Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop silently followed Eve and Staff Sergeant Cunningham. Anger still boiled in his gut. All he wanted to do was repeatedly punch Davenport in the face until his eyes were swollen shut and all his teeth were knocked out. The memory of their match during the first day of fight week was playing on a loop inside his head. Despite the serious nature of the situation, Coop couldn’t help but smile.
Even after a week training in the Dojo, Coop still had trouble finding his way around. The SSG had no such issue. After two rights, two lefts, and a final right, without a single misstep, the SSG pushed open the door into the humid Georgia night.
Sitting there waiting for them was the air-car that had been hunting them at the end of the previous week; complete with the roof-mounted weapons system.
“Get in.” The SSG walked around to the driver’s side and got behind the wheel.
Coop didn’t argue. He hopped in the back while Eve took the passenger seat. Almost immediately Coop felt the acceleration of the vehicle press his body back against the seat. Trees were whizzing by so quickly he wasn’t able to make them out individually. The forested area around the Dojo passed in a blur of green and brown.
Coop turned his attention to the front seat and tried not to laugh. Whatever the purpose of this air-car, it was not designed for the 225 centimeter SSG. She was scrunched over the wheel with her knees nearly pulled up to her chest. It suddenly made Coop very nervous about traveling at a high rate of speed with her driving. This was only Coop’s fourth time in an air-vehicle. The first was the entire reason he was here. A short hop followed by a sudden stop. The second was the air-bus from the PHA Civil Administration center. He’d literally been kicked off that vehicle. Third, was the ride back from the hospital after almost dying from a coolant leak during isolation week. So far all of his trips defying gravity were for less than ideal reasons.
This one seemed to be conforming to that standard.
Coop shifted his attention from the SSG to Eve. While the SSG looked calm but still pissed, Eve’s face was docile neutrality. It didn’t have the emotionless nature of when she’d ruthlessly crushed Davenport’s nutsack, but she did seem content with the decision she’d made. Coop wasn’t going to argue with her, in fact, he agreed.
<I’ve got your back.> Coop could feel the loyalty to his squad leader pulsing through his veins, and it had nothing to do with wanting to screw her senseless.
The ride in the air-car was short, because that was what happened when you traveled unopposed at two hundred kilometers per hour. Coop felt the G-forces slacken as the blurring of the standard white buildings became more defined, until finally they stopped in front of a three story building. It was still white like every other thing at the training center, but it had a different feel to it.
Coop immediately identified the new feeling when he saw the sign sitting next to the walkway leading up to the front doorway.
<132nd Training Battalion Headquarters.> And underneath it. <Training Tomorrow’s Today.> And on the last two lines. <Commander: Lieutenant Commander Thomas Shephard. NCOIC: Gunnery Sergeant Jedidiah Wilson.> Coop gulped involuntarily after reading the final name.
The SSG, with only slight difficulty, extracted herself from the air-car. “Get over here, Recruits.”
Coop and Eve scrambled to obey.
“Listen up and listen closely.” The SSG was always serious, but this time there was something else. “You will follow me into the building. You will stand at the position of attention at all times unless told to do something different. You will not speak unless spoken to. You will end every sentence with “Sir” or “Gunnery Sergeant”. Lastly, you will not lie. You will tell the truth at all times. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Coop and Eve replied.
“Good.” SSG Cunningham gave them all one last look. “Follow me.”
The SSG’s long legs carried her forward fast enough that Coop and Eve had to jog to keep up. Coop took his spot at the back of the three person formation. He was going to back Eve up if it was the last thing in the military he did, but he wasn’t going to draw any unnecessary fire unless he had to.
The plush light-blue carpets were a bit of a surprise as the three of them passed through the door which hissed shut behind them. The whole space was immaculately cared for. There were recently dusted pictures on the wall, mostly depicting soldiers in famous battles that Coop had no idea about. A copy of the Commonwealth Constitution had a place of prominence on a wall, but what really caught Coop’s eye were two rows of pictures.
