Two Worlds – Chapter 266

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

Coop, the SGM, and Sullivan advanced down the hallway. The other SGT and SGM led the way, moving quickly but cautiously, as they checked doors and covered their advance. Coop made sure no one snuck up and shot them in the ass. They’d taken the guards at the side entrance by surprise, but a well-prepared force with the Windsor’s level of technology would be able to put up a fight even against the three of them.

Their mission was simple: find the captured SRRT members and get them to safety while breaking important Windsor stuff in the process.

“Clear,” the SGM tried a door, stuck his head in really quickly, and found no one waiting for them. “This way.”

The team had a map of the palace from a disgruntled former employee who’d worked on the governor’s staff before the invasion and was now in the rebellion. She had good intel on the main floors, but the Windsor’s wouldn’t be keeping a bunch of captured Commonwealth soldiers in a penthouse suite. The woman knew where they needed to go, but didn’t know what they’d find when they got there.

“Twenty meters, take a right, and it is the third door on the left,” the SGM relayed as they approached the turn in the corridor. They rounded the corner and were instantly met by incoming fire.

Coop’s shield registered the hit, but by the time he turned around the SGM and Sullivan had already mowed down the two, lightly-armed Windsor’s guarding the door to their target.

The SGM tried the door and it didn’t budge. He put a solid kick into it next, and that left nothing but a boot shaped dent in the heavy material. “Breech,” he ordered, and Coop came forward with left over explosives from their sabotage missions earlier in the week.

His LACS showed him the best place to put the charges, so all he had to do is dial in the frequency detonation and backpedal to the bend in the hallway. “If they didn’t know we were here before they sure as shit will now,” he muttered to himself as the SGM nodded and he sent the detonation code.

The whole hallway rumbled and a puff of dust and debris shot out in front of them. They quickly advanced forward to the blasted open door. It led to a wide stairway leading down.

“Violence of action,” the SGM offered three words of advice as he activated his grav-boots. A soft hum filled the air as he hovered off the ground and then shot down the stairs twice as fast as an armored man could run. When he found the enemy, they wouldn’t know what hit them.

Coop shrugged, activated his own boots, and followed the NCOIC into the darkness that was methodically interrupted by pulsing, red emergency lights.

 

***

 

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Come on you fat bitch!” ADM Ward grabbed and pulled the side of his command chair like his feeble yanking would help the kilometer-long assault carrier to turn faster.

The engagement with the Windsor forces had quickly disintegrated into madness. The enemy didn’t follow the traditional rules of combat. They didn’t slug it out for the million-kilometer distances that was the standard naval warfare practice. A few salvos had been exchanged, but then the Windsor’s modern warships made a kamikaze turn and plunged straight toward the heart of his formation.

He didn’t have long to figure out what to do. He’d watched the same thing unfold with Carrier Group Delta. The Windsor’s had exchanged a few distanced blows to test the Commonwealth’s new capabilities before diving right into the heart of the carrier group. The RADM in charge of Delta made them pay for it, but the intense pounding that would have turned any fleet ship into wreckage a few years ago, only managed to overwhelm a small number of ships. Then the real fight was on.

As a student of naval history, Ward had images of Trafalgar flashing through his mind. Were the Windsor’s Nelson while he was the French? <No.> he swatted the thought aside. His ships weren’t constrained by wind and sail. He could maneuver freely to counter his enemy.

He watched Delta’s struggle closely for any trends or strategy. The massive battleships were holding their own, but the smaller vessels were getting pounded to star dust. There were far too many greyed-out icons on his holo-tank, and that number was sure to keep on climbing. Communications were also spotty. The distance was part of the problem as STARTNET and TACCOM were delayed, and the QE system just wasn’t prepared for the bandwidth of fleet battle communication. Also, as the Windsor’s got closer, jamming came into effect, which made it even more difficult.

As Delta’s battle dissolved into a free-for-all, Ward adapted. He broke up his carrier group further. He clustered the smaller ships around his battleships and assault carrier to create more reinforced targets. He then put the battleship captains in charge of their mini-flotillas because he knew this was about to get up close and personal. Whatever the Windsor’s knew about fighting with this new tech, he was about to learn the hard way. He’d done everything he could think of. Now it was time for the crews to fight the ships and emerge victorious.

When the Windsor’s dived further into his weapon’s envelope he let them have it. He fired tens of thousands of missiles right down their throats. He was dealing with a smaller force than Delta Group, and it showed. He broke nearly half the ships before they got into knife fight range, which in 25th century naval warfare meant within three hundred thousand kilometers. Or, as he found out from one brutal second to the next, energy weapons range of the Windsor’s powerful cannons.

Alarms screamed as the remaining cruisers blasted cannon’s far too powerful for their class into his ships. Two battlecruisers crumbled under the blows. Just like that, over three thousand Commonwealth spacers and marines were erased from existence. Worst of all, after those cannons recharged, they did it again. A trio of cruisers just exploded, while another battlecruiser listed out of formation, dead in the water.

“All units, get behind the shielded ships!” The order came out frantic because it was. The power behind those energy cannons was something he hadn’t seen before out of battleships, much less cruisers, and there was no countermeasure to something that took less than a second to reach you. If he ordered evasive maneuvers he’d be just as up shit’s creek as Delta. The only thing to do was use his shields and mass to protect his spacers.

“I said turn you fat bitch!” he punched his armchair because some physical connection to Aggie was necessary.

“Guns, can we increase our output on our energy cannons?” he sent to the gunnery chief at the tactical station, bypassing the younger, less-experienced OIC.

“If we removed safeties and overcharged capacitors, we could get another ten percent, maybe fifteen,” there was a lot of hesitation in the man’s voice. “If we do then we run the risk of blowing out the power lines or melting the cannons themselves. We’re built for missile engagements, not this up-close blasting.” The CPO was clearly frustrated. It was his job to kill the enemy, and the enemy was proving move difficult than usual.

“When we complete the turn I want a full broadside with everything: supped-up cannons, shotgun missiles, railguns, hell, throw the fucking kitchen sink at them while you’re at it!” he snapped as he watched the Windsor ships dispersing slightly to engage his four weakened mini-groups. Specifically, one battlecruiser, two cruisers, and a couple destroyers were making a break for his assault carrier. That was the lion’s share of the enemy. They knew the assault carrier was the prize.

“Commander,” he opened a private line to the marine brigade commander. “How are you holding up?”

“I’m stuck in a tin can, surrounded by nothingness, while you squids shoot this shit out without me. How do you think I feel?” The woman on the other end sounded just a tiny bit bitter.

“Who knows, maybe…?”

“Capacitors overloaded, missiles in the tubs, and guns trained on the enemy. Distance in two hundred and eighty nine thousand kilometers and closing. We’ll be lined up for a shot in three…two…one…”

CWS Agincourt present her broadside to the enemy formation barreling through space to kill her. “Fire everything!” he yelled, and the ship shuddered as it let loose its deadly cargo.

The results were nearly instantaneous.

Both cruisers shuddered under the force of Aggie’s enhanced blows. One went careening to starboard and diving below the elliptical to get away from any more fire. The second cruiser lost power and the next second exploded. This close to the enemy, Ward could see the explosion with his own two eyes.

The battlecruiser fared better, but it was still damaged. Sensors showed air and people venting out of the largest enemy ship, but it kept on coming into the storm of missiles Aggie fired. The majority of the missiles were originally targeted on it, and some of the ones meant for the cruisers were able to reorient onto the more pressing threat.

The shotgun missiles exploded and sent duro-steel penetrators rocketing toward the battlecruisers at a percentage of the speed of light. The cone of dispersion was determined at detonation, so there weren’t any last-minute adjustments. Still, a good portion of space was filled with ballistic metal, which hit the enemy ship with tremendous force.

In front of his eyes, Ward saw the enemy ship start to come apart as its shields were overwhelmed by his cannons and missile fire. Cheers erupted around the bridge as the smaller ships started to break off.

“Send the other formations our recipe for success, and then plot a course for whoever needs our help the most.” He sat back in his chair and exhaled. The enemy destroyers were still firing, but Aggie’s shields were more than capable of taking those hits for the rest of the formation’s sake. “Guns?”

“You managed to slag half a dozen cannons, Admiral. Capacitors are rebooting, so we have at least ninety seconds before the next shots can ever charge. Give it three to five minutes before we can engage again.” It didn’t sound like much, but three to five minutes was enough time for the enemy ships to close to within a few thousand kilometers. Aggie might be able to get in a second shot before the Windsor’s rammed into her.

That was a design flaw he needed to take up with the construction crews working on building and refitting the upgraded fleet. The new power plants didn’t mean shit if you couldn’t fire the more powerful blasts.

<I’m sure the tree-things can advise on what to do.> He didn’t like aliens knowing so much about the Commonwealth fleet’s combat capabilities, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Sir,” his thought was cut short by one of the EW techs.

“Spit it out lieutenant?” he wanted to make sure people followed their department’s chain of command to avoid madness on the bridge, but there was something in the young man’s tone.

“I’m getting weird readings from the debris,” the LT stated and forwarded the images to the ADM.

Ward took a close look at the sensor scan. The battlecruiser was steadily coming apart under the G’s it was pulling, but things just didn’t stop in space. The debris were continuing at their trajectory and speed and would until they met something to stop them. That wouldn’t be Aggie, she was already moving away to assist in another battle, but the battlecruiser had been adjusting to come at them when still alive, so the debris would pass within twenty-thousand kilometers. That was spitting distance.

There were some power fluctuations in the sensor data, but it wasn’t unheard of as a ship died and its integrity broke down. Power was bound to spike and drain in several places.

“Run another scan and tell me…” he didn’t get to finish his sentence.

“Engine signatures!” a petty officer yelled as new targets appeared on the holo-tank.

“What the hell,” the ADM watched as the ship’s AI ran the numbers. Whatever these things were, they were small and headed right for Aggie.

“Give me a visual and reorient railguns,” he ordered and a screen came to life showing space and the crumbling battlecruisers as a rapidly receding backdrop.

