Two Worlds – Chapter 59

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

 “How do I look?”

Coop stopped what he was doing and paid attention. Whenever a girl asked how they looked the question usually had deeper meaning than that.

<Hot…Fantastic…I want to rip off that uniform and fuck your brains out…> Were a few of the responses that went through his mind.

To say any of that would be shooting himself in the foot and then inserting said foot into his own ass. Eve knew she was hot, she knew he’d do just about anything to get into her pants, and him bluntly stating that was only going to hurt his chances. Plus, a uniform inspection wasn’t about how good someone’s ass looked in the Dress CMUs. It was about making sure they were properly presentable.

Luckily, the CMUs were automated in displaying everything from your personnel file; so there was no reason to believe any awards were wrong or worn on the uniform incorrectly. But regulation still demanded a visual inspection by a human being. Malfunctions weren’t unheard of, and a whole unit being jacked up was not something the people in charge wanted to see. That meant they were going to do buddy checks, a squad look over, and finally a company level inspection.

“Let me see.” He pulled out the ruler she’d given him and started measuring.

Being fresh recruits not even out of basic training, there wasn’t a lot to measure. There was only one nametape in the “Dress” setting on the CMUs and it was the recruit’s name was on the right breast. Coop measured the distance to make sure the CMU was configured correctly. He practically held his breath as he draped the ruler over the perky bulge of Eve’s right breast. She stood perfectly still, with an unreadable expression, during all of it.

Next, Coop moved to the left breast. The left breast was where the awards went. Every soldier he’d seen so far had a number of the multicolored ribbons or medals. But they were just lowly, insignificant recruits. Eve only had two awards.

The first was a red and yellow ribbon, which Coop measured to make sure it was correctly placed. The small bit of electronically-displayed fabric was the Commonwealth Defense Ribbon; simply referred to as the CDR. Every recruit in Echo Company and at the training center had the CDR. It was an award given to anyone who joined the Commonwealth Armed Forces.

Grazing the left breast was just as exhilarating as the right one, but Coop kept the emotion off his face.

<This is the most action I’ve gotten in months.> Coop tried not to think about it.

Anyone doing the spot check on the female recruits was probably feeling the same way. After the incident with Harper, there had been a noticeable downturn in flings between recruits; which led to a lot of late night masturbating and/or blue balls.

The CDR placement was good, so he moved onto the second award. Eve had received the award early last week. It was a silver badge. The top of the badge consisted of a thin bar with the word “SHARPSHOOTER” written across it. Below the bar, connected by a single link, was a cross with a circular target at the center.

The CDR might be on everyone, but Eve was the only on in the company with this qualification badge. She’d shot eighty-six out of one hundred targets on her first try.

<And she’d even been disappointed about it.> Coop still marveled at how at home she looked with an M3 stuck into her shoulder.

“It all looks good.” Coop finished the inspection.

They didn’t have rank insignia on their shoulders or branch of service insignia’s on their collars to worry about.

“You look great,” he added, not able to contain himself.

Eve smiled for a split second before she seemed to get control of herself. “Your turn.” She snatched the ruler from his hand and started measuring.

If she got turned on from feeling his pecks; which he personally thought had grown and sculpted impressively since joining the military, she didn’t show it. Coop had the same CDR as everyone else, but he also had his own qualification badge. He wasn’t in the same category as Eve. The bar above his cross read “MARKSMAN” and it was just a plain cross. You had to shoot at least eighty-five out of a hundred to get the bullseye. Coop had hit seventy-five, the minimum number to qualify and get a badge.

He was sure it wasn’t great by the rest of the military’s standards, but for a first try it wasn’t half-bad; especially when only twelve people in the entire company qualified at all.

“You’re good.” Eve finished up the measurements. “And you clean up pretty good.” There was a slight blush, but it vanished before Coop could even compute what it was. “Make sure those shoes and that badge are gleaming.” Eve’s tone shifted back to her squad leader voice. “I better be able to eat chow off that thing.”

The other obvious difference in the Dress CMUs was the shoes. Usually people wore boots with their uniform, but in Dress mode, when you were going to something fancy, there were shiny black dress-shoes that needed to be worn.

The shoes came pre-shined, but everyone from SSG Cunningham down to Eve said that shine wasn’t good enough. Out of nowhere Eve produced an aerosol nano-spray.

“Spray and buff,” she ordered.

Now, Coop was pretty sure his shoes reflectiveness could deflect a terawatt laser.

“Second squad, fall in.” Eve called.

Second squad hurried into position so that Eve could do a walk-through. Harper’s uniform needed a little work, but other than that the squad was looking good. But only Eve and Coop had the qualification badges.

The hiss of the door opening announced the arrival of their company inspector. “Fall in outside. Ya look like a bunch of bum-fuck hobos!” PO3 Janney roared, his voice physically propelling them past him and out the door.

Coop saw the beauty of the nano-spray when they hit the dirt outside the barracks. The spray repelled the dirt that was being thrown into the air by the sixty-eight recruits.

The new training had already claimed another five recruits with various injuries. All were being recycled to later classes after they healed up. All except one.

And that recruit was the reason for their first experience in the CMU dress uniforms. SSG Cunningham’s promotion ceremony was the second.

 

***

 

Dust was kicked into the air as company after company marched into the battalion assembly area. Coop had to resist looking around. Echo Company was the fifth of the 132nd’s ten training companies. Alpha, the company farthest to the right, was considerably smaller than the rest. In fact, the formations got larger the farther to the left you went. Juliet Company, the tenth and final company, looked to have all one hundred recruits still present.

They formed a large line across the assembly area. That line faced a raised stage with a podium. Several people stood on that stage. A few had officer’s stripes, and those that didn’t had nothing less than a Gunnery Sergeant rank on their shoulders.

The left side of their chests gleamed with ribbon and medals, whereas Coop and the rest of Echo Company had nothing but the CDR. Coop had heard rumors they were heading to the range soon to qualify, but he didn’t dare ask anyone.

Everyone in the large courtyard, not too far from where they been assigned their M3s and Dragonscale armor, was utterly silent. Everyone’s eyes were fixed on the platform.

Coop recognized the tired looking man that stepped to the podium as Lieutenant Commander Shepherd, their Battalion Commander.

“Recruits,” the LCDR’s artificially enhanced voice echoed through the area. “Thank you for taking time out of your busy training schedules to be here today. Because today we are all here to witness something at the heart of our profession: accountability.” The single word seemed to stab everyone present in the gut. “We as soldiers or spacers are accountable to our battle buddies, our NCOs, our officers, and the citizens of the Commonwealth we have sworn to protect. When that trust is broken, when our responsibilities are violated, then we must be held accountable.” He stepped away from the podium, but everyone still heard his next statement.

“Bring out the prisoner.”

Coop rarely felt shame. It was practically a foreign concept to him. But when Davenport was walked out onto that platform in chains, Coop felt a deep embarrassment.

<We allowed it. We allowed the fucktard to do that to Harper.> It didn’t matter that Davenport had knocked out John and Olivia while Coop and Eve had slept. It didn’t matter that once they were awake Coop and Eve had taken swift, debilitating action. All that Coop remembered was the sight of Harper on the ground, in the fetal position, violated and crying her eyes out.

The woman who stood only a few spots down from him in formation was doing better, but she was still a shadow of her old, bubbly self. And that hurt.

“Recruit Andrew Davenport, you have been found guilty of an article one-twenty violation: Rape and Carnal Knowledge. You intentionally committed an act of sexual intercourse with an unwilling recruit, by force and without consent. By doing so, you have displayed conduct unbecoming a soldier or spacer in the Commonwealth Armed forces. You are hereby sentenced, by a court of your superiors, to death by firing squad.”

There was an audible gasp by just about everyone in the battalion formation, but not Coop. He’d seen Rats in the PHA put to death for much less. In fact, he was glad they were killing Davenport. The world would be a better place without that piece of shit.

Whatever fight Davenport had left was long gone. He didn’t even have to be pushed or dragged to the metal post sticking out of the ground. His arms were lifted above his head and attached to a simple ring.

Coop saw that his old squad mate looked sad, but he really didn’t give a shit.

Five men with M3’s and in a light kit marched out from behind the podium. The made a precise column left about twenty-five meters from Davenport and halted when the prisoner was at the center of their formation.

Someone else was at the podium now, but Coop wasn’t listening. The new officer’s first few words reminded Coop too much of his court-appointed attorney back in the PHA. He had no intention of listening to lawyers right now. He kept his eyes fixed on Davenport.

The execution itself was quick. A simple “Ready…Aim…Fire!” The needle-like rounds from the M3 tore huge chunks out of the unarmored criminal; including about seventy-five percent of his skull. One of his arms was completely torn off so what was left of him hung limp from the still intact arm attached to the overhead ring.

Coop watched the execution without emotion. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen death. Judging by the shocked expressions, occasional sob, and gasping coming from the majority of the recruits this was their first experience.

Eve didn’t flinch and neither did Mike or a dozen other Recruits in Echo Company.

<Better they figure it out now than later.> Coop thought as the NCOs started to get their formations back to their training. <That cozy little suburban bubble they grew up in is gone. Human life doesn’t mean as much as it used to.>

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Two Worlds – Chapter 50

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop had a love-hate relationship with fight week.

The love part came during the daily twelve hour training. He loved learning how to really fight; not the PHA alleyway fighting of two gangs, or fighting off a mugger in a tower’s stairwell. He loved learning real techniques and combinations. He enjoyed learning the triangle choke Eve had defeated him with the first day. He’d learned how to lock and break an opponent’s joints if necessary, and he could even strangle a person with their own smartcloth uniform if need be.

Even better, despite the truth behind Staff Sergeant Cunningham’s words that first day, Coop really did have a knack for it. He wasn’t as good as Eve or any other recruit who’d had prior combat training; but of those who hadn’t, he was among the best.

Those were the parts he loved. The part he hated was the maze. His hate for the maze started within the first ten minutes of their first night in it. Coop, and most of second squad, had gotten the shit kicked out of it by a group of better trained recruits. Coop had his shoulder dislocated, a good number of bruises to various parts of his body, and he took a nasty elbow to the forehead. Before the first night in the maze he had no idea that a human being’s elbow could cut skin like that.

That first night taught him a solid tactic: break the skin on a person’s forehead and they’d have blood trickling into their eyes for the rest of the fight. He’d learned that lesson the hard way.

