Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Joint Base Mattis, Mars, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Down…up…down…and hold it.”
<For fuck’s sake.> Coop growled as the heavy weight on his back and shoulders threatened to crush him.
It was 1659 on a Friday afternoon. The duty day ended at 1700. Alpha Company 1854th Infantry Battalion had just finished up their last week of training in their main occupation specialty. They’d lost four people in the process. One had fallen out at the beginning of the phase because he just couldn’t do a fire mission to save his life. How that guy got into the HI in the first place was beyond Coop’s understanding.
The second loss had been a little more violent. Coop had experienced his own bumps and bruises on his first fire mission and the resulting counter-fire. The second loss, that poor son of a bitch, had panicked and done the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time. He’d jumped to avoid the blast. The computers in the artillery round had sensed that, and executed an air-detonation to kill its target. Coop didn’t learn until after the incident that the munitions were for training purposes. They still went boom, and it was a big boom, but it was a boom designed not to kill you. Unless you were a moron.
Loss number two fell into that moron category, but he’d lived. The shrapnel from the explosion hadn’t penetrated his LACS, but the shockwave drove him into the ground like a kinetic missile. The guy broke his back, and would be in the hospital for a few weeks getting the disk regrown, surgery, and then having his enhancements removed before getting shipped back to the regular infantry. Master Sergeant Smith didn’t tolerate morons in the HI.
Losses three and four had been more administrative failures. They hadn’t passed the Joint Platform Artillery Coordinator (JPAC) certification that had just been administered. Those two were being recycled to Bravo Company to get a second chance before being given the boot. So Alpha Company had gone from twenty to sixteen, which was a nice even number for log PT.
“You are one with the log. Be the log. The log is an extension of you.” MSG Smith always got philosophical when it came to his favorite PT exercise.
“If you don’t let us out on time I’m going to drop a log in my suit.” Coop grumbled to the amusement of the rest of his four person fire team.
Log PT was an archaic phrase. Back in pre-expansion armies they used to make groups of soldiers carry around a large wooden log. The thing weighed a couple of hundred pounds and it forced the soldiers carrying it to work together to accomplish whatever sadistic mission their instructor had planned for them.
Log PT was all about physical toughness, mental fortitude, and teamwork. Time hadn’t changed that. Technology had just made it more of a pain in the ass.
The Commonwealth Heavy Infantry School didn’t use a wooden log. A, because wood was expensive and was used as a luxury item for much more important things than being hauled around by a bunch a teens and early twenty-somethings. And B, why use it when mankind had already mastered gravity.
The resulting demonic device was still referred to as a “log”, it still looked like a log, but it probably weighed as much as half a forest. The modern day log was a device mostly comprised of old-fashioned steel with a grav-plate built into the center of it. That way the weight of the log could be adjusted based on the instructors preference and the team’s ability. Of course, the instructor didn’t tell the team how much they were lifting, but a person got good about determining weight when they had to carry it on their back all the time.
At the moment, they had it on their back and were doing pushups.
Not only did they have the log to deal with, but they were at the end of the training day, exhausted from completing their JPAC quals, and they hadn’t eaten for hours. They all had water, but water didn’t put calories into their exhausted bodies. Then of course there was the LACS. HI troopers did everything in armor, and log PT was no different. So, not only did they have a log, which Coop estimated was putting another fifteen tons of strain on them, but they were wearing their armor on top of it. And the MSG had disabled their ability to use the mechanical muscles to cheat.
“So what are your plans this weekend?” The MSG asked, as he tapped away on his PAD. “Doing anything stupid”
“Oh course, Master Sergeant!” They all yelled. “The three B’s, Master Sergeant: beer, bitches, and bad decisions!”
The old soldier laughed and the weight on their shoulder relaxed to a bearable level. “Recover!”
They all started to move.
“Don’t drop my logs!” The MSG growled as they went through the complex routine of moving as a team to get on their feet and the log off their backs while not having it touch the ground. “If you drop it the only thing you’ll have between your legs for the next forty-eight hours is that log.”
The seasoned HI trooper was referring to an exercise where they walked around with the heavy log between their legs in a quasi-squat position. Even a few minutes of doing that made your quads burn and your back ache.
So Coop made sure that no one on the team let the log touch dirt.
“Secure your logs and gather ‘round for a safety brief.” The MSG commanded, signaling to everyone that their day and their week was finally over.