Coop only got a quick look, but he recognized two people. On the bottom row the far right picture was Gunnery Sergeant Wilson standing in front of the Commonwealth flag. The NCOIC looked a little less haggard in the picture, but his hard and detached expression was identical to the one he’d worn when standing over Coop on that first day.
The second recognizable face was the far left photo on the top row. Coop had only ever seen the face on the holo, but he was pretty sure he’d seen this exact picture before. The man in the photo was what women would call devilishly handsome, with exquisitely white teeth, and perfect, fashionably-styled jet black hair. His eyes were a warm, genetically engineered dark amber that always reminded Coop of Hailey; not only because of the color but also the calculation behind those eyes. Those eyes also had those blue specks all the rich people had. But Coop recognized the glint of someone willing to do whatever was necessary to get what they wanted.
The man in the picture had high cheekbones and a firm jawline that effortlessly transitioned into the award-winning smile the picture was expressing. From his couch in the PHA Coop had watched the man give speeches through the last few years of his life. The man was always in the news, and Coop doubted there was a single man, woman, or child who didn’t know the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth Ezekiel Mackintosh, the duly selected leader of the United Commonwealth of Colonies Council of Representatives.
But Coop didn’t have time to think about that. SSG Cunningham was already striding purposefully down the hallway, and Coop had to run to catch up.
“Stand here.” The SSG pointed to the wall beside the door.
Coop put his back to the wall and stood at the position of attention like the SSG had instructed. The SSG knocked on the door, waited for a response, and then entered the room alone. The door shut behind her, locking out sound. Coop could tell that the place had been built with privacy and security in mind.
“What’s gonna happen, boss-lady.” Coop broke the silence after a few minutes.
“Shut up, Coop,” Eve hissed back. “Just follow the staff sergeant’s instructions and you’ll be fine.”
“I’m not worried about me,” Coop replied in a whisper. “I’m not the person who will forever be known as nut-crusher.”
Eve snorted just as the door to the office reopened. She quickly turned it into a cough, that didn’t fool the small NCOIC who stepped out in front of the SSG. The two NCOs standing next to each other reinforced how totally opposite they were in Coop’s mind.
“Follow me.” The GYSGT spun on his heel and started down the hallway.
<Well some things are the same.> The NCOIC had the same controlled but still pissed expression SSG Cunningham had been wearing since she entered the small room on the fringe of the maze.
The four person formation set off down the hall: the NCOIC, SSG Cunningham, Eve, and Coop bringing up the rear. The GYSGT led them to a door with a golden plaque in the center with ‘Commander’ etched in big letters into the precious metal.
Coop felt the familiar itch to pry the gold from the door and run, but he wouldn’t get more than a few meters before the SSG ripped his head off.
While Coop thought about thievery, the gunnery sergeant knocked on the door.
“Enter.” A low, gravelly voice called back.
The four-person formation marched into the office. The GYSGT and SSG formed the front rank, and Coop followed Eve to make a second. Luckily, he was mostly shielded from the man sitting behind the desk by the larger SSG, but he got a good look at the guy.
Lieutenant Commander Thomas Shephard, Commander, 132nd Training Battalion, was above all else a tired looking man. Coop’s impression was that the commander of his training battalion looked soft. His face had a little extra weight on it that only emphasized the dark shadows beneath his eyes and age lines across his face. The LCDR was by far the oldest person Coop had ever seen in the military. His hair was leaning more towards salt on the salt and pepper scale, and his regulation mustache was almost completely white. The one contradiction to everything Coop would have described as an “old, fat fuck” were his eyes. They were an icy green color, like two emeralds mined from an asteroid in deep space, and they were sharp; the type of sharp that would cut you if you weren’t careful.
“Sir,” Gunnery Sergeant Wilson was the one who finally spoke up. “We have an incident report from Echo Company based upon the battalion’s CCIR.”
Coop would later look up CCIR and see that it meant Commander’s Critical Information Requirements; which meant that anything meeting those prescribed requirements was immediately brought to the LCDR’s attention.
