we can do about it. The Oasis has the proper permits, is licensed as a leisurely club, and isn’t breaking any laws. Even the armed security on the premises are all licensed and on the up and up. They were responding to a disturbance, a disturbance they said your man started.”

“I didn’t start it,” Coop stated for the thousandth time. “She started it by kicking me over the railing, and some dude shot my friend with a laser pistol. Maybe we should look into that a little.”

Both the GYSGT and detective stopped their conversation and look at Coop with the same expression. That expression clear told him to shut the fuck up.

<Fine.> Coop leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms across his chest defensively. <You two figure it out.>

Eventually they did figure it out. Cunningham promised that they would remain available for questioning, but since the planetary brass decided no charges were being levied, Coop was free to go.

“You know where to find me.” Coop gave the man one last poke as he exited the “debrief” room.

The man sneered back but didn’t reply. A car was waiting for them at the front of the local precinct, and it took them back to the base via a roundabout way. Their path could be backtracked through the satellites watching overhead, but Coop was pretty sure the GYSGT was making sure they didn’t have a tail. After all, no one other than the security guards had been apprehended at the scene.

They passed through the gate without incident and went directly to the HQ building. Coop wanted to go see Mike at the base hospital, but the GYSGT wasn’t having any of it. She escorted him inside and through several secure areas. It took a moment until Coop knew where they were headed.

“Oh come on, Gunney. I just got finished with one of these,” Coop complained as she opened another door to find the SGM and S2 LCDR sitting there waiting for him.

“Sit,” the SGM stated, and Coop obeyed. “Tell us what happened and don’t fuck around.”

Coop didn’t even dream of playing with the SGM, and he told the story. It just happened to be the same story he told the local cops because that was the truth.

“Her name is Hailey Armstrong. We grew up together in the Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis back on Earth. She was kind of my girlfriend. I didn’t expect in a million years to ever run into her again.”

The SGM and LCDR remained silent, but the GYSGT couldn’t help but chuckle. “You need to keep it in your pants Cooper. That thing between your legs keeps getting you in trouble.”

The LCDR ignored the GYSGT and tapped away on her PAD. “Is this her?” She showed Coop the screen.

“No.” The woman on the screen was big, had a scar, and was nowhere near as beautiful as Hailey.

“So this is her.” The LCDR swiped and a second image came into focus.

Unlike the first image, this one was taken from a distance and didn’t grab facial features well. On top of that, the person was wearing sunglasses and a hat. That didn’t leave Coop much to work with, but he scrutinized the picture closely.

“I think that is her. She’s changed since the PHA. She’s fifteen centimeters taller, probably has another fifteen-to-twenty kilos on her, and she kicks like a fucking mule.” Coop absentmindedly rubbed his chest. “She’s got bigger titties…I mean…she’s had breast enhancements, but I’d say that’s her.” Coop slid the PAD back to the LCDR.

The LCDR gave the SGM a nod and left the room. That left Coop alone with those in his chain of command. These were the people that could really ruin his day.

“I’m not going to tell you congratulations, Sergeant. Your primary objective was to infiltrate the establishment and gather intelligence. You got made, and worse, got into a gunfight with local security, so you failed your mission.” The SGM deadpanned, which hit Coop harder than he thought it would. “But we’re infantrymen, Sergeant. We make do with what we’re given and we adapt and overcome. You failed your initial mission, but you’ve gained some useful intelligence while presenting us with an unforeseen opportunity.”

“What?” Coop stared at the SGM in confusion. He’d expected the ass chewing to continue.

“The S2 was able to pick through all of the legal loopholes and identified that the Oasis is a franchise of a subsidiary, of another subsidiary, of an LLC, that is a child company owned by a parent company that was inherited by the son of the son-in-law of Madame Putinski herself.” The SGM seemed impressed at that fact.

“What?” Coop repeated, sounding even stupider in his own ears.

The GYSGT sighed from behind Coop, and the SGM just shook his head. “Madame Putinski has been under investigation by the Commonwealth for close to seventy years for everything from illegal drug synthesis, to distribution, to racketeering, prostitution, and even murder. The first photo the Lieutenant Commander showed you was for the recently identified manager of the Oasis, and we believe, Putinski crime family boss of Savannah City, or even the whole planet.” The SGM stopped to let the gravity of the situation set in. “The second photo is of a still unidentified underling in the organization’s Asset Protection department.”

