Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The moment Coop felt the barracks begin to shift in an upward motion was a turning point.
It turned out that light duty wasn’t anything different than normal duty while they were all stuck in an underground barracks for isolation week. The only difference that Coop experienced was a large yellow sash across his CMUs that told everyone who looked at him that he wasn’t one hundred percent good to go. He still had to crawl into small access hatches to fix things, and jump with everyone else when an alarm blared at the start of a hull-breach drill.
SSG Cunningham and PO3 Janney seemed to think the best time to do them was at 0200 hours, when they were all dead asleep. A few of those drills in a row, and everyone learned to be a light sleeper.
The end of isolation week was a turning point for Coop because it showed that this wasn’t a shit-ton of sadistic madness brought on by two hell spawn in human meat-suits. It showed Coop there was a method to the madness. If there was a method then that meant there was a system. If there was a system then that meant there was a way to rig it. Coop just had to figure it all out.
The subtle shift in the barracks happened at 0400, and it was by sheer luck that Coop heard it. He wasn’t the only one.
“Second squad, get up.” Eve hopped off the top bunk, landed softly on her feet, and began to shake everyone awake. “On your feet, let’s go. Get dressed and line up. We’re about to have company.”
Eve kept her voice at a whisper in order to not alert the other sleeping squads. Coop had learned early on that Eve always seemed to know when something was going to happen, and she always wanted her squad to be prepared. But there was a difference between her squad and everyone else. She didn’t give two shits about the other squads, even if the whole company got punished for something. She made sure the instructors always saw second squad ready to go.
Coop slipped into his CMUs, barely noticing the tingling sensation of the fabric spreading across his body. The yellow sash was gone now. It automatically vanished twenty-four hours after he left the hospital.
“Davenport, move your fat ass.” Eve’s hiss was closely followed by the thump of her fist hitting a woobie.
“God damnit you stupid bitch.” The squad’s laziest recruit growled, swinging his arms wildly to fend her off.
“Davenport, get your ass out of bed or…” Eve never got a chance to finish.
The barracks lurched to a halt that jerked everyone and everything inside of it. If anyone didn’t wake up from that, then they sure as hell did when the lights flashed on, and the SSG and PO3 kicked down the door and started screaming.
“Everyone up! Line Up! Move people! Ten…nine…eight…”
Now Davenport was moving, falling, and stumbling to get his CMUs on while the rest of second squad stood ready and alert. Every time he looked up, a member of the squad made sure to stare him down.
Even with Davenport sucking ass, second squad was light-years ahead of the rest of the squads on their floor. Half of the other recruits had jumped for their lockers and grabbed their helmets thinking this was another drill instead of a rude wake-up call and the beginning of their next phase of training. They were now scrambling to get ready and line up.
Davenport jumped into line. Eve gave the squad a one-second once over before falling in next to Coop. She was smiling, and it was infectious. There was something about winning that set off a primal satisfaction in Coop, and Eve consistently made sure that second squad won.
Everyone froze as still as a statue as SSG Cunningham walked down the center isle of the barracks. It was the first time they’d seen her in a week, and if it was possible, she looked even more intimidating than she had on day one.
“Dead…dead…dead…dead…” She pointed at recruits who weren’t lined up in front of their bunks.
She paused in front of second squad for a half-second longer, and Coop could have sworn a smile was tugging at her lips. “Dead,” she pointed at Davenport and then kept walking.
“Congratulations, Recruits” She returned to the head of the room and placed her hands behind her back. “You have completed isolation week while only losing six recruits. That is a personal best for a training company under my command. However,” she hastily added before any recruits could revel in their accomplishment, “the speed at which you assembled makes my paraplegic grandmother look like an Olympic sprinter. Since you have all utterly failed to get your sleepy little asses out of bed in the morning, we will now proceed to wake you all up with extreme prejudice.” The NCO’s smile was predatory. “If I proclaimed you dead as I inspected your squads, then you will immediately lie down on the floor.”
Coop watched as a good chunk of the five downstairs squads lay down on the ground. Davenport was among them, and he gave a satisfied yawn while placing his hands behind his head. If Coop had been close enough he would have kicked the asshole in the face.
“On the command of fallout, you will grab you fallen comrades and proceed outside. If I have proclaimed you dead, then you are dead. Do not help your squad mates with your lifeless corpse; they are paying for your mistake. Fallout!”
