Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop was walked through the halls of the Civil Administration building like a criminal. The officer of the court’s hand never left Coop’s arm, and the other hand kept a firm grip on a stun baton. Despite the sight, no one cared. To all of them he was just another Rat getting dragged around for doing something wrong. It was business as usual in the PHA.
“Any advice?” Coop asked the man hauling him around the building like a sack of flour.
“For being in the military?” The man said it in a mocking tone. “Fuck if I know…don’t drop the soap.”
Coop didn’t get the joke, and he didn’t have time to think about it. Instead of taking the elevator downstairs they’d opted for the stairs. The stairs were there purely as a safety precaution. No one would willingly take the time to physically exert themselves when the magnetic lifts could carry you anywhere in the building in a few seconds. It was a sharp contrast to the PHA towers where most of the inhabitants were forced to take the stairs; sometimes all the way up to the fiftieth floor. Coop and his tower were lucky.
The stairs also kept the officer in control, and kept Coop away from anybody who might try to free him. Until they reached the recruitment office, Coop was still in the custody of the court; which meant the court would have to foot the bill for tracking his ass down if he escaped. It took a lot of money and man hours to find a Rat in the PHA. Rats knew the best damp, dark hiding places.
Coop didn’t have any plans of escape, but the officer couldn’t know or rely on that. So he kept a solid hold of Coop and kept him away from everyone. It only took five minutes to reach the recruitment office. It said a lot about the Commonwealth’s view of their military that the recruitment “office” took up an entire floor of the building.
“Prisoner transfer.” The officer pulled out his PAD and extended it to a man sitting behind a desk blazoned with crest of the Commonwealth Armed Forces.
The man sitting at the desk looked funny. Coop thought that because he didn’t understand anything about the military uniform, and secondly because one of the man’s arms was about two thirds the size of the other one. Unlike the blue smartcloth of the PHA employees, this soldier’s smartcloth uniform was a dusty gray color.
The intelligent clothing displayed his last name and first initial in blocky white letters over his left pectoral, and “Recruiter” was in the same font over his right. Both of his shoulders had three upside down V’s on them, and a bunch of different colored squares were lined up above his name. Coop didn’t know what any of this meant, but the sheer quantity of them looked impressive.
Coop decided he liked this guy even more when he held up a finger in the PHA goon’s face, clearly telling him to wait. Coop liked the situation even more when the PHA officer shut up and waited for the soldier to finish what he was doing.
“Can I help you?” Coop expected a gravelly voice like the old men in his tower who’d smoked cigarettes since they could get it up. Instead, the man’s voice was smooth; like a news anchor on the holo.
“Prisoner transfer.” The officer repeated, handing over the PAD to the soldier.
The soldier tapped the officer’s block of polyplast to his own, linking the devices for verification. With a swipe he opened another screen and verified the enlistment contract Coop had signed less than ten minutes ago. Verified might have been a bit much, since the soldier just made sure Coop and the judge had signed it.
“It looks good, I’ll take it from here.” The soldier handed the PAD back to the PHA officer. “Have a nice day.”
The PHA guy just looked at the soldier in surprise. “Don’t you want me to bring him into the office or something? You’ve got custody of him now.”
“I know numbnuts, and I already dismissed you. If this shitstain makes a run for it then he’s a deserter. The penalty for desertion is death. I’m sure our newest recruit can put two and two together.” The soldier punctuated the point by removing a deadly looking pistol from a holster on his leg.
One look at the gun told Coop there was no stun setting on it.
“It’s your job.” The PHA officer sneered, before quickly walking toward the elevators. Coop didn’t watch him go, his eyes never left the weapon.
The soldier didn’t watch the PHA officer go either, he kept his eye on Coop. “Everyone who works here has a stick up their ass.” The soldier waved the pistol lazily back and forth. “They act like you’re going to try and gut someone the first chance you get. Are you going to try and gut me Mark Cooper?” The soldier didn’t even have to look at the PAD to remember Coop’s name.
“No,” Coop gulped. “And call me Coop.”
“I’ll call you whatever the fuck I want to call you, and you will refer to me as Sergeant. Is that understood?”
“Yes, Sergeant.” The unfamiliar word caught on Coop’s tongue.
“Good.” The man pointed toward the door to Coop’s right. “Get your ass in here.”
Despite a gun being in the hands of a trained killer, and that killer having every intention of shooting Coop if he tried to do anything, Coop still didn’t like being told what to do. So naturally his mouth got the best of him.
“I’m guessing your right hand is the one you jerk off with. You don’t look like you get much done with your left.” Coop motioned at the disproportionate limbs with a cocky smile.
He was surprised when the sergeant just smiled back. “No. Your mom and girlfriend like to double-team me so I don’t have to do anything but sit back and relax. I lost my arm during a skirmish with the Blockies in York Sector. Takes a few months for it to regrow and get back to full strength; which is why I’m sitting here talking with a dipshit like you instead of out their killing people who need killing.”
Coop’s mouth hung open at the comeback. He had to say something, so he said the first thing that popped into his head. “My mom’s dead.”
The sergeant didn’t even hesitate. “If you want to go cry a river then get it over with before coming through that door. If you’d like to join her then start running; otherwise get the fuck in here.”
