Two Worlds – Chapter 10

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Mindfucked; that was a good way to describe the sensation permeating Coop’s skull. The average time for the stupid test he took might have been a little over three hours, but it took him a full four. He was pretty sure he bombed it. The question about the Expansion was by far the easiest one. The VR simulations didn’t get any easier, and the complex mathematical equations and scientific theorems made Coop wonder if he should have stayed in school past junior year.

<If I knew I was gonna get pinched boosting an air-car and forced to join the military then maybe.> He rolled his eyes behind his closed lids as he massaged his temples.

After the test was finished, soldiers in the Commonwealth gray smartcloth escorted the fifteen recruits to a waiting room. One by one they were called away to review their performance. While Coop waited he looked over the crowd of future soldiers. He wasn’t impressed. Despite being in a PHA Civil Administration building most of the other recruits were clearly not from around here. Most wore smartcloth patterned in professional or business casual styles, and they typed away on their PADs while they waited. Coop had neither of those luxuries, and he didn’t want to be associated with anyone who did. Honestly, the only thing he wanted to do was put his fist through one of the little rich-kid’s faces and take his PAD from him.

<Welcome to the PHA.> He imagined himself standing over the guy’s broken face. The thought helped with the headache a little.

“Hello.” The greeting came from the space right next to Coop.

Coop didn’t jump in surprise. He’d heard the sound of the person approaching, and hoped that him sitting there alone and with his eyes closed was enough of a nonverbal signal to get the person to go the fuck away. Apparently, it wasn’t.

“Hello.” The boy who seated himself next to Coop repeated when Coop opened his eyes.

<What the fuck are they feeding people out there?> Coop couldn’t help but grimace.

The guy had to be five centimeters taller and ten kilos heavier than Coop. The PHA Rat was beginning to think he wasn’t that big of a guy at all. The new guy’s face was thin and angular, making him look harsher than he actually was. Coop noticed his soft hands and innocent eyes right away. The guy had a permanent grave expression on his face, even when he smiled and extended his hand toward Coop.

Coop raised an eyebrow at the other man, but shook the offered hand. “Hi.”

“Nathaniel Cruise.” The other recruit introduced himself with an ease that said he did this all the time.

Coop passed his eyes over the guy’s outfit. It was clearly an expensive white smartcloth in a professional cut. It was the type of outfit you saw bankers and stockbrokers wear on the holo. If that wasn’t evidence that this guy was wealthy, then his PAD was. Instead of the block of polyplast Coop associated with the communications devices, Nathaniel had a thin circular PAD that was securely attached to his forearm. Right now it had the time and some type of chart playing across its screen.

“It’s a good piece of tech.” Nathaniel saw Coop looking. “I got it last month for my birthday. My father said I wouldn’t need it once I joined up, but I was impatient.” He laughed at the self-deprecating humor, but Coop didn’t think it was funny.

Nathaniel noticed the cold stare Coop was giving him and quickly shifted topics. “You are?”

“Call me Coop.” Coop turned his attention away from the rich kid and closed his eyes again. Any relief he’d gotten from the academic skull fucking had returned during the conversation.

“Nice to meet you, Coop.” Nathaniel kept talking despite Coop not paying any attention. “Are you excited to see your career options?”

“Don’t really give a shit.” If Nathaniel didn’t get the hint soon Coop was going to make good on the daydream of punching someone in the face and taking their PAD.

<I could get a good price for that in my tower.> The thought sent a pang of homesickness through his gut.

“How can you not be excited?” Nathan laughed like Coop was making a joke. “This test determines the next few years of your life. I’m going the officer track myself. A few months of leadership training and I’ll be a Lieutenant; hopefully on a Commonwealth warship.”

“I guess you’ve got it all figured out.” Coop closed his eyes.

“That’s the plan.” Coop could feel Nathaniel’s surgically perfected smile beaming. “I’d really like to be on a battleship, but I’d take a cruiser.”

“Nathaniel Cruise!” A stern looking soldier called from one of the doors.

“That’s me, time to go start my career. Good luck, Coop.” Coop didn’t even respond as Nathaniel walked away.

<Asshole.> Coop was just glad for the return of peace and quiet.

