Two Worlds – Chapter 278

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

“Easy…easy…shit,” Coop cursed as they slid down the side of an embankment. SSG Hightower and Mike were still supporting him, but they were tired. They’d been prisoners for some time, and then forced to drag his injured ass across the entire city and into the farmland around it. Coop knew he’d be bitching up a storm by now if he had to carry so much dead weight, so he had to give respect where respect was due.

That didn’t stop him from spewing a bunch of four-letter words over the IOR when he hit the ground. An agonizing jolt of pain pushed through the drugs that had been pumped into his system and he collapsed out of his team members’ grips.

“Shut the fuck up,” the SSG hissed as he laid against the berm with his weapon pointed up.

A pair of drones rocketed overhead. They banked hard and came back the way they’d come. Coop curled up, hoping his LACS would protect him from the rounds the drones would put into their little group. A steady stream of burps echoed around them as the drones took precision shots.

None of them hit the combat-ineffective SRRT team. Coop still felt the vibrations as the rounds tore up another embankment about fifty meters from them. The drones split away in opposite direction with a howl of their thrusters, and Coop gave himself a pat down just to make sure he was still alive.

“About a dozen Windsor’s were moving parallel to us,” the SGM informed as the popped his head up and ran a scan of their surroundings. “Drones took them out. Come on. Let’s keep moving. Almost there.” The NCOIC hefted Sullivan’s corpse onto his shoulder and started moving again. Of everyone, the SGM was carrying the most weight.

Coop waited for GYSGT Cunningham to grab Eve and help her up. The LT stood nearby to help, and Coop and his helpers brought up the rear. They moved along the small drainage ditch for a few hundred meters before climbing up and over the road to the opposite side. Coop half expected Windsor drones to bear down on them and blow them to pieces, but it seemed the Commonwealth had air superiority in this sector.

They slid down a slope on the opposite side much more gracefully that the last one, and a waypoint appeared on his HUD. There was a small hill less than a kilometer away that was their rendezvous point.

<About fucking time,> Coop was starting to feel woozy.

Medical nanite degradation. Tourniquet application required, flashed on his HUD before more pain ripped through his injured leg. He screamed as the built-in medical device tightened just below him.

Hightower grunted as their gait was disrupted and ran a quick medical check. He cursed the timing, but kept prodding Coop along. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel helped.

Twenty minutes later, the SSG and Mike happily dropped Coop on his ass on the backside of the hill away from the fighting. “So we just sit here nursing our thumbs with our assholes until these RECON marines decide to show up.” Coop couldn’t feel anything on his injured leg anymore, which wasn’t a good sign.

“This is supposed to be an elite SRRT team,” an accented voice announced over TACCOM. “I’m not impressed.”

STRATCOM pinged the speaker at under twenty meters away, and made Coop flush with embarrassment. His situational awareness was shit right now. Two RECON marines in V3 LACS low crawled out from underneath a cammo-net set up at the apex of the hill. If Coop had to guess they were forward observers providing target coordinates to the brigade artillery and orbital assets.

“Stow it, Master Sergeant,” the SGM cut RECON off before everyone got in a dick measuring contest. “We’ve been through a bit over the past few weeks.”

“Weeks?” the other RECON marines finally spoke. “I guess…” they finally caught sight of the rest of the SRRT team, “Daaaaamn.” What was clearly a junior NCO or enlisted RECON stated.

Coop didn’t fault him for his reaction. Eve was missing an arm, he had a giant spike through his leg, and Sullivan was dead with a spike through his chest. They’d clearly been through some shit.

“Medivac is on the way,” the senior RECON stated with more respect this time. “We’ve got to get back to work,” they two marines retreated back to their OP.

They were true to their word and fifteen minutes later a Spyder swooped down for them. They trudged up the ramp as technicians and medics swarmed them. Coop collapsed onto the deck as the bird took flight again. He caught a brief view of the ongoing battle before the ramp snapped closed and the engines gunned it to make orbit without getting blasted out of the sky.

Maybe it was the drugs, trauma, finally getting Eve back, or just battlefield fatigue, but Coop found himself laughing and crying at the same time. He made sure no one saw what was going on inside his armor. He’d never be able to live that down.

The small view of the battle he caught struck him as sad and inspiring. It had been thousands of years since man first gathered to form civilization and ended up fighting in the first wars. Weapons had changed from rock throwing, spears, and wooden shields to EM power rifles, orbital bombardments from capital ships a few kilometers long, and energy shields that could stop a railgun round but not a rock that one of their ancestors would chuck at them.

Despite all of the changes in weapons, defenses, and tactics, it still involved two groups of men and women, advancing across an open plain, and trying to kill each other. If there was an unalienable truth to humanity, Coop was sure it was that they would always try to kill each other. Even aliens hadn’t changed that. In fact, they was only giving humans better ways to do it.

<As long as I’m the one doing the killing and not the dying that’s fine by me,> Coop gave a mental sigh and composed himself as technicians opened up his damaged armor and medics treated his wound. <Maybe I’ll take a nap now.> The medics must have given him something because he was fast asleep before they popped him out of the LACS.

 

***

 

Location: CWS Agincourt, Harper’s Junction, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 

Coop was violently thrust into consciousness. All around him medical devices beeped, hissed, and thumped; coupled with the hushed-but-hurried tones of doctors and nursed. Despite the abrupt arrival in the world of the living, he kept his eyes closed.

“We shouldn’t be bringing him out just yet, we need things to set more,” a woman’s voice tainted with anger spoke a few meters to his left.

“We don’t have a choice. We’ve got our orders. Plus if he stays in the grav-chair there won’t be an issue. This is just a patch job until we can get him back to a ground-side hospital,” a man’s voice replied.

The woman huffed then the clink of a privacy screen being pulled back, and the assault of artificial light on Coop’s eyelids made him groan.

“Good you’re awake,” the woman hit her PAD and the bed tilted upward until Coop was sitting at a ninety degree angle. It gave him a great view of his leg missing below the hip.

“WHAT THE FUCK!” he roared loud enough for the woman to unconsciously step back. “WHERE IS MY LEG?!” He turned on the doctors with murder in his eyes.

