Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
<My life fucking sucks.> Coop thought as he stood in line.
Normally that wouldn’t be a bad thing but he was in armor, and even with just a light kit it was making his back and knees throb. Not being allowed the strap his M3 to his chest wasn’t helping either. The weight of the weapon was making his shoulders burn.
On top of all that it was hot as balls outside.
Coop looked around him. Eve was in front with the rest of the squad behind him. Using his eyes he activated TACCOM on his helmet’s HUD and toggled to the squad channel. The NCOs would probably be listening but he wouldn’t get in as much trouble if he stayed off the company net.
“Does anyone else feel like their balls are floating in Lake Erie in this thing.” He made it sound light-hearted and bitchy all at the same time.
The remark got him a few laughs and an affirmative ping from Mike. He at least got the Lake Erie bit.
Smartcloth was a great invention, and one of the best things Coop had seen since getting out of the PHA. It was comfortable, always fit, and normally breathable. In the Battle function, when the smart-fibers tightened to offer additional ballistic protection, the uniform lost a lot of those positive features Coop had come to know and love.
The result was the worst case of swamp ass Coop had ever experienced. He could literally feel pooled water sloshing around in his taint.
“Ladies,” Eve cut through the laughter. “Make sure to take extra care during personal hygiene tonight. I don’t want anyone coming down with an infection that’ll sideline them. Our weapons quals, armor quals, and tactics training are too important to miss.”
“I’m way ahead of you.” Olivia and Harper replied separately.
Coop was glad to hear Harper’s voice was upbeat. She’d improved significantly in her recovery efforts since she’d been given the armor and a weapon.
“One-thirty-second Battalion, Echo Company, second squad step up!” A voice announced over the company TACCOM network.
Third squad walked past them heading off the rifle range. Coop couldn’t see their expressions or hear what they were saying, but the excited gestures they were making with their hands were a good sign.
Coop had been waiting for this moment all day. He couldn’t wait to shoot his M3 for the first time.
In true infantry fashion they’d given them the weapons and then not allowed them to fire them for nearly a week. First they all had to memorize the serial number. <M32413B55N8039.> Coop could recite the damned thing in his sleep.
Then they’d learned what that number signified. <M3 equals model three. 2413 equals year of production. B stands for batch followed by the batch number, which in my case is 55. Finally N stands for the number my rifle was in that batch which was 8039.> They’d spent an hour discussing that.
After the serial number came the technical manuals, the classes, and tests. SSG Cunningham wanted them to know anything and everything about the fire: rounds capable of firing per minute, maximum effective distance, recommended engagement distance, ammunition variations, parts, the purpose of those parts, the important part numbers if you needed to fabricate a new part in the field, and a dozen other things.
After reading about it all, they got hands on experience. But not range time. They built a competition out of disassembling and reassembling the rifles. They also learned to clean it. Basically you just needed to pop the stock off and make sure all the circuitry was running at optimum efficiency, clean any dust or debris that might have got in and could fuck with things.
That was the easy part. The real cleaning had to do with the barrel. When you were firing one millimeter needles at such high velocity there was going to be shit left behind. And getting that shit out of the barrel was important. To reinforce the point the SSG and PO3 told war stories about stupid privates who didn’t clean out their barrels during lulls in the fighting. If that private was lucky their rifle would just jam at a bad time and the enemy would kill them. If that private was unlucky their weapon would explode, and they would die along with the soldiers to their left and right. They had pictures of the aftermath to drive home their point.
The batteries in the rifles could be pretty volatile if their core containment was breached.
“You will not buddy fuck ya unit by bein’ a dumbass!” PO3 Janney had literally screamed at them as they rammed cleaning instruments down their barrels for an hour. “That shit betta be clean as my momma’s pearls when I inspect it.”
He’d stick a white rag down the barrel to check it, and if it came out with any residue he would PT you until you threw up.
Despite the M3s being newly assigned they were surprisingly dirty. Coop was debating whether that was a training opportunity or because who ever had used them before were a bunch of lazy fucktards.
Either way, Coop had learned weapons discipline. He’d memorized his serial number, passed their written tests, read the TM like the Bible, could disassemble and reassemble the rifle in under the standard time of one minute, and his weapon had passed PO3 Janney’s tight-ass inspection.
He was finally ready to shoot something.
“Second squad, step up to the individual firing positions.” The voice over the company channel commanded.
Coop didn’t recognize the voice, but he did what it said. The heads up display (HUD) in his helmet informed him that the speaker was the designated Range Safety Officer (RSO). The key word in there being “officer”. God might as well be giving the order.
“Assume a prone firing position.”
Coop had read about the three firing positions in the TM: prone, kneeling, and standing. Prone offered the best stability since you were lying on the ground; preferably with your weapon resting on something. In this instance, Coop had two sandbags to support his M3.
“You can do this, squad. Slow and steady, remember your breathing, and we’ll blow the rest of the squads out of the water.” Eve encouraged everyone from the firing position right beside Coop.
“Right and left limits are being designated now.”
Coop watched through his HUD as the rest of the world vanished from view. The only thing he saw was his assigned fire lane and the first target sitting three hundred meters away.
<Three hundred meters is the standard contact range with the enemy.> Coop recited the TM on basic tactics he’d been reading. <Things start getting closer than that and you’d better hope you have a nano-blade.>
“Second squad, we are going to group and zero your IAWM3s before running through a basic qualification table.” The RSO announced. “You have been equipped with three magazines; one for grouping, one for zeroing, and another for qualification. At this time please grab you grouping magazine, insert it into your weapon, chamber a round, but keep your weapon on safe.”
