Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Well, it’s been fun, Staff Sergeant. Thanks for…” Coop didn’t get to finish the smartass goodbye he’d been working on for the last twenty minutes.
“Get the fuck off my bus, Recruit!” The staff sergeant’s boot caught Coop right in the chest, picking him up off his feet, and throwing him from the top step of the air-bus’s entrance.
Coop landed directly on his back, smacking the back of his head hard, and kicking up a decent amount of dust. Coop would have a headache for the rest of the day, and he’d be seeing stars for the next minute; but that wasn’t the worst part. The kick and the landing had knocked the wind out of him.
Getting the wind knocked out of you was possibly the worst not really serious injury you could sustain. It was the worst because it felt like it was so much worse than it actually was. Coop thought he was dying. His lungs were still spasming from the impact and wouldn’t allow him to draw in any new air. All he was able to do was rasp like a dying toad and clutch his chest.
Slowly, the involuntary contraction of his lungs eased and he was able to take short, shallow breaths. By the time he looked up the bus was already gone, and a new one was coming in for a landing. Coop needed to move or he might get squashed.
“Are you ok, Recruit?” A shadow descended over Coop.
Even from his position lying flat on his back Coop could tell the man standing over him wasn’t big. In fact, he was probably a full head shorter than Coop. His demeaning evaluation of the smaller man ended abruptly and completely when Coop got a look at his face. It was a thin but hard face, a face that had seen a lifetime of struggle. Coop knew that look, he had that look most of the time, but the thing that scared Coop was the way the man looked at him. It was like he was looking at a PAD, or a pencil. There was no emotion assigned to Coop at all. Coop was just another thing in this man’s eyes.
It was not a good feeling to have in the middle of a military training camp; a camp where people were trained to kill, and on some occasions died before they could graduate.
Coop gulped as he looked up into those uncaring, lifeless eyes; and realized he might be in a little over his head. Not to toot his own horn, but Coop had been a big fish in a shitty pond back in the PHA. Now he was realizing that this wasn’t an average pond. So far, Coop had been outwitted, intimidated, and scared shitless by the other soldiers he’d encountered. The only people Coop thought he could get the upper hand on were the entitled suburbanites like Nate.
“I asked you if you were ok, Recruit?” The man’s tone was the same, but the way his eyes focused on Coop made him want to answer the question, and answer it yesterday.
“Yes…Sergeant,” Coop glanced at the man’s shoulders. He had three of the upside down V’s, and two U’s beneath them. That was one more U than the staff sergeant that had kicked him off the bus.
“Then get on your feet and join the group.”
Coop scrambled up, still clutching his chest, and half ran half stumbled toward the group of waiting recruits. He seemed to be the last one to arrive, because the moment he joined the group the small sergeant addressed them all. “Good afternoon, Recruits.” There were a few scattered replies, but most of the new recruits were still trying to adapt to their new environment.
The bus had deposited all of them in the middle of a building complex. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of two-story rectangular buildings stretched from where they stood all the way to the horizon. Currently, they were in the middle of a green-brown field. Around the field was a dirt circle, and around that dirt circle numerous groups of people were running. They were all moving as a single unit, in step, and singing a variety of songs as they ran.
<How can you sing and run at the same time?> It was Coop’s first thought. <Shit, how are they running without masks?>
In the confusion of not being able to breath from blunt-force trauma, Coop hadn’t strapped on his mask. His hands instinctually moved to his waist, but he found nothing. There was no mask on the belt of his smartcloth CMUs.
<Holy shit!> Coop took a breath of the freshest air he’d ever tasted. <You can kick my ass any day as long as I can stay here.>
“My name is Gunnery Sergeant Wilson. I am your Battalion noncommissioned officer in charge; NCOIC for short. Get used to acronyms people because you’re going to have to memorize a lot of them.”
<NCOIC…NCOIC…NCOIC…> Coop committed the five letters and their meaning to memory.
“For the rest of today I will be your instructor. I will orient you to your home for the next twelve weeks, and then I will turn you over to your Drill Sergeants.” He looked at every recruit expectantly. “Every time you are addressed by myself you will sound off with a “Yes, Gunnery Sergeant. Understand?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” The reply was weak, and Coop half expected the Gunnery Sergeant to yell at them; but he didn’t. Coop got the distinct impression they weren’t worth the NCOIC’s time.
“Here is your first lesson.” Gunnery Sergeant Wilson planted his feet shoulder-width apart and placed his hands behind his back. “The smallest unit organization in our glorious military is the squad. It consists of ten men; the best trained, best equipped, both mentally and physically of any army in the history of mankind.” It was amazing how the gunnery sergeant never raised his voice but radiated authority. “In the next five minutes you will all be divided into your squads. These nine other people will be your family for the next twelve weeks. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!” The recruits yelled. If it was a better response the NCOIC didn’t acknowledge it.