“Sergeant,” the woman had two gold stripes on her collar, and was trying to act the part of a CMDR. “The damage to your leg from the still-unidentified Windsor weapon was extreme. The heat and force of the spike had fused your leg to your armor. To get you out of the armor and into treatment we needed to remove your leg. A replacement is currently being grown, and will be ready once Agincourt returns to New Washington. At the Naval Hospital in the capital you will have the best surgeons in the world to replace your leg and rehabilitate you to peak physical condition.”

Coop knew that. This wasn’t the first time he’d lost a limb, but waking up and finding that limb missing was going to haunt his dreams for months.

The CMDR snapped her fingers when it became apparent he’d stopped listening to her. “This is very important,” she repeated. “We’re going to help you into a grav-chair so you can report as ordered, but you will not, I repeat, you will not get out of it. The nanites and Insta-flesh are still setting from your removal procedure and I don’t want you to rip something and bleed to death.”

“Got it, Doc. Bleeding to death equals bad.” Coop was still focused on his missing leg.

The CMDR rolled her eyes and helped shift his bulk, with the other doctor’s help, to the edge of the bed and a waiting grav-chair. The chair hovered a few centimeters off the ground waiting for him. He waved off the doctors and swung himself over the edge and into the chair. The chair gave a groan and smacked down into the ground before recalibrating for his extra mass. Slowly, it rose to its previous position.

“Look at your fat ass breaking stuff,” a familiar voice joked as Eve pushed her way through the privacy screen. She had what was left of her missing arm mag-locked to the front of her CMUs. The dressing on it was fresh, and a lot better than the field-improvised first-aid Coop had performed.

“How’s it going, stumpy?” he asked.

“Not too bad, gimpy,” she shot back.

“Ouch, low blow,” he retorted.

“You’re lucky that spike hit so low or the removal procedure would have caused us some serious problems,” she winked.

“Oh shit,” his hands flew to his package, “oh thank god.”

“Don’t thank him yet,” Eve grimaced.

Messages started to ping in Coop’s head as his IOR activated again. His mailbox transplanted over his vision and one stood out above the rest: an immediate order to report to Admiral Ward’s office.

“Admiral Ward?” He didn’t know the man other than him being an Admiral and de-facto big kahuna.

“Jesus, Coop,” Eve stepped behind him and started pushing his chair forward. “Admiral Michael Ward, the Hero of Yangon, the man who just took back Harper’s Junction from the Windsor’s. People are starting to call him Nimitz reincarnate.”

“Nitwit, what kind of name is that…” he was cut off as she smacked the back of his head. “I’m just saying that we had a fair deal to do with retaking Harper’s Junction,” he continued. “No one is going to declare it Mark Cooper day since I’ve only got chevrons on my shoulder.”

“Just…don’t embarrass me,” Eve sighed as she pushed his chair into a lift and keyed in a code. The lift rumbled into motion, and didn’t stop at every deck, which was weird for a warship the size of Agincourt.

The lift beeped and the doors opened into a corridor just outside the thickly armored flag bridge. Eve pushed him forward and knocked on a door across the corridor from the bridge’s guarded entrance.

“Enter,” a tired voice replied.

“Sir, Sergeant Berg and Sergeant Cooper reporting as ordered, sir,” Eve snapped to the position of attention, but didn’t salute because she was missing he saluting arm. Coop remained seated, but sat up a little straighter.

“At ease,” the man sitting behind the desk had blue in his eyes, looked distinguished, handsome, had both legs, both arms, and was everything Coop expected of a full Admiral. “Good to see you, Eve. It’s been a while. Your mother told me to relay her gratitude that you didn’t die.”

“Thank you, sir,” Eve didn’t skip a beat despite the awkward exchange.

“Sergeant Cooper. Just the man I wanted to see,” the ADM’s eyes turned on Coop and lost what little warmth they had when directed at Eve. “I should have you thrown out an air locked and jettisoned into the nearest star.”

The barb cut deep. Deeper because Coop had no idea what it was about.” “Sir?” he didn’t know what else to say.

“Sergeant Major,” the ADM called, and their NCOIC popped into the room. “Play the recording.”

The recording from Coop’s V4 popped into a holo in the center of everyone. It played from the point the SRRT rescued its imprisoned members to the point where the Windsor mech backed out of the hole it in the wall with the HVT.

“Sir?” Coop repeated, still not knowing what to say. He considered pointing out the video conveniently cut off before a grenade-propelled spike fucked up his leg, but the ADM didn’t look like he was in a joking mood.

“What was your mission, Sergeant Cooper?” the ADM inquired.

Coop thought back. “Well, sir, our original mission was to Splitstream in, coordinate with the locals to pass intel back to the fleet about the conditions on the ground. That evolved to linking up with rebels and assisting with their counterinsurgency. That, in turn, evolved into sabotaging infrastructure and the enemy’s ability to respond to your fleet’s arrival. After we completed that, we took the initiative to rescue our captured team mates and destroy the elements of the enemy’s command and control that we could. Then…”

“Let’s focus on the last bit,” it looked like the ADM was biting his tongue. “You were participating in a decapitation strike in the center of Windsor power on the planet…”

“If I may, sir.” Surprisingly, the SGM cut off the ADM. That the SGM was a bad ass motherfucker was the only thing that saved him from an ass chewing. “The mission was to rescue our captured team members. We made some situational assessments once that portion of the mission was completed to search for any HVTs in the palace and attempt to kill or capture them,” the NCO clarified.

“The issue at hand, Sergeant, if you haven’t grasped it yet, was the total lack of aggression in trying to capture and kill that HVT.” The ADM clarified.

It took a moment for Coop to digest what the ADM was saying, and then he nearly jumped out of his grav-chair to strangle the man. “Who the fu…”

Sir,” Eve cut in while simultaneously hitting a switch that mag-locked Coop to the chair. He couldn’t even pull his arms off the armrests much less strangle the ADM. “There are many extenuating circumstances of the encounter we witnessed that dictated our situational-dependent response.”

The SGM kept a straight face, but Eve had just used the best-case diplomatic speak to tell a navy fleet puke that he didn’t know his head from his asshole when it came to ground combat; especially ground combat against a Windsor mech. The ADM wasn’t a stupid man, so he understood that, and his face hardened in response.

