Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Thor, Asgard System, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop and Mike stood to the left and right of the SGT and LT at the spaceport. To Coop it seemed like a pointless show of force. It wasn’t like the fresh recruits right out of basic were going to run for the hills when they heard they were getting deployed to the ass end of nowhere.
<At least I hope not.> Coop shrugged as they watched the shuttle descend out of the sky and touch down on the far side of the spaceport.
“Corral them and get them to the transports right away.” The LT repeated his instructions for the third time in the last ten minutes.
Coop watched the LT out of his peripherals. The guy was a shavetail. Coop had picked up the term from a few of the NCOs he’d met along the way, and now he knew what they meant. The kid was young. Age-wise he was four or five years older than Coop, but everything about the guy screamed soft.
<It’s the eyes. You can always tell from the eyes.> Coop correctly surmised that the LT had never seen bloodshed before.
“Here they come.” The SGT was watching the people coming and going like a hawk, and the group of eighteen year olds with a standard military duffel bags were hard to miss. “If you’re with the 2222nd double time, people!” she snapped.
Reflexes honed in basic training took over and the sixty or seventy people broke into a trot toward them. They formed a loose half-circle around the LT.
“Welcome to the Quad-Deuce.” The LT projected his voice with a convincing amount of authority. “Usually there would be more of a welcoming committee and inprocessing in store for you over the next few days, but we don’t have that luxury.”
Ears perked up all among the group.
“Over the next day you will be processed, outfitted, and prepared to deploy.” The LT ignored a few faces paling in the crowd. “This is Private first Class Enders. He will get you transported back to HQ and begin the process. Take it from here Private.” He gestured to Mike.
Mike loomed over the new PVT’s without trying. You could do that at two hundred and fifty centimeters. “Load up,” was all Mike needed to say to get the new meat jumping.
On the flip side, that left Coop alone with the SGT and LT for the next half hour while the shuttle returned to the ship to pick up the next batch. The impromptu command team didn’t attempt any idle chit-chat and neither did Coop. He just stood there stoically wondering how Mike was wrangling the newbies, because that was their job today.
Mike and Coop had done every inprocessing bit aside from seeing the S4 for their armor, and they’d be doing that today with the rest of the new guys and gals. The rest of the time they were the designated babysitters. The rear detachment just didn’t have the personnel to watch the new soldiers and complete the inprocessing. The LT sure as shit wasn’t going to get down to the four-shop and start handing out M3s.
<About time.> Coop thought when the shuttle reappeared through the clouds and settled onto the tarmac. <Rinse and repeat.> They went through the same little speech and Coop herded his group out to the open-topped transport.
“Hey heavy.” One of the new guys piped up as they jostled around the back of the truck.
Coop didn’t get to sit in the front with the LT and SGT.
“What’s really going on?”
Coop, whose eyes had been closed to catch another couple minutes of shuteye, opened them a sliver. “It’s what it sounds like,” he responded. “We’re getting deployed as replacements.”
That got some grumbles among the newbies. Apparently, the rumor mill was already spitting out info about that particular section of space.
“Why are we replacements?”
“Because the soldiers there before us need replacing,” Coop snapped, and that shut them up.
They got to the Battalion HQ without any more fussing, and Coop made them join the line into the S1’s office. The clerk was good. He could do about a person a minute, but with a hundred and fiftyish soldiers that was still two and a half hours of Coop and Mike’s day standing with their thumbs up their asses.
So, they popped a squat in two chairs next to the office door and watched the newbies file in. As time went by, they got sweatier despite the AC blasting in the corner. The sun wasn’t even out yet and the temperature was starting to climb from bearable to mildly irritating.
They finally got a reprieve when they got to the S4 portion of the process. All of the candidates filed through a portable trailer that had been brought over from the much larger central issuing facility. It was packed full of Dragonscale armor and the other knickknacks of the soldiering trade. Coop and Mike bypassed the portion all together. They headed straight to the armory.
“New HI!” The rear detachment armorer called out as Coop and Mike ducked through the front door.
A few soldiers were getting things ready for weapons issue in the front, but what the two HI troopers needed was in the back.
“Pick any two you want.” The armorer led them to the open vault that held the unit’s LACS. “Call me when you’re ready to sign for it.”
Coop and Mike stepped into the gloomy space and approached the nearest sets. Step one of accepting a piece of equipment was to inventory and run a diagnostic on it. If you signed for the LACS and then something was wrong or missing you got stuck with the bill.
Coop opened up the set of armor he’d picked out. There was some grinding as old gears went into action for the first time in years. <These should have been taken out for a maintenance shake-up at least once a quarter.> Coop remembered his inventory schedule from MSG Smith’s classes.
That was the first sign something was wrong. The next was when the armor popped open.
“Oh fuck no!” Coop threw up his hands and marched out of the vault. “Armorer! What the fuck is this?!”
“What?” The other PFC looked irritated at having to come back over.
“What is this antique crap? These are V1s. V1s are only supposed to be in reserve stockpile. What the hell are they doing being issued to us?”
“This is our reserve stockpile.” The armorer stated like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Now do your job and let me do mine.”
