Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop pulled himself off the ground and fell back into formation. It was more spread out this time thanks to the grav-sleds sitting in front of each recruit in a silent hover. SSG Cunningham’s eyes traced across them while PO3 Janney prowled around the edges. They were looking for something, but Coop couldn’t figure out what.
“A piece of advice.” The SSG’s voice carried but it wasn’t a yell. “Today’s lesson is very important. Pay close attention, take copious notes if you have to, but you will be laser focused. Understood?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” They replied as they always did to one of her questions.
“Good. Right Face! Forward March!”
It was a little awkward marching with the grav-sleds, but it was infinitely better than the alternative. The sleds were an unspoken reminder of how fucking heavy all this shit was.
<This is going to fucking suck.> Coop knew he was going to deeply regret joining the Commonwealth armed forces the moment he put on that armor.
Even if it got him some poontang later.
They marched slowly through the morning heat for several more kilometers. They marched past areas Coop didn’t know, but they still looked identical to the rest of the training center; and then they marched into a section he did recognize.
<This can’t be good.> The company rounded a corner and Coop recognized the battalion headquarters just up ahead.
He’d just been there and the experience hadn’t been pleasant.
Thankfully, they passed by the two-story building, but they didn’t go far. They stopped in front of a squat, single-story building that was a completely different style than everything else around it. Instead of the slightly washout white of the rest of the training center this building was a metallic gray.
<What is this place?> By this time Coop knew the military liked uniformity, so this place being different was significant.
“Staff Sergeant Cunningham?” A gravelly voice called out as the door to the building clanged open.
Now Coop knew why the building was different. It was a solid square of metal with a door cut into it. Not the cheap painted polyplast of the rest of the base.
“Yes.” The SSG brought the company to a halt and went to talk to the soldier exiting the building.
The man looked like a child compared to the giant SSG, but just about everyone did. Then the man approached them. Coop had to strangle the laughter in his throat. The man with the three chevrons of a sergeant was short. And that was short with a capitol S.
As he approached, the SGT seemed to be growing smaller. Everyone in the company was taller than this guy. Coop would be surprised if the NCO topped one hundred and fifty centimeters. Even Harper had half a head on this guy.
But what the SGT lacked in height he made up for in sheer bulk. Coop had thought PO3 Janney was short and bulky. The PO3 didn’t have anything on this guy. The man looked literally as wide as he was tall. Logically, Coop knew that was impossible, but that didn’t stop his eyes from playing tricks on him. On top of that, Coop could see thick muscles through the NCO’s CMUs. The uniform seemed to strain against him.
<Heavy grav world?> Coop thought.
But then Coop caught the SGT’s eye.
“What are you looking at, Recruit?”
“Nothing, Sergeant!” Coop yelled back, making sure he kept his eyes looking straight ahead.
“Don’t bullshit me you long-necked motherfucker. You got a something against short people.” The small SGT got right up in Coop’s face. . .It was more like Coop’s chest.”
“Sergeant.” SSG Cunningham gave an exasperated sigh, but the SGT ignored her.
“You listen here and you listen good shitface. You might not know it now, but being short is a tactical advantage when you’re knee deep in the shit. I’ve seen a lot of you big motherfuckers walk around all high and mighty here at the training camp, but then you fucktards forget to duck or can’t get down as far as us with this naturally bestowed combat gift. So you laugh to yourself and make your jokes, but when you get your head blown off then I’ll have the last laugh.”
Coop couldn’t see the SGT’s expression because he was looking straight ahead, but he could feel the shorter man’s victorious sneer.
Coop thought about kneeing the man in the face, his knee wouldn’t have that far to go. But that would have hurt the squad. And the only thing he wanted less than being berated by the midget was to face Eve’s wrath. So he kept his mouth shut.
“That’s enough, Sergeant.” SSG Cunningham walked over. “We’re here to do some training. So get started.”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” The diminutive SGT gave Coop one final look and then stomped back to the front of the formation.
“Everyone eyes on me!” The SGT yelled, grabbing everyone’s complete attention. “You will all do exactly what I say exactly when I say it. If you fail to follow this simple rule we are gonna have problems. And trust me, you don’t want to have beef with me.” His eyes swept the formation for anyone else that might find humor in his size. “Ok, everyone get all your shit off the grav-sled. You had a freebee getting it here. From now on you hump all your shit everywhere like everyone else. MOVE!”
The company scrambled to obey.
Coop hefted the heavy sealed container with his armor off the sled. It fell to the ground with a loud THUMP. Followed by the smaller THUMPs of the rest of his equipment.
“You just had to open your big mouth didn’t you, Coop.” Eve grumbled from beside him. Unlike him, she was separating and placing her equipment with precision instead of just dumping it into a pile on the ground.
“I didn’t say anything.” Coop replied through gritted teeth. “Sergeant midget-man over there just started to harass the tall guy. Not my problem he has a Napoleon complex.”
“I don’t know if I should be impressed that you know what a Napoleon complex is, or kick your ass for disrespecting an NCO; especially since that NCO just happens to be the battalion armorer.”