“First off, sir, there was no way Sergeant Cooper could have taken out that HVT without getting himself and everyone else killed. “He used an ingenious method to force a stalemate with an ultimatum he was not able to carry out. Sergeant Cooper was able to save lives, my life to be specific, and I am very grateful for that.” The emphasis Eve put on the “I” seemed to suggest someone else would be happy with the outcome as well.

The ADM’s eyes were still hard, but his face finally slackened. “Do you know who that was, Sergeant?” He turned back to Coop.

“She said she was some baroness,” Coop shrugged.

“That was Josephina Barrow. Or as she was better known on Harper’s Junction, Queen Josephina. If you want to go back just a bit, she was the Chief of Intelligence for the Star Kingdom of Windsor. You, Sergeant Cooper, single handedly let go the woman who led the invasion against Harper’s Junction, ruled over the planet when it was stolen from us, and until recently, was the most important intelligence operative the Windsor’s had.”

All this hit Coop like a hammer. He slumped in his chair and took a few deep breaths before looking up at Eve. One look at her face and the weight lifted. “Sorry, sir, but I wouldn’t change my decision making process,” he replied confidently.

The ADM just shook his head, but Coop swore he saw a glint of approval in the SGM’s eyes. Eve went even farther and gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze.

“Unfortunately for you, Sergeant Cooper, people with more experience and responsibility disagree. As such, you have been reassigned after you complete your rehabilitation and your restrictive duty is lifted. You will be reduced to the rank of corporal. A review board convened and determined since you did not earn the rank of sergeant, and are no longer a member of an SSRT team, you may not retain it.” The ADM landed body blow after body blow on Coop, but Coop just took it. Eve squeezed his shoulder after each blow landed. “Sergeant Berg,” the ADM returned his attention to Eve. “You are also being reassigned, but on the recommendation of your commanding officer and Sergeant Major Queen, you will retain the rank of Sergeant. You will complete the classroom portion of NCO Academy at your new duty station. The Sergeant Major determines you have completed the field portion of the process under warfighting conditions. As a former Master trainer, he had signed off on its completion.”

Coop looked up at Eve and smiled, but a small part of his brain bristled at getting busted down when he’d been the one to save her ass.

“You are also being put in for a medal for taking the fight to the enemy while virtually unarmored and unarmed. You nearly took out the HVT with your bare hands. That kind of initiative needs to be rewarded, and I’m sure some people will want to talk to you where you are going.” The ADM gave the two former SRRT members a long look before waving them off. “You’re dismissed.”

Eve’s heels clicked as she snapped to and turned Coop’s chair around.

<Well, that could have been worse,> he looked down at his missing leg as a ping announced the arrival of a new message.

It was his new orders. He instructed his IOR to open and display it across his vision. Eve must have received the same email because she stopped.

Coop nearly stopped breathing after reading the first line. He expected to be sent back to Thor and a new infantry unit, maybe even Mars to the HI school for more training. He did not expect what he was reading.

The email was ordering a permanent change of station from his old unit HQ on Thor to Fort Stewart-Benning on Earth. His medical recovery had a projected time table and using that they had assigned him to class 001-2434 of …

“Recruiting School! These fucktards want me to be a recruiter!” Coop closed the message and pinched his eyes shut. Hoping this was a bad dream.

“I’m assigned to Stewart-Benning too,” Eve replied. “Recruiter Class 001-2434 after my NCO Academy classroom completion.”

Coop’s outlook brightened a bit. He was used to the universe fucking him in the ass, but at least it looked like he’d be getting some ass for the foreseeable future.

<It’ll take it,> he grinned.

Not killing the baroness-queen-what’s her face might have been the best decision he’d ever made in the infantry.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 274

Queen Josephina I

Location: 350 kilometers Southeast of Harper’s Center, Barrowsford, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“That insolent bitch!” Josephina smashed her hand down against the real-glass table in the executive dining car of the maglev train spiriting her away from Harper’s Center at nearly seven hundred kilometers an hour.

The breakable material never stood a chance against her enhanced musculoskeletal structure, but that didn’t stop a flash of pain from traveling up to her elbow, or the small laceration along the meaty part of her palm.

“Your Majesty,” one of her personal armsmen tried to approach, but she shot him a glare that would put Medusa to shame.

She took a napkin and dabbed at the bit of blood that escaped before her ever-present medical nanites went to work on clotting and mending the cut. As she looked at the stained napkin in her hand, she wished the wound wouldn’t close so easy. Nothing in her life was going to be easy ever again.

She’d been a Queen, one of the three members of the new Royal class, one step below the Empress herself, and she’d managed to lose an entire planet in the span of a few days. It wouldn’t matter that the Collies brought a fleet that out massed hers five-to-one. It didn’t matter that some of those ships had the same advanced alien technology that allowed the Windsor fleets to smash to pieces the opposition in their bid to drive the Commonwealth back from Imperial space. It didn’t matter that the royal and imperial troops on the ground were already facing at least an enemy brigade, with another one surely landing as more of the Collies’ ships settled into a parking orbit around Harper’s Junction and her moon. It didn’t matter that she’d bloodied their nose well and good in the process. At this moment, her ships were still dogging half of the Collies’ naval forces as they limped toward the planet. The damage being inflicted was superficial, but it showed her people weren’t giving up.

<That is how I will be remembered,> she squeezed her fist tight, trying to draw more blood from her wound, but it was already clotted, and a thin, protective layer of fresh skin was being spun by the microscopic robots across the gash. <And all because of that insolent bitch!>

She was rational enough to know that everything that troubled her wasn’t due to the large woman who came barreling through her forcefield and dispatched most of her guard detail, including the good Colonel, with her bare hands and a blade. The woman hadn’t laid a finger on Josephina, and the Queen had taken her arm for her impudence, but that didn’t stop her metal-headed rescuer from threatening to blow up the entire city. The colour sergeant that had saved her had made the right choice in letting them go to save her. As a reward, his mech was folded up in its travel arrangement in the cargo hold of the train, and he would be her personal escort off the planet. However, part of her wished she’d called the enemy’s bluff.