“Coop, Mike, grab Davenport and do a two man carry,” Eve ordered as she ushered the rest of the squad out the door.
Normally, Coop would have argued, but he’d come to realize that Eve always had a plan. He also kept his mouth shut because it was her foresight that left their squad with only one “dead” person to deal with. Coop saw a few squads where fifty percent of them were dead, and every remaining member was fireman carrying people out the door.
If Coop constantly second guessed Eve there was little to no chance he’d be able to coax her out of her panties and into his bed. So there was that to consider.
So Coop didn’t argue. He grabbed Davenport’s feet, while Mike grabbed him under the armpits.
“Sorry boys, I didn’t take my morning shit so I’ve got a few extra kilos in me.” Davenport laughed.
Coop followed Eve, but it would be a cold day in hell before he took shit from Davenport. Unluckily, Mike beat him to the punch. As they reached the stairs leading out of the barracks, Mike’s grip “slipped” and Davenport dropped to the ground where his head bounced off each of the stairs as Coop continued to run forward.
“Fuck,” Davenport groaned, as Coop dragged him another few meters before stopping.
“Oh, sorry about that, buddy.” Mike roughly grabbed Davenport by the shoulders and hoisted him up again. “I guess it was those few extra kilos.”
Coop tried to hide his grin, and failed. It was hard to not laugh at the cross-eyed expression on their probably-concussed squad member’s face.
“Stop fartin’ around and fall in,” PO3 Janney snapped. “Y’all won’t be grinnin’ in a minute.” The PO3’s grin soured Coop’s mood.
The following ten kilometer run soured it for the rest of the company.
That was how the next week of basic training went. They’d wake up early and do PT, then they’d get chow, and then they’d have a class. Coop expected the class topic would involve something to do with being a soldier; fighting, killing the enemy, how to shoot, anything along those lines. Instead they learned about the history of the Commonwealth Armed Forces.
By the end of the first class Coop had to memorize the original individual member countries of the Commonwealth, and their contributions to the defense of the newly formed super-nation. He learned about how the Americans and the British dominated the early age of the Commonwealth, especially among the military elite, and how it took the near destruction of England during the Last Terran War to more fully integrate the Mexican and Canadian command structures.
He learned about pivotal battles, important figures, and why they were so great. Then, when Coop could barely keep his eyes open, SSG Cunningham conducted a check on learning; which was nothing more than a test. Coop hated tests. So he did his best, and that was good enough to pass.
Three people didn’t. Those recruits were asked to get up, leave the room, and report to the next company in the training cycle. They’d have to do isolation week all over again.
Coop made sure he stayed awake from then on, even if he had to slap himself in the face.
The afternoon was the same; more PT after the first class, chow, another class with another test, more PT, and then the third chow of the day. Their schedule after that said “personal time” until reveille the next morning, but the SSG and PO3 always had some task or detail to do. So the “personal time” was condensed to five hours. In that time you had to find time to shave, shower, maintain your gear, and if you were lucky, sleep.
Classes changed from day to day; land navigation using an old-fashioned map, basic leadership skills, tying knots with ropes, and learning basic survival skills. Coop found the ability to start a fire with sticks and friction interesting, but he learned nothing that would help him stay alive if a Blockie or Corpie decided they wanted to kill him.
As the SSG and PO3 continued to shove more and more useless information into his brain, Coop found more and more solace in their three or four daily two-hour PT sessions. The four-count push-up, pull-ups, overhead arm claps, flutter kicks, running, running, and more running became as natural to him as breathing. Soon the pull-ups before and after chow became easy.
“Stop showboating, Coop,” Eve smacked him across the ass when he knocked out five more pull-ups one day. “We need every second we can to eat.”
For some reason Eve usually ended up behind him in line for pull-ups, and if she wasn’t, then it was because he was behind her. He did it because he liked the view. He hoped she did it for the same reason.
The pull-ups weren’t the only thing. Push-ups were simpler. His muscles fell into a rhythm and he was able to pump out forty-fifty-sixty at a time before he started to get tired. He seemed to be getting stronger with each passing day. Which helped when they moved on to new exercises.
“The next exercise is the burpee.”
“The burpee!” The company yelled, even though less than half of them understood what the hell they were about to do.
“Demonstrator!” The SSG yelled. PO3 Janney took a position in front of the class.
They were all dripping sweat and breathing hard, while the instructor just looked bored.
“You begin in the upright position. On the one-count you drop into the front leaning rest position.”
