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 214

Noah Grisham

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

“Move your skinny chicken legs!” Able huffed as he scraped his head against the top of the tunnel. “Stupid fuckin…”

“Shut the fuck up,” Noah hissed back. The small, skinny pirate captain had no problem navigating the tunnels built for normal men. Clearly, the New Savannah Liberation Movement hadn’t planned far enough ahead and considered someone with military-grade augmentations might be in their secret tunnels with them.

<Or maybe they have.> Noah wondered. After all, if it was giving Able a hard time it was certainly inconveniencing whoever was chasing them; assuming they were Commonwealth. In the end, Noah didn’t give two shits who it was. Dead was dead no matter who pulled the trigger.

“We’re almost there,” one of their two local guides said as he made a sharp right hand turn.

An explosive soundwave roared past them just as they made the turn. Dust shook from the roof and clouded the passageway in front of them, but Noah was more concerned with the chunks of soil that broke loose. Whoever built this place knew what they were doing, but knowing what you were doing, and dealing with grenades detonating in your carefully designed space were two very different things.

<I try to sell some guys some RPGs and this is the trouble I get.> Noah huffed as they reached the end of the tunnel. It was a steel plate with a mechanism on the side identical to what had hid the tunnel back in the suburban basement. One of their guides punched in the code to open it, while the other discretely kept an eye on Noah and Able. Everyone was armed, but no one was pointing weapons at each other just yet.

<They got cocky.> Noah concluded as the steel plate swung forward on soundless, well-oiled hinges and into some type of warehouse. The other side of the plate was a shelf filled with chemicals.

When Noah sold the revolutionaries the data on the tracked air-cars, he didn’t think twice about it. He made a hundred grand easy, and the revolutionaries got to fight their little war. Noah never expected it to go so well, and that was the silver lining to the whole deal. When a group blew all their big guns on an attack that was successful, then they wanted more big guns, and who better to ask first than the man that gave them the critical intel in the first place. Noah, or Able as the pretend captain, had a good reputation now.

The problem was that the revolutionaries were now rushing things and making mistakes. Noah always thought it was a little convenient that one of the rocket teams made it back unscathed when the other three teams got blown into little, meaty pieces. That was why he refused to meet in the house itself in the first place. He needed to insulate himself from all of this liberation movement business. He was simply supplying a much-needed good, nothing more and nothing less.

The Commonwealth soldiers wouldn’t care who was a revolutionary and who was their arms dealer when they caught up with them, so for the moment, Noah and the revolutionaries’ goals were in sync. But once they weren’t, he was getting the hell off this humid rock. Things were getting too hot for him now. He’d have to follow up on his leads into who stiffed him another way.

“Shit.” Able grumbled, as the small group picked their way through barrels of chemicals toward an exit. “Smitty’s down.”

Noah leaned over as Able tilted his wrist-secured PAD toward him. The PAD had the vital signs of everyone on Noah’s crew identified in tiles that could be expanded to reveal more data. The tile with Smitty’s name on it was flatlined and grayed out. Since Smitty had stayed back to secure their retreat, that meant whoever was barring the Commonwealth’s way was out of action.

Noah growled to himself as workers at the chemical factory gave a nod to the revolutionaries passing through them. It seemed the liberation’s ideals had seeped into some of the planet’s workforce, or the movement’s success in killing high ranking planetary officials was finally allowing people to voice their complaints for the first time. Again, Noah didn’t give two shits. What this meant was that he was surrounded by a group of potential hostiles. The revolutionaries could easily turn on him and Noah and that would be the end of it.

His oh-shit-o-meter pinged even louder when a small group of armed people entered from the very exit they were heading toward. These people did not look like the kind who wanted to be friends. The scattering factory workers were proof of that.

Noah caught Able’s attention with a tug on his smartlcoth. The big mercenary raised an eyebrow, which Noah replied with a glance to his gun, followed by a glance at the two guides, and finally a glance to a different exit. Able caught the drift immediately and smiled. This was why he was here after all.

“We’re going to need a place to lay low.” Able engaged the guides in conversation, while simultaneously stepping forward to get in a better position.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got several…” that was as far as the guide got before Able whipped out his trusty sidearm in a practiced motion, and put a high-velocity round through the man’s temple.

The guide’s head seemed to vaporize as the projectiles hit it with such force it popped like a balloon. But that wasn’t the best part. Able had lined up his shot so the bullet went through the first man’s head and directly into the second’s. The second guide’s head didn’t explode as fabulously as the first, but a big chunk of it was missing, and he was dead before he hit the ground and his brains sloshed out onto the floor.

Killing the guides was only phase one. Now they needed to get the hell out of there. The factory workers scattered. They might be sympathetic with the revolutionary’s cause, but they weren’t willing to die for it. The other group heading for them did the opposite. Weapons emerged from concealed holsters, and in one case, a rifle from under a trench coat. The group spread out to take cover as Able rounded on them to lay down suppressive fire. Noah’s mind calmly worked on an escape plan as he pulled his own pistol from the holster at the small of his back. He took aim at a bottle of some chemical on a shelf behind one of the new adversaries, but a glint of metal caught his eye.

“Able, cease fire!” Noah screamed before Able could get another shot off.

“What!?” The big guy’s reaction was classic Able, but if showed he was too busy targeting who to shoot than recognized who he was about to shoot.

“We’re dropping our weapons and coming out!” Noah yelled loudly and clearly to the group as he slowly got to his feet, dropped his pistol, and stood with his hands raised above his hands. “Do it, Able.” He hissed when the mercenary didn’t immediately follow suite.

They had a quick stare down as the other group quickly advanced and encircled them. Even if Able was going to fight, he’d be dead before he could get a few shots off. Able knew that, and his glare said as much. It wasn’t in the man’s nature to give up the initiative.

“Trust me,” Noah hissed.

Able gave a grumble, but eventually dropped his weapon and got to his feet with his hands above his head. The new group rushed over them and quickly secured them. They were rough, but that was to be expected. Noah and Able were physically patted down, wanded for any hidden sensors or systems, their PADs were confiscated, and they were put in restraints. All of this was done under the eye of a smoking hot woman with a gold badge affixed to her tactical vest.

At first glance, anyone would think this new group was cops, but Noah knew better. He’d operated in the Core Worlds several decades ago before teaming up with Able, which was why he was able to get the big guy from make a life-ending mistake. The golden badge was a roaring bear’s head with a sizable green emerald nestled in its jaws. Noah knew from experience that badge was worth twenty-five thousand dollars easily, and that the person wearing it was confident they could wear it openly and kill anyone who tried to take it.

“Let’s go,” the female leader instructed the group.

Able continued to grumble as black bags were placed over their heads. They took about a hundred steps, half of those outside the building, before being forced into a car. Noah did his best to count the seconds and turns that were made on their journey, but he lost count after twenty minutes of zig-zagging through the city, and one exchange. By the time they reached their destination, he didn’t have a clue where they were.

Wherever they had arrived was loud. It was full of women laughing. Noah caught a whiff of pheromone-laced perfumes and incense, which immediately gave him an chubby, and the jingle of gambling devices, followed by the occasional grunt of a man orgasming. Judging by the distance they walked while in the building, it was a very large establishment.

Despite all of the distracting sounds and smells, Noah caught the beeping of a security door being accessed. He wanted to tell Able to remain calm when they were violently thrust back into the light of the real world, but he just had to hope the big man kept his cool.

The two pirates were shoved roughly into chairs before the black bags came off, and bright lights overwhelmed their vision. Once Noah blinked away the yellow and white orbs that threatened to overwhelm his vision, he found himself staring down the barrel of a very large gun.

“Parley.” He stated calmly, looking around the gun at the person sitting in the high-backed chair at a table nearly overflowing with cash chips.

The person sitting behind the desk was a woman, a big woman. Not fat big, but tall and muscular. She was clearly someone who’d undergone physical enhancements…and in all the right places. She was a nearly flawless example of the female species. Noah thought nearly because he wasn’t into big women, and secondly, because of the scar that ran diagonally across her face. He had no doubt the person who’d done that was dead, but the old wound had clearly taken the woman’s eye. A mechanical, glowing orb sat in its place, and judging by the tightening of the fake-pupil, it was scanning him.