She was sure it was a bluff. She couldn’t see the man’s face, but she’d seen his armor, and the Commonwealth gunnery sergeant stripes on it. From her interrogations and trickery, she’d surmised the team sent by the Collies to infiltrate her planet was no more than a dozen soldiers. She’d captured an officer, senior enlisted, and two lower enlisted. While it was possible they had more than one gunnery sergeant in the team, she doubted it, which meant the man inside the armor wasn’t that high ranking. If one thing was true of all the militaries of humanity, it was that they didn’t give enlisted personnel activation code for anti-matter weapons. That was a chance the colour sergeant couldn’t take, so she bargained their way out, and hoped the troops they’d alerted to the enemy presence could finish the job. They had two of the new anti-armor grenades their alien suppliers had sold them, so at least a couple of the soldiers who’d threatened her life were hopefully lying dead in a ditch somewhere. She’d just have to live with that imagery.

“Coming up on our destination, Your Majesty,” Theodore entered the car as a slight shift in the train’s acceleration announced their impending arrival.

Their destination was Marytown, a medium-sized city about five hundred kilometers from the capitol. It was located at the edge of a large bay, which gave it scenic views, a solid fishery business, and a readily available spaceport to get the goods quickly to market. It was one of the former planet’s masters’ favorite vacation destinations. Many of the wealthy business and political elite owned real estate among the staunchly loyal population, so it was a no brainer to have their private, secret escape train from the seat of governmental and corporate power flee to this safe haven.

The maglev tracks popped onto the surface about thirty kilometers north of the town. Unlike the capitol city, Marytown was not under siege. Its importance made sure it had a shield generator and a PDC, occupied by a royal garrison, but the Collies didn’t get that memo. Railgun rounds and energy blasts from orbit weren’t pounding the shield, and ground troops weren’t pressing toward it from the mountains to west. It was eerily peaceful.

Her train pulled directly into the space port where a defensive perimeter was manned and ready by the company of royal marines. They bowed as she exited, and the captain in charge of the formation led her to her waiting shuttle. It was a luxury craft seized from the former governor and upgraded over the last month with the Windsor’s more modern technology. It looked unarmed, but in fact boasted a powerful bow cannon. However, that was all it boasted, so it wouldn’t win in a stand-up fight against any military vessel. Its advantages were with its shield and speed. That was what was going to get her to safety.

She barely listened to the captain as she sat on a richly-upholstered seat that luxuriously altered itself to perfectly take the pressures of the day off her shoulders and lower back. She poured herself a drink from the full bar and waved the man away. She might not have been paying attention, but she knew the situation. There were two ships waiting to get her back to Windsor. They were running on silent, and trying to be a hole in space as the Collies scoured the areas with sensors and patrols. They’d stayed hidden so far, but it wasn’t going to last much longer. For her to get from the ground to the ships, she needed help.

 

***
Windsor Planetary Defensive Battery Seven

 

“Change of mission, “the SGT in control of the battery yelled. “Cannon to position twelve. Fire mission in fifteen minutes, and take every second of that to build our charge. We need more oomph behind this shot.”

Position twelve was the southern-most firing point, which if Ned remembered his training correctly, wouldn’t even give them a line of sight on the advancing Commonwealth forces. He spent a second wondering why they were abandoning a prime shot right into the heart of the Collies infantry for something else, but he quickly pushed that aside. It wasn’t his job to find the targets, it was to shoot the gun.

“Yes, Sergeant, position twelve.” He entered the information into his screens and the cannon moving through the mountain shuddered to the stop and reversed direction.

“And will someone get me that repair team’s status with the door,” the SGT yelled as an afterthought as the power levels on Ned’s gauge slowly began to climb.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“There we go,” Mike groaned as he and SSG Hightower slowly lowered Coop’s armored mass to the ground.

“I’m good,” Coop feebly protested, but the pain in his leg was intensifying. His armor was reaching that point where it wouldn’t give him anymore drugs to combat the pain without an override. He could ask the GYSGT, SGM, or LT for authorization, but he doubted they’d give it to him. They’d already lost too many people today.

The SGM came up behind them with Sullivan’s limp body in a fireman’s carry and carefully lowered him to the ground. The rest of the team pulled security as they assessed the situation. Instead of looking around, Coop’s eyes went to Eve.

She was pale, but she’d always been pale. It was the pallor of her skin that really worried him. There was a slow drip of blood from the stump of her arm, despite the first aid he’d given her, and she kept passing her hand over where her other hand should be. She gave a start of surprise every time her hand missed her now-missing arm.

“Hey, talk to me,” Coop knew the symptoms of shock, and he might be on his way there very soon.

She gave a bitter laugh and gestured around her. “We kind of fucked this up,” she didn’t’ sugarcoat the situation.

They were in a collection of buildings near the outskirts of the city. The local police hadn’t tried to stop them because they’d taken shelter just like everyone else. When the smoke cleared and a victor emerged, they wanted to be on their new boss’ good side. The Windsor road blocks were few and far between as more troops got pulled to the front.

Through a crack in the windows Coop could see the battle raging in the distance. The sparking of shields, muted artillery fire, and much louder incoming ordinance from space breaking through the atmosphere was all that could be heard as the city ground to halt and took cover.

“I don’t know,” Coop shrugged. “We cleared the way for the cavalry, and we got out in one piece,” he winced at his choice of phrase, “more or less,” he gestured as the lance of duro-steel that had destroyed his leg and imbedded in his armor.

Instead of being pissed, Eve laughed, which was how he knew shock was starting to set in. She waved what was left of her arm and gave his LACS a small tap like they were toasting something with expensive champagne instead of missing body parts.

“This is the infantry,” she stated. “This was always a hazard of the job.”

“Yeah, but they’ll grow you a nice new arm when we get home, and they’ll patch up my leg good as new. Soon we’ll be out dancing and back in the sack like nothing ever happened.”

“Do you ever stop thinking about sex?” She laughed again.

“Nope,” he replied without hesitation. “Especially when it is with you.”

“I don’t know whether to be flattered or offended,” she shot back, but the smile pulling at her lips told Coop is was the former.

It might be the blood loss talking, but Coop was sure he had a very good chance of getting laid pretty soon. <I’ve never done it with a one-armed woman. The new positions…>

“Lock it up and listen up,” the SGM came over. “We’ve got a medivac on the way, but they’ll have trouble getting close. We need to hump it five klicks out and rendezvous with a RECON team that is providing target data from the fleet on the city’s defenses. They’ll get up back to a Spyder and out of here.”