Coop picked up the first magazine. His HUD declared it the grouping magazine. He slapped it into the open well at the bottom of the M3. His M3 menu was already open on his HUD so he selected the command for chambering a round. It happened silently, but Coop felt a slight click in the weapon. His HUD now indicated he had twelve available rounds in the magazine.
<I don’t know how soldiers used to do it?> Coop thought about old school soldiers who didn’t have their weapons integrated into their armor’s computer systems. <It must have been a pain in the ass having to manually do everything.>
Coop knew how to do those steps if required. The M3 had manual redundancies in case the electronics got knocked out somehow, but the standard for qualification was operating the weapons and armor through the HUD.
“Second squad, there are four targets set up in the shape of a square. You will fire three rounds at each of the three targets. Aim at the same place on each of the targets. The standard is to put all three rounds within a one centimeter space. When you are ready, take your weapon off safe and engage.”
The voice clicked off the company net and a booming voice announced through the tower loudspeaker behind them. “Range is hot!”
Coop focused on the targets three hundred meters downrange. They were holographic but seemed just as solid as a piece of paper or a block of duro-steel. The targets had four darkened silhouettes showing a humanoid figure from the waist up.
“Safety off.” He vocalized, not wanting to take his eye off the target.
A red dot appeared, indicated he was aiming at the target’s forehead. Coop lowered his aim so the dot was over the target’s chest.
<Headshots are for snipers on a stationary target.> Coop recited the SSG’s words during one of the weapon’s lectures. <Always aim for the center of mass, that way you’ll actually hit something.>
Coop controlled his breathing. The sound of a shot echoed to his right; which meant Eve had taken her first shot. His armor automatically filtered out the sound at his command. He needed to focus on this. He also zoomed in to get a better look at the target.
“Recruit Cooper!” A voice snapped over a private channel.
It was SSG Cunningham.
“Reengage your audio and zoom back out to normal. We train like we fight, recruit. You aren’t going to be able to shut everything out and zoom in during combat. You lose situational awareness when you do this. Someone is going to sneak up and stick a knife in your neck.”
Coop glared into his HUD at the disembodied voice of the woman who’d broken his jaw. He unknowingly flexed it as she spoke. Despite the medics saying he was good to go, and being able to eat regularly again, Coop felt like things weren’t quite right. It just felt off. Eve said it was because his bite was different, and that it was the least he deserved for being a moron and flashing his weapon around.
His complaint that they’d received no weapons safety training at the time fell on deaf ears. <Common sense.> Coop had scoffed at their reply, but everyone but him agreed.
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” He replied and returned his settings to normal.
The space around him came alive with the sound of rounds being fired downrange. Coop ignored it, tried to block out the noise with his own mind, and focused on the target.
He controlled his breathing again, put the soft, upper part of his trigger finger on the trigger, and gently moved it back. It was important not to give it a jerky pull.
The one millimeter needle spit from Coop’s M3 and rocketed downrange a three thousand meters per second; which meant it reached the target in one tenth of a second. Firing and hitting the target seemed nearly simultaneous.
<Awesome!> Coop couldn’t stop himself from grinning.
The round had hit a little high and to the right; more the shoulder than center mass, but he didn’t change his aim. He kept aiming at the center of mass. He quickly put two more rounds down range. They also hit high and to the right, but pretty close to the first round.
A spinning wheel appeared on his HUD with the word “Calibrating” underneath it. It lasted only a few seconds as the computer on his back entered the data from his shot into its system and adjusted the placing of the red dot accordingly.
Coop moved through the next three targets always aiming at the center of mass. The next three hit low and to the left. The computer had over calibrated from his first shot. The third targets were on line vertically, but still a bit to the left. The final target saw Coop put all three rounds close together and in the center off mass.
“Put your weapons on safe and eject your magazine.”
Coop did both through the HUD and waited for more orders. The procedure was the same for the zeroing; one magazine, four targets, and three rounds per target. Coop put all of his rounds in a tight grouping in the center of mass, and was declared grouped and zeroed by the RSO.
Everyone in the squad grouped and zeroed on their first try.
“Second squad, you will now run through a normal qualification table. This will not be the only time you shoot for qualification, so do not be discouraged if you perform below standard. One hundred targets will appear at distances ranging from fifty to one thousand meters. The targets will be visible for three to five seconds. You have one hundred rounds. You may use them at your discretion. A passing score is seventy out of one hundred hits. Different badges of achievement are available: seventy-five to eighty-five hits is a Marksman, eighty-five to ninety-five hits is a Sharpshooter, and those select few to hit ninety-five to one hundred targets are awarded the Expert badge. Acknowledge when you are ready to begin. Good luck, Recruits.”
Coop took another few deep breaths and moved his jaw again. He hoped it feeling off wouldn’t throw off his aim too much. The HUD started to highlight other members of second squad as they acknowledged their ready status. Coop was the second to last to acknowledge; followed a full thirty seconds later by Eve.
“Retrieve your last one hundred round magazine and insert it into your weapon, chamber a round, but keep your weapon on safe. . . right and left limits are now designated. . .take your weapon off safe and fire when ready.”
Coop didn’t even hear the “Range is Hot” from the tower. His eyes zeroed in on a target that popped up closer than the previous targets. He adjusted since the target was off to the right, aimed, and fired. He wasn’t sure if he got it before the target disappeared, but he didn’t let it worry him. There were ninety-nine more targets to go.
<Now this is what I’m talking about.>
He didn’t know if all the shit up to this point was worth it, but lying in the dust and shooting at holographic enemies just felt right.