Two Worlds – Chapter 32

Name: Gwen Cunningham

Genetic Identification Code: BDIM0922239444726

Physical Health: Superior

Mental Health: [Authorized Personnel Only]

Education: High School Graduate, Noncommissioned Officer War College

Occupation: Staff Sergeant (P), United Commonwealth of Colonies Training Division

Criminal History: N/A

Citizen Status: Confirmed

 Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

            Staff Sergeant Gwen Cunningham switched off the PA system and reclined back in her chair. The nano-fibers adjusted as her body shifted, and she sighed with satisfaction.

<Being dirt-side sucks sometimes, but you’ve got to love the amenities.>

                As the aches of the morning eased out of her muscles she watched the screens closely. She needed to get a good idea about this new, green batch of recruits she was dealing with.

The door to the observation room hissed opened and PO3 Chase Janney entered with two fresh cups of coffee. “How they handlin’ it?”

The change in Chase’s voice still surprised her.  The navy man’s accent still had a southern twang to it, but it was nowhere near as thick and heavy as when he talked to the recruits. She’d asked him about it after their first look at this class, and his answer was kind of brilliant.

“If I sound like I should be off somewhere fuckin’ my sister, then they’re goin’ to think I’m stupid. If they think I’m stupid, they’ll try to pull some shit. When they try to pull some shit, I’ll catch them and make’um wish they were never born.” He’d smiled at the last part, showing flawless white teeth.

“That makes sense,” had been her reply.

Over the last two weeks they’d prepped for spending the next twelve weeks with the incoming class. Although they wouldn’t be physically present for the isolation phase it was probably the most work intensive phase for them. The recruits had to be watched twenty-four-seven, and there were only two people to do it.

“They’re handling it about how you’d expect them to.” Gwen watched as the squads clustered together, asking their squad leaders for more information.

<Poor bastards.> Gwen genuinely felt sorry for the ten men and woman in-charge because they didn’t have any information, and there was nothing worse than being a leader and not knowing what to tell your soldiers.

Gwen’s mind flashed back to her own isolation phase twenty years ago. She’d been a scared little wimp back then, and had actually cried when they locked her up. Coming from the Belfast-Dublin-Isle of Man Metropolis she was used to feeling the spray of the sea or the salt-tinged air on her face every day. Suddenly being locked into an underground box with a hundred other people was the worst possible thing that could happen.

Which was exactly the point of isolation phase.

Isolation was a test of a future soldier or sailor’s ability to tolerate the stress of prolonged spaceflight, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The phase was also a psychological experiment to see how soldiers reacted to a military environment with little to no freedom. On average they lost recruits after this phase for multiple reasons. On the flip side, true leaders tended to show themselves; as well as people with technological skillsets.

The barracks that had just become a bunker was decades old. Things tended to break, and part of isolation phase was instilling maintenance discipline in new soldiers. With all the equipment used by the Fleet and Infantry, preventative maintenance was something routinely stressed by all commanders.

<It’s already starting.> Despite the barrack’s age, a state-of-the-art surveillance system was installed. They could watch everything from simple audio-visual to individual recruits’ biometrics.

“I bet that fucking bitch is just loving this.”

Gwen double-tapped the screen and zoomed in on the recruit speaking, Andrew Davenport. An adjacent screen also displayed his entire service record. She could look at everything from his high school transcripts to his personality tests.

“He’s goin’ to be a problem,” Chase pointed at the screen and shook his head.

“Yeah,” Gwen re-read his psych profiles. “Hopefully he’ll fail out after isolation.”

Andrew Davenport was a narcissist. Even worse, he was one of those narcissists who thought he was smarter than he actually was.  She knew he was testing the limits of what he was going to be able to do, and that was why he’d been the victim of the brutal smack-down.

The smack-down was a time honored drill instructor tradition. Every soldier or sailor from every basic class could describe that first smack-down moment like it had just happened yesterday. It was the moment the drill instructor transitioned from a mere mortal to a god in the eyes of most recruits. When Gwen’s drill instructor had smacked down a particularly rowdy farm-boy he’d fractured the kid’s femur. It was the only time Gwen had seen the thickest bone in the human body sticking out of a person’s skin. At least, the only time the person was still alive. If Gwen ever saw Sergeant Trumley again she might just piss herself.

“We’ll keep an eye on him.” Gwen input some commands into the computer to keep a closer watch on Davenport. She could have spoken the command, but she preferred to write it out, especially since she would be sitting in the closet-sized observation room for most of the phase.

“But I’ve got confidence in Berg. She’s been groomed for this. Nothing we throw at her is going to work.” Gwen made the admission with a smile. “Did you see how they all used their woobies instead of the bedding?”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Berg.”