“You mean like shoplifting.” Coop remembered the term from the mega stores that his father got enough money to go to once every five years or so.

“I mean they protect the organization’s assets. That could be laundered money, drug houses, illegal labs, or in our case prostitutes.” The SGM made a flick and Hailey’s disguised photo floated in the air in front of them.

“I might be wrong here, but last time I checked isn’t prostitution legal on New Savannah?” Coop asked.

He wasn’t being completely truthful. He knew prostitution was legal on the planet. It was something he checked on every new planet he arrived on. Laws concerning mankind’s oldest profession were something handled down at the planetary level. The Commonwealth didn’t hold any sway over it aside from taxation. On most worlds it was legal as long as the business was registered, the workers were routinely tested and cleared by a medical professional, and they paid their taxes. The profession tended to be illegal on planets with a strong religious connection. Coop knew it was illegal in the Papal States, Maccabee Alliance, New Caliphate, and a dozen or so other planets scattered throughout Commonwealth space, but they tended to be the exception, not the rule.

Since it was legal on New Savannah, Coop wondered what the planetary authorities, or even the Commonwealth, wanted with Hailey.

“It is legal, but the Putinski’s frequently use legitimate businesses to funnel money from other less reputable sources. Due to the incident, which we have you to thank for, the Commonwealth’s forensic accountants are going through Oasis’ books. Anything out of the ordinary and they’ll seize the assets, arrest the workers, and follow the money trail. In this regard, your little fight could have cracked open a big case for them.” The SGM finally cracked a smile. It was a small one, but it was still one nonetheless.

“So,” Coop leaned back and relaxed a little, “I guess you could say I did a good job.”

“Fuck no!” the GYSGT shouted, and Coop almost fell out of his chair. “You failed in your mission. Falling right into a positive situation doesn’t reflect on you more than the circumstances. Getting lucky doesn’t make you a good soldier, Cooper.”

<I respectfully disagree.> Coop thought. It had been lucky that he’d been kicked over the railing by Hailey. That wasn’t what he thought at the moment, but after seeing how Mike got barbequed by whoever was in that room, Coop realized luck played a big part in staying alive in this line of work.

“Regardless of how you landed in this situation,” the SGM regained control of the conversation, “we are going to exploit the opportunity. I’m sending you back to the Oasis to make contact with Hailey Armstrong. We want you to gain any intel she may have and relay it to us.”

“Umm…how do I put this so I don’t get yelled at,” Coop wondered out loud. “I know Hailey. She’s loyal. She’s not going to turn on anyone, so trying to gain intel on the Putinski’s is a waste of time.” Coop expected the GYSGT to come down on him, but she didn’t. She and the SGM just waited expectantly for him to continue. “I suggest we stay in our lane. The SRRT is here to get the people that orchestrated and carried out the terrorist attack. I should pursue that avenue of intelligence.”

The SGM and GYSGT shared a quick look and nodded. “Proceed at your discretion, Sergeant.” The SGM passed Coop a new PAD. “Give her this to make contact.”

<Do they just have a box of these lying around somewhere?> Coop took the new PAD and slowly got up to leave. When no one yelled at him to sit his ass back down, he exited the S2’s secure office.

Thirty minutes later he was standing back in front of the Oasis, and an angry security guard, who Coop recognized as one of the ones that was shooting at him a few hours ago, looked to be itching to draw his weapon and finish the job.

“For the last time I don’t know who the fuck this Hailey is.” Despite his anger, the guard was sticking to the company line.

They’d been going back and forth for a couple of minutes, and the guy wasn’t budging on letting Coop in. “Fine!” Coop sighed. “Just give her this and tell her to call me.” Coop extended the PAD.

“I’m not taking that.” The guard made no motion to take it.

“For fuck’s sake,” Coop took out a slip of polyplast and scrolled a number on it. Coop’s barely legible handwriting straightened to form an easily identifiable call number. “Tell Hailey to call me on this number. I just want to talk, and I think it can be in both of our best interests. Tell her this is no bullshit.”