“Mark Cooper!” The smooth voice of the sergeant Coop talked to earlier cut through the momentary peace Coop had achieved. “I see you over there, move your ass.”

Coop muttered several profanities under his breath, many involving the irritating sergeant’s mother, as he followed the taller man to an empty room not far from where the rest of the recruits were waiting. It was a simple room with two chairs, a desk between them, and a clear polyplast monitor to display information. Coop saw his name up on the screen as he sat down, but he didn’t have any idea what the rest of the data said.

The sergeant looked at the data for a solid thirty seconds without saying a word. Coop didn’t rush the soldier; he’d already verbally sparred with the man and lost. That earned the soldier respectful silence from him.

“Do you want the long or short version?” The sergeant asked, turning his attention to Coop.

“Keep it short and sweet, Sarge,” Coop grinned.

“Sergeant,” the soldier corrected with an iron gaze.

“Keep it short and sweet, Sergeant,” Coop kept the grin.

“Your leadership abilities suck,” the sergeant deadpanned. “In multiple scenarios you wasted resources, mostly to defend or enhance yourself, and ended up fucking everything else up.”

Coop remembered the first VR simulation, and how the big armored guy never came out of the river. “So you’re not going to be going down the officer track…ever.” The sergeant’s words didn’t surprise Coop. He didn’t even know there was an officer track until Nathaniel mentioned it.

“Ok,” Coop shrugged, showing how little he cared.

The sergeant didn’t care either because he moved on without batting an eyelash. “The rest of the results show that you’re smart and stupid, it just depends on the situation.”

“That really clears things up.” Coop would have said more but the soldier talked right over him.

“You’re quick on your feet, but you’re rash, and impulsive. In all the simulations you were killed more than half the time. But your instincts are to do something, which is good.” Coop couldn’t stop the grin from forming. “Psychological metrics have you scoring high in a lot of negative emotions: rage, apathy…” the sergeant listed off a few more.

“The functional category you scored highest in was the technical category. You’ve got a firm grasp on tech, which is a bit of a surprise considering your background,” the sergeant frowned. “Or not that surprising considering why you’re here; either way you have a possible future as some technical specialist; maybe communications.”

“If I wanted to talk on a phone to people I’d get a job at a call center,” Coop spat at the idea.

The sergeant just shook his head before he entered a few commands on his PAD. “Tough shit. You’re good at it so it’s going in your file.” Coop couldn’t argue.

The sergeant spent the next half hour going over the rest of the metrics on the screen between them. They briefly dissected his verbal answers and Coop had to answer some more questions about the reasons behind decisions he made in the VR simulations. It just made him feel even more mindfucked.

“For fuck’s sake, I don’t care where you put me. Just get me out of this fucking office.” Coop vented when he couldn’t take it anymore.

The sergeant gave him a long look before entering another note in his file, and shutting down the system. “You’ve got balls.” The sergeant said simply. “You’ve got a sack fully of moxy, a hard on for pissing people off, and a “fuck the world” attitude.” Coop was surprised to see the bigger man smile. “Basic is going to suck ass for you, but if you make it through I think you’ll end up a Heavy. And then the real fun begins.”

Coop wanted to ask what a Heavy was, but he didn’t want to indulge the sergeant‘s smile. So instead he got up, farted in the soldier’s general direction, and walked back to the waiting room. The soldier’s laugh followed him all the way back.

Nathaniel was already back, sitting next to the seat Coop had vacated earlier; so Coop found a chair on the opposite side of the room. <Take a fucking hint,> Coop growled when the rich kid got up and moved to the chair next to him.

The charming smile was gone, leaving a worn expression on the fellow recruit’s face. His eyes were red and puffy. Coop was about to ask if the guy was crying like a little baby but he got beat to it.

“I didn’t get it.” Nathaniel had a far off look in his eyes when he made the statement. “I didn’t get high enough scores to make the officer track.” Coop could tell the guy’s eyes were getting wet, and he wanted to slap some sense into him. “I’m going to spend my enlistment contract as some grunt in the dirt getting shot at.”

Coop couldn’t help himself; he looked the other recruit straight in the eyes and laughed.

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