Location: Styx System, Classified Space, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Atmospheric entry in three…two…one.”
Eve thought she heard the echo of a chuckle over the intercom before the sloop jerked violently and she felt herself flattened against her seat.
<Are you fucking kidding me?> She’d only gotten about an hour’s worth of recovery from the seemingly endless trip through FTL with a deliberately weakened compensator. <Did they just turn off the compensator entirely!?>
If not for her Ranger enhancements Eve would have been in a lot of pain, but instead she was left in a constant level of discomfort which seemed to be the new standard in her life. The G-force of the rapid atmospheric travel pressed against her, pulled her skin taut against her face, and gave her a raging headache. Thankfully, she was able to breath just fine.
They must have come in at a steep angle, because another jerk, and the G-Forces vanished. The sloop gave a buck like a pissed off horse and settled smoothly onto the ground.
Eve didn’t even get a chance to catch her breath.
“Off…off…off! Go…go…go…!” SGM Queen came out of the pilot’s section screaming and waving his arms. “Get off my ship, NOW! Five…four…three…”
Eve was out of her seat and scrambling. She didn’t have a lot of gear, so that was easily grabbed, and she scurried to the bottleneck at the door.
“…two…one…ZERO!” Eve was two people from the exit, which turned out to be better than the first.
SGM Queen must have gotten behind the last person in the bottleneck and put his shoulder into them. Ranger recruits started to explode out of the hatch as the strong SGM pushed.
The old pre-expansion classic “It’s Raining Men” flashed through her mind for a second before the gravity took hold and smashed her into the ground. Then, about three people landed on top of her.
All the wind was knocked from her lungs, and her face being smashed into the ground had taken a layer of skin off. As she struggled to her feet, a few drops of blood fell heavily to the ground.
<Ugh.> She steadied herself by putting her hands on her knees and taking a few deep breaths. <Of course this place would be a heavy grav world.>
There sloop wasn’t the only one present. Three others had landed in close succession and were disgorging other candidates in the same fashion. Soldiers fell, tripped, and stumbled as they tried to gain control, regain their balance, and drag bags that all of a sudden weighed a couple of hundred pounds. Some were doing it better than others, but Eve was in the latter group.
“Fall in!” SGM Queen took charge of the gaggle of candidates trying to come to grips with their situation.
They might be disoriented, but everyone here was a seasoned soldier except Eve. They automatically fell into ranks of ten, and filled up six full ranks with some change. Eve jumped into the last rank that held only four.
“Good afternoon, Ranger canidates!” SGM Queen walked to the front of the formation and took the NCOIC position. “My name is Sergeant Major Andrew Queen, and I will be the NCOIC for your class.” He didn’t seem to mind the gravity that was bearing down on a lot of the candidates. “Welcome to the planet Styx. You will never speak of this place after you leave here. It doesn’t matter if you succeed or fail, this place does not exist. So, on this hypothetical planet you all find yourself, you’ll be treated to an average daily temperature of forty degrees Celsius, and an average night of zero. If there was gravity on this so-called world, it would be six hundred percent Earth normal. If that were true, you sorry group of candidates would each weigh roughly half as much as the armor real Rangers wear.” There was no cruel smile or sneer on the SGM’s lips, just resolute truthfulness. “You will be on this fantasy world for six months. In that time you will adapt and overcome, or you will die, or be sent home.”
The SGM’s eyes zeroed in on SGT Diggle in the front rank of the company formation. “I see you’re back for more SGT Diggle. Have you overcome your THS affliction that plagued you last time?”
“Yes, Sergeant Major!” Diggle yelled. He didn’t seem as weighed down as the rest of the company.
Eve knew THS stood for Tiny Heart Syndrome, and was a general insult for someone not trying hard, or a catch-all for complaining. She also knew not to laugh at the SGM’s little joke, but other soldiers weren’t as observant. A few chuckles drew the SGM’s attention.
“You think that’s funny?” It wasn’t said like a threat. In fact, the SGM was calm as a cucumber.
“You’re not a Ranger, so as far as I’m concerned you all have terminal cases of THS. So let’s see who goes in cardiac arrest first. Front leaning rest position move!”
<Hello my old friend.> Eve grunted as her now one thousand eighty kilogram body moved into the pushup position.
“Hold it there until I get back.” The SGM ordered before walking away.
“Don’t slack!” One of the other NCOs from the other Sloops with a Gunnery Sergeant rank on his shoulder yelled. “Rangers don’t slack. We ask for more. Do you want more?!”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!”
<at least everyone has the false motivation down.> Eve thought as she yelled out masochistically for more physical punishment.
“That’s what I like to hear. Down!”
The was no “up” command, so Eve and the sixty-four other members of the Ranger School Company held themselves down with their arms bent at ninety degree and their eyes forward and looking toward the horizon.
