Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
<Best night sleep ever.> Coop regained consciousness just as the first rays of sunshine crested the hill behind them.
His arm was still around Eve, exactly where he’d left it; and even better, she’d grabbed his arm with her own and had it cuddled to her chest. Coop hadn’t felt so content since he’d fucked himself dry with Hailey. This was a different type of content though, the type of content a moment of peace in the middle of a hurricane offered you.
Mike was on watch, watching the morning sky fill up with light. Their eyes met for a second, and he gave Coop a respectful nod. Coop returned the nod. It was a universal gesture any man gave to another when acknowledging the first man had bagged a fine ass woman.
<Speaking of a fine ass.> Coop cuddled closer.
“Stop drooling on my neck,” Eve grunted, throwing an elbow that hit Coop right in the ribs.
“Ouch,” Coop backed off and rubbed his stomach. “I didn’t drool, that’s got to be morning dew or something.”
“Sure, whatever,” Eve rolled over and looked at him. “Get over that morningwood, Coop. We’ve got a busy day ahead of us.”
Over the next thirty minutes second squad ate, broke camp, and planned the rest for the route to their objective. They’d pushed hard the previous day, so they only had ten kilometers left.
“We really only have about three clicks of travel through these woods,” Eve had the holo-map up and was drawing the route with her finger. “Once we hit the road here we can parallel it all the way into the objective.”
“Why don’t we just walk on the road,” Davenport pointed. “We’d save ourselves at least twenty minutes not having to pick our way through the scrub.”
“Nope,” Coop jumped in. He just loved shutting the arrogant asshole down. “When we ran into fifth squad yesterday they told me instructors are patrolling up and down the road in air-cars shooting at anyone they see.”
“Coop’s right,” Eve said, the exasperation that usually went along with her speaking to one of Coop’s comments was absent. “The mission parameters state that we’re crossing through enemy territory. We can’t be seen, so we need to stay at least a hundred meters off the road.”
Davenport grumbled, but everyone agreed. They’d all been shot once during the raid on their first camp, and no one wanted to experience that utter helplessness again.
The last thing they did was make sure there was no sign left that they camped where they had. They couldn’t be sure of the tricks the instructors had up their sleeves, but being tracked and ambushed from the rear was something they would prefer to avoid. Once everything met Eve’s expectations they headed out.
They moved at an even pace in a line with about five meters between each person. Eve was in the center with Coop right ahead of her and Mike right behind so she could pass them orders and they could deal with their teams. At the front of the line was Olivia.
The quiet girl had an uncanny ability to blend into her surroundings. Even if the whole squad was sitting at a table in the chow hall, Coop would forget she was sitting there until she said something. As the person at the front of the line she needed to blend. All Coop caught was the occasional bounce of brown hair tied back in a tight ponytail.
Coop had seen these types of people back in the PHA before, and he feared them even more than the big guys. The big guys could bang their chests and taunt how they’d destroy you in a fight, but Coop knew it was the unassuming, quiet ones that could walk right up to you and stick a knife between your ribs before you even knew what was happening.
The thought sent a chill through his body, but he shook it off. <Olivia is too nice…right?>
Olivia suddenly stopped and held up her hand. It was in a closed fist, which meant everybody freeze. Coop did exactly that but slowly slid off his ruck in case he needed to move fast.
It didn’t take long to see why Olivia had called the freeze. A soft hum filled the air and steadily grew louder. They had good concealment in the woods, they were still over a hundred meters from the road, but anything searching for them more advanced than the Mark One Eyeball and second squad was going to get chewed up.
Coop held his breath as he saw the outline of the air-car pass by on the road ahead of them. It looked nothing like the air-car he’d tried to steal. It was clearly armored. It looked thicker, and the noticeable hum made it obvious it was putting out more power to stay in the air. It also had some type of active camouflage that made it very difficult to see. Without the humming and the pasty white, incredible stacked woman manning a ridiculously large weapons on the top they might have missed it all together.
Thankfully, it passed them by without incident. They waited a few minutes after the air-car passed. Coop looked and listened for anything else out of the ordinary, or any indication the air-car was turning around and heading back in their direction.
After those few minutes Olivia made a “get up” motion with her hand, and second squad continue their mission.
The objective of the final test of wilderness week was to reach a specific grid coordinate. SSG Cunningham and PO3 Janney didn’t tell them where they were going or what they were looking for. They just told them to get to the grid coordinate by 1200 hours.
Second squad stepped out of where the woods ended, which also happened to be the grid coordinate of their objective, at 1020 hours; a full hour and forty minutes ahead of schedule. But that was the last thing on their mind as they looked at their destination.
Just a few hundred yards from the tree line was a white building. It was made of the same material as the barracks, the chow hall, and every other building in the training center. The difference between this building and all the rest was its size.
“Holy shit.” Coop didn’t know what else to say.
It looked like someone had taken half a dozen PHA towers, dropped them on their side and bound them all together. The building was massive. He wasn’t even sure if you could call it a building, it was more of a complex.
“It’s the Dojo.” Eve spoke softly and with a reverence reserved for something spiritual.
“Dojo?” The word sounded funny, and Coop felt like he’d heard it before in a holo-show or movie.
“Not dojo, or a dojo; this The Dojo.” Eve’s reprimand didn’t hold as much bite as it usually did. She was still staring open-mouthed at the huge structure.
“Care to enlighten us.” Davenport walked up behind them.
The proximity of the creepy squad member seemed to snap Eve out of it.