The brutality and no-holds-bar mentality of the maze was only a small part of why he disliked it. The biggest reason was because it didn’t allow for even a partial night’s sleep for an entire week. At least half the squad was always on alert while the second half cat-napped for an hour or two. Then they’d switch or get suddenly woken up by an attack.

Coop had never known true exhaustion until near the end of fight week. And by that time the company had lost another seven recruits. Coop didn’t know it until after the first few nights in the maze, but the instructors saw and monitored everything. If you didn’t show an aggressive spirit then you were usually recycled into a later class to redo the week. If you were a straight up bitch then the instructors reserved the right to give you the boot. You never knew which, since recruits were simply called to the side of the formation in the morning and never seen again.

Thankfully, second squad didn’t lose a single person.

“Line up. You know the drill.” The SSG was at the front of the formation on Sunday night. Or at least Coop thought it was Sunday. You had trouble keeping track of time when you were seriously sleep deprived. “I don’t need to tell you what is expected of you. Get in there and do your jobs, recruits.”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” They all yelled back as the door to the maze opened and they flooded in.

Instead of trying to divert from the main group immediately like on the first night, second squad charged forward with the rest of the company. Coop’s eyes scanned left and right while his ears searched for any sounds of other approaching recruits. It was difficult as the mass of Echo Company charged forward, but the echoing of footsteps in the maze was usually a good tactic to see if someone was coming.

Either way, Coop and the lead elements of Echo Company ran face first into a smaller group of recruits at the first intersection in the hallway.

The other recruits were caught completely by surprise and hesitated; which told Coop they were early in the week. Hesitation got beat out of you quick in the maze. Coop’s right cross shot out and caught the nearest enemy in the face. The guy stumbled back, but he was strong and wasn’t going down from a single shot. He countered with his own punch. Coop blocked it with his own arm, thrusting it straight out, and subsequently wrapping it around the other recruits still extended arm.

Coop was taller than his opponent by a good bit, so he used that to his advantage. He jerked up roughly, causing a grunt of pain from the recruit whose arm he had securely restrained. The other recruit countered by throwing a second punch, which Coop deflected in the same way. Now he had both of the other recruit’s arms secured. This would be the point in the fight where old-Coop head-butted the guy, but new-Coop knew better. You were more likely to hurt yourself as much as the enemy if you head-butted them. At the very least you were going to do some damage, and this was just the beginning of the night. Coop wasn’t willing to do that much damage to himself with a lot of fighting still ahead of him.

So instead he brought his foot up and stomped down as hard as he could on the other recruit’s instep. The tactic wasn’t meant to really hurt the other recruit, but it was enough to distract him so Coop could set up his next move. He released one of the arms, repositioned himself, gripped the remaining arm with two hands, rotated his body, and threw the other recruit over his shoulder. The enemy’s shoulder might have popped during the throw, but Coop didn’t care. While the guy was down on the ground, Coop wound up and kicked the man in the face like he was kicking a field goal. At the very least the man’s jaw was broken, he’d need some teeth replaced, and he was out cold.

<Gotta neutralize the threat.> Coop didn’t feel bad for fucking up the guy’s face. That was what the maze was all about.

“Second squad on me,” Eve called.

By the time Coop finished with his opponent the rest of the company had taken down those unlucky recruits who’d crossed their path. The soft hums of robotic medbots on their grav-sleds signaled they were already in route to help the downed recruits. That meant their injuries weren’t life threatening, but still needed treatment. If they were serious enough, medics would also appear to render aid and remove them from the maze. For lesser injuries, every recruit carried a single syringe of standard medical nanites, which would also do for a pinch in an emergency. Upon instruction from their evaluators they could administer those nanites to anyone.

Coop had been shot full of the healing biomechanical devices every night since they started spending time in the maze. Despite how much he hated being in it, Coop always found himself at the center of where the action was taking place.

Coop walked over the where Eve was surrounded by the rest of the squad. Olivia had the beginnings of a shiner on her face, and Mike had a split lip that Harper was fussing over. Everyone else looked unscathed.

“Now that everyone is here,” she gave Coop and annoyed looked, “we’re going to make for the fringe and lay low for a bit.

Being in a fight right off the bat freed them up for a bit of sleep, and they were all exhausted.

“Lead on fearless leader,” Coop grinned at the eye roll Eve gave him.

Things with Eve had been. . .weird wasn’t the best way to describe it, but things were definitely off.  Coop never knew where he stood with her. They’d cuddled up in the maze on multiple occasions, but in the morning, or when they were suddenly attacked by more recruits, she made it seem like nothing had ever happened. One second she seemed totally ready to get down, and the next she shunned him. It was very confusing.

<Women.>

They only got in one minor scuffle on the way to the fringe, a space on the edge of the maze that was filled with small rooms. These rooms didn’t have any doors, just door-like openings, which was why half the squad had to stay awake at all times. Thankfully, groups of recruits tended to be less blood-thirsty in the area. People came here to try and grab a few hours of shut-eye or lick their wounds after fighting.

Eve found an empty room, not more than five meters by five meters for the squad to hold up in. The light in the maze was low, so it didn’t travel much past the door opening, leaving the majority of the room shrouded in darkness. It didn’t matter to the instructors, whose camera undoubtedly had IR and night vision optics, but it was great concealment against other recruits that just happened to walk by. There would only be a problem if those recruits wanted to take the room for themselves.

“Davenport, Harper, Olivia, and John are on first watch. Everyone else try and get some sleep. I’m pretty sure this is our last night in this place, and I’m not worried about anyone getting recycled at this point. With all the ass we’ve kicked they should be begging us to stay,” Eve encouraged.

That got a laugh from Coop and a few other members of the squad.

“Why am I on first watch?” Davenport bitched, ruining the motivational speech.

“Shut up,” Mike grumbled as he settled in.

“Yeah, you sound like a baby whining for his momma’s tit.”  Coop added. He usually didn’t care what watch he got, but this was a chance for him and Eve to get some semi-alone time together.

He walked over and lay down beside her. When she didn’t complain he inched closer. When she didn’t complain about that he rolled to his side and draped an arm around her. It was the odd mating ritual they’d settled into. Coop’s next move would have been to kiss her neck, but he was pretty sure he’d get a knife between his ribs if he tried; so he stuck to cuddling.

Anyone who wasn’t on watch fell asleep pretty quickly. It was essential for a recruit to be able to fall asleep fast and in any location. Sleep was a valuable commodity that needed to be taken advantage of whenever possible, but never overindulged. If you slept too deep in the maze you were guaranteeing you woke up in the infirmary with a cracked skull.

Coop had learned that lesson the hard way too.

So when Coop heard the grunts and felt the disturbance vibrate through the ground he instantly woke from his light sleep. Eve was up too, and her eyes scanning the room for threats. Neither of them moved.

After a few seconds they didn’t find any.

“What’s that sound?” Coop whispered. The sound was coming from the other side of the room.

“John,” Eve whispered. They didn’t want to give away their position, and in such a small room John should have been able to hear her.

The grunting stopped, and everything went silent

But there was no reply from John.

A few seconds later the noise resumed.

Slowly Coop rolled over, pulled his arm off Eve and crawled over to John. <Eve’s going to kick your ass if you fell asleep on duty.>

Eve took things like that very seriously.  

Coop found John leaned up against the wall breathing deeply. “John,” he whispered, shoving his squad mate gently. Coop wanted to try and cover for John as much as possible. Coop liked the guy, and he’d been on the receiving end of Eve’s wrath enough that he wanted to spare John the unpleasantness if he could.

It would also mean that John owed him one.

But even after a few shoves John didn’t wake up.

And that’s when Coop heard the grunting morph into a muffled, strangled scream.

<What the hell?> Coop’s first instinct was ambush, but there was no one else but the squad in the room.

Another moment passed with nothing but the strange noise and then a roar cut through the silence of the maze. “WHAT THE FUCK!” Eve’s voice seemed to echo through every nook and cranny of the building.

Coop spun around just in time to see Eve take a wind-up step before kicking hard into a dark corner of the room. Her foot made contact with a loud thump, which was quickly followed by a curse as one dark shape fell backward into the wall.

Coop took a few steps forward to cover Eve. She was in view of the opening now, and a target for anyone to attack through it. His adrenaline started to pump, his vision focused, and he balled his hands into fists ready to throw down with the first unlucky son-of-a-bitch that stepped through the door.

But when he got closer, and was able to see the scene in the dark corner more clearly, he forgot about anything that was going on outside this small room.

Face first on the floor and slowly curling into the fetal position was Harper. Her smartcloth CMUs had been ripped off from the waist down, and she was in a position Coop had envisioned putting Eve in every day since he met her. Coop didn’t look any farther than that, he knew what had happened.

He’d grown up in the PHA. He’d seen the look of betrayal, violation, and terror on a woman’s face before. He’d almost seen that look on Hailey’s face before he’d stepped into a dark alley several years ago. But that was the PHA. This was a military training center for the most powerful military in the galaxy. Seeing the two connected in such a way shook Coop down to his core.

He turned his attention on the second person. Sitting against the wall and struggling to get back to his feet, with his uniform around his ankles, and a hard on, was Davenport. The large recruit was sneering at Eve.

“Stay down, Davenport.” Eve warned in the most threatening voice Coop had ever heard from her.

It wasn’t anger that scared him; it was the total absence of emotion. Eve sounded robotic, devoid of humanity. It was the exact opposite of Coop’s burning rage that was barely being contained beneath the surface. If Eve wasn’t between him and Davenport, Coop probably would have tried to rip the guy’s throat out. Not only because of what he’d been doing, but because he’d been doing it to Harper. The smaller woman was the closest thing Coop had ever had to an inappropriate little sister.

Of course, Davenport didn’t listen.

“Listen you stupid stuck up bitch. If you say…” Davenport didn’t get to finish.

It was clear he was trying to get to his feet under himself and pull his pants up, but Eve wasn’t fucking around. Just like the heel stomp Coop had delivered to the recruit earlier, Eve did that same. But this time with Davenport’s nuts.

It made an odd squishing noise as Eve’s foot pulverized Davenport’s balls. But that sound was quickly drowned out by the blood-curtailing scream from the man’s throat. Any resistance coming from Davenport vanished in the blink of an eye. The only thing the guy could do was scream and cry before slipping into shock. He couldn’t even move his hands to cover the ruined remains of his manhood.

“Watch him, Coop,” Eve ordered.

Coop did exactly what he was told without a peep. He was in a little bit of shock from the ruthlessness of his squad leader, and Eve was still in ball-crusher mode. He did not want to get in her way.