No bullshit held special meaning to Coop and Hailey. It went all the way back to their time in the PHA.  On top of fucking each other, they liked to fuck with each other to the point it was hard to tell what was real and what was a prank. Saying “no bullshit” was their code to tell the other person they weren’t screwing around. Coop hoped that would get the point across to her.

“Seriously,” Coop pressed the point. “Tell her this is no bullshit. Tell her those exact words…no bullshit.” Coop realized he might sound a little crazy, but if this was the only way he was going to get to her, then he didn’t want some low-level grunt fucking it up.

The guard in question didn’t say anything. He didn’t confirm or deny Hailey presence. He just grabbed the polyplast slip and told Coop to fuck off.

<That’s the best I can hope for.> Coop gave the other man a nod and headed back to his taxi. He really wanted a drink, but he knew he needed to get back to base.

It had been an interesting last few days, but the SGM wasn’t letting up on their SSRT training. Since the mission against the terrorists was a part success-part failure, he’d set up some more conventional training exercises for them to partake in.

Coop was fine with that. He’d finally be getting to put his V4 through its paces. Any more cloak and dagger shit could wait until later. Coop wanted to get back to what he was good at: blowing shit up in a big suit of armor. He enjoyed being the baddest motherfucker on the battlefield.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 217

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

The kick caught Coop by surprise. He mentally berated himself for that. He was supposed to be a top-tier operator of a covert team working with the latest technological innovations. Instead, he’d been distracted by a pretty face.

<It’s not any face.> He barely registered the railing hitting him in the lower back and the momentum driving him over it.

The face itself was different, along with the body. The Hailey Coop remembered had been smaller and thinner, but despite that, there were some things that hadn’t changed. The first were the eyes. Those amber pools were exotic as hell back in the PHA. Since leaving that festering shit hole, Coop had seen much more exotic. Hell, he’d even fucked a chick that’d dyed her skin blue for whatever reason. Hailey’s eyes weren’t as exotic anymore, but he remembered every detail of them. He’d stared into them on many occasions, and during many different situations, for years. You remembered stuff like that.

Second was the voice. Electronic voice modulation or simply biological manipulation of the voice box could change a person’s voice easy enough. Hailey hadn’t done that. Coop would recognize that voice anywhere. She must have gone through a similar process in trying to identify him. He wasn’t a skinny little PHA Rat anymore either, but her reaction was totally different. He wanted to ask her how she was, what she’d been doing, and how she got to New Savannah. The planet didn’t have a reputation for a cheap standard of living.

She, on the other hand, reacted with violence, and Coop’s complacency was rapidly catching up to him with gravity’s assistance. He heard the whine of an energy weapon powering up just before he hit the ground. He tensed and tried to twist and rotate to keep his head from impacting. The thump and spasm of pain that ran through his arm indicated he’d at least succeeded in that, but he had new problems to worry about.

He rolled, and came up to see his head had missed the edge of the fountain by centimeters. That sent a shiver down his spine. He might be a super soldier, but falling half a dozen meters and smashing his head on an edge like that would have fucked him up. He only had a fraction of a second to think about that before the snap of a round passing close to him pulled him back to his present shitty situation. A round fired by one of the guards stationed around the room impacted the water in the fountain, sending a wet spray into his mouth and face. The second hit the opposite edge of the fountain and faux-rock shrapnel exploded from the point of impact. The third would have taken Coop in the neck if he didn’t duck and roll.

He maneuvered around the fountain to maintain cover and concealment, but it would only last for so long. There was more than one guard in the room and they were converging on him from many different directions. He didn’t have a weapon, he didn’t have options, so he didn’t have a choice. He needed to move and hope that guards weren’t the best shot.

He looked around and saw his best bet. The bar was only about fifteen meters away and people were scattering at the sound of gunshots. That would give him a little cover if the guards cared about their guests, which wasn’t a given.

One guy wasn’t fleeing though. Coop recognized him as the soldier-type fellow from the bar. He calmly leaned against the bar, drank his booze, and laughed at Coop’s predicament. Coop identified him as a threat, but the guy wasn’t shooting at him, so he was less of a threat than the guard converging on his position.

<Fuck it!> Coop couldn’t wait any longer. He braced one foot on the fountain’s base, got the other foot out in front of him in a sprinter’s stance, and pushed off with all his strength.

