Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
It was a race to the finish line.
Second squad had dominated the beginning portion of the Grinder, which was living up to its nefarious name. Eve had led the squad through the first half-dozen obstacles and they’d executed flawlessly. For a moment Coop was even having fun. Then came the rope course.
Coop hadn’t seen rope like this before. He’d encountered rope before. They’d rigged up pulley systems out of hemp rope in the PHA tower whenever the power died in order to get supplies up and down without having to walk everywhere. Since that happened every couple of days Coop was well acquainted with the item.
The faded, tan material from his home was frayed and always looked like it was ready to snap. People’s grandparents talked about how the rope and pulley system had saved them during the great blackout of 2414, or the blizzard of 2376. The things were ancient, and you had to keep an eye out when you were walking underneath them or you could get squashed. When the pulleys were in use, people in the PHA tower spend most of their time looking up. It didn’t matter if it was raining human bodies or fruit from fifty stories. Both could kill you.
The rope used for the Grinder was different. First it was black instead of tan, and it didn’t have the twisted look Coop mentally associated with rope. But the moment Coop put his hands on it he could tell it was much stronger than the PHA’s fifth generation hand-me-downs. It was also sticky, not in the way someone’s hands were after eating jam, but in a way that his hands just seemed to adhere to them.
Then there was the fact that the whole course just sort of hovered in the air like a giant black spider web. Coop had never seen rope do that before.
The set of obstacles tripped up second squad and sent half of them face-first into the nano-bath. Coop mostly avoided that. He tried to save Emma from falling, and nearly got dragged in.
<Damn, that girl is just heavy.> Coop had grabbed her hand to pull her back up, but only succeeded in getting his arm pulled elbow deep into the black water.
What had been fun moments before had turned into a constantly irritating grind. Eve had been right, the bath was strong, and it itched like a motherfucker.
From then on, second squad limped along like the rest of the squads; itching, tired, and wanting to be anywhere else but here.
“There it is!” There was an archway marking the end of the Grinder, and Coop wanted nothing more than to sprint toward it. He even took a few steps forward.
“Coop, get your ass back here.” Eve was struggling to heft Emma up to the top of the warped wall they’d been forced to scale.
Coop hesitated, looking longingly at the end of their misery before turning back to help. Coop grabbed one hand, Eve grabbed the other, and they hoisted Emma up the last half meter.
“What the fuck have you been eating?” Coop grumbled too loudly.
Emma, who was already on the brink of tears from the nano-bath, started to cry. And Eve shot him a glare that would make a battleship turn tail and flee.
“We’re almost there, Emma.” Eve nudged the girl to the ladder down from the top of the wall. “Just a closed door, a hundred meter dash, and we’re done.”
Emma nodded as she wiped the tears from her eyes, which only made the pain worse. Coop had figured that out the hard way.
Coop moved toward the ladder to follow Emma down, but Eve’s outstretched hand caught him in the chest and held him back. “You wait.” She pushed him back and grabbed the ladder to slide down.
Right now a handjob from Harper was sounding a hell of a lot better than chasing the elusive, mythical creature that Eve was turning out to be.
<My dick would probably fall off.> He laughed to himself. Thinking about the nano-bath induced itching made his arm itch worse. He felt really bad for the guys who’d fallen all the way in.
“Let’s go second squad, finish strong!” The door splintered under Eve’s boot and she waved for everyone to move their asses.
Coop pumped his legs and sprinted across the open field. There were a dozen other people streaming through kicked open doors, and each of them was sprinting toward the end as well. Coop picked one person, a tall broad-shouldered tan guy, and tried to catch him. He didn’t succeed, but he got close.
Passing through the archway felt like running through an artic waterfall. “What the shit!” Coop yelled, as he crashed through the invisible barrier.
Thankfully, the sensation of bone-chilling cold passed within a few seconds, and even better, the constant irritation from the nano-bath vanished.
“Don’t look so surprised, Cooper. They weren’t going to make everyone walk around itchy and miserable for the rest of training. They’ve got other ways to make our lives hell.” Eve’s tone was frosty, and she stood protectively next to Emma.
“Sure thing, boss-lady. Wouldn’t want life to get too easy now would we?” Coop replied.
Eve just gave him a level stare before turning her attention back to the rest of the squad.
Harper and Mike crossed the finish line a few minutes later, and second squad was officially declared the victors of the Grinder. Not that Coop felt especially happy about the victory.
“Fall in!” The last person had just crossed the finish line when SSG Cunningham started barking orders.
Coop fell in, purposefully not looking at Eve. <And things started off so well.>
“You’ve completed your first iteration of the Grinder.” There was no pride on the SSG’s face, just mild irritation. “It will not be your last.” That elicited a groan from the company.
