Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Goodbyes were never fun, and Coop was not good at them. More importantly, he didn’t want this to be goodbye. He wasn’t weepy about it though. He was an HI trooper not a little bitch, but that didn’t stop all the emotions.
“I guess I’ll see you later.” Eve stopped in the middle of the military spaceport, dropped her bags, and threw her arms around him.
They towered over the rest of the soldiers and spacers briskly moving toward their shuttles, so everyone could see them. Neither of them gave a shit, but that didn’t stop them from getting looks.
“Hopefully soon.” Coop replied, only to get a sad smile in return.
Heavy Infantry School was another eight weeks of training. Everyone going into the school had successfully completed basic or done a tour as a regular infantryman. They knew how to fight, and had been chosen for this profession based upon that and their natural aggression. Coop was proud of his accomplishment, but he also knew HI training didn’t have anything on Ranger School.
Coop was going to Joint Base Mattis on Mars for his training, but Eve’s final destination was classified. On top of not knowing where she was going, he’d heard through the grapevine that Ranger School was a six month course. The graduation rate in that time frame was twenty-five percent. Three quarters of a class got recycled at least once, and a surprising amount died in the process. Ranger School produced one of the Commonwealth’s four special ops branches, so there was a fairly big chance Coop would never see Eve again.
“We go where they need us.” Her words said one thing, but her arms tightening around him said another.
“I’m gonna miss you, Boss-lady.” Coop blinked his eyes quickly, refusing to be overwhelmed by the moment.
“Don’t get yourself killed, Cooper.” Eve released him and took a step back. “If we meet again we’ll both deserve another forty-eight hours pass.”
Coop thought she deserved a medal for the way she’d fucked him during the last forty-eight hours, but all he could do was nod and smile.
She gave him one last beautiful, perfect grin, turned, and disappeared into the crowd. Even with his height he quickly lost sight of her.
<It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid.> Coop told himself. <It’ll hurt like hell for a minute and then I’ll be fine.> They didn’t use the old-fashioned first aid tool in most of the Commonwealth but it was the basic medical tool in the PHA.
He took a deep breath, and then a new terrible thought hit him. <Why do I feel like I just peaked and it’s all downhill from here?> He shook his head violently to dislodge the thought. <Pull yourself together.>
There were still hundreds of billions of women in the galaxy. He knew he’d always carry a flame for Eve Berg, just like he still had an ember of emotion for Hailey, but there was still plenty of tail to chase. <And I’m heading to a whole new planet. I wonder how Martians fuck?>
That thought put a smile on his face just as his PAD beeped. The communication device was stowed in one of his thigh pockets, but thanks to his recent enhancements he didn’t have to dig it out every time he got an email. The wonderful Commonwealth doctors had given him a subdermal link on his forearm that he’d linked to his PAD during a break in the no pants dance with Eve.
He pulled up the notification, which transmitted through the fabric of his CMUs, and saw it was just a calendar reminder.
Don’t miss your shuttle dumbass! Shined back at him. He didn’t remember writing the reminder in the first place, and he didn’t have time to think about it.
<Shit!> Coop took off through the crowd, bowling over a few people until they got the memo to get out of the big guy’s way.
Thankfully, his gate wasn’t that far or his first act as a PVT would have been to miss his shuttle to Mars and be late for training. He didn’t want to think about what they’d do to him then.
Coop and a hundred other unlucky souls were taking the ride to Mars on a standard cargo shuttle. Basically, the spacecraft was a large box with wings and thrusters to help stabilize during atmospheric maneuvers. They’d be making the whole trip with sub-light engines, which meant they were in for an eight-hour jaunt through the stars. Considering it used to take months to get the Mars this wasn’t too bad, but it still meant sitting strapped into cushioned seats for the better part of a day.
<At least I’ve got some good company.>
Mike was easily the largest guy in the shuttle, and he’d saved a seat for Coop. They weren’t the only two HI troopers in the shuttle, but their future classmates were sitting at the opposite end of the passenger section.
“Hey,” Coop huffed as he collapsed into the seat and started strapping into the safety harness.
The ship had compensators to deal with the gravities they’d be pulling during the trip, but the cushioned chairs were designed to make the trip a little more comfortable. Its real purpose was to not jostle people around during a combat drop through the atmosphere, but the military liked to make sure things could be used for multiple purposes.
“Welcome to Air Mars ladies and ladies.” A sarcastic voice announced over the intercom as the door slid shut and sealed barely five minutes after Coop arrived. “My name is Specialist Second Class Wright and I’ll be your pilot today. Your co-pilot is Specialist Third Class Dicks. I know what you all are thinking. Yes, his last name is the same as the male reproductive organ, and yes he takes a lot of shit because of it.” That got a few laughs out of the soldiers and spacers in the cargo hold. “However,” the pilot’s voice turned more serious, “please be advised that Specialist Dicks controls the internal compensator settings on this cargo vessel. If he willed it, the next eight hours could be the most miserable of your lives. As such, I suggest you keep the dick jokes to a minimum, sit back and enjoy the flight.”