The guard’s anticipation of catching him as they rounded the corner, and his surprising speed, caught them off guard. They fired, despite the people scurrying for cover, and their first rounds were well behind him. Coop knew as well as anyone that fifteen meters might not seem like a lot of space, but it seemed to stretch on for an eternity when someone was trying to kill you. Eventually, the guards were going to adjust.

Coop slowed down for a moment as he bowled over two fleeing men in front of him. They looked like normal guys, and his enhanced frame smashing into them sent them flying, but that second cost him. Rounds started to fly all around him, and impacted behind the bar. Genuine glass and polyplast exploded as the high-velocity darts of the guard’s weapons destroyed them and the mural of a tropical sunset that filled the wall behind it.

Coop felt a pain and a burning sensation in his leg, but he didn’t slow down. He vaulted the bar like an Olympic athlete, and turned his good shoulder toward the wall. His speed was a disadvantage now, but he took the impact as best he could, putting a big dent in the wall before falling behind the cover of the bar itself.

<Thank god that wasn’t a shitty wall.> If it had been cheap construction he would have likely gotten stuck in it and killed. He pushed that aside of he considered his possible courses of action.

“Hey, Janice,” he said casually to the bartender who was cowering next to where he’d landed. The previously flirty woman scowled back and put as much space between her and him as possible. He got a good look at her ass as she crawled away, but he was sure that was as far as he would get with her.

He shook his head and focused back on his surroundings. With his thoughts still slightly on Hailey, his old PHA Rat ways came back to him a little. He’d been spoiled by the infantry, especially the HI, and without his armor and high-tech toys he needed to go old school. Coop reached underneath the bar where the cheap shit was usually kept. The high-priced booze was usually on the shelves to show patrons how fancy the joint was, but those bottles were all shattered. That was ok. The cheap stuff would do just fine.

He grabbed a rag that was lined with microscopic cleaning nanites that bartenders had used to wipe down glasses since the beginning of time, and stuff one end in the top of an open bottle. He turned the bottle upside down to get the end nice and wet. Then he found a small butane torch that bartenders used for some of the fancier drinks, and lit the opposite end of the rag. It held out against the flame for a few seconds as the nanites did their best to do what they were programmed to do, but eventually they were burned away and the rag caught.

Since Coop jumped over the bar about eight seconds had passed, and as long as the guards weren’t fucking morons, they’d be pushing their tactical advantage. Coop needed to buy time, so he lobbed the centuries-old Molotov cocktail up and over the bar. The bottle broke on the other side and the flames started to spread. He just hoped it was enough.

Coop tried to think of a way out as his hands hurriedly made another improvised fire bomb. He was just about to toss it when someone stuck their weapon over the bar and started to fire. Coop tried to pull back but he wasn’t quicker than a bullet. A round went through the middle of his foot.

More pain set his nerves on fire, but he was sure it was a through-and-through wound. In the grand scheme of things, taking a round in the foot wasn’t the worst that could happen. He could still fight, and the idiot who was firing blind had just given him an opportunity. He reached up, grabbed the man by the weapon and pulled him over the bar.

The guard cursed as he tried to resist, but Coop was far stronger and was able to brace against the bar’s foundation. The guy came up and over while Coop twisted. The guard’s wrist broke and he lost the weapon as he fell head first to the floor. That dazed the guy, and let Coop react. He could have shot the asshole in the face, but he wasn’t sure if he should. With all the investigations happening since the terrorist attack, and the ones that were going to result from this clusterfuck, he didn’t need more people looking to closely at him. So, instead of ending the guard, Coop just kicked him firmly in the face. It still royally fucked up the man, Coop made sure he was fugly for life, but the guy was still alive.

Coop now had a weapon, and it looked like the guards were waiting to see if their buddy was going to come out on top. They didn’t have a problem firing into the crowd of fleeing patrons, but with one of their own in the mix they held their fire. Coop used the time to finish the second Molotov and chucked it when maneuvering. He popped up from behind the bar away from where the second cocktail landed, and tried to hit, or at least suppress, the guards. He got one in the shoulder, and counted three more before he had to duck back down.