Now it was Coop’s turn to not hesitate. He grabbed the door to his right and entered the recruitment office. The sergeant met him on the other side of the door, and Coop felt his jaw dropping again. Seated behind the clear polyplast window, the sergeant didn’t look that much different from any other person in the building. He had more meat on his bones than a Rat, but that was a given. Now that the man was standing right next to him, Coop knew for sure the man didn’t need a pistol to kill him.
Coop was used to being one of the tallest people in the room. At 184 centimeters he was about as big as they came in the PHA. He was still rail thin, but his height and the long reach of his arms were an intimidation factor he heavily relied on. People didn’t like to get into fights with a man who could hit them when they couldn’t hit back. The roles were reversed when the sergeant stood next to Coop and pointed down the hallway.
“Let’s go.” Coop walked in front of the sergeant, literally in his shadow.
The soldier had to be at least two meters tall, which put him as one of the tallest people Coop had ever seen. He also found the sergeant’s lithe frame more intimidating than the excessive muscle mass that was the stereotypical soldier on the holo. The man walking behind Coop felt like a coiled viper who could dangerously strike at any time.
<I don’t want to meet the person who took his arm.> For the first time Coop felt fearful of the choice he’d made. It was beyond the abstract fear of knowing the armed forces were dangerous. This was seeing that fear and danger up close and personified in the man behind him.
Coop was thankful the soldier was walking behind him as the dread raced through his brain and across his face. He didn’t want the first impression the military had of him to be of a scared kid. The sergeant walked Coop through two doors before they entered a large room in the back of the recruitment office. There were another dozen recruits in the room, and each was standing beside their two meter by two meter black cube.
“Follow the instructions.” It was the only direction the sergeant gave before turning on his heel and walking back out of the room.
Coop stood next to his assigned black cube just like everyone else for five minutes before his anxiety got the best of him. “Pssst,” he hissed at a boy one cube over. The guy was chubby and his face was pockmarked by acne. “Pssst. What the hell are we supposed to do?”
“Shhhh.” The boy shushed Coop with wide eyes. “We’re supposed to follow the instructions.”
“What fucking instructions?” Coop replied, but the boy didn’t talk to him again.
Everyone stood beside their cube for a good twenty minutes. A few more people came through the door, led by another soldier, but they left without saying another word to anyone. Coop was about to lie down when a feminine, computerized voice addressed them.
“Welcome, Recruits, to the United Commonwealth of Colonies Armed Forces Standardized Aptitude Examination.” Coop matched the voice with the mental image of a smiling, attractive woman; which was something he’d never seen in a PHA employee. “Please follow all instructions until the completion of your exam. Step inside the cube, and good luck.”
Coop looked around and saw everyone else stepping into the black cube. It made a slurping sound as it parted and closed behind the entrants. Coop took a deep breath and stepped through the black material. He felt it slither open and shut while emitting the slurping sound. It felt like an army of ants crawled over him, and then there was nothing but darkness and silence.
<What the hell?> Coop pushed against the edge of the cube, but it refused to yield.
Coop didn’t know if he was claustrophobic, but he panicked slightly, and smashed his closed fist against the dark wall. He might as well have been hitting steel. His hand throbbed with pain. <What did I sign up for?>
“Welcome.” The computerized voice was back, and light cut through the darkness in the shape of the Commonwealth Armed Forces crest. A diving eagle, talons spread wide, with the dagger-like shape of a starship protectively above it. “Please take a seat.”
Coop studied his surroundings and saw a chair in the center of the cube. He circled it once to make sure he wasn’t missing anything else in the small space before sitting down.
“Thank you for complying.” Coop yelped as a helmet descended over his head. He also felt something begin to crawl all over his body. It felt like slimy worms stretching from his hands and feet, up his arms, legs, and all over his chest and back. “Sensors indicate an increase in heartrate and respiratory function.” The voice stated in the same soothing tone. “Please remain calm. Integration with your proctor will be completed momentarily.”
“Fuck this,” Coop spat, but the moment he struggled; arm, neck, and leg restraints snapped down into place.
“Please remain calm.” The voice infuriated Coop, but he couldn’t even budge with the restraints. “Integration complete.” The voice announced when Coop felt the worm-like creatures all over his body stop. “Mark Cooper, you will be tested with a series of questions, problems, and situations to determine your aptitude. Answer to the fullest of your ability as this examination will determine career possibilities with the United Commonwealth of Colonies Armed Forces. Do you understand?”
“Fuck…” Coop breathed out, his heart was pounding in his chest. He liked when Hailey had tied him up, but this was different.
“That is not an acceptable answer. Do you understand?” The voice repeated.
“Yeah,” Coop huffed, and the world changed.
The inside of the black cube, which displayed nothing more than the crest, disappeared in a flash of light. Coop’s head swam, and he felt like puking as his senses violently resisted the sudden change. One second Coop was alone in the darkness, and the next he was standing with ten other people in a place with red dirt, red sky, and a black river running in front of him.
“Mark Cooper,” the voice was back, but it sounded like God talking down from heaven. “The situation is as follows: your ten man squad has been on the run from enemy troops. You have reached an obstacle that you need to cross. You only have fifteen minutes before the enemy forces catch up with you. Your mission is to cross the river with as many member of your squad as possible in the next fifteen minutes. Execute.”