Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop had a love-hate relationship with fight week.
The love part came during the daily twelve hour training. He loved learning how to really fight; not the PHA alleyway fighting of two gangs, or fighting off a mugger in a tower’s stairwell. He loved learning real techniques and combinations. He enjoyed learning the triangle choke Eve had defeated him with the first day. He’d learned how to lock and break an opponent’s joints if necessary, and he could even strangle a person with their own smartcloth uniform if need be.
Even better, despite the truth behind Staff Sergeant Cunningham’s words that first day, Coop really did have a knack for it. He wasn’t as good as Eve or any other recruit who’d had prior combat training; but of those who hadn’t, he was among the best.
Those were the parts he loved. The part he hated was the maze. His hate for the maze started within the first ten minutes of their first night in it. Coop, and most of second squad, had gotten the shit kicked out of it by a group of better trained recruits. Coop had his shoulder dislocated, a good number of bruises to various parts of his body, and he took a nasty elbow to the forehead. Before the first night in the maze he had no idea that a human being’s elbow could cut skin like that.
That first night taught him a solid tactic: break the skin on a person’s forehead and they’d have blood trickling into their eyes for the rest of the fight. He’d learned that lesson the hard way.
The brutality and no-holds-bar mentality of the maze was only a small part of why he disliked it. The biggest reason was because it didn’t allow for even a partial night’s sleep for an entire week. At least half the squad was always on alert while the second half cat-napped for an hour or two. Then they’d switch or get suddenly woken up by an attack.
Coop had never known true exhaustion until near the end of fight week. And by that time the company had lost another seven recruits. Coop didn’t know it until after the first few nights in the maze, but the instructors saw and monitored everything. If you didn’t show an aggressive spirit then you were usually recycled into a later class to redo the week. If you were a straight up bitch then the instructors reserved the right to give you the boot. You never knew which, since recruits were simply called to the side of the formation in the morning and never seen again.
Thankfully, second squad didn’t lose a single person.
“Line up. You know the drill.” The SSG was at the front of the formation on Sunday night. Or at least Coop thought it was Sunday. You had trouble keeping track of time when you were seriously sleep deprived. “I don’t need to tell you what is expected of you. Get in there and do your jobs, recruits.”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” They all yelled back as the door to the maze opened and they flooded in.
Instead of trying to divert from the main group immediately like on the first night, second squad charged forward with the rest of the company. Coop’s eyes scanned left and right while his ears searched for any sounds of other approaching recruits. It was difficult as the mass of Echo Company charged forward, but the echoing of footsteps in the maze was usually a good tactic to see if someone was coming.
Either way, Coop and the lead elements of Echo Company ran face first into a smaller group of recruits at the first intersection in the hallway.
The other recruits were caught completely by surprise and hesitated; which told Coop they were early in the week. Hesitation got beat out of you quick in the maze. Coop’s right cross shot out and caught the nearest enemy in the face. The guy stumbled back, but he was strong and wasn’t going down from a single shot. He countered with his own punch. Coop blocked it with his own arm, thrusting it straight out, and subsequently wrapping it around the other recruits still extended arm.
Coop was taller than his opponent by a good bit, so he used that to his advantage. He jerked up roughly, causing a grunt of pain from the recruit whose arm he had securely restrained. The other recruit countered by throwing a second punch, which Coop deflected in the same way. Now he had both of the other recruit’s arms secured. This would be the point in the fight where old-Coop head-butted the guy, but new-Coop knew better. You were more likely to hurt yourself as much as the enemy if you head-butted them. At the very least you were going to do some damage, and this was just the beginning of the night. Coop wasn’t willing to do that much damage to himself with a lot of fighting still ahead of him.
So instead he brought his foot up and stomped down as hard as he could on the other recruit’s instep. The tactic wasn’t meant to really hurt the other recruit, but it was enough to distract him so Coop could set up his next move. He released one of the arms, repositioned himself, gripped the remaining arm with two hands, rotated his body, and threw the other recruit over his shoulder. The enemy’s shoulder might have popped during the throw, but Coop didn’t care. While the guy was down on the ground, Coop wound up and kicked the man in the face like he was kicking a field goal. At the very least the man’s jaw was broken, he’d need some teeth replaced, and he was out cold.
<Gotta neutralize the threat.> Coop didn’t feel bad for fucking up the guy’s face. That was what the maze was all about.
“Second squad on me,” Eve called.
