Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“No. Absolutely not, Sir.”
Ben sat in front of Charlie Company Commander Lieutenant Jacobi Wentworth and tried not to let his frustration show.
“Please, Lieutenant, just let me ask him.”
“Lieutenant Commander, it’s not a question of whether Private Cooper wants to come on your mission. It’s a question of his ability.” The Infantry LT’s tone was frosty. Ben might outrank her, but she knew he was in her wheelhouse.
“If I could just…”
“Sir, respectfully…” The next words out of the LT’s mouth were unlikely to be respectful; otherwise she wouldn’t start out a sentence like that. “…I don’t know why you want Private Cooper, but you can’t have him. Not only do we have training scheduled over the next month that he needs to attend, but he is also yellow on medical. Even if he wanted to, and I agreed to it, he still wouldn’t be able to go. Plus,” now her eyes matched the frostiness of her tone, “I’ve been waiting over eighteen months to get the HI compliment for my company to finally be one-hundred-percent. I’m not going to let that slip through my fingers because you want an extra layer of defense on whatever your mission is.”
Ben sighed and leaned back in the chair. He wanted Cooper for this mission because aside from SGT O’Neil, Cooper was the only person he had complete trust in. That was trust born in blood and sweat. Once you carried another man across a space station while simultaneously killing the enemy, you formed a bond. Ben had six confirmed kills from that mission and almost bought the farm at least a dozen times. Stats like that changed a man. Most importantly, it made him want what he wanted if he was going to go back into that type of situation again.
If he was being honest with himself, he didn’t feel completely safe without HI Trooper Cooper at his side.
The question was how to get what he wanted, and the answer to that question was the LT sitting in front of him.
“Let’s cut the bullshit,” Ben skipped any thinly veiled formality between them. “What is it going to take for you to sign off on it?”
“Sir, it doesn’t…”
“Don’t concern youself with the medical issue,” he cut her off. “I want to know what you want to sign him over to me for five days, a week tops?” If Ben knew one thing about people, it was that they always wanted something. His father had taught him that, and the LT was no different.
He’d made sure to read up on the LT before meeting up with her. Jacobi Wentworth was a bit of an oddity. She was a fourth generation East Newfoundlander. The system was about as far from the Eastern Block as you could get, so there wasn’t much of a military presence. They had a small system defense force – no more than a handful of cruisers for commerce protection – but Fleet units only passed through in transit to more strategic locations.
The LT came from a standard middle-class family. Father was a senior NCO in the defense force before retiring after thirty years and moving into teaching. Her mother was a medical administrator. There was nothing in the LT’s history that explained why she would go off and join the Infantry, aside from adventure or a desire to prove herself.
Judging by a glance at the chest of her CMU’s, Ben was betting on the latter. The majority of the ribbons were standard for an Infantry officer with six years of service. It didn’t escape his notice that she’d been serving longer than him, but he outranked her. He doubted she’d missed that either.
In that time, she’d achieved a Basic Combat Drop Badge. The silver badge was in a place of prominence above everything else. Since they were in peacetime up until recently, most of those drops had been police actions. Four had been small riots, but one was a legitimate armed conflict against the New Caliphate. The skirmish between the New Caliphate and Maccabbee Alliance had drawn Commonwealth attention. The two independent states were in a constant state of tension, and things had boiled over. The LT had been part of the force sent to restore peace, and she’d received a Purple Heart for her troubles.
All of that meant that the LT had every intention of being a career Infantry officer. She was always looking for the next challenge, something to better herself and her soldiers, and that was something Ben could help with.
The LT gave Ben a piercing look for a few seconds before leaning back in her own chair. “This is stuff you would agree to give me even if I can do nothing about the medical status.”
Ben was taking a risk here, but there was no reward without a little risk. “Yes,” he answered.
She jumped on him after his answer. “I want a week of spaceborne training: EVA ops, ship assault, the whole nine yards. I want to have the only qualified company in my battalion ready for spaceborne action.”
Ben expected something like this. Skippers of warships didn’t like to spend a lot of time accommodating the marines’ training because they had their own mandatory assignments to complete. There was always too much crap on a skipper’s plate, and even after delegating a lot of that, the last thing he wanted was marines running all around the outside hull of his ship playing war.
