Location: Styx System, Classified Space, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“Move! Move! Haul those lazy asses out of bed and MOVE!”
Sound ripped Eve and the rest of the ranger candidates out of their light sleep. They had learned over the last few months that sleeping too soundly was a good way to die.
<Just eight hours of sleep. Is that too much to ask for?> Eve grumbled to herself but not anyone else.
She lithely dropped from her top bunk and ignored the slight pain in her heart when she saw the bottom wasn’t occupied by SGT Diggle. It was just an old rolled up mattress with a blanket folded perfectly right next to it.
<Move or you die.> The thought ran through her head so she moved down the length of the barracks and into the latrine.
It was unisex and almost identical to the one back in Basic. The rest of the ranger candidates were frantically conducting personal hygiene, taking a shit, and a few of the more brazen ones getting in the shower.
“What’s the time hack?” she asked as she waited in line for one of the sinks.
“We’ve got an hour…”
<An hour was an eternity.> She felt her day brighten.
“…to do this, eat, clean the barracks, and gather all of our gear.”
The bright, shiny day suddenly had a severe case of overcast skies. “All our gear?”
An eternity turned into not enough time in a flash. All of their gear meant their V3s. And if they wanted them in their V3s then there was at least fifteen minutes of pre-combat checks that needed to be run. That already put her down to forty-five…no…forty-three minutes because she’d been standing in line for two.
She abandoned her wait for the sink and hustled back to her bunk. There was a duffel in her assigned locker so she started to pack that. She could do personal hygiene after she cleaned but before she ate. She didn’t have a lot of stuff, but there was a science in how you packed it. Not only did you need to put the stuff you’d most likely need on the top, but you needed to fit everything in the small bag in the first place. No matter how much space you had it never seemed to be enough.
She packed like an expert in five minutes. Then she smoothed out the wrinkles on her bed. It was already perfectly made to standard. It was too hot on this hellhole to sleep beneath the covers anyway. Just lying on top of it saved her time and suffering from dehydration first thing in the morning.
Confident her area would pass inspection, she went back to the latrine. The lines had thinned out so she was able to wash her face with water, her pits and more sensitive places with nanite-infused cleaning wipes. She didn’t bother to do anything with her short-cropped hair other than make sure it didn’t get in her eyes. After a quick trip to the porcelain throne she was back upstairs and tearing into an MRE.
She scarfed down the poor attempt at eggs and precooked soy bacon, but mildly enjoyed the protein bar. After that it was off to the armory.
The squat duro-steel building looked just like every other armory she’d ever seen, but the inside of this one was truly beautiful. She wasn’t the first one it to check on her LACS, but she was one of the early ones. She gave her armor a pat as she walked up to it to start her external inspection. After a quick pass around that showed nothing was out of place she opened it up and started running internal diagnostics. There was no ammo in the armor, per regulation, but she opened all of the ports just in case. It also served to air out the armor a bit. It smelled pretty ripe after the weeks of field training exercises they’d been doing since the drop from orbit.
She ignored a second stab of heartache and after completing her diagnostics hopped in and closed up the LACS. By this point it felt more like a part of her than a piece of advanced technology.
With a couple of minutes to spare the entire class was in formation outside of the barracks. The instructors were there looking bored or intimidating. That was normal. What wasn’t normal was the caravan of vehicles lined up next to the road. They’d never ridden in vehicles since Eve arrived. They always ran everywhere.
“Company, atten-hut!” SGM Queen called the group to attention and gave them his patented stern expression. “Congratulations, Rangers!”
Eve was immediately on the alert for anything out of the ordinary because this was the first time the SGM hadn’t called them candidates or something more vulgar. It was also the first time he’d congratulated them on anything.
The SGM cracked a small smile which was truly horrifying. “Your formal training to become Rangers is now over.”
<What the fuck?!> Eve was pretty sure everyone was thinking the same thing because they all knew how long the program was and they had a whole month left.
“Don’t start getting any ideas.” The SGM confirmed her suspicions. “For the next month, we’re going to stop coddling you.”
Eve had to stifle a laugh and was sure one of the instructors watching the formation was going to get in her face about it. But no one did.
“We’ve done our part. Now it’s time for you to do yours. The last phase of your training is entirely up to you.”
<Interesting.> Eve did a lot of research about ranger school before coming and she didn’t know anything about this.
“For the next four weeks, and maybe longer due to the needs of the service, you will be imbedded in Ranger units throughout the galaxy. You will conduct operations with them and you will learn the shit we can’t teach you in a controlled environment. After that month is up, and if you are still alive, you will undergo the patch ceremony with that unit. You will get blood-pinned by the men and women you’ve bled beside. Hell, you might even stay with that unit, but no promises there.” The smile was gone and a serious look replaced it. “Make no mistake, this is the real fucking deal now. While we’ve been comfortably secluded on this lovely paradise, things have started to spiral down the shitter in the real world. We’ve got conflicts in two sectors with war on the horizon, and that doesn’t even count the little insurrections that pop up every year or welfare riots. There will be no shortage of missions for you over the next month, so take the time on your ride to your duty station to do something for yourself.” The smile was back. “Because you sure as hell won’t have any time later.”
“On the command of fall out you will report to the instructors behind you for your assignments. The V3s you are wearing are yours. We understand what it takes to get the preferences in your LACS right so we aren’t going to take that away from you before throwing you into the shit.”
<That’s a relief.> Eve fell out when the command was given. The armor was exactly how she liked it, and it had taken her months to get it this way.
She got in line with everyone else to receive their orders. The plan was for them to take the same stealth sloops they’d arrived in to the main distribution points of the Commonwealth Infantry. There they would team up with their units and go wherever the hell they were needed.
“Berg, you’re over there with that group.” The same SSG that had thrown Eve over her shoulder when she’d been captured during SERE training pointed her to a group of four standing over by one of the sloops.
Eve hefted her duffel over her shoulder and walked over to the small gathering where everyone was speculating where they were going. Speculation ranged from the Rim to Earth where they’d have to put down Rats in full rebellion.
By the time the instructors were finished dividing up the new semi-Rangers between the sloops the largest group was Eve’s, and things only got better when SGM Queen joined them.
“Mount up!” He yelled, propelling them into motion.
There was no hesitation, and in under a minute they were all strapped in, their weapons secure, and running diagnostics of the emergency equipment stationed near them. They all remembered the flight out to Styx and were ready for a repeat.
Minutes later there was a soft rumble and the sloop lifted off and shot toward the heavens.
“Settle in.” The SGM ordered before crossing his arms over his chest and closing his eyes. “We’ve got a twelve-hour flight ahead of us before the real fun starts.”
Eve was both exhilarated and scared. All of her emotions were wrapped up into a confusing ball that she had no outlet for. The SGM seemed to notice this about all his former students. So he tossed them a bone.
“You all are lucky.” He smiled, which didn’t help Eve’s emotional state. “When I did my first ops we went into a mining colony that was refusing to pay its taxes.” He scoffed at the good old days. “You guys get to be part of a fleet-level action. You’re getting the whole experience with a good unit: Alpha Company, Third Battalion, Third Ranger Brigade. Hell, you might even get your first combat drop under your belts a couple of days in.” The SGM laughed.
Eve didn’t call that luck. The last thing in this world she wanted to do was another pod drop. After what happened last time it was tough to think about what could go wrong with one where people were actually shooting at you.
Eve didn’t know if the SGM was talking to her or the group.
“Syracuse is still half a day away. Catch some Z’s, come to grips with your humanity, and then get your heads in the game because it will be go time.”