In the last fifty years of conflict only five Crosses of Honor, the highest military award in the Commonwealth, had been awarded. Two of those five went to people with the last name Berg. In all actuality, Eve Berg should be at an elite military institution right now, not in Basic training, but that wasn’t something Gwen should be thinking about. Whatever Eve Berg did with her life was her choice. It was Gwen’s job to make Eve Berg into a first-class warrior.

Gwen knew all too well the pressures a family legacy could put on someone. Andrew Davenport had hit on that sore topic, which might have been why she took him down a little harder than usual.

Gwen Cunningham was not the intergalactic supermodel Jasmine Cunningham, but she was her twin sister; which meant that if she wanted, she could have had a modeling career as well. Gwen didn’t want that, in fact, it was probably the farthest thing from what she wanted.

That was why Gwen had saved her first few hard fought paychecks and genetically altered her hair. That was also when Gwen shaved half her head, and received a special waiver from the infantry to do it. Soldiers under her command, and officers over her, couldn’t get wrapped up in staring at her face and tits when they should be busy fighting wars and killing the enemy.

Gwen’s twin sister had been haunting her through her twenty-year career in the infantry. She knew it wasn’t Jasmine’s fault, and she still loved her sister; even if family Christmas’ were a little awkward sometimes.  It was just a pain in the ass sometimes; which was why she didn’t want to butt into Berg’s situation. She had it tough enough as it was.

“What about the guy makin’ lovey-dovey eyes at Berg? What’s his deal?” Chase pointed to the tall, skinny recruit standing close to Berg.

Surprisingly, Berg was allowing the almost-contact.

“He won the relay this morning,” Gwen remembered, double-tapping the recruit’s face. “Mark Cooper. He could be trouble too.”

“Welfare Rat…here instead of prison…some stupid shavetail fresh out of an academy forgot his shit in his air-car. That’s just bad luck for Cooper.” Chase used the derogatory name for a new lieutenant that had been around since the old American Army as he read the file over Gwen’s shoulder.

That wasn’t what concerned Gwen. What concerned her was the personality testing.  According to the in-depth tests Mark Cooper was a grade A asshole. He wasn’t a team player, only cared about himself, and always looked out for number one.

<That’ll change.> She exited out of the screen.

The military was the quintessential team sport. Without your team you’d die, and you’d die quickly. Mark Cooper would learn that, or he wouldn’t make it far. The guy’s sheer stubbornness would get him through basic, but more than likely he’d buy the farm on his first combat mission. Someone wouldn’t cover him and Cooper would get turned into Swiss cheese.

“Should we hit them with somethin’ right away?” Chase’s finger itched to input any one of the hundreds of scenarios the instructors had to work with.

“No.” Gwen was feeling generous today. “Let’s give them a few hours to get settled. I’ll pass on some mandatory reading to them, and then hit them with a scenario pertaining to that; crawl-walk-run.” Gwen was a fan of the philosophy. She didn’t want to discourage them too much right off the bat. They needed attainable goals.

<Hard to attain, but still achievable.>

Gwen and Chase’s eyes met, and wicked grins appeared on their face. “Stress test.” They both said in unison.

“Just have them grab a piece of equipment while undergoing a compensator malfunction,” he suggested.

“Sounds good. I’ll have them read up on the basics of the Alcubierre Drive and then initiate five percent compensator degradation.”

Gwen had undergone a thirty percent malfunction during faster-than-light travel before. In her twenty years in the Infantry Gwen had been shot, stabbed, blown up, lost limbs, been blinded, rendered deaf, and suffered traumatic brain injury. None of that was as uncomfortable as an Alcubierre Drive malfunction during FTL travel.

“Attention Recruits.” Gwen engaged the PA system. “Your PAD’s are now connected to the basic military network. MILNET is an authorized resource for gathering information on military related topics. Most of the Infantry and Fleet field manuals are available over MILNET.” Gwen did a quick search while she addressed the eighty-nine remaining recruits of Echo Company. “You have forty-five minutes to research Fleet FM 96.4-101, chapters one through three. Begin.”

She cut the line, and watched the recruits spring into action. That was good. Recruits needed to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.  All soldiers did.

Chase smiled before plopping down into the chair next to her. They would start the approved training schedule tomorrow, but today was the day commanders allowed their drill instructors to weed out the ones who’d slipped through the cracks. The Commonwealth’s recruitment systems were good, but they weren’t perfect. One day to scrape away the refuse would save the battalion tens of thousands of dollars over the course of the twelve-week training.

Gwen started the clock and returned her chair to the reclining position. This was her last basic class, and she was committed to enjoying it. In three months it would be time to get back to business. Her promotion to Gunnery Sergeant would kick in, she’d get an infantry company NCOIC slot somewhere in the galaxy, and she’d go back to kicking ass.

After all, that’s what the Heavy Infantry paid her to do.

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