Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Toronto-Buffalo-Cleveland-Detroit Metropolis, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop laughing in Nathanial’s face got everyone’s attention, but Coop couldn’t help himself. After all the shit that had happened to him throughout the last few days it was great to have someone dragged down to his level. It only made Coop laugh harder. He bent over, wheezing from the laughs, and slapped his knee repeatedly. It was a little over the top, but Coop didn’t give a shit what anyone else thought.
“Holy shit.” He had to wipe the tears from his eyes when he was finally able to regain control of himself.
Once he did, he got his first look at Nathaniel’s face. The other recruit looked surprised, pissed off, and hurt. Coop didn’t know why the guy would be hurt. They’d known each other for all of five minutes, and misery loved company. Coop did his best to compose himself, and smiled back at Nathaniel.
“I’m going to give you a piece of advice, Nate.” Nathaniel just sounded too pretentious for Coop to continue calling him that. “This has served me well through the years, and I think it’ll do you some good.” Coop paused for dramatic effect, and Nate leaned in expectantly.
“Embrace the suck.” The look on Nate’s face was priceless.
“Embrace the suck?” The other recruit asked in confusion.
“It’s not rocket science. Life sucks, so learn to embrace it.” Coop sat back with a grin and closed his eyes. If Nate took a swing at him, Coop would feel totally justified in punching him in the face, stealing the expensive PAD, and probably get nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
The advice Coop had given wasn’t something of his own creation. In fact, it was something his father had told him every time he complained about anything since his mom died.
<Dad, I’m hungry.>
<Embrace the suck.>
<Dad, I got stabbed today.>
<Embrace the suck…and rub some dirt on it.>
<Dad, my dick’s on fire, I think that bitch gave me gonorrhea.>
<Embrace the suck…and don’t stick your dick in everything with a hole.>
The memories were only the tip of the iceberg of Coop’s lovely upbringing; which was another reason he didn’t give a flying fuck about Nate’s little problem. Things could be a lot worse for both of them.
With only fifteen recruits it didn’t take too long for the recruiters to finish talking with everyone, and it took even less time for Coop and the others to get on to the next phase of their military careers.
“Everyone up!” Another soldier, this one with a golden U underneath the three upside-down Vs on his shoulder yelled. “Lock your lips and move your dicks people.”
“What’s up, Sarge?” Coop didn’t know what to call the new man, but he didn’t have the same respect for him as the other sergeant who’d verbally schooled him.
“Shut the fuck up Recruit before I shove my foot so far up your ass you’ll be tasting leather for your whole first week of Basic.” You could have chiseled the soldier’s expression from ice, but all Coop did was laugh. Thankfully, there was too much noise and movement for the new soldier to hear.
“Everyone make a single file line in front of me NOW!” People rushed to obey the order, but not Coop. He meandered along until he was the last person in line.
“My name is Staff Sergeant.” The man walked up and down the short line. “You will call me Staff Sergeant. If you fail to address me as anything other than that, you will do twenty-five pushups. Am I understood?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Uncertain, frightened replies rang out from the recruits.
All except for Coop. “I didn’t think basic training started yet…Staff Sergeant,” Coop threw out the response at the end to avoid any push-ups.
“Basic hasn’t started,” the staff sergeant clarified. “But your ass became government property to moment you signed that paperwork. You’ve all been lucky enough to have a little vacation since then, but that stops NOW!”
<This guy really likes yelling “now”,> Coop thought as the man marched down to where Coop stood and got within an inch of his face.
“Do you have a problem with that, Recruit?”
“No, Staff Sergeant. Just wondering.” Coop smiled back, but the look in the man’s eyes wiped the expression right off his face.
Unlike the taller sergeant Coop had been dealing with this soldier was shorter; so Coop had to look down a dozen centimeters to see into his beady little eyes, but he recognized what he saw. Those were the eyes of someone who didn’t take shit from anyone, whose self-worth was built on respect, and who wouldn’t hesitate to stick a knife in someone’s gut if they got on their bad side. Coop found himself gulping involuntarily as the short man stared him down.