By the time Coop finished with his opponent the rest of the company had taken down those unlucky recruits who’d crossed their path. The soft hums of robotic medbots on their grav-sleds signaled they were already in route to help the downed recruits. That meant their injuries weren’t life threatening, but still needed treatment. If they were serious enough, medics would also appear to render aid and remove them from the maze. For lesser injuries, every recruit carried a single syringe of standard medical nanites, which would also do for a pinch in an emergency. Upon instruction from their evaluators they could administer those nanites to anyone.
Coop had been shot full of the healing biomechanical devices every night since they started spending time in the maze. Despite how much he hated being in it, Coop always found himself at the center of where the action was taking place.
Coop walked over the where Eve was surrounded by the rest of the squad. Olivia had the beginnings of a shiner on her face, and Mike had a split lip that Harper was fussing over. Everyone else looked unscathed.
“Now that everyone is here,” she gave Coop and annoyed looked, “we’re going to make for the fringe and lay low for a bit.
Being in a fight right off the bat freed them up for a bit of sleep, and they were all exhausted.
“Lead on fearless leader,” Coop grinned at the eye roll Eve gave him.
Things with Eve had been. . .weird wasn’t the best way to describe it, but things were definitely off. Coop never knew where he stood with her. They’d cuddled up in the maze on multiple occasions, but in the morning, or when they were suddenly attacked by more recruits, she made it seem like nothing had ever happened. One second she seemed totally ready to get down, and the next she shunned him. It was very confusing.
They only got in one minor scuffle on the way to the fringe, a space on the edge of the maze that was filled with small rooms. These rooms didn’t have any doors, just door-like openings, which was why half the squad had to stay awake at all times. Thankfully, groups of recruits tended to be less blood-thirsty in the area. People came here to try and grab a few hours of shut-eye or lick their wounds after fighting.
Eve found an empty room, not more than five meters by five meters for the squad to hold up in. The light in the maze was low, so it didn’t travel much past the door opening, leaving the majority of the room shrouded in darkness. It didn’t matter to the instructors, whose camera undoubtedly had IR and night vision optics, but it was great concealment against other recruits that just happened to walk by. There would only be a problem if those recruits wanted to take the room for themselves.
“Davenport, Harper, Olivia, and John are on first watch. Everyone else try and get some sleep. I’m pretty sure this is our last night in this place, and I’m not worried about anyone getting recycled at this point. With all the ass we’ve kicked they should be begging us to stay,” Eve encouraged.
That got a laugh from Coop and a few other members of the squad.
“Why am I on first watch?” Davenport bitched, ruining the motivational speech.
“Shut up,” Mike grumbled as he settled in.
“Yeah, you sound like a baby whining for his momma’s tit.” Coop added. He usually didn’t care what watch he got, but this was a chance for him and Eve to get some semi-alone time together.
He walked over and lay down beside her. When she didn’t complain he inched closer. When she didn’t complain about that he rolled to his side and draped an arm around her. It was the odd mating ritual they’d settled into. Coop’s next move would have been to kiss her neck, but he was pretty sure he’d get a knife between his ribs if he tried; so he stuck to cuddling.
Anyone who wasn’t on watch fell asleep pretty quickly. It was essential for a recruit to be able to fall asleep fast and in any location. Sleep was a valuable commodity that needed to be taken advantage of whenever possible, but never overindulged. If you slept too deep in the maze you were guaranteeing you woke up in the infirmary with a cracked skull.
Coop had learned that lesson the hard way too.
So when Coop heard the grunts and felt the disturbance vibrate through the ground he instantly woke from his light sleep. Eve was up too, and her eyes scanning the room for threats. Neither of them moved.
After a few seconds they didn’t find any.
“What’s that sound?” Coop whispered. The sound was coming from the other side of the room.
“John,” Eve whispered. They didn’t want to give away their position, and in such a small room John should have been able to hear her.
The grunting stopped, and everything went silent
But there was no reply from John.
A few seconds later the noise resumed.
Slowly Coop rolled over, pulled his arm off Eve and crawled over to John. <Eve’s going to kick your ass if you fell asleep on duty.>
Eve took things like that very seriously.
Coop found John leaned up against the wall breathing deeply. “John,” he whispered, shoving his squad mate gently. Coop wanted to try and cover for John as much as possible. Coop liked the guy, and he’d been on the receiving end of Eve’s wrath enough that he wanted to spare John the unpleasantness if he could.
