Staff Sergeant (P) Gwen Cunningham
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
The soft ping and vibration of her PAD alerted her to the incoming message.
Gwen sighed and ran her hands through the half of her head with hair. The cool water felt good on her scalp and she splashed more on her face.
<I hate acting like God.> She bitched silently to herself in the confines of the latrine. <But that’s the job.>
She had to sit there in the awful Georgia heat and sweat it out with the rest of the recruits. And then she had to act like it didn’t bother her.
It did bother her. She fucking hated it.
<I’m from Ireland for fuck’s sake. We don’t tan, we burn.> The advances in medical technology made skin cancer a nonissue, but that didn’t mean getting a sunburn on your neck and having to endure it throughout the day wasn’t irritating as hell.
She took another deep breath and blew out all of the irritation, exasperation, and frustration she was holding inside. When she looked back into the mirror her face was unreadable stone. She was back to being Staff Sergeant Promotable Cunningham: Drill Sergeant, Ranger-tabbed, and any man’s worst nightmare.
She grabbed the PAD from her pocket and read the quick message. She was to report to the LCDR’s office with “all due haste”; which was code for “get her tight ass there ten minutes ago”.
She walked out of the latrine her hair still dripping the last few drops from her therapeutic moment. She walked past the eighty struggling recruits of her company that looked like baby ducklings without a mommy to tell them what to do.
“You’re in charge, Petty Officer,” she yelled out to Janney.
<Maybe he’ll PT them into the ground so they won’t have enough brain function to do something moronic?> She hoped, fully realizing that hope had no purpose in her occupation.
Janney immediately started yelling at the recruits. His heavy southern twang followed her down the dusty road until she rounded a building and was out of ear-shot. From there she broke into a jog. She was in armor, just a light-kit, but it still felt good to get her legs pumping again. Running in CMUs was too easy to be a workout.
It wasn’t a long run to the headquarters, and she got there in a few minutes. She was sweating profusely now, and there was the recognizable stank of body armor BO, but the LCDR would be expecting nothing less.
She still fixed her hair in the window before entering the building.
The Staff duty NCO gave her a nod as she passed. Whoever the duty officer was, he or she wasn’t around.
She headed down the hallway and stopped at the NCOIC’s door. “Gunney?” She tapped the door politely.
“I don’t know.” The small GYSGT just shrugged as he put down his PAD. “The old man wouldn’t tell me anything.”
She nodded and made sure to keep her face unreadable. She waited to gulp until she was back out in the hallway and walking toward the LCDR’s office. Not having the Battalion NCOIC looped in on NCO business was never a good sign.
She wiped the last few beads of sweat from her forehead before knocking on the old man’s door.
She pushed open the door, walked briskly, but professionally to his desk, and stood at the position of attention. “Staff Sergeant Cunningham reporting as ordered, Sir.”
The LCDR didn’t play any power games with her. He set down his PAD and looked her in the eye. “At ease, Gwen. Take a seat.”
She did as she was told.
As always the LCDR was tired-looking. Thomas Shepherd took his job very seriously. Training the next generation of soldiers took time and effort; which she also knew all too well. But with no family or attachment the LCDR’s life was his job. And it showed.
“What news do you want first?” He asked picking his PAD back up.
“Give me the fifty meter target, Sir.” She wanted the most immediate matter resolved first.
“Ok, let’s talk about the recruit you struck.”
The incident had happened less than twenty minutes ago, but that didn’t matter. Medics had to be called and the recruit had to be taken to the infirmary. All of which sent an automated report to the unit commander. It was up to the officer to collect the pertinent facts from there.
“Sir, the recruit was committing a blatant safety violation. I took appropriate corrective action.”
“By, and I quote,” the LCDR read off the PAD, “punching him so hard in the face his grandmamma felt it.”
She knew better than to show any emotion, even if she did see the LCDR’s lips twitch as he fought back a smile.
“Exaggeration on the part of the other recruits, Sir. I have footage of the incident if you’d prefer a factual account.” The LCDR nodded and with a swipe she sent over the data.
“Recruit Cooper again.” The officer watched the footage of the recruit pointing his weapon downrange, and then the SSG coming from his left side and punching him square in the jaw.
Even from her seat Gwen heard the pop of her fist making contact with his face.
“You could have dialed it down a notch, Gwen.” The LCDR sighed. “But I’ve got nothing against forceful enforcement of safety regulations. And neither does the Commonwealth Infantry. So I’ll file the report, but you’re going to have to deal with Cooper being on restricted duty for a day and make special requests for his chow since he’ll be eating through a straw until they repair his jaw.”
“That’ll be no more than a day, Sir. A small price for me to pay to ensure a lifetime of weapons discipline from Cooper.” It was a bit of a smartass answer, but he let it slide.
“Noted. Now the two hundred meter target.” The LCDR shifted gears into whatever long-range issues seemed to be bothering him. And it was clear from his body language whatever they were about to talk about was bothering him. “I’ve got good and bad news for you on this one.”
She didn’t request a preference. She knew the LCDR liked to give out good news first whenever he could.
“The good news is that your promotion to Gunnery Sergeant becomes effective a week from today. Congratulations, Gwen.”
Gwen didn’t get misty eyed, but she couldn’t stop the thousand-watt smile that spilt her face in two. The same smile her twin used to make billions of dollars a year just by getting her picture taken and walking down runways in various bits of fabric.
“Thank you, Sir.”