Coop didn’t know what that meant, but it was clear from the expression on Eve’s face that it was a big deal.
<Damn she looks hot when she’s mad.> Coop kept that part to himself.
“Don’t fuck over the squad’s training. Understood?”
“Yes, Boss-lady.” Coop replied before starting to organize his own gear after Eve’s example.
“Everybody shut it!” The SGT yelled as he pulled out his PAD. A few clicks later and the grav-sleds were lining up on the side of the metal building of their own accord. “Ok, let’s get started.”
A holo display appeared behind the sergeant, occupying the space between him and the wall. On it was a picture of the armor Coop assumed was still sealed in the bag at his feet.
“Our mission today is to orient you to the Dragonscale Individual Battle Armor. You will hear some of the senior NCOs and officers refer to this equipment as your IBA. But I doubt you’ll hear that from anyone below master sergeant or captain. More likely you are going to hear people refer to this piece of equipment as “scales”. So if someone yelled at you to ‘get your scales on’ then they’re talking about this.” The 3D holo-image rotated three hundred and sixty degrees as the SGT spoke.
“Now everyone open up their sealed container. If for some reason the container is not sealed, please tell me know.”
No one had that problem.
Coop scanned the contained with his GIC and then had to rip the seal once it was open. Inside was a real-life representation of what was rotating next to the wall of the gray building. Coop went to pull it out. . .
“Did I tell you to touch your scales, Recruit!” The SGT was on Coop like flies on shit. “I don’t need you to think, Recruit. Just do what I tell you!” The NCO backed away with a scowl. A scowl that matched the one Eve was giving him.
<Geez.> Coop held up his arms defensively and didn’t make any more attempts to do anything.
“This is the main part of your scales.” The SGT walked to the side of the building and grabbed a used-looking set of armor. “The main portion protects the torso and back down to the waist. It also comes up over the shoulders here.” The SGT effortlessly threw the armor over his head.
<He has to be from a heavy grav world.> Coop watched as the man barely grunted as the heavy gear fell into place.
“Once the armor is on it will conform to your body shape, and seal itself. Now you can all touch your scales and put them on.”
Coop let other people go first before he reached into the container and pulled out the armor. It kind of reminded him of bulky football pads that offered a lot more protection. <How do I get it on?> Coop had come a long way from being that skinny Rat back in the PHA, but throwing around seventy kilo pieces of armor wasn’t something he could do without hurting himself.
So he did what he always did in these types of situations. He watched Eve.
Without any hesitation Eve grabbed one side of the armor and pulled it forward over her head. She moved her head so it went into the open hole at the top. She bent her knees as she did it to take the increased weight. She shifted it around a few times until she got it as comfortable as possible and then stood up. The open sides of the armor slid together, sealing her up.
Coop heard the slight hiss of air, like someone nearby was farting, as the armor sealed against her body.
“Make sure to get it as comfortable as you can before letting it seal you in. It’ll wait until you stop moving around.” She stated when she saw Coop watching. “Pay special attention to the armpit areas. You’re going to get some chaffage until you break it in, but it’s better than rubbing you raw.”
“Thanks.” Coop took a deep breath and tried to execute the same maneuver.
He almost fell over from pulling the heavy weight over his head like that. He barely kept his feet, and then he banged his head painfully on the inside of the armor as it came down over his head. He did remember to bend his knees, so he didn’t hurt himself under the increased weight. But that didn’t stop the stab of pain running through his back and shoulders.
<How the fuck do they expect us to fight in this?>
Coop didn’t let the armor sit and seal itself. He moved it around as much as he could just like Eve said. He paid attention to the armpits, but no matter how much he adjusted it still sat uncomfortably.
<Fuck it.> Coop got it as best he could and then stopped moving. After a moment he felt pressure, and heard the hiss of air, as the armor sealed itself.
Coop handled the donning of the armor better than most. Several members of the company, Nate, Emma, and John all ended up on their asses. Coop thought it sucked walking around in the armor, but it sucked even more having to help someone up who was also wearing the armor. More than a few other people ended up face first in the dirt during that scenario.
“Eyes front! Stop waddling around like a bunch of penguins.” The SGT snapped. “Time for the armor specs, so I suggest you set your PADs to record.” He didn’t allow anyone time to get it out before he started.
“The Dragonscale Individual Battle Armor is comprised of a thin layer of ballistic gel under 3 cms of military grade duro-steel. That ballistic gel will monitor your vitals and relay any information through STRATNET to the commander of your unit. Between the duro-steel and the outer layer of the armor is a mess of circuitry that none of you will be qualified to fix. That’s an armor’s job, so don’t go fucking around with it or you will get yourself killed. The outer layer of armor, as you can see, is made of hundreds of one centimeter by one centimeter scales. These are why people call this armor scales for short.”