Thankfully, it was also something Ben could oblige. Argo hadn’t been doing anything but sitting around for the last three months, so he was all caught up on his paperwork and crew qualifications. Allowing the cross-training with the marines might actually be a good mark on his record. ‘Extends sphere of influence outside chain of command’ was a bullet point on the OER after all.
“Deal.” Ben extended his hand and the LT took it.
“Follow me.” The LT wasn’t willing to take his word for it. Together, they marched down the hall to the Battalion operations NCO’s office.
The MSG was more than a little surprised to be pushing through agreed upon spaceborne qualification training between Ben and the LT, but he didn’t question it. He put it on the schedule and had the Battalion Commander’s signature within the hour. A minute later, the LT signed the temporary duty paperwork. All Ben had to do was get Cooper’s medical status to green and he’d have his HI trooper.
Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: New Lancashire, United Commonwealth of Colonies
Coop was enjoying his night off. He needed to. With qualifications and an FTX coming up he didn’t know how much longer he’d be able to get off base and unwind. It all depended how much of a Hard ass GYSGT Weitz was if his future held spending the majority of time sleeping in a charging rack or not. Coop didn’t want to think about that. He needed to live in the moment, and that moment currently involved some farmer’s daughter with daddy issues grinding her almost-bare ass against his crotch.
The lighting was dim in his favorite strip club for purely disreputable reasons. Coop liked the place because the security was lazy and the girls were down for just about anything. Life on a new colony could be tough for some, and these establishments gave those struggling women a way to make easy cash.
“So the new LT is hot?” Mike asked. His chair was facing the opposite direction, because looking at his friend while sporting a woody was just weird.
“Smoking.” Coop supplied the correct adjective. “Easily a nine, maybe even a ten.”
“Why not just give her a ten?” Mike asked as his own stripper strutted her stuff around his massive frame.
“You got to be a freak in the sack if you want a ten in my book.” They both laughed and chugged the last of their beer. It was cheap shit that tasted like piss-water, but it was cheap.
The song came to the end and the stripper gave him one last side to side rub of her ass before rising seductively to her feet. Her eyes lingered on Coop for a moment, and when he didn’t move to deposit more money in her account she started walking away.
“Oh, come on, Destiny!” he called after her, but she didn’t look back. “Could you at least bring me a beer?”
That earned him the finger from Destiny – which he tried not to read into the irony of – and another laugh from Mike.
“So, you and Harper?” Coop wasn’t willing to go down without a fight.
“No, we’re done.” There was a hint of sadness in Mike’s voice, but he swallowed it along with a gulp of beer. Unlike Coop, he paid for another song. “I haven’t heard from her in two months. I expected to come back from the last op with at least a message waiting in my inbox, but there was nothing.”
“The Unwritten Rule.” Coop nodded his head and just sat awkwardly in his chair without booze or woman to keep him company.
The unwritten rule in the military was no contact after an agreed upon amount of time was as surefire sign that things were over. With travel times being what they were, it could take a while to get word from place to place, but two months was more than enough time to get an e-mail from New Lancashire to Luna and back at least a few times. There were a couple of explanations for the absence. Harper might be under some type of quarantine from an infectious nanite bioweapon outbreak, she could have died in some tragic training accident, but more than likely she was just polishing some other guy’s nob now. Probably a doctor knowing how determined she was to have nice things.
“Damn,” Mike sighed. “She gave one hell of a blowjob.”
“You want a blowjob?” asked the stripper. “That’s going to be two-fifty and I need your medical clearance. I don’t want rotten dick in my throat.”
“Deal.” Mike hopped up so fast he nearly bowled over the woman. “See ya, Coop.”
“If you can afford to throat-bang her you can afford to buy me a drink!” Coop called after his friend, but only succeeded in getting the finger from him and the stripper.
Three months of recovery had taken its toll on Coop’s bank account. You couldn’t spend a lot of money when you were busy doing shit on a warship. If you met the right group of people you might be able to set up some friendly gambling games, but not much more than that. On the contrary, it was amazing how fast cash flew out the door when you were busy sitting around on your ass all day long. Coop only had enough for one more beer. The bright side was that he was getting paid on Friday, so he’d be able to do more than buy a few dances next time he visited.
“Allow me.” The last person Coop ever expected to see in this joint took a seat and ordered top-shelf bottle service.