Coop visibly saw the LCDR perk up at the mention of CCIRs, and not in a good way. “Continue.”
“Report is in your inbox, Sir, along with recommendations and footage.” SSG Cunningham spoke briskly and professionally.
“I haven’t had any problem out of your recruits before, Gwen. What happened?” The LCDR opened something on his PAD and split his attention between it and the SSG.
“Honestly, Sir. We had a breakdown in our observation protocol.”
Coop didn’t see the expression on the SSG’s face, but the LCDR’s eyes flicked over to Eve and back to the SSG.
“Don’t sugar coat it, Gwen, they were there. They know someone fucked up somewhere.”
“Yes, Sir. One of the corporals assigned to the Dojo fell asleep on watch and the allowed the incident to occur.” The SSG informed quickly.
“Yep,” despite the affirmative response, Coop could see the LCDR’s face flab hardening into a scowl. “He dropped the fuckin’ ball that’s for sure. Article fifteen that’s for certain. Have him in my office first thing in the morning for proceedings. I hope he liked being a PFC because he’s gonna get another shot at it.”
“Yes, Sir.” This time the GYSGT answered.
“Recruits Cooper and Berg.” The LCDR turned his attention to Eve and Coop.
The GYSGT and SSG stepped to the side so Coop and Eve could take a step forward. Coop gulped again despite himself. The look on the LCDR’s face did not look like the face of some old, fat fuck who sat behind a desk all day. It was like this whole situation had lit a fire under his ass.
“The following conversation is for the record. Recruit Davenport of Second Squad, Echo Company, One-Thirty Second Training Battalion will be undergoing a general court-martial under punitive Article 120: Rape and Carnal Knowledge. Any person subject to this chapter, who commits an act of sexual intercourse with a person, by force and without consent, is guilty of rape and shall be punished by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.”
Coop could tell the LCDR was reading directly from his PAD.
“Recruits, penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete this offense. Do you understand the article as it has been read to you?”
“Yes, Sir,” Coop and Eve replied in unison.
“Good.” The LCDR leaned back in his chair and locked eyes with Coop. “Recruit Cooper please give me you version of events.”
“Yes, Sir.” That part of the response was automatic. “Um. . .well we had just been in in a fight and we’d moved to the fringe of the maze to try and get some sleep. Eve, I mean Recruit Berg, divided us up so half the squad was on watch and half was sleeping.”
“Please get to the events in question, Recruit.” The LCDR gave a hurry up motion with his hands.
“Yes, Sir. Well. . .I was in the half-asleep half-awake stage when I heard a noise. I couldn’t tell if it was a grunt or scream, but it sounded off. I called for John and Olivia, the recruits who were on watch, and didn’t get an answer. I thought we were getting ambushed, so I tried to be stealthy and get to John without anyone noticing. When I got to John I saw he was out.”
The LCDR nodded as Coop explained what he’d seen.
“Then I heard Recruit Berg yell. I turned around and saw her kicking Davenport who was raping Harper.”
“You can stop there.” The LCDR help up his hand, his face hard. “Are you telling me that you saw Recruit Davenport engaging in an act of sexual intercourse by force and without consent with Recruit Harper?”
“Yes, Sir.” Coop didn’t even hesitate. He even smiled.
Lieutenant Commander Shephard didn’t think it was funny, neither did the GYSGT or SSG, and a quick look over at Eve showed she looked like she very much wanted to kick Coop in the shin.
<But I just want that fucker to hang.> Coop thought innocently.
“I will ask you again, Recruit Cooper. Did you see Recruit Davenport engaging in an act of sexual intercourse by force and without consent with Recruit Harper?” He held up his hand before Coop could answer. “Perhaps walking me through it step by step would help.”
“Ok, Sir,” Coop couldn’t get the confusion out of his voice.
“Where were you located when you heard Recruit Berg shout?”
“I was to the right of the entrance with John.”
“Where were Recruits Davenport, Berg, and Harper?”
“They were in the shadows in the back right of the room five or so meters from me.”