Coop looked down and saw the outlines of these portions, which did look a lot like reptilian scales. <Cool.>
“These scales are made of carbon nanotubing and are linked through the circuitry underneath it to the tactical computer on your back. These computers are infinitely faster and smarter than you will ever be, recruits. These computers will analyze incoming fire and direct the scales the best way to deflect those rounds.” He looked around the company obviously waiting for someone to ask a question.
“I believe a demonstration is in order.” The SGT smiled wickedly before looking right at Coop. “Recruit Longneck, thank you for volunteering.”
Coop gulped, but stepped out of formation when beckoned by the SGT. He didn’t want to look like a pussy.
“In addition to the main armor piece are these additional smaller sections.” The NCO instructed Eve to collect the rest of Coop’s armor and come to the front. “You’ve got a carbon nanotubing neck gaiter in the same scale style to protect your long, vulnerable neck.” The SGT couldn’t reach, so Coop had to pull the material over his head and down into place.
It felt rough going on, and then just plain weird as it shifted on its own and integrated itself into the top of the main armor piece at the breastbone. It reminded Coop of the VR simulation’s artificial nerves slithering around his body.
“Lastly, we’ve got these nifty little plates that go into your CMUs.”
<Where?> Coop didn’t ask the question out loud because he didn’t want to get bitched at, but he didn’t know where the plates could go.
“First you need to set you CMUs to their Battle setting.” The sergeant grinned at the company. “They didn’t tell you about that so you wouldn’t go fucking around with it and hurt yourself.” The SGT hit some commands on his PAD and Coop felt the fabric of his uniform tighten and grow heavy.
“How you feeling, Recruit?” The SGT asked innocently as Coop grunted against the additional ten kilos of weight.
“It’s heavy.” Coop growled through gritted teeth.
“And the fun ain’t over yet.” The sergeant grinned. “As you can all see, once in the Battle setting there are these nifty slits that open up. Those slits are for these plates; which are a thin layer of ballistic gel underneath 1 cm of duro-steel. Recruit, if you could help me please.” The SGT gestured for Eve to assist in sticking the plates in Coop’s CMUs.
The fun of being groped by Eve so close to his groin was lost on Coop as more and more weight was added to his body.
The plates went onto the fronts and backs of the major limbs not protected by the main armor. They covered the front and back of his lower leg, his quads, hamstrings, biceps, triceps, and forearms. His joints were left free to move, and despite the tightening of his CMUs it didn’t affect its flexibility.”
“This is what we call a full load.” The SGT grinned once they’d put all the new plates into the CMUs. “A light load would just be the main armor piece and the CMUs in a Battle setting. Your command will determine if you are going full or light into a combat situation.”
Coop tried to act like nothing was bothering him, but it felt like he was wearing and extra ninety kilos over his entire body. The armor effectively doubled his weight.
“Last but not least we have the helmet.” The SGT held up the piece which looked like solid duro-steel, with the scaled nanotubing on top without any visor for him to look out of.
“Don’t worry about seeing anything. The armors external sensors will display your surroundings. Having a visor or slit in the armor only compromises its integrity and gives the enemy something to aim for.”
“This is so cool.” Eve did the honors and lowered the helmet over Coops head, which just like the neck gaiter, slithered and sealed itself to the rest of the armor.
“Yeah, this is just fucking awesome.” Coop replied into the black silence of the armor. “I don’t think I can walk in all this shit.”
Suddenly, everything went from total, silent blackness to normal as a three hundred and sixty-degree heads-up display (HUD) activated. No, it was better than normal. Coop could see details through the HUD that he’d missed before. He also saw numbers, letters, and icons flashing by in his peripherals.
“Stay still, Recruit.” The SGT commanded. “Your armor is booting up. It shouldn’t take more than a minute, and then we can start the demonstration.
Coop couldn’t see or feel what was happening, but he could hear the rest of the company oohing and aweing as the armor did whatever it was doing when it first activated.
That might have been interesting, but what Coop could see was better. Just by looking and focusing on members of the company Coop could bring up their MILNET profiles. Most of the information was barebones, but it was a god-like power to a Rat who hadn’t even owned a PAD until a few weeks ago.
“Ok, it looks like you’re good to go, Recruit.” The SGT stepped in front of Coop and pulled out a pistol. “Time for the demonstration.”
Coop flinched as he saw the SGT pull the trigger. He expected to feel the bullets cutting through his flesh, puncturing critical internal organs and killing him. Coop wouldn’t put it past the pissed off little man to make an example out of him.
He felt the rounds hit his armor like a soft punch, but nothing more. What he didn’t see was how the armor reacted.
The rest of the company saw Coop’s armor react seemingly before the shots were fired. The scales rippled across his entire chest. With one section creating a pathway for the bullet to be deflected away from Coop.
The armor deflected each of the rounds fired by the tiny SGT, sending it careening off to the side or down into the dirt. Nothing got through to Coop, and the armor continued to move even after the SGT was finished firing. Like the armor itself was suspicious the SGT would try and do something else to hurt its user.
“And there you have it, Recruits.” The SGT put the pistol back in a holster hidden in the small of his back. “The Dragonscale Individual Battle Armor. I will now take your questions.”