“Parley?” she laughed in a masculine baritone. “What makes you think a person like you deserves an honor like that?”

“Because I’m not some revolutionary liberation movement wannabe. My name is Noah Grisham, and I’m a captain, which gives me the right to parley. You can check me out. I was in the middle of a business transaction when I was rudely interrupted. First, by the cops, and second, by your men. My qualifications award me a parley at a minimum with an underboss.”

The woman’s eyebrow rose as Noah explained himself. She picked up her PAD and quickly did some research. If there was a time to make a break for it, it was when she was distracted, but Noah just sat there waiting patiently. Able looked a little restless, but half a dozen guns pointed at him settled him right down.

It only took the woman a minute to get the information she needed. “Hailey?” She asked the woman wearing the golden badge who’d led the contingent that brought them in.

“It looked like corpies,” the bombshell blonde with amber eyes answered. “They took out the safe house we were watching and smoked the insurgents out of their tunnels. I had the extraction team waiting at the exit, where these two popped two others before surrendering to us.”

“Who were the two they popped?”

“Confirmed liberation movement members,” Hailey answered.

“Well then, Mr. Grisham,” the underboss’ demeanor altered like someone had flipped a switch. “It seems thanks are in order.”

“What?” The woman’s sudden change, which was accompanied by sidearms being holstered throughout the room, was too much for Able to handle without opening his mouth.

“The New Savannah Liberation Movement killed individuals they were not allowed to kill.” Hailey responded for the woman behind the desk.

“The governor guy?” Able followed up.

“No, the six girls who were at the party and in those air-cars.” The underboss replied, and the temperature in the room dropped a few degrees.

“Wha…?” Able started again, but Noah cut him off.

“I’m sorry for your loss, but can I assume we’re safe for the time being?”

“Paying customers are always safe in my establishment.” There was special emphasis on the word paying.

Noah smiled, and inclined his head at Hailey. “How much for her?”

Hailey growled, but the underboss held up her hand and instantly silenced the younger, smaller woman. “A hundred thousand for the night.”

“Deal.” Noah smiled at the surprised expression on the two women’s faces. Clearly, they thought the number was big enough that he’d decline.

The underboss’ face recovered before Hailey’s. “Hailey, get in something more appropriate.” To the younger woman’s credit, she didn’t hesitate before leaving the room to prepare. “I’ve reserved Room three for you…for another twenty thousand.” The underboss made a play that betrayed her favoritism for the other woman.

“Fine by me.” Noah grinned and paid up. He was blowing all the cash he’d made from the revolutionaries’ intel purchase, but he didn’t give a shit. This Hailey woman had thrown a bag over his head, manhandled him, and brought him to this place against his will. Now it was time for her to pay.

“Noah, what the hell is happening?” Able kept his mouth shut until they were out of the back office and headed toward the reserved room.

They passed through an ornately-decorated lobby full of men ranging from handsome to fugly, but only beautiful women. The establishment had a tropical theme, which made sense given the planet, and the women were dressed appropriately skimpy. It didn’t matter that they were high priced whores.

Noah just gave the big mercenary a pat on the shoulder. The pirate captain didn’t hold Able’s lack of knowledge against him. Able had grown up under the stricter moral laws of the Maccabee Alliance, and then spent most of his criminal career in the Outer Rim, with the occasional jaunt into the Mid Worlds. His experience in the Core Worlds was limited, and he lacked the understanding of the well-oiled machine on mankind’s longest-settled planets. Even when it came to crime.

Noah pointed up to the roaring bear visage on the ceiling that could have been painted by Da Vinci himself. “It’s the symbol for Putinski Family Holdings. On paper they’re a legitimate business, but that is simply a front for one of the three biggest criminal syndicates in the Commonwealth.” Noah knew this because he’d done business with them once upon a time. “That’s why I didn’t let you shoot at them. We’re already on the Commonwealth’s shit list, also probably Gold Technologies’. Now, the liberation movement is going to want to kill us. The last thing I wanted was for PFH to be on our ass as well. If that was the case, we wouldn’t make the spaceport before someone scattered our brains all over the sidewalk.”

They arrived at his paid-for room, and he flipped a thousand-credit chip to Able. What he was going to do inside the room was for Noah’s eyes only, but he was going to make sure the big guy had some fun. Able smiled at the chip and wandered off to do whatever he wanted.

Noah pushed open the door, and came face to face with the finest, tightest ass modern medicine could create. He thought Hailey was naked for a second, but it turned out there was a barely noticeable G-String for his viewing pleasure. She looked over her shoulder with a smoldering ‘come hither’ look, but he could still see hate burning behind her eyes.

<Even better.> He directed for her to get on her knees and get to work.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 205

Noah Grisham

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

The parking attendant sprinted across the lot. His PAD showed him exactly where the car he was supposed to retrieve was parked, but there was a sea of sleek luxury models between the young man and his goal. He needed to move fast enough that the wealthy people whose leg work he was doing would tip well, but not fast enough that he got his uniform all wrinkled. The rich people also wouldn’t tip well if he looked like a slob.

<Do you want your car fast or not?  Make up your mind!> he fumed. It had been a frustrating night.

This whole job was very last minute. Some corporate big wig had rolled into town and wanted to throw a big party for Election Day. Naturally, that meant that every party planning business in the city immediately jumped and bent over backwards. The realization that it was at the defense complex made it trickier due to security, but that just meant an incentive bonus for anyone who had the clearance to work. The attendant had spent two years in the local defense fleet as an enlisted spacer. That meant he spent two years cruising around on patrols watching for pirates and Blockie invasions. He’d never seen either, but it helped him save up money for the Associates Degree he was working on, and got him some tuition aid options that weren’t available to everyone else. He just did jobs like the parking attendant gig to have some spending cash.

“Bingo.” He found what he was looking for, a sleek, luxury model air-car, which was hovering off the ground even in park mode.

The car accepted his GIC as a temporary user and slid open the door. The attendant couldn’t help but sigh as he sank into the driver’s seat. The nano-fabric conformed to his body, while the environmental systems measured his biometrics and adjusted the cabin to what his body found most pleasant. He wanted to sit there for a little while, but each second he dawdled was a few bucks off his tip, so he put it in reverse and back up.

THUMP

“What the hell?” The attendant quickly pulled forward and looked in the rear-view camera to see an unmoving body behind him. “Shit!” He quickly jumped out, completely ignored the fact that the collision detection sensors should have alerted him to someone behind the vehicle, and auto braked to avoid such an accident.

“Buddy, are you…” the question ended as something sharp moved into place just below his Adam’s apple, and pressed against his skin just enough to draw a trickle of blood.

“Don’t make a sound,” a cold, hard voice, whispered down at him.

The attendant didn’t need to look behind him to feel that the guy was tall and broad. The man who stepped in front of him was not.

“What’s going on here?” The short, slender man asked.

“I’m grabbing someone’s car,” the attendant practically pleaded.

“Not what are you doing. What is going on here?” The man repeated while gesturing at all the cars and over his shoulder at the defense complex.

“It’s some fancy party some rich guy is throwing. Please…I don’t know anymore. I just park cars.”

“Don’t sell yourself short.” The short guy gave a nod to the big guy, and for a merciful second, the attendant thought he was free.

Then the big man dug the knife into his throat, and easily sawed through skin, arteries, and into his windpipe with a single slice. The attendant gave a death-gurgle as his hands shot up to stop the bleeding, but it was already too late. He’d be dead in under a minute.

Able tossed him to the ground like yesterday’s mail and made sure to stash him between some cars.

“Smitty, get your cantankerous ass over here!” Able barked, eliciting a raised eyebrow from Noah for the use of the word ‘cantankerous’.

Smitty was a new edition to the crew. He always had a frown on his face, and looked pissed off at the world in general. What the other pirate did have going for him was that he cleaned up well.

“Take his clothes and go play car parker.” Able ordered as he tossed a nano-solution to remove the blood from the white shirt, black vest, and black pants. The smart-cloth would readjust to Smitty’s size without prompting.