“Shut ya cock suckin’ mouths, Recruits!” PO3 Janney jumped on them like an angry wolverine into a deer carcass.
“No that’s fine.” The SSG at the front of the formation was smiling now. “If they’ve got enough oxygen to complain they’ve got enough oxygen to run. Right face…forward march…double-time MARCH!”
Coop spent the five kilometer run back to the barracks staring at the back of Eve’s head wondering how he could get jerked off by Harper and not have Eve find out. He needed the release, but he didn’t want to kill any remote chance that might remain of scoring with the squad leader. It would be a tricky arrangement, but he was confident he could pull it off.
“On the command of fall out, squad leaders on me. They rest of you have thirty mikes to shit, shower, shave and be ready for inspection. FALL OUT!” The SSG ordered, and everyone ran for the door.
“Coop,” Eve grabbed his shoulder before he could take a step. “Wait for me to finish with the staff sergeant. I need to talk to you.”
<Shit.> Not only would he have less time to take the shit he’d been holding for the last hour, but she wanted to “talk”. There was no way this could go well.
“Sure,” he replied sullenly.
He watched from a distance as the SSG and PO3 consulted their PAD’s and spoke to the ten squad leaders. Whatever they were saying the recruits didn’t look like they enjoyed hearing it. Ten of Coop’s very valuable thirty minutes passed before the small meeting broke up and Eve waved for him to follow. They walked a few meters away from everyone else before she rounded on him.
“You know you’re my number two, right?” Eve had her hands on her hips, looked righteously pissed off, and incredibly hot.
“No I didn’t know that.” Coop deadpanned.
“Then this is me informing you of that fact.” She steamrolled any argument he might have had. “On top of that everyone in the squad sees you as my number two.”
“Um…ok.” Coop was confused where this was going.
“So, it hurts the effectiveness and morale of my squad when my number two calls a girl in the squad fat.”
“Hey,” Coop shook his head. “I did not call Emma fat. I wondered out loud why she weighs a ton. She’s got to have thirty kilos on me. She’s got some meat on those bones, but I did not call her fat. I’m sorry if Emma can’t handle the truth.”
He thought he did a pretty good job defending himself.
“You have as much sensitivity as a worm, Mark Cooper.” Eve shook her head, and for a second Coop thought she was going to punch him in the jaw. “For your information, Emma has more mass than us because she’s not from Earth.”
“What?” Coop couldn’t help but sound ignorant.
“Emma comes from one of the Commonwealth’s other colonized planets. A planet that has heavier gravity. Her ancestors received genetic modification so they could survive. That’s why Emma weighs more than you or I.”
“Oh.” Now Coop felt like an idiot.
“And on top of that.” Eve wasn’t done. “Emma is hundreds of light-years from home, on a foreign world, and she’s homesick. You should know that, Coop. She’s in your team.” Eve emphasized the point by poking him in the chest with her finger.
“Crap,” Coop sighed. Now he felt like a jackass.
“What I want you to take away from this talk is simple. Stop being a douchebag, get to know your team, and start being a leader. If you don’t then I’m going to kick you down the line so you have to stand next to Davenport. Do I make myself clear?” There was fire in her eyes, and it reignited Coop’s passion to tap that ass.
“Yes.” He nodded, his face determined.
“Good. Now get inside and conduct personal hygiene. We’ve got fifteen minutes to get ready.” She was already heading toward the door.”
“Ready for what?” Coop fell in a half-step behind her.
“Ready to move out.” Eve didn’t slow down as the door hissed open. She headed down into the bathroom where people were quickly showering.
“Move out where?” Coop followed her example and stripped down while trying to control his excitement.
<Damn just one grab of that ass and I’ll have wank-bank material for the next week.>
“We’ve completed the conditioning week, Coop.” Eve slipped into an open stall and started to rinse. “We’ve got a field week full of rudimentary wilderness training ahead of us.”
“Ok,” Coop soaped up, hitting the dark, damp places on his body that would cause problems if left uncleaned for too long. “So why are we moving out. It’s almost dark out. Why don’t they just wait for tomorrow?”
Eve looked over the small divider, stared at him for a moment, and then laughed. Coop would have taken more offensive if her tits hadn’t jiggled so much during the process.
“We need to work on your situational awareness, Coop.” Eve shook her head and turned away. “It’s called a field week for a reason. We don’t stay in the barracks you idiot.”
Coop didn’t like the sound of that. He didn’t like the sound of that one bit.
“I hope you did a proper diagnostic on your fart sack, Coop; because if you didn’t the next week of your life is going to be a living hell.”
Coop couldn’t do anything but smile and nod.
<What the hell is a fart sack?>