It would also mean that John owed him one.
But even after a few shoves John didn’t wake up.
And that’s when Coop heard the grunting morph into a muffled, strangled scream.
<What the hell?> Coop’s first instinct was ambush, but there was no one else but the squad in the room.
Another moment passed with nothing but the strange noise and then a roar cut through the silence of the maze. “WHAT THE FUCK!” Eve’s voice seemed to echo through every nook and cranny of the building.
Coop spun around just in time to see Eve take a wind-up step before kicking hard into a dark corner of the room. Her foot made contact with a loud thump, which was quickly followed by a curse as one dark shape fell backward into the wall.
Coop took a few steps forward to cover Eve. She was in view of the opening now, and a target for anyone to attack through it. His adrenaline started to pump, his vision focused, and he balled his hands into fists ready to throw down with the first unlucky son-of-a-bitch that stepped through the door.
But when he got closer, and was able to see the scene in the dark corner more clearly, he forgot about anything that was going on outside this small room.
Face first on the floor and slowly curling into the fetal position was Harper. Her smartcloth CMUs had been ripped off from the waist down, and she was in a position Coop had envisioned putting Eve in every day since he met her. Coop didn’t look any farther than that, he knew what had happened.
He’d grown up in the PHA. He’d seen the look of betrayal, violation, and terror on a woman’s face before. He’d almost seen that look on Hailey’s face before he’d stepped into a dark alley several years ago. But that was the PHA. This was a military training center for the most powerful military in the galaxy. Seeing the two connected in such a way shook Coop down to his core.
He turned his attention on the second person. Sitting against the wall and struggling to get back to his feet, with his uniform around his ankles, and a hard on, was Davenport. The large recruit was sneering at Eve.
“Stay down, Davenport.” Eve warned in the most threatening voice Coop had ever heard from her.
It wasn’t anger that scared him; it was the total absence of emotion. Eve sounded robotic, devoid of humanity. It was the exact opposite of Coop’s burning rage that was barely being contained beneath the surface. If Eve wasn’t between him and Davenport, Coop probably would have tried to rip the guy’s throat out. Not only because of what he’d been doing, but because he’d been doing it to Harper. The smaller woman was the closest thing Coop had ever had to an inappropriate little sister.
Of course, Davenport didn’t listen.
“Listen you stupid stuck up bitch. If you say…” Davenport didn’t get to finish.
It was clear he was trying to get to his feet under himself and pull his pants up, but Eve wasn’t fucking around. Just like the heel stomp Coop had delivered to the recruit earlier, Eve did that same. But this time with Davenport’s nuts.
It made an odd squishing noise as Eve’s foot pulverized Davenport’s balls. But that sound was quickly drowned out by the blood-curtailing scream from the man’s throat. Any resistance coming from Davenport vanished in the blink of an eye. The only thing the guy could do was scream and cry before slipping into shock. He couldn’t even move his hands to cover the ruined remains of his manhood.
“Watch him, Coop,” Eve ordered.
Coop did exactly what he was told without a peep. He was in a little bit of shock from the ruthlessness of his squad leader, and Eve was still in ball-crusher mode. He did not want to get in her way.
“Harper?” Eve knelt down next to the raped recruit and softly spoke her name.
All the emotion Eve seemed to be holding back leaked out in those two syllables.
“Shhh…it’s ok, you’re safe now.” Eve gently placed her hand on Harper’s shoulder, but Harper flinched away at the contact. Eve didn’t try to touch her again but she stayed close, constantly consoling the now sobbing woman.
Coop could hear the hum of the medical bots approaching, along with the pounding of feet; which meant the instructors knew.
<How the fuck couldn’t they have known this was happening!> Coop’s fists were still clenched and shaking at his side.
Still, Coop stayed exactly where he was; guarding the barely conscious rapist.
“Everyone FREEZE!” SSG Cunningham burst through the opening, her head almost smacking the top.
Coop followed the order.
“This training iteration is over. You all will follow me out of here immediately.” SSG Cunningham took one quick look around the scene. “Leave Davenport for the medics and the MPs.”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” The now fully awake second squad replied before following her out of the maze.
Mike hesitated for a moment before being the last one to exit.
Coop sincerely hoped Mike never saw Davenport again, because if the former Rat did there was no doubt in Coop’s mind Mike would kill that sack of shit.