Coop chuckled as a few faces around the hold went pale. The last thing anyone wanted was a irritated spacer taking out his frustrations on the infantry.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” The pilot’s voice rang through the hold. “There are no barf bags on this flight. I suggest you swallow it like a man or the rest of the lovely Commonwealth service members sitting with you are going to make sure you don’t remain conscious very long.” He ended the speech in a cheery voice that made Coop nervous.
There were only a handful of people who could knock him unconscious if he started spewing like a fire hydrant. The mental imagery was just starting to run through his mind as the ship lurched and they were all pressed back into their seats.
“Here we go into the wild blue yonder. Flying high into the sky!”
Coop didn’t know if the SP2 had left the intercom live on purpose or not. <At least the flight will be entertaining.>
The cargo ship, like every other ship in the Commonwealth fleet, didn’t have windows. Windows were just a built-in weakness for the enemy to target during a battle. What warships and cargo shuttles did have were external cameras that you could tap into. Coop did just that. He pulled his PAD from his pocket and linked to the ship’s systems. It accepted his STRATNET ID without any fuss and allowed him a rear view of the ship.
<Holy Crap!> The ship was already pulling into the blackness of space.
Earth was still huge behind him, a big ball of blue tinged heavily with brown.
“It used to be all blue and white.” A smaller man with a PFC’s insignia sitting next to Coop stated. “That’s before we killed the environment and left our home world to rot.”
“Still looks pretty cool to me.” Coop replied, as some of the orbital habitats started to come into view.
They were all reflective heaps of duro-steel. Solar panels littered the exterior and sucked in the sun’s energy to cut down on fuel costs. Some were nothing more than utilitarian blocks that you couldn’t see inside, while others were ornate rings with clearly visible biospheres of green life. Others took on any geometric shapes that man could fashion into space stations, and showed varying levels of opulence. In Coop’s opinion, none of them could compare to the planet beneath them.
“What are those?” Coop asked, angling his PAD so the more knowledgeable soldier could see.
“Those are defense platforms.” The man stated with a sneer.
Coop saw two types of platforms. The first were disks with bulging turrets on the top and bottom. The second set was block-shaped and had just as many weapon placements. Some were pointed at the planet, some at each other, and they all looked like they could turn the cargo shuttle into stardust.
Coop took note of the disk-shaped ones with the Commonwealth flag stenciled on it. A blue square in a field of silver stars with a white X, a red cross, and a golden screaming eagle diving with a hissing snake gripped in its talons at the center of it all. He knew from school they’d tried to blend the founding nations flags as much as they could without it looking too shitty. He thought the end product looked pretty good.
“Whose are those?” Coop didn’t recognize another stenciled flag on a defense turret that seemed to be tracking them.
This one was a block of red with a black circle in the center that held a golden sickle and hammer laid over one another. Coop got an uneasy feeling as the thick guns on the block of duro-steel followed them until they were clear of the orbital habitats.
“We’ve successfully cleared the neutral zone.” The pilot came back on the intercom. “Since the Blockies didn’t decide to turn us into a flaming ball of death you’ll all arrive safely on Mars in seven hours and forty minutes. I suggest you hold onto your dicks because it’s about to get heavy.”
“Aw fuck.” The soldier leaned back into his seat and started taking deep breaths. “I hate this part.”
“What…” Then Coop felt it.
The shuttle went to full power on its sub-light engines and he felt an unpleasant rumble in his gut. Through his PAD he could see the stars spinning all around the ship. He immediately turned it off and shoved it back in his pocket. A few deep breaths and he felt fine.
The soldier sitting next to him was a different story.
The shorter man’s gag reflex kicked off Coop’s. He’d always been the guy who puked if someone else puked, and this time was no different.
“If you spew I’m going to choke you out, Coop,” Mike said calmly, but he was purposefully looking the other way.
A very wet burp sounded from the regular soldier next to Coop. <Ahh fuck it.>
Coop elbowed the man in the head as gently as possible, which still snapped the poor guy’s head back into the cushioned seat. The gagging stopped instantly, and Coop’s stomach settled back down.
Coop checked the guy’s pulse to make sure he hadn’t kill him, and ran a basic medical scan with his PAD just to be safe. Once Coop was sure the guy wasn’t hemorrhaging blood into his brain, he sat back in his seat and relaxed. He didn’t really feel bad about knocking the guy out. He’d been knowledgeable, but a bit of a whiny bitch.
“Wake me up when we get there,” Coop asked Mike.
“Didn’t get that much sleep this weekend, huh?”
Coop could feel Mike’s grin through his closed eyelids.
“Not a wink.”
<And It was the best few days of my life.> For the second time Coop had to squash the idea that he’d peaked.
Instead he focused on what he’d had to do when he got to Mars, and those thoughts eventually put him to sleep.