“Harper?” Eve knelt down next to the raped recruit and softly spoke her name.

All the emotion Eve seemed to be holding back leaked out in those two syllables.

“Shhh…it’s ok, you’re safe now.” Eve gently placed her hand on Harper’s shoulder, but Harper flinched away at the contact. Eve didn’t try to touch her again but she stayed close, constantly consoling the now sobbing woman.

Coop could hear the hum of the medical bots approaching, along with the pounding of feet; which meant the instructors knew.

<How the fuck couldn’t they have known this was happening!> Coop’s fists were still clenched and shaking at his side.

Still, Coop stayed exactly where he was; guarding the barely conscious rapist.

“Everyone FREEZE!” SSG Cunningham burst through the opening, her head almost smacking the top.

Coop followed the order.

“This training iteration is over. You all will follow me out of here immediately.” SSG Cunningham took one quick look around the scene. “Leave Davenport for the medics and the MPs.”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” The now fully awake second squad replied before following her out of the maze.

Mike hesitated for a moment before being the last one to exit.

Coop sincerely hoped Mike never saw Davenport again, because if the former Rat did there was no doubt in Coop’s mind Mike would kill that sack of shit.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 48

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

“What the hell is that stuff?” Coop asked the medic as he struggled to his feet.

The bored looking guy had already asked for everyone to head over to the main collection of medics, but Coop was still getting his bearings.

“Smelling salts.” The medic waved the chemical stick in Coop’s direction, and Coop flinched back when a waft of the stuff hit his nostrils. “This stuff has been waking up dumbasses like you for hundreds of years. Now get over to the tables and get checked out, Recruit.”

Coop turned hoping the see Eve, but his squad leader was already gone. <Of course she is.> He grumbled and headed over to the medic table.

His checkup was quick. They made sure that everything in his neck was working correctly, scanned to make sure Eve hadn’t broken anything with her thighs of steel, and did some simple coordination tests to double check he hadn’t lost too many brain cells. Once the medics confirmed that he was good to go he had to go sit against a wall for the rest of the tournament.

If anything, that was the hardest part of the whole competition.

Coop’s father, Walter, had always said the world was made up of two people; doers and thinkers. The older Cooper didn’t diminish the value of either group in society; hell, he admired both. Walter had told Coop that the most successful people were both doers and thinkers depending on what the situation called for.

Most of the shit Walter said Coop didn’t pay attention to, because he had a different outlook on life at the time. In the PHA Coop also believed there were two types of people; those who sat on their ass and those who went and got some ass. It would take Coop several years, and being choked out by his super-hot squad leader, to learn that him and his father had been saying the same thing all along.

Coop was a doer, someone who was trying to get some ass, and not much of a thinker. Having to sit on his ass and watch the rest of the fighting tournament was hell on him. So, taking his father’s words to heart for the first time in years, Coop did a little thinking.

<Staff Sergeant Cunningham was right.> Coop watched as the fighters who made it into the later rounds stepped into the combat squares and started to dance. <I don’t know how to fight.> The thought pissed Coop off.

Those who made it into the later rounds of competition weren’t fighting any way Coop had ever seen. It was more of a dance than the fisticuff brawls that Coop had seen and participated in during his eighteen years in the PHA. Half the fighting happened on the ground with people trying to grab limbs and twist them at odd angles. From where Coop sat he could hear the screams of pain when someone won.

<I want to fight like that.> Coop knew exactly how he was going to spend the next week of his life.

Of all the people fighting, Coop paid special attention to Eve; not just because of her tight smartcloth CMUs clinging in all the right places, but because she was the one who beat him. Coop had learned long ago that studying the people who kicked your ass was always a good idea. The next time Eve had her legs wrapped around his head they wouldn’t be fighting.

“Everyone gather around!” The SSG barked as the eighty-one recruits in Echo Company were whittled down to two. “I want you to take a good look at these two people.” The SSG pointed at Eve and the squad leader from first squad. “These two have shown me that they aren’t completely worthless. They won’t get themselves killed on their first day. The rest of you have a week to convince me or you’re out. Administrative cuts will make sure that those who can’t tough it out through a fight don’t make it into our next phase. Understood?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” In the yelling there was an undercurrent of fear.

No one wanted to get their asses kicked for a week just to get booted from Basic.

“The winner’s squad will get a special treat. So don’t let your people down.”

Coop had met first squad’s leader in passing. His name was Bart and he was older than anyone else in the entire company. He was also a few centimeters taller than Coop, with broader shoulders, and hands the size of Harper’s face. Bart could palm someone’s head like a basketball if he wanted, so he was the last person in the world Coop wanted Eve to be facing. It didn’t matter that Bart’s squad loved him, and that he was kind and courteous to everyone he met. None of that meant shit in a fight.

Eve and Bart gave each other a small bow before beginning, and then they went at it. It was by far the best fight Coop had ever seen. Eve was faster but Bart was stronger. Eve darted in like a viper, striking with fists and feet and then dodging Bart’s counters. By the end of the first minute both of the fighters were sweating profusely, Bart was limping slightly from a blow to the side of the leg Eve had landed, and Eve was a little unsteady from a blow to the head she’d only partially blocked. The second minute saw Bart’s strength begin to win out over Eve’s speed. She took a few more jarring hits, while only scoring a single blow on Bart. His counters and follow-ups were becoming more effective. The final third minute had Eve on the defensive and almost getting knocked out until the last ten seconds, where she threw a lightning fast combo that scored multiple hits.

“Time!” The SSG announced, and the two fighters immediately disengaged.

Bart sat down, grimacing at the pain in his leg. Medics rushed over to him, just like they rushed over to Eve. She was swaying dangerously on her feet, her face was starting to bruise, her lip was split, and she was cradling her arm protectively to her side.

While the SSG and PO3 gathered with the corporal trainers to decide the winner, Coop and the rest of second squad headed over the congratulate their leader.

“You kicked ass!” Harper cheered once they were all gathered around Eve.

“That was impressive,” Mike grinned. The large former Rat had made it one round farther than Coop, which was the farthest of anyone except Eve.

“Remind me to never get on your bad side.” Coop gave Eve a nod.

He wanted the nod to convey, “I’m not pissed at you for choking me out” while still being light-hearted and funny.

<Wait is she…> For a second Coop thought Eve was blushing.

“Eyes on me, Recruits!” Whatever Coop thought he’d seen vanished as everyone’s eyes immediately zeroed in on SSG Cunningham’s voice. “After due consideration the winner of our tournament is Recruit Bart Aaron. Congratulations, Recruit.” The SSG tossed two meter-long black sticks at the first squad leader.

“Thank you, Staff Sergeant.” Bart’s voice was surprisingly pleasant for someone his size who’d just won a fighting competition.

“Don’t thank me you earned it.” The SSG turned and started walking toward the doors. “I’m leaving you all in the capable hands of these instructors. I’ll be back at eighteen-hundred. Don’t disappoint me.” The door slid closed behind her, leaving Echo Company with the now much meaner looking corporals.

“Everyone pair up, NOW! Three…two…one…”

Coop looked to Eve. They always paired up together, but the squad leader had already grabbed Harper by the hand. Which left Coop with Mike. The two former Rats got next to each other just before the corporal hit zero, and everyone had to do pushups.

“Just like old times huh,” Mike chuckled as they knocked out the pushups.

The two hours between when SSG Cunningham left and returned were a lot like old times. A few of the corporals reminded Coop of that vindictive, half-crazy staff sergeant from the civil administration building. The same staff sergeant who’d booted Coop off the air-bus. Still, Coop did exactly what they said.

The first task of which was to do nothing and get punched in the face by your partner.

“Good.” The hulking monstrosity who was the lead corporal announced once everyone had punched everyone else in the face. “Now you all know what it feels like. We can build from that.”

Two hours of learning how to punch and dodge “correctly” wasn’t exactly Coop’s most enjoyable time at basic. The corporal’s constant yelling that they were building “muscle memory” didn’t make it any more exciting. So when the corporals left and the SSG and PO3 returned, Coop was ready to get some chow, hit the head, and get a few hours of shut-eye. In that order.

“So, is fight week just getting yelled at by the corporals and throwing punches?” Thankfully, Olivia was the one to ask the question not Coop.

“You don’t know?” Harper was cuddled up next to Mike. Being with the second-best fighter in the squad was definitely revving her engine. “What about your mystery boyfriend in the class ahead of us?”

“I haven’t heard anything from him.” Olivia didn’t look happy about that. “He’s always been able to shoot me a message through MILNET every few days, but the last week I haven’t gotten anything.”

“I’m sure everything is fine.” Harper went right into optimistic girlfriend mode.

“They do restrict communications during certain phases of training,” Eve added.

The squad leader had been uncharacteristically quiet. Coop assumed she was still analyzing her loss to Bart. Unlike him, Eve was a doer and a thinker depending on the situation, and right now she was thinking. Despite sitting right next to him Eve hadn’t even made eye contact.

“That would explain it.” The information seemed to put Olivia at ease.

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s it.” Harper jumped on the positivity bandwagon.

The rest of chow passed quickly without Eve even saying a word to Coop.

<Ok, there’s thinking and then there’s just ignoring me.>

“Hey.” Coop grabbed Eve by the elbow as they headed over to toss their trays into the auto-cleaner. “You want to tell me what’s going on?” Coop ignored the shock of touching her, and there was a definite electric shock involved with the contact, not some lovey-dovey romantic shock.

“What?” Eve still didn’t look at him as she pulled her arm free and dumped her tray into the machine.

“You’re not a good liar.” Coop dumped his own tray and followed her.

“I don’t have time for this,” Eve grumbled, trying to weave her way through the crowd and get away from Coop.

Unfortunately, Coop was thin enough to follow, and his legs were long enough to keep pace and overtake her. “Time for what? Time for the squad leader to tell her team leader what she shoved up her ass sometime today?”

Coop snapped his mouth shut, before he said anything else that would get him in trouble; or maybe get his ass kicked again.

Eve’s glare showed Coop he’d definitely stuck his foot in his mouth. “I don’t have time to talk about this.” Eve gestured to him and her. “Not right now. We’re about to be neck deep in shit and we sure as hell aren’t ready for it.”

“What?” Coop didn’t make it clear if he was talking about what Eve eluded to between them or the shit they were about to walk into. He definitely meant the former, but she answered to the latter.