The SGM was gone for twenty minutes, and in that time they did maybe ten pushups. Still, Eve’s enhanced muscles burned, her reinforced bones ached, and there was a big pool of sweat collecting underneath her. She didn’t know what time of day it was, or how long the day on Styx was, but it was hotter than forty out. The way the light warped the tarmac of the spaceport confirmed that.
“Huh, are you tired already?” The SGM asked earnestly when he returned with a large, reinforced PAD and to cargo trucks that were defying gravity. “Just tell me you quit and I’ll put you right back on those ships and they’ll take you home. It’ll be like today never happened?”
<It’s only been a day.> An unfamiliar wave of depression washed over Eve before she bucked herself back up. <It feels like a week.>
“Nobody, ok. Recover!”
Some people jumped back to their feet while others struggled. Eve was between the two extremes.
When I call your name you will step forward, receive our number, sign for your equipment, and step off. Understood?” The SGM didn’t wait for their tired reply. “Abernathy…Anderson…Berg…”
Eve scrambled forward still holding her personal bag she’d brought.
“Drop your personal belongings on the first truck. You’ll get them back when you graduate, when you fail, or they’ll be shipped home to your next of kin.” A mean-looking sergeant standing next to the SGM instructed.
Eve did as she was told, trying her best not to sneer at the junior NCO. She didn’t like being given shit by someone who wasn’t wearing a Ranger tab. She moved from the first truck to the second, where a very large woman eyed Eve closely. She was a SSG and tabbed.
“PFC Eve Berg.”
The SSG consulted her own PAD and grabbed a box by one end. “Take this, get the full kit on, and then see the SGM.”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Eve grabbed the box with two hands and ran to where the two soldiers farther ahead in the alphabet were doing the same thing.
She opened the crate and grimaced. What was inside looked like Dragonscale armor, but without any of the scales, which made it a chunk of duro-steel. She heaved the main chest-piece on and confirmed it was a super dense metal of some sort.
<At least a few hundred kilos.>
The plates in the rest of the kit were thicker and heavier too. She didn’t think her CMUs would hold them, but they did. She wished they didn’t.
There was no helmet, so she sealed up the empty box, stacked it with the others, and jogged over to the SGM. The NCOIC was standing next to a thin sheet of white polyplast.
Eve did as he said.
“On thousand six hundred twenty kilograms.”
<Wow.> Eve’s legs would have broken under that weight a month ago.
Eve felt a slight tingling sensation and then more weight falling proportionally across her body.
“Two thousand kilograms.” The SGM nodded before looking at Eve. “Follow the road for thirty kilometers. That’s where you’re headed.” He pointed toward a side-road heading off the spaceport that the two previous candidates where jogging toward. “You have seven hours to complete the march. Your time starts…now.” He hit a button on his PAD and Eve took off.
She didn’t even have time to ask a question. She’d done the calculations in her head and seven hours was a faster standard than when she’d done the march in Basic. <He didn’t make a mistake. They just expect more.>
This march was also a hell of a lot worse. It was hotter than hot, the gear was the heaviest thing she’d ever carried over any reasonable distance, she was dehydrated, her head was splitting from the physical torment of the ride to Styx, and her bones felt like they were grinding together ten kilometers in.
But Eve wasn’t a quitter, she never had been, and this was no different. She dragged her feet to the table at the end of the thirty kilometers with ten minutes to space.
“See the medic.” The same large, female SSG instructed Eve before she collapsed.
A quick check, and an order to hydrate later, Eve was cleared.
“Head twenty kilometers to the barracks.” The SSG pointed down the road she’d been walking for the last seven hours.
Eve’s jaw dropped and she didn’t move.
The SSG eyed Eve and then got into her personal space. “Learn this lesson now, PFC Berg. A Ranger’s work is never done. We keep going and we keep pushing until we die. Understood?”
“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” Eve’s reply lacked motivation, but she started to move forward.
<At the very least I can tell mom to go fuck herself.> Eve was sure the revered Admiral Berg hadn’t done a fifty klick road march with two tons of gear on in over forty degree heat.
That thought alone motivated her through the next four and half hours.
The medics at that finish line were a lot busier than the first ones.
Gunnery Sergeant Gwen Cunningham
Location: FTL travel on route of Rogue Island, United Commonwealth of Colonies
CWS Coral Sea was not a new ship. The Engagement-Class cruiser was pushing a hundred, and even with upgrades was vastly outclassed by modern day warship. It boasted half the missiles tubes and energy cannons of a standard cruiser, thirty tubes and six cannons respectively. It’s thicker armor was the only thing that would allow it to take on a pair of destroyers and be able to limb away bleeding but still alive.
All of that was probably why it was being used more as a battalion transport vehicle than a naval warship.