“Great. Just what a guy with a bum leg wants…more walking,” Coop muttered under his breath.

“You’d rather sit here and wait for the enemy, Sergeant?” the SGM’s eyes bore into Coop from behind his armored helm.

“No, Sergeant Major. I’m up for another stroll,” Coop made sure to keep the string of four-letter words he wanted to say to himself.

“Ok, big guy, let’s go,” Eve didn’t help Coop to his feet, but she was there to motivate him.

They might both be gimps for the near future, but they were gimps together, and he was fine with that.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 272

Admiral Michael Ward

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

CWS Agincourt slid into position with puffs from her positioning thrusters. The hull of the task force flag ship had stopped leaking atmosphere, and repair crews could be seen scurrying around the hull.

Admiral Ward made sure the George Bush stood between his ship and any planetary energy weapons that wanted to take a shot at him. Carrier Group Alpha spread out around Carrier Group Charlie to cover their rear and flanks. Now, the Bush’s ships to concentrate on bombarding the planet and not worry about someone sneaking up on him.

Ward wiped some sweat from his brow as he stowed his helmet on the headrest of his command chair. The holo-tank was still scrolling with damage reports, but everything was being handled by the ship’s captain. The greater strategic picture was out of his hands for the moment.

“Commander,” he opened a shipboard TACCOM channel to the marine leader. The woman’s tired face, with a bit of dried blood on her close-cropped bangs, stared back at him.

“I’ve got the first companies ready to disembark now, sir,” she replied. “Due to casualties, and the general mess the Windsor’s made onboard, our deployment plan is totally fucked.” She didn’t look at all worried about using coarse language around the ADM.

“Understood, Commander,” he gave the woman a sympathetic look. “The 942nd looks like it’s got things handled for the moment. Land your troops with all due speed, but make sure they’re ready to fight.”

“Aye aye, sir,” she cut the line.

Ward pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to summon up a little energy. The adrenaline rush of battle was wearing off, a crash was coming, but he didn’t have time for that. This was only step one of the game plan. He pulled up the latest data on Bravo and Delta groups. Delta had been savaged by the Windsor’s. The assault carrier at the center of the formation was still making its way slowly toward Harper’s Junction, but just about all of its escort ships were limping behind it. The Windsor’s had broken off contact when Bravo came into range, and their retreat cost them some ships, but in the tally of lives and ships, the enemy came out ahead in that engagement. In the tally of the meeting the mission objectives, the Commonwealth was victorious. They just paid a big price.

Aggie’s AIs had calculated Delta, with Bravo providing cover, was nineteen hours from dropping anchor around Harper’s Junction. That meant the 942nd was going to be handling the brunt of ground combat while Aggie’s marines got their act together and got in the fight.

<Then there is still the remaining ships to worry about,> he sighed as he got up off his chair and stretched with an audible crack of the spine.

The Windsor fleet wasn’t gone. It was regrouping in orbit around one of the nearby planets. He had a drone screen between them so they couldn’t sneak up on his forces, but he still didn’t know what they had planned. He also didn’t like the firepower they still had at their disposal.

He stepped out of his armored flag bridge and nearly slipped on a pool of blood.

“Take it easy, sir,” a marine CPL advised as he picked up a body in dragonscale armor. The marine with him picked up another body with Windsor armor. Both of the dead soldiers’ blood was intermingled at the hatch to the bridge.

Ward wasn’t one to spook easily, but he gulped involuntarily. He’d never known how close he was to the enemy boarders. He’d focused on his job, coordinating the battle, and that tunnel vision was readily apparent now.

“Good work,” he gave the CPL a pat on the shoulder and headed for his ready room. The room was pockmarked with bullet holes and more than one scorch from a plasma explosion.

<This gives me a whole new appreciation for recovery operations,> he bent over and started to sort through the stuff he could save and the stuff he’d have to trash.

 

***

 

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

<All those VR games and holo-movies are complete horseshit!> Coop cursed as rounds slammed into his shield for the last few meters before he put a wall between him and his enemy. The SGM was right behind him returning fire, while both used their bulk to provide cover for the unarmored Eve.

In all those movies and games, after you faced off with the big, bad boss man you would emerge to your allies already victorious over the evil bad guy’s subordinates. In reality, that was a bullshit. Coop had faced off against the Windsor mech, and come away without a scratch, but now he had to fend off the rest of the palace’s security forces with only the half-strength SRRT team as back up.

“Last mag,” the GYSGT informed as she swapped out her M3’s empty 1mm drum for a fresh one.

Coop quickly checked his own ammo gauge before checking on Eve. She’d been patched up by the GYSGT while the SGM figured out how the hell they’d get out of this hornet’s nest, but it wasn’t meant to hold. They’d controlled the bleeding and sedated her enough so the pain wasn’t too bad, but she was still ambulatory. SSG Hightower was assigned to guard her, which Coop thought was redundant since he wasn’t leaving her side.

The GYSGT slapped the magazine into her M3, popped up, and fired a burst downrange. A couple of Windsor soldiers, who’d taken the lack of fire as an opportunity, caught the brunt of the blast as they tried to creep up on the team’s position. One went down from what had to be a lucky hit, while the rest scampered for cover.

“Where we going, Sergeant Major,” Coop asked over TACCOM. He had an uncomfortable feeling like a noose was tightening around his neck. The enemy was going to pin them down and wear them down if they didn’t move.

“Our exit is a hundred and fifty meters in front of us,” the SGM announced.

Coop popped up to take a look, and only saw the palace’s exterior wall. Between them and that wall were a number of enemy troops behind cover and concealment, and they opened fire on Coop once they saw his head pop up.

“No way in hell we’re going to…” Coop began, but the SGM cut him off.

“Wait for it,” the SGM had to be looking at something on his HUD because no one else knew a thing. “Wait for it,” he repeated.

A flash of light emitted from above as railgun rounds tore through the atmosphere on a direct course for the city. Coop instinctually ducked, like any survival-oriented human would, when those duro-steel rounds smashed into the city’s shield like the hand of god. The shield flashed with energy as it absorbed and deflected the rounds from the ships in orbit, but it did succeed in providing a significant distraction, which was only compounded when the palace wall directly ahead of the team exploded.