What he didn’t see, and what scared him a lot more than the three remaining guards, was Mike. His big buddy should have been getting in on the action, but he was nowhere to be seen. Coop knew nothing would keep his battle buddy from jumping into the fray to help, so whatever it was must be serious. That added a whole other element to the situation. He needed to move and move quick.

Sirens started to wail above and foam shot down from the ceiling like thickly packed snow to smother the flames. Coop used the distraction to vault the bar again and make for a nearby door. Surprisingly, no rounds reached out to try and bring him down, but that didn’t mean he slowed down. He hit the door at a full run and crashed through to the other side. The hallway looked empty, but Coop didn’t trust it, so he beat down another door until it relented and he got better cover.

<Any day now guys.> Coop and Mike hadn’t entered the Oasis with any communications gear because it would have been picked up by the revolving door’s scanners. However, there had to be people streaming out of the place, yelling about a fire, and if the suppression system went off then it must have triggered some alarm. With all of that going on, the rest of Bravo Team acting as the QRF should be in the building any second.

As if on cue, Coop heard loud voices yelling from the other room. He gave it a few seconds to see if any gunfire was exchanged, but when it wasn’t he felt it was ok to come out. He stepped out of his little hiding place and was immediately cold cocked by what felt like a battleship at full speed. He crashed to the floor while his head spun and stars overwhelmed his vision. Instinct brought the weapon up and fired a few times in the direction he’d been attacked, but he didn’t know if he’d hit anything until he blinked away the bright lights clouding his vision. He didn’t see anyone, so he’d missed. He flexed his jaw experimentally. It hurt like a bitch, but it wasn’t broken. Whoever hit him had been tough and fast.

“Cooper!” Eve’s voice breached the mental fugue threatening his head. It was possible he had a minor concussion too, but he focused on her voice and hobbled toward the door he’d smashed through just a minute before.

“I’m here.” He emerged to a scene of destruction. A few bodies of patrons were down. Sullivan was looking them over while the SGM watched the guards and Eve looked for him. It seemed when presented with more opponents, the men surrendered without a fight.

<Chicken shits.> Coop spat out a glob of blood. He’d bit his tongue when punched, and the blood was welling up in his mouth.

“Geez,” Eve looked him over with concern in her eyes.

With the action over, Coop’s adrenaline cut off and he started to feel his injuries. The foot obviously hurt the worst and left a trail of blood. The side of his leg burned from a flesh wound a guard had fired when he was making his break for the bar. Other than that, and the ache in his jaw from the unknown assailant, he was ok.

“Mike!” Coop turned away from Eve and hobbled toward the last place he saw his big teammate. He didn’t have to search anymore. Mike was right where Coop left him.

“Get a medic!” Coop knew the term might betray them as military but he didn’t give a shit.

Mike was lying in a pool of his own blood. He looked a white as a sheet while his hands covered a gruesome wound in his abdomen. The blackening around the area said it was from an energy weapon, and without armor the big guy was defenseless.

“Tried to get out of the way,” Mike weakly explained when Coop bent down beside him with a grimace.

“You’re gonna be fine.” Coop didn’t know if that was the truth, but who told someone they weren’t going to make it. “They just took a few kilos off you.”

Mike didn’t laugh at the joke. “It was the guy in the room with the girl. Pulled a pistol and shot at me when you went over the railing. The girl ran off that way.” He pointed to an exit door at the far end before the pathway started to curve up to the third floor. “Way to leave me hanging.”

Coop had a comeback locked and loaded, but Sullivan showed up and shouldered him aside. As the Bravo Team medic, Sullivan had all the stuff needed to stabilize Mike before they could get him back to the hospital on base.

Coop stood up to find Eve standing beside him. She looked down and Mike with rage in her eyes. Apparently, she didn’t like one of their team getting BBQ’d any more than he did.

“What the hell happened, Coop?” She asked, her voice calm, but devoid of emotion.

“Someone I never thought I’d see again showed up.” He left it at that despite the questions in Eve’s eyes. He’d save it for the AAR.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 216

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently, Coop was getting a different type of reputation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Worlds – Chapter 215

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Noted,” Mike replied professionally.