“When I call your name sound off with “Present” and fall into line behind me. After a squad of ten is established the eleventh person will fall into line behind the first person, creating a new squad of ten. There will be ten squads of ten in your training company. One hundred soldiers make a Company, the next unit above the squad in our glorious military’s organizational structure.” Coop stowed that information in the back of his mind. He was sure he’d have to remember it at some point.
“Ahmed…Aleksandrovos…Allison…” The Gunnery Sergeant began to call names and recruits ran out to get into position. There was initial confusion about what way to face, but it was figured out by the time Coop’s name was called.
He was the twelfth man called, and was the second person in line in the Second Squad. Five minutes later all one hundred of the fresh recruits were lined up in ten squads of ten.
“Look to your right.” Everyone looked to their right. “The person at the end of your line is now your squad leader. They are in charge of you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!”
Coop didn’t know what to think about his squad leader. She was tall; just six or seven centimeters shorter than Coop, with her blonde hair cut short. She didn’t look at Coop while he was looking at her. She kept her eyes forward. She was standing in a position similar to the Gunnery Sergeant’s, but even with the rigid posture Coop had to admit she was fucking hot.
<Lucky me.> Coop could think of worse things than standing next to a perfect ten for the next twelve weeks.
“Shut up and pay attention.” The squad leader snapped, never even looking at Coop. “This shit’s important.”
<A babe and a bitch; I can work with that.> Coop had worked with worse.
He missed several sentences that turned out to be important. “’Right’ is the preparatory command,” the gunnery sergeant was saying. “It tells your brains to get ready to turn right. ‘Face’ is the command of execution. When I say face you will pivot to the right. You will pivot with the heel of your right foot, and the toes of your left foot. This will leave your feet separated. After you have completed the ninety degree pivot to the right you will bring them back together in a V shape. Understood?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!”
“Are there any questions before we begin?” Coop couldn’t imagine anyone asking the emotionless Gunnery Sergeant to repeat something. “Are you sure, Recruits? Now is the time to ask.”
Nobody said a word.
“Ok then,” the gunnery sergeant cracked a smile, and it was as frightening as Coop imagined it would be.
“Company….Aten’hut!” All around Coop people snapped to the position of attention.
<Shit,> Coop mentally groaned as he saw the gunnery sergeant’s eyes focus in on him.
Apparently, the position of attention was you standing with your chest out, head held high, and eyes looking straight forward. Your hands were curled into fists, with the thumbs on the outside; your arms were glued to your sides. Your feet were together, and your feet made a V shape identical to the one in the ‘Right Face’ command the gunnery sergeant had been explaining.
They stood at the position of attention for fifteen seconds as the gunnery sergeant looked them over. “Aleksandrovos, Cooper, Daley, Falk, Friedrich, Hall…” the Gunnery Sergeant called out another two dozen names. “On the command of ‘Fall Out’ you will take a step backwards with your left foot. You will execute a left face; which is executing the steps of the right face but in reverse. Proceed to your left until the squads come to an end. You will reform into lines of no more than ten behind the company. Understood?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” Everyone knew they’d fucked up, so there wasn’t much enthusiasm behind the response.
Coop did as he was instructed. He only stumbled slightly on the Left Face, but other than that he thought he did pretty well. Once he’d cleared the rest of the squad he jogged to the back and got in the third line that was being formed. They didn’t hit ten, but they were close.
They waited there, at the position of attention, as the gunnery sergeant walked around the company. He had a quick word with the squad leader of the first squad. The man practically tripped over himself as he ran up to the gunnery sergeant’s previous position. Coop could see him sweating and praying that he didn’t have to do anything.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” The gunnery sergeant stopped in front of the twenty-seven person detachment from the company. “Congratulations.” Coop wasn’t the only one who looked confused. “You all get to meet an associate of mine, Corporal Collins.”
“MOVING, GUNNERY SERGEANT!” The voice came out of nowhere, and before Coop could figure out where, a large, fit man appeared in front of the Gunnery Sergeant. They exchanged a few words, a quick salute, and the Gunnery Sergeant stepped back and returned to the rest of the company.
“Right…face.” The rest of the company executed the command the NCOIC taught them earlier, and started to march away.
A few people from Coop’s group turned to watch them go.
“Eyes front, Recruits!”
Corporal Collins did things a little different than the gunnery sergeant. While the Battalion NCOIC was cold and emotionless, the corporal had an overabundance of feelings; and he liked to share them with the twenty-seven people in front of him.
“You’re at the position of attention, shit-stains! You keep those eyes front until I tell you to do otherwise. Do you get me?”
“Good.” The mean glint in the corporal’s eyes reminded Coop of a dog with rabies he’d once had to run away from.
There wasn’t going to be any running this time.
“Everyone, extend your left arm and move down until the fingertips of that person’s arm are touching your shoulder.” They did as they were told. “Lower your arms.” The corporal was smiling now. Coop was quickly learning that whenever an instructor was happy meant that bad things were in store for the recruits. “You retards are the lucky ones. You get to meet your new best friend before the rest of your company.”
“Say hello to the push-up.”