“What did you see?” The LCDR put a lot of emphasis on the last word.
Coop looked over at Eve again, breaking protocol, and saw her with a pleading look on her face.
Then it all snapped into place.
“Sir, I saw Recruit Berg kick a shadowy figure. The figure fell off of another shadowy figure. As I approached the shadowy figures I recognized the one that had been kicked was Recruit Davenport based upon his location. The other recruit, whom I recognized as Recruit Harper, was lying face-first on the floor with her CMUs torn up.”
“So for a third time, did you see Recruit Davenport engaging in an act of sexual intercourse by force and without consent with Recruit Harper?” The LCDR’s face showed he wanted Coop to follow his meaning.
<You’ve got to be kidding me. This is fucking bullshit. Is that son of a bitch going to get off because of this?> Was what Coop wanted to say.
“No, Sir. I only saw two figures in the shadows, Sir,” was what Coop ended up saying.
“That you for your testimony, Recruit Cooper. Recruit Berg, please give me your account of events.”
“Yes, Sir.” Eve stood up a little straighter, and recounted the identical first half of the events as Coop. “While Recruit Cooper went to check on John I decided to check out the weird sound coming from the dark corner of the room, Sir.” Eve’s tone grew a little angrier as she continued. “As I approached the shadows and my vision adjusted, I positively identified Recruit Davenport engaging in an act of sexual intercourse by force and without consent with Recruit Harper. Recruit Davenport had ripped her CMUs from her waist, exposing her, and was taking her from behind in a sexual position commonly referred to as doggystyle. I quickly identified the source of the strange noise as Recruit Harper’s strangled screams that were being muffled by a strip of CMUs that Recruit Davenport had forced into her mouth. I immediately ascertained that the sexual intercourse was not consensual and proceeded to kick Recruit Davenport off of Recruit Harper. I instructed Recruit Davenport to remain seated where I had kicked him. He began to threaten me, alluding to more physical violence if I talked about what had occured, so when he disobeyed and started to get to his feet I. . . eliminated Recruit Davenport’s ability to commit another act in violation of the uniformed code of military justice.”
“Thank you, Recruit Berg. Thank you everyone for your testimony and recommendations.”
Coop assumed that the LCDR turned off the recording because he sighed loudly and rubbed his eyes.
“Eliminating Recruit Davenport’s ability to commit another act in violation of the uniformed code of military justice,” the LCDR chuckled as he repeated the last line of Eve’s testimony. “That has to be the most articulated way I’ve ever heard anyone describe turning a man’s nuts into pancakes.”
Coop couldn’t see as much as sense the GYSGT and SSG grinning behind him.
“In any future issues involving testimony and UCMJ, which judging by your file you will have, please stick to the truth and nothing but the truth. Conjecture, although accurate in this instance, will not be tolerated in a military court-martial. A testimony like the one you were giving would have been destroyed by the defendant in cross-examination and undercut the case. We have video and an accurate eyewitness account from Recruit Berg. Your willingness to stretch the truth just makes you look bad and opens up a potential case of harassment from Recruit Davenport; especially with Recruit Berg’s vigorous corrective methods.” The LCDR sighed again. “I’ve been doing this job for a long time, and I know what a recruit like Davenport is and what a good squad’s response to him would be. After seeing Recruit Berg’s actions and a quick look at her file, I would guess that a harassment case brought by Recruit Davenport might have some merit.” It wasn’t a question as much as a hypothetical statement, so Coop kept his mouth shut.
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Gwen. Gunnery Sergeant, make sure that corporal is standing in front of my desk at 0900 tomorrow.”
“You’re all dismissed. Have a good night.”
Before Coop could say a word he found the SSG’s hand on his shoulder and forcefully pushing him out the door.
The short meeting with the officer was a bit of a whirlwind, but Coop had learned an important lesson. The old adage a picture is worth a thousand words was total bullshit. In the military, apparently, how you phrased things was just as important as what you did.
<I can work with that.> Coop had just found a crack in the system.
He just wished seeing Harper raped hadn’t shown it to him.