The promotion to Gunnery Sergeant was a big step for Gwen’s career, not to mention a large jump in responsibility within the Commonwealth Military Table of Organization and Equipment (MTOE). A staff sergeant was at best a squad leader. A gunnery sergeant was the NCOIC of a company, and had to deal with ten times the people and problems of a squad leader. The infantry selected their gunnery sergeants very carefully. Soldiers could do decades of service and not get above E6.
“No thanks needed. You are damn good at your job. It’s about time they gave you your second rocker.” The LCDR smiled at her like a proud father. “So that’s the good news. Now for the bad.”
Gwen tensed slightly, but aside from that kept her composure. She would focus on the promotion if nothing else.
“I’ve got your orders already.” The LCDR handed over his PAD for her to see. “Right after you finish here you will be meeting up with your company and heading straight off for a deployment.”
<Deployment.> The information didn’t surprise her. She was surprised she’d been stationed on her home planet for so long.
It was the nature of the deployment that was the bad news.
“I know you and Terri were getting close but. . .” The LCDR didn’t know what else to say.
Terri was Gwen’s girlfriend, and they’d been going steady for over a year now. There was even talk of Terri coming along to wherever Gwen headed next. A military life wasn’t for everyone, but Gwen knew her woman could handle it. She was a teacher, so she could get certified and teach in any system. That wasn’t a problem. The only problem was a shipboard billet or a hostile deployment where you couldn’t bring dependents.
“Rogue Island.” Gwen read the details of the orders and the big, red ‘Hostile Environment’ notice. “That’s a stupid fucking name for a planet.” She vented her frustration.
“Yes it is.” The LCDR gave a sad nod, still waiting for Gwen to react.
Gwen did her best to keep everything under control. <Fucking bullshit!> She screamed inside her head while keeping her composure.
What was eating at her was that she expected something like this to happen. Things had just been too good to be true.
Living a military life, especially in an era where humanity inhabited hundreds of worlds, was radically different from that of a civilian. Gwen had bounced around all of human explored space in her extended military career. She’d been on Army bases in the Core Worlds. She’d served aboard everything from a destroyer to a battleship. She’d even spent a miserable three months on an asteroid mining facility, or at least that was what the government was calling it. The rest was classified.
She had rarely spent more than a year or two at any posting before she was shipped off to the next. That was the Infantry way. Most people in her profession were single and ready to mingle, and for good reason. A military life wasn’t conducive to a family.
And now she was feeling that sting for the first time.
<I got complacent.> She felt just as angry at herself as with the situation. <I should have known it wasn’t going to work out in the long term. Earth has made me soft.>
All of this passed through her mind within a few seconds. She accepted the realization with a deep breath and a full exhale. There would be a time for tears later. Right now she needed to get more information.
“Am I at least going to be leading my Rangers?” It was wishful thinking.
The LCDR gave another shake of his head. “Rookie Company, freshly reorganized from what I hear. Hopefully the CO won’t be fresh out of an academy, but you never know.”
Usually, a Company CO had at least spent some time as an XO before assuming command. Both positions held the rank of lieutenant, the only difference was experience. Having a fresh shavetail in charge of a hundred soldiers was the worst nightmare of an NCOIC; especially if they were cobbling together soldiers from other units to put together a company. And then they were going to throw that unit into a hostile environment.
“This just keeps getting better and better.” She muttered, before realizing her error and zipping her lips.
Despite her breech of professionalism the LCDR didn’t reprimand her.
“So why the hostile environment rating?” Gwen continued perusing her orders. “Rogue Island is Commonwealth territory right?”
“It is, but it’s right along our Blockie boarder in the Mid-Worlds. The boarder has stabilized a lot in the last twenty years, but there have been reports of new tensions.”
“And Rogue Island is a possible target.” She finished his statement.
“Yes, and the Islanders don’t like us very much.” The LCDR’s face darkened with the statement.
“Thus the ‘Rogue’ portion,” Gwen couldn’t help but chuckle. “So are we talking Jesus-freaks or a bunch of Don’t Tread on Me wannabes?”
“The latter, but that’s all the information I have.” The LCDR gave her a hard look. “They’re attempting to keep this under the radar; but they’re reinforcing the planets along the border with at least an extra battalion.
“Good luck with that.” Gwen checked herself at the LCDR’s pointed glance. “Just my opinion, Sir. Soldiers talk, especially officers.”
The LCDR relaxed a bit and nodded. “This is why only you and I have the details.”
“That’s going to drive Gunney Wilson crazy.” Gwen smiled.
“Then it’s a good thing you two will be the same rank in a week.”
Gwen nodded, and read the rest of the orders. <At least I’ll still get my armor.> She read the last few lines that detailed her as the company’s Heavy Infantry soldier.
It wasn’t ideal having the company’s NCOIC being the big guns, but with how everything seemed to be playing out Gwen was happy to at least have her powered combat armor between her and whoever’d be shooting at them.
<Company duties and armor maintenance are going to be a bitch though.> She wasn’t looking forward to that.
“Thank you for this impromptu briefing, Sir.” Gwen stood and snapped to the position of attention.
“It’s the least you deserve, Gwen. And for what it is worth I put in my endorsement for the preferences you listed. But…”
“No need to apologize, Sir. I understand. The needs of the service come first.” Gwen kept her face professional despite how much she wanted the “service” to sit on it and rotate for once.
“Good. And one last thing Gwen,” the LCDR smiled. “I expect a top notch ceremony from you. You’ve got eighty-plus recruits to help out, so don’t slack on the details.”
“Never, Sir.” She smiled back.
“Dismissed. Get back to your company.” The LCDR returned his attention to his PAD while Gwen did an about-face and marched out of the office.