Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Sittin’ on a mountain top, beating on a drum
Beat it so hard that the MP’s come
I said MP, MP, don’t arrest me
Arrest that leg behind that tree
He stole the whiskey, I stole the wine
All I ever do is double-time”
Coop sang the running cadence at the top of his lungs as his feet hit the ground in perfect unison with the rest of Echo Company 132nd Training Battalion. After fight week, and spending so much time in the Maze, Coop wasn’t sure if the company was going to be able to seamlessly transition back into regular everyday activities. If they didn’t seamlessly assimilate then SSG Cunningham and PO3 Janney were going to tear them a new asshole.
Having to reteach something already learned was the biggest failure in the two NCOs’ eyes. Well that wasn’t quite true. The biggest failure in their eyes was Andrew Davenport, but nobody dared mention his name; especially around second squad, especially around Harper.
The woman had bounced back as well as could be expected in a few days from one of the worst traumas that could happen to a woman. The whole squad helped in any way they could. Harper didn’t pull any watch shifts, they carried any gear for her, and basically made life as easy as they could make it in the middle of basic training.
She wasn’t better, but in time Coop hoped she’d get there.
PT was back in full swing after returning to their normal barracks after being away for two weeks. But they had already done their ten kilometer run this morning. This time they were running to something else, and nobody would tell them what.
Eve knew because Eve always knew, but she was playing her cards close to her nice looking chest. The only thing she would give them was a big smile. Whatever was about to happen Eve clearly thought it was going to be fun.
<That could be a good or a bad thing.> Coop breathed deeply and started shouting the next cadence the SSG started to belt out.
They kept running and running and running. Over time Coop had started to get a good read on how far they’d run, and they were coming up on another ten kilometers this time. The pace wasn’t exactly difficult, it was hot as hell, and the constant movement was starting to make his balls chafe. Wherever they were going he hoped they got there quick before the mood of the company turned. Coop was already starting to get a little pissed.
Finally, the company turned a corner and Coop was staring at a very large building. It was only two stories high, so he didn’t see it above any of the barracks, but it wasn’t that much smaller than the Dojo.
There were also a lot of people moving in and out of it. Just a quick glance by Coop showed half a dozen other companies.
“Quick-time march. Company halt!” The SSG brought them all to a stop in front of the large double-door of the building. “Recruits!” she yelled so her voice could be heard above the other companies moving around the area. “This is the Central Issuing Facility or CIF for short. You will enter through this door and get in line. You will grab a grav-sled when you get to the appropriate position. You will then cycle through the stations and collect your gear. Conduct a diagnostic or visual check of the gear when you receive it. Instructions will be posted at each station.” She emphasized that point by stomping her boot into the ground. A small burst of dirt poofed into the air and drifted away.
“If ya shit don’t work then don’t take it!” PO3 Janney yelled as he stomped around the perimeter of the formation.
“If the diagnostic fails or there is a visible deficiency with the equipment then return it to the soldier handing it to you. You will have to fill out paperwork on your PAD for the refusal, but that is much more preferable to the alternative. When you finish receiving all of the equipment you will be signing for it.”
Coop raised an eyebrow at that. He had no idea what “signing for it” meant, but the SSG caught his eye-raise and gave him a stare that said there were burpees in his near-future.
<Shit.> Coop groaned and returned his attention to a spot on the CIF’s outer-wall that looked in need of a good cleaning.
“Once you sign for your equipment you own that shit. You are responsible for that government property from this day forward. If you lose it, neglect it, or fuck up in any other way then you will be paying for it. If you’re lucky you’ll just be paying back the Commonwealth out of your paycheck for your jackassery, if you’re not then it will fail at a critical time and you’ll end up with a nice big hole in you. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!”
“Good. Now fall out and get in line.” She stalked away through a separate smaller door while the rest of the squad ran and bottlenecked at the main door.
After a normal amount of pushing, shoving, and cursing everyone was in line. Like always, Coop was right behind Eve.
“So, Boss-lady, what new toys are we getting?”
“We’re getting our basic infantry load.”
“Infantry load?” John asked from a few people back. “But I want to go fleet.”
“Don’t worry,” Eve waved away the anxiety in their usually calm squad member’s tone. Just like Harper he’d never quite been the same since being knocked out by Davenport. “This is the training division’s gear. We’ll all turn it in when we graduate. We’ll get our real gear when we get to our units, whether that’s fleet or infantry.”
That put John at ease a little, but Coop wanted to know more. “What’s in the basic load?”
“It’s a bunch of crap, most of which we’ll never use. But my father always said that an infantryman’s best friend was his armor and entrenching tool. So I’d expect to get those.”
<Armor!> Coop couldn’t stop for grinning.