“Fight week isn’t just about learning how to fight.” She was whispering now. “It’s also about fighting; pure, unadulterated battle. After what I saw today from our squad we’re not going to do well.”

“Well with what?” Coop didn’t know what Eve was talking about, and he desperately wanted to go back and talk about the two of them.

“You’ll see.” Was Eve’s only answer as they rounded the corner and found the rest of Echo Company and SSG Cunningham waiting.

“Two lines! Follow me!” The SSG started walking without waiting to see what happened.

The eighty-one recruits of Echo Company executed the SSG’s order, formed into two lines and followed their instructor through the corridors until they reached a large open room. There she stopped and turned to face them.

“Fall in!” The company quickly dispersed and reformed into the ten uneven squads. “At ease.” Everyone relaxed as the SSG put her hands behind her back.

“For the rest of this training iteration you will be following this schedule: Chow is at 0600, 1200, and 1800. Combative classes from 0630 to 1200 and 1230 to 1800. You will conduct personal hygiene before your first chow and after your last chow. You have thirty minutes for personal hygiene. Execute that now.”

Personal hygiene was all about the three S’s: shit, shower, and shave. Coop went straight for the shitter, because there was nothing like a good shit after a day of fighting. He sacrificed his time to see Eve naked, but with things up in the air and weird between them it was probably for the best. Thirty minutes later the entire company was formed up again where they started with an intense SSG looking over them.

“The last part of your schedule for fight week, Recruits, is the maze. You will execute the maze from 1830 to 0530.”

“1830 to 0530! When are we supposed to sleep Staff Sergeant?”

<Fucking Davenport!> Coop knew the entire company was mentally screaming the same thing.

“Not my problem, Recruit Davenport.” The look the SSG gave the squad jackass could have stripped paint from a bulkhead. That’s for all of you to figure out.” She looked down at her wrist. “You’re already two minutes late, and that puts you at enough of a disadvantage.” The NCOIC returned her gaze to the company. “Same rules apply in the maze as in the combat square. Don’t fuck around because we’ll be watching.”

SSG Cunningham called the company to attention and walked to the side of the formation, pointed to a door large enough to fit five people through abreast and said, “Go.”

“Second Squad on me!” Eve yelled over the sound of pounding feet running toward the door.

No one knew what was on the other side of it, but the SSG said to get through it, and that’s what everyone was going to do. Second squad was just doing it smarter than everyone else; except maybe first squad, which seemed to have a similar plan.

“Everyone stay together and watch each other’s backs. We’re going in finding a place to lay low and then we’ll sleep in shifts. Half on half off for two hour shifts.”

“Eve,” Coop didn’t want to step on her little briefing, but he did. “I think I speak for all of us when I ask, what the hell is going on?” Several heads in the squad nodded their agreement.

Eve gave Coop a hard look, but then it softened. “The tournament was the initial assessment. The time with the corporals is the training, and the maze is the practical exercise.” Second squad was walking through the door now, and they were the last ones through.

The door closed with an audible clang behind them, descending the whole space into twilight. But unlike the outside world, this space wasn’t filled with the annoying sounds of nature. It was filled with far off screams, grunts, and the sounds of flesh hitting flesh.

And not in a good way.

“The maze is a free-for-all.” Eve whispered, as she took the first hallway to the right, leading second squad away from the rest of the company. “Here the instructors get to see what we learned.”

“And see who’s the best.” A cruel voice announced from the darkness ahead of second squad.

Into Eve’s path stepped eight people in CMUs. Eight other recruits that none of second squad recognized. Eight other recruits that were spoiling for a fight.

The recruit at the front, the one with the cruel voice, wasn’t big or broad. He was actually on the small and skinny side, but Coop knew better than to judge a book by its cover. He’d seen plenty of small, ordinary looking books stomp the shit out of people.

“Look what we got here, fresh meat.” Another recruit actually cackled, and Coop couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Something funny?”

Coop thought the guy would have been angrier, but if he was it was a cold anger. Whoever this guy was he wasn’t bullheaded like Davenport.

“Nothing’s funny.” Eve replied. “Are we just going to sit here and talk or are we going to fight?”

<I think I’m in love.> Coop didn’t have time to delve into how hot Eve was at the moment because the eight unknown recruits charged second squad.

<Here goes nothing.> Coop readied himself for another brawl.

He couldn’t stop smiling.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 46

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop couldn’t keep the grin off his face. He’d won his first fight, which automatically put him in the top half of the class when it came to kicking ass.

<I’ll show you.> Despite the win, Coop’s ego was still a little raw after the SSG Cunningham’s assertion that none of them knew how to fight.

<Just look at Davenport’s face.>

While everyone else was able to move to the medics under their own power, Davenport was not. A team of four medics jogged over to him with a stretcher, stuck him with a few needles, and then carried him off the floor. Coop passed by the barely conscious jackass as he walked across the mats toward his next match.

Winning this next match would put him in the top quarter of the class. <Eve would have to notice me then…right?> Coop knew it was sappy shit, but he really wanted to impress his squad leader. He’d been with her long enough to know she only wanted to deal with the best.

The holographic number 12 was bobbing up and down at the corner of the combat-square. Coop entered the square and closed his eyes. Despite the ass kicking he’d given Davenport the fight had been too close for comfort. Coop had been careless and let Davenport get in and score a nearly crippling blow. Coop couldn’t have that happen again. If he was facing a bigger, stronger opponent he needed to approach the situation more rationally.

“Shit, Coop, you look like you walked through a slaughterhouse.”

Coop opened his eyes and saw Eve Berg grinning at him from across the combat-square.

<She must be here to wish me luck,> Coop thought, which would have been a great sign of their growing relationship.

But then he looked at where she was standing. Eve was inside the combat-square, and there was only one reason she’d be standing there.

<You’ve got to be shitting me.>

“You’ve got to be shitting me.” Coop couldn’t help but voice his thought.

The grin Eve had been wearing a second ago transformed into a glare. Coop had gone and stuck his foot in his mouth again.

“No. . .sorry. . .that’s not how I meant it.” Coop scrambled. “I just hoped I wouldn’t have to fight you.”

“Why? Because I’m a girl. You don’t think I can hold my own in a fight?”

Eve had her hands on her hips with one hip cocked out to the side. Despite her being pissed, Coop’s eyes couldn’t help but linger on those curves for a second too long.

“No.” Coop knew that Eve had seen him staring, and that only made things worse. “It’s because you’re my squad leader.”

“Sure,” Eve scoffed, glaring daggers into him. “As your squad leader, don’t think I won’t knock your ass out.”

Coop knew what he shouldn’t do. He knew it in his bones, but he couldn’t help himself.

He couldn’t stop the chuckle from escaping his lips.

If Eve had been glaring at him before she was straight up murdering him with her eyes now.

“Eve, come on.” Coop tried to salvage the situation. “It’s not about being a girl or a guy. It’s about me having fifteen kilos on you and almost ten centimeters. You’ve got to see that right?”

“Oh I see it.” Eve might have been nodding yes, but her eyes were not agreeing with Coop’s assessment of her disadvantages. “But you’re also pretty fucking blind.”

Coop took a second and thought about Eve’s statement. Then he really looked at her. There were always telltale signs of how someone had done in a fight, even if they won. Coop looked at Eve’s face for any swelling or the beginnings of a shiner. It was tough to look past her fierce beauty, even if she looked like she wanted to punch him in the dick. She didn’t have a mark.

Next he checked out her hands. He checked for signs of swelling from punching someone wrong. Again nothing. He checked for split knuckles, or anything to show how she’d beaten her last opponent.

She was spotless.

Lastly he looked at her body, but only in a mildly voyeuristic way. It was tough to ignore her curves, but he was more interested in any areas that might be injured. She was shifting from foot to foot, cocking opposite hips in frustration, but she didn’t seem to be favoring anything. For all Coop knew, it looked like Eve hadn’t even been in a fight.

<The nanites.> Coop remembered. <They must have healed her up.>

“Thirty seconds!” the SSG yelled, as she circled the floor.

“Ok, fine.” Coop tried for a second time to salvage the train wreck that was their pre-fight conversation. “You won your first fight so you deserve to be here, but don’t think I’m going to go easy on you. You might be my squad leader but I’m going to win this thing.”

Coop expected at least grudging respect for his determination. He didn’t expect Eve to just laugh in his face.

“You think you’re going to beat me?” She rolled her eyes like it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard.

It almost threw him off his game.

“You couldn’t beat me if you tried.”

“Wanna bet?” Coop didn’t plan on saying it, it just slipped out.

It surprised him even more when she nodded.

“I get my pick of your MRE snacks when we’re out in the field next.” Coop thought of the best thing he could. Those MRE snacks could be the difference between a good and bad day.

“HA,” Eve barked a single laugh. “That’s small time, Coop, and I don’t want to take your lunch like some schoolyard bully.” She started to shake out her limbs in preparation for the start of the fight.

“I tell you what, Coop.” She was grinning mischievously now. “If by some miracle you can beat me then I’ll fuck you.”

“Ready. . .set. . .begin!” The SSG counted down the last three seconds, but Coop didn’t even move.

It was like he’d just won the fucking lottery.

<She’d fuck me just like that.> Coop had trouble concentrating as images of her naked body writhing rhythmically beneath him as he thrusted into her kept popping into his mind.

“Hey! Commonwealth to Coop, we got a deal?” Eve was waiting with her hands on her hips, and her foot impatiently tapping the mat.

Coop couldn’t keep the grin off his face. “Deal.” He said, then charged her.

The tactic might not have worked out so well against Davenport, but Coop was bigger and stronger than Eve. Even if she was able to land a hit it probably wasn’t going to do much good, and she’d given him enough motivation to do just about anything.

Eve tried to dodge to the side and circle around him, but he got a hand on her. Her jab hit him square in the chin, but it didn’t do anything to stop his momentum. They fell twisting to the side, and rolled over a few times; both trying to use their body’s momentum to end up on top.

Coop won the battle, and found himself in the exact position he envisioned himself in less than ten seconds ago. The only difference was the clothing.

Coop tried to rise up so he could punch down at Eve and knock her unconscious, but she had her legs wrapped tightly around his midsection and her hands clasped firmly behind his neck and pulling him down. She was hanging onto him like a clingy spider-monkey.

Coop would be lying if he said he didn’t like the feel of her body pressed against his, but being in this position wasn’t getting him any closer to boning her.