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

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

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

“Umm…maybe. Sully didn’t…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So we’re brothers?” Mike asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Membership.” The guard stated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bonus Chapter – Two Worlds – Chapter 207

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

The party went on for several more hours, which was kind of a pain in the ass for Coop. After his fight with Eve, he expected to be able to storm back to his barracks and not see her again for the rest of the night. He got as far as the front door before getting a message from Cunningham to get his ass back to the table. He practically chucked the empty tiramisu bowl at a server on his way back.

After dinner and dessert, the guests broke up into groups for after dinner drinks. Waiters walked around with real-wood boxes of fine cigars from Earth’s tropics, which despite several hundred settled worlds, was still the best place to grow tobacco. With medical technology being what it was, the rich people here could indulge in all the vices they wanted to and suffered no side effects.

<Meanwhile, a guy in the PHA gets lung cancer at thirty and can’t afford the treatment.> Coop was very quickly losing patience with the people around him, and their sudden interest in the soldiers in uniform wasn’t helping.

“What’s this mean?” an attractive woman, who could have been thirty or ninety, due to the blue in her eyes, slurred as she poked Coop hard in the chest.

“That’s my marksmanship badge,” Coop replied, looking for a way out of the conversation.

“What’s that mean?” the woman repeated.

“It’s an Expert Badge, which shows I’m a really good shot.”

“Wow…like against people…” the woman’s eyes went wide, and Coop bit his lip instead of replying. “What’s that?” She moved up and poked at a ribbon.

“That’s my bronze star.” Coop thought he’d found a way out of this conversation.

“What’s that for?”

“I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die.” Coop’s attention wasn’t on the conversation anymore.

“What?”

“Nothing… I don’t want to be part of this conversation anymore, so I’m going to go over there.” Coop pointed at a spot away from the woman and quickly walked away, leaving her with her mouth open, and not knowing what to do.

“Aiko,” he called out to the woman as she conversed with several older gentlemen.

“Sergeant Cooper.” Her tone and expression showed how uninterested she was in talking with him.

“Petty Officer Lee.” He made the wrong move and mocked her.

<Idiot.> He nearly smacked his hand against his forehead as she turned away from him and back to her gaggle of admirers.

A few women saw him free of a conversation partner, and started to move on him. It didn’t seem to matter to them that they were married to some of the most powerful people in the system. They were drawn to his good looks and uniform like moths to a flame.

Coop knew he was never getting married, because in a world with longevity treatments, marriage, until death do us part, could be a long fucking time. He would bet his monthly paycheck that these men and women at the party had gotten married young, had seven or eight decades together, and were now bored out of their minds. Variety was the spice of life, and they either kept things spicy, or let it fall apart. Their status wouldn’t let them divorce, and suffer that shame, so they figured out other ways to make it work.

He was not going to be a part of those games, so Coop headed for the bathroom with all due haste. It wasn’t empty, but no one in the small room conversed with each other. Guys didn’t do that. So, he took the opportunity to splash some water on his face, and hopefully wait out the women trying to engage him in conversation.

He did that for hours. Sometimes he was successful. Other times he was not. The women he was trying to avoid seemed to find it a fun game to chase him around, and when they caught him, he had to endure the same awkward military-themed conversation from people who had no idea what they were talking about, on a topic he didn’t really give two shits about. By the time things wrapped up, all he wanted to do was collapse into his bed and sleep through the weekend. The healthy buzz from the expensive cognac only helped take the edge off.

“Everyone on me.” The SGM waved them over as people started to funnel out. “Cooper, are you drunk?”

“No, Sergeant Major.” Coop shook his head.

“How about we do some PT and find out?” the NCOIC offered.

“Naw, I’m good.” Coop’s answer indicated he was a little tipsy.

“Tomorrow we’re going to start our training.” The SGM ignored Coop’s remark, although Coop knew he wouldn’t forget it. “We’ll form up at zero-five-hundred here.”

Coop’s PAD pinged with an email that held a location on the far side of the complex. He wanted to complain about it being the weekend, but he had a feeling the SGM didn’t give a shit. Coop didn’t think he’d have a lot of free time coming up.