He’d been looking forward to this day ever since he’d consciously decided to join the military. He’d seen the holos of soldiers in their armor marching in a parade, or in action movies fighting the Blockies. The stuff was pretty bad ass and he was about to get his own set.
<Having a picture of yourself in battle armor is a one way ticket into a girl’s pants. Hell, I bet Eve finds it hot.>
All illusions of grandeur, the romanticized nature of armor, and how it was going to get him laid were quickly dispelled as Coop went through the process of actually getting it.
It was a whole new and different maze than the one he had to endure nightly during fight week. Fight week’s maze was a labyrinth of coordinars and rooms. You never knew what was around the next corner and you constantly had to be attuned to your environment. So while it was a maze it wasn’t the type of maze you tried to solve. It was the type of maze you tried to survive.
The maze at the CIF was a different beast altogether. It wasn’t made of corridors and rooms, but roped off walkways and opens sections with tables to check the equipment. You could see the end of the maze in the distance. It was a beckoning square of light identical to the entrance they’d just come through. The CIF maze wasn’t one you tried to survive, it was one where you had to resist the temptation to blow your brains out.
For six hours Echo Company shuffled through the maze of stations manned by corporals and sergeants who seemed to have a permanent stick shoved up their asses. They all looked like they’d taken a bite out of a lemon in the last five minutes, and they were under the universal impression that everyone but them was a moron.
“Corporal, it isn’t working.” Coop held up the entrenching tool Eve had been talking about.
The thing was a meter tall, half as wide, and looked like a combination between a jackhammer, a drill, and a shovel. It weighted about ten kilos and was awkward to carry. Coop had no idea where it was supposed to go if he was going to carry the thing into battle.
“Try it again, Recruit, and follow the instructions this time.” The corporal spit out a bit of tobacco he’d been chewing on.
Coop had already performed the electronic ritual twice, but he did it a third time like a good soldier. After two minutes the blinking red error light flashed on the tool’s onboard computer.
“Corporal, that’s a no go again.” Coop pulled out his PAD. “What is the form I need to fill out?”
“You listen here, and you listen good, Recruit. There is nothing wrong with that tool. Stop fuckin’ up the diagnostic and do it right. Or better yet just scan here and get the hell out of my station.”
Coop was tempted to press his GIC to the corporal’s PAD just to get the hell out of there.
“What’s the problem?” Eve materialized at his side like a guardian angel.
“Diagnostic is coming back bad,” Coop said.
“This guy’s a ‘tard and can’t read directions,” stated the corporal louder and angrier than Coop.
Eve pushed Coop out of the way and did the diagnostic in half the time it took him to do it. Again, the red light blinked at the end.
“It’s faulty,” Eve declared in a tone with no wiggle room for argument. “Form is a MW-1659A. Fill it out, turn it in, and get a new one. You’re holding up the squad, Coop.”
“Now wait a minute, Recruits. That’s not…”
“Do I need to call my staff sergeant over?” Eve rounded on the corporal with an icy stare. “If she does the diagnostic and comes back with the same result it’s going to be your ass not mine.”
The corporal balked at the not veiled at all threat. “Just fill out the form. Right now, Recruit!” He yelled the last bit before stalking away.
“Thanks,” Coop gave Eve a nod.
“You’re in my squad, Coop. I can’t have my number two looking bad. Plus, you have to keep your eyes on these supply guys. Rank goes to the crafty in their profession. They’ll do their best to pawn off fault equipment to get it off their books, but they’ll back off before they get caught doing it. Just keep that in mind.”
“Thanks.” Coop nodded.
It sounded like something he’d try and do.
“Don’t thank me yet. Get your equipment and get formed up.” Eve turned to walk away.
Coop turned his attention back to his PAD and then jumped in the air as a hand firmly slapped him on the ass. Coop whirled with fists raised, but the only person nearby was Eve, and she was walking away like nothing had happened.
<Did she just flirt with me? Did she just slap my ass.> Coop felt both mildly offended, and majorly turned on. <Isn’t that supposed to be my job?>
He would have thought about it more, but the corporal returned with a new entrenching tool that Coop had to focus on. This one came back green on the diagnostic and he was finally able to move on to the next station.
Surprisingly, the only thing Coop didn’t have to run a diagnostic or visual check on was the armor. It also turned out that was the main reason they needed the grav-sled. The equipment was still in a factory-certified crate and had to weigh nearly seventy-five kilograms. The thought of walking around in that much weight made Coop very apprehensive of training going forward. Still, he signed the paperwork with his GIC at the final station while ignoring the “get the fuck out of my building” glare form the ornery sergeant.
Coop pushed his grav-sled over to the assembly area and fell in with the rest of the company wondering what they were going to do next.
What was next for Coop was a set of burpees.
“What? Did you think I’d forget Cooper?” The SSG grinned mercilessly before walking away; leaving Coop face down and panting in the dirt.