Coop braced his arms at his side against the mat, brought both him and her off the mat, and then slammed back down. He knew the blow hurt, because Eve let out a painful grunt; so he did it again. The second time he felt her grip slacken. The third time he braced to lift them both she let go before he slammed her back down. She went to grab one of his arms that was braced against the mat, but he was too quick. Coop pulled himself up as high as he could go, so that Eve couldn’t get her hold back.

He was now clear to punch down at her and win the fight. In preparation for the strikes she knew were coming Eve was already covering up to protect her head.

<I don’t want to mess up your face.> Despite being in a similar situation less than ten minutes ago, Coop did not feel the overwhelming urge to turn a human face into mashed up hamburger meat.

Even though he didn’t want to repeatedly punch Eve in the face he knew he had to. If he didn’t Eve would be pissed at him for treating her like a dainty, helpless woman; although they both knew that wasn’t true. Also, he would like to see her in this position again, without pants, and panting like a dog in heat as he fucked her silly.

Coop first punch hit her forearms. It wasn’t as strong as the ones he’d throw against Davenport, and her successful block told him he would have to hit harder. His second punch was more forceful. It landed, and he heard Eve’s muffled curse. His third battered through her defenses too, and he felt her face give way under his fist.

<Come on, just tap out.> Coop mentally pleaded with her. This wasn’t nearly as much fun as it had been with Davenport.

On his fourth strike things changed. Just when his fist was about to smash into her defenses again Eve shifted to the side, grabbed his arm as it hit nothing but air and trapped it. The move caught Coop completely by surprise, but it wasn’t as surprising as when Eve thrust her hips upward around his neck.

<What the fuck?> Coop thought as he felt the pressure building.

Somehow Eve had snaked both legs around his neck. One leg was pressed against the side of his throat and curled around the back of his neck at a ninety degree angle. Her other leg had trapped the arm he’d used to punch her with. It was squeezing that arm against the other side of his throat and had locked down the other leg by securing it in the crook behind her knee.

It took Coop a second to realize he’d gone from being in total control, and punching Eve in the face to Eve choking him with his own arm.

<Shit!> Coop’s vision was beginning to blur from the lack of oxygen, and to add insult to injury Eve was using her free hand to pull down on the back of Coop’s head, further tightening her unusual choking technique. <How do I get her off?>

His one arm was trapped and wasn’t going anywhere. He tried to reach up and dislodge one of her legs with his free arm, but it had a vice-grip on his neck. It wasn’t going anywhere.

<Shit…shit…shit!> Coop acted out of desperation and went for the Hail Mary.

With his last bit of strength Coop got his feet underneath himself and started to lift Eve off the ground. The only solution he had was to pick her up and slam her back into the ground. He just didn’t know if he had the strength to get her high enough to break her iron grip on his throat.

Coop only had Eve a few inches off the ground when she reacted. As he focused on lifting her, Eve snaked an arm around one of his ankles and pulled. The awkward angle of the lift, and Coop’s rapidly degrading mental capacity resulted in him falling backward.

Eve road the fall like a surfer riding a wave.

<How the hell did that happen?> One second Coop was on top of Eve ready to smash her into the ground, and now she was on top of him.

Coop was on his back now with his arms only weakly responding to his mental commands, while Eve still had her choke securely locked in.

“Nice try, Coop.” She turned her head to the side and spit out a glob of blood. “You might be bigger and stronger, but you’re forgetting one very important variable…skill.”

Coop didn’t have enough oxygen in his lungs or flowing to his brain to respond.

“Shhh go to sleep. I’ll tell you where you messed up when you wake up.” She patted him on the head.

<Shit.> Coop’s chance to bone his super-hot squad leader was slipping through his fingers just like his consciousness. <Oh well.>Coop’s body went slack as he blacked out.  

There were worse ways to go than being choked out by a woman sitting on your face.

 

***

 

Eve Berg

 

The moment Coop’s body went limp Eve released her triangle choke. Her number two had lasted a lot longer than most people who fell into the ju-jitsu technique, but he didn’t have the knowledge to get out of it. Trying to pick her up and smash her had been a lucky guess, but she was ready to counter that type of attack.

“Medic,” she called over, waving a soldier over to Coop’s motionless body.

Looking down at him, Eve couldn’t help but blush. The fight had been a rush, in more ways than one. Her first fight had been boring. She’d landed a simple one-two-three combo and knocked a girl from fifth squad out in the first five seconds.

Coop had at least lasted longer and put up a fight. She massaged her jaw gently. But it wasn’t only the fight that had her excited. Sure, fighting always got Eve riled up, but never like this.

<When he was on top of me…> Eve shivered and had to shut down the memory.

Hot and bothered did not even begin to cover it.

The real question was what to do now. If she just went and fucked Coop she’d get on the SSG’s bad side, and maybe even get booted out of basic. She couldn’t have that, not after her talk with her brother. On the other hand, if she just ignored it, there was bound to be awkwardness on her part, and a degradation of her unit’s cohesion.

A medic showed up in the middle of her quandary. He pulled out a stick of something from a polyplast tube and waved it under Coop’s nose. Coop’s whole body jerked as the odorous chemicals shocked him back to consciousness.

“Head over to the tables, Recruits, and get checked out.”

Eve didn’t wait for Coop to get up and join her. She needed time to think, and having him in her immediate vicinity made her think of only one thing.

<Damnit.> Despite everything, Eve couldn’t get the image of her straddling a naked Coop out of her head.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 45

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

Coop ran across the mats to his preassigned square. It was an awkward sensation. The mats were firm, firm enough that he didn’t roll an ankle while running across them; but they also conformed to his foot with every step. It was like running in really shallow sand. Coop had done that once on one of Lake Erie’s beaches before his mother died. Beach being a term used very loosely. Most people would have called it an ecological disaster, or at best a dump.

<7.> Coop reached the holographic number that was bobbing slightly in the air and waited.

Less than five seconds later his opponent appeared.

<I’m going to knock you the fuck out you stupid motherfucker.> Coop could feel adrenaline pumping through his veins as he locked eyes with Andrew Davenport.

Everyone in second squad would have sold their left nut, or ovary, for the chance to whoop Davenport’s ass. Hell, everyone in the company probably wanted to take a swing at the jackass. Ever since his comment back on the first day people had seen him for what he truly was.

Davenport tried to play himself off as a knowledgeable, competent, even superior recruit to everyone, but he didn’t fool anyone. In reality, he was a lazy sack of shit. He always complained, even if it was the simplest task, and he only did just enough to get by. Sometimes he didn’t do it at all and the rest of the squad had to cover down on his workload.

Coop was the first to admit that he also complained, sometimes a lot, but he always got the job done; and he personally thought some of his complaints were warranted.

<If one fails then you all fail.> SSG Cunningham had driven that point home early on, so second squad not only had to accomplish their tasks, but they had to clean up after Davenport on top of that.

It resulted in an atmosphere where Davenport did a lot of walking around and talking while everyone else was working. Since the squad needed a healthy way to vent their frustrations they constantly belittled him, made jokes at his expense, and did their best to not include him in anything they were doing. Because if they did, he would just walk around and give orders like he was the squad leader. Eve had given up on rehabilitating him. Now she just did damage control with anything he got involved in.

All of this meant that there was no greater gift in this world than being given the opportunity to kick Davenport’s ass.

“Andrew,” Coop said calmly, but he couldn’t keep the vicious smile off his face.

“I’m going to wipe that smirk off your face, Cooper.” Davenport cocked his head to either side, his neck cracking audibly. “You’re just another little Rat shit that needs to be put in his place.”

Coop tried really hard not to laugh. “Bring it.”

While Coop might have been daydreaming about this moment for weeks, actually getting the job done wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.

Davenport was big, not as big as Mike, but still bigger than Coop. Being a former Rat, Coop had been thin when he arrived at the training center. Since then, regular physical exercise, good air, and three square meals a day had put a good ten kilos of muscle onto his frame. Normally that wouldn’t have been possible, but the wonders of technology could do a lot a normal person couldn’t.

Still, Davenport had joined the military already fit and with a fifteen kilo advantage. The only thing Davenport didn’t slack in was the physical challenges, so while Coop had put some meat on his bones so had Davenport.

While the squad jackass might have had the weight advantage, Coop had the reach. Davenport was about five centimeters shorter, and on top of that Coop’s arms were just naturally longer.

If this was a professional fight between two trained combatants both of them would have been able to make use of their advantages. But Coop and Davenport weren’t trained fighters. This would be a down and dirty brawl, there was no way around that; and Davenport’s physical prowess was going to be a problem for Coop.

Not that Coop was thinking about that at the moment.

“As Petty Officer Janney already stated you may not kill your opponent.” SSG Cunningham’s magnified voice echoed throughout the room. “If you step out of your square you will cease fighting, reenter the square, and then continue. If any of these trainers see you not following that rule you will learn a very painful lesson. Understood?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” The company yelled as a side door opened and another dozen soldiers with corporal chevrons walked into the room.

“Good, because this is your one and only warning.” The SSG waited for the trainers to space themselves around the room. “Each match will last for three minutes. After that, if both of you are still conscious, a winner will be decided. If you win you will have a five minute rest where you are free to see the medics.” Another door opened and half a dozen people with red crosses on their CMUs entered and took a seat at some tables along the wall. “After the rest period is up you will move to the next assigned square to continue.”

“Lastly, and most importantly.” The SSG’s hard eyes passed over the company. “You may surrender to your opponent at any time. If you feel a tap on your body, see or hear a tap on the mat, or are told by a trainer that your opponent is tapping then you will immediately break contact. If you do not, you will answer to me.”

No one needed to be asked if they understood. Facing off against the fearsome woman was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

“Round one begins in thirty seconds. Prepare yourselves.”

Coop didn’t need to prepare, he was already pumped. He danced from foot to foot, cracking his knuckles and shaking out his arms.

“You can’t dance away from me you little bitch.” Davenport wasn’t doing anything but standing there.

Coop didn’t respond to the taunts, he just smiled.

Coop was able to put together enough about Davenport’s past to guess that he’d probably thought he was hot shit in high school. He was from somewhere in the ‘burbs with a rich mommy and daddy who probably got him a fancy PAD or an air-car for his sixteenth birthday. While Coop was sure the bigger recruit had been in fights in the halls, and been challenged in whatever sport he’d played, that wasn’t the same thing as a fight in the PHA. Davenport had fought some other jocks in the halls over whoever was going to tap the piece of ass of the week. Coop had fought people half-mad with hunger, or who were out scavenging to provide something their family desperately needed.