As Smitty stripped down and changed, Able approached Noah. “What now, Boss?” They’d dispersed the rest of their small crew into buddy teams and formed a loose perimeter that would avoid drawing any attention while still providing some security, and advanced warning, if anyone was heading in their direction.

“Now we use this to our advantage.” Noah’s mind was on two different tracks. First, was how to make the best of this situation, and second, was that some rich asshat in that building was probably involved in robbing him of an eight-figure payday. He explained his plan to Able, so he could give the orders.

“Noah, get in touch with those revolutionaries we interacted with. Tell them we can give them real-time targeting data on these wealthy assholes, but they’re gonna have to pay for it. Smitty, you’re going to fill in as a parking guy and put trackers on anyone that looks important.”

“How will I know who’s important?” Smitty asked, as the clean smart-cloth spread across his chest.

“If a gaggle of these fuckers are surrounding someone, then they’re a VIP.”

“Boss,” Noah played the submissive role. “Some of these cars do randomized scans that search for bugs like the ones we’re going to place. We should probably program the devices to stay on standby mode until they’ve reached a certain altitude or traveled a certain distance before activating. Or we can set up a spotter team to remote activate them. This way they’ll avoid detection on a cursory scan” The suggestions were actually orders.

“Good thinking.” Able nodded. “Do that, Smitty.”

“Sure thing, Cap’n,” the man grumbled.

“And, Smitty…”

“Yeah…”

“Try to smile. These people get tipped for being nice.” Able advised.

Smitty attempted a smile, and Noah cringed. It would be a miracle if they could pull this off.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“Why are there so many forks?” Coop was seated, along with the other few hundred guests, at the big-ass table, and he’d never been so confused about how to eat before in his life.

Coop didn’t even know that forks were supposed of go on the left-hand side of his plate, and now he was staring at five of them. A waitress deposited a salad in front of him with an impressive flourish, but Coop was too busy to even admire the tightness of her shirt.

There was probably a method to the madness of the seating chart. That much Coop figured out. First off, Thomas Gold was all the way at one side of the table. Ben Gold was sitting up with him, along with someone that the LT was calling Vanessa Black. She seemed a little miffed that the attractive, dark-skinned, blue-in-her-eyes woman was sitting next to the LCDR, while the rest of the military personnel present, except the RADM, were at the opposite end of the table. Coop felt for the LT, but he had his own shitstorm brewing.

On Coop’s right was Eve, and on his left was Mike. Next to Mike was Aiko, and Coop was wondering if the universe was conspiring against him. At first, it seemed like a good idea that Mike was a buffer, but now if felt like someone, or something, was fucking with him because Aiko looked even more pissed that he was sitting next to Eve and not her.

<I can’t catch a break.> Coop went to pick up the fork closest to his plate: a thin, three-pronged thing that looked like the runt of the litter.

“Not that one.” Eve cut him off. If Coop had gone any farther, he swore she would have slapped his hand like he was a child. “Start from the outside and work your way in. The salad fork should be on the far left.”

“Who has a fork just for salad,” Coop grabbed the correct fork and stabbed in repeatedly into the pile of green leaves to get a healthy portion size. The repeated clanging of his fork against the bottom of the plate drew stares.

“For fuck’s sake,” Eve sighed, as she grabbed Coop’s hand.

Coop would have loved for there to have been some spark of familiar memory that shot through his balls and heart, but no such shock came. Instead, she ripped the fork out of his hand, and showed him how to eat all sophisticated.

“You’ve got to slow down, take your time, savor the taste, and don’t damage the place setting.” Eve shoved the fork back into his hand and turned back to his own food.

“You seem to know an awful lot about this?” Coop questioned, as he did what he was instructed. He could feel his stomach grumbling as he picked through the rabbit food.

“I did my research before we came,” Eve replied without looking at him.

“You researched how to eat?” Coop laughed, but was rudely interrupted by Mike jabbing his elbow into his ribs.

“No, I researched all of this.” Eve’s eyes wandered around the biggest dinner party Coop had ever seen, including on the holo shows about ancient earth kingdoms. “The Gold’s are known for extravagant parties. I expected something like this, so I made sure I knew how to handle myself. That’s your first lesson of training, Cooper, figure out what you’re about to get in to, and then learn everything you can about that before you get there. It’ll save you from looking like an ass, or better yet, save your life.”

“We’re the same rank you know.” Coop’s ego took a bit of a hit, and he had to reassert himself.

“Neither of us belongs at this rank. We’re only here because of an executive order, and honestly, you should probably still be a PFC with your record.” Eve’s comment only stung Coop’s ego more.

“I made corporal fair and square,” Coop grumbled back.

“And with all the disciplinary things I’ve seen, I’m surprised you didn’t get busted back down,” she countered.

“Hey, I was proven innocent in that court martial.” Coop stabbed his salad fork at her for emphasis.

“You were not guilty. That’s far from innocent.” Eve cut Coop’s argument off at the knees, and left Coop fuming. So, fuming, he went back to stabbing his fork into the plate to get the last few bits of salad.

A crack was amplified by the room’s acoustics as his fork split off a decent-sized chunk of the plate.

“Cooper,” SSG Hightower was sitting on the opposite side of Aiko. “Unfuck yourself before I put my foot so far up your ass it comes out with bits of that salad attached to it.”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Coop grumbled, while Eve shook her head at him.

<I hate fancy people shit.> Coop looked to his left, in the hopes of getting some positive reinforcement from the only other girl at the table that he knew couldn’t stand this uppity shit like him.

All he got from Aiko was a glare. Apparently, him talking with Eve wasn’t sitting well. It didn’t matter if it was what fork he was supposed to use and pointless crap like that.

<Give me a break.> He sighed, just as the fish course arrived.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 203

Mark “Coop” Cooper

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

“Come with me if you want to live.”

Coop had to restrain himself from lashing out with a vicious elbow as something hard pressed against his hip. It was the end of the duty day, before he needed to get ready for the Gold party, and he was in the crowded gym. He’d only been in the state-of-the-art fitness facility a handful of times since he arrived on New Savannah, but seeing Eve today made him feel restless, and he needed to do something. Working out seemed just as good an idea as anything else, and drinking might not be the best idea with SRRT training starting soon. He had no idea what the SGM had planned, but he knew it was going to suck.

Coop took a deep breath and let his fight or flight instinct, nearly all fight, ebb, before looking over his shoulder to smile. “Is it me or are you just happy to see me.” He had to look down to see Aiko with her fingers pressed against him in the form of a gun. It was actually pretty cute.

“If this was my physiological reaction to you, it would lead to some issues.” Aiko had never specifically said she was only interested in dudes, but Coop had shot down her suggestion of a devil’s three way. The last thing he wanted when fucking the flexible spacer was another dude’s dick flapping around.

“So, why are you here?” Coop put down the 100 kilogram dumbbells he was using for his cool down set of bicep curls. He’d never seen her in the gym before. She obviously worked out, he’d seen what was under the CMUs, but lifting weights clearly wasn’t her exercise of choice.

“It’s go time.” She left it at that, grabbed his hand, and dragged him out of the gym. He just had enough time to grab his uniform bag from its cubby.

“Can I at least get something to drink?” Coop protested weakly. “I need some electrolytes if…”

“Not that type of go time, and believe me we’re going to talk about that.”

“Um…ok…” Coop tried to play it cool, but knew he utterly failed.

<What is it with women. It’s like they can smell when you’re with another girl. Why didn’t men get that evolutionary advantage?> It would have helped Coop more than once when he was forced to climb out of a window due to the boyfriend arriving home unexpectedly.

Thankfully, Coop was in civilian workout clothes, so he didn’t automatically stand out as military. His size would make anyone ninety percent sure he was a combatant of some sort, but that ten percent hesitation might save his ass if things went sideways. He didn’t have any of his gear with him, and Aiko was moving with a purpose toward the front gate.

“Where are we…?”

“Shhh,” Aiko shushed him as they approached the guards in full Dragonscale armor paired with some corporate security guys in sleeker, black armor.

