Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
<There has got to be something in the water,> Coop thought, his mouth hanging open as he looked at the two drill instructors.
For the second time in a few days he found himself craning his neck to look up at a soldier, and if he had to guess, this one was even taller than the sergeant back at the PHA Civil Administration building.
“Echo Company.” The woman addressing them didn’t yell, but her voice rang with authority. “My name is Staff Sergeant Cunningham, and this is Petty Officer Third Class Janney. We will be your drill instructors for the next twelve weeks.”
The two instructors standing in front of the company were blatant contrasts. SSG Cunningham was a giant. She loomed over the company at 225 centimeters, with her back straight, chin held high, and her hands clasped behind her back. She was pasty white, so much so that Coop wondered if she ever saw any sun; but her face was covered in freckles, and it was a gorgeous face. The CMUs looked like they struggled to hold together on her, and that wasn’t just because of her impressive curves. SSG Cunningham looked strong, strong enough to break a little Rat like Coop.
<She looks familiar.> Coop tried to place where he’d seen her before, and he could see that other members of the company were trying to do the same.
Her unearthly green eyes zeroed in on them, and they all pretended to be looking at anything else.
What Coop found most interesting was her hair. It was a fiery, probably unnatural red, and the right half of her head was shaved to stubble. On her left side, her hair only fell to her chin. Coop didn’t know what the military’s rules on hair were, but the SSG’s hairdo couldn’t possibly be legal.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, PO3 Janney was short and stocky; and when Coop said stocky, he meant the petty officer was built like a fucking boulder. Unlike the pasty white SSG who probably had considerable Irish ancestry in her DNA, PO3 Janney looked like he’d been deep fried in the sun for most of his life. The second drill instructor was short, one hundred and sixty five centimeters tops, which made him look like a child standing next to the SSG. But his face didn’t look childish. While SSG Cunningham’s face was gorgeously critical of the company, PO3 Janney just looked royally pissed off.
“Y’all list’n here!” The deep southern accent on the man made it hard to understand him. “Y’all quit buttfuckin’ ‘round in the chow hall, ya understan’ me!”
“Yes, Petty Officer Third Class!” The company yelled back, but they all tripped over pronouncing his rank.
“You will address me as Staff Sergeant, and Petty Officer Janney as Petty Officer, understood?” SSG Cunningham addressed the issue immediately and curtly. Anyone could tell she didn’t want to be wasting her time on tiny shit like that.
“Company,” she started to pace in front of them. “Were you given a thirty minute time-hack to complete chow?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”
“Can all of you count to thirty?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”
“Then please enlighten me as to why you were not formed up after your thirty minute chow was finished?”
“That’s what I thought.” The tone of her voice told Coop he was about to be sorry for whatever happened next.
“Do not allow it to happen again.” She paced back to the center of the company, and snapped back to the position of attention.
<Huh. That wasn’t so bad.> It was a lot better than getting chewed out by Corporal Collins, who had vanished off the face of the earth along with the gunnery sergeant.
“The rest of the day will consist of returning to your barracks, inventorying equipment, and preparing for the next twelve weeks of your training.” She didn’t give the company a chance to yell their agreement.
“Company…right face.” Coop executed the military movement, and for the first time he felt like he nailed it. “Forward march. Left…left…left right….right a left…left….left right…” She used the same cadence as the gunnery sergeant.
After one hundred meters, Coop felt like they were finally getting the hang of it. And then it all changed.
“Double-time!” The SSG yelled.
Only Berg replied, echoing the SSG’s confusing statement.
“When I yell double-time, you will all repeat it. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”
“Double-time.” They got it right this time.
“March!” The whole company accelerated from a walk to a jog.
The jog wasn’t quick, it was only twice as fast as the walk; which was probably what the instructor meant by “double-time”. It was a lot slower than the sprint Corporal Collins made him do, so Coop felt like he’d be fine.
He only felt that way for the first two kilometers.
They just kept running and running and running. The white buildings to their right and left were identical, nothing ever changed. Occasionally there would be an athletic field scattered in among them, but even those were identical. The buildings and fields stretched all the way to the darkening horizon.
It was about the time that the sun set, descending the world into darkness, that Coop finally puked up his dinner.
<Eve was right.> Coop scrambled out of the teaming mass of running bodies, ran for the grass on the side of the road, and spewed out a mess of yellow and red with half-digested noodles.
It smelled like ass, which forced Coop to endure a second round of vomiting. By the third round his stomach was empty, and he was just coughing up bile.
“Quit bein’ a pussy, Coopa.” The company was a group of struggling bodies in the distance, but PO3 Janney was standing over Coop with a feral smile on his face. “Ya think this was gonna be easy?” He laughed, and it sounded like a chainsaw starting. “Get off ya fat ass and get movin’!” To hurry Coop along the PO3 started kicking Coop like a dog until he got to his feet and stumbled after the company.
He hounded Coop the whole way. The man didn’t even seem to stop to breath.
<What the fuck is with these people?>
Coop wasn’t sure how far they ran. The moon was high in the sky before the SSG brought them back down to a walk, and finally to a halt. When she instructed them to fall out, half the company proceeded to follow Coop’s earlier example and puke their guts out. Even Eve looked a little green around the gills.