“If you fucktards are done yappin’ then we need to move.” The staff sergeant tore his gaze from Coop, knowing he’d gotten his point across. “You will proceed single file out the door. You will take your first right, stop at the window, and collect your orders. Put those orders in your left hand, walk down two more doors to the caged door, grab the bundle in your right hand, scan yourself, and proceed to the restrooms at the end of the hall. You have ten minutes to execute, starting NOW.”
People practically ran out the door before the staff sergeant barked at them to walk. Coop immediately saw his disadvantage of being in the back of the line, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He waited as patiently as he could while everyone stopped at the window and received a large manila envelope. Why they were receiving what looked like old fashioned paper copies of something seemed stupid to Coop, but he decided he was safer keeping his mouth shut. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but this new staff sergeant scared him.
Coop accepted the large manila envelope with his name and GIC in bold black letters across the top right corner of the envelope. Coop immediately transferred it to his left hand just like the staff sergeant said, and just in time.
“Left hand, Recruit!” The staff sergeant snapped, getting up close and personal with another recruit a few places ahead of Coop in line.
Coop watched the interaction with interest. The recruit the staff sergeant was verbally thrashing reminded Coop a lot of Jimmy, but with some glaring differences. Unlike Jimmy, who was a giant pussy, this guy looked like what Coop expected a soldier to look like. He was only a few centimeters taller that Coop, but he had to weigh over a hundred kilos; and it looked like it was all muscle. They guy’s tattoos made him look even more intimidating. “You Only Live Once” was emblazoned in intricate letters across the man’s chest, both of his forearms were completely covered, and Coop could make out tattoos on both of his legs where his pants came up short. Coop didn’t recognize any of the ink as gang tats, but the too short pants, and ripped shirt clearly said the other recruit was a fellow Rat. He was a different breed of Rat though; he was the kind of Rat that ate other Rats for breakfast. What the guy said next only confirmed it.
“Why?” The recruit replied to the staff sergeant with a rebellious tone Coop knew all too well.
“Why?” The soldier repeated the question in a baby voice. “Because I fucking told you to. Drop and give me twenty-five. NOW!”
The big recruit looked like he was going to say something else, but he must have seen the same thing in the staff sergeant’s eyes as Coop. He dropped to the ground and did his punishment without a word. Coop passed by him as all the recruits hurried to the caged door farther down the hall. A soft chorus of beeps every ten seconds announced the scans the staff sergeant told them to expect.
“Cooper, Mark.” Another soldier sat behind the caged door and read off Coop’s name from a PAD. He also thrust a block of smartcloth into his hands. “Scan.” Coop did what he was told, and was hustled along after the beep. The big Rat stepped up behind him, grumbling to himself.
“The ten minutes is now three minutes. Move, Recruits!” The staff sergeant pointed to a door at the end of the hallway.
Coop hustled to the door and pushed through it. All of the recruits were in the small bathroom, and they were all stripping out of their old smartcloth and struggling into the new uniforms the soldier in the cage had given them. There were no separate bathrooms, so the female recruits stripped next to the male recruits; unfortunately, Coop didn’t get a chance to admire the view. He tore off his old clothes, more comfortable in the nude then any of the rich kids seemed to be. Then he ran into a problem. He had no idea how to get the smartcloth on.
He grabbed the block and pulled. It stretched but returned back to its normal block shape when Coop relaxed. <What the hell.> The advanced type of clothing that was commonplace throughout the Commonwealth had completely stumped the welfare Rat.
“Stick it to your chest, and take the insoles and stick them to the bottom of your feet.” Nate came to the rescue, despite still looking sullen. “Trust me,” the other recruit said when Coop doubted him.
With not a lot of time to spare Coop did what Nate said. When he pressed the block of smartcloth to his chest the material stuck and started to slither over his skin. Coop shuddered as the fabric snaked its way across his body. It reminded him way too much of how the VR chair had assimilated him into its matrix.
The smartcloth spread up his chest and stopped at the nape of his neck. Then it spread around his back and headed south. It covered his entire body, except his feet, in a surprisingly comfortable and breathable layer of fabric. He did the same with the thin foot insoles and he got the same effect. The smartcloth spread across his foot to form a boot. The bottom hardened when the process was complete.
<This is fucking unreal.> Coop found himself smiling at the display of technology.
“Fuckin’ piece of shit.” Coop heard the big Rat from the hallway cursing as he tried to get his own smartcloth to work.