They scanned their GICs with the guards, and were allowed to pass. Despite the intense nature of the last few days, and the high alert the planet was on with the general elections in full swing, the RADM didn’t feel like they needed to cancel any passes, leaves, or confine everyone to base. So, it was easy enough for them to walk right off the grounds and toward the line of cabs waiting to pick up soldiers heading into town.

“Nope.” Aiko grabbed his elbow and pulled him away toward a long-term parking lot just to the right of the entrance. “I’ve got a ride.”

<Why?> Was Coop’s first thought. It was a hell of a lot cheaper to just catch a cab to the bars and clubs. Even a cheap car was thousands of dollars.

Aiko saw the confused look on his face and frowned. “What is the first thing you do when you walk into a new place, Coop?”

“Know the exits, and know how to get to them if I need to,” Coop replied reflexively. He’d been thinking that way ever since he almost got gutted by some gang member over a few thousand calories when he was eleven.

“Exactly, now what do you do when you get out of the building?” Aiko didn’t look back as she wove in and out of vehicles.

“I…” Coop hesitated. “I guess I’d need to find a ride.”

“That’s two points for the genius.” Aiko stopped next to an ancient, wheeled vehicle. “Now, if shit has hit the fan, and you need a quick exit, isn’t it better to have your own set of wheels than to need to steal a ride, or worse, wait for a cab.”

“I see your point,” Coop surrendered.

“Rule number one if you want to survive in this little side business, Coop. Make sure to always have a quick getaway planned; especially, when there is ten grand on the table.”

Coop immediately picked up what was going on with the mention of the money. “They want to talk now.”

“They’re waiting for us at the bar.” Aiko nodded as she hopped in the car and started up the engine. Despite how decrepit it looked, it didn’t cough or struggle to start. “Rule number two is to maintain your shit,” she stated when Coop hesitated again and studied the car. “Let’s go, we don’t have all day.”

Getting out of the area immediately surrounding the defense complex was a pain in the ass. Traffic was thick, and Aiko almost hit somebody at least twice. There was a lot of yelling and screaming, and Aiko even went for the gun in her glovebox once, but Coop stopped her. First, because waving a gun would draw attention, and second, because it wasn’t an approved personal defense weapon by Commonwealth law. In fact, it looked like one of the laser pistols he’d help steal off the asteroid base.

Coop didn’t even ask. There were so many things he didn’t know about the woman sitting next to him, but that’s what made it so fun. <I don’t think Gold’s party will be.> He checked himself as they approached their destination, and got his head in the game.

Aiko drove around the block twice looking for anything suspicious. Neither of them spotted anything, so they pulled into a spot on the street. Coop kept his head on a swivel as they left the car and entered the bar. It was starting to fill up with everyone who needed to get their drink on after work, but the booth at the back was conspicuously empty. Aiko shot the bartender a look, and he nodded toward the booth.

Coop scanned the crowd looking for anything out of the ordinary. There were a couple of big guys in the crowd, but they were all slouched over their drinks, or in conversation. They could be military, former military, gangsters with enough cash to spend on enhancements, or revolutionaries who’d sacrificed their bodies for the cause. Either way, Coop needed to keep an eye on them. He slid into his seat and immediately felt the bottom of the table for anything out of the ordinary. Bombs didn’t have to be big to maim a person. He knew that all too well.

“Here.” Aiko was doing the same thing on her side of the table, but she found something. She pulled a small PAD out from under the table, which had an envelope attached to it. She opened it and whispered, “Answer the questions and you’ll get your money.” The letter in the envelope was hand written, in poor handwriting, but it was still something you didn’t see every day. When you could send a message across a system by tapping away on polyplast why would you write anything out anymore?

“Go ahead.” She slid the PAD over to Coop. “Make us some money.”

The PAD activated when he touched it, but didn’t ask for a GIC scan, this one had been tampered with. That was fine with Coop, he wasn’t going to give anyone this shady his info. On the PAD was a list of questions that he went through one by one. They didn’t ask anything about him personally, but they were all about New Lancashire, Cobalt Station, and anything else that happened in the sector.

Coop could see why they were paying ten grand on the black market for the info. It wasn’t exactly all classified, but it wasn’t info the fleet gave to the public. The questions asked a lot about logistics, supply runs, MTOEs, and specifically the chain of command in the area. Whoever this was wanted a lot of detail on who could order who to do what, and Coop did the best he could to answer. When he got to the end of the questions there was a legit submit button, like he was taking a test back in high school.

“You do the honors.” Coop handed the PAD back to Aiko to finish everything up. “You’re making a grand off this, so you’ve got to do something.”

“I do plenty,” she replied, but took the PAD and hit the big, green button. Coop half expected the booth to explode, but it didn’t. In fact, there was a chime on the PAD and on Coop’s own PAD. Ten grand had been transferred into an account Aiko had established under false names she’d gotten a hold of. Over the next few weeks, they’d siphon little bits of the money into their actual accounts to avoid suspicion from the Ministry of War Finance and Accounting Service.

“Done.” She tossed the PAD back on the table and got to her feet. “Let’s go.”

“Are you worried we’re going to be late for the party?” Coop thought he could engage in some light ribbing since he’d just made her half a month’s pay in fifteen minutes.

“No, I’m good, but your girlfriend might be a little upset if we’re behind schedule. Bitch looks like the rangers have lodged something big and firm up her ass, and I don’t need hassling about my business from her.”

For once in his life, Coop wisely kept his mouth shut and did his grumbling in his head.

 

***

Noah watched the pair leave the bar without even looking. He’d discretely placed a few pin-sized cameras around the bar to get better vantage points on everything. He’d also put a few outside the bar, so he watched them hop into an old-fashioned car and drive off. It wasn’t until they had left the building that he started moving.

“I’m still drinking.” Able hissed as the pirate captain of Dawn hopped up and started moving.

That was the only protest Able got out before chugging his beer and following. A few other members of their newly assembled crew filed out behind them. Like always, they thought Able was in charge and Noah was just his small, shifty aide.

“We should follow them,” Noah made the order sound like a suggestion, as the six men stepped out onto the curb just as the car turned the corner.

It looked like it was heading back to the defense complex, but Able still waved for two of the guys to hop on the hover bikes they had stashed in front of the bar and follow. “Report back if they go anywhere new.” Able kept the orders simple, and headed back into the bar.

“Everything good?” the bartender asked. When a quarter of his clientele suddenly got up and left, a business man tended to take notice.

“Just figuring out the tab.” Noah chucked a money chip at the man to cover the whole crew’s drinks, which was a substantial sum. To avoid detection, they’d been at the bar for over an hour.

There was more to the statement than just tonight’s bill. It had been a hard few months, especially after someone stiffed them out of tens of millions, and tried to kill them to cover up their tracks. Able wanted them to move on to new jobs, but Noah just couldn’t let it go. He didn’t have much of a code of honor, but when someone fucked with him they had to pay. Anything else looked weak, and the small man detested anything weak.

After the entire York Sector blew up, he’d move into the Midworlds and done a few jobs, got some cash, and assembled a small crew. Dawn didn’t need a lot of people, so they were able to keep the newbies fat and happy off a few hijackings. Noah kept a portion of the proceeds to get info on the York Sector, and now that he had it, he’d cross reference it with other data he’d paid for. Hopefully, with this recent information, he’d have the name of the person that ripped him off. Once he knew that…he left those happy thoughts to his imagination.

“What now?” Able asked discretely as he leaned on the table.

“Now…we wait for an opportunity.” Noah smiled at the bartender, and the man did the smart thing and got as far away from the pirate captain as the bar allowed.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 148

Noah Grisham

Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

The place was in pandemonium. It was like a fox was in the chicken coup and biting off chicken heads left and right. Noah hadn’t ever seen a real fox, but they must have been ruthless creatures if whoever coined the phrase was telling the truth.

Alarms had started blaring once the Collie ship slingshotted around the planet. For a second they thought they’d dodged a bullet, only to find the bullet headed right at them faster than they expected. Everyone with a ship had abandoned the place when the distraction went off. Noah had been as surprised as anyone that they had old-school nukes, but the plan was great. Faruk knew his shit. It wouldn’t buy them a lot of time, but all the Collies would be able to get were some emission signatures, and if they were close enough some visuals.