Coop turned back to the LACS and pinched the bridge of his nose to relieve some stress. He needed a stress relief or he was going to punt that little shit halfway into orbit.
MSG Smith had given a brief class on V1s. They were the predecessor to the V2s and weren’t in use aside from SOL situations. The durosteel shell was a little thinner than the V2s, which was hazardous to Coop’s health, but the nanite scales looked to be up to date. The spine-mounted artillery cannon was 100mm instead of 125mm with only a thirty round magazine. It held fewer rounds for the shoulder-mounted rail gun and the hyper-velocity missile launcher fired six instead of eight rounds. Essentially, it was a weaker version of the V2, which was not something someone wanted when they were heading into a hot zone as a replacement for someone who’d already died with modern equipment.
The offensive and defensive differences were the most important part, but one of the most disliked aspects of the V1 was the armor’s interior. Unlike the V2’s malleable ballistic composite weave, the V1 had basic ballistic nano-gel. It made an HI trooper feel like they were partially submerged in Jell-O, and it had been universally despised by prior HI generations. Coop had never been inside a V1 to feel that hate up close and personal, but he was about to.
“Here goes nothing.” Coop slipped into the armor with a sickening sucking sound.
He immediately felt uncomfortable. The gel was lukewarm on top of everything, which made him feel like he was taking a dip in a swamp. Coop hit the INITIATE UPDATE sequence using the suit’s finger sensors and sat there while the LACS booted up.
<I’m gonna fuckin’ die.> Was Coop’s prognosis as the error messages started to flash left and right.
“We need to dunk these things in a vat of lube.” Mike sounded just as pissed.
They didn’t have a vat, but they had a locker filled with industrial strength lubricant. It took them half an hour to rinse down the suits’ exteriors so the scales didn’t stick. Then they had to open the individual joint ports and get the nozzles inside to spray critical sections while not fucking up the circuitry. After that, they had to go down the error codes one by one. They pulled up requisition forms on their PADs and went to work requesting new parts. At the end they attached their diagnostic data to the end and sent that data off to the LT, SGT, and S4.
All that got them was an ass chewing, but regulations were on the two HI troopers’ side. These LACS were deadlined. As the V1s were, they couldn’t be taken into combat. Of all the new replacements being inprocessed that made Coop and Mike the LT and SGT’s problem children. Fortunately, the two PFCs had made a new friend.
“Hahahaha!” CPL Anders laughed in their face when they called him and relayed the problem. “They’re sending you out in V1s. That sucks balls.”
“Fuck you!” Coop shot back, which only got more laughter out of the other HI.
“Don’t get excited, Cooper. I’ll be there in five. Just tell your LT not to shit a chicken just yet. HI takes care of their own.”
“Thanks.” Mike finished before cutting the connection.
Five minutes later, CPL Anders and three other large people showed up in the 2222nd’s armory. CPL Anders was in the lead, but he stepped aside to make way for a rough-looking SSG with HIGHTOWER on his CMUs.
“These the newbies?” The NCO asked.
“And this is the one that hit you in the face with a sandwich?”
Anders blushed. “Yeah, but I beat his ass.”
“Still,” the SSG walked up to Coop and extended his hand. “The CPL can be a bit of a douche. Congrats on doing what many of us have wanted to for a very long time.”
“This is going to affect the good order and discipline of our unit.” Anders grumbled as the rest of the HI troopers from the 2224th laughed.
“Now, for the reason we’re really here.” The SSG walked over to the V1’s and whistled apologetically before doing a quick inspection. “Looks like you’ve done a decent job getting it movable.” He held out his hand for a PAD, which Coop readily handed over.
He liked this SSG so far.
The NCO looked over the parts needed and shook his head. “We can get you some of this stuff from our own supplies, but others you’ll have to order. The big one is the software module. You’re lucky. We were expecting you to come to us and we got the suits prepped, so we’ve got the version the regs require. I’ll get with your S4 and we’ll draw up the transfer paperwork. That’ll get them operational and ready to deploy.”
That was music to Coop’s ears. He’d be going to war in an antiquated piece of shit, but at least he’d be on the same virtual page as everyone else.
“Any chance we can get those V2’s?” Coop asked hopefully.
“Those LACS are worth over twenty million Commonwealth dollars, Private.” The SSG gave Coop a hard stare. “That’s a major transfer of property that needs to take place at the battalion commander level.”
“So no.” Coop summarized.
“Don’t worry. We’ll get you two squared away.” The SSG motioned for another 2224th HI trooper, a SGT, to get moving on the equipment transfers they could handle. “All HI from the 2223rd, 2224th, and you two are getting together tonight for a quick Hail and Farwell. Usually a whole unit would do it, but we’re a small brotherhood and we’ve got to give a few of our members a proper sendoff.”
Coop sensed there was something more there, but didn’t ask. He did have one question though.
“Staff Sergeant, how many of us are there?”
“Including the two of you; we’ll have twelve at the meeting, and once we get down range there will be sixteen of us.”
<Sixteen HI covering down on three thousand regular grunts! There is no way this ends well.> Coop kept that thought to himself. Something told him that SSG Hightower wouldn’t’ react well to such defeatism.