<At least the compensators are up-to-date.> Gwen gave thanks for the little things as the cruiser hurtled through faster than light travel in her Alcubierre Bubble. They’d been rocketed out one of the Sol System’s Alcubierre Launchers, which looked like giant slingshots strategically spaced in Commonwealth controlled space around the system. Each slingshot, as they were commonly referred to, was orbited by two battleglobes. The space stations sole purpose in life was to defend, and if necessary, die to protect the most valuable assets in intergalactic travel.
Losing a few battlecruisers in skirmishes around the galaxy was business as usual, but if a Slingshot was lost people shat chickens and heads rolled.
The trip out to Rogue Island, which Gwen still thought was a stupid-ass name for a system, was going to take three days. They had to go through two junction systems which would add time to the journey, but that was time she desperately needed. She was about to land in a hot zone with a green officer and a hastily thrown together company. She needed to know what she was working with.
A day into the trip and she didn’t like what she was seeing. First of all, everyone was young.
An infantry squad breakdown, according to the MTOE, was supposed to be a SSG squad leader, 1 SGT or SP3 depending on the squads needs, and to act as a team leader if the squad needed to be divided into fire teams. Then there were supposed to be 4 PFCs and 4 PVTs. It was important to team up the PFCs and PVTS so that the new guys didn’t get their heads blown off doing something stupid. Gwen knew no one ever got the MTOE requirement, but her situation was ridiculous. Of the ten squads only one had a SSG NCOIC. Two were SGTs and the other six were corporals. Gwen and the LT would lead the HQ squad together in theory. In reality Gwen ran the show so LT Maddox could concentrate on other things.
On top of not having proper squad leadership in place, she had a few squads that were comprised of nothing but PVTs, and most of them straight out of basic. There was no worse scenario than nine green PVTs being led by a CPL.
<They’re all going to die.> Was Gwen’s first thought when she saw the breakdown of the company MTOE.
So the first thing she had to do was shake things up. Since everyone had already settled in, that didn’t make people happy. Specifically the LT.
“Gunney, whya re we pulling the E5 from the headquarters squad and giving him a squad command?” The small officer had pestered her as they walked through the cruiser’s corridors to a battalion operations meeting.
“Sir.” Gwen was reaching her boiling point with the officer. She knew it was her job to help train him too, but he just asked so many questions. “I’m not going to have a squad of privates led by a corporal with less than three months in rank. That’s idiotic and dangerous. We don’t need the sergeant we have on company comms becsaue I’ve got my armor. I’ll be pulling double duty, but I’m more comfortable with that than losing ten percent of our company strength when someone eventually sticks their head up their ass.”
The LT had bounced off her when she stopped suddenly, and looked a little pissed about it. He listened to her borderline rude explanation, and then nodded. “I just wanted to hear your reasoning, Gunney. It sounds solid to me.”
Gwen should have been happy that he was agreeing with her, but his agreement sent another spike of anger through her.
<This is why you don’t throw a green unit, with a green LT, and an inexperienced command team into a hostile environment.> she fumed as they made it to the briefing room hatch. She let the LT enter first.
There were lots of holo-displays floating in the air around the battalion commander, a fire-haired woman with a RECON tab that Gwen found extremely attractive. But it wasn’t just her high cheekbones and noticeable curves that had Gwen interested. It was the fact that the LCDR knew her shit that was the real turn-on.
“Good news, people.” She didn’t wait for people to take their seats. He PAD chimed with the meeting start time and she got right to it. “We’re doing a drop onto the planet, so book simulator time and make sure everyone is good to go by 0800 the morning of. The newbies will get their first take of action and their first of five drops on their way to getting their badge.”
She looked around the room. The senior, experienced command teams all returned her look with confident, calm nods. Gwen was part of the group. The LT wasn’t. He looked like a little kid who just got a puppy for Christmas, and everyone noticed.
Gwen had to stop herself from smacking him in the back of the head.
“Let’s start with readiness. How you looking Alpha?”
Alpha was also the HQ element, so the LCDR knew everything about how the unit was doing, but this was a chance for the LT to let the other company commanders know. It was important information if they got neck deep in shit and needed reinforcements.
<At least he’s taking notes.> Gwen approved of LT Maddox’s rapt attention.
When they got down to Delta Company the LCDR’s attention turned to Gwen not the LT.
“Sir?” She looked down at Maddox, politely requesting permission to field the question. It allowed the new LT to save face, and let him see how it was done.
Gwen listed out the points she’d seen the other company commanders focus on, which seemed to be areas of interest to the LCDR, but it all boiled down to, “We’re green, Ma’am, but we’ll be good to go when we drop.”
“Thanks, Gunney. Echo?” The LCDR moved on, and Gwen was left with figuring out just how to get her company ready in two days for a drop into a designated combat zone.