That was what was going to make all the difference between Coop and Davenport. Both might be able to fight, but Coop was going to do what he had to in order to survive.

“Ready. . .set. . .begin.” The SSG counted down the last three seconds.

Neither Davenport nor Coop hesitated closing the gap between them. They didn’t want to test each other, they didn’t want to dance around, they just wanted to get in there and knock each other’s heads off.

The level of aggression was noticed by the nearby trainers, SSG Cunningham, and PO3 Janney through the multitude of high-resolution cameras and the bio-feedback they were getting from all the recruits’ uniforms.

The squares weren’t big, only about five meters by five meters, so it only took a few steps to bring the two recruits within hand-to-hand range. Both recruits were in a general boxer’s stance, although even someone with a week of training would have shaken their heads at the poor footwork.

Coop was the first to attack.

Although he didn’t know his attack had a name, he essentially threw a one-two combo. Davenport dodged both punches by moving his head slightly out of the way. It was clear he’d seen that type of attack before, and he capitalized on Coop’s mistake.

Instead of keeping his distance, Coop’s momentum carried him forward into Davenport’s shorter range. While Coop was able to dodge Davenport’s own jab, he was not able to get out of the way of the body blow that caught him right in the gut.

Whether by luck or skill, Coop would have guessed the former; Davenport’s blow knocked all the air out of Coop’s lungs. It was like Coop was being kicked out of the air-bus on the first day all over again. And he was too preoccupied with trying to draw air into his lungs to even try and dodge the follow-up blow.

Davenport’s fist made contact with the side of Coop’s head. Coop felt his body fall to the side as his vision exploded in a series of tiny supernovas. By the time he’d cleared the fog out of his head enough to see, Davenport was laughing and walking towards him with a confident smirk.

“You little Rat shit. I told you I was going to fuck you up.” Davenport got into position to rain down punches onto Coop.

Instinct took over as Coop saw an opening. He rolled from his side to his back, ignoring the nausea of the sudden movement, and the lashed out with his foot.

Davenport was caught mid-laugh as Coop’s foot crashed into the side of his knee. There was a sickening crunch, and then a scream as Davenport fell to the ground like a toppled tree.

The screaming was so bad that several nearby fights stopped to see what had happened. But Coop ignored all of that. His head still swimming, he crawled over to Davenport and got up onto his knees. He straddled the now crying recruit and proceeded to rain down punches onto Davenport’s unprotected head.

Davenport feebly tried to protect himself, but Coop was basically sitting on top of him now, and had blocked Davenport’s arms with his legs.

<One…three…four…six…> Coop counted the blows he landed, and ignored the growing amount of blood that was splashing up onto him. <They said don’t stop until he taps, and I’m pretty sure this won’t kill him.>

Coop didn’t even care that he was enjoy this. Seeing Davenport’s face smashed until it was unrecognizable made Coop a very happy man.

“Time!” The SSG’s voice rang out, and a trainer immediately grabbed Coop.

“What? I didn’t do nothin’.” Coop protested, but he couldn’t keep the smile off his blood-stained face.

“Get over to the medic, Recruit.” Despite Coop’s struggling, the smaller corporal had an iron grip on him. “Get your head checked out.”

“Fine.” Coop held up his hands in surrender, and the corporal let him go.

With one last satisfying look back at Davenport’s beaten and broken body, Coop strolled over to the team of medics who were being swarmed by recruits.

Coop swayed a little bit in line as he waited. The room seemed to be rotating a little.

“It’s just a bloody lip, stop being a pussy, NEXT!”

“Yeah, your hand is broken. Didn’t you know punching someone in the face is going to hurt you as much as it hurts them. Step over here, NEXT!”

Coop stepped forward and a medic held up a long polyplast rectangle and ran it down his body.

“This blood yours?” The focused man asked.

“Nope.” Coop grinned.

“Good.” He didn’t say anything else until he finished running the device over Coop’s whole body. “Mild concussion. Step over here and duck next time. NEXT!”

Coop stepped over the where the medic instructed him, and swayed right into the business end of a needle.

“What the shit!” Coop jumped at the sudden sting.

“Quit being a baby, Recruit. You’ll feel better in a minute. Sit over there and wait for your next match assignment.”

Coop did what he was told. The medic didn’t lie. Within a minute the fuzziness in his brain dissipated, and he didn’t sway anymore. Even the pain in his head was gone.

<Talk about a fucking miracle drug.> Coop breathed in a deep sigh of relief. <One down a few more to go.>

Coop wanted to win. He wanted to kick ass, take names, get numbers, and get some fine ass out of this whole deal. If he fought well enough Eve might even notice.

“One minute!” SSG Cunningham yelled. “Get to your next assigned square.”

Coop got to his feet and rolled his shoulders. He felt great.

<12.> He saw his combat-square assignment on the wall and headed for his next fight.

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Two Worlds- Chapter 44

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

<Best night sleep ever.> Coop regained consciousness just as the first rays of sunshine crested the hill behind them.

His arm was still around Eve, exactly where he’d left it; and even better, she’d grabbed his arm with her own and had it cuddled to her chest. Coop hadn’t felt so content since he’d fucked himself dry with Hailey. This was a different type of content though, the type of content a moment of peace in the middle of a hurricane offered you.

Mike was on watch, watching the morning sky fill up with light. Their eyes met for a second, and he gave Coop a respectful nod. Coop returned the nod. It was a universal gesture any man gave to another when acknowledging the first man had bagged a fine ass woman.

<Speaking of a fine ass.> Coop cuddled closer.

“Stop drooling on my neck,” Eve grunted, throwing an elbow that hit Coop right in the ribs.

“Ouch,” Coop backed off and rubbed his stomach. “I didn’t drool, that’s got to be morning dew or something.”

“Sure, whatever,” Eve rolled over and looked at him. “Get over that morningwood, Coop. We’ve got a busy day ahead of us.”

Over the next thirty minutes second squad ate, broke camp, and planned the rest for the route to their objective. They’d pushed hard the previous day, so they only had ten kilometers left.

“We really only have about three clicks of travel through these woods,” Eve had the holo-map up and was drawing the route with her finger. “Once we hit the road here we can parallel it all the way into the objective.”

“Why don’t we just walk on the road,” Davenport pointed. “We’d save ourselves at least twenty minutes not having to pick our way through the scrub.”

“Nope,” Coop jumped in. He just loved shutting the arrogant asshole down. “When we ran into fifth squad yesterday they told me instructors are patrolling up and down the road in air-cars shooting at anyone they see.”

“Coop’s right,” Eve said, the exasperation that usually went along with her speaking to one of Coop’s comments was absent. “The mission parameters state that we’re crossing through enemy territory. We can’t be seen, so we need to stay at least a hundred meters off the road.”

Davenport grumbled, but everyone agreed. They’d all been shot once during the raid on their first camp, and no one wanted to experience that utter helplessness again.

The last thing they did was make sure there was no sign left that they camped where they had. They couldn’t be sure of the tricks the instructors had up their sleeves, but being tracked and ambushed from the rear was something they would prefer to avoid. Once everything met Eve’s expectations they headed out.

They moved at an even pace in a line with about five meters between each person. Eve was in the center with Coop right ahead of her and Mike right behind so she could pass them orders and they could deal with their teams. At the front of the line was Olivia.

The quiet girl had an uncanny ability to blend into her surroundings. Even if the whole squad was sitting at a table in the chow hall, Coop would forget she was sitting there until she said something. As the person at the front of the line she needed to blend. All Coop caught was the occasional bounce of brown hair tied back in a tight ponytail.

Coop had seen these types of people back in the PHA before, and he feared them even more than the big guys. The big guys could bang their chests and taunt how they’d destroy you in a fight, but Coop knew it was the unassuming, quiet ones that could walk right up to you and stick a knife between your ribs before you even knew what was happening.

The thought sent a chill through his body, but he shook it off. <Olivia is too nice…right?>

Olivia suddenly stopped and held up her hand. It was in a closed fist, which meant everybody freeze. Coop did exactly that but slowly slid off his ruck in case he needed to move fast.

It didn’t take long to see why Olivia had called the freeze. A soft hum filled the air and steadily grew louder. They had good concealment in the woods, they were still over a hundred meters from the road, but anything searching for them more advanced than the Mark One Eyeball and second squad was going to get chewed up.

Coop held his breath as he saw the outline of the air-car pass by on the road ahead of them. It looked nothing like the air-car he’d tried to steal. It was clearly armored. It looked thicker, and the noticeable hum made it obvious it was putting out more power to stay in the air. It also had some type of active camouflage that made it very difficult to see. Without the humming and the pasty white, incredible stacked woman manning a ridiculously large weapons on the top they might have missed it all together.

Thankfully, it passed them by without incident. They waited a few minutes after the air-car passed. Coop looked and listened for anything else out of the ordinary, or any indication the air-car was turning around and heading back in their direction.

After those few minutes Olivia made a “get up” motion with her hand, and second squad continue their mission.

The objective of the final test of wilderness week was to reach a specific grid coordinate. SSG Cunningham and PO3 Janney didn’t tell them where they were going or what they were looking for. They just told them to get to the grid coordinate by 1200 hours.

Second squad stepped out of where the woods ended, which also happened to be the grid coordinate of their objective, at 1020 hours; a full hour and forty minutes ahead of schedule. But that was the last thing on their mind as they looked at their destination.

Just a few hundred yards from the tree line was a white building. It was made of the same material as the barracks, the chow hall, and every other building in the training center. The difference between this building and all the rest was its size.

“Holy shit.” Coop didn’t know what else to say.

It looked like someone had taken half a dozen PHA towers, dropped them on their side and bound them all together. The building was massive. He wasn’t even sure if you could call it a building, it was more of a complex.

“It’s the Dojo.” Eve spoke softly and with a reverence reserved for something spiritual.

“Dojo?” The word sounded funny, and Coop felt like he’d heard it before in a holo-show or movie.

“Not dojo, or a dojo; this The Dojo.” Eve’s reprimand didn’t hold as much bite as it usually did. She was still staring open-mouthed at the huge structure.

“Care to enlighten us.” Davenport walked up behind them.

The proximity of the creepy squad member seemed to snap Eve out of it.

“The Dojo is the Commonwealth’s premiere Combative’s School, which means our next training phase is…”

 

“Welcome to Fight Week!” SSG Cunningham was grinning at all of them an hour and a half later.