“The Dojo is the Commonwealth’s premiere Combative’s School, which means our next training phase is…”
“Welcome to Fight Week!” SSG Cunningham was grinning at all of them an hour and a half later.
All of Echo Company was standing in formation, minus two people. A battle buddy team from sixth squad had apparently walked right off a cliff the previous night. They hadn’t made it. The rest of the squad was still reeling, a fact that wasn’t missed by the drill instructors. PO3 Janney was prowling around like a hungry dog waiting to jump on them.
“We will be spending the next week of basic training in this building here.” She pointed behind her at The Dojo. “For all of you who think that finally being back in civilization is a good thing, think again.”
Coop looked over at Eve and saw that his squad leader was a little white. That scared him a lot more than anything the SSG or PO3 could say. So far Eve had been fearless and ready to tackle any obstacle. Finally seeing her show uncertainty and fear was unsettling, and it was seeping into the rest of the squad.
“You have thirty minutes for chow. There are pullup bars by all the doors to and from the chow hall. Since you’ve had a nice little break from upper body workouts you will do twenty-five pull-ups before and after every meal. At 1230 I expect to see you all in Room Eleven Bravo, understand?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” They all yelled.
They fell out and ran toward the doors. They pushed through them like a wave crashing against the shore and stampeded into the building. It took a few precious minutes to find and get to the chow hall, which was not the first door they reached. On top of that, they had to negotiate around other groups running through the halls. At eighty-one recruits, Echo Company was the biggest of those groups, but it was still a battle to fit a hundred plus people through a narrow hallway when both of the groups were determined to get to where they were going as fast as possible.
Finally, they reached a door with pullup bars outside it. It was a sprint to the bars. Coop got their first and threw himself up and into the bar. He knocked out his first twenty without incident, but the last five he felt the burn.
<That hurt.> Coop rotated his shoulders as he dropped to the ground and proceeded through the door.
Hauling around the thirty kilo rucksack all week had done a number on his back and shoulders. He hadn’t realized how sore he was until he had to do the pull-ups.
The chow hall was just as large as any other they’d been in, and the set up was exactly the same; so Coop supposed the rules were too. He got in line, followed the clockwise pattern, grabbed what he wanted, and didn’t backtrack. There were more instructors present; lots of corporals, some petty officers, other sergeants, staff sergeants, and even a few gunnery sergeants. Coop didn’t want to give them any opportunity to smoke him.
Fifteen minutes into their chow time all of second squad was gathered at a single table and scarfing down their lunch. Coop didn’t even bother talking, his attention was on his food and the giant clock on the wall.
He kept the meal lighter than he would have liked. After a week of eating nothing but MREs and the last twenty-four hours with only scavenged berries, Coop thought the chow hall food was fine dining. However, he remembered the first meal he had and the run afterwards. This was the beginning of their next phase, and so far the pattern meant that today was going to suck. The last thing Coop needed to be doing was puking up his lunch.
Despite what Eve might think, Coop was learning. He was starting to see the pattern. He had just needed an extra push from her.
Really, Coop wanted to talk to Eve. He wanted to talk about last night. He wanted to press the issue with her and use the momentum of the cuddling to turn it into something more. He had an idea of how he’d usually do that which involved an empty supply closet, but he knew Eve wouldn’t go for it. That method would most likely leave Coop dickless. He needed to find another way to get into her pants.
Second squad hurried out of the chow hall with six minutes left. They threw their trays in the dispenser, knocked out their pull-ups and scrambled to find Room 11B. They found it with thirty seconds remaining.
Room 11B was a large padded room. What looked like practice bots were idle in the corner leaving the wide open space empty. Coop’s feelings on seeing the space were mixed, a mix of excitement and dread.
<What are they going to have us do now?> He didn’t have to wait long to find out.
SSG Cunningham was at the front of the formation, and she looked determined.
“Recruits, as I said before this is Fight Week.” She put a lot of emphasis on the second to last word. “I cannot emphasize how essential this week will be to your training. After all, it is our job to fight. And the only certainty I know for sure is that none of you know how to do this.”
Coop frowned at the statement, got yelled at by PO3 Janney, and had to do pushups because of it.
Coop took those words as an insult. After all, he was a Rat. In most of society’s opinion Rats were either fucking or fighting. Fucking and increasing the world’s population, or fighting for anything from living space to BSA rations. It was a stereotype that had evolved over centuries, but like all stereotypes it had its foundations in truth.
So when the SSG said that Coop didn’t know how to do one of the two things the world declared he was good at it pissed him off a little.
“Today we are going to see what you can do.” The SSG pulled out her pad, hit a few keys, and then swiped what was on her screen over to the wall.
A large bracket appeared, like the type they used for the big college basketball tournament in the spring. Each line was populated by a picture of the recruit, their GIC underneath it, and their name in big bold letters.
Coop searched for his name and tried really hard not to smile.
On the ground all around them the pads started to glow. A thick black line appeared around the pads which had all turned a spotless white. Now, the room was full of dozens of squares with glowing numbers hovering above their centers. Those numbers corresponded to numbers on the bracket.
“Today we’re going to have a little fun in evaluating your current level of ineptitude. I need to see if you’re hopeless or if I can actually make something out of you.” The SSG might have said all this lightly, but her eyes were hard and serious.
“Rules are simple!” PO3 Janney hollered. “Don’t ya go killin’ anyone. Medics will be able to handle anythin’ else.” He stared at them with a big grin splashed across his face. “Fall out and get to ya squares!”
Coop for once didn’t hesitate or question. In fact, this was the best thing that had happened to him since he’d arrived in this fucking hellhole.