“LT what am I…” it was tough to see, but he caught a glimpse and zoomed in.

Small T-shaped ships raced away from the battlecruiser and toward his command. They triggered something in his memory, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

“Cross reference against known enemy vessels,” he ordered the AI. A second later his holo-tank beeps and footage from one of the Commonwealth’s worst defeats came alive in front of him.

It was a dusty landscape, and the footage came from an infantry grunt running to a prepared fighting position. The footage was still crystal clear as the enemy ships broke through the atmosphere, sizzled with energy as land-based cannons failed to destroy them before they embedded themselves into the crust of New Lancashire.

“Concentrate fire on the enemy ships!” he ordered as realization hit him.

“Sir, capacitors are still resetting we’ve got no energy weapons at all, including point defense,” the CPO at the gunnery station had an I-told-you-so tone. “Missiles are locked and loaded, but they’re too close.

“Railguns, turn those things into scrap metal!” he ordered as the gunnery NCO shrugged.

Aggie shuddered as the railguns in range opened up on the Windsor’s troop transports. Every second counted, and the enemy pilots knew that.

“Shield fluctuations,” the EW LT informed. “They’re diverting power to their forward shields.”

Ward saw it as the railgun rounds sparked blue against the ships but didn’t penetrate. “Keep firing. They’ll have to hit us at an angle,” he drew lines on the holo tank to show the shallow angle the enemy ships would have to overtake the assault carrier and hit its hull. “Be ready to light up their flanks when they pass here.” A red line appeared on the holo and a countdown clock began ticking down next to it. The rail guns that would take the kill shots flashed green as they acknowledged receipt of their targeting designations.

Ward knew the enemy would reconfigure their shields to counter, but even a split second was enough for a round to get through and tear open those ships.

“Sir, how are they going to get through our shields?” The EW LT asked.

“They seem to think they can,” Ward wasn’t sure himself, but the enemies had more experience with shields than the Commonwealth. “Get any readings coming off those things and archive them for further investigation,” he switched circuits. “Commander, looks like your marines are going to get in this fight after all. Have them arm up and cover the areas I’m sending you now.” He transmitted a section of the ship where the Windsor’s were going to land.

“On it,” was all the CMDR said before getting to work.

Seventy-five seconds passed between identifying the enemy transports and when they reached Aggie. Twenty-two ships were identified. Only two were knocked out by the railguns firing right into their strengthened shields before they crossed the red line on the holo. The rail gunners pounded them good as they passed over sections of Aggie and had to reconfigure their shields. Fifteen more ships died in that onslaught. The five remaining ships hit Aggie’s shield and the protective barrier held for a few seconds before a violent fluctuation allowed the enemy ships through before resetting.

Agincourt, prepare to rebel borders!” he ordered as the ship shuddered when the enemy vessels burrowed into her hull.

<Now it’s up to the marines.> He never liked handing the battle over to the ground pounders, especially when it was still happening in space.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

Coop skated around a bend in the subterranean palace basement. He went nearly horizontal as he trained his weapon down the hallway. Flashes from the SGM’s Buss were already lighting up the area as he drove back the enemy guard detachment.

“Fuck…kill…prison…” one guard yelled out as a plasma-tipped round took him in the throat and burned through to separate his head form his body. The SGM just skated right over him.

{Magnify.} Coop brought himself up short and dropped to the ground. Skating around on the grav-boots was great, but it didn’t offer the most stable firing position.

The end of the hallway jumped forward as the Buss’ scope engaged. The remaining guards were headed for a room at the end of the hallway. Coop set his sights on the doorway knowing full well that if he missed, the guards were going to cut down Eve and the rest of the captured SRRT team.

<No pressure.> He breathed and pulled the trigger.

The round hit the guard in the shoulder and spun him around. He might not be dead but he was hurting. The only other guard that the SGM and Sullivan hadn’t killed made a beeline for the door. Coop’s next round took the man in the head. There was no question he was dead.

“Move!” Coop’s exasperated yell wasn’t needed as the SGM and Sullivan swarmed into the room. Coop ran the rest of the way feeling like an idiot for not being at the front of the assault to rescue Eve.

His armored bulk smashed into the doorframe, deforming it slightly as he pushed his way through. He ended up in what looked like a prison cafeteria, but the place didn’t matter. It was the people inside it.

Thankfully, all the guards were accounted for. The one Coop had winged was on the floor with a deadly dent in his skull. Eve and the GYSGT stood above him with dead man’s weapon in the GYSGT’s hand.

“Clear!” The SGM and Sullivan had methodically cleared the room. Coop turned his back to them and looked back the way they’d come. “Hallway clear,” he called back.

“Coop?” the voice was weak, but he’d know it anywhere.

He knew he was supposed to be watching the hallway, but he couldn’t not turn to her.

“Hey boss-lady,” he replied with barely restrained anger.

She looked like shit. She looked like she’d been tortured, so he was really upset the guard wasn’t still alive because he needed to beat someone to death.

She heard the tone and frowned. “Nothing a little R&R can’t fix,” she tried to sound relaxed, but it didn’t help.

“You can kiss and make up later,” the GYSGT interjected herself into the conversation. “Grab us weapons so we can get the hell out of here.”

“Glad you’re alive, Gunney,” Coop added as an afterthought despite the sense of relief that flooded through him at seeing her again.

“Is that my armor?” she stopped what she was doing and looked closely at him.

“Ummm nope,” he made a quick exit to grab the requested weapons.

“Sergeant Major, why the fuck is Cooper in my armor?” the GYSGT screamed as he got out of her line of sight.

It didn’t matter if they were in the middle of enemy territory without a concrete evac plan. An HI trooper didn’t like someone else fucking with their armor.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 264

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“All subjects must report immediately to their assigned shelter . . . All subjects must report immediately to their assigned shelter . . .” the message blared over the city’s emergency systems.

It had been going out for the better part of three hours, but that hadn’t made the madness in the streets any better. On some level, Coop felt sorry for the people of Harper’s Junction. This was the second time in only a handful of months they were being invaded. That sucked.

<But on the other hand…> Coop watched a man and woman plow over an older woman in their rush to the nearest shelter. They didn’t even stop to see if she was ok.

He tried not to think what he’d do in their situation. If he was in their situation he’d still be a Rat back on Earth, which would probably mean it was a free for all to get high, drunk, and fuck until whatever calamity hit them. <At least these people are actually following instructions,> which was a good thing. He had orders to keep civilian casualties as low as possible.

“Listen to that,” Sullivan came up to stand next to him. “Subjects,” he made air quotes with his fingers.

It was a subtle change in the announcement, but it personified a critical difference between the Commonwealth and Windsor’s. To the Windsor’s, people were subjects to be ruled. To the Commonwealth, people were citizens. <Well…> Coop knew well that not all people were citizens. People had to earn their citizenship and the rights to participate in the Commonwealth electoral process, but they still didn’t treat people who hadn’t done their suffrage service as subjects.

“Quit talking and load up,” the SGM was across the room, but he spotted the two SGT’s dawdling with drill-sergeant precision.

Sullivan quickly obeyed, but Coop hesitated. He’d been putting this off as long as possible. GYSGT Cunningham’s V4A –at least it was an A and not a B so there wasn’t a steep learning curve – sat against the wall. He’d spent time integrating with it, and overriding all the captured NCO’s preferences with his own. It felt like he was violating her, and not in a good way. This was her armor. Her second skin. For him to just take it was just…

He shivered as he pushed the emotions aside and started to get in. It was still a bit of a squeeze. The GYSGT was smaller and less bulky than he was in most places, and in other areas there were some big differences. What he really needed to do was get in it and move around a bit so it could conform to his shape. Unfortunately, when someone was on the down low, in a penthouse apartment, on a hostile world they didn’t run around in HI armor.

The armor closed behind him and his IOR linked with the machine. His HUD popped up as he shifted uncomfortably and started to run start-up diagnostics. The crotch area was way too tight. He felt like he was going to get a hernia just by walking. In contrast, the chest area was way too open. He knew from his first few steps he would fall forward a few centimeters until the malleable carbon-tubing weave adjusted. The seesawing motion would only worsen the sensation of having his balls shoved back inside him.

“Coms check,” the SGM said over TACCOM. They had direct line of sight, so they all felt the tight beams coms should be undetectable by the enemy. Their IOR coms were going to stay offline for the time being. “Loosen up, Cooper. Your vitals are spiking.”

“That’s because something is driving a spike into my nuts, Sergeant Major,” Coop was gingerly taking a few steps around their base of operations. He felt the nausea building with each step until things finally started to shift. The chest sucked in to provide a familiar snug fit, while the crotch area conformed to his junk.

“Better?” The SGM was probably shaking his head inside his own suit, but Coop didn’t care. The V4 didn’t have a death hold on his nards anymore. On top of that, all his startup diagnostics came back green.

“Good to go, Sergeant Major, green on everything except battery. Amber on that.” If the battery wasn’t at one hundred percent it was automatically amber instead of green. Since they didn’t have anything but portable solar chargers, charging up the suits was time-intensive. After the fighting the GYSGT had been in, her power had been pretty depleted. It had been charging up over the last few days, but was only sitting at eighty-nine percent right now.

<Hopefully enough to get the job done,> it was all Coop had, so it would have to do.

“Everyone in position?” The SGM’s question went to the resistance captain that had been assigned to them. Coop was glad to see Masha was somewhere else, but the new captain looked like he was cut from the same cloth.

The captain gave a thumbs up. With the remaining SRRT good to go, all they had to do was wait for the cavalry.

<Hurry up and wait,> Coop sighed after an hour and a half had passed. It was a military tale as old as time. The only thing to peak his interest was the cops swinging by to make sure the building was clear. Since the police force was tasked with checking to make sure the whole city had evacuated to the shelters, all they did was run a bioscan with the building’s sensors. They didn’t have the time or manpower to do a visual search. Since the rebels had hacked those sensors weeks ago, the cops came up empty and moved on. As boring as all this was, Coop knew it could turn into pants-shitting terror in no time.