“Stick it to your chest,” Coop relayed the advice. “Shit will do all the work after that.” Coop watched with a grin as the big recruit’s eyes went wide as the smartcloth clothed him just like everyone else.
“Thanks.” The bigger man extended his hand to Coop. “I’m Mike.”
“Coop,” Coop replied, feeling much better about shaking Mike’s hand than Nate’s because Mike was a fellow Rat.
Coop wanted to say more, but there wasn’t any time. “Five…four…three…two…one…zero,” Coop and Mike barely got out of the bathroom and into line before the staff sergeant finished the countdown.
“Well tickle my balls you aren’t worthless after all.” There was no humor in the staff sergeant’s smile. “Here is your brief introduction to your uniforms,” he gestured to the gray Commonwealth smartcloth they were all wearing.
Each person had the names on the right breast and “Recruit” on the left. The uniforms didn’t hide who was a man and who was a woman, but they were unflattering; unlike some of the revealing white smartcloth Coop had seen the others wearing. The gray uniforms strictly conformed to a traditionalist society’s modesty standards. Coop didn’t care about the lack of fashion some of the rich kids were discovering. This was the coolest thing he’d ever owned.
“You are now wearing your Commonwealth Military Uniforms or CMUs for short. This will be your duty uniform ninety-nine point nine percent of the time. These uniforms have two settings: Dress and Field. Don’t worry about trying to switch them because you won’t be able to. Not until you get your PADs. What you are wearing now is your Field CMU.” The staff sergeant did something and his own uniform changed.
In the “Field” setting the only thing that showed on his uniform was his name, recruiter, and rank. When the staff sergeant switched to “Dress”, multicolored patches blossom on his left breast. The staff sergeant had enough stuff that it neared the top of the smartcloth.
“These are ribbons and medals,” he pointed at the large quantity of patches. “You get them by doing important shit. This is your business card, but you will only be in dress uniform unless you’re ordered to do so by your commanders. You won’t have anything on this setting for a while, so don’t switch to it and embarrass yourselves.” With that he returned to his field uniform.
“Now everyone drop and give me twenty-five.”
There was no use arguing, so Coop dropped with everyone else to do the pushups. He did them all without struggling, but he could tell he’d be hurting by the time he hit forty. Mike wasn’t even breathing hard by the time they got back to their feet.
When they all were back on their feet the staff sergeant’s uniform had changed again. While they’d done their pushups the soldier had walked back to the caged door and grabbed two things. The first was an armored chest piece. This was military grade armor, not the weak ass shit the PHA bailiff’s used. The second item was another one of those sleek pistols, just like the one the sergeant had waved in Coop’s face a few hours ago.
“A few of your fellow recruits are not here by choice.” The staff sergeant’s eyes focused on Coop. “So I get some toys while I transport you to your final destination.”
Coop didn’t have any time to ask about the destination, because the staff sergeant was already yelling for them to move. He followed the pack out the back entrance of the Civil Administration building and onto an air-bus. It looked exactly like the yellow school air-buses that were on the holos, but the seats were hard polyplast. Coop could tell his ass would be numb after an hour in one of these.
The staff sergeant was the last one on the vehicle, and he nodded to the driver; a short woman in CMUs. There was a small lurch and they were airborne. This was only the second time Coop had left the surface of the earth in a vehicle, and the first time was short-lived and ended up with him here.
Nate sat next to him, and Mike in the seat across the center aisle. Nate looked out the clear windows at the PHA. He looked fascinated as the towers continued to loom over them as they joined the flow of traffic. Mike looked like he didn’t care, but Coop noticed how his eyes twitched; like he was forcing himself not to look back at their home.
Coop spared the only place he’d known one last look.
<Good luck, Hailey. Don’t be a little bitch, Jimmy. You’re an asshole, Dad. Fuck this place I’m outta here.>
No one was saying anything, so Coop assumed it was the best time to ask a question.
“So, Staff Sergeant; where exactly is our final destination?”
The look the soldier gave Coop made the former Rat wish he hadn’t opened his big mouth. “You lucky recruits are headed to the taint of the Commonwealth. You’ll be part of Basic class 066-14 at Stewart-Benning Training Center.”
Coop had no idea what the hell that meant, but it clearly wasn’t good.