“Sergeant Major took down the wall’s generator while inside the palace,” Sullivan informed as he jumped up with the rest of the team.

“Why didn’t he tell us?” Coop followed suit and vaulted the wall to provide covering fire so the unarmored members of their team could advance.

“He did,” Sullivan’s Buss boomed next to Coop’s as they established a firing line and started to eat away at the enemy’s positions. “You were too busy making lovey-dovey eyes at Berg to notice.”

“Well…whatever,” Coop didn’t have a comeback, and some the Windsor’s were trying to move around to flank them.

He drove them back into position with withering fire that killed at least two members of that assault element. More gunfire erupted behind the Windsor’s as resistance fighters started to pour through the breech in the walls.

<Those magnificent bastards!> Coop grinning like a kid in a candy store as the rebels fanned out to envelop the Windsor’s.

The enemy’s fire discipline started to crack as they realized they were being hit from all sides, and that was Coop’s cue to move. He half-trotted next to, half-carried Eve forward as he sprayed enemy position with his plasma-tipped rounds.

“Move right!” the SGM yelled when they were about halfway to the exit.

Coop pivoted to put his body between the enemy and Eve. They were out in the open and moving, so he was the cover. He fired where his AI told him the enemy was, and his rounds smacked into a blue barrier.

“Fuckers have an area shield!” he relayed, as he switched to his regular rounds and poured fire on the shield on full auto. The constant disruption would keep the enemy from effectively targeting the team.

“I’m set, move, Cooper!” Sullivan sent when he was ready to provide cover fire.

Coop disengaged and sprinted back toward a chunk of wall that Sullivan was using to rest his Buss on. Coop slid in next to him, but the cover wasn’t big enough for the both of them.

“Grenades and we make a break for it!” the SGM ordered. The team was only fifty meters from the exit. Bodies littered the open space, with many more belonging to the rebels than Windsor’s.  They were brave but outmatched by the enemy.

Coop cycled his barrel until the grenade chamber popped into place. He made sure a frag round was in the chamber followed by smoke.

“Fire!” the SGM was moving before he finished.

The grenades were set to a lower velocity so they would penetrate the shield. The frag grenades lobbed out of the Busses and through the energy barrier followed by the smoke. There were muffled screams as the frags detonated, and then the smoke obscured everything.

“Move!” Coop yelled as he pushed SSG Hightower forward.

The two unarmored NCOs grabbed Eve between them and ran for the exit. The LT was in the lead with the SGM covering her, Mike right on their asses, while Sullivan took up flank security, and Coop rear security. He was the last to leave the position, and the first to see the return volley. The problem was they didn’t look like any grenades he’d ever seen before.

“What the hell?” he watched as the oblong-shape arched toward their old position. Since he was nearly fifteen meters away, with a shield and armor between him and the incoming blast, he wasn’t worried, and he was even less worried about the rest of the team.

The enemy had blown their load on an old position. Coop grinned at the oversight until a red warning siren sounded in his armor. Text came up on his HUD to warn him of whatever problem his AI had detected.

<What the hell?> The text on his screen looked like a feral cat had been given LSD, starved for a week, and then allowed to send a message on a scratch post. Coop stared at it in complete confusion was a half-second.

“What is…?” Sullivan seemed to be getting the same message.

{Translate?} Coop thought through his IOR and the alien thing in his brain went to work.

If Coop would have known this would be an issue, he would have put alien default translation protocols at the top of his check list when he reformatted the GYSGT’s armor.

The deranged-cat scribbles reordered themselves into English, and Coop’s blood ran cold.

Alert: Shield Frequency Deciphered. Recommend fresh scramble.

“Do you know how to…?” Sullivan and Coop were obviously on the same wavelength, but those seconds were critical and it was already too late.

The oblong grenades that had been tossed out of the enemy’s shield, at the SRRT team’s old position, ended up being anything but harmless. The Commonwealth had nothing like them in their inventory, and only a handful of the grenades were even on Harper’s Junction. The team didn’t know this, but the grenades were only given to the Queen’s personal bodyguards, and they had a single purpose…to kill armored enemies.

Sensors in the grenade used magnetics and energy sensors to hone in on their target, so despite being thrown over a dozen meters off course, they had no problem finding their targets. Once the grenade’s AIs identified their victims, they initiated the first of their three stages. Stage one was designed to identify and defeat an enemy’s shield. The grenades had to be in the vicinity and measuring the enemy’s shield for long enough to crack the frequency before being used. So, despite being in the courtyard the entire battle since the SRRT team emerged from the palace, they were only being used now.

With the frequencies deciphered, the grenade’s computer initiated stage two. Stage two was an energy blast that was meant to break down a shield’s integrity. Traveling at the speed of light, the blasts of energy hit Coop and Sullivan before they knew what was happening. Before they could shout in surprise that their shields were down, the grenades engaged the third and final stage. A powerful graviton blast turned a hunk of duro-steel in the center of the grenade’s housing into a lance of death. The lance was launched from the grenade, on target for the two LACS, on speeds that had never before been achieved by electro-magnetic projectiles. It ignited the atmosphere as it passed through the space between the grenade’s housing and the two armored soldiers.

With their shields down, all Coop and Sullivan had was their 6cm armor between them and these armor-killing spikes.

All this happened so fast that Coop wasn’t able to follow it. However, the silicon brains of his LACS were, which was what saved his life. Like some HI, he had presets and favorites programmed into his armor. The language default wasn’t one of them, but his grav-boots engaging when in the presence of a sudden gravitational change was. He had losing a leg to a pirate’s grenade on that stupid mining facility, while saving LCDR Gold’s ass to thank for that.

So, when the graviton burst fired the armor-piercing lance at him, Coop’s presets identified the explosion and pulsed his grav-boots.

{Armor Breech!} his IOR blared inside his brain a second before overwhelming pain washed over him.

Coop screamed and didn’t even feel himself falling to the ground as his LACS dumped drugs into his system. The pain subsided to a dull throb about the time he realized he was on his back, and in the open about fifteen meters from the exit.

Sullivan was almost at the exit and he was down too.

<What the hell?> his groggy mind tried to fight through the haze of the drugs.