Coop watched as the PO3 kicked his feet back and effortlessly transitioned into the beginning of a push-up.
“Two-count you go down, three-count you come up, and last-count you finish by bringing your feet forward and jumping as high as you can into the air. Demonstrator.”
PO3 Janney ran through the motions as the SSG called out the counts. “One…two…three…One. One…two…three…Two.”
Coop thought they were easy enough, and he only had to do one push-up instead of two; so that wasn’t so bad.
Then he started to do them.
<Why?> Coop thought as he struggled to breathe. Fifty burpees later and he was dead.
Things got better though. Just like with the other exercises a day of doing hundreds of burpees engrained the motions into his muscle memory. Soon he was knocking out fifty of them without feeling the aches and pains he usually was.
During that second week Coop’s body changed. He’d always been lean and wiry, but a week of physical training had put an additional five kilos on his bones, and those kilos were all muscle. The little excess body fat he possessed had been absorbed to keep up with their rigorous training program.
At chow the squad sat relatively silent as they shoveled food into their mouth. When time was almost up they stuffed bread or cookies into their pockets to eat later. They’d all learned that not having anything to eat between PT sessions would lead to a world of hurt later.
“No shit.” Eve stated between scoops of food, when Coop brought up his bodily changes at the chow table on Friday.
Or at least Coop thought it was Friday. There were no weekend breaks during the training. Everything seemed to blur together into a single, solid mass of physical and mental exhaustion.
“You see all this.” She held up a spoonful of what passed for mashed potatoes. “This isn’t just food. There are enough metabolic enhancers and nanites in our meals to build a starship.”
“Ugh.” Harper dropped her spoon dramatically, allowing it to clatter onto the floor, and earned the table a glare from one of the corporals that patrolled the chow hall.
“They’re the reason we aren’t a weak, sore, useless wreck right now.” Eve took a bite to prove her point. “This is conditioning week. They’re job is to PT us into the ground, tear up our muscles, and regrow them at each meal. That’s why we’re all losing fat, putting on muscles, and look like we could be on the cover of some fitness magazine.” She addressed Coop. “We’ve got another few days of this and then we’ll really start training.”
“No more military history and land navigation?” Coop hoped.
“Oh we’ll still do land nav.” Eve shook her head. “But we’ll do it out there. We’ll plot points and then have to find them instead of just sitting in a classroom.” She looked ready to get off her ass and get out there and do it.
“Why the hell are we doing this crap?” Davenport spoke up in a rare moment of socialization where he didn’t talk about himself. “It’s pointless.”
Privately, Coop thought Davenport had a point; but no had a chance to rip into Davenport.
“Room,” a voice boomed all around them. “Atten-hut!”
Coop didn’t know what was going on, but after two weeks of basic he knew what being called to attention was.
Chairs fell over as hundreds of recruits jumped to their feet, glued their arms to their sides, puffed out their chests, kept their chins up, and looked straight ahead. For Coop, that meant he had a great view of the door where a big, hulking man with the two golden stripes of a Commander was talking to one of the corporals.
“Recruit Berg!” The corporal yelled. “Front and center.”
Coop couldn’t retain his military bearing. He turned his head to look at Eve.
“Fuck.” She muttered under her breath. Her eyes darting left and right like she was looking for an escape. “Moving, Corporal!” She screamed back half a second later before running toward the stern-faced commander.
<What the hell?>
Eve stopped in front of the officer, a few words were exchanged, and then they both headed outside.
“Looks like your intrepid squad leader is in trouble.” Davenport smirked.
“Shut the fuck up,” Mike glared.
“Yeah,” Coop added lamely. “Finish eating, we’ve only got two more minutes left.”
The officer’s arrival cut into their chow time, but SSG Cunningham wouldn’t care. Coop quickly shoveled the rest of his pseudo-food into his mouth, grabbed his tray, and headed to the auto-cleaner. He dropped his tray in and made sure that the rest of second squad left before him. Eve’s sudden departure left him in a bit of a situation.
To make things easier, Eve had assigned two team leaders in their squad’s informal chain of command. They helped her with things and kept track of everyone, just like the recruit squad leaders did for the instructors. Coop was the first team leader in charge of Nate, Emma, and Olivia. Mike was the second team leader in charge of John, Harper, and Davenport.
Why Eve had made him a team leader, Coop would never know. But with Eve gone that meant he was in charge.
Being in charge of seven other people was not what Coop signed up for.