All of Echo Company was standing in formation, minus two people. A battle buddy team from sixth squad had apparently walked right off a cliff the previous night. They hadn’t made it. The rest of the squad was still reeling, a fact that wasn’t missed by the drill instructors. PO3 Janney was prowling around like a hungry dog waiting to jump on them.

“We will be spending the next week of basic training in this building here.” She pointed behind her at The Dojo. “For all of you who think that finally being back in civilization is a good thing, think again.”

Coop looked over at Eve and saw that his squad leader was a little white. That scared him a lot more than anything the SSG or PO3 could say. So far Eve had been fearless and ready to tackle any obstacle. Finally seeing her show uncertainty and fear was unsettling, and it was seeping into the rest of the squad.

“You have thirty minutes for chow. There are pullup bars by all the doors to and from the chow hall. Since you’ve had a nice little break from upper body workouts you will do twenty-five pull-ups before and after every meal. At 1230 I expect to see you all in Room Eleven Bravo, understand?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant.” They all yelled.

“Fall out.”

They fell out and ran toward the doors. They pushed through them like a wave crashing against the shore and stampeded into the building. It took a few precious minutes to find and get to the chow hall, which was not the first door they reached. On top of that, they had to negotiate around other groups running through the halls. At eighty-one recruits, Echo Company was the biggest of those groups, but it was still a battle to fit a hundred plus people through a narrow hallway when both of the groups were determined to get to where they were going as fast as possible.

Finally, they reached a door with pullup bars outside it. It was a sprint to the bars. Coop got their first and threw himself up and into the bar. He knocked out his first twenty without incident, but the last five he felt the burn.

<That hurt.> Coop rotated his shoulders as he dropped to the ground and proceeded through the door.

Hauling around the thirty kilo rucksack all week had done a number on his back and shoulders. He hadn’t realized how sore he was until he had to do the pull-ups.

The chow hall was just as large as any other they’d been in, and the set up was exactly the same; so Coop supposed the rules were too. He got in line, followed the clockwise pattern, grabbed what he wanted, and didn’t backtrack. There were more instructors present; lots of corporals, some petty officers, other sergeants, staff sergeants, and even a few gunnery sergeants. Coop didn’t want to give them any opportunity to smoke him.

Fifteen minutes into their chow time all of second squad was gathered at a single table and scarfing down their lunch. Coop didn’t even bother talking, his attention was on his food and the giant clock on the wall.

He kept the meal lighter than he would have liked. After a week of eating nothing but MREs and the last twenty-four hours with only scavenged berries, Coop thought the chow hall food was fine dining. However, he remembered the first meal he had and the run afterwards. This was the beginning of their next phase, and so far the pattern meant that today was going to suck. The last thing Coop needed to be doing was puking up his lunch.

Despite what Eve might think, Coop was learning. He was starting to see the pattern. He had just needed an extra push from her.

Really, Coop wanted to talk to Eve. He wanted to talk about last night. He wanted to press the issue with her and use the momentum of the cuddling to turn it into something more. He had an idea of how he’d usually do that which involved an empty supply closet, but he knew Eve wouldn’t go for it. That method would most likely leave Coop dickless. He needed to find another way to get into her pants.

Second squad hurried out of the chow hall with six minutes left. They threw their trays in the dispenser, knocked out their pull-ups and scrambled to find Room 11B. They found it with thirty seconds remaining.

Room 11B was a large padded room. What looked like practice bots were idle in the corner leaving the wide open space empty. Coop’s feelings on seeing the space were mixed, a mix of excitement and dread.

<What are they going to have us do now?> He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Company Aten’hut!”

SSG Cunningham was at the front of the formation, and she looked determined.

“Recruits, as I said before this is Fight Week.” She put a lot of emphasis on the second to last word. “I cannot emphasize how essential this week will be to your training. After all, it is our job to fight. And the only certainty I know for sure is that none of you know how to do this.”

Coop frowned at the statement, got yelled at by PO3 Janney, and had to do pushups because of it.

Coop took those words as an insult. After all, he was a Rat. In most of society’s opinion Rats were either fucking or fighting. Fucking and increasing the world’s population, or fighting for anything from living space to BSA rations. It was a stereotype that had evolved over centuries, but like all stereotypes it had its foundations in truth.

So when the SSG said that Coop didn’t know how to do one of the two things the world declared he was good at it pissed him off a little.

“Today we are going to see what you can do.” The SSG pulled out her pad, hit a few keys, and then swiped what was on her screen over to the wall.

A large bracket appeared, like the type they used for the big college basketball tournament in the spring. Each line was populated by a picture of the recruit, their GIC underneath it, and their name in big bold letters.

Coop searched for his name and tried really hard not to smile.

On the ground all around them the pads started to glow. A thick black line appeared around the pads which had all turned a spotless white. Now, the room was full of dozens of squares with glowing numbers hovering above their centers. Those numbers corresponded to numbers on the bracket.

“Today we’re going to have a little fun in evaluating your current level of ineptitude. I need to see if you’re hopeless or if I can actually make something out of you.” The SSG might have said all this lightly, but her eyes were hard and serious.

“Rules are simple!” PO3 Janney hollered. “Don’t ya go killin’ anyone. Medics will be able to handle anythin’ else.” He stared at them with a big grin splashed across his face. “Fall out and get to ya squares!”

Coop for once didn’t hesitate or question. In fact, this was the best thing that had happened to him since he’d arrived in this fucking hellhole.

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Two Worlds – Chapter 41

Mark “Coop” Cooper

Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies

As it turned out a fart sack was a lovely term for the Self-Contained Survival Habitat or SCSH, and unlike the rest of second squad Coop only had fifteen minutes to get ready. While it was great to gawk at Eve’s nakedness for a few minutes, their little chat had put them way behind schedule. Thirty minutes to shit, shower, shave and pack up for a week in the field was not enough time.

“Cram it in there tight.” Eve was walking people through how to pack a large pack called a rucksack.

<That’s what she said.> Coop wanted to say it out loud so bad, but he was already on thin ice with Eve from the whole Emma incident. Making a mildly sexist comment wasn’t going to get him anywhere closer to screwing her.

“Don’t just let that shit rattle around. Strap it down in place like I showed you. You’ll thank me later.” Eve’s own ruck was packed and she was inspecting everyone else’s.

She got to Coop last, and after quickly making sure he hadn’t screwed things up too bad she shot him a hard look, and then moved her eyes back and forth between him and Emma. The squad member with heavy gravity genes was on the other side of the circle the squad had created around Eve’s example rucksack, and was purposefully avoiding anyone’s gaze.

Eve’s meaning was clear.

“Everyone ruck-up and head out to formation.” They had a couple minutes left, but if you were on time then you were late in SSG Cunningham and PO3 Janney’s book.

“Emma, can I have a second?” Coop knew it sounded awkward, and Emma flinched like he’d physically struck her.

“Let’s go people!” Eve motivated the squad to move faster, but waved Emma over toward Coop when she tried to escape.

Emma came over to Coop, her shoulders stooped and her eyes downcast. “Yeah.”

<I don’t get it?> They stood there uneasily for a moment. <She’s big, strong, decent looking; I don’t get why she’s so shy.> You didn’t find people like Emma in the PHA. Women with half her ability found their niche in the Rat hierarchy, and they lived much better lives than Coop had.

“I just wanted to say I’m sorry.” Coop didn’t see any reason to dance around the issue. “I was being an ass. That nano-bath shit itched like a fucking STD and I took it out on you. I also didn’t know anything about where you came from…so yeah, sorry for being a dick.” He trailed off uncomfortably.

Coop wasn’t used to having to explain himself or apologize for anything. Being wrong was a sign of weakness, and weakness wasn’t something you could show in the PHA.

“That’s ok. I get it. I’m different.” Emma sniffled, and Coop felt even more uncomfortable.

“Yeah…well…you did good on the Grinder, so keep it up.”

Compared to Eve, Coop was a horrible motivator, but his awkward words seemed to partially repair things with Emma.

They might have made more headway, but that was all the time they had to talk.

“Seven…six…five…” the PO3’s loud yells from outside spoke of imminent physical torture if they didn’t get their asses in gear.

If they hadn’t been wearing their rucksacks they would have made it, but the extra thirty kilos of shit on their backs slowed them down. Coop and Emma weren’t the only ones late, so the entire company had to do pushups.

It was only ten, but it was ten with the rucksack still on. Coop would rather do fifty without that god-forsaken ruck on his back.

“Let’s go, Recruits!” The SSG barely waited for them to get back to their feet. She just turned and started to walk away.

After a week of being told which direction to face, when to march, when to run, and when to stop; a lot of Recruits just stood there flat-footed for a moment too long.

“Fall out! Are y’all waitin’ for a written invitation?” PO3 Janney pounced on them, and sent the eighty-three members of Echo Company scrambling after the SSG.

This was the company’s first experience with the ruck march, a time-honored military tradition dating all the way back to the dawn of warfare. Soldiers needed to get from point A to point B, and the most surefire way to get that done was with their own two feet. Some of Earth’s old empires used to march soldiers thirty or forty kilometers a day to reach far flung battlefields. In some instances they ended a march and went straight into battle. It was a skill that was instilled in every modern soldier even if they were going to be shepherded into battle in the bellies of Spyder Assault Shuttles.

It was also one hell of a workout.

By the end of the first two kilometers Coop’s back was throbbing painfully with every step he took. Instead of marching in a formation the entire company was strewn in a quarter kilometer long line with the SSG marching effortlessly at the front and the PO3 rounding up stragglers in the rear by kicking their asses into gear. Coop was near the front of the line, but he didn’t know how much longer he could keep it up. His feet were burning and he was pretty sure he was developing blisters.

“Here.” Eve appeared out of nowhere and started fiddling with his rucksack.

“Don’t…” Coop growled, but then the ruck lurched forward and the pain in his lower back lessened.

“Try and keep the ruck’s weight on your shoulders instead of your back. You’ll last longer. When your shoulders get tired adjust it back to putting pressure on your back and then alternate back and forth. Use these straps here.” Eve pointed them out before synching them down tightly.

“Thanks,” Coop grumbled, upset that he hadn’t figured it out himself. It was pretty simple.

“Don’t thank me it’s my job,” Eve’s response wasn’t cold, but it wasn’t warm either. They were in a neutral place now. “You talk to Emma?”

Coop looked ahead to where the other woman was walking easily only a few steps behind the SSG. <Having those genes probably helps when you’ve got another thirty kilos on your back.> He thought jealously.

“We talked, we’re good.” Coop shrugged.