His training took over and he ran a suit diagnostic. His left thigh was a mess of red icons on the results. The armor had been breached, there was internal injury, and it didn’t look like he was getting up on his own anytime soon.

“Sergeant Major, I’m hit,” his voice sounded emotionless over TACCOM.

“Stay put, Sergeant, I’ll be there in one.” The SGM replied.

Coop saw the NCOIC dragged Sullivan’s LACS the last few meters to the exit while firing his Buss one handed. Plasma rounds impacted the area shield, which was still obscured with smoke. The GYSGT, Mike, and SSG Hightower were leaning into the wall’s opening and taking shots with their weapons to keep the Windsor’s head down.

The SGM got Sullivan’s LACS on the opposite side of the wall and ran to Coop. Grenades thumped out of his Buss and splattered against the shield. The enemy had tightened things up, but in doing so had obscured their own view of the battlefield. No one could see shit through that smoke. Not that Coop cared. He was looking down at his thigh and marveling at the meter-long, duro-steel spike that had impaled his leg and was sticking out the other side.

<It’s not every day you see that,> his drug-addled brain thought as the SGM grabbed him by a carrier handle at the back of his armor and started pulling him toward the exit.

The enemy was hunkered down to ride out the rest of the fight, so they didn’t take any fire as they got out of the palace. Hightower, Mike, and the GYSGT were providing security on the war-torn street while the LT was bent over Sullivan’s LACS. Coop only got a glance as he was plopped down on the opposite side of the wall, but it didn’t look good.

The other SGT had a duro-steel spike sticking out of his chest plate where his heart would normally be, and the LT’s face wasn’t a vote of confidence in his condition. Coop tried to hail his on TACCOM…nothing. He tried his IOR…nothing. He reached out to try and connect suit-to-suit with the man who’d helped cover the team’s retreat with him, but the LT held up a hand to stop him. She shook her head and looked back up at the SGM. The armored NCOIC hung his head for a second.

<Fuuuuuck,> Coop didn’t know if it was the drugs or sadness that was hitting him harder.

“We need to keep moving,” the SGM announced. There would be time to mourn later. “Cooper, can you move?”

“If you get me off my ass, I can stumble along, Sergeant Major,” Coop replied.

“If we can make it to the outskirts of the city, we should be able to keep our heads low and ride this out until the cavalry arrives.” The SGM set a waypoint on Coop’s HUD and then yanked him to his feet.

<Fine by me,> Coop thought as he limped forward. <I think I’ve fought enough for one day.>

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Two Worlds – Chapter 268

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

“This was too easy,” Eve looked over from where she was bent over the dead body of a Windsor guard. The man didn’t have a head thanks to Coop.

“Speak for yourself,” Coop shot back. Even in the palace’s dungeons he heard the belch of the Windsor mech tearing into the rebel soldiers providing a diversion for the SRRT team. A lot of people had died so they could perform this rescue.

“She’s right,” the SGM was standing guard next to the door. “We only encountered a squad when we entered the complex, and a handful of guards. This is supposed to be the Windsor’s stronghold. There is no way they would leave it unguarded in the middle of an invasion.”

A grin pulled at Eve’s lips when the NCOIC agreed with her. She straightened up and attached a piece of the dead man’s armor to her body. Coop had brought along some Dragonscale armor for Eve on because it didn’t matter if he rescued her if she got shot on the way out. Like before he got the GYSGT’s armor, the grunt armor wasn’t meant for someone Eve’s size, and even less for someone with her curves. This was the one time Coop considered her voluptuousness to be a bad thing.

She’d squeezed into what she could, but it wasn’t offering much protection. She was scavenging from the guard’s armor and strapping it on top of her shins and thighs for extra protection. She looked like Frankenstein jumped into the 25th century and decided to design armor.

“Here,” he tossed her a compact submachine gun. She unfolded it and accepted the ammunition that followed. It wasn’t as good as an M3, and way less useful than a Buss, but it would have to do.

“Thanks,” their eyes met for a second, and he knew she wanted to say more, but now was not the time or place. “What’s the plan, Sergeant Major?”

“We get the hell out of here and join up with the main body of the invasion force. We armor up, resupply, and come back to kick some ass.”

Coop nodded along with the SGM’s plan, but not everyone was onboard.

“Negative,” Eve stated. The SGM’s armored helm just stared blankly at her. “Sergeant Major,” she started again. “There is a reason you met limited resistance in getting in here. This is the Windsor’s seat of government. The prime minister, high ranking military leaders, and Queen of the fucking planet are here,” a hint of desperation leaked into her tone. “There have got to be HVTs all over this place. We need to strike now and strike hard. If we cut off the snake’s head then it won’t be able to bite us in the ass later on.”

The SGM listened to it all silently. Coop wished he could see any expression or any nonverbal body language from the man, but he got nothing. Not even a burp over the IOR.

“You’re right. Good thinking, Sergeant,” the SGM replied. “We’ll split into fire teams: Gunney, Berg, Sullivan, and Cooper; LT, me, Enders, and Hightower. We sweep this place the best we can. Capture HVTs if possible, kill them if you can’t. If you hit serious resistance, retreat and regroup with the main landing force. We’re not going to be able to slug it out long term if they want to put up a fight. Keep situational awareness about what is going on around us. We don’t want the ships in orbit to take a shot through the city’s shield and turn us to paste because we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Eloquently put as always, Sergeant Major,” Coop sighed, as Eve finished running a diagnostic on her weapon. He just wished for once things were easy.

The green good-to-go button matched the glint in her eye. “Let’s go kill the fuckers that tortured us.” Despite being the least protected and feebly armed of the group, she led the way into the corridor.

<Fuck, I love that woman.> Coop was right behind her.

 

***

 

CPL Nickelbaucher

Location: Harper’s Junction, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

The first sounds of small arms fire snapped Mitch’s head in the direction of the village. “Keep your heads down and stay alert,” he sent to his team while he trotted over to the small CP the SGT had situated behind the tank.

The NCO held up a finger as he approached. He had his hand to the side of his head and was clearly trying to make out the chatter over TACCOM.  “Echo made contact near the city center,” he relayed after a short pause. “They’re pushing them north toward the open space between the city and us. Once they get them in the open, they’ll call for fire and have the battalion HI take them out. So far, it just looks like some locals and not Windsor’s.”