“Shit!” By the time Noah and Able made it to the hanger they couldn’t locate anyone named Alvarez, and everyone was too busy getting the hell out of there.

When they got back to the arms dealer the shop was closed up and he was nowhere to be found.

“At least we have a name.” Able commented with a shrug as he walked toward Dawn. The guard Faruk had posted was long gone, but no one had done anything in the chaos.

“Can we make it?” Noah asked when they were both on the small bridge of the mining ship.

“If we leave now, yes.” Able was already powering up the engines. “They’ll get a good look at Dawn though.”

“We can always make adjustments.” But that wasn’t what Noah was worried about.

So far, this was his only lead on the people who’d fucked him over. All he had was the name ‘Alvarez’, definetly a fake name, and suspicions. That only went so far. He needed something more concrete that he could use to take action on. He needed people to pay for what they’d done, and there was a chance that if he ran he’d never get the vengeance he was looking for.

<What can you do if you’re dead?> That ultimately made up his mind.

“Get us out of here.”

The Dawn fled System 1861 like everyone else.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: CWS Argo, System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“Lock and load boys and girls, the Devil is playing his fiddle and we’re invited to the party.” SGT O’Neil walked down the center of the group of soldiers.

The soldiers were loading weapons, running last-minute diagnostics on armor, or just shooting the shit with each other over private TACCOM channels. For a few of the green privates, this was their first rodeo, but not for Coop.

“What the hell is he talking about?” Coop was more of the shoot the shit type of person before an operation. There were only so many times you could run a diagnostic and get a green thumbs up.

“Sarge is from the Papal Planets. He’s got a scripture quote or something about the idle hands being the devil’s playground for just about everything. It’s annoying as fuck.” One of the ship’s assigned marines responded.

“Yeah, what the fuck is a fiddle anyway?” Coop scoffed.

“A fiddle is a bowed string musical instrument sometimes called a violin; although, they’re usually more primitively constructed or smaller than proper violins.” SGT O’Neil walked up to the two soldiers and stood between them. “There are countless stories of the Devil using music to seduce his victims.”

“Roger that, Sergeant. You’ve got nothing to worry about here. I’m not into dudes.” Coop replied with a straight face.

“Who said the Devil is a man, Cooper?” The Sergeant left Coop scratching his head as he moved on to check on the other soldiers in the assault team.

Argo was decelerating for an intercept with the asteroid, but the rock taking pot shots at her with energy beams was making the process longer than expected. Coop wasn’t worried though. He’d overheard the CPO on the bridge telling Ben that the beams looked like they were being aimed by a five-year-old, and even if they miraculously hit Argo they wouldn’t do much more than scratch her paint. They were meant to dissuade someone without military-grade ES armor.

“Ten minutes, marines.” The SGT announced, so apparently things were moving along quickly now.

The issue they’d run into while planning the operation was the insertion portion. There were three possibilities the skipper and marine NCO came up with. The first was to fly Argo into their hanger and use the railguns as point defense against anything and anyone the pirates threw against them. That plan had been quickly shot down when it had been pointed out that they’d fired two nukes at them and there could easily be another one set up as a self-destruct mechanism to get rid of any evidence on the asteroid. That was not something Coop liked to hear as one of the people who would likely be inside the asteroid when it happened.

Option number two was a short space walk on the crust, followed by blowing the doors, and then insertion. This was a better idea than putting Argo in danger, but it would still leave the marines vulnerable to attack or any countermeasures on the surface of the asteroid. A cursory scan had already shown a few poorly-hidden mines.

Option number three – the option eventually approved by the skipper and SGT O’Neil – was to use the gunboat’s small shuttle. It put the fewest number of soldiers at risk and would allow the marines to get a foothold on the asteroid by ferrying soldiers back and forth. It sounded good on paper, but it sucked ass for Coop. The shuttle was only big enough for the pilot and maybe three tightly-packed marines, but the SGT wasn’t going to send three lightly-armed soldiers into an unpredictable situation. They were going to send Coop.

“That’s why you get paid the big bucks.” A marine patted Coop’s hulking armored frame when he got the good news.

“I don’t get paid any more than you do. This is bullshit,” Coop shot back, but kept the last bit to himself.

Now, he was stuffing himself into the back of the shuttle. The thing was used to transport VIPs back and forth, and had not been designed for a fully-armed HI trooper. “I ain’t fixing this shit.” Coop announced as he scraped up the walls, cracked some display, and tore up the lining of the seats.

The pilot didn’t say anything. His hands were shaking. The shuttle had minimal point defense lasers and no offensive weaponry. It was not designed to do what they were about to do, and the only thing protecting the pilot was his CMU’s on combat mode and a helmet. If they got hit he was fucked, but Coop might survive.

“Uh…we’re ready.” The pilot gulped.

“Hey, calm down.” Coop told the man forcefully. There was no way he was going to die because the guy was so nervous he forgot how to fly. “You just get me there and I’ll do the rest.”

The reply was the shuttle dropping out of Argo and jerking as it left the ship’s internal gravity field. That didn’t help the shuttle’s interior. Coop was surprised he didn’t poke a hole through the thin hull.

The asteroid loomed large in front of them. There was some debris floating around it where Argo’s armaments had taken out the energy cannons and anything else that presented a threat to the shuttle. The gunboat was still standing guard as the shuttle shot toward the ball of rock, but there wasn’t much it would really be able to do if they missed a laser. The CPO might be good, but he wasn’t faster than light.

The pilot took evasive action on the approach, and by the time they reached the metal doors of the asteroid’s main hanger bay Coop was a little woozy. The shuttle didn’t have the internal gravity field that the gunboat did. It didn’t have much at all.

“They left the front door open,” the pilot gulped as the tiny shuttle slipped through the massive doors. Argo would have been able to easily get through those doors.

Millimeter wave radar painted the hanger and updated Coop’s STRATNET. It was exactly what they studied before the operation. A central runway ran half a kilometer down the center of the hanger. On either side of it were little cubby holes where you could either park a small ship or stack supplies. All Coop saw was a lot of dead space where a fire team could be sitting waiting to fire a shoulder-launched missile down the shuttle’s throat.

“Drop me off here.” Coop instructed the pilot once they’d passed the giant door.

“I’m supposed to take you to the end.” The pilot’s hands had relaxed, and Coop took that as a bad sign. Things weren’t better now, they were even more dangerous.

“Get me on the fucking ground now!” Coop’s tone did the trick and the pilot put the shuttle in a shallow dive while twisting it around one hundred and eighty degrees.

“Pressurizing.” The pilot’s compartment sealed itself off from Coop’s spot in the rear while all of the air exited. His LACS was environmentally secured, so he didn’t notice the change aside from some changes in the sensor readings. “Good luck.” The skids hit the ground and the rear hatch popped open.

If Coop – or any other soldier – had their way they would have moved with a purpose to the next available cover or concealment. Instead, he had to squeeze his big metal ass out of a small hole. A sniper could have fucked him up good in the critical seconds it took to unass from the shuttle, but thankfully no one punched his ticket.

“I’m in.” His breathing was heavy and his leg was a little sore as he moved from cover to cover clearing those big open sections.

<I could have used some drones.> He’d asked for some of the pencil-sized copters that would expand his awareness while sitting there alone, but was denied. They only had a dozen aboard, and they were saving them until more boots were on the ground.

He’d cleared a quarter of the area before the shuttle reappeared with the rest of the fire team he was leading.

“Where the fuck are you going?” Coop radioed the pilot when the small craft overshot his position. “Get the fuck back here and…”

The LACS HUD went from clear to red as his armor detected the missile launch. It all happened so fast that Coop’s neural network was the only thing fast enough to respond. Thankfully, Coop was paranoid as fuck after seeing the blueprints of the hanger and knowing he was going in alone.

The pilot was just starting to bank when the missile fired from the far side of the space. Coop took a small amount of satisfaction knowing that he’d made the right call in getting dropped off at the end of the runway, because they’d have eaten that missile and there wasn’t anything he could have done about it.

He was able to do something about this one.