All sixteen troopers ran over to deposit their logs in their racks with a renewed motivation for life, and then ran back to gather around the MSG. There was no formation. They just clustered around the large man in a gaggle.
“You all know what I’m going to say so I’ll keep it short. You all want and need the three B’s. I get it. I was young and stupid like you all once.” That got a quick laugh. “But the three B’s will fuck you up if you let them, so we’ll started there. Beer! You like it, I love it, and neither of us will ever operate any type of machinery or drive while under its influence. Understand?”
“Yes, Master Sergeant.”
“Next are bitches.”
There were a few women in the company, but by the looks on their faces they knew the MSG wasn’t talking about them. “Bitches” encompass anyone not of the military persuasion who could be a distraction to the NCOIC’s troopers. They didn’t necessarily need to be female.
“There are thousands of bitches within a couple of kilometers who would love to get filled up by you strong studley troopers. They will bear your children, become a military dependent, and then slowly leech the life out of your souls.” The MSG’s own two divorces might have been influencing this part of his briefing. “Or they’ll fill you up and turn tail and run like the cowards they are.” He added for the female’s benefit.
<Doesn’t mean he’s wrong though.> The man had experiences that Coop didn’t.
“All I’m saying is that unless you’re in love and ready to start your own clan, make sure that shit is wrapped up before you go to pound town. There is nothing worse than coming back from deployment and finding out you’ve got a kid, or missing one because you’re pregnant.” He let that sink in for a minute.
Nobody in the group wanted any of those things to happen.
“Lastly, there are bad decisions. Personally, I break this down into a couple different categories: there’s harmless fun, harmful fun, honest-to-god bad decisions, and you’re a fucking moron decisions. Stick to the first one, because if I have to come get you from the MPs I will make you hate your existence. Do you get me?”
“We get you, Master sergeant!”
“Good. Enjoy your weekend.”
And just like that they were free. They were free to slip out of their stank-ass armor and hit the showers. They were free to feel like human beings again and not mobile killing platform whose sole mission in life was to call down the steel rain on their enemies, or call upstairs to the big guns that could blow most anything from existence. They were free to stuff their faces in the chow hall after a long week.
<All work and no play makes me fucking miserable.> Coop thought to himself as he dressed in casual civvies and threw on some foo-foo juice. <The ladies love it when I smell fresh.>
“Ok.” Coop clapped his hands loudly to get everyone’s attention.
Over the course of their training, thanks to his less than legit connections, he was the unofficial company MWR representative. MWR stood for morale, wellness, and recreation. The program had been around for centuries, and its purpose was to ensure soldiers had something to do in their downtime. Coop’s take on MWR was a little different than what was authorized by the program’s standards, but what people didn’t know couldn’t hurt them. Basically, Coop’s MWR program involved two critical pieces: sex and booze.
<It’s all a growing soldier needs.>
“This is what I was thinking. First stop is at Madame Lee’s. Those of us who want a rub and tug can get one. For our select few who have decided they are in a monogamous relationship with a Fleet-puke millions of kilometers away they also offer traditional no-fun massages.” He gave a nod to Mike. “For the lovely ladies who wish to partake in tonight’s merriment, they have more than a few boy toys that you can have your way with.” He winked at the women in the class who’d poked their heads out into the hallway to see what was going on.
A few rolled their eyes and disappeared back into their rooms, but one or two looked intrigued. Coop took that as a good sign.
“After Madame Lee’s we’ll head over to the Buckin’ Bronco, where I can use my employee discount to get us all half off drinks.”
The girls who had previously ducked back into their room poked their heads back out.
<Yeah, I thought so.> He thought smugly.
If bouncing at Buckin’ Bronco had taught him one thing about a soldier it was that they’d never turned down cheap, or better yet, free booze.
“Anyone who’s in, we leave in five. The rest of you can play with yourselves for all I care, but the rest of us are gonna have some fun.”
He liked to think it was his shining personality and natural charisma that got the majority of the company to join him on their night out, but it was really the promises of cheap sex and cheaper booze. But these were the kinds of activities that really bonded a group together, and Coop was still determined to prove he hadn’t peaked with Eve. Even a rigorous HI qualification hadn’t completely distracted him from the woman and the pedestal she was on.
Things started out well enough. They all crammed into a convoy of cabs that took them to Madame Lee’s. The whores nearly fainted at the sight of so many HI troopers walking into the place. At least the female ones did. The gigolos looked like they’d died and gone to heaven.