Mitch didn’t let his squad leader see his sigh of relief. He’d rather take on some yokels than the people who’d crushed his battalion on New Lancashire. The mention of the HI brought back some unpleasant memories, but he was glad the walking artillery was going to be able to end this before it even got close to their position.

It was a relief for a lot of the marines in the brigade that the brass who set this whole thing up didn’t skimp on making sure they had what they needed. HI was always a precious commodity, and he couldn’t think of the last time he’d seen the entire battalion fully stocked with its compliment of ten HI troopers. The Alpha Company’s trooper was with the HQ element on the opposite side of the town from Mitch’s current position. In a valley that was thirty kilometers across and close to two hundred long, it was nice to know that there were thirty HI present to deal with bigger threats.

<Plus two tanks,> he thought to himself as he gave the metal behemoth a pat.

The clang of the impact faded and he heard another noise. “What’s that?” He turned and looked behind him. It didn’t have the zip of small arms fire, or the tell-tale whistle of incoming artillery. It was a soft rumble that growing louder and louder.

“Incom…” the SGT yelled over the squad line just as three figures rocketed over the mountains only a few kilometers from their position.

Mitch paled as he raced back to his foxhole and dove in. The only thing worse than enemy artillery was enemy air support. Even worse for the squad was their tank was a juicy target.

Three drones crested the mountain. The one in the lead was longer and more needle-shaped than the two rear drones. It had small, sleek wings on the side, but could turn on a dime based on the dive it executed as it came over the mountains. Mitch didn’t recognize the drone, but he did recognize the two in pursuit. Drone tech might have changed a hell of a lot in four hundred years, but the Commonwealth’s fleet of unmanned aerial fighters still had the shape pioneered by the old twentieth century United States’ stealth bombers. These were sleeker, far more maneuverable, and way better armed than its predecessors, but they were still struggling to catch the Windsor’s drone.

The Windsor drone dropped to the deck and rocketed over the open space barely ten meters off the ground. That was smart. It was below what a lot of the swatters were programmed to monitor. The Commonwealth drones followed but fell behind a bit. That didn’t stop them from firing their railguns at the enemy. Tracer rounds lit up the valley as the dog fight continued. Positioning thrusters flared around the Windsor’s drone as it spun to avoid the rounds.

The three fighters rocketed past Mitch’s position so fast he nearly missed them. By the time he turned around they were approaching the town.

<Echo!> He thought helplessly as a hundred members of his battalion were suddenly in danger. He was sure the SGT was already relaying the info, which the company commander probably already had with the JTAC coordinator monitoring the air space. The marines were probably scrambling for cover as he sat there thinking.

It looked like the Windsor drone was going to ram straight into one of the peripheral buildings, but at the last second it went into a steep climb. A split second later, one of the Commonwealth drones opened fire. It looked like its rounds missed the enemy’s tail by centimeters, and it paid for it. The less maneuverable Commonwealth fighter tried to pull up, but clipped the top of the building. It spiraled out of control and the pilot somewhere back on the Bush tried to avoid any collateral damage. He wasn’t completely successful. The drone almost made it out, but a damaged section of its wing snapped off from the strain and it nosedived into a group of buildings about a block from the edge of town. A second later, Mitch heard the boom of the drone’s death from his position.

The other Commonwealth drone ignored its dead wing mate and climbed with the Windsor drone. The Windsor drone looped around at the apex of its climb and went into a dive bomb of the marine’s expected position. Now that the Commonwealth pilot knew where the enemy was going he was able to act instead of react. He inverted and spewed out railgun rounds across the enemy’s attack path. Several rounds impacted the Windsor drone, killing it, but not its mission. The Commonwealth drone got the kill, but the dead drone still had gravity on its side. Even as the drone started to come apart from the damage, it still had plenty of mass to plow into the center of the small town.

The fire ball that sprang up from the explosion was bigger than the Commonwealth drone’s crash, and likely much more deadly. Mitch didn’t know how much since he was out of the TACCOM loop, but he magnified his HUD and was able to see the glint of a Spyder coming in for a landing with a big red cross stenciled on its sides and belly.

“Damn,” he muttered to himself. Marines were dying while he sat at the crossroads kicking rocks into the canal.

“We’re to hold position and continue with our mission,” the SGT announced over the squad channel. He’d obviously been thinking the same thing, asked to do something, and was denied.

Mitch had mixed emotions. He didn’t want to see other marines die and not be able to help, but he didn’t want to wind up facing down another Windsor mech. He didn’t want to sit on his ass all day, but he didn’t want to get shot in the ass either. They were polar opposites, but he wasn’t allowed to take the middle road.

He’d just have to sit there and wait.

 

***

 

Queen Josephina I

Location: Harper’s Center, Barrowsford, Star Kingdom of Windsor

 

“Shit,” COL Buckton stopped dead in his tracks. The Imperial marines raised their weapons at their commander’s curse, and Josephina’s own guards flipped their weapons off safe. “The Collies stopped fifty thousand kilometers out and sent fighters and assault shuttles our way. They want a buffer so we can’t catch them with their pants down with planetary weapons. That screws up our timeline. The shuttle isn’t going to be able to get you to the ships in orbit from this location without it being in range of their capitol ships.”

“So I’m staying after all,” Josephina was fine with this outcome. It’s what she wanted in the first place.

“No, Your Majesty. We’ve got a Plan B. We need to head back to the subterranean level.”

The Queen immediately knew his plan. The former governors of this planet knew they weren’t the most popular people around, and anti-aircraft missiles were a fairly easy item to procure on the black market. As a backup they’d built an underground maglev system to get them out of the city in case of an emergency. It popped back above ground about fifty kilometers outside the capitol, and from there it could join the normal tracks to any destination on the planet.

“You’re going to put me on a train and smuggle me to an alternate space port,” her statement was thick with disapproval.

“Yes, Ma’am,” the COL ignored her and spun on his heel. The marines and personnel armsmen formed back up around her and they hurried back the way they’d come.

She noticed there was more urgency in their steps, which meant danger was closer than they would have liked. They had no idea.

They rounded a corner at the same moment another group came around the bend about twenty meters away. “What the…” she began before the COL roughly grabbed her by the collar, and yanked her back while the marines and guards opened fire.

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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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