The railgun swiveled and put up a wall of lead between the shuttle and missile. The missile exploded about twenty-five meters from the shuttle, which saved it from destruction but still fucked it up a bit. The small craft spun wildly in the air before the pilot got it under control. It was a good thing it spun away from Coop’s position or else he wouldn’t have been able to get a lock on to the rocket-team’s location.

His armor vibrated as an anti-personnel shell rotated into his 125mm tube and the computer calculated the trajectory. Coop took a knee, but kept his Buss and railgun trained in the direction they’d taken fire from. He felt the tremor through his armor, and spike of pain in his leg, as the cannon fired. There wasn’t a lot of height to the hanger bay, so the shell came in on a shallow arc and detonated about head-level. Ceramic bits spewed out in a torrent of death that would turn any human into finely puréed meat, but the missile’s onboard camera took a picture of the scene before detonating. Whoever had fired the missile had hauled ass after trying to sucker punch the marines, so he destroyed a whole lot of nothing.

“We’re clear. They shot and booked it out of here.” Coop hustled over to where the pilot had put down the shuttle.

One of the onboard marine’s status icons was yellow. He’d been smashed around the interior after the explosion and broken a few things. The rest of the team was green though, and they spread out quickly to form a loose perimeter.

<What is it with me and hanger bays?> Coop wondered as he took stock of the situation.

It didn’t take long to figure out the shuttle was down for a minute. A few pieces of shrapnel needed to be pulled from the hull and patched before it could fly again in space. That left him with three total fighters including him. The injured marine could be useful in a pinch, but by the dark stain on the crotch of the pilot’s CMUs, Coop guessed the Fleet guy wasn’t going to be of much use in a firefight.

“We need to clear the rest of this hanger, look for booby traps, and secure the entrances and exits.” Coop gave the order because either Argo was going to pull in, or the shuttle had nine more runs to make, and one good hit was all it would take to turn it into a flaming ball of wreckage.

“You two on me.” Coop took point. “Let’s get it done.”

<The quicker we get it done the quicker the Sergeant can get here and take over.> Coop wasn’t a fan of this taking charge crap.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 145

Noah Grisham

Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Noah kept his head on a swivel as he walked down the landing ramp of Dawn and into the bay. The tang of artificial air was sharp, but even more recognizable was the small group of men heading in their direction. Able stood next to the small pirate captain in his armor with a blaster held casually in his hand. After a little discussion, it was determined that he would leave the Collie heavy weapon in the ship. Toting around that giant cannon was going to raise a few eyebrows and dry up some information sources when word got around. Noah was here for answers, and he was determined to get them at any cost.

“Welcome friends!” The man at the front of the approaching party smiled widely at Noah and Able. “Welcome to Last Resort.”

<Interesting name,> Noah thought, even if it was accurate. Being in the ass end of the galaxy and living in a hollowed-out asteroid was definitely a last resort for however many people were here. If this was his station it would be called Means to an End.

“Thank you.” Noah kept his thoughts to himself as he reached up to clasp the man’s hand. Even in this part of the galaxy a hand shake was still the best way to show you had no ill will toward another.

“My name is Faruk, and my mercenary band is responsible for the well-being of this station.”

<Translation: I run this place and I get my percentage from anyone else doing business here.> As was customary, Noah pulled out a hundred-credit chip and handed it to the mercenary captain.

“I hope my ship will be taken care of.” He looked at the men behind Faruk and then over at his newly-repaired ship.

Faruk looked over the credit chip. “Blockie currency is devalued against the Commonwealth dollar. One-fifty will get you what you’re looking for.”

Noah could feel Able tense up behind him, but he smiled and dug into his pocket for more cash. Instead of pulling out another hundred-chip and having them transfer funds around he pulled out two twenties and a ten. It made it look like he had less cash than he really did.

“Thank you, friend.” Faruk took the one-fifty and nodded his head. One of the men accompanying him walked over to the Dawn and took up a sentry position next to it. Noah knew the guy would pop a squat the minute they were out of sight, but having him there was all the security Dawn needed. If Faruk was really in charge, his man simply being there was enough to deter anyone from messing with his ship.

“What brings you to Last Resort, my friends?” Faruk was all smiles as he and Noah led the way while their two guards walked behind them.

“Weapons.” Noah smiled. “We’ve got a pipeline open with the Blockies and are looking for somewhere to store and sell. Last Resort was highly recommended, so we came to check out your operation.”

“We would be more than happy to accommodate new investments in our little paradise.” Faruk’s smile grew even broader. His pearly-white teeth contrasted sharply with his bushy, black beard.

“Your mercenary company provides security for the station?” Now Noah started fishing for information.

“I have forty well-armed and highly-trained men who keep the peace,” Faruk assured.

<So at least twice that.> Noah read between the lines. Faruk wasn’t stupid enough to give away actual intel on his little band of misfits, so he’d give a number high enough to make Noah feel comfortable while concealing his true strength.

“Our cut is twenty percent off the top and you’ll have to pay to lease the space, but everything else is profit for you, and I guarantee you that you will find plenty of business here.”

They’d been walking through a series of dimly lit corridors carved through the asteroid’s metal-infused rock, reinforced with civilian-grade duro-steel beams, and sealed with a thin layer of polyplast before arriving at a large, grimy-looking blast door. When Faruk said “here”, the door opened on well-maintained hydraulics into a brightly lit, colorful exposé. It looked like pictures of a bazaar on Earth from hundreds of years ago. Little shops had been carved into the rock while poorly constructed polyplast carts rolled through the pathways. It was a hodgepodge of people, goods, and smells as what Noah estimated to be a thousand people tried to buy and sell the black market products.

If Noah was actually going to sell something in the future, this was the place he’d be coming to if he didn’t burn bridges with Faruk today. Today was all about information.

“Do you like what you see, my friends?” Faruk’s smiled seemed permanently plastered on his face.

“Very much,” Noah’s return smile was genuine. “If you don’t mind, I would like to scope out my competition.”

“Not at all. I will leave my associate Barry here to be your guide. I hope you find our accommodations will meet your business needs. When you are finished, tell Barry and he will call me so we can make a deal.” With his final piece said, Faruk stepped backward, blended into the crowd, and vanished.

That left them alone with Barry. Barry was a big boy. He had a heavy-world build, was nearly as big as Able, and was strapped down with an assortment of weapons. He had everything from an Imperial blaster to an Old West six-shooter, but from the slight glow coming from the antiquated pistol Noah guessed those old-school rounds were plasma tipped. You didn’t find many of the exploding bullets outside the starfaring nation’s militaries, which said Barry wasn’t someone to be underestimated. He had a ballistic-weave vest on under his coat, and he scanned the area in a way that screamed former military. Noah would need to be careful around the big man, but at the moment he had his uses.

In total, Last Resort had five gun dealers. It would be a tough market to break into if Noah really was going to sell guns on the asteroid. Each of the dealers was filling a niche and seemed to have an understanding between each other. Two dealers sold handguns. One favored traditional rounds while one tended toward energy. The traditional dealer had everything from 22nd century chemically-powered tech all the way to modern electro-magnetically propelled rounds. They were nothing compared to the velocity of the M3 or Buss Able had tucked away back in Dawn, but they’d fuck up your day if you were caught in some turf war over pointless shit. The same was true of the energy pistols. They didn’t fire more than four rounds before you needed to switch battery backs – and those were sold separately – but they’d still burn through an unarmored man. Able’s armor would stand up to both those types of ammunition pretty easily.

One dealer traded more in ammo than weapons. He still had a handful of guns for purchase, but he had an ammo supply that none of the other dealers could match – including battery packs. He was the guy that had the plasma rounds for sale. He wouldn’t show the goods, but Barry vouched for him. Still, Noah would be surprised if he had more than a few dozen rounds stockpiled.

The last two dealers dealt with assault rifles and the more serious armaments. The first dealer they went to – like the pistol dealers – traded more in energy weapons. He had a single-shot plasma cannon from Able’s homeworld that the mercenary practically drooled over. Even though Barry was as much their handler and their tour guide, Able and him got along well. Mutual appreciation for things that went boom went a long way toward forming bonds.