“Welcome ta home sweet home.” The PO3 pointed at the white building that look like the thousands of other that they must have passed along the way. “If any of ya babies wanna go home and suck on ya momma’s titties then jus’ let us know.” The short man cackled as everyone around him groaned.
“Everyone inside.” The door to the building slid open and everyone scrambled inside propelled into motion by Janney’s boot and Cunningham’s gaze.
There was a stairway right inside the door. “Squads one through five downstairs, and six through ten upstairs.” The mass of struggling bodies bottlenecked as people tried to do what the SSG was telling them.
“Let’s go people!”
“Y’all, move yuh asses!”
It took a few moments, but eventually everything got sorted out. Coop was one of the last people in, and he had to run to an empty bunk where Eve was waving at him. The lower floor was one big room with twenty-five two-person bunkbeds and fifty individual lockers evenly spaced around the edges of the room. The center was open, and down that center strolled SSG Cunningham.
“Now y’all list’n here!” They heard PO3 Janney’s choppy yells from upstairs before the door hissed shut and cut out all other sound.
The SSG scrutinized everyone as she walked passed them. They were all sweaty, tired, and more than half had quickly drying vomit on their CMUs. She did not look impressed.
“This is your barracks, Recruits. Building number 3528. Commit that number to memory because I will not repeat it.” She continued pacing with her hands behind her back. “This will be your base of operations for the next twelve weeks. When we are not conducting field exercises you will sleep, shower, shave, and shit in this building. You will not leave this building without expressed permission from myself or PO3 Janney. Understood?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” Their yells echoed through the room like a great beast roaring.
“I know where I know her from.” Andrew whispered to the rest of the squad, as the SSG walked toward the other end of the room. “That’s Jasmine Cunningham. She’s a supermodel, one of the hottest women on the planet. What the hell is she doing here?”
“Do you have something to add to the conversation, Recruit Davenport?” The SSG’s head snapped around.
<How the hell did she here him?> Coop kept his eyes forward. <She’s got to be fifty meters away.>
<No, Andrew, you idiot. Don’t say it!> Everyone’s face in the squad was screaming the same thing; but Andrew was either oblivious, or just really fucking stupid. Coop’s money was on the latter.
“… that you’re Jasmine Cunningham.”
Coop wanted to slam his palm into his forehead, but he didn’t dare move a muscle. A spine-tingling chill had descended over the entire room.
“Is that so?” The SSG said it casually, but Coop could have sworn he saw frost forming on the ground as she walked back toward second squad’s section of the room.
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.”
“Does that matter, Recruit Davenport?”
<Please just keep your fucking mouth shut.> It was wishful thinking.
“Hell yeah it does. You’re a fucking babe.”
Coop didn’t know a lot about the military, but calling your drill instructor a “babe” had to be just about the stupidest thing he could think of. Coop held his breath, his imagination playing out what punishment the SSG would deliver on his squad mate.
“Fraternization!” The SSG called out, as she walked away from second squad. “Is unacceptable in this company. Understood.”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” Forty-nine voices echoed.
“I’d still fuck you.” Andrew was the single voice that stood out, and the SSG zeroed in on it.
“You want to fuck me, Recruit Davenport?”
Thankfully, Andrew kept his mouth shut this time. But the damage had already been done. What scared Coop the most was how calm the SSG was being about all of this.
“Step out here, Davenport.” She motioned for Davenport to join her in the central open space.
He did as she instructed.
“Prepare to defend yourself.”
“Wh…what?” Andrew finally realized he was in over his head. His mouth had written a check he wasn’t going to be able to cash.
“You said you wanted to fuck an Infantrywoman.” The SSG rotated her shoulders and cracked her neck. “Any self-respecting infantrywoman is going to make sure you’re a real man before she lets you whip out the pathetic sack of flesh you call a cock.” The SSG was smiling now. “So come on Davenport. If you want to fuck me, or any other woman in the next few years, you better be able to handle yourself.”
“Ok.” Coop couldn’t help but shake his head at Andrew’s cocky grin. “I don’t want to hit a lady, but to get inside those panties I’ll make an exception.”
Andrew took a fighting stance, and after a brief pause attacked.
The fight was over so fast Coop didn’t even see what happened. One second Andrew was throwing a jab toward the SSG’s face, and the next he was on the ground, in a broken heap, with a full ten centimeters of bone sticking out of his arm. Andrew wasn’t even screaming. He was trying to scream, but shock was setting in and it was messing with his vocal chords. All Coop heard was a high-pitched sigh before he lost consciousness.
“Fraternization,” the SSG repeated, looking down at Davenport like something unsightly she’d tracked in on the bottom of her boot. “Will not be allowed in this company. Everyone will be treated with respect no matter their planet, color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation. Understood?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”
“Good.” The door slid open and a man with a red cross on the shoulder of his CMUs walked in.
“Someone need a medic?” He asked with a bored expression.
The SSG just pointed at Andrew’s unconscious body, and the medic went to work.
“Squad leaders on me.” She called back as she walked toward the exit. “We have a lot to do tonight, so let’s get to it.”