“You’d better be. We need to be a hundred percent effective this coming week. We’ve got another challenge coming up, and probably another run through the Grinder. Can I count on you, Coop?”

“Yeah of course.” Coop nodded sharply.

“Good.” Eve’s neutrality broke and a smile crept across her lips. “Then follow me.”

“Lead the way,” Coop grumbled before struggling to match her pace.

The five kilometers seemed endless, but everyone’s pace picked up when they saw the beginning of the obstacle course in the distance. The sun was already setting behind the mountain, and twilight was upon them by the time they reached the course.

“What the shit is that?” Strange noises started to sing out from the growing darkness.

“Animals, bugs, just about anything you could think of that would be out at night,” Eve replied.

That was the thing; Coop had no idea what would be out at night. When he thought of things that crept around in the darkness he thought about the other Rat gangs that roamed the PHA. When he thought of the noises of the night he thought of police sirens, gun shots, and people humping through thin polyplast walls. All this nature stuff was foreign, alien sounding, and mildly terrifying.

“Don’t shit your pants city-boy.” Eve must have seen the look on his face. “That’s what the SCSHs are for. They won’t let anything munch on your precious little pecker.”

“Shut up,” Coop didn’t have anything better to say to that, and Eve walked away laughing.

They reached the Grinder and then the SSG took a ninety-degree right turn and walked through a small thicket of trees. Coop had never touched a tree before, and he reached out and felt a few as they passed through the small wooded area. Eve looked at him like he’d had a stroke or something, but he ignored her.

Coop vaguely remembered from his freshman year biology class that the air scrubbers that littered the Earth’s atmosphere were because most of the planet’s trees were gone and there was too much carbon dioxide built up. The scrubbers kept things from getting too bad, but Coop knew all too well what could happen if a critical scrubber failed. Death by Environmental Hazard was a frequent killer in the PHA. That’s why not having a mask at his hip was such a weird feeling for the former Rat.

The SSG led them approximately a hundred meters into the woods before it opened up into a large clearing. She stopped in the middle of the clearing and waited the ten minutes until the entire company was reassembled.

“Squad leaders set up camp and see me in ten mikes. After that we’ll have a companywide formation and a short class before we get some shut-eye. Understood?”

“Yes, Staff Sergeant!” Their yell echoed off the side of the mountain and reverberated through the air. The sounds of the wilderness were silent for a few seconds before resuming their chorus.

“Second squad over here.” Eve waved them all to a small depression in the ground. “We’re going to make a circle around this hole. Spread out and pair up in your battle buddy teams.” She pointed Coop to the place where they’d be sleeping.

He gave her a winning smile as he plopped down next to the spot and started to remove his SCSH from the top of his rucksack. He extended it until it looked like a big cocoon. He ran the diagnostic from memory and breathed easily when it came back with green status. He was about to engage the desired setting when Eve plopped down beside him. She had her PAD out and was checking the weather.

“It’s only going to get down to ten degrees Celsius tonight, so set it on the temperate setting.” She stated.

“I’m sweating my balls off,” Coop complained. “Why not set it on arid and get a good chill going?”

“Because if you set it to arid with all the sweat from the march you’re going to get yourself sick.” Eve shook her head at Coop’s suggestion. “We’re all doing temperate so pass it around.”

With a silent grumble Coop passed the word around. The small indentation wasn’t big, so they were all pretty close together. There was a meter of space between each person and a few more separating the feet of the SCSHs, which spread out around the indentation like nine spokes on a wheel.  There was enough room to walk around their little camp comfortably until they went to sleep.

“Everyone gather around.” Coop was pulling out his own PAD when Eve ordered everyone over to their little slice of real estate. “Here.” There was a soft chime and Coop opened up the small message she’d just sent.

“00:20-01:00?” Coop founded his name and a time next to it. “What?”

“This is the watch schedule,” Eve explained like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

“Watch schedule?” Several people asked in unison.

“When we are out in the field we will keep a watch schedule every night.” She continued over a few noisy complaints. “This is for everyone’s safety and situational awareness. Every person in the squad will pull a forty minute watch tonight. I’ve already received the schedule from Staff Sergeant Cunningham. We have downtime from 23:00 to 05:00. Everyone is pulling an equal shift, so no one can complain.”

“My shift is from 02:20 to 03:00.” Davenport glared at Eve. “What am I supposed to do? Get a few hours of sleep, wake up and pull my shift, and then go back to sleep for a few more hours. Why’d I get stuck with the middle shift?”

“Exactly.” Eve answered his first question.

“Because you’re an asshole.” Harper answered the second.

The squad nympho had buddied up with Mike, and Coop was sure there’d be a little rub and tug going on in one of those SCSHs tonight.

“Fuck you guys.” Davenport fumed, but nobody cared.

“The watch schedule will rotate over the week we’re out here so don’t think you’ll be pulling the same shift every night,” Eve continued. “This watch schedule is for everyone’s safety. When you’re on watch you’ll look for anything out of the ordinary and anything dangerous. If you see something wake us the fuck up, understood?”

Eve sounded just like SSG Cunningham, and that gave Coop a half-chub. <Sleeping right next to her is going to give me blue balls.> He was suddenly very envious of Mike.

Eve left a minute later to meet up with the SSG, so Coop took some time to read his PAD. Eve said this was going to be basic wilderness skills so he looked at the applications available on his PAD and tried them out.

With his PAD Coop could scan the grass and see how dry it was. He could link it to the training center’s weather database and calculate the odds of a fire.  He assumed fire was one of the things they would need to worry about when he was on watch.

<Speaking of fire.> He watched a quick video on multiple ways to start a fire, and activated an app that scanned the nearby trees and told him if they would be good to burn.

To Coop’s surprise the scan revealed specifically genetically engineered trees that were resistant to flames. Apparently, fires out here in the training center’s open spaces were a big problem in the summer time.

“Fall in!” PO3 Janney yelled, and everyone scurried to get into formation.

“At ease…relax.” SSG Cunningham stepped in front of the group and help up a PAD. “Today’s class if going to be short and sweet. Everyone take out your PAD and log into your MILNET account.”

Coop was already logged in, but he saw a bunch of other recruits pull out the slab of polyplast and scan their GICs. He quickly navigated to his personal account page and was surprised to see that it had changed.

“As you might have noticed your accounts have been updated. I want you to select the tab marked MWFAS.”

Coop did as he was instructed and a banking page popped onto the screen. It required a secondary scan of his GIC, but once he did that he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“MWFAS stands for Ministry of War Finance and Accounting Services. This is the department that handles all of your pay issues. There is a local office back on the main base that you can go to if there are any issues, but you will not have any problems while you are here because you will not be messing with your pay during your time with us.” The look on the SSG’s face dared anyone to challenge her.

When they didn’t she continued.

“Select the tab marked LES. LES stands for Leave and Earnings Statement. This is the receipt for your pay and any leave you have earned. Your basic pay amount listed is for a month’s work, but you will be paid twice a month; on the first and on the fifteenth. If the first or the fifteenth falls on a weekend you will be paid on Friday. That goes for Commonwealth Holidays too.”

Coop clicked on the LES but couldn’t find one. There was a link marked EXAMPLE.

“Click the Example and peruse the data. This is what your first LES should look like. The pay is on the top. It lists your total base pay plus any additional pay followed by deductions for taxes and any allotments you choose.” Coop looked over the section.

The example LES showed an E-1 salary minus standard taxes with no additional allotments. Coop couldn’t believe his eyes, so he raised his hand. “Staff Sergeant, are these numbers accurate?”

“Yes, Recruit Cooper. The base pay of an E-1 Recruit is fifty thousand dollars a year. Divide fifty thousand by twenty four individual payments then you have a grand total of $2083.33 a payment before taxes. After tax your income amounts to $1020.83 a payment. So you take home pay for a month is $2041.66. Currently, you have all received one payment since the start of your basic training, so if you go back to you WDFAS main menu you can select your individual account and see that you have all earned $1020.83 for not dying on me yet.”

Coop didn’t care if the SSG was joking or not. He swiped back to the previous screen and saw the six green digits shinning back at him. <Holy shit I have money.> It was the best feeling in the world.

“Leave is documented on the bottom half of the LES. Everyone from E-1 to E-4 earns one day of leave per month. NCOs, Officers, and Specialists earn more but you don’t need to worry about that. Your LES will show you how much you have and how much you’ve used.”

Coop barely paid attention to the SSG’s speech on leave. He was still too focused on the numbers on his PAD.

<Fifty thousand a year…I’ve already got over a grand…and I’ll have over six grand by the time I’m done with basic.> Coop did some mental math and tried not to drool. The only time Coop had ever held more than a hundred bucks in his hand was when he was at the Civil Administration building handing over his welfare payment to that fat bitch in the blue smartcloth behind the counter. In all the side jobs he’d pulled over his eighteen years he hadn’t banked more than a grand…ever. Now he had that, just sitting in an account just waiting to be used.

<I’m going to get so much pussy.> His thought pretty much summed up where his mind was at the moment.

Coop had already heard about the reputable establishments in the towns surrounding the base. If he hadn’t gotten in Eve’s pants yet, which was becoming more and more uncertain, he was going to find himself the prettiest whore in the area and fuck her all night long.

“Fall out!” The PO3’s yell snapped Coop out of his daydream.

“Let’s go second squad.” Eve’s voice directed them back to their little hole.

The rest of the squads were spread throughout the large open clearing, and within the individual squads they were much more dispersed than second squad. Coop would have brought this up with Eve, but he knew that she knew something they didn’t.

She always did.

“It’s 1100. I’ve got the first watch, followed by Emma and then Coop.” Emma was the third member of their battle buddy team since they had an uneven number of people in the squad. “If you’re on watch you can sit in the middle of the group, but I’d like you to get up and walk the perimeter every five to ten minutes. Try to vary it up though, don’t fall into a pattern.”

“Pattern?” Davenport scoffed. “Why the hell does that matter?”

“It just does,” Eve shot back before ushering everyone into their SCSHs. “If you don’t wake up for your shift I’m going to cut off the air intake for your SCSHs.” Most of the squad disappeared into the aforementioned SCSHs knowing their squad leader would follow through with that threat.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about tonight.” The last part was mumbled under her breath, but Coop heard it.

<Thanks for that,> he thought as he slipped into his SCSH and sealed it behind him. <Not going to get any sleep now.>

It didn’t help that being sealed in the SCSH felt like being trapped in a coffin.

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