While the energy cannon dealer had an impressive collection, he wasn’t the guy Noah was looking for. It was the last dealer they checked out that had the answers.

The shop was successful enough that it had a polyplast wall and door separating it from the rest of the bizarre bazaar. There was an old-fashioned bell attached to the door so when Noah opened it a soft jingle echoed through the small space. Another polyplast wall stood behind the counter. An old man exited through that door and gave his customers a smile. Noah tried not to grimace. It looked like someone had drawn a knife across the man’s face at some point in the past. Ugly scars ran outward from the corners of the man’s mouth all the way to his ears. It made his smile downright unsettling.

“How may I help you?” In addition to that the man was missing more than one finger. It was typical. Thieves tended to have fingers cut off as punishment in a number of systems throughout the galaxy no matter what nation they belonged to.

“I’m looking for rifles.” Noah didn’t whisper, but he kept his voice down. Able was distracting Barry for the moment. Each man was trying to stump the other on their firearm knowledge. It was a serious competition.

“Look around,” the man gestured to the display cases and walls, “I have plenty.”

“Not just any rifle.” Noah leaned forward onto the counter. “I’m looking for M3’s. I’ve got a job that requires a lot of fire power, and word on the street is that you can deliver.”

The man tried to keep his face neutral but pride got the best of him. <Bingo.> Noah knew he had the right guy.

“If you’d come through here a couple of months ago then I would have had hundreds of the things to sell you, but I’m all out right not.”

“Can you point me to the guy that sold the rifles to you in the first place?” Noah saw the indecision creeping along the other man’s face before he even finished speaking. “I’ll make it worth your while,” he tried to draw the arms dealer back in. “Five hundred…no seven-fifty for the name?

The offer brought a thoughtful look to the dealer’s face. “For a grand up front, I’ll give you the name, no refunds, and if you come back looking for trouble I’ll put a hole in you and your big-ass friend over there.” He gestured at Able.

Noah winced internally at the cost of the information, but he ended up pulling out ten hundred-credit chips and handing them over. The guy he was after was worth tens of millions, and even a little bit of revenge was priceless.

The dealer verified the currency was legit before tossing it into a safe under the counter. “The guy said his name was Alvarez, but he was a creepy dude. He came flying in here one day with crates of military-grade hardware to unload. He found me and I took it off his hands for next to nothing. Two days later a mining crew showed up for the crates and paid me double the street value for them. I nearly closed my doors that night and booked a flight to the Mid-Worlds for retirement with the payday I made.”

<Less reminiscing and more details old man.> Noah kept his temper in check.

“I unloaded the crates from a converted mail courier with an EU registration. You wouldn’t be able to tell from a distance, but I could see where hull panels had been replaced with the discardable versions that pirates like to slap over improvised energy cannons or missile launchers.”

Noah knew those well, and he was sure the guard stationed down at Dawn was documenting how many his converted mining ship had on its hull.

“Did Alvarez say where he was from, where he was going, anything that will help me find the guy?” Noah was laying it on a little thick, but he didn’t care. Alvarez was the link, and he needed to find the guy. The fact that the dealer thought he was a spook didn’t bother the pirate.

“No idea,” the dealer shrugged, “but he might still be here. I saw him two days ago doing business with a few other traders. You could check with Faruk to see if his ship is docked.”

Noah didn’t remember seeing a mail courier in the bay when they parked Dawn, but it was a big space with multiple levels so he might get lucky.

“Thanks.” Noah spun away and moved toward the door. “Able, Barry, I’m finished here and need to talk with Faruk.”

Barry just nodded as they left the store. He pulled out his PAD and texted the asteroid’s boss.

 

***

 

It couldn’t have been more than two minutes since Barry left with the two customers before the bell chimed again. The arms dealer looked up from where he’d been crouching behind the counter to see a familiar face.

The man didn’t even look up, he was on his PAD typing away.

“Alvarez! Some guys were just in here asking about you. I think they want to make a deal for…”

The dealer didn’t have time to react as Alvarez swiftly drew a pistol and put a supersonic dart into his forehead. It was fired through a suppressor, so it just sounded like a soft cough followed by the heavier thump of brain matter and skull hitting the polyplast wall behind the counter. The dealer fell against that same wall with only half a head before sliding to the ground and out of sight.

Another few clicks of the PAD and Alvarez was hacked into the store’s security system, erased the surveillance footage, changed the sign on the door to closed, and activated the cleaning nanites to tidy up the place.

<That was easy.> He kept one eye on the door as he put the finishing touches on his report. It contained nothing specific, but enough for the intended reader to know that the mission had been accomplished.

Alvarez’s name wasn’t Alvarez. He didn’t even naturally look like the guy the dealer knew as Alvarez, but after the fuck up in Windsor he’d been forced to find a new face and a new backer. He’d gotten both, but instead of infiltrating an opposing state he was busy running guns on some off-the-books project.

He expected it though. He’d been kicked to the bottom of the heap, and now he had to work his way back up. With the arms dealer’s final statement, that job became just a little bit harder. The dealer was the last loose end, but since he’d talked there were now more people that needed to be eliminated.

With a final flourish of his hands he finished drafting the classified report and sent it to his ship’s neural network. Upon detecting another friendly STRATNET beacon, the ship would transfer the message and the report would leapfrog its way back to New Lancashire where it could only be opened by in-person scanning of the GIC of Rear Admiral Hank Nelson.

Alvarez didn’t expect there to be an issue even with the latest complication. In a few hours marines would be storming Last Resort, and knowing Faruk, the mercenary company running the asteroid wouldn’t go down without a fight. If the spy got lucky, his new targets would get blown away with the rest of them.

<The bloodier the better.>

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Two Worlds – Chapter 140

Benjamin Gold

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

 Ben walked up and down the corridors of the giant mess cupboard. The space was large enough for a battalion of marines to assemble in, but no marines were allowed back here without authorization from Abe’s mess officer, which for the last three months had been LCDR Ben Gold.

The problem wasn’t a marine’s untrustworthiness. It was that Ben had come to figure out that soldiers were always hungry, and when they got hungry they got sticky fingers. That was the entire reason he was back here doing a spot-check of the inventory. Everything was digitally logged and accounted for by the ship’s network when it was loaded onboard and moved for distribution. It had taken Ben a few months, but he’d eventually figured out the tricks to bypassing those levels of security.

He stopped to check a crate of freeze-dried meats and looked at his PAD. There were supposed to be fifteen hundred of these packages in the most recent shipment. The first thing he did was check the seal of the container. A person could reseal after opening, but it was hard to match it back up exactly, so there was often some evidence of tampering. This crate looked ok, so Ben moved on.

He repeated that task for the next three hours until lunch. He would eat last and spend most of the time in the kitchen monitoring the NCOs that were assigned under him. He wished he’d be taken out of this position before the three-month cut off, but that day had already passed. Even if he left tomorrow he would be forced to complete a change of rater NCOER for the fourteen NCOs among the support unit.

It was all part of his punishment. No one came right out and said that he was being punished, but the few conversations he’d had with RADM Nelson left little room for interpretation. Ben had been captured by the enemy. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t really his fault, that he’d fought valiantly during the kidnapping and even killed the security chief who set it all up. It also didn’t matter that he’d fought tooth and nail to escape. The RADM repeated multiple times that those actions reflected highly on the crew of the Breckinridge and its marines, not Ben. That had made it easier for Ben to write up a commendation for PFC Cooper, but it still left him in a bind.

The real reason the RADM was pissed was because they were fighting a war with limited resources, and he’d been forced to divert resources to rescue Ben when he needed to be pushing the offensive against the Blockies.

The only thing that kept the RADM from relieving Ben on the spot when he stepped aboard Abe was because he’d promised to convince Commodore Zahn to stay in the sector. Zahn’s orders were something to that effect to begin with, but the RADM didn’t need to know.

Since he arrived back in friendly space, Argo had been sidelined. The crew still kept the ship ready for a fight, but they weren’t given any missions. A ship that was built for commerce protection, anti-piracy operations, and advanced scouting had been sitting in its bay gathering cobwebs: all because of Ben.

“Look at the bright side, Sir.” Chief Yates told him over a beer when they were both off duty. “I’m retiring after this.”

“Chief, how does that help me?” Ben gave the NCO a level stare.

“Huh.” The man frowned and scratched his chin. “I guess it doesn’t.”

So, when Ben got a message on his PAD to report to the RADM as he was counting apples brought up from New Lancashire, he didn’t have much hope for the conversation.

<That’s good enough.> Ben stowed his PAD in his leg pocket and left the cupboard. He made sure to secure the door behind him, because even as he walked away he saw a few marines standing down the hall looking conspicuous.

Even with grav-lifts it took almost twenty minutes to get from the mess area to the Admiral’s conference room right off the flag bridge, and even once he arrived, he had to wait. The RADM’s aide stood guard by the door like a loyal hound.

Ben was accustomed to the hurry up and wait phenomenon that penetrated every facet of the military, so he came prepared. He had templates to fill out for all of the NCO’s NCOERs, so he spent the forty minutes sitting there filling in all the information to save him time later.

“A HA HA HA HA!” The door slid open and Commodore Zahn stepped out with the RADM smiling behind him.

<At least he’s in a good mood.> Ben fixed a pleasant expression on his face, but didn’t laugh at whatever private joke they’d just shared. He wasn’t going to be that guy.

“Anyway,” Zahn wiped a tear from his eye, “my carrier group would be honored to participate in maneuvers with some of your units. We need the training, and I can’t think of a better way to conduct it.”

“Please.” The RADM waved away the compliment. “It is the least I can do after you agreed to keep your forces in the vicinity. If the Blockies head our way then we need to be able to work together.”

“Ah, Mr. Gold.” Zahn caught sight of Ben and extended his hand.

“Hello, George.” Ben shook.

Military protocol was a little fuzzy when it came to interacting with corporate navies. Normally, the Fleet would treat corporations that were in good standing with the Commonwealth as they would other allied navies, meaning ranks would be given the same respect as an officer in the Fleet. By that logic, Ben should be calling Zahn “Sir” or “Commodore”. The difference here was that Ben happened to be one of the primary shareholders in the corporation that Zahn worked for, so even though the Fleet dictated that Zahn was a superior officer, Zahn still worked for Ben and his family.

After all the crap he’d been through in the last three months, Ben was just fine addressing the Commodore by his name. The RADM frowned, but George didn’t think anything of it. He knew where the real balance of power lay in Gold Technologies.

“I’m off to Midas, but the invitation for dinner is always open, Mr. Gold.” George was shameless in his ass-kissing attempts.

“That is greatly appreciated, George. If I have some free time I’ll take you up on it.” Judging by the last three months, Ben wouldn’t have any free time anytime soon.

“Lieutenant Commander.” Rank might not apply between Ben and George, but it surely did with the RADM.

Ben followed the smaller man inside the conference room and braced to attention.

“At ease. Take a seat.” The RADM waved his hand casually, and Ben did as he was instructed.

The RADM pulled out his PAD and hit a few buttons. A map of the explored space in York Sector expanded in the holo-tank at the center of the room. One system was highlighted, and it made Ben gulp.

“System 1776.” The RADM didn’t have to say any more to convey Ben’s failure on that one. “We have been making a lot of headway against pirate elements in the sector thanks to Commodore Zahn. Our intelligence has pinpointed a possible staging area.”

“Staging area?” Ben raised an eyebrow as system 1861 was highlighted.

“Even pirates need secure locations to rearm and resupply.” The RADM explained. “Since the crackdown with Cobalt Mining Station, friendly ports have been dwindling. As a result, the pirates are having to develop their own resupply points. They like to use previously established infrastructure if possible. They prefer abandoned stations, but sometimes they’ll sneak onto planets in the terraforming process. There aren’t many of those around here, so we’ve been combing through the records of any abandoned military or civilian projects, and I think we have a winner.”

System 1861 had six planets, all outside the Goldilocks zone where terraforming was possible, but there was a thick asteroid field that looked like it would make a corporation a healthy profit once the sector filled in a little more. The military anticipated that and had started hollowing out a few asteroids as resupply points for patrols. Things had changed when the FTL routes had been established and System 1861 became off the beaten path. Construction had stopped and would only be resumed when a corporation moved in to mine the field. It would have been beyond easy for one of the construction crew to let slip the asteroid’s location to some pirates for a small price.

“We have three possible locations that Argo is going to investigate. I would prefer to have Myrmidon tag along, but all of my other resources are on picket duty waiting for a Blockie counterattack, so Argo has to handle this solo.”

The tone in the senior officer’s voice was clear. This was Ben’s last chance. If he screwed this up, the RADM would sink his career. Even Ben’s connections wouldn’t be able to save him from accusations of incompetence, and that would be the end of his dreams for the Diplomatic Corps.

“Yes, Sir. Argo is ready to go.”

“Good. You’re set to deploy in the next forty-eight hours. You’ll take another two squads of marines to help with clearing the installations, so it’ll be a cramped ride, but you should be there and back in no time.”

“Yes, Sir. I’m on it.” Ben knew when he was being dismissed, and he felt rejuvenated more than he had in months.

He was more than halfway through his deployment cruise, and looking at the scoreboard he was zero for one. He had won a small battle, but that didn’t mean anything when the people he was supposed to have defeated then captured him and the whole facility the Commonwealth was charged with protecting.

Ben had to get this one right, and he had a few ideas on how to make that happen. As it always did, it all started with having the right people involved, and if he was taking on more marines then Ben knew who he wanted at his side.

Noah Grisham

Location: System 1861, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Noah wiped the sleep from his eyes as Dawn limped into docking clamps. To say things had been tough since the Corpies obliterated Cobalt Mining Station was an understatement. It had taken two weeks before Dawn could peak her nose out of her hiding place and get the hell out of System 1776. By then, Noah and Able were drinking water made from recycled piss and were down to less than a thousand calories a day. Another couple of days and the two pirates would have killed each other for some fresh meat.

From there they headed as far from the Collies as they could. They needed to catch their breath before figuring out their next move. They’d docked at a Blockie outpost under no flag and running on fumes. That had led to another two weeks in the station’s prison followed by an offer they just couldn’t refuse. The Blockies were hiring any privateers willing to harass the Collies. News of the battle in System 1552 had already spread, and the resulting alliance between the Star Kingdom and Collies. The Blockies were on the ropes and they could use all the help they could get.

Noah took them up on it. They helped repair and resupply Dawn and sent them on their way to wreak havoc on Collie shipping. They weren’t even out of the system yet before shit hit the fan. A Collie task force dropped out of FTL just as Dawn was about to jump away. The Blockies only had an obsolete destroyer and the station’s defenses to fend off the multiple battlecruisers, and what Dawn’s sensors were identifying as a ship of the Royal Navy.

The writing was on the wall and Noah didn’t need to sit around and wait to see who won. It also meant that he’d just gotten a free refit from a station that was going to cease to exist in the next few hours. Those free supplies had set Noah up for the next two months, and fueled his real mission.

Noah Grisham was not a man who took betrayal well, which was ironic considering how many times he’d literally stabbed someone in the back. The single all-consuming thought on the pirate’s mind was who had fucked him over so badly it had nearly killed him.

He had his first lead.

It had taken resources and flying around the sector for weeks to figure out where a person could smuggle large amounts of supplies without any asking questions. The answer, which cost an arm and a leg in bribes, was a private consortium of like-minded entrepreneurs in System 1861. They’d commandeered a mined out asteroid and turned them into a hot spot for less-than-legal trade. If someone was smuggling something big under the radar it went through System 1861.

That was where to start, but the real clues were the two M3 rifles in the Dawn’s makeshift armory, which was code for Able’s room. The digital data had been thoroughly wiped.  Five hundred bucks and the best criminal hacker in the Sector’s underworld hadn’t turned up shit.

Even though there was no digital information, there were the physical rifles that could still be used for clues. The rifles had numbers etched into them that Noah could hopefully track to the source – or at least another clue that would lead to the source.

<Once I find that son of a bitch I’m going to cut his balls off and feed them to him.> Noah was on a mission, and nothing was going to stand in his way.

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