Coop and the rest of the soldiers were standing in the open space in front of the defense complex’s central building. The party guests were filtering out to the front gate, where the valets were working double time to get their vehicles out to them as quickly as possible. Nothing was worse than a rich person having to wait for something, and the valets’ tips depended on it, so they sprinted to get it done. Coop saw the LCDR walking with his father, and the hottie, out with some of the bigger VIPs to see them off. Thankfully, he didn’t have to worry about any of that chaos, because he was heading in the opposite direction.

People were shaking hands and getting in air-cars as Coop turned to walk away. He made it about a hundred meters, and a few thoughts on how to remedy the clusterfuck between him, Eve, and Aiko, when the base alarm started screaming.

He instinctually moved to find cover, which wasn’t much in the open space between the buildings. He crouched, behind a too-small waste dispenser, and turned back toward the front gate.

A lot of people left the party via the main road in front of the complex. There was a no fly zone around the area, so they had to drive a little farther away before going airborne. The exception to that rule was the VIPs. Due to security precautions, they went airborne right away, and took randomized routes back to their destination. That probably wasn’t business as usual, but after the recent attacks, it made sense to implement.

Coop looked for the source of the alarm. His alcohol-addled vision sharpened as his body went into fight or flight mode. <There.> His eyes focused and clearly tracked the contrails of inbound surface-to-air missiles.

The air-cars took evasive action. EW flairs shot from the cars’ undersides to confuse the missiles, while chaff canisters deployed and exploded in a shower of burning, blinding brilliance. Unfortunately, one of those canisters exploded right above Coop’s position.

“Motherfucker!” Coop threw his arms over his head and sprinted for better cover. The stuff in those canisters was designed to burn in space, underwater, or wherever else it was supposed to spoof enemy targeting systems.

It looked like burning snow was falling all around him. He felt some impact his CMUs and immediately begin to burn through the smart-cloth. He joined the rest of the SSRT as they sprinted under cover of a nearby building.

“Get it off!” Eve yelled as her hands clawed at the fabric. The self-adhering smart-cloth worked against them now, but two people yanking Coop’s clothes off got the job done. It still wasn’t fast enough.

“FUCK!” Coop’s legs buckled as a small bit of chaff got through his CMUs, and into his bicep. It would continue to burn until it consumed all of its fuel, which at the moment was Coop’s body.

“Hold him down!” Eve yelled.

Rough hands grabbed Coop. One set wrapped around his torso to keep him from thrashing, another controlled his head and shoulders, and lastly, one pair was specifically for keeping his arm pinned.

Spots exploded in Coop’s vision as the pain grew and he felt like he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t even see Eve whip out a knife and stab it into his arm. It was just one of the many sources of agony. He didn’t even watch as she cut away at his flesh like he was a steak at the butcher’s shop. The whole impromptu procedure took less than thirty seconds, but it left a blackened hunk of flesh in its wake, and a half-unconscious Coop.

While Cunningham, the SGM, and Mike held down Coop. Aiko kept an eye on what was happening outside. They were all unarmed and sitting ducks if things got even more fucked up, but she couldn’t miss what was happening. The world in view continued to burn, but it wasn’t the only thing. Fires raged outside the front gate, either from cars on the road that had been hit, or a crashed air-car. Aiko caught sight of one air-car spinning out of control and slam into the defense complex hard. A second seemed to be making an emergency landing with a large chunk of its back half being blown off. A third raced through the air, closely followed by another missile, but it was an air-car, not a Spyder, and its countermeasures seemed to be expended. The attempt to outrun the missile failed. The explosive struck the vehicle from behind, set off a cascading failure, and the whole vehicle turned into a giant fireball the spewed shrapnel everywhere.

A huge piece of flaming metal imbedded itself into the building less than two meters from Aiko’s position, so she wisely ducked back inside the foyer, where chunks of Coop’s flesh lay discarded on the polished polyplast floor. The receptionist at the desk on the far side of the lobby looked like she was about to faint.

“Don’t just fucking sit there!” Aiko screamed. “Call the medics. Let them know that their weekend just went to shit!”

It took a moment for the receptionist to snap to, but when she did she was on the phone calling everyone.

“Hell of a party,” Coop grumbled as the SGM stuck an injection in Coop’s arm just below the shoulder. The relief was immediate. “Yeah…that’s the stuff.”

He faded into unconsciousness before the medics arrived.

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