“Lieutenant Commander Gold?” The half-chub left over from Coop’s last dance vanished. “I didn’t think officers were allowed to even come in here.”
“Sure we’re allowed, but not advised.” Gold was dressed in civvies so it wasn’t immediately recognized that he was a Fleet officer. “I’m off duty, Cooper, so please just call me Ben.”
“I’m going to stick with sir, Sir.” Coop’s spidey-senses were tingling. This felt like a trap of some sort. “What can I do for you?” He proceeded with caution.
“I’ve got a proposition for you.” Ben turned around Mike’s vacated chair, accepted the drinks, but waved off the squads-worth of strippers that gravitated toward his expensive clothing. “I want you to come on a mission with me.”
Coop let out a sigh of relief. He had an easy out.” Sorry, Sir.” He patted his leg. “I’m still yellow. I can’t do anything until I’m cleared, and then you’d have to get my LT to sign off on it. Good luck with…”
“Already done.” Ben’s email arrived on Coop’s PAD with a ping. “Your LT has agreed to temporarily assign you to me for the next week. After that, you will return to Charlie Company.”
“That’s nice of her,” Coop read over the orders but that didn’t stop the confusion. “It still doesn’t fix my medical readiness.”
“That I’m leaving up to you.”
Another ping rang out from Coop’s PAD. It was an alert from his bank account. His balance had just jumped from pennies to over a grand.
“A thousand now, and five more when you get your medical status up to green.” Ben sounded like he was talking about the weather and not something that was clearly against regulations.
<Is it?> Coop couldn’t help but think he’d never read about something like this being against the UCMJ, but then again, Coop hadn’t put much stock in military law since the day he joined up.
“Two questions. First, why me?” Coop critiqued the officer.
“I want you because I know you can handle yourself if things go sideways. You’ve done it for me before, and this time I’m offering even more incentive.”
<He’s got a point.> Coop scratched his chin. He really needed cash.
“Ok, but how am I supposed to do it?” That was the real question.
“That’s for you to find out, Private, and you’ve got five thousand reasons to figure it out in the next six hours. You need to report to Argo at 0900.” Ben smiled, got to his feet , and slid the bottle of Earth-made whiskey to Coop. “That’s on me. Consider it a bonus. You’re a resourceful man, Cooper. I have faith in you.”
The LCDR walked away and Mike returned with a smile on his face. “Who was that?”
Coop didn’t say anything. His mind was running the possibilities and coming up with jackshit. <How can I do it…how can I do it…how can I do it?> He took a few swigs from the bottle hoping for some liquid genius.
Surprisingly enough, it worked.
“Here.” The bottle was half empty, and he was more than a little buzzed when he tossed it to Mike.
“Shit, is this…?” Mike never got the question out before Coop was at the door and pushing his way into the cool night.
He used his PAD to do a quick search, used a little technological trickery he’d learned in the PHA and adapted to his current situation, and headed off at a stumbling run toward his destination.
The small set of apartments wasn’t that far from the hospital. It made sense. It was the perfect place for an E5 – who was allowed to live off base – to live. Coop found the door, composed himself, and knocked with a sense of urgency that didn’t come across as too stalkerish.
Sandy answered the door in a nightgown and a sleepy look on her face. A face that lit up but looked a little confused at the sight of him.
“No, Sandy. I’ve got to say this.” He took a deep breath. “You’ve meant everything to me over the last three months. You put me back together, made me a man again. I can’t ever thank you enough for that, but I also can’t stop how I feel. I can’t describe it,” he put a hand over his chest, “but I know there is something here. I’m not sure if…”
Sandy cut him off by grabbing him by the shirt, pulling him inside, and plastering her lips to his. She had to jump up and practically climb up his chest to do it, but she did it, and that was a good sign. From there it was just a matter of finding the bedroom and stamina.
<And that’s how you do it!> Coop thought a few hours later when Sandy was in a sex coma, and he was able to access her PAD.
All it took was a few clicks and swipes and Coop went from yellow to green on his medical readiness report, and because he was a gentleman he stuck around for a morning quickie before they both needed to report in. She went to the hospital, and he went to the armory. He was cutting it close, but he would be able to make it up to Abe and Argo by 0900, and he had one hell of a sendoff.