Coop picked a more experienced looking woman with purple hair and luminous green eyes to get him off, and she was worth every penny. She had him forgetting that sex-crazed weekend when she engaging in her own mind-blowing game of bobbing for apples.
Due to his own preoccupation, he didn’t pay much attention to what the rest of the HI troopers were up to in there, but everyone came out with a smile on their face. Mike even commented on the quality of their deep tissue massages.
<Huh, I might need to try that sometime.> Coop hadn’t thought of any other type of tissue getting massaged at the whore house.
After everyone was done they headed down the street to the Buckin’ Bronco, and that was where things got interesting.
They all started off with shots, then they chased them with beer, and a few of the girls even ordered a bottle of wine. Coop didn’t know why they had to be snotty about it. <You both just fucked a couple of man-whores. It’s not like you have the moral high ground.>
That thought process got him in trouble as he tried to hit on one and then the other. One was not interested and the other was really not interested. A little bit of persistence got him cold-cocked in the eye. The women were HI after all, the profession didn’t encourage pacifism.
Normally, a punch in the face wouldn’t have been a big deal for Coop. Especially since it wasn’t much more than a love tap, but his drunk self stumbled back into another group of guys. There were about twenty of them, and he unfortunately knocked into their leader and spilled the guy’s beer all over the place.
“What the fuck!” The smaller guy’s words were already slurred.
“Sorry about that.” Mike came to the rescue, looming over everyone. “My buddy here just tried to bite off more than he could chew.” He nodded toward the two HI women who were sipping their cheap-ass wine. “Pretty sure they’re an item if you know what I mean. How about I buy you a new beer?”
It was meant to be a diffusing joke, and reparations, but the drunk leader wasn’t in the mood.
“Names, ranks, and GICs NOW!” The man screamed. “Drunk and disorderly conduct is not acceptable.”
Coop thought he sounded like a child throwing a tantrum.
“Hey, we’re just having’ a good time, man.” He smiled at the guy, overestimating his charms thanks to the thick lenses of his booze-goggles.
It definitely hurt more than it helped.
“It’s Sir, and I will not repeat myself.”
“What an ass.” Coop mumbled not so subtly.
The officer’s soldiers bristled behind him.
They all stunk of booze, they were running high on getting freshly laid, and all the wrong juices were flowing. If Mike had been able to get a few more words in the whole situation could probably have been de-escalated, but Coop had been trained to seize the initiative and take action.
“No, fuck you!”
Coop respected people like GYSGT Cunningham, PO3 Janney, Eve, Mike, MSG Smith, and even LCDR Shepherd because they’d earned that respect in his eyes. The flip side of that was Eve’s mom, who just scared the shit out of him, but the little drunk O-1 talking shit and continuing to yell at Coop was in neither of those categories.
So it wasn’t a surprise, at least from where Coop was standing, when he shattered the officer’s jaw and knocked him back into his friends.
“Oh fuck.” Were Mike’s last words before everything descended into chaos.
The rest of the HI guys didn’t know what was happening, but they saw three of four other people jump on Coop and Mike, and that was all they needed. Their blood was already pumping and they tore into the regular grunts.
Eleven HI versus twenty plus regular infantry wasn’t even a contest.
Coop ripped two guys off him and threw them in either direction. He shook another off and stomped on his chest, definitely breaking a few ribs, and he head-butted a final guy so hard he shattered his nose and cheek bones.
The whole thing was a drunken brawl, lacking the finesse and training they’d all gone through. It was all fists, feet, and blood until the last person fell and eleven HI troopers stood over the losers like angry gods.
“We need to get the fuck out of here.” Mike was the first one to come to his senses and bolt for the rear exit.
No doubt the MPs were already on the way.
“Bronco!” Coop called to the bartender and bar owner as he chugged the last of his beer that had miraculously survived the slaughter.
The old, retired soldier looked like he could bust the nanites of a battleship hull with his scowl, but he knew what to do. Coop was illegally employed as a bouncer, and if Coop went down Bronco faced a heavy fine from the base and a possible forfeiture of his liquor license.
So, with a flipped switch and a few commands from the old man’s PAD the security went down and the footage was erased.
“You owe me big time, boy.” He shouted after Coop. “Your next two shift are just to pay me back.” The fight had taken its toll on the furniture.
Coop didn’t even answer. He and the rest of his company were tearing down the alleys and getting as far away from the Buckin’ Bronco as possible. If they got caught, the MPs would be the least of their problems.