“I’m getting a slew of orders going out over the local net,” the SGM suddenly perked up. “Their cordoning off ground and air space. They’ve got the locals keeping their distance…and…this is it. EXECUTE EXECUTE!”

Coop was taken by surprise, but his body responded. He knew his part in all of this. A few steps behind the SGM, but still ahead of Sullivan, Coop put his LACS into a sprint straight toward the window. The rebels were already making for the stairs, but the SRRT team would take the quick way down.  The SGM lowered his shoulder against the shatter-resistance polyplast of the high-rise loft and slammed straight through it. He flipped over in the air to orient himself feet first as he plummeted toward the ground. Coop and Sullivan followed in his wake by simply hopping into the open air.

They needed to fall and they needed to fall quick if they didn’t want to get locked on by the Windsor’s anti-air. It was unlikely the military units preparing for the invasion had their targeting suits aimed inside the city, but their Palace’s surely were. Their target wasn’t too far away, and Coop saw sensors light up the three soldiers like a Christmas tree.

“Stealth on,” the SGM relayed as the polychromatic layer engaged to cut their visual and sensor profile to near nothing.

Coop knew it had worked when no missiles streaked out to meet them, but they had other things to worry about.

“Grav-boots in three…two…one…NOW!”

Coop’s experience with the boots, which acted more like skates, was limited to what they’d done in training, and he sure as shit hadn’t activated them after falling nearly fifty stories after jumping out a window. Despite his own physical prowess, and the integrity of the LACS, a shudder hit his very core as the boots engaged and pulsed against the pull of the planet’s gravity. Unfortunately, pain lanced through him as well.

“AHHH my dick!” Coop’s V4 might had adapted enough for him to move around unencumbered, but the quick drop to a sudden stop was a whole different level.

“Suck it up, Sergeant!” The SGM ordered as he skated the last half-dozen meters down to the ground and cut both the boots and his stealth. Both were a drain on their battery they couldn’t afford in a prolonged fight.

Despite what the NCOIC said, Coop was still dry heaving as he hit the ground a little harder and stumbled. Over a year of practice, and knowing how much fighting in a puke-filled suit sucked, kept him from hurling.

After seeing his vitals jump his med systems inquired if he needed assistance. Since the solution was nanite injection into his shaft and nut sack, he declined. He was here to rescue Eve so he could put his log and berries back to work. He didn’t need needles getting stuck into it and hurting his performance.

“Quarterback had reached Phase Line Kickoff, proceeding to First Down,” the SGM sent to the rebels nearby.

“Roger that, Quarterback. Runningback and Tightends moving into position. Receivers are in motion.” The rebels replied over the TACCOM devices the team had handed out for the op.

“We’ve got sixty seconds. Let’s move!” The SGM charged ahead to reach Phase Line First Down, which was the assembly area for several of the units assigned to assault the Palace. The units had been in place since word of the Commonwealth fleet was coming had arrived. Everyone was hopped up and ready for a fight.

“Cornerbacks will engage in ninety seconds.” New information flooded in as team rounded a corner into a small square just as several vehicles pulled in. Coop noticed one as the vehicle he’d stolen when they ambushed the checkpoint a lifetime ago. He wanted to know how they’d smuggled it into the city – professional courtesy – but he was about to have bigger things on his mind.

Coop and Sullivan were on security as the SGM went to see if there were any last minute updates from the surveillance teams they’d put around the palace. It was a quick conversation, and before Coop was even settled they were moving again.

“First Down. Quarterback moving to Field Goal. All other units, Touchdown!” On cue, the rebel unit’s codenamed Cornerback, opened up on the palace from their overwatch positions. They raked the Windsor units stationed on the palace roof with small arms, rockets, mortars, and even more powerful plasma heavy weapons that they’d taken from the Windsor troops during various ambushes. It was a hell of a lot of firepower, and would have devastated a pre-shield force…but they were fighting a next-gen enemy. The portable shield the Windsor’s had weathered the storm of firepower turned against them, and then returned fire.

With the latest targeting software, the Windsor’s were able to zero in one the Cornerback units and bring their own hell down on them. Smalls arms fire from Windsor rifles, heavier fire from their crew-served plasma cannons, and counter fire from their own mortars quickly overwhelmed and silenced the unshielded resistance soldiers. The ground around everyone in the assembly area as a building previously occupied by a Cornerback team crumbled to the ground.

<Too quick,> Coop thought as he hurtled behind the SGM toward their objective. Field Goal, as it was also in football, was not as desirable as a touchdown. For their planning, touchdown was the rebels fighting to hit the palace at its main entrances. The more heavily defended areas. In reality, it was a feint. Coop doubted the rebels knew the firepower they were up against, but if the people wanted to fight the Windsor’s head on then that was up to them. The SRRT team was going for a field goal.

Their surveillance had identified a small, discrete back entrance to the palace complex. They would have missed it if they didn’t spot someone leaving just as they were doing their snooping. It was well-concealed, and probably well-guarded. The hope was that some of the guards would be pulled to help with the trouble at the front, and if not, that the SRRT was capable of dealing with them.

The roar of engines behind them announced the arrival of the receivers. A pair of garbage trucks – why the hell the rebels always used garbage trucks was beyond Coop’s understanding – came around the corner so fast they nearly tipped on their sides and raced toward the palace gates. The Windsor soldiers quickly switched targets, but just like with the earlier ambushes it was too late. Sheer mass and velocity were the vehicles’ armor, and even through the driver’s compartment and engine block were shredded by the Windsor’s heavy weapons, there was no stopping the beasts.

The first vehicle hit the main gate and detonated. The VBIED took out the gate and everything with twenty meters, including some overzealous rebel soldiers trying to follow closely in its wake. The second vehicle hit the wall about a hundred meters south of the gate, but failed to detonate. It didn’t even breach the shield-reinforced wall. The truck ended up with its front wheels up and over the wall while the back wheels remained on the ground.

Rebel soldiers streamed toward their assigned opening. The first ones through the gaping hole in the gate were cut down by fire from the roof until they threw some smoke grenades provided to them by the SRRT. The sensor and visibility spoofing smoke allowed some soldiers to sneak in. The rebels headed for the other truck had a much more difficult time. They tried to use it as a ramp to climb over the wall, but that made them sitting ducks for the Windsor’s snipers. They just picked off the rebels as they tried to climb over.

“Send in Linebacker,” Coop heard over TACCOM shortly before an industrial-sized, modified dump truck flew onto the scene. The back was loaded with rebel troops. The big vehicle was able to impose itself between the troops breaching the gate and the Windsor’s so the rebels could debark. The rebels scattered to hit the palace building itself from multiple angles.

Maybe half of the soldiers had made it out of the vehicle before the slight rumbling announced the arrival of their worst nightmare. A Windsor mech ran around the corner. Its stride seemed casual as its long legs carried it toward the truck and rebel soldiers. Its figure parted the smoke like a demon emerging from the depths of hell, and it extended its arm.

Coop couldn’t see what was happening to the rebels, but it felt like cold ice was poured into his veins when he heard the tell-tale rip of the mech firing its cannon. He’d taken a glancing blow from the powerful weapon and it had nearly ended him. He didn’t want to know what it was doing to the rebels inside the palace complex.

The condensed gravity ball of the mech’s cannon hit low on the dump truck completely shattering it. Despite the truck’s mass, it heaved into the air. Screams from the rebels filled the airwaves as they were pulverized, tossed from the back by the shockwave, or rolled out the back as it reared upward. The mech made it even worse by bending down and charging forward. It hit the undercarriage with its shoulder and effortlessly hefted the truck straight up. Screams intensified as the tip reached the point of no return and fell backward. Rebel soldiers scrambled to get out of the way, but many were stunned or injured from the first blast. They didn’t stand a chance as the truck flipped completely over and came crashing down on them. The mech turned to find new targets as the rebels peppering it with fire. Its shield sparked, but it moved calmly and confidently toward its next victims.

Coop tuned out the screams as he switched to the team-only channel. The SGM would let them know if anything else came in from the doomed rebels. Coop always knew this was going to be the outcome, so did the SGM, and yet they let the rebels do their suicide charge anyway.

<It’s not my place to wonder why. It’s my place to do, but not die, saving Eve.> Coop modified the old saying as the three LACS reached the side entrance.

The SGM lashed out with a foot and it cracked loudly against the reinforced door. Sparingly it held. “Hit it, Cooper!” the SGM yelled.

In his V4A, Coop had a lot more mass than the smaller V4B, so he lowered his shoulder and charged much like the Windsor mech had.

“Wha…” the door opened when Coop was two meters away, and a pissed Windsor soldier looked out. Coop saw his pupil’s dilate in his final biological act of surprise before Coop steamrolled right over him.

His momentum carried him forward, and only the servos in the LACS kept him from falling on his face, which was good, because at least a squad of soldiers was sitting in the small alcove around the door. To say they were pissed that Coop trampled their buddy into hamburger meat was an understatement. Rounds exploded against Coop’s shield as they opened fire.

At least one was smart and lobbed a grenade at him. Its lower speed cut through his shield before he could adjust its frequency. Thankfully, he’d preprogrammed evasive maneuvers for this exact situation. His grav-boots fired at a ninety degree angle to push him away from the explosive blast. The Windsor made the mistake of not magnetizing the grenade.

The powerful burst of the boots drained more battery, but it was worth it. The grenade exploded outside his shield and shrapnel flew into the Windsor’s ranks. The two soldiers with Coop’s mass between them and the grenade felt a brief moment of relief before Coop smashed into them, and carried them all into the side of the building. The building held, but the Windsor soldiers didn’t. They were crushed, and if they didn’t die instantly, their organs would quickly get strangled by their own blood from all the internal bleeding.

Coop didn’t have time to think about that as he pushed off their squishy remains and headed back into the fight. The heavier boom of a Buss filled the air and the soldiers’ resistance began to wither under the incoming plasma-tipped rounds. Sullivan pushed through the opening and swiveled right while the SGM went left. They picked off the panicked Windsor’s with precision. Soon, all that was left of the enemy was the ion-tinged air and stench of fresh shit and burned flesh.

“We need to move. We don’t have much time,” the SGM pushed forward.

For the first time, Coop heard the blaring alarm of the palace’s security system.

<Not that it matters much. You’d have to be a moron not to realize we were here.> Coop followed the NCOIC and periodically turned around the make sure their six was clear.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 262

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<This little piggy went to the market. This little piggy should have stayed home, and this little piggy makes things go boom. Blue is cool, red is dead.> Coop thought to himself as he connected the last of the ignition devices to the composite explosives.

A string of them was wrapped around the back side of a large, metal tube. Inside the tube were the energy relays of a main power conduit to one of the large surface-to-space cannons designed to protect the capitol.

Harper’s Center was not a well-defended city, which worked for the Commonwealth this time around. They had a handful of surface-to-space cannons to help keep assault carriers from dropping troops right on their doorstep, but most were still out of commission from the last battle, and Coop was trying to take out the rest.

The city also had two PDCs on the outskirts of town. Both were still badly damaged from the fighting, and the SGM was going to make sure the weak shielding that was available didn’t come back online when the Windsor’s needed it the most. Still, the Commonwealth would likely leave them alone if the civilians evacuated there. After all, they were still Commonwealth citizens in the government’s eyes.

The SRRT and rebellion had a firm grasp of what countermeasures were available to Harper’s Junction before the Windsor’s invaded. That wasn’t what they were worried about. It was what the Windsor’s had put in place since then that made them nervous.

“We’re good here,” Coop announced as he awkwardly twisted himself out of space between the pipes. Two rebel soldiers stood guard with barely concealed submachine guns. They would give the local cops pause, but if legit soldiers showed up they wouldn’t even tickle their armor.

“What’s next?” The bigger of the two rebels asked. His name was Stavos, and if he strung more than five words together that was a big deal.

Coop pulled out a paper list. Not something on his HUD or IOR, not even a polyplast slip. A legit piece of paper. I was one of the few times in his life he’d even held the rarely used substance.

When he asked the SGM why the list was on written on paper, the NCOIC replied, “So if you get caught you can eat it.”

Coop had licked the paper. It tasted plain enough, and as a Rat, he’d eaten worse.

“We’ve got to go two sectors over and disable a junction box. We’ll need to make sure we leave enough room for it to complete normal operations, but when invasion protocols kick in it’ll short circuit and kill power to two sections of town.”

Sabotaging that junction box was as much about getting the civilians out as making sure the Windsor’s had to spend time and resources fixing the problem, which would lead them right into the ambushes the rebels were setting. The SGM had really organized an insurgency’s wet dream.

The sector the junction box would blackout also belonged to the sector surrounding the palace. Having the local security force’s response time off by even a few minutes was going to be worth its weight in diamonds when it came to getting the rest of the team back. Insiders loyal to the rebellion had already reported the captured members’ location. They were all there: Eve, Mike, the LT, SSG Hightower, and even the injured Gunney; although the latter was in the infirmary on a separate level. That was going to make getting her more difficult, but the SGM had a plan.

Coop just hoped it worked.

 

Eve Berg

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

Everything was dark, calm, and quiet in the corner of Eve’s mind. She’d centered herself and retreated there as the Windsor’s tortured her. It was a trick taught to her in Ranger School during SERE training. Not everyone was able to do this. Some people’s minds were just too hectic, but those who could pull it off had an ace up their sleeve that was sure to be a thorn in the side of their jailers.

She pictured something, for her it was a small flame, and everything became that. She focused on the flame and became one with it. As stupid and backwards as the whole concept sounded, it worked, and she was able to ride out the worst of what her interrogators inflicted on her.

The worst thing about torture, what they’d failed to really simulate in school, was how long it could go on. By now, she was sure every inch of her had been cut and sliced. Her shoulder had been dislocated, bones broken, she’d been sapped with energy weapons, and just shot out of frustration at least once. As she pulled herself out of her protected corner of consciousness she got a look at herself in the full-body mirror the torturers had placed in front of her. It was supposed to inflict psychological trauma for someone to see themselves so mutilated, but as she focused in front of her, she saw nothing out of the ordinary. That was another setback of modern torture. People just didn’t die after all the pain inflicted. They were healed right up so the sick bastards could go to work on them again.

“You’re awake, good.” The female sergeant who always talked with her was seated just to the right of the mirror.

Eve was still naked as the day she was born and restrained, so it came as a surprise when the restrained snapped open and she fell to the ground.

<Now would be the perfect time to kick some ass,> she laughed to herself, but this wasn’t a holo. She couldn’t just bounce back from being tortured for what felt like months and take on the trio of big royal marines that were covering her.

She felt incredibly weak. So weak that her legs trembled when she struggled to her feet. The Windsor’s had basically starved her, and only given her enough to keep her alive. All her physical enhancements were useless unless she had enough calories to keep her fighting. If anything, they were a bigger hindrance now.

She stood there, naked, in front of the men and woman trying to think of something to do, or at least something interesting to say, but the woman beat her to that. She tossed a pair of clothes at her.

“Get dressed and follow me.” The woman walked to the door without looking back.

The clothes were plain and thin. They were enough to cover her modesty, but not enough to be used against anyone or hide anything. Eve slowly dressed in them as she watched her watchers. They were in standard armor, so they were frontline troops, not mechs, but that didn’t really matter. They’d fuck her up if things went sideways, so she did what she was told.

“Five meters,” the team leader ordered her as they left the torture dungeon that had been her home for god only knew how long.

Eve knew they were overreacting. A stiff fart from one of them would throw her off balance, but she kept her spacing from the woman. She followed down a corridor. There were other rooms, but no guards on them. She counted the rooms and the number of steps it took her to the turn. She didn’t know if she’d have to do this in the dark or without eyes when she tried to escape. They made a right turn and at the end of hall was a larger reinforced door, she guessed a lift, but they didn’t go to it. They took the second door on the left that led into a more spacious room.

There were other people in the room.

“Gun…”Eve began, but a glare cut her off.

The GYSGT’s face was severely bruised, obscuring her beauty behind a mess of black and blue. LT Wentworth, Mike, and SSG Hightower were also there looking exhausted but otherwise unharmed.

“So you’re a gunnery sergeant,” the Windsor sergeant sat down at a table on one side of the room. “The way she talked to you, I’d either put you at a private or lieutenant. You’re young either way and not in charge,” she studied the LT. “You, on the other hand are more seasoned. Some type of sergeant,” she pointed at Hightower. “Same with you, but not up to his standards,” she quickly dismissed Mike. “Lastly, you,” her eyes fixed on Eve. “You’ve got too much spunk to be anything but a corporal or sergeant. Prolonged service weights you down more, and you learn some tough facts about life and the galaxy. The Gunnery Sergeant understands this.” She completed her eerily accurate deduction. “Don’t worry. We’ll eventually identify you, parade you out in the streets as an example of your oligarchy’s attempts to defy the will of this planet’s people, and then you’ll be turned over to them for proper justice.” The woman didn’t gloat. It was just a statement of fact.

“All I want from you is information. How many more are with you? When is your Commonwealth going to counterattack? Give me this and I’ll tell the local authorities to take it easy on you,” she pointed at everyone but Eve. “You however. You destroyed a lot of public property and killed a few civilians. I doubt they’re going to let you off easy, so feel free to stay silent. If your compatriots help, maybe I can keep you alive.” A small smile tugged at the woman’s lip.

Eve hacked up what little saliva she had and spit on the table in between them. “Fuck you.”

As if on cue, a frenzied chirp emanated from the other woman’s body. She pulled out a PAD of some sort and opened a message where none of them could see. Eve might have not been able to see it, but she saw the slight tightening of the skin around the woman’s eyes. Something was up, and she just couldn’t resist.

“Something wrong?” she asked sweetly.

The woman didn’t answer. She got up and left the room. Her intentions were clear. She’d brought all the captured SRRT members into the same room to try and glean intel from them. She had done that, but the tables had been turned. She’d let them see something was wrong. That gave everyone a little bit of comfort.

 

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

He’d pushed the task force hard, but it was worth it. Aggie smoothly transitioned into normal space with only a slight tremble. Other ships wouldn’t be as lucky with their greener crews and fresh off a refit, but a couple of people loosing their lunches was a small price to pay for their timely arrival.

“Status?” he ordered and the holo-tank started to update.

Harper’s Junction wasn’t anything special. It was out of the way, and wasn’t much of a junction to anything, but the Windsor’s took it, so he was here to take it back.

“Alpha, Charlie, and Delta formations are reporting minimal dispersion, but Bravo…” the ADM didn’t need the tactical officer to continue further.

Bravo’s carrier group was scattered over several million kilometers. If they’d transitioned back to normal space closer to the planet, the Windsor’s would have been able to pick off the Commonwealth ships with ease. Fortunately, the battle plan called for them to arrive far from the target. They wanted the Windsor’s to commit to a course of action with time to react.

“Looks like we’ll be settling for Plan Three.” He sat back in his chair and watched the rest of the carrier groups get their acts together.

The task force was thrown together so fast and sent into action that there wasn’t time to develop clever names like most units did over time. They were simply Carrier Groups A, B, C, D, and the same was true with the battle plans. Plan One was if everyone transitioned well and were able to approach the target from their designated vectors. Plan Two was Alpha jacking up their transition, while Plan Three was Bravo Group screwing up and everyone else adapting. It meant the three carrier groups would approach the planet, while Bravo acted more as a reserve. It would allow the Windsor’s to concentrate more power on the three carrier groups, but it would also allow Ward to reinforce or break through somewhere if need be. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the reality he had to work with.

“Enemy forces should be learning of our transition in three…two…one…” the coms officer counted down.

As the light speed sensors updated, the holo-tank the ships in orbit around the planet began to move. The information was several minutes out of date, but the lag would lessen as they continued their approach.

“Let’s get to it people. We’ve got a planet to win back. Drone scouts out. Let’s make sure they don’t have any surprises waiting,” he sat back and ordered.

Now came the calm before the storm.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 261

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

Harper’s Junction wasn’t what this planet should be called. Shit World was much more like it, and it wasn’t all because of the clusterfuck the mission had turned into. Coop had spent more than his fair share of time rolling around in shit. He’d been in the manure truck before the ambush on the checkpoint, and after the ambush launched against the arms smugglers, he’d been forced to wade through a literal river of shit without the benefit of the breathing mask.

He’d been lucky enough to escape the noose the SWAT team and Windsor soldiers tightened around the few remaining rebels and smugglers that were still in the fight. The second the mech touched down it was all over, and it was only Coop’s enhancements that allowed him to put enough distance between himself and the warehouse before it abruptly ended.

He’d sprinted for his life and taken refuge in the refuse. The exit plan was to get to the river of crap that had developed in the dump and ride that for the few kilometers until it reached the exit grates. Ideally, they’d have some sort of tool to help get through those grates, but he could muscle through them if need be.

The problem was causing a disruption while the area was on lock down. Sensors tied those grates to the central processing center, and while their intel showed that those sensors went off frequently when shit built up and started to leak through, the techs only came around to check the readings occasionally. When a competent military command was present, it was a given any anomaly would be investigated, so Coop had to bide his time.

For two days he’d hidden in the shit, and he’d had several close calls. Sheer dumb luck was on his side. One time, a couple of cops had come within a few meters of his hiding place. The sensor must have triggered, and it got checked like he thought it would. Like any other organization in existence there was a hierarchy. Whoever was handling the cordon of the facility probably delegated the task to one of the military commanders on site. That commander, like any good commander, didn’t want his troops wadding through shit to check on a frequently faulty sensor, so that person probably farmed out the task to the local cops. The local cops, probably pissed that they had to do literal shit work, didn’t thoroughly check the area, or didn’t have the technology to check it as well as the soldiers would have. Thank god for that, because Coop would have popped on some of the higher-resolution scans. Instead, the cops came, ducked their head in to casually check the drainage pipe, and that was it. He got off lucky.

After getting out of the dump, he had to make his way back to the HQ with no supplies or backup. It wasn’t too far, he’d easily ruck marched farther than that in a day, but it was something entirely different to walk all that way sticking out like a rotting, sore thumb. His first task was to get something new to wear.

He relied on his skills as a former Rat to complete that task. On the downside was that they didn’t have clothes anywhere near his size, and getting the more expensive smartcloth garments was a no go. That was an easy way to get caught, so he ended up looting a big and tall store that wasn’t nearly big or tall enough. He made up for the absurdly short pants and shirts with boots and gloves, but a few centimeters of skin still showed at his wrist and calves.

He felt like a fool scuttling through the streets like a hunchback, and people seemed to be picking up on his awkwardness. That, or he hadn’t quite washed off all the stench. More than one person crossed the street to get away from him.

Taking it slow and steady, it took him another day to get back to headquarters. His night sleeping in a homeless shelter had actually been better than the nights at the HQ. No one asked him any questions, they didn’t ask for ID, and they didn’t care what his story was as long as he was up and out by the morning.

He reached the HQ warehouse around midafternoon, and despite wanting to report in to the SGM, he sat back and waited. He’d spent a lot of time thinking about the GYSGT when he was alone in the drainage tube, and that wasn’t doing him any favors.

He wasn’t willing to admit it right now, but the Cunningham’s last transmission had shaken him to the core. He watched soldiers die right in front of him before. He’d killed people with his bare hands and watched the life leak from their eyes, but this was different. It was like having God die right in front of him. The GYSGT had always been a mythical figure for him, even more than the SGM. She’d trained him in Basic. She’d helped hone him to the finely tuned weapon he was now. He knew she’d been injured before, but she never showed it or let it influence her decision making. It didn’t seem possible that one second, she was there giving orders to him, and the next she was dead at the hands of a multi-meter mech and he was running for his life.

The darkness of the pipe had left this mind to wander about all the horrible ways the mech could have killed her. A drug-induced sleep would have been nice then, only because he wouldn’t see her face as those rounds tore into her and her chance of escape dropped to zero. He didn’t think he’d ever forget that.

After watching the building for several hours, he made his way to the back door. He didn’t meet any resistance as he pushed through, which was his first sign something was wrong. The doors were supposed to be magnetically sealed. He moved as quickly and quietly as he could. He had no weapon, so he hoped if he did come across someone, he could close to hand-to-hand distance fast enough to keep living.

As he moved through the offices in the back that had been makeshift sleeping quarters for the resistance, he noticed everything was gone. Moreover, everything was clean. By the time he pushed into the main open area he knew he wouldn’t find anything.

<They bugged out when they heard the supply run went to hell.> It was SOP, but Coop wasn’t sure if they’d gotten word yet. Plus, he still needed to come back to see where they were going.

It was also SOP that they would leave a code to where they were going next. He looked over the main door where G2 had been spray painted. If any Windsor cryptologist came in, they’d have a hell of a time figuring that out. The simplicity was the key. Coop and the rest of the SRRT had developed a simple but uncrackable code to let each other know where they moved the HQ to.

The G referred to a reference book, in this case the Guttenberg Bible. He had the information stored on his IOR, so he easily pulled it up. G was also the seventh letter of the alphabet, so he flipped to the seventh page and went to the second word on the second line. Three was the word in that space, which meant they’d relocated to the third of their possible backup HQs. In this case, it was an under-construction high-rise in the business district with commanding views of the surrounding area. To Coop, it was the least practical of HQs, but the SGM must have had his reasons. It was another three kilometers away, so Coop waited for rush hour to hit the streets with as many bodies as possible. He still didn’t know if he’d been IDed while casing the palace, but better safe than sorry.

<Would be better if I had some nanites to shift my appearance.> Harper’s Junction was a little behind the times, but CC TV cameras running facial recognition software was pretty standard throughout the galaxy.

He set out and got to the new HQ just before the tide of people heading home subsided. He took a few laps around the building and spotted the rebel lookouts that had already spotted him. He didn’t pay them any more attention. They would have already radioed his arrival upstairs.

He took the grav lift up past the already completed sections. Some construction crews were still working late, but they looked sympathetic to the rebellion, because they didn’t bat an eye as they waved Coop to a utility elevator that took him up the back way to the top few floors.

When they pinged open, he was met with weapons drawn and a hard look on the SGM’s face. Their IORs must have synched because he waved the rebels off. Coop walked straight to the SGM to give his report. The NCOIC listened thoughtfully as Coop recounted the meet, brief engagement, and his flight to safety. He asked several questions about the GYSGT, and Coop had to give him the bad news.

Coop expected some reaction out of the man who was leading their team. He’d worked with the GYSGT longer than Coop had, and they both had a longer special ops background than him. Coop at least expected the older man to bow his head in a moment of silence, but he got nothing. That pissed him off.

“What, Sergeant?” The SGM noticed his attitude.

“You just lost your number two, Sergeant Major. She sacrificed herself for this bullshit mission and you’re acting like I forgot to bring home milk from the corner store.  I expected a little more for a fallen hero.” He wanted to scream but he kept his voice down. He knew the rebels wouldn’t take too kindly to him calling their fight for freedom bullshit.

Even more upsetting was the lack of a response he got from the SGM. <That’s just cold.> He was about to turn away.

“She’s not dead,” the SGM’s words stopped him in his tracks.

“What?”

“Gunnery Sergeant Cunningham didn’t die at the warehouse. She was gravely injured, but the Windsor’s took her alive.” He didn’t even break stride on what he was doing. “While the rest of you have been working on getting munitions and supplies for the upcoming fight, I’ve been trying to crack into the Windsor’s comms and break through some of the jamming they have going on around the city.” He pointed toward his LACS, which was sitting open in the corner.

Coop knew the command LACS had special capabilities his own V4 didn’t, but it hadn’t occurred to him what the SGM had been working on.

<That’s the different between sergeant and the sergeant major. He’s thinking big picture while I’m just focused on keeping my own shit squared away,> Coop wasn’t egotistical enough to dispute it. He wasn’t keeping an eye on anything other than keeping his ass alive and eventually saving Eve’s. Anything else wasn’t his job.

“I’ve made progress. My LACS’ AI had cracked some of their comms, and I heard about the GYSGT’s capture. I also was able to boost my signal enough to break through their jamming for a few seconds, which is all I needed to get an incoming QE message.” He paused for dramatic effect. “The fleet is on the way. They’re coming to retake Harper’s Junction with four brigades.”

<Four!> Coop felt positively giddy at having forty thousand people fighting on his side for a change.

“They’ll be here in under a week, so that gives us limited time to work. We’ve got a task list a mile long from the brass. We’re going to need to prep for their landing as much as possible, which means disrupting communications, logistics, knocking out any of the land-based surface to air and space weapons that we can, and just causing confusion in general. I’ve already alerted the resistance to the timetable, and they’re coordinating attacks to all go down when the fleet arrives. Our mission is to make sure we lose as few troops as possible in the drops.”

Coop personally hadn’t done a drop, but he would feel better if he knew an advanced recon team was sabotaging the enemy’s capabilities while he was helplessly flying down from the ships.

“I’ve got you set up with taskings over there,” the SGM pointed to a corner. Coop turned and stopped dead in his tracks.

The SGM’s finger was pointed right at a V4 LACS, and it wasn’t Coop’s.

“Don’t worry, Cooper. I’ll tell the GYSGT I let you use it. It’s not like she can use it right now anyway.” Coop swore he could see a smirk on the other man’s face.

All he could do was gulp and nod as he headed over to the GYSGT’s LACS and powered it up. The SGM had already reset it to factory mode so it was ready to accept Coop’s IOR and preprogrammed settings. Coop hopped in to run diagnostics and get a feel for it. The V4’s were fit to the soldier, but they had some capability to shift around. It was a little snug in the armor’s confines, but it was better than wearing flimsy smartcloth.

<It’ll have to do,> he sighed and pulled up his taskings.

He was going to be busy for the next several days.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 259

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“That was a shit sandwich with a side of ass fries,” Coop grumbled as he pulled himself up the last few ladder rungs and into the dilapidated factory.

After dispatching his two uninvited guests, Coop’s getaway had been uneventful. He made it to the rebel bar and descended down into the subterranean maintenance tunnels that were the circulatory system of any modern city. The rebellion’s main component were the working class folks who worked these tunnels, so the areas were clear as Coop passed through them and walked the few kilometers back to the factory district.

“We heard,” the SGM replied from a table not far from the access hatch. “It’s been all over the police frequencies.”

“Any idea who they were?” The GYSGT deposited a crate of components down in front of their boss.

Coop, like all the other straight men in the room, couldn’t help but stare. The GYSGT had stripped down into basically a sports bra and workout shirt that had enough holes in it, it didn’t count for much. Unlike all the rebel soldiers drooling and tripping over themselves, Coop knew he didn’t stand a chance. Plus, he was taken.

“I didn’t stop to ask,” he snapped back. His nerves were still a little raw and his pride was wounded from being spotted. The rest of the SRRT team had taken a crack at surveilling the palace, but only he’d been caught.

“Next time do a quick pat down and look at their credentials,” the SGM advised without looking up from the box of goodies the GYSGT had brought him. “It’ll help to know if that was a Windsor intelligence asset or just a local detective you iced.”

Coop nodded because he knew he should have done that in the first place, but with the chef standing there looking like he was ready to bolt, Coop made the executive decision to get the hell out of dodge. “Roger that,” he replied as he walked up to the table. “What do we have here?”

“Don’t touch,” there was a warning in the SGM’s tone that Coop knew better than to disobey.

“That insurgency class is finally come in handy,” the GYSGT joked as she brought over a chair and spun it around to sit in it backwards.

“This isn’t the first time,” the SGM left it at that, which meant the rest was probably classified.

Coop just stared dumbly at the two of them until the GYSGT brought him up to speed. “About twenty years ago the infantry panicked about planets getting lost to the Blockies. We were just starting to expand meaningfully into a few sectors and we were rubbing elbows with our esteemed neighbors to the East more often. The brass got a bunch of snake eaters together, like the Sergeant Major here, and had them study up on insurgency warfare. They then went around to the militias on these newly founded worlds and taught some select units these tricks,” she grinned. “Nothing major ever happened beyond some naval skirmishes, and we were ten years from rediscovering the Windsor’s, so they cut the whole program after a few years.”

“But look at me now,” the SGM cracked a rare smile as he completed some component and the electronics blinked to life.

“What is it?” Coop asked as he reached forward, only to have his hand slapped like a child by the GYSGT.

“It’s a detonator, Cooper,” she chided as the SGM put it into a completed box. Looking in the box, Coop saw about a dozen of the devices.

“See if you can get some more components?” the SGM requested.

“Shit,” the GYSGT exclaimed as she checked the time. “Let’s go, Cooper. We’ve got to move.”

She tossed off the ratty shirt, getting catcalls from around the room, and got into her CMUs. She threw a jacket over to conceal the Commonwealth Military Uniform before giving everyone the finger. Everyone laughed, and Coop could feel the positivity in the air. They were planning to hit the Windsor’s where it hurt, and that gave these people hope.

Coop knew better than to just rely on hope as he hopped into the passenger seat of a garbage truck. The meeting with some off-planet weapons smugglers, who’d unfortunately been trapped on Harper’s Junction by the invasion, was happening at a waste disposal center. Again…people tended to not look too closely at people’s random shit, so it was the perfect cover.

Getting to the location was more of a nail biter. Traffic was getting heavy as the sun started to set and the work day ended. On one hand they were using the mass of people as cover. Public outrage tended to keep checkpoints at a minimum during rush hour, but on the other hand, they were in a big, slow moving target that anyone could point out to the Windsor’s and then they’d be totally fucked. After his recent run in with the law, Coop wasn’t keen on being in public right now, so he sat quietly in the passenger seat and fiddled with his pistol.

The pea shooter was nothing compared to his Buss, much less a M3, but when going to meet with illegal contacts, there was a certain protocol. Number one on that was don’t show up with big guns the other guy can’t match. Someone is going to start something and then everything goes to shit, so a little pistol it was.

<At least it’s modern,> he had to be thankful it was an EM propelled model. Most of the rebel foot soldiers coming with them had old-school slug throwers, <But with our only defense being our quick wits, reflexes, and CMUs on their combat setting, one of those old slug throwers might get the job done anyway.>

For about the millionth time Coop missed having his LACS. He was willing to do just about anything to get back in one.

After nearly an hour of driving, and one heart pounding episode where they thought they were getting pulled over by the cops, they arrived at the plant. As promised, it smelled like shit mixed with fouler shit, and a side of rotten onion rings. That would have distracted Coop if not for the two men at the gate with barely concealed sub-machines guns.

The GYSGT had a word with them, flashed a smile, and they were through the gate and rumbling toward a warehouse that looked nearly identical to all the others in the factory district.

“Ok, Cooper,” she threw the truck in park and turned to him. “I’m not the Gunnery Sergeant here. We’re Gwen and Mark, just a couple of people out to buy some guns. Understood?”

“Yes, Gunn…I mean Gwen,” the words sounded blasphemous rolling off his tongue.

Apparently, Gwen agreed. “We’ll work on it.” She opened her door and hopped down.

Coop doubted the gun smugglers would be thrown by them not using their ranks. They were too big to be anything other than enhanced military personnel, but he’d learned that concealing anything you could from the enemy was a good thing. Even if it was just your rank.

The other resistance soldiers gathered around the two SRRT members and headed for the large, metal double door that was cracked open. They heard voices from inside. Some of the rebel troops went in first before Gwen and Coop squeezed through the opening.

“Ho-chi-mama,” a man at the center of a rag-tag group of individuals stated when he saw Gwen. “I’d like me some of that.”

Coop ground his teeth and clenched his fists at the comment, but a warning look from Gwen made him stand back. <She can handle these assholes.>

“Hello, boys,” the sweet voice that came out of her mouth was one Coop hadn’t heard since meeting her at Basic. “I hear you’ve got something long, hard, and capable of breaking a few hearts for me.”

The gun smugglers laughed as the innuendo, and just like that she had them relaxed.

<Damn.> Coop just stood back and watched the master work.

There was some haggling over the price, and a lot more haggling to get her to have a beer with them, but she fended them off with the skills of a beautiful women who’d been hit on by horny men for decades. Finally, an agreement was reached, and money exchanged hands. She waved her hand and Coop came forward to grab some of the crates. The rebels needed two guys per crate, while he could take on in each hand.

As he picked up his two, he couldn’t help but take a peek to see what they’d be using to storm the gates of the fortified palace. What he saw made his heart stop.

In his crate were dozens of AK-89s. The AK-89 was a Blockie weapon developed and deployed as their main assault rifle in 2089. They’d manufactured tens of millions of the model and had used it in combat for nearly a century and a half. Unfortunately, 150 years still meant they’d moved away from it in the 2230s, a solid two hundred years ago.

The AK models were known for their resiliency and dependability, and there were so many floating around in human space that everyone knew how to use one thanks to all the action they’d seen in real life and in holos. Thankfully, they were an EM powered model, but they were the first mass produced model after that tech really got rolling, so its performance numbers were nowhere near the current M3s model. It made up for it by firing a 2.5mm round, a lot bigger than the M3, and it looked like the smugglers were giving them plenty of ammo. It had a hundred round magazine, which was going to be needed. They’d need a ton of rounds to take down a regular Windsor grunt in their armor. Coop wasn’t even sure they’d be able to breach the enemy’s shields, and he knew there was no way in hell they were going to take down a mech if a V4 LACS couldn’t handle the task.

<We’re going to be walking into a meat grinder,> he tried not to let his despair show, but one of the smugglers caught on.

“Hey, kid, these are dependable guns right here. They’ll get you out of a bind and make whoever is fucking with you think twice about trying again.” The smuggler clearly wasn’t clueing into the fact that Coop and Gwen were military and they could only have one real target on this planet.

“Sure,” Coop shrugged as he grabbed his two crates and headed back toward the truck.

As he reached the double doors his IOR pinged him. Since it was in standby mode, it was a surprise and he nearly dropped his crates. When he checked the message he did drop his crates.

{Incoming.} The text looked so innocuous he would have assumed it was a joke if not for the setting he was in.

“In…!” he didn’t get the word out before the world exploded with light and sound.

He stumbled backward and tripped over the crate. He banged his head against the metal door, which didn’t help his already discombobulated senses. The only good part was that it gave him a reference point of where the weapons were.

As his eyes continued to adjust, his hands reached out and grabbed one of the AK-89s. The hundred round clip was harder to find and harder to insert, but as he fumbled with it he got in a prone firing position while using the crates as cover. When the blur started to dissolve into more concrete shapes an icy fist gripped his stomach.

A dozen men in black tactical gear were spreading out through the opposite side of the building. There was also a big hole in the ceiling where the large-area flash-bang came crashing in from. The men had on obsolete helmets by modern Commonwealth military standards, but it was still allowing them to coordinate and would increase their fire’s lethality. Plus, most of the smugglers and rebels were still rolling around and trying to get their bearings. Only him and Gwen seeming to have regained function.

{Lay down cover fire and I’ll move to you,} her voice popped into his head. They weren’t supposed to use the IOR, but they were up shits creek.

{Roger,} he targeted one of the lead men with the AK-89s old iron sights and pulled the trigger.

The weapons had some kick to it, but not enough to overwhelm his enhanced strength. He kept the barrel on target and three rounds hit the enemy in the chest. He went down, but Coop saw him crawl behind cover.

{Aim for extremities,} he relayed to Gwen as she popped up from her own cover and engaged another enemy.

It looked like the Windsor’s had moderately upgraded the capitol’s SWAT team. That was why the 89’s heavy round didn’t blow open that cop’s chest, but their arms and legs were a different story. Gwen’s rounds hit their target, and he went down in a spray of gore.

{Moving!}

Coop popped up and sprayed the area. He depleted the magazine in seconds, but it stopped the SWAT teams advance and allowed the GYSGT to make it a dozen meters closer to safety. She took cover behind a shelving rack.

{At your three o’clock,} Coop warned as the cops advanced farther into the warehouse and attempted to flank her position. He lost sight of her as she moved down the row, but the 89s powerful retort rang out seconds later.

That was all the time he could spend looking because the SWAT team had zeroed in on his position. Rounds started to chew up the ground and crates around him. He reached in a grabbed a handful of magazines before retreating back.

“Shit!” fragments of the faux wood kicked up by the incoming rounds dug into his hand. He popped up to spray the area again before bounding for the door.

Any of his instructor, including the GYSGT, would have chewed his ass out for firing blindly without acquiring a target. However, he didn’t think they’d expect him to be on an enemy held planet, without armor, HUD, or any modern targeting suites, and using a three-hundred-year-old Blockie assault rifle.

He expected rounds to tear through him as he squeezed through the door, but none came. He silently thanked the gods of war watching over him before using the door as cover to rain down fire on the enemy. He lost track of time as he burned through his ammo, but thankfully the smugglers and rebels were starting to get into the fight now.

Someone somewhere had grenades because stuff started to randomly explode on the far side of the warehouse.

{Gwen, where are you?} He scanned for any sign of the GYSGT. {Gwen!} He thought she was down and he was going to have to go back in to haul her ass out, when she appeared on the far right of the warehouse.

She was ducking behind a container as rounds tore into whatever garbage they were storing there. Coop aimed diagonally across the space, where he thought her attacker might be, and unloaded twenty rounds. She saw the opening he’d created and took it.

For a second, he thought she was home free, but then a puff of red erupted from her thigh, quickly followed by a second from her lower abdomen. Her face screwed up in pain and she faltered and fell.

{Gunney!} He desperately wished he had a grenade or something bigger to give him cover. He tried to squeeze back through the door, but rounds dinged into the metal and he took a ricochet in the forearm.

“DAMN!” he shook out the pain and droplets of blood flew everywhere.

She was down, but she wasn’t out. She was pouring fire back in the direction she’d been shot from and she must have hit something because that fire ceased.

{Get the truck ready,} her orders were clear over the IOR.

He looked over his shoulder and saw the rebel soldiers not caught inside standing like a bunch of frightened school children hanging around the big truck.

{They don’t seem to have a perimeter up, so we need to get the hell out of here before they tighten the noose,} she continued. {Fire up the truck and I’ll meet you there.}

{Yes, Gunney,} Coop’s training kicked in and he followed his orders.

“Stow that shit and keep an eye out!” He yelled at the rebels mulling around.

They’d gotten all but the two crates of 89’s that he’d been carrying, which was better than nothing, but a billion of those crates didn’t equate to one GYSGT Cunningham.

<We can still get out of this,> Coop hoped as he executed his orders. All they needed was the GYSGT.

That small glimmer of hope immediately extinguished as something glinted overhead. “Incoming!” Coop did the smart thing and put as much distance between himself and the truck as possible.

A missile streaked from above and straight into the cab of the vehicle. It went up in a ball of crackling flame. Even worse was when the originator of that missile crashed through the roof of the warehouse. Coop would never forget the look of a Windsor mech, and even though this was a slightly different design there was no mistaking its destructive potential.

{Run!} The GYSGT’s command came through before the mech’s five meter figure disappeared into the warehouse.

{But…}

{Get the fuck out of here, Cooper. That’s an order!} He knew there was no way she could possibly enforce that order. Her ass was grass, but her sheer willpower had Coop’s feet moving before he knew what was happening.

The truck was a smoldering wreck, all the weapons were gone, the GYSGT was about to be KIA, and their emergency egress plan involved wading through a manmade river of literal shit to get to the access tunnels that would take him out of there and to safety.

<Fuck!> There was no better word to describe the total disaster this mission was becoming.

He sprinted for the shit river and safety.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 251

Benjamin Gold

Location: Argo, Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

<Steady…steady…> Ben couldn’t say what he was thinking out loud.

Argo’s AI was the best in human hands and PO3 Lee was a hell of a pilot. If anyone could get them through the minefield of remote sensors that were being seeded throughout the system, or the flotilla of ships in orbit and scouting the elliptic, it was them. Still, there was no shortness of chair-gripping, breath-holding moments on their approach.

The Windsor’s force in system wasn’t huge, but it wasn’t small either, and that was only what they were picking up on a distant pass. They were operating on the principle that the Windsor’s sensors as good as theirs, so they planned accordingly. The splitstream jump was made from a comfortable distance, but there was no way, even with Argo’s enhanced equipment, that they could get a good read on the Windsor’s deployment from that kind of distance. So, they made a run through the gauntlet.

Ben and Aiko had fallen into a comfortable silence over the last few hours. It was just the two of them, and they could have easily and silently communicated through their IORs, but not making a sound felt more normal. Ben had read about old, wet-navy submarines and how they’d be forced to run silent as they were hunted. Something as simple as dropping loose change on the deck could lead to the whole sub being sunk. He felt a brief comradery with those ancient warriors as Argo slinked through space.

Readings flew across the holo-tank. He could get the same info through his IOR, but he’d disabled that feature. If this ended in a fight, he didn’t think it was a good idea to have his vision obscured with data.

He tried to look on the bright side with what he was seeing. So far, they’d only spotted an oversized squadron of battlecruisers, about the same amount of cruisers, and a plethora of destroyers. There were less than thirty enemy ships in the system, but he knew it would take three of four times that many Commonwealth ships to dislodge them.

<If that’ll even do it?> He wondered.

Lee had reported some weird readings on the splitstream generator after the team had been transported to the planet. They’d received tight-beam communication from several team members that they’d been displaced upon arrival, and some members hadn’t even checked in at all. He couldn’t help but think of Jacobi, who hadn’t checked in, but he forced that worry to the back of his mind. One wrong move and he’d be a finely-dispersed cloud of matter floating in the void.

That thought held his attention for a few moments until Amber chimed in. “We’re clear,” the ship’s AI informed. “Turnover will begin in two hours and fifteen minutes. Turnover will be completed in sixteen hours and seven minutes, and it will be another seventy-seven hours for us to complete our second pass.” Their path to come at the planet from a different direction was laid out on the holo-tank.

That was the problem with surveilling planets. Planets were spheres, and with the Windsor’s own stealth tech, or their ship’s simply being on idle in orbit, even Argo’s sensors could only get a good look at no more than fifty percent of the planet at a time. It required another white-knuckled ride through the enemy space to get a full picture.

He just hoped it wasn’t any worse. It was already going to take a substantial commitment of force to dislodge the enemy from the orbitals and the planet itself. Ben didn’t know the full situation on the ground. He was supposed to get those reports during the second pass.

<And after the beating we took…> he left the thought unfinished.

He seriously doubted the fleet would commit a powerful force to commit suicide if his scouting report painted a bleak picture. They might even be holding off until some of the new tech was installed on existing warships. As most jerry-rigged attempts went, those ships wouldn’t be one hundred percent, but it was going to be a while before fully-integrated ships were in the construction queues.

All he could do was groan and strap in for the long ride back to the planet and their planned rendezvous. Hopefully, the SRRT would have better news, and Jacobi was ok.

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

When Coop regained consciousness he felt only a tinge of pain in his side accompanied by a whole lot of soreness. The soreness quickly receded to numbness as something was sprayed on the area and went to work.

He squinted into the bright light of the operating room and groaned. To call it an operating room was to stretch the meaning of the word. It looked like a room in an old, abandoned factory, which was scrubbed with antiseptic chemicals, and had sterile sheets laid on a table. When they carted him in, GYSGT Cunningham reassured him he had the best surgeon on the planet that was going to operate on him. Since surgery was nearly universally done by infallible machines, that could conduct a procedure precisely down to measurements so small Coop didn’t even know their names, the fact that a human was going to do the operation was a wake-up call.

Human surgeons were archaic. The modern human surgeon was more of a programmer and technician with intricate knowledge of the human body. They could go in and make on-the-spot adjustments to the machines, but by and large, machines still did the work. Human error was the cause of a large percentage of surgical deaths before technology took over and eliminated that risk.

“Take it slow.” The man, dressed all in white with gloves and a mask, instructed. “The skin grafts should hold, and the bone reconstruction is still setting. You’ll be on light duty for at least a few days while everything sets, but no combat during that time.”

<Sure, I’ll just tell the enemy I have a note from my doctor so they’ll take it easy on me,> Coop had to try really hard not to roll his eyes. The doctor might be good, but he clearly had no idea the situation Coop was in beyond medical. Tunnel vision seemed to be a thing with people who were really good in their field.

“Sure thing, Doc,” Coop stepped off the table and hid a wince as he started moving toward the door.

The surgical gown was so small it only reached the middle of his quad, left his ass hanging out, and would ride up to show off his junk if he stretched his arm over his head. So, naturally he did that the moment he got into the hallway. A few of the resistance fighters’ eyes bulged as they glanced in his direction.

“Hey, how’s it going,” he greeted them like they were in line for chow. “Do you know where the Gunney is? She’s almost as big as me and looks like she’s been chewing on a chunk of asteroid for fun.”

One of the fighters, a woman who was fiercely blushing, pointed down a hallway. “Thanks,” Coop winked at her and went for a stroll.

There were no windows in the headquarters facility, so it was clearly underground, which was why people always called insurgents and rebellions underground movements. After having been in space for longer than he preferred, Coop missed the open space he’d been trekking when he arrived. Even if that had ended with him nearly getting his ass blown off. If he had to choose between survival and living in a cave, the cave won every time.

The facility wasn’t large, which was concerning. One good strike and the whole rebellion would get taken out, including little, old Coop, but it made it easier to find the GYSGT.

<Oh…you’ve got to be shitting me!> Coop pushed through an unguarded double door and into the nexus of the command center.

Whatever the facility used to be, this was the old command room, and it was at least a century or two behind the times. Physical monitors adorned the walls instead of holo-tanks. Bundles of cords snaked around the room connecting everything. All it would take was someone tripping over something at just the wrong moment and a whole mission could go to hell in a handbasket. Coop at least expected to see someone guarding the brains of the operation, but no one even challenged his half-naked ass when he strolled right in.

“All it would take was one die-hard Windsor to blow you all straight to hell,” he didn’t even hide his contempt as his eyes swept the room.

“Who the hell are you?” A young man stepped forward.

Coop dearly hoped this guy wasn’t running the show. He didn’t look like he was out of his twenties, and looked like he should be painting tourists in a park not running a revolution. Coop could tell from twenty meters away that the guy was soft.

“Sergeant Cooper. Who the hell are you?”

“Masha Kulikov,” the man didn’t elaborate about his role.

“Cooper,” the GYSGT approached on his left. “Glad you’re up and about.”

“I feel like I took a trip through the Grinder, but nothing I can’t shake.” Coop’s eyes were still locked with Masha’s.

“Good, over here,” the GYSGT either didn’t notice the dick measuring contest going on, or just didn’t care. Coop followed her, and to his dismay, so did Masha.

Standing around a large computer display was the SGM and Sullivan. Eve, Mike, SSG Hightower, and LT Wentworth were all missing, and judging by his team member’s faces, presumed captured.

“Fuck,” Coop exhaled as he joined what was left of his team.

“Yeah, not a great day for the SRRT concept,” the SGM looked more tired than Coop had ever seen him. “But let’s get our shit together and press forward,” he gave Coop an up-down look. “Maybe you want to put on your pants for this.”

“Yeah,” Masha scoffed from where he’d taken his position next to the SGM. “While you’ve been sleeping, we’ve been planning.”

“Sorry about that,” Coop accepted the CMU’s Sullivan offered him. “Next time you take on over a hundred Windsor soldiers, with heavy weapons support and an attached mortars section, by yourself, we can compare notes and discuss how you died a quick death and I made it out alive,” Coop shot back.

Masha bristled, but didn’t have anything to say to that, which confirmed Coop’s suspicions. Even if this kid was a leader of the rebellion, he hadn’t seen much fighting, so Coop didn’t care if the guy had a few years on him. Where it counted, Coop had the experience.

“Eyes front, Cooper,” the SGM admonished him without really admonishing him. “We need to get our shit together so this’ll work.”

“What’s the op?” Coop ignored Masha and focused on a map.

“We’re going to get our people and start off this revolution with a real bang.” The SGM grinned.

Coop had never really seen the hardened NCO grin about something before, so he knew right away the Windsor’s were totally, and royally fucked.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 247

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Argo, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop felt the transition in his bones, but he just shrugged it off. He’d been too busy chuckling. He’d seen Ben, and then not too much later, the LT come out of his cabin. He wasn’t sure if the two were trying to keep their relationship on the down-low, but if they were it was the ship’s worse kept secret. Everyone knew the skipper and LT were doing to no-pants dance.  Hell, half the crew probably knew Eve and him were doing the same. Although, they’d only had time for a quickie in a cramped engineering space since leaving Thurgood Station. It wasn’t exactly what Coop was promised when he agreed to her terms.

As Coop watched the LT pass before she entered the bridge, he couldn’t help but stare. She was a good-looking woman, but despite that, he didn’t find his glance lingering on the curve of her ass. That was a first for him.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t into her. Coop was into all women. He’d been with women of every color, even unnatural colors that were popular at certain brothels on certain planets. He’d been with big women, small women, enhanced women, and natural women. Hell, he’d even been with woman who’d spliced on anatomical bits to themselves to increase their allure.

<I guess I’m just into a ‘blondes who can crush my head with their thighs’ phase,> he grinned.

After the transition, the LT reappeared. “Briefing in the armory in five, you’re relieved,” she ordered. He was cool with that. He was tired of standing around.

By the time he got to the armory, half of the team was already starting to suit up in their new LACS. Weapons were being issued, checked, and double-checked by SSG Hightower, the team’s armorer, and then the soldier themselves. Like always, Eve was close to the front of the line.

Coop had to wait in line to return the weapons and armor he’d been issued for guard duty before going to his charger and struggling into his LACS. Then, he had to get back in line to be issued his new weapons and load out.

He was glad when the SSG told him to step on the auto-loader and open his ports. The machinery whirring was a comfortable sound as his full complement of artillery rounds was placed in his internal magazines. It soon became obvious that the LACS were being overloaded with everything the SSRT could get their hands on. Not only did he have an area shield generator, but he also had a backup, a grav-sled was being loaded with extra ammunition, and even a portable 100mm mortar tube. The last seemed a little redundant. In the end, he was responsible for hundreds of thousands of rounds along with enough medical supplies to sustain a company.

“We’ll be meeting up with resistance leaders when we arrive on planet,” the SGM explained why they were stripping the armory clean. “They need weapons and supplies for their insurgency. Since they are our people, even if they don’t like us that much, we’re coming to their aid. They’ll be able to give us the lay of the land, current intel, and provide targets of opportunity. It will be up to leadership’s discretion whether or not we’ll engage in combat operations against the Windsor’s, but we’ll be ready if we do. Questions?”

The few questions that were asked revealed that everything was situation-dependent. Despite the intel download that had been transmitted from Argo, it became abundantly clear that there was more unknown than known about Harper’s Junction.

When the brief Q&A was completed, the SRRT shuffled, bent, and maneuvered themselves in the cramped, too-small corridors down to the Splitstream room. Once there, they were told to wait.

{Hey,} he opened a link with Eve. {Is it me, or do we not seem to have enough intel on our own planet?}

{Harper’s Junction has always been passively hostile to the Commonwealth. They even passed laws to have a meager Infantry contingent, and no Fleet forces guarding the planet. I guess they thought their isolation was their biggest protection. They guessed wrong.}

{And now we’ve got to go in and sneak around to figure out what’s going on.} His frustration translated through the IOR.

{Coop,} Eve had that tone she always did when she was going to start a lecture. {This is what the SRRT teams are built for. We’re the only people physically and mentally capable of making the instantaneous transition from point to point. We’re always going to be going into situations where we don’t know enough, and have to figure it out for the follow-on forces. That’s the job. Get used to it.} She was clearly in no-nonsense mode, so he quit his bitching. Call it a high school cliche, but he didn’t want to be arguing with his girlfriend on the night of the big dance. “Dance” being the million-plus kilometer travel into hostile territory after atomic disassembly, digitization, and reassembly.

Call him old fashioned, but Coop liked to know what he was stepping into.

At some point, they crossed an invisible line in space where splitstream was now a go.  One team at a time, they stepped onto the raised platforms. Coop couldn’t help but think he looked like an idiot. He had extra materials strapped to every centimeter of his armor. He’d be able to disassemble everything and get in into the folded up grav-sled currently magnetized to his left hamstring when he arrived. That of course meant he didn’t drop into shits creek where he would be screwed six ways to Sunday.

“Alpha Team, ready,” the SGM stood on the forward-most platform. He was similarly laden down with supplies, but not as bad as Coop. The V4A was the pack mule after all.

The LT gave him a thumbs up and Coop was immediately overcome with the numb sensation of being instantaneously transmitted through space.  The landing wasn’t much smoother than when he arrived back on the Hegemony planet. It still felt like he’d been punched in the nards, but there was an odd tingling sensation in in his face. He could have sworn it felt like someone hooked his inner ear like an angler and gave him a good yank during the nearly instantaneous journey, but all sensations from the trip were already faded. <At least I kept my meal down.>

He gave himself a full body shake while his LACS’ sensors took in the LZ. That was when he got the first error.

Since Harper’s Junction was a former Commonwealth world, it had been fully mapped. With this intel, they’d carefully chosen the SRRT’s insertion point so they could quickly link up with friendly forces. From the error message displayed on Coop’s HUD, he was out of position by several hundred kilometers. That was 242 kilometers to be exact, and those 242 kilometers were in the direction of the capital city, currently occupied by the Windsor’s army. Even worse, he wasn’t picking up any friendlies on his IOR’s bandwidth. That meant no one was in vicinity of the unit’s twenty-five-kilometer radius, or within five hundred kilometer of the military-grade boosters each of them had strapped to their backs.

<We really need to upgrade our planets with these new networks,> he grumbled. New tech was good, but at someone point it became a hindrance.

If there was any good news, it was that he wasn’t inside the gradually expanding perimeter that army was creating, but it wasn’t by much. He could pick up the edges of their active sensor scans only a few kilometers away. Appearing in the middle of a cornfield wasn’t helping him either. The corn stalks were high, but not higher than a V4 LACS.

He hurriedly crouched down and hoped no one had seen him. His arrival had flattened the crops for a few meters in each direction, but no one would notice until they physically came upon it.

<Why can’t anything work out the way it’s fucking supposed to.> He grumbled as he went through his contingency options.

They weren’t many. He needed to go to ground and send out an encrypted, sporadic signal that he hoped the rest of the team would notice. Then he needed to send a tight beam to Argo, at the prearranged time, that he’d missed the LZ. Or, he needed to move to the rendezvous. He went with option two, while still prepping a transmission to the ship. It had to be fired off at the exact right moment, and from a precise angle, or the gunship would miss it entirely. He set his LACS’ AI, something new that he hadn’t trained with at all, to that task.

He was too close to the city for comfort, but moving almost 250 kilometers with all the crap he was carrying was going to be tough